Rashell leaned back against the purple cushions, fidgeting in his seat. His delicately manicured hands playing absentmindedly with a lace handkerchief. Trying not to move too much so as not to disturb the snoozing peacock on his lap. He hated being in closed spaces with only one entrance, they made his skin itch. He bit the tip of his finger at the thought, it was a bad idea coming out like this. Why couldn’t the Summer Court just come to the Seelie Court palace and sign the bloody alliance? Next to him, Prince Angus looked up from his thick book looking slightly annoyed at his nail-biting.
Rashell sighed, trying to relax but thoughts of them being attacked still plagued his mind. He pursed his full lips and settled for more subtle movements, trying to ignore his improper impulses. He started stroking the peacock’s feathers to fight his urges, focusing on the feel of Meleck’s feathers.
“Will you stop that!” Princess Aileen snapped, smoothing the wrinkles of her rich purple satin dress, with the white feather trim at the bottom. In her elegantly gloved hands, she held a fan, which was used to hide her anger whenever some noble lord spoke to her with thinly veiled condescension. “You are one of my courtiers, act like one!”
If I have to sit in this carriage another moment I’ll scream,.
“Rashell!” Feather looked at him sternly. The Leanansidhe gulped and bowed his head in apologetic submission. Shame and frustration filled him, what was wrong with him? As a member of the Seelie Court he was expected to be a young gentleman in every aspect, and gentlemen didn’t use rude or coarse speech and they never behaved with anything other than dignity.
“Why not do something to keep yourself occupied? I have another needle.” was the suggestion of Brigid, one of the princesses ladies in waiting, as she stitched. She was dressed in a pure white dress which went past her knees mimicking the style of her fellow courtiers with her white feathery dress having an air of sophisticated grace.
Rashell inwardly groaned, he hated weaving it was a tedious task in his eyes.
“I’m bored as well, and the only cure for boredom is some good gossip,” Darcy interjected, flipping back her long blonde tresses across her face, with its features so pointed it was almost as if they were cut from glass. She pulled up the top of her low-cut pink silk dress; lace hung from every inch of the elegant fabric particularly the ends of the sleeves. Rashell took a moment to admire the glamorous dress and the intricate patterns on it.
Today the Leanansidhe himself wore a shirt made of twenty count thread spider silk with an open collar with a bit of lace on it, as well as a slim waistcoat with a fur collar and fur on the ends of the sleeves. While it was almost the latest in Seelie Court gentlemen’s fashion and if the open collar and small amounts of fur failed to make him stand out, Rashell’s heavy amounts of make-up which gave him a rather theatrical look would do the trick. The eye shadow drew attention to his large monolid eyes. The Leanansidhe had long lashes, high cheekbones, full lips almost pointed ears, and delicate nose shape to compliment his make up. Although he could almost pass for a Seelie fairie in appearance, his fair hair gave him away as this was a trait more commonly found among the solitary fairies of the North, in contrast to the silky black hair often found among the Seelie Court fairies. He also wore a kilt instead of the breeches often worn by Seelie men. Rashell reluctantly leaned back against his seat so as not to disturb his friend. The Lady Enchanta’s head flopped for forward and against the side of the carriage, she didn’t wake.
Brigid put her needle into her raven hair, which was tied into a neat bun, and dropped the thread into her basket and even Aileen looked intrigued and a bit annoyed.
“So come on Rashell, give us the dirt.”
“What’s the dirt, ’Shell?” Aileen interjected eagerly. Just like that Rashell’s good mood faded. Of course, he forgot he was supposed to entertain them.
“I can’t think of any.” Truthfully, he’d been too busy worrying about his twin sister and the outcome of the war, and other more personal worries lately. All three girls gave him looks of disappointment and dismay, as if he’d somehow failed some unvoiced, sacred duty.
“Well, Darcy, any dirt?” Brigid sounded hopeful.
“Seelie Court royalty shouldn’t gossip,” Angus interjected in an echo of Lord Feather.
“Fee! Go boil your head,” said Aileen. “Go ahead, and it better be good.”
“Okay, Lord Fernfield is sleeping with one of the maids,” the green-skinned beauty said. “I walked in on them myself!” she squealed.
“That’s hardly news; Fernfield is the biggest leech at court,” Rashell scoffed.
“He’s so handsome, though!” giggled Darcy.
“Goddess is he ever.” Rashell agreed with, fanning himself with his parcel.
Angus looked a bit uncomfortable, Lord Feather let out an awkward cough. “My guardians have decided to give me a dowry,” Darcy added.
“Any suitors?” Alieen asked eagerly.
“Two in fact; Lords Uric and Justice,” Darcy revealed. The fairie girl grinned. Brigid’s smile faded and she looked at her hands. Rashell took one of them and gently squeezed it in silent comfort.
“So Rashell who do you think I should pick?” Darcy asked him expectantly.
“Why Uric, of course. he’s a good man honest, kind and noble,” he said aloud.
Darcy guilty averted her eyes and cleared her throat. “Well, of course, he’d be the obvious choice.” Rashell’s annoyance increased. Well, we know whose proposal she’s going to consider. Given Justice is a cad and a rake, something will go wrong and I’ll get the blame, for giving her bad advice. Whenever I suggest something she does the opposite, I wonder why she even asks me for me opinion. Rashell griped to himself.
“Since you have so much energy, I’ll help you focus on today’s lesson,” Lord Feather said brightly. The lords and ladies in waiting shared one huge sigh.
“Honestly, Feather, it’s a Holiday,” Aileen complained.
“I for one think Feather is right, it never hurts to expand one’s mind,” Prince Angus said, ever the tutor’s favorite pupil.
“Need I remind you, Your Grace, this Holiday as you put it, is where you will meet your future husband,” Feather chided gently.
Aileen scowled. “It’s not final yet, Father isn’t sure he wants me married to a prince of summer.”
“He won’t have much of a choice, our forces can barely hold back Dagda as it is,” Angus lectured.
“He’s right and now that Dagda has struck an alliance with the Wild Hunt. The future of this Court is uncertain.” Feather admitted. Rashell felt a chill slide down his spine at the ominous statement.
“You are a princess and have a duty to your kingdom,” the older man informed her sternly. Aileen hung her head looking properly chastised. His voice softened. “I have met Prince Helios and find him to be a man of impeccable character,” he reassured Aileen, she gave him a tentative smile in response.
“Now to our history lesson.” He pulled a huge book from his satchel ignoring the looks of dismay from the young fairies around him. “Rashell, start us off on page 136.”
The blond fairy felt his palms begin to sweat but he tried to play it off. “Lord Feather, I feel it would be disrespectful to go before a future king.”
The other man laughed. “As the future king, I think I’ll permit it just once.”
Angus’s lips twitched. “Page 136,” Count Feather repeated.
Rashell opened up the book swallowed and nervously scanned the page. There were a lot of words. “During the Somer... Thee fey sur....ren....dered, surrendered ta the human gener… al. Finn McCool. Thee felt it was Funda………Funda...” Rashell’s mind drew a blank.
“Fundamental,” Lord Feather stated patiently, Rashell’s porcelain cheeks turned red. He heard a snicker from one of lords and knew what he and all of them were thinking.
“Fundamental that the fairies seek new lands, be …fore thee be obli...” Rashell glanced up from the book and saw the annoyance on Darcy’s face, the frustration on Angus’, the boredom on Aileen’s and the other lords. “Ugh! Books are so unfashionable.” Rashell made a delicate hand gesture, his lacy sleeves flopped against his wrists as he threw his head back against the carriage cushion dramatically. The whole carriage burst out laughing at the display but Lord Feather alone looked disapproving; Rashell inwardly breathed a sigh of relief.
“Leanansidhe may inspire genius, but they don’t process it, right Lord Rashell?” Lord Tyree chortled.
Lord Feather gave Lord Tyree a stern look that shut him right up. “Very amusing Rashell, now continue.”
The Leanansidhe gave him a look of bored defiance. “Honestly. Lord Feather, what’s the point? It’s just a bunch of dreary events that happened millennia ago.”
Lord Feather met his eyes. “Very well, Your Highness, please pick it up.” His face was filled with pure disappointment. Rashell brushed off his guilt; it was better this way.
Angus cleared his throat to speak but then the carriage suddenly jolted, sending them all flying to the floor. Rashell felt himself land against Sir Thomas and quickly apologized, cheeks flushing. Melek let out a startled noise and glared at Rashell with reproach. “Don’t look at me, I’m not driving,” he reminded the other male.
Rashell then turned to survey the scene. Darcy’s lacy dress and legs were tangled with Brigid’s, and Aileen landed under her now very awake nursemaid. “What?” the older women started.
“Get your bottom off my face!” Aileen snapped.
“Sorry me lady…Ya, look away!” the older women boomed at Angus. Swiftly jumping into action and protecting her girls’ modesty and dignity with her large form. While they untangled themselves, Enchada stood there eying Angus suspiciously; her strong hands were on her white daisy sewn dress. This wasn’t a surprise, the princesses’ nursemaid was obsessed with flowers and couldn’t get enough of them. “We didn’t have plants where I lived, at least not beautiful ones ” she said once.
Enchada was an interesting looking fairy woman. She was a bit big, not fat mind you, but more heavy set. She was one of the few Seelie Court fairies with grey, almost lumpy skin, suggesting that ogre blood ran in her veins which was not attractive in the eyes of fairies. Still, she had a rather striking feature, a set of large, crystal blue eyes that twinkled merrily, and she liked to wear a sun hat with a dandelion on it that Rashell had given to her as a birthday present. Melek used his beak to fix his own colorful feathers and then landed on the floor.
“Listen,” Lord Feather whispered.
“I hear nothing,” Darcy responded.
“No footmen or guards checking on us,” Aileen observed.
Then an arrow came sailing through the window, Brigid who was the closest shielded Aileen with her body the arrow pierced Brigid’s shoulder. She cried out in pain crashing to the floor. Another arrow knocked Tyree’s powdered wig straight off his head.
“Practical application twenty-seven!” Feather ordered, everyone opened their frilly parcels and stood close together making their open umbrellas touch as they formed a wall in front of Aileen and Angus, their magic umbrellas acting as a barrier to any arrows that rained down on them.
Everyone except Rashell and Brigid, who clambered up on the carriage roof parcel’s in hand with Melek flying up after them an arrow nearly missing them both.
“Two assassins must be a Monday!” Rashell quipped putting up his parcel to shield them both.
Brigid scanned the valley they had been riding through and around the carriage. “The guards and footman are full of arrows.” She gave him the grim news.
“See there on that hill over there? There are the barbarians.” Rashell stated, pointing to a low fairly close hill. He saw a huge figure move—a boggart by the look of it—and another smaller figure.
“Brigid, ya ready?” Rashell asked.
“I’m not sure I can fly, let alone shift.” She motioned to the arrow sticking out of her arm.
“Bloody hell!” The plan had been that he distract the shooters while Brigid and Melek flew up and attacked both of them. Now it looked like they only had one bird. This was no good because even if he distracted one shooter, the other one would hit them both.
“Practical Application Fourteen?” Brigid suggested.
“Fourteen,” Rashell agreed as Brigid pulled out her own parasol and opened it up. Rashell lined up his own umbrella with his target. He only had one shot. He glanced over at the hill where the ruffians were shaking with laughter. He wordlessly pulled the handle revealing it to have a knife hidden inside of it. Rashell threw the hidden blade with deadly precision hitting the bigger of his targets between the eyes. The other assassin stood out in the open mouth, gaping.
“Melek, attack!” Rashell ordered the peacock. He took to the air and zoomed over to the hill viciously pecking at the other assassin. Rashell and Brigid quickly got off the carriage and hurried to apprehend the assassin who was crying out, hands protecting his face. “Melek, seize!” The peacock stopped and immediately began cleaning its feathers.
The assassin who had scratch marks on his face removed something from his pocket. Brigid and Rashell moved upon seeing that, Rashell tackling him to the ground and Brigid shoved her fan into his mouth making him gag before he could place the unknown object into his mouth.
“Don’t even think about going the way of the last four,” she spoke softly, but her small eyes were like steel. Rashell carefully using the silk of his sleeve delicately picked up the piece of iron the other fairies had been about to swallow and placed it in his jacket pocket. He nodded at Brigid and she took the fan from his mouth.
The older fairie gasped as air returned to his lungs. “Who are you people?” he demanded. Rashell twisted the hands of the assassin behind his back and brought him to the ground. Brigid brought out a long string of lace from her pocket and she hogtied him.
“Of course, how rude of me. I am Lord Rashell party planner of princesses Aileen and that bonnie lass over there is Lady Brigid a personal attendant of Her Highness.” he informed the malcontent.
“I know that!” the assassin snapped.
“You know everything about your marks, don’t ya darling?” Rashell asked coldly.
“I know your weak porcelain prince and his spoiled sister surround themselves with lesser individuals to make themselves feel better.” Rashell struggled to maintain his composure. “Quite a pathetic lot street urchins, bastards, only one true noble among yee.” He smirked at Brigid. “A swan slut who disgraced her family with her half breed bastard.”
Rashell slapped him across the face as anger filled him. “Rashell!” Brigid reminded him. Wait, you dunderhead, how does that help? Stop acting like the little heathen. Ya are at least pretend to be civilized. he berated himself viciously.
The Leanansidhe composed himself. “I deeply apologize that was uncouth. Even if ya did deserve it,” he added.
“What da yee deserve getting all high and might cause of yer fancy clothes’ and title. I know where yee come from the boy, I know vermin when I see it.” the assassin ranted.
Brigid looked at him. “If we’re pathetic what does that make you a little man restrained by lace and gagged with a silken hanky?”
He looked puzzled. “I’m not gagged by—” He was cut off by Brigid shoving one into his mouth.
“I’m tired of his filthy mouth,” she decided. The two of them returned to the carriage dragging their prisoner with them.
“We used Practical Application Fourteen and apprehended one assassin. The other is dead.” Brigid reported.
“Very good, Tyree get my medical kit,” Lord Feather ordered.
Rashell automatically headed over and began inspecting Angus and Aileen. “Honestly, Rashell, you’re worse than Enchanta!” Angus complained, twisting in the other boy’s grip as he inspected him for any gaping wounds and also wiped his face with a handkerchief for good measure. Then he moved to Aileen smoothing her hair with one finger.
“Is this really appropriate?” she asked.
“Your Highness, there is no excuse for messy hair…except if it’s messy because ya have had a good shag,” Rashell confirmed.
“Oh, goddess!” Angus complained, shuttering. Lord Feather rolled his eyes.
“That’s never going to happen considering father hired you to act as my personal chastity belt,” the princess responded looking at Rashell pointedly.
“Your Highness!” Lord Feather burst out.
Enchanta glared at Rashell. “It’s true. Him being my royal party planner allows for him to keep a close eye on me and who I’m with at all times.”
“King’s orders, I’d do it for Angus except lasses don’t pay attention to him.”
Angus glared at him “Much gratitude for that,” he drawled.
“Oh, it’s okay, Yer Highness, Seelie Court noble lasses are stupid.” He pinched Angus’s round cheeks as if he was an elderly grandmother. “They have ta be, look at how cuuuute he is.”
The others snickered. “Anyone else would get a beheading,” Angus groused, brushing him away.
“Which is why I da it,” Rashell teased cheekily.
“Oh really.” The prince reached down and messed up his perfectly brushed locks.
“Ya fiend!” Rashell gasped.
“Alright, let’s everyone remember their station and maturity by some miracle,” Lord Feather said, attempting to restore order. As the crown prince stuck his tongue out at Rashell who pouted in response. The assassin wore a look as if to say ‘yep I was defeated by these circus clowns.’
“ Rashell?” Darcy called the Leanansidhe’s name. Rashell nodded and wordlessly skipped over and he took Brigid’s delicate hand and squeezed it as Lord Feather ripped the arrow from her flesh. She let not a single cry or tear escape her. “ Ya did great today honey sop. I couldn’t have done it without ya.”
She gave his hand another squeeze back as Lord Feather cleaned and wrapped her wound. Then eyeing the assassin she pulled Rashell into a hug and whispered in his ear “I’m friends with the royal interrogator, I could arrange something.”
The assassin fairie struggled to stay composed; that wonderful devious lass. “It was a childish taunt,” he responded. She nodded in understanding releasing him.
“Rashell and I will go to the carriage see what supplies we can salvage. The rest of you guard the royal family; keep a look out for the Wild Hunt or vagabonds.” Lord Feather ordered.
The others agreed and Rashell and Lord Feather went back to the carriage. The two of them examined the bodies of the dead couch drivers. “Full of arrows didn’t have time to scream,” Rashell rummaged through the luggage “Oh a French Peruvian coat we have to take...” Lord Feather gave him an exasperated look. “Or not.” Rashell abandoned it regretfully.
“What am I going to do with you, Rashell?” The fairie boy shuffled his feet awkwardly. “If you continue to play the fool, no one will be none the wiser.” The man lectured.
“I’m not playing, I’m daft,” Rashell corrected, producing Tyree’s dagger from the trunk and placing it safely in his pocket. While Lord Feather rummaged through his own luggage.
“You’re not daft, you’re very intelligent,” the Lord informed him.
“I cannot do arithmetic, I can barely read,” Rashell argued. He found some linen bandages which he also shoved into his pocket ignoring the bright fabric which begged to be rescued, clothes’ would only slow them down.
“Your education has been greatly neglected; it’s going to take some time.” The older man put his hand on the boy’s shoulder. “You have to put in a bit more effort.” He added his voice was a bit sterner.
Rashell bit his lip. “What’s the point? I know me future,” he said
“Oh, so you’re a soothsayer now?” Lord Feather teased.
“I’ll still be doing what I was made to do. And I’ve already learned everything required of me.” the Leanansidhe argued.
“How to bat your eyes the right way?” Feather asked coolly.
Rashell flinched. “Among other things.”
The Lord’s face softened.“It’s not you I’m mad at, it’s not your fault.” There was a warm reassurance in his voice. Rashell nodded.“Say it,” the man commanded.
“It’s not my fault, it’s not my fault, it’s not my fault,” the Leanansidhe repeated obediently.
“Whenever you feel self-doubt I want you to look in the mirror and say it.” Then the Lord Feather looked at his clothing with a frown. “On second thought grab a change of clothes for everyone, and change the...” Rashell already casually stripped off his clothing and mournfully shoved his now bloody tunic and breeches into the chest. He replaced his previous attire with a lavender waistcoat “Undergarments.” His guardian snapped when he saw the other was about to neglect them.
“It’s not like anyone will know,” Rashell argued.
“Show some modesty. The fact your legs are always on display is bad enough.” the older man hissed.
“I’m a Leanansidhe we don’t do modesty.” The boy did a cocky slightly suggestive pose.
“As long as you’re a member of the Seelie Court, there will be bloomers on your bottom. I know you’ve been under the care of that dolt, Count Arwell.”
The Leanansidhe pursed his lips, “Lord, with all due respect, do not slander me Father in Law.” The blond fairie boy gazed at him defiantly.
“Why do you defend him?” the Lord wondered aloud.
“It matters not, I’ll hear no ill word against him.” Rashell retorted.
His Lord sighed loudly as Rashell buttoned his silk waistcoat and tied his own lace collar. “Let’s get back to the others. this conversation isn’t over, young man,” the older fairie ordered sternly.
Rashell smiled but it was only half sincere something had gone wrong, they had walked directly into a trap and the unease he tried to push aside for more trivial worries had risen to the surface again. He tried to keep his face blank but fear crept into his soul as he barely kept his fearful imaginings at bay. Lord Feather turned to him. “Now we need to seek shelter for the night,” he stated
“The Artist’s Garden,” Rashell decided, his eyes and fingers lighting up with purple magic, “I’ll summon it now.”
He focused and reached out with the tendrils of his magic the pores on his hand opened wider as he was illuminated with energy. “Come, o garden come,” he whispered as he felt around the forest carefully like a child who was playing hide and go seek to seek out their companions. Then he felt it his magic being tugged at the garden gently and Rashell could feel the vibrations through his pointy-toed shoes, the tremors getting bigger as the garden came closer and closer and before long a gate appeared before them all. Rashell gave a flourish of his hands. “Ladies and gentlemen, may I present the Artist Garden.”
Then he swung opened the gate.