Redcap Bound 3
Over the next few days, Worm did get word back to Less regarding one Basilia Allison. Basilia is a fair one, one of the many beautiful fae of Summer. Her looks and body are idealized and elfin, complete with elongated ears and pale skin. She can fold her dragonfly wings and make them virtually disappear, but it's the one feature that truly marks her as fae, not one of the Sidhe.
Being so visually similar to one of the Sidhe is likely what brought out the rumor that she was a child of a Sidhe Lord or Lady. It's not uncommon, but suspicious fae sometimes believe such fae might often be pawns or agents of the greater Sidhe. The Sergeant-in-Mourning, Worm, describes Basilia as a person of fiery, passionate temperament, but with no known connections outside the Summer Court.
Less already knew some of that, but the reassurance was helpful. Worm threw in a few basic facts about who Basilia hung out with (almost no one -- she ended up alone at most events) and habits (she usually drank red wine, sometimes a lot of it). She had little patience for teasing or politics in court and her temper meant she took swift revenge on any pranks. She was not a prankster herself, so she didn't go out of her way to bother anyone else.
Less had not been happy with the slim report Worm had left for him. He kept checking the back of the single sheet profile of Basilia. No dirty laundry yet, but Less would not be complacent. Any romantic interest of one of his Wardens was raked over the coals, but such an unlikely pairing as Septimus Snow and Basilia Allison had set his paranoia-bells a-jangling.
Praxiles the Satyr
It had taken considerable time and effort to get the satyr through the little shadow gate Mira used at the bottom of her pond to get to her home in the Fae Realm. She spent all day at it, and then much of the night arranging a place for him in the thick, impenetrable hedge that surrounded the spring. When she was finished, she looked on her handiwork with a critical eye.
The satyr, still deep asleep, was nestled in a bed of branches softened by large, velvety leaves. Food was laid out on little reed mats woven by herself as well as the sprite, Arya, and consisted of berries, dried fish, water, and several cases of ale Mira had swiped from a convenience store. She'd even provided bedding in the form of warm blankets and a pillow.
Had she been asked, she could not have answered why she took him home with her. Not precisely. It simply felt right. It felt as natural as being here with her spring to Mira. She was a nymph; he was a satyr. Looking over his prone, sleeping form now, she had time to admire some of his features. His ears were elongated a bit like a horses, and she noticed his hoofed feet were actually more like a horse's, not a goat. He even had a horse tail, though he kept it neatly trimmed and bobbed. He was hairy, but mostly on his lower half and it smooth and fine rather than bushy or curly.
Now he was here and completely unclothed, she got a much better look at his still-erect member than she had in the dark of night. It was anatomically correct, she supposed, for someone who was part human and part horse. All she had to do now was decide whether or not to wake him.
Prep for the Ball
Rey was busy the few days before the ball. She bought several fire extinguishers and placed them around the house, and replaced the curtains that had been used to make uniforms. The night before the ball, she had a date with Chase. Before they went out, she modeled the new ball gown she'd fashioned. He liked it, but was far more interested on what she was - or wasn't - wearing underneath it. With the promise of being able to unwrap her later, Rey changed into something far more appropriate to the club they were going to.
She was disappointed that she could not take Chase as her escort to the ball. She was not ashamed of being seen with him. It was an issue of safety. Not going with her wasn't a problem for him. He had no desire to be a walking target, and he certainly did not want to get to get caught up in faerie politics.
The Harvest Ball
Rey will arrived shortly before it the Harvest Ball was to begin, escorted by Drake but having arrived in Rey's car.
Mira made Less and she late, so they pulled up on Less' moped he got from the Dragon hoard after things are were full swing. It was a suped up contraption, thanks to their friend Rover, so now it ran on four cat-like legs and trailed steam from twin exhausts. Mira was riding behind Less rather than in the wicker basket side car. (It struggled to keep up on duck feet before taking flight on white wings.) Less had decorated it with flower garlands for the event, but Mira felt safer up on the seat.
After parking the fantastical moped, they proceeded to where all the music and commotion was coming from. Cars of all makes and models huddled near the back of the vast lot, some still occupied. A gigantic screen reflected the colorized Wizard of Oz in all its original glory while a few couples slouched in their cars munching popcorn or mashing on their dates. The vast majority, however, ignored the big screen and instead were gathered below it. There, all the fae representing the Fief of the Golden Mesa mingled with one another.
They found a cleared, central aisle and proceeded down it where a lanky greeter with horns such as Herne would be proud of met them. He stared at Mira and then at Less. For a moment, it seemed he would refuse to announce or admit them to the general party, but finally he stood aside. "Less Seleman and guest, you are welcome under the auspices of hospitality. See that you and your guest respect the rules of hospitality and enjoy your evening." Less got the distinct impression that while he addressed both of them, the antlered fae was really speaking to Mira's behavior.
Following the line of other tastefully late guests, Less saw that they all were waiting to greet Countess Dahlia Blackthorn. He also noticed Rey and Drake just leaving the central dancing area together, having reached the end of a song. Mira hadn't noticed and was looking behind them. Following her gaze, Less noticed they'd been followed in by Cassandra, the Lady Ishtar, and her guest -- an attractive woman.
Mira turned to him and said, "I hope you have your dancing shoes on because there will be stiff competition on the dance floor. After we pay our respects to the Countess?"
Less looked worriedly down at his freshly spit-shined Oxfords. "Oh, I didn't think to order specific dancing shoes from Rover. Do you really think we'll be judged?" Less had been practising his dancing every day with a broom as his partner in the back of the Lost & Found at the train station. He felt good about his dancing before, but now that the night had arrived, his earlier boasting and the crowd of Cassandra groupies was making him nervous.
On the other side of the dance "floor", Rey stood next to Drake near a refreshment table. Drake looked incredibly handsome in his tux, and the gown she wore was a Lafitte original. A strapless gown that hugged her curves to her hips to draping skirt slit over her right leg from three quarters up her thigh to the ground. To the normal eye, it looked like gold silk shot with fine gold thread. To the fae, however, the fabric was woven from the light of a golden autumn sun made solid and it shimmered with every movement she made.
"She came with Less," Rey whispered in Drake's ear as she leaned forward to pick something off the table. Drake had come to her two days ago, with the story of Mira's visit, and the bad feelings between them when they'd parted ways. He hadn't really wanted to go to the ball, but now that he knew Mira would be there, he couldn't stay away. He couldn't ask another fae woman, because that felt like a betrayal to him, so he asked Rey for help. To allow him to escort her to the ball - and not object should he leave early with his lady love.
Warning him that things could just be made worse, Rey agreed. He would be her escort to the ball, but then they would part ways, doing their own thing. They'd mingled on their own for a good portion of the evening so far, but it was during their first dance together that Less and Mira had arrived.
Drake tried not to whip his head around, to look for where Mira and Less were. "I must see her."
"They are in the line to greet the Countess," Rey replied. "Why don't we work our way over there, so we can join them when they have done their duty." Drake automatically offered her his arm, but she stroked it gently and allowed her own hand to return to her side. "Best to keep our hands to ourselves."
Countess Dahlia Blackthorn was a radiant woman in the literal sense. When Less and Mira met her, Less bowing as expected, Mira also issued a polite courtesy. She bowed her head respectfully, but because the Countess was not her liege, she was not required bow more deeply, curtsey or as the Duke would have it, kneel on both knees and never turn a back.
The Dahlia responded in kind. "It is always refreshing to see you Mr. Seleman, she said acknowledging his bow with nod and a smile. And it is... interesting to see a member of the Duchy here. Sorceress Mira Naia, is it?"
Mira nodded. "Yes, Dear Lady." Somehow she'd actually learned how to properly address a countess. Well, under English customs at any rate. "You honor me by remembering."
"You and your friends Mr. Seleman and the Lady Sage Lafitte have done much for the fae of Mythic. I would not forget. You are welcome tonight."
"It makes me glad you think so," Mira said. She was clearly happy the countess made her feel welcome. Then her expression became serious. She glanced at Less, then looked the countess square in the eyes. "I have a message from the Duke."
Drake stilled, now knowing the reason Mira had pressed him to bring her to the ball.
The countess waited patiently. Mira moved suddenly, too fast to be stopped and murmured into the ear of the countess, "Brimstone moves by the fall of summer."
Three courtiers, including an ogre champion moved immediately to surround Mira and Less, but she was already stepping away from the countess. The ogre seized Mira's arms, though it was much too late had Mira intended harm. "The ball is lovely, Countess Blackthorn," she said, ignoring the countess's defenders. "I appreciate being so welcomed here and intend to return your thoughtfulness in kind."
The countess sent her defenders away with a wave of her hand. The ogre let Mira go with an unsatisfied grunt. Countess Dahlia, with a concerned, thoughtful look on her face dismissed Less and his date with a nod.
For his part, Less had heard what Mira said to the countess and so did both Drake and Rey who were subtly listening in. Less moved them onward to make way for the next set of guests due to pay their respects to the countess.
Once they were a sufficient distance from the countess and the hubbub caused by her defenders had died down to mere ripples, Less spun to face Mira while maintaining hold of the arm he was escorting her with. "Could you have warned me beforehand that you had a message from the Duke?" He was aware she was under at least one geas, how many others was she bound under? "King Kong back there could have squashed us both flat! I thought you couldn't talk about the Barony? Can you elaborate on the term 'moves'?"
Rey, who had quietly followed, Drake in tow, said nothing. She also wanted to know what was going on.
Mira glanced at the hand on her arm, but didn't seem upset or bothered by it. She took it as was; a sign of Less's concern over what had happened. "I'm sorry Less, I had no message meant for you. I would like to enjoy the evening a little now, wouldn't you? Perhaps a drink and a dance?"
Less' mood had been dampened by the incident but he tried to act light-hearted. "Yes, of course, allow me." He beckoned a phooka carrying a tray of exotic-looking drinks. He acknowledged Rey and Drake's presence with a smile and a gesture to select their drinks. "Hello Rey, you are looking especially glamourous tonight. Did you make that dress? The three of us might as well parade along a catwalk!"
"I did, thank you," Rey replied with a smile.
"You are the best," Mira said with a smile of her own. She did not acknowledge Drake by looking at him.
Rey leaned in to give Mira a quick hug. "Don't be angry with him for escorting me tonight," she whispered. "He didn't ask me until last night. He couldn't bear the idea of you coming here with someone else, and was worried about your safety, so he asked if he could escort me. He wanted to be here, but wanted a cover, and we know that he has no interest in me, or me in him, but few others do."
Mira returned the hug and whispered back. "You are so kind to say so, but you sell yourself far too short. Of course any man would relish the chance to be with you, especially as your date. Drake remains on my bad side until he he apologizes -- very convincingly -- for passing me over for another very beautiful woman." She turned away before Rey might see tears well up in her eyes. Putting on a smile, because Less deserved that and more for putting up with her, she looked to sylph. "Are one of those drinks for me?"
Rey took one of the four drinks, then turned to Drake. She leaned in and whispered to him and said "You'd better be prepared to grovel."
"At least one," said Less as he selected something with bubbles.