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Bramblewilde

“There is only one thing to do,” Mrs. Rothchild said. “We must pay a visit to Bramblewilde.”

So Mrs. Rothchild raised her most intimidating parasol, and Mrs. Wollstonecraft wrapped herself in her embroidered cloak, and Mrs. Clarke fetched her straw hat trimmed with a bit of this and that from her husband’s shop, and together they set off to call on the fairy.

At that time, Bramblewilde lived in a cottage at the edge of town—a cottage covered in a riot of roses and blackberries, with hives of bees who produced the most golden honey imaginable. No one then living remembered how or when or why the fairy came to live in the cottage, rather than in Faerieland where they belonged. But their spells and charms could be relied upon to work—if not quite in the way one expected—and so Bramblewilde and the town lived in dubious mutual beneficence.

When Mrs. Rothchild, Wollstonecraft, and Clarke knocked on their cottage’s door, Bramblewilde was checking the aging of their blackberry cordial. They shook the bottle, bits of pulpy fruit bobbing in the purple liquid, residual sugar washing back and forth. They stuck one long finger into the mix to taste. They smacked their lips. Nearly done.

“And won’t you be surprised,” Bramblewilde chuckled, replacing the bottle on its shelf.

They opened the door.

Mrs. Rothchild, Wollstonecraft, and Clarke struck their most imposing postures.

“We’re here about our daughters,” Mrs. Rothchild said, shoving her way into Bramblewilde’s stone-flagged kitchen. Bundles of herbs and snared rabbits swung from the rafters overhead.

“They refuse to listen to reason,” Mrs. Wollstonecraft said, wringing her hands.

“They forget their place!” Mrs. Clarke scowled.

“Frankly,” Mrs. Rothchild said, “I fear they are unmarriageable.” She snapped her parasol closed and sniffed with distain at Bramblewilde’s loose curls and shapeless shift.

Bramblewilde smiled a long, slow, sideways smile. “Oh? I’ve heard rumors—”

“They are witches,” Mrs. Rothchild cut them off with a purse of her lips.

“And dear friends,” Mrs. Wollstonecraft said.

“Rebellious heathens,” Mrs. Clarke grumbled. Mrs. Rothchild poked her ankle with the parasol.

“Sit,” Bramblewilde said. “Tell me more.” They indicated a group of rough wooden chairs around their kitchen table, though they themselves continued to rummage around the room, one pointed ear half-cocked to the women.

“You know who we are, I suppose?” Mrs. Rothchild asked.

Bramblewilde cut their long green eyes at her. “You I know.”

Mrs. Rothchild was the wife of the town’s richest citizen: the renowned Wizard Rothchild. To her everlasting regret, it had been he who first introduced their daughter to the Art.

“And that, I believe,” Bramblewilde licked their teeth, “is the vicar’s wife there.” They nodded to Mrs. Wollstonecraft.

Mrs. Wollstonecraft inclined her head.

Unlike many, the Reverend Wollstonecraft saw no contradiction in the study of the Art with that of the Gospel. From the beginning he’d noticed his daughter’s keen intellect and encouraged her education—the result being, of course, this visit to Bramblewilde.

“And this,” Mrs. Rothchild gestured to Mrs. Clarke, who pulled herself up and tried to look important, “is the wife of the poorer haberdasher.” Mrs. Clarke deflated.

Mr. Clarke had once taken a book of spells in payment for his best hat. The book now sat in pride of place on a little cloth-covered table in the sitting room, enduring many a dark glance and muttered curse from Mrs. Clarke.

“I imagine your daughters are quite powerful,” Bramblewilde said, “the three together.” Their eyes flared in the dim kitchen.

“Morgana’s love spells are famed throughout the county,” Mrs. Rothchild said, pinching the bridge of her nose. “When I tried to teach her embroidery, she turned every panel into a spell, pricking her fingers and bleeding over the thread.”

“Minerva is so clever,” Mrs. Wollstonecraft sighed. “Yesterday I heard her correct Mr. Darnley on his translation of Ovid.” She bit her lip. “I tried to interest her in some more womanly arts, like music, but I’m afraid her plinking at the harpsichord is as tedious as a metronome.” She made a pained face, her eyes welling with tears. “And do you know—she had hidden another book behind the sheet music!”

Mrs. Clarke patted her on the back and clucked sympathetically. “Millicent’s great bloody owl has ruined all my carpets,” she said.

Bramblewilde blinked.

“Her familiar.” Mrs. Rothchild rolled her eyes.

“What is it you want?” Bramblewilde asked.

“Husbands.” Mrs. Clarke’s eyes gleamed.

“We fear, without your assistance, the girls will become spinsters.” Mrs. Wollstonecraft shook her head.

“And we want them,” Mrs. Rothchild said, “as soon as may be arranged. While there is still time for grandchildren.”

“Very well.” Bramblewilde said. “I will need something of value from each of you, then. And you must make a promise—no—you must solemnly swear to never harm, harangue, or try to coax or bring away by force an occupant of this cottage, no matter what becomes of the magic.”

The women swore.

“Good,” Bramblewilde said. “And for the tokens…” From Mrs. Rothchild they took a pearl-headed hatpin. From Mrs. Wollstonecraft, a handkerchief she’d embroidered before her wedding. And from Mrs. Clarke—to her great horror—Bramblewilde took the gold ring she wore on her right hand.

“These,” Bramblewilde said, “will ensure your daughters marry the men I find for them.” They secreted the tokens away in some pocket of their shift. “But the magic will not work so well on your husbands.” They took three little jars of honey down from a shelf and handed one to each woman. “If they have questions, feed them this.”

The women took the honey gratefully, as if they could already hear their husbands’ protestations.

“It’s a nice place you have here,” Mrs. Clarke said as they stood to leave. She eyed the doorways speculatively, as if wondering how many rooms the cottage might contain.

“Very well-kept,” Mrs. Wollstonecraft said, her eyes on the shining copper pans.

Mrs. Rothchild popped the door open and raised her parasol with a snap. “Worth being thrown out of Faerieland?” she quipped.

Bramblewilde whirled, their sharp teeth bared. “That is a lie!” They mastered themselves before adding, “I left.” They slammed the door in the women’s faces.

Mrs. Rothchild raised her eyebrows.

The following Monday, a young man was seen alighting from a carriage in the Rothchilds’ front drive. “Mr. Lambe, for Miss Morgana,” he said to the footman who opened the door. “I am expected.” He had wild brown poet’s locks and flashing green eyes, and he wore a suit of the most exquisite tailoring. The only strange thing about him was a gaudy pearl stickpin, a full six inches long, thrust through his cravat.

Morgana was ushered into her mother’s best parlor to speak with him, rather confused, and thus inclined to be indignant—though not so much that the spectacular sight of Mr. Lambe lounging on her mother’s powder blue sofa did nothing to mollify her. She took a seat beside him.

“What can I do for you?” she asked. “I’m not sure we’ve been introduced—”

Mr. Lambe tugged the pin from his cravat, and—poof!—there was Bramblewilde!

Morgana recoiled with a shriek. “Bramblewilde! Put the stickpin back at once. And next time, warn me before you become something so alarming as your true self!”

Bramblewilde replaced the pin, chuckling all the while. “My apologies, Miss Morgana,” they said as Mr. Lambe.

“Whatever are you doing here? And looking like that?”

Bramblewilde spread their hands. “Your mother recently came to me with a request. It seems she believes it time you marry.” They shrugged. “By whatever magical means necessary.”

“That bitch,” Morgana hissed. “I’ll show her whatever magical means—”

“Yes, yes,” Bramblewilde interrupted, waving one hand. “That’s why I’m here.”

Morgana narrowed her eyes. “What are you talking about?”

Bramblewilde seemed surprised. “Why, your emancipation, of course!”

“Go on.”

“You don’t wish to marry.”

“Obviously.” Morgana rolled her eyes. “To be tied to one man forever—how tedious!”

“And a witch of your caliber—the talk of your love spells has singed even my pointed ears—would be hard to trick into love.”

Morgana tossed her head.

“And so I am willing to cut you a deal. You may marry me—as Mr. Lambe—and come into your inheritance. All a sham, of course, but a sham that will satisfy your mother and get you out of her house, and your hand in the bank account as well! You could even say I died afterwards,” they added, inspired, “and set yourself up as a wealthy widow.” Bramblewilde rubbed their hands together. “All I would need in return is that you use your skills to do one little thing…”

In the second-best parlor, the Wizard Rothchild asked, “Who was that at the door? He asked for Morgana.”

“A suitor.” Mrs. Rothchild simpered.

“He looked a devilish rake to me.” The Wizard Rothchild narrowed his eyes. “I suppose he’s wealthy?”

“As Croesus.” Mrs. Rothchild beamed, busily stirring a bit of honey into her husband’s tea.

“When the lion falls in love with the lamb,” Bramblewilde chuckled as they danced a jig at their front gate, waving Mrs. Rothchild’s hatpin triumphantly in the air. “When you build me a palace of paper to live in! When you bottle sunlight and cage the night, then…Then!

“Ha ha!” The gate banged shut behind them. “Tie my hands with a geas, would you? I’ll show you…”

That Wednesday afternoon, a young curate knocked on the Wollstonecraft’s door. He wore a somber suit of black, with a wide-brimmed hat covering his brown curls. His long hands were folded in front of his waist in a dignified manner. The only strange thing about him was a faded handkerchief poking out of his breast pocket—a handkerchief embroidered with feminine violets and curls.

“Mr. Bridewell. I’m here to see Miss Minerva,” he said when the servant girl opened the door. He was shown into the sitting room where the family had gathered. “I am the curate at Farmbrook,” he explained to the Reverend Wollstonecraft. “I had the privilege of meeting the lovely Minerva when she was staying with her aunt there.”

Minerva said nothing, only watched him narrowly from a corner by the hearth, her book open on her lap.

“The curate of Farmbrook?” Reverend Wollstonecraft asked. “I’ve never heard your name before.” He eyed Mr. Bridewell beadily. “What are your intentions regarding my Minerva? You’re aware of her unique education, I suppose?”

Mrs. Wollstonecraft coughed pointedly. “Dearest—Mayfield’s made us some scones. Why don’t you come with me into the morning room and have a few with that honey I got from our neighbor, and leave the young people to their reunion?” She took her husband’s elbow.

Once he and Minerva were alone, Mr. Bridewell pulled the handkerchief from his pocket and—poof!—there was Bramblewilde!

“I thought so,” Minerva said, calmly setting her book down on the hearth.

Bramblewilde explained her mother’s visit. “But it’s clear to me you are ill-suited to the life of housewife,” they said.

“I confess honorary membership in the local Latin lending libraries and Magical Societies holds much greater appeal,” Minerva said dryly.

Bramblewilde flourished their handkerchief with a sigh. “You and your dear friends must encounter male censure everywhere.”

“We have ways of dealing with it,” Minerva said, though her eyes blazed with passion as she gazed at the handkerchief. “Morgana and I need only begin chanting—any old nonsense will do—to clear a whole room of tiresome detractors.”

Bramblewilde raised their eyebrows, their long feet tapping on the parquet floor. “Still, it would be useful, wouldn’t it—my handkerchief?”

“What is it you’re proposing, Bramblewilde?”

“That you marry me—as Mr. Bridewell. And after we are married, I will take you away from your mother’s house, where you may live freely.”

“In your cottage,” Minerva said. “And you’ll give me the handkerchief?”

“If you wish.” Bramblewilde smiled a long, slow, sideways smile. “Your mother said you were the clever one.”

“What is it you want in return, then?”

“When the lion falls in love with the lamb, when you build me a palace of paper to live in,” Bramblewilde chuckled as they danced a jig in at their front gate, Mrs. Wollstonecraft’s handkerchief tied around their neck. “When you bottle sunlight and cage the night, then…Then! Ha ha!”

The gate banged shut behind them. “I’ll build you a palace of paper to live in…”

On Friday night, a prosperous tradesman, with winking eyes and a cheerful brown face, swaggered in at the Clarkes’ gate. The curious neighbors could tell he was a prosperous tradesman because he wore a soft felt hat and a red jacket, and he had a shiny gold ring on the littlest finger of his right hand.

He whistled a jaunty tune, calling Millicent’s name under all the likely windows.

“Confound that racket!” Mr. Clarke cried. “Who the devil is that?”

Mrs. Clarke poked her head out the door. “I suppose you’d better come in,” she laughed.

The tradesman, who called himself Mr. Miller, was shown into the kitchen. Millicent stood at the table, feeding the resident mice to her owl.

“Saw her at market, did you?” Mr. Clarke scowled.

“Not at all, sir.” Mr. Miller swept off his hat in a bow. “I’m old Barnaby’s son—you know, your former business partner Barnaby? I’ve recently had some success in a business of my own, and have come to ask for Miss Millicent’s hand.”

Millicent looked askance.

“Who?” Mr. Clarke asked. “I don’t recall dealings with any Barnaby—”

“None of your airs!” Mrs. Clarke snapped at her daughter. She threaded her arm through her husband’s, who looked ready to launch into a long-winded speech on the history and causes of his modest success. “Come with me into the sitting room, dear. We’ll have a couple of those slices of honeycake.”

Once the Clarkes were out of earshot, Mr. Miller slipped the ring from his hand, and—poof!—there was Bramblewilde! He laughed delightedly at the look on Millicent’s face. The mouse wriggled from her hand and ran away across the tabletop, squeaking with alarm.

“The son of an old business partner, indeed!” Millicent sank into her seat. Her owl ruffled its feathers in a huff. “What tricks are you up to now, Bramblewilde?”

As Bramblewilde recounted her mother’s visit, tears welled in Millicent’s eyes.

“But I don’t wish to marry at all! I’m in love with—” She looked away, biting her lip.

“Ah!” Bramblewilde smiled. “I see.” They patted Millicent’s hand. “What if I told you there was a way you may live with the object of your affection—for the rest of your life, if you wish?”

Millicent stared at them, her eyes round. “How?”

Bramblewilde leaned back in their chair and put up their feet. “I’ve already cut a deal with her, and I’m here to offer the same to you. I could use your services, madam.” They nodded at the exasperated owl. “Or those of your familiar, at least. Do what I ask, and I will marry you—as Mr. Miller—and take you away from this pokey place to live with your love.”

“When the lion falls in love with the lamb, when you build me a palace of paper to live in, when you bottle sunlight and cage the night, then…” Bramblewilde chuckled as they danced a jig at their front gate, tossing Mrs. Clarke’s ring up and down. “Then you may rule Faerieland!”

Two weeks later, on a Friday, Morgana Rothchild was married to the mysterious Mr. Lambe in a ceremony talked about throughout the county for the next ten years. The bride carried, tucked into her nosegay, a strange and rather tawdry snarl of plaited ribbons, torn strips from Mr. Lambe’s cravat, and strands of brown hair. As the vows were exchanged, a dark-eyed girl in the audience wept openly. Afterwards, Morgana was carried away in a fine phaeton and rarely seen again.

That Sunday, Minerva Wollstonecraft wed Mr. Bridewell in a small service held in her father’s chapel. After the vows were exchanged and the wedding breakfast eaten, Minerva was carried away in a neat gig, presumably to the Farmbrook rectory, and not seen again—for quite some time, at least.

And Monday morning, Millicent Clarke married Mr. Miller in a quiet affair held in the sitting room behind her father’s shop. Afterwards, the giddy bride and her ruffled owl were carried away in a gaily painted cart strung with fluttering ribbons and bells, and never seen again—at least, not in town.

Now, a rake may make a good husband, if he is handsome and wealthy enough, and the name of a curate may slip a vicar’s mind. But, Mrs. Clark thought, to forget the name of a former business associate and his eligible son? Not even Mr. Clarke would do that. And so, as Millicent’s wedding cart turned onto the lane leading out of town, Mrs. Clarke followed behind, remaining out of sight.

Imagine her astonishment as the cart turned in at Bramblewilde’s! Mrs. Clarke ducked behind a convenient bush and watched, open-mouthed, as Mr. Miller took off her little gold ring, and—poof!—in his place stood Bramblewilde! Bramblewilde waved one hand, and the gaily painted cart and the mule that pulled it shrunk, becoming nothing more than an old saltbox and a bumblebee. The bumblebee flew away into Bramblewilde’s garden, wheeling drunkenly.

The cottage door sprang open. “There you are!” Morgana said. Millicent rushed into Minerva’s arms. Her owl squawked. “We thought you’d been held up!”

“Damned slow bee.” Bramblewilde kicked the saltbox.

Mrs. Clarke picked up her skirts and ran back into town as fast as she could.

“Now we’re all here, will you tell us what this is about, Bramblewilde?” Morgana asked. They led Millicent into the cottage’s cozy sitting room, her owl riding on her shoulder, her hand still clasped in Minerva’s. Minerva’s books were already piled in all the corners. A domed cage for Millicent’s owl sat atop one stack.

“You promised me the handkerchief,” Minerva reminded Bramblewilde.

“Greedy, greedy!” Bramblewilde shook their finger.

Millicent noticed they’d swiped a bottle from the kitchen. “Are we celebrating?”

“Not yet. Now is the time for you to fulfill your promises. You’ve practiced the spells? You remember what we planned?”

“Obviously,” Morgana said.

The young women rolled back the sitting room’s rug. Bramblewilde uncorked the glass bottle and poured its contents in a wide circle onto the floor. “Niamh Rose Sweetsap, I summon you!” they said in a loud voice.

A thunderclap filled the room. Morgana, Minerva, and Millicent shielded their faces. When they took their arms away, the most beautiful woman any of them had ever seen stood in the middle of the floor.

Lustrous red hair fell nearly to the backs of her knees. Her pale skin shone from within, as if she was lit with her own sunlight. Her eyes were two blue jewels, her lips swollen and red, her eyebrows a pair of perfect arches. She wore her thin shift as if it was the finest gown.

“Bramblewilde,” Morgana breathed, “who is that?”

“My mother.” Bramblewilde’s eyes flashed. “The queen of Faerieland.”

“Your mother?”

The woman bent and ran one fingertip across the sticky floorboards. She touched it to her tongue and gave a grim laugh. “Bramblewilde, is this what I think it is?”

Bramblewilde smiled a long, slow, sideways smile. “Blackberry cordial. Your favorite.”

Mrs. Clarke hammered on Mrs. Wollstonecraft’s door. “Trickery! Thievery! Deceit! That knave—I’ll ring their neck! I’ll wring all their necks! Mrs. Wollstonecraft, come quick!”

Minerva turned to Bramblewilde. “I think it’s time to explain.”

It was the queen who spoke. “I tried for many of your lifetimes to have a child.” Her words fell shimmering into the air, every movement of her lips a spell. “At last, I was obliged to resort to magic.”

“She swallowed a nut, and out I popped!” Bramblewilde sneered.

“Such a strange child.” The fairy queen frowned and shook her head. “Not at all what I’d expected. More like the wild fae of the meadows and woods than the beautiful court of Faerieland. Most fairy children settle into one thing as they grow up, but not Bramblewilde.”

Bramblewilde crossed their arms. “Once I was grown, I went to her and asked when I would rule Faerieland. She laughed and—Why don’t you tell them what you said?”

“Not until the lion falls in love with the lamb,” the queen recited, “when you build me a palace of paper to live in, when you bottle sunlight and cage the night, then you may rule Faerieland.”

Morgana looked thoughtful.

“Ah,” Minerva said.

Millicent nudged her owl and smiled a strange smile.

“I was your child—your heir!”

“You still had a chance!” The queen spread her hands and looked anguished. “It’s the traditional way of handling an unwanted request—you know this!” She appealed to the young women. “And can you imagine?” She gestured to Bramblewilde. “They on the throne of Faerieland?”

Millicent gasped. Minerva balled her hands into fists. Morgana looked outraged.

“You’re forgetting something, Mother,” Bramblewilde said. “You haven’t told them the best part yet.”

The fairy queen sighed like a saint. “When I realized it was their intention to leave me, I placed a geas on them: that if they left Faerieland, they may only use their magic to help others, and never their self.”

Minerva drew her dark brows together. “You made them a pariah,” she said.

“You ensured they were helpless!” Morgana scoffed.

“Helping others is all well and good,” Millicent said, “but sometimes it’s better to protect yourself.” Her owl shifted its weight on her shoulder and hooted softly in agreement.

The queen turned white with rage. Dark threads of cloud roiled around her body. Lightening crackled within. “Why have you summoned me here?” she asked Bramblewilde.

Bramblewilde drew themselves up to their entire height of four and a half feet. “Mother—I have fulfilled the terms.”

No.” The storm surrounding the queen’s body played itself out with a crack. Her beautiful eyes flew wide.

Mrs. Clarke and Mrs. Wollstonecraft beat their fists on Mrs. Rothchild’s door. “Knavery! Trickery! Deceit! And our daughters in the thick of it! Come quick, Mrs. Rothchild, come quick!”

“You couldn’t have!” the fairy queen cried.

“I had a little help.” Bramblewilde smiled. “Morgana?” They snapped their long fingers, and Morgana stepped forward like a schoolgirl about to recite.

“Last Friday, Gabriella Leoni fell deeply in love with a certain Mr. Lambe.” Morgana’s eyes twinkled. “It’s a pity for her, Mr. Lambe doesn’t exist.”

The queen narrowed her eyes.

“I can summon her here, if you like. But I assure you, my love spells are the very best. She’ll be pining for some weeks still.”

“Unnecessary.” The queen flicked her fingers dismissively, though her face was tight.

Morgana curtsied ironically and stepped back.

Bramblewilde reached into their shift and pulled out a small glass jar. “And to bottle sunlight and cage the night…” They tossed it to the queen.

She caught it with one hand. “Honey,” the queen said. Her nostrils flared.

“Millicent?”

Millicent stepped forward, her owl on her forearm. “Fly home, Luna,” she said. The owl took off in a rush of feathers and wind, soaring across the room to perch in the open cage in the corner.

Millicent crossed the room and closed the wire door with a click.

The queen trembled, dark tendrils curling around her ankles. “And the palace of paper?” she snapped.

Minerva stepped forward without being asked, her hands raised like a conductor. She closed her eyes and began to chant. Books flew towards her from all corners of the room, stacking and arranging themselves into a tower of paper and ink. Luna squawked as her cage toppled to the floor. When she was finished, Minerva opened her eyes and surveyed her work with a little nod.

The queen laughed derisively, looking down her nose at the tower of books. “I hope you don’t expect full points for that. The terms specify a ‘palace of paper to live in.’ I couldn’t possibly fit—”

Morgana and Millicent stepped forward and joined hands with Minerva. She began chanting again.

“You’re right,” said Bramblewilde. “You couldn’t possibly fit—as you are.”

The queen shrieked. She was shrinking rapidly, the height of Bramblewilde, the size of a child, a rabbit, a mouse… She ran around the edges of the ring of cordial, screaming, “Let me out! I was a good mother! Bramblewilde—my child! I’ll make you a lord, give you a title and lands…” Her voice got smaller and smaller until it was nothing but a high-pitched squeak. “My mother tossed me into the cowslips and expected me to fend for myself. I tried to teach you—”

“To be something they’re not?” Morgana said.

The queen was the size of an insect now. A book fell from the top of the tower with a thump. Its pages flew open, its words rearranging themselves. The queen climbed onto the page to make her final request—and she disappeared.

Morgana, Minerva, and Millicent let go of one another’s hands. Minerva crossed the ring of cordial and bent to pick up the book. In the middle of the page were the words: “Niamh Rose Sweetsap.” She shut the book with a thump.

Mrs. Rothchild, Wollstonecraft, and Clarke rushed to Bramblewilde’s gate.

“We will drag them back by force, if necessary!” Mrs. Rothchild cried. She stretched her hand out to open the gate, but to her surprise, she found she could not. It was as if some invisible wall stopped her. “You try, Mrs. Wollstonecraft.”

Mrs. Wollstonecraft reached out her hand but could not touch the gate either. “It’s as if unseen spirits stopped my hand!” she gasped.

“Oh, get out of my way!” Mrs. Clarke said.

Inside the cottage, the sound of the women’s bickering reached their daughters’ ears. Minerva froze in the act of handing the book to Bramblewilde.

They ran to the window, the book tucked under the fairy’s arm, just in time to see Mrs. Clarke rush to the gate and fall on her back.

“It’s Mother!” Millicent trembled.

Minerva’s eyes went wide.

Morgana laughed. “They can’t get in!”

“They are held to their oaths.” Bramblewilde chuckled and slapped their shins.

The women opened their mouths to plead with their daughters to come back, to berate them for their trick, but they found their tongues had turned heavy as stone. They opened and closed their mouths like fish.

“They can’t speak!” Millicent rejoiced.

“Not to ask you to leave, at any rate.” Bramblewilde stuck out their tongue at the window and turned away.

“You have fulfilled your promises,” they said to the young women. “The cottage is yours, along with these tokens.” They reached into the bottomless pocket of their shift and handed Minerva the hatpin, the handkerchief, and the ring. “Your mothers’ oaths are bound up in them, so keep them safe. And if you ever find you need a man about—” Bramblewilde slipped the hatpin through Minerva’s shawl with a grin.

“How strange,” Minerva said as Mr. Lambe.

Morgana raised her eyebrows.

Millicent giggled.

Minerva slipped out the hatpin and weighed it in her slender hand. “Thank you, Bramblewilde,” she said. She bit her lip, gazing out of the window to where their mothers still stood by the gate, opening and closing their mouths ineffectually. “If we leave the cottage, will their oaths still hold?”

Bramblewilde shook their head. “No, but you will always be safe here.” They shifted the book beneath their arm. “How much time you spend on the other side of the fence is up to you.”

The young women followed Bramblewilde to the back door. Millicent stepped forward and kissed the fairy’s hands.

Bramblewilde flushed with astonishment.

“Thank you again, Bramblewilde,” Millicent said.

“Remember us when you come into your kingdom,” Morgana quipped.

Bramblewilde opened the back door, letting in a breeze that smelled of honey and roses and green things. “The lords and ladies will take some convincing.” They brandished the book. “But this should do the trick.” They stared out at the line of trees at the back of their land—the edge of the forest bordering Faerieland.

“What will happen to her? The queen?” Minerva nodded to the book.

“I’ll open the pages when I’m ready.” Bramblewilde grinned. They stepped out of the door, whistling a jaunty tune.

The young women waved from the doorway.

And for the first time in no-one-knew-how-many years, Bramblewilde danced a jig all the way back to Faerieland.

 

(Editors’ Note: Jordan Taylor is interviewed by Caroline Yoachim in this issue.)

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Jordan Taylor

Jordan Taylor’s short fiction has recently appeared in Underland Arcana and The Deadlands, and was nominated for a 2021 World Fantasy Award. Though she’s lived in cities across the US, she’s finally settled in North Carolina in a little cottage full of books. You can follow her online at jordantaylorwrites.com, or on Twitter @JordanRTaylor13.

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