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art by Stephen James Kiniry

My Dearest Miranda

Jaime lives in Texas and shares her life with three cats, a guitar playing writer, and a growing collection of books. Her novel, Delia's Shadow, is forthcoming from TOR books in February, 2013.
She writes a lot. The most important thing she's learned in life is that snow falls in slow motion.

My Dearest Miranda,
I must apologize for being so remiss in not answering your last letter promptly. I do hope you'll forgive me once I explain.
Living in an isolated country house is often a trial for one born and bred to city life. I'm still at a loss to explain why Horace suddenly insisted upon retiring to the country to write poetry. For the most part I've adapted, but if I'd known how bad the fey infestations were each spring, well, no amount of pleading on Horace's part could have induced me to move.
Such pests are easily dealt with in a civilized clime. The maids might find an occasional pixie in the parlor or the odd brownie in the pantry during an exceptionally bad year. One simply calls in the local exterminator wizard and never gives the matter another thought.
Oh, if only it were that easy when one ventures to the country. As soon as the weather turned warm, we had pixies nesting in every drawer and cabinet on the second floor. A swarm of them even took up residence amongst my undergarments in the lingerie chest.
Horace spent more than an hour convincing Annie, the housemaid we brought from town, to try to clear them out of the linen cupboard. I must admit, having the vile creatures hiss and snap at her was rather frightening for the poor girl. She staunchly refused to go near them until Horace took her into his study for one of his private chats. After time alone with him, she calmed down considerably. I don't know how I'd cope if he didn't have such a talent for dealing with the staff.
Once Horace demonstrated his technique, Annie mastered the trick of grabbing a pixie by the ankle and dropping it into a bucket. She went at the task with a good will and all went smoothly for a time. I allowed myself to hope the problem would be dealt with quickly.
My hopes were dashed the instant one of them bit her. Having a pixie sink its teeth into one's arm is certainly painful, but I think the girl over did the shrieking. She went on long after Horace pried the nasty thing off her.
That was the end of Annie's pixie removal efforts. I'm positive I saw a pixie stick its tongue out at me when she refused to try again. Horace maintains I imagined it.
The brownies in the lower part of the house were even worse. Cook was beside herself for the better part of two days. Finding brownies--or worse yet--their leavings in her pantry was more than the poor woman could bear. She was in tears more than once.
The flour barrel, the tea tin, all the spice crocks; everything was full of brownies. I'd no idea they ate so much. Cook absolutely refused to sift out the bits and pieces the brownies left behind. In spite of the expense, I supported her decision to purge the kitchen when she approached Horace at the end of that first horrible day. One shudders to think what might be missed by even the most careful eye.
Cook soldiered on as best she could with limited supplies. Having to keep constant watch over every scrap of food was a great strain on her. Horace, the dear man, volunteered to help her and spent a great deal of time below stairs. Meals were somewhat delayed, but one can scarcely complain under the circumstances.
The breaking point for Cook came the second night during supper. She set the French onion soup in front of Horace and lifted the soup tureen's lid. Miranda, the scream Cook let out frightened me enough to give me heart palpitations. The brownie floating face down amongst the bits of melted cheese and onion was beyond caring.
Cook fled the dining room and I was sure she'd pack up and go right back to the city. No civilized person could have found fault with her for doing so. Fortunately for us, Horace was able to entice her to stay. His charm does have its uses now and then. One wonders if the hefty salary increase and the private time spent with Horace in his study influenced her decision. One wonders....
I shan't bother you with the tale of the goblins in my petunia beds. You can well imagine what an utter disaster that was, what with their tunnels and little mounds of earth everywhere. Horrific as this all sounds, I still haven't related the worst of the story to you.
There was a troll in the lower garden.
Horace blames himself. When we first took possession of the house last fall he contracted with some local laborers to renovate the lower gardens. The grounds had been sorely neglected and were frightfully overgrown.
One of the features the workmen undertook to repair was a small bridge over the stream that meanders through our garden and into the neighboring property. I voiced my misgivings when I first discovered the existence of this bridge, but Harold assured me I'd nothing to fear.
He wasn't so sanguine when the kitchen maid, Betsy, ventured out to the kitchen garden for Cook. I don't think I've ever heard anyone scream quite that loudly. What with all the wailing and fainting and carrying on, none of us made any sense of what she said.
As always, Horace took charge. He required a considerable amount of time alone with Betsy to calm her nerves and get the whole story, but he persevered. That man has the patience of a saint.
The poor girl was returning to the house with a basket full of carrots. Betsy was only a short distance from the bridge when she saw the neighbor's cat, Wiggins, sitting on the wooden planks playing with a dead pixie. She was just about to cross the bridge when the troll rose up, dragging Wiggins off the top and into his lair underneath.
Of course, by the time Horace was able to pry the story out of Betsy, it was far too late for poor Wiggins.
I offered to be the bearer of bad tidings, but Horace took the sad duty of breaking the news about Wiggins to the Widow Evans upon himself. In truth, I was relieved to leave the task of telling her in his hands. Mrs. Evans and Horace have stuck up a small friendship of sorts in the months since we relocated here. She's a lovely girl, widowed at the age of twenty-five. Horace visits and does little jobs for her at least twice a week, the type of things only a man can do.
When Horace returned home the Widow Evans was on his arm. I couldn't tell you who was most upset: Betsy after witnessing this traumatic event, Horace when he realized the maid might have been eaten instead of the cat, or our neighbor over her beloved Wiggins' untimely death. Both young women spent quite some time sobbing on Horace's shoulder. The noises coming from his study were most distressing.
I hope never to see the likes of such a trying evening again. Dear man that he is, Horace insisted on feeding her supper before taking the Widow Evans home and seeing to her comfort. Several hours passed before her nerves calmed sufficiently that she could endure being alone. Horace was so exhausted on his return home he bid me goodnight and retired immediately.
By now I'm sure you're wondering how matters ever got so out of hand. Horace did contact the local exterminator wizard when the first pixie appeared, yet the local man seems to have completely ignored the summons. Such a sad neglect of duty is practically unheard of in the city. I wager Mr. Quentin R. Foxglove, licensed exterminator wizard, wouldn't last a week given any sort of competition for clients. Horace was forced to dispatch several men to escort Mr. Foxglove to our doorstep.
Once forced to fulfill his obligation, he did manage to banish the pixies and the brownies from the house without too much difficulty. After Mr. Foxglove uttered the traditional incantations and traced the standard aversion symbols around the doors, the nasty little beasts couldn't leave fast enough.
The troll was a different story. Not one of the spells Mr. Foxglove tried seemed to have any effect at all. Horace and I witnessed the entire sad performance. The man went through an entire sequence of failed transportation spells, banishment rituals and control charms. At one point Mr. Foxglove became so frustrated, he attempted a shrinkage spell that went tragically awry.
Horace's prized orchids are only a fond memory now. Fortunately, none of the gardeners were in the greenhouse at the time.
The troll sat on a rock just under the bridge, scratching various itchy spots and peering at Mr. Foxglove from under his bushy eyebrows, apparently unmoved and unfazed by the wizard's efforts. Horace says what Mr. Foxglove kept muttering was something about resistant strains. The man was clearly at a loss about how to proceed.
I'm sure it won't surprise you to learn Horace was the one who came up with the solution to our dilemma. After studying the situation carefully, he came to the conclusion that without a bridge, there would be no troll. He pointed this out to Mr. Foxglove. Horace then suggested that burning the bridge might be the most efficient way to solve the problem.
One would think the wizard would be grateful for such a simple solution. One would be wrong.
Mr. Foxglove required several tries before he had the bridge burning brightly. Horace insists I'm mistaken, but I'm certain I saw the troll shrug his shoulders before retreating into the smoke filled space under the bridge. The fire reduced the wooden planking and rails to a fine ash. There wasn't a sign of that beastly troll anywhere.
Horace was quite pleased with himself.
As you can well surmise, it's taken me a few days to recover enough to be able to write to you. Supervising the maids while they put the house to rights fell to me. Horace has secreted himself in his study to work on a poem for the Widow Evans. "Ode To Stolen Moments" is what he's calling it. He feels it's the least he can do to try to make up for the loss of her dear pet.
Horace has taken steps to insure the events of this week won't be repeated. He's brought in exterminator wizards from the city to make sure all the work is done properly this time. One of the exterminators, a healthy looking young woman named Felicity, is considering his offer to live here on the estate full time.
Personally, I was quite impressed with a tall, strapping wizard by the name of Jasper. A very talented young man if I do say so, Miranda.
Horace promised me someone would be in residence before the harpy migration in midsummer. I mentioned to Horace how nice it would be to have a young fellow like Jasper take up residence on the estate. I must say he didn't seem too keen on the idea.
But one shall see. One shall see.
I eagerly await your next letter. I want to hear every detail of the spring fashion shows.
Until then I remain your loving sister,
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, October 18th, 2011

Author Comments

I love comedy that has a dry, understated sense of humor. I wanted to challenge myself to write a story that was funny and played with fantasy tropes at the same time. This story was the result.

- Jaime Lee Moyer
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