Playing fiddle in the band for the Pixie Plague was a
dragon crap job. Of course, the queen made a big fuss
over the musicians and told them that they were on
their way to fame, but everyone knew the virtuosos
would flee the kingdom if required to play. It was no
secret why I got chosen this year: the queen barged
into her son's room without knocking, and I was in bed
“Roger, I need your help finishing the roster--” Queen
Lydia ended the sentence with a scream. Honestly, we'd
been snatching kisses all over the castle for a year;
she shouldn't have been so shocked. “You strumpet!
You'll be the dragon sacrifice if you don't leave
right now. Guards!”
Roger and I fumbled and slipped off the sheets as we
tried to get our clothes back on. He was quicker with
his pants than I was with my dress and said, “I don't
think she qualifies for the dragon sacrifice anymore.”
“Roger!” I exclaimed.
“What? I was trying to help.” His sky-blue eyes filled
with confusion, making him maddeningly cute.
“I think it would help more if you told her you just
proposed to me.”
“Proposed!” The queen screeched. The guards grabbed me
and dragged me over the rug and out of the room. “My
son will be marrying a princess! Not a fiddling
The guards released me and looked away as I tied and
buttoned myself back to decency and blinked back the
tears over my engagement that had been as short as a
“Best be off to your quarters, Miss Gillian,” said one
of the guards. “She'll be in a snit for awhile now.”
“Was she there to make the roster for the Pixie
Plague?” I asked. Even in the despair of the broken
tryst, the word roster filled me with horror. I knew
they needed at least one new fiddle player this year.
The guards looked at each other and then at the floor.
“Bugger,” I said and ran down the stone hallway of the
“Fleeber jinkle gee!” cried Dolores. Her nonsense
echoed around the great hall that had already been
emptied of all its tapestries in preparation for the
plague. Dolores was the bodhran player and leader of
the band. She'd been playing seven years for the Pixie
Plague and had the scars to prove it: purple striped
hair, emerald nails and a silver-sequined mask
permanently attached around her eyes. I smiled at her
because I sensed she was happy, but I had no idea what
she had just said. “Gah, sorry,” she continued.
Talking in tongues was another danger of playing for
the Pixie Plague. “I can't believe you're in the band,
Gillian! You're Master Sturm's favorite.”
My shoulders slumped. “The queen wants me as pixie
fodder to dissuade her son from marrying me.”
There were snickers from the band, but Dolores slapped
me on the back. “Well, the rest of us criminals are
happy you're here, even if you're doomed to play in
fairs forever more and nevermore in the palace.”
Dolores did a sweeping bow.
“But not all the pixie spells are permanent are they?
Don't the sorceresses counter them when it's all over?
I mean some of you look normal.”
A woman in the back who obviously kept up with castle
rumors giggled and said, “They're not going to counter
any spells for the girl who got caught with her
knickers down in the prince's bed.”
Just then, I heard a swoosh followed by a thunk. An
arrow with a note in it was sticking straight out of
my fiddle case. I looked up to the floor above, but
only saw Roger running into the shadows. I ripped off
the note as the rest of the band gathered around me,
about fourteen musicians jostling to read the only
love letter I'd received since being caught by the
My Dearest Gilly,
Mother is beyond reason and has invited a
princess to observe this year's plague with me.
I'm hoping that once the pixies have all flown
off, I can talk to her again and convince her that
you are the only one I'll marry. No matter what
you see, know that my heart is yours.
All my love,
Dolores patted my back sympathetically, but a man with
a harp said, “So no worries. If you see the prince
drooling over the princess’s bosom, remember he's
wishing it was yours.”
The group snorted in consensus as I tore up the note
and said, “Let's play.”
A few days before the first full moon of spring, a
ball was held in honor of the Pixie Plague band and
the actors who played the parts of the royal court.
Dolores had spent hours with the curling tongs on my
red hair, and it cascaded down my back entwined with
ribbons. I was feeling resplendent in my green gown
until I saw the princess. Ropes of blond hair were
braided and wound on top of her head like a crown. Her
gown had a pink lace overlay that dozens of servants
must've spent a year making. Of course, the tops of
her breasts were rounded over the neckline. Though not
drooling, Roger was staring straight at them while
pouring her wine. His younger brother Thomas was
trying to butter her bread, and I smiled when he
missed the bread and buttered her gown instead.
I stood and stared and stared and stood. Roger didn't
even look up to see if I was somewhere about. I think
I would've gawked all night at the giggling princess
if Dolores hadn't grabbed my hand and placed it in the
hand of the harp player. He led me out for a reel, but
I didn't even acknowledge him. As I hopped and
twirled, I glimpsed dimples and caresses between my
prince and the pink harlot. I was about to run up and
tip the table over on them when a guard ran in and
shouted, “The pixies are coming! The pixies are
coming!” Trust the pixies not to stick to the
guests in the ballroom parted to allow the musicians
and actors out. Before I got to the double doors, an
arm encircled my waist and stopped me short. I was
twisted around and met eyes with the traitor prince.
“You look gorgeous tonight,” said Roger.
“I didn't even think you had seen me,” I said, trying
to keep a tone of disdain in my voice. I looked over
his shoulder and saw the princess watching us with
“Sorry--I have to appear to be trying to like the
princess for Mother's sake.”
“You were very convincing.”
“I'm sure I'll get a lecture for this--” He planted a
kiss on my lips before releasing me. “Just try not to
come back puce.”
I started to reply, but the princess stepped up and
whispered to him. I couldn't understand the words, but
her breath looked like pink worms slinking into his
ear. The princess was a sorceress?
“Get away from him!” I yelled as I shoved her.
The queen grabbed my earlobe and dragged me towards
the door. “You stay away from my son. Get out there
and do your job, and don't expect any magic to help
you when it's done.”
“But she's a sorceress,” I yelled as a guard pushed my
fiddle case to my chest.
“That's not possible,” said the queen. “Princesses
aren't allowed to learn any trades. Now get out there,
or I'll have you evicted from the kingdom.”
I ran across the drawbridge, trying to figure out a
way back into the palace. Before I could turn to run
around the outside of the moat, the harpist grabbed my
arm and pulled me towards the lake.
I shouted in protest until I saw Dolores in the middle
of the meadow that had been furnished with tables for
a feast. She was atop a table and playing her bodhran,
her black hair whipping out behind her. The moon gave
her a golden outline, and she looked like a goddess
opening a gateway to the fairy realm. I couldn't let
the band down. Maybe towards the middle of the night I
could slip away to break the princess's spell.
Dolores's rhythmic strikes drove us forward. When we
neared her, she yelled, “To the lake!” She ran and
jumped off the end of the table as we continued on.
Looking across the water, I caught my breath. In my
twenty years of life I had never seen the entrance of
the pixies. Since I was five, I'd played in a
strolling minstrel group along the streets of the
kingdom for the benefit of any pixies that made it
over the wall. The fog that hung perpetually at the
far end of the lake had a purple rip across it. As it
widened, a rainbow of glowing dust spewed out of the
mist. Soon, the dust looked like different- colored
stones skipping across the lake, but not just a few:
“Gilly!” yelled Dolores over her own drum beats. “Get
your fiddle out!” I looked around and realized I was
the only one frozen in awe. Everyone else was already
playing. I unlatched my case and rosined up my bow
while Dolores continued to yell at me. “Remember,
don't breath the pixie dust. And if you do, don't
ever, EVER sneeze three times in a row!”
My bow struck my strings, and I entered the fray of
the welcoming reel. The herald pixies arrived, no
bigger than my thumbnail. Some of them formed two
lines to dance on top of my fiddle. Several had
already taken to twisting Dolores's hair, while still
more adorned the clothes of the rest of the band,
making them look like Yule trees with colored candle
flames. I started to giggle and thought it wasn't
nearly as bad as I’d feared.
And then the swarm arrived.
I watched the pixies attach themselves to the band
like they were bees on a beekeeper. They crawled in
and out of the pipers' pipes, slid along my fiddle
strings, and filled all the other instruments until
there was silence except for the twitter of the pixie
voices. I looked behind us and saw servants flinging
food onto the tables and the actors straightening
crowns and bodices before taking a seat.
Pixies loved music and knocking chaos into structure.
Our whole performance was supposed to simulate a
formal royal gathering, so the swarm would leave the
rest of the kingdom alone. Once they realized they had
stopped the music, they flew out of the instruments
and towards the feast. We took up a jig as another
wave of pixies arrived, but they had already learned
the lesson from the first wave and only crawled over
our bodies instead of our instruments.
After the third wave arrived, the party really got
started. Before I turned away from the lake, I noticed
a golden light in the middle of the mist. I didn't
ponder it long. I was too busy wondering how I was
ever going to get back to save Roger from the
Servants were donkeys; the false court was half
life-sized chess pieces, and the musicians were
scattered in various groups around the tables playing
different songs. Pixies at my feet forced me to dance
away along with a mandolin player and a pipe player. I
scrambled as the pixies made the mandolin player
modulate, but another group of pixies didn't like that
and turned him orange. To avoid an all out war, I
changed songs to a bawdy madrigal that attracted even
more pixies to our group. Their little voices sang to
the tune, sometimes in human tongue and sometimes in
fairy tongue. I didn't care just so long as I was
To show their approval I think, my gown was changed
all manner of times as well as my fingernail color and
jewelry. After a particularly fast jig, a dozen pixies
flew over me and shook pixie dust onto me. I tried to
hold my breath before it reached my face, but a gust
of wind blew at that moment. “Achoo!” Once. “Achoo!”
Twice. I stopped playing and held my bow below my
nose. Three times and I would be their slave. A pixie
jingled in front of me, waiting for the final sneeze.
I felt the dust settle, and the threat passed. Then
the pixie zoomed right up my nose. “Achoo!” Three
times. The pixie flew out, shaking off the snot.
My vision blurred until everything looked like a chalk
drawing at the beginning of a rain shower. “Zonky
Zane!” cried a chorus of pixies, and I knew what they
meant. They were telling me welcome.
I awaited their orders, but they were arguing too much
about what to do with me to give me any. Suddenly
bored, I wandered away and found the actress queen
laughing and drinking what was sure to be pixie wine
at this point. I decided she should be dancing. My
bow, thick with pixie dust instead of rosin, rolled
over the strings to begin a quadrille. I smiled as the
actress queen stood up to dance. It occurred to me
that maybe I could make the real queen start dancing
too. The pixie language was floating like a cloud in
my mind. To them, spells and language were one. I
reached into the mist of my thoughts and pulled out
the exact words I was looking for. I sang something
about the fake queen and real queen moving together. A
buzz in my head told me I had succeeded, and a swarm
of pixies was all over me. “The real queen? The real
queen? This is not the real queen?” reverberated in my
In my normal state, I might've thought I erred;
instead, I doubled over in laughter. In the pixie
tongue I said, “We've been tricking you for centuries.
The real court is on the roof of the barbican,
watching us through a magical dome.”
Pixies love to trick but hate to be tricked. The news
of the deception rippled through them. Not only could
I hear it and understand it, but also I could see the
pixies' spark of anger as the news reached them. Some
of the sorceresses must've seen all the pixie sparking
too because they came running out from their hiding
places behind bushes and rocks. “Play a lullaby,”
ordered the pixies when they saw the sorceresses.
It seemed like I had a choice; their bidding was not
the ultimate law. It was more like the pixie dust made
me amenable to whatever they suggested. And also, I
wanted to see the queen's face when the pixies stormed
Pastel colors escaped from my bow and wound around the
sorceresses as my strings sang a sleepy tune. I
started to yawn, but a pixie jingled in my ear. I
opened my eyes wide in time to see the sorceresses
fall to the ground. More began coming out from closer
to the castle.
“To the barbican!” I yelled, jutting my bow forward
like a sword. Amidst the cheers of “Huzzah!” I heard a
twitter of “No!” from far away, most likely the band
members. I didn't care. A sorceress princess had my
prince, and I was going to use the pixies to save him.
I played a march on my fiddle as the pixies hoisted me
through the air. Bunches of pixies fell to the earth
from the sleep spells cast by the sorceresses, but
there were far too many pixies to make much
invisible dome that covered the barbican looked like
stained glass crackling everywhere as the pixies
blanketed it. They set me at the top of the dome, and
we all started a jig. My fingers bobbed and weaved
over the strings of my fiddle, and my feet tapped and
scuffed the dome along with thousands of pixie feet.
My head shook at a loud pop, and I started to fall,
but the pixies caught me before I hit the ground.
Then the twittering voices stopped; all was silent.
Most of the court had fled to the lower levels of the
castle. The queen was still dancing in circles to the
music of my earlier spell. What had made the pixies
pause was the pink hussy of a princess. Roger was
hanging onto her waist like they had been interrupted
mid-dance, and he was looking at her like he used to
look at me: with love and adoration. Behind her,
enormous, glowing, pink butterfly wings unfurled. They
beat slowly through the air and lifted the two of them
off the ground. She was a fairy princess? What was she
doing here? The last time any of the fairy court had
appeared in our kingdom, we had gone to war with them
for a century.
She pressed Roger's head against the pillows of her
bosom while she smiled at me and said, “I think I'll
take him back with me. He's a delicious human.”
I noticed the pixies hedging backwards in fear of
their mistress, but rage and the pixie dust in me were
a powerful concoction. A particularly nasty limerick
about warts popped into my head and was out of my
mouth before the pixies could gasp as one. Warts
appeared across the princess's face, arms and hands:
big ones with hair growing out of them as if she were
“Eeek!” she screamed and let go of Roger.
I had to drop my fiddle to catch him, and we both
ended in a cushion of crinoline as my skirt was
crushed to save us.
The princess started spinning like a top with steam
coming off of her. “This way!” cried the pixies. They
cast a rainbow from the barbican to the ground and
pushed us down it. We rolled and rolled until we
stopped in the middle of the lawn where music was
still playing and a golden light was swinging the
raven-haired Dolores around in a reel. The band
switched to a slow sarabande, and I saw that Dolores
was dancing with a fairy prince. His wings glowed with
a golden light, and he was more handsome than Roger in
the same way that the fairy princess was prettier than
The princess's shrieking grew until I thought my
eardrums would burst. She flew right next to me and
grabbed Roger to start dancing the sarabande. Cured of
the warts I had given her, she looked even more
radiant next to the prince's glow. The way the fairy
prince and princess ignored each other and fawned over
their human partners, I knew they were having a fight.
They’d abduct Roger and Dolores to the fairy world and
use them as toys to make each other jealous.
The pixie dust still twitched in me. The pixies were
overcoming their fear and dancing around the lawn,
twinkling to the rhythm. I didn't have my fiddle, but
I still had my voice. When the music stopped, I didn't
wait for them to start a new song. I began a ballad
about a lost fairy prince and a fairy princess
searching the hills and valleys of the human world to
The fairy prince and princess continued to twirl with
their human partners, but I noticed their pink and
golden lights swirling more and more together. The
royal fairies eyed each other, danced close enough to
touch and finally released their human partners. The
fairies danced over the lake and beyond the veil with
their pink and gold lights entwining.
My song faded. Roger slipped his hand into mine. The
pixies sprinkled their dust over the lawn, and
everyone fell into a magical slumber.
In the morning, all of us woke at the same moment,
shaking off the dew that was beading on our skin. The
pixies were gone; most likely they had dispersed to
cause trouble in the other kingdoms of the human
“Fleeber jizzle,” said Dolores.
“I know. We should,” I said. The rest of the band
nodded in agreement.
“What do you mean?” said Roger, taking my hands.
I looked at him and said, “Last night was kerplutzle.
You were under the fairy princess’s spell, and I was
under the pixie spell, but throughout it, the music
was amazing. Your mother is never going to accept me
as your wife, and I don't want to be in a castle doing
nothing all day. I think I'm going to hit the road
with them and become a troubadour. I thought I loved
you more than anything, but I don't love you enough to
have a miserable life with you.”
Roger gaped. Everyone else stood up and started
gathering their instruments. Maybe Roger would do me
one last favor and retrieve my fiddle. “I'm coming
with you,” he said.
“What?” A string on a harp broke in time with my word.
“But you're the prince. You have to stay and become
king one day.”
He waved his hand. “My brother can be king. He'll be
thrilled. You need someone to book your engagements
and manage your money. I'm a wizard at that.”
I gawked at him and said, “Fershizzle.”
“I love you too,” he said before pulling me in for a