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part eight.

Part eight
Mount Etna, the isle of Sicily, off the coast of Italy
When you have a new-born child thrust into your hands – a new-born child with a goddess for a mother, a deposed thief for a father and all the uncontrollable and explosive magic on the planet at her fingertips – you need somewhere safe to put it. Somewhere where no human will accidentally stumble across it, nor where any fairy will be tempted to go and sneak a peek. A – er – safe home where the child can be reared behind the protection of bars. For its own good, of course. An active volcano was the perfect place for such a, er, sanctuary.

Mount Etna in Sicily had been just the place. The safe-house (it wouldn’t become known by its nickname ‘the gulag’ for several centuries) was buried deep in the base of the volcano, far enough away from the magma core not to be fried but near enough and deep enough for any human not to risk digging there. It was actually an extensive mansion with twenty-seven generous rooms, but the subject being held there was only permitted access to three of them; a small bedroom with an en suite and another room where she ate, read books, conversed with her maid or otherwise passed the time. Poppy was 598 years old (a mere drop in the ocean compared to the originals, but a lot older than most other fairies) but a life of solitary confinement had reduced her to the mental age of an eleven-year old. Mallos wouldn’t put it past her to stir up trouble between England and Spain out of sheer boredom or for kicks.

Access was unrestricted for the originals, but few bothered to visit, and ordinary fairies were forbidden entry without a pass from the council. With the exception of the housemaid who cooked and cleaned (there was a new one every decade, and Mallos could never remember their names), he was the only person there – she waved him straight through. Poppy’s first maid who had raised her from infancy had stayed with her until her heart gave out when the former was in her mid-twenties. She was the only one of the girl’s carers who had endeavoured to show her any affection, and had even attempted to teach her a few things – from formal lessons in mathematics and other curricular subjects to less formal lessons on self-conduct, morality and manners. Mallos often wondered if any of those teachings had penetrated that young skull, which was surprisingly dense for someone who was the daughter of supposedly one of the greatest minds of all time. Doubtful. Courtesy dictated he knock before entering, but he received no response from within so he slipped the key (infused with ancient magic – the only thing which could keep the girl from using her divinity to bust out) in the lock and turned the door handle.

Something hit him hard over the head. There was a smashing sound and a shriek. Blinking, Mallos reached out and grabbed the back of the girl’s shirt as she attempted to muscle past him to freedom.

“Hello Poppy,” he greeted her genially, before hauling her back into the room and closing the door. There was no point in locking it – she couldn’t get out with him in her way, and she knew it. Once the door was shut she stopped squirming and had the audacity to present him with one of her sweetest smiles.

“Hello, Mallos. What have I done to earn such a pleasure?”

She swaggered towards the tap to pour him a drink, sarcastically playing the role of a hostess. Mallos understood her frustration – forever was a long time to be locked up. Still, it was no excuse for inciting war on two nations. He’d learnt from long experience that beating about the bush had no effect on the young woman, so he cut straight to the chase.

“You cast a spell on the Queen of England to induce such a rage that she would sign the death warrant for the Queen of Scotland. It has provoked a war between England and Spain. Two sugars for me, please.”

Poppy dropped the kettle. “I never!” She exclaimed with an innocence which fooled no one.

“I’m sure you didn’t do it deliberately.” Mallos flicked his hand casually and the kettle, fully repaired, leapt back into the girl’s hand. Without so much as an expression of thanks, she silently put it over the fire. “Listen, Poppy. I understand – ”

“No, you don’t.”

It was hard not to laugh. He’d heard that sullen tone before; it was exactly the same one Aura had used to deny her motherhood. On the surface of it, anyone who met the two women would never be able to see a connection between the two (particularly as Aura had dropped, apparently forever, the bright blue eyes and coppery curls she’d worn at the time of Poppy’s conception) but it was obvious to anyone with an intimate understand of both. They were equally stubborn and both lit by the same zealous fire; both were unpredictable, both frequently underestimated and both driven by the same reckless sense of adventure that attracted Aura to people like Drake. This was, of course, a time long before Aura would feel the burden of any sort of responsibility, and long before she would transfer the passionate, fiery part of her soul into a familiar. She had all the mischief and instinct for danger as any hot-headed youth. People change a lot in four hundred years… or most people, at any rate. Poppy seems more or less unchanged from the day she learnt to talk.

He’d been silent for a long time. Poppy’s facial expression had changed from resentment to apprehension. “Will you tell Gwythr?”

“No, we can still fix this. Listen to me carefully, Poppy. I’m going to teach you a spell which will put everything right.”

    • part nine. -
    • part ten. -
    • epilogue -

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