Silver starlight leaked through the old wrought iron window of the Odhran Estate. Sitting at the old piano, wrapped in her thick woollen blankets, Lady Odette Lécuyer watched wide-eyed at the snow flurries that fell against the solarium windows. In the forgotten wing of the estate house, the only sounds to be heard were her uneven prodding of the piano keys and the chips of ice hailing against the window. The solarium was rarely ever used, and to Odette's delight, it held a small grand piano, a few old armchairs perfect for napping, and a fireplace. It was supposed to be summer but in this part of the Fae kingdoms, that just meant fresh snowfall and a hailstorm or two. Tonight the tall spindly trees that lined the snow-laden driveway bent at alarming angles. The glass rattled against iron as the wind picked up. The thin panes of glass shook like frightened children, and if Odette had gone to sleep when she had been dismissed after dinner, she would have missed the soft rapping of knuckles against glass.
Whirling, she spun around, searching for who or what could have made that sound, but she couldn't hear anything over the blood pounding in her ears. If she was caught awake past her bedtime again, Corine, the head house keeper, would tell Odette's parents―Grand Duke and Duchess of Odhran―of her disobedience, and she would surely be one step close to being shipped off to boarding school in the Ural Mountains. There she'd be condemned to live with other children of Fae nobility. Her mother would say it was about time as most children were sent away when they were ten, and her father wouldn't have noticed she was gone. Odette was thirteen was and had no intentions of setting foot in that hellhole, where they taught girls how to be ladies of the court, broke women into homemakers, and stripped them of their voices. No, Odette had seen the way her cousins had changed when they visited for the summer, frivolous families of who they were. Giggling in their ballgowns, swooning at the slightest provocation, and terrifyingly dull. Besides, Odhran was her home, and she wouldn't leave it if she had a choice.
Searching the dark, she listened closer, but with the exception of the starlight that pooled on the floor, the room was pitch black. Staring out into the night, the wall of white continued to rage on outside and… and nothing. There was no one there. Perhaps it was a stray tree branch scraping the house wall? Or maybe a lost deer lost in the snow? Setting the small bench upright, she settled into it once more, running her fingers over the ivory keys, but no sooner than she had pressed the first key, she heard it again. Tap, tap, tap. Tiptoeing to the window, she hugged her embroidered cotton nightgown, her skin turning to goose flesh because it wasn't a beast or a tree branch, but a girl―no, a fairy, flying in the air.
Distantly related to the Fae, Fairies were hardly anything to sniff as two shared an affinity for magic and mischief divine, both gifts from The First Maker. Although after that, the two shared little in common. Where the Fae were long-lived and practically immortal, Fairies were eternity-blessed, rumoured to be favoured by the first maker. Where the Fae were long-limbed and graceful, Fairies were slight of stature, with magnificent wings, and had a knack for wordplay and erudition.
The pair of opalescent wings at her back was beating erratically against the winter wind, her snow-covered face held sharp angles, and her ivory hair and skin blended in well with the snowstorm, but it was her eyes―oh gods, her eyes, that frightened Odette the most. Ice white, impossibly clear eyes stared back at her, wide and desperate. Knocking a shivering fist against the glass, Odette stumbled backwards, unable to look away.
"Please," she begged, knocking at the glass again. Her tiny fist was no bigger than an egg, "please let me in."
She'd heard stories about the fairies in human houses, and in the stories where the fairy was turned away, many of them ended with them wearing the human's skin or taking them back to Tír na nÓg, the forbidden city, where they kept human's as pets or worse―slaves. Staring at the fairy, Odette couldn't help but stare at the iridescent wings. She'd never seen anything like them. They looked as though they'd be softer than velvet and lighter than cotton. She could just leave. Go back to her rooms on the top floor, climb into her bed and stare at the horizon till dawn. But by then, the creature might be dead, and that thought twisted something inside of her and set her skin crawling. Unlatching the iron-barred window, the creature collapsed onto the floor, her wings shimmering in the moonlight.
Draping one of her blankets around the creature, Odette double-checked the locks on the window. Fiddling for the matchbox atop the fireplace, she threw the lit match into the pit. Warmth leaked into the room as tall flames crackled to life. Settling into one of the leather armchairs, she watched the snowmelt off the fairy's wings. A faint glow emanated from its skin, and ever so often, small rainbows shimmered across the brick walls. In a puddle of melted snow, the fairy pushed herself up into a sitting position, and for a minute, Odette could see her confusion.
"Where―where am I?" she spluttered.
"Odhran Estate, north of the Winter Court and east of the boiling lake."
"The Fae kingdoms?" The fairy flinched, a hand shooting to her wings. "I am in the Fae kingdoms?"
Odette nodded her head, unsure of what else to say. Fairies were rarely seen in the Fae Kingdoms, so maybe she was a runaway? A lost princess from Pojola or Tír na nÓg?
"Are you―are you human," the fairy asked. Scrambling to her feet, Odette could see the terror in her face and felt something in her chest twist.
"Yes, I am, and you're a fairy, I presume. What's your name?"
"Luba," she said, bowing low in what must have been a show of gratitude, but Odette wasn't sure, she'd seen countless members of the village greet her father, the Grand Duke, this way, but it was the unnerving way she smiled that made Odette's spin stiff. Then, rising to her feet, Odette took the girl's hand and did her best curtsy.
"Lady Odette Lécuyer, it's an honour to meet you. Please sit." Guesting to the other armchair, the two sat in silence for a long while. Neither of them dared look away from the other. The fairy looked to be sixteen at best, only three years older than Odette, but fairies were eternity blessed, so she could very well be forty, and she'd never know. "I've never met a fairy before. What brings you to the Fae lands?" In the height of summer, in the middle of a snowstorm.
"My family… my family and I were travelling to the Winter Palace to see the King. We set up camp just outside of the Mirabella woods. I went to feed one of the horses, and then," she looked around the room, a silver tear falling down her cheek, "and then it started to hail, and I―I must have gotten lost."
"Well, the palace isn't too far from here. My father, the Grand Duke, could―"
"Oh no, I couldn't. This is already too much."
"Would you like some tea? I could ring for a maid, please there must be something I can do?" Odette fumbled with her blanket, tying and untying the tassels. She'd seen her mother entertain guests hundreds of times, and yet she had no idea what to do next. How exactly was one supposed to be hospitable to a fairy? They were eternity blesses and could rip your throat out with their needle-sharp teeth.
Dropping her eyes to the fire, Liouba whispered, "Well, if you insist, there is one thing, a bowl of milk, please."
A bowl? Had she even been around humans? "Umm, of course. Follow me. I'll take you to the kitchens."
Pulling her blanket around her more tightly, Odette led Liouba down the finely decorated corridors of the Southern wing. Adorned with emeralds and marble Odette quietly told Liouba about the estate, pointing out portraits of her kin and other ancestors.
"This is place is huge," Liouba explained, marvelling at a carved statue of Odette's mother, Duchess Marceline Lécuyer, "and it's just the three of you?"
"Well, no. A few years ago, the Grand Duke Lécuyer of Odhran, my father, had opened the estate to be an orphanage, and ever since, the house has been filled with laughter and noise, just the way he liked it. At night the children sleep in the East wing with the house staff, and my family and I sleep in the West wing, just over that way," Odette pointed to her left, to a grand staircase gilded with golden leaves and emerald flowers. "Which means that the Southern wing, which is where we just came from, is usually empty. Void of people, just the way I like it." She had been seven when some of them had first arrived, but over time she had grown to love them, but they were always so loud that it made her yearn for the night when they were sent off to bed, and she could be left alone in the quiet.
Pushing open the servant's entrance to the kitchen Odette was thankful that the head cook had gone home earlier that day, or else he would have been at the stove stewing some venison or game from yesterday. The kitchen was softly lit with low burning candles that would burn till morning; their soft shadows danced in on the walls.
Walking over to the ice-box she grabbed a ceramic bowl from the shelf, gesturing for Liouba to sit, "Take a seat at the counter, while I―"
Something cold and hard slammed into Odette's head. The impact made stars bloom into her vision. The stone floor of the kitchens lurched upwards, and the next thing she knew, her face was pressed against the ice-box door shards of the ceramic bowl littered the floor around her. Did she walk into something? No, that couldn't be right; the pots didn't usually hang from the ceiling, so why… why was there a pot hanging above her? Something warm and sticky toucher her head. Reaching up to her hand to the crown of her head, Odette's fingers came back crimson. What?
"Mortal," a small voice laughed, "always so predictable."
Rolling to her side, she ignored the chips of ceramic digging into her forearm because Liouba was standing over her with a skillet in her hand, bright red blood dripping down the handle.
"Liouba? What are you doing?" Odette's voice cracked. Trying to sit up, she fell backwards, unable to steady the spinning room. What in the seven hells was happening? She had invited the fairy inside, showed her around, offered her milk. Shouldn't that mean she was safe?
"Just getting a midnight snack."
Dropping the cast-iron to the floor, the fairy lunged towards her, pulling her mouth into a sneer to reveal three rows of needle-sharp teeth. Its black and bleeding gums smelt of rot. Rolling away, she fumbled for something to throw. Odette reached for the oven door and felt a pair of too strong hands wrap around her ankles, pulling her.
"Not so fast little one," she crooned, "I haven't had a meal in weeks, and the fighting makes the meat tough."
With blood dripping down her back, Odette thrashed in the fairy's grip. Ripping her left leg free, she kicked the creature in the nose, earning her a sickly crunch. Bright silver blood trickled down its face causing Odette's stomach to churn. If she survived, she was going to be sick. Smashing her heel into her jaw Odette reeled backwards, scrambling to her feet. Grabbing the closest thing to her, she threw it into the rack of cleaned pots and pans, unleashing a cacophony of sound. She needed to get help, and what better way than waking up the whole house. Cringing at the sound of metal against metal, she rummaged for a knife.
Gripping a cleaver in her hand, Odette prayed to the gods that her father or the Captain of the guard would come barreling through the door, shotgun in hand. Then, with her back pressed to the ice-box door, she flinched when the creature's ice-white eyes turned black, the veins under her skin shifting to match. Stalking towards her, she ripped the clever from Odette's grasp like it was nothing but a ragdoll. Taking her by the shoulders, she threw Odette to the floor, but before her rows of teeth could sink into Odette's flesh, the door swung own and Corine stood at the threshold.
Opening her mouth to scream, a hand clamped over her mouth, and the two were wrestling once more. Pulling her knees to her chest, she shoved the fairy away, knocking her into a wall of cabinets. Now on her knees, she wiped the silver blood from her face. Looking over to crumpled body across from her, her blood running cold; because instead of a fairy with ice-white eyes and pale skin, was a rosy-cheeked human with curly umber hair. A pair of copper eyes stared back at Odette, her eyes. The fairy had glamoured herself to look like Odette.
Horror lept up her throat because when Odette looked down, her pale pink skin was whiter than ivory, and without looking, she knew her hair was now the same colourless hue. She's been glamoured too, which meant that Corine―shrewd, unwavering Corine―was staring at her but instead saw a bloodied fairy.
"Help me. Please, help me," cried the fairy, clutching her head. Then, she smeared Odette's red blood over her face, "Corine, please. She's a fairy. A beast of the Mirabella."
Throwing up her palms, Odette whimpered, "Corine, please, don't shoot. It's me Lady Odette Lécuyer. You've known me since I was five. You taught me how to sew. You once caught me sneaking out of my rooms to play the piano. I―" The shot rang out before Odette could finish.
Fire laced down Odette's shoulder. Her bones felt heavy and numb. Silver blood flowed down her nightgown, staining the grey stone ivory. Shaking, she looked up at Corine, who now knelt next to the fairy, an arm wrapped around her shoulders. The creature that now wore her features was whispering something into the housekeeper's ear.
Words failed her as she tasted bile. Her housekeep has just shot her, and worse yet, now her parents stood in the kitchen, the Grand Duchess's face grief-stricken, her father's brow creases.
"Mama," Odette pleases, reaching a hand out towards her mother, but the refined woman recoiled, hiding behind her husband.
"Have Captain Körbl take that creature back to the woods. I will not have a beast of the Mirabella under this roof."
"Yes, Marce," her father patted her mother's hand, pulling her closer, "and I'll station another unit of guards around the ground. We can't have the small fold wondering about."
Strong arms grabbed Odette's arms, carrying her out to the gardens. The snowstorm had finally yielded and was replaced with a soft flurry. Gas lamps illuminated the estate grounds. Her body was too heavy to fight back, but Odette flailed her legs anyway, struggling to dig them into the freshly fallen snow, but no, she was too short, and her limbs dangled uncomfortably in the air. Captain Körbl was standing next to a horse-drawn cart, a leather baldric slung across his chest. The men threw her into the cart, binding her hands with shackles made of silent stone.
"Körbl," she sobbed, "please, you have to―"
Weather-beaten and scared, the CaptainCaptain came into view as he pulled out a handkerchief and tied it around her mouth.
Odette didn't know where she was being taken, but it must have been far because buttery sunlight had begun to flow into the snow-capped valley. The pale yellow of the rising sun warmed the freezing night air slightly, but it didn't help her chapped lips or her throbbing head; at least her head had stopped bleeding. When the cart came to a stop, the CaptainCaptain made his way to the back and untied her bindings, setting her on her still shaky feet.
"Odette, I know it you."
At that, her head snapped up, and her jaw fell open, she knew. How?
"She tried to bite off one of my fingers when I checked her for any bite marks; you at least would have the good sense to hiss at," he laughed. "But with that being said you I can't kill you, I won't. But I can't take you home either."
Realization slammed into her until she could undo the creature's glamour―prove that the beast was, in fact, not her. She would be exiled from Odhran. Turning around, she saw that the CaptainCaptain had brought her to the Mirabella wood, a woman looming just beyond the tree break.
"She's an old friend, and I've asked her to take care of you. Now go on, it's time for you to start over," he coaxed.
Odette walked towards the woman, tried her best not to cower at the enormous leathery wings that curled around her willowy frame. Her onyx hair was cut to just above her shoulders and hung motionless in the wind. Beckoning for her to follow, Odette took a tentative step into the Mirabella. She had no home and now wore a body that wasn't her's. Balling her hands into fists, she didn't look back as she melted into the shadows.