The Will of Parliament
by Charlotte Ashley
“By the request of the interim Queen, Lilium Leigh Regele, I declare the Fairy Parliament prorogued,” the Viceroy announced. “Parliament will resume at dusk on the next full moon. At that time we shall acknowledge the reign of the leader of whichever majority party has the confidence of Parliament.” Leigh raised her chin to avoid wincing or sighing. Mother Mongo’s topaz eyes glinted at her from the opposite end of the Chamber. “This legislative session is now terminated.”
Leigh listened to the subdued shuffling and splashing that followed with her face still held high. She did not want to make eye contact with anyone. She stared down the roof instead. The light of the gibbous moon washed through the misty five-storey belvedere into the under-hill Parliamentary Chamber. Lovely night for it, she decided. Beautiful night to lose control of your government.
A dark shape smelling of overcooked spinach blocked her view, looming over her. She shouldn’t have been able to get so close, but nobody denied Mother Mongo anything. Leigh glared at the Leader of the Opposition from her throne of reeds. “You thought to secure the throne with a by-election, Princess?” The old troll’s voice ground out of her throat like a rusty iron gate. “You, whose petals have floated on the stream of politics since the Lake spit you up?” Mother Mongo leaned back, sitting on her haunches to better look Leigh in the eye. “I would have expected you to know better. Now that the Lake King’s seat is empty, Mundus Umidus has lost the right to rule. I have the support of Parliament. I will be Queen.”
“You may ask the Viceroy for the privilege to rule.” Leigh stood, stepping into a beam of moonlight that reflected off the surface of her sky-blue flesh and joined the weave of her eelgrass hair. “But you and your sons control no more seats than I do. Gather your allies, Mongo. I will gather mine. Until you win the vote, you will address me as Queen.”
Mongo blinked and shrugged indifferently, unfolding her long limbs slowly to avoid tangling their knotted, woody lengths. Drawn up to her full height, the ancient woman was thrice Leigh’s size, a mobile cedar sloughing off skin and nail, breast and hair like wet bark. Obsidian claws and chipped glass teeth betrayed a harder, sharper core. Leigh stood her ground, knowing ancient Constitutional Law would prevent the troll from trying to gobble her up.
“I have the FFF, the mushy men of the Dia’Spora, the pixies, the wiser members of the Ais Sidhe and the more terrified of the Flight. Who can you rally, my Queen? Have you made up with your mermyn brethren yet?” Mongo’s snorting laugh blew chunks of dark green rot all over the dais. “Even if you fill your father’s seat with one of your own, my coalition outnumbers your wet folk. In one week, the throne will be mine. You will not be able to hide behind the Constitution then.” Leigh waited, struggling not to let her frustration show on her face. After an eternity of silent tension, Mother Mongo shrugged again and ambled away.
The floor of the Parliamentary Chamber was now empty. Leigh allowed her regal demeanour to drop. She stomped around the dais three times widdershins, kicked her throne, then dropped onto her bottom with a huff, letting her feet dangle in the well that pooled in the centre of the chamber. With that out of her system, she got down to work.
Leigh dipped her hand into the water, created a palm-sized golden sphere, then tossed it into the well again with a clean plop. She tracked the glow of the ball as it sank until it abruptly vanished. Ripples rose and grew on the water’s surface, and a large frog’s wide, flat face emerged.
“My Queen?” the frog croaked, kicking its legs and clambering out of the water to squat next to her. “Mother Mongo went ahead with her coalition, then?”
“It’s done, Pattersplash,” Leigh sighed. “I had to prorogue Parliament. We have a week to convince the Folk to back my claim. I need ideas.” She cast a sideways glance at her amphibious Clerk.
Pattersplash pushed himself up to sit on his haunches. He looked at Leigh imploringly, and she reached into the water again to fetch out a pair of golden spectacles and a brass cauldron filled with frog’s eggs. Pattersplash fitted the glasses over his wide nose, reached into the cauldron for a handful of eggs, and tore open the membranes to release the inky black spots inside. He considered the arrangement of the fallen marks studiously.
“Are those the numbers?” Leigh crooked her neck to look at the mess, but she did not read frogspawn.
“Yes, my Queen,” Pattersplash cleared his throat, “Mother Mongo’s Monarchist Menace controls 24 seats. Our Mundus Umidus – with the, ah, transformation of the Lake King – 24 as well. The Flash and Fire Federation sit at 17 seats, Take Flight 12, Ais Sidhe 8. The Mermyn National Assembly have 4 seats, as do the Redcaps. The Dia’Spora moulder on 3 seats. Morgan le Fay sits independently, and the Pook too. Your father’s seat, of course, is empty.”
Leigh knew these numbers. “Under traditional voting lines, we have 50 seats, and Mother Mongo only 48.”
“Yes, but if some members of the Flight and Ais Sidhe will vote with Mongo – well. And can we count on the support of the mermyn in this? I’m inclined to think they would abstain from voting.” Pattersplash took off his spectacles and handed them back to Leigh. She absent-mindedly crushed them in her fist, letting the pieces return to water and gush from her fingers. “I think we’d have better luck tempting some of Mongo’s supporters. The Redcap pixies can be bought, surely.”
Leigh snorted. “They’ve been bought by Mongo. Though it can’t hurt to offer them a bigger, shinier toy. Very well. Call Young Dobb to meet with me before dawn.”
Pattersplash nodded, then paused in thought. “My Queen, the mermyn… have you spoken to Count Llews lately? He always seemed —”
“I have had no cause to speak with the Count.” Leigh cut him off curtly. The awkward silence that followed made her wince. Pattersplash did not like to contradict her, but the absurdity of what she had just said hung between them. Of course, if there was ever a time to speak with every possible potential ally, it was now. But… “Do you really think they’d abstain?”
“The mermyn have no love of other Folk, my Queen, and our politics do not interest them. But you, Leigh…” Pattersplash looked at her pointedly.
Yes, yes, Leigh thought impatiently. She knew she interested Count Llews very much. She couldn’t pass within ten feet of him without eliciting a moody sigh. His melodramatic attachment irritated her to no end.
“The mermyn are mortal, Leigh. You could marry the Count and he’d be dead before you’d even settled into your new throne,” Pattersplash added.
“I am not marrying Count Llews to secure my throne!” Leigh exclaimed, climbing to her feet. “Especially if it doesn’t guarantee I’ll win this vote. No. Look, I’ll – I’ll talk to him. Schedule him at dawn.” That should seem romantic enough to the great fool.
“Very well, my Queen. With the mermyn and the pixies, that would compensate for the loss of some of the winged Folk. But to truly secure this vote, we may need to approach the FFF.”
Leigh’s jaw tightened. Animosity between the Folk of water and the Folk of fire went back to creation. She had the good sense to fear the FFF, but they were too unbalanced to fear her in return. The salamander Cinnabar wielded his people’s chaotic natures like a weapon… but he was also ambitious.
“I would not invite Cinnabar to my palace,” she declared, “but perhaps I will approach him at the Leanan’s Waltz five nights hence. Can you make sure he will come?”
Pattersplash wet his protruding eyes with a few thoughtful blinks. “We have a carrot or two to offer him. Bill F-33… the free spot on the spelunking committee, perhaps. I will try, my Queen.”
Leigh smiled and traced a pleasing pattern on the well’s surface with her toe. “I will see you before dawn, then, at the palace.” She leapt into the water feet-first and followed the flow back along the underground river to her home.
* * *
“The Mother one has already given a gifty-thing, o Queen. Gift given, gift taken, yes, yes? Young Dobb doesn’t break agreeings. He likes the horse too much. Good horse, four legs and all. Thick hide and beating heart. Alive.” The pixie said that last part pointedly, as if he had been plagued recently with dead horses. He pulled the flaps of his red felt cap down to cover his ears and turned as if to march out.
“Mother Mongo gave you a horse?” Leigh was surprised. That seemed a little cheap, even for Mongo. “Was it a flying horse?”
Young Dobb whirled around, beady black eyes bulging. “What flying horse?”
“Not a flying horse, then. Does it swim? Burrow? Is it made of seashells?” She watched Young Dobb’s eyes grow ever-wider with desire. “I think Mother Mongo tricked you, Young Dobb. The horse she gifted you is a plain horse. Surely that was not what you agreed to!”
“A plain horse!” Young Dobb thrust out his chest and planted his hands on his hips. “I have been cheated!”
“That is no surprise,” Leigh quickly pushed on, lest the pixie become distracted. “Mother Mongo has ever been cheap with her horses. But me, I have more colours of horse than I know what to do with!”
“Queenie! King-daughter! I want one! I want—” Young Dobb narrowed his eyes at her. “—two horses. Three – five horses!” The bandy-legged pixie watched her shrewdly.
“I could part with five horses in return for a good friend—”
A misstep. Leigh realized belatedly that she’d given in too easily. The pixie had to be made to think he was getting the better deal. “Ten horses? Well, perhaps—”
Leigh stopped and turned a cold look on the pixie. “As many horses as you can ride.”
Young Dobb scowled. “We ride all night, we ride all day, to catch the great Lord’s lady,” he sang proudly. “Who’s run away with a swollen belly along with the Gypsy Davy.” Leigh raised an eyebrow. “As many horses as I can ride under one moon.”
“Done,” Leigh snapped.
“And a hat.”
“The greatestest hat that ever graced the brow of Folk!” Young Dobb demanded. “Harvest red and thrice tall as an unraveled snail.”
“I will commission my own milliner.”
“And a kiss.”
“I beg your pardon?” Leigh exploded. The pixie had the good sense to pull his cap over his head in fear. “You presume too much, Young Dobb-o-the-Road!” But perhaps…? “As a final gift in exchange for your party’s support, I will allow you to accompany me to the Leanan’s Waltz.” The pixie loosened his grip on his cap and peeked out at her hesitantly.
“Waltz with the Sidhe, on the arm of the Queen?” He sounded gobsmacked, then stood as tall as he could and thrust his chest out in front of him. “Yes, settled, agreed, yes. Horses, a hat, and the hand of the Queen—”
“—for one night.”
“—for one night, yes, yes.” The pixie dry-washed his hands in glee. “We have an agreeduponment. We are agreed. Upon. Yes.”
“I will see you on the Full Moon’s Eve, Young Dobb.” Leigh nodded to him with finality. The pixie cartwheeled off her reedy dais and disappeared behind a copse of cattails.
“That was generous of you, my Queen.” Pattersplash surfaced near the shore where her lakeside amphitheatre stood. The frog crawled onto land and sat on his haunches before the throne, watching the path that led off into the marshlands.
“It was selfish of me.” Leigh stretched languidly in her throne. “I did not want to give Mongo a chance to buy back the pixies. Young Dobb can not collect his gift until the night before the vote, and I will have him in my sight all through the Waltz.”
“Wise.” Pattersplash nodded. “But the sun rises, and Count Llews waits for you below. What will you offer him, now?”
“Oh, one thing at a time, Pattersplash,” Leigh sighed. She stepped off her dais and skipped on to the lake’s surface, following a path of lily-pads and the flowers that shared her name. She dove into the water just as the sun crested the horizon.
* * *
Stag Bottom was Leigh’s home, but also her refuge. She was comforted by how few Folk could visit the underwater palace, and deeply unsettled by the intrusion of a guest she could not bring herself to truly welcome.
Count Llews drifted between two ornate, algae-coated columns of the finest pebblework, struggling to keep his unblemished elbows from brushing the murky walls, or his chrome-scaled tail from dipping into the silt at the lake’s bottom. Leigh took great pleasure in letting her lake’s murk accumulate in the spoon of her collarbones and the crook of her knee. A wiggle of minnows swarmed her hair as she entered the audience chamber, nibbling the feast of larvae and plankton that lived there. She hoped she would appear to the Count as a vision of stagnant detritus.
“My Queen,” Count Llews breathed reverently, approaching her without so much as a flinch. “It has been too long.”
“You were in the Parliamentary Chamber six hours ago, same as I was,” Leigh said curtly. “I hope I do not have to explain to you my troubles. I have invited you here to talk politics, Llews.”
The mermyn lowered his eyes slowly and reluctantly. He had the strength and vitality of youth going for him, Leigh had to admit, and a truly lovely head of slick black hair; but his tail reminded her too much of her father’s. And would he ever desist from sighing like a lovesick milkmaid? “Always politics,” he muttered. “Surely we have more than that between us, Lilium.”
“Don’t call me that.” Leigh struggled to keep her temper. “And no, we do not. Count Llews, even you can understand that we Folk stand on the precipice now. If Mother Mongo is crowned Queen—”
“Then it will make no difference to me,” the Count snapped. “Unless the trolls have taken to sea-faring, Mongo’s ascent does not matter to the Mermyn Nation. I am here to speak with you, my Lilium, not the Queen.”
“If you will not address me as Queen, you will at least call me Leigh.” She spoke through clenched teeth. “Lilium was my mother. And her mother. And every woman in my family back to the Jurassic. I am Leigh.”
“Lilium Regale is a beautiful flower. As are you.”
Do you know what else is a beautiful flower? Rattlesnake weed! Would you like me to turn you into one of those? Leigh held her tongue and tried to force a smile. “You flatter me, Count. But a crushed Lilium becomes brittle and brown within hours of its death, and surely you do not want to see me thus.”
“I would never let anyone harm you, Lil – Leigh,” Llews declared fiercely, drawing himself straight and tall. Leigh tried not to roll her eyes. Big words.
“Are you a troll-slayer now? You will wait until Mongo eats me to prove your devotion?” Leigh hesitated, suspecting Llews might, in fact, prefer to play the tragic hero than the spurned lover. “All that stands between Mongo and me is the binding power of the Constitution. You must support my claim to the throne, Llews.” She fixed the mermyn with as vulnerable a look as she knew how to make. “I need you, my Count.” Ugh.
“Leigh… my nymph…” She allowed Llews to take her hand. “But the rest of Parliament – you are not safe up here. Come with me, to the Mermyn Nation. We can live together at the bottom of the sea, where—”
“Yes, yes, well, you see, I think I have the rest under control,” Leigh tittered and tried to extract her hand from Llews’ devoted grip. “Cinnabar will speak with me at the Leanan’s Waltz.” Hopefully.
“Cinnabar? That madman? It’s not safe, my flower. I can’t allow—” Leigh shot him a venomous look and the mermyn’s bravado wilted. “—I mean, you can, of course. But—”
“The Waltz will be well-attended. Perfectly safe. Nobody has burned down a Sidhe ball in centuries.” Decades, anyway. “But may I count on your votes, when I need you?”
“I – yes.” Llews looked torn, and resigned. “I suppose it must be so,” he added wistfully.
“Thank you, Llews. I am … grateful.” Leigh willed herself to blush, but had to settle for a flutter of her eyelashes. “I would rest now. Do you mind…?”
“Parting is such sweet sorrow.” Llews snatched her hand and lay the slightest kiss on the tip of one finger.
Human claptrap, Leigh thought, but ground her teeth together into something like a smile. The mermyn withdrew, a silver ribbon retreating into the murky distance. Good riddance. And thank you for your support!
* * *
When Leigh arrived at the Leanan’s Waltz, the garden’s labyrinthine streams lit up just as the moon crested the horizon at her back. A Queenly entrance.
The Leanan Sidhe’s spiders had been busy at work for weeks weaving the silken canopy that enclosed the ball’s space. They had trapped fireflies at intervals, creating a macabre lightshow of gossamer draperies pixilated with lights that would, occasionally, flicker and die as the architects devoured them at their leisure. Further in the distance the stars mirrored these earth-bound counterparts, and the moon was so pregnant it seemed it might burst, dousing them all in its lustre. Despite the spiders’ appetites, they were in no danger of being left in the dark.
Leigh stepped from her snail’s shell carriage on the arm of Young Dobb, who spooked the eight harnessed frogs by addressing the ball in a calamitous voice: “Lookit!”
The crowd assembled down below did “lookit”, for the pixie’s accoutrements were hard to ignore. The hat he had been promised did not disappoint. It was twice as tall as Young Dobb himself, as red as iron plasma and fashioned in the shape of a nautilus. The spiral was laced with gold tendrils which matched the flesh of the tentacles that exploded over his brow.
More impressive still was the giant phallus Young Dobb had acquired to match his new hat, an equally-large creation of blood-red flesh lined with gold veins that was harnessed to the pixie’s groin with an assortment of straps. Testicles shaped like nautilus shells were rolled up over his hips, where Young Dobb placed his hands as he thrust his groin proudly in front of him, turning and posing at various angles to best display his new member for the audience.
“Eh? Eh? Lookit! Eh?” he goaded them. Leigh allowed him to posture before they descended the wide staircase into the garden. She scanned the faces below them for key Members of Parliament, and was relieved to spot the smoking Cinnabar in deep conversation with one of the many Sidhe princesses over by the dance floor, as well as Pattersplash and most of her caucus frolicking in the streams. A trio of goblins teased an irritated mushroom into spraying spores into the air, eliciting uproarious laughter from bystanders. Elsewhere she noted sprites, pixies, sylphs and elves drinking from the streams, which had been funnelled into fountains that flavoured the water before releasing it into basins that acted as punch-bowls. Lurking gloomily by an obsidian fountain was Count Llews – on two legs.
“Excuse me.” Leigh curtsied to Young Dobb, trotted down the stairs and solved the maze that led her to the mermyn’s side. Llews caught her eye as she rounded a rose shrub, smiling in a way which was both sad and resigned. “What are you doing here?” she hissed, taking a closer look at the strong, white limbs he sported where his tail should have been. “What have you done?” A thin purple line ran up the inside of each leg, and the tiniest trickle of blood was working its way down the line from somewhere up under his kilt.
“Ah, my Queen,” Llews sighed mournfully, like a man on his deathbed. Leigh wanted to slap him. “I had to see you. I couldn’t bear the idea of you here, alone, at the mercy of Cinnabar or Mongo. I came to—” Something seemed to catch in his throat and Leigh half expected him to cough up a live bass. “—but of course, you are with him.”
“What on earth are you—” Leigh followed Llews’ gaze back to the garden gate, where Young Dobb was hopping lustily after a giggling young sprite. She almost laughed. “Oh, him.”
“If you could only know the price I paid to be by your side…” Llews looked at her pointedly.
Leigh felt anger bubble up in her belly again. She knew a thing or two about the sorts of bargains one had to make to buy new legs – and these weren’t glamour, they were real. They would have cost him dearly. “Do you hope I will feel indebted? Guilty?” she asked him, incredulous.
The Count did not seem to hear her. “I had to come to you, Leigh.” He reached for her hand, but Leigh took a step back and glared at him majestically. The Count’s face darkened, and he closed his eyes briefly as if in pain. “Will you at least accept a gift? A token of my love?” Count Llews beckoned an ornate crustacean to his side and took from a hollow in its shell a small, pearl-encrusted box. He presented it to her with an awkward bow.
“You take me for as great a fool as you are, Count Llews.” Leigh recieved the box from the mermyn and pressed it between her palms. One by one the pearls popped and dissolved, then the box’s bone frame, and lastly the shining gift within. She tossed the offering into the nearest stream. By the time it fell into the rivulet with a dollop, it was nothing but water. Count Llews looked ill. “You have no right to beguile me with gifts and I am not holding favours, as if you have won me at some tourney! This-” She gestured at his legs. “—was not part of our agreement!”
Leigh twirled away and entered the labyrinth again, making for the dance floor. She had known trying to win mermyn support was pointless. Llews took every blow as encouragement. No, Cinnabar and the FFF were her only choice now. She left Count Llews looking into the stream, lost.
* * *
“Cinnabar.” Leigh greeted him with a wry smile. At least the salamander was no fool. He sat on half-lizard, half-mammalian haunches wreathed in a mane of smoke flame. The corners of his maw turned up, letting black smoke curl around three rows of sharp white teeth. The display might have been designed to intimidate her, or perhaps it was simply a smile. Leigh chose to interpret it as the latter, though she let a trickle of water spill from the palm of her hand as a reminder that she could extinguish him as quickly as he could incinerate her.
“Your clerk tells me you wish to deal, my Queen,” Cinnabar said impatiently. “He spoke of court appointments and support for the projects of my Folk, but I think you can do better than that.” He stood on all fours and paced towards her. The heat of him was enough to cause Leigh to emit a fine mist. “I think you know what I want.”
“Is this about the Blood Price Clause, Cinnabar?” Leigh stood her ground despite the heat, creating a puddle around her feet to cool her and serve as a barrier the salamander would not dare cross. “If you simply want protection from retribution over that business with Murdoch the Muddy, why not ask for it? I would be pleased enough to turn the eyes of the Folk another way if you wished to move against one of Mother Mongo’s sons.”
“Mongo has offered me Murdoch’s seat.” Cinnabar skirted her pool, flanking her hungrily. “Besides, who knows what else a little change would bring? Perhaps we simply tire of the dull leadership of the water Folk.” Cinnabar extended a red-hot foot towards the surface of the nearest stream. The water evaporated before he even touched it, creating a column of steam. He grinned more widely and plunged his paw right into the water to demonstrate, no doubt, that he did not fear her element. Steam exploded beneath him, obscuring the salamander’s face for the briefest moment. When the cloud cleared, his expression had changed. Leigh thought he looked disoriented. “And yet, my Queen—” He blinked twice and cast his red eyes about. “—you are not your father. Your reign may yet yield attractive fruit.”
“I, well, yes.” Leigh rallied, a little surprised at Cinnabar’s new tune. “If change is what you want, I can assure you I have changes in mind. I—” Leigh was interrupted by a shriek of delight behind her. She looked, annoyed, at the offender: an ancient Sidhe matriarch in the amorous grasp of a marsh-walker. An odd pairing, to say the least, but the beautifully-coiffed fairy was so pleased by the marsh-walker’s slimy affections that she offered no resistance to being tumbled back into the stream in his arms. Leigh ignored them and looked back at Cinnabar. He had taken another step towards her with a drunk look on his face, heedless of the puddles that smothered his flaming steps.
“My Queen,” he started, “perhaps we could continue this conversation elsewhere. I have come with a flying carpet, a brocade woven from the souls of a hundred efreet. We could—”
“Cinnabar, I have too few moments to waste any of them taking journeys. Give me a price and—”
“Just let me touch it!” a shrill voice said before Leigh was bowled over by a ball of red lightning that immediately revealed itself to be Young Dobb.
The pixie cowered behind her, wide-eyed, shouting, “Hers! This one! No touching, lady of the air, wingy-lady, sprite! Get back!” Leigh staggered to her feet and slapped a foot out of her face. A sprite with spotted wings of orange and black hovered over her, trying to snatch at the tip of Young Dobb’s capsizing phallus.
“But I want it! I want you!” the sprite whined and took another dive at the pixie. When Young Dobb dodged, Leigh stepped in the way and caught the girl by the ankle. She spun around once and tossed the sprite into a nearby fountain. Several bystanders tittered, and more still applauded.
“What did you do to her?” Leigh demanded of Young Dobb, but the pixie shrugged.
“I am too much a-man for her, I am guessing! Irresistible! Oh dear oh dear oh dear.” He shook his head. Leigh rolled her eyes and turned away from him, catching a wider look at the Waltz. The night was young, but already Folk had been caught up in the spirit of Bacchanalia. Pairings, couplings, fights and amorous games had broken out all over the garden; sylphs with mushrooms, pixies with Sidhe, drakes with nymphs. Leigh raised an eyebrow in mild surprise. It was barely nine o’clock. This will be one to remember, she thought.
“I could bring you the heads of Mongo’s sons.” Cinnabar’s voice regained her attention. He seemed a little soggy now and smoke rolled from several orifices. “Isn’t that what you truly want? Let me honour you…”
“Heads?” Leigh had to shout to be heard over the increasing chaos of the dance floor. “My Lord Cinnabar, I think this discussion has gotten out of hand. I only want—”
The screaming coming from the south end of the garden had grown beyond shrieks of delight. Will I ever be allowed to finish a thought? Leigh looked up in irritation. Towering over the other guests, three mulch-strewn trees swept through the crowd flinging Folk aside, occasionally plucking a choice offering out of a pile and biting off a head with scissor-like teeth. Trolls, Leigh realized. Mongo’s Sons. They seemed to see her in the same moment, and tossed aside their initial pickings in favour of whatever treat they saw in her.
“So small,” the tallest of the trolls laughed, seeing her, and Leigh realized she did not know who he was. Unseated, she guessed. Looking for a seat, she guessed more specifically. Did she really seem so weak that even Mongo’s unseated sons would attack her so openly? I just wanted a by-election!
“My brothers must never have seen you without the protection of the Constitution. You are not so very strong!” All three advanced on her, stepping over the hedge-walls of the labyrinth as if they were barely stones in their paths. “But they will see you are nothing but meat when we serve you to them.”
Leigh ground her teeth and moved to meet them. If she was going to salvage her throne, she would have to make a display of power now. Let them come. I will show them I am not merely the Lake King’s Daughter.
“You will not touch my Queen!” Flame arced like a stream of piss over her shoulder and caught the lead troll in the knee. He staggered and shook his leg, confused, the motion only serving to feed the flames.
“Cinnabar?” Leigh shouted in disbelief. “No! We must not! The Blood Price—” The now-flaming troll seemed wise to the danger he was in and ran to his brothers for assistance. The other two trolls tried to scatter, tripping over the hedges and stumbling into fountains, but their long, rot-strewn limbs lit like fatwood. It was not long before flames danced and licked at all three of them.
The rest of the Folk panicked. They fell in the streams and the fountains, flew into the spider webs and were caught there, and vanished into holes and nooks. Even Young Dobb clung to her skirts in terror.
Leigh took it all in and stood her ground. As much as she desired to see Mongo suffer, she could not let these trolls burn to cinders while she watched. Who would be blamed? Who would pay the Blood Price that Mongo would surely extract? And how could she call herself Queen if she let a mad salamander fight her battles and destroy her enemies?
Leigh stood with her legs apart and arms outstretched, sensing the long, snaking ways of the interconnected streams around her. She pulled on them and drew the waterway up as one long rope, wielding the water like a whip. The tip flicked out and caught the first troll, and Leigh directed the full flow of the stream to follow its path. The fountains emptied and the streams ran uphill. All the water of the Leanan’s Waltz rose up at her bidding onto the blazing trolls, dousing them and extinguishing the salamander’s flame. Waterfalls fell from them and splashed against the paths and hedges, soaking everyone who stood near.
The world seemed to stop. All that could be heard was the sound of drips echoing through the webby canopy. Slowly, Folk crept and crawled out of hiding spots and falling spots, looking about them in wonder. Instead of fleeing, they wiped water from their eyes and granted sloppy, uninhibited smiles at whoever stood nearest to them. All three trolls turned quietly towards Leigh and the sparkle in their emerald eyes seemed almost benevolent.
“My Queen.” The first troll dropped to one knee, and the other two followed suit. “We did not know. Take my life—”
“And mine,” the second intoned.
“Mine too,” the last agreed.
“I am your devoted slave.” The troll licked his lips lasciviously. Leigh narrowed her eyes at them, then looked around her. Most of her subjects had fallen to their knees around her in displays of devotion that went rather beyond national pride.
He wouldn’t, she thought. Yet, perhaps he would.
“Then clean up this mess.” Her words bit, and she looked around at the rest of her Folk. “If this floor is not fit for dancing in ten shakes of a lamb’s tail, I’ll turn you all into newts.” She snagged her skirt back from Young Dobb’s grip and stalked off. She found what she was looking for cowering behind an overturned fountain.
“Count Llews.” Her voice was low and threatening when she approached him, angry but secret. “That gift you made for me—” The mermyn swallowed hard, betraying his guilt. Leigh let out a small cry of indignation. “And you let me pour the gift into the water! Llews! How dare you! You would have ensorcelled me, your Queen? And with a love spell, no less?” She had to struggle to lower her voice again. “That is treason, treachery, violation, and worse!” she hissed. She looked back at the trolls to be certain they were doing her bidding. Sure enough, they righted statues and pruned hedges, subdued. Leigh bit her lip.
“I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” Count Llews prostrated himself, refusing to look her in the eye. “I will take responsibility for this, I will find a way to break the spell—”
“You will not,” Leigh cut him off. “You will never, ever speak of this.” She stepped in close, revolted when a look of hope bloomed on his face. She forgot what she was going to finish with. She punched him right in the nose, knocking him back into the fountain instead.
I wonder if I still have his support, she thought as she returned to the ball.
* * *
Folk of every political stripe stood, sat, knelt, hovered then landed, bounced and occasionally tumbled in the ancient seats of Parliament. Leigh’s stomach similarly churned as the Viceroy watched the undulating sea make up their minds and cast their votes. Over them all loomed Mother Mongo, shouting threatening instructions with escalating frustration. Leigh couldn’t make sense of the voting blocks, if there were any anymore, but Mongo’s impotent screaming seemed to be a good sign. The Folk had thrown traditional loyalties to the elements and were voting according to their current, often conflicting, spell-sewn attachments. Not even the threat of being eaten by Mother Mongo could tame their lusty hearts.
The Viceroy read the declaration, her crystal voice carrying up to the dome and out on to the wind, where it would soon tickle the ears of all the Folk in the world. “Winning by 63 votes to 35, I declare Lilium Leigh Regele - daughter of Lake King Magnus Conlectus Profunda and leader of the Mundus Umidus - Queen of the Fairies by the will of Parliament!” The Viceroy bowed. “Queen Leigh, your throne.” She moved aside, and Leigh stepped forward to claim her place.
Politics. Leigh laughed, and so did her Folk.