I know you guys will love this set! My book, The Peculiarities of Princess Peabody is a Princess and the Pea retell. Check out this excerpt!
The Peculiar Sensitivities of Princess Peabody
USA Today Bestselling Author Erin Lee
Darian Peabody sleeps upon layers and layers of mattresses. Under them rests a single pea – a test demanded by Prince Zane to ensure Darian is royalty. A true princess, he says, would have sensitivities to such things. But for Darian, who is aware of the prince’s true mission—to damage her wings—there are far bigger things to be sensitive about.
They begin with the tiny, human man in the cage; trapped in the kingdom on a witch’s curse and the first person to believe she is, indeed, a royal princess.
When Darian’s father demands wedding plans move forward and the man be put to death, Princess Peabody must show an entire kingdom her worth, beginning with those who’ve questioned her. True blooded or not, you never mess with an exhausted, sleepless, over it, purple-winged princess…
Once upon a time…
Princess Darian Peabody
Status: Stuck in fairyland, damsel
Like my mother before she went missing, I almost always kept my wings tucked away. In fact, they were somewhat weak from lack of use and, lately, always sore from Zane’s stupid pea. In that one way, I was close to human. And there were benefits to this. Since I ran or walked almost everywhere, my tiny legs were strong and quick. I’d never raced, especially a creature of the human sort, but would bet good money I could outrun anyone in the Kingdom of Peabody. It was part of what made everyone doubt I was a true fairy princess at all. But that didn’t matter, not anymore. For the first time in as long as I could remember, I had purpose. He’s cute too – in an odd sort of way.
I ran back to the dance with a little thrill traveling through me for being able to do something for this mysterious, shrunken human stranger. Everyone at dances had always treated me as if I were invisible. I was the one no one quite believed was a real princess simply because I came off more human than fairy and, well, because of my mother. At least my peculiarity and even family history would come in useful now. I wouldn’t have to explain to anyone where I was taking all the food. They already looked at me and my behaviors as freakish. I was the anomaly no one wanted to really see, though I never knew quite why. Nothing I did that was out of the ordinary was ever brought into question by anyone but Simon, who watched nearly every move I made but was already passed out for the night on purple wine.
On my way back to the forest, I grabbed Sebastian another seed husk full of wine. I’d heard humans liked to drink nearly as much as we fairies. When I returned to him red-faced, out of breath and bearing a small feast, he smiled at me.
“Did you run?” he asked in disbelief.
“Well,” I gasped, “I hate when people stare at my wings, or laugh at them, or—”
“No, I just meant... You really hurried, for me? You didn’t have to do that, or any of this. Thank you.” He had a wide, easy grin. It was like nothing I’d ever seen from the fairies. Our realm simply wasn’t like that. I’d heard enough about the human realm and even taken trips to visit with my mother but had never thought of humans as particularly friendly. Sebastian had a lot to teach me. I knew very little about the world outside the Kingdom of Peabody, I thought, frowning.
“Well, here,” I said, passing a second meal through the bars. “I hope you enjoy it.”
“Thank you,” he said, his expression sobering as he peered at me. He sat with his food, not even eating it. Then, he sniffed.
“Are you...crying?” I asked. I could see moonlight reflecting off his wet eyes. He had to be. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” he half-laughed, half-cried. “Nothing’s wrong. I just haven’t seen a bit of kindness for a long time. Now on top of visiting me, you’ve brought me all this food and wine. Fast as you could too, as if I matter. I don’t even have any way to thank or repay you.”
“You’ve already thanked me twice,” I said. “And listened to my silly problems all night.” Then, the alcohol spoke again, “But if you really want to repay me, will you tell me more about the witch and why she shrank you?”
“Why? Well, I can’t really talk about that now. I mean, it’s embarrassing. It was ridiculous for me to even attempt to find anything in this realm. Obviously, I’m not a fairy. I should have stuck to the human world and stayed out of the woods. …For now, I’ll just say there was something I wouldn’t do for her.”
“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to pry.”
“Not at all. Your interest is quite flattering, to be perfectly honest.”
I was glad he was focused on his food, because I felt myself blush. “Have you any family anywhere?”
“No, I’m just a traveler.”
“How did you happen across the witch, Regina?”
The wine was working on him now too. He spread his hands comically and said, “Traveling,” with a bellowing laugh.
With his silly gesture, I hated more than ever to see him in that cell. He was no thief and certainly no danger to anyone. He was really a nice guy – even if he was a human man.
“She heard me speaking at an inn. That’s what I do. I travel and speak to people. Most don’t like what I have to say. She did. Or, looking back, maybe that was all an act. It should have upset her as much as anyone. Like I said, it’s confusing. I just need to sort it out. If only I hadn’t followed her into the woods.”
“Well, what do you have to say?”
“I don’t think it would apply to you folk, being immortal, anyway. In short, I talk about how I think we should live. Die. I don’t know anymore. I’m what they call a life coach. I travel around just sharing thoughts; a philosopher of sorts. Public speaking, all that.” He yawned. “I’m a little drunk. I’m enjoying your company very much, but I must ask your forgiveness if I happen to doze off.”
“Of course,” I said, feeling my cheeks flush again. I was shocked to realize how foreign it was to be welcome anywhere. No one had ever wanted me around, not since my adoptive mother died and my mother before her left the kingdom out of nowhere.
“Can I ask you something now?”
“Please,” I said.
He paused, and then, “I don’t want to offend you, so I don’t know how to ask.”
“It’s okay,” I urged.
“I don’t mean to be calling you a liar or anything, but I don’t know how else to put it. Did someone really call you ‘ugly’ as you put it? I don’t think you made it up, trust me on that. I just don’t understand. I’m finding that fairy and humans don’t see things the same at all.”
All that nervousness over me thinking he doubted my word? In our land, a girl’s opinion didn’t count for a thing. Why should he even care? Was it because I had brought him food? He was right. Humans spoke a completely different language but, somehow, it felt more like mine.
“You were worried I’d be offended just because you didn’t believe something I said?”
“No, I do believe it,” he pleaded desperately.
“I’m not offended,” I smiled, wondering if he would be what the humans called a feminist. “And I don’t understand some of the things you worry about. Yes, he insulted me in front of everyone. What’s so hard to imagine?”
“Just... Why, or how, or... What did he say, exactly? How did it come up?”
“Well, I do believe ‘why’ was already covered,” I said, pointing toward my back and praying my dormant, purple-edged wings wouldn’t stick out when I did. “I don’t know how much of a story there is, but here’s what happened: The realm of fairy is divided into kingdoms or tribes. Each kingdom has a palace containing a crystal that keeps us safe. The climate is controlled and we are generally invisible to you humans and some other beings unless Regina or her sisters step in. The two most powerful crystals are held by the Sol and Luna tribes. We are the Luna fairies,” I paused just to be sure I hadn’t lost him. He nodded his head.
“One day last year, my father—that’s King Peabody—invited the king of the Sol fairies—Orion—and his tribe over for a festival and feast. I knew what business was to be conducted because my father had told me ahead of time. King Orion knew as well. His son—Prince Zane—did not. I had mixed feelings. It was my mother’s one wish for me, that I find someone who made me happy. She used to tell me that one day I would find a man who thought I was as beautiful as she did. He wouldn’t care that my wings were mostly dormant the same way hers had been.” He wouldn’t want to hurt them with stupid tests of my bloodline either.
I stopped to wipe tears from my eyes. I felt foolish. I was spilling my guts about my petty problems to someone who was locked up and wondering if he was going to be maimed the next day. But there was no stopping. I looked at the traveler and was amazed to see him looking at me with rapt attention. He motioned with his shrunken human hand for me to continue.
“I asked myself all that morning, ‘Could this be it?’ I had never met Prince Zane. My imagination only allowed me to build him into a handsome, loving husband-to-be. But that was hard. I was disappointed the second I saw him. He strode into a banquet with his chin in the air, ordering his servants about with an arrogance that would have been comical if not so unfortunately real. He spoke to anyone but the two kings with an overwhelming condescension. I almost cried at the thought of having to get used to him. My husband, my new life, was to be this? Still, I managed to keep myself together until the announcement. Later, I crossed paths with him before dinner in the main lobby. We bumped into each other. He seemed annoyed until he saw my collapsed wings. Then, it was plain disgust that creased his brow. ‘Do excuse me, please,’ he sneered nastily. You know what? Even that didn’t prepare me for what he did later.” I wished I could slow my words, but they kept tumbling out. If the stranger thought this part was bad, wait until he heard about the mattresses Zane had ordered be placed in my room.
“But I don’t understand. Why would he hate your wings? Did he not know of the kingdom you come from?”
I pressed my finger to my lips. There was no way I’d ever be able to explain it all to him if he interrupted me. Our kingdoms had twisted, winding histories. My wings were a sign that we were destined to fail, and only a true princess would ever offer a future Sol king proper heirs. I figured it best to just get out as much of the story as I could and hope the stranger could follow. It wasn’t like humans were dumb. Odd. Intrusive. Weak. Rude, even. But never dumb.
“All through dinner I could barely manage to look at him. I spent the full meal in strange hopes that he would transform somehow. ‘That’s my future,’ I kept thinking. ‘The whole life I’ve lived up to now is now supposed to revolve entirely around this...Jerk!’ Then came the announcement: ‘Friends, nobles,’ my father said, standing. All fell silent and looked at him. ‘I am pleased to announce that by next spring, the two most powerful houses in all of fairy, Sol and Luna, will be bound by marriage. A union that no other ten kingdoms added together could hope to disrupt.’ I wanted to die right then on the spot.”
The traveler shook his head.
I kept right on going. “I saw the prince raise his head in interest. He knew he was about to receive a bride, but who? He looked hungrily at my half-sisters. ‘And so, I have offered to King Orion for his son Zane,’ who Father gestured to, ‘the hand of my daughter, Darian,’ and he gestured to me. The prince’s eyes followed my father’s hand and widened in disbelief when they landed on me. All I could do was smile nervously. Before I had a chance to wonder how he’d react, he screamed, ‘What?’ He slammed the table with his fist and stood. He looked in outrage at his own father. ‘Can this be true? Could my own father have agreed, on my behalf, without my knowledge, that I should take that...that purple-winged hag as a wife? My first wife, no less! The very thought of soiling my dick by siring an heir with a woman that not even a commoner would touch! Do we even know if she is of royal blood? How many mothers has this freak run off? Wasn’t her own mother a freak too? Isn’t she the one who tried to run off with the crystal?’”
Sebastian drew in his breath at my words as I blushed.
“And then everyone was quiet and staring at me. What was I supposed to do after that? I looked into the eyes of a few people. I could tell they were enjoying my anguish. My oldest sister was smiling and even nodding in agreement. I ran out, just before the shock wore off and I began to cry.”
“I feel bad for doubting you,” the stranger said in quiet amazement. “I’m so sorry this happened. And I thought humans were rude. He doesn’t deserve you.”
I wiped away a few errant tears and smiled. “His ‘apology’ wasn’t any better. He found me later on a balcony. He didn’t put a hand on my shoulder or ask me to look at him or anything. He just said, as if he were granting the largest favor in history, that I could be his wife. If...and then he listed a bunch of conditions: No talking, no touching him, things like that. Right down to how he ‘supposed’ he’d try to father an heir with me, so long as I kept covered up and quiet. He’d ‘just be doing his duty,’ he said.”
“And you’re going to marry him...in the spring? Still? But why? Have you lost your mind? That won’t be any sort of life!”
There was no point in explaining the dynamic with my half-sisters or the rules of my father’s kingdom. Humans didn’t work that way. My mother once told me they had a thing called choice. It was why I’d always been jealous of the humankind. “Oh, yes... Politics... It’s complicated and something you wouldn’t understand. Your realm doesn’t work like ours. It’s not that bad – really. I suppose I should be honored. My name will go down in history. The kings have wanted this union for ages.”
“Is there nowhere to run?”
“Any kingdom I fled to would just send me back here. Then I’d be punished and in the same situation, only disgraced on top of it. And to flee into the wild isn’t possible either. Trust me, I’ve thought about it. Our territories keep us invisible to mortals, as you know. The only way around that is a witch’s curse.”
“Hmm,” he said thinking.
“Well, at least you haven’t given up hope. That’s good. I don’t think you should.”
“What? How do you know? I don’t feel the least bit hopeful, I’ll have you know.”
“Alright, sorry,” he said, looking away. And then, “You say you’ve accepted your future, but I see too much life in your eyes for me to believe that. I’ve seen the eyes of hopeless folk, believe me. They’re dead inside. They stare off into space, taking nothing in, giving nothing out. I could be wrong. These are just some of those thoughts I share in my travels. Or maybe I’m just drunk.”
Deep down, part of me knew he was right. Still, I wasn’t sure I should be taking advice from a human, and the last thing I wanted was questions about my mother. I had no answers for him. On her, I had no answers for anyone. “It’s late,” I said. “Can I get you anything else?”
“No,” he said, but I could tell he was holding back by the way he pulled at his rounded ear.
“What is it?”
“Well... Just so I don’t have to wonder... Do you think you could come visit me again?” This time, he blushed.
A smile took an uncontrollable hold of my face. “Why, of course I will.”
He looked relieved as he returned my smile. “Thank you.”
“Sebastian...thank you. Thank you for talking to me.” Humans aren’t rude at all. The man’s thanked me ten times at least. Why did Father teach us that rude was a top characteristic of their breed?
He held up a hand. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say you needed someone to talk to even more than I did. And it was my pleasure, believe me.”
As I undressed for bed, I felt a giddiness that was completely separate from that caused by the lingering effects of the wine. Why should talking to a stranger for a few hours have such an effect? I realized it was because for the first time since my mother left and suffered the ultimate punishment for it, someone had really listened to me. Had things been different and I’d been lucky enough to be born human, I’d have become a therapist. I’d be a counselor who helped people feel less alone. It was kind of what Sebastian did. Yet, somehow he said his work was tied to death. That part didn’t make much sense. I’d have to ask him about it in the morning.
I had a feeling he would have questions for me too. He had when I’d left him. From his pauses and his questions, I could tell he was really thinking about everything I said. And he wanted so badly to help... Help me, a stranger myself, whose people had locked him up. I thought again about his eyes... They, and his voice, held such warmth. Never had I been so ashamed of my own kind. Whatever. You aren’t like them. You never were. Think about Sebastian. It’s only for a short time. You’ll be stuck forever with Zane. Maybe Sebastian can teach you enough to help them change. If they only felt that warmth... I laid down thinking about that warmness, imagining it flooding over me, wrapping me up like a cocoon. Shame he’ll be moving on soon. At least I’ll see him once more tomorrow. Yes, after breakfast.
But I couldn’t sleep. It was just not a thing. The stupid pea Zane had insisted on made a lump so big it was impossible to get comfortable. I hadn’t slept right in weeks and it was beginning to get to me; making it harder and harder to deal with Simon and even Father, who was constantly demanding things of me lately to ensure a smooth merger of the kingdoms. For that, I hated Zane. He was doing this only to mess with me, and yet, I was far too stubborn to tell anyone about the pea. It was my only chance. Between my questionable maternity and the fact that an ordinary fairy princess would be freaking out about her wings, it was the seed of doubt that might set me free. At least, that was what I told myself as I shifted under the silky sheets.
For as much as I detested him, it was clear Zane harbored even worse feelings for me. He wanted me in pain. It was like a battle of wits and determination and I was not ready to throw up my hands. He wasn’t either. I knew it wasn’t that he really questioned my status as royalty. Our kingdom kept the records on lineage. He knew I was the real thing. I knew exactly why he and his father insisted on testing me. They wanted to damage my wings. And that? Well, it wasn’t happening. Maybe tomorrow, I’d even use them. Tomorrow would be a better day. I could feel it. Finally, after four hours of tossing and turning, I fell asleep with a smile on my face and hopes for a brighter day.
It didn’t work out that way and breakfast was a nightmare. Bolton and Simon were also eating at the royal table to discuss the matter of the prisoner. I was sitting right next to my father but still had to struggle to hear what was said over the whispers and giggles of my half-sisters on my other side.
“Braxon said he was covered in hair,” Bella, the youngest said.
“Not just that bit on his face. But his arms, his chest,” said Piper, the oldest.
Then Lily, the middle half-sister and one of my worst enemies, spoke. “I don’t care about that.” The other two followed her constantly, sucking up to her. She was the prettiest. Perhaps the prettiest girl in the kingdom. Her hair was silky blonde and, of course, her wings were perfectly transparent. Transparent wings were considered more magical than tinted ones like mine. Secretly, I found hers boring but no one was asking me. I couldn’t look at her without becoming enraged with jealousy, especially when I saw how she treated men. They were nothing but toys to her and she made sure they knew and accepted that before they were allowed near her. She would use and humiliate them any way she could and still they flocked to her just because she was the prettiest...
“Did he really smell like an animal?” she asked.
“Oh, of course, Braxon didn’t get close to him. You know how Braxon is. But Simon said he did. He told me his skin was wet, and that it smelled.”
Simon was the one exception to Lily’s rule on men, probably just because they shared the same mean spirit. They often dallied together when they weren’t busy finding some way to torment someone. It never failed to surprise me why Lily would want to spend her time with a man like him. She could have any man in the kingdom and she had chosen my abuser. I shouldn’t have been shocked. My relationship with my sister was complicated.
“What else did Simon say?” whispered Bella.
I tried again to ignore them and listen to my father speak with Bolton, though it was Simon doing most of the talking. Simon wanted to find some way, any way, to make Sebastian suffer. The chamberlain, my father’s advisor, merely wanted justice for the sake of the court. My father just wanted done with the whole business.
“Sire, if we do cut his hand off, we will be maiming him and possibly killing him,” the chamberlain said. “That is not our punishment for stealing. I say again, it may be best to simply let him go. We don’t know exactly how the humankind work.”
I closed my eyes, wishing for my father to mumble some agreement so it could all be over. Instead, he said, “That may have been suitable if not for the fact that these two idiots dragged him across a parade line in front of everybody. I should charge him for interrupting the ceremony as well. Still, he was accused of stealing publicly and he must be suitably punished, publicly. Then, he may go.”
“How about we flog him?” Simon asked with a sadistic smile.
“No, Sire, that creates the same problem. If his wounds do not heal, we may kill him,” the chamberlain said.
“The stocks?” Bolton suggested.
Father laughed. “Unless human anatomy is far more different than ours than I am aware of, Bolton, may I remind you that he is not a woman?”
“Just cut his hand off and send him on his way,” Simon said. “What matter if he wanders off and dies somewhere in the wilderness?”
“Away from the public eye,” my father mused, and I could tell he was seriously considering it.
“No!” I cried and regretted it immediately. I had clearly annoyed my father, and a gleam in Simon’s eyes told me that he now knew I cared about the stranger. It also told me he was hopeful that he’d soon be able to have his way with me – again. It was how it always happened…
“You object, Princess?” Simon asked, mocking me. He knew that encouraging me would only wind up with us alone. He was a monster.
Go easy. Don’t let him win. There has to be a way to reason with him and protect Sebastian. “Father, as king, isn’t your first job to be fair to all in your realm? If you hurt him so that you know he’s going to die, isn’t that just a facade of justice? You’re better than that.”
“Someone may discover the corpse,” the chamberlain added, not to be on my side, but out of practicality.
“I’ll chase him away myself,” Simon said. “No one will find him.”
“No!” my father said, his annoyance growing. “No, it must be something else.”
The table chatter lapsed into silence, the men staring at their food and thinking. Except for Simon, who was smiling at me in a way that made my stomach lurch.
I averted my gaze. He knew I didn’t want to see the human hurt. “Sire? How about trial by combat? In the training arena.” He suggested it while still looking right at me.
I interrupted my father as he was about to speak, “He’ll be killed there, too!”
“Darian! Hush!” Father yelled. He raised his hand and I cringed, but he didn’t hit me. “You are not part of this conversation anyway,” he hissed. “Know your place, girl!”
Simon continued to sell his idea. “Sure, he’ll die, Sire. But you will be able to say you gave him a fair chance. Surely, if he is innocent then the gods will see him through it?”
“How is pitting a mortal our size against a bladed fairy, in any sense, justice?” I said, mostly to myself.
Father turned to face me slowly, threateningly. “Darian, I am trying to figure this out. If you interrupt me once more, you will end up in the stocks yourself.”
At this mention of the word ‘stocks,’ Simon and I looked at each other. He grinned as my hand tightened around my fork. He licked his lips. I looked down in silent fury, determined to hold my tongue. I would not give him or my stubborn father the satisfaction.
“Chamberlain? Your opinion?”
“It is a relatively obscure law, Sire. I would have to refresh myself on its finer points at any rate, but as with his hand, I’m also not sure how his mortality would figure into things. Such fragile creatures, humans... Picture the first match alone. Say they each score five or so cuts, and by some miracle the fairy yields. The next match starts, and there’s the human, already with five cuts, still bleeding. Unimaginable, but so.”
Trial by combat. I had seen one once, so long ago I could barely remember. I was still a child and my mother was still in Peabody. It took weeks to complete. I could not remember what the man’s crime was and I don’t think I knew then either. I just saw him fight for around an hour a day. He and a member of the army would face off in the arena cutting each other until one yelled “yield.” Each day he had to face as many soldiers as would fight him; the soldiers being rewarded with extra food, or a special consort for the night. The arena was always offering entertainment, but it was usually those soldiers who were picked as performing poorest during drills that fought for our amusement. It kept the troops training hard, for though we healed instantly, getting cut still hurt all the same. How many years must it have been since a criminal was in the arena?
Chamberlain was right. With even every small cut counting against the stranger, he was at an enormous disadvantage. How could he be expected to stand up to the whole army one after another? I wanted to cry out but Simon’s greedy eyes on my body told me not to.
“I’ll hack him to pieces myself just to have done with all this,” he said, egging me on.
“Enough, Simon,” my father said. “Trial by combat. We’d have to come up with some sort of explanation as to why he’s being treated differently. Can you do that, Chamberlain?”
“I believe so, Sire. I’ve a basic idea already, in fact.”
“One less human in the world,” Father said as he sipped some wine. “I like it. Even being nearly our size they’re filthy animals, they’re just... Filthy. That cut on his arm! Bleeding and bleeding.”
“He can’t bleed forever. He’ll run out of blood,” Simon said.
“Father,” I begged. “You gave up the idea of taking his hand, agreeing it would only be a facade of justice. Yet, you admit to knowing this idea is also killing him outright. All he did was take food when he was hungry. He doesn’t deserve—”
He backhanded me so fast I didn’t have time to blink, sending my half-sisters into another fit of giggling. “I said I wanted to hear nothing more from you! This is a court matter. It doesn’t concern a woman at all. I said to know your place. Clearly, you don’t. I will show it to you. Guards! Put her in the stocks for a full turn of the earth!”
I made sure not to look at Simon or Lily as I was taken away. Their eyes would be filled with a gleeful malice. I did not want it to be the last thing I saw before being locked up. I was sure I would see Simon later, anyway. Yet, even that was not what troubled me the most. I realized that being locked up for a day would prevent me from keeping my promise to visit the stranger that morning. He was the only reason I cried as they led me away.
The sun had been up for a while when, to my relief, they brought breakfast to my cell. I sat against the section of wall taking stock of my situation: I had escaped Regina, the witch who imprisoned me, costing me a gash on my arm. She had planned to starve me until she got what she wanted or until I died. I wandered lost for several days, growing hungry and weak. For now, I was thankful for the cell. It was dry and I had food. I had been apprehended by fairies just about the moment I found food. That was pretty terrible. I didn’t resist them in any way, yet they kept handling me as roughly as possible. One of them, Simon, kept hitting my wounded arm and making it bleed again. I was thrown on the ground in front of the king, stood back up, stripped, gawked at, insulted, and thrown in this cell. It was frustrating and humiliating, but I had been through worse.
The worst was probably wondering what was going to happen to me all that first night. For all I knew they were going to execute me or let me starve. At one point, Simon came to show someone else “that neat thing” that happened when he struck my arm. Then, she visited me. And somehow, it changed everything.
I looked up wearily, and to my surprise I saw a girl. She wore a light blue dress, her hair tied back with a matching ribbon. By her eyes, I recognized her as the one who was next to the king at that parade.
Everyone else had looked at me with a certain contempt or disgust. This girl just looked at me. In her eyes I saw empathy and curiosity. To the others, I was nothing more than an odious novelty, worth no further consideration. I remembered her promise to visit me. She said “in the morning.” Hopefully soon, I thought as I finished eating. Maybe she’ll know what’s going to happen to me too.
Finally, I heard someone coming. I must have been more excited to see her than I’d realized, for I found myself on my feet instantly. But it wasn’t her and she wasn’t alone. Three girls, none of them Darian, arrived at my cell and peered in at me. I was happy to see them until I saw the one in the middle who the others seemed to look to. There was a directness to her gaze that made me uneasy, especially given our positions. I felt like a piece of meat being sized up. They fell silent as they stood in front of my cell.
“Hi,” I said, unable to hide my nervousness.
They said nothing to me. “He talked to us!” one of them giggled to the one in the middle.
So that was it. They were just gawking. I went and sat back by the wall, to wait until they were gone.
“What should we do?” the tallest whispered.
“You, come here,” the one in the middle said.
“I am the king’s daughter.”
When she realized I didn’t plan to say any more than that, or to obey, she grew furious. It wasn’t the fury of a spoiled girl, though. There was no tantrum, not even a raised voice. “If you do not do as I say, I will have you tortured for dishonoring me.”
It was a simple statement of fact. She may have even wanted me to defy her so she could make good on her threat. I wasn’t willing to risk it and walked to the bars trying to hide my fear.
“Look at his arms,” one said. “All hairy, just like Braxon said, Lily. …I told you.”
So that was the middle one’s name. Lily. She looked at me and unfurled her wings a little, studying me for a reaction. They were clear, only visible because they refracted the light, much like soap bubbles would. I didn’t respond and she snorted and closed her wings again. “Do you really have that hair all over your body?” she asked quietly, as if she were trying to get me to admit to some dark, guilty secret.
“I don’t know. Kind of,” I said.
The other two girls looked at each other in surprise, giggling nervously with bulging eyes. If this was some plan of Lily’s, they clearly weren’t in on it.
Slowly, I removed my coat and shirt. Their laughter grew less stifled at the sight of my chest hair.
“Take that off,” one said, pointing at my bandage. It’s like a game to this one, she’s laughing.
“Well?” Lily said. I looked at her, not comprehending. “I said, strip!”
She wanted me to take off everything. Okay, you’ve been seen naked before. Sure, never in such circumstances though. Never as a...specimen. Still, my unexplained fear of her outweighed any sudden embarrassment I felt over my body. I took off my shoes, then my pants.
Now they laughed openly. “Oh my... Between his legs! Do you see?”
I moved to cover myself.
“No, put your hands down. By your sides,” Lily ordered.
I grew even more uncomfortable when she again showed me some of her wings, this time not subtle at all about looking for a reaction from me. I wondered what effect clear wings were supposed to have on fairy men. Would a fairy in my position now be sporting an erection, in spite of the situation?
“Does your skin really pour out foul water?” one of the other girls asked.
“What, sweat?” I asked.
“Sweat,” they repeated more to themselves than me.
“You smell terrible,” Lily said, looking me in the eyes.
“I haven’t been able to bathe in over a week,” I said.
“What nonsense is that?” she asked.
“Bathing, where I wash away that bad smell.”
“Oh, Piper, let’s get him a ‘bathe.’ I want to watch!”
“No,” Lily said. “Let him die in filth, like the animal he is.”
“What?” I asked. “Die?”
Lily smirked. “Yes. You’re going to die tomorrow. You’re going to fight Simon and you don’t stand a chance. He’s immortal. He won’t stop until he’s laid you open.”
“Fight? I don’t want to fight anyone. Why can’t I just go?”
“Because you’re a criminal.”
“I was just hungry.”
“We get hungry. We don’t go taking what isn’t ours.”
I felt weak. My legs began to tremble, and flashes of light came in globs between black spots in my line of vision. I moved to sit. “No, stand here,” Lily said. “I’m still taking in how hideous you are.”
“Bella,” she finally said to the other girl. “Touch it.” She pointed between my legs.
Bella shrieked in mock terror. “What?”
Lily turned that same glare on her. “I’m not kidding. Do it.”
“All that hair, it’s gross...”
I had unintentionally taken a couple steps back. Lily snapped back to face me and said, “If you do not get back over here and let her do it, I will have the guards lop it off. Come here.”
I moved forward and closed my eyes. I heard them argue more. “Please, Lily. Don’t make me touch an animal’s privates!”
“Make it hard,” Lily commanded her.
Then I felt the touch of a cool hand on my flesh. It began stroking me. “Eww...” I heard Bella say under her breath.
“Well?” Lily asked, and I knew she was talking to me.
“Sorry, I’m just not in the mood,” I pleaded, hoping she could at least understand that much.
I opened my eyes. Bella had her eyes closed and her head turned away. Piper, apparently the other of the three visitors, and Lily were watching without a hint of shame. Finally, Lily laughed out loud. “Well, I sure feel sorry for human females, if this is all they ever get to deal with. Limp, useless, smelly, vile. And a complete coward. I will enjoy watching a real man slice you up tomorrow. Bella? Stop doing that. Just squeeze tight.”
“What, like this?” Bella asked, holding me.
Lily kicked her arm, causing her to give me a very painful tug.
I cried out and fell backward.
“By the way,” Lily said over my gasps of pain, “I know a girl named Darian came to visit you last night. Don’t expect her to come back. She was as disgusted by you as I am when she finally sobered up. She’s been hiding in shame all day.” She laughed and walked away, the other two following behind her. Bella looked back, possibly feeling guilty. I laid on my side, trying to catch my breath. Eventually, I crawled over to my clothes and dressed myself.
I sat against the wall and drew my knees to my chest. Tears ran down my face. I wondered where Darian was, wishing she would visit. I wondered if she would come at all. I didn’t believe what Lily said about her being disgusted by me, but I could believe she’d lose interest in me. It wasn’t the first time that had happened.
I had been locked in the stocks for several hours. Usually, the stocks and flogging were the most severe punishments for women and men respectively. Each had their lighter points, I supposed. The men’s punishment was over faster, but it was done in public, where anyone who wished could see. The men would be tied to a rack and whipped however many times they were sentenced to. Then, any others who held a grudge against them for anything were allowed to take as many strikes as they felt were deserved. Then it was over, just like that.
Women were taken to a private room, where the pillory was located, and locked in. This could be for anywhere from a few hours to several days, but a day or less was standard. Once locked in, others could go in one at a time, officially for the purpose of speaking with the prisoner. However, it was widely known that anything went. This usually resulted in the girls being visited by several of their past consorts for what amounted to playful or even forced sex.
Of course, with me, things were different. There were no past consorts. I would marry that hateful prince who didn’t even view me as a real princess. At least, here, I could escape that awful mattress.
“You visited him last night, didn’t you?”
It was Lily! My stomach knotted. This could be ugly and quick.
“Who?” I asked, feigning ignorance.
“Dear sister...” She walked and stood in front of me, looking down. She reached out and cupped my cheek, then raked her nails across my face.
“If you’re going to play dumb with me, this is going to take longer than even I want it to.”
What does she care if I visited him? “Ow...” I cried, stalling. “What does it matter?”
“No, you don’t get to ask questions.” She grabbed my hair and pulled down, choking me on the stocks. “You did, didn’t you?” she repeated when she finally let go.
Gasping for breath, I could only nod.
“You did always get along with the animals so well... Why were you so concerned about him at breakfast today? Did you fuck him or something?”
She snorted. “Alright, alright. I’m glad to hear not even you would get that desperate. I can’t say I’d be that surprised, though. I’m thinking back, Darian... You haven’t ever had a consort, have you? I can’t imagine what that’s like.”
“Well, I didn’t...”
“You must be desperate for some attention, though. Father warned you and you got yourself thrown in here anyway. Don’t worry, Simon will be in to give it to you soon enough.”
My face reddened. “What do you know about that?”
Lily laughed. “I know that it was my idea, from the very first time.”
I didn’t get locked up often, but it happened on occasion. For ages, Simon had come in and tormented me whenever I did. Even knowing Lily as well as I did, to hear that she was behind it shocked me.
“So, let me ask you this,” she said, kneeling and getting close so I could feel her breath on my face. “Do you want to fuck him?”
“See, I just don’t believe that.” Before I could clench my fist, she grabbed my pinky finger in hers. She bent it back, making me grimace. “Why else would you go see him, alone, on the night of a big dance?”
“I always go off alone when there’s a dance!” I screamed in pain. She knew that... “I felt sorry for him, okay? That was it!”
“That was it? Really?” She bent my finger farther back.
“I was curious about him!” I cried. “That’s it, I swear!”
“Hmm,” she said, letting go. “Maybe you’re telling the truth. Well, I hope so. Or else this might make you jealous.”
She stayed knelt next to me and got closer. She purred into my ear, “Well, Bella and Piper and I went to see him. I showed him my wings and got him to take all of his clothes off for us. He even let Bella play with his dick...” She drew away. “What do you think of that?”
I knew she wasn’t lying, but there was always some trick to anything she said. I couldn’t picture it happening. Yet I did feel something like jealousy. Only it wasn’t, not exactly. Maybe it was closer to pity. I couldn’t be sure.
“I don’t care,” I said.
“You obviously do. Darian, you’re such a bad liar. It’s going to get you into trouble one day. Hmm. Maybe later today. Have a great time, sis. I think you’ll get out of here just in time to see your new friend skinned alive tomorrow. Simon’s been sharpening his sword. It will cut a piece of grass that falls on it, it’s so finely honed. By the way, I don’t know if you were planning to visit the prisoner today, but I made sure to tell him not to expect you. Don’t worry, now he knows how much he disgusted you.”
With that, she left.
My mind went from wondering what he was thinking about the fact that I had not kept my promise to visit him, back to pointlessly wondering what had actually happened with him and my half-sisters. Of course he’ll end up liking them better. You can’t keep a simple promise, and they’re pleasuring him. One of the worst things about the stocks was I could not escape my own mind. I couldn’t go running or lose myself in nature. I couldn’t even spread my sore wings and attempt to fly; always a last resort these days.
The door opened again, and the very worst part about being in the stocks entered the room. My knees went weak with fear when I heard Simon chuckle. “Hello, Princess,” he said, almost laughing at the title of ‘princess.’ He knew I was a real princess too but loved that no one else seemed to care. For the first time, I wished my betrothed prince would pull me out of here. There was nothing left for me now in Peabody. Maybe in Orion’s kingdom, the other fairies would at least leave me alone.
I couldn’t bring myself to say anything. It was hard enough not to cry in anticipation of what was coming. Simon’s was the only touch I had known from any man, and this was the only circumstance.
He walked around and bent so he was looking me in the face. “What’s the matter? Can’t say ‘hello?’”
I looked down.
He sighed and stood. “Well...quite a display there at breakfast. A bit worried about your new friend, are you?”
I still didn’t say anything. His boot crashed up under my chin, knocking my head back into the stocks. I cried out in pain, and he stepped back in close to me. “I am trying to have a conversation with you here,” he said, grabbing my hair.
“What?” I whimpered.
“I want to know why you care so much about this stranger. I mean, you got yourself thrown in here with me, on his account!” He released my hair with a laugh. “Just think, it didn’t do him a damn bit of good, anyway. I’m going to fight him tomorrow. He’s as good as dead.”
Simon ran his hand up and down my back. This part was the worst, in its own way. He would touch me gently, and my body would almost want to surrender and enjoy it. Almost. But it also knew who was touching it, as well as what was really coming. So, as he caressed me, I bristled. He enjoyed that as well. Simon was sick. There was no other way to put it and I hated myself for not having the courage to leave the kingdom like my mother had all those years ago; assumed now to be dead by idiots who forgot she was immortal.
“I’m going to have a real blast with you today. It’s been too long.” He ran his hand farther down and lifted my dress. “So, tell me. Why do you care so much about him?”
“He didn’t do anything, Simon. Why can’t we just let him go?”
“Ah, talking. Much better.” He ran his hand over my bottom, giving it a little squeeze. “But you didn’t answer my question.”
He moved in front of me and grabbed my pointed ears, digging his fingernails into them and squeezing. “Shut up,” he said to cut me off before I could scream. “I’m asking you for the third time now. Why do you care about him so much? Look what you’ve gotten yourself into, because of him.”
He released me and let me catch my breath. It was a moment of mercy, but it would never last. With Simon, it never did.
“He didn’t do anything! That’s why!”
“No. It’s not some abstract notion of justice. I’ve never known you to take any interest in any court case. You care about him personally.” He moved just behind the stocks and pulled the top of my dress down. Casually fondling my breast, he said, “Alright. Now tell me truly. What’s up with you and that filthy human?”
“What do you want me to say?”
“Well, one of Lily’s theories is that you finally found a consort for a festival night.” He pinched my nipple, rolling it painfully between his fingers. “Did that happen? You can tell me, it’s not like I care or anything. I might laugh, though.”
“No,” I grunted.
“Hmm. Too bad. Filthy beast like that, you might’ve found someone who actually liked you. Wouldn’t that have been nice, before we ship you off to old Zane? …Well, okay, if that’s not it, then why?”
“I don’t know.”
“Not good enough.” He dug his fingers into my breast as hard as he could, then twisted. I shrieked. He told me to be quiet, and I couldn’t. He punched me in the ribs until I couldn’t breathe. He never let go of my breast. “I said, shut up. Just quietly answer my question, and I’ll let go.”
“I... Don’t... Know...” I gasped. “He... Just... Seemed... Nice...”
“Gah,” he grunted in disgust, but thankfully let go of me. I was hyperventilating. That was a new torture he had come up with, and now I felt dizzy with pins tingling all over my body. “Know what I think? I think maybe you don’t like him at all. I think maybe, you just missed me visiting you here. Because nothing you’re saying makes any sense.”
He stood in front of me and took himself out of his pants. “Open your mouth.”
I just looked sideways. He grabbed my hair again. “Damn it, I’m not in the mood anymore. Open.” He pulled my hair tighter and tighter, but I kept my mouth shut. “Fine,” he said at last, throwing my head painfully to the side. He moved behind me, and I felt him push a finger into me. “If you really are here on behalf of that beast, I want you to think about how this is because of him, and how you failed to help even an animal. Just like you fail at everything.” He bent his finger and dug around with his jagged nail. “Come on, scream for me.”
Finally, I did scream. I couldn’t help it. I screamed and I sobbed. I begged and pleaded. He just wouldn’t stop. “Why do you always do this to me?” I cried. Then, I remembered what I’d learned earlier: Lily. Why did my sister hate me so much? It wasn’t my fault who my mother was. It wasn’t my fault she had left either or even that I was glad for her.
“I do it because you’re ugly and it’s what you deserve for spoiling the look of every court function. You should have taken off into the wilderness long ago, like your mom. See? Simple question, simple answer. Why couldn’t you do that earlier?”
It was actually a relief when he stopped torturing me with his finger and entered me. He started talking as he took me from behind. “I’m so excited for tomorrow. I still don’t get why you could possibly care about that thief so much, but knowing that you do... It’s going to make it so much more enjoyable to cut him up in front of you, bit by bit. I want to do it slow, you see. No matter how slow he bleeds, it has to run out at some point. Maybe I’ll even go down in history. How many fairies have slain a human, after all?”
I grimaced as my wings began to unfurl. It was a response of a girl’s body to making love. Or rather, to being taken, since Simon definitely was not making love. “Hey,” he said. “Fold them up, or I’ll pin them in place with my sword.”
They snapped shut. He had done that before. I could not describe the pain. It had hurt so badly I couldn’t even remember the extent of it. He drew his sword and made a cut down the length of my back. As he neared climax, he started making more and more cuts across my back, to hear me scream. I shuddered as he came in me, but he still wasn’t done. He spent some time punching, kicking, and insulting me. He spit on me. Then he softly kissed my cheek and said he’d be back, as if he were speaking to a lover.
But it didn’t matter. Only one thing did: Simon was going to kill Sebastian tomorrow.
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Erin Lee, who also writes as EL George, is a USA Today Bestselling multi genre author unafraid to chase the madness. Author of more than 100 titles and creator of Crazy Ink Publishing, LLC, she'll try anything once and never turns down a dare.