Portraits of a Faerie Queen
Tay LaRoi © 2017
All Rights Reserved
I don’t breathe.
The slightest nudge could ruin the brush stroke, destroying the entire effect I want. According to the Faerie Queen, I have yet to properly capture what she calls her “unique blend of splendor, grace, and power.” She rejected the first two attempts in mere seconds. She’s a picky one, Her Majesty.
On the canvas, she looks over the wild fields outside as if she has just conquered them. Wreaths of roses surround her in honor of the fallen. An auburn waterfall of braids frames her heart-shaped face, tumbling over her bare shoulders and brushing against her elegant gown. It’s a funeral shroud that silhouettes her curvaceous body. She could be wearing it in memory of any number of the dismembered skeletons beneath her feet.
Or is it to honor her next victim? It’s a toss-up.
All those details were a cakewalk this time around, compared to the depths of her green eyes. Those eyes are always the hardest part. It’s nearly impossible to mimic the way they trap you. The way they sparkle as you pour out your heart and plead for a miracle. The way they coldly calculate whether you’re worthy.
I lift the brush from the canvas, leaving all of her mystery and seduction embodied in oil paint. My body and soul alike give a relieved sigh.
Six paintings down. One to go.
One more painting and Mom will wake up.
Thanks to my housemate, I don’t get to savor the moment.
Faeries like him have this power about them. They heighten your senses, bringing the world to life and sharpening everything in it. He thinks I spend too much time in my head and the only suitable remedy is spontaneous guerilla attacks, apparently.
I take a breath, then tumble out of my chair and fling a clean paintbrush at him, letting loose a war cry like the world has never known.
The kitchen broom comes down and raps against the back of my chair. The brush sails past my housemate’s face and he watches it land in the hallway.
“Better, Jocelyn,” he concludes, “but now you’re defenseless. And what exactly was that god-awful noise?”
“My war cry,” I answer, propping myself up on my elbows. “It was supposed to either startle or confuse you. Judging by your expression, it worked.”
He smirks, drops the broom, and offers me his hand. “Oh, I’m confused, all right. Confused as to why you thought it would startle me.”
I take his hand, stand up, and point a paint-covered brush at him. “Keep it up, and I’ll give you whiskers while you sleep.”
“Do so and I’ll steal your firstborn child.”
I study him and wonder if he’s serious. He can’t be. Can he? He can’t.
The day we first met, the day I made the deal with the Faerie Queen, he asked me to call him Dominic, but I doubt that’s his real name. Faeries aren’t keen on giving them out, especially to the lowly humans they’re supposed to babysit. Lucky for me, he doesn’t take his job seriously. Given his disheveled clothes and messy pine-green hair, he’s literally been sleeping on the job.
“You feeling okay?” I ask, retrieving the clean paintbrush.
“Right as rain.” He yawns, itching a pointed ear. “Just needed a nap before I meet a friend.” His yawn closes to a grin when his obsidian gaze falls on the painting. “You finished it?”
“Sure did,” I reply as I begin to wash the paint-covered brushes. “Come have a look.”
Dominic sets his hands on his hips and studies the canvas. “To be fair, ruining this would have been a pity. This is stunning, Jocelyn.”
“It better be.” I sigh. “That’s my third attempt.”
“I’m sure Her Majesty will love it.” Patting me on the shoulder, Dominic adds, “You deserve a break. Could you take something to Iver for me?”
“Running errands counts as a break?” I tease.
Dominic digs in his pocket and pulls out a small wrapped package. “Well, you don’t know how to relax, and it’s pitiful for a seventeen-year-old to stay home on a Friday night. Maybe you’ll find inspiration for your last painting.”
I take the parcel. “How is a nightclub going to inspire me to paint the Queen of Faerie?”
Dominic shrugs. “You tell me. You’re the artist.” He points to my shirt. “Change first, please. You know how we folk are about appearances.”
“Paint-spatter and turpentine aren’t all the rage in the Faerie Realm?”
“Not at the moment, no,” Dominic replies crisply.
I quickly change into clean jeans and a black T-shirt, barely noticing the large scar on my chest shaped like deadly nightshade; its badass aura wore off a while ago. It’s the only real noticeable mark left on my body. The scars from last summer’s car accident, the beginning of all this faerie craziness, have mostly faded.
After my mother and I swerved to miss a small figure in the road early last spring, everyone told me it was a fawn, or maybe a lost bear cub. Neither of those walk upright on twig-like legs with a hunched back, so I went looking for answers shortly after being released from the hospital. Imagine my surprise when I stumbled onto a whole hidden world of strange creatures, including the Queen of Faerie herself. And, lucky me, she was in a bargain-making mood. Unlucky me, she likes to physically mark those she makes a deal with. Apparently a simple signature isn’t binding enough.
A metal cross hangs around my neck. My sister, Annalise, gave it to me before I moved to Grand Harbor, supposedly to enroll in an intensive art program for high school seniors. In reality I’m here under the queen’s orders since it’s the closest human town to the Faerie Court. I’m only an hour away from them, but they feel a world away sometimes. It’s better than Her Majesty’s original idea of making me live with her at court, I guess. Dominic stepped up and offered to look after me, thank God. I don’t like to think about the kind of life I’d be living now if he hadn’t. All I know is that it would be the farthest thing from a fairy tale.
I look in the bathroom mirror long enough to rake a comb through my hair. Light blue eyes that match my dad’s stare back. I’ve got his thin Anglo features too, but with a softer jaw, longer lashes, and a slender figure. Mom always said he was good looking and I guess I am too, except in a girlish sort of way. Emphasis on the “ish.” My shaggy pixie cut, lack of makeup and simple wardrobe prevent me from being labeled anything close to “girly.” That’s okay, though. I’ve also got my dad’s killer sense of humor to help me get the ladies.
I mean, it hasn’t helped me lately, but it will one day. Mark my words.
Downstairs, Dominic skims his vast collection of herbs and spices. There are so many jars, bags, and boxes that I hardly remember what the counter looks like. “Care for some tea?” he asks.
“No, thanks,” I reply, hunting for my tiny leather satchel and keys. They’re on the table. The only photos in the house catch my eye as I slip them into my pocket.
Nine-year-old me took the first, so it’s crooked. I took it in our backyard. Annalise stands behind my mother in a bright yellow dress and weaves flowers into Mom’s hair. A temporary unicorn tattoo glitters on her chubby cheek. My mom kneels in a matching dress with her crow’s feet revealing how often she used to laugh. I hope she still laughs like that once she wakes up .
The other photo is of my dad. He sits at a picnic table wearing flannel and denim, warming his hands by a campfire as he grins at the camera. Our hair even seems to fall in our faces the same way.
He died of leukemia shortly after I turned thirteen. Annalise was ten.
He would never let us know how much the disease ate at him. Even toward the end, when he couldn’t even sit up, he’d crack jokes and tell stories. He only got serious when we were leaving the hospital. He would always say, “You’re in charge till I get back, Jocelyn. Take good care of your mom and sister for me.”
Safe to say I wasn’t the best woman for the job.
Dominic breaks through my thoughts. “Are you sure? I need a taste tester.”
“Save me some. I’ll drink it when I get back.”
Dominic frowns but doesn’t argue. “If you insist.”
I grab my jacket and head out the door.
The crisp evening air blows through the woods surrounding the old farmhouse where we live, carrying the smell of fall leaves. Even on gloomy days, the surrounding trees glow with bright reds, shining yellows, and warm oranges. I imagine it’s because we’re so close to the Faerie Court.
That’s probably why the shadows look so sinister after dark too.
My old green Volkswagen coughs to life and sputters down the dusty driveway. One thing I didn’t inherit from my father was his knack for cars. At this point, I’m pretty sure it runs more on prayers than gas.
The worn brown “Welcome to Grand Harbor” sign flies by as the town springs up from the northern Michigan forest. Tall old houses with wraparound porches line the street. Smaller brick homes and tiny shops sit in the mix. All of them hold their own against the newer seasonal cabins and retreats.
Two of the main reasons people come to Grand Harbor pan out on either side of Main Street: Lake Michigan on my left and James-Child College on my right. It’s a small private college with a tiny student population and little athletic merit but nationally renowned academics. At least, that’s what I’ve heard. I never had the grades to even sneeze near the place.
The town passes by in a flash, and I cross the railroad tracks into the old run-down industrial area. Most of the buildings are tombs of abandoned outdated manufacturing practices and home to a plethora of supposed hauntings and campfire stories. It’s probably the work of faerie troublemakers–imps and pixies and such–but I’m not stupid enough to go investigating.
Besides, I already know exactly where to find said troublemakers.
The Time Between is a refurbished factory-turned-nightclub packed with local fae who live in or near the Human Realm. Many come wanting to escape the watchful eye of the Faerie Court. Others find humans fascinating. Some see us as easy pickings.
They all stop by the club to purchase spells and charms to ward off the effects of iron, which saturates the human world. For faeries, iron is like an allergy with a license to kill.
The burn on my chest grants me protection and entrance. No faerie in their right mind would touch someone wearing the queen’s mark, human or not. The bouncer gives me a nod, and I sink into the sea of music, magic, deception, and alcohol.
Iver, the elven bartender, spots me, pours me a cola, and waits.
I yell over the pounding music, “Hey, where’s the rum?”
Iver lets out a booming laugh far bigger and deeper than one would expect from his slender frame. “I think not, young one,” he chortles in his Scandinavian accent. “Human Realm, human rules.”
“Since when do faeries care about human rules?” I ask, taking a sip. Drinks with blood, poisonous plants, and insects are on the menu, but serving a minor alcohol is not allowed? How is that fair?
“Since you’re an important human,” he answers, tightening his long pale-blond ponytail. “How are the paintings coming along?”
I sit up a little straighter with pride. “I finished number six. Just gotta paint one more, and I’m done. In the meantime—” I pull the package from my pocket. “—Dominic has me running errands.”
Iver’s expression hardens as he takes the delivery. He looks it over and puts it into his apron. “Thank you, Jocelyn. The drink’s on the house.”
He goes back to serving patrons with a new smile on his face, leaving me to survey the crowd for a bit.
The flashing lights from the dance floor and the shadows around the bar make it hard to tell who’s what in here. A lot of them are probably wearing glamours, a disguise woven of magic. Most of the faeries appear humanoid with a hodgepodge of deviations: translucent wings, the occasional pair of goat legs, deer noses, stonelike skin, long floppy ears, and eyes that resemble the cosmos. I wish they’d stay still enough for me to sketch them.
Someone bumps into me and plops down on the next stool. He takes off his bright crimson beanie and runs a hand over his spiky black hair. The smell of blood on him is impossible to ignore.
The smell and the beanie tell me that he’s a redcap. Dominic once told me they have to dye their hats with blood on a regular basis to stay alive. The universe must have been in a pretty bad mood when it made these guys.
“Give me the strongest thing you’ve got,” he barks at Iver. “No ice.”
“Bad day?” I ask.
“Terrible,” the redcap grumbles. “Source fell through. Had to get my own damned fix. One of the queen’s knights spotted me and asked all sorts of unpleasant questions. Had to think fast.”
Iver sets a glass of clear liquor in front of him and the redcap takes a sip.
“And I thought life was rough under Queen Titania—she was an angel next to her sister. At least she left us solitary folk in peace.”
From my understanding, solitary fae are the vagabonds of their realm. They normally live outside the queen’s lands and do as they please but behave themselves in her territory for their own sake. That’s how it’s supposed to work, anyway.
Grand Harbor is close enough to the queen’s borders that one would think she’d do more to stop her subjects preying on humans, but no. Such stories are commonplace. How they stay clear of human suspicion is even more baffling. Magic and all that jazz, I suppose.
The redcap twirls his beanie in one hand, looking at it with disdain. “I was nearly out of juice, too.” With a sigh, he puts it down and nurses his liquor. “And I had to settle for A-positive again. I’m damn near sick of A-positive.”
Well, there goes my quitter’s streak.
Shortly after moving to Grand Harbor, I started smoking. It’s not exactly legal, given my age, but after the first month of this madness, Dominic’s teas stopped being sufficient stress relief. Lucky for me, Dominic is the worst babysitter ever. I collect plants from the woods around the farmhouse for him and he buys me cigarettes. I’m trying to quit, but this conversation is kicking my craving into overdrive. The idea that someone is out there, possibly bleeding to death, while this asshat is complaining about what kind of blood he had is stressing me out. I can’t do anything for him, and that gets under my skin. That’s probably exactly what this jerk wants.
“You humans aren’t easy to nab these days,” the redcap continues. “You’re all so suspicious. Greedy, too. Want to keep all your blood to yourself.”
“Gee, can’t imagine why,” I mutter, fishing in my jacket for my pack and lighter. Guess I “forgot” to check it when Dominic and I purged the house.
The redcap gulps down the rest of his drink and motions to Iver for a refill. “It’s not like I killed the guy. A few transfusions and he’ll be fine.” A sharp-toothed smirk creeps onto his face. “If they find him in time.”
He should know better than to mess with my head. I’ve been around his kind too long to take such obvious bait. I light my cigarette and take a long drag instead to calm my nerves.
The redcap finishes his second drink and says, “You’re the painter girl, right? You go to the court a lot? Any juicy gossip you’d like to share?”
“I actually haven’t been there in a while.” I take another drag to replace the redcap’s toxicity with something less poisonous. “You?”
“Nah. They don’t like my kind poking around. I hear tell that the queen’s changeling daughter is getting popular, though. Her Majesty must be slacking if her thrown-away kid has more fans than her.” The redcap orders yet another drink, even though his speech has started to slur.
Fun fact: faeries are lightweights.
“No idea why she keeps her,” he continues. “Most monarchs would have slaughtered a changeling that came crawling back. The queen’s losing her marbles.”
I just want to finish my rum-less cola in peace. Is that too much to ask?
Since there are no more empty seats, I chug it and get ready to leave. My gaze falls on the exit as I search for Iver to say goodbye.
Five human girls walk in and catch my eye.
Five very lost, very oblivious, and very vulnerable human girls.