I’ve posted this before in an earlier incarnation. After the past few weeks, I feel like humor and light-heartedness is in short supply. I almost feel like now isn’t the time for it, but if not now, when. Take a read, hopefully it makes you smile a bit. This is the first chapter of my 4th book, which hopefully will not suck quite as much as the others. It’s a fractured fairytale. Also, please note that Martha is pronounced Matha.
Her’s was the tallest, blackest, most evil looking, and most importantly, only tower in the land. At least in her land. She’d had it built special. After all, a dark queen couldn’t have a bland old castle of the usual design of a stinking moat round high walls with a few stubby towers. It really had to be something special, something that said dark queen and sorcerous on every stone. Indeed, she’d seen to that as well. Every stone laid had the words property of the dark queen, etched somewhere on its face. As she did every morning, she stood at the largest window in the highest room atop her tower and surveyed the dark lands stretching off in all directions. It was easy to tell which bits belonged to her. Every corner could be described as foreboding orchards, brittle wheat fields, ancient twisted forests, and the occasional gloomy city. When the country wasn’t covered in heavy roiling clouds, it was being pummeled by any of a variety of different storms.
There was one bit of land visible from the tower that wasn’t hers. It was the bit that had for years resisted every attempt, both forceful and ingenious, to be subsumed into the dark lands. Out at the very of the edge of the horizon it glittered. A land of shining golden sun and rolling green hills, seemingly perfect in every way. It wasn’t a large country. Hers dwarfed and surrounded it, actually. But that country was held, and had been for ages, by Prince Charming.
Her eyes landed on the precious little sliver off in the distance and she gritted her teeth and pulled an ugly face. “Prince Charming,” she scoffed. “If people really knew Pete.”
The truth was, it wasn’t so much that she wanted that land as she wanted to live there. It was something she wanted so badly she was starting to feel desperate for it. That place was vibrant and positively glowed with life. After all, she wouldn’t be young for ever. Well, she could be, it was part of the evil sorcery of being a dark queen, wasn’t it? But all of that was just, well, tedious, and she’d rather like to get on with life. Maybe have a few chickens, learn how to bake, and pop out a few fat babies. Anything had to be more interesting than sulking at the top of a tower, telling off Demons and Gargoyles, intimidating subjects and keeping her lands just at the very edge of horrible without going over the cliff into unlivable. Being the dark queen was a lot of hard, thankless work and all she would ever have to show for it was a murky expanse of land and a lot of really unpleasant subjects.
She leaned against the open window frame and tapped her long fingernails on the stone sill. Between Pete, ye olde Prince Charming, and her own dedicated and very wrong-hearted minions, she couldn’t even escape. Everyone would either be trying to kill her or save her. Of course, there wouldn’t be any telling which was which and she’d end up dead in the process anyhow.
Finally, Hexe pushed back from the window and spun around. Except for Melbourne, her ever-present Gargoyle, she was alone.
“My, dearest dark queen, ruler of darkness, most lovely of the land—” Melbourne said.
Hexe threw up a hand to silence him. She didn’t look at him. It was beneath a dark queen to look directly at her subjects when they spoke to her, it was only at her own discretion that she should deign to gaze upon anyone, especially when the subject was as hideous as Melbourne.
“Mirror?” Hexe asked.
“What?” A tall floor to ceiling mirror across the room barked in a rasping growl.
“Our dear friend Mr. Melbourne has attempted a compliment. Would you please set him in his place?”
The mirror didn’t hesitate, lighting into the queen’s appearance at once. “The dark queen’s hair is as limp and lifeless as a pot of cooked noodles, her makeup has been applied with far too heavy a hand, possibly with a mason’s trowl, and her clothing is as stiff as a school marm’s.”
Hexe was still not looking at Melbourne, but she was also a sorceress and didn’t need to look. His ugly little flat face carried a slack look of horror which was more than adequately conveyed an unnatural bulge of his already very wide eyes. She let Melbourne stew for a moment.
“I suppose you were going to ask me if I’m ready to meet with my council?” She asked.
“Oh, yes, my most majestic and terrifying dark highness.”
“Tell them I’ll be along presently.”
The heavy footsteps and thudding of a heavy oak door made for a conspicuous auditory trail of his progress that continued on for some time.
“Mirror?” She asked.
“For the sake of all the gods above and below, I am not interested in hosting another pity-party,” the mirror snapped.
Hexe strode up to the mirror to look at herself. Straight Raven hair, pale skin, bright red lips, dark brown eyes, heavily adorned with all manner of makeup, and a very straight and stiff black dress. She looked grim, respectable, and, if she did say so, ever so slightly frightening. “It’s not a pity party, Luc. I just want you to make me look that way again.”
If the mirror had a face, Hexe would have seen it raise an eyebrow. “This is the definition of a pity party, queen. You need to be who you are and focus on your responsibilities. You’re not some foolish farm girl.”
“Just do it,” she said with a sigh of exasperation.
Luc, didn’t shake his non-existent head, though he certainly would have done, right before changing her reflection. Instead of the dark and beautiful queen, Hexe saw a pretty, but thoroughly ordinary farm girl. Her brown hair fell in loose curls to the shoulders of a plain and slightly stained-up dress. There wasn’t any makeup on her round round, happy face, and her body was rather more curvy.
“Did you add more weight this time?” Hexe asked.
“Just a few pounds. I thought you might like a bit of extra curve just there around the hip.”
Hexe nodded, “I have heard this figure is all the rage.”
“This is an absurd dream,” Luc said. “You’d be bored as hell if you weren’t the dark queen, you know.”
“The heart wants what the heart wants,” she said vaguely.
“I can only make you look this way in the mirror,” Luc said. “You’re still going to look and sound and most probably act like the dark queen of darkness, no matter where you are or what you look like.”
“People change, Luc,” she said, still drawn in by the image and the shifting this way and that to admire her new curves. “I don’t suppose you might see about the bust a little?”
Her bust, as reflected in the mirror, slimmed.
“No, not that way. Bigger.”
Luc’s non-existent eyes rolled, but he obeyed and her chest grew to the size it had been a moment earlier and then grew just a bit larger. It wasn’t a significant change, but Hexe felt it made for an enormous improvement.
“Ah, much better,” she cooed, straightening up and admiring the new prow.
She wished she could keep this figure. It was lovely, and it seemed so unfair she could only see it reflected back in the mirror. After all, she was the dark queen, a sorcerous. Could she not do just about any other thing she wanted? This one stymied her. The best she could manage here was take on the new form until midnight. In order to keep it, she’d need to take a kiss from Prince Charming, and frankly, she’d rather kiss a frog than have old Pete’s lips anywhere near hers. Of course, kissing frogs presented a special variety of problem. They kept turning into princes, and there were all nearly as bad as Pete.
Hexe scowled, which the was pleased to find looked adorable on her farm girl figure. “It always comes down to Pete, doesn’t it.”
A voice called from behind her. More of a grisly croak, than a voice really. It’s the sort of twisted thing you pick up from decades of spending to much time puffing on pipes and drinking of moonshine whiskey. “It doesn’t have to be the Prince Charming,” it said.
Hexe threw her head back to stare at the ceiling. “Do you always just appear from nowhere?”
“That’s what fairy god-mothers do, sweetie. Look it only has to be a Prince Charming. You know I could whip one up for you in a minute.”
“Don’t encourage her Martha,” Luc said.
“Shut-up mirror, you’re not doing anything better. Besides, that’s what fairy god mothers are for, seeing their charges dreams come true.”
Hexe returned her eyes to her fantasy reflection. “It’s much more romantic to find true love on your own. Not have have some beefcake magicked out of the sky,” Hexe paused. “Not that I’d mind that, exactly, but it’s not true love, is it?”
“Honey, there’s no such thing as true love. Best you’re going to get is someone with a good trade and has manageable annoying traits. If you’re especially lucky, he’ll be good looking before he starts going soft round the middle.”
Hexe frowned, still adorable in her fantasy reflection. “You’re such a dour old bitty, aren’t you?”
“All I’m saying is that you’re not going to be any worse off if I just go get one for you. I might even be able to get you one who’ll be amenable to changing nappies.”
“For the zillionth time, no,” Hexe sighed.
“This whole thing absolutely absurd. By all means, get yourself a man, but this whole other bit about the farm-girl is nonsense,” Luc said. “It’s not who you are on the outside, it’s who you are in the inside, everyone knows that.”
“What do you know about it, mirror? I want my precious god-daughter to be happy,” Martha said.
Hexe turned from the mirror. Martha was sitting in a straight-backed chair, her feet propped on a table. Except for the gray hair, which was cropped so close to her scalp as to be on the short side even for a gentleman’s cut, she wasn’t what Hexe imagined as a fairy god-mother. In one hand she held a long curving pipe, issuing forth a thin, but prodigious stream of bluish smoke. The other hand clutched a well worn magic wand. She eyed Hexe with a pair of dark, watery eyes.
From where she stood Hexe could see out the window to the little golden sliver in the distance. “It doesn’t work without the cottage.”
“I can get you an army of suitors, but nothing in my power will get you a cottage in that country. Too many do-gooders over there and do you have any idea how much a single-room cottage is in that country? Why not a nice cottage in one of your lovely dark forests?”
Hexe folded her arms and glowered. “Happily ever after does not happen in a dark forest. That’s the whole point. I’m already the queen of the darkness. I want to be a fair maid in a fair land with my one true love,” she stopped to picture her perfect cottage in the woods in her mind. “And mabye a few chickens,” she finished.
“Honey,” Martha said gently, “We don’t live in some fairly land.”
Hexe threw up her hands and willed a thunderbolt to slam into the spire at the top of the tower. A blinding flash filled the room with blue light and shook the tower with enough violence to knock a picture off the wall. “Yes, we do. I’m a dark sorceress, you’re a fairy god-mother and my best friend is a magic mirror.”
Martha rolled her eyes and got to her feet. “Always so dramatic. You know what I meant. Look honey, I’ve got to run. I’ll swing by again in a few days to see if you’ve come to your senses. Just promise me that if your Prince Charming does turn up, you won’t have his head chopped off?”
“If he’s my one true love, I won’t,” Hexe said, leaning in to give Martha a peck on the cheek.
“Good girl,” Martha stepped back and with a flourish of her wand, disappeared, leaving only a thick cloud of pipe-smoke in her wake.
Hexe stood in her silent room for several seconds before returning to the mirror to get another glance at her fantasy self. “I suppose I’ve put off the council-thing long enough. Stodgy old bastards.”
“You’ll enjoy it,” Luc said.
She walked over to the door and grabbed the handle. “Enjoying power doesn’t make me feel whole.”
“It does,” Luc said.
Hexe slid out of the room, letting the door slam behind her. Much to her displeasure, Melbourne was standing outside.
“My dearest, darkest queen, they are all gathered and waiting.”
“I know, you already said so. Why aren’t you down there keeping them occupied?”
“Because they sent me up to fetch you, your darkest, most fearsome, grace.”
“Let’s get this over with then.”
Hexe wound her way down a dozen flights of stairs followed by the thudding footsteps of Melbourne. When she reached the door to her council chambers, she stopped and waited for Melbourne to open it. He pushed it open and she entered the room, holding her chin up high and keeping her eyes trained forward. Taking no notice of her inferiors was usually not a problem. They were a motley assortment of stinking old men, demons, and mad wild-haired wizards. This time, however, she spotted someone new out of the corner of her eye. He was so out of place she almost turned her head to take a proper look, but she was the dark queen. Turning her head to look at anything in that room wouldn’t do.
When she reached her seat, Hexe had to force herself not to look in the direction of the unexpected attendee. Instead, she put on her best face disdain, the one with the slight frown and raised eyebrow, that was her favorite. Then, starting at the farthest point from the one she really wanted to look at, she let her eyes slide to each person. The Demon lords huddled together off to her left looking as polite and deferential as demons could. Then there were the barons and dukes. For the most part, round old men wearing a mix of haughty and cowed expressions. Then, he eyes lighted on the man she had wanted to take a better look at. He was much younger than most with broad shoulders, dark, intense eyes that reminded her of a hawk and a very strong and straight jaw.
Since he hadn’t ever been there before, she felt she could get away with examining him at length without attracting any attention. She wondered vaguely if Martha had sent him. That thought wasn’t going to do her any good, so she let it go. Under her gaze, most men would cower or look away. This man did not. He looked back at her. If it had been any other man in that crowd, she’d have had him tossed into the the dungeon without having another word. That sort of uppity behavior couldn’t be tolerated. This man, though, had the part of her brain usually involved in scheming instead working overtime on strategies to get him to his feet and turn around, preferably without a shirt.
At length, she asked. “Who are you?”
“I’m Gregory the son of Duke Winthrop. My father —”
Hexe held up her hand. “You will address me as your grace, her royal highness, her most illustrious queen of darkness, or something equally flattering.”
Gregory nodded. “As I was saying,” he continued without the slightest hint of proper form. “I am the son of Duke Winthrope —”
“You will stand up and address your queen properly,” Hexe said.
Gregory stood up. Hexe felt a little thrill of pleasure run down her spine. Getting him to his feet had been a very good idea, indeed. Now, she needed him to turn around, and then there was the matter of that shirt, though that second bit would be tricky.
“My father,” Gregory pressed. “Asked me to come in his place at this meeting.”
Hexe eyed him. If he kept on like this, he’d go from being interesting to a better looking version of the boring old farts she already had to deal with. This was not going to do.
“Melbourne,” she said. “This man has twice insulted me by not addressing me properly and to my knowledge has not been invited to this council.”
“Shall I have him locked in the deepest, most horrible dungeon?” The gargoyle asked.
“No. I will question him when I am finished here. Bring him to my deliberation chambers.”
“Er —At the top of the towers, great and powerful sorceress?” Melbourne asked.
“Yes, and now if you please, before I have you placed atop a battlement somewhere. If I don’t like what he has to say, I will have him dropped from the top of that tower.”
Gregory bowed and turned around to leave the council chambers. Melbourne stumped along behind him. Hexe’s eyes tailed Gregory out, and it was quite a tail. When the doors shut, her mind went with him and became quite randy in very short order.
Several moments passed before she regrouped to address the remaining attendees. They all stared at her with expressions carefully designed to conceal other expressions, which consisted of fear, surprise, or amusement according to political alliance.
“I believe there is some business regarding the prince of the trolls,” she began.