Queen and Parliament

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Jude stayed quiet throughout the council meeting except for a couple of sentences worth of suggestions, mainly out of not having a clue what was going on. She understood alliances and uneasy, unspoken truces, and she understood that some of what they talked about involved names of different groups and some were people's names, but she didn't know who any of them were.

Only one of the people in the circle looked human. A man who had to be in his sixties, with his steel-gray hair cut in a Beatles-style and his clothes almost as old looking. She couldn't help thinking that he must have gotten stuck here as a kid, too. Some bratty teenager, but there the image failed her because she couldn't think of a man old enough to be her grandfather as a bratty teenager.

The rest of them were like Raven. There were two goblins, Linden and Mort, something with webbed hands and feet and a sucker-like mouth that kept sucking on a clay canteen, a talking cat named Molly the size of a German Shepherd, and a brown woman whose skin looked more like the outside of a tree than human skin. She resisted touching it, but she wondered if it would flake off in her hands like wet bark. When she shook her head, strands of hair wisped off of her and floated around the room. The second time that happened Jude flinched from it; she was grateful it seemed to be a seldom thing.

She looked around the room at one point, not realizing they'd fallen silent. "Yes?" said the cat, with the kind of disdain she should have expected from a cat.

"I just thought there'd be fairies. Or dragons. Don't you guys have dragons?"

"Weren't you listening?" Molly sighed, as Raven chuckled and said "No, we have no dragon allies at the moment."

"Well, how was I supposed to know that," she muttered. The rest of them seemed to think that was a valid point, excluding the cat, of course.

The gist of it, if she understood it correctly and as she went over it with Raven after the meeting, was that someone had called Samael out to meet on what was supposed to be neutral ground, tricked him, and run off with his body. Or the man, assuming he was still a man, himself. The cat had reported in for the witnesses who had been there, the only time she saw the cat act with any kind of humility. Ears and tail down and back, belly to the ground, the cat seemed as much ashamed as angry.

Everyone had ideas about who the opposing number was, but since they didn't carry standards or signs, no one could know for sure.

"We should have known from that moment," Raven admitted to her, chasing the last of the stragglers out and giving quiet orders to the goblins to bring food and drink. "No one conceals their colors who has good intentions... what? Why are you looking at me like that?"

She kept up the staring at him like he was the dumbest kid in school. "You want me to eat fairy food? Really? After everything he put me through?" Okay, he hadn't trapped her in fairyland or wherever this was, for six months out of the year, but that was no reason to get careless. "I read that story when I was a kid, and I hate pomegranates."

"How could anyone hate pomegranates?" he shook his head sharply, side to side and completely on the vertical, like a bird's. Obviously like a bird, what a stupid thing to say even in her own head. She still felt stunned, disoriented down to grasping at strongly held ideas and literary cliches for survival. "No, I promise, this is just food. We expect you'll be here a while, so you might as well eat and get some rest."

He wasn't saying anything that gave her reason to stop staring at him. "Rest? Where? All I've seen is the throne room and..."


"No way." She backed up all the way to the door. The real door this time, not the servants' door, which she could barely see. "No, I'm not sleeping in his bed."

"Unfortunately, as you saw, we're a bit short on folk your size here, and his is the only bed large enough and unoccupied. Unless you'd rather..."

She had a sudden flash of sharing a bed with the old guy, and in so many ways that was flat out unacceptable. "No. Fine. But can you... he didn't sleep in that anytime recently, did he?" She made a face the birdman interpreted correctly, even if he found it funny.

"The sheets have been changed. We'll have to find you some clothes if you're to stay here, and the food should be up shortly."

He left while she was in the middle of formulating all kinds of objections to being left here for days. Among other things, her parents would completely and totally freak. Then again, if the Pevensies could grow up and become kings and queens in Narnia in two seconds flat, maybe she would come back in time to get driven home by the old stable caretaker. Didn't fairyland work that way in all the old stories?

She had to hope that was the case or she'd go stark raving bonkers. And she still didn't see why they needed her help, of all people. Or maybe it really was just that she'd gotten the better of him the last time. Was that such a rare thing that they remembered her, thought she had some kind of special intelligence or power or something to do that?

"Boy are you guys going to be disappointed," she muttered. And if she had a few minutes before anyone else came to interrupt her, she might as well go rummaging around his room. People who kidnapped kids for their amusement got no right to privacy, she decided, to soothe her conscience. The police did it all the time.

Either unfortunately or to her relief, she couldn't decide which, it turned out that Samael was the most boring fairy king in the world. In this world or her world. His trunk was full of clothes, his shelves were full of books about plants or history or whatever, his desk was full of dust and empty papers and the occasional ink vial. Which she put back when she realized how full it was, because the last thing she needed was to get ink all over her hands and thus get caught.

The goblins came up the stairs with the food just as she'd closed the desk drawer. She hoped she didn't look as guilty as she felt when she turned around to pretend she'd sat at the desk because it was the only eating table shaped thing in the room. "Hi." Barely polite. "Thanks." She couldn't decide whether or not to be more than civil. She hadn't exactly been kidnapped this time around. Of course, she hadn't been given too much of a choice, either.

And she still didn't know if that was Raven or someone else.

"How much trouble do you think he's in?" she blurted out as they were turning to leave. "I mean, I know you went over it all earlier, but I don't know any of these people. I don't know what any of this means."

The goblins looked at each other, and one of them went over to the bookshelf and pulled out a book the size of its chest, a size that would, when opened, fill the entire desk. Fortunately he (or she? Jude couldn't tell) didn't try, dumping it on the bed instead. "The history of the thirteen kingdoms," the goblin said. "Don't worry, it's got pictures."

"Thanks," Jude snapped, and would have slammed the door behind them if it was a door that slammed instead of ashamedly swooshing forward to close with a muted click after a long wait. She threw herself back into the desk chair and chewed the fruit and bread, pretending it was their fingers between her teeth.

She read. She slept. She ate their food because she didn't have much choice, and other than to make sure she had enough to eat and drink she was left alone for almost a day, to learn what she could about these people and their society.

She learned that there were seven houses, each with their own demesne, and a bunch of other smaller realms that didn't have much difference between her world and theirs. Time ran at mostly the same pace, the descriptions of their land and buildings sounded like something she could see out in the country, and there were things like governors and mayors and town halls. And while there were only seven major houses, or kingdoms or whatever, there were somewhere around a couple hundred of the minor ones and that was just as far as she'd counted. The seven houses were located in some kind of shadow underground, some dimensional pocket that could be gotten to through entrances, all of which seemed to be conveniently located around major cities. Old major cities.

The rest of the kingdoms were scattered all over the place, in underground warrens that weren't really underground but that seemed to cover space roughly the equivalent of the upper lands. She still wasn't prepared to accept the terminology of the historian, whoever Timothy Linnaeus was. A relative of the guy she learned about in science class or just conveniently named the same? The gist of it was, what seemed to be going on was that Samael had pissed off someone in a neighboring kingdom and when she defeated him in one of their stupid riddle contests, this neighboring lord saw that as weakness, and took advantage.

She refused to look at the part where it might be weakness, the weakness they called human feeling, and the subject of half a dozen movies she'd seen recently and thousands of romance novels. This was not a romance novel. She had no intention of doing whatever it was people did in those books. And she sure as hell wasn't pulling anyone off their horse, hadn't then, wasn't going to now. She still wasn't sure what had happened, how baby Johnny had gotten himself into the mess and how she'd gotten dragged along after. Just because the fairy world was interested in her didn't mean she had to be interested back.

But if she had gotten Samael into this kind of trouble, maybe she could help get him out, too. Time seemed to run pretty much uniform in the underground, and that was very different from how it ran up top. A lot faster. Or slower, making sense of the direction gave her a headache. Faster, if she could go through days and weeks down here before her mother noticed she was missing.

She needed a conversion table. How many weeks did she have before she was gone enough hours for the old man to go looking.

If she was lucky it could all be done in one night, like last time.

"What do I have to do?" she asked, coming down the stairs to the main hall, where everyone seemed to congregate when they didn't have anything else to do. The main stairs, this time, none of that creeping around back stairwells the width of someone's washing machine. Several of the goblins looked shocked, and some of the animals. If the animals could look shocked. She wasn't good at reading animal faces.

Raven, on the other hand, looked about ready to do a victory dance. "We'll have to go and present our case, and petition for his release. I understand you've done that before."

Oh. And now that she heard it summed up in a sentence or less she could see where he got that impression, but that hadn't been what it felt like. "Actually I slogged through several hours of his crap in order to stand in front of him and yell at him, but sure, if you want to put it like that, I guess I can go do that for someone else." She wasn't sure she wanted to do that on his behalf, in front of someone else. And she was pretty sure it wouldn't work the second time. But if they wanted to try.

"You'll need to be clothed properly," the badger-raccoon-thing sniffed. Or was this a different badger-raccoon-thing than the last one. Who was called Sester. She had to remember that they had names. "We'll have to find you something. Or alter to fit."

"Alter to fit is more likely," and that was a squirrel the size of a housecat. All right then. "Someone bring me a measuring rope."

Before she could ask what clothed properly meant or protest being manhandled - or animal-handled - she was grabbed and spun around in place by two squirrels and the raccoon-thing. They held up a faded measuring tape, an actual measuring tape and not one of those knotted rope things, and the squirrels crawled all round her like she was a tree. The raccoon-thing took notes, and then all three of them trundled off down another corridor muttering the whole way.

Everyone else seemed to have taken interest in other things, except Raven, who was sitting on the steps up to the master bedroom. "Something a little more formal than your riding clothes," he explained. "Though those will do to get there."

"What's happened to Pucker?" she asked, feeling stupid and useless for not asking sooner. "Is my horse all right?"

"She's fine, she's in the stables with the other animals. A bit unnerved, I think, but she seems well. We've been feeding her," he chuckled at her expression. "She's not the first horse we've had in our stables, nor I think will she be the last."

Jude decided she didn't want to know what they kept in stables instead of horses. Centaurs? That seemed too cruel, somehow, since centaurs were supposed to be people, too. Unicorns? Winged horses? Hippocampuses? Hippocampuses were water horses, weren't they? Never mind.

She came over and sat near him, on the steps to the throne itself. "What am I supposed to do? I mean, what makes you all think I can negotiate with this other prince or king person any better than I did with Samael? I pretty much just told him to screw off."

He outright laughed at that, a sound that wasn't at all human but wasn't as frightening as she'd expected. "Well, we would like you to be a little more polite about it this time, but I expect with fair warning you can manage that."

Jude thought about all the books she'd read and movies she'd seen where a person was able to deliver swift, accurate, and cutting remarks on cue and then walk out with perfect timing to leave the other person speechless and mortified. "I have no idea if I'll be able to manage that," she said honestly. "It's opening night and I barely know my lines. I can try."

He nodded, satisfied. "It's all we ask. We'll get you some proper clothes, Jasmine can teach you the formal modes, and the rest will be yours to prepare."

She heard something different under that, but she would have to work with it. She'd already said she'd try. "Is it really that simple? Just walk in and demand to have your king or prince or whatever back?"

"King. Of the Lost, Keeper of the Forgotten Wisdoms, a few more titles besides. And yes, sometimes it can be that simple, if the person asking is believed to be powerful enough to demand it. And remember, you faced him down and defeated him, and took what he had claimed for his own. This is no different. You might be thinking about it more, taking more time to prepare, but in the end it may well come down to an angry young woman and a ruler who doesn't know what she's dealing with."

"She," Jude yelped. Once again, she had the feeling what Raven said and what she heard were two significantly different things. "It wasn't just being angry." She'd been showing off for her baby brother who, at a whole ten years of age, hadn't realized his big sister wasn't the coolest thing ever. In current lights, that might have been a bad choice

"She," he nodded. "The lady Ember. She is the Mistress of the Southern Wanders, and her domain is a fenn not far from here called the Whisper Glen, or sometimes the Poisoned Glen. She has other titles as well."

That sounded dangerous. She called him a few names she'd heard from the theatre kids and ran upstairs again to look her up in the books.

"This is not going to go well," she muttered to Apple Pucker as she shook out the saddle blanket. Checked under the saddle for burrs, made sure her tack was intact, clean. It kept her from swinging it around and hitting someone in the face with a snaffle bit. "This is not going to go well. I'm going to walk in there, and I'm going to sound like the bitchy ex-girlfriend, and she's going to laugh in my face."

Pucker snorted and pushed her nose into Jude's shoulder, which she resisted out of habit. Of course the mare had left a giant slobbery spot on her shoulder, good thing she was wearing her own clothes to ride out in. They were being sensible about that. About a lot of things. She just didn't want to admit that, because that might mean that picking her for the job of freeing their king might also be sensible.

"Are you ready?" Raven hadn't saddled anything, but if he was going to do what he'd done when he led her here, she didn't think he needed a mount. Other than that there were unicorns, riding goats, and giant cows they called aurochs, and a couple other things she didn't recognize right off but that had four legs and could be saddled. No water horses. No winged horses either, they were going over ground, and she wasn't going to say how disappointed she was by that.

Jude shrugged. "As ready as I'm going to get, I guess." Looking around didn't give her any refuge. She made sure the girth was tight and everything was strapped and buckled down and swung into the saddle.

Several of the assorted townsfolk, goblins, whatever they were, stared at her as she rode at the head of the column. Was that what they were called when they weren't a military unit? She decided on company, looking around at them, no two alike. Well, there were three goblins and two of what she decided were fairies, but then there was the cat Molly, and one of the badger people, and something called a Boobrie that looked ridiculous and made her think of that albatross poem.

None of them could help her. She had to do this on her own.

"Why is that?" she asked out loud, then nudged her horse to the front when several of them looked at her funny. "Raven, why do I have to do this on my own?"

"Who said you were on your own?" He gave her a funny look, and since they were still at a walking speed he could keep pace alongside her. When he caught her out like that it made her feel small and stupid. She felt better that he had to look up at her while she was on the horse.

"I thought that was just how it was done." That was how it was done in all the stories. But they were stories for a reason, she reminded herself, hands tightening on the reins to keep herself from thunking her forehead or any more obvious gesture. Then Pucker slowed because her head was pulled down to her chest and she had to loosen her grip again. You couldn't get upset on a horse, not too upset, they'd sense it and do something unexpected. It was one of the big reasons she liked horseback riding, once she'd learned to appreciate the self-control.

"Well, that's one way to do it, but it's not a very easy way," he shrugged. "The final conversation, yes, will likely be just the two of you. But that doesn't mean we can't ride with you, take the lay of the land and the tone of her court with you, and explain things to you on the way."

"That's not what I meant." But that was kind of what she'd meant. Even the first time, she hadn't defeated him alone. She'd made friends along the way.

None of those friends had been at the palace, either. She didn't know if they had fled or not; she knew they didn't live at the palace. And she'd forgotten about them in the heat of the moment, when she could have visited them and talked it over with people she knew and trusted, rather than these strangers. Now it was too late to call them safely; they were beyond the borders of the kingdom and she wouldn't drag her friends into this mess.

Raven let her think, walking on ahead as she and her horse both slowed. She could ride for another couple hours in silence like this, except the silence bothered her. Scared her, not that she would admit it out loud. She was surrounded by strangers and not having anyone to talk to only emphasized that.

No matter what Raven said, she was still alone. In the middle of a traveling company, she didn't have anyone to talk to. Her horse had more company, nickering to the other riding beasts and getting answering sounds and the occasional touch of a muzzle."This sucks," she muttered. No one paid her any attention.

More riding followed by a brief stop to eat some sandwiches and fruits. The sandwiches were wrapped in enormous leaves that felt like palm leaves or elephant ears. "What are these?" she asked, before she remembered that she was supposed to be on her own with no help or conversation from the others.

"Shelter tree leaves," Whisper said, taking them back as Jude unwrapped them off her sandwich. "They grow on the other side of the castle, you wouldn't have seen them, but if there's time after this I expect someone can take you around the garden."

"There's a garden?" She felt stupid for asking. Of course there was a garden, they didn't have grocery stores around here that they could buy fruit from.

Whisper nodded, brightening. "There are orchards, and there is an ornamental garden and a food garden. They're really quite lovely, or they used to be. They're somewhat run down now, there hasn't been anyone out to care for the ornamental garden in a season or more."

Whisper could go on like that for hours, Jude decided, but they had to saddle up as soon as they'd eaten and had something to drink, and watered the horses.

Whether or not she had to do all of it alone or just the final confrontation, she did admit to enjoying that she found herself in good company on the way there. She was lucky, just as she was last time. Which only led her to the thought that her luck could only take her so far. She would have to be good from here on out.

The palace, and this one much better at being a palace, was the grandest thing she'd seen in person. There were no cobwebs, and the stones were a proper pale gray color, not stained from the dirt under their feet. It was big, and it was ornate, and it made her feel every inch of sweaty grubby skin under her worn and insufficiently formal jeans. Then again, she wasn't sure even model strength jeans would be formal enough for this. And she didn't know how to wear a dress if it didn't involve standing in a corner of a crowded room and nibbling on very tiny snacks.

They spoke to a gate guard and were walked a quarter of the way around the perimeter of the city. Instead of a wall of stone there was a wall of hedges, with thorns operating on the upper edge as razor wire. She wondered how many of them were tucked in the wall, in the entryways, and whether or not the openings would close on an unwelcome person and stab them to death with angry, large thorns.

Or she'd just seen too many movies. That would be more possible if she wasn't walking through an underground fairy realm with its own sun. She squinted up again. Suns? Or moons. Celestial bodies, circling.

"What do we do?" she asked. There was a door in the hedge, sort of a door, a place where all the vines and branches came together to form a wall so intricate and tightly packed that it might as well be a foot thick of solid wood. It was door-shaped.

Raven smiled at her like he knew what he was saying. "Knock, and..."

"And the door will open, I know, I know." Jude rolled her eyes and waited another few seconds for someone else to move. But this was her mission. So much for, you don't have to do this alone because that's the way things are done.

The pitted- and pie-faced guards stopped them a few feet from entrance and asked their business. Raven stepped forward, he seemed to know all the right things to say and how to say them. She knew they were there to get their King back, but she didn't know how to say it like he did. There was a code or a sign and countersign to it. She bit her lip to keep from cracking up and offering James Bond passwords.

"You'd better come in and ..." the Queen's gate guards or whoever they were, whatever function they served, they looked them over like they were ragged trash at the door.

Raven gave them the withering oh-please stare Jude wished she'd been capable of in school. "We have brought clothes with us that we had no intention of getting dirty on the road. If you can provide us with a place to refresh ourselves and change, we'll offend your sensibilities no longer than we have to."

They were surrounded and led to facilities while Jude thought that over. She'd gone to school with girls like that, girls who didn't think you were dressed until you had foundation, bronzer, toner or whatever that was, finishing powder, three shades of eyeshadow, lipstick, mascara, pencil, and ten other kinds of thing on your face, hair, and hands. Who looked down at anyone who didn't feel like putting in the time and effort to figure out what labels were "in" this year and, okay, some of the other girls in her class had fun with it, she could tell. She passed them in the halls, she was friends with one chick who could talk for twenty precious minutes on their lunch hour about the new purse she scored for a fifth of the price on sale. And while Jude appreciated her enthusiasm, the only leather tooling she was interested in was the work on her saddle.

This queen sounded like one of the former, though. One of those who didn't take you seriously unless you did everything the way she did, and didn't see you as an equal unless you could do it as good or better. And to her surprise, that made her feel better about the whole thing.

"Tell me about your, uh, Queen?" she asked the girl bringing their bath water, making sure they had enough linens. Trying, too, not to gawk at the idea of taking a bath in a tub filled from buckets. "What's she like?"

The girl didn't bother not gawking. It made her look closer to what Jude thought of as a girl, and less like an even tinier goblin with long pointed ears and whiskers for eyebrows. "What's she like?"

"To work for," she clarified. Tried to clarify. "Does she have a bad temper, is she picky about everything, is she nice?"

"Oh!" And just like that, everything made sense to the girl again, and she started chattering a world of information as she filled the tub. She didn't have a bad temper but she was very picky about everything. She could be forgiving of one, maybe two mistakes, the people who were most often forgiven were the people who could figure out what they'd done wrong and fix it in half the time it took her to give a lecture on the right way to do things. And as long as they didn't do it too often. In other words, Jude understood, she was all right with people being overtired and harassed but she didn't like it when people tried to do it a different way, whether on purpose or out of ignorance.

Servants taught each other the so-called right way to do things as they came through, and there hadn't been any big upheavals since the time when one group of servants in the kitchens had insisted, led by the cook, that they knew the right way to serve a banquet. The maid didn't know how long ago that had been, it had been before her time, but many people had been flung out of the city and it was rumored heads had literally rolled.

"Actually! Rolled. Right down the palace steps. Cor, if she didn't kick them down herself. Stains were a whole season getting out."

But if that had been before her time, how did she know? Had she lived near the palace? Jude didn't ask, she went to high school, she knew how stories got around, but she wondered.

"What was that all about?" Bowman asked her, curious but not deriding. She was starting to see these people differently, to understand that when they looked at her with wide eyes and wrinkled mouths it wasn't because they thought she was an idiot. Rather it was because she was so different from them they didn't know what she was doing or, often, why she was doing it.

Jude shook her head and went towards the window, towel pulled around her, and looked out towards the back of the castle. The grounds were meticulously kept and it looked like there were figures, gardeners of some kind, running around still keeping it. "I'm not sure. But I think I might know how to talk to this Queen person. I think," she added. "It's not all that different from being back in school."

"Never went to school," she replied. "But if you mean it's not that different from being in a litter of clutch-mates, I think you're right. Some people just never seem to grow up."

She bit her tongue to keep from saying anything, but the Boobrie popped her head out of the water and said it for her. "Like King Samael?"

All three of them laughed. When Jude pulled the towel around her like one of his ridiculous feather cloaks and started strutting around giving speeches, they laughed harder. They laughed so loud and long that Raven poked his head into the doorway to find out what was taking them so long, and then everyone had to scurry to cover themselves and get dressed in time for their audience. But given how much better Jude felt about her ability to deal with this Queen, she didn't mind so much.

"You'll do fine," Burberry said, brushing her hair out in lengths and pinning it back in strategic falls with combs and decorated, bejeweled pins. It would fall out in a few hours without enough hairspray to choke on, but it only had to last for two. "You'll get her measure, you'll both retire to consider things, and you'll have a deal struck by dinner."

"I hope so," Jude said, still turning over what strategy she had and if there was any leverage in being an unknown from the human world. "I really hope so."

They were announced. Not by trumpet, as Jude wildly imagined for the few seconds they waited outside the throne room doors, but by a herald whose voice was pitched to carry above the murmur of the room. It wasn't a very big room. Tall ceilings, good acoustics if you stood in the right spot, but not very big and he hadn't spoken very loud. She found herself less and less impressed by the minute.

Her coterie, as they had been announced, remained by the door. Raven, who turned out to be Lord Allan of the Ravenswood and the Kingdom of the Lost, Prince of the Air, walked with her. She was announced as Lady Judith of the Realms of Man, and everyone seemed to know what that meant.

Everyone also stared at her as she walked up to the throne. All the drama lessons that she'd dragged up in her mind she'd run over before she went through the door, and now they played through her mind like a last-minute test litany. Back straight, shoulders down, chin up, core pulled in. Walk steady. Stop at the foot of the throne, back straight, shoulders down, bend at the knees. Right leg behind left. Drop head, don't tuck your chin to your chest but bow it forward just a little, lift again, there you go. "Your Majesty." And she stopped herself before she could drop a sarcastic, what a nice surprise.

"Well, well." The Queen looked her over with a stare Jude had seen in the halls of high school, so she had that much right. It was the exact disdain of a girl who expects to be prom queen being approached by a schlubby little bookworm with tape on her glasses and her backpack. "What have we here?"

"Begging your majesty's pardon," she spoke up, even though it was meant to be a rhetorical question, and with a stare that said she was unimpressed. "But though I'm of a different people I believe I am a who, not a what."

The entire room went silent. She had corrected the queen, which should have resulted in a tantrum, but if she had corrected her on a matter of protocol did that mean the queen would consider herself to be in the wrong? Even if Jude didn't know the politest words to use. She gambled on it, and hoped her direct phrasing won her points either for being sure of herself or for letting the queen feel secure and superior. What part two of this plan was, she had no idea.

"You are correct," she inclined her head at a fraction of the angle as Jude had, but it was still a big gesture in terms of impact, if nothing else. The whispers jacked up a couple notches. "My apologies."

"Your Majesty is most gracious," Jude bowed again, because a little ass kissing couldn't hurt. "And I'm sure it can't be often that a Child of Man comes down to visit your fair city."

"No, indeed, Children of Men very rarely make it past the gate." She smiled. There was nothing in her statement to suggest violence, but everything in her smile told Jude that humans who came down to this part of the underworld found a quick, terrifying adventure and a short death by arrows or thorns at the end of it.

"The people of the Kingdom of the Lost asked for my assistance and my representation," she crammed that second part in there at the last minute even though she had no idea what it could help. "And I was happy to give it." And there she had to stop because she knew she wasn't supposed to ask directly. But she had no idea how to ask 'hey would you mind giving them their king back we know you have him in a dungeon somewhere' without just asking.

The Queen took her silence to mean she had done speaking, and smiled. "How lovely." A more condescending set of syllables had not yet been invented.

"It is only fair. I did get him into this by defeating him in a public and humiliating way."

Or that was what she'd been told, but she'd also been told that no one really talked about these kinds of things directly and openly. Which gave her something like an advantage, and right now gave her the shocked gasps and full attention of the court that she'd wanted. Not that she hadn't had their attention before. She had it extra now, they'd remember her.

Jude would worry about whether or not that was a good thing later. The Queen was still smiling, but now she was giving the young girl a more measured look, as though she'd remembered appearances could be deceiving, especially down here. Was she wondering whether or not Jude was really from up above like she'd claimed? God, she hoped so.

"And you came here to do the same to me?" she asked, more open and less conciliatory than she had been a couple questions ago. Still playing politics, though.

Jude spread her hands instead of shrugging. Chin up, shoulders down, back straight. "I hadn't decided yet. I hope you won't make that necessary. I am here to take back what has been stolen, and that is all." Amazing how easily her words fell right back into a theatre cadence. Any second now she'd be breaking out the received pronunciation. She didn't know what the court would make of her if she switched accents in mid-sentence.

The Queen didn't reveal what she made of that, except that she was taking Jude more seriously than she had to begin with. "I will consider it," she said, and raised her hands to clap to end the interview.

"So you admit to the theft," Jude interrupted as soon as she saw the Queen's shoulders move and, yep, there went the received pronunciation. Now she sounded like a posh British person. With any luck that would have the same effect here as it did up above in her world. The last time she'd pulled it out and waved it around out of annoyance the sales clerk had assumed she was actually from England and got very apologetic.

The Queen was not apologetic. She was now irritable, which was still a point in Jude's favor if not in her good fortune.

She dug in her heels and stood her ground and hoped the fear of imminent fairy death was not written all over her face. They stared at each other for several minutes, while Jude tried to plan for every next possible line and the Queen thought whatever she was thinking behind her ice mask.

"I said, I will consider it." This time she did clap her hands to end the audience, and Jude let her with a curtsey that did not drop her head for her due respect. "I trust we will see you at dinner?"

"Wouldn't miss it for the world," she grinned, dragging out her lack of fairy manners and beating her in the face with humanity. A sudden shift in tone and accent, which ought to be good for some confusion. And then she turned and stalked on out of there as though she was the Queen and the Queen was the guest she'd left gaping in the halls. The only one gaping was Raven, who had the courtesy to wait until they were in their supposed guest quarters to yell at her for all the stunts she'd pulled.

"What were you thinking?" The yelling happened after the door was closed, so no one would overhear them without having their ear actually pressed to the wood and thus being terribly obvious about it. One of the others leaned against the door to make sure no one stepped up to it from the hall. Nonchalant, but Jude still noticed.

Though Raven was doing his best to occupy her complete attention. She sighed at him. "I was thinking of getting her off balance so I could get something out of her. I was thinking maybe it wasn't a good idea to have her thinking she could do anything to us and get away with it. I was thinking she openly admitted to kidnapping him in front of the entire court."

"She did," Whisper said, bringing out a tray of snacks. From their bags, Jude noticed, not anything they'd gotten in the kitchens here. She couldn't tell if that was paranoia or not. "She also learned not to take you for granted, and we could have used her complacency."

Jude winced. That hurt more than any of Raven's startled yelling, she knew it was the startlement that made him yell. She'd gotten the same from her parents when she was out too late or did something stupid on one of the horses. "I was hoping the trade-off would be worth it."

"It might," Raven settled down and shook his head. His hair actually seemed to be standing less on end when he did that. "We'll have to see. Where did you learn to do that?"

He was curious. Everyone was curious. Jude was staring at them as though they'd all gone stupid. "It's just like high school. She thinks she's the queen bee, she thinks she's supposed to have everyone in their place, and no one's supposed to push back. Only I'm not worried about getting to my next class or making sure I've got my homework, so I don't have to ignore her so I can make sure I've got all my books and keep walking."

"... Huh."

"Clearly you've never been a teenager before." She walked the edges of the room, trying to think. What she wanted was to sit on her bed with a good old-fashioned spiral notebook and some different colored pens and make a diagram of who liked who and who was going where with who and on and on like that. But she didn't have pens, a notebook, or the information. Walking wasn't helping either. "What do we know about this court? I talked to the bath girl, did anyone else talk to anyone?"

They looked around at each other. Jude waited for someone to come up with something more than the Queen of the City was the Queen Bitch, and waited to be disappointed. "There's nothing out of the ordinary about the way she rules. Her word is law, and that's the end of it, and that kind of authority makes a lot of folk worse than they would be otherwise."

"Brings out the bad in people," Jude rephrased so she understood it more clearly, finding the edge of something to sit on and picking out one of the snacks to nibble. It tasted halfway like trail mix from home, but some of the nuts and at least one of the dried pieces of fruit were wrong. "So she isn't used to having her power questioned, which is why I annoyed her so much."

"And she doesn't know if she should excuse you because she'll look better if she does, because of course you don't know any better, or if she should call you out for the pretense." Burberry nibbled delicately on a stick of something that seemed to be oats held together with honey and spices. "I would, if I were you, continue to pretend not to know any better. If you can admit that you take your manners from stage dramas that might help."

"How will that help?" She looked down at her trail mix and wished it wasn't almost gone. Dinner would be soon, a dinner which she was afraid to eat lest something terrible happen, she'd heard the stories about what happened to people who ate fairy food and by the way everyone around here was acting they were half true. And she was making it up as she went along. She had no power here.

Would something that simple work on a Queen who didn't know her from the next tea girl?

"It will help because, whether or not you feel out of your depth, she won't know if you're pretending or not," Burberry picked up both of their wrappings and tucked them away in a bag. For later washing, it looked like. "Or whether to take you at your word, or when to try to push. There, you will have her off balance."

Raven considered this, now much less ruffled and if he still watched Jude with quite a bit of concern it was now protective rather than wondering if she would get the job done. "Do we know where she came from? Was she born here, or has she had dealings with humans before? It's not recorded in any of these." He waved a hand at the few books lining the walls.

Everyone shrugged or shook their heads, which surprised neither Jude nor Raven by the look of him, but it had been worth a guess. "You mean, does she have any idea of what I'm supposed to know or not know," Jude said, guarded but starting to feel better.

"If I had to say, I would say that she knows nothing about you except that you are the human girl who defeated Samael and stole his prize, and now you have forced her to admit something she did not mean to in the public hall, therefore forcing her to deal with it openly. She will assume you know far more than you claim, are cannier than you seem, but she will not know how or in what direction."

"How do I make that work for me, though?" Diggle, one of her tailors of earlier, was pulling dresses out of the wardrobe and eyeing her; Jude eyed Diggle right back. Dinner. Dinner meant she had to get dressed up, didn't it, to show proper respect to the Queen of this place. She didn't know what to do about that. Or what they had for makeup here. They didn't have much in the way of clean mirrors here either, which could only work in her favor.

Diggle kept eyeing her and holding up dresses and trying to make things work while she discussed it with Raven. "Give her nothing, as little as you can. Answer her questions with truths that are obvious, answer nothing in detail unless she presses to the point where it would be impolite to do otherwise."

"Dodge, you mean." She wasn't all that good at dodging. It felt too much like lying, which she didn't have a problem with by itself but when she'd seen enough of the mean girls lying straight up with their sweet plastered-on faces and their wide-eyed sincerity, she didn't like the idea of it. She didn't want to be one of those girls.

On the other hand, right now it was do or be done to, so she might as well get used to that. Raven nodded, dodge was what he had meant although he, too, was unsure of her capabilities and what she understood. He'd still never been to a high school.

Which reminded her of something. "I need something not too nice." This was going to suck.

"Yes, dear," Diggle said, in the tone of someone half paying attention because they already know everything that's to do with the situation.

"I need something not too nice, neckline a little too low, hems a little ragged, like they were done by someone who knew how they should be done but not, professional, you know?" Jude thought back to all the time she'd done her own manicures and makeovers. "Sleeves a little too big or something. Like someone had copied a picture out of a book without thinking too much about how it would look in 3D. And a corset. Make me go squish." Her hands closed around her waist.

"Three Dee?" Diggle squinted. Whisper was hiding her face in a pile of tack to be mended, and Jude was sure it was so she wouldn't laugh.

"In real life. Never mind, can you do not too nice like that? It'll help with selling that I'm new to court and courtly ways and all that." Her own manners would do the rest. No one had ever taught her to curtsy, let alone any of the other stuff.

Raven's thin lips stretched out into a grimace, but a grimace of approval. "I think we can manage to make you uncouth enough to sell the idea, not too much that she'll want to banish you from the room, but can you convey the authority to argue your case with her? And succeed?"

She pulled herself upright and gave him the most withering, despising, who the hell do you think you are stare she could manage. He shook his head and sighed.

"We'll worry about that tomorrow."

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