“Busy?” Gwyn slowed to a stop. As much as she hated the daisies, turning her back on them when they’d a taste for blood was only foolishness.
The Q.P.D. nodded, her grin curling all the way across her face and bleeding into her sepals. “We know how you got there,” she said, vicious laughter crinkling the corners of her eyes.
“I’m afraid I don’t know what you mean,” Gwyn said, although she had a sinking feeling that she did. Still, it was impossible. There were no daisy beds near the croquet course.
The Q.P.D. turned up her nose. “Do you hear that, girls? The child expects us to believe her tales of innocence and no wrong doing, as though the clover would lie!”
“Clover—“ Her stomach twisted with the memory of sugared pear. Of course there had been clover, but why had it turned on her?
“Humph,” the other daisies chorused, turning up their noses as well.
The Q.P.D. tutted, shaking her head. “I wonder what the queen would make of all this.”
Gwyn felt as though she’d eaten one of those special custards that shrank you down faster than a candle going out. “Make of what?”
It was entirely possible the daisies were lying. They’d deceived more than one confession out of her in her lifetime, but they were all a little too smug for something as simple as a lie.
“Oh,” the Q.P.D. said, waving a leaf at her. “You know, appearing out of Nowhere that happens to also be Out of Thin Air.”
The daisies nodded in unison as Gwyn wilted where she stood. So much for coming back unnoticed.
“Yes, I heard it myself from a very reliable patch of clover.”
“Indeed,” another nodded, “you know what they say about people who do things like that.”
“Magic,” a daisy hissed through all of the chatter and speculation.
The daisies all froze as though even they hadn’t expected to go so far as to accuse Gwyn of magic, but now that the cat had been let out of the bag, they whispered their agreements to one another.
Gwyn backed up, her earlier elation turning cold with dread. “M-magic? I don’t know what you’re talking about!”
Scenting blood, the Q.P.D. Leaned out as far as her stem would allow. “We can see it in your eyes, your face, and,” her gaze dropped to Gwyn’s hands that were knotting themselves together as she tried to come up with a way to get out of this with her head intact, “your fingers.”
The blood drained from Gwyn’s face, and she hid her traitorous hands behind her. “You’re just making things up,” she said, forcing bravado and confidence she didn’t feel into her voice.
“Are we then?” the daisies said, eyeing her knowingly.
She stiffened her spine and nodded, imagining herself back in Lyra’s world where she was a queen dealing with misbehaving kittens that had trouble keeping one shape for too long. “If you had proof, you’d go to the queen.”
Not that the queen required much by way of evidence.
She thought back to the poor Duke of Dandelions and hoped he’d managed to get away. The queen didn’t actually execute her subjects often or she would have run out of people to terrorize long ago. No, what she did was much worse, as the former Queen of Begonias was learning. Not only was being turned into a mallet demeaning, but you got your face stuffed full of hedgehog quills every time the queen swung you at the “ball.”
And that was one of the Ruby Queen’s nicer punishments. Gwyn didn’t like to think what would become of her if the queen ever found out she could work magic.
“I suppose it is only to be expected,” the Q.P.D. tutted with sweetness that made the sugared pears appear bland. She grinned at a neighboring daisy and nudged it with her leaf. “After all, what can we expect of a child whose own parents didn’t even want it?”
“That’s not true!” Gwyn shouted, tears pricking the corners of her eyes.
“Yes.” The daisies gave her pitying nods. “It can only be expected it would want attention.”
“Aye, and be willing to do anything to get it.”
“Even magic!” a daisy hissed as though she’d said treason instead.
“Stop it,” Gwyn cried, knowing they wouldn’t. She’d gone and given them exactly what they’d wanted, and they’d be merciless for the next long while.
“Our poor queen,” the Q.P.D. murmured sadly. “Having to deal with such a troublemaker day in and day out.”
“Indeed,” the daisies who weren’t gossiping a number of other terrible things the dreadful, abandoned child might have done chorused.
“She is the true victim here.”
“And the ingratitude!” the Q.P.D. went on, fully in her element now. “She has but one pear tree in all the garden, and that tree only bears a single fruit a day. And does the queen get to delight in this rare and delicious delicacy?”
“NO,” the daisies shouted, tiny eyes gleaming with mischief.
“No, indeed.” The Q.P.D. shook her petals at the tragedy. “Because she affords that gift to the one creature in all the garden who would refuse to be grateful for such courtesy.”
“Of course,” one of the daisies sniggered, “it must be awkward to accept the pear, what with the child’s own mother thinking she was worth no more than a pear herself.”
Years of pent up frustration, the Ruby Queen’s bullying, sugared pears, and her own fears as to why her own mother had abandoned her to the garden bubbled white-hot in her veins. Gwyn clenched her jaw and balled her hands into fists. The daisies were horrible gossips and liars, and always had been, but their words still sliced through her as though she was made of little more than paper.
“Well, when you consider that father of hers . . .” One of the daisies snickered, nudging her neighbors. They all nodded and laughed.
“Yes,” the Q.P.D. said, giving her a look of venomous pity. “But one can hardly have great expectations for a creature whom no one wants—unless it is to get rid of her.”
The entire flowerbed burst into sharp-edged laughter, and before Gwyn was quite sensible of what she was doing, she ripped off her gloves and came at them, hands sparking with magic.
“You think I’m worthless, do you?” she demanded, unable to hear anything over the shrill beating of her own heart. “You think I’m incapable of doing any good, that no one wants me?”
The daisies went silent, their eyes wide as they stared at her hands.
“Well, see how you like it!” Gwyn threw her magic recklessly at the flowerbed, singeing many petals with the raw force of it. When the daisy petals and sparkles cleared away, a small herd of extremely befuddled pigs rooted in the empty soil.
She blinked tears out of her eyes she didn’t remember crying, and the heat of her temper cooled until it was cold enough to make her shiver. Her former glory turned to ash in the pit of her stomach.
Gwyn’s mouth rounded as she regarded the pigs with confusion and dismay. She hadn’t meant to do anything to them, not exactly. She’d only wanted to scare them a little, get them to be quiet.
How was she going to explain the pigs to the queen?
“What. Have. You. Done?” The Ruby Queen stood behind her, arms folded, glaring, and cheeks bright red with temper.
“I—“ Gwyn looked down at her gloveless hands and flexed her fingers as though she didn’t entirely believe they belonged to her.
“I’ve heard enough,” the queen snapped. She dropped her mallet, who scurried away as fast as its stiff, wooden legs allowed. “You are guilty of treason, child, and not even your mother can save you now.”
. . . TO BE CONTINUED . . .
© 2016 by Danyelle Leafty. All rights reserved.
If this is your first time visiting, check out the first installment of this episode. Feel free to gather round the hearth and read the other stories that are going on too. The more the merrier! ?
If you like, feel free to join me tomorrow as we follow the adventures of a certain Queen of the Nearly Dead Fae in training. 🙂