Pepper hated travelling by bubble, mostly because it always took hours to get the soap out of her hair.
And pink - insipid pastel pink – wasn’t her color, either.
Unfortunately, the Tradition – that elemental force that moved through the lands of the Five Hundred Kingdoms acting as a balance between right and wrong, good and evil, justice and injustice – had Expectations of a Fairy Godmother. And one of the more outdated ones (in both Pepper and Maria’s opinions) was the wardrobe requirements while on official ‘Godmothering business’. Sorceresses wore vivid jewel-tones, Witches wore wood-and-earth tones, and Fairy Godmothers wore pastels. And Magicians, Wizards, and Sorcerers got to wear whatever they pleased, which Pepper considered extremely unfair.
However, it was Tradition.
At least they could wear whatever they liked when they weren’t on Godmothering business. On this sharp autumn evening, it was comfortable woollen leggings, old linen shirt, and a worn cashmere shawl that Pepper had draped around shoulders while she dried her hair out by the fire.
“Why pink, anyway?” She wondered idly as she combed her fingers through the still-damp strands. “If we can magic the bubble into any color, why pink?”
“We tried making the bubble with all the other colours,” Maria reminded her from where she sat at the portable desk. “Pink’s the most efficient.”
“Then next time, you can do that duty. At least pink goes with your hair!”
Maria’s grin had no repentence in it at all. “I was dealing with Blake’s questers over in the Wyrm Woods. About a dozen passed the first round of tests, so I sent them on to Victoria for their next round.” She shrugged. “And yours seemed okay from the replay that Jarvis showed me in the mirror. Sapphire slippers, red road, watch for the woad flowers...”
“The usual advice: help would be found if she was clever and open-hearted and courageous.” Pepper reflected on the girl – humbly-born, like most seekers, and with a palpable sense of possibility about her as she looked at the Fairy Godmother helping her. “All the usual things. Although she’ll have to work at her first greetings if she keeps the parrot. It has the vocabulary of a sailor and the proficiency of an academic.”
“Yes, I saw that. A parrot’s a new one. Usually it’s a puppy or a cat.” Maria shrugged and made a notation down in the book on the desk in front of her, the nib scratching softly across the parchment beneath the crackle of the fire. “One for the records, I suppose – if she gets through the tasks.”
“I have a good feeling about this one.” Pepper left off brushing her hair and curled her arms around her knees. “Although I said that about the girl who turned to piracy, too, didn’t I?”
“At least her man hasn’t gone rogue like the last one did. What was it? Ten years stretched out into one hundred and more?”
“Something like that.” Sometimes, even with all the guidance a Fairy Godmother provided, with all the hints they gave out to the various seekers, something went wrong along the way, and the ‘happy ending’ that they were trying to achieve didn’t occur. And then things tended to get messy.
The last mess of that kind that the pair of them had attended had required six full-blown heroes to fix, from the sleeper knight who’d sacrificed himself some seventy years earlier in order to bring the situation into stasis, down to the man whose strength became that of a hundred men – but only when he was enraged. The heroes had been triumphant in the end, and only a little magic had been required in the end – a small spell of similarity, just enough to break through the invaders’ shield at the right time and the right place using the one female in the group. Thank the powers that be for loopholes of ‘no man may break through this shield’- especially since the magician who’d spelled the protection for the invaders (an embittered mischief maker who turned dark side) should have been savvy about the possible ways that a spell could be broken when loopholes were left in the casting.
It had worked out, but not without a lot of trouble and sacrifice and a battle that laid waste to an entire city.
Pepper hoped there wouldn’t be anything like that for a while. Usually, after such events, there was a period of peace and quiet, while the ‘happy ending’ settled into place, people took heart from the new beginning, and a kingdom was quiet for a while.
A Fairy Godmother could certainly hope.
Pepper’s hair was nearly dry, so she “So what was the message you got from Phil about a new Mystery? An unknown girl?”
“He said the magic around her was so dense from a magical perspective it looks like she’s walking in her own personal fog. It was lucky he spotted her before one of the Others did.” Maria turned to one of the walls, where a blank picture hang. “Jarvis?”
The face that appeared in the mirror was long with a high forehead and a somewhat pointed nose. “Godmother Maria. You wish to see the apprehension of the new Mystery?”
The face vanished in a swirl of mist that slowly faded to show a moving image of a young woman slipping through a city marketplace, her stride casual, her gaze lazily aware of everything around her. Even through the mirror, Pepper could see the glimmer of magic thickly around her.
“How old is she?”
“Somewhere between eighteen and twenty-two.” When Pepper turned to stare at her, dragging her gaze away from the sight of the young woman filching a piece of fruit from a cart, Maria nodded. “I know! I couldn’t believe it when Phil told me – but she remembers the rise of Kaensdell, but not the fall.”
And the two had happened within five years of each other, making the girl's age reasonably guessable. “I guess that’s why she’s a Mystery – although with power like that gathering around her— She’d make a brilliant Godmother if she’s not already a Lost Heir.”
“If she could be trained to it.” Maria leaned back and indicated the mirror again. “Watch this.”
In the mirror, another person was moving to intercept the young woman – a group of men, elegantly-dressed, but with their intent plain on their faces from this perspective. But even as they converged, one of them caught his arm on something – someone’s clothing, or perhaps one of the stalls, it was hard to see in the abrupt cluster of people crowding around him.
The young woman looked up as though someone had whispered her danger in her ear, glanced around with sudden awareness, then turned and walked unerringly through the gap in the closing circle. At the same time, every man trying to reach the young woman was inexplicably caught up in some small situation that trapped them, blocked them, or set them back from pursuing her by a half-dozen paces – no small thing in a crowded markeplace.
“That’s some skill,” Pepper observed as the image swirled to darkness again and the ghostly face appeared in the centre of the gilt frame.
“Or some very good luck.” Maria shrugged. “But you see why she’s a Mystery.”
“Who were the men?” Pepper looked at Jarvis. “Could you identify them?”
“Alas, no. Godmother Maria instructed me to watch the young woman, and I could not follow both her and the men who were pursuing her – at least, not once she left the markets. However...” Jarvis pondered. “I have seen this kind of activity before. The appearance of a young man or woman with abilities that are rather beyond even the standard use of magic – the Mystery – who is then pursued by a group of affiliated peoples.” The face in the mirror paused. “I’ll have to run through my memories, because the details are presently eluding me.”
“Take your time, Jarvis,” Maria advised. “There’s no immediate rush. Phil managed to corner the girl, and he made an appeal based on his ability to help her shepherd her power into something more. She’s agreed to stay with him and the others for the time being, so there’s a bit of space. Oh, and the reason he called to talk about the Mystery is because he wants us to take a turn at schooling her, if we have the time.”
“If we have the time? For a Mystery, I’ll make the time.” Pepper rubbed her hair between her fingers trying to work out if it needed further drying. Deciding it didn’t, she rose from her spot on the hearth and went over to the lounge to curl up on the other corner to Maria. “Has Phil found out if she’s a Lost Heir, a Seeker, or just a magic-user in potentia? Because the path the Tradition wants to send her is going to vary how we’ll have to approach her.”
“If he did find out, he didn’t say. Which means he probably hasn’t worked that out yet. In the meantime, there’s no harm in getting her ready for a range of possibilities. At the least, she’ll need some training in offensive and defensive magics. She’s got the misdirectional influence down pat if that scene from the marketplace is any indication.”
“She should probably get a quick primer in local kingdom politics,” Pepper murmured. “And I suppose Lord Stark has to be informed.”
“Your job,” Maria said promptly. “Not mine.”
Pepper made a face. The problem with Lord Stark was not that he was a particularly unlikeable nobleman – in fact, the problem was precisely the opposite. He was charming and handsome, confident and charismatic, and, thanks to the blessing of some long-ago fairy on his father’s house, he had not only enough fighting skill to be a hero on a battlefield, but enough magic to make things work where other knights simply didn’t.
And he liked flirting with Pepper. Which might have been fine ten years ago when she was a minor nobleman’s youngest daughter being badly mistreated by her stepmother and older siblings, but was inappropriate for a Godmother – too many questionable Traditional possibilities.
And yet somehow, ‘inappropriate for a Godmother’ didn’t translate to finding Stark’s flirting distasteful; the problem was precisely the opposite.
Exasperated by her thoughts on the nobleman, Pepper stretched out her legs on the ottoman. “I imagine I’m not allowed to turn him into a toad?”
“Not unless you want to turn dark side,” Maria murmured. “Besides, he’s already been through one redemption in the last ten years; there probably isn’t room for another so soon. Which means we’d have a hero going dark, and Tradition only knows where that would end.” She glanced at Pepper, smiling slightly. “If the Tradition had a sense of irony, pink bubbles would probably be involved.”
It was most unTraditional for one Godmother to stick her tongue out at another, but Pepper did so anyway.