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Fairy Godmothers Inc.
By Jenniffer Wardell
Jolly Fish PressCopyright © 2013 Jenniffer Wardell
All rights reserved.
Some Enchanted Dragon
Fairy Godmother Rule Number One: Never argue with a client. As long as someone's willing to pay for them, dancing elephants, solid-gold princes, and fifty-foot-high stacks of down-filled mattresses are perfectly fine requests. And never, under any circumstances, point out when a client is being an idiot.
"I'm sorry, but I'm afraid there's been some confusion." Shifting forward to find a slightly less uncomfortable position for her wings, Kate tried to keep her voice polite as she thought terribly insulting things about the woman sitting across from her. "Finding a nobleman who's been enchanted into a dragon isn't really going to be an option for your granddaughter. There's an unspoken rule among evil witches and sorcerers not to use a curse to transform someone into a member of an already sentient species — it's seen as an insult to be considered a 'curse' in the same light as a frog or a cow. The species rights groups get upset and lawyers show up. The last case that went to court ended up dragging on for years."
"Don't be absurd." The Dowager Queen Beatrice of Nearby waved one of her delicately veined hands. "Any nobleman truly up to snuff would insist on a dragon form — nothing else is suitably dignified."
She and Kate were sitting in the queen's Lesser Purple Receiving Room designated for the queen's meetings with tradesmen and poor relations. The hard-as-rock chairs made Kate think longingly of the ergonomic desk chair with special wing cutaway back at her cubicle.
"Not that I intend to settle for just any nobleman, Katie. It has to be royalty of some sort — a king, a prince, or however those foreigners refer to their royalty." The queen pursed her lips a moment, considering. "Though I would have to personally meet any foreigners you suggested. None of this multiple wife nonsense for my little muffin, no matter how many genies he might have working for him."
Not bothering to correct what had to be the fifteenth "Katie" in the last twenty minutes, Kate waited for the old woman to finish, and rephrased, "I assure you that multiple wives won't be an issue, Queen Beatrice. We check on that during the interview process for all cursed nobles in our database, and those who don't meet your conditions end up in an optional category that's not a part of the particular wish-fulfillment package you selected. Unfortunately, the closest thing to a cursed dragon that Fairy Godmothers, Inc. is even aware of is a large lizard we eliminated from the database a few years ago. He was ..." What had the phrase on the memo been? "... 'freer with his tongue than he should have been,' and we kept getting complaints."
The queen stared at her blankly, apparently deciding she hadn't heard anything that required a response. Kate sighed, green eyes closing for a few seconds as her wing muscles knotted just a little bit tighter. "Also, your granddaughter isn't insured for kissing dragons," she said tiredly, adapting the excuse the company had given them to keep any enchanted swords off the list. "There's too much of a risk that she'd be bitten, and the company refuses to be liable for the lifetime illusion spell the girl would have to wear to hide the resulting scar."
"Scar!" Horror at the thought did wonders for focusing Beatrice's attention. "I can't let my dear girl be subjected to that. What would she do with herself?"
"Of course, you can't," Kate said soothingly. "Luckily, the company has several other enchanted nobles to choose from." She forced a salesman's smile back onto her face as she turned to her enchanted mirror and quickly accessed the company's Enchanted Nobility Database (patent pending). After six years at Fairy Godmothers, Inc., she'd accepted the fact that sometimes flattering an idiot into agreeing with you was the only way to keep from killing yourself out of frustration. "Okay then, let's start from the top ..."
Two — maybe twelve — hours later, Kate officially gave up.
"This is Eduardo de Esteban San Castillo the third, only heir to the Duke of Castillo. He enjoys fencing, riding, long walks on the beach, and generally being dashing. He is currently enjoying life as a pig, due to undisclosed activities involving the youngest niece of a mystical old woman." A company survey had shown that young female relatives of mystical old women were the number one reason royals ended up in the database, but Kate had learned long ago to keep little factoids like that to herself.
Beatrice wrinkled her nose in distaste. "I told you to show me something dignified, young woman, a creature worthy of becoming part of my family. I can't have my daughter marry a mere pig. I refuse to comprehend how any nobleman could allow himself to be turned into such a thing."
Any kind of smile having been abandoned long ago, Kate took a few slow, deep breaths and tried to convince herself that screaming would be a bad idea. "I'm pretty sure that certain sections of the animal kingdom started using a democratic system a few years ago." The sarcasm was wrong, she knew — one of the memos handed out at the last staff meeting had told her so — but she couldn't stop herself. "Maybe mayors are more open-minded about what they get turned into."
The queen's forehead wrinkled in confusion. "What does democracy have to do with anything?" she snapped. "And why would any self-respecting witch or sorceress want to curse a mere mayor? We should be looking at more dignified animals — a hunting dog, perhaps."
"I would be more than happy to show you another hunting dog, Queen Beatrice, but I'm afraid there were only four of them. The last one was Prince Tihold, whose fur you thought would clash with your son's carpet." Reminding herself that she didn't know enough about killing people to avoid getting caught — it took at least four years of graduate school to really make it as an evil sorceress — Kate pasted a smile back on her face and prepared to lie her wings off again. "You know, a select group of our truly fashionable clients have been requesting enchanted swans to sweep their loved ones off their feet. They feel that land-based animals have been overdone by this point in the season."
She felt no compunction about sacrificing some random swan-prince to this woman's clutches. Fairy Godmothers, Inc. had received database requests from at least thirty cursed swans, all of them nearly impossible to get disenchanted after Odette's little misadventure had hit the news a few years before. A tragic death in your lover's arms might sound romantic, but it tended to discourage clients whose goal was more along the lines of grandchildren.
Beatrice paused, briefly intrigued by the idea of having insider information. "But what about that one girl everyone was talking about —" And here came Odette. "I can't recall her name, but she got herself involved with that sorcerer ..."
"Her family didn't hire a Fairy Godmother." Kate leaned forward slightly, a conspiratorial tone to her voice. Being a Fairy Godmother had also, Kate thought ruefully, turned her into a much better liar. "We at Fairy Godmothers, Inc. can be trusted to end our assignments with weddings, not funerals —"
She was cut off as the butler hurried in, announcing to the dowager queen that someone with infinitely more money and social connections required her attention in the Greater Pink Receiving Room. Beatrice swept off without a backward glance, leaving Kate torn between frustration at her easy dismissal and relief that she had temporarily escaped what was rapidly becoming her own private version of eternal torment.
If she stayed, it would be all too easy to get sucked back in. With a quick glance out the window and a few sketched lines in the air with her wand, Kate soon stood in the middle of the ornamental gardens out back.
Once the glow had cleared, Kate stuffed the wand in the waistband of her embarrassingly fluffy blue tulle skirt, a company uniform with an unfortunate amount of glitter designed for someone about four inches shorter. She reached up for a long, bone-popping stretch, groaning in a way she would've been embarrassed to be heard in public, then tucked an errant lock of messy, mud-blonde hair back into her ponytail and looked for a decent place to hide for a few minutes.
It was days like this that made her wonder whether she should have tried harder to fit in with the back-to-nature fairy group that her aunt had wanted her to join. Of course, thinking like that meant remembering she hadn't been cryptic enough to hold on to the Mysterious Old Woman internship her mother had set up, hadn't been sweet enough to win the interview for the Good Fairy job her father had wanted her to have so badly, and had even lost her teenage summer job at Fairy Toadstools Theme Park for being rude to a particularly hateful six-year-old.
Becoming a Fairy Godmother was the one thing no one had particularly wanted her to do, and most of the time she felt she didn't do too badly at it. As long as she managed to survive client meetings like this, she could accept that she had probably ended up where she should have.
Kate glanced back up at the receiving room window. Even if she sometimes fantasized about turning annoying, obsessively picky queens into lawn furniture.
A flash interrupted the rest of the thought, followed by the tinkling, highly copyrighted Fairy Godmothers, Inc. entrance music. Kate closed her eyes long enough to mutter something deeply insulting to the universe as a whole, then opened them fast enough to avoid getting hit by the short, sandy-haired intern who hadn't quite gotten the transport gates spell down yet.
As soon as the purple smoke cleared, she helped the young man up, at which point he practically launched himself at her in a state of almost total panic. "You didn't leave your beeper on!" he accused, a terrified squeak in his voice. "You know that creepy thing Bubbles does with her eyes when someone doesn't leave her beeper on, and it's always me she does it at, because I'm the only one left in the office! And I still really, really hate to teleport!"
Kate placed a hand on each of his shoulders, ignoring the not-undeserved yelling and making sure to look him in the eyes. "Ned, breathe," she commanded, waiting until he had done so before pulling out the star that served as the wand's beeper attachment. With a sigh, she stuck it in position on the tip — Bubbles would comment about it either way, but if she didn't see it, there would also be veiled threats about departmental guidelines. "I need to know — did her tone just make you want to hide under a desk, or did it also make you want to whimper like you'd been kicked?"
Ned stood and seriously considered this for a moment, calmer now that he'd been allowed to vent. "Just hide under the desk." He winced slightly as if remembering a less-than-soothing detail he'd missed. "But she was pacing a lot."
Kate sighed as she rubbed a hand along the back of her knotted neck muscles, wondering if this meant she'd have to start the meeting with Beatrice all over again. "So, I'll probably survive." She inclined her head toward the palace. "Did she mention what excuse I'm supposed to give for skipping out on a client meeting, or did you get stuck being the bearer of bad news?"
Ned's sigh was even louder than Kate's. "At least the spell for the excuse message is easy, or I'd probably still be setting myself on fire." The flames had actually come from Ned's one attempt at a ball gown spell. Thankfully, the "We apologize for any inconvenience, and will be contacting you shortly" twinkly lit message was significantly more Ned's speed at the moment. "Bubbles said she isn't an official client until she makes the rest of her payments."
Kate shook her head, more than happy never to see Beatrice again. "At least you don't have to go up and listen to the clients yell at you anymore." She patted his shoulder in genuine sympathy, then squared hers and reached for her wand. "Good luck."
Ned tried to look encouraging as he held up his own wand, a faint scorch mark visible near the tip. "You, too."
"I've been looking at what you consider to be reports, Kate Harris. You should be grateful that I edit all departmental paperwork before sending it upstairs." Bubbles peered through her small wire-rimmed glasses at the files spread out before her. Her sleek, carefully-shaped gray bob, which took on a slightly pink hue from her own equally fluffy uniform, barely shifted as she moved. "Did you really have the future Count and Countess of DuBoir meet by dumping a large bowl of cream custard on the young woman's head? Even if you were running low on True Love, the usual dose should have been sufficient to complete the job with the class expected of a Fairy Godmother."
"Is this an early performance review?" Kate asked calmly, clinging to the stiffly pleasant expression she'd mastered during her previous sessions with Bubbles. A part of her wanted to explain that the Count and his future Countess were both terminally shy but had been eyeing each other for hours, and the custard had been the perfect excuse for the Count to rush right over and never leave her side for the rest of the night. Of course, the part of Kate that actually had self-preservation was ready with the muzzle before any damage could be done — management didn't approve of doing things the less efficient, old-fashioned way. "Because if so, my True Love use levels have been duly recorded." After, of course, the amount Kate had been expected to use that month was safely disposed of. She'd rather just dump it down the sink, but the ethics of contaminating an entire water supply with extremely strong love potion was something she didn't want to deal with. She had enough trouble dealing with the fact that it was considered part of the standard operating procedure, and silently fought against it with every bowl of custard or awkwardly sweet meeting in the garden that she could manage. Making a fuss never changed anything, but she took an immense amount of comfort in the fact that there were a handful of couples out there who were better off with Kate as their Fairy Godmother than anyone else.
"No, this isn't your performance review." Pursing her lips, Bubbles tapped a fingernail against the folder sitting in the center of her desk. "I just want to make sure you won't embarrass me if I assign you a special project."
Kate's jaw tightened. She knew it was going to be something like this, but she'd hoped it was just her pessimism talking. Apparently, her pessimism was psychic. "If you don't think I'm ready for a special project, I'll understand completely if you assign it to someone else. I wouldn't want to damage the company's reputation."
Bubbles narrowed her eyes. "When I get handed a last-minute assignment on top of double the case load I should be dealing with, I'm going to assign it to whatever Fairy Godmother I see fit." She twisted the folder around so that it faced the opposite direction, then slid it across the desk until it was in front of Kate. "At the moment, that Fairy Godmother is you."
Sensing that was her cue, Kate picked up the folder and opened it as carefully as if it contained something that might bite. On one side of the folder was a five-by-seven photograph of a young woman with golden blonde hair, huge violet eyes, and far more dirt than the usual "princess in hiding." Beneath that was the stack of nearly blank forms required for the Fairy Godmothers, Inc. standard wish-fulfillment package. The only writing on the front form was the approval signature along the bottom, a very illegible and important-looking name Kate didn't recognize.
Bubbles made a disgusted noise at Kate's continued look of incomprehension, loud enough for Kate to look up from the folder. "It's a special request from a member of the company's board of directors, who is personally funding the package," Bubbles explained coldly. "Not that I listen to office gossip, but I thought it prudent to let you know exactly who will be paying attention to this particular assignment of yours."
Excerpted from Fairy Godmothers Inc. by Jenniffer Wardell. Copyright © 2013 Jenniffer Wardell. Excerpted by permission of Jolly Fish Press.
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