Tuesday 17 January 2012

Allison Symes
Bitter Lemon
8th August 1999
Graxia, I owe you this. For heaven’s sake reconsider your career while you can. The Queen’s armed brigade will only give you grief. Your lineage shouldn’t mean you automatically endanger yourself because Her Nibs says so. You’ve more right than most to question her right to do so.
I escaped recruitment by our “beloved” monarch, who hasn’t realized if she ruled half way decently, she wouldn’t have her current problems. How dare she bring her human paramours to our world! And she wonders why there are riots!
I’ve had to keep moving but that’s due to the one person, who knew what I did at Red Hill, pursuing me. I’ve had to lose myself. It wasn’t a ploy to cause you problems, honestly, but I know how it looks.
By the time you get this, the long-suffering Council should have tackled your troublesome relative. Word has reached me a dragon will be involved so I’ll be safe. The one person who’s threatened me…ah… I hear the bell. I’m not expecting anyone. Damn. It is her. It’s time to fly…
29th March 2003
Graxia, I know this is one hell of a gap since I last wrote but I’ve spent more time in muddy ditches than I care to relate. I finally bought a cottage when a hurricane came from nowhere and whisked it away as I was about to go in for tea. I should’ve stayed inside and gone to Oz! I couldn’t believe my rotten luck. I did wonder if I’d been cursed but I found no traces.
This really is the first opportunity I’ve had to write. Think back. What are your earliest memories of me? The eccentric fairy out in all weathers obsessed with flora and fauna? I knew the best way to get out of trouble was to lose myself in a new persona. The old biddy that can identify any bird anywhere and who lectures everyone on the environment… you soon get known as a bore. People avoid bores, which suited me just fine.
Had folk known I defeated Mestrinna, the legendary Chief Witch (and she is the best witch leader they’ve ever had), at Red Hill, I’d never have been left alone. And I’ve no time for the celebrity fairy circuit. Nor would I have welcomed attention from those witches miffed at the fight result! Foolishly I raced downhill to stop her destroying the village. I guess instinct took over but I wasn’t going to let her kill those villagers.
Mestrinna wanted to recruit me, see. I kept saying no so she arranged Red Hill to force me into showing my skills. I should’ve fled but couldn’t leave those poor villagers to their fate, so exposed my magic, didn’t I? I hid my face but Mestrinna laughed and said “Got you!” and threatened to use the detonation spell, meaning the end of us all for a radius of three miles, if I didn’t join her at once. I had to fight Mestrinna then. I had to win. So I did.
I knew I wasn’t out of trouble. Your aunt would’ve ensured I fought for her if she realised who, what was that in her speech, oh yes, “that heroic fairy” was. I saw what she did to other “useful” fairy godmothers. Send them out to fight foul beasts at all times and in all conditions and was she sympathetic when they came back injured, if they returned? What do you think? Don’t say she worried about the state of the realm. She should’ve worried about the state of her staff!
So I ran… I knew I dared not be myself again.
I see a shadow and it’s not mine. Bloody hell, how can she know I’m here?
5th October 2005
Graxia, I’m doing better with my narrative now. To say my life would be ruined if my pursuer catches me is an understatement. I’m 350 years old now. I’ve spent 300 years on the run. It’s felt at least as twice as long. I thought when your aunt was eaten head first by that dragon, as I predicted (remember?), my problems might be over. Your aunt knew how to pick quarrels. Still that overgrown lizard had the last word in the end, didn’t he? And don’t act all horrified on me. I know you found your aunt difficult. We all did. Sadly this realm is better off without her.
With your aunt gone, it was felt Mestrinna would calm down (no more provocation), I thought. I must say you’ve restrained Mestrinna well since I’ve been “gone”. I’ve watched your career. And now you’re Queen… chosen by the Council … remember they selected the dragon for your aunt. Heaven help you if you rebel. To say the magical realm isn’t forgiving is an understatement. Try to understand my motives. They weren’t entirely selfish (though I will admit some were, but when has the survival instinct ever been unselfish? How can it be?).
I was your age now when I lost myself. I knew to throw folk off the scent I’d have to do it directly after Red Hill. Now it’s second nature but it wasn’t at the start. Suppressing magic is harder than you think. When your aunt was alive avoiding situations where you had to use magic was easier said than done. But I did it. Gained a reputation for cowardice. I ran at any hint of trouble to “save the wildlife”. Did I care? To begin with, yes. I was no coward at Red Hill. But then I realised the taunting helped me. Mestrinna knew she faced no coward. This coward turning up everywhere couldn’t possibly be her nemesis. With your aunt gone, I only had Mestrinna to fool. I thought that would be easy. Ha! Never presume anything. There’s an unwritten law somewhere stating you’ll be wrong. I know how true that is.
6th October 2005
Wow! These are my first consecutive diary entries. Mestrinna is pursuing me. Could you call her off now you’re the big boss? I’ve seen her towering black hat. She always wears it. I saw it often enough when I fought her. If I hadn’t displayed magic then, she’d have killed me. Fear does that. At one point I didn’t know who I feared most – Mestrinna or your flaming aunt (though thanks to the dragon she’s no longer that). I’ve always wanted to be my own fairy. Nothing is to stop me, including you. Damn… I heard something on the roof...
10th October 2005
Graxia, the disruption on the blasted roof was the cat from next door. It was a cat. I know the signs of a witch, fairy or wizard being another species for the evening. Let’s say that animal won’t bother me again and there’ll be fewer kittens. I know. I care about wildlife. How could I do that to a cat? Easily, since you ask. There are too many strays. Having suppressed magic and developed expert knowledge on flora and fauna, I thought that’d be it. My magic belonged to someone I’d never display again, a me that was best lost for good. Any hint of my talents might trigger inconvenient memories.
The wretched Fairy News Network shows me you’ve taken to the magical life, with its danger, and the Crown, with its pomp. I’ve developed love for the natural world, any natural world, and all I’ve suffered has been the odd bout of hayfever. Do I regret my actions? No. I’m telling you this because you accelerated through the ranks faster than you would otherwise have done thanks to my “not being available”. You owe me. Call off Mestrinna. Only you can restrain her. Your aunt put expertise above royal blood so you wouldn’t automatically have got promotion. It was no coincidence all the reward posters seeking the Red Hill heroine were never answered. Whenever I could destroy those blasted adverts, I did. I got loads of them…
11th October 2005
It looks like I might stay here after all. This is the longest quiet period I’ve known. I’ve been here since spring and have planted daffodils and bluebells for next year. It’s a thatched place with a big garden and many feeders to attract the birds. Are you thinking I haven’t successfully got lost given I’ve had someone pursuing me? You’re wrong. Bar Mestrinna the Kingdom hasn’t had a clue. Who do FNN call when they want a wildlife expert? Me, of course, so I have fooled folk. Daft old biddy, out in all weathers, can’t possibly be hiding something, could she?
My moving around shows my dedication to exploring the Kingdom and the variety of life here. Sounds good, doesn’t it, but it’s true. I’ve learned far more about the creatures, mythical and otherwise, who live in our realm than I might otherwise have done.
I thought I’d never have to worry about Mestrinna again. Always ensure you know nothing from your past can haunt you. Mestrinna had skulked in her castle for years. What the Kingdom hasn’t realised is she’s sneaked out to see if this wildlife nut was the fairy who nearly killed her. You’ve had less hassle as monarch than your aunt thanks to Mestrinna keeping quiet. This diary will reach you once I’m dead. A few charms that can’t be overturned have taken care of that. If Mestrinna felt she could use you to get to me, she would. See! Thoughtful to the end, that’s me.
12th October 2005
A thought occurs. A thought I should’ve considered before but didn’t. I have thought of one very good reason why you may resent me. If I had fulfilled my fairy godmother role, as I should have done, the pressure would’ve been off you all these years, yes? Mestrinna has scared you, has she not? But it’s made you. You faced up to her. I faced Mestrinna once. I never want to see her again. Your courage is greater than mine. Oh damn…. Someone’s walked through the wall.
Postscript to diary written by Mestrinna, Chief Witch
Dearest, darling, Graxia (ha ha!), or should I say Your Majesty,
I only just missed you last week! Gave you and the Council a fright, didn’t I? I found this book on the sofa in this tatty cottage I invaded. The fairy known as Rose has gone. I didn’t kill her. She vanished as I walked through her wall. Damn her. She always was good at that spell.
I’ve known for ages that biddy waffling on about feeding the birds nearly killed me at Red Hill. There are things no magic will totally disguise – mannerisms, body language and so on. Now she’s vanished on me again.
I wasn’t going to kill her. Someone who could nearly defeat me and hold me at bay for so long is someone to recruit. Your aunt would have recruited her. She had an eye for talent and potential threats. You know what they say about it being better to have your enemy on the inside urinating out as opposed to being outside urinating in… And I tidied that up due to your regal sensibilities, Graxia.
I’ll give you your due though. Your aunt was as sensitive as a concrete block. You’re not upsetting the realm. You’ll do as monarch. You'll get no higher praise than that.
But I’m getting Rose. Rose is brilliant at getting lost. I will find her, no matter how long it takes. Rose will contact you again later. She won’t be able to help herself. Her diary shows an almost desperate need to confess!
I will check you. If you issue warnings and an old apple woman turns up I’ll be after her. Nobody keeps losing me. Correction. Rose has. But she’s not getting away with it. I swear she won’t.
For your sake, Graxia, don’t get in my way, will you?
After all I know where your Council got that dragon from…
Who do you think told them where to get one in the first place and persuaded that dragon to co-operate with them?
Alison Symes was published in Bridge House’s Alternative Renditions anthology and long-listed in their Debut Novel competition. Writers’ News awarded second prize to Life is What You Make It. The Lady in White is on www.shortbreadstories.com. She was a Brit Writers' Awards Finalist and commended at Winchester Writers’ Conference in 2011.

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