Fellyans (part one)
A hand removed a shoe from a foot.
The owner (of all three) undertook to perform a spell, one that asked a smooth, round stone…
Which, if held to the light (a clouded moon, fighting a crane’s nest and two ceiling beams), reflected anything, the Articles, arrayed, and their incantation, might betorch it.
If it were the wrong stone, the floor held many others.
“Do you see a glow at all?”
“Oh, me… I could hardly judge.”
“What,” said a third, “has judgment got to do with it? What can’t objectively be said to glow, don’t glow. Prove me wrong.”
“What if you were an elf?”
“Pshaw on elves, altogether!”
“They see with eldritch eyes, they say.”
“Who says? Them themselves? A canker on any elf you like! May its ankles turn!”
“Quiet the both of you. The stone glows. I say so.”
“Botheration,” said the irritable one.
The spellcaster unbagged the Articles…crystals of quartz, etched dull by their travels; a sad and smelly chicken’s foot; filings of metal, magnetized; and chalk, of a blue hue. Squinting, he drew in the dust three nested stars, outcropping these into a few ill-situated junior stars.
“Help me count. I want eleven.”
“That’s an odd number.”
Be this joke…a faint one…or nitpick, the spellcaster answered with some hauteur:
“Eleven is the divine digit of digits. Eleven is the same rightsideup as upsidedown.”
“Eleven adds up to two, did you teach me, ay? Does that mean His Majesty should leave, so us who can sober ourselves might do a thing we set out?”
“I think it does,” said the spellcaster.
“Fie! Warts between your fingers!”
But the monarch scuttled, and the spellcaster resumed.
“Candle, candle, candle, candle, candle, candle, candle, candle.”
“I don’t work with an assistant. Candle, candle, candle, candle…”
As the neutral party, stuck speaking words of reason, the woman—having no magic and no royal blood—ventured no further remark. Her mind drifted, first to observe that day would come before the rock showed itself luminous; second, to whether the country folk, whose warm fires smoked the air, would have food to spare, and heart to spare it.
Something was amiss, where once the Fellyans had collected alms, left for them under the hollies. They had passed the length of two truncas inside the Queendom’s border, watched and well-grudged by various self-appointed proctors—but the food, the warm clothing, the odds and ends of cracked cooking pots, individual shoes, bladeless hafts…and broken-globed lanterns with smidges of oil left to burn, had been allowed them.
All charity had dried up.
Like other Fellyans, she had entered a loose arrangement. Her companion, the Sprite Marshhawk (“two aitches”), was under a curse—a great source of pride, as the Queen had laid it on him personally (“…with her very lips”). He was stripped of wishing powers, and had been tossed, after his march to the border, a contemptuous book of spells.
Every idle hour, he plied himself at the learning of them.
Alma admired learning, and the gift of wellspokenness. To read books, after all! To have soft hands, fair clothing…
She had been forced out, for failing the Oath of Realmship. One day, she had toted her basket on her back, watching her feet, as the cobblestones were not cleaned until the rousters had wakened the muckers in their alleys. Cock’s crow was the hour for this, when only the rooster knew the sun was near. Then city traffic began with the dawn, and those whose business kept them on the streets, wended their cautious zigzags.
Which to Alma made a small prayer, to a Kindness she believed in, though girls who grew up to be washerwomen were not taught of deities. A washerwoman suffered; but a streetcleaner, no doubt, suffered more. Alone, she had been stopped and asked to give the Oath. The Queen’s soldiers could ask this at random, of anyone.
Ah. There was a vow of propriety, as talk had it—
Alma stumbled through her store of gleanings. The soldiers started a conversation, in the middle. But…a vow of abstinence from all truck with foreign stimulations; a vow to report any suspicion of heroic endeavors, and to detain, using reasonable force, any stranger making claim to engage in one; a vow that any Act of Magic performed would be registered within 30 days; a vow to impound no swan known to bear the Royal tattoo…
And sundry others, petering down to a vow of Life’s Blood to the Fairy Realm, and all entities and properties appertaining thereto, etc.
“Right. That’s rubbish. You come along.”
The Queen’s counsellors (the new ones) had persuaded her to pass a language law, requiring all government business be conducted solely in Elfenrang. The people, the poor of the city, knew none of it.
(2021, Stephanie Foster)