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Observations of Disparate Fairies

Title: Observations of Disparate Fairies
Prompt: The doubtful guest walks into a bar ballroom and meets... Emma Wintertowne!
Fandoms: `The Doubtful Guest' (Edward Gorey) and Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
Word count: about 1700
Rating: G
Warnings: spoilers through chapter 26 of JS&MN
Notes and Summary: Written for intoabar. One evening, an unusual visitor arrives at Lost-hope, where it encounters one of the few humans to be found there.

While a pipe and a fiddle tuned up for a dance,
A late guest, uninvited, turned up by mischance.


****

The fairy brugh of Lost-hope---a mansion to some eyes, a hollowed hill to others---was a site of spectacle, though the house itself was lamentably shabby. The inhabitants evidently cared not a whit for their surroundings, yet nonetheless took great care in their own appearances: the people all displayed astonishing, if somewhat unearthly beauty, and their garb likewise was always of the latest fashion and most astounding colours, though these hues were seldom the evening primroses or Pomonas to be found in the assembly rooms of London and Bath, but rather winter mornings or driftwood fires or leaves that fell three years ago. One particularly fine gown showed the movements of moon and stars, though the strange constellations it depicted were sometimes obscured by storms. Most nights of the year, the denizens of Lost-hope were to be found dancing well beyond the small hours of the morning with steps that would be familiar to any participant of an English country dance, though surely not even the most avid dancer from Cornwall to Northumberland had ever trod through the paces of Marshal Coppertongue's Thimble, much less the Door in the Oak.

On one such evening, Lost-hope's undersized orchestra trilled out the last measures of the Goblin and the Chicken, and Emma, very nearly and most unwillingly the lone Christian soul in the ballroom, curtsied frostily to her last partner. She was already looking about for the next fairy who would inevitably ask for her hand for a set when she noticed a most curious creature, unlike any fairy she ever yet had seen. No taller than a child, and only vaguely human in shape, it was covered in black fur and wore nothing but a pair of shoes made from plain white fabric. The creature returned her gaze and waddled up to her.

It intently examined the lace on her sleeve
Before silently bowing and taking its leave.


She watched it go, still astonished, but presently another fairy---a normal one, though this was no comfort---requested the pleasure of partnering her for the next two dances, and Emma dismissed the creature from her mind as she again took her place in a line of dancers. The flute and violin struck up the opening of Moon Shadows Come Tuesday, and Emma gave her attention to the dance at hand.

As Tuesday's third iteration began, Emma noticed signs of confusion farther up the hall as dancers failed to go through their proper steps. This was markedly irregular, for fairies, on the whole, were better dancers than humans: Emma had only seen them muddle up a dance once, and Tuesday was far from the most intricate piece performed in the Lost-hope ballroom. Presently, however, it became apparent that the chaos was caused by the little creature she had met earlier, who had wholly disregarded the form of a country dance and chosen instead to caper across ballroom, careening through the lines of dancers first once, and then again as it passed back the way it had come. Emma could almost have laughed, though none of the fairies about her were at all amused.

The chagrin on the floor was nothing compared
To the rage of the fairy whose ball was impaired.


Ordinarily, the king of Lost-hope was a fairy with every accoutrement of an English gentleman and the most handsome figure of all who were present---a quality not least notable in his spectacular head of silvery hair that very much resembled a tuft of thistle-down. In his outrage, however, his face became less human: it grew angular and a fine fur appeared upon it, the same silvery-white as his hair; his countenance looked more like that of a snarling beast than a man. That anyone should dare to disrupt his ball! That it should be someone of no significance at all, as was obvious by its hideous appearance! The fairy with thistle-down hair waved his hand and the unusual visitor promptly disappeared.

****

From the hollow behind a great arras was heard
Sounds of strenuous lifting but never a word.


****

Some hours later, passing among the tables of refreshments, Emma was greatly astonished to see the unusual creature again. Whatever the fairy king had tried to do to his unwelcome guest, the visitor appeared to be at least mostly impervious to it.

It perused the buffet with an eye for viands,
But selected a bowl and dismayed the gourmands.


The dish, provided with the intent that prospective diners fill it with a sampling of the kickshaws offered, was a plain though serviceable piece of china; the creature, however, was evidently interested in it as a food itself, for it took a bite from the bowl and chewed contentedly while surveying the other, more traditionally edible offerings. Newly convinced by the guest's reappearance that it had some power which might be helpful to her, Emma ventured forward to address it. `Why--- no, how are you here?' she asked.

The creature gave no indication of having heard the question, but instead walked away along the table, still nibbling occasionally at its piece of crockery.

Emma tried again: `You withstood . . . whatever that fairy tried to do to you. How?'

The visitor only selected a miniature meat pie from among the available fare. It cautiously sampled its find, but promptly spat it back out again and hurled the remainder of the pie under the table. Emma was peripherally aware of the normal fairies of Lost-hope clucking in disapproval, though their own manners were often little better where food was concerned.

The creature continued its progress down the buffet, gnawing away again at the china bowl it had originally selected, as if trying to clear the taste of the pie from its mouth. Emma followed and, lowering her voice, enquired, `Can you tell me---or show me---anything about escaping from a fairy's enchantment?'

The peculiar guest this time stared at Emma for a long moment, then turned back to the buffet, from which it selected a flaky pastry filled with some sort of red jam which Emma decided that she would not attempt to identify---berry, perhaps, but most likely one of which she had never heard and was nowhere to be found in England or anywhere else accessible to humans. The pastry was clearly to the creature's liking, for it devoured it zealously.

`Is there---' Emma began again, but broke off in surprise as the creature abruptly wheeled to look at her. It regarded her with something like eagerness; certainly it was not the same open bewilderment or curiosity with which it had contemplated the trim of her gown or the offerings of the buffet, nor was it the narrow-eyed disgust with which it had tossed aside the meat pie.

It ran off a few paces, but looked back anon,
And thus catching her eye, it entreated her on.


Emma followed the creature out of the ballroom and down a series of corridors until they entered another great hall, all cold stone except for a few tapestries adorning the walls. The creature went straight to one depicting a scene that might have been a hunt or perhaps a king being presented with gifts, lifted up a corner and glanced back again at Emma before ducking behind the hanging. Feeling that she might yet regret doing so, Emma slipped behind the tapestry into the recess which it covered.

One of the flags had been lifted up and dragged aside, revealing a hole beneath it, in which the guest had stashed several execrable banners that were made from the remains of the fairy king's defeated enemies and which the inhabitants of Lost-hope, including Emma herself, carried in loathsome parades for past victories. The creature pointed at them and looked again at Emma, bouncing on its toes, undoubtedly quite pleased with itself. Emma puzzled over the creature's intent in hiding the banners; their disappearance would likely annoy the fairy king, in which case the visitor might have been exacting a sort of revenge for having been banished from the hall earlier, but the guest seemed delighted as if it had acquired a treasure of its own, and Emma could not at all approve of its taste in such matters. She wondered if the creature itself was aware of its own motivations or the likely consequences of its actions. Meanwhile, the guest had carefully placed its half-eaten bowl on top of the pile of banners and pushed the stone flag back into place, burying them all.

It took her by the hands and together they spun
In a circle, and skipped for pure frivolous fun.


It was a childish sort of thing to do, and Emma could not recall the last time she had done such a thing as a child, if indeed she ever had. After several turns, the creature released her, brushed aside the tapestry and so capered out of the apse. Emma followed it; out in the hall again, she glimpsed it just entering a different passageway, scampering off ever further from the ballroom. As Emma watched it leave, she contemplated the idea of seeking to aggravate the fairy king in small ways---a course of action she had never considered before. In its novelty, it was an intriguing possibility for a instant, but she dismissed it quickly, not least because what she desired was freedom and she did not wish to lose her commitment to that end in the pursuit of petty revenge. She regretted that she had not asked the creature once more to tell her a way to escape the fairy's power, but dismissed the feeling as a futile hope; the curious guest could not have told her what she wished to know, and perhaps did not even know itself. Emma glanced once more at the passage down which the creature had vanished, and then returned, discontented, to the ballroom.

****

Through the trees of a forest grown ancient and close,
It departed the
brugh, its demeanour jocose.

Comments

( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
gignocum
Nov. 13th, 2010 03:55 pm (UTC)
eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!
gignocum
Nov. 13th, 2010 04:04 pm (UTC)
PS: [points at the 'it' in 'exacting a sort of revenge for having been banished it from the hall earlier']

[wants to dance to 'Moon Shadows Come Tuesday' or 'Goblin and the Chicken'].

[glares indignantly at LJ]
fog_shadow
Nov. 13th, 2010 06:55 pm (UTC)
[grins]

I'm glad you enjoyed it. :)

(And thanks for the note about the stray `it'; I suspect that sentence must once have existed in some form that was rather more active. And there I was congratulating myself for managing to catch a stray `in' in one of my passes at revision. :P )
flo_nelja
Nov. 13th, 2010 07:07 pm (UTC)
Wow! It really works as a crossover, and I'm impressed. It does justice to the strangeness of both worlds, different ones but which can work together (to puzzle poor Lady Pole a little more)
fog_shadow
Nov. 13th, 2010 11:13 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I'm very glad you liked it. I actually spent part of today rereading my way through the Amphigoreys and found several more stories that could also exist in the same world as JS&MN.

Btw, I love your icon!
(Anonymous)
Nov. 17th, 2010 08:14 pm (UTC)
This is brilliant! I love it!

--LastScorpion--
fog_shadow
Nov. 19th, 2010 06:08 pm (UTC)
Thanks!
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )