lilting tune. “Broken mirror, ‘gainst the wall. You know who, give her a call.”
Like liquid metal, Philomene’s reflection warped into a puddle of lavender before displaying a red glass jewel. Philomene had not figured out how to make the mirror display more than still images, but it could at least transmit sound. The jewel flickered as Marjorie’s voice came over from the other line, low and husky as usual.
“Your Highness? Is everything alright in there? Nothing amiss?”
Philomene shook her head even knowing Marjorie couldn’t see it, dark braids entwined with violet ribbons falling in her face. “I felt a little tremor earlier and thought I heard thunder for some time, but you know I’m perfectly safe in here. And you’re one to worry me and then sound alarmed when I call! Where have you been? It’s been hours.”
“Ah, yes. I apologize, Highness. It was, there was…” The red jewel was still for a moment. “Oh, there’s no delicate way to put it. The owner of the house returned.”
“…Oh.” Philomene felt herself deflate a bit. “Well, then. That would explain the thunder and the tremors. I suppose I should prepare us for another move. I can secure everything in a matter of a few hours…” She could already sense how sore she’d be after that much work in so little time, but she knew Marjorie couldn’t really help her. And everything had to be secured; her research couldn’t be compromised by a potentially dangerous escape through the forest. There was no evidence a Sky Island giant would be hostile to a Flower Folk princess, but why take the risk?
“No, no! You misunderstand. He’s not G. Chulainn. She? Well, I don’t know whether G. Chulainn was a he or a she but he, the host, is not G. Chulainn.”
“…This is good news?”
“This is fantastic news! He’s a giant indeed, but there seems to be a heart of gold underneath all that bulk. Or maybe bread dough. Marshmallow candy. The sum of it is we can stay, and I’ve even convinced him to let us keep the bedroom.”
Philomene raised an eyebrow at this. It wasn’t that she couldn’t buy the idea of a gentle giant; while she only knew giants in an abstract sense as something great and distant, the sprite princess was well acquainted with large, benevolent beings. It just seemed a bit too easy to be true. And it wasn’t that she suspected trickery on the part of a giant, who would have no reason to hide his nature if he had the famed strength of his kind.
Marjorie knew that tone right away, it seemed. “I didn’t trick him!”
“I was honest with him. I even admitted I was in a perilous situation, and I didn’t make up any stories this time.”
Philomene cleared her throat. “Marjorie Muller of the House of Fallen Snow.” The full name was a sharp weapon to wield, one Philomene had learned from her own mother. She didn’t like using it lightly, especially not on her best friend.
It did seem to work, as Marjorie mock-whimpered on the other end of the mirror. “I may not have mentioned your presence here. It’s possible I neglected to mention it yet. I mean, why burden him with information that’s of no use to him and will just add to his woes?”
‘She means well,’ Philomene told herself as she took a deep breath, feeling blood rush to her face out of frustration. ‘She was trained to use any art possible to protect me. This is for my sake, so I musn’t be spoiled…’
“So he thinks you just…keep a tiny, grand house around? Do humans really do that?”
“Dollhouses, Princess! I told you. It has nothing to do with the Flower Folk. He just thinks I have a hobby. And I mean, it’s not a lie! I just don’t know him well enough yet. I can trust him with my life. What if he’s greedy and learns there’s a ransom out there for you? There’s a lot of-”
“A lot of dangers out there. I know.” Philomene looked wistfully out the glass window of her home, where she could see the glint of the fireplace. It wasn’t the glorious blue sky she’d seen in those few lucky glances, but after what had happened last time she could hardly blame Marjorie for being overly cautious. That beautiful sky was full of birds, and she never wanted to face that storm of feathers and ravenous screeching again.
“You know how I feel about deception,” she continued. “Just because someone might have a heart of marshmallow doesn’t mean you or I have the right to shape it for our own sakes. You should at least tell him sometime. You are planning on telling him sometime?”
“I’m planning on finding our solution before then! But, well. I do have good news on that front.” Marjorie sounded a little less guilty and defensive, at least. “He’s of the name Kettle. You think it’s ‘that’ Kettle? He is a cook…”
“Kettle?” Philomene’s eyes flew to the few books she’d been able to rescue in their hurried escape. She paid no heed to the culinary arts, but there had been a mention of a Wizard ‘Keytl’ in a history book detailing the schools of magic. “It seems like a bit of a long shot. If he’s down here and not in the Sky Islands, he’s probably not all that formidable. But living with a cook wouldn’t be so bad…”
“Hey! You don’t like my scrambled eggs? Just because they’re a little burnt…”
Philomene covered her mouth and chuckled. “I didn’t mean to insult your cooking, honestly. Crispy eggs are fine. And the blueberry slices made for a fine side dish. You’re honestly too good to me and here I am needling you…”
“If you were the sort to accept things without question, I’d be a little less enthusiastic about being your handmaiden. And jester. And bodyguard.” Marjorie sounded as if she were in equally good humor. “Anyway, I’m going to market tonight.”
“Again? I told you, the medicine doesn’t work as well if you’re sleep-deprived.”
“And if I miss a crucial ingredient or artifact because I’m catching my beauty sleep, the Thumbelina Kingdom pays for it. I mean, oh, you don’t have to worry about me! Really. I’m a big girl, Your Highness, even for a human.” Marjorie’s voice sounded a bit too flippant to be convincing, which didn’t help the knot of guilt that formed in Philomene’s stomach whenever Marjorie’s condition came up. “But if you order me to stay in, I’ll stay…”
Philomene clutched the edge of her bell-shaped sleeves and frowned, pulling at the frayed satin fabric. Marjorie would stay if she ordered it; with one word from Philomene, Marjorie would act as if she’d forgotten the very existence of that strange Moonflower Market, and they could proceed with a curse-breaking plan that didn’t involve dealing with witches. But that plan didn’t exist, and like it or not, Moonflower appeared to be their best shot. Without it she wouldn’t have the cowrie shell sitting in the corner of the lab, worn smooth with arcane markings, or the mirror shard, the spindle-needle heavy with fairy magic or the bridge of an enchanted fiddle. That none of Philomene’s experiments on those artifacts and fragments had led to more than curiosities was besides the point; they had led to something, at least.
And as a princess, it was her duty to prioritize that over the well-being of a friend who insisted she was fine.
“You can go,” she relented, defeat evident in her voice. “But you’re spending the next three nights sleeping. And take your medicine with tea or food! Melchior tells me you’ve been chewing it dry and swallowing it with a little water. It’s not as effective that way.”
“Melchi-ugh, that nosy little moth! As you wish, Doctor. I mean, Princess.”
The transmission ended seconds later, the image rippling away to reveal Philomene sitting with her soft-slipper shoes hanging over the edge of the wooden spool. She grabbed her cane and eased herself down, dusting herself off and walking over to the wooden block she used as a worktable, having found the miniature Marjorie had carved for her too delicate to be practical for her purposes. She reached over and tied her hair up in a wrap to get it out of the way, rolled up her sleeves and frowned.
Sitting on the block was a bean, light green in color, swollen to double its original size from an overnight water bath. If Marjorie worried about her going outside of the dollhouse, this would give the bodyguard-jester fits. Even Philomene had to admit it was completely reckless on her part to have exposed the bean to water, though it hadn’t shown any signs of strange activity or rampant growth. A quick cut had split it right open, revealing it to be a perfectly ordinary bean.
Either Marjorie’s hunch was correct and this was another fake, or there was another factor at work.
“It’s so strange. Beans, roses, peas…How can something so innocuous as a plant doom an entire city?”