The Treachery of Beautiful Things – Chapter 8

When we last left our friends back in the forest, we had discovered that Jack was some sort of prisoner, who wants to be free of his bonds. Of course, we’re hearing this from Puck, which means we must take it with a grain of salt, but there was something about it that made me want to believe him. This time anyway.

So Jack has gone off to wash Jenny’s clothes, which is both a nice gesture and kind of creepy. Seriously folks, I do not want some sort of fairy creature washing my underwear! Of course, something has to happen to disrupt both his nice, domestic-like chores and his plans to help Jenny – Titania is calling.

“Your Majesty.” The words stuck in his throat, bitter, but her pleasure broke over him in a wave of sweet fragrance. A series of notes rang out in the air, a trill of magic in the music. Light exploded inside his mind and he cried out wordlessly at the shock of pain.

And then he was gone from the forest.

Yeah, that doesn’t sound like a pleasant way to travel. On the other hand, a trill of music, with magic involved? Was Jack hearing “the piper?” Is it Tom? I have questions!

Jack is transported to Titania’s audience chamber, which is lined with mirrors. Because she’s not narcissistic, no, not at all. Jack is a little bit nervous, but knows he can’t show it. Fairies like Titania feed on weakness like rabid wolves. Although I shouldn’t say things like that because she’s IN THE ROOM! Yikes! And because of that, Jack’s will is pretty much swallowed up. He can barely think anything contrary to her wishes, much less speak or act.

There are lots of other fey and servants in the palace, but Jack has eyes for only one of them.

In the mirror, Jack’s eyes picked out another figure. Beyond the queen’s courtiers, alone in a corner and watching everything with flat and passionless eyes, stood her piper. Of course Titania had retrieved him. She always got what she wanted. So now he waited on her. Waited to be called upon, waited to be of service. His silver flute in hand, he gazed at the queen in rapt adoration. And there was no mistaking him.

Jenny’s brother.

AAAHHHHH!!!!! IT’S TOM!!!!!!

Okay, it’s not like I didn’t already guess that the piper was Tom, but to have it spelled out is quite satisfying. Poor thing. I wonder if he was punished for running off like he did. In any case, Jack sees how much Tom resembles Jenny, and how much growing up in Fairie has changed him. Jack knows at this point, even if he could bring Tom to Jenny, Tom would not want to go. He’s too enthralled in Titania’s graces.

Speaking of Titania, she is being ignored at the moment, and that just won’t do. She acts all coy and flirtatious, telling Jack how handsome he is, but you know that it’s all a front. Jack is in trouble. Otherwise he wouldn’t have been summoned.

“Why did you bring me here?”

“I want to talk,” she said lightly. Her hand caught his wrist, closing on it like a vise. His pulse thundered beneath her touch. The pressure was both intimate and threatening. “Are you guarding her, Jack? Keeping her safe? Taking her to him?

Oh crap. She knows about Jenny. Of course she does. She knows everything. But according to Jack, he is doing his duty. He is a Guardian, after all. Titania is trying to do everything she can to seduce him, but then all of a sudden, Jack is nearly doubled over in pain. What the what? We know he’s cursed, but apparently the curse also protects him from Titania, although in a very painful way. That’s not very helpful. One should be in full possession of the faculties when dealing with Titania. She’s not very sympathetic either. She tempts him with his freedom, promising that she can give that to him.

The question is, do I believe that? She is powerful, but powerful enough to undo a curse?

Chains of iron seemed to be crushing his ribs, and Jack realized he had stopped breathing. It wasn’t possible. She couldn’t. He belonged to Oberon. They both knew that.

Ah, that explains it, at least partially. If anyone could hold Titania in check, it would be Oberon. I wonder if they are married in this version? Not that it matters – even when Oberon and Titania are a couple, they are conniving and vicious with each other. Still, Titania is offering Jack his freedom, even though they both know Oberon would never allow it. Jack draws the obvious conclusion – he has something that Titania wants and she is willing to piss off Oberon in order to get it. Wow. She must want it really bad.

Jack faces one of the mirrors and Titania comes up behind him, wrapping her arms around him. He stares into the mirror and stares into her eyes.

They weren’t Titania’s eyes staring back. Mab, dwelling within her like a malignant spider at the center of a web, peered out at him. Not a trace of Titania’s seduction now. Her gimlet gaze made him quake inside as ancient half-remembered nightmares surged to the edge of his mind.

This is not good, not good at all. If you thought Titania was a piece of work, I can guarantee that Mab will be a hundred times worse. Somehow Mab and Titania are the same person, or at least living in the same body. Titania actually seems a bit frightened of Mab, which is not good. I don’t want to know what’s bad enough to scare Titania. Mab says that a “May Queen” has come, that she is “too precious” to kill and that they need her in order to  be “young and whole again.” Clearly she is talking about herself, since Titania seems pretty whole already. Will this make Mab become her own, separate creature? This would not be a good thing.

Mab wants to make sure that they get Jenny before Oberon catches wind of her. She shows Jack a casket with a catch that looks like a gold heart with a knife through it.

“You were a hunter, before you were a guardian.”

“To be free, you just have to hunt again, Jack.”

I’m just guessing that the box is supposed to be what he puts Jenny’s heart into. It just seems fitting. Mab is able to take physical form and holds the casket out for Titania to take. Jack remembers that they are not alone, that there is a whole roomful of courtiers and other fey listening in on everything. Titania announces that a mortal girl is in their Realm and whoever can bring her in will be rewarded. Titania, though, really wants Jack to do it. She doesn’t want him to be under Oberon’s thumb, and she definitely doesn’t want Oberon to get Jenny.

Jack really wants to leave, but at the same time, all he wants to do is submit. To stop fighting it and just give in. Poor Jack. I really like him. For one of the fey, he seems a decent guy, and that’s a high compliment. There’s something about that casket though . . .

The casket pulled his attention back. Did he hear a beat from inside, an incessant rhythm, like the pounding of a pulse? It called to him, and he wanted to answer. But if he brought the girl here, what would it still take to win his heart from that box? Her own in return?

Wait, so Jack’s heart is locked in the box? Titania has it? Oh god, that’s terrible!

Titania wants Jenny. Jack asks why she didn’t just summon Jenny like she did him. Well, Titania can’t do that. Jack reminds her, and everyone else listening, that Jenny must come willingly. Those are the rules to whatever this game is that they’re playing. Titania lays it out flat – Jack can make Jenny come willingly, if he’s convincing enough.

And then the last thing I expected happened – the piper pipes up. Titania asks him to tell her all about his sister, which Tom barely remembers after being with the fae for so long. But first, she wants some music. Some how, some way, Tom’s music has become magical. Or maybe it already was. But we do find out that Jack had found Tom back when he first got lost and, since he didn’t know what to do with something this magical, he brought Tom to Titania. It’s Jack’s fault that Tom is there.

All of a sudden, Jack is back in the forest and can hear Jenny laughing. I have a very bad feeling about all this.

One girl. That was all she was. A mortal. Not even one of the fae. And all he had to do was take her where she already wanted to go.

He didn’t have to like it. He just had to do it. A chance of freedom was within his grasp. And she was only one girl.

No, Jack, don’t do it! Don’t give up! This isn’t you! It’s the desperation talking!

Ugh! I worked my way into trusting Jack again, and now he’s about to break my heart!

The Treachery of Beautiful Things – Chapter 7

When we last left Jenny, she was rescued from the Woodsman and the Goodwife by Puck. Not what I expected, but at least she’s away from those horrible people.

Jenny jerked awake, the itch of the Redcaps lingering, the leering faces of the Goodwife and her husband filling her groggy mind. Light stained green and gold as it filtered through the undergrowth that twisted around her like a cocoon.

Jenny is amazed that she’s still alive, even if she is still not in the best shape. She’s still in the woods, not sure exactly where she is, but the sunshine is making her feel better.

Jack appeared at her side in an instant, crouching near enough to be attentive, far enough away to remain non-threatening.

JACK!!!! Thank goodness!!!! I’m so happy to see him, and for the most part, Jenny is too. But she still doesn’t trust him. After all, he left her with the Goodwife. He tried to get rid of her. Puck tries to reassure her too, but let’s face it, nothing about Puck is reassuring. Jack isn’t talking and his silence is making her even angrier.

He leads her to a pool so she can wash. Seriously, she must be really gross right now. As she’s getting ready to bathe, she realizes that Jack is looking at her. She tells him to go away, but he says that it’s too dangerous, and that sending her to the cottage was a bit mistake.

The moment her gaze locked on him, much to her surprise, he blushed. It wasn’t embarrassment, she saw, but shame. Then she realized, the apology wasn’t for not leaving her alone now, but for sending her to the Woodsman and his wife in the first place. Perhaps for not seeing what was happening, or for not coming to her aid.

Jack feels awful. You can see it in everything he does. He hates that he sent Jenny into danger. He hates that the Woodsman, who he counted as a friend, ended up betraying his trust. At the same time, Jenny can’t control her anger. The Woodsman and the Goodwife tried to use her to protect themselves, using her as food for creatures that would drain her to a bloodless husk. Jack can’t even answer her except to say that they are dead. He has lost his friends in two different ways and he’s really broken up about it. I feel sorry for him, but I also feel sorry for Jenny, for being in this whole situation.

“Leave me alone, Jack.”

Jack answered quietly, with the patience of stones. “I can’t. I’m Guardian of the Edge. It’s my duty to keep you safe. And it isn’t safe here.”

Jenny doesn’t want to trust Jack, but she really doesn’t have a choice. She knows that everything about her situation isn’t safe, and who else does she have to trust? This is a horrible situation to be in, really. It’s not like she can go off on her own at any time. She’s pretty much stuck with Jack whether she wants to be or not.

Not knowing what else to do, she asks Jack about the creature she saw, the one that killed the Woodsman and who she suspects having taken Tom. Jack says those are wood spirits, a natural spirit that can be vengeful when crossed.

“Nature is harsh, unforgiving. It can destroy as much as it can create. That’s -that’s its nature.”

Jack has been trying to influence Jenny, but it’s not working as much as it did before since the elfshot has completely worn off. Jenny won’t let Jack touch her either. She thinks that everything Fairie should be beautiful, and that is mostly true. It is beautiful, but also deadly.

“This place isn’t beautiful. It’s two-faced and treacherous, and so is everything here, in this . . . this . . . whatever this place is!”

All Jenny wants is to find Tom and get home. The more she learns about Fairie, the more she’s terrified for her brother. And who can blame her? Look at how much trouble she’s in after just one day. Tom’s been stuck there for seven years! Who knows what’s been happening to him!

Jenny convinces Jack to turn around so she can bathe. There is nothing better than getting clean after being completely disgusting. I can’t imagine what it feels like after being dirty and poisoned two times over. It must be wonderful to bathe in cool, clean pool of water after all that.

Jack offers Jenny his cloak so he can wash her clothes. It’s a really cute scene, with Jack getting confused over basic human things, like pockets in clothes. The whole time, it’s clear that Jack is definitely a wild creature. Jenny keeps thinking about the wood creature and it keeps her shivering. Guh, I don’t blame her.

“Jack? Why didn’t you come with Puck? Didn’t you . . .” She paused, finding herself unable to ask the question she really wanted to ask.

Jack seems to genuinely care about Jenny. He tries to answer her question, but it’s complicated. I actually like the way the hierarchy is set up here. The Woodsman is supposed to have an agreement with the trees, but he reneged on it by serving the Redcaps. Jack, while sad that his friends are dead and feeling betrayed by them, he understands that what happens to them was somewhat just.

Puck has brought some berries to eat, but he has now fallen asleep. Jack has gone off to clean the clothes, and Jenny has time to think.

Jack was determined to see her go back home. He wasn’t terribly forthcoming with information. He wasn’t likely to lead her to Tom. And right now she had no idea where her brother might be other than the queen’s castle. But she could find out, couldn’t she? If she asked the right questions. How hard could it be to find a castle when almost everything else in this world seemed to be trees?

So Jenny wants to slip away from Jack and Puck and go find the queen’s castle on her own? This is a horrible idea! She will be eaten alive, possibly literally. I don’t care if she’s almost healed from all her injuries. It doesn’t matter. She won’t last a day out there on her own. But she sets off, wearing nothing but Jack’s cloak of leaves, if you remember correctly, because he has her clothes.

She finds a tree that has strips of white fabric hanging from it. White fabric that used to be the nightgown she was wearing at the Woodsman’s house. The one that Jack had taken to go wash. It’s hanging from a tree? In tatters? What the heck?

Luckily Puck woke up and followed her. At least someone is keeping an eye on things.

“Don’t scowl at me, lass. Jack said I was to keep you safe when he’s not here. He doesn’t trust anyone else to do it, barely trusts me. Made me swear binding oaths. My life wouldn’t be worth dirt if anything happened to you.”

Of course, Puck then tells her to get down and hide in the cloak because something is coming towards them and then HE DISAPPEARS! How is this protecting her, Puck? Luckily, the creature is only a pixie collecting gossamer from spiderwebs. Not dangerous, or at least not right now. Jenny pulls the spiderweb free and hands it to the pixie, which Puck says is a bad idea. (Oh yeah, he just appears again. He says that she shouldn’t have taken it from the tree because it’s a May Tree and they are dangerous. Of course it is. All things in this realm are dangerous!

Jenny tries to keep composed. She asks if Jack had torn up the cloth to hang on the tree. Puck says that yes, he probably did, and those scraps of cloth are wishes, or actually, a whole lot of the same wish. What could Jack be wishing for so fervently?

“Jack only has one wish. But he wishes it a thousand times a day.” Puck turned aside, gazing off through the trees where the song of the river came from. “He dreams of it, dreams of a future. Few creatures in the Realm are so cursed as to live in hope. Poor Jack o’ the Forest, Jack in Green. He only longs to be free.”

So . . . Jack is also a prisoner? Just like Tom is? Maybe Jenny will get to save them both! Things are really starting to get interesting now!

Chapter 8 will be up on Wednesday! See you then!

The Treachery of Beautiful Things – Chapter 6

Welcome to chapter 6! Or, as I like to call it, a continuing nightmare. We last left poor Jenny being attacked by giant spider-like creatures that the Woodsman and the Goodwife were ALLOWING TO FEED ON HER. That’s . . . just . . . ugh!! Thankfully she blacked out, but now she’s waking up, not only in terrible pain, but also tied up and gagged. She’s still in the same bedroom she had stayed in before, but the window has been boarded up.

Her thoughts turn to Jack, and to be honest, mine are headed there too. Mostly because . . . I liked Jack! He seemed so nice, so sincere in trying to help Jenny! How could he let this happen?

He’d deceived her once. Had made her believe the worst of her fears were true. Why had she trusted him again? Should she be surprised to find herself here, tied up like a sacrifice?

I really hope that Jack was wrong about these people. I don’t want him to be involved in this in any way, although it’s not looking good.

Had he known what would happen? Or was it possible he had been deceived by his “friends” too? A small hope, less than a prayer, but all she had.

Hang on to that hope, Jenny. I know I’m going to.

The Goodwife comes in with a plate of food (DON’T EAT THE FOOD!!!!!), back to acting all motherly and caring, nothing like she was the night before. I really hate this woman, or whatever she is! Here she, acting as though she cares about Jenny and wants to help her, when just a few hours ago, she was feeding her to the spider thingys! No! It doesn’t work that way!

She explains that the spider creatures are actually Redcaps. They are supposedly helpful and protect the cottage, but they need to be fed in order to continue to do so.

“They liked you. You’re blessed. They haven’t liked anyone so much since my little girl came to womanhood. They came, they nested, and before we knew it . . . well . . . They help really, around the house, on the land and in the forest. But we have to take care of them too. If we don’t feed them . . . well . . . Now . . .”

Yeah, that doesn’t sound good. It sounds like the Goodwife and the Woodsman have bitten off more than they can handle. Jenny even mentions that she thinks the Redcaps are “farming” the Goodwife and the Woodsman, which doesn’t get much of a response. You can tell that the Goodwife doesn’t particularly like that comment however. Well, too bad! It’s true! And it sounds like you lost your daughter before all this because of your foolishness. None of which is Jenny’s fault, even if they are selfishly keeping her against her will just to appease them.

The Goodwife props Jenny up and tries to feed her some food, but Jenny turns away, despite being so hungry she almost can’t stand it. That has to be hard. I’m reading this and it’s making me hungry! Remembering the rule against eating reminds her also of Jack.

The thought of Jack sent a thousand questions scattering through her mind. Would he have told her not to eat if it wasn’t important? Why bother? If he’d meant for her to be a prisoner and food for the little monsters, why would he tell her how to avoid being trapped in the Realm by eating the wrong thing?

This is an excellent point. Please, please, please let Jack be one of the good guys!

And then suddenly, Jack is there! I can’t help but feel happy that he’s back, until I read what the Goodwife does. Jenny tries to call out, but the Goodwife puts her hand over Jenny’s mouth. She’s way too weak to fight the Goodwife, but she knocks the tray to the ground, earning a slap on the face!

“Lie still,” she hissed. “Be silent or I’ll call them to silence you. He won’t help you. He wouldn’t if he could. He isn’t like you. He’s of the forest, a servant of the Realm, always has been and always will be. He brought you to us, didn’t he?”

Oohhhh, my blood is boiling right now! This makes me feel like Jack can be trusted, especially if the lying Goodwife is saying that he can’t be. I don’t trust a single word out of her. Jenny listens as the Woodsman lies to Jack about taking Jenny back to the Edge, claiming that everything went smoothly. Jack seems to take the Woodsman’s words at face value, but then asks about the broken window. The Woodsman says that it got damaged in the storm (not technically a lie, I suppose, but it’s not like the wind or rain caused it!) and Jack offers to help fix it. This whole time it seems like Jack suspects something, but he still leaves after a bit more small talk.

This makes me so sad. Damn these people!

The Goodwife is all smiles and kindness again, until she PULLS A REDCAP OUT OF HER POCKET! Well, out of a box in her pocket. And it’s only a baby. BUT STILL!

“They swarmed last night, out of control. We’re just lucky they didn’t kill you. Just a baby, this one. She won’t take much. We’ll build you up over time, get you used to them and them to you until you can feed the lot.”

I am so uncomfortable right now. Basically, Jenny is to be food for these creatures so that they will continue to do whatever it is they do for the Woodsman and the Goodwife. That’s the plan. Ewwww!!!! The Goodwife puts the Redcap on Jenny and it curls up next to her neck and bites her, sucking her blood like a vampire. This goes on all day long, only stopping when Jenny looses consciousness, and starting right back up again once she wakes up. Another storm picks up at night, when they finally stop for good. Jenny is an absolute mess from blood loss. Oh, and these delightful little creatures also happen to be poisonous. Isn’t that nice? Ugh.

But in the night, something else happens. Remember that huge tree-like creature? The one that took Tom? That Jenny saw before she was attacked by Redcaps? She can hear it outside.

With a crash that shook the world, something tore through the roof and wall, scything to the left above her and collapsing the main part of the house. Timber shrieked and glass shattered all around. The cold night’s air engulfed her and something else, small and hairy, smelling of animal musk and wet fur, touched her face. A gnarled, leathery hand stilled her mouth and she saw the horned silhouette.

It’s Puck!!! I’m so glad to see him!!! It’s not Jack, but it’s the next best thing!!!

He unties Jenny. Something has destroyed part of the Woodsman’s house and the stables. Jenny is confused, since there aren’t any trees big enough to do that kind of damage.

“No,” he agreed. “But the forest looks after its own. And exacts terrible vengeance on those who betray it.”

Jenny can’t help but think that the trees are dangerous after what happened to Tom. She asks where Jack is. Puck says that he will be around in the daylight, and that they need to hurry, because the Redcaps can only be held back for so long. That’s when Jenny sees it – the ancient treelike creature that had captured Tom. It has the Woodsman in its grasp and, well, let’s just say that the Woodsman won’t be a problem any more. Actually, the Woodsman’s fate is pretty gruesome. But Jenny gets a clear look at the thing and, although it’s pretty scary, it’s also almost mesmerizing. Puck pulls Jenny along, urging her to quit asking questions. You know, simple little questions like, “What the hell is that?” Or “What about those pesky Redcaps that nearly killed me before?” Or “Where the hell is Jack?”

They continue on until Jenny can’t anymore. Puck whistles a tune which causes the plants and trees around them to form a sort of shelter for them. Jenny is not doing well. She is freezing, terrified, and still suffering from her ordeal with the Redcaps. She asks one more time where Jack is, and Puck finally answers.

“He’s coming, lass. He’ll be here. You’ll see.”

“Why didn’t he come back?”

Puck eyed her curiously, studying her face, and compassion flooded his gimlet eyes. “He won’t desert you. No, little Wren, he won’t make that mistake again.”

This makes me so happy!! My guess is that Jack knew something was amiss and sent Puck to get Jenny out of there. He must have been tied up with whatever his other duties are, BUT HE HASN’T ABANDONED JENNY!!! I feel so much better!!!

The Treachery of Beautiful Things – Chapter 5

Hello everyone! Sorry I didn’t post on Friday. I meant to, truly I did, but my preparations to leave for YALLFest this past Saturday kind of took over my life. If you’re curious about it, check out my blog over at “Life With No Plot” for more details. I’ll just say here that it was AWESOME!!!

Now on to chapter 5.

Last chapter left me very curious about this Woodsman character, especially since Jack felt the need to warn Jenny. The introduction to them at the beginning of this chapter doesn’t make me feel much better.

“Head to the Edge tonight?” the Woodsman muttered as he dropped the logs beside the hearth.

His wife looked up from the laundry she was folding. “That’s what he said. Seems foolish though, doesn’t it?” She smiled at Jenny, who sat in one of the armchairs, her feet curled under her. “It’s late. And there’s a storm rising.”

If these are bad guys, they are the worst kind, because at face value, they seem so nice. And their reasoning is sound – who wants to travel in a storm? But is that an excuse to keep Jenny there? We don’t know yet.

Jenny, being the plucky girl she is, doesn’t have a problem staying, since she really doesn’t want to leave. The Woodsman has a kindly appearance and says that they will leave in the morning instead. His wife offers Jenny some food, which Jenny declines, citing Jack’s warning as a reason.

Jenny shifted uncomfortably. “Jack said not to eat anything.”

The Goodwife laughed. “Of course he did. No, you’ll have to prepare it yourself of course, but there’s no harm in some warm milk, is there? Shame though. I’ve bread and scones in the oven.”

I can’t decide if there’s anything sinister in this. The Goodwife seems understanding, but at the same time, she mentions her baking, which is filling the room with wonderful smells. Seriously, is there anything that smells better than a warm oven baking something wonderful? It’s plenty of temptation, especially since Jenny is famished. She remains strong though, and conversation turns to the weather.

Outside, the wind was rising, buffeting against the house, making the trees roar. The Goodwife crossed to the window, pulled the curtains. “He really whistled up the wind this time.”

“Every time the queen turns her back, that piper of hers is off causing mayhem,” the Woodsman replied.

Hold up. They know about the piper! This is either really good or really bad. It does make me wonder how he can be captive, yet still out causing mayhem. Jenny tells the couple that the piper is her brother. Both of them assure her that they won’t force her to leave if she doesn’t want to go, which is nice of them, but also a bit scary. But whatever they do, it will wait until morning.

Jenny has a fitful night’s sleep, which is understandable given the circumstances. She keeps listening to the wind and thinking about Tom. She gets up to look out her window several times during the night, getting more and more anxious.

She was about to turn away the second time when she caught a glimpse of something in the night. It slid between the trees on the edge of the forest, part storm, part animal, part natural world. A thin sweat broke over her skin, and trembling fingers clenched around the locket at her throat.

This thing, whatever it is, is circling the house. Jenny watches it come by again and recognizes it as the creature that stole Tom away seven years ago. I have no frame of reference for whatever this creature is, except for the fact that it is creepy as hell. Suddenly the Woodsman and the Goodwife are outside Jenny’s door and their conversation scares me even more.

“She won’t be missed, not if she’s meant to have gone home already. They’re hungry. We have no choice, unless you want to appease them yourself.”

“I can’t. You know I can’t, not anymore.” The Goodwife paused, and when she spoke again, doubt infected her voice. “She’s not much older than our Hannah was.”

Okay, so this means that whatever that thing was out there that Jenny saw, there is more than one of them. Oh. Crap. Also, they can apparently smell Jenny in the house and it has whipped them up into a frenzy. The Woodsman and the Goodwife have been giving them pig meat, but that solution won’t last forever. I am curious about who Hannah is. They speak of her as though she was perhaps their child, who had to be given to whatever these creatures are. That’s horrifying, but it still doesn’t give them the right to turn on Jenny like this!

The Woodsman tries to basically smother Jenny in her bed, but of course, she isn’t there. She’s trying to hide by the window, which frankly, is not a good hiding place at all.

“Stay still now, my darlin’ girl,” the Goodwife cooed. “It’ll be all right. The little fellas need to be fed, and on nights like this, milk alone won’t do. Now, I can’t help them all, but you can. I’d swear you’ll be sweet as honey to them.”

I don’t want to know who “them” are. This is terrifying, especially when the Goodwife reaches for Jenny and her arm is covered with what looks like infected bug bites. Jenny does the only thing left and tries to go out the window. Personally, this doesn’t feel like the best idea either since, oh yeah, THERE ARE MONSTERS OUTSIDE WHO CAN SMELL YOU AND WANT TO EAT YOU! Jenny makes it out the window and almost immediately, something attacks her from behind.

She heard the Goodwife snarl. “She was meant to last. If they take her now, out there, they’ll gorge.”

Gone is the kind, motherly figure. I knew something wasn’t right about these people. How did Jack trust them so much?

The Woodsman tells the Goodwife to call “them.” Another them. Great. She lets out these weird shrieking noises. Jenny is in too much pain to move from whatever attacked her back. And it gets even better. And by better, I mean worse.

At the sound of her distress, something sprang into the light, a spider-like thing about the size of her hand. The black torso rose from splayed legs. The skin shone, as if covered in molten tar. Its eyes gleamed yellow and its crested head was a bright scarlet. Fangs glistened in its open mouth.

So yeah. Giant spider creatures. And it’s not alone. It brought friends. Jenny screams and thrashes in agony as they bite her, sucking at her blood, and infecting her with something. She can’t move. She can only stay in place and let these things basically eat her. Gah!!!

Her voice fell to a moan as two large shadows fell over her. The Goodwife and the Woodsman lifted her between them, carefully not to disturb the creatures’ feeding, and, without a word, carried her back inside.

So now Jenny is locked back inside the Woodsman’s house, with spider creatures “feeding” on her, with no means of escape. Oh. My. God. Clearly, the Woodsman and his wife are not the kind, helpful creatures we were told they were. It makes me wonder how much Jack knew about this when he left Jenny there. It’s hard to trust anything in this world, and it’s really implausible to think that Jack didn’t know about all this. That makes me sad. Jack seemed to genuinely care. L

Chapter 6 should be up on Wednesday. See you then. For now, I’m going to go have nightmares for a while.

The Treachery of Beautiful Things – Chapter 4

A quick word before we begin today’s post. I have changed around my schedule over at my other blog, “Life With No Plot,” in order to give me more time over here. Starting today, this blog will (hopefully) be updated Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. That’s my goal, anyway.

On to chapter 4!

We last left Jenny following Jack through the woods, convinced that he is a normal boy and that she imagined the music she had heard. For a moment, it seems like everything will be okay. Jack seems nice enough, sincere in his desire to help Jenny get to safety. For the moment, I am trusting Jack, even if he is one of the fey folk. We’ll probably regret that later, but hey.

I do love this though.

The dog trailed behind them sullenly. Jenny glanced back at it from time to time, struck with the uncomfortable feeling that it was muttering under its breath.

Yeah, remember guys. The dog is Puck. I have a feeling that we’re all going to be sorry that he was treated like this, and Puck isn’t one to make angry. He’s too good at causing trouble.

As they continue on, they come across another . . . person? Who looks like a girl wearing a sundress?

She moved with quick, delicate movements, her sharply pointed face strangely beautiful and yet not—too thin, the features too narrow and long. She started and turned, stared at Jack and Jenny, her pale green eyes moist with fear. Her tiny mouth opened wide—too wide, as if her jaw detached.

The only thing I can say about this creature is at least it looks too frightened to do anything to them. But, as it turns out, this creature doesn’t really care about them at all, not really. A greater danger is coming. Jack grabs Jenny and jumps behind some bushes right before a dozen horses gallop through the woods, stopping right before them. On the horses are, well, I’ll let Jenny describe them.

They sat on their pale horses, almost human, almost angels, with a hint of something wicked in every gesture.

Even though this is not new by any means, I really like how Ruth Frances Long describes the fey. They are beautiful, yes. Enticing, sure. But it’s always clear that they are also deadly, no matter how friendly or helpful they may seem at first. This is why I will continue to be nervous around Jack, even though he seems so nice.

If the riders weren’t enough cause for distress, they are nothing but an escort for even bigger trouble.

The woman sat sidesaddle on her horse, her green-and-gold gown sewn with glistening threads in a pattern of flowers and vines. Her golden hair had been twisted in intricate braids and knotwork and studded with gleaming jewels. Her eyes glistened in the sunlight, two diamonds, harder and colder than any she wore.

Welcome to the party, Titania, Queen of the Fey!

Here is a slight quibble I have with this. As the party stops near Jack and Jenny’s hiding place, Titania seems to go into some sort of trance, as if scenting the air, and then looks right in Jack and Jenny’s direction. But she doesn’t go after them. There is a human in her realm, and she doesn’t pursue it. This seemed strange to me. Maybe Titania had other concerns on her mind. Or, and this is more likely, she knows that Jenny is there and has decided to do something horrible later, giving Jenny a false sense of security.

As it turns out, Titania and her people are searching for someone. She questions one of her riders, a tracker, who doesn’t know where their prey has gone. Jenny can’t help but stare at the queen in wonderment.

She was both attracted and repelled by this figure, wanting at once to escape and to throw herself at the queen’s feet and beg the woman to look with pleasure on her.

Again, typical human response to fairies.

Titania mentions that they should use the tracker, since he has failed her, as the tithe “instead of the piper.” Jenny immediately jumps on this. Could the piper be Tom? My guess would be yes. And although I’m not sure what “the tithe” is, I’m going to guess that it isn’t good. Titania decides that the tracker should not be a tithe, but should be given to the dogs. The tracker, wisely, decides to run for his life. Not sure how he thinks he will escape, but hey, I’d probably do the same thing. The queen’s hunting dogs chase after him, and this startles Jack enough that he drops his disguise and Jenny sees him for what he is: a half wild thing dressed in leaves. Jenny feels betrayed, of course, but all thoughts of confronting Jack leave her mind as she hears this:

A scream rang out amid the snarls of the dogs, just beyond the clearing where the hunter had fled. And then silence.

That’s not creepy, no not at all.

As Jenny looks around, she comes to the conclusion that she is the only human thing in these woods. Luckily, the queen is still distracted by her own matters and still doesn’t notice Jenny (or pretends to ignore her until she has time to do something, which I think is more plausible, but I digress). They listen as the queen outlines her plans.

“South,” the queen declared. “My pets have him cornered, I believe. Soon my piper will be returned to our home. If he fears the blood tithe, he should think better of incurring my wrath. No amount of magic will draw another as well-suited as he is, no matter what he thinks.”

So if the piper is Tom, he has tried to escape, but has been recaught. And now the queen is angry. Not. Good. At. All.

Titania and her company leave and Jenny tries to make sense of everything. She freaks out when she sees Puck (no longer a dog), which makes sense since he is half goat in this version. Jack tries to convince Jenny that Puck is still a dog, but the elfshot has worn off and she’s not as susceptible to his magic as she was before. Jenny is, understandably, not taking this well and it comes out in hysterical laughter.

After the absurdity of it, reality swept in on swift and heavy wings. The weight of it fell over her, forcing her onto her knees. She gasped for breath, crippled and bent double, the laughter fading as she struggled to breathe.

Part of the problem is that Jenny doesn’t believe this is really real. She thinks she’s having a mental breakdown again and is terrified that she will have to go through all the testing and treatment again. Did I mention earlier how messed up poor Jenny is?

Jack tries to calm Jenny down. He tells her that, whatever she does, she does not want to draw the queen’s attention. This is good advice. If you are a human, you don’t want Titania to notice you. It’s a bad idea. I find it interesting that in this version, Titania and Mab are the same person. To be honest, I can’t remember if that’s the case in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but I’m used to seeing them as separate people in other versions of the tale. In this one, Mab is the darker side of Titania, which is an interesting take on it.

Jack explains more about why they need to go. Jenny can see through the fairies illusions, which makes her a threat because she can’t be controlled. For the most part, the creatures in the woods are harmless, like the girl in the sundress or the first boy Jenny saw in the trees. Jenny disagrees.

“The Folletti weren’t harmless,” she muttered.

“No. Probably not. They like their tricks, but they aren’t malicious.” Jenny narrowed her eyes dubiously and Jack’s face grew a little pained. “They’re like children with a toy. They don’t understand that sometimes it can break.”

Another excellent description of how fairies view humans – they’re little more than objects. Expendable. Replaceable.

Jenny asks who “the piper” is and is assured that he’s only a servant in the queen’s castle. I still think that “the piper” is Tom, and I don’t think Jenny is convinced either. Jack tells her they have to get to the Woodsman and his Goodwife so that Jenny can get home safely, promising her that they can be trusted. To be fair, it’s hard to believe that Jack can be completely trusted, but I guess we’ll see. For now, Jenny doesn’t have much of a choice.

They finally reach the Woodsman’s cottage and find the Goodwife there. She appears very motherly, someone you would want to take care of you. As Jenny goes to her, Jack leaves her with this warning:

“Wait, I should have said. Don’t eat their food. They’re good people, generous, but you can’t accept a meal they prepare. Fruit, milk, anything grown naturally is fine, but food prepared by fae hands has a way of trapping you here.”

This makes me wonder who exactly these people are, but we aren’t to find out in this chapter. The Goodwife looks as human as can be, but this makes me wonder who exactly she is. Is she a fairy? Is she dangerous? If they are “good people,” why would they try to trap Jenny by offering her food? There are rules to this, though. The food has to be freely accepted. They can’t force it down someone’s throat in order to keep them tied to the Realm. That’s something anyway.

As Jack is leaving, Jenny asks why he can’t be the one to take her home. He says:

“I’m Jack o’ the Forest, Jenny Wren. I’m the guardian. My place is here. Go on. The Goodwife’s husband can guide you back to the Edge, to the gateway, and home.” He glanced toward the sky. “And don’t delay. It’s late enough already.”

I’m really curious as to what Jack’s duties are. I tried to do some research into who Jack o’ the Forest was and couldn’t find much. A lot of it was tied to the legend of the Green Man of the Forest, but it wasn’t an exact match either. I also wonder why he keeps calling her Jenny Wren.

“Go home, Jenny. You don’t understand the common dangers of our world. How can you expect to stand against the greatest danger of them all? Your Tom is gone, seven long years ago. Leave him be and go home.”

Whatever he is, Jack seems to truly care for Jenny. I’m curious about what he says about Tom though. I don’t think Tom is dead. I do think Tom is the piper, but if he’s “gone,” does that mean that his mind is so full of what the fairies have done to him, he is unable to ever part from it? Is he lost to Jenny forever? More things to discover next time, I guess!

The Treachery of Beautiful Things – Chapter 3

Sorry! Sorry! I meant to do this daily, truly I did. Last week though . . . argh! Definitely the wrong time to start a new project. But that’s okay. I’ve taken the word “daily” off my page, since I obviously can’t guarantee that. It will still be a goal though.

In any case, on to chapter 3!

“Be honest with yourself, Jack,” said Puck.

I knew it! I had my suspicions, of course, but this name puts me, and many others, on familiar territory. Puck, a.k.a. Robin Goodfellow, known trickster and star of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. If Puck is involved in any way, this means nothing good for Jenny, who is still unconscious from her incident with the Folletti. Jack, at least, seems to be more trustworthy, or at least to have more of Jenny’s best interests at heart.

“I’m just guarding the border, that’s all. I’m just doing my job.”

Jack referred to himself as a “guardian” before as well. I’m still not sure exactly who he is, but he must be one of the fey, which means that even if he’s being nice, you still need to be cautious. Especially since he has a strange attraction to Jenny, thinking her more fair and perfect than any of the Sidhe or other fey. That is unexpected, to say the least. Usually fairies aren’t interested in mortals at all. For example:

“Shame she’s elfshot, or there’d be some sport in her, I feel.” Puck grinned up at him and twisted one of her curls around his dirt-soiled fingers.

That’s more what you expect from the fey. Mortals are little more than animals to them. Playthings. Disposable. Jack, however, feels very protective of Jenny, thank goodness. I’d hate to think what would happen to her if he wasn’t. Not that he isn’t tempted in some way. I’m not sure what Jack usually does with humans, but it’s implied that he leads them back to where they’re supposed to go, protecting the borders of the forest. With Jenny, though, there’s something more.

“That’s the lure of innocence you’re feeling. Beware of it, lad, or she’ll try to make you her own. Aye, and when the queen finds out . . .”

Jack’s shoulders tensed at the mention of Titania.

Yep, definitely A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Titania confirms it.

Jack won’t listen to Puck’s warnings. He insists that Jenny is no threat to him and just needs to find a way to send her back where she came from. This leads him to make a deal with Puck, which I will say right now is not a good idea. At all. Although, depending on which mythology is in place here, once one of the fey makes a bargain, they have to keep it. I’m not sure if those are the conditions in this story, but at the same time, that doesn’t always matter. Fairies have a way of twisting any agreement in order to find a way to still make mischief. Or worse.

“Night will be falling soon enough. I – I’m asking for help. Please, Robin Goodfellow, help me and I will owe you a debt.”

Puck turned back and gave a gracious bow. “I’ll listen to your terms then, Jack o’ the Forest.”

See, this kind of contract is bad. You definitely don’t want to owe a fairy a favor, especially not a fairy like Puck! I am, however, curious about this “Jack o’ the Forest” character. That sounds familiar to me, although I can’t remember where it’s from. Making a mental note to look that up later.

Jack and Puck discuss what’s to be done with Jenny. Jack will not be able to guide her once night falls, due to other duties that he must do. I’m a bit curious about that, be he doesn’t elaborate here. The problem is that Jenny is on “a quest.” Jack is bound by some sort of oath to help anyone who is on a quest. The best thing to do is get Jenny out of there as soon as possible, but Jack doesn’t have time. He tells Puck to go and find someone called “the Woodsman” and get him to promise to help Jenny the rest of the way. I have to say, all of this sounds a bit dangerous for Jenny, but still, Jack seems to want to help her. Actually, he seems honor bound to help her, and not harm her. That makes me feel a little better anyway. They will use the fact that Jenny has been drugged to help her forget about why she was in the woods in the first place.

Jenny finally starts waking up and immediately can sense that she’s being watched. I really like this description of it:

She knew it somehow, an unshakeable instinct. Knew it in the way an animal senses a hunter. A shiver crawled over the back of her neck on spindly legs.

Creepy!

Jack tells Jenny to take it easy, but of course, she doesn’t listen. She tries to stand up, only to end up on the ground again. Jack tries to reassure her that he will help her get out of the woods, but Jenny doesn’t want any thing to do with that plan.

“No,” she said slowly. “I told you. I have to find my brother. I heard him playing.” Jenny paused, squinting at him. “Why did you stay if you’re so eager to be rid of me?”

Jack ignored this. “I think you must have been mistaken about your brother. The woods can play tricks with sound, you know.”

Thus the deception begins. Jack not only tries to convince Jenny that she didn’t hear music, he also alters his appearance so that he looks like he’s wearing a green t-shirt and cargo pants instead of leaves. He continues to suggest to her that maybe she fell, hit her head, and music was only a dream. Jenny may have bought this, except for the arrival of Puck, who at first appears as half-man, half-goat, but once Jenny screams and looks back, all she sees is a dog.

“It’s only my dog,” he said calmly. “Don’t be afraid.”

The world blurred, re-formed, remade itself into something . . . normal . . .

Here again is why the fey are so scary, despite their whimsical appearance. Once you are in their grasp, they can control everything you see and hear. Jack seems harmless right now, helpful even, but he may not be. And even if he is, he’s only one person (if you could call him that). Even though Jack reassures Jenny that everything is fine, she still knows something isn’t quite right, but she decides not to question it for one very integral reason.

A hallucination? Her heart thudded against her ribs and her stomach seemed to drop away inside her, leaving only emptiness. It hadn’t been real. It had just been another . . . another incident.

She could imagine Dr. Griffin’s face if she described this to him, right before he reached for the prescription pad.

I really feel bad for Jenny. She wants to accept that this is all real, because that would mean that Tom is out there somewhere. At the same time, it could also mean that she is headed back to the shrink, and possibly an institution, considering the way her parents have treated her since Tom’s disappearance. It’s easier to think that she hit her head and imagined everything. Jack continues to reassure her and Jenny has nothing else to do but to follow him and accept everything he says.

Chapter 4 will (hopefully) be tomorrow!

The Treachery of Beautiful Things – Chapter 2

It has been decided – this will have to be a weekday thing, with perhaps the occasional weekend post. My weekends are just too hectic.

Chapter 2. We last left Jenny dashing into the woods after hearing the sound of her brother’s flute. Her brother, who has been gone for seven years. The first thing she notices is that it is hot. Not just “it’s-summer-and-therefore-hot” hot. Boiling hot. Unbelievably hot. This is where I would start thinking about turning back, but Jenny doesn’t. In the distance, she hears the flute playing the last piece of music she heard Tom playing before he disappeared, and she takes off after it.

The path was narrow and twisted, treacherous with mud and overgrown weeds. She pursued the music, but it was as devious as the trail, dancing on ahead of her and then – impossibly -behind her.

This is bordering on nightmarish territory as far as I’m concerned, but Jenny is much braver than I am. She keeps following the music, calling out to her brother, until the music cuts off after hitting a bum note.

The piper struck a wrong note and spat out a word she didn’t recognize. It didn’t even sound like English, but something else, a language lyric and ancient.

Okay . . . so . . . not human. That rules out Tom, unless he’s been transformed into some other creature. Whatever those tree things were from the prologue, I wouldn’t put it past them.

Jenny comes to a cliff and then the music suddenly stops. She is fairly certain now that whatever is playing the flute is not Tom, because Tom would never abandon her. As she looks more closely at her surroundings, she realizes that she has no idea where she is, that this forest is far too big to be the same forest she entered. I’m starting to get an idea as to what this is all about now, because there is one main creature who enjoys playing these kind of tricks, and that’s fairies. Has to be fairies.

She tried to ignore the fact that she had been walking for much longer than it took to circle the copse, let alone cut through it. She tried to ignore the fact that the flora was different here, that overhead the sky was a clear and cloudless blue rather than the polluted slate-gray-striped-with-jet-trails she had left behind. There was no sign of airplanes, no traffic, no music. Nothing at all.

Typical fairy behavior. Tricksy!

And then suddenly, she is not alone.

“Looking for someone?” asked a voice.

This would have scared the pants off of me.

Jenny looks around and doesn’t see anyone, but then the voice tells her to look up. There is a boy sitting up in a tree. He asks if Jenny is lost, and she admits that she is. This is not a good idea. This boy is clearly a supernatural creature of some sort, and the last thing you want is for them to know that you’re lost. She asks him if he knows where the flute player went, to which the boy responds:

“He’s going back to her, to the castle. Like he always does. If he doesn’t, he’ll make her mad. And no one wants that.”

So now there’s a castle. And a human boy who is under “her” spell. Still guessing fairies on this one.

Jenny asks the boy to help her, but he refuses. Instead, he tells her to ask the Folletti, which are supposedly all over the place, and then tells her to leave him alone. Jenny tries to get to him, but is tripped by something. When she looks up, there is something else there.

A small figure was hovering over a nearby clump of rough grass, bright light suffusing the air around it. The creature had delicate, childish features, set in a curious expression. Tiny wings beat as fast as a hummingbird’s, a blur of blue behind its back.

Jenny immediately guesses what I’ve been guessing all along – these must be fairies. More join the first one, lighting up the glad with their shimmering light. It’s a really beautiful image, but at the same time, I feel very uneasy. The thing about fairies, as anyone who has read about them knows, is that they look lovely, but they are nasty little buggers. Jenny assumes that these are the Folletti that the boy told her about.

“I need to find my brother,” she said. “I heard him playing his flute in here. The boy said he’d gone to the castle. Called him the piper? Can you help me? Please?”

Again, I am nervous. Another thing about fairies – never make deals with them. Never ask them for help or let them think that you owe them a favor. The price will always be something you can’t or are unwilling to pay. Always. But anyway, Jenny heads through the forest, briefly wondering what her mother will think when Jenny turns up missing at the same place her brother did. The forest grows denser and more threatening, and soon Jenny hears more laughter.

And through the trees . . . through the breeze . . . she was sure she could hear laughter. And not a pleasant laughter this time. The bright trill of the Folletti vanished. This was a snickering, the sound of mockery, the laughter of people who enjoy the distress of others.

This is not good. This is sooooo not good.

Jenny yells out at the forest, which does nothing. Her mind is flooded with memories, first of her mother and the issues they’ve had over the years, then of Tom and what happened when the trees took him away. She can’t control her thoughts, and this scares her. For good reason, since this would scare me too! Suddenly the air is full of hissing sounds.

Sharp pain jabbed her in the hand.

“Ow!”

Hiss-hiss.

Something stabbed at her neck, her cheek, her ankle, all within a second. She raised her hand to see a trickle of blood from a small cut. Protruding from the tiny wound was a splinter no longer than her little fingernail. She pulled it out and brought her hand to her mouth, tasting a bitter tang mixed into the blood.

Remember those cute little fairies? Yeah. Not so cute anymore, when they are shooting you with darts that are coated with some sort of poison. Jenny starts to loose consciousness and pain explodes all over her body. Even as she falls to the ground, unable to move, unable to fight back, the Folletti keep shooting.  Until . . .

“Enough,” said a voice, a wonderfully human voice. “Be gone, you vicious little imps. Leave her be.”

Just because this mystery person called off the Folletti does not make me trust them. But it does make me warm up to them, at least a little bit. The person is male, although Jenny has a hard time focusing on his appearance.

She felt herself lifted from the ground and a face merged from the blurs, a boy’s face, or a man’s, or someone just hovering between the two. In that moment he was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen, though his nose was not straight and his eyes were two different colors – one green, one blue. Beautiful, but alien somehow.

Jenny has learned her lesson from the Folletti. Just because he’s pretty to look at doesn’t mean he’s safe. She struggles to get away, and the man drops her on the ground. He assures her that the Folletti are gone, that she has been “elfshot,” but that she should be okay in a bit. He also introduces himself as Jack, to which Jenny gives him her name as well. Jack tells her to rest and sleep off the Folletti’s drugs. Jenny says that she can’t because she has to find her brother, but then Jack does something that makes her relax and tells her:

“Later. Sleep now. It will be all right. I’ll help you home, Jenny Wren. It’s my duty to do so as a Guardian of the Edge. No harm will befall you. I promise you this.”

This is making me wonder whether Jack is a fairy or not. He’s clearly different from the Folletti, much nicer. And he promised to watch over her and keep her from harm. Not the norm for a fairy. Jenny wonders about the name he gave her, Jenny Wren, and thinks it all sounds vaguely Shakespearean.

Oh hello there, anvil of foreshadowing! Fancy meeting you here! We have fairies and we have a main character mentioning Shakespeare. I think I know where we’re headed now!

Jenny sees someone else come up behind Jack, but she is very close to falling asleep. The person looks familiar, or at least, like someone she should recognize.

His lower body was covered in think brown fur, like a dog’s, and from his forehead two little horns projected. Goat’s horns. He had goat’s feet too.

If this was Narnia, I’d say it was a faun. Mr. Tumnus! But this is not Narnia. Jack pays no attention to this new arrival and continues to take care of Jenny, murmuring words to her while gently touching her forehead.

“Never harm, nor spell, nor charm, come our lovely lady nigh . . .”

And then Jenny falls asleep, whether because of whatever was on the Folletti’s darts, or because Jack enchanted her, or both.

Chapter 3 comes tomorrow! Can’t wait to see if I guessed right!