Nine-year-old Charlotte figures she must be the luckiest kid on the planet--she's just been adopted by three fairies. Her new life plunges her into the middle of a war for the crown of the Fairy Queen, taking her from her small New Jersey town into the antiques district of Philadelphia and to dazzling fairy cities hidden in the woods, in an adventure filled with magic and dragons and stealing sports cars. But as Charlotte and the rival fairy queens approach the end of their quest, things take a turn that not even the fairies could have expected...
Read a review, and the first chapters below:
The fairy crouched in the cover of a stand of scrub pine, watching the little yellow house as the daylight faded to the silvery dark of a snowy winter night. Lights appeared in the house’s windows as the darkness grew. The fairy never moved an inch—even the birds and squirrels did not notice her presence. Hours went by, and the fairy never moved. Not until near midnight, when the people inside the little house had turned off the last of the lights and gone to bed, did the fairy leave her hiding place.
Without a sound, the fairy left the cover of the trees and crept towards the house. She wore a long, dark coat, the hood pulled up to conceal her face. She clutched a bundle of blankets close to her chest.
The front door of the house opened at a touch from the fairy’s hand, and she went inside. Down the hall, up the stairs, and along another hallway, the fairy found the baby’s room. Pink wooden letters on the door spelled “CHARLOTTE.”
Inside, the nursery held an eerie silence. Dust had al-ready settled on the white changing table and on the white wooden dresser. The crib stood empty, baby blankets folded and hanging over one side. The fairy went over to the window and opened the curtains. The bundle of blankets in her arms began to stir.
She had watched the young couple in their yellow house for several days, and it seemed that fate had led her to them. Their little girl, Charlotte had been born three days ago in the nearby hospital. She had come into the world weak and sickly, and after only two days, the infant had died in her sleep. The fairy had shared the parents’ grief. She followed them back from the hospital, her heart heavy as she saw them arrive home to the pretty nursery they had prepared for the child who would never see it. The fairy’s own infant was born that night.
The fairy wiped her eyes on the back of her hand, gazing down at the bundle of blankets. The baby looked back at her with wide, unblinking eyes, identical to the fairy’s own. She wondered if her baby knew she wasn’t coming back.
It was better this way, the fairy thought. As she gazed around the room, the dust cleared itself from the furniture and the pink bedding arranged itself into the crib. Another of her spells left the room, though it could not be seen or heard, and drifted into the sleeping parents’ bedroom. It wiped their memories clean of the last several days, replacing those memories with new ones—new ones of the birth of their daughter, Charlotte; and of bringing a healthy baby Charlotte home to the yellow house. They would feel no more pain over the loss of their child. And the fairy’s own child would have a loving family to take care of her.
Only the fairy herself would remember the loss of the first Charlotte, and feel the absence of her own daughter.
She stood over the crib and tried to will herself to put her baby in it, but her arms would not obey. She would have had to do this anyway, the fairy reminded herself. Fairy children—changelings—had to live with a human mother for three months once they were born. While human infants could grow up perfectly healthy with baby formula, changelings could have only a human mother’s milk. Normally, a fairy mother would leave her own infant and care for the human child for three months until she changed them back.
But the fairy had no intention of coming back. She knew her baby was better off here, in the yellow house—she would grow up as Charlotte, with a caring mother and father, human in a human world, never knowing about her true origins. Many fairies would see this as the ultimate crime, and the worst kind of betrayal of the Fae world, but the fairy mother believed her baby would be far better here, where she had the chance to be happy and well taken care of. The fairy did not think that she could ever make a child happy.
With shaking hands, the fairy lowered the baby into the crib, tucking the blankets around her. The baby stared up at her mother with those wide eyes, and the fairy had to look away. Though it felt as though her heart was break-ing, she left the nursery, left the yellow house, and she did not look back.
…NINE YEARS LATER…
1. - CHARLOTTE
Frost crunched under Charlotte’s too-tight snow boots as she made her way across the park towards the swings. She didn’t really think this was the best weather for playing outdoors—overcast, cold, and damp, with a sharp wind that stung the skin—but then again it wouldn’t be much better indoors with Mrs. Ceausescu and her after-Christmas grumps. Charlotte had only a few precious days of vacation left before school started up again after the New Year, and she did not want to waste them.
Allison shoved Charlotte from behind and ran for the swings, Ricky right behind her. Charlotte frowned as they laughed at her and took both swings. She turned and headed for the rusty jungle gym instead.
“Snooze you lose!” Allison exclaimed.
“The baby swings are over there, Charlotte-the-Gnome,” Ricky added.
Charlotte thought they were ones who looked like ba-bies. Allison was so tall she towered over everyone else in her sixth grade class; and Ricky was thirteen, which Charlotte thought seemed a little old for the swings. But she could never think of comebacks fast enough, so she ignored them.
She dreaded going back to school the following week. It was bad enough that Allison, Ricky, and the other kids in the home poked fun at her for being small, or quiet, or weird, or a bookworm, or anything else they could find to ridicule. The kids at school were worse because on top of all that, they made fun of her for being a foster child as well.
On the far side of the jungle gym—the spot farthest from Allison and Ricky—Charlotte sat down and pulled off her gloves. The cold didn’t bother her like it seemed to bother most people. Plus the gloves had holes in them, so it wasn’t like they kept her hands very warm anyway. She picked up a few rocks and started throwing them towards the sidewalk, aiming for the sewer opening. She got all of the rocks in.
Stifling a yawn—Charlotte hadn’t slept well the previ-ous night—she took to watching the squirrels as they scrambled up and down a clump of pine trees. Her mind felt fuzzy and uneasy, that strange anxious feeling that seemed to always linger after bad dreams. Though she could not actually recall most of the dream, she had the feeling that she’d had that dream before. She remembered darkness and woods, and then a dark house with creaky floorboards. And someone walking away from her while she cried and cried for them to come back.
Which was ridiculous, because Charlotte never cried. She thought crying was for sissies.
She began pelting rocks towards the squirrels. Not at them, but close enough to annoy them. Across the street, a woman had just exited the health food store on the corner. She had long, flowing white-blonde hair that fell down past her waist, and a lacy white coat. On her way down the sidewalk, the woman glanced at Charlotte and stopped.
She only stopped and stared for about a second, maybe two, and then walked away. Before long, she turned the corner and disappeared from Charlotte’s view.
The woman had looked strange. Strikingly beautiful, but strange—like the delicate features of her face didn’t quite match each other. Charlotte wondered why she had stopped and stared. Perhaps the woman was her long-lost mother, and in a couple of minutes she would drive up alongside the park and take Charlotte away and they could go live somewhere exotic, far from Mrs. Ceausescu and her crowded house.
Of course, Charlotte’s parents were dead, but she could still dream. She often fantasized about getting swept away by a new mother, one who would give her a new and wonderful life.
As the day wore on, Charlotte forgot the white-haired woman, but that odd dream-uneasiness persisted. A feeling like someone was watching her. Something nagged and nudged at her, and she had the strong feeling that there was something nearby that she couldn’t quite see.
2. - A SMALL FAVOR
When one thinks of fairies, one tends to conjure up delightful images of small, glittering, winged creatures with cute, pointy faces and magic wands. One would probably not imagine a creature like Saturnine, who stood in the empty churchyard leaning up against a cracked grey mausoleum, her arms folded across her chest and a great frown upon her otherwise pretty face. Saturnine, while quite a bit more petite than the average human, was not small and insect-sized as many people presumed fairies to be, and she did not have wings (although she did have pointy ears, and in the right light, she glittered just a little). She was probably more beautiful when not frowning, but those who knew her would never have called her cute. And Saturnine did not carry a magic wand of any kind. She did, however, carry a sword and a few knives, all currently sheathed at her black leather belt, with one knife sheathed in her black boot.
With an equal mixture of trickery and dumb luck, Sat-urnine had acquired the title of Queen of the Fairies, having ended the eight-month rule of Hallestrina (who in turn had stolen the crown from Cassandra, who had reigned for five months). And so fair-haired Saturnine stood, the little silver tiara sparkling atop her head, her green eyes—the strange bluish-green of spruce trees—sparkling with impatience as she watched the church’s double doors. She glanced at the sky, reading half past ten in the morning from the sun’s position, and then let out a sigh.
Saturnine did not like churches for the simple fact that she, as a fairy, could not set foot inside one. That was one of the Rules. Another of the Rules dictated that no Queen of the Fairies could remain so for very long without the Queen’s Cusp, the long-lost fairy treasure and the reason that Saturnine stood outside the old stone church, scowling at the grand Gothic doors and the stained glass windows.
There was much speculation regarding the Queen’s Cusp. No one knew exactly what it was, never mind its approximate location. Some believed “cusp” was a misspelling of “cups,” and that the Queen’s Cups were in fact a collection of solid gold goblets, or perhaps a tea set made of the very finest bone china. Saturnine did not hold with such nonsense; she had a funny feeling that the Queen’s Cusp was something intangible and not easily categorized.
The bells of the church rang out, but Saturnine did not hear them (fairies could not hear church bells, as a Rule). She saw the church doors swing open to expel a blushing bride in all her white finery, the queasy-looking groom at her side, and their families pushing them out towards a waiting white limousine. A few moments after the last of the wedding party left the church, a skinny black cat came through the double doors. It saw Saturnine and trotted towards the place where she stood among the ancient mausoleums and the faded headstones, offering as mischievous a smile as a cat can give.
“Saturnine,” called the cat as he approached her. “Or should I bow down and say ‘Your Highness?’ I only just heard the wonderful news.”
“Jackfairy?” Saturnine frowned down at the cat in con-fusion. “What sort of trick is this? You are not the man whom I knew to be Jackfairy, and yet your eyes are the same.”
The cat scowled. “Then call me Nothing, for that is what I am.”
“What has happened to you?”
The black cat sat down on his haunches, flicking his tail. “I was punished.”
Saturnine’s mouth curved into a smile, and the cat Jackfairy wondered how fairies so often went unnoticed by humans. The Fairy Queen had sharp and pointy features, and if she had stood alongside a normal, average-looking human, Jackfairy thought that one could easily point out what made her look so inhuman. It was something in the arch of the too-long eyebrows, in the sharp angles of the small nose, the subtle strangeness of the mouth, and the too-big eyes. Her hair, too—at first glance it appeared pale blonde, but was actually closer to pale lavender.
“So, you have information on the Queen’s Cusp?” asked Saturnine.
She stood with one small, pale hand on the hilt of her sword, and Jackfairy eyed the sword warily.
“I do,” he replied. “Something I heard in passing, but considering the one who said it, I imagine the information is accurate. Or at least, as accurate as these things can be.”
“And what do you want in exchange for this infor-mation?”
“Nothing now. A Favor later. I want your word in writing.”
Saturnine frowned, considering, and then nodded. “Fine.”
“I want it signed in blood,” Jackfairy added. “I know how you fairies operate.”
“Very well,” Saturnine growled.
She dug in the pockets of her black jacket and removed a small, crumpled notebook, from which she tore out a sheet of paper and smoothed it out on a nearby head-stone. She drew the dagger from her black boot and made a quick slash along her right arm. Jackfairy failed to hide his surprise when he saw her blood—it flowed from her arm in a mix of brilliant, glittering gold and a deep pine green.
“Shocked, are you?” Saturnine laughed, dragging the blade along the wound. “It shouldn’t surprise you any-more.”
“It’s still a bit unnerving when you see it up close,” Jackfairy confessed.
Saturnine shrugged and started to write on the blank page of the notebook using the blade of the dagger.
“Our auras are in our blood,” she explained. “One can decipher a fairy’s dominant personality traits from the color of the blood.”
“I always thought yours should be red,” said Jackfairy, “you being a Warrior. Green seems far too calm.”
Saturnine said nothing. She folded the piece of paper and held it out to Jackfairy. He reached for it with a paw, but she held it back.
“Now tell me,” she said, “what did you hear?”
“From the lips of the Locust Man himself,” Jackfairy replied. “He said that a map of the Queen’s Cusp’s location is hidden in the city of Philadelphia, lost there when the city was still new. There is a woman in an antique shop on Pine Street who has the map. The map is hidden inside an item that, though valuable, has never sold.”
Saturnine waited for him to continue. He didn’t.
“That’s it? What shop? What is the object that never sells?”
“I’m afraid that’s all I have to offer,” said Jackfairy.
Saturnine fixed him with a glare that could have made even the bravest of men run for their lives. Having known her for so long, Jackfairy knew the glare well—the eyes flashed with a red fury, the nostrils flared, and for just a moment she looked completely inhuman and monstrous. It vanished almost as soon as it had appeared.
“Well, it’s more information than any other fairy has!” he exclaimed, his fur bristling. “And, I’ve heard that Hallestrina is looking for the Cusp, too. You know she won’t give up until she finds it, or at least until she’s Queen again. And now you know more than she does.”
Saturnine scowled, irritated, but knew that he was right. She placed the favor on the ground beside him, and he unfolded it and read it before folding it again with a dirty paw and picking the paper up in his mouth. In gold and green glittering script, she had written, “Saturnine promises to grant one Favor to Jackfairy, at such time as he requests it.”
“I suppose I should head to Philadelphia, then,” said Saturnine, and left Jackfairy standing alone in the grave-yard.