Any halfway decent Fairy Godmother – and yes, regardless of my, er, shortcomings, I still counted myself among those ranks – knows that in order to successfully complete an assignment, you must first do your research. And by research, I mean spend long, boring hours masquerading as some sort of rodent or insect, clinging to a wall as you spy on the people whose lives you are about to upend.
The Fairy Godmother Association was well known throughout Ever After, but it was known in the same way the Evil Queen was. No one knew specifics about us, only vagaries. That we existed, yes, but the full extent of the role we played? Absolutely not.
We had an entire department dedicated to misinformation. Their mission was to spread rumors and falsehoods about us, with a smattering of truth thrown in for good measure. Which is exactly how we needed it.
They had even gone so far as to steal the memory of me from Princess Ella’s mind, replacing the truth with some half-cocked yarn about a witch turning a pumpkin into a coach and mice into horses. A greater bunch of horseshite I had never heard, but humans seemed to love an unbelievable story, and it had spread like wildfire since, the legend growing with each retelling. By the tenth time I had overheard it, there was a bit about the spell ending at midnight, a frantic chase to find Ella, and even a glass slipper.
Still, these wild rumors only benefitted the FGA. There would be riots if anyone discovered the full extent of our manipulations. We all but hand-picked kings and queens. We kept nations from going to war. We toppled evil monarchs and saved entire species from being eradicated.
When two influential people married within a week of clapping eyes on each other, no one pointed to us and cried about meddling Godmothers. No, they just assumed it had been love at first sight – as if this was an actual thing – and then went on with their lives. They didn’t realize the weeks of work it took to get those two people to meet under favorable circumstances. They had no idea what kind of monumental effort hid behind the guise of mere happenstance.
That ball Prince Alexander had thought up? The one that all the eligible princesses in Ever After attended? Yeah, that was actually me. I had disguised myself as one of his advisors and flat out told him to host it. In my defense, I had attempted to be more subtle about it at first. After weeks of spying and plotting, I had spent days assuming various human forms, dropping hints about the ball that had become increasingly pointed. But unlike the prince in Morghanna’s story, the real prince was about as intelligent as a barn door. In the end, I nearly had to bludgeon him over the head with the idea before the light dawned behind his eyes.
I blamed inbreeding for his lack of intellect. The noble human households of Ever After believed in keeping the bloodlines pure. By marrying one another, of all things. Any two-bit horse breeder could tell them the folly of their ways, but noooooo, they kept on boffing their first cousins and popping out ill-formed offspring, and the FGA was left having to lead these dim-wits around by the apron strings just to get them to place one foot in front of the other.
One good thing about Princess Ella was that she brought some fresh blood to the monarchy. Hopefully she and Prince Alexander’s children would have more sense than a March hare and the rest of the noble households would learn something from their example.
Then again, the prince I spied on now had come from the union of a king and a noble, and he had turned out even worse than Alexander had.
Ow. Leg cramp.
I rose to all fours, stretching my aching muscles before settling back down and laying my bewhiskered snout on my small, folded paws. I had taken a page out of Ella’s book and turned myself into a mouse. My rafter perch provided me with a perfect view of the room spread out below me.
Ten men sat around a massive table. It was the privy chamber in the royal palace of Tralken. Most humans believed their kings held absolute power, but the running of a nation was far too much weight for a single individual to bear. Kings had councilors to help them, generals, treasurers, law specialists, tax collectors, and the like.
The King of Tralken, seated at the head of the table, had called eight such men into this meeting, but I ignored them in favor of the other man he had summoned; Crowned Prince James.
Tralken butted up against the south eastern edge of Mareille, separated by a narrow band of the Dark Forest. Prince James was the one Morghanna wanted me to pair with Mareille’s Princess Ivory. I pitied the poor girl; even if she proved to be as evil as her mother, it was unlikely she deserved James as punishment. For truly, that must have been what Morghanna intended.
I had spent nearly a sennight spying on him, and in all that time I had learned one thing: Prince James was a complete arsehole.
I might not believe in love at first sight, but the prince proved to me that hate at first sight existed. He happened to be the most beautiful human I had ever clapped eyes on, but there had been something about his mouth that alluded to his cruel nature, some sparkle in the corner of his impossibly blue eyes that hinted at the evil that lurked behind his breathtaking façade. He had set me on edge immediately, and the more I grew to know him, the hotter my hatred burned.
“I’m bored,” he lamented, folding his arms on the table before dropping his forehead onto them.
It was the type of outburst one might expect from a child, not a grown man of five and twenty. The head of Tralken’s royal treasury paused in his speech and stared down the table at him. James’ father, King Wilhelm, merely chuckled, laying a meaty hand on his son’s shoulder in consolation.
“Being a king isn’t just about hosting dinners and flirting with virgins,” he told his son.
James lifted his head to shoot his father a dark look. “Virgins? Useless creatures who couldn’t recognize a man’s member if he hit them upside the head with it. Give me a well-used whore who knows what she’s about.”
Ew. Gross. Any more of this and we’d soon find out if a prince could recognize mouse vomit when hit upside the head with it.
The king’s grin widened as if his son’s words had been spoken in jest. I had watched the prince long enough to know better, and judging by the stony faces of the other men who made up the Privy Council, I wasn’t the only one who saw James for the spoiled brat he was.
The king’s only excuse was willful ignorance. If he was forced to recognize the fact that he had raised a future tyrant, he might be forced to do something about it. Like strangle him to death. Slowly. Or at least, that’s what I would have done. Who cared that James was his only child? Wilhelm’s younger brother Trevor would make a better king than James ever could. Plus, King Trevor of Tralken had a nice ring to it. But from what I had gathered, Wilhelm and Trevor had been adversaries since birth, so of course Wilhelm would never hand the reins of the country over to him.
No, much better to pretend his son was the man he wanted him to be. Much better to die happily, knowing that he provided an heir for the kingdom. Much better not to think about the horrors his offspring would likely inflict upon the people of Tralken once he held the crown.
“I don’t see why he must drone on about the royal coffers so,” James said, speaking about the head of the treasury as if he weren’t in the room. “If we need money, just tax the peasants. That’s what they’re for, after all.”
Wilhelm responded with maddening patience. “This past winter was hard for them. Their larders are empty, and what little money they have must go to sowing their fields and restocking supplies. If we increase taxes, they will starve.”
James pushed back from the table and rose to his considerable height, annoyance written on his handsome face. “Then let them starve! The weak will be culled from the heard, leaving more for the strong.”
“Good grief, boy,” said the treasurer. “They’re people, not cattle.”
James reached the man in two strides of his long, powerful legs, his hand twisting into the treasurer’s shirts as he lifted him bodily from his chair. He shook the elderly man savagely, his face a rictus of a snarl. “How dare you call me boy. I should kill you where you stand.”
“Unhand him, you steaming pile of horseshite!” I squeaked down at him. None of the men heard me over the prince’s continued threats.
The treasurer’s eyes went to the king, pleading.
The old man heaved a great sigh. “Release him, James. Monty, apologize to my son.”
James threw him to the ground, where the man had the good sense to gather himself into a low bow. “My sincerest apologies, Your Highness. It will never happen again.”
The prince stared down at him with a fury that stole my breath away. “See that it doesn’t, or I promise you this, they will be the last words you ever speak.”
He turned and strode from the room, slamming the door shut behind him with such force that I was bounced from my perch. Only fast reflexes saved me. I quickly shifted into a housefly and hovered mid-air, torn between chasing after the prince and flying home to hand Morghanna my resignation.
Then again, if I were going to be fired, I might as well really earn it by killing the rutting bastard. I would likely be doing not only Princess Ivory the favor of her life, but I would also save the people of Tralken from the misery he would bring them if he ever ascended the throne. Morghanna might even thank me after I told her what an evil little shite he was.
No, I couldn’t really kill him…could I?
His father’s voice interrupted my dark thoughts. “He has his mother’s temper sometimes,” he said. “He’ll grow out of it.”
“Yeah, keep telling yourself that, you daft old codger,” I muttered, winging from the room.
Against my better judgement, I followed the prince down the hallway and out of the castle. His long legs ate up the ground as he made his way to the stables. A young stable hand rushed out to aid him, and the prince walked straight through him as if he wasn’t even there. The poor lad let out a yelp as he bounced off the cobblestones, tears brimming in his eyes as he scrambled to his feet and dashed away.
My thoughts immediately returned to murder. I could transform myself into a dragon and flambé the prince. Yes, that would be a suitable death for one such as he. Or maybe I could fly him out into the middle of Lake Ticomb and let the lake monster have him. Or better yet, I could turn him into an ant and let the stable hand stomp on him.
“Ach!” I was forced to throw myself to the side as the prince galloped out of the stables. The wind stirred up by his passing rolled me arse over kilter an embarrassing amount of times before I was able to right myself. When I finally took off after him, I was so dizzy that I nearly face-planted into a wall.
Death by dragon. Definitely death by dragon.