Petals of the Rose
Greetings and Salutations
Rajah and Shade stood in the foyer of the house, commiserating. Porsche had been down the stairs three times already, each time in a different pair of shoes. They were waiting on the fourth change. But Pollock hadn’t come down yet, despite having picked her outfit out the previous day at the garage sale. Shade sighed inwardly as Porsche made her latest descent of the staircase, this time back into the ankle boots she’d bought the previous day at the goblin market. She’d come down in them originally, and then was so fidgety and fussy about her appearance that she’d clattered back up the stairs to change.
This time, she seemed like she would stay. Shade took a deep breath, realizing as he did periodically that he could see his nose impeding the center of his field of vision. Like his hairless cracked stone skin and clawed feet, it was all part of how he was now. He didn’t dress up especially for this event, but then the rest of the motley had already told him that he usually looked like he was dressed up, in his sweaters and slacks.
Rajah suddenly asked, “Cheerleader, why do you need five pairs of shoes?” He was dressed in a business suit he’d purchased earlier in the week, and was wearing a head scarf that he called a shemagh. That seemed to be one of the few possessions from Faerie that he’d kept since they’d been back.
“I don’t need five pairs of shoes. I tried on five pairs of shoes. I need the other thirty five pairs from my bedroom, but my stinking fetch has those.” She crossed her arms petulantly.
“Let’s not fight,” Pollock said, finally coming downstairs. She was in the very same outfit she’d worn home from the market yesterday, only she’d rouged her canvas cheeks and brightened her eyelids to match her dress. Shade couldn’t tell if she’d been up there applying makeup for hours until it was just right, or if she just willed her skin to those colors over time. Neither would surprise him.
Their preparations complete, the motley called a cab to come pick them up. They really needed to fix their transportation issue more permanently, but for now they at least had the disposable income to pay for a ride.
The cab took them to a neighborhood in Hillsboro in the vicinity of the airport. They wound their way into a suburban development that looked entirely ordinary. Rows of homes with various types of greenery, some with dead grass in the yard, the occasional rock garden instead of a lawn. Homes were in the neutral shades and pastels, punctuated by those periodic homes owned by people who wanted to stand out with vibrant greens and blues.
When the cabbie pulled to a stop and they settled up, it was in front of an unassuming home in a pale mint shade, trimmed in white, with a small row of meticulously pruned bushes leading up to the front door and an empty driveway. A dead sapling was off in the far corner of the front yard.
They arrayed themselves in front of the door and Pollock knocked several times. In time a man answered. He held the door open and peered around it. His features were those of a man in his mid-fifties, with salt and pepper hair, a dark gray dress shirt and slacks. If he was a changeling, Shade supposed, he must be hiding in the human mask.
Taking in their collective appearance, he stammered and wore an inquisitive expression.
“Here.” Pollock proffered their invitation.
“Oh. Oh, my. Not who we expected. But, please, do come in. I’m sure she’ll be happy to see each of you.”
They filed in behind the man. He led them through the house. It was a decently appointed home, with well-kept, if dated, furniture and a variety of knickknacks. In the living room was a table lamp with a lace shade, on the wall a painting of a medieval knight facing a dragon, and then a genuine spiked mace mounted on a stained and beveled board. Bookshelves were everywhere, and Shade made out titles on any number of topics; norse folklore, history of the Ottoman empire, nineteenth century sailing ship designs and schematics, and many more that even his quick eyes couldn’t scan as they passed. Out of politeness, Shade didn’t stop to investigate whether any of the items were faerie tokens.
Through a hallway in floral wallpaper, they passed a kitchen with yellow tile and lightly-stained cabinets. Shade had no time to stop and look more closely, as the man pushed open a door at the back of the house.
Shade was the last to step into the back yard. It was like stepping into a remarkable winter wonderland. Trees were not only bare of leaves, they had a sheet of ice covering their limbs that glistened in the sunlight. The grass was crusted with pure white frost but remained soft as silk as his shoes brushed over it. Bushes and other pruned plants were also coated white and sparkled with flowers made of pastel gems. An ethereal quality to the air made it seem both frigid and comfortable at the same time. There was a quality of brightness to this garden that defied the season it depicted, like the epitome of winter being touched by pastoral Victorian summer.
Rajah was particularly stunned. “Wow.” He stood agape.
Pollock grabbed Porsche by the arm and quipped, “Stay close. I don’t want to lose you out here.” Porsche stuck out her tongue in response.
The man excused himself and went back inside, closing the door gently. Almost immediately, they spotted their hostess walking up from the garden and smiling demurely. Desedemenona was, like Porsche, a snowskinned elemental. But unlike Shade’s motleymate, the former queen of winter was made of ice through-and-through, translucent even to the tips of her hair. Shade could only imagine how strong her connection to the wyrd had to be in order for the magic to sustain her in such a form. She was wearing a sweater and a calf length skirt.
“Oh, my dears. I’m so happy to have you join us. You’re not precisely who I expected. May I assume that Slim has declined to attend?”
“Yes, um—” Pollock began.
“He sends his regards,” Rajah finished.
“I’m sure he does. My name is Desedemenona. You’re all welcome here in his stead. May I inquire as to who each of you is?”
Rajah went through a short introduction for each of them, and their hostess gave a slight nod to each in turn.
“The tea will begin shortly. You’ve arrived somewhat early, but it’s a chance to mingle with the other guests. Follow me.” She gestured grandly and then led them to the table which had been laid for them to take tea. It was a large metal table, its surface entire made of ornate scrolling and pierce work, and all painted white to match the stark surroundings. It had place settings for seven. Desedemenona swept her hand at the table and it rapidly expanded, growing longer and sprouting three new place settings by some magic.
Pollock leaned toward Shade and whispered, “That’s so cool! Shade, when are you going to learn tricks like that?” She had an excited twinkle in her eye.
“Probably going to be a little while. It’s a little outside my abilities.”
“Hop to it, that’s cool!”