With a flash of crimson sleeve, the queen’s arm snaked out and she caught Gwyn by the ear and pinched down tight.
“Don’t think you can escape me, girl,” she whispered. “You belong to the garden, and thus to me.”
Gwyn winced and tried to keep her head even with the queen’s grip. It wasn’t easy, though, with the queen being a few heads shorter than she was.
“W-where are we going?”
The Ruby Queen gave her a look so filled with fury and hate that she nearly made a door back to Lyra’s world then and there. The only thing that stopped her was the certainty that the queen would follow her and drag her back to the garden after she’d destroyed Lyra’s world completely.
She couldn’t let that happen. Not to her friend that might as well have been a sister.
“You have trespassed against my hospitality and are a danger to all. In short,” the queen stopped pulling her along long enough to give her a grim smile, “you must be dealt with.”
Dread and fear coiled together in Gwyn’s stomach, and though she regretted losing her temper, she found that she couldn’t apologize. The daisies would be better off as pigs anyway considering how much they enjoyed rooting and digging in the dirt.
Still, her fear wouldn’t be silenced completely. “What are you going to do?”
“Do?” They came to a stop in front of a gloomy looking cottage Gwyn had never seen before. It looked like something that ought to have been lurking in the dark forests, waiting for unsuspecting children to come along that it could gobble up. The queen turned to her and released her ear. “I’m going to do what I should have done all along. I’m calling for a Council of Three.”
Gwyn paled. She’d wanted to see her mother and father again, but not like this.
As though sensing her thoughts, the Ruby Queen gave her a vicious look. “And don’t think they’ll be coming here as your loving, doting parents. No, it’s the King of the Seelie and the Queen of the Unseelie I want, and that’s who will come. Now, in you get.” She shoved Gwyn through the doorway and slammed the door shut, rattling the lock in the key with satisfaction.
The dark cottage swallowed Gwyn up with ease, tangling her in cobwebs and dust, and straining sunlight through the cracks in the shutters and through muddy windows until it was pale and lifeless.
Gwyn landed hard in a cloud of dust. She swatted at the air as she coughed and struggled to her feet. Fear was a shrill beast in her ear that swelled up until it looked like rage.
She faced the door, her fingers sparking with magic. So the queen thought she could lock her up in here and that she’d sit like an obedient child, grateful for the whipping?
Gwyn stalked toward the door, eager to prove the queen wrong, when the trill of birdsong echoed through the room, breaking enough of the spell her fear had woven about her that she stopped and turned around.
Crumbs of soot spilled out of the decrepit chimney, allowing cleaner light through, though it remained stifled and strained. But the birdsong sounded once more, promptly followed by a charcoaly bird that coughed in the ashes and soot.
“Robin!” She flew to the hearth and fished her cousin out, brushing away the grime from the chimney shaft as best as she could.
“Put me down,” he croaked, spitting out a glob of soot.
Hastily, she complied, then backed away to give him space.
With one last cough, he shivered out of his feathers, a look of disgust in his emerald eyes. “What is the point of having a chimney if you never allow any fires? Good way to kill people, that.” He nodded at the hearth. “Just soot and ashes, ashes and soot. Enough to smother even the most honest among us.”
“What do you mean?” She frowned at the hearth. “There can’t be soot or ashes without fire.”
“Ah,” her cousin said, a little more like himself after he dusted off his jaunty red scarf, “that’s the beauty of it. The fires burn outside the hearth, and are put out only when the spark that caused the fire is imprisoned in here.” He looked around, shaking his head at the rafters that were so full of shadows and spiders they’d become an impenetrable dark. “I’ve always wondered about this place, but it has rarely been worth visiting.”
“Where am I, exactly?” Gwyn asked. Her cousin was a storm of curiosity and cheer, no matter if he greeted her in the gardens or a ramshackle cottage that was giving serious thought to just collapsing where it sagged. She eyed the beams and rafters warily, and stepped closer to a grimy wall.
Robin spun on his heel to face her, grinning. “You, my dear cousin, are currently enjoying the hospitality of the House for the Dangerous and Willfully Wicked. Pray tell whatever did you do to enrage her enough to send you here?”
Gwyn swallowed and dropped her gaze to her hands that had quieted down to nearly a whisper. She had never considered herself dangerous or willfully wicked, though she was certain the daisies wouldn’t see it that way. Thinking of them made her want to run and hide while she shrieked with laughter. She rubbed her chest. It was a new feeling that had settled in between her ribcage and her heart, and she wasn’t entirely sure what to do with it.
“Come now,” Robin said, anxious at her distress. He gave her his most winning smile and chucked her affectionately under the chin. “Being dangerous and willfully wicked isn’t as bad as all that. Not if it’s the Ruby Queen banishing you here.”
He put a reassuring hand on her shoulder that held just enough empathy for her to lose control of the tears that had been pooling in the corners of her eyes.
She held out her hands that were warm, but not yet sparking. “I found my magic, Robin! And it was wonderful and amazing, and,” she hiccuped a sob, “and I’ve turned all the daisies in the courtyard into pigs!”
. . . 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. 🙂