The Joy of The Fairy Queen
A Bonus Chapter
Aster rushes past Elsie, grabbing her hand and bringing her along with her. Elsie’s wings flutter; they are big enough that she can fly short distances and they’re getting bigger and stronger every day.
“Is it time?”
Aster nods and Elsie squeals. “I’m so excited. Is she in much pain?”
Aster nods, and Elsie makes a face.
They fly through the courtyard and into the east wing of the castle. Gwenna and her husband Garif moved in shortly after Elsie’s coronation and took over a suite of rooms, preparing for their family to grow.
And now the family is about to get bigger; the baby is on the way.
“I don’t know if I’m the right person to help you with this,” Elsie says, when they walk in the bedroom and she sees Gwenna sweating and screaming.
Aster laughs. “You’re the only person. Bronwen is on her way, but until she gets here, I trust you more than I trust Dayle.”
“Hey!” Dayle, legs swung up, boots on the table, protests, but she’s grinning as she does it.
Aster raises an eyebrow at her and Dayle shrugs. “Fine. I’m not a nursemaid.”
“Neither am I.” Elsie laughs. “I’m the queen. Remember?”
They all groan.
“As if we could forget,” Dayle says, throwing a scrunched up piece of paper at her.
“Hey, what was that?”
“I’m writing a letter.”
“To who?” Elsie frowns and looks over her shoulder. “Literally everyone you know is here.”
Gwenna lets out a long, low moan. “Morning, Elsie.”
Elsie goes to her side and smooths the hair off her forehead. She’s clammy, but she kisses her cheek, anyway. “Good morning, mother duck.”
“Mother duck?” Gwenna doesn’t look impressed, but Elsie can guess she’s in too much pain to argue.
Elsie keeps hold of Gwenna’s hand but turns her attention back to Dayle. “Who are you writing to?”
“Finneas reckons it’s good manners.”
“Good manners?” Elsie rolls her eyes. “Is he joking?”
Dayle shakes her head. “He thinks I should inform them.”
“He doesn’t want you to invite them?”
“Bloody heck, no. And even if he did, I’d say no. But I can see where he’s coming from. Everybody’s talking about it. And it’s only fair they hear it from me. And I want to add all the reasons why they’re not invited. I keep getting it wrong.”
Aster hands Elsie a pile of cloth squares, then smiles at Dayle. “Just tell them how you feel. Write from the heart and you can’t go wrong.”
Dayle humphs but tries again, pen in the ink, tongue poking out, concentrating hard.
Elsie shrugs at Aster. “You’ll have to tell me exactly what to do.”
“Catch the baby,” Dayle says, laughing at her own joke.
Aster shoves her. “The baby won’t come flying out,” she says, smiling at Elsie’s horrified expression. “Just be on hand. Pass me the cloths if I need them. Pass me water if I need it. Hold Gwenna’s hand. Mop her brow. Just be useful.”
Elsie sighs. Just be useful. Easier said than done. She’s not squeamish about childbirth, by now she knows how they come out and how they get in there in the first place. Not that she’s ever tried it herself, of course. But being useful in the midst of the worst pain someone has ever felt sounds tricky.
She hovers by Gwenna’s head, then pulls over a stool.
Aster shakes her head.
“What? I can’t sit?”
“You can sit. Just do as you’re told.”
Elsie smiles. She wouldn’t have this any other way. Not really. Bronwen is almost as good a healer as Aster is, and they have sent a fairy over to fetch her from the troupe. She visits the castle, often daily, to see Aster and the rest of them, but she lives at the troupe. Aster is the best person for the job. As much pain as Gwenna is clearly in, she’d be in worse pain if Aster hadn’t already given her several concoctions.
“Where’s Garif?” Gwenna asks from between clenched teeth.
Aster pats her arm. “Just having a little fresh air. It was all a bit much for him,” she says to Elsie.
“Too much for him!” Dayle snorts. “Typical man.”
Gwenna is panting and crying, and Elsie looks alarmed.
“She’s fine, Elsie. It’s all quite normal. Exactly what our bodies were designed to do.”
Dayle peers over. Gwenna isn’t ready to have the baby quite yet, so she’s still covered by the blanket. “Seems like a design flaw to me.”
“Quiet and write your letter.”
Dayle puts a finger to her lips and turns back to her piece of paper, a frown on her face again.
Elsie sits, smoothing Gwenna’s hair.
“Have you delivered babies before, Aster?”
Elsie is always in awe of Aster and her healing. She’s young but older than her years. Wise and kind and so clever. She has already begun the healing process of every clipped fairy in Allaire. She has made it her work. Every day she has fairies turn up, all at different times, all perfectly organised and arranged. They fly to the castle, have their appointment with Aster, take away their little pack of medicine and then come back again when she tells them to. She has a network of helpers, fairies with a propensity for healing, all over Allaire who take over the wing growing once Aster has done the initial work. Elsie couldn’t be prouder of what she’s done and how diligently she’s doing it.
Every single fairy who was clipped under her step parents regime of abuse will have their wings back by the summer. Every single one of them. Aster takes it in her stride, but Elsie reminds her daily of how amazing she is and what a fantastic thing she’s done.
“I want Garif,” Gwenna says, each word a long, drawn-out cry.
“I’ll go,” Dayle says, pushing her paper to the side and jumping up.
“I knew she’d bail,” Elsie says crowing, when Dayle slams the door behind her. “I’ve never seen her move so fast.”
“As long as you don’t follow her. Bronwen is taking her time. I might need you.”
Elsie frowns but nods, still smoothing Gwenna’s hair, hoping she can stay away from the business end of things. Aster has the detached mind and manner of a healer. Elsie does not.
Garif runs through the door, no sign of Dayle with him.
“I’m sorry, my love. I’m sorry.”
He nods at Elsie and smiles his thanks at Aster, before sitting opposite Elsie, beside Gwenna, also smoothing her hair and quickly kissing her cheek.
Aster passes him a bottle. “Drink. If you miss this, she’ll kill you.”
“I will!” Gwenna says, groaning in pain, sweat breaking out over her brow.
Dayle comes back with food and fills the table with it, several handmaidens behind her, helping her. She holds her hands up at Aster’s expression. “What? I saw Maud, and she gave it to me.”
“Where did you see Maud?”
Dayle falters, a bashful smile on her face. “In the kitchen.”
Elsie laughs but happily grabs a cake.
“Do you want one?” she asks Gwenna, who promptly screams in pain. “Maybe not.” Elsie eats the extra cake and then frowns at Aster. “I don’t know what to do.”
“Do nothing unless I tell you to. I’ve delivered hundreds of babies, and I’ve done it on my own. I know what I’m doing and so does Gwenna.”
Gwenna laughs. “Do I?”
“You do.” Aster feels her belly. “I think we’re getting there.”
The bouts of pain are getting closer together in the short time Elsie has been in the room, and she knows that means the baby is getting closer to being born. Aster may have done this hundreds of times, but Elsie never has. The pain might be quite normal and natural – of course it is – but it’s still distressing to see her friend in so much pain and not be able to help her.
“Dayle, can you send someone to see why Bronwen is taking so long? Maybe she needs help.” Aster turns to Elsie, her expression worried. “I can’t think what’s taking her so long.”
“Two steps ahead of you,” Dayle says, popping a cake in her mouth. “I saw Finneas outside; he’s on his way.”
“You’re welcome. I hate to ask, but anything I can do?”
Aster laughs. “Not yet.” She passes Garif a small bottle. “Pour drops of this onto her tongue, in between the really bad bouts of pain. It will help. Gwenna, I’m going to take a look.”
Gwenna doesn’t answer her; she’s lost in the pain and distraction of labour.
Aster nods. “I can’t wait for Bronwen. This baby is ready to be born.”
Elsie marvels, yet again, at Aster. Young, but so capable. She rolls up her sleeves and just gets on with it. After hundreds of deliveries, it’s clear she knows what she’s doing, and all Elsie can do is wonder at her.
But she’s an excellent assistant. If Aster asks for something, she gets it quickly and she makes sure she’s not in the way. She reassures Garif and comforts Gwenna and eventually, after what seems like hours and hours and hours, but in reality is only a few, Aster places Gwenna’s newborn baby into her arms.
They are all crying, though Dayle is still trying to distract herself with cake.
Elsie squeezes Aster’s arm, and then helps her to bring Gwenna all she needs to be comfortable, and to wash and dress the baby. Garif looks like he can hardly believe what’s happened. Elsie can’t help but laugh; he looks like he’s been through more than Gwenna has.
Gwenna is calm and smiling, holding her baby girl and eating the cake Dayle saved for her.
“You did an amazing job,” Aster says. “Just amazing.”
“So did you.” Gwenna smiles. “Baby Meg would like to say thank you.”
“Ah, Meg.” Elsie touches her heart, more tears welling up in her eyes. “Hey baby Meg. Oh, I could stay here all day, but I have to go. I have a Kingdom to run.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Dayle says, piling up the plates. “So much to do, so little time. I’ll come with you. Aster, do you need anything before we go?”
Aster shakes her head, but Elsie can see she’s worrying about Bronwen.
“I’ll find out what the delay is and make sure she’s all right. See you soon.”
They leave Aster to look after Gwenna, and Gwenna and Garif to welcome their new baby in peace.
“That was so gross.” Dayle looks disgusted and Elsie laughs.
“You didn’t even do anything.”
“I ate cake.”
“Helped me.” Dayle pats her belly. “Definitely helped me.”
“Did you finish your letter?”
“With all that racket? No. I’ll just tell Finneas it’s too hard to write. I don’t care if they know. I don’t care if they’re sad, they’re not invited. I don’t care. I only care that Joey will be there.”
“It’ll be so lovely. Are you nervous at all?”
“Me?” Dayle raises her eyebrows, then makes a despairing face. “Elsie, I’m petrified.”
Elsie nudges her with her hip. “You’ll be fine. Why scared?”
“Of everyone looking at me. Of having to wear a dress. Of messing it up.”
“You look beautiful in your dress.”
Elsie had insisted on getting a tailor to come and make a bespoke wedding dress for the pirate queen in her favourite colour, scarlet. Dayle looks beyond beautiful in it.
“And you won’t mess up. And even if you did, nobody would care. Finneas definitely won’t care.”
“I know. He’s sweet. It’s just well out of my comfort zone.”
“Getting married is out of everyone’s comfort zone. Unless you’re a bigamist.”
“You know what I mean. I’m just going to feel like a lemon.”
“Well, you’ll be a beautiful and happy lemon, so don’t fret.”
Elsie opens the door to the kitchen because Dayle’s hands are full.
“Jim! What are you doing in here?”
Jim is sitting on the chair in front of the fire, eating a bowl of stew. Maud is fussing around, giving directions to the fairies under her command. She runs a strict kitchen, but the standard of food just gets better and better.
“Queen. Dayle.” Jim nods his head in greeting but doesn’t get up. Elsie doesn’t expect bowing and curtseying all day long. It’s exhausting. “I am the new tester for Maud’s wonderful cooking.”
“Ooh, nice job,” Dayle says, sticking a spoon in his stew and stealing a mouthful. “Oh, Maud. You’re killing me.”
Maud laughs and swats her with a tea towel. “I will kill you if you don’t stop hounding me for food.”
Elsie steals a cake. “Gwenna’s had the baby.”
“Oh!” Maud exclaims with delight and Jim grins, still shovelling in stew. It smells good.
“Maud, can Dayle and I have a bowl, please?”
“I’m exhausted after helping out with Gwenna’s delivery,” Dayle says, sinking into a chair.
Elsie rolls her eyes. “You did nothing except eat.”
“Exactly – exhausting.”
Elsie pokes her and then sits beside her, with her bowl of stew and fresh bread roll.
“Girl or boy?” Maud asks, pouring them a cup of ale each.
Elsie nods. She knew Gwenna would call her daughter after Meg, her sister who was so cruelly killed. Such a fitting tribute; they all miss Meg and baby Meg will get to grow up with no fear.
“We better go,” Elsie says to Dayle. “I can’t imagine why Bronwen isn’t here.”
“Maybe she never got the message,” Dayle says, before picking up her bowl and drinking the last bit down.
Maud rolls her eyes but says nothing and Elsie laughs; they are used to Dayle’s lack of manners by now. She thinks she’s still on a pirate ship, not in a castle.
“Maybe whoever was going to get her got distracted.”
“I sent Finneas,” Dayle says, clearly annoyed.
Elsie shakes her head. “We should have sent a carriage for her. It would have been easier. See you later.”
They fly away from the castle and into the woods. Elsie needs to walk for a bit, her wings are hurting, and so they fly and walk, fly and walk, until they reach the troupe.
The thing that Elsie loves most about the troupe is the noise and bustle. You can usually hear the children laughing and playing, and the men singing, women calling out to each other before you even round the top of the hill and head down toward the brightly coloured tents.
But today all is silent.
Elsie pulls Dayle’s arm. “Dayle, something’s wrong.”
They fly down the hill, not catching sight of a single fairy – unheard of; there are always fairies milling everywhere. They fly to the biggest tent, and there’s a sombre faced fairy standing outside. He bows when he sees Elsie and answers the question in her expression.
“Bronwen. She’s not well.”
“Dayle, fetch Aster.”
“No!” The boy looks worried. “She told us not to. Aster is with Gwenna.”
Elsie shakes her head. “Gwenna has had the baby and they are both fine. Aster’s done all she needs to at the castle. She has to be with Bronwen. She might be able to help her.”
“Bronwen will be angry.” He looks unsure and Elsie feels sorry for him. He’s only doing as he’s told.
“I’ll worry about that. Thank you.”
Dayle has already gone back to the castle to fetch Aster, despite the boy’s protests, and Elsie heads inside the tent.
Ool spots her and comes over to her straightaway, bowing and then taking her hands.
“It doesn’t look good.”
“I’ve sent Dayle to fetch Aster. Gwenna’s had the baby. Trust Bronwen to worry about someone else at a time like this.”
“I wanted to defy her, but it didn’t seem fair. She’s not long for this world. She knows it and so would anyone who looks at her.”
“Can’t Aster help her?”
Ool shakes his head. “She’s past that. I would have sent for Aster if I thought we could save her.”
Elsie feels sadness wash over her and sighs. “Can I see her?”
There are only a handful of fairies in the tent, and they are all quiet and sombre. Sad.
Ool leads Elsie through the tent and out the back to a smaller one. Bronwen is inside, lying on a bed, swaddled in blankets and clearly unwell. She doesn’t look up when Elsie calls her name, or when she sits beside her, or when she takes her hand.
“Bronwen. Aster’s on her way.”
Bronwen doesn’t react, and her eyes already look far away. Elsie stays quiet and just holds her hand until she feels a touch on her shoulder. It’s Aster, eyes full of tears, face pale. Elsie swaps places with her and Aster takes Bronwen’s hand. Bronwen finally looks up.
“My darling girl. Don’t be angry.”
“I’m not angry. I love you.”
“I love you too. Always have, always will. There’s nothing anybody could do for me. I knew it when I woke this morning.”
“I would have come.”
“And who would have looked after Gwenna?”
Aster doesn’t bother answering, just rests her head on Bronwen’s shoulder and cries.
They sit in silence and watch as Bronwen slowly slips away. Aster seems to know the exact moment it happens, because she lets out the biggest sob, and clings onto Bronwen, as though she might never let go.
They all step back and let her have her grief, her heartbreak.
Dayle and Elsie hug, and then just stand, holding hands, watching Aster, wishing they could help, wishing the outcome had been different.
Eventually Aster stands up, letting out a shaky sigh, and smoothing down her dress. She wipes her eyes and turns to them, crying again. “I wish I could have saved her.”
“We wish the same. I’m sorry.” Elsie hugs her and then Dayle joins them, a huddle of three crying fairies.
“I don’t know what to do,” Aster says, arms hanging limply at her sides.
“Nothing. Just let yourself be sad. Not everything can be fixed.”
Aster half laughs, half cries, and Elsie pats her arm.
“Oh Aster, what a sad day.”
“And such a happy one for Gwenna,” Dayle says. “We should go back and tell her.”
“What do you want us to do? Stay here or tell Gwenna?”
“Both.” Aster is crying, her shoulders shaking. Elsie hugs her, wishing she could take the pain away from her.
“Tell Gwenna. I’ll stay here. She knew she didn’t have long left, and I hated to hear it, but I know what she wants. She wants to be dressed in her favourite green dress, and she wants her sword to be buried with her.” Aster laughs. “She thinks she’s a warrior since the rebellion.”
“She was a warrior. She did amazingly well in that fight. She killed more men than I did.”
“She said she’d never felt so alive. We write off old people all too often. She was so capable. Anyway, you go.”
They hug and cry some more and then head out of the smaller tent and back through the bigger one, leaving Aster alone to say goodbye to Bronwen.
“Hey,” Dayle calls out to Ool as they go through the tent. He rushes over. “She’s gone.”
He hangs his head, eyes full of tears.
“Ool, have you seen Finneas today?”
Ool shakes his head, turning away, heading to comfort Aster, no doubt. “Not today.”
Dayle is frowning when they go outside. The troupe is still deathly quiet, most of the fairies inside their tents or milling around, making no noise. They will all know how ill Bronwen is, and this is a mark of respect; the troupe is usually bustling and loud.
They fly off before anybody asks them how she is; it doesn’t feel like their place to share such sad news.
“Where’s Finneas then?” Dayle asks when they reach the top of the hill and walk down through the woods. “Don’t you think that’s strange? That he never got here?”
“Definitely – he knew we needed Bronwen.”
“Do you think something happened?”
“Like what? Nobody here would wish him harm. Nobody would dare to hurt him; he’s the head of the queen’s army.”
“I suppose.” Dayle doesn’t look convinced.
“We can look for him, if you want. Ask around?”
“Maybe. Let’s go back to the castle first. Maybe he’s there. Maybe he came back for Aster and we missed him. Who knows? He’s a pain in my backside.”
“But you love him.”
“Oh, Elsie, I do. I wasn’t expecting to bring you home and fall in love with anybody. He’s just like he was when we were young. But better looking.”
“He’s a good man. I wouldn’t have wanted you to marry a rogue.”
“My first love was a rogue.”
“It’s a story for another day, but yes.”
They are reluctant to go inside the castle. It’s such sad news to bring Gwenna when she’s just had a baby.
“Do we need to tell her right now?” Dayle asks, chewing on a nail.
“I don’t know. Maybe not. She can’t do anything. It’s too late.” Elsie wipes her eyes and then shakes her head. “Let’s not tell her. It’s too sad. It’s sad enough that Bronwen died on Meg’s birthday. Aster will never forget that, and neither will Gwenna. Let her enjoy the day.”
Decision made, they knock on the door and go inside, happy to see Gwenna again. Garif has vanished. “He needed more fresh air,” Gwenna says, rolling her eyes, but clearly not upset. “Look at her, she’s so pretty.”
And she is. Dayle isn’t as bothered and takes a seat by the window, but Elsie perches on the side of the bed. “Can I hold her?”
Gwenna nods and carefully passes her over. “Oh, Meg.” Elsie is crying, and a tear drops onto Meg’s head. “Sorry, baby.” She carefully wipes the tear away but can’t stop herself from crying more. It’s so bittersweet to be holding Meg’s niece that she never got to meet and never even knew was coming. Sometimes Hardy’s legacy hits Elsie at unexpected times, like this, and she could kill him all over again.
Gwenna smiles and shifts in the bed, wincing. “Any sign of Bronwen. I can’t wait for her to meet Meg. I assumed Aster had gone to see what the delay was, especially when you two didn’t come back with her.”
Elsie looks at Dayle, who makes a face. Of course, Gwenna would ask about Bronwen. Bronwen was meant to be here for the birth, and they’ve known each other forever, both living with the troupe.
“What? Where is she?”
Elsie frowns and already Gwenna has her hand to her mouth, tears welling up; it’s so strange how sometimes we know.
Elsie shakes her head. “We weren’t going to say…”
“What happened to her? Is Aster all right?”
“Aster’s with her. We don’t really know, but Ool said they expected it; Bronwen knew.”
“Oh, that’s awful. Poor Aster.”
“She’s sad, but she wanted to stay and prepare Bronwen.”
“I should be there with her.” Gwenna looks panicked and pained. Elsie touches her arm, then passes Meg back to her.
“Gwenna, you’re needed here. Aster understands. You need rest.”
“I need to do something.”
“None of us could. There’s nothing to do. Ool is with Aster, and Aster is all right. She’s tending to her, like only she would know how.”
Gwenna snuggles Meg closer to her, the poor baby’s head getting even wetter with tears than when Elsie was holding her.
They are all quiet, lost in their own thoughts, sad that Bronwen is dead. Happy that Meg has been safely born.
Dayle jumps up, startling them both.
“Sorry. I need to look for Finneas. I’m worried.”
“Yes, go. I’ll stay here.”
Dayle nods and ducks out of the room.
Gwenna wipes her eyes. “What’s happened to Finneas?”
“We don’t know. He was meant to go to the troupe to see why Bronwen wasn’t here to help Aster, but Ool hasn’t seen him.”
“Probably fell into the tavern,” Gwenna says, half laughing, half crying. “Oh, this world likes to keep us on our toes, doesn’t it? So many highs and lows.”
“Too many,” Elsie says, nodding her agreement, and putting her hand on top of Meg’s blanket, just feeling the need to be connected. Meg lets out a cry, and Gwenna feeds her.
Elsie sits on the side of the bed, not wanting to leave Gwenna alone, and not wanting to face anyone.
She knew Bronwen for a short time, compared to Gwenna and Aster, but she had such an impact on her. She fought in the rebellion, wanting to put Elsie on the throne, and she crowned her queen, making her reign official.
Garif slips into the room, looking guilty. “I just saw Dayle, and she told me about Bronwen. I’m so sorry, Gwenna. I won’t leave your side for the rest of the day, the week, the month.”
Gwenna laughs and rolls her eyes, swatting at him, but missing.
“You’re lucky I’m too busy feeding Meg to be angry with you.”
Garif takes Elsie’s place on the bed.
“Had Dayle found Finneas?”
Garif shakes his head, not taking his eyes off his wife and daughter. “She’s still looking.”
Elsie shrugs; she won’t go hunting for Finneas; Dayle can worry about him. She heads to her own room. She needs comfort, and she knows exactly who can give it to her.
Alwen is sitting at the table, a feast spread out in front of him, looking at papers he’s holding in one hand.
“From my father.” He flaps the papers, then puts them down. He stands up and hugs her, his arms fitting perfectly around her.
“I’m sorry. Good, um, morning. That was no way to greet my queen.”
Elsie laughs and then sobs. He pulls back, tucks a finger under her chin.
“What? What happened?”
She takes a breath, but it catches. “Bronwen is dead.”
“Oh, no.” He holds onto her again, smoothing her hair and making comforting noises. She can’t stop crying. He leads her over to the sofa and rocks her in his arms. She rests her head on his broad shoulders and allows him to comfort her.
“Is Aster all right?”
She shakes her head, no, loving how thoughtful he is. He knows this will devastate Aster.
“Gwenna had her baby too.”
“Oh, what a day.” He snuggles into her, both of them with their feet up. Elsie needs him; he makes her feel better every time.
“Girl or boy?”
“A girl, she’s called her Meg.”
Alwen knows all about Meg; he’s heard all the stories.
There’s a knock at the door. “Come in,” Elsie calls, staying in Alwen’s arms.
Maud beams at them. “Oh, you two make me happy. Young love – nothing like it in this world.”
Elsie laughs. She spends all her time with Alwen, when she isn’t running the Kingdom, and she’s glad he came across the sea to find her.
“What’s all this?” She gestures at the uneaten food.
Elsie untangles herself from Alwen’s arms and sits at the table.
“My fault. Bronwen died today.”
“Oh!” Maud cries, and Alwen pulls out a seat for her. She sits and dabs her eyes with her handkerchief. “I don’t know what to say. Such sadness on such an auspicious day.”
“I know.” Elsie reaches for a bread roll, and pulls small pieces off it, chewing slowly.
“Well, I shan’t blame you for ignoring your breakfast, Alwen, though I was about to!”
Alwen smiles. “Your breakfast is the reason, I, um, wake up every day.”
“Not to see me?” Elsie asks and laughs as he blushes and stumbles over his words, trying to placate both women at once. She nudges him with her elbow. “I’m teasing.”
He smiles and takes a drink, choking on the ale. Elsie laughs and slaps his back.
Maud wipes her eyes. “Things to do. I’ll come back for the dishes later.”
Elsie smiles and then takes Alwen’s hand. “Never change. What does your father want?”
“He wants me to sign away my inheritance, allow my younger brother to take the throne upon his death.”
Elsie’s eyes widen. They have planned their wedding, both more than happy to honour their initial betrothal, now that they know and love each other, but they don’t talk about his own Kingdom, which he is due to inherit when his father dies.
“That’s quite the ask, what do you want to do?”
“I don’t want to, um, well, give up my throne, but I will never leave you. So, I, um, well, I suppose I must sign it over. My brother will be a good, um, king. He’s a good man.”
Elsie chews on a honey cake, a frown on her face. “Could we rule both Kingdoms? Or is that asking for trouble?”
“Probably, um, asking for trouble. How would that even work?”
“I don’t know. There’s no reason for you to sign it away though; it is your birthright. Don’t sign it yet. Sleep on it.”
“You’re right. There’s no rush. I’ll pop these papers back to my room and I’ll join you to finish this feast.”
Elsie kisses his cheek. For all the time they spend together, they still follow the proper protocols. She is a queen and her reputation must be spotless; Gwenna has made sure she knows how important it is that for all the time she spends with Alwen, and as much as he loves her and she loves him, and even though they are betrothed, things remain chaste until they are married.
Elsie is happy for their love to blossom and grow slowly. She had too many kisses with Hardy which left her breathless, and she’s sure she made bad choices because she was so wrapped up in him. She’s keeping her head this time. Though Alwen has her heart.
The door slams open and Dayle walks in, her expression furious.
“Found him.” She sits down and grabs a mug of ale.
“In the tavern. He was on his way to see if Bronwen was all right – he definitely was, he absolutely promises – and then he ran into my brother and his crew and couldn’t say no to a quick catch up over a few pints of ale. Stupid man.”
Elsie can’t help but laugh and laughs harder when Dayle scowls at her.
“Well, I made him feel awful when I told him what happened to Bronwen, and now he’s in the stables because I told him I don’t want to see him for the rest of the day.”
She fills a plate with food and eats, chewing carefully.
“You have beautiful manners when it’s just you and me here,” Elsie says, unable to keep a straight face.
Dayle throws a piece of bread at her. “I’m much less of a pig now, you have to admit. I like to wind Gwenna up, it’s true, but I have forgotten what it’s like to be a pirate, I reckon. I’m turning into a lady.”
Alwen joins them and the three of them eat in companionable silence.
Finneas pokes his head in through the door.
“Is it safe to come in?”
Dayle ignores him and Elsie nods.
“Dayle, will you forgive me if I tell you some gossip?”
She sits up and nods. “You know you’re forgiven, or I’d have left you in the tavern. Go on.”
Finneas claps Alwen on the back and takes a seat, reaching for a cake.
“Don’t keep us hanging on,” Elsie says, wondering how good this gossip might be. “It better be good, or Dayle will be mad again.”
Dayle nods at him, and he grins.
“I was heading past the kitchen, and slipped in there, hoping Maud might have something hot and delicious to help my head.”
“Your drunken head?” Dayle asks, rolling her eyes.
Finneas nods. “But she wasn’t able to help me; she was too busy.”
“Busy doing what?”
“Busy kissing James.”
“Smelly Jim?” Dayle lets out a hoot and slams her hand on the table. “Old dog!”
Elsie laughs and then sighs. “That is wonderful. She’s been alone for a long time, and so has he. Oh, they might get married too.”
“I can’t wait to tease her,” Dayle says.
“I’m happy for her, of course I am. She deserves happiness after all Hardy put her through.”
“Don’t we all.”
“We certainly do.”
They finish the food and pile up the plates.
“Shall we take these down to Maud?” Dayle asks Elsie, waggling her eyebrows.
Elsie laughs. “Yes. I want to congratulate her.”
“You don’t think it’s a bit gross,” Dayle asks as they fly down to the kitchen.
“Old people kissing.”
“You’ll be old one day; I’ll remind you of that.”
“True. It just seems a bit bleurgh.”
“It’s not bleurgh. It’s lovely.”
“What’s lovely?” Maud asks, coming out of the kitchen and almost bumping into them, and then ushering them back inside and taking the plates from Dayle.
“Just the weather,” Elsie says, frowning at Dayle, who tries her best to look innocent.
Maud beams at them, and pinches both of their cheeks before pressing enormous cakes into their hands and ushering them out of the kitchen. “I have a million things to do and I’m behind.”
“I wonder why,” Dayle says, but she follows Elsie and they both break out into giggles.
“Let her have her secret. Why not? She’ll tell us when she’s ready.”
“I suppose.” Dayle looks so grumpy that Elsie laughs even harder.
Elsie turns, wiping her eyes and then smiling when she sees Mariah, the tiny fairy who lost her wings.
“Good morning, Mariah. Show me.”
Mariah turns and proudly shows off her new wings. They have grown even faster than Elsie’s did and the colour on them is beautiful – they shimmer in the light and Elsie wants to cry.
Aster is so nonchalant about her healing powers, and yet she has enabled every clipped fairy in Allaire to be fixed. Mariah can fly with her friends now and won’t ever be left behind.
Elsie also knows the emotional damage that comes with being clipped. When she lost her wings, she lost a part of herself, a core part. Being able to fly again meant so much to her; any fairy who hadn’t been clipped would never understand the trauma of it. It still makes her sick to her stomach that her step parents condoned children being clipped.
“They are so pretty.”
“Thank you. Is Aster here? She asked me to come.”
Mariah nods, and the pride in her expression touches Elsie. “She told me I’ll make an excellent healer one day. I’m going to work so hard and be just as good as she is. I’m going to, I promise.”
“I’m sure you will.” Elsie takes her hand. “Aster had to go to the troupe. She won’t be long, but I have just the person to look after you while you wait for her to come back.”
Elsie takes Mariah to the kitchen, and Maud is delighted to have somebody to fuss over. Elsie and Dayle grin at Mariah and she grins back, already her hands full of treats, the fire warming her, whether she needs it to or not.
“I’m so happy Maud is happy,” Elsie says, wandering through the castle gardens.
“Me too. Imagine knowing all the terrible things your son did. Imagine being so devoted to him that you never saw it coming.” Dayle kicks the grass as they walk along.
“None of us saw it coming. It was like a poison had filled him and changed him from the inside out. He didn’t start off being evil.”
“Just turned out that way.”
“Like my step parents. My step mother wasn’t evil when she married my father. She loved him. She was kind.”
Dayle shrugs. “Look at my father. He wasn’t evil his whole life. I doubt my mother would have married him if he’d been horrible from the start.”
“What’s wrong with people?”
Dayle shrugs again. “This is heavy, Elsie. And we’ll never rid the world of evil. There is too much of it.”
She shakes her head. “Maybe we can’t rid the world of it, but I’ll do my best to rid the Kingdom of it. Wait here.”
She flies into the castle, leaving Dayle confused. When she comes back out, she’s smiling. “Come with me.”
They fly to the village square, and Elsie points at the three sets of wings flying there.
“What do you think when you look at them? What do you feel, Dayle?”
“I’m glad that they are all dead, but I feel sad and angry. I hate being reminded of them.”
“Exactly. Help me.”
Elsie flies up and pulls at the wings, tugs at them and rips them, Dayle helping her, until the six wings are in a heap on the floor.
A small crowd has gathered, wondering what their young queen is doing.
She calls out to them, fire powder from Aster’s work room clutched in her hand.
“I don’t want reminders of evil in Allaire. There’s no place for it. I want all of you to be safe and happy all the time. We don’t need to see these wings anymore. The clipped fairies are fixed thanks to Aster, and the Kingdom thrives thanks to all of you and the hard work and kindness you show to each other.”
She throws the powder down and it quickly catches fire. The smell is disgusting, but a small cheer goes up, and word soon spreads, and the crowd gets bigger. Children stamp on the embers and the ash flies up like black snow, and when Elsie turns back toward the castle with Dayle, her heart feels lighter.
She is queen of Allaire and she will spend her reign making sure there is no evil in her happy little Kingdom.