Chapter Four: An Introduction to the Princess of the Fae and the Captive Audiences She Keeps
Tinted red light slipped sluggishly into the room when May woke, indicating that it was some time around midday. Shuddering at her memories of the previous night, the healer rolled out of bed, only to find herself completely alone.
Sighing in resignation May stumbled into the shower, an enchanted bath that was always filled with the right amount of perfectly heated water, and proceeded to wonder when she was going to be called in by the master of the castle. Finvarra had this unerring ability of making her sweat, of making her wait for hours and hours until he deemed it appropriate for her to deliver news of impending doom.
(Would it be too much to ask for a nice premonition? Just once she wanted to dream of picnics and birthday parties and weddings. Even a boring day in forest grammar school was infinitely preferable to death, destruction, famine, and pestilence.)
As she was musing, one of the castle messengers, a young Fae by the name of Theofayn who personally ran James' messages, knocked loudly on the bathroom door, and May almost let him in, so lost was she in her thoughts. "Miss Bloodstone? Are you in there?"
May considered, briefly, not answering. But if it was a summons from Finvarra and it was discovered that she was hiding in the bathroom, well whatever credibility she'd earned recently would be evaporated. She needed all the goodwill she could get over the next year.
"Yes, I'm in here."
Theofayn's soft voice was almost inaudible through the thick wood of the suite's door.
"Lady Findabhear wishes to see you." May sighed and sank deeper into the water all around her.
Just great. The one fae other than James who had taken an instant dislike to her wanted to see her. Tricky, magnificent, brilliant Findabhear, Finvarra's vicious little sister.
There were whole legends about her. Most involving her killing some poor mortal who was unable to uphold a bargain or, conversely, dying because of a foolishly worded contract or desire.
May had no desire to end up as a protagonist in one of the famous Findabhear's exploits.
But she really had no choice. She couldn't snub the King's sister either.
"I'll be there, Theofayn."
Murano had actually donned a pair of pants today, which shocked Jim more than anything. Glass Fae were not known for their cultural sensitivity. They were known for doing Tiki dances during the middle of funerals and draping floral leas on condemned criminals before their executions.
Jim sighed and wondered if he had been expected to wear nothing but a grass skirt and body paint. He wondered if he even had body paint somewhere. And how to apply how terrible it would look on his pale, sun deprived skin.
"So brother James, today we discuss music!" Murano was excited and Jim just wanted to bang his head against a wall. They needed to discuss trade agreements, mutual alliance pacts, and regulations, not music. He successfully plastered an interested look on his face and replied,
"What kind of music, my lord?"
When May exited the Ambassadorial suite, with absolutely no idea where she was heading since Theofayn had just assumed that she knew where Findabhear lived, she wondered if she could get away with claiming that she didn't know where the royal Fae lived.
"Looking a bit lost there, miss." A smooth voice interrupted her musings and May whirled, shocked to see a human male. The young man had shaggy dark hair and grey eyes that seemed to be far older than they should have. May would have placed him anywhere between 26 and 35, but knew that in this castle it was probably just an opportunistic fae attempting to get her alone and hurt her.
"No," she replied with a tight smile, "I'm not lost. I know exactly where I'm going." Turning away from the ruggedly handsome stranger, May headed in the opposite direction, praying that somehow she would end up in the wing of the castle where she'd healed Nicolai.
"Sweetheart," the mysterious 'human' was beside her without May even hearing him move, "her royal pain's quarters are in the opposite direction." May spun, coming face to chest with the tall man. Looking up she saw him quirk a grin at her indignant fury.
"Oh and you know right, mister…"
"Rowan. And I assure you I am fully human." May rolled her eyes.
"Sure you are. I wasn't born yesterday." Rowan grinned as she turned and started walking in the direction he had suggested. He had seen many humans come and go in these halls and it never hurt to get to know the doomed. Someone needed to remember the lost souls when no one else would.
"No, I think you're close to your twenties, so approximately 19 or so years ago, right?" May shrugged, not wanting to answer 'Rowan' until she knew more.
"Since when did Bloodstones get so uptight? Your people used to be a lot more free on the emotions, darling. This right." May gritted her teeth trying to ignore him, hoping she was making the right choice in following his directions.
"Come on, don't I at least get a name? I promise I won't sell it on the black market. Heck, I'll even throw in some information for you."
May rolled her eyes and spit out a terse, "Moonflower. My name is Moonflower."
Rowan let out a long laugh, and almost missed pointing out the next corridor.
"Your real name, love. Not the one that old man Finny gave you. He always has a penchant for picking the truly odd names for captives."
"What's it to you?" May replied as they slowed to a standstill outside a grandly decorated set of double doors.
"Well, when you are gone and no one remembers who you were and what you did, at least one of your kind will. I'm a captive for eternity," the man whispered in her ear, "but you are not."
"May. May Bloodstone." She replied, shuddering at the thought of living in the terrifying and beautiful castle for more than her assigned term. Rowan grinned, moving to push open the door.
"Welcome to the harpy's den, May."
"The kind of music that the lovely healer would enjoy."Murano's response threw Jim for a loop. Outwardly he didn't crack but inwardly his thoughts went into overdrive. Why the hell did Murano want to know what kind of music May liked?
(When had he come to think of her as May and not Miss Bloodstone?)
"I'm afraid I know very little about the kind of music Miss Bloodstone would find amenable. Her people are quite volatile." James replied carefully, hoping to dissuade the flightly glass fae from chasing his captive healer.
"Oh, so they are spirited! That is even better Brother James! This will be fun!" Jim was even more confused now.
"I'm afraid I don't quite understand, my lord."
"Did Chief Finvarra not tell you? I am to pursue the lovely human and, if I succeed you are to give me all of your delicious strawberries. It's quite the win-win situation."
In all the chaos suddenly thrown into Jim's mind, two thoughts triumphed.
1) Not my strawberries!
2) Not on my watch!
The room May stepped into was bright and airy, with a soaring ceiling and curved, carved walls, intricate and distracting. It was also filled with exotic birds. 1000s of them.
Colorful plumage and fascinating shapes could not mask the hunger and dark intent in the multitude of beady eyes facing down the shocked forest medic. So entranced was she with her first glance of Findabhear's room, May easily missed the otherworldly occupant, a Fae who was casually blending in among her captive audience.
"Beautiful aren't they?" May jumped at the light voice, a voice which had all the shades of the multicolored birds caged around her, soft as down with sharp talons underneath. Turning May found herself staring in even more surprise at the Fae Princess lounging on a divan.
Findabhear's hair was a vivid acid green, streaked through with the wild colors of Darkwood birds. Pinks, oranges, and yellows melded with the overpowering green, framing a face so lovely that May understood why there were so many legends about humans falling for her tricks. If she didn't know better, (if she hadn't already seen those fantastically made eyes frown and watched those vibrant pink lips snarl), May would have mistaken the royal for someone trustworthy.
It was terribly hard to remove a lifetime of beauty equals goodness.
Clothed in a gown of the deepest red silk May had ever seen, Findabhear yet again reminded her of how poorly she dressed. And where this was not usually a major worry for the intrepid Bloodstone, the fact that she was trapped in a place where appearance was key had May secretly wondering if she could acquire some trendier threads.
"Well, human? You do speak. Answer me." The softly hissed response had May jumping startled. She had been so lost in observation that she had forgotten to respond to the Princess' question. Behind her Rowan snickered, enjoying the show being put on before him.
"They're lovely. Very pretty. Unique." May found herself babbling a little, as the nearest creature, a sparrow with neon orange plumage gazed at her sorrowfully with little black eyes that seemed almost...
A shudder of fear raced down May's back and she turned, only to find Findabhear in front of her. The fae had moved with the speed and grace of her people and May found herself truly terrified of the arrogant and gorgeous creature in front of her.
"My brother said that none were to harm you, especially after Nicolai. But I do not like you. You are nothing but a human girl, stupid enough to get caught up with our kind. It was pure luck that you were able to save my nephew." Findabhear's piercing amethyst eyes were darker than Syfen bark as she stared with no little madness into the red and gold eyes of the young woman before her. A small corner of her mind had May wondering if Findabhear hadn't wanted Nicolai dead. It would have put her one step closer to the crown, right?
"My brother also decreed that I was to teach you proper court manners. But, " the glittering eyes flashed wickedly in the bright sunlight. "I do not follow my brother's whims. You will report here when summoned and you will do what I say."
May felt like another person was answering for her when she unconsciously responded, "And if I don't?"
Findabhear's razor sharp grin was unreassuring. "Then you will join my pretty little flock. Probably as an ugly ground chicken or a drab dodo. Would you like a demonstration dear? I'd love to see what you'd look like in a cage. That's where all you silly human's belong anyways."
May shook her head. "No," she responded dully, praying that for the moment she at least could escape with her humanity, "A demonstration won't be necessary."
Findabhear smirked, "Then here's your first lesson about court life, dear. If you're human you don't belong in court. Unless you're giving us pleasure of course. So start scrubbing," A bucket and scrub brushes materialized at May's feet. "My floor is filthy. Put those hands of yours to use."
As she scrubbed a sparkling clean floor, May wondered just what she'd done to tick off a princess of the Fae.
May scrubbed for hours, her hands becoming raw and red from something in the soapy water put before her. All around her the birds made no sound, making the young woman feel claustrophobic. Some of the creatures were pathetic, bedraggled fowl with colorful feathers and crushed eyes. But those she could deal with, if she hardened her heart enough. No, it was the birds of prey, the hawks, falcons, and eagles that made May want to hide. Wicked claws glinted in the evening sun and curved beaks smiled maliciously as the healer scrubbed not only the main floor but every floor in Findabhear's quarters and every other surface too.
Occasionally the princess would get bored with her prey and lashed out with a nasty whip, laughing quietly at the wince and muted curse May couldn't help but mutter. Every slash left red welts in her skin and tore her patched dress a little more, leaving the proud healer wondering just how much longer Findabhear would find this game fun and how soon she was going to attempt something a lot more dangerous.
"You're very quiet," Findabhear remarked at some point in the evening, waving a perfectly manicured hand in May's direction. "Sing for me."
May, who was currently scrubbing a marble statue of some unknown fae, wanted to sob in anger and frustration. She couldn't sing! At least not well enough to avoid the wrath of the diva who had been beating her all day.
"I can't sing," she replied cheerily, her voice faker than the benevolent smile on Findabhear's face. Findabhear smirked, "Well, I guess you really don't have any talents then do you? Besides the healing hands. By the way, how are your lovely hands doing? I've been told that Fae water can be a tad abrasive." The gushing concern was venom masquerading thinly as good will. The sore and worn out doctor just glanced at her inflamed hands, hands which were bleeding slightly in places.
"They're fine," she ground out, wishing someone, anyone, would call her away. She'd even go speak to Finvarra, confess her latest nightmare, anything. Anything but continue to breathe the same air as this malicious fairy, this woman who had it out for her for reasons May couldn't quite fathom.
But Fae didn't need to have reasons, did they? Maybe she just smelled too human or it was the wrong day of the month or something. Fae weren't even logical, it could be an insult as simple as May not smiling at her or something. "My, my, my Bheara, I haven't seen you so jealous in years." May froze at the sound of the smooth voice behind her. Rowan, the human who had brought her to the right room, was leaning casually against a pillar, smirking at the princess.
He had disappeared for a long time, so long that May had forgotten he actually existed.
"Jealous?" Findabhear's perfect eyebrows raised in visible shock, "Of an ugly thing like her?" Rowan grinned and May just rolled her eyes. Insults to her appearance were the last thing she was worried about.
"Mmhmm, otherwise you wouldn't put so much effort into torturing the girl. Could it be that you think that Ja-" Rowan was cut off by Findabhear lashing out at him with the whip, shrieking at him to say no more. Rowan was clearly intent on speaking however, and began again, "Honestly love, you think it isn't obvious? The only one who doesn't see it is the poor girl herself! You are definitely-" May was now watching with curiosity as the human ducked the whip with effortless grace, much more grace than she could ever manage. But her enjoyment was cut short by a glare from Findabhear herself.
"Out, you stupid girl! I need to speak with Rowan. Privately." May didn't need to be told to leave twice.
May was surprised that she managed to make it back to her 'room' without getting lost. She didn't really remember much of her run, just that she was moving as fast as she possibly could, hoping with all the might she could muster that Findabhear wouldn't decide to call her back in.
100 little cuts screamed out in protest on her back as she moved and May was sure that the only thing preventing others from noticing her injuries as she passed was the claret fabric of her ripped up dress. But her hands, her hands she couldn't really hide.
Red and inflamed, May's hands burned with agony and for a few seconds the doctor seriously considered amputation.
(The image of a victorius Findabhear was a wonderful deterrent)
As May managed to open the door, almost passing out from the pain, she wondered just what Rowan had meant when he claimed that Findabhear was jealous of her. A strangled noise that was half sob of frustration and half disbelieving laughter broke the stillness of twilight as May flopped down on her bed, miserable and wishing for nothing more than the chance to be home again, the chance to be normal or at least as normal as she ever got.
May slept, for how long she did not know.
She woke slowly, the disorientation of deep sleep mixing with the steady haze of pain from the many cuts on her back. But that was nothing compared to the misery that was her hands. Eyes opened blearily, May contemplated the swollen flesh on the end of her arms.
What used to be efficient medical tools were now the victims of some bizarre allergic reaction.
May didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Laugh at the ludicrous nature of the situation. Cry at what was probably going to be the loss of her hands. And nothing was more important to a Bloodstone than their hands.
Every healing touch, hearty slap, and deadly defense was done with the hands. Lack of sight could be overcome, the deaf and the dumb were often better healers than bragging blow toads, but without hands?
Without hands a Bloodstone was truly impaired.
May took solace in the fact that she could still feel her hands, that at least the nerves were working. Maybe there was a way out? Maybe it was temporary? Maybe she would be okay?
That was a lot of maybes.
A soft knock at the door had May wondering if she should duck and hide. After all she could hardly face Jim in her current state. She'd already relied on him more than she wanted to when she had healed Nicolai. The last thing she wanted was more debts to the Fae.
But before she could duck into a different room, the door slid open and Theofayn, Jim's manservant, stumbled in, his arms full of scrolls and folders.
Theofayn's eyes widened almost comically when he saw the injured woman glaring at him with a mixture of pain and stubborn defiance.
Several treaties, treatises, and spy's reports tumbled to the floor as he reacted to the sight of May's mangled hands, swollen and red beyond recognition. May felt a surge of pity for the awkward youth. He wasn't much younger than James physically, but mentally?
The two were decades, if not centuries apart.
"Mmmmadammm," he stammered, his face pale with fear, "Your hands!"
May almost laughed at the poor boy, she was so confused and tired.
"Yeah Theofayn? What about them?"
Theofayn dropped all of his papers this time, dumping them unceremoniously on James' desk, and ran to a cabinet in the corner. Pulling a key from inside his plain servant's clothing (clothing that was still more rich than any May had seen in the richest Bloodstone District), his shaking hands managed, barely, to turn the lock.
Curiosity won out and May walked towards him, careful not to spook the young Fae who had seemed all right in a mousy, timid sort of way. But before she could get very close, Theofayn seemed to come to some sort of decision. Turning swiftly, he yanked a cork out of a long thin bottle and doused the inflamed flesh.
May bit back a scream and tried to stay conscious as the world dimmed for a moment.
May shook her head vigorously, the pain draining away slowly from her offending hands. A quick glance down at them found that they were no longer unrecognizable and though the pain was yet to completely vanish, she was no longer willing to chop off the most precious tool in her arsenal.
Theofayn stared at her with a look halfway between horror and anticipation. She wondered what the Fae was thinking, wondered if it was anything along the lines of 'oh-goddess-James-is-gonna-murder-me-I-shouldn't-have-done-that' or if it was something as simple as gee-that-really-worked.
May curled her fingers experimentally, and, finding them hale and whole, felt a rush of relief hit her so hard that her knees almost buckled. She had her hands. For now at least, she had some small semblance of control in this nightmare.
This waking nightmare, if only it were but a dream!
"Thank you, Theofayn." She knew that thanking a fae was dangerous, that it put you in their debt, and that repaying debts was often an ordeal worse than the favor. But right now she couldn't care about that, right now she was just happy to feel the pressure of air on her skin and not want to vomit from nausea and pain.
Theofayn stammered an unintelligible reply, cut off in its midst by the hug May drew him into. She pulled back quickly, knowing that Fae were, well, different, but smiled at the blush that stained the studious youth's cheeks. "You're most welcome, ma'am."
May shook her head. How many times had she told Theofayn to call her May? But the manservant simply picked up his dropped scrolls and returned them to the desk he was heading for, rearranged the items to his liking, and left, head bowed.
She caught the slight smile on his face, but chose not to comment in a rare fit of restraint.