She woke up at the crack of dawn—same as any other day. Sweep the floors, scrub the floors, and then help out in the kitchen. Avoid irritating the mistress. Take a few gropes and pinches from the master. This was her life.
Camilla was becoming a woman and the master of the house was noticing. He’d had an eye on her for a while now but he’d yet to corner her in private. Thankfully the mistress was keeping an eye on her too, and she’d not allow him to dishonour her with a good-for-nothing mortal slave girl. There was little Camilla’s mother could do about it either. If the master wanted Camilla for himself, there was little anyone save the mistress could do. That’s just how it was when you weren’t a person. You were property.
One of Camilla’s few moments of solace was playing her music. She had a natural affinity for playing the flute and this made her valuable indeed. Most slaves didn’t have such a specialty but the Lully’s had made an exception for Camilla in order to encourage their own daughter to take up the instrument. Camilla had been a playmate of sorts, and was now the girl’s handmaid.
“Slave!” The short, sharp shriek came as a shock to Camilla. Daphne was not to be in the East wing. It was the slave’s quarters.
“You’d better go and attend to the little mistress,” Nancy, the cook said. Camilla nodded and headed out the door to find Daphne. She bumped right into the young mistress, who gasped in surprise.
“You are so clumsy!” she yelled.
“My apologies, mistress,” Cammie said, lowering her gaze.
“As you should be. Where were you? I awoke and had to run my own bath.”
“I had to work in the kitchens this morning. It’s understaffed and I—”
“I haven’t the time for your pathetic excuses. I’ll make sure you are flogged for this.” Camilla winced. She still hadn’t fully recovered from the last flogging. Protesting would only make it worse, of course. “I still need you to do my hair. I can’t clip it right and the cousins will be here in a few hours.”
“Of course. After you, mistress.” Daphne turned away, flicking her bright coppery hair in Camilla’s face.
When they arrived in Daphne’s extravagant room— with its polished floor, queen sized bed and balcony overlooking the back garden— the young mistress insisted on having each strand of her hair brushed three times. Today was a special day for her. Today she would find out her special power. Some Spellmans were able to find out at birth but this was rare and so most had to wait until their thirteenth birthday.
“I hope it’s nothing stupid like being an Empath. My aunt Layla was an Empath and it drove her insane you know. Though of course father says it’s because she lost her baby and being an Empath she felt it more acutely— the disappointment from uncle Michel and grandmother. I want to be something special— maybe an Oracle or a Technopath. Some Technopaths end up rich creating state-of-the-art technology, you know.”
“I’m sure you will be special no matter what your power ends up being,” Camilla said. Special needs, of course, you little brat! She thought. But Camilla’s mother insisted that everyone was special in their own way, and had encouraged her not to hate her young mistress. They were the same age, Daphne and Camilla. Unfortunately Daphne treated her younger, often being patronising and rude.
“Well of course I’m special— father always says so— but I don’t just want to be any special person. I want to be the special person. I want to do something worthwhile, like marry the prince.”
“Of course,” Camilla answered. After brushing the last strand, she looked at Daphne through the mirror, envying the way her hair curled so wonderfully. Her own blonde hair was thin and flat. With the exception of a few silvery strands, it was completely unremarkable.
“If you were not mortal, what kind of power would you want?” Daphne asked. Camilla found the question disarming. The young mistress rarely asked for her opinion, and when she answered, she was often ignored anyway.
“I’m not sure. I haven’t thought about it.”
Liar. She had thought of it often. She had thought of being an illusionist once so that she could trick the Lully’s into freeing all the slaves and getting revenge on them for all the horrid deeds they had committed, like getting rid of her father.
“Well of course you have!” Daphne insisted. “All of you mortals envy us because we are gifted and you are not. That’s why we own you.” Camilla gritted her teeth. “That’s what father says. Surely you must have some idea of what you would want to be able to do.”
Daphne snorted. “Well, I knew you weren’t gifted, but I didn’t think you had no imagination.” Camilla ignored the comment and continued on to clip Daphne’s hair up the way she knew she would want. She wanted to look sophisticated today to show that she was growing up. “Maybe you’d like mind control so you could convince my mother not to sell your mother.”
Camilla dug the clip into Daphne’s scalp by accident and the other girl screeched.
“Oh my gods, I’m so sorry!” Camilla yelled.
Daphne rose from her seat, clutching her head in one hand. “You did that on purpose! You attacked me.” She pointed at Camilla with her other hand, her pale grey eyes sparkling with hate. “I’ll have you flogged within an inch of your life!”
“Please, I didn’t mean it. You surprised me. I didn’t know my mother was being sold, and I flinched accident.”
Daphne refused to listen, already backing away to the door. “I’ll not believe another word you say.” She opened the door to leave, but Camilla ran towards her to shut the door before she could move another step. “If you touch me, I swear by the gods—”
“Please,” Camilla insisted. “Don’t tell the master or the mistress. It was a mistake. Please.”
Daphne looked at her— genuinely looked at her for once without distaste or loathing. She gave Camilla a small but uncertain smile and nodded. “Alright. I believe you.”
Camilla sighed in relief and let out a tear. “Thank you.” She stepped aside from the door. “Would you like me to—” Daphne ran out the door before she finished her sentence.
“Father! Mother!” she cried out. “The slave tried to kill me.”
Camilla collapsed on her knees then, her body wracking out sobs of fear and despair.
They’re selling my mother. I may never see her again, just like I’ll never see father. She wished that a black hole would suck her in right then. She wished she wasn’t such a helpless slave, her life at the mercy of a wicked master. Oh, to be free…
The flogging that was inflicted on her that night was much worse than the last. Camilla had tried so hard, wailing and cursing that the master had stuffed her mouth with something dirty in order to muffle out her cries. She lay there, topless, tied to a post in the dark. She was in the barn with the horses, waiting for the master to take pity on her and allow her inside. If she remained like this, her back could become infected. And then maybe I’ll fade into oblivion at last, and join father. She had witnessed the brutality of the flogging that had been the death of her father years ago. He had tried to way the master from hurting Mother. It had all been for nought. Camilla now knew what he had wanted with her mother, and knew that he had had his way with her.
And one day he’ll have his way with me— if I don’t die here first.
Camilla awoke to feel a smooth hand caress her cheek.
“Camilla, wake up.” The voice was low and sombre— gentle but authoritative.
When Camilla opened her eyes, she found herself face to face with a vision of ethereal beauty. His dark eyes lit up a little when he realised she was awake. His close proximity startled Camilla, and she tried to back away, forgetting that she was still tied to the post.
“Oh, you poor thing,” the man said to her. “It is simply terrible that they have resorted to treating you like a beast. What crime have you been alleged to have committed?” The man tilted his head at a peculiar angle, stroking her face all the while.
“I… The master’s daughter thinks I tried to kill her.”
“Ouch. Now that is a serious accusation.” His tone was disapproving, but his lips gave way to a cold smile.
“I didn’t though. I didn’t try to kill her.”
The dark haired man narrowed his eyes, keeping his eyes fixed with hers. She felt exposed like this, reminded that she was still topless.
“I believe you,” he answered at last. “But I suppose it doesn’t matter what I believe. What will your master do with you, I wonder?”
Camilla was reminded of that monstrous glare, and that vicious smile as her master continued to whip her. She’d been whipped harder for cursing.
“I don’t know,” Camilla said. She looked at the floor, noticing the man’s nice leather shoes. He must be wealthy to have shoes like that.
The stranger lifted her chin so that Camilla’s eyes met his once more. “You’ll be hung of course,” he answered. “Someone is coming to take you to prison right now and I am here to make a deal with you— a faery bargain.”
He’s a faery! Camilla thought. That explains his otherworldly beauty— his sharp features and musical voice.
“I might be regarded a simpleton, but I know that faery deals are dangerous.”
“That they are, deary.” At least he was admitting it. Faeries couldn’t lie, after all. “You have a choice now. Die at the behest of the Lully’s, or come and live with me.”
“As what?” Camilla screamed. “Your pet? Your whore?”
The faery gave her an unamused glare. “Forgive me if I offend but you’re a little bit underdeveloped—” he pointed towards her chest “for my tastes.” Camilla blushed scarlet and looked away. “But I do mean for you to be mine. You have something very special in you that I need.”
“What might that be?” she asked.
“Your music, of course. I have heard you play and it calls out to me from my home and it is a lovely sound I will not have silenced by your death.”
“That’s it?” she asked.
“You obviously do not understand just how talented you are,” the faery said. Camilla only shrugged. “You haven’t much time to decide, young mortal.”
“If I agree, will you take my mum too?”
“I couldn’t…” he looked away from her as if to think about it. “No, I simply couldn’t.”
“Please! I can’t be separated from her. Not after my father—”
“Camilla, you will know loss—it is the way of the world. Mortals are fragile and not all belong where I come from. You would do your mother a disservice by bringing her with you.”
“Why? What would happen?”
“Where I am taking you, you will live forever. In my experience, forever is too long a time for a mortal. Their minds cannot take the pressure of such a thing.”
“Then why me?” she asked.
“Because you are special. You are destined to do great things.”
Camilla snorted. “I’m a mortal. There’s nothing special about me.”
“A wise faery once told me “We don’t let prophecies align for us in the stars; stars wait for us to prophecy what will be.”
“Who told you that?”
“My father— a long time ago.”
Camilla stood then, looking at the faery full on, despite her state of undress. “Then I prophecy this: If you want me, you will have to take my mother too, because I am not leaving her.”
“You are testing my patience, deary.”
“And you are testing mine.” Camilla fully expected to be slapped for her insolence, and she saw the faery grit his teeth in anger, but he did not raise a hand against her.
“Fine. Have it your way, but you must swear to be faithful to me.”
“And you must swear to uphold you end of the bargain.” The faery smiled at her then— wicked and deadly. “You know my name, but I don’t know yours.” The faery came closer and ripped the ropes holding her prisoner.
“Yes,” he replied simply. Camilla waited a moment as the faery removed his top and gave it to her to wear. The scent of it was of nature— pine needles and grass.
“What is your name?” she finally asked.
“I am Quinlan, King of the Unseelie court.”
Camilla’s eyes opened wide in shock. A faery king was interested in her music. She knew then that it didn’t really matter what she said to him. If he wanted her to play for him, she would do so, faery bargain or not. The Unseelie king was infamous for his cruelty and his wit. He would have her.
“Ah, it appears my reputation precedes me.”
“Considering it’s about several centuries old, I reckon it does.”
“You think me so young? I’m not certain if I should be flattered or insulted.” Camilla had no answer for that. “Come on. Let us be off.”
“I… I’m not coming with you.” The words tumbled out before she could stop them. Quinlan snapped his head to face her again, his eyes steeled in anger.
“And why is that?”
“Because I don’t trust you.”
“My dear child, who said anything about trust? You will come with me of your own volition, or you will regret your mistake dearly.”
“No,” she said. “I’ve heard the stories about you. You take children every now and then and they are never seen again. Their bodies show up decades— sometimes centuries later.”
“Really, these rumours are quite distasteful. What need do I have for children?” He stepped dangerously close towards Camilla then. “They come to me. They dance with my court and then they never want to leave. When they die, I send them back to where they once belonged.”
Camilla heard a blood-curling scream, and smelt something foul burning. The scream went on and on.
“Terrific!” Quinlan exclaimed, obviously annoyed.
“What is that?”
“We were too late. That is your mother, burning outside for your crimes.”
“What? NO!” Camilla ran towards the exit, but she was intercepted by the faery king. “You lied to me! You said they would kill me!”
“No. I said they would make you pay. I said they would send for a torturer who would do unspeakable things to you. This is their form of torture, but mark my words, you will be next.”
“Let them then! Let them!”
“I can’t do that. One way or another, you will belong to me.” He stalked off, leaving her a quivering mess in the empty stables, wondering what fate awaited her.