A Queen and Her Knight
By R. Cooper
Copyright © R. Cooper 2016
Set after the events of The Firebird and Other Stories
Copyright © R. Cooper 2016
Set after the events of The Firebird and Other Stories
Rennet had no idea what to say, so, at first, he didn’t say anything. It was rare for him to be at a loss for words, even if what he said wasn’t always the right words, but he thought maybe that was a sign of his age.
Or it could have been the marvelous creature in front of him.
It’s not that Rennet had sight like a fairy, or a seer. He wasn’t an elf either, always pointed in the right direction. But he’d hidden himself away at another “Private Fundraiser” rather than deal with any more broken champagne glasses–of course he had, because certain rich people loved Rennet, but most of them had no idea what to say to him, and then John would smirk at him every time they stuttered over their words and be so so incredibly hot even with all his gray hair that Rennet couldn’t be near him without accidents happening. So, Rennet grabbed a bottle of Veuve, popped the cork, and slipped out into the backyard of the house where a rich being and his husband had generously offered to host the event.
Then, because he was Rennet, instead of winding up alone on a patio or something, he was in the corner of the yard, staring at the familiar shining glow of a firebird.
He’d thought it was an artificial light, like there was a fountain or something amid all the shrubs and vines in the dark corner. But it was real and alive. The light was the living presence in front of him.
A child, no more than five, possibly no more than four, if firebirds aged like humans. She had long, dark hair, and dark eyes, which were currently sparkling with an application of eyeshadow that he was going to say she had done herself. Like her lips, which were painted vividly purple, and had smeared at the corner and all over her teeth.
Rennet was enchanted even before she raised her chin to a haughty angle and demanded to know if she could have some of his champagne.
He had the words, after all, but they were locked in his throat. His eyes began to sting, and he sat down before he was even consciously aware of the bench behind him.
“Well?” She came forward, graceful tripping through the damp grass to stand before him. Her arms were covered in glittery bangles. Her princess dress was wet at the hem. Rennet wanted to hold it for her like a queen’s train.
“Champagne is for adults,” Rennet spoke at last. “Adult humans, that is, ma chérie. For a little being such as yourself, I doubt it would do anything. But you won’t like it yet. It’s not sweet.”
The small firebird princess gave him a suspicious look, so he crossed his heart in an effort to convince her.
“Fairies aren’t supposed to lie.”
“I’m not a fairy.” Rennet glanced around, but spied no nanny or parent chasing after her. She had snuck out, the naughty creature. Her parents–probably the dragon and his husband–were going to be upset. But raising a firebird could not be easy.
“Imps are fairies.” Her tone was very smug.
Rennet’s throat locked once again. “Someone else once told me that, and I didn’t believe them, either.”
“I’m not lying.” She stamped her foot.
“Of course, you aren’t, mishka.” Rennet carefully put down the bottle. “Although, firebirds can lie.”
Her eyes went wide. “You know what I am? Papa says nobody ever guesses.”
Rennet nodded. “I know. I knew a firebird once. He was–” The child did not need to see him cry. “He was very beautiful and talented. If you like, I’ll ask your parents if I can send you some of his music. You might not like it now. But maybe when you get older, like the champagne.”
He could see her desire for presents warring with her fear of her parents discovering that she’d snuck out, and that she’d talked to a stranger. Then his tail flicked out, capturing her attention and distracting her.
“Can you fly?” she wondered, glancing from his tail to his wings.
He nodded. “Can you?”
“Papa says not yet. Daddy says yes.” She huffed.
Rennet put a hand to his stomach. “Kazimir,” he had to say the name, “His name was Kazimir. The other firebird. The only other one I’ve ever seen, except for you.”
“Kaz-i-mir,” she repeated, as if this were a school lesson. Then she frowned. “Don’t cry, Mr. Imp. You don’t have to be a fairy if you don’t want to. I say so.”
“Yes, princesse philomele.” Rennet took a deep breath. “Do you speak French, by any chance?” She huffed again before crossing her arms. He took that as a no. He wasn’t as bothered as he might have been. “What languages do you know, besides this one?”
“Grandmother’s.” Because this answer made sense to her, she was done with it. “What are you calling me?”
Rennet smiled. “Princess songbird. Little mouse. It’s a habit I’d forgotten about it, with him gone. He used to do that.”
“Kaz-i-mir?” She frowned, apparently not at all certain she liked this Kazimir for taking attention away from her, which was the most Kazimir-like thing she could have done. “My dress is pretty.”
She wasn’t asking.
“Yes, it is.” Rennet agreed seriously. “They wouldn’t let you wear it to the party?”
“Daddy said I’d be bored.” That foot came down hard once again on the grass.
“I have to agree with him.” Rennet smiled apologetically in the face of her displeasure. “I was bored, too.”
“Oh.” This appeased her somewhat. “Because you’re a being?” She paused, as if thinking. “People stare.”
“They do.” Rennet gave her a crooked grin. “Because they wish they had glowing skin, and could fly, and they can’t.”
“Not Papa.” She considered this point earnestly. “Papa doesn’t glow. But they stare at him too.”
Rennet gave her a Gallic shrug. “I have a human who doesn’t glow, or fly, and they also stare at him. I’m sorry, mishka.”
“Where’s your human?” She inched closer, and then, as all children did, pulled at his wings before stopping to ask. “May I touch your wings, please?”
“Of course, mishka, of course.” Rennet turned to let her explore them, then stiffened as she crawled onto his back and pulled his hair.
She wrapped her arms around his neck. “I’m not scared of you,” she announced grandly, as if perhaps she had been for a moment when she’d first seen him.
“A queen should not fear her knight,” Rennet agreed, then twitched guiltily at the sound of the back door sliding open, and then the startled gasp from the little girl on top of him. He stood up, and she squealed and yanked at his hair again.
“Daddy!” she called out, right in Rennet’s ear, and flung out her arms with complete confidence in Rennet’s ability to hold her up. “I found an imp!”
“I should think the imp found you,” the incredibly cultured voice of her father was, in fact, the incredibly cultured voice of the host. He did not sound pleased.
Rennet looked over at the dragon, and at that moment, la princesse scrambled up higher onto his back to continue yelling. “He knew, Daddy! He said firebird, first time!”
Rennet stared into a dragon’s dark eyes, and swallowed. “I knew one, once,” he explained simply, while the sparkly mouse with her arms around his neck chanted, “Kaz-i-mir! “Kaz-i-mir!
The dragon crossed his arms, then uncrossed them. “Kazimir the Great?” he wondered, with a puff of smoke that Rennet could almost feel the heat from even across the yard. He came closer, and the dragon–a Dr. Jones, if Rennet recalled right–plucked his daughter from Rennet’s back as though she weighed the same as a feather. “You are very lucky I found you and not your papa,” Dr. Jones told her sternly, as he tucked her against his side. Then he looked at Rennet. “And you… Kazimir, you say? He’s the only other one of record, and Arthur dearest has been trying….” he trailed off, then focused on his daughter. “I have to get her back to her room without Arthur seeing, but you’ll stay, won’t you, Mr. Rennet?”
“For a little while?” his daughter finished for him, glowing brighter in her father’s arms, and gave Rennet a smile so sweet he would have killed for her if she’d asked. All he did instead was to stay exactly where he was, as the tiny, shining firebird disappeared from sight.
Then his legs gave way and he sat–fell–onto the wet grass.