Razim noticed eyes peeking through the gatehouse window as he and Sidregar passed through the unbarred outer gates and into the trough, the space between the lofty inner and outer walls of the royal capitol. In the trough, merchants, travelers, and beggars could camp the night free from harassment by thieves and other harm, before entering the inner gates in the morning. But this night the trough was bare of tents and of all but the most destitute-looking persons. Razim led his brother to the inner gate and noted that they were lined with iron spikes. Strangely, there were no guardsmen on duty. He peeked through the slats of wood.
The gate swung open with a high wail. Razim swapped curious looks with Sidregar. They paced into the city, scanning the streets for an open inn. The streets were empty. The hour was late indeed, but unless the populace was exceptionally well-behaved, Razim would have expected some patrolling guardsmen, a drunk or two staggering through an alley, children sneaking about. The city seemed abandoned, like much of the country surrounding it, yet they had heard no news of any trouble as they approached this kingdom.
“Why didn’t they lock the gates?” Razim asked.
Sidregar sighed, his breath misting before his face. He tightened the wool scarf around his neck.
“Because the danger is already inside.” He pointed to a sign on the side of the Dropwing Inn, below the board that proclaimed the inn full.
Razim leaned to his right to read it. “Beware of Ogre.” He scratched his brow. “How could an ogre get inside?”
“No mystery. Look at the quality of their gatekeepers.” Sidregar laughed. “Oh come on, I was jesting. It’s the royal city, not some unguarded farmhouse. That is probably the name of a play the inn is putting on, or some ghastly lunch special in their tavern. Let’s go find an inn.”
“You’re right,” Razim said. “We’ve been journeying in the wild too long. I’ve forgotten that I needn’t expect to find dragons, or tigers, or ogres around every corner.”
With that, the brothers turned a corner and there before them stood an ogre.
The ogre looked like a hulking stone statue, twice Razim’s height and four times his breadth, only it was alive, its shoulder heaving with breath. A sickly thick greenish drool dripped from the corners of the ogre’s crusty lips. Its breathing sounded like the crunching of fresh bones.
From the corner of his eye, Razim could see that his brother was pulling out his axe. Razim had his hand on the hilt of his sword. With a great roar, the ogre thundered toward them. And then right past them as the brothers leapt to either side.
Weapons drawn, they exchanged a look of confusion and glanced toward the ogre’s path. Something small darted out of the ogre’s grasp. It was chasing someone or something else.
Suddenly, Sidregar dashed after the ogre.
“Sid!” Razim sighed in exasperation and followed his brother. “What are you doing?” he asked when he caught up to Sidregar.
“He’s after a child. Did you not see?”
It was no wonder. Razim had not seen, but if Sidregar thought a child was in danger there would be no stopping him. Razim had never faced an ogre before. He was stunned by the creature’s speed.
They caught up to it at the city’s hub, at the fountain where the three main roads of the city converged. And standing before the fountain, frozen in fear, was indeed a child. A little girl in a tattered dress and knotty knee-length hair. Her whole person was grubby and gray save for large golden eyes held wide with fear.
Razim cried out and surged forward, as did Sidregar, both swinging their weapons at the ogre. The weapons glanced off the ogre’s stone skin. Their blades chipped and dulled. A few shallow cuts were the only result of their frenzied efforts. But it was enough to distract the creature. The ogre swung his arm and knocked Sidregar down. Razim stopped to help his brother, lifting him off the ground, ready to flee. But now that they were not attacking him, the ogre once again ignored them. It stomped away, for the girl it was chasing was nowhere to be found.
Sidregar pulled himself free of Razim’s grasp and dusted himself off. “Beware of Ogre,” he said. “Raz, I don’t think it’s a play after all.”
“We have to find her,” Sidregar said, jogging along beside Razim, who was walking back toward the city gates. “You saw as well as I did, that thing was after her. We held no interest for it. We have nothing to fear.”
Razim stopped and faced his brother. “And if we find her and find it, what do you propose we do? Our weapons did not bother it.”
“We can grab her and run for shelter.”
“She seemed a nimble one, Sid. I think we would only slow her down.”
“She’s a waif. No one is looking after her. The people of this so-called ‘uncommonly hospitable’ city are not looking after her.”
“I noticed there were iron spikes reinforcing the inner wall. If we leave the city, we should be safe from it. Many fairies and creatures of the like are repelled by iron and steel. This city was likely quite safe from the creature until it found its way in.”
Sidregar tried to block Razim’s way. Razim walked around him.
“Then let’s find her, let her know she’ll be safe outside the city, and take her there.” He held up his hands. “I know what you’re going to say. It was fast for a creature its size. That took me by surprise too, but we can fool it somehow. Bundle up the girl and make another fake bundle. Do some kind of sleight of hand. Come on, Raz. Let’s try at least.”
Razim suddenly stopped just as a light rain began to fall. The girl stood before him. She looked at him, an uncertain expression in her ghostly golden eyes.
Sidregar strode toward the girl, unfastening his heavy cloak. He swept the cloak around her, cocooning her, so that only her face popped out of the dark bundle. “What’s your name, sweet?” he asked. “Mine is Sidregar, but you may call me ‘Sid’ as my brother here does.” Sidregar tipped his head toward Razim.
The girl tilted her head up and stared at Razim. His heart seized at the disturbing cast of her eyes. They seemed to glow against the darkness of deep night. He grinned uneasily and said, “Hello, I’m Razim.”
The girl let Sidregar pull her out of the rain and underneath an awning.
“Are you lost, love?” he asked. “Are you hungry?”
She said nothing as he reached into his satchel.
“Here, these are less than hard, but hardly soft,” he said, winking as he offered her some biscuits and a flask of water.
The girl refused the bread but emptied Sidregar’s water flask.
“Let us away, then,” Razim said. “Before our party is joined by any unwanted guests.” He glanced at the girl. If she had any idea that he was speaking about the ogre, she gave no indication. But as they started toward the city gates, she tugged at Sidregar’s hand and shook her head.
Sidregar knelt before her. “We have to go this way, sweet. It will be safer outside of the city.” She shook her head so vigorously that he had to put his hands her shoulders and shush her. Tears streamed from her eyes and a look of anguish on her face made Razim feel somewhat guilty. He knelt before the girl as well.
“Child, that terrible creature that we all saw before, do you remember it?”
She nodded and a tear spilled from her right eye.
“It cannot pass through the gates, because of those iron spikes that surround the city. If we close and lock the gates with iron bars, we will be safe from it outside the city.”
She shook her head again.
“Razim, I think she means to tell us that it’s not safe out there.”
Razim looked at the girl’s eyes. “Is that what you’re trying to say? We’re not safe outside the city?”
Razim rose and sighed.
“Maybe she knows something we don’t know,” Sidregar said.
“It would be helpful if she would tell us what that was.” Razim looked at the girl, but she remained silent.
And they resumed their search for shelter within the city.
They searched the merchant’s quarter first knocking on the doors of inns and houses, hoping someone would at least take the child in. Most wouldn’t open their doors, though Razim sensed them peeking out through cracks in drawn shutters. He could not blame them. They likely knew what he knew, that the ogre was chasing the child for some reason. They likely knew they would be safe so long as she was nowhere near.
Sidregar grinned at him. “If I look as much a scoundrel as you do,” he said, “it’s no wonder we’re not welcomed.”
“We can’t go knocking on every door in the city,” Razim said. He leaned against the wall of the Royal Tears Inn and glanced at the streets. “Doesn’t this city have any guardsmen?”
Sidregar blinked slowly. “We should have brought at least one signet or medallion for situations like this.”
“But that, little brother, would defeat the purpose of our jaunt through the kingdoms.” Razim put a finger to his temple. “We must get by using our wits and our strength, not our wealth and our privilege.”
Sidregar laughed. “Careful, you sound just like father when you parrot his words.”
“With or without our sigils and crests, I think we should head to the castle,” Razim said, pointing north. Something was wrong in the city. Razim was not sure what they would find when they reached the castle. It would be half a mile’s walk. But if any place would serve as shelter from an ogre, it would be a castle.
Sidregar tilted his head and smiled at the girl. “We’ll be safe in the castle, sweet. What do you think?”
She gazed north, but said nothing. But she did not resist as they began walking in toward the castle.
When next they took rest for food and drink, Razim took Sidregar aside. “We might not know what we’ll find at the castle, friend or foe. We must be wary.”
Sidregar nodded. “I thought so as well.”
“And if we can, we must find out why that ogre is after your little friend.”
Sidregar frowned. “It’s because it can’t get to anyone else. So it’s trying to eat the one poor little child that was left in the streets.”
“Sid, don’t be a fool. You can see she’s no child, at least, she no ordinary child.”
“What is she then?”
“She’s a fairy.”
Sidregar sighed. “You’ll find any reason to—“
“Have you ever seen eyes that color on a human being?”
Sidregar paused. He smiled. “Remember that girl from that tavern in Thessa? With the light brown freckles on her nose? She had yellow eyes.”
“She did. But our little friend doesn’t have yellow eyes. She has golden eyes.”
“What do you mean to say, Razim?”
“Whatever has happened in this city must have to do with her and that ogre. We need to find out who she is and why that ogre is after her. If she was born in this city, there will be a record. The archives will be on our way to the castle.”
“We’re being hunted by an ogre and you want to visit the library? It won’t even be open this time of night.”
“Perhaps we’ll be lucky and all public places in the city are left as wide open as the gates.” And if not, the brothers had learned a few tricks for getting into—and out of—locked places during their journeys.
Some wicked enchantment was at work in the city. Razim felt sure of it. And that child was at the center of it. They had to stop walking about in the open as if taking an evening stroll. It was a wonder the ogre had not found them yet. And there was no telling what other dangers lurked.
They stopped again, hiding in an alley across the street from the city library and archives.
“What’s your name, little one?” Sidregar offered the girl a rough piece of parchment and his charcoal stick.
The girl raised up a shoulder and shied away from him.
“Do you not know how to write or read?” Sidregar asked.
She shook her head. Sidregar looked at Razim, who leaned toward his brother and whispered so the girl could not overhear. “Fairies can’t read or write.”
“How would you know that?”
“I’ve read it,” Razim said, rising. He pulled a small lantern from his satchel and lit it.
“Then it must be true.”
Razim glanced all around him. “Don’t wait for me if you catch sight of that ogre. The both of you make for the castle. I can join you later.”
“How long will you be?”
“That depends on how organized the city’s librarians are. Give me a quarter of an hour. No more.”
There were lines of verse scribbling on the stone steps leading to the landing before the front entrance. It was crudely written in charcoal or dark ink. He could not tell in the dark. He held his lantern up to the words.
A chain there is upon our voice
A dark enchantment did make it.
A bind there is upon our mind
And we cannot forsake it.
One who is worthy will see the chain
One who is worthy will break it.
One who is chained will sing again
Sing to the kingdom and wake it.
Razim committed the verses to memory . He had not expected it, but the heavy front door of the library was indeed unlocked. There was strange litter on either side of the door. Bundles of herbs and wildflowers and little sacks that must have been filled with spices. He caught the faint scent of warm spices in the chill breeze that swept by. They were wards perhaps, against the ogre. Locks would not stop such a creature. He quickly went inside the library. There he wrote the verses down. Something about them strengthened his belief that uncanny forces were at work. The residents of the city had not spoken to him. He thought they were afraid of the ogre or of the child. Perhaps it was not that they were afraid, but that they could not speak. Perhaps even if they could, they would not have anything to say. Voices and minds were enchanted. But if he was right, then who had written the verse? And who had done the enchanting?
The library was thankfully organized much as the one in his own royal city. Razim did not relish descending into the archives in the dead of night with a single lantern, but even if he found nothing on the girl, the city scribes would have left their daily records there. He might trace what had happened.
Razim heard a shuffling noise. He caught his breath and froze. He dimmed the lantern slowly and stepped toward the closest wall, turning and pressing his back against it.
“Captain?” a voice called softly.
Through the windows in the ceiling, dim shafts of moonlight fell against the main floor. A robed figure came into view.
Razim lowered the lantern to the floor and put his hand on the hilt of his sword.
“Who goes there?” he said.
Suddenly, a warm yellow light burst from the figure. He had his own lantern. He was robed in brown and grey and had a small book in his hand. He squinted at the light of his own lantern. He was looking away from Razim.
Razim stepped into the light, hand still on hilt. “Who are you, good sir?”
The man looked startled, but not scared. He smiled and squinted at Razim. “I…am the librarian.”
“Do you know there is an ogre about? What are you doing here?”
“I found it. I must give it to him,” the man said. There was sweat upon his brow, above his lip. His eyes were wide with both worry and concentration.
“What did you find? And who are you waiting for?”
“The Captain of the Guard. The Royal Guard.”
So the city did have guardsmen. Razim wondered where in the blazes they were. Perhaps he had finally found someone who could and would tell him.
“Is there an enchantment on this city and on its people?” Razim asked.
The librarian nodded. “Yes.”
The librarian winced and squinted. “Yes.” With his free hand, he grasped the pendant that hung from his neck. It was made of silver. When he touched it, some of the tension seemed to leave his face. “So I cannot tell you much.” He was struggling. Razim had no time to waste with foolish questions.
“Is there a chain that needs to be broken?”
“Where is it?”
“Around her neck.”
The man squinted again. Did he write the verse on the steps outside? Was that his attempt to tell someone what was happening and how to fix it?
“Who cast this enchantment on you?”
Razim sucked in his breath.
“Did the queen make the chain?”
Then they were headed in the wrong place. Razim could wait no longer. He had to leave and catch up with Sidregar and the girl if they hadn’t left already.
“Is there a fairy in the city?”
“Why is the ogre chasing the fairy?”
The librarian squinted. He did not answer. Razim’s heart was beating. There were so many questions he should be asking. What were they? He couldn’t think.
“How can I stop the ogre?”
The librarian shook his head. He was trying, but he could not answer. And Razim did not have time to ask all of the questions he needed to ask. The librarian held out the book. Razim took it and he thought of one more question. He thought of how the ogre was behaving.
“Is the ogre enchanted?”
The librarian winced, but he also nodded.
“Did the queen enchant him?”
The librarian fell to his knees now. Razim held him. The man nodded. “Enough,” he said. He collapsed. Razim put his ear to the man’s chest and found a heartbeat. And he felt the steady rise and fall of the man’s chest as he breathed. Razim exhaled in relief. It was no wonder no one had tried to speak to him.
Razim looked at the little book in his hand. It was a small leather journal, embossed with a dragonfly on the cover. Someone had left the librarian there to give the Captain of the Guard that book. Was it the queen who had left it? Or someone else. The girl? But why then would she not have come inside? Did she want Razim to find the book?
Razim opened the book and flipped through it.
Sidregar and the girl were gone from the alley by the time Razim came out of the library. But he caught up to them quickly on the way to the castle. And thankfully, the ogre was still nowhere to be seen.
Razim told his brother of his encounter in the library. “He could tell me no more. So this is what I’ve pieced together. The queen cast a spell of silence on the people of the city, so they could not call for help or even tell anyone who wandered into the city. I’m certain she brought the ogre here and trapped him in the city with a wall of iron spikes. And trapped our friend there too.” He could tell the girl was listening intently to his account.
“Why would she do that to her own people?”
“Because they’re not her people, are they child?”
The girl turned toward them.
“Why else would the ogre only be after you?”
They stopped for a moment.
“Is it true, sweet? Are you the proper monarch?”
The girl only looked at them.
“The spell of silence is on her as well,” Razim said. “She cannot answer us. When we arrive at the castle, will you lead us to the throne room?”
The girl nodded.
Razim whispered to his brother. “If she is a mere waif, she won’t know her way around the castle.”
He kept the little book hidden. In it was a fairy trap. It could trap any creature who used magic. And he meant to use it on the queen. But according to the notes in the book, it might not work. So he would only attempt it if his first plan failed. For he saw the chain she wrought. As he caught up with Sidregar and the girl, Razim saw the band of iron that circled the little girl’s neck, and the links of chain, each the size of his hand, that hung from the band and snaked away as far as his eye could see. Sidregar made no comment about the chain, so he must not have seen it. Razim thought he understood the verse he had seen. One to see the chain. One to break it. That meant Sidregar would have to break the chain, if he was worthy, and how could he not be after all the tenderness he had shown the child.
And when the chain was broken, so would the queen’s hold on the kingdom.
The castle gates, like the city gates, were unguarded. There was no need of sigils and crests. No need of swords and axes. And when they did see guardsmen, they seemed in a daze, marching along their perimeters, but not really watching.
The brothers followed the golden-eyed girl through the colonnaded outdoor promenade flanked by sleeping gardens, into the vast anteroom, past tapestried hallways, deeper into the castle. She did indeed seem to know her way. The metallic slithering of the chain across the stone floors echoed through the chamber. Razim marveled that no one else seemed not to hear it.
As she walked ahead, Razim leaned close to his brother.
“I have a plan, Sid.”
“I hoped so. Will you assure the little one won’t be hurt by it?”
“It will be your part of the plan to look to her. When the time comes, will you follow my lead?”
The girl led them into the throne room. Past heavy oak doors, a long red carpet guided them to the thrones. Razim, Sidregar, and the child followed the carpet. And Razim followed something else as well, for the chain around the child’s neck grew shorter as she walked and it wound toward the throne.
Massive paintings of fox hunts, coronations, and people of import who were long dead or grown old adorned the walls between mounted weapons and cases of books with gold-leaf titles embossed in leather spines. Razim nervously noted the axes, spears, and swords that decked the walls amid less deadly things.
One of the two thrones was occupied by a woman in a dark velvet dress with a high collar. Her dark cloak was clasped at her shoulder by a pin that was shaped like a dragonfly.
Razim frowned at the sight of the pin. So the queen had given that book to the librarian. She had made that trap for her rival, for the girl.
What surprised him more was the metal ring clamped around her collar. He had expected it would be around her wrist, like a leash. Thick links of chain were draped over the arm of the throne.
The queen watched their approach. She sat with her hands folded over her lap.
Razim and Sidregar stopped before her. They both bowed, but neither lowered their heads. Her first words to them were a question.
“How did you get inside the city?”
“The gates were open,” Razim said. “We walked right in. So I expected it would be true what they say about the royal capitol, that it is uncommonly hospitable. That it is ruled by kind and noble monarchs.”
The queen narrowed her eyes. “Perhaps it was, once.”
Razim narrowed his. “It seems we have found the usurper.”
The queen looked down at them.
“It seems you have,” she answered in a deep and steady voice. But a restrained fury seeped through her calm expression.
She looked at each of them in turn, her gaze resting on the girl, who stood behind Sidregar.
“Give me your names,” the queen said.
Razim stepped forward, but he felt something tug at his right hand. He looked back and saw that the girl was now standing behind him, grasping his hand in both of hers. She had a look of desperate entreaty on her face as she shook her head. Razim understood. She did not want him to reveal their names. Of course. If he did, the queen would gain power over them.
Razim looked at Sidregar, who was standing before a coil of chain. He caught his brother’s eye and he took a breath to give the order.
A roar sounded from the other end of the throne room and Razim turned toward the sound. The solid oak doors splintered, cracked, and exploded in. Spikes of icy fear burst through Razim’s chest. The ogre barreled toward the brothers, brushing off a huge plank from the oak as if it were bothersome bug. Sidregar scrambled to reach the girl and pushed her behind him.
“Sid, raise you axe and strike there!” Razim said, pointing to a link that sat before his brother.
With a roar, the ogre pounded toward the girl, reaching out.
Sidregar raised the sword above his head, holding it there in perfect balance before swinging it hellward. He could not see what he struck, but Razim saw it. The blade cleaved a single link. The link split. The ogre froze. Sidregar swept his gaze on the floor along the length of the chain. It seemed he could see it now that he had broken it. He rushed to the girl’s side and raised his sword against the ogre.
With a click, the girl’s collar unlocked and slipped from her neck, vanishing before it could strike the floor. The links too began to vanish. Like one almost drowned and hungry for breath, the girl inhaled as if to empty the room of air and gasped out a breath. She cast her gaze toward the queen.
Ghostly golden eyes glittered with vengeance.
“Thank you, Sid,” the girl said, her words flowing out of her mouth like honey. She did not sound like a young girl. But she did not turn to Sidregar as she said them. Her eyes were still on the queen.
The queen took a deep breath as if bracing herself. The chain around her neck had also fallen and vanished. Her gaze flicked to Razim before returning to the girl. “You don’t know what you have just done,” she said. “The kingdom is lost.”
A dense and sweet fragrance filled Razim’s nose as a voice like honey droned on. He felt his eyes begin to droop. His sword slipped from his grasp and he thought he saw it dance above his head, the blade hovering above him.
There was a sudden flash of light.
He felt rough hands around his wrist, yanking his arm so hard, he feared through his daze that it would be ripped off. He followed a hulking shadow. He was in the hallway. He heard the sound of stone grinding against stone. He blinked away the bright spots and when his eyes adjusted, he saw he was leaning against a stone wall. Sidregar lay before him. So the hand on his shoulder did not belong to his brother. He looked to his right and saw the queen. He shoved her hand off his shoulder.
She gave a mirthless chuckle. “I am not your enemy, Prince Razim. You brought your enemy with you when you entered my castle.”
Razim blinked a few times as he hovered over Sidregar, who still lay on the floor and was just coming to consciousness. Before them stood the queen, who it seemed, already knew their names and their ranks. Razim realized something he had not noticed when she had been sitting on the throne.
“You’re with child.”
She put her hand on her belly and sighed. A shadow moved behind her and came into the dim light of the single lantern that burned in the chamber.
It was the ogre.
Razim reached for his sword and remembered it was no longer there. The fairy, she had used her magic on it, pulled it from his grasp, commanded it to attack him.
“Hold, your highness,” the queen said, raising a hand to halt him. “He won’t harm you. I give my word on that. Let me introduce you to my husband, his highness the king.”
“What is happening?” Sidregar said with a moan. “Where are we?”
“You are in a secret chamber of the castle. One that she doesn’t know of,” the queen said. “We do not have much time. If the king and I do not regain our thrones by the time the sun rises, that wicked little fairy will be the new queen of my kingdom.”
“You,” Razim said. “But you are the usurper. She…”
The queen sighed. “You do not know us. I cannot expect you to trust us. Let me tell you my story. Then you can judge. And if you will not help me, then I hope you will at least stay out of our affair and let us fly or fail as we will.”
So the queen told her story.
When the fairy first came to the kingdom, she appeared as a lovely young woman, the princess of some country, so she claimed. The king and queen welcomed her as their guest until it became clear that she had designs upon the king. She sought to seduce him and convince him to break with the queen and join with her. Had the king succumbed to weakness and folly, and done as the fairy wished, he would likely have met his demise shortly after their wedding and her coronation. As it was, he ordered her out of the kingdom, ordered her never to return. And so she did not, not as a young woman anyway.
She returned as an elderly noble, seeking to be an adviser with the royal court. But that time, the king and queen saw through her ruse as well. And that time, they realized they were not dealing with an ordinary woman, but a fairy. The queen’s lineage included some fairy blood. She had some skill with enchantments, warding mostly as a queen’s primary task is to guard and protect her kingdom. So they took precautions. The queen had the wall of iron spikes erected, for fairies are averse to iron. And she commissioned her scholars to find a way to bind a fairy, trap one, should one make it past the iron spikes into the city.
“But it was not enough,” the queen said. “And I did not prove to be as strong as my king in resisting the fairy’s charm. For she fooled me when she came a third time. She came as a child, the waif you found lying in wait for you. We were riding through the city when I saw her with her strange golden eyes. She looked so ragged. I meant to take her to our orphanage so that she could be sorted out, her family found, or a new family found for her. She did not speak. Did not give me her name. I was already with child then. We had not yet announced it to the people. I was indeed enchanted. I hoped for a girl. I wondered if my daughter would be anything like her. I did not see what a danger she was. She was silent, but I chattered on. She listened and smiled and that is when she entered my heart. She beamed all the time and her golden eyes would just glow so beautifully. I don’t even fancy gold. The only time she seemed unhappy was when I sang to my unborn child. I thought she might be jealous, she would wince and put her hands to her ears. So I thought of adopting her to prove my devotion. That was her last ploy. To be our child, our heir.
“My king was wary from the first, but I would not listen to him. When I suggested to him that we adopt the child it was enough for him. As my king, he can command me even to my own death. But in all our years ruling together, he had never given me a single command until that day when he commanded me to let her go forever. And I obeyed with heavy heart. He sought her out that very day. He told her gently that her time in the castle was done. They stood on a balcony that overlooked the garden. I stood by the door watching them. I thought I loved the child. Perhaps I did. I could not bear to go out there with them. But I wanted to be there to comfort her after my king spoke with her. She did not see me. She did not know that I witnessed her attempt to kill my husband, to send him tumbling over the side of the balcony with a flick of her wrist. Had she pushed him, he would be dead. But I had warded him against enchantments.
“I would have cast her out of my kingdom myself, but it was too late. She was inside the city. She had enchanted too many of our guards and servants. I cast her out of the castle, but she took over the city. She could not kill the king, so she transformed him into an ogre. She hoped he would be a raging and uncontrollable beast, destroying his own people. But my warding protected his mind as well. He has kept enough of his reason to remember who his enemy is. He hunts her whenever she shows herself outside of this castle.”
She reached up a hand and caressed the stony cheek of the great ogre. Razim could not help but to gape.
“I asked for a truce then, and she met with me. I told her I would cast a spell to silence my people from asking aid from strangers. And I told her that I would let her place a collar around my neck to bind my power to ward if she would spare the lives of my people. A fairy’s word is binding. She did not know I would betray her. When she placed the collar around my neck, a matching collar snapped around hers and she was bound. It was the only thing I did right.”
The ogre made a low moan as if in protest to her words.
“Where did she come from? Why would she want your kingdom?” Sidregar asked. Razim saw the conflicting emotions on his little brother’s face. The girl had betrayed him, but he could not help but to see her still as a child.
“Good prince, those are questions I want answered…after I capture her.” The queen tapped a stone and a section of wall slid away. She motioned for them to follow and disappeared into the darkness. “Come this way.”
They followed her down a dark corridor that smelled faintly of chemicals. They emerged in a small chamber that appeared to be a study and a small laboratory of sorts.
“To defeat this wicked fairy, I need three things, her true name, my true name, and a weapon made of the thing that she fears the most. Those three things will strip her of her powers from sun rise to sun set. That is enough time to remove her from my kingdom or place her in a cage. I have the first two things.
“Her name is Lonnisera. She is the Honeysuckle. I’m sure you noticed the scent. I was forbidden from speaking her name with the chain around my neck. She tricked you into freeing her. But in doing so, she also freed me.”
“She must have been the one who let us into the city,” Razim said. “She led us to all of the clues about breaking the chain. I had thought she could not read or write. What fools we’ve been.”
“You believe me then? Without any proof of my sovereignty?” the queen asked. “Is that not foolish as well?”
Razim pulled out the book the librarian gave him. Within its pages was a thin disc of steel. “According to the book, this is the fairy’s cage.”
The queen’s eyes widened and she smiled a smile of hope.
“I read the instructions for how to open and use it,” Razim said. “And I was going to use it on you, once we freed her.”
The queen gazed into his eyes. “And now?”
“My enemy is the one who tries to kill me,” Razim said. “And she tried to kill me with my own sword.” He looked at Sidregar. “And what need did she have to do that?”
Sidregar looked down. His brother looked saddened and disappointed. His axe was missing. She must have tried to kill him too.
“I do not know what this fairy fears most,” the queen said. “I never did discover that. She keeps her secrets close. But with that cage, we might—“
“Your song,” Sidregar said. “You said she was always troubled by your song. You thought it was jealousy, but what if it was more? What if it was causing her pain?”
The queen furrowed her brows in consideration.
“When you sang to your child, your song was filled with love. What more do the wicked have to fear and loathe than love?”
Razim sighed. “Love is wonderful, Sid, but it is no weapon.”
“The verse you saw at the library spoke of a song that would wake the kingdom, sung by one who was chained. There is no need to strip the fairy of her powers altogether if we can weaken her enough to put her in that cage, isn’t that right? We don’t know what she fears most. But we do know what troubles her.”
Razim crossed his arms. “The fairy’s verse said that a song would save the kingdom, but that was all part of her trickery.”
“Not so,” the queen said. “Fairies are averse to writing because charcoal and ink are binding to a fairy. Fairies are bound to write the truth, in riddles perhaps, but it must be the truth.” She looked thoughtfully at Sidregar. “You are right. A song is my only weapon. She can cast aside swords and axes, but not a song. Not unless she can chain me again. We must try it.”
“How will we find her?”
The queen pulled a vial from a shelf. “We need not find her. She will come to us when I summon her.”
The queen led them through secret corridors to a small courtyard behind the castle. She warned that the guardsmen would attack now that the fairy was unbound. And sure enough it seemed the guardsmen were searching for them. They had to be quick.
Razim held the fairy cage out and hoped he did not fail. The cage would only open and close one time, of course, for such were the rules with anything regarding fairies.
Into a bowl of copper, the queen poured the vial of liquid and a honeysuckle flower.
“Lonnisera, fairy of the Honeysuckle, I summon you,” she said.
The fairy appeared before them. She laughed a golden honey laugh. “My queen,” she said. “I have been searching—”
“I am Trithema, the Dragonfly queen. I bind your enchantment with my song.” The queen wasted not one breath. She opened her mouth and uttered a note of song. The queen’s voice was lovely, her song to her child was sweet. Paralyzed at arm’s length from the queen, Lonnisera clapped her hands to her ears, her screams and roars overcome by waves of sound. A spectrum of notes flowed and weaved into a melody that the queen sang not to defeat her enemy but to comfort her child, for her gaze was directed downward to her belly.
Razim sprung the trap. The cage unfolded in his hand and he tossed it toward the screaming fairy. Strands of steel and iron curved around her and hardened in the shape of an egg.
Razim heard the sound of a cracking then and he feared the cage had failed. But it was not the cage. The ogre’s skin cracked and shattered, and what lay beneath glowed fierce shades of crimson and orange. That flaming rash devoured the ogre’s body, burning bone and stone until the shell was reduced to ashes and a man stood before them.
Only then did the queen stop singing. Only then did Razim realize that they had indeed found the fairy’s worst fear, for she stood before them in her true form. She was beautiful, but terribly so. She was half the height of the child she had been, and honeysuckle petals and anthers bloomed through her golden hair. Her face was pink, her eyes still golden, and they were filled not with malice but with some otherworldly expression that unsettled Razim.
The queen unclasped her cloak and gallantly wrapped her uncovered king with it.
“It worked,” Sidregar said, so unnecessarily that all laughed as the sun rose.
“I want this troublesome creature cast from my kingdom,” the queen said.
“She wanted only to be queen,” the king said.
“I would be done with her. Let us find her queen and answer for herself.”
At that, the fairy of the honeysuckle looked troubled.
For half a year, the fairy had troubled the royal city. But in half a day, they were rid of her as she was returned to her own people for punishment.
The queen broke her spell of silence on the kingdom. The librarian who helped Razim woke from his anguished sleep. And all rejoiced and honored the brothers, the nomad princes from another land.
At the feast, the queen leaned toward the brothers. “Now you know my fairy name,” she said. “Keep it secret for me. Call upon that name if ever you are in dire need. I will come, for I owe you much.”
“And you must call upon us, my queen, when the little one is born,” Sidregar said.
The queen did indeed invite them back when the baby was born. The princes came and declared themselves her uncles of the little princess with eyes the blue-green of a dragonfly’s wings and laughter like a song.
Copyright © 2014 by Nila L. Patel