Phaedra stood in a deep forest, the hood of her cloak pushed back away from her head, her hair a black river against the pale gray wool. In the pale light of the forest she was strangely luminous, her face lifted up toward a gnarled old oak tree, red lips parted in song.
Phaedra almost never sang inside the city. The effect of her voice on those around her was too noticeable to those rare few who, for whatever reason, did not fall under the usual trance. But here in the deep green of the woods, where she had no fear of discovery and so could sing as she wished, the birds had fallen silent and gathered in the trees above her, listening intently to the sound of her music and a few deer had come close as well, their dark eyes curious.
She paid them no heed, but continued on, watching the tree intently until she saw it, the faintest glimmer, a hint of bells on the wind. After only a moment’s hesitation it came closer, its gauzy wings and pale light yellow with curiosity. She held her hands up, cupping them, her song becoming gentle, loving. The sort of song a mother sings to the child that is her secret favorite. It landed in her hands, staring up at her in wonder. She smiled benevolently down at it, never missing a beat, her fingers curling up around it as she started to walk.
She was barefoot, which was vexing, and she had to keep singing constantly, hold the same soothing tunes, no matter what she stepped on or in, which was not easy. But she managed it, carrying the creature all the way to the road where an odd wicker case was waiting and, next to it, a small metal cage. She clenched her hand around the pixie and forced it into the iron cage.
The small thing let out a bird’s-cry of pain, fluttering around the tiny space, thin whisps of smoke rising wherever it touched the bars until it collapsed, shivering and crying at the bottom, already in the throes of slow, painful death. She lifted the wicker case one hand and the cage in the other and started down the road, toward the small town of Bump.
It was time to go home.
“Darling!” Phaedra dropped her bag and the little cage carelessly, pulling Mr. Underby close for a long, lingering, moment.
When they broke apart he immediately reached for the case, opening it up and smiling at the contents before snapping it shut again. Then he turned and considered the little cage and its twisted, unmoving, contents, “What’s that for?”
“A gift.” She rummaged behind the bar, pulling an old cigar box from it. Carefully she extracted the freshly expired thing, wrapping it in her handkercheif and laying it in the cigar box. Then she wrapped the box in paper and tied it with ribbon and addressed it in a spidery hand with a smile.
He leaned over her shoulder curiously and, upon reading the card, laughed, “Brilliant.”
“Aren’t I always?” She hurried to the street, waving down a messenger and passing him the usual sum, “Please see to it that this is delivered to Mayor Tenk, it’s vital that he get it as soon as possible.” The messenger took the box and dashed off down the street.
She watched him go with a smile, then turned and descended the stairs, “The work would be easier to do with Pip.”
“We don’t have Pip,” Underby said, there was a hint of reproach, as if he blamed her in some way for this circumstance. He gave the wicker case a shake, it let out a faint tinkling sound, almost as though it were filled with small bells, “But we do have this now. What a marvelous creature you are, my darling.”
She sneered, “Whatever would you do without me?”