Get a taste of the funny, romantic, high-flying fairy tale, The Flight of The Starling, by reading Part One, where we meet our heroine on a hunt for forbidden fairies using magical detecting gear.
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Part One, In Which We Meet a Beautiful Princess with an Interest in Fairies
Once upon a time, there lived a beautiful princess with the most amazing collection of magical artifacts ever assembled this side of Merlin’s boot closet (which historians have never been able to locate and therefore never catalog, but we can assume some pretty terrific magical thingamajigs were in it, so I’m sure you get what I mean).
This princess (whose name, if you want to know, was Lily) had long flowing locks of chestnut hair, and eyes that were, depending on her mood and the weather outside, sometimes green, sometimes brown, and, occasionally, golden. They were always fiery. Her eyebrows seemed always to be asking a question, and her lips looked like they knew the answer. Her nose, I’m afraid, was remarkably dull, but overall the people of her kingdom of Starling found her “radiant” and “stunning – a royal gem!” (Sir Scandalot of the Knightly Times).
Princess Lily had a magical mirror with one side that showed you the person you always hoped you might be, and the other showed your inner, true, undeniable self. Princess Lily liked to use this device to look under her bed. Mostly she saw dust bunnies munching around, and one or two home gnomes who must not have liked themselves much, based on what the mirror showed her.
She had a magical key ring that always came when you called it, only it happened to have a name that was hard to pronounce (try to say “ghoti” while sneezing). If Princess Lily didn’t get the inflection just right, the key ring’s feelings were hurt, and it would sulk for days and not come out. She’d given up locking her lavatory, rather than risk never seeing daylight again.
Princess Lily had scads and scores of these kinds of magical artifacts. Little dolls that danced the tarantella. Crystals that sang, only slightly off-key, when the sun shone on them. A hat that always made your hair look better, instead of worse. They coated the shelves in her bed chamber. They dripped off the end tables onto the floor. They made sweeping under the bed nearly impossible, much to the delight of the dust bunnies.
On the day of the Grand Duke’s son’s bris, Princess Lily and her friend, Alistrina, were out in the kitchen garden using magical artifacts to hunt for fairies. The princess knew fairies existed, but she’d never personally seen one, the way you know grizzly bears are real but haven’t run into any on your way to the pickle emporium. The Grand Duke was rumored to keep fairy servants, and since baby-related ceremonies are favorable times to have Little Folk around, he might have brought them to Castle Starling. Princess Lily hoped so, anyway.
“Anything yet?” Princess Lily asked her friend.
“I’m afraid not.” Alistrina, a blonde, solid girl whose only true beauty was the perfect orderliness of her teeth, waved her hand around in slow circles in front of her. She turned toward different parts of the late-spring garden, the green vines climbing trellises, neat rows of vegetables, and sunshine filtering through the fruit trees near the sandstone courtyard wall. “Not a flicker on this Fairy Ring.” The large gem in the Ring she wore – magicked to change color in the presence of fairy folk – was a soft and resolute blue. “What about you, see anything special?”
Princess Lily adjusted the large pink spectacles she wore over her amazing eyes. “Well, that goat over there should really be chased out of the turnip patch.” She pointed to a male gardener pulling turnips up by the root. He sat back and stroked his rather pointy beard, and laughed. Lily waved a hand at him and said, “Shoo!”
Alistrina rolled her eyes, deciding not to explain this to the princess, who began collecting magical artifacts because of her obsession with fairies. In the Enlightened Kingdoms, an average family might have two or three treasured magical items, passed down as precious heirlooms, and royalty like the Starlings had a few dozen amusing trinkets, but still needed servants to sweep and cook and garden in a most un-magical manner. “Perhaps the Rose-Colored Glasses aren’t working,” suggested Alistrina. “Shouldn’t they be showing the magical creatures around you, not goats?”
“They’re supposed to see through magical enchantments, so if a fairy is disguised behind a glamour, I should be able to see it,” said the princess. “Come on, there’s nothing out here. Let’s try the kitchen.”
Cooks were pulling copper pots off racks, chopping vegetables and lamb on different ends of the chopping blocks in the castle’s large kitchen, and otherwise stirring, baking, or bustling around to make the feast.
“I don’t understand why your father doesn’t just get you a fairy. Can’t the king get you anything you want?” Alistrina nicked a pastry from a basket and shared a smile with the baker.
Alistrina was from the neighboring realm of Lualdath, so the ways of Starling and King William were foreign to her. “My father banned fairies from the kingdom,” explained Princess Lily, leaning back against the wooden counter. “When my father was a prince, my grandfather tried to give him a fairy companion, but granddad didn’t know much about fairies. He ended up getting a changeling, which was just a boy with slightly pointy ears. My dad got along with ‘Fred the fairy’ for a while, but when he started refusing to eat his special diet of green leaves and sunshine, and wanted to share the prince’s human food, people figured it out. My father always says this fascination with fairies is nonsense liable to lead to disappointment and a smaller share of cake. When he became king, he fired all the fairy servants. Only really special guests like the Grand Duke are even allowed to bring them in, and only if my father doesn’t have to feed them.”
“But you were telling me about home gnomes who stole your keys. Don’t they count?”
“Other fae-kind are still allowed. Ever since last fall’s Curdled Custard Fiasco, I’ve suspected trolls of haunting the castle. But fairies aren’t welcome, and it’s been so many years, now they mostly stay away.”
“Not that it keeps her highness from looking for them,” piped in a baker, vigorously kneading dough nearby. “We all know what you’re looking for, highness, with them rosy specs.” The large woman nodded her head knowingly.
“I’ve never actually seen a fairy,” Lily finished wistfully.
Many girls love stories about pixies, nixies, and sprites, but Lily’s obsession went beyond the typical, in spite of, and perhaps because, her father was the one who had pushed them out of her reach. Princess Lily thought of fairies the way some girls think of “bad boys.” She knew very well that they could be mischievous, sly, and selfish, but they were also dashing, mysterious, forbidden, and incredibly romantic. If a fairy had shown up at Castle Starling wearing a motorcycle jacket and a disrespect for authority, you can be sure Princess Lily would have been head over heels before he spoke a word with his pouty, mutinous mouth.
Alistrina had more ordinary interests for a teenage girl. “How long are we going to keep looking? I saw the courtiers as they came in, and some of them were unbelievably cute. I don’t want to miss our chance to … bump into them.” Alistrina raised her eyebrows, implying many possibilities.
The princess resettled the Glasses on her nose. “We haven’t even finished this room yet. We’ll make it in time it to the feast after the ceremony.”
Alistrina sighed. “Alright but if the boy with the blue leaf doublet is talking to some other maiden by the time we get there, I may never forgive you.”
The search of the kitchen turned up bupkus — which is to say no fairies — as did the scullery, the servants’ quarters, the Tower Of The Moon and the one Of The Sun. Several times Alistrina reminded Princess Lily of her promise to get to the party. The princess reminded Alistrina whose castle she was in, then, feeling a twinge of remorse, repeated her promise that they could go soon.
Finally in the guest wing, they began to get results with their fairy detecting gear. Lily knew the bedspread on the large four-poster bed to be green, but it looked an awful mustard color with her pink Glasses. The person lodging in this room must’ve had some kind of pet, for a small iron cage lay on the floor in one corner, with a soft pillow inside and two small dishes for food and water.
“The Fairy Ring is flickering! I think it’s changing color,” Alistrina said. “Oh, good goblins, it was but only for a second.”
“Don’t swear, it’s un-lady-like,” shushed Princess Lily.
“And sneaking into guest’s rooms isn’t?”
Lily hesitated. It wasn’t proper to sneak into people’s rooms, even in her own castle, but she couldn’t think of a better chance to see a fairy in person, something she had yearned for all her life. She knew better than to ask straight out about the Grand Duke’s fairies – her father would surely make her sit through the hours-long “fairy nonsense” lecture again.
Finally she said, a high justifying tone slipping into her voice, “It’s not as if we’re snooping for people’s secrets. We’re only looking for fairies.”
Alistrina laughed. “It’s never ‘only’ with you, highness. Not when it’s anything to do with fairies.”
Princess Lily looked around the guest room with her Rose-Colored Glasses. Everything in the room looked ordinary, though pinkish. “Maybe we should stop now and just go to the par–“
She stopped abruptly, and pointed under a small table near the open door.
“Over there!” the princess whispered. “I see this faint trail of glitter. Try the Ring.”
Alistrina held her hand up where Lily pointed, as both girls took a silent step closer.
“I think it’s … yes … it’s changing to green.” They looked at the Ring as its neutral blue faded and transformed slowly to a swirling green, that meant a fairy had at long last been found.
They squealed in excitement and clasped each other’s hands. When they looked back at the Ring, the green was fading back to blue again. “What’s happening?” asked Alistrina.
The trail of glitter led from the original spot through the open door. “It’s on the run,” said Lily. “Quick!”
They ran out into the hallway which was lined with floor-to-ceiling tapestries. Quickly they figured out the fairy was heading in the direction of the Second Most Grand Hall. Though they couldn’t see the creature itself, they saw where it rippled the thick tapestries as it ran. The Fairy Ring kept detecting, flashing various colors as they chased it. The glittery shine the princess could see was strongest at the head of the trail, fading behind the fairy like the tail of a comet.
It was incredibly fast. Even as the girls ran down the hallway, the fairy was several yards ahead of them and they barely gained on it. Before they could get within a yard of it, they were all running into the Second Most Grand Hall and the crowded court.
The hall was a series of white plaster arches which intersected in three connected domes high overhead, with a delicate sandy yellow on the rounded walls in between. A plinth at the base of each arch held a potted ivy plant, which climbed and clung to the walls as the only decoration. Right then the hall was standing room only, with a rabbi, the duke’s family, and the king and queen on a little dais in front of a few hundred courtiers. The guest of honor was fussing and wondering when someone would change his diaper.
The princess and her friend looked anxiously over the heads of the throng, along the floor between noble knees, and then they began weaving through the crowd.
“A wing, I saw a wing! Just there, over that man’s shoulder!” Lily pointed.
“Yes, there’s green in that direction! Get closer!”
Anxious not to lose it, the maidens moved quickly, brushing and bumping past people to reach a short man with the most beautiful head of hair the princess had ever seen. On one shoulder of his gold jacket, peeking out from behind his collar, was a slender shimmering wing with purple tracings and an iridescent shine.
Behind her Glasses the princess’s eyes blinked from brown to green as a thrill swept through her chest. Lily pointed with her naked finger. Alistrina pointed with her ring finger. They nodded, and stepped toward the man.
He wasn’t much taller than Princess Lily. Turning toward Lily, he gave them a smile in silent greeting, which turned a little confused with an uplift of his brow, then downright alarmed as the brow flipped a U-ey when he realized their intense gaze was targeting him. He shifted his weight nervously from one foot to the other, and took a step backward.
The princess stared intently at his shoulder. Alistrina strained on tiptoe a little as the shoulder in question was turned away from her. As they approached, the Fairy Ring flickered green/blue/green/red/blue, and the Rose-Colored Glasses showed the gossamer wing slip out of sight around the man’s tall collar.
Princess Lily circled around to see the fairy. The small, glittering winged person looked up at her with knowing black eyes. By this point the little man was so perplexed and disquieted that when she reached for the fairy, he could do nothing but throw up his hands and emit a little shriek of terror.
Fortunately for our princess, at that same moment the ceremony concluded and everyone in the crowd was throwing up their hands and cheering. With the man’s sudden movement, the dainty creature clutched at his jacket with its tiny fingers, then fell. The man’s arm bumped Lily and her Glasses flew off, her eyes flashing bright green. The fairy fell into her waiting hands as Lily held her breath in elation and wonder at her first real fairy encounter.
But what landed in her hands, and what she saw with her unmagical, fiery eyes, wasn’t a fairy at all. It was long, furry, and weasel-like, with small rounded ears, a pointy pleasant face, short legs and a skinny tail. The animal was soft and white and looked up at her with knowing black eyes.
“Oh your highness, you gave me such a fright,” said the little man. Without the Glasses, Lily could see his coat was a light brown, not cloth-of-gold at all. His hair was as far from beautiful as a grown man can wear: streaks of greasy hair combed over a freckled bald spot.
“If only I had known your highness was interested in ferrets, I would have gladly shown you Stanley when the bris was over. But there, I see he likes you.”
“Stanley?” said Alistrina, in wonderment, finally getting a look at the creature.
“Ferret?” squeaked Princess Lily in disbelief. She looked down to see Stanley the Ferret chewing experimentally on the lace of her cuff, then give it up for a bad job and climb inside her wide bell sleeve. His tiny claws dug into the flesh of her arm.
She tried to grab him inside the sleeve without success, and Alistrina touched the outside of the dress to guide him out. Her Ring pulsed a most excited shade of green where her hand lay over the ferret. She and the princess locked eyes.
“Alistrina, are you absolutely sure that’s a Fairy Ring?” Her voice dropped to a dead-serious tone, or at least as serious as she could manage while trying to wrestle the ferret out of her dress.
“My maid said it was when she opened my birthday gifts and read me the cards.” Alistrina’s face contorted in remorse and confusion. “I suppose it’s possible I didn’t hear her right….”
“Are these yours, my dear?” The combed-over man handed the pink spectacles back to Princess Lily. “My brother has a pair of those. Magic shows you what you want to see most in the world. He married the ugliest girl I ever seen in my life, and lived happily with her these 20 years.
“And I see you’ve got a Ferret Ring!” He amiably brought up his hand to show Alistrina a ring the exact copy of her own. “No wonder you were both so keen on meeting Stanley. I never take mine off when I travel with him, makes no end of difference when trying to find him behind the couch cushions.”
Lily took one last hopeful jab for the day at her lifelong wish. “I don’t suppose you know whether the Grand Duke brought his fairy servants to the castle, do you?”
“No, his manservant was complaining to my manservant that he had ever so much more work because they left the fairies at home. Wouldn’t do to upset the king when he’s your host,” the ferret owner said with a smile.
By now Stanley had emerged from Lily’s sleeve onto her collarbone, where he was licking her neck and earlobe. It was a warm, cuddly sort of a thing, and it tickled. Lily was no longer startled by the ferret, and despite her disappointment over her failed fairy hunt, she couldn’t help laughing.
The Flight of The Starling, A Fairy Tale is available now on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and through IngramSpark for independent booksellers.