By Jessica Barone
For all her serene glances to the jury, Samantha Selwyn was beginning to bubble underneath. Standing on trial had become a bore to her, having made a habit of it in the recent centuries, and she was growing impatient with the judge’s questioning:
“Paragraph 142, clause 3, are you familiar with it?”
“Exclusively so,” Samantha sniffed.
“Care to recite it?” Judge Forest prompted.
“…‘Thou shalt wax thy wand every fortnight?‘”
“‘All wand-wielding sectors act within best interest of clients.'”
A rustle passed through the jury. The rosewood courtroom curved all the jury members into a circle, perched high above and looking down long noses expectantly.
“I could argue each of my client’s cases,” Samantha sniffed.
“Little Red was in your custody.”
“I gave her a red coat so she could easily be spotted in dense forests.”
“She was eaten by a wolf.”
“She got back out.” Samantha rolled her eyes.
“You put Sleeping Beauty into a coma.”
“That was a necessity. She’d never meet a prince if she kept yapping.”
“I recall Snow White being a similar catastrophe.”
“No, no, she was a workaholic. A long sleep did her good.”
“And dressing like a peasant to sell that Jack boy confiscated Sector 23 beans was a good deed as well, eh?”
Samantha twirled her wand. “I believe Jack and his mother are living quite comfortably on their newfound fortune these days.”
One of the jury members leaned over the edge of balcony, barking, “Enough!”
Another jury member, a Dwarf, grumbled, “She’s off ‘er hinges, she is.”
Judge Forest waved a great hand, stomped a heavy Faun hoof to settle the courtroom, and continued, “Samantha Selwyn, you have yet to complete a Case of the Misfortunate without causing discord, or critical injury.”
Good old Chaucer stood up beside Samantha, pushing glasses up the ridge of his nose with long Druid fingers. “Keep in mind, Your Honor, that every single one of Selwyn’s CMs has been approved by your hand,” he said in a calming tone. Samantha cast him a sly, satisfied look.
“Not without hesitation, Mr. Chaucer,” the Judge said. “I refuse to put future lives at risk.”
“Meaning what?” Samantha was indignant.
Judge Forest collected the stack of scrolls piled in front of him. “I declare a new jury session to be held within two weeks, in decision of revoking Ms. Selwyn’s wand license and relocation to a different department of the Magical Bureau.”
Samantha clutched her wand to her lacy bosom. “Your Honor!”
“Judge Forest, I urge you to reconsider the sentence.” Chaucer let worry color his voice for the first time.
“The hearing will be in two weeks,” Forest repeated. “Until then, court adjourned.” The Judge banged his heavy gavel, and Samantha jumped, still clinging to her silver-tipped wand.
The violet-robed Dwarfs, Fairies, and the like shuffled and huffed their way down from the balcony benches and crowded out. Samantha stared blankly ahead of her until she felt a hand on her shoulder. She turned to look up at Chaucer, who smiled down weakly at her. They were the last two in the torch-lit courtroom.
“It’s not final, Sam,” he offered, twitching a tanned nose in a shrug.
Samantha nodded and let out a little sigh, smoothing down her petticoats.
“Scones?” he suggested.
Samantha ate quietly in the café, dipping blueberry scones in tea and half-listening to Chaucer as he sat across from her. He was talking quite rapidly, such the lawyer. She watched him push up his glasses and blow auburn locks of hair out of his face as he prattled on. The tightly curled horns atop his head looked like quivering pale seashells. Samantha sniggered.
“It’s a simple case — why are you laughing?”
Samantha checked herself and said, “Oh nothing.”
“Please pay attention, Sam. This is important.”
“I know,” snapped Samantha. “I’m dreadfully aware of the situation. If they take away my wand, I’ll die.”
“Don’t be dramatic. We just need to prepare ahead of time. You’re an upstanding citizen, you passed your Mythic & Magical Practice exams with flying colors, and you have plenty of approved Cases of the Misfortunate under your belt. You just have … unusual charges on your record.”
“They exaggerate, every one of them,” Samantha muttered, hovering her wand tip above the rim of her teacup to stir her Earl Grey. “Have I ever once killed any of my clients? Never. Poppycock. I don’t know what that Paragraph Four-Hundred and whatnot nonsense was today; I always have my clients’ best interests in mind.”
“Your methods are unorthodox …”
“You think they should break my wand in two, do you?”
“No. Now, now,” Chaucer said, holding up a long-fingered Druid hand. “That’s not going to happen. We just need to find you a simple CM — an easy Case of the Misfortunate to show that you’re capable of good deeds without risks.”
Samantha stood, tired of advice and warnings and claptrap. She folded in her dragonfly wings and wrapped her coat tightly about herself.
“Where are you going?”
“To a human pub,” she said. “Magic is so stifling sometimes.”
Sitting alone at a booth against the wall, Samantha drained the last of her mead. The pub was dingy and quiet for the early evening. Because she was unescorted, men would try to join her every once in a while, always mistaking her rouged cheeks and piled-high hair for a streetwalker. She would slip her wand out under the table and befuddle him with a flick of magic, and they would stumble away in a stupor.
Otherwise it was an uneventful evening. Her eyes began to well up and made her feel like she was looking through her empty pint flagon. How would she ever win her case against Judge Forest? She stood up, teetering a bit. Drink always affected Fairies strongly. A trip to the apothecary would do the trick. Samantha left in a swish and tapped down the cobblestone alleyways, hoping she would remember where the little shop was. Horse-drawn carriages were clattering down the streets and candles were being lit above, glowing in high windows. London bustled in a different way at night.
Sure enough, the dark apothecary stood right where it always had been, between a boarded-up flower shop and an abandoned soothsayer’s room. Samantha pushed into the windowless store and was greeted by heavy, scented air and the sound of bubbles popping. The old shop owner reading at the counter looked up and smiled crookedly. “Sammy,” he said. Samantha made a curtsy and came up to the counter. “Blimey, you never look a year older, do you?”
“I told you,” Samantha wagged a finger, “I don’t age.”
The shop owner rasped a laugh, disbelieving. “You and your jokes. What will you have, m’dear?”
“I just need to restock on a few ingredients.”
“Take your time,” the owner said, gesturing with a hand for Samantha to wander about the shop’s dusty shelves.
As Samantha found rice powder for her beer-battered brain, the front door of the shop jingled again as another person came in.
“Evenin’, sir,” said a soft voice, “I would like to buy arsenic.”
“Arsenic?” the shop owner said. “That’s a strong drop. What for?”
Samantha peered over her shoulder at the sooty little blond wrapped in tatters.
“We have frogs in the basement,” the girl said.
The owner scrutinized the peasant. “How much do you need?”
“You don’t need that much for frogs.”
“There are a lot of frogs.”
The owner and beggar looked at one another for a moment.
“Ten shillings,” the owner said.
The girl handed over the coins, but they rattled in her shaking palm. The owner looked at the money for a moment and then reluctantly pushed a vial across the counter, which the girl snatched up.
She was gone in an instant. Samantha, beyond intrigued, left her package of rice powder on the shelf and whisked out of the shop after the girl. The alleys were dark, the puddles between cobblestones reflecting lamplight from rooms high above. Samantha thought she’d lost the girl in the maze of back streets, until she heard sniffling. Peering around a corner, Samantha spotted the girl leaning against the wall in the dark, the vial in her trembling hands. The cork was gone; the girl shut her eyes tight and raised the vial.
“Wait!” Samantha said, whipping out her wand and causing the vial to jump from the peasant’s hands. It shattered on the stone street as the girl screamed and covered her head. “Quiet! I won’t hurt you! Oh, do be quiet!”
The girl stuffed a fist in her mouth and gazed at Samantha with petrified blue eyes. Samantha still had her wand raised in case the girl tried to run, walking forward into the orange light. “Now then,” Samantha snipped, “What the devil were you thinking, hm?” The girl shook her head but said nothing. “Out with it. I know what you were up to, what’s the cause?”
Silent sobs quaked the beggar girl’s thin shoulders. “Please,” she squeaked.
“I’ll turn you into a mouse,” Samantha warned.
A silent struggle waged war on the poor girl, until she burst. “It’s all wretched! All of it! I want it to end!”
“There now, what is?”
“Me awful step-sisters, me ghastly step-mother, me father gone, gone, gone. I’m a slave in me own ‘ouse.”
Each grievance rang like a bell to Samantha’s well-tuned ear. The ever-familiar phrase, “You poor, misfortunate girl,” fell from her lips like honey.
Samantha bought the misfortunate girl a whiskey to calm her nerves, and then walked with her out of the thick of London. The girl hiccupped and wobbled, but managed a smile as they wandered through the quiet houses outside the city.
“What is your name?” Samantha asked, catching the girl before she doddered off onto the grass.
“Do you remember where you live, Ella?”
Ella nodded vigorously and continued to jabber with her Cockney tongue. Samantha had to spend the rest of the walk fending off questions about whether she was a witch, a ghost of a relative, a mermaid. Ella had had a lot of whiskey.
The smile fell from Ella’s face when she arrived at the pebbled walkway of her magnificent house. It shone from the windows of all three stories, making the white pillars and grand steps of the house glow warmly.
“Off you go, dearie,” Samantha nudged.
Ella tried to protest. “Take me wit’ you.”
“No, this is your home. Go.”
As Ella trudged up the garden path and climbed the stairs, her feet grew heavy. Samantha flitted behind a hedge-sculpture of a hedgehog. Ella banged the great doorknocker and was met by a servant who yanked her into the house, crying, “About time you turn up!”
Samantha discarded her coat to stretch her iridescent wings and fly up to one of the windows and peer inside. Ella was sitting on the floor, snivelling as two misshapen girls leered over her. One was very bony and tall, the other squat and round. Samantha tapped the window’s glass with her wand to suddenly and clearly hear what the commotion inside was.
“The nerve you’ve got, you prat.”
“Wandering about and leaving all your chores. Some nerve!”
“You ought to go a week without supper.”
“Oh, that’s delightfully horrid.”
Ella covered her crying face with her hands.
Another woman entered the room, much older, holding aloft a huge lavender envelope. She took one look at the scene before her and demanded, “What’s this?”
The tall step-sister said, “Sooterella has been gone all day.”
“All day,” the squat sister said.
“Never mind it!” the mother said. “You two should get to bed right away for beauty sleep. In a week, there’s going to be a ball.”
“A ball?” the tall one said.
“A silly ball?” the squat one said.
“Silly? The whole kingdom is invited! This ball is to be hosted by the prince!” The sisters squealed. “He’s looking to find his bride!” More squealing. “And one of you darlings will be it! Imagine it, just think of it!”
The two step-sisters linked arms and danced about the well-furnished drawing room, nearly kneeing Ella in the process. The step-mother, dripping with jewels and wrinkles, seemed to notice Ella on the floor for the first time. “I shall respond back to the palace at once, writing that my two daughters shall be attending.” Ella whimpered and looked to the floor. “Where have you been all day, Eleanor?” she asked in a deadly soft voice.
The two sisters stopped dancing and watched as their mother advanced on Ella. The tall one spoke up, “Cinderella won’t say.”
“Won’t say? Then she doesn’t eat. And she deserves a whipping.”
A painting crashed to the floor at the mother’s feet. Everyone gasped. Another painting fell, and another, and then a large vase crashed into pieces, making the sisters scream. “What’s happening?” the mother yelled.
Another painting flew straight at the squat sister’s head. She lunged for the floor and wailed, “Poltergeists!” Ella, the only petite one, crawled under a sofa while flying paintings and ricocheting mantle pieces chased the family out of the room. They ran screaming down the halls, locking themselves into rooms.
Samantha appeared in the drawing room, picking up the discarded lavender envelope and inspecting it. “You can come out now, Ella.”
Ella choked and popped her head out from under the sofa. “You!”
“Yes, me. Your step-sisters are awful, you’re right.”
“Indeed,” Ella sighed and pulled herself out from under the sofa. She wiped her eyes and stared at Samantha. “Your wings. Are you me fairy godmum?”
“Not without the paperwork.”
“Nothing.” Samantha flapped the envelope at Ella, thinking furiously. “You’re going to this ball.”
Ella laughed bitterly. “In what? Dish towels and spider webs?”
Samantha fingered her wand, and smiled like the Cheshire cat.
James E. Chaucer was written in golden cursive across the front of his office door. Samantha burst in, her blue and green skirts fluffing about her, making Chaucer jump at his desk and knock over a tower of scrolls.
He fixed his glassed hurriedly. “I beg of you, knock!”
The bouncing Fairy sat down in the chair across from Chaucer, beaming and brimming out of her corset. “I have a CM.”
“The most misfortunate serving girl in the whole world, Chaucer. She’s positively wretched, and I’m going to make her a queen!”
“How did you find her?”
“Milling about London, ready to tip back a bottle of arsenic. Oh, she’s perfect.”
“You really should wait to be assigned a case by the Bureau,” Chaucer said.
“Time is of the essence! If I turn this girl’s life from rags to riches, it will be the ultimate good deed, a fairytale — if you’ll excuse the term — so decent I’ll surely win my case!”
Chaucer, always the patient Druid, took off his glasses, wiped them on his herringbone vest, and tapped one of the little horns nestled in his curly copper hair. “How do you propose to do it?”
“By the book,” Samantha lied.
Samantha was standing next to the hedge-hedgehog, tapping her foot and checking her gold pocket watch. Five minutes to midnight, where was that stupid girl? She absently curled one of her brown locks hanging from her pompadour hair with her wand and looked about, waiting.
Then there was the sound of horses trotting and wooden wheels rattling as a bright orange carriage came racing up the path. Samantha walked into sight to wave the carriage down, and it slowed to a halt. The Fairy wrenched open the door and out poured Ella, mewing in pleasure. “Not a minute too soon!” scolded Samantha.
Ella straightened herself and dusted off her golden ball gown, then hugged Samantha. “Oh, Fairy Godmum! Oh! I ‘ad the most beautiful night!”
A bell struck from a far-off cathedral, striking the chord of midnight. Ella’s gown began to melt off her, falling onto the ground in piles, back to yellow dishtowels and silvery spun webs. The two horses shrank back to tabby cats, the driver squeaked into a mouse again, and the carriage shrank and rolled into a pumpkin once more.
Ella seemed put off by the sudden returned poverty. Samantha asked, “How did it go?” which brought the light back to Ella’s eyes.
“‘E danced wit’ me all night! The ‘andsomest, most charming prince!” Ella rocked back and forth, hugging herself and humming. Samantha brushed the blather aside and pointed her wand at Ella’s feet, one clad in a glass slipper, the other bare.
“Did you leave behind one of the slippers like I told you?”
The girl nodded. “Are you sure he’ll be able to find me again?”
“Of course, those slippers fit only you.”
“‘And so Prince ‘Charming’ Charles held a search for Eleanor of Rochester across the kingdom,'” Chaucer read from his scroll for the whole court to hear, “‘The slippers were enchanted to only fit Eleanor’s feet, making it impossible for any other woman — or man — to attempt wearing them. Driven on by the hunt, as so entices the human, by the time he finally found Eleanor, Charles was convinced of True Love’s destiny, and they wedded a week later. Eleanor’s coronation as Queen will take place in three days time.'”
Judge Forest interjected, “And what about the mishap with the step-sisters mutilating their own feet to try and fit inside the glass slipper?”
“I entreat you to read Paragraph 2,045, Line 68, of the CM canon, ‘The antagonists receive appropriate karma in the sphere of the good deed.'”
“And the mice?” a Leprechaun asked from the ring of jurymen.
“No mice were harmed in the making of this good deed,” Chaucer assured him.
There was an appreciative murmur through the courtroom, and Judge Forest squared his broad shoulders and announced, “I hereby declare Ms. Selwyn’s Case of the Misfortunate approved, charges removed for all past cases, and a follow-up Happily Ever After inspection of Eleanor of Rochester in a month’s time. Court adjourned.” The gavel banged, and Samantha clapped with gloved hands and bobbed up and down, almost toppling her enormous white hat. She could have it all now.
Samantha really didn’t have time for it, but Chaucer had insisted she make a personal appearance before the Happily Ever After inspection. With a soft pop! Samantha appeared in the elegant bedchambers of Ella. Ella was looking out the window but whirled around at the sound. “I thought I’d never see you again! Thank goodness!” she cried. The little serving girl was almost unrecognizable in her crimson royal attire and heavy crown.
“I just wanted to see how being queen has suited you. Well, I see.” Samantha grinned. It had treated both the girls well. Samantha was the celebrity of the Magical Bureau, with the most extraordinary Case of the Misfortunate to her name.
“Oh,” said Ella, looking sheepish, “It’s alright, I s’pose.”
“Alright?” Samantha gawked, “You’re the Queen of England! Alright?”
“It’s just … different, Fairy Godmum.”
“Different can be good.” Samantha pointed the golden tip of her new Mother of Pearl and coral-red wand at Ella.
“Yes …” the sad queen trailed off, looking wistfully out the window again.
This didn’t bode well. She couldn’t be this unhappy when the Ever After crew came in a week. Samantha would have her wand taken away, not to mention her contracts as spokesperson for three different perfume lines. “What?” Samantha croaked. “What?”
Ella let the dam break free. “Charles is such an awful bore, an’ ‘as the worst temper. An’ I’m forced to go to diction classes ev’ryday ’cause I don’t speak ladylike, and there are so very many spoons at supper.” Ella seemed angry at the mention. “Too many bloody-damned spoons!” She checked herself, put a hand on her golden bodice, and looked forlornly at Samantha. “Please, take me away from here.”
“You know you have to do something,” Chaucer said that night. He had met her secretly in the human world, at one of her favorite dingy pubs. They sat alone in the dark corner, hiding behind large pints.
“How will I ever get out of this, Chaucer? How?”
“You have to do the right thing.”
“I’m not turning myself in. I’m not giving up my wand just because that little wench can’t find happiness as the Queen of Bloody England.”
“The Ever After inspection is in a week. When they see how miserable she is, your whole case will be null and void.”
“I can fix this …” Samantha chewed her bright blue nails absently.
“Sam, you can’t just make this go away.”
“Yes, I can.”
“Sam? Where are you going?”
Samantha had leapt up from the table, overturning her flagon. “To fix everything!” she said, and swept out.
“My client has no obligation to answer questions,” Chaucer said to the crowd of horned, hoofed, and pointy-eared reporters.
“It’s alright, Chaucer.” Samantha turned to the reporters with quills poised. “A letter was found by Queen Eleanor, from her beloved king, written in his sure hand, explaining that he had left the kingdom to her name as he pursued his lifelong desire to become a wandering vagabond. Surprisingly enough, the Happily Ever After crew found the Queen a week later in great spirits, having the kingdom under her command and being free from daily diction lessons.”
“And what about the rumors that you were behind the king’s disappearance?” asked a centaur.
Chaucer said, “You can check reports that Ms. Selwyn’s wand has been inspected by Sector 2 Bureau members and was labeled free of any malicious spells. At least in the past month …”
Samantha elbowed Chaucer. “Alright, that’s enough for today!”
Chaucer and Samantha pushed their way through the crowd and into the Magical Headquarters. “I have a box of bonbons from my mother in my office,” Chaucer said. “She won’t stop sending them since we won the case last month.”
“Oh, to your office, then.” Samantha grinned, arm in arm with Chaucer as they walked down marble hallways.
“What did happen to King ‘Charming,’ Sam?”
“I turned him into a little playmate for Ella’s carriage driver, the one who drove her to the ball not long ago.”
“Carriage driver — the mouse?” Chaucer said, stumbling.
Jessica Barone is a San Franciscan scribbler of fiction, and a journalist of tech, health n’ fitness (find more of her writing at medium.com/@chai_haiku). She’s a serial Silicon Valley Tech Startup girl and social media Jedi, but considers the woods and seas to be the ideal office space.