You would find some things immediately obvious when you look at me, the first being I’m unusually short and round looking for a grown woman. The second and arguably most obvious thing would be the goat legs. Sure I have goat ears and goat horns, but the legs would usually be somewhat more noticeable since I wear short dungarees when I can get away with it. I tell people it’s was because my legs get too warm, what with the thick reddish brown fur covering them, but it's probably more to do with the fact that I actually like my legs despite the reaction they get from the less informed in society. Some things you wouldn’t know to look at me were that I always kept a .22 revolver on me, I never left home without a bag of sand in my pocket and something even I didn’t know, I was about to get some pretty bad news
I’d lived on the Carlyle family estate for all my life, I resided in the small but dense forest towards the back of the property. Some years ago rumours had spread leading to the idea that the forest was haunted. This meant as a general rule people avoided it, not that I would have any idea how those stories started, of course. This suited me just fine; honestly, I liked the peace and safety the solitude offered. I made two exceptions to this rule. The first was my best friend Molly, who lived in the lake at the heart of the forest and the other was the kids. I should explain a little, the Carlyle estate wasn’t what most would expect upon hearing the words, it wasn’t a mismatch of historic houses, fancy statuaries, and farmland. It was more of a sanctuary. A place for kids who didn’t really fit anywhere else, and by extension my forest was a sanctuary for the kids that didn’t even fit in at the main house.
My name is Bluebell and if you hadn’t picked up on it yet, I’m a faun, a satyr, a child of Dionysus (or more controversially Pan depending on which books you read). This means I have a deep spiritual connection to nature, plants, grapes, wine, and other bad decisions caused by drinking the aforementioned wine. In England and most of Europe faun’s proclivity to cause mischief and encourage bad choices meant they had been made one of several illegal races, races that were to either be terminated or closely monitored. Since my father adopted me and arranged for me to have papers under a human name I was one of very few, possibly the only faun at the time, to live free. Well, I called it freedom because I lived a measure of freedom far greater than those consigned to life under the ’wardship treaty of 81’. That didn’t stop me from taking my freedoms for granted and being perpetually aggrieved by the need to hide my identity from the world.
My cottage was quite spacious, I’d expanded it in recent years to accommodate for some of the youngest kids in my care to spend nights inside with me. It was a lovely little spot, in the middle of a large clear lake in the heart of the estate’s woods. The island in the centre was just big enough for my cottage and a garden, which was my pride and joy. Growing flowers and herbs was one of the things that truly brought me comfort at that time. Sometimes I still miss the simple life of trying to figure out why my thyme was thriving but the rosemary was dying, not often, but sometimes. The lake around my island was inhabited by Molly, an honest-to-goodness mermaid. Well, she told me she wasn’t a mermaid and she was, in fact, something totally different, some complex magic-sounding name, but she was half fish half person and she could breathe underwater, which made her a mermaid as far as I was concerned. The lake was surrounded by dense trees, a large number of which had tree houses, nests, and other similar living spaces for the kids that lived in the woods with me. My adoptive father, William Carlyle always called the kids with more outdoorsy needs ‘Bluebell’s kids’ which just went to show how little he really understood about me and the others who lived in the forest.
The forest kids weren’t anybody’s. They were a mix of nymphs, demons, and other spectral creatures that felt a connection to the outside and felt cooped up and unhappy in the main house, so over time, they’d sort of migrated to live near me. It started with the odd spectral or nymph asking to stay the night and over time they had created their own sort of community out there. William was initially convinced that a harsh rain or windy night would send the kids scurrying back to the main house, but he never did get that about us. We thrive outside, the wind and the rain are just a natural part of our lives. My people tend to find a balance between modern living and living in harmony with the land, cottages and farmland and gardens being our preferred places of residence. There were no other fauns at the estate, but most of the forest kids preferred life without beds and mod cons, enjoying living free under my protection.
I wasn’t much of a teacher in the literal sense, but I taught the kids what I could. I taught them about balancing their outdoorsy life with modern conveniences and how to tell if the soil was good soil for growing, or even how to set a bird's wing when it broke. Some of it I learned over years of living alone out there, some of it was magic and some of it was a deeper sort of magic. Things I just knew, some ancestral or spiritual knowledge. William had never invested much time in my magic or in helping me learn about my people. He hadn’t been that invested in me as a person if I’m being honest with myself.
I was grateful to him for taking me in as a baby and for sheltering me, and in a way, I loved the man, but he had always been somewhat of an enigma to me. He raised me mostly by proxy rarely checking in on me in person. I would only make the several-acre trek to the main estate when summoned. He was always far too busy running the estate, or going out on ‘missions’ to Dionysus knew where doing Dionysus knew what for Dionysus knew who. Which is why when Molly gracefully slipped into the lake, assuming her preferred form in the water and popped her head out near me where I was tending to some flowers growing close to the shore to tell me that William had been found dead in his office that morning the only thing I could think to say was “Oh.”
By the time I’d changed into a long skirt, found the biggest floppiest hat I had, to hide my less human features, and marched up to the main estate the police were already leaving. They were talking to a woman I’d had never seen before, but she looked like someone who knew what was going on. I took a moment to look over this new woman as I passed by on my way round to the front doors. She was tall and wiry in work boots and what looked like a men’s jacket, in fact, her whole outfit screamed to me that this was a woman who had never once considered the aesthetic of an outfit before leaving the house. What surprised me and was the woman’s hair. It was thick and dark, piled on top of her head in a complex up-do with braids and flowers woven in, leaving two little curls to tactically frame her face. The pure disconnect between the obviously indulgent hairstyle and the vaguely muddy practical clothes made me smile a little. She had a strong jaw and dark olive skin, giving me the impression she was of Mediterranean descent. She carried an air of matter-of-fact authority and a stern expression, something I had seen many times on my now late father. The thought wiped the smile off my face as I remembered why I’d walked all the way here in the middle of a, particularly warm spring day.
I shook my head a little to dislodge the distraction and assuming the woman was with the police in some capacity I just strolled past her. She was just dismissing the officers thanking them for their help when I walked by. I ascended the steps up to the front door at a casual pace enjoying the hollow clopping sound of hooves on the polished marble. Behind me, I could hear this woman sigh out a long weary breath before she crunched her way over the gravel as she jogged to catch up. She was making some vague sounds of protest but I’d been walking for the last few hours and I was exhausted so I just ignored her and continued. I went to open the front door but found when I went to pull the door open the other woman firmly pushed it closed again effectively blocking me. I looked up at her with surprise and was met with quite an irate stare “Can I help you Miss…?” The woman asked me with a curt irritable tone. “No, I think I can get into my own home without your help, thank you” I replied with exaggerated patience. The woman looked taken aback for a moment and spluttered in disbelief which gave me pause. “I’m sorry, can I help you?”
Two hours, three pots of tea, and a whole lot of talking later I had learned a lot of new information. The woman was called Atlas, she was William Carlyle’s apprentice and de facto daughter. Which was strange because I had honestly never seen this woman in my life. A sentiment Atlas seemed to echo. I sat on the sofa in the drawing room my legs tucked up in the lotus position cradling a delicate china cup just watching Atlas warily. Atlas for her part seemed to be taking this all exceptionally well. She regarded me thoughtfully before sighing and allowing a wry smile to turn the corner of her mouth up.
“Well, I suppose Carlyle always was a mystery wasn’t he?” She spoke with a reminiscent tone “Far be it from us to think we knew all his secrets” I hummed an agreeable sort of sound but deep down I envied the nostalgia she seemed to have around the man who had taken very little interest in me. Atlas looked at me for a long moment, clearly sensing she’d struck some sort of nerve, but not really understanding why. With a slight frown, she did what all British people do when they feel awkward, she got up to go make some more tea. Watching her walk out of the drawing-room sparked a strange thought, something I was surprised was only just occurring to me.
I looked around at the very fine layer of dust on the surfaces and listened out to the quiet of the house as it slowly dawned on me why the house felt so different. I’d dismissed my own discomfort as the awkwardness of the whole situation but it dawned on me, the house was empty. There was no bustling of the friendly cleaning staff, no excited yelling of children, nothing but the distant sound of Atlas’ retreating footsteps. The day outside was darkening to twilight as I pondered the strange absence of life in the house. I slowly got to my feet and meandered made my way through the rooms and corridors of the house, partially keeping an eye out for signs of life but largely just looking around the house with a new level of appreciation for things I’d previously taken for granted.
I revelled in each creak of the house I’d grown up running riot in. Each vase I’d nearly knocked from its table or painting I’d smudged with mucky fingerprints before a nanny or teacher could grab me brought a little burst of nostalgia. I traced through the house until I came to a stop outside one of the many doors in the corridor. It was unassuming, dark oak like all the others, nothing marked it as special really, but looking at it sent a thrill of nostalgic fear through me. I don’t know how long I stood staring at the door before a hand touched my shoulder. It was a gentle tentative motion, I turned to look into Atlas’ mournful dark brown eyes and she let her hand rest on my shoulder in a gesture of awkward but meaningful comfort. We stayed there in a sort of quiet melancholy until it was suddenly disrupted.
We both jumped to attention as there was a thunderously loud banging at the front doors. I glanced at Atlas for answers and she gave me a quick shrug to indicate she was no more clued into what was going on than I was. I noticed her hands creep towards her jacket pocket and wondered if she kept magical totems or possibly a gun in there. We both crept down the main stairs as silently as we could, it had gotten truly dark since we left the drawing room so the only light was the lamp we’d switched on in the drawing room to the right of the front door.
My hands shook a little, I was fully aware of how vulnerable we were with the large windows and open spaces of the entrance hall, but Atlas seemed to be far more confident as she silently made her way to the door and peeped through the window. She seemed to freeze there for a second and the fear in her face made my heart thunder in my chest, I was sure that anything that could shake this woman was something I didn’t want to come face to face with. I steadied myself with a breath but neither of us could stop a small yelp of fear when whoever was banging on the door redoubled their efforts. The banging was oddly hollow like they were hitting the door with something hard rather than a hand, which conjured images of battering rams and other terrifying weapons.
After another second to gather myself I put my hand on the front door and turned to look at Atlas. For her part, she stood just out of view of the door clutching some sort of coin in her hand like it was a weapon. She gave me a short sharp nod and I cracked the door open and peeked out. What I was met with was beyond anything I could have guessed in a thousand years. I opened to door to an honest to Dionysus 9ft tall tuna. I blinked, certain I was misunderstanding what my eyes saw, but no, it was a tuna fish in a trench coat and a Stetson hat.
I froze there blinking incredulously as this giant tuna looked down at me, his eyes looking surprised, though, they were large and fishy, so maybe that was just how he always looked. He looked at me and appeared to be considering his words before he spoke
“You… are…. Small” The words came out slowly and awkwardly in a deep resonant rumble.
“You… are tall” I nervously quipped back. The fish man shrugged a large shoulder amiably and gestured as if to ask if he could come in. Stunned, I stepped back opening the door as I went. Atlas, who was a foot taller than me looked small next to the immense size of the man that just entered the house.
“Can we help you?” Atlas said, I could tell she was fighting to keep a tremor out of her voice as she continued to fidget the coin in her hands nervously.
“I… got… word… of… Carlyle’s… passing.” He spoke gravely, the words clear but still somehow awkward sounding “We… agreed… I… was… to… be… here… after… his… passing.” Atlas slowly lowered the coin in her hands, slipping it back into her pocket, this simple gesture appeared to dissolve the tension in the room.
“Well, I suppose this calls for more tea.” She shook her head and wandered back to the kitchens apparently muttering to herself as she went to make the tea. I eyed the giant fish man suspiciously and he regarded me with the same blank piscatorial expression as before.
“Morgan.” He said gently offering his hand to me, I looked down at it and was once again shocked to find he was offering me a giant crab claw to shake.
“Bluebell” I replied as I awkwardly grasped the tip of his crab claw in a strange parody of a handshake. “Shall we?” I said gesturing to the drawing room.
I collapsed onto the sofa as Atlas came back with fresh tea and a cup for Morgan. I unthinkingly took my hat off and shook my ears free, wearing a hat hides them but I have to sort of fold them up so they don’t peek out. It gets really uncomfortable after a few hours. Atlas looked up from placing the tray down and her mouth fell open a little and she spluttered, before attempting to cover it up with a cough.
“Well… that’s unexpected,” she said, trying not to stare. I covered my mouth to hide the smile, I had grown comfortable spending time with her the last few hours and had completely forgotten she was the whole reason I was wearing the hat.
“Oh yeah, I forgot, I’m ginger. It can be quite a shock if you don’t expect it.” The joke was lame, but I had to do something to rescue the poor woman. Atlas blinked a few times before smiling appreciatively at me for breaking the tension and settling back into her armchair opposite me. Morgan for his part honestly didn’t seem to notice the ears, or if he did he didn’t care.
We all sat in awkward silence for a few minutes sipping tea, and I really wished we had some biscuits, but I wasn’t sure where I stood on getting up to get them myself, so I just let my stomach protest its emptiness quietly. After another minute or two Morgan made a sort of burbling gurgle noise, I froze, my eyes wide and looked at Atlas, who was staring back at me with a similar mixture of fearful confusion. After a few seconds, I looked at Morgan and saw his huge shoulders shaking slightly and realised he was actually laughing.
“You, uh, You okay there big guy?” I asked tentatively, a slight quiver in my voice
“Hmm? … oh! Yeah…” He said with obvious amusement in his tone, I raised an eyebrow at that and he caught the look and explained himself “Oh… I’m … sorry… little… goat… I… just … wondered… what … the … human… girl… would… think… if… I… removed… my… hat…”
I turned to look at Atlas with confusion, she met my look with a vaguely amused look and a quirked eyebrow.
“I fail to see how it could be more shocking, to be honest,” She said simply sipping her tea primly.
With a laugh and another giant shrug, Morgan removed his hat to reveal a smooth fishy head with little spikes, just like a bluefin tuna. Atlas and I exchanged confused and amused looks wondering what we were supposed to be looking at that we didn’t already know.
“Ah… Shocked… Silence…” I caught on and stifled a bark of laughter with my hand and tried to steady my shoulders from shaking with silent laughter. “Well… I… did… warn… you…” Morgan rumbled mistaking the noise as fear or shock. He gently placed his non-crab claw hand on my shoulder and I had to work even harder to stifle my laughter.
I looked over at Atlas who was staring at me then Morgan in turns her face a picture of utter confusion. Morgan coughed awkwardly and put the Stetson hat back on “Is… this… better?” he rumbled to Atlas. I couldn’t help it anymore, I burst out laughing, and just kept laughing. Morgan stared at me incredulously and Atlas looked vaguely annoyed but I couldn’t stop laughing, I laughed until my sides hurt and my eyes watered and still I kept on laughing.
“Bluebell, can you join me in the kitchen a moment please?” Atlas asked in a clipped almost parental tone as she rose and marched her way out the room. I stood up, still shaking with laughter, patted Morgan on his shoulder companionably on my way past
“Be right back” I whispered through small chuckles.
I walked into the massively oversized kitchen and perched on the giant unfinished oak table with a smirk and watched Atlas as she grumpily stomped her way through the kitchen bustling around wiping counters and putting away dishes.
“Bluebell, you are being quite rude! You might not be a guest here, but he is. What is so funny?” I couldn’t stop a bubble of laughter from making its way out before she shot me a glare.
“Atlas… He… He thinks the hat hides that he’s a 9-foot tall fish man” Atlas froze mid movement for a moment before spinning on her heel
“No…” She whispered “He… Oh…” And with that I saw Atlas’ first real smile, it changed her whole face, she was actually really pretty without that stern frown creasing her brow. Her eyes glittered with a little mischief as she looked at me before we both dissolved into uncontrollable giggles.
“Should we tell him?” Atlas asked through girly giggles “No!” I exclaimed slapping her arm playfully.
I hopped off the table and made my way over to one of the cupboards I knew would contain biscuits and grabbed a pack of custard creams, it was the far superior biscuit, I won’t hear otherwise. Atlas shook her head before retrieving some ginger biscuits from the cupboard. I raised an eyebrow at her and she shrugged
“They’re the best for dunking in your tea”
“I didn’t of you as the sort to ‘dunk’ your biscuits” I replied with a slight frown
“Well what you don’t know about me could fill a library,” she was arranging the biscuits on a plate in a lovely pattern. I looked her over again and with a sigh and a shrug, I grabbed a couple of biscuits from her plate and made my way back out the kitchen.
I liked Atlas, she was to the point and matter of fact, but she seemed to have a genuine kindness to her. She was careful and proper, but something told me she was dangerous. I don’t know how to explain it, just a gut feeling I got about her, there was a core of steel to her. It wasn’t the obvious sort of danger Morgan presented, she gave me the impression she wouldn’t hurt you if you angered her, she’d carefully plan your downfall over the course of weeks or months. I shivered a little at the thought and made a note not to push her too far.
When I got back into the drawing room I saw Morgan trying his absolute best to lift a tiny delicate china cup by balancing it on his grab claw and steadying it with his webbed fingers as he lifted it to his lips to drink. I stood watching him for probably longer than was polite before I got the idea to go get him a straw. I came back from the kitchen again with a metal straw and unceremoniously plonked it into his cup with a satisfying clink. He looked up at me and I think there was a sparkle of gratitude in his eyes. I shot him a small knowing smile and took up the seat next to him on the sofa once more.
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