Her parents brought her to the club to 'socialize', but they're the ones doing all the socializing. And now they've met some business friends of her dad's, and there's some secrecy clause about an upcoming deal, or something? So her mother's at the bar getting a drink with the guys' wives, but Emma's only twenty. So here she is, wandering around on the golf course, enjoying the sunset and trying to kill time until she can go back inside. And really, honestly missing school, where she doesn't have to go through this nonsense.
Finally she decides she's had enough of being outside- however much her mother protests that really, Connecticut is lovely in the fall, it's also chilly- and she starts to make her way back to the clubhouse. She's walking up the golf cart trail through the trees to get across the last hole when suddenly she realizes-
-the clubhouse isn't there any more. There's just more forest.
...what just happened?
Emma blinks at her. It's still awfully early for Halloween. And what kind of mother lets her kid dye her hair? Well, she supposes it's cute. "Uh, nice to meet you, I'm Emma," she says politely. "Do you know where the clubhouse went, please? I think I'm lost."
Why is she following, that child is flying, what just happened?
But she can't speak, much less ask questions. So, she'll just be here, following as instructed.
She wants to go home.
Well, where she gets to go is a little bungalow made of rocks near a riverside. It is not made for someone her size, but the fairy makes her squeeze into it without breaking anything and sit in the corner. Then the fairy makes her sit in a corner, nice and still. The fairy feeds her some sort of weird fruit, by hand, bit by bit, and then leaves her there alone, going into another room with an afterthought, "You can sleep," over her shoulder.
This goes on for at least an hour. Not that you could tell by looking at her.
Finally, she just sits and cries. Silently. (She has to be still, she has to be quiet.) But she can cry, wordlessly sobbing.
She wants to go home, what is this place, who even is this not-child that's taken her away-
Eventually, she sleeps.
(There's a small voice in the back of her head screaming that this is awful, she's happy she can move, but there's nothing she can do but cry anyway.)
So. She makes breakfast, as instructed, and feeds it to the fairy. She starts to sew- she's fully aware how bad she is at this and makes it extremely large, so she can just fuss with it later- and she sings.
She has a nice, if untrained, voice. She sticks mostly to hymns, boring but reasonably simple verses in Latin she's known by heart essentially since infancy.
She can't sob- it interferes with the singing, she has to keep singing- but she can keep crying just fine. She tries to do it away from the fairy. She doesn't know this awful creature, she doesn't want it to see her cry. But at a certain point, it's probably obvious.
By the end of the day she's losing her voice, her throat feels like it's on fire, and her eyes are red and itching. But finally, she can sleep.
She cries herself to sleep again. She doesn't know what else to do.
The fairy remembers to feed her the next morning after the fairy has had her own breakfast, and offhand remarks that she may pour herself water from the pitcher if she's very thirsty. The fairy goes out but forgets to say she can stop singing. The fairy comes back with food and wants Emma to put it away and make lunch. The fairy wants Emma to brush and braid her hair, prettily, no pulling. The fairy wants a footrub. The fairy goes out and gets beads and comes back and says they go on the shoes.
Emma's very good at pretty braids. She makes three, French braided from the top down, then plaits them together. (When she's braiding, she's not trying- and failing- to make shoes.) She manages to go even slower by being careful- no pulling! Eventually she runs out of delays and returns to the shoes.
She's not artistic. They're just beads. It takes her a good three tries to comes up with something that even comes close to attaching them. She settles for alternating colors, marching in lines around the edge of the shoes. The seams help hide the extra holes she's making when she messes up.
She keeps crying. It's almost necessary, at this point; the faster she's thirsty, the sooner she can soothe her throat. She'll start sounding worse soon, though. She doesn't usually sing, she's never had training, only magic and a misery-induced haze have kept her going this long at all.
Occasionally the fairy forgets for a day or two to feed Emma anything but the cream-colored berries.
The fairy wants a book scribed into a blank one. The fairy wants Emma to keep the place clean. The fairy gets Emma to do her hair twice a day
She's always been good at that.
(Is that why this happened to her? The thought gives her nightmares, sometimes.)
The book takes a couple of weeks; it's not that long, but she is being careful, look at her fancy Good Housewife/Secretary handwriting. She's mediocre at best at cleaning; she can do dishes and fold clothing but it takes her quite a few tries to convince the dust to go outside, rather than back onto something. She experiments with new braids. (What else has she to do?) Her clothes, while sturdier then they look, are still just Nice Clothes For The Club and get progressively more bedraggled.
And she cries. For her parents, for her friends, for her school, for everything that isn't this.
After a couple of months, the fairy injures a wing and doesn't go out for a few days. And then, while the wing is still healing, she hands Emma a large piece of pretty yellow and orange fabric and tells her to figure out some reasonably pretty way to wear it, and then she sits on Emma's shoulders and makes Emma carry her through the forest (bear right, up the hill, left, through those bushes, don't scrape the fairy against any branches, faster faster).
Nice skirt, nice top, nice braids.
As long as you don't mind the tears.
"Hello everybody," says the blue-haired fairy sitting on Emma. "Am I very late? I hurt my wing and this useless creature doesn't run very fast."
"You are late," comments leaf-wings.
"Sorry," says the blue-haired fairy.
"You missed the opening remarks. The representative is gone now," says leaf-wings.
"Well, you didn't come to a decision without me, did you?" exclaims blue-hair.
"We did not," says leaf-wings.
Very, very quiet, as ordered.
She has no idea what's going on. She can't really bring herself to care.
"Nothing substantive," says fishfins.
"Then my position's what it always was, I don't want them here."
"Which you'll enforce how?" wonders leafwings.
"Well - well, you're a sorceress, aren't you?"
"I thought you didn't want them here either."
"I didn't make up my mind. And you'd need me on board to keep them out. And then you were late. Why did I not want them here again...?" muses leafwings.
"That makes the vote tied," says beetle-shell. "That's no good. And we need Promise even if it were more against than in favor. Curses, River, you couldn't leave earlier?"
"I didn't know how slow my useless vassal was going to be!" shrieks, apparently, River, kicking Emma hard in the collarbone.
Promise's wings flutter a little. She inspects her fingernails.
"Rain Dice for your vote," River suggests.
Promise snorts derisively.
"What do you want?" shrieks River, kicking Emma again.
"Maybe I just want neighbors."
"You don't want neighbors!"
"He was cute," insinuates Promise, "the representative."
"You're just deliberately antagonizing me. I don't want them here - they'll be upstream, where they want to go!"
"I guess you'd better figure out what I want, then," says Promise, fussing with her hair.
"Just tell me!"
Promise peers at Emma.
Promise says, "I'd take your human."
(Don't cry, don't cry, don't cry.)
She mostly succeeds.
When Promise requests "your human", it takes her a few minutes to even realize what that means. When she associates it to herself, she just stares at Promise, slightly questioningly. She's not hopeful, exactly. She's been here for months, controlled by a spoiled, selfish creature she doesn't even have a name for. But she supposes it would be nice, to be away from this one.
If the next one's not worse, at least.
(What do you want a human for?)
(Probably not anything good.)
"Well, I'm going to have to do something to occupy myself if I don't ingratiate myself with the cute sorcerer breeder -"
"I wouldn't have figured you for touching breeders," snorts curtains.
"I'm new, I don't know what I like yet," shrugs Promise.
"Maybe you don't think you can keep them out," sneers fishfins.
"I can keep them out. I'm better than he is and it's my turf. Question is whether I'm motivated," says Promise.
"You're just being mean to me," whimpers River.
"You were late."
"Because you've always cared so much about punctuality," sneers beetle-wings.
"I'm new," repeats Promise, "I don't know what I like yet."
"Fine!" says River. "She's useless anyway! I'll give you her name after the others go if you'll keep the breeders away."
"If you don't follow though I'll let them move right in, right upstream from you," Promise warns.
"I know, I'll actually do it."
"And you can't just tell me her name and fight with me over her, either -"
"Free and clear," growls River. She kicks Emma again.
"Fine, then. Breeders will have to find someplace else to settle down," says Promise.
And the fairies except for River disperse.
Breeders? What are those? Sorcerers?
River grumbles. "At least let me make her take me home first."
"Oh no you don't. You'll just keep inventing excuses until I'm working for free."
River scowls. "Put me on the ground," she tells Emma.