CHAPTER THREE
MAIRI

“Princess!” the kitchenfae called out with her sing-song voice that was going to take Mairi years to get used to. She was never one to like high-pitched screams, especially when they came from other parts of her castle. The fact that this place was nothing like that, and an eighth of the size of her castle, made it all the more annoying. Where she was now could only be explained as a hut where her bed was on the same floor as everything else only separated by a broken wooden door with a latch she was sure was going to get stuck and lock her in. It was clear that the magic that once resided here was no longer available, save for the trick of spells that clearly faded over time.

“Gonny no dae that!” she yelled back, telling the kitchenfae not to yell as she wrapped her hair in a cloth and opened the door. Her hair dripped on the wood as she made her way through the makeshift eating room, and then into the kitchen where Ch’aline had several pots on the stove, three trays filled with cookies, brownies, and some other type of dessert Mairi couldn’t place. The woman’s chestnut hair was wound tightly into a bun and an apron wrapped around her thin waist. When she turned to Mairi, it was with a spoon in her hand with some kind of orange sauce; her face was flush and dripping with sweat. Based on the mixed aromas of bread, vanilla, sugar, and milk, Mairi was sure Ch’aline had been in the kichen since before dayfall. 

“Try this,” the kitchenfae shoved the spoon of the foreign liquid into her mouth.

The fae princess didn’t have time to process what the kitchenfae was doing before her mouth was open and the hot spicy liquid coated her tongue. It was full of flavor, hot in temperature, but the spice cooled just as quickly as it had come. She took another spoonful and looked at the other woman when the taste filled her even more. “Ah dinnae ken what this is, Ch’aline, but it has certainly whetted my appetite.”

The older woman smiled broadly from cheek to cheek as color flushed into her face. “It’s my own recipe, princess, passed down many generations.” 

Mairi took another few spoonfuls before finishing. “Tis a belter. I’m sure many a generation have said the same.” 

The woman bowed her head in response. “Thank you, princess.” She took a seat across from the princess and folded her hands. “I heard you screaming in your sleep last night. Is something troubling you? You can share with me.” 

Mairi closed her eyes and took a deep breath. What wasn’t troubling her? She had to flee her home, her people, and could not remember why. “Aye, there is. I canna remember why I am here, Ch’aline. I verra much would like to go home.” 

She watched intently as darkness shadowed Ch’aline’s bright green eyes that reminded her of a cat. Just as quickly as the darkness had come, it had left and she couldn’t be sure she actually saw it. 

Ch’aline placed a warm and bony, wrinkled hand over hers. “Your father wanted to keep you safe from the war.” 

Mairi jerked her hand back and stood up, her heart beating wildly in her chest. “War? Zephendyr wasna at war. Dinnae be tellin’ lies, Ch’aline.”

“I’m not telling lies, dearie. Your kingdom was threatened with war by the vampire kingdom. Your father did not want you to be there when it happened. Said he needed his heir safe to come back and salvage what was left.” 

She shook her head and raked a hand through her hair. If there truly was a war, wouldn’t it have been best for her to fight? To support her family? The soldiers? Surely, it looked weak that she was here in this place where magic didn’t exist and she couldn’t get back home without an invitation to do so. When she said as much to the kitchenfae, the older woman’s response was, “Weakness is not measured by presence, princess. Weakness is measured by strength and I assure you there is no greater strength than attacking your enemy when they least expect it. No one will be expecting your return. When you do, it will be with the backing of all the kingdoms and hundreds of thousands of soldiers behind you.”

Somehow, Mairi denied that was true. She was never getting home. She and Ch’aline knew that. The sooner they both admitted it, the better.