• 06 Mar - 12 Mar, 2021
  • Mag The Weekly
  • Fiction

She opens her eyes in a bubble of air at the bottom of a lake, so deep and so dark that she does not know if it is night or day at the surface, cannot discern the silver colour of her own hands in front of her face.

She knows other things, though.

She knows how to breathe, speak, sit up, and stretch her wings.

She knows that if she swims up from her bubble, she will eventually find the Lake Surface, and air and light and plants and fairies.

She knows her name.

She knows everyone's name.

She starts calling herself Bubble, immediately. It is not a very good name, but Bubble wants rid of hers as soon as possible. If she doesn't know it, she can't let it slip. If she manages to be Bubble, so hard and so consistently, that she cannot remember what she woke up knowing under the lake, and then she will be safe. She thinks safety is very scarce outside of the lake.

She dreams enormous dreams, dreams the size of the entire world. She picks fruit from the trees on the shore, every day, and sinks under the water to curl up in her air pocket, every night. She is cautious – but she imagines palaces and armies and consorts and everyone knowing that she reigns supreme. She is lucky, but luck will not be enough if she is not also smart. Her luck will be someone else's tool if she makes a mistake. They can't hurt her – but there are ways and ways.

Bubble will not be favoured. Bubble will not be driven mad in a cage in the dark until she will name herself just to see flowers and starlight. Bubble will not be caught off guard.

Bubble will be queen.

She explores the space around the lake. There are dozens of fairies who visit it for water now and then; a handful lives at the shore. In a burrow in the sand, in a tree house, in a cairn made out of the river stones, out in the open getting rained on once a week when clouds overtake the sky in their scheduled time. No courts interact with the lake, and this decides Bubble's initial strategy.

Bubble might be able to subvert an entire court by finding its master and whispering thereto, but she would be dealing with a fairy with practice, a fairy that had held vassals for years, centuries, millennia, who knew how to word things and how to see where there were gaps.

Bubble has no practice. Taking a whole court would be efficient if she succeeded, but she would be so likely to fail. And she is not in much of a hurry.

She takes the fairies who live near the lake. One by one. She tells them hold, makes them be still. Permits them to speak only to critique the wordings she's devised for contingencies and threats and guarantees and forbiddances and permissions.

They can think of very few mistakes. Bubble is very good at this.

Bubble works her servants over until every escape is patched, every hope of defiance or retaliation transparently worthless. She doesn't hurt them because they don't try to resist. If they can get good things by trying to please her, and it is really, completely impossible to get away from her, then they will try to please her in thought and word as well as by obedience.

Bubble connects names to faces for the fairies, who visit the lake for their water, and Bubble's servants snare them for her, and then there are dozens.

And these fairies have a lot of neighbours.

Some of those neighbours have courts.

It's so easy. She doesn't take it lightly, she treats every step with care and caution, but it's easy. The Queen laughs and her power spider webs out from her lake in all the directions.

Courts have structure.

It is tedious to give a hundred thousand fairies all personal instructions, even if you can assemble them in groups and shout. Worse when they hate you; simpler when they fear you or love you; but tedious any which way. Courts have layers and sections and branches and satellites, and the Queen's court has more than others, because her court is whoever she likes.

She winnows, after she's taken the whole great crescent island for herself. She means to go over the glittering ocean – and under it, too, there are rainbow fin courts there – but first she must get her things in order. Useless servants are dismissed – forbidden to speak or act against her or her own, but they may go about their business in bits of the land she doesn't care about, isn't using. Those with theoretical value but rebellious attitudes are punished. She isn't a sadist, or at least she doesn't think so, but she can't be facing hostility at every turn, which means it must become an instant personal disaster for any fairy to offer her any.

The Queen gains skill, between tutelage from her vassals with experience in mastery and sheer practice, in making those personal disasters terrifying by rumour and tailored to break whoever has earned one.

But not every fairy is opposed to the regime. Some of them were under harsher masters than her, eager to be eased out from under their old yokes and given lighter ones. Some of them enjoy being cogs of an unstoppable juggernaut of sovereign unanimity. Some of them admire their Queen personally, for her power, her beauty, and her wit.

Courts have structure, and it is nothing if not traditional for that structure to include room for a handful of favourites.

Some of the favourites are great sorcerers, excellent multipliers of power, who defend her and build her edifices and see to her comfort and channel her resources into the finest products ever seen in the world. Some of the favourites are cunning masters – breeder matriarchs and vassal–collectors who know how to be just so with words and minds and networks, and will tell her just how, rearranging the court until it all works just how she likes it without burdensome intervention from her.

A few of the favourites are pretty and smiling and affectionate, and there would be no point to being Queen if she could not have such things.

Her favourite of favourites is a dark–eyed lace–swift going by Satin, who comes up to her shoulder. He dances, when she asks him to, leaping with slim legs and gesturing with delicate hands. He has wings like fine nets of white which can keep him aloft for months if he doesn't care to land, if he drinks rain and eats floating seeds. He seeks her out. He was in one of the small courts she absorbed, kept for his beauty there, too, and he wants her to think that he's lovely, to want to look at him, to reach out for his moon–pale face. –Anonymous