We hopped a city bus since I thought this type of normal, every day activity might be a good experience for the faerie prince. It wasn’t too crowded, and Jareth began sharing with me what he had discovered.
According to him, everything seemed to look normal when it came to my birth date and hospital records, but my handsome assassin decided to do some digging and actually went to visit the nurse who helped deliver me seventeen years ago. How he managed to find her was beyond me, but the information he discovered was alarming.
“I found a charm embedded within her memory,” he said.
“What? What do you mean you found a charm?”
“The nurse on duty that night was spelled to forget an incident that occurred a few hours after your alleged birth.”
“Alleged? Pretty sure I was born, Jareth. There’s really no way to debate that fact.”
“But when you were born is what is up for debate here,” he insisted. “The nurse on call said that you were born to Leslie and Carter Jensen at five-thirty-three in the evening, but the day you left home your measurements and weight resembled that of a baby who had been born two weeks before. She took note of the discrepancy as she took your measurements, but before she could record it, she was spelled to write something else in keeping with the weight and measurements of a newborn.”
“Are you saying I was switched at birth or something? Someone deliberately gave me to Leslie and Carter and took their baby instead?”
“Not just someone, Crysta,” Jareth said. He turned in his seat to look at me. “A faerie. Two faeries, to be precise.”
“And how would you know that?”
“Every faerie leaves a specific signature with their biochemistry when casting a spell or charm. These two signatures were very distinct. Everyone in the Fae kingdom would recognize them and identify the two spell-casters if called upon to do so.”
I stared at him and waited for the big reveal. When it wasn’t forthcoming, I nudged him in the shoulder.
“So who are these well-known, totally recognizable faeries?”
Jareth appeared trouble. Almost spooked to say the names out loud and glanced around the bus to make sure we weren’t being overheard.
Please. Like a conversation about faeries was even remotely remarkable on a public city bus in San Diego, California.
“Tuadhe d’Anu,” he whispered under his breath.
“The king and queen of the Unseely Court.”
“I thought your father was the king.”
“Of the Seely Court, yes, but there are two kingdoms within the Fae realm, and Insley and Rodri Tuadhe d’Anu were the ruling monarchs of the Unseely Court.”
I didn’t like where this conversation was headed.
He took a deep breath and let it out slowly before answering my question. “Crysta, they were murdered seventeen years ago along with their recently-born baby girl.” He allowed that bombshell to sink in for a moment before he continued. “They must have known, somehow, that their lives and yours were in danger, and so they switched you with a human child to protect you in case the very worst happened.”
My ears were ringing. I was certain I hadn’t heard him right.
“Switched me. To protect me,” I mumbled.
“Yes. You’re a changeling, in a sense. Faerie children are substituted in a human family and the human children are taken as slaves.”
I looked at him, appalled. “That’s barbaric.”
“That’s tradition. In this instance, however, your parents pretended the human child was actually theirs, which means the threat to you was internal. It came from our own people, something I’ve suspected for quite some time.”
“Why would you place faerie children with humans when you have such a low opinion of them?”
“It is mostly done to protect our children from threats on their lives. They grow up in a human family, but there is a faerie mentor to guide them throughout their adolescence so they can return to their people when they have matured.”
“Well, I guess my faerie parents hadn’t planned on my human parents getting into a car accident.”
“It was no accident, Crysta.”
“As I stated before, a mentor is left to guide you as you come into your powers. They can be placed as a next door neighbor, teacher, governess, maid—”
“I get the point,” I said. “So where was this mentor of mine, and why didn’t he or she retrieve me when the car accident happened? Why didn’t anyone claim me?”
Jareth nodded in approval. “You are asking all of the right questions, Crysta. Why indeed, unless they were in on the entire plot, and caused the accident themselves, leaving before they confirmed that everyone in the car accident had died. You were the sole survivor, were you not?”
All I could do was nod since I’d never been able to talk about it. I didn’t remember it. What was there to say? I suppose I suffered from some form of survivor’s guilt, but since I never really knew my parents, I could only mourn for who I imagined them to be. Not who they really were. Now come to find out these parents I’d longed to know for so long didn’t really belong to me.
I belonged, instead, to the murdered king and queen of the Unseely Court. I was a winter faerie of royal blood.
Such a freak.
“So, they found out about the switch after they killed my par…the king and queen, and quickly tried to rectify the situation by murdering my human parents and me in the process.”
“Yes,” Jareth nodded gravely. “The king and queen were betrayed by someone they trusted. Someone who knew what they had done.”
“Clearly, someone wanted the throne, or the power, or whatever…so my parents and I were murdered to get it. A relative, maybe?”
Jareth shook his head. “The motive behind all of this isn’t nearly so obvious. The order for your assassination came from the Seely Court. Not the Unseely Court. Even if there was a winter faerie who wanted you dead, there were no other legitimate heirs, and Roderick, the late king’s brother, your uncle, lived his life as a hermit before being pressed into servitude for the court. Believe me when I say, your uncle wanted nothing to do with the throne and yet it fell to him either way. He’ll be relieved to discover you survived, once we finally unearth the masterminds behind this traitorous plot.”
“Well, I hope he doesn’t assume I’ll be happy to take over or anything. I definitely have plans for the future, but they don’t include ruling the Unseely Court.”
Jareth’s face darkened and he opened his mouth to say something, but our stop arrived just in time.
“This is us,” I said in a cheery tone. I jumped off that bus before he decided to try and convince me that my destiny involved the Fae realm, an impromptu wedding, and an icy crown.
Ms. Vivian was already in full battle mode the minute we walked into the studio, meaning, she was already yelling at the piano player to play the piece at the exact tempo she wished. Her eyes focused on me with hawk-like precision. I swear I sometimes felt like a small rat whenever her gaze zeroed in. She missed absolutely nothing, which was why I adored her so much. Flawless technique was something she nit-picked to death, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. The moment her eyes alighted on Jareth a startling transformation took place. Her lips actually turned up at the corners in a hint of a smile, softening the severe lines of her face due in large part to the stiff bun she always wore to control her silver hair.
“Ah, Crystiana,” she said as she glided forward with the grace of a gazelle. She gave me a few air kisses and then stepped back to study Jareth with unveiled curiosity. He stiffened in amazement at my side.
“I don’t know how you knew we would need a leading male for today, but I do believe this young man shall do quite nicely.”
I gave her a blank stare. “Do what nicely?”
“Be your partner for rehearsal, of course. Did you assume I would have him running to fetch us an overpriced cappuccino? Don’t be ridiculous.”
“My partner? I wasn’t aware that prepping for auditions involved partner dancing.”
She tsked at me in disapproval.
“There will be two dances you must learn for your audition. A solo piece, more specifically the Sugar Plum Fairy and a pas de deux from Giselle act two.”
“But Ms. Vivian, my friend doesn’t know how to dance.”
“No?” She quirked a sardonic brow in his direction. “He did the last time I saw him. I believe you put on an impressive performance at the summer festival. How long ago, Jareth?”
I looked between the two of them in amazement.
“You two know each other?” I asked.
Jareth shook his head in wonder. “That particular performance you refer to happened over fifty years ago.”
“I assume you still remember the choreography,” she said.
“Does a faerie ever forget, Ms. Vivian?” he asked.
She smiled in delight. “No, my prince, we most certainly do not.” Then she turned to me. “I always suspected you were Fae, but I had no idea you knew our prince.”
“I’ve known him less than a week,” I said in a strained voice.
My thoughts zipped around my head in an attempt to make sense of this new development. My ballet teacher and Jareth knew each other. She was a faerie, and clearly much older than she appeared.
Jareth danced? Ballet?
Ms. Vivian’s eyes glittered with interest. “I take it you were not aware of your heritage until recently?” She looked at Jareth. “And why is the Seely Court interested in a changeling? I assume you are here at their behest?”
I shook my head to dispel the crazy descending, and blurted out a curt summary. “He was sent to assassinate me and decided not to since our skin lights up whenever we touch each other.”
Her eyes shot to Jareth’s, worry creating sharp creases between her brow.
“You protect her now?”
“Yes,” he said in determination.
“You understand the sacrifice you must be willing to make for your fated mate, Jareth? Her home is in this realm.”
His jaw strained with tension. Clearly he didn’t like what she alluded to, and I was busy trying to keep track of this verbal ping pong between them. Hell. I still had trouble getting used to the idea that these two knew each other.
“That decision is yet to be determined,” he stated stiffly.
She gave him an agitated glare.
“You cannot ruin everything she has worked so hard for.”
“She deserves more than this life she leads.”
“Oh, the Fae and their superiority complex.” Ms. Vivian pointed a finger at his chest. I watched in amazement as Jareth took an uncertain step back. Even he was intimidated by her. “You’ll allow her to choose or you will lose her forever. Be very careful, Prince of the Seely Court. The Universe does not revolve around your very black and white ideals.” She squared her shoulders and took in a deep breath. Tranquility descended around her like a sudden mist of magic. “And now, we work. Crystiana?”
I nodded and set my bag down, deciding I didn’t want to delve too deeply into that obviously loaded conversation. I put my ballet slippers on and went through my exercises at the barre starting with plié, tendu, and moving on to more complicated exercises such as frappé and grand battement. I didn’t realize that Jareth had joined me at the barre until finishing the first exercise on one side and turning to repeat it on the other. He gave me a grin at my look of shock, and then I had to fight to stay focused every time I was faced with Jareth’s backside as he also performed the barre exercises in sweats he hadn’t been wearing on the way over. No doubt he just had them apparate on his person like it was nothing.
After several more exercises we moved on to center-work in the middle of the floor. Ports de bras were followed by an adagio, which were slow combinations of movements and pirouettes or turns and large and small jumps. Petit and grand allegro combinations. I kept my eyes on the mirror before me and tried not to allow Jareth’s impressive technique and handsome blue eyes to distract me from my own work. After forty-five minutes, Ms. Vivian was ready to have us work on the pas de deux from Giselle.
“I assume you are still familiar with the choreography, Jareth,” Ms. Vivian said.
“If you are still using the variation from Marius Petipa then I think I should be able to follow along.”
I stared at him in wonder. Seriously? The fact that he’d ever danced Giselle in the first place made him even more attractive than before, but he still remembered it? Who knew how long ago that had happened. I didn’t even want to think about the girl he’d partnered with.
“Well, let’s turn the music on and see what kind of a disaster I’ll be working with.”
Now I had danced as the principal in Giselle two times in the last two years, so choreography wasn’t an issue for me, but the idea that we should simply begin dancing without ever having gone over the choreography or partnering together seemed ludicrous to me. We didn’t understand each other’s styles and movements yet. We weren’t comfortable with each other in that respect. I would have felt much more at ease if she had insisted we mark it first.
“You never told me you could dance,” I hissed.
He gave me an infuriating grin.
“You never asked, Crysta.”
As the beautiful music began, I took up position and flayed him with a nervous glance.
Giselle is a story of a young peasant girl who falls in love with Albrecht, a royal disguised as a commoner. She isn’t aware that he is betrothed to someone else and they dance together at a festival, falling in love. She eventually realizes that the man she loves is betrothed to someone else and her weakened heart is unable to handle the sorrowful dance she performs. She dies in his arms. In act two, Albrecht goes to visit her grave deep in the forest and is ensnared by ethereal wilis, spirits of women who have been jilted and exact revenge on any man crossing their path by forcing them to dance to their death. Giselle has become one of them, but pleads that they spare him.
In this dance, he asks for her forgiveness and she freely gives it to him. Even though it is a dance that both Albrecht and Giselle dance together, Giselle begins it alone in the center of the stage.
The soft strains of a solo viola began, and I immediately responded to the music, the mood, the intent with which the steps required. I lifted my leg in développé and turned to arabesque, which was made difficult due to the required slowness of the movements, and then I fully immersed myself within the dance.
I am intervening on Albrecht’s behalf, and my love for him, my desperation that he be saved must translate into every muscle, every movement, every facial feature as I slowly dance across the floor. As Giselle, I am stuck in my position, in limbo between an unmarked grave because of my suicide, but I don’t belong with the Wilis since I have refused to hurt Albreicht.
I belong nowhere, and find my limbs and movements restricted to one spot. Then Albrecht joins me. He supports me through sorrowful lifts and turns, filled with remorse at the fate of the peasant girl he cast aside. The adagio is solemn and mournful, passionate and pleading. In the end, I grant him forgiveness and my love saves him from the Wilis.
At the first touch of Jareth’s hand at my waist, I felt the room slip away, envisioning an enchanted forest filled with wraith-like spirits intent on hurting the man I loved. Someone I could never have. Someone who would never be mine. Bringing my right leg into développé and brushing my left foot up against my right, I reached out in arabesque with my leg pointed back as Jareth gently lifted me high above his head and slowly lowered me to the ground where I gracefully reached my arms forward and stayed on point as he turned me slowly in a circle. I then returned to first position and jumped slightly as he lifted me high. I arched my back, looking as if I did a leap in a circle with his supportive hands placed at my waist.
We continued our movements as if we had danced them together a million times over. Connecting and contracting in perfect symmetry. Our lines, our steps, and the energy with which we danced matched and then grew together with the same intensity. With Jareth’s support, I honestly believed I had a chance at achieving everything I’d ever dreamed of. As the dance came to a close and the music faded into silence, I drew in a tentative breath and held it for a moment. I just wanted to savor what I knew to be one of the most profound moments of my life. The moment when I acknowledged to myself just how much I wanted and needed Jareth in my life, and how beautiful a partnership with him would be.
“I think,” Ms. Vivian said, “we do it again. Yes?”
“Yes,” Jareth said in a whisper. “Let’s do it again.”
From the look in his eye it was clear I had exceeded any expectations he may have had in regards to my dancing. Feeling gratified at his reaction, I simply nodded and we started the pas de deux from the beginning.