HELLO @breannaneo! So, my Tumblr just threw its whole self in the sea when I tried to post this yesterday, so let’s try again!
My original plan had been “oh dang this?? THIS IS GOOD!” and I’d intended to write a silly little crack!fic... then it got a bit out of hand. Anyway it’s now 3k words and very long so. You have been warned! (I’ll probably post this on AO3 at some point, just because ohgod it’s so long)
Geralt isn’t sure if this is a curse or a blessing.
He never asked for this. He knows that magic can be used to transform someone – he thinks of Yennefer, briefly – but the process is long and painful and dangerous. It’s a choice one has to take, to harness chaos and use it to make oneself beautiful.
It’s not something he’s ever been interested in.
Sure, there are glamours and other fae spells designed to enchant and bewitch, but that power is far beyond his own and anyway – a glamour is just a fancy word for an illusion. And this, he thinks, as he stares in the mirror and runs his hands through his long, dark hair – is real.
The medallion resting on his chest is still, for once. Geralt knows that there’s powerful magic at play, yet the medallion isn’t responding.
There’s a sudden cold pit in his stomach and – oh – fear. That’s new. Real fear. He tries to pull from the well of power that controls his spells, his Signs, even though he knows what’s going to happen. The power is gone. He tries to cast Igni anyway, aiming it at the spent candle next to the washbasin. There’s no response.
Fuck. He’s about to turn away from the horrible mirror and start getting dressed, when the door to the room bursts open.
“Geralt! Have you seen the notice on th-Argh!” Jaskier is frozen in the doorway, eyes wide.
Geralt takes a step forward and Jaskier quickly backs away. His hand instinctively reaches down and Geralt feels a little surge of pride – he’s going for the silver dagger he’d gifted the bard months ago, now strapped to his hip. “Look, Sir, ah - whoever you are. I think you’re in the wrong room.”
Geralt raises his hands in surrender. Jaskier grips the hilt of the dagger and stands a little straighter. “Right. Like I said. Wrong room.” He leans back on one hip and casts an appraising gaze over Geralt’s new body, his expression softening. “Unfortunately.”
Geralt blushes. He can feel his skin growing hot, his ears turning tingling, even his fucking chest. He knows that it’s bullshit that witchers don’t have emotions, but he’s lost that knack at oppressing them. The blush does not go unnoticed, and Jaskier smirks.
“My very large and very strong companion will be returning soon,” he says, lip quirking, “you’re lucky I found you and not him. I think you’ll find I’m far... friendlier.”
He winks. He fucking winks, and Geralt’s face is burning and –
“Jaskier.” At least his voice hasn’t changed. The smirk slides from Jaskier’s face. “It’s me, Jaskier.”
“… Geralt?” Jaskier’s voice cracks. “No. I don’t believe you.”
“For fuck’s sake. It’s me!”
“Tell me something only you know. Go on.”
Geralt rolls his eyes and takes a step forward. “Jaskier…”
The bard’s hand is back on the dagger before he has a chance to finish the sentence. He relents with a sigh.
“Fine,” he says, keeping his hands raised, “Your real name is Julian. You studied at Oxenfurt. The last time you saw the Countess de Stael you dumped her, but she’s telling everyone it was the other way around. You’ve got a scar on your elbow from a bar brawl, and another on your arse from—”
“Right, okay, thank you. That’s enough.” Jaskier unhands the dagger, and Geralt relaxes a little. “What happened to you?”
Geralt shrugs. “No idea.”
He steps forwards, peering at Geralt’s face with a frown. He reaches up, placing a gentle hand on either side of Geralt’s jaw, moving his head as he examines him.
“This is so weird.”
“No, I mean… it’s you. You look like you, now I know it is you. Just the hair is different.” He pauses, thinking. “And the eyes.” He releases Geralt’s face, and steps back, head tilted to one side. “And the scars.”
He’s right – Geralt turns back to the mirror, staring at his new body. He’s a little slimmer than he was, his muscles not quite as defined, but it’s very clearly him. The scars that marred his skin are gone – he feels oddly blank without them. Untouched. His hair reaches just below his ears, dark brown and slightly curly. His eyes are wide and soft and green, and – he realises with a start – he doesn’t remember what colour they were before the mutations anyway.
Jaskier appears over his shoulder and looks his reflection in the eye.
“Are you… ah,” he begins, nervously, “are you human?”
Geralt turns to him. “I think I am.”
Jaskier swallows. “Right, then.”
They try to figure out what’s happened over breakfast. Geralt picks at his food listlessly – it tastes different in his mouth now, somehow blander. He’s hungry, properly hungry. It’s an unsettlingly human feeling.
They conclude he must have been cursed; or at least enchanted. Jaskier asks if he’s pissed off any sorceresses lately and the answer is, for once, no. The past few weeks have been rather dull – routine monster hunts, wary townsfolk, thankful aldermen.
“It’s like those fairy stories,” says Jaskier, thoughtfully chewing on a slice of bacon, “where an evil fairy turns a handsome prince into a monster. Just… the other way around.” He catches Geralt’s expression, and quickly corrects himself; “not that you were a monster before, but you get what I mean.”
They’re more than stories, Geralt knows, thinking back to Nivellen and his cursed castle. “So, what?” he says, raising his newly-perfect eyebrows, “will I be cured with true love's kiss?”
Jaskier chokes on his bacon. “Maybe,” he says, spluttering, “or we can take the Geralt route: find whoever did this to you and hit them until they turn you back.”
“Or we can do that.”
Geralt is stubborn, both as a witcher and as a human, and insists on carrying out the contract he’d received before being changed. But it’s hard-going without his supernatural strength, without his Signs. He can’t bolster himself with potions either: they’d kill him instantly. Even the sword feels heavier in his hand.
The contract is for five ghouls, and by the time they’re finally dead he’s broken and bleeding and exhausted. Jaskier too – the fifth had been his, taken down with the silver dagger while Geralt had been struggling with the fourth. They’re both covered in blood. Geralt slumps against a tree stump, breathing heavily. There’s a stabbing pain in his side with every gasp – broken ribs, he thinks. He’s covered in deep cuts and slashes where the ghouls had attempted to rip him apart. It takes Jaskier a full half an hour to get him to move, and he only relents when it’s clear the bard is motivated by real, actual fear. He doesn’t need his witcher senses to see the horror in Jaskier’s eyes when he realises how wounded Geralt is.
He usually tries to avoid healers, often unsure how they’ll react to a witcher, but with his new face they’re seen and treated easily and quickly, the middle-aged woman clucking her tongue at him for being so reckless.
“We hired a witcher, you know,” she says as she stitches closed one of the tears running across Geralt’s back, “he’d have cleared ‘em out, no problem. No need to go getting yourself hurt.”
Geralt and Jaskier share a look, but don’t say anything.
The townspeople continue to treat them kindly. The stares – both fearful and angry – are gone. Jaskier spins some lie about the witcher needing to leave to deal with a matter elsewhere, and Geralt finds himself the centre of attention as the locals praise his bravery for dealing with the ghouls. They even give him the payment for killing the monsters, after a little nudging from Jaskier, and offer him free board until his wounds are healed.
Geralt wants to move on, to retrace their steps to find whoever cursed him, but Jaskier refuses.
“You’re not a witcher anymore, Geralt,” he says two days later, gently changing the bandages wrapped around his arm, “You need to rest.”
He’s right, of course. Geralt does need to rest. He needs to rest now more than he ever has done before as his body begins to heal itself, painfully slowly. He feels tired all the time, and he’s lost the respite of meditation. He struggles to sleep, despite how exhausted he feels, pressed against Jaskier’s back on the straw bed. The landlord had offered them another room, but he’d said no – refused before he’d even finished the sentence – much to the landlord’s (and Jaskier’s) surprise.
He doesn’t want to be alone.
Geralt is hyper-aware of the way Jaskier is looking at him now. He can’t decide if the bard is being more attentive than usual. He's always followed him around, washed his hair, bound his wounds. When he gently cleans at the deep gash on his arm Geralt peers at him, trying to read his expression, looking for a change.
When Jaskier had first found him transformed a week ago there’d been a glint in his eye and a swagger to his posture. He’d flirted with him, before he’d realised who he was. Geralt isn’t foolish – he knows his new face is handsome, he knows it’s more appealing than the grizzled visage of a witcher. He catches Jaskier staring at him, sometimes – and there’s a knot in his stomach to go with the blush. Jaskier looks at him, and he knows it’s not him he’s looking at like that. He knows those glances aren’t for him: they’re for the stranger who’s face he’s been cursed with.
There’s another fear, too. He’s still healing, and even when he’s well again he won’t be able to head back out into the wild unknown. He can’t return to witchering until the curse is gone – he’s too vulnerable. Jaskier had attached himself to him all those years ago for the promise of adventure, of wild stories and heroic deeds. He had not signed up to be a nursemaid for however many weeks it takes for human ribs to stitch themselves back together.
Jaskier could just… leave. Geralt won’t begrudge him if he does. He’s a traveller, after all. He must have itchy feet.
By the start of the second week, still trapped in the town which seems to grow smaller by the day, he’s convinced that Jaskier is building up the courage to go. One evening, while the bard tends to the wound on his back, he decides give him his freedom.
“Jaskier,” he says, voice low.
“You can leave, if you want.”
Jaskier’s hands freeze on his skin. “I… what?” He sounds hurt. Geralt turns, and his eyes are shining in the dim light.
“You want me to go?” He says, his lips twitching.
No. “I… if you need to.” Geralt sighs. “You came along because you wanted adventures, Jaskier. I can’t give you that anymore.”
Jaskier’s expression cracks – an annoyed smile. “You’re an idiot, Geralt. I’m not going anywhere.”
“But… you’ll get bored, here.”
The bard gestures to the blood-stained cloth in his hand, to the salves on the floor. “Do I look bored, Geralt? Have I given you any indication that I might want to leave?”
“Well, then.” He brandishes the cloth. “Turn around so I can finish.”
Geralt does as he’s told.
Two days later, Geralt awakes to find Jaskier already up, bustling around the little room, shoving things in bags.
He heaves himself up, feeling a little light-headed. Human sleep still leaves him with a headache.
“What’re you doing?” He mutters, squinting at him.
“Packing,” says Jaskier, simply. He tosses a shirt towards Geralt, who fails to catch it. “Time to get up. We’re going to get your face back.”
Geralt sits up fully, swinging his legs around. “What?”
“We’re going to sort this...,” he gestures at his face, his body, “... out. We’re going to get you un-bespelled.”
Jaskier pauses in his packing and raises his eyebrows at him, a pair of trousers held in his hands. “But what?”
Geralt doesn’t have a reasonable response. Jaskier frowns at him, then continues to pack as Geralt hurriedly gets dressed.
“We’re retracing our steps,” he says as he slots his lute back into its case, “going back to the last village. Someone, somewhere will know what to do.”
They head out within the hour. Roach is antsy after so long cooped up, but she seems to recognise Geralt immediately, pressing her nose into his hand with a soft huff. Feeling unusually charitable, he lets Jaskier ride her while he walks at her side. Within a few hours, he’s feeling guilty about how much he makes Jaskier walk.
They reach the next village before the sun sets. There’s no inn here, but a gracious farmer recognises Jaskier and lets them sleep in his barn. Geralt is sure they wouldn’t have been afforded the same hospitality had he still looked like himself. In the tavern that night they ask around the villagers if anyone has seen anything unusual – Jaskier even going so far as making up a story about needing to see a witch or mage – but no one has anything to tell them.
Geralt can’t help but feel demotivated by the ordeal, but the villagers continue to treat him kindly. Within half an hour of their arrival there’s a gaggle of women leaning on the bar, watching him beneath their lashes. For once, there’s no one hurrying them along, no one telling them to keep away from the witcher. One of them approaches him, smiling, but for once he isn’t interested.
The landlord has heard that Geralt is the one who killed the ghouls in the next town, and keeps him in beer for the night. When Jaskier returns to him with no information to share, Geralt looks up at him with a lopsided grin.
“Melitele’s tits, Geralt,” laughs Jaskier, pulling his tankard from his unresisting hands, “are you drunk?”
He gets him to his feet and leads him, a little unsteadily, back to the barn where they’re spending the night. Geralt lies on the hay, staring at the ceiling. It smells of sheep.
The bard plops down on the heap of straw next to him, their shoulders brushing together. “Yes?”
“What if I can’t change back?”
Jaskier props himself up on one elbow to look at him. “We’ll figure it out. We always do.”
“But what if I can’t?”
He shrugs. “Then… I don’t know, Geralt. I suppose you’ll have to get a real job. Imagine! How awful.”
“What about you?”
“What about me?”
“Will you…” he swallows, his head thick, “will you stay?”
Jaskier laughs, and up in the rafters an owl hoots balefully. “Of course I’ll stay, Geralt. Someone has to teach you how to be human, after all.”
Geralt knows he’s drunk. That’s why he can’t stop talking. “And if I change back?”
He sighs. “And what if you change back?”
“Will you stay?”
Jaskier sits up, crossing his legs, peering down at him.
“What’s wrong, Geralt? Tell me.”
He can feel his infuriating human body blush. Jaskier gazes down at him with a soft expression, and brushes aside Geralt’s dark hair, getting a better view of his face.
“I’ve seen how you look at me,” Geralt says, closing his eyes, “Now I’m…” handsome, desirable, “… normal.”
Jaskier laughs again – but his voice is sad. “Oh, Geralt,” he says, “you’re anything but normal.”
“I’m not leaving. Whether you’re a witcher or a human.” Geralt feels the straw sag next to him as Jaskier lies back down. “Go to sleep,” he says.
Geralt closes his eyes. It’s a long time before he finally drifts away.
They move on from the next village early next morning, and there’s a pounding in Geralt’s skull.
Jaskier has graciously allowed him to ride Roach and is walking at his side in contemplative silence. He’s been very silent, this morning. Geralt thinks back to their conversation in the barn – to his drunken rambling. He feels like an idiot.
He’s about to say something when Jaskier speaks first.
“Last night. I… look, I don’t want you to get all stoic on me, and I know that it’s hard for you with all these new emotions and whatnot. So. Just listen.”
Geralt doesn’t respond, and Jaskier continues.
“I can’t lie to you, Geralt—” Geralt snorts at that, and Jaskier continues with a little grin, “Okay, I can lie to you, but I’m not going to. Not right now, anyway. Yes, this new look you’ve got going on is very… nice. And I… I like it.” He swallows heavily, and his ears have gone pink. “But… Gods, Geralt, do you really think me so vain that I’d leave you if you went back to the way you were?”
“Because I’m not going to leave you. Okay?”
“I didn’t mean to insult you.”
“Psh, Geralt, you’ve insulted me more times than I can count. What’s one more? I just wonder… Geralt, do you want to turn back? Or do you prefer it this way? Because if you do, then—”
“I don’t know.”
Jaskier falls silent.
“The villagers treat me with kindness,” he says, slowly. “No one is scared of me. I don’t get stones thrown at me in the street.” He stares at the road ahead, feeling his heart pounding in his chest. “And… I like the way you look at me. When I’m like this.”
At Roach’s side, Jaskier trips over his own feet. “Oh,” he says. “Right.”
They stop to rest a couple of hours later, looping Roach’s reins over the branch of a low tree. It’s a lovely part of the world – all rolling fields and flowers. Above them, trilling birds whirl through the sky. Geralt is peering across the landscape, frustrated with his useless human eyes, when Jaskier appears at his side. He leans into him, bumping him with his shoulder.
“I’m going to do something,” he says, quickly, “but I need you to know that it’s not because of,” he gestures at him, “all this. It’s because of you.”
“What are y—”
His words are smothered under Jaskier’s lips. He’s startled, at first, but Jaskier’s lips are soft and supple and he finds himself kissing him back, gripping Jaskier’s waist and pulling him closer. Jaskier moves his hands upwards and tangles them in his hair. There’s a swirling, intoxicating feeling in his stomach, his skin tingling. He deepens the kiss, tasting Jaskier’s lips with his tongue, who softly gasps against his mouth.
“Geralt, I—” he pulls back, his eyes dark, then freezes. “Oh, gods, Geralt.”
Jaskier unhands him suddenly, looking panicked. He begins to dig through his bag, still slung over his shoulder, searching for something.
“What are you—”
Jaskier holds something up. It takes Geralt a moment to register what it is: a mirror. He snatches it from Jaskier’s hand and stares at his reflection.
White hair. Yellow eyes. A scar, long-healed, dragged down his face.
“Fuck,” laughs Jaskier, breathlessly, “You fucking told me. That first day.”
“Told me what?”
“True love’s kiss.”
Geralt’s laughing too, now - but before he can respond, Jaskier is pressing another kiss to his mouth, his hands gripping the fabric of his shirt.
“Ah-” he breathes against Geralt’s lips, softly, “I much prefer you this way, anyway.”
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Mirrors Do Not Make Promises
The evil-queen-to-be looked into the magic mirror and asked: “Am I beautiful?”
The mirror had not been addressed in many years, hanging like an island in the center of the iron chamber. The curtain was gone though. The room smelled of dust. There was light somewhere, oh lords, there was light.
The mirror, a phantom outline on the surface, peered down. A girl stood, hooked nose, thin lips, dark hair the texture of crow’s feathers, and ruddy skin– both too pale and flushed all at once. If one's jawline could be described as delicate and breakable then hers was the opposite of that. Teeth like overlapping piano keys and body gangly as a newborn calf. She wore the finest gown of deep purple, heavy and dragging on the dirty floor.
Her chin wobbled. She had a determined set to her gaze, but her cheeks were tear-stained, and eyes as red as daybreak, at least the types of daybreak the mirror could still remember. The mirror tilted her head.
“Am I beautiful?!” the girl repeated and stomped her foot this time, pinpricks of tears spilling out. There was a purpling welt across her right cheek, a bruise forming with a tinted yellow edge. She must be an island as well.
The mirror closed her eyes. She nodded. “You will be. You have been. You are.”
The girl’s eyes went large as entire skies, at least, the type of skies the mirror could still remember. “Promise?” It was a child’s whisper.
“I do not make promises,” the mirror replied, and the girl huffed.
“Fine.” The curtain returned.
“Am I beautiful?”
The evil-queen-to-be was taller now, growing into herself. Her hollow cheeks had rounded, and teeth slowly straightened out through small spells and larger ones. The mirror had felt when she found that little black book, a moldy, stained thing, fleshy and dank. The mirror did not always spread her awareness out into the lives of men, but there was no ignoring the tremor through the air that night.
“Did you hear me?” The girl had returned, on the cusp of forgoing shorter hems and growing into the adult ones.
The mirror hummed. “You again. My girl.”
“You again, my mirror.” The girl sneered. She narrowed her eyes. “Do you even have a name?”
“No.” The mirror responded. “Do you?”
The girl rolled her eyes. “I suppose you do not hear them yelling it through the hallways, Esme! Esme! Foolish, tricky girl, always with her books and always with her sullenness.”
“I do not hear them. No.”
The girl blinked several times. “Oh.”
“Esme.” The mirror tried out the name.
“You may call me Lady Esme.” She sniffed loudly and crossed her arms. “I’m nobility.”
“Of course, my lady.” The mirror inclined her head. “Ask your question then.”
The girl considered her for a long moment. “Am I beautiful?”
“Have you not asked before?”
The girl flushed a deep red and glared at her shoes. “You’re just like everyone else.” She twisted in place to leave.
“Of course,” the mirror murmured. “You are beautiful.”
Esme glanced shyly over her shoulder. “Really? You promise?”
“I do not make promises.”
The door slammed, but the curtain did not return.
“Mirror, mirror on the wall,” the young woman sang and skipped. “Who should I poison at the ball?” She carried a flower and small book tucked away at her side. The mirror had watched her fill the book with cramped tiny handwriting, coded through a complex numerology.
It was filled with the secrets of the tomes she unearthed and more she made herself. “Mirror, mirror on the wall,” she kept singing. “Who should I poison with my comb?”
“You jest.” The mirror spoke slowly. “But if you must poison one, poison the only son of the Duke of Engles. He plans to bed a scullery maid and will not be easily deterred.”
The evil-queen-to-be stopped in place and faced the mirror. Her clever face and clever eyes were cold and sharp. She was older now. “Noted,” she said thoughtfully and plucked at the flower in her hand. She lifted her chin up high, “this will be my first showing.”
“I know.” The mirror replied. “You will dance and make merry. Be careful of the wine, my lady.”
“How do you know so much?” Esme squinted and leaned forward. “What exactly do you know?”
“I know everything reflected in the world of men and more.” The mirror said and watched the light fall across the floor. She still wasn’t facing the window, and how her chest ached for it.
“But how?” Esme insisted.
“I am old,” she stated simply.
Esme rolled her eyes. “Well, I could have guessed that.”
“But ageless. Time cannot touch me, nor can I touch it. But I can peer through its many threads into the greater tapestry.”
Esme tilted her head thoughtfully, mind at work. “So,” she said with a cat-like smirk. “I really will be beautiful.”
“You are. You have been. You will be.”
Esme went blank for a moment before turning in place. “I must prepare for my debut on the market.” She sprouted a sharp grin and looked over her shoulder. “And who should I marry there, my mirror?”
The mirror did not blink. “The king.”
Esme’s eyes lost their mischief, she frowned, and closed the door softly.
“They’ll burn me, they’ll burn me!” Esme cried and paced back and forth. She was still wearing a luscious green gown with bell-shaped sleeves. It was torn in places, sullied. “Dammit, they know!’
A roar of voices came from down below. The mirror knew the lady hadn’t meant to face the Duke’s son and win. She hadn’t meant to use her secrets on a whim. But she had.
Esme tore at her hair. “This is it! They’ll tie me to the post for sure.”
“Sneak past the gathered mob, take the body down to the pond,” the mirror instructed without inflection. “Color his beard with blue paste and say it was the lady of the lake.”
“What?” Esme turned and searched the mirror’s face.
“Slay the lady with a sword, it will be easy, she is old. Call the king and tell him of how you were forced to take up arms.” The mirror continued. “Blame the magic of the hour on the water lady’s powers.”
Esme’s eyes were huge again, like skies, like a child. “You mean,” she whispered, stilled. “But where will I get a sword? How will I hide what I have done?”
“You know the answer, I’ve spoken true. Do not hesitate,” the mirror growled. “Go!”
The new queen carried the mirror under her arm. It was wrapped carefully in sheets and twine, held close to her body at an awkward angle. Esme threatened any servant that drew too close: No, I don't want help. I’ll be carrying this one myself. Don’t handle it, don’t breathe on it, don’t look. Gone with you!
The trip was long and jarring. The carriage rattled. The heat sweltered. The queen loosened the twine now and then, pressing a single finger to the glass. “We’re close,” she murmured with reverence. She hid her small books better now. “We’ve done it.”
The palace trumpets bellowed on the third day and Esme gasped. The mirror strained to see.
“Do you hear that?” Esme’s fingers lingered warmly across the glass. “For us.”
The mirror exhaled slowly. “Can you put me by a window?” She ventured slowly. “High up. Where I can see the sky.”
“Of course.” Esme responded. “Anything, anything at all.”
The queen’s tower was the tallest in the castle. She bargained for it with words and favors the mirror did not pry into. It had windows, left and right and behind. Enormous bays with shutters pushed open and birds that landed on the sills, curiously.
The mirror considered sending messages, but there was no one left who knew her. No one left to break the glass and return her to any sort of life. Besides, it had been so long, she wasn’t sure she remembered how.
And there was the sky.
The queen visited her daily, brought her scandalous gossip, brought her political news. She was laughing now, and golden. No one slapped her within these walls, no one commented on her hooked nose or hair that wouldn’t smooth.
The mirror studied her. “You are becoming beautiful, my lady, as you have always been.”
“Ah, but no promises?” The queen joked and plopped a grape in her mouth. She was always peeling oranges, biting into apples, and sampling fresh fruits now.
The mirror smiled. “Exactly.” There was a bitterness there. “No promises.”
Thunder struck the earth and rain battered against the windowpanes. The mirror did not sleep, and storms reminded her of why she never wished to. She was humming an old and lovely song when footsteps pounded down the hall.
“Mirror, mirror on the wall!” Esme burst into the room, chest heaving, eyes wild. “Mirror, oh God, oh God … What is wrong with me?”
Her cheeks were ruddy and hair in disarray. She was panting and clutching at her chest as if to wrench her own heart out of it. Her eyes were sunken, and lips colored a bright and brilliant shade of blood.
The mirror bowed her head. “It’s been a while, my liege.”
The queen reached forward with trembling fingers. “They haven’t let me visit.” Her lips curled back. “They are whispering.”
The mirror hummed. “I can hear them. Many wicked things.”
The queen closed her eyes. “Tell me.” She said in a pained rush. “Why does my belly not swell?” She swirled around. “Why am I barren?”
The mirror stared at her impassively. “You will know children.”
The queen exhaled and stared down at the floor. Then she tensed again, every nerve in her body taught and singing. “Will they be of my body?” She always was too clever. “Will I bear them?”
“She will be beautiful.” The mirror replied. “This princess.”
The queen covered her face and shook with a violent silent laugh. “I see. And will I hurt her?” She tossed her head back. “Or will they kill me before I can?”
The mirror’s brow creased. Something pulsed inside her that hadn’t since she knew the taste of berries and the sound of leaves crunching underfoot.
“There is a way,” she said steadily. “Become what you are meant to be and give up everything.”
The queen shook her head vigorously. “No … No! Just tell me how to become with child.”
“There is no way.” The mirror stated. “You are magic, my queen.”
“Demon! Wicked, traitorous thing!” Esme flew at her, fists balled, face twisted. She meant to break her. She meant to shatter the mirror to pieces small enough to swallow.
She stopped at the last second, staring deeply into the mirror’s eyes– the last of her past self, blue and golden as her people were. “Mirror.” She collapsed against the surface and folded into herself. “Am I beautiful?”
“Always.” The mirror pressed a hand to her cage. “Always, my lady.”
Esme wept and sagged and did not stand again until the dawn fanned its long fingertips across the land. The queen wiped her face clean then, got out her small book, and started scribbling.
The mirror listened. The birds whispered to her and she pushed her own senses out into a vast ocean of things. She heard of how the people glared and told their tales: a woman who made milk curdle. A woman who studied devilry and brought the fires and the rain. A woman who did not feel love or pain. Beautiful, too beautiful, and vain.
The mirror listened. She inserted herself back into the world of men.
Her birds planted poison in the cups of guards, all those would-be assassins. She sent rumors of worse things if the cooks dared consider putting glass into her meals. The mirror did not let the bishops speak of ordaining a royal separation, and she did not let the people bring their torches or their manacles.
Esme visited more in those years. She sat beneath the mirror and asked her questions about life, the earth, and everything. A hungry creature, never satisfied, and attracted to the darkest things. She asked of monsters, storms, defying death, she asked of how to break prisons and escape any form of cage.
She wrote every word the mirror said down, and then added on her own. The questions only kept coming.
“Are you good, mirror?” Esme asked one day, huddled on the floor and far too thin. The King was off securing his heir, a daughter from a previous wife. The disgraced first queen had graciously bowed into the night in the wake of a gross scandal. She had no stomach for public hatred and they were allowed to retreat to the countryside. The king thought nothing of the loss then. Of course, he realized, too late, that no son was about to appear and went to fetch his only non-bastard child. Esme remained, scribbling.
“What do you say, my mirror, are you good?”
“I do not think so, no.” The mirror replied slowly. “I am being,” she searched for the word, “punished? I was put here on purpose.”
“Why?” The queen’s brow furrowed.
The mirror shrugged in her way. “I was troublesome.” She admitted, finding herself strangely self-conscious after all this time.
Esme snorted. “Good.” She turned the page of her book. “I would not have you any other way. Can you imagine? I’d be so alone in this world if you were good.”
The mirror smiled and later that night she sent birds to pluck out the eyes of local soldiers who came to kill her queen with poison daggers.
The story goes as it always does, the threads of the tapestry coming together with the princess and the apple. The weak hunter and the beauty with her heart still beating. A terrible sleep, a glass coffin, a kiss. Of course, it always goes differently then the way people write it down. A tapestry has many ways to catch the light.
The queen came to the mirror at last, crawling on her knees and whimpering. She smelled of smoke. “Can we leave now?” She begged. “Is it over?”
“It never ends.” The mirror said without feeling. “I know that much.”
Esme looked up with her bright shining eyes and a lightning burn across her cheek. She touched the mark lightly, unseeing. “I am not beautiful.”
The mirror reached for her, pressing her hand flat against her cage. “I would have you believe otherwise, my queen,” she croaked. “I would make promises.”
The queen staggered forward. She placed her palm against the mirror in turn. Their hands overlaid like kissing shadows. Fingertips aligned with no hint of warmth or skin. “I love books you know. And ugly things. I am crooked, cruel, and I have done so many things I am not proud of. Things I cannot take back.”
“Good.” The mirror returned forcefully. “I would hate to be alone.”
Esme took out a flask and it smelled of copper.
She always was too clever. The queen murmured secret words, pouring blood against the surface and burning it away like mist. The creature within drew long hard breaths as time rushed back in, inch by inch, plunging its fingers into her reanimating flesh. She pushed forward like a drowning sailor through tar-black waters.
“Is it enough? Please, let it be enough. I’ve done it. I’ve given up everything.” Esme reached and reached, pouring blood and pressing toward her. “Can you come out yet?”
In many ways, she did not expect anything, she did not expect it to work—much as you don’t expect an eclipse as surely the sun was permanent. A hot spill of tears was the first shock. Who could be making her face wet like that? Who was making those terrible noises? Oh, but there could be miracles. The second was the evil queen’s hand, quick and warm and real. She couldn’t imagine anything more solid; the universe couldn’t possibly create something like that or surely the residents of this world would do nothing all day but hold each other.
The third shock was the edgeless loveliness of her mouth.
The mirror knew infinity. It was all she knew within that cage, oh but this, this was the sky. The salt and tears mixed with that brilliant rush of soft lips against soft skin. The mirror shuddered. She tucked them together and felt a pattering heartbeat against her own.
“Can I ask you questions now?” She, the Sylph, her, she rasped as Esme tangled them together, the ends of shredded threads forming knots. The Sylph looked into her eyes. “Can I make you promises?”
Esme laughed dryly, broken. “What answers could I possibly give you? I know so very little.” The queen peppered kisses on her cheeks. “But I am yours to command, anything you wish.”
“Take me away.” The mirror pleaded. The evil queen kissed the Sylph’s palm and pulled her away.
“Yes, as far as you like. Anywhere.”
The Sylph never saw that room again, she never saw that tower, or the castle or the princess now turned ruler, but she saw the sky, unfolding and unfailing. In the woods beyond the lands of men, they took out rings beneath that sky, and made promises.
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