The Faire

Chapter 7

Hobs, Cassidy learned, were short creatures standing no taller than a toddler. She read about them among the other faeries Symone had documented in her behemoth of a half-journal and half-guidebook. The hob she drew was stout, with a scarf wrapped around its head. It had small beady eyes, and a large wrinkled face that sat too big on its neck. In it’s grinning expression there were blunt, wide teeth. The sack like dress was cinched with rope and decorated with what Cassidy hoped were pins rather than the actual bugs pictured.

Beside the image, in scratchy letters, was a short description.

-Servants to the faerie court for as long as it suits them
-Enjoys household chores and the job of a midwife
-Enjoys practical jokes
-Though they serve the Queen’s court, they only care to serve until it pleases them no longer
-Allies to no one
-Do not eat food prepared by a hob, no matter how delicious it appears

Cassidy flipped back to the first few pages, and found a list labeled RULES. She wondered if they were the same strictures that Kirrill repeated to her. Either way, it would be in her best interest to know and follow them.

-Do not eat faerie food at revels
-Do not thank a faerie (It is offensive, especially from a human)
-Don’t leave the house without Kirrill
-Do not bargain with faeries
-Do not remove ring (or whatever protective trinkets you have)

Cassidy notices a significant difference between Symone’s list and Kirrill’s. Perhaps, he had changed them after Symone died. His relied heavily on not trusting anyone, including himself, and not taking gifts and kindness at face value. She wondered what had happened. How did Symone end up dead?

She stared up into the firelight and the room around her. All of this had belonged to a human woman named Symone, who Kirrill cherished enough to bring her to his world to stay. Symone must have loved beautiful things, as she decorated her room so grandly, wore highly avant garde clothes, and fell for the World of Faerie. That was what she had called it in the book.

Cassidy moved on to read about hobgoblins, phookas, and pixies. There was so much information, scribbled down in tiny writing, with each creature sketched in a box or two per page. They were excellent images, too. Symone must have been an artist.

Turning the page, Cassidy saw the words THE QUEEN written and traced over more meticulously than the other titles had been. It was eerie, seeing the woman’s handwriting describing her would-be murderer. She had several sketches spread all over the two pages there, each one erased and redrawn until the page became rough and flaking. How frustrating it must have been for her, trying to recapture the majesty and terror of Queen Avi in pencil. How could anyone capture that blinding glow, hawkish eyes, and terrible soul of hers. In a similar fashion to the sketches, Symone had written and erased several written similes. In the end, only two were left.

All of the majesty of sunlit trees against a backdrop of indigo storm clouds.

As devastating as the pulled trigger, leaving only the bullet to fall for her crimes.

She did not even note that Queen Avi was Kirrill’s mother. Then again, Kirrill did not tell Cassidy that himself. She had just assumed that the queen calling him son made it truth. Could it have been just a pet name?

Cassidy was moving to close the book, when she noticed a splash of color inside the front cover. She let it fall open, revealing the sharp jaw, silver eyes and black hair of Kirrill. The best version of himself, smiling with slightly sharp teeth, eyes glittering with light. She had painted him waist up, with his chest bare. He appeared thinner in her painting, and with smoother muscles in lieu of the larger build he had now. He seemed younger, softer, filled with humour and gaiety. The image, painted in colorful oils, seemed like it might move. Like he might be laughing out loud. Cassidy imagined the two of them, sitting on the bed, trading humorous banter and chests full of love. Do faeries really experience love like humans? Cassidy wondered.

In the bottom left corner of the page was a list of pet names that caused Kirrill to blush, with space left in the box for the names Symone intended to write in the future. A future that she would never have. “Sweetheart, Darling, My Prince, Lovebug, My Love, Sweet Bug, My Dragonfly.” Then, Cassidy saw them in the image painted there. Wings of a dragonfly, worn on Kirrill’s back as if they grew there.

No, actually growing there. Does he keep them hidden? Maybe he can retract them? Maybe, Symone had taken artistic liberties, creating more magic in the cramped space she lived in.

Cassidy was already feeling stir crazy, and could not imagine how that woman in her imagination must have felt. You can only sketch the inside of this home so many times before you want to go see the world outside. If it were me…

Then, she realized it was. She was just as confined to this house as Symone had been. Unlike Symone, she was not bound her by love or even pure curiosity. A captive was all that she was. A mouse hiding in a hole to avoid the snakes out those doors. All she was doing now was awaiting the snake that lived her to return home.

How pathetic am I? She peered again into the deep-green of the emerald ring.

I’m not like that anymore, Cassidy closed her eyes and reminded herself as the idea of removing it flashed in her head once again. She had long laid those dangerous feelings to rest. Forgiven her mother. Blocked her father from her mind. All the therapy she had after living with her grandparents had played its part.

She repeated the mantra that the therapist had made her tape to the bathroom mirror: “I have worked too hard to survive life so far to give up now. People care for me. My friends love me. I am loved.”

The image of her grandparents flashed in her head. They deserved better. They deserved a granddaughter who would do whatever it took to get back home. Instead, she was sitting docile in a bedroom, reading a book.The whole world seemed to weigh down on her and the room filled with invisible heaviness like water. It was a familiar feeling, but she tossed the book aside and got up before the depression could overtake her.

She began in the bathroom, organizing things prettily into a line, orange and white bottles of shampoo and conditioner hidden in the back and out of sight. Then, she moved on to the living room, adjusting the placement of books so that they were all standing spine erect. She moved the chairs to and fro, trying to make them look symmetrical as they faced the fireplace. On and on her frantic organization went, keeping her mind busy, until the front door flew open.

In came the hob, Unir, without even stopping to knock on the door. She was humming a dandy little tune, stopping only to mutter to herself. The hob looked just like the picture in Symone’s journal: stout, wrinkled, and bat-like. Cassidy was only partially pleased to see that the bugs she had seen in the image were pinned to the dress of the hob, because they were indeed real bugs. A cockroach, a beetle, and a butterfly, stuck through with needles, and sitting motionless.

Unir stopped and sniffed the air, turning sharply to where Cassidy stood in the hallway entrance. The hob appeared intrigued, widening her beady eyes as far as they could stretch with her lips forming a perfect circle.

“A mortal child, a mortal girl,
Girl who reeks of metal,
Inside the house of dirt
Of the prince crowned with the devil.”

The melody in which the hob sang reminded Cassidy of the playground songs she used to jump rope to as a child. Rhythmic, and if sung with as much darkness as the hob had given it, absolutely bone chilling. Unir awaited her response, eyes keenly watching as she the door flew shut behind her without a movement from the hob.

“P-pleased to meet you. I’m Cassidy. Kirrill told me that you could give me instructions and explain things to me. Also, he said to say that there is, another chamber pot.”

The hob took her in, toes to teeth, and back again. Then she headed into the kitchen, door thudding closed behind her. Cassidy was unsure if she was meant to follow Unir, or if the being simply hated her and left her to her own devices. Crestfallen, she contemplated returning to the room.

“Where I lead, you follow,” said the hob, head peeking from behind the kitchen door. “Come, come, now. Though this house is a hovel, there is still much to learn.”

Cassidy moved forward immediately. As she reached out to grab the door, the hob slammed it, and Cassidy heard a clicking lock. Unir had locked her out. Cassidy stood, dumbfounded, for a moment before mentally reciting what she had read.

Enjoys practical jokes. Hobs loved their pranks. Hadn’t Kirrill even told her that Unir ‘enjoys trickery which would seem cruel to most mortals.’ Cassidy did not take the prank personally, and stood and waited patiently. It only took a minute before the hob opened the door, obviously displeased that Cassidy had not yelled or gotten frustrated.

“New one is no fun,
No, no fun at all
More stoic of a human
I can not dare recall.”

After her short song, she grumbled and groaned. She huffed a huge sigh while letting Cassidy follow her to the kitchen.

“New one?” Cassidy repeated as the hob moved a jar filled with what appeared to be a red jam, causing a hole to appear in the wall. Inside the hole were two ropes. Unir hefted her foot against the wall and pulled one with all of her weight. A wooden dumbwaiter tray appeared, loaded with fresh fruit, linens, and dishware. “Did you know Symone?”

The hob cocked an eyebrow, and nodded. “A talented artist, she was. Your faerie was enamoured with her. I was so pleased when she asked me to midwife. So distraught when I could not.”

Cassidy stared blankly at the hob, who moved around resetting the kitchen, loading soiled dishes onto the cleared tray, stoking the fire with a bright pink powder, and appearing completely unfazed. Not as distraught at all as she described herself.

“She was pregnant?”

The hob did not bother responding. Instead, she placed a pan over the fire, and threw in a meat from the parchment. She flipped it up and down, the sizzling oil and blood secreting from the flesh.

“How did she die?”

The hob did not turn from the fire, carefully watching the pan. She left Cassidy to stare at the threadbare scarf at the back of her head, and the potato sack material of her dress. Licking flames surrounded the pan until a meal appeared inside that no longer resembled what he been there before.

“She married a faerie
‘n that’s how she died
It was the crown’s faerie
The queen could not abide.”

This song was far more dismal and somber than the others had been. Cassidy wanted to ask further, but did not dare upset the small creature. She headed to the small well, instead, and made herself a cup of water. Taking a sip, she watched the hob removed the pan from the flame, no kitchen mittens or gloves to protect against the heat. When she sat the pan down, there was an entire pot-roast surrounded by root vegetables. Unir went to the shelves and took down some spices.

With the hob generously sprinkling on the spices, the room filled with the smell of earthy and herbs. The roast smelled not much like anything in and of itself, but looked succulent.

“Here, dear mortal, a feast for you.”

It had taken only a matter of minutes to make, and Cassidy knew there was magic involved. Though she wondered what would befall her for taking a bite, and though she had an exceptionally empty stomach, she knew she had to decline the meal. Not wanting to offend the hob, she feigned her interest, walking close to the table with the roast. It looked more moist than any meat she had tasted, glittering with all of it’s broth.

“It looks fantastic,” Cassidy smiled. “What is it?”

The hob grinned, her wide teeth filling up all her mouth. She inched the pan full of food closer to Cassidy.

“A roast of beef, with golden potatoes and the freshest carrots. As fine as any you will ever encounter. Give it a taste, you are sure to enjoy it.”

Cassidy could imagine what the hob meant by ‘enjoy,’ seeing herself gorging herself until every bite had been removed from the plate. As tempting as the plate looked, Cassidy knew she had to find a way to reject the offer.

“And what are those spices? They smell so earthy.”

The hob gestured to the bottles beside her. “Rosemary and Thyme, common but classic.”

Cassidy pretended to be heartbroken. “What a shame! I’m allergic to Thyme. Oregano, too. It would have been delicious, I’m sure.”

The hob eyed her suspiciously. Cassidy was confident in her response, because it was true. She was allergic to several herbs and spices, although it wasn’t enough to kill her. Just mild rashes and itching eyes. Being a human and not a fairy endowed her with the ability to lie or fib, but she chose instead to stretch the truth. The hob did not seem particularly bad. The prankish behaviour, small size, and sing-song voice reminded her of a child. She felt fond of the creature already.

“Who told? Who told?” Unir sulked. The dish turned to rotten meat and potatoes with sprouts and mold growing from them. Also included were scraps and bits straight from the trash, with eggshells and carrot stems garnishing the dish.

“I did not lie. I do have an allergy,” Cassidy said. She did not reveal that at least two sources had warned her against faerie food and cooking.

“If no one told, you must be so clever girl. Never eat a dish in faerie lest you cook the thing yourself.” She cackled and laughed, and twirled all around.

Cassidy stared around her at the hundreds of ingredients, pots and pans, bottles of liquids, and to the bin which Unir had scavenged the trash to make the faux dinner.

Cooking she could manage, but she would need to teach herself how to cook in a fireplace rather than on a stove. She would have to rely on brute strength for mixing rather than the magic of electricity. She was not an excellent chef, but she had to cook for herself most of her life, and for her mother for the parts of her life she had taken part. Cassidy had always needed to know how to care for herself, because no one else seemed to when she was young. She had, though, gotten comfortable in the years spent with her grandmother’s home cooking. It had been a very long time since she had held a spatula or even boiled an egg.

The rest of the morning with Unir was spent following her as she reorganized all of the changes Cassidy had made in her frenzy back into their disorderly positions, replaced chamber pots, swept up the stone floor, and replaced the towels of the bathing room. Cassidy did not dare to follow the hob into Kirrill’s room. Irrational, she knew, but she felt like he would sense it if she even stretched a single toe through the door.

Unir played small tricks on Cassidy all throughout that time. She closed the door on the fabric of Cassidy’s dress, told her a certain part of the hall would open if she found the right book, and had her lean over the tub trying to find some bauble that had fallen to the bottom and dunked her head in the water. Cassidy had patience with the hob, and let her have her fun bullying.

The hob, by the end, enjoyed the humans company enough to reveal that one prank was not so. She moved a book, Cassidy did not see which, and a hole opened up in the wall.

They both stepped inside to find a room with pastel colored walls, jars full of fireflies, a rocking chair in the corner atop a round carpet, and an extravagant crib. A nursery. It had been meticulously decorated with images of twilight skies and the phases of the moon. It had never been touched by a child.

“Will you tell me what happened to her?” Cassidy asked, more curious than ever as to how such a terrible tragedy could occur. Surely, the queen could not be so cruel as to kill an expecting mother.
Unir nodded, moving to sit atop a large chest and gesturing that she should take the rocking chair. It felt odd to take up space in a nursery that never served its purpose, but Cassidy obliged. Unir stared off into the lights of the fireflies, but looking far past them to some distant memory.

“Kirrill is one of the sons that the queen bore. She has had many, many more. Scores of children she has birthed since she came into existence, all meeting ill fates. Some say she has them just to make something beautiful, and she counts them as her possessions. She gets pleasure when she sees them vie for her affections and approval. Eventually, she tires of them. We fae are immortal. The queen has lived well beyond our years and shall live even further past our deaths. No need has she of heirs, or princelings. No need of princesses whose beauty could outshine her. She is a jealous woman, and a cruel one. She is no mother, any more than a potter is a mother for creating a fine vase.”

Cassidy saw Unir’s eyes narrow discussing the queen’s ill-suited parenthood. She could see the loathing there, and wondered why a creature who hated the queen so much would remain near her.

“All the children before these two sons were made to murder one another in duels, sent off into wars against rival courts, or simply murdered for some concocted notion of treason. Kirrill was born and his brother followed ten years later, and the two were not unkind to one another. The queen relished in their beauty, both winged spirits like their father, a man she put in the ground not long after bearing their second child.. The queen sent often her children to do tasks in her stead or in the stead of her guards. Kirrill was sent on such a task, delivering a changeling. The neighbor of the stolen child was the one you call Symone. He saw her painting in her front yard, and, falling for her talent, revealed himself to her.

“They fell as swiftly as a diving bird, but love with a faerie is no easy task. I do not know the details of their romance in the mortal world, but he eventually brought her to Faerie, keeping her hidden in this hovel. I was one of the few who knew she was here. She became pregnant. Unfortunately, Kirrill’s fellow princeling revealed where Symone was kept, and the queen tricked her. The details of how are not knowledge of mine, but the fault must lay with his brother for they were made to duel publicly. Kirrill gave the first blow, but must have uncovered the truth. The queen had already killed his bride, ground her bones into a crown and cursed him to wear her with him eternally. The queen had Kirrill’s wings sliced from his back as a sign of his disownment for marrying a mortal girl, and here we are now.”

She gestured at the empty nursery, eerie in its suffocating silence. The fireflies danced around in their jars like flickering stars. Symone must have spent her last days in here, painting and preparing for the child that would not come.

Cassidy imagined the queen in the doorway, resplendent and terrible. What could warp a woman in such a way to become as cruel as the queen? Was it only immortality?

“And his brother?” Cassidy asked. “What became of him?”

“Alive,” the hob said. “Kirrill dropped his blade, and refused to kill him, leaving him with a curse instead. Only those on the dais that day heard the curse. The boy has been absent from court some time, though.”

“Did he do it on purpose? Did he know what the queen would do?”

The hob rubbed a finger to her chin, thinking deeply. The wrinkles fell heavier on her face.

“If he did not, he is blind. Though many close to the queen are. He was young during the event, no older than the year of thirteen. Perhaps, he was naive. Naivety gets you killed in this land.”

Uncomfortable, Cassidy rose from her chair. The chair clattered as it rocked too hard backwards against the wall. She nearly thanked the hob for her story, before remembering the rules.

“You are a wonderful storyteller, Unir,” Cassidy told the hob, sincerity warming her voice.

A grin spread wide on the faerie’s large face. “You listened well, clever girl.”

Cassidy wanted to correct the hob, to tell her that she was far from clever, but Unir was out the door and preparing to leave. Singing a song with all melody and no words, Unir was gone before Cassidy entered the living room.

She would just have to live up to that first impression. Would have to become clever enough to make it back to her friends and grandparents, all the while avoiding the queen’s wrath.

Knowing what she knew now, Cassidy was certain that the queen had given her to Kirrill as a punishment to him. To slap him in the face with another mortal girl he could never protect from her. He could have given up on her already, not playing into the queen’s hand, but he had not. The tea was testament enough to that, but the ring showed that he truly intended to protect her. An irreplaceable gift that once belonged to someone much more precious than she was. Even if it was only to prove his mother, the queen, wrong, Cassidy would take advantage of his protection. She would play this game of chess against her fate.