Mina was starving.
The food which they were giving her, barely kept her on her feet. They all waited until she eats the apple, which she refused every time, when a small fey, called Oosel, was bringing her. She suspected that if she tried it, something bad would happen. Something irreversible, something which will make not only her, but Tiyan suffer. She still didn’t know what they wanted from Tiyan, but they were desperate to force him here, using her as bait. And that was giving her a slight hope that they would not kill her. And would not do anything really horrible to her.
More horrible than being hungry. More horrible than nights in this place.
Nights. First one she spent in the fae palace, she was almost unconscious, but the second engraved in her mind forever. Latter ones were samely terrible, but the second, when she was not suspecting anything, was worst.
Because every night, she was pulled from her sleep, to dance in the empty halls, pass the ghastly, lonely corridors, filled with wind and nothingness. They seemed to be created only for her, to make her legs fumble and her mind swirl in vicious jig.
The Hall of Mirrors, where her reflections were pulling at her robes, laughing from her, their eyes empty and white.
The chamber where walls were pulsing veins, reaching for her with horrible tendrils made of flesh, ready to swallow her.
Many rooms, many corridors, filled with atrocious things, and wind, so much wind, gusts dancing in her hair, making her look like a water nymph, with tangles spread in all directions, wild, untamed and touched by pure magic.
And it was not a dream. Her feet were always stained with dirt, when she was waking up in the morning. Oosel was coming, with the sunburnt apple, and asked if she was fond of their hospitality. Mina was always left alone, afraid, but not closer to eating the fruit.
She remembered the nursery rhyme.
She remembered the blood dripping from the apple, when Lorian squeezed it with his blackened talons.
She always wondered why they even bother with asking her to eat it. They had all the power to just force her. Some unease ideas were budding in her, some which promised even worse fate, if she eventually submitted and took the apple.
On the tenth night, something changed. She was not alone anymore. The distorted faces were looking at her, smiling at her, inviting her to join them in the strangely tempting place behind the curtains. Again, cat eyes, but so much death in them, and so much forbidden beauty… she woke up in her room – her prison – with heaving chest, fear engulfing her, a promise of something that will change her perception… and shatter her free will.
Oosel came with a good portion of meat, vegetables and bread and Mina didn’t know if to throw herself on it, that starved she was – or still observe the small fae, as she prepared everything for her.
“You really want to feed me?” Mina eventually said, not liking Oosel’s gaze that came over her, with a certain dose of curiosity and badly repressed ill enjoyment.
“Oh, why does she even ask?” smiled Oosel, her tiny teeth in full display. “She can’t go on so thin… so hungry. That speaks badly of Lord Lorian and the way he takes the guests.”
So far, you didn’t care, thought Mina.
But she still was cautious. Who knew what other food they wanted to fill her with, without her even knowing what she puts into her mouth. But she was exhausted, tired… she knew one day she would eat whatever they gave her, as Lorian said. She preferred to eat this, instead of apples, which were much more obvious threats.
She sat on her bed and Oosel – kindly – offered her the meat with bread.
Mina jabbed the meat with a small fork – nothing happened. No eyes blurting from the plate. No blood even. It was maybe very raw, barely cooked, but she used to eat almost rotten animals. Nothing was too raw for her. She took the morsel and cautiously looking at Oosel, she bit through it.
The feeling of eating meat, normal meat, would be enough to make her cry from joy. But this… it was better, so much better than anything she ate. Ever. It tasted like dancing in the hay at noon in the summer. Like a celebration of solstice, with the whole family and with fire brimming in the fireplace. It was good and washed her with memories she never had.
“Oh, human girl likes the nhihdira meat” Oosel laughed. “Good, yes? Hunger isn’t tormenting her anymore?”
Mina choked a bit and while drinking water from the cup, she took another portion. If she was about to die now, she would die full.
Do not even think about it. It’s the first step to falling on your knees.
Oosel looked at her like a scarecrow on the fields in the Vennklan Valley, with her wild hair, with her sharp teeth and her empty eyes, indifferent as the force of nature. Mina slowed down.
This was so unreal, so terrifying, that she almost lost sense of what is right and wrong. She would hide in the corner of the room, if that would help, but it wouldn’t. She felt that in this world, acting like a prey will make a prey from you. If you show you are vulnerable, they will feed on your fear nad despair. She became numbed by this reality. No reason to hide, if you can’t hide, after all.
And questions may harm, but may help too. She preferred the knowledge over oblivion.
“Why did you give me so much food?” she wanted to know. “Am I being sacrificed and you need me fat?”
“Oh, but then, why would we starve her?” grinned bluntly Oosel. “She goes on the ball, of course! Needs to look better than a thin leaf during cruel winter. Needs to look beautiful. A star that fell off the sky, to grace us with her shine.”
Mina at once thought about the eyeball dress. Oosel, like confirming her fears, patted her on the cheek and grinned, so wide, that her lips stretched unnaturally. Mina was past the moment when she would be terrified, but this made her scared. It really did.
“We will dress her like a beautiful lady and give her away into good hands of Lord Lorian. He will show her everything. From up to bottom.”
Mina swallowed, and she almost heard as the meat passed her throat, a last morsel, heavy and hard. She was not even asking if she could not go. She knew here, nothing depended on her. And the way Oosel was painting it, was making her scream inside.
“Why do you do that?” she dared to ask. “Why do you want me to eat the apples, and keep me here and… like nothing happened, you ask me to go on the ball?”
“Sweet child…” Oosel looked like she was a cat who spotted a very frightened and very exposed mouse. “Prefers to be kept in dungeons?”
“No, of course not, but…”
“Beautifully!” Oosel beamed with real joy, clapping in her hands. “The ball will pull out her inner charm. Why sit here, lonely, when she can enjoy?”
Mina already knew she would not enjoy. But was sure, the fae will.
Oh, they will.
From up to bottom.