At Thomas's wedding I stood quietly, waiting until that pompous idiot, Lord Jeffrey, saw me and gave up his seat on the highest tuffet with many bows and apologies. Sitting gingerly on the grass, I arranged my long gown carefully around me. It was my most regal and most revealing dress, the bottom long and flowing, the top pasted to my skin with honey to keep it from revealing more than I planned. Goblin maids had carefully curled my long, flowing, blond hair, and I wore my coronet of woven flowers and small berries dipped in gold.
I refused to feel over-dressed. The wedding was a formal occasion, and I was a princess, after all.
But still, the other guests were less finely arrayed. Some were actually clothed in jeans and T-shirts, the casual outfits people were usually wearing when they arrived in Goblinton. I felt a slight tinge of embarrassment, not wanting anyone to think I was trying too hard.
Thomas pointedly ignored the daggers I stared at him as he spoke with Reverend Fletcher.
The music started, and Danielle began her walk up the grassy path between the seated guests. As she approached the blossom-covered apple tree beneath which Thomas and the Reverend waited, I realized that I even outshone the bride.
How could I not? I was a head taller than Danielle, much more pretty, and more charming and intelligent, too. What on earth could Thomas be thinking? Still, I felt the burn of jealousy in my chest. The bride looked so happy, her cheeks rosy, a sweet smile on her lips.
Danielle had always been kind, and that made me feel almost bad about my presence here and about the small, fabric-wrapped gift I held in my hands.
When the reverend asked if there were any who objected, I very nearly raised my hand, but I would not be so desperate and pathetic. I was the Goblin Princess, the heir to my mother's throne, and if Thomas couldn't see that I was more desirable than Danielle in basically every way, then I was better off without him. Maybe if I told myself that enough, I'd start believing it.
At the end of the ceremony, I felt my stomach tighten at the couple's kiss, chaste and constrained though it was. I'd kissed him with more passion the day we'd waded among the lilies, and that was our first kiss. My vision blurred ever so slightly and I blinked rapidly, banishing the tears before they could form.
I entered the line with the other guests to congratulate the couple and wish them every happiness.
The human attendees all ceded their places to me, but the goblins had no mind for such customs, and so I was forced to wait behind a muskrat goblin who indicated his blessings on the couple with hand gestures. Some of the goblins were capable of vocal human speech but many of those refused to speak to anyone but my mother.
As I approached the bride and groom, Thomas watched me warily.
I thought I saw an air of sadness in his face. Remembering the kiss again, I nearly lost my composure. You're the princess, I reminded myself. I squared my shoulders and stood up taller.
"Maude Clare," Thomas said, as I stepped before him.
"Congratulations," I said, the word coming harsh and angry from my lips. My throat felt tight. I worried I might cry, and that would be the ultimate humiliation.
"Thank you," said Danielle, a sincere smile on her face.
I tore my eyes away from Danielle, away from the joyous smile that should have been mine, and thrust my fabric-wrapped present into Thomas's hands.
"Thank you," he said, turning to hand it to a goblin who stood behind him, waiting to carry the gifts to the pile.
"Open it now," I told him, my voice calm, my hurt and anger hidden, I hoped, behind a mask of indifference.
Thomas nodded mutely, his head bowed, and pulled the ribbon away, opening the cloth. Seeing what was inside, the broken gold chain and the leaves we'd gathered from among the lilies on that day, he looked at me with a pained expression. "Maude Clare," he said again.
After taking a moment to enjoy his discomfort, I turned and flounced away with my head held high. I would forget him. He hadn't deserved my attention in the first place.
The murmurs from the crowd faded as I left the glen and made my way home through more grass and trees, my goblin attendant following closely behind me, the sun shining on my face, and insects buzzing merrily.
As I approached the castle, walking through the carefully tended hedges which surrounded it, a familiar, strongly-muscled, dark-haired man appeared suddenly before me.
An appearance, of itself, was not totally unexpected or unusual. New subjects arrived in the queendom, if not frequently, then certainly regularly, and they could appear anywhere. This man was not a new subject, but he also had a tendency to appear out of nowhere. What was far more unusual was that his usually tidy, white button-up shirt was speckled with reddish-brown stains and the moment he saw me he gave an enraged cry and tried to strangle me.
I was not hurt—could not be hurt. His fingers pressed into my flesh and began to sink slowly through it until his hands and my neck inhabited the same space.
My attendant, Margo, a furry goblin, who often walked on all fours and resembled a smallish dog except for her very human looking eyes, scratched at his leg and then bit him.
Crying out again, the man released me, and flailing and kicking, flung the little goblin away from him.
The creature growled and stalked back, but the man turned away from me and began attacking a tree, tearing away branches and snapping them over his knee. He threw leaves and twigs to the ground, all the while howling and yelling in frustration, swearing considerably more than anyone had dared do in my presence before. I had never seen anything like it. He was solid, and instead of languishing in the field like the other solids, he was attacking a tree.
The goblin stood beside me, growling deep in her throat as she watched the deranged man's assault.
Finally, the man seemed to grow tired of the task. Turning, he faced me, his eyes clear.
I could see that understanding and recognition were finally present in his gaze.
"Maude Clare?" he said.
"Wizard," I answered. I recognized the stains on his shirt as blood. No one bled in Goblinton, but sometimes new arrivals appeared with it on them or on their clothes, a result of accidents in the other place.
The Wizard stared at me for a moment and then looked down at his hands, his hands which had just moments previously been wrapped around my neck. "I apologize. I didn't mean to hurt you." He shook his head. "Obviously I didn't. You can't be harmed."
I rubbed at my neck, trying to rub away the sensation of his fingers on my skin. Feeling that I deserved a more abject apology than that, I didn't answer him. He'd tried to choke me. It was not possible, of course, but he'd placed his hands upon my person in an angry manner. He better be planning a truly splendid apology gift—perhaps a new magic trick to display at my next birthday party. That would be lovely.
The Wizard stared at me. "What the hell are you wearing?"
My jaw fell open. The nerve!
He went on. "Go home and change at once, young lady. Does your mother know you're wearing that?"
Unbelievable! I looked down at my dress and at my ample cleavage. "My mother does not dictate my apparel, Wizard, and I am a fully grown woman, a fully grown princess. Your princess. I am not a child to be bossed around by the likes of you."
The Wizard opened his mouth to respond but was cut off by a voice which sounded even angrier than my own.
"Wizard!" hollered the Queen, stalking up to him.
She slapped him right across the face, exactly what I should have done when he placed his hands on me.
He looked startled, but his chin did not move even an inch. It was like he'd been struck with a scoop of nearly melted orange sherbet. Surprising, but not particularly damaging.
The Queen stared at him for a moment, also seeming startled, and then went on. "How dare you lay hands on my child?"
I sighed. So much for being treated as an adult.
"Your child," exclaimed the Wizard, gesturing toward me, "is parading around half naked. She looks like a whore."
I didn't know the word whore. There were many words I didn't know, phrases people brought over from that other place to describe things that didn't exist here.
I was unique in Goblinton, a garden world of fruit trees, green grass, and warm sunshine, because I'd never lived in the place they all come from. In my dreams it was an ugly place with hard peach walls and a harsh smell that cut at my nose and made me feel like vomiting. There were no smells like it in Goblinton. New arrivals to my world often missed that place and tried for weeks or even years to get back there. I couldn't understand it.
But there was no use thinking about that now. Whoever whores were, they must be wealthy. This dress was made by the finest goblin tailor, paid for with many strands of hair—my subjects' not mine.
My mother looked at me, seeming to notice the dress for the first time. She didn't look pleased, but without saying anything to me, she turned back to the Wizard. "The attire of your princess is not your concern, Wizard, and our royal subjects are not permitted on our castle grounds without our invitation. Depart at once."
The Wizard glared at her, and for a tense moment, I worried that the man might refuse. Wondrously entertaining tricks aside, he was a known troublemaker in the queendom. I often heard my mother muttering about the enigmatic man when caught up in her thoughts.
But with a terse nod, the Wizard snapped his fingers as he always did when he was about to disappear.
I sighed with relief.
But then nothing happened.
He stood unmoving for a moment and then grunted. "Marcos, I'll kill you," he declared and stalked away.
Mom and I exchanged a look. The Wizard had lost the ability to disappear, the one magical power the man was known to possess. Mom had always maintained that his other magical abilities were no more than tricks, performed using distraction and sleight-of-hand. If he could no longer disappear, then he was no longer magical. But he was now solid and attacking trees. What did that mean?
"I hate to say it, but I agree with that degenerate," Mom said. "I'm going to have a talk with the tailor about making clothing that covers the parts of you that clothing is meant to cover."
"But Mom..." I said. "I'm like twenty-five years old."
"Hmm," was her only reply before turning back toward the castle.
My heart is like a singing bird
Whose nest is in a water'd shoot;
My heart is like an apple-tree
Whose boughs are bent with thickset fruit;
My heart is like a rainbow shell
That paddles in a halcyon sea;
My heart is gladder than all these
Because my love is come to me.
Raise me a dais of silk and down;
Hang it with vair and purple dyes;
Carve it in doves and pomegranates,
And peacocks with a hundred eyes;
Work it in gold and silver grapes,
In leaves and silver fleurs-de-lys;
Because the birthday of my life
Is come, my love is come to me.
Alone in her throne room, dressed in a long, heavily embroidered gown, the Queen lounged on her throne. She usually dressed this way, like a Queen from the distant past, her noble attire sending the message that she was in charge. She rarely wore the pants and T-shirts she'd worn in her other life. Long, golden strands of hair fell around her face as she traced her fingers along the carved images of grapes, doves, pomegranates, and peacocks. Padded with purple silk, her throne was, in truth, the most comfortable chair in the castle. It even reclined, though she could only change its angle manually by standing and fitting the top into different notches carved into the bottom. As far as she knew, it was the only recliner in the whole queendom, a gift from the goblins shortly after she arrived, when she was the only human in their whole world.
The Queen had immediately recognized that the throne and the dais it sat on were inspired by one of the Christina Rossetti poems she'd been reading in the months before she arrived. To her, it had seemed an ironic gift. She'd felt no joy at her arrival. It wasn't her birthday when she'd been taken. Her arrival in Goblinton had been an utterly unwelcome surprise.
In the years since her arrival, hundreds of others had joined her here. All of them, except Maude Clare who'd appeared as a baby, were goblin fruit addicts. They'd overdosed on goblin fruit, fallen into catatonic states, and through some magic that she didn't understand, their minds had been transported to Goblinton. The Queen hadn't taken goblin fruit. Her presence here was just bad luck as far as she could tell. It wasn't fair.
Before being taken, she'd planned to buy a recliner in the other place, a soft blue one that could both rock and recline, and she'd asked the old lady at the thrift store—Abigail was her name—to set it aside for her. Although she hadn't yet secured an apartment to put it in, she'd imagined rocking her baby to sleep in it and she'd imagined falling asleep in it beside her child's crib. It was never to be. She hoped some other mother had bought it for some other child.
Since she was never going back there, she would never know.
Only the Wizard among the humans possessed the goblins' secret. He alone could travel at will between the worlds, disappearing from this one, and appearing there. He alone knew the way back home. When she'd tried to get that secret from him, tried charming it out of him, he'd disappeared.
Insolent man. The day she'd had him thrown in her dungeon—poof!—he was gone.
After that, at her request, a particularly annoying new arrival had followed him around saying, "What's your secret? What's your secret? What's your secret?" Again, he'd disappeared.
Then, she'd had him stripped and his fingers tied so he couldn't snap them. Apparently, the snapping wasn't necessary. The Wizard made himself disappear.
As a last effort, she'd had his wife, Kate, thrown in the dungeon, saying that she'd leave her there to rot until he gave up his secret. He'd disappeared, so apparently his secret was more valuable than his gentle, sweet wife. Poor woman.
The Queen had let Kate out. Her only crime had been marrying an awful man, and for that, her husband's lack of interest was punishment enough.
Out of ideas, she'd let up on him some, though she kept spies on him at all times when he was in Goblinton.
As part of her plan to get him to trust her, she'd had him to the castle numerous times to perform his magic tricks for the court. Maude Clare loved it. As a little girl, she'd laughed and laughed as he pulled grapes from her ears or a rabbit goblin from his hat.
The Queen hadn't stopped trying to get home, but had accepted that she was at least temporarily stuck in the small, dull world of Goblinton. Besides, she had Maude Clare to think about, to care for, a defenseless baby, and then a child, in a world populated by people who had been drug addicts in the other place.
Maude Clare still needed to be cared for, despite her declarations that she was grown up. Her relationship with that ridiculous Thomas was proof enough of that. The Queen was glad she'd spoken with Thomas and persuaded him to find someone more suitable. She'd have liked to believe that what she'd told Thomas about Maude Clare's special circumstances had moved him, but she knew her subjects well enough to know that it was more likely that he was frightened by her position. The Queen could have made things very uncomfortable for him if he'd defied her, and she would have, too.
But what to do about the change in the situation with the Wizard?
He apparently could no longer disappear. He was trapped here, something that should have made her happy. If he couldn't disappear, maybe she could finally get the secret from him, but she didn't dare try now that he was solid. None of her regular subjects would be a match for him physically and her solid subjects were useless, lying lethargically in the field under the poison tree.
There was new hostility in the Wizard's behavior. Upon appearing today, his first action had been to attack her daughter. That had enraged her. She'd come running down from the castle in a fury. In her running, she hadn't seen his second action, his attack on the tree. She hated the way he'd treated her daughter, hated the way he'd spoken about her, the possessiveness implied in his outrage at her dress, but it was what he'd done to the tree that scared her the most. Had he been trying to kill it? Could he kill it? She was almost certain the answer was yes. As a solid, he'd have the strength to fashion tools to chop down trees. He'd have the strength to rub sticks together with the speed needed to start a fire. An active solid person was a dangerous thing indeed. If he killed the trees, the whole queendom would starve. Perhaps not literally; the Queen wasn't sure if anyone in Goblinton actually needed to eat, but the feeling of hunger was still there. Without food to sate her subjects' appetites, the queendom would devolve into anarchy.
Perhaps she could rely on the goblins to protect the queendom. Paying them with bits of her subjects' hair, she relied on the goblins for many things. They'd built the castle and crafted her furniture. A goblin accompanied her daughter wherever she went. Maude Clare preferred the unobtrusive goblin escort to a human one, but the Queen only trusted the goblin with her daughter because she knew that Maude Clare could not actually be hurt. Even after all these years of working with them, she was reluctant to trust the goblins on truly important matters. They were an intelligent species, but they were not human. Their motivations were their own. Someone could spend a lifetime studying them and never hope to understand them.
She and her human subjects needed to handle this, and the only way they could hope to do that was by becoming solid. As insubstantial residents of Goblinton, their physical strength was at most equivalent to that of small children in the other world. As a result, they relied on the goblins to build their houses and make most of their possessions. They would be no match for the Wizard unless they became solid, too.
The only way she knew of becoming solid in this world was by eating the fruit of the poison tree.
The most damaged and drug addicted of her subjects always found their way to that tree and then never left its shadow. They ate the fruit and became solid, but they wasted their strength. They lay beneath the tree's branches in a strange sort of ecstasy and indolence, their mouths open, waiting for the tree's juice to drip into them. They never rose again but lived out the rest of their lives beneath the tree, mindless, unfeeling people, slowly being absorbed into the landscape.
She thought, hoped, that her more motivated subjects could eat the fruit without succumbing to its lethargy.
There was only one way to find out. As the queen, she was the example. Her people needed her. Maude Clare needed her. It was time she became solid.
And with that decision, she knew she would never return to the other place. She would never go home, could never go home, because there was a cost for being solid in this world, and that was the death of her body in the other.
I doodled with my paints on the page, the brush sweeping colors back and forth. I didn't try for realism, because I couldn't obtain it. The flow of colors calmed me, but I had no mastery at drawing the way my mother did.
My painting was dark today, full of deep blues and browns, dyes that were taken from blueberries and over-ripe apples.
I was more disturbed than I cared to admit by the encounter with the Wizard. Thinking about it made me shiver.
He'd attacked me.
I didn't think he'd meant to. He couldn't have meant it, could he?
He'd always given me special attention during his magical performances. And though I'd never told anyone, I'd seen him sometimes in my dreams of the other world. He'd always been asleep in the dreams, hardly threatening.
Didn't the Wizard like me?
Didn't everyone like me?
I was their princess.
I was the princess of their whole world.
I was the only child in a whole world full of broken adults.
Except, I wasn't a child anymore. I'd been in a hurry to grow up, not caring to be doted on, watched, and bossed around. But adulthood had its drawbacks, too.
How could he have picked Danielle over me?
I swirled my paints around in the center of the painting, creating a big dark spot.
Wasn't I special?
Wasn't I unique?
Couldn't he see that?
I wasn't notable for my youth any more. The youngest arrivals were in their late teens, and I was older than that now. I realized for the first time that as an adult, I was just like everyone else. Boring.
I threw the painting aside.
But I wasn't exactly like everyone else. I'd never lived in that broken other world. I'd never become addicted to goblin fruit, the drug that had sent the rest of them here.
“Drug” was a word that had needed to be explained to me. We had only one drug here, the fruit of the poison tree the solids lay under, the juice that dripped into their gaping mouths.
So pathetic. Yet most of our arrivals made their way to the tree sooner or later.
Had the Wizard drunk the juice of that fruit?
If so, why didn't he lay lost and lethargic?
The Wizard was solid and powerful.
He'd attacked a tree, the strongest thing in the world, and torn it apart.
To be solid and to be active was something special indeed, something unique.
I, Maude Clare, princess of the whole world, would find out the Wizard's secret.
The Queen sat up in her chair. If she was going to eat the poison fruit and become solid, she should do it now before her courage failed her.
A figure appeared in the doorway.
"Cat," she said.
The cat goblin nodded to her. "Your Majesty."
"Why are you here?" She had a creeping feeling in her stomach telling her she already knew the answer.
"I am here to escort you, Ma'am," said the cat goblin, face unreadable as always.
"Escort me where?"
"To the tree, Ma'am. The preparations are already under way."
She nodded, though she felt no more comfortable with the goblins' eerie knowledge of her than she ever had. "Preparations?"
"Yes, Ma'am, ceremonies and the like. The transition to a solid is not merely a matter of eating the fruit. There are certain ceremonies that must be observed."
For a moment, she didn't respond, left speechless with surprise. Their understanding of her thoughts and their anticipation of her actions sometimes seemed to verge on clairvoyant, but this was a particularly blatant example of their uncanny powers of perception.
"Not to worry, Ma'am, these are goblin matters and are already mostly taken care of."
"How long have you been undertaking these preparations?"
"Several days, Ma'am."
He blinked back. His ears twitched.
"But I only just decided to eat the fruit."
"But I had no reason to eat the fruit until I saw the Wizard."
"Did the Wizard eat the fruit?"
The goblin gave a small irritated flick of his tail. "No, Ma'am."
She didn't think so. Surely she would have been informed if he had. Whatever had made the Wizard solid had happened in the other place. She'd seen the goblins sometimes in that other place before she had come here. She knew they had spies there. "How did the Wizard become solid?"
Another tail flick. "We should be going, Ma'am. No time to waste, unless you've changed your mind?"
"No," she said, but hesitated just a moment more before following him out the door.
I crept from the castle, not wanting my mother to hear me leave. If she did, she'd insist that I take a retainer, which I didn't want to do, because I didn't want a spy. As far as I knew, Margo was unable to speak, yet I suspected that she somehow still communicated my activities to Her Royal Highness, the Queen. Worse still, Mom might refuse to let me go out at this hour at all. I was a grown woman, but she persisted in treating me like a child. So annoying.
Outside, I breathed in the cool night air, the rich aroma of fruit permeating the night. The fruit of the trees, vines, and bushes seemed only to grow in the night when no one was watching. I loved the night, but so rarely got to see it, trapped as I was most of the time in the castle and under my mother's watchful eye.
A strange lump lay on the ground not far away.
I walked over to investigate.
A new arrival, the second appearance so near the castle that very day. This one was a woman with long red hair, rather pretty I thought, and looking far less worn and haggard than most of our arrivals. The fact that she had appeared so close to where the Wizard had, and so close to the castle, seemed like it might be important. I wanted to talk to her, but she was still faded and shimmery, unconscious. It would be several hours before she was capable of speech.
Stepping around her, I walked in the direction of the Wizard's abode. I had been there numerous times, but never when the Wizard was in it. He left his wife, Kate, for long periods of time, only saying that he was away on business. Business. I suspected even she didn't really know what that meant. But Kate was my friend and had been since I was quite small. She had always wanted a child of her own, yet couldn't have one.
Babies were never born in Goblinton, and children did not appear here, except for me.
I resented people's interest in me when it came only from their wish to have something to care for. Besides the dearth of children, there were no animals in Goblinton either, except for insects, which were not the best pets.
Some people treated their goblin servants as pets, though I thought this was ridiculous. Some goblins resembled animals more than they resembled people, but they all had quick minds, and they would leave the instant their owner stopped paying them. Not that there'd ever be a reason to stop paying them. What do a few strands of hair or a tear cost? Those were throw away things to humans.
Kate was a kind woman and a good cook. There was no fire in Goblinton, something people often complained about, but Kate used the sun's light to turn the fruits that made up our diet into amazingly delicious concoctions. Plus, she and my mother didn't like each other. My mother had actually had Kate thrown into the dungeon once for a reason I had never been able to weasel out of either one of them. For once, I had a friend that wasn't a spy.
Hoping not to be spotted, I planned to sneak by the field where the solids lay under the single central tree. There were always watchers there, goblins who would report my foray to my mother.
However, as I neared the field, a great deal of noise hit my ears. The sound of rattling and animal calls, the goblins cheering in their strange way.
I knew another person was about to eat the fruit and become a solid, and I couldn't resist taking a peak. I'd never seen it happen before. My mother strictly forbade it, saying it was a sad and wasteful thing. Though the goblins, and I got the impression the solids, too, thought it was wonderful.
There was a pungent scent on the air, a mixture of the goblins' strong sweaty odor and the peculiar sweet smell of the poison tree.
I crept closer and peered around a tree trunk.
Luckily, the goblins were only a few feet tall, and I could see quite clearly the solitary human figure approaching the tree, stepping carefully over the many solids lying beneath it.
She had long blond hair, a slender figure, and wore a gown that trailed on the ground behind her.
My breath caught as a cold feeling hit at my core. Oh no!
The Queen hesitated, her hand reaching up to pluck the fruit. There was no going back from this. She thought, hoped, she'd have the mental clarity and the will to stay active. She knew from the Wizard's example that staying active as a solid was possible. But what if she was wrong? What if after eating the fruit, she simply lay down beside these other poor souls never to rise again?
Still, they'd been the most languid and purposeless of her subjects before they'd ever eaten the fruit. She'd be fine. She had to be.
She pulled a fruit from the tree. The people lying on the ground around her gave a collective gasp as juice sprung from the fruit she picked, creating a light misting in the air. The rainbow-colored fruit was wet and surprisingly soft in her hand, squishy even. It hadn't appeared so on the tree, yet she supposed that the juice that constantly dripped down onto the solids below had to come from somewhere.
The goblins surrounding the tree had gone silent.
They gave a collective intake of breath as she raised the fruit to her mouth.
"Mom!" a voice cried from behind the crowd.
She spun, turning to see Maude Clare running into the field.
Angry mutters ran through the goblins and they grabbed at the Princess, holding her back.
"Hey!" said Maude Clare. "Let go!"
"Eat, Ma'am," said the cat goblin. "Eat."
She lowered the fruit, letting it hang from her fingers at her side. Her determination to eat the fruit was now slipping away. She wondered if her shock that the wizard had become solid had almost caused her to make a terrible, rash mistake. "Release her!" the Queen said, her voice stern and commanding. "Release my daughter at once!"
The goblins stared at her. Their faces were angry, defiant. They ignored her and began to creep slowly forward.
"Mom!" screamed Maude Clare as they tugged her along with them. "Mom!"
They couldn't hurt her, not really. Like the Queen and most of her subjects, Maude Clare was insubstantial; she felt solid enough to the touch, but if any real pressure were applied to her, her body would start to give way, as it had when the Wizard had tried to choke her. The goblins were as solid as the Wizard, though the Queen had thought they were less dangerous.
Her daughter was crying.
She dropped the fruit to run to Maude Clare, but the solids at her feet knocked her down as they slithered and rolled around her trying to get at the fruit.
"Maude Clare!" she cried. "Maude Clare!"
Stumbling past the solids, and then fighting through the goblins that clung to her and groped at her, the Queen managed to reach her daughter. Wrapping her arms around Maude Clare, she said in the most powerful voice she could muster, "I will not eat today, and if you do not release Maude Clare, I will never eat."
More angry muttering exploded around them, but the many hands let go.
The Queen walked her daughter out of the field and back to the castle. She saw the new arrival nearly at her doorstep, a lump with long red hair; the sight disturbed her, but she ignored the woman for the time being and went inside.
After closing and barring the door, the Queen leaned against it, finally feeling her body start to relax.
"Yikes," said Maude Clare.
"Yikes," the Queen agreed. "What on earth were you doing there?
"What were you doing?" asked Maude Clare, her voice accusatory, confusion and hurt evident in her expression.
The Queen sighed. "The Wizard's solid," she answered. "He's dangerous. Fruit is our only food. The castle is made of wood just like the tree he attacked today. Nothing in the world is stronger than wood. The Wizard could destroy our whole world, the trees, our homes, everything."
Maude Clare was quiet for a moment, taking that in. "Do you think he would?" she said finally.
"He already attacked a tree," said the Queen. "He attacked you. I think he's capable of anything."
Maude Clare was quiet for another moment. Then, "You acted foolishly," she said. "The Wizard didn't eat the poison fruit. He just appeared in front of me already solid."
"But we don't know how he became solid." The Queen began to pace. "Whatever he did, he did in the other place. That option's not available to me."
"In the other place?" said Maude Clare, eyes wide.
Oops. The Queen had never told her daughter about her near certainty that the Wizard traveled between the worlds. She hesitated, thinking about what to say.
"I know he goes to the other place," said her daughter.
Now the Queen's eyes widened. "You know?"
"I've seen him there," said Maude Clare. "In my dreams."
"What?" the Queen asked, dismay tightening her stomach. "Why didn't you ever tell me?"
Maude Clare only shrugged.
"When did you see him there?" the Queen said. "Did he speak to you?"
She shrugged again. "No. He doesn't speak. He's always asleep."
Why did her daughter see the Wizard in her dreams? That worried the Queen a great deal.
"Mom?" Maude Clare said, her voice frightened.
The Queen was angry, but she knew her anger came from worry and fatigue. "What, honey?"
"You're fading," said Maude Clare.
The Queen looked down at herself, at her hands. Then quickly, she gazed into the small basin of water she kept as a mirror. It was true. She was fading.
Maude Clare rushed to her, grabbed onto her, her fingers sinking into her mother's flesh and passing through.
The Queen continued to fade until there was nothing left but a shadow.
Then even that was gone.
She vanished from the world.
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