• 13 Mar - 19 Mar, 2021
  • Mag The Weekly
  • Fiction

He is so lovely, and the Queen wants, and she has no reason to deny herself anything she wants, not ever, she is so lucky.

She takes. She consolidates. Her sorcerers pull her bubble out of the bottom of her lake for her, and she pulls her favourite wordsmiths into it with her and goes into the ocean and takes the rainbow fins. She is almost ready to go across it. There are continents and continents and she wants them all and why shouldn't she have them?

Satin is allowed to say whatever he likes. Under the stars on her balcony he strokes her arm, the edge of her wing – suggests that he could fly across first, make a present to her of all he can learn about the way the far continent is laid out.

The Queen was mesmerised by him and says that he may.

She was not careful to make him honest or make him tethered.

She cannot find him anywhere.

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.

Satin warned the fairies on the far continent before he disappeared, that a Queen was coming, that she knew all their names. This makes it slightly more difficult to colonise. Her advantage is still overwhelming and she takes and takes and takes. She will have everything and tear it apart until she finds the traitor. It is only expected that servants will object to being commanded. They must be punished, but it is all business. Satin is in another category entirely.

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.

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.

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.

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.

The Queen delegates. She organises. She commands. She recites names until she's breathless. She sleeps under guard. She is crueler to those she has cause to harm.

He is not on this continent. He is not on the next. Satin has been fleeing for his freedom for five hundred years before a Queens court band of sorcerers catches up with him and brings him to her.

The Queen offers to let Constellation, one of her current favourites – there are two, neither so trusted as Satin once was, not ever again – punish Satin under her supervision.

Constellation hesitates. Too long.

The Queen bids Constellation hold and asks Lucid if she'd like to try. On Satin, on Constellation too, on anyone who comes close and will not belong to their Queen.

Lucid doesn't so much as blink before she obeys.

Lucid's kind doesn't have to sleep. The screaming lasts for decades, pausing only when the Queen wants Lucid's attention on herself, instead. Lucid switches tasks when the Queen asks, instantly.

The Queen doubts, eventually, whether this is Lucid's loyalty or her fear or her sheer fascination with sandpaper and acid.

She doesn't like not being able to tell. She does not know how to root out the uncertainty. She can command her fairies not to lie, she can even command them to spend hours introspecting. But she cannot guarantee that their answers will be right. She is terrifying. They will be terrified; or they will sublimate their terror until they can't tell her that it's there no matter how she demands their sincerity.

The true map of her subjects' emotions is not something she can take.

Lucid goes to a position of honour in a satellite court and Satin goes into the dungeon and Constellation is turned into a bird and flung out the window. The Queen takes no new lovers. She colonises. She prunes her court. She bids the promising learn magic and the useless get out of her sight.

She has palaces. She has armies. She has all of the names in the world. She must keep all of these things or the consequences will be intolerable. She issues orders and organises tasks.

She visits Satin in the dungeon, sometimes, and looks at him where he is kept continually drowning in a glass bowl, and she does not know the map of her own emotions, either.

The Queen goes about her business