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Except the Queen

Jane Yolen - Author

Midori Snyder - Author

Paperback | $15.00 | add to cart | view cart
ISBN 9780451463401 | 384 pages | 05 Apr 2011 | Roc | 8.26 x 5.23in | 18 - AND UP
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Sisters Serena and Meteora were once proud members of the high court of the Fairy Queen- until they angered her highness. Separated and banished to the mortal realm of Earth, they must find a way to survive in a strange world in which they have no power. But there is more to their new home than they first suspect-especially a danger that waits to be unleashed upon both the human and faerie worlds...

1

The Queen Remembers

You are in the forest that is not your own. You squint at its brightness; the sunlight bleaching the familiar green, the scent of the trees dusty as pressed flowers. You have come out of curiosity, and shivering beneath the glamour you are wearing, you roam through the quiet pines and birch. You have left behind your armor, your rank, your power, your great age. Here you are young, beautiful and fragile as the lily, your throat white and perfumed. Birds trill a warning and fall quiet. And then you hear it, a man singing softly under his breath, something tuneless, without true shape to change the world.

You stop and wait, frozen as the deer, for this is what you have come to see, to learn, to experience. For an eternity you have existed in another time, but now you are in this moment, and desire burns away the practiced control.

You see him weaving in and out of the sunlight, his chestnut hair stippled like a fawn's hide. Yet he moves purposefully, hunting for you. You can smell the oil of his rifle, cradled in the crook of his arm. Alarm prickles your skin, crying run. But you will not. You want to see what happens. You want to know what it feels like, that pain that is human love, that weakness that binds stronger than spells. You, who have never given so much as a mustard seed of power away for free, you have come to give yourself away.

The man moves into the clearing and hesitates as if he knows you are there. And why should he not feel you? Have you not come here the last three days to spy on him? He is well made, with a comely face that pleases you. He is dressed like an oriole, the dark wool of his coat partially covered by a shrill orange that makes it easy to spot him even in the brush.

You study his face, wondering if you can allow yourself this indulgence. All the others have had their dalliances, their madcap affairs—everyone except the Queen. But you are here now and strangely calm as he turns toward you. You raise your arm and the dun-colored sleeve covers your face as you bend from your supple waist. You hold your breath for you hear the soft snick of the gun, feel its eye upon you, and you brace yourself for the stinging touch of iron.

The shot cracks the air open like a nut and it is too late to change your mind. You cry out as the bullet passes beneath your ribs and out your back. How could you have known it would hurt so much? Blood spills, staining your white shift crimson and you fall into a nest of autumn-bitten bushes. You can hear him now, running toward you, the gun dropped behind him when you screamed. Already he bleeds too; despair, hope, and love spilling out for you as he runs to where you wait, wounded in the blood-stained green.

2

Meteora Spills a Secret

In the Greenwood, the fey do not write accounts of their own doing. Yes, we have bards whose entire lives are spent composing heroic verses to praise those we claim as heroes or those great and terrible loves that have nearly destroyed whole clans. Yes, we have history. But we do not care much for personal memory. When you live each day as we do, nearly immortal, there is no day that is unlike the other, there are no rites of passage but those of the seasons, there is no memory of consequence. Each day is the same tale, so there is no need to remember it at all.

But the Queen has requested that my sister Serana and I chronicle our time in the world and so it must be. And in this body unexpectedly aged by exile, it is indeed comforting to record these events for myself and my sister. We can no longer return to what had been for us a blithe and pretty life among the green. We have been transformed by exile that made us strangers dependent on the generosity of other strangers quite unlike ourselves. Our fey lives have been deepened with the tincture of mortality.

How it began was simple enough. Serana and I had escaped to the edge of the Greenwood, looking for sport. Lovesick boys wandered in these margins, saplings with sad eyes and dirty nails. There were rough-hewn men sometimes, but then, we were strong enough in magic to tame those flat-footed satyrs into playmates. We were beautiful then; our bodies fleshed full and ripe, skin scented with honeysuckle, and shoulders dusted with amber pollen. Bees kissed our mouths and our lips as ruby as pomegranate seeds.

On that day we heard the moans and the soft slap of skin against skin before we saw the couple. Serana, her berry-black eyes wide with delight placed a finger against her lips to remind me to be still. I suppressed the giggle, though it bubbled in my throat. We crept silently through the brush, following the sound, stopping only when we had reached the boundary between our world and theirs. The green shadows hid us in the leafy arms of a viburnum, its tiny fruit dangling like drops of blood.

On a field of cut grass, someone had spread out a blanket, and on the blanket was a golden-haired child in a pale blue dress sleeping soundly on her back. Pretty thing she was, with pouting lips, creamy round cheeks touched in the middle with a bright red blush. Serana and I exchanged looks and I knew what she was thinking—that we should steal her; bring her back to court as our precious pet, our wild strawberry.

We glanced around and realized that the couple had indeed slipped into the woods a little way so as not to disturb the napping child. Their moans were reaching a crescendo, something that of course amused us even more than the child. We crawled through the bushes and parting the branches, we saw them.

It was known that the Queen did not engage in carnal play as the rest of us did. She held herself aloft, as though her power and her crown made her untouchable to such passionate fires. Or so we had thought. Even as I write this now, I am struck remembering how vulnerable she looked in his arms—head thrown back, the pulse of her veins against the white skin, her shimmering hair falling on the ground like spilt honey from the comb.

And the man? Mortal, we knew by the gamey smell that prickled our noses. We were shocked into laughter. Imagine our haughty, Highborn Queen rolling in the dirt with a common man. I recall very little of his looks, only that we could not fathom how this man had found favor enough in the eyes of the Queen that she should shield the brilliance of her power beneath a glamour intended to make her seem ordinary as a haymaker. And I know that even as we choked on the surprised laughter, the sound escaped in peals that rang clear as a wind chime disturbed by a breeze.

The child began to cry. The couple sat up, dazed for a moment. Wariness hardened the man's features as his eyes searched for us. We were not afraid of him, for we knew he could never see us in the Greenwood. But the Queen could and before she could rise from the ground, Serana grabbed my hand and we ran, scampering through the dense brush like squirrels back to our own nests.

The Queen was cold and merciless and we knew that punishment would be swift and unpleasant if we were found. So all that day and night we hid in the hollowed trunk of a knotted pine, our arms wrapped around each other, fearing the sound of her hunting horns. Serana whispered hiding spells softly over and over, and I—for once—was very quiet.

But except for the patter of rain that fell on the second day, the Greenwood remained silent of rumor. On the third day we came to the conclusion that perhaps we had escaped unseen. And perhaps, if we kept the secret to ourselves and told no one, the Queen might never know that it was us who had spied upon her in the woods.

"You must never tell," Serana warned. "The Queen will not forget this."



We returned to court as innocent as lambs. Seasons came and went, and though there were many times I wanted to spill our secret while frolicking with a new playmate, I did as my sister instructed and remained quiet about it. But my cheek twitched during the solemn court rituals to see the Queen standing at regal attention, so unlike that time in the woods. And then I would feel Serana's hot gaze, the stern set of her lips beneath her flashing eyes, reminding me to forget that old secret once and for all.

But an arrow loosed in the world must eventually find its mark, and there are few secrets that do not eventually fly into the shell of an ear.

I was napping in a field, when through my dreaming I overheard a pack of boogans talking as they set traps on a farmer's field.

"Do ya think he's one? You know, the one that giped the old girl. Aww . . . can you imagine that, then? Her on her back, legs to the sky. What a sight, eh?"

"Nah," chaffed another voice. "She said it were a different man. Not a farmer."

"What then?"

"The mason, you know a man who lays the bricks."

The boogans were guffawing now. "He laid her, 'tis true. Trowel in hand, he stuffed her, he did, working that yellow hair of hers into the dirt, while the babe wailed in its cradle."

From the depths of sleep I blurted out, "Did Serana tell you about the Queen and her man?" I sat up and rubbed my eyes, confused. Then turned in horror to see the boogans, stunned into silence.

They stared at me slack-jawed, their bottom tusks more in evidence than usual. They were surprised as much by my question as by my sudden resurrection in the field. But their expressions quickly turned sly, then nasty, the leers splitting their faces till they looked like frogs.

"Oy, then, so the Queen herself is a-laying with the mason. Busy man he is. And she got with a wailing baby too. Now that is news!"

"No, you misunderstood me. Not the Queen." I tried to call the words back into my mouth.

"You said the Queen. Your sister was it told you?" The boogans snickered. "We all heard you and anyway who cares if it's true or not? It's a good lark. And we'll just blame the pair of you if we get caught." Their heads goggled excitedly. "Let's away then, boogans, there's more tricks afoot to be played with this thread of news than watching a farmer's old nag turn lame in one of our holes."

They dashed away into the green and I knew that within a heartbeat, the story would grow and I would be the root of it no matter how far the branches spread, or how bright the leaves of the tale unfurled. I spoke from a dream and there it was, the secret nocked to the quickest arrow in the quiver. There was nothing I could do to stop the rumor. I had to find my sister to warn her. We needed to hide, somewhere safe from the Queen's wrath. The Highborn clans were gathering at the Great Hall, Under the Hill, and I prayed that we might have the chance to scamper while they were so engaged.


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