Once when we were children, Thomas dragged me up a tall, steep mountain, hopping like a goat from one rock to the next. When we reached the top, he unloaded the bundle on his back. It looked like the walls of a canvas tent, stretched tightly between four or five sticks.
“What are you doing?” I asked, catching my breath.
“I’m going to fly down to the valley!” he answered.
“With that? You’re crazy! That’ll break within a minute.”
“Nah, it’ll work. See, I hold onto this bar, push off with my feet, and ride the wind all the way down!”
“That’s a good idea in theory, but you’re forgetting how strong the updraft is. What if it throws you sideways into the cliff face or a tree?”
“I’ll just pull on these strings to steer.” Thomas’ idiotic grin spread across his face, taking up half of it.
“That’ll just-- no, no. Here.” We spent three hours adjusting and planning, and fetching more materials. He had gotten me completely engrossed in the project when I should have been studying politics. Only he had that talent: the ability to drag a future king up a mountain, and convince him to hurl himself down from it with nothing but canvas, wood, and string to hold him up. I’ve never laughed and screamed so much in my life. Oh, I was nearly impaled by a tree, but we made it.
The truth is, I was tongue-tied around her. She was uncomfortably stiff and silent around me. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t find anything good to say. She was too lovely. She was like porcelain, and I was so scared that a thoughtless gesture from me would break her. I should have been good enough for her. My royal birth and my upbringing gave me all of the qualifications to be worthy of her, but she looked so distant-- almost sad. She didn’t like it here.
She grew up near the sea. I could see that she hated the sight of the cold, stone walls that held her in like a prison. She wasn’t happy at the sight of me either, her nervous fiance. But she said nothing of this, merely smiled like a doll and went along with the arrangements of our parents. We held a ball to welcome her that year, a dancing night under the Summer moon.
I asked her to dance, and she agreed the first time, but afterwards said she’d rather sit. What nonsense I must have spouted while she smiled, stiff and silent! Well, that was when Thomas approached her.
“So you’re a bad hand at dancing?” I heard Thomas say.
“What?” The faery princess thought she had misheard.
Thomas gestured toward the couples dancing. “You have two left feet?”
“What are you talking about?”
“You turned him down. He’s my best friend. I know there’s nothing wrong with him, so the problem must be with you. You’re no good at dancing, then?”
“Of course I can dance! I just don’t feel up to it.”
Thomas was silent for a moment. “So you ate too much at dinner?”
“If dancing would make you feel sick, then I can understand that you’d want to sit and be boring.”
“I am only tired! I had a long journey, and it was very taxing on my body.”
“Come now, everyone knows that getting your blood moving is the best way to stop being tired.”
“Oh, do they?” Her color was heightened. “I have a weak constitution, sir.”
“Ohhhh,” Thomas nodded, then added, “If you danced more, your body would be stronger.”
“How dare-- who are you, anyway? What’s a human doing at a faery ball?”
“Told you already, didn’t I? I’m the prince’s best friend. What are you doing here if you’re not even going to dance with him?”
“I did dance with him once!”
“And a poor hand you made of it, too. The poor lad, stuck with a lass who can’t dance.”
“I dance very well!” She said with gritted teeth.
“Do ya? ‘Fraid I don’t know you well enough to believe your word only.”
That was all it took. My faery princess stood up, took Thomas’ hand, and dragged him into the dance with all the fierce dignity she could muster. He laughed at her, and shook his head. “Too stiff,” he said.
She glared at him, and grandly ordered the musicians to play a faster tune. Then she picked up her skirts and danced as fine a reel as could be, a lovely sight to behold. She out-danced Thomas-- he admitted it himself. It was not long before her face was beaming with a triumphant smile.
That smile should have been my first warning.
The slumber that followed the beginning of my revenge was interrupted by an escape attempt. No surprise there. I'll admit, she had a lot of energy for someone who was previously starving. According to Rupert, the boy who’d almost drowned when we found him, the little Bartlemead brat had volunteered to feed the horses in the stables, grabbed one of them, and bolted. If I had not taken precautions for this and shackled her left wrist with a spell, she would not have been dragged back to the mountain by a mere flick of my finger. She may have even made it halfway back to her village before we caught up with her.
As it was, I found her near the apple orchards after the alarm was sounded by the other children, fighting against the pull of the shackle spell. The gray mare she’d stolen stood nearby, watching in mild confusion. Her wrist was being pulled behind her, and the rest of her limbs were spinning desperately.
It was most amusing, so I rested my arm on the mare's back and joined her in watching the show. “Are you finished yet?” I asked politely.
“Urgh!” She growled in frustration. “Just let me go! They’ll be worried about me!”
“That's the point of keeping you here,” I said dryly. “If your dear old grandad doesn't come to save you, you'll be better off here anyway.”
“Just leave him alone! He’s old and sick, and I can take care of myself,” the girl snarled.
I frowned. “How sick?”
“He had a fever last week, and he broke his leg last year while getting firewood.”
She’d had me worried for a moment. “Ha! That should only slow him down if he’s half the man he used to be.”
“If he doesn't come, I'll escape on my own!” she declared, still tugging against the spell. What a stubborn girl.
“Do you not want him to rescue you?” I asked, mildly curious.
“I'm old enough to take care of myself,” the child replied haughtily.
A fly caught in a web would have had more sense of its own capability, but both humans and flies still struggle. I shrugged and let the spell pull her all the way back, while she continued to pull against it and growl in frustration. I'm no spider, but it was still fairly amusing, especially after my peaceful night's rest had been interrupted. Little brat. Well, I couldn't blame her too much. When it comes to Bartlemeads, you have to expect trouble. The whole countryside knew that.
“Well,” I scratched my head as I slowly walked back (she was still trying to walk the other way). “I don't feel like getting up in the middle of the night again, so you're going into the kitchens instead, under strict lock and key.”
“You're horrible!” she exclaimed.
“--But smart,” I reminded her. “I shan't underestimate you again. You'd better sign the contract and be grateful that it's better than the dungeons.”
“Don't expect gratitude from me.” She glared. “And no, I won't sign anything, you mean, selfish--”
By the time we got back into the castle, I was very tired of her. “Fine!” I burst out in front of everyone awake in the hallway (mostly guards). “You are not bound by contract. But I'll tell you this, Meg Bartlemead, if you try to poison me or anyone else, I'll have your head on a platter!”
Meg looked confused rather than frightened. After a long pause, she asked, “Are you going to eat my head?”
“No! Why would I? I'm not a goblin.”
“Well, then why would you want it on a platter?”
I handed her off to Jonathan. “I don’t know! Maybe I'll feed it to my dogs!” And with that, I stomped back to bed.
Check back tomorrow to read more!