The Ice Witch walks with the violet-clad Faerie down a wooden corridor in the great Tree, pointedly ignoring the sparrow man guard following discreetly.
“So, what was your name again?” asks Ishandra, studying her companion. Her hair style reminds her of her own before the changes were made. She has an air of self-confidence, bordering on arrogance, that feels very witch-like.
“Vidia. I’m the fastest Fast Flyer in all of Pixie Hollow,” is the proud reply.
“And you say I am now a Fast Flyer too?”
“Apparently. And one destined for the Winter Woods. We’ll find out how fast you are later,” grins Vidia.
“Sounds like a challenge!” says Ishandra, “And I’ll take you up on it. But where are we going now?”
“To my Cartography Room. I need to show you what has happened, where things are, and answer your questions,” is the answer. “Oh, are you feeling okay?”
Ishandra stops walking and raises an elegant eyebrow. “Why?”
“Faeries from the Winter Woods can’t tolerate the heat. You’re supposed to be important, so I want to make sure you won’t collapse and die of heatstroke.”
The half-faerie of Ice frowns. “I am important. And I’m fine.”
“Okay, okay, just asking,” says Vidia. “And we’ll see how important.” She gives a smirk, which surprises Ishandra, not expecting any kind of provocation from the locals.
Ishandra gives Vidia a half-grin and narrows her eyes. “Yeah, we’ll see…”
This exchange makes the guard nervous until they resume walking.
The round room isn’t very big, having a desk against one wall and shelves filled with rolled up maps. A table with a couple of chairs sits in the middle. On it was the copies of the two books and the map, held down by the piece of azurite.
One of Tinker Bell’s hot tea makers is in the corner, and Vidia makes two cups.
Ishandra looks over the map, comparing it with other maps to get oriented. She asks Vidia a number of questions about the other seasons and their purposes. She had to admit, she had never seen a realm arranged like this before, and she had seen a lot of the Magical Universe, thanks to trips with Valtor.
The balance of nature here struck her as rather fragile; one disaster, such as the crisis she was supposed to prevent, could destroy everything. She could use this insight to her advantage and take over, but what would be the point of ruling over a devastated realm? No, the problem had to be solved first, then she and her sisters could explore options.
She reads through the two books, taking her time with the second one.
“May I have something to take notes on? Aisha told me it reads like nonsense, and it does, but the phrasing tickles my memory.”
Vidia supplies her with some blank leaves and a pen, and a couple of hours later Ishandra stands and stretches. “I’m taking a break. It’s all blurring together now.”
“Works for me,” agrees Vidia, turning from her desk, “Have you figured it out yet?”
“I think I’m making progress; something about the place where the cold comes from. Is there any way I can see the original manuscript? I want to make my own translation,” she answers.
“The original is in the library in the Winter Woods. What do you say we stretch our wings and do that challenge? That would make a good place to race to,” smirks Vidia.
“Ha!” barks the Witch, “I might have been born yesterday, so to speak, but I wasn’t born yesterday! I need to try these wings first.”
“It’s nearly time for dinner anyway,” grins the Faerie, “You got lucky.”
Ishandra glances sharply at the Fast Flyer. “She has pride, a bit of a mean streak, and is not above a little deception. She could make a pretty good Witch.”
While walking down the hall to the dining area, they pass by Minister Snowflake who does a double take at Vidia and the beautiful Winter Woods Fast Flyer with equally beautiful outspread wings walking by her side. Then it strikes her that something is not right with this picture. How can she be a Winter Woods Fast Flier if she is walking upright and gracefully without a care in the world instead of gasping while flat-out on the floor suffering from severe heatstroke? Besides, it is her duty to know every citizen of the Winter Woods down to the number of teeth each have. This Faerie is a complete stranger.
“Vidia,” she calls, “would you introduce me to your companion.”
Vidia gives Ishandra a meaningful look as she tries hard to stifle a smirk. “May it please My Lady,” begins Vidia in courtly speech while curtsying, “this would be Ishandra, Witch of Alfea and Mistress of Ice and Snow.”
Minister Snowflake looks at Ishandra perplexed while Ishandra is thinking that it would be fun to play mind games with her but, since she had time to cool off and to think about it, she concludes these “Faeries” are not the despised Alfea Faeries. The Tinx, as they call themselves, have been going out of their way to make her feel welcome and to help her adjust and she is even coming to believe that that Pixie Queen had been telling the truth about Darcy’s, Stormy’s and her unexpected transformations. So far, they have done her no intentional harm so she’ll give them a break – for now. In fact, after seeing the maps and understanding the fragility of their world, she began to pity them in their plight. She adds a note to herself that in private she would smack Stormy around a bit more to remind her just who – transformed or not – is still Alpha Witch of The Trix and Darcy as well lest she start getting any strange ideas.
“If it would make things clearer for My Lady,” begins Ishandra, while curtsying and lowering her gaze in respect, “I am indeed the Witch named Icy whom you met before. But a night spent in the Chamber of Voices has seen me and my sisters transformed. I am properly Lady Ishandra di Parma, daughter of Lady Ishandra di Parma, The Elder and also of Captain Andrew of Brisbane.”
“Surprise, surprise,” Minister Snowflake is thinking to herself. “She is aristocracy and has more than a little breeding and training in courtly manners and protocol. I’m impressed.” She suddenly realizes that what she’s wanted for the longest time is someone who is her social equal as a companion. “Come with me so we can have a private talk,” she beckons to Ishandra.
“Go on ahead,” Ishandra tells Vidia. “I’ll join you a little later or back at your Cartography Room.”
Minister Snowflake takes Ishandra to a room that at once seems to be a meeting room and lounge for the privileged. They enter and almost immediately a Faerie, wearing a maid’s uniform, is there setting down tea service on a low table between two padded chairs with comfortable backs.
Minister Snowflake indicates the chair where Ishandra is expected to sit and is amazed to see Ishandra fold her wings into nowhere and settle comfortably with her back right against the back of the chair. Ishandra is looking at Minister Snowflake and wondering why she is sitting so ramrod straight in her chair until realizing that being unable to retract her wings she would be in danger of crushing them if she tried to sit any further back. She wonders why they would have chairs with backs at all but then lets it drop.
“How are you and your sisters settling in?” Snowflake asks while pouring two cups of tea and handing one to Ishandra.
“We are comfortable enough,” replies Ishandra, “but we are having problems with the food we are being supplied. I’m guessing that the Winx never told you about our nutritional needs. Most here seem to think that we can survive on only rabbit food.”
“Oh?” frowns Snowflake. “What would you be lacking?”
“In a word: insects,” replies the Ice Witch. “We need the concentrated protein they provide us. Stormy… ah, Leffi is the only one of us who seems to be thriving on this squishy curd-like stuff we’ve been getting the last few days. It’s better than what we got our first evening here and I have eaten some myself but it’s all plant protein and still not enough to sustain us.”
“I believe I can help,” says Snowflake, after thinking on it. “Do you have any problem with animal derived protein?”
“You slaughter animals for food?” asks Ishandra, surprised. “I haven’t seen so much as a well-gnawed bone here.”
“No,” says Snowflake, shaking her head, “in the Winter Woods, we do eat animal protein because we need the extra energy and fat to withstand the cold but we have a much more humane means to obtain it.”
“Eggs?” suggests Ishandra.
“Definitely not!” replies Snowflake, horrified. “That would be like murdering babies for food. No, but you were close. We use bird feathers.”
“Okay…” says Ishandra, looking skeptical, “but how?”
“We collect mostly owl feathers that they have shed which we then clean and chop up fine. Then, by treating them in vats of water to which we’ve added a plant-derived agent we are able to render them into high-protein paste we call owl mince,” Snowflake begins to explain.
“Interesting,” says Ishandra, her interest having been truly piqued.
“The beauty of it is that owl mince can be molded and flavored to taste like almost anything you can imagine. My favorite is a pastry stuffed with owl mince blended with pine nut and chestnut purée and slow cooked,” then involuntarily and in a very un-ladylike fashion she licks her lips. Suddenly realizing what she just did, Snowflake begins to laugh and so too Ishandra as the air of tension breaks.
“I shall arrange immediately for a small package of owl mince to be shipped here with instructions that it is to be delivered directly to you,” says Minister Snowflake. “It should be enough to keep you going until I can arrange regular deliveries. Is there anything else?”
When Ishandra leaves the lounge, she is stopped by Viola who has been sent to find her and inform her that she and Leffi have been relocated to the Newlings’ chamber to reunite them with Darcy. Forgetting her promise to go back to Vidia’s Cartography Room, she makes her way to the Newlings’ chamber to find the Tinx there with Bloom and Aisha bringing in two extra sleeping mats, linen, flowers, food and water.
“Isn’t this nice and cozy?” snarks Darcy once the Faeries have left. “Well let’s see what’s for dinner.” She lifts the lid from a bowl. “More rabbit food,” she reports to her sisters then continues to remove lids “Well, here is something a little better – some high energy seeds and more of this tofu yuck.”
“Quit witching about it, Darcy,” snaps Ishandra, feeling the pangs of her own hunger. “They are at least trying to accommodate us.”
Ishandra resolves to lead by example and snags a square of tofu with the long nail of her index finger. Barely has she chewed and swallowed it when there is a sharp knock on the door. She opens the door to find one of the Messenger Talents there.
“This urgent delivery has come in for you from the Winter Woods by snow owl express,” the messenger informs her, handing her a still cold package. “The rider said that it comes from Minister Snowflake and that you would know what to do. There will be more packages flown in sometime tomorrow.”
“What is it?” asks Darcy with Leffi coming to stand behind her.
“I think this is our promised food rescue package,” Ishandra tells them, getting excited. “But it hasn’t been thirty minutes since I had my talk with Minister Snowflake. She must have yanked on some major strings to get it here so quickly. Now, that’s a lady after my own heart – someone who knows how to get things done and done quickly.”
Within minutes, all three Witches are gorged on owl mince and seeking their sleeping mats. Ishandra closes her eyes thinking that she must find a special way to thank Minister Snowflake for coming to their rescue.”
The next day, maid service returns to the Newlings’ chamber in the form of Rosetta and Silvermist bringing fresh food, flowers, hot tea, water and clean linen. Rosetta sets out food, gathers up the dirty dishes, and dusts while Silvermist sets out fresh tea and water then gathers up the soiled bed sheets from the night before and replaces them with clean.
Darcy is carefully watching Rosetta and Silvermist work, still trying to fully understand the dynamics of her new vision. “They look like little dolls,” she remarks casually.
Ishandra looks at Rosetta then suddenly realizes what it is about her that is begging her attention. Rosetta is the living image of her favorite redheaded doll that was left behind that horrible night when she fled for her life after witch hunters stormed their home, attacked then took away her mother then later burned her alive at the stake. It brought back memories of her first Faerie friend, Muta, who had been her companion for several years. Ishandra had bottled up those painful memories deep in the back of her mind and also in her heart behind barriers of ice that she thought that not even she could break. But then, with a sweet smile, Rosetta smashed those barriers asunder and all the pent up pain, fear, sorrow, anger, hate and longing came flooding out. Ishandra lets out a sob and buries her face in her hands as she weeps uncontrollably.
“What’s the matter?” ask Darcy and Leffi together making to rush to Ishandra’s side.
“Shut up and leave me alone!” she screams at them then turns away, buries her face in her pillow and continues to cry.
Rosetta, realizing that this somehow had to do with her, is looking confused, wondering what she did wrong to start Ishandra crying as if she had somehow caused her heart to break and to make Silvermist burst into tears along with her.
Within seconds, Flora and Aisha are at the door. “Rosetta, Silvermist, come along,” Flora whispers.
“But whaa…?” begins Rosetta, distressed.
“Nothing that’s your fault,” says Aisha gently, “but this is a Trix matter and they need their privacy.”
Flora herds the two Pixie Hollowers out of the chamber. Aisha stops to close the door behind her but catches Leffi mouth to her, “Thank you, Aisha.”
Leffi finally gets Ishandra to stop crying and brings her a cup of the calming tea Silvermist had brought in. Ishandra sips at the tea but continues to sit there as if dazed. There was none of the usual fire in her eyes. Instead, they looked dull and almost lifeless as the occasional tear continued to trickle down her cheeks.
There is a knock that Leffi gets up to answer. A Sparrowman Guard is standing at the door. “The one among you called Lady Ishandra is summoned to an audience by Queen,” he tells her.
“She’s here but she’s in no condition to go anywhere,” Leffi begins to explain.
“This is not a request,” begins the guard.
“I’ll go,” says Ishandra. “Allow me a few minutes to freshen up and make myself presentable.”
The guard takes Ishandra to the Queen’s Audience Chamber where Queen Clarion is awaiting her arrival. Ishandra expected to be greeted with anger but instead Clarion escorts her gently to a comfortable, padded bench and bids her sit down then sits down beside her.
“What happened?” Clarion asks her quietly.
Ishandra wants to tell her that it is none of her business but Clarion, seeming to have read her mind, continues, “While you and your sisters are here in Pixie Hollow, your health and wellbeing are my business. I also have two of my subjects who are so traumatized that they needed to be brought to a Healing Talent. Now, I need to know from you what happened.”
Clarion never raises her voice but by using her voice alone she instills immediate obedience from Ishandra in a way she had never known. Now Ishandra is beginning to understand why Clarion is Queen of Pixie Hollow.
Ishandra tells Clarion her story often having to pause to weep and wipe away tears. But she does not lie or exaggerate but recounts to Clarion everything down to the last horrific detail the events of her life and how Rosetta had managed to smash through her so carefully constructed barriers. By the time she finishes, Clarion’s face is ashen.
Clarion sits for a long minute stunned. Never had she heard of anything so pitiless, cruel and horrific as this. In her mind, she is questioning the truth of it but, realizing that not even the best of her Tall-Tales Talents could come up with anything approaching this in such vivid and gruesome detail, she elects to believe Ishandra’s story as being the unvarnished truth.
“Ishandra,” says Clarion softly while taking Ishandra’s hand, “you need not fear any such persecution here in Pixie Hollow. So long as you obey our laws, no one here will hunt you or molest you or attempt to cleave you open while still alive to see if your heart is black or red or any other such thing. I would ask you, though, not to repeat any of this to any of my subjects even if they should ask. I will give Rosetta and Silvermist an explanation in a manner I know they can handle. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Majesty,” is the answer.
Ishandra sits for several minutes deep breathing and trying to stabilize her emotions. “I have made some progress with your two books,” she tells Clarion, “but it still reads like gibberish. Do you have anything else from that time that could contain additional information?”
Clarion pauses trying to determine how far she actually trusted Ishandra but then decides that it is a matter of something that could save the Winter Woods and Pixie Hollow from the impending disaster. “I have what has become to be known as the Queens’ Book of Secrets,” she tells her. “I shall allow you to read it but never divulge its existence as such.”
“Fair enough,” says Ishandra.
Clarion leaves then returns with a jewel encrusted oak box which she unlocks with a magical gesture. She carefully lifts out an ancient manuscript that appears to have been bound and rebound several times and, in some cases, the crumbling leaves reinforced with a clear membrane. “I can’t read much of this because of the changes in our language but hopefully you can find something useful.”
Ishandra calls up a white glow about her hands to prevent any damage to the book and begins to read. The first hundred leaves yield up their secrets easily then she reaches a large section of the book that, although written in Old Hollowese, smacks of someone who had only a shaky knowledge of the language. Ishandra skims through the section and notices the changes in the writing as she goes further along: first the hesitant but clear hand of a teenager, then that of a mature woman with extra flourishes and ornamentation, to the hand of a middle-aged women with fewer embellishments and finally the shaky hand of an elderly woman near the end of her days. Ishandra goes back to the beginning of the section and after trying several methods of triangulation manages to find one that works.
“I’ve found something,” she announces to Clarion.
“What?” asks Clarion leaving the table where she was writing to rush over to Ishandra.
“These passages here tell of two books she had written about the secrets of the cold of the Winter Lands,” says Ishandra, pointing.
“Sounds great,” says Clarion, hopefully.
“Well, that is the good part,” says Ishandra “but it goes on to say that she had second thoughts about giving the secrets of such powerful magic to a yet emerging civilization so she deliberately smeared the last few pages which held the key to unlocking the whole thing.”
Ishandra sees Clarion’s expression change and thinks that the Queen is about to start swearing. “In other words, we are no further ahead than before,” she finally says.
“I really need to see the originals of those other two books,” states Ishandra.
“I’ll arrange it as soon as possible,” promises Clarion.
“Do you know who wrote this section?” asks Ishandra. “It could narrow my search if you can tell me.”
Clarion consults the back pages of the book. “According to this list, it was Queen Rhianna.”
“That will be useful,” says Ishandra, “but now I’m totally beat. I need to go back to my chamber to sleep.”
“Thank you for your help thus far,” Clarion tells her then dismisses her.
A few days later, Ishandra is making her way down one of the quiet passageways to Vidia’s Cartography Room when she is confronted by Vidia and then hears the rapid beating of wings as the other of the Tinx surround her.
The one named Rosetta approaches her, taking her arm and leaning her head against her shoulder. “Queen Clarion told us’ens about your troubles,” she whispers. “Ah just want to tell ya that if you’re ever in need of a redheaded doll to squeeze and tell your troubles to, Ah’m here.”
Then the comely blonde Faerie in green whom Ishandra believes to have every right and reason to hate her likewise takes her other arm. “We want you to be happy while staying with us in Pixie Hollow,” then lifts up her face to look at her with a disarming smile.
Then the Animal Faerie steps up. “We know you have had little joy or happiness in your life. Please allow us to give you some of that.”
“We could start by going rainbow sliding,” breaks in the Light Talent named Iridessa and all begin to laugh.
Ishandra is thinking of blowing them all away but then comes to realize with a shock that they honestly meant every word they said. They truly wanted her to be happy and they cared about her.