I’m walking into the shark pit.
More like rabid dog kennel. The Court spent its days honing the talent for throwing its members under the bus just to get higher in the Queen’s estimation. His eldest brother Tiberius thrived on it, though he wasn’t as accomplished as their middle brother, Darius. Phinn didn’t have the stomach for it.
Yet, here I am.
And he’d dragged Kendra into it, too. Though she might be better suited to it, given her lack of interest in the Queen’s estimation. Which could be deadly. The Winter Queen wasn’t nearly as reasonable as the Summer Queen, though that was like comparing a rabid dog to a feral wolf. Neither were trustworthy, though the wolf might let you explain before it chose to eat you.
Phinn sighed and raised his chin, hardening his expression in the mirror. Never let them see you sweat. The adage worked very well in the Sidhe Court, though he wished he had his grandfather’s sword at his side to remind the courtiers that he could hold his own. But they’d hidden it in the cabin before they were captured to keep Winter from upsetting the balance of nature.
A knock at his chamber door told him it was time to perform for the Queen. He let his expression fall into an indifferent mask as he opened the door to find the Winter Chamberlain and a company of six guards waiting outside.
“The Queen has requested your presence in the Audience Chamber.” The Chamberlain’s voice reminded him of tinkling glass shards. Melodious, but sharp and painful when resisted.
Phinn nodded without a word and stepped out the door. The guards fell in around him, and he had no doubt about where he stood in the Court. No matter how prettily dressed, he was nothing but a prisoner. Goddess, I hope I can get out of this alive.
They marched him through the halls of the Winter Palace, the courtiers they passed staring with undisguised interest. I’m definitely going to be the talk of the Court. Despite their curious stares, he kept his thoughts off his face and his gaze straight ahead.
It didn’t take long to reach the Audience Chamber were everything glittered like an ice cave, if an ice cave had crystal chandeliers and jeweled furniture. The courtiers themselves appeared like precious jewels in the crystalline room, flashes of bright color against the pale blue and white décor.
Phinn himself appeared almost drab and dark in his dress uniform of navy blue with silver buttons down the front. His cravat itched, the stiff white lace tickling his neck, but at least he didn’t look like a smarmy fop bent on making an impression. He dressed for himself and he wouldn’t kowtow to anyone. Not even the queen.
The Queen sat on her throne, a sculpture of crystal to appear like ice, and nodded with a serene smile at all those who either sought her attention or meandered around the room. Her elegance made the other Sidhe appear rather ridiculous, but that had always been the way of the Court. Don’t want to look better than the queen.
Motion caught the corner of his eye and he stumbled in his strides as his line of sight cleared. A woman filled his vision, achingly beautiful in a forest green, velvet dress with long trailing sleeves and golden ribbon at neck, wrist, and skirt hems. The velvet molded to her torso, highlighting her full breasts and hourglass waist above her rounded hips. Her golden hair had been artfully styled in woven braids, showing off the elegant column of her neck.
The scents of pumpkin spice and sun-baked leaves reached his nose, and the cold, crystalline perfection of the Winter Court faded before the scents of life. His body reacted to her presence with yearning and desire, but he shoved the emotions deep before the Queen noticed them. He made it just in time as they came to a stop in front of the throne.
“Phinnius Winterbourne and Witchling, mum.” The Chamberlain bowed and the guards stepped back until Phinn and Kendra stood together.
They bowed with little flourish.
The Queen surveyed them with her cold gray eyes, her expression unreadable. Phinn didn’t hold his breath, but he tried to remain still and unflustered. Kendra, on the other hand, laced her fingers together in front of her and gazed back. She didn’t appear frightened at all. How does she do that?
“So, you’ve returned at last, Phinnius.” The Queen’s voice slid throughout the hall, silencing even the softest of whispers from the courtiers. “We’ve been waiting for you.”
He dipped his head in acknowledgment, but didn’t try his voice.
“And we see you’ve brought a friend with you. Or is she a conquest? Maybe a servant?” The sneer in the queen’s voice slithered in his ears. “Which is it, Phinnius?”
Kendra didn’t turn her head, but an amused smile curled the edge of her mouth.
“She is…a friend, Your Majesty.” He didn’t dare admit more.
“Ah, I see.” The queen nodded, scanning Kendra again. “She must be the one who disabled our tracking demon, yes? That means she has power. Are you powerful enough to take our throne, witchling?”
Kendra shook her head. “I don’t want your throne, Your Majesty.”
“No?” The elven woman tilted her head with a cold smile. “What is it you do want, witchling?” She extended her hand toward Phinn. “Him? His family’s status in our Court, perhaps? What is it you desire?”
“I have no desires beyond what is already in my possession. I have all I need.” Kendra inclined her head gracefully, her smile gentle.
The Queen laughed, a melodious burst that rippled throughout the chamber, creating little eddies of sound from the courtiers. Phinn didn’t look around, but those he could see wore avid expressions, as if anticipating blood on the floor.
“She is wiser than she looks, Phinnius.” The Queen nodded before her smile disappeared as if it had never been. “But everyone has wants and needs. It’s the rule of life.” Her gray gaze bored into his. “What do you want, Phinnius? What desires course through your veins? Is it her? Is it freedom? Is it passion?”
He struggled to keep his face still and his voice steady as the Winter Queen named every one of the things he wanted. Must not give her ammunition. The Sidhe were tricky and would ensnare anyone they could for their own amusement. Yeah, that’s because their lives are so damn long they get bored.
“I have no undue desires, You Majesty. I have served my commission as a soldier. I have a home and comforts. I have all I should ever need. As for my family, they are well-suited to their stations.
“In Summer!” The Queen’s furious shriek tore across the room with a blast of power before she abruptly sat back on her throne, her face serene once more. “Dance for us, Phinnius. With her.” She gestured to Kendra. “Show us how they dance in Summer, and we shall see how well-suited you’ve been in such a Court. Perhaps we shall learn something new, yes?”
Derisive laughter twittered around the room as they hesitated, but Kendra turned to him with a bland smile, her back to the queen. Phinn wanted to scream a warning to never turn her back, but he kept the words locked behind his teeth as the queen came into focus behind her. The wide-eyed avid look on her face reminded him to keep his expression stoic and his wants hidden.
He turned away with Kendra’s hand in his as the orchestra struck up a stately waltz and struck the waltz pose.
“Keep your eyes on me and be ready.” Kendra’s lips barely moved and her serenity never slipped, but her eyes flashed.
“What are you going to do?” Phinn swirled her around the room in graceful steps. “You can’t be trying to escape the Winter Court. That’s insane.”
“What do you suggest? We just stay here among the wolves?” She tipped her head with a smile, but it didn’t reach her blue eyes. “They’ll enslave us or kill us. And I for one need to get back to my home to honor Samhain.”
“Oh, I know what the Winter Court will likely do to us.” He dipped her in a classical waltz pose. “But pissing her off by trying to escape from her Audience Chamber isn’t wise in any way, shape, or form.”
She kept up the façade of the dance as she raised her eyebrows. “So what do you suggest we do?”
“As I once heard in your world, get in, sit down, shut up, and hold on. One thing about Sidhe courts, they always think they have every angle covered and their magic makes them so frightening, no one would dare to do the unthinkable. Like trying to escape.”
Kendra snorted as they swirled. “Did you just tell me not to do that right now?”
“Timing is everything, and this ain’t the time.”
There you have it. Whew! It's a long one. Stop by the following other flash fiction authors below. Happy reading and happy February!