by Peko Peko
Evening dawned in the Autumn Lands, and with it another successful hunt, done by the Order of The Twilight Knights.
The hunt had been good, and with it, a stag was gifted from the lands, fat and hefty enough to feed the court’s nobles at any feast day. It was a beauty of a beast too: keen black eyes, even in death, with a spirit that had nearly bucked Sorrell Ash, First Knight in the Order, from her steed with a kick, and a buck of its proud, leathered antlers. She thought about the fight as she and her fellow soldiers marched back, up the cobbled paths of Cendis, the Bright Capital of the land. She remembered drawing the bow, pulling the string taut, then loosing the arrow, the stag caught perfectly in the chest. It was a skilled kill, and a true gift that it gave its life, and Sorrell uttered her prayers to the Burning Lady, the Huntress of the land.
Her trip back was a peaceful one amidst her thoughts, though the Autumn Fae lands were always a mellow place, full of burning colors, the capital just as much. Now was Sorrell’s favorite time of the year too, when the lands were blooming alongside Spring, colors renewing themselves at the end of Winter’s reign.
With a wave of her hand, and a cry of “At ease!” Sorrell dismissed the rest of the Twilight Order, freeing the knights to go to the baths and to the kitchen, two of them taking all but the antlers of the buck to the kitchen for butchering and smoking. Sorrell herself wanted to present them herself to the Autumn Queen: they were a magnificent rack, after all, with thirty well-shaped points together.
She entered Castle Vat-Bero from its front, right up the main avenue, and immediately was led to the receiving chamber: clearly, the Queen had been waiting for her return. She bypassed an introduction, and instead, came in to the sight of faerie nobles, lounging around in the lazy afternoon on cushions, hot honey tea cupped in their hands. There was the soft hiss of chatter, then a pause as a shocked gasp rang out; then, a woman with skin dark as earth, golden freckles, and hair the color a flickering flame leaned forward, smiling directly at Sorrell. She adjusted her legs, kicking up the sheer fabric of her dress, a peach-toned sheath of fabric that had been knotted artfully at her shoulders, and belted at the middle with an embroidered sash that made Sorrell think of the very woods she had just been in, set against the tall, brown mountains that bordered the castle town.
“Welcome back, First Ash,” the Queen greeted, inclining her head.
“Good evening, Queen Flavia. May the sun always be upon you, and may fire radiate from your very heart.” Sorrell prostrated herself before the Ash Throne, kneeling with a practiced grace before Queen Flavia Dorray Oriel, protector of Autumn and Queen of the Autumn Fae and lands within the reach of the season.
Upon the throne, she looked radiant, but Sorrell would never say so; Sorrell was human and knew it, bound in service for the sister she had back in her own realm, and thus, was meant to be lower than her lady, as was right. Yet she couldn’t negate the twinkle in her pine-green eyes, couldn’t keep her brown lips from tilting up into a smile. “I bring you a gift from the day’s hunt: the antlers of the great stag I shot with my bow, cut off with my sword for you,” Sorrell said, and she held them up. A maid, dressed in deep brown and gold, came forward, taking the horns with pale, grey hands, white eyes unblinking.
Sigh. Sorrell looked up through her thick eyelashes curiously, and saw Queen Flavia’s nose wrinkled up in mild frustration. “Rise, Sorrell, and greet me as a friend, not a stranger.”
“My lady, I–”
Flavia clucked her tongue, head shaking. “Don’t make me shift: I’m comfortable today. Now come up from the Dias and greet me, Sorrell, lest I grow any more irritated and show my ire,” Flavia said, and she beckoned Sorrell forward with open arms.
Ever dutiful, Sorrell rose up, walking the brief distance up the stairs of the Dias. She bowed before the Queen, then sighed, gripping her forearms first, then pulling her tight to sniff at the spiced scent of her soul, catching the smell at the corner of throat and shoulder. It was an intimate greeting that Sorrell had only previously been privy to watching; fae, for as free as they were, were also highly ritualistic, and touch was a part of that. A hug could ask and demand much, but also require much too, and when Sorrell embraced Queen Flavia, she knew it was great honor to do so, and so did the court; there was a soft grumbling, clearly in flagrant distaste of their lesser –a human— touching the Queen.
Flavia didn’t care however, and disregarded them all with grace. “Now, tell me of your world and how you have been doing,” Flavia stated, a broad smile on her lips
“My lady, you come frequently enough to my world,” Sorrell teased, holding the Queen at arm’s length. Up so close, her radiance was stunning, the jewel of the entire Autumn fae territory.
“I do, but I rarely see you. You’re always on some hunt or some sort of mission for me when you’re here, or in those smell barracks.”
“You send me on said quests and hunts, Lady Queen.”
“I know, I know,” Flavia whined out, sighing. It was hard, in times like this, to believe that Flavia was over two hundred years old: Sorrell felt like the elder of the two at only twenty-eight. “Yet you still avoid me like sickness sometimes.”
“That’s because I’m no longer the young woman who marveled over an old oak like you,” Sorrell ribbed, using a common Autumn jab.
“Old oak? Well, you must be a rotten-for-brains willow if you think I’ll weep to that,” retorted Queen Flavia, and she stood up, rising above Sorrell by a foot and a half, making her have to bend her neck to see Flavia’s face once more. “Come! We’ll go to my apartments and talk now that you’ve returned: I want to capture you before you wriggle free!” Flavia waved a hand and the grumbling nobles left in a spree of feathers, horns, scales, and clucking tongues, fae returning to their homes and apartments around the central city.
Flavia and Sorrell quit the court quickly themselves, going behind the throne to a narrow hallway that ended at a curling staircase. It stretched up and up into a tower, and together, Queen Flavia and Sorrell ascended it, hand in hand, fingers twining together. They paused occasionally, sharing sweet kisses, Flavia bending down to press her lips to Sorrell, Sorrell rising up to tug the Queen down, until they were in the royal apartments, Flavia pushing the door to.
Sorrell wasted no time in getting out of her gear, leaving her in a simple vest, her tights, pants, and her tunic. It was freeing, being out of her armor, even though it was simple leathers, magic sloughing free from her skin as she dropped the light gear to the floor. “So,” Sorrell began, a sly smile on her lips. “Shall we talk?”
“We shall,” Flavia replied, a coy smile on her face.
“In bed, or in your study?” Sorrell asked, and she looked directly at Flavia, green eyes bright.
Flavia shifted, and undid one of the ties at her shoulder for her dress, and the whole of it fell, sliding off her soft body in a swish of fabric. Sorrell felt a wetness pool between her legs, and blooming heat that made her gasp softly. “I suppose that’s most definitely in bed.”
Flavia turned and climbed onto the bed, her wide hips shaking, fiery gaze thrown over her shoulder in invitation. It took only a moment’s hesitation before Sorrell was climbing onto the bed behind her, then climbing over Flavia to hover over her on all fours. At twenty-seven years, twenty-seven autumns gone blazing past, Sorrell Ash felt invincible, a strength uncurling from inside her gut that made her push Flavia into the mattress, pinning her with her hips. That didn’t stop Flavia however: she simply settled for touching Sorrell, for teasing her.
“I stink of a kill and sweat,” Sorrell breathed, relaxing into Flavia’s touch as her fingers skimmed across Sorrell’s breast, undoing the buttons of her shirtsleeves, hands sliding up the soft rolls on her sides, gripping her thick hips anxiously, nails biting in.
“I know, and it’s delightful and wild and makes me want you,” Flavia returned, and she moaned softly, rutting against Sorrell for good measure.
“With such a smell?”
“I want you like the sky wants to be blue. Like a sun wants to dawn, and a moon to glow,” Flavia said, and she rolled her hips again, making Sorrell groan softly.
“Stinking and all?”
“Stinking and all.”
“That’s a mighty need, my lady. Shall I deny you?”
“I shan’t, my dearest flame.”
They were all hands after that, Sorrell arching her back into Flavia’s lips as she sucked on her breast, making Sorrell moan aloud as she dug her fingers into Flavia’s sides, pinning her close. Normally, she would have felt embarrassed, but these were as much her own apartments as the Queen’s; here, she could be free, and just as wild. So she let the moans fall from her mouth as they divested one another of their clothes, hands pulling and tugging each other closer until they were skin on skin.
Sorrell brought them to a kiss, fierce and passionate, full of teeth and tongue, noses nudging each other as they tilted their heads, deepening the action. Flavia swiped her tongue across Sorrell’s, and she returned the action, drawing a long, lustful moan from the Queen’s soft lips. “I must have you now, Flavia,” Sorrell panted out.
“Then please, have me,” Flavia whispered, and she shuddered as Sorrell kissed down her soft, stomach, pressing kisses between the slight rolls until she reached Flavia’s thighs. Sorrell slid a finger between, then a second, prying them apart, and Flavia shifted, spreading herself right there. It was nothing to remove her undergarments: the lace of her underwear fell away at the hips, tied by two ribbons, and Flavia rose, letting Sorrell cast it aside.
She took a moment to kiss at Flavia’s thighs, as the soft brown skin, where her freckles gathered most, sucking and nipping, leaving dark, purple–black bruises, indentations of her teeth. It made Flavia yip and squeak and gasp, back arching, legs spreading even more. “Please,” Flavia breathed, her hands tracing shapes up her belly till they were at her breasts, tugging her nipples, biting her lower lip. “Sorrell, please don’t tease…”
“Any why not? Perhaps I’m still wild from the hunt, Flavia,” Sorrell said, and she shifted her head up to Flavia’s moist folds, running her finger over the fine, orange hairs there, curling about. “Maybe I’ll devour you like the stag?”
Sorrell didn’t catch Flavia’s answer: she was caught up in the sudden, warm scent of Flavia, and felt her mouth water at the thought of the taste of the faerie, at the thought of licking her. She spread the folds of her with two fingers, and without hesitation, Sorrell pressed her nose close, sniffing deeply. “Oh, Flavia,” she breathed out, voice a whispered breath. “You smell like the pinecones during the Fire Festival: hot and sweet, like the final burn of the season. I could get drunk off of it,” Sorrell admitted, and she pressed her mouth full against Flavia’s mound, lapping at the brine of her wetness, tongue delving deep. She tasted the heat of Flavia, felt her shudder around her tongue, and chuckled; it was a rare site to see the Queen so unraveled. “I think I shall, eh?”
Yet Flavia was enjoying it too, tossing about on the bed, writhing with every touch, that Sorrell felt she simply had to press further and so she did, sliding in two fingers alongside her mouth, working them inside of Flavia.
It was their favorite kind of love making: slow and heated, a time when all the world dulled to white noise. Flavia let herself be free in these moments with Sorrell, bent her body and shuddered and whined, clawed at Sorrell’s scalp–pulling her hair, a mess of red-brown ringlets, free from the leather cord she’d wrapped around them to keep them from her face–and moaned Sorrell’s name over and over again. Of course, this only spurred the knight on, and made Sorrell work her jaw quicker, lapping and slurping with vigor, fingers pumping in and out quicker and quicker.
Neither was sure when, but two fingers turned to three, then four, then her whole hand was cupped inside of Flavia to the wrist, pumping in and out over and over. Flavia was screaming at this point, shouting to every deity she knew, legs wrapped so tightly around Sorrell’s shoulders and head that is was a vice, keeping Sorrell pinned there on the mattress, spurring her on. She managed to slip her thumb out, settling on four fingers thrusting hard, and flicked it over Flavia’s clitoris, pressing hard. That sent the fae queen rigid, and she let out a below. “Sorrell!” she cried, and a gush of wetness flooded out of her, making Sorrell’s flushed cheeks sticky, her chin and fingers a glossy mess.
For a moment, it looked as if Flavia was done, exhausted by the act, but she shifted, thighs still quivering. She tucked them up, lifting them over Sorrell to free her, and she chuckled low. “I’m on the hunt myself, my First knight,” Flavia breathed, propping herself up onto her elbows. “And I’m not out for stag either.”
With quick speed, Flavia flipped their positions, pinning Sorrell to the mattress, orange eyes darkening. A set of fangs appeared in her mouth, and her appearance distorted, features sharpening, freckles glowing even brighter, thrumming as if she were burning from the inside, pulsing fire. The scent of cinnamon and bark filled the air, flooding Sorrell’s nose, and she wondered what it’d be like to slip from humanity and smell Flavia in full, get a big breath of her scent and tuck it inside her. She fell upon Sorrell, pulling off the last of her clothes so fiercely that they were large scraps of fabric, rather than clothes, but neither woman cared; they were tumbling on the bed, Flavia fighting for immediate dominance as she pressed her hands to Sorrell’s thick thighs, pushing them apart with zeal.
Sorrell ceded, of course, and felt Flavia immediately slip her fingers inside her, felt the twist of Flavia’s wrist, the hard thrusts of her hands as she slid in and out of Sorrell, drawing her close to orgasm with a fierce intensity. It was just how Sorrell liked it after a hunt, her love rough and wild with her, biting at her neck with those sharp fangs. It was wild at its most base definition, a joining of two persons in a fierce battle of flesh.
The sensations came in a continuous, steady stream of heat, and Sorrell swore that she’d light up herself, burn up right there on the bed as a panting, whimpering mess. She felt her orgasm bloom in her belly, a singing feeling of warmth that flooded her hips, rose up to her nose, settling in the back of her eyes. She focused on the lapping of Flavia’s tongue, on the feel of her sharp nails in her thighs, and gasped out her orgasm, riding the joyful laughter of Flavia into a warm, whiteness.
✦ ✧ ✦
It had not been the first time Sorrell had woken to her Queen, lying beside her nude, skin glowing with the thrum of the dawning sunlight.
It was her favorite way to wake, to bring herself into dawning, and she relished it, nuzzling closer to Flavia.
“Good morning, my flame,” Sorrell muttered out, kissing Flavia’s bare shoulder. “Would you like to talk again, or shall I just enjoy your warmth?”
Flavia grunted in her sleep, settling closer to Sorrell, still enjoying resting, and Sorrell chuckled. “Warmth it is.”
Sorrell settled for mumbling sweet nothings, for kissing at Flavia’s shoulders again and again, until she woke up with a yawn. “Ah, there she is,” Sorrell whispered, and shifted upright, bending over to press her lips to Flavia. She tasted sleep there, heavy and heady, and sighed.
“Good morning, Sorrell,” Flavia whispered. “How are you?”
“Wonderful,” Sorrell replied. “It’s rare I share your bed all night, as of late. I seem to always be running errands back and forth. Now that True Autumn is here, it seems I’ve many breaks.”
“Hopefully to spend with me?”
“Either you, or on my computer. I finally rigged a connection in the barracks: trust me, there’s many cat videos I want to catch up on.” They both laughed at that, and Sorrell sighed once more, sweetly. “It’s mornings like this that I’d make an honest woman of you with a ring, my Queen.”
“You know that that can never happen.” Flavia was staring at Sorrell now, and her eyes lacked anything of sleep, clear and orange and vivid. “It is expected that I will wed someone of high rank in the court.” She was scooting away now, instantly uncomfortable, and sat up right, sheets falling to her bare waist.
“I’m of high rank,” Sorrell counted.
“Someone non-human,” Flavia added.
“Truly?” Sorrell replied, wrinkling up her brown nose. She turned over and snatched up her glasses from the nightstand, pressing them up her face in a huff. They were simple glass now: magic had cured her poor sight, but she still fiddled with them out of habit, trying to distance herself too. “So I’ll remain your consort?”
“Yes,” Flavia stated.
“That’s not good enough,” Sorrell stated. “I want to wed you, Flavia. Or at least be promised your hand.” Flavia’s lips curved down in a frown, but Sorrell pressed. “You can’t honestly think I’ll spend the rest of my life, however long, as only your consort, can you?”
Clearly, Flavia had, because she sighed, nose wrinkling up as she sniffed sharply.
“A quest,” Sorrell stated.
“We’re honestly doing this before morning meal?” Flavia groaned, orange eyes narrowed.
Sorrell slammed her soft hand down on the sheets, making a soft thud. “Yes, we are! I may be in your culture, but my heart is still in mine. A quest to win your heart, Flavia. Please,” Sorrell added, the final word a breath.
Flavia shook her head, clucked her tongue, then looked at Sorrell. “Fine then. Let’s break with the morning meal, then go down and make the announcement. I sure do hope you know what you’re doing, Sorrell Ash.”
Sorrell wondered the exact same too.
✦ ✧ ✦
Flavia settled on to the Twinkling Throne, the morning light making the wood, slick and shiny, glimmer. She had asked Sorrell to remain at the entrance to the court: Flavia planned to announce her, as tradition dictated. All the nobles had gathered within the hour, dressed in shimmering silks and cottons, clothes light enough for the last of Summer. They looked joyous for the meeting: Flavia, was not.
“Greetings, my fellows,” Flavia began. “I called you here to witness. We have been tasked with awarding a Quest.” She paused, let the nobles mutter excitedly, then held up her hands, silencing them. “Let us bring forth the petitioner.”
The doors swung in and Sorrell Ash stood there, in simple leggings, a vest, tunic and loose pants. She padded in, feeling more human than before, but forced her head high, ignoring the snickers of the fae. The dias came soon enough, as did Flavia, and she knelt, head bowed in greeting. “My Lady Queen.”
“My First,” Flavia returned. She shook her head, flame colored tumbles springing, then exhaled. “What is the nature of your petition?”
“A quest to prove my love to you in order to win your hand in marriage,” Sorrell stated. “A quest that will allow me the right to marry you,” she added, making her intentions clear. Fae liked to play at being tricky: Sorrell knew she could sink herself with a single left-out word. A loud grumble arose as Sorrell finished her sentence, and the fae shifted around her, frowns on their features, voices hissing at Sorrell. They were creatures of tradition: whereas humans were welcome at court, they weren’t welcomed at proper mates. Flavia was duty-bound by millennia of tradition; Sorrell was the upstart trying to muck that up.
“Silence!” Flavia boomed, and the growing cacophony of the court dimmed. “Is there any who will question my right to accept?” She waited, and no one came forth, no one daring to question their Queen. “Good and well then. Sorrell, rise and receive your quest.”
Sorrell rose and approached Flavia, tilting her head back to see the Queen, whose nose was scrunched up in concentration. “I could make you carry water in a sieve, but you’ll figure that out too quick. I could make you retrieve the egg of a dragon, but you are my warrior: you’ll be strong enough to do so. If I want to toy with you, I could ask you to make me a rope from ash,” Flavia said, chuckling softly, fingers drumming on the arms of her throne. “I must admit, this is a bit difficult.” She paused. “Ah, but I know.”
Clearing her throat, Flavia spoke in a clear voice, her lips tilted down in a frown. “Sorrell Ash, I declare that you shall capture me a rainbow in a jar. A bit trite, admittedly, but more difficult with this modification: it must be captured by your own hand, no avoiding this through tricks of another man or creator. Bring me a rainbow within a week, an;d you win my hand.” Sorrell opened her mouth to speak, but Flavia cut her quick, continuing. “As a part of your trial, you may not see me until you have successfully completed this task, and none may help you with the task. If you do either, this will negate your quest, and you may never share any intimacy with me again. If you fail altogether, the same will occur regardless. Do you accept this quest, Sorrell Ash?”
Sorrell felt her jaw clench, felt the tightness at the back of her mouth, but somehow forced an answer. “Yes, My Lady,” Sorrell ground out. “I accept.”
“Good Then be dismissed.” Flavia rose from the throne, looked at Sorrell one last time, and swept from the room, heading up to her apartments in a rush of silk and flaming red hair.
✦ ✧ ✦
“Flavia’s such an ass!” Sorrell flopped onto her bed in the barracks, kicking her feet, brow knit together. She couldn’t believe Flavia had thrown in the last bit: it seemed like a punishment to her, as if Sorrell simply wanting to marry her in the future was so bad. “It’s as if she’s the one against this! And to think this after I devoured her properly last night!” That made Sorrell kick at the sheets even more, fists pounding the pillows.
“Sir’ram Ash?” Sorrell looked up to see her Second in the doorway, one Nissa Va Morlei. She was standing too rigid, and her purple eyes were slick as if with concern, tanned hands clutched at her front. When Sorrell didn’t answer, she went to worrying a lock of steel colored hair, chewing her lip.
Finally, Sorrell sat up, crossing her legs on the bed with a bit of composure, and waved Nissa in. “Am I needed by anyone?” she asked.
“No,” Nissa stated, a half-smile on her lips. “I just…heard the news.” Of course Nissa had: despite her human appearance, she was half-fae, birthed from pretty Sidhe mother who had enchanted a male to her bed. She would have had right to be at court, and by proxy of her mother–a noble–would have been in attendance.
“Ugh,” Sorrell groaned, falling backwards onto the pillows. She felt the weight of Nissa settling at the bottom of her bed, and pressed the heels of her palms into her eyes. “I made such a fool of myself by asking for this,” she stated. “Is it so bad to want to get married one day?”
“No, but I do think you should have thought this out a bit better,” Nissa admitted. “I almost wish you would have asked me. You know well enough how fae like to be: we don’t play nice,” Nissa stated. “Flavia had no choice but to do the same.”
“She wants me to capture a rainbow, of all things,” Sorrell stated, throwing up her hands. “In a jar! If she’d have left that off, I could have just gotten a flag from town, or just bought some sands and made a rainbow from that. Instead, I have to get the damned thing.” Sorrell clucked her tongue and turned onto her side, grumbling. “Sometimes, I wonder why I don’t just go back to my own home and forget the fae exist. I’d rather work some minimum wage job than try to do the impossible right now. McDonald’s sounds pretty good,” she stated, heaving a sigh.”
“Calm down, Sorrell,” Nissa said, and she settled her hand on Sorrell’s ankle. “That’s a lie and you know it: minimum is shit, and so is this situation. You’re just pissed is all, and you should be: both at yourself and at the Queen. But you have to understand he did her duty: now it’s time to do yours, Sorrel. Chin up.”
“I suppose so. Well,” Sorrell said, propping herself up on her elbows. “I suppose I should get to catching a rainbow by my own hand, whatever that entails. Announce that everyone has the week off: I’ll need it if I’m to solve this puzzle.”
“Well, there’s a bit of joy, isn’t it?” Nissa said, smiling gently. “And don’t worry: you’ll figure it out soon enough. You won’t even have wanted the help.”
✦ ✧ ✦
Sorrell felt Nissa was very, very wrong about not wanting help by the next day.
Day One had yielded little but planning, sketches of jars and ways to catch rainbows within them. Sorrell had instantly thought of water and mirrors, but she never could figure out how to rig the jars right, not without outright buying a jar made to do such a thing. That would have, of course, negated the tricky wording of the quest, barring her from Flavia for the rest of her time in the Autumn Lands. Once more, she swore an oath under her breath, vowing that if indeed she saw Flavia once more, she’d give her a cold shoulder.
Pushing away such thoughs by late day,, Sorrell had thought to somehow negate the quest’s wording by getting a jar that had a rainbow in it, but that negated that same, damnable rule of it not being by her hand, making her shatter the jar against the wall in frustration. Days Two, Three, and Four were continuous experimentation with everything Sorrell had: mirrors, water, candles, paints. She never got anything to look right enough to capture the rainbow by her own making, and not by another’s creation. It was frustrating, and by day five, had her sitting on her computer, browsing the internet through the hazy lack of sleep.
The looming failure to come was there, but she was pushing it off, procrastinating her own irritation and anger with a solid, quick connection. She browsed aimlessly, clicking through her feeds, until she spied something curious: a multi-tiered cake with a spree of rainbow sprinkles. She snorted, grumbling, “Too bad that isn’t mine. I’d pass in an instant.” Sorrell scrolled a bit further, reading quickly, and came to the next picture: the cake cut into a hefty slice, revealing seven colors, mirroring the spectrum of a rainbow.
The realization hit Sorrell had, and she slapped her hand to her face, groaning. How could she have not thought of the simplest thing to do? She’d spent days fixing hundreds of rigs with mirrors or paints, gemstones and candles, only to have never questioned literally making a rainbow, captured by her own hand. “Oh my god, that’s it,” Sorrell whispered. “Spirits, I’m an idiot!”
Sorrell twisted on her bed, yanking a pad of paper from her nightstand, and began to write down the recipe, a smile returning to her face.
✦ ✧ ✦
“My Lady Queen?” Flavia looked up to see one of her maids in the doorway of her study, a tall, hulking figure behind her. She set her pen down, adjusting in her chair, and nodded for the maid to continue. “Chef Fusilis has a question for you.”
“Yes, yes,” Flavia said. “Ask away.”
Fusilis entered, a figure with long, oil black braids that shimmered, and coals for eyes. They emanated heat, sloughing off of them in such a wave that Flavia felt her hair react, curls tightening on her head. “Forgive me, My Lady Queen, but I’ve a problem in the kitchens.”
“Your First is tearing up my kitchen for you, kicked all of my hands out so that she could cook of all things.” Fusilis snorted at that, and sparks burst from her nose, fading in the air. “Tried to kick her out, but then she up and kicked me out!”
Flavia bit back a laugh, swallowing the sound in her throat. “Forgive me, Fusilis, but it is allowed,” Flavia said. “She isn’t using your help, isn’t using anything but her own skill, and thus…I’m afraid I can’t really interrupt whatever she’s doing to make a rainbow. You know how a quest can muddle things.” She shrugged her shoulders: even this task was out of her hands until two days from now.
“She’s using my herbs and grains!” Fusilis bellowed. “How am I took cook if I ain’t got cooking things?”
“Ah, but things made from Nature have no hand, do they? Nature is simply there, and those grains and herbs are the fruits of their labor. Tricky, ain’t it?” Flavia said, chuckling. “Give her the night, if you may: I’m sure those who are hungry can find food elsewhere, and aren’t doomed to starve. Perhaps take the night off yourself, Chef?” Flavia suggested. “It seems as if your kitchens aren’t yours till the morrow.”
Fusilis grunted and bobbed a bow, turning and storming back out of the study and down the stairs, the smell of Sulphur remaining. Flavia coughed it away, waving her hand, then beckoned her maid. “Neige, go after her. I don’t want Fusilis back in that kitchen. Let Sorrell have her due time: I want her to make it.”
“Do you, Lady?” Neige asked, tilting her head. Unlike most of the vivid browns, reds, and golds of the court, she was grey, with navy hair and odd, near white eyes, and with good reason: she was a exchange from the Winter Lands, meant to be a gift by the Queen Verglas Hayle, a show of kindness to her neighbor. Flavia had come to like her for her quick words: she always got to the root of things. “From the task you given her, it’s hard to tell.”
“I do,” Flavia replied, sighing. “I hated to give her something worded so awkwardly, but I tried to leave a loophole. Who knows if she has actually found it out?”
“Arguably, I’d say she has, Lady, if she’s in the kitchens,” Neige said, blinking slowly. “Surely, she’s not in there for a slab of cheese or a bit of yesterday’s meat pie. I think she’s solved the quest. Shall I look into it?”
“No, no,” Flavia sighed, shaking her head. “Leave her to the task. We’ll see what tomorrow brings, if she truly has figured it out.”
“Shall I take my leave then, Lady Queen?” Neige asked.
“Please, take the evening for yourself. It seems I’ll be up early on the morrow.”
✦ ✧ ✦
Indeed, Flavia was up early. “You’ve called the court to order, First Knight. Please, tell me why you have.”
All around both Flavia and Sorrell, the court was gathered, a curious lot of nobles leaning forward, eyes glinting. It was clear they had sided with Flavia, expecting Sorrell to fail: trickery was what fae were best at, and human failure was the treat that waited at the end. “You may speak.”
“My Lady Queen, I’ve finished my task!” Sorrell dropped to her knees on the edge of the dias, a jar wrapped up in paper clutched in both hands. She had hoped this would work, that Flavia would be pleased. It had been her final effort after seeing that cake, and she’d put everything into it, raiding the castle kitchen until dawn broke, and she had finished her task. Exhaustion was pulling on her now, threatening to tug her into sleep, but she pushed back, forcing herself to keep upright. “I present it to you.”
Neige came from Flavia’s side, the Winter maid sweeping down to take the jar from Sorrell’s hands, clutching it gently. She unwrapped it, peered quickly at the contents, then nodded, the left side of her lips curling up quickly in a smile before she turned and walked back to Flavia, bobbed a curtsey, and presented the fruits of Sorrell’s labor.
Flavia undid the paper, cast it aside, and lifted the jar, gasping. “You made…a cake?”
“Yes,” Sorrell sighed, smiling. “I made a cake. Ground the wheat berries by my own hand, mixed the dyes from fruits, got the milk from a cow, and the eggs from chickens. The jar was one of my own, and I made the cake in a fire of my own making. A rainbow, captured by my own hand, Queen Flavia, just for you.” Sorrell offered up a wan smile. “I even got sugar from cane in the kitchens, Chef be blessed: I’m sure I right deserved to be kicked out for my attitude the day before.”
With a chuckle, Flavia undid the lid, and the smell of sugar and sweets stuffed itself up her nose. She inhaled deeply, and then nodded, looking out over the gathered court, all of whom were pitched forward, anxiously awaiting her verdict. She held up the jar, and it caught in the light, seven layers of color, each paired to the rainbow, apparent. “I must admit I wasn’t expecting this. I would have thought you’d mix oil and water and dyes, at the least. Not a…cake.” Sorrell looked up at Flavia’s eyes and didn’t find ire: just wide, orange eyes looking at Sorrell in a bit of awe. It made her shoulders relax just a bit for the moment.
“We will accept this as a completed quest,” Flavia announced, holding the jar of cake up to her nose, inhaling once more before settling it into her lap. “Sorrell Ash, you have won your petition, and my laughter. One day in the future, soon or far, we’ll be wed, and this court will accept it, and you as my wife, with no conditions or hate.” She dipped a finger into the jar, and pried off a bit of the topmost layer, cherry-red cake crooked in her finger. She popped it into her mouth and sighed, nodding as her nose wrinkled up at the sharp flavor of salt, mingled amongst the sweet berries. “Even if your cake is atrocious. Congratulations, Sorrell: you pass.”
Sorrell exhaled sharply, smile breaking across her face into a huge grin. “Thank you, My Lady Queen,” she said, heavy exhaustion overcoming her. “I’d much like a rest now that I’ve passed.”
Flavia passed the jar back to Neige, who accepted it and bobbed back away, right as Flavia stood, towering over Sorrell. “Then return with me, Sorrell. Rest, you shall have.”
✦ ✧ ✦
Sorrell woke to a soft bed, cloud soft, feather soft, and comfortable. Next to her was Flavia, stretched out on top of the sheets, chuckling to herself.
“You made me a cake.” Flavia had been saying that since Sorrell had, finally, returned up to her apartments, giggling each time. It struck her so funny: she had thought Sorrell was cooking down dyes to tint water, that she would approach it more practically, but the cake, true to the quest, was a rainbow nonetheless. Now, in her waking stupor, Sorrell wondered how many times she’d been uttering that to herself, finding it funny over and over again.
“I came across the idea when I was on my computer last night,” Sorrell admitted through a yawn, stretching and shifting closer to Flavia. “I figured that it would get me around the ‘no help’ clause: technically, anyone can see anything online.”
“How smart,” Flavia said, smiling. “I knew you’d figure some way. At least, I hoped. Normally, I’d give a harder task, but I don’t think my heart was in it.” Flavia shifted, bending down to press a kiss to Sorrell’s forehead.
“Well, that’s kind of you,” Sorrell said. “I hope it didn’t pain you to go easy on me.” For a moment, Flavia swore she heard a touch of ire, but when she looked at Sorrell, she saw a broad, sleepy smile.
“I’d do anything to make your path to me easy,” Flavia admitted. “Even if it means being tricky to myself.”
“So then you’ll talk to me soon?” Sorrell asked. “In bed, or in the study?”
Flavia let out a big, whooping laugh at that, and without hesitation, scooped Sorrell up into her arms and from beneath the covers, pulling her close. The sharp, crackling pine scent of Flavia filled Sorrell’s nose, and she shifted, straddling her and pushing her back into the covers. They both felt a thrum of hot heat between their legs, felt their need growing, and without words, turned
“You always ask in the study,” Flavia managed, words coming out quickly. She tilted her neck back, baring the dark, freckle peppered skin. It made Sorrell hungry suddenly, certainly for more than just cake.
“Yes, because you never take me there. I keep waiting,” Sorrell admitted. “Ah, perhaps on our wedding night?”
“Perhaps. Certainly not tonight when we’re like this,” Sorrell admitted. “I haven’t had you for nearly a week. I can’t imagine not having you right in this very moment. You’re better than quests, Flavia. Better than warm beds or sunshine. I’d go through a far harder task for you.”
“Candid, aren’t we?” Flavia whispered, dark cheeks coloring.
“In love,” Sorrell stated simply. They shifted, and pressed against one another, hands reaching under shirts and skirts, pressing against breast and hip, moans filling the air. Sorrell bit down on Flavia’s neck, and felt her pulse beneath the skin, the quick skip of Flavia’s breath, and smiled, leaving a dark mark there. She let her tongue go over it for a moment, tasted the skin, then heard Flavia sigh as if she were about to speak.
“Funny how I only imagined being content before. Now, I imagine being happy,” Flavia said, the words a soft rumble against Sorrell’s lips. “It’s amazing, isn’t it?”
“It’s cheesy is what it is,” Sorrell countered, snorting. “Now hush. I want to make a mess out of you, Flavia, and you keep interrupting it with sweet nothings.”
“Oh, shame on me,” Flavia dramatically sighed, pressing the back of her left hand to her forehead. “Forgive a swooning woman.”
“Still interrupting me taking off your skirt, Flavia,” Sorrell chided, and she adjusted up off of Flavia, undoing the side of the skirt and taking it off. “There, much better,” Sorrell said, returning to straddling the queen. She pressed her hips down and felt Flavia cant them back, moaning softly.
“Sorrell, you’ll kill me like this, all this heat and feeling. It’ll be the death of me,” Flavia breathed.
“Well, get used to it, you immortal oak. It’s what you got yourself in for when you accepted my petition: heat, love making, and a forever of this.” Flavia snorted at Sorrell’s remark, lips curving up into a smile mirroring the knights. “I am so very excited to begin our new life together,” Sorrell breathed, and she felt the pulsing pressure of Flavia’s kiss on her lips, a new wave of autumnal heat pooling between her legs.