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The Dance of the Faeries

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Cecelia Lane always had iron nails in the bottom of her shoes. She wore a necklace that was shaped like a horseshoe. Thomas picked her school because the uniforms were blue, and Janet hung horseshoes over the doors to the house and Cecelia’s bed. They had left the Midwest and settled just outside Philadelphia; Janet teaching English at Bryn Mawr and Thomas teaching drama at a private school, where most of the girls, and half of the boys fell a little bit in love with him.

There had been a few half hearted attempts to keep her out of similar academic circles as those which had introduced her parents to the world of the Unseelie Court. Cecelia danced ballet. When she was still small and her parents found her creating the Siege at Troy with her Barbies and plastic ponies, the illustrated books of Greek myths had disappeared, a sparkling tutu appeared in her dress up box, and she had started training seriously in a studio in the suburbs that shook whenever the train went by. Pretty and petite, she was the star pupil in her class. When she was fourteen, she charmed a few fellow students into helping her create a ballet of Medea, but in a rehearsal she was dropped from a lift, shattering her knee and all hopes of a career as a ballerina.

She threw herself into her studies, switching from French to Latin. There had been more frantic phone calls to Robin and Molly in Boston, then; her parents fretting that she would be trapped by Medeous in a Classics Department somewhere, even at her all girls prep school.

“Robin doesn’t think it matters. If Medeous wants her, she will find her. He thinks she should be safe from all faerie influence until she’s eighteen; she can’t make deals with children too young to die for their country. But make sure she knows everything, and keep putting iron nails in her shoes. And really, it’s probably for the best that she’s not dancing ballet anymore; dancing circles have trapped more men in faerie lands than translating Homer,” Molly reassured Janet.

She graduated from high school under swaying cherry blossoms, one of the few who chose a small, obscure college over a prestigious name. She spent her summer working at at the gift shop at the Art Museum in all its classical glory, and most of July agonizing over which translation of Homer she was going to read for school, before spending a week reading the first six books of The Iliad in coffee shops and around parks in the city. Her fellow dancers did a final performance together before they went their separate ways, to colleges and conservatories, and she sat in the audience less upset at not dancing Giselle with them than she had been expecting, and pleased with her decision to read the Great Books for the next four years.

In a whirlwind she packed clothes, books, music and linens before departing for Maryland. Right before they left Philadelphia, a package arrived from Robin and Molly with an antique copy of As You Like It and a note reading, “Be wonderful wonderful and yet again wonderful, darling Celia. Love from your unlikely godparents.”

When she arrived, her roommate had hot pink hair, a nose ring, a poster of Kurt Cobain, and introduced herself as Rachel. Rachel seemed amused by the horseshoes Thomas hung over the door. While Cecelia was unpacking her clothes and Janet was organizing her bookshelves, the RA popped in, and introduced herself as Jen.

“Are there any ghosts?” Janet burst out, before either Cecelia or Rachel managed to say anything.

Thomas rolled his eyes as Cecelia shrugged at Rachel, seeking sympathy about embarrassing parents. “Nothing special,” said Jen blithely, “A few stories, but just the sort of thing that pops up in buildings that used to be Civil War hospitals.”

The girls whirled through orientation, comparing class schedules – they had none together, except the Chorus all freshmen took together -- taking tours of campus, and minding which parts of campus weren’t safe to go to at night. All three Lanes listened carefully for any familiar names during the Commencement ceremony, as each incoming student signed the official college register on stage with the President and Dean. Then there were kisses and tears as her parents left.

After the first dinner in the dining hall, the girls found themselves in the Great Hall, surrounded by oil paintings of past Deans, taking fast and basic instructions on swing and waltz for the party that evening. As the instructors swept into the room, Celia watched wistfully and Rachel in wide-eyed wonder at their grace. Their feet flashed in quick patterns over the worn Great Hall floor. He lightly swept her up from a dip so deep her dark hair nearly brushed the floor. “I’m Odile,” the tall dreamy girl introduced herself, “and this is Kit. We’ll be teaching you to dance.”

Cecelia started suddenly, and Rachel whispered in her ear, “Doesn’t he look kind of like your dad?”

“Ssh. Not now.”

She was trying not to stare, not to draw their attention to her, but she saw Kit staring at her. She turned suddenly, grinned at the boy next to her, and introduced herself. They spent the next hour slowly turning, listening to Odile explaining with her French accent the rhythm of swing, and then the basic box step. She watched the two of them whispering, as she glanced covertly over her partner’s shoulder. After an hour, Odile called out, “All right, children, run along, make yourselves beautiful for the dance at ten.”

As she started towards the door, she felt her arm caught and she turned to find herself face to face with Kit.

“Don’t call your parents,” he said suddenly.

“I promised I would.”

“Don’t, please. Not yet. Can we talk later? At the dance?”

She spent the next two hours distressed, trying to avoid answering Rachel when she came back in the room asking, “What was that all about? He really did look like your dad. And what did he want to talk to you about afterward?”

Cecelia started going through her own closet, staring at skirts and dresses, trying to decide what to wear. “I think we’re something like second cousins. He was trying to figure it out, too; that’s what he wanted to talk about,” she answered absently, pulling out a pale blue dress that would flare out beautifully when she spun.

“You looked like you’d seen a ghost.”

“I don’t believe in ghosts. That’s just my mom -- she was sure her freshman dorm was haunted.”

They both looked at the horseshoe over the door. Cecelia shrugged. “You know. Parents.”

She changed into her dress, and put up her hair. Rachel was bursting with questions she didn’t know how to ask. Cecelia helped her go through her closet, to pick a dress that wouldn’t clash with her hair. The pink was new; she had dyed it just before coming, trying to transform herself from mousy and a bit nerdy to someone more distinct, and they eventually created a blend of clothes from both closets. Cecelia sat back down, inspecting the heels of her shoes, tapping the iron nail absently with her fingernail.

The dance was like something from another time, with Benny Goodman playing as couples danced. Kit found her just as a waltz started, and led her onto the dance floor. “It’s Swan Lake!” Cecelia exclaimed.

“The DJ likes to play it for Odile.” They were dancing, waltzing in graceful circles around the room. “Cecelia. I knew your parents in college twenty years ago.”

She laughed. “I know. You were part of the Faerie Court.”

He looked startled. “Well-- that makes things easier. How much do you know?”

“They told me everything, and Robin told me more than my dad knew. Forewarned is forearmed.”

The danced in silence, spinning in fast circles. “She’s lost a lot of control, but you knew that, didn’t you?” She nodded, and he continued, “I think…there are several of us who think…it was you that freed your father.”

“It was my mother.”

“She needed you, Cecelia. And we need you now. We want to be free.” They were spinning fast again, not talking. When the music slowed, he said, “Did you know Washington first met Lafayette here, at a ball? Will you join us, a strong ally to our struggling rebellion?”

They danced in silence while she thought. “I did promise my parents I wouldn’t get caught up in anything.”

His face fell. “Maybe you can stay out. She’s here, too, of course; we can never go too far from her. She’s a student now, though, she’s lost too much power to be anything else. Certainly, keep your parents away, and Robin; they’re away and safe, but she could draw them back in.”

The music came to tearing to its crashing resolution. He bowed slightly, her knees following automatically into a curtsy. “If you change your mind, please, come find me.”

And he was gone, disappearing among the other dancers. She danced with other freshman, laughing, chatting about Homer. She left at just before two, dizzy and exhausted. Her knee throbbed with the unaccustomed exertion, and her head ached with magic -- the thrilling magic of entering college, and the shadowy, threatening magic of faerie.

She spent the next few days immersed in schoolwork. Classes started dramatically, with everyone heading to class simultaneously after dinner on Thursday. And then they were off, learning the Greek alphabet, reading Aristotle’s terribly inaccurate biology and Euclid’s logical geometry.

On Saturday she slept in, then laid in bed with a worn copy of Ballet Shoes and her headphones on, listening to Swan Lake. She’d checked it out of the library to try to rid herself of the music that had been stuck in her head since the dance. The book was falling apart, but it had been her favorite when she was a little girl, and she was wondering idly if Posy had ever became the international star, or if her career failed before ever starting, when Rachel dragged her off to the dining hall for brunch. On the way, they passed a group of upperclassmen, playing croquet in front of the imposing Liberty Tree.

“Miss Cecelia Lane,” came a voice. Cecelia turned, seeing first a lovely young woman with mad colored red and black hair. As she continued to look, though, the woman was more and more plain and small, her hair turning drab and indistinguishable.

Cecelia turned to urge Rachel off to the dining hall, asking her to bring her a piece of fruit or peanut butter sandwich, and then turned back to them. She found herself clutching her horseshoe necklace, and tapping her heel slightly, hearing the reassuring sound of the iron in her shoe, feeling for her only weapons. “Medeous.”

“Will you join us? You shall be my partner. Anne, give the girl your mallet.”

Cecelia was glad for an excuse to look away from Medeous; it was giving her a headache seeing the ghost of the beautiful girl over the drab creature. Anne looked displeased with losing her favored status, but stepped forward to hand over the mallet.

“No,” Cecelia refused. “No, I’m not playing.”

Medeous laughed, “It really is just a game, Miss Lane. But I do want you at my side.”

“Why would I ever join you?”

She felt them all looking at her, the two boys (one who looked like her father and one whom she had seen in pictures with her mother), Anne, and Medeous. “Why wouldn’t you want to join us? Nick knew Shakespeare; Anne was Anne Boleyn.”

Cecelia stood perfectly still, feeling like her shoes were nailed to the brick at her feet. “You tried to kill my dad.”

“You dear child,” Medeous cooed, and her voice was soothing, but the drab brown eyes were predetory. She started walking about the tree, running her fingers over the huge crack filed with concrete. “I would never do that to you.” She sang, suddenly, “‘Cecelia, I’m down on my knees, I’m begging you please’…I could fix your knee.”

She shuddered, suddenly reliving her fourteen year old heartbreak. “No. I am fine, even if I can’t dance ballet anymore-- which in the end was all that it destroyed. And I haven’t danced in years, it would be a waste. God. You ought to have flamingos and hedgehogs, toying with lives like you do.”

She felt her feet come unglued and she fled. She stumbled into the dining hall, passing beyond the food, and found Kit. “General Washington?” she stumbled, nervous and giddy. “Do you still want my help?”

He grinned. “Of course, Miss Lafayette,” he answered and then, looking at her face, “Sit down, Cecelia, you look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

She sank into the closest chair. He quickly introduced her to Peg Powell and Jack Nickopoulos. “Did you just meet her?”

She nodded. “Why didn’t anyone tell me what she looks like?”

Odile frowned, confused. “Her hair? That’s almost normal now, isn’t it? For college students to have crazy hair? You came to the dance class yesterday with the girl with pink hair.”

Cecelia stared at her in shock. “But...that was all translucent, like a shadow or a ghost over her.” They were all watching her in disbelief. “No one else sees that?”

“No,” Jack recovered first. “No, we have never seen through her Glamor. Kit, I think you must be right: she really is our best hope.”

Over the next two months, Cecelia settled into a routine, juggling her classes with new friends and hours in the basement of the library, pouring over old books of forgotten lore with Kit and Odile. Usually, Peg and Jack joined them. Peg tried to explain something about ghosts and being cursed to forever pick up ghost books because of an offense to Medeous long ago. All four had laughed at Cecelia’s attempt to learn Greek from the standard textbook with a professor who had declared that he would be learning along with them, and had taken it upon themselves to make sure that she learned Greek.

She spent September moving from Homer to Plato to Aeschylus, learning logical reasons for everything her math teachers had ever taught her as just fact. And the afternoon she came sailing into the library, thrilled beyond measure at having spent a class dissecting the geometry that proves the Pythagorean Theorem, Jack looked up and said, “We think we have it.”

Peg interrupted, “We can’t kill her.”

Cecelia dropped suddenly, in the chair. “I’m not sure I was up for killing anyone, but…”

“We’re going to lock her out,” explained Peg. “On Halloween, she has to ride back to her realm. We’ll just make sure she can’t get back into ours.”

Odile explained calmly in her French accent, “She is only required to pay the tithe to Hell for every seven years she is in this world, Cecelia, if that helps you at all. And, there, there are more who are like her, they will deal with her as they see fit.” She sighed, “It helps me. Anne and I were like sisters for centuries, I am rather relieved that locked away, she can’t feed either of us to hell. Even though Anne is entirely her creature, even now.”

They spent a week running about to hardware stores, trying to find an iron chain, before ending up at the Renaissance Faire to commission a chain, lock, and key from the blacksmith. He had laughed when they asked, and joked that it was just what you needed for a fairy prison. Kit had been shocked, and stammered a bad excuse about a stage production of A Christmas Carol and wanting heavy old fashioned chains for Marley.

Halloween was a Tuesday, but it didn’t stop them from having the Masquerade Waltz that night, ignoring that there were dancers with morning classes. Cecelia dressed up as Clytemnestra, in all her avenging fury. They painted Rachel’s fingers the same pink as her hair and dressed her in gold and called her Rosy Fingered Dawn.

Depositing Rachel with other girls from their floor, Cecelia found Kit and Odile. Odile was in a simple black dress and an elaborate mask, and Kit was dressed like a romantic poet. “We’re all watching for the tree to open. Jack and Peg are watching from their dorm, and they have all our tools,” Odile explained. “We’ll take turns on look out.”

It was midnight when time seemed to slow down as Odile moved out of the window, and the three of them slipped out of the room and the building. Peg and Jack met them, carrying the chain, dressed far more practically in jeans and sweatshirts. As they approached the giant tree, a sudden bright wind whipped the girls’ skirts around, and a cold brilliant light poured out of the now cracked tree.

“Are we the only ones who notice the light? Why aren’t the people at the dance, or in that dorm, noticing?” Cecelia asked.

Peg pulled the hood of her sweatshirt up and answered, “Maybe because we’re all faerie touched.”

“Of course,” said Jack, “it’s also Halloween, and it’s cold. No one else is out. Maybe everyone just thinks it’s lights from someone else’s party.”

The wind grew sharper as they got closer, and the light more blinding. “Or,” offered Kit, “it could all be a defense, a way to keep the door open.”

Cecelia’s hand touched the tree first. Despite the cold October air, it was warm, as though it were a July afternoon. Peg solemnly handed her the lock and the key, and they each took hold of the chain.

The ground below their feet shook, but the tree held steady.

“Hold onto the tree,” commanded Odile. “It’s holding the world together. Everything else might be in flux.”

As all their hands touched the tree, green lights played across the sky. They circled silently, trying to ignore the tricks of nature. When they were all the way around, Cecelia fitted the lock between the ends of the chain and turned the key.

As soon as she pulled the key out of the lock, the ground stilled and they were suddenly back under the lights of a half moon. They could hear the music from the Great Hall again. The same song was playing, the tempo picking up as the woman’s voice sang out, “So kiss me and say you understand.”

“Well,” Cecelia laughed. “I guess everyone will assume the chain is just another attempt to keep the tree in one piece, like the concrete. Do you think it will work? Is the gate closed?”

“Yes,” Kit replied. “It’s closed. The only way it might open is if there is a war on the other side at the same time a hurricane hits.”

They grinned, laughing like idiots, and went back in to the dance.