Sunday, 24 November 2013

Vespula Velvet's Problem

The Patchwork Market may not be the most remarkable place in all of Faerie, but it is certainly unique. As has been noted elsewhere the notion of geography is applied somewhat liberally in the Faerie Realms. The most geographically stable location is the area covered by the Hundred Kingdoms, even that has its back ways, turnabouts and confusions.

The problem with Faerie geography is the existence of places that are at the centre of the world. The way that you can tell such a place is that you can traverse such an area and get to any other destination in fairly short order, as long as you know the way. That last part, that's always the bit that misleads people. Knowing the way is not as easy a thing as many suppose.

The most obvious, and also the most difficult, central location in Faerie is the Forest of Grymm. That's the name of the forest but really it may as well be called 'The Forest', because all wooded areas are connected to it, so there is, at some level, only one forest in the whole of Faerie. The problem is that some of the kingdoms separated by other forest areas don't see it like that. Someone could circumvent, for example, Sommerslip Woods near the Faerie Archive and never see any part of the Forest of Grymm. However, once they step among the trees, even on a well maintained path, they could take the wrong fork and end up in Grymm, from there they could emerge anywhere, not necessarily back in the county of Sommerslip.

There are other places of a similar nature, the great city of Luminis, the Black Ocean, the Soft Places on the edge of the Undone (those get _very_ complicated), the Celestial Sphere and the NeverWill. All of these places can be reached from almost anywhere and lead to absolutely everywhere. The Patchwork Market shares this distinction, the Market and Luminis are the only two such places that are built. The difference between the two is simple, Luminis is closed, the Market is always open.

As such the Patchwork Market is the most welcoming of all the inbetween places. If it were as wilful as Grymm or as bizarre as the NeverWill or as outright dangerous as the Black Ocean then it would make it hard to sell things to people, this is the Market's entire reason for existing. If trade were not facilitated in the Market the Market would cease to exist.

Even so, the Market has it's dark secrets and hidden corners. Not everything that goes on among the tiered plazas of this world within the world is clean and legal as anyone might wish. Of course, the Market permits the existence of its Master and the Master's Watch, they do the best they can to maintain peace and order conducive to the spending of a substantial amount of coin.

They can't be everywhere, from time to time evil still works its way into the Market. A fact Eos came to appreciate in an entirely new way when she awoke in chains fastened to the wall of a ruined structure in the darkness of an abandoned plaza.

There was one thing in Eos's mind beyond her own immediate inconvenience, concern and discomfort.

"Rachel?" she asked, unabashed, not whispering, the importance of knowing that her charge was in good health overriding other concerns.

"Eos?" Rachel's voice brought a flood of relief.

"Tasty little snippets," a third voice interrupted the auditory reunion. It was a quiet voice, a voice soft like sucking mud dangerous as a whippingcord serpent. Eos recognised that voice, she was pleased that Rachel had never heard it before.

"Vespula?" Eos asked.

"Enjoying myself I was," the witch replied, not bothering to confirm her identity to Eos. Vespula Velvet knew that the mermaid princess whose kingdom Vespula had usurped would not forget the voice, or be in any doubt as to its owner. "I was in my little undersea cave, rebinding the bristles to my broom when I feel a stabbing pain, as if someone had thrust the blade of a steel knife through my old heart."

The platform on whic Eos found herself was shrouded in darkness. She could see the edge of a ruined wall defined by the glow of a low, orange-flamed fire burning beyond it. She could not see the witch who had taken away her birthright. All she could hear was the wheedle of the ancient sorceress's thin voice.

"Bound to our enchantments we are, magic workers," Vespula said, Eos could hear soft footsteps, the voice sounded louder, nearer. "I knew when you bought that ring, so you could walk upon the land, that didn't trouble me much. I hired me some trolls, to find you, bring you to me. Must have hooked up with some clever sorts though, disappeared from the Hundred Kingdoms, found you in the soft places, then all on a sudden you were here, in the market and I was on the floor in pain. So much pain."

Vespula was very close now, but still not visible, somewhere on the other side of the partial wall to which Eos was bound.

"So I contacted my troll master, and told him where to get him a cloud of sleeping dust. He found you on the Market Floor, near to the Master's Island. Had to get you before you reached the Master of the Market. Too much trouble, not that you were hard to find, just walking around without a fear in the world. Had you forgotten fear, dearie?"

The breath of that question warmed Eos's left ear.

"I'm not afraid of you Vespula," Eos said, although she knew she was lying.

"Don't bother," Vespula said. "I can smell the terror on you, marinating you, making you and your little friend ready for Vespula's pot. You know how much power I can get from the bones of two young maidens such as yourselves?"

"The little girl is nothing to do with this," Eos said. "Let her go!"

"You have forgotten what it is to be a wicked witch, Teleosti Shaleshore," Vespula chortled. "It does not matter what that girl is to whom. She had the bad luck to fall within my power and that means that now she is no more than soup. Can't you smell the stock cooking, bubbling away in my cauldron? Sweet with wolfsbane and nightshade, hemlock and brimstone."

Eos knew that Vespula would happily swill down Eos and Rachel broth. Vespula was one of the vilest witches in the far shadows. She thrived on poison, fear and heartbreak. Even so, one could not simply give up, defeat may be inevitable but ultimate victory should always be withheld.

"Let us go, Vespula, or you will be hunted down and killed," Eos said, she was uncertain, in herself, that this would be the case but Eos had made friends, and Rachel certainly had people behind her, even if the chief among them was a talking mouse. There was a chance that Phoebe September or Frederick Cobb would care enough to avenge their disappearance, if they knew who to look for. It was a slim hope and not one of much use if they had, in the meanwhile been eaten, but it was all Eos had.

Vespula Velvet chuckled again, a hoarse, bubbling sound. The twisted shadow of the witch's form cut between the broken wall and Eos's field of vision. Eos still couldn't see the gnarled enchantress but she knew the old woman was there.

"And who will ever know that it was my doing, little one?" she asked. "Who will there be to tell. The kind of folk that would look for you would not even think of asking trolls so full of the darker blood as I would hire. Trolls such as them would rather kill friends of yours anyhow. No, sweet morsel, Vespula shall drink your blood, and no one shall ever know that it was done."

"Excuse me, ma'am," came a voice from far away, beyond the broken wall. "I think the stock is prepared but I have not the tongue to taste it."

Vespula did not appear best pleased at this interruption, she spat back:

"You have the tongue to spoil my delicious moment, though," to her unfortunate henchman.

Actually, Eos considered, welcoming any distraction from the consideration of her present dire circumstances, it did sound a little as if it might be a hench-woman. Distinguishing the gender of a speaker, if that speaker was a troll, which this was, was not an easy task for anyone other than another troll. Those of dwarven stock were pretty similar.

"Apologies, mistress," the troll replied. "Our stomachs are not able to take in any food save rocks, stones and earth, we may only drink water. We cannot taste a stock for meat-people, nor would it do our insides any good at all."

"Well," Vespula grumbled, "I suppose this will be one of the more important meals of my life. Very well, I shall taste the stock. Hopefully it will be fine and fulsome in its flavour, ready for the addition of my tender tasty morsels."

The troll came forth from behind the wall with a ladle in its hand. Vespula took the ladle, lifted the bowl of it to her lips and sipped at the liquor within.

"Hot, spicy," Vespula crowed triumphantly. "A full, sweet, flavour that just needs the addition of flesh and bone from a pair of maidens, to fill Vespula's stomach and warm her old meat through with every vile type of magic. Perfect for hexes and curses and-eep."

For the barest fraction of a moment Eos wondered if an 'eep' was some kind of dark magic that she had not previously encountered. The grey cast to Vespula's usual greenish countenance told Eos that she may have received a reprieve from the cooking bowl.

A hard noise, like stones cracking against one another, came to Eos's ears. She could see that Vespula was starting to petrify, turning to rock from the feet up. Nothing as refined as becoming a statue. No, Vespula's legs were turning into dark rocky pillars of uneven shape.

"Your one and only mistake," said the troll walking round so that Vespula's furious eyes could see it. "Was to think that you could casually decide to eat my daughter."

In a falling sift of sparkling fairy dust the visage of the troll fell away to reveal the face of a woman that Eos had never seen before.

"Its you!" blurted Rachel from her own wall adjacent to Eos. Since Vespula had arrived the little girl had been too terrified to speak but her surprise trumped her fear for a moment. "The Green Lady."

"Her name is Rebecca," said another voice that Eos recognised as belonging to Rachel's mouse, James. "And she is your mother."

The owner of the voice, it transpired was no longer a mouse, but a tall, thin man, who emerged from the shadows beyond the wall to join the slim woman who had disguised herself as one of Vespula's trolls.

"How?" Eos asked.

"Mischief probably," James said, smiling at Eos. "Lester and myself were lost in the Undone, a magician helped us get back here after we helped him out with a wolf problem... there's a lot to explain..." James turned away from Eos to look at Rachel. "Not least of all to you, Rachel."

"James?" Rachel said. "Is that you? You're a man again! Oh, I am so pleased for you."

"There's more than just a transformation here," James said to Rachel. "We have a lot to discuss. First, though, we should probably see about freeing the both of you. Lester, do you mind lending a hand?"

So James and Lester helped liberate Eos and Rachel from their chains and the whole group went on to the Patchwork Market to find a place for tea and a complicated chat. What they did after that is a story for another day.

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