The CSS Awards - Site of the Day

Winner of the 2013 POLYSPEC Prize: Keep Calm and Carry Tea

Nora Goodleaf




     Some people were born with it. The Sight, that is.

     They would start off as kids, playing with imaginary friends and fairies in the back yard, hiding from monsters at night. Nothing out of the ordinary, really. Until those little tykes grew up and they never stopped seeing the creatures. Living, breathing things that persisted and pressed in on the edges of reality.

     Others gained it, whether through downing a bottle of dubious liquid bought from a rather menacing mad gypsy woman, looking through a specially crafted seeing stone, or even just getting a rough hit on the head.

     But whether you grew up seeing the monsters and fairies walking unnoticed among the masses or you just happened to open your eyes one day and bam, there they were, you noticed them. And they noticed youWhich is why it is somewhat of a marvel that Albert Fincley Hayes, age 42, of 33 Tufnell Park Road, London, had lasted as long as he had.

     Many with the Sight went mad. They would drown themselves in drink or drug to avoid the eyes of things no one else could see, and inevitably end up as loony homeless wandering the late city streets, no one ever the wiser. A select few had the smarts to cover themselves in iron, the bane of the fae folk, pour salt at all entries of their house, basically appeal to every single myth and old wives tale for warding off “The Fair Folk.” They were social recluses, pariahs, but they were safe.

     However, for the most part people just went missing. They would disappear, leaving behind half eaten toast or sandwiches, emails unfinished mid-type. The fae folk have only survived as long as they have by being hidden, secret, veiled from the men with their sharp iron and hot fire. They liked living glamoured amongst the humans, having jobs, seeing movies, buying overpriced coffee at trendy cafes. So it stands to reason that they would take away the dangerous variable that were Sighted humans, even if the rest of the populace wouldn’t believe them anyway. The lucky ones among these would be dragged down to the fairy courts, good and bad alike, and pressed into servitude for the rest of their miserably short human lives, sometimes as spies, other times the equivalent of dumb pets. The unlucky ones… well… let it just be said that their suffering went much quicker than the lucky ones.

      Though he was Sighted since birth, no one among the human or fairy realms had been able to tell different of Albert. Abigail and Patrick Hayes, god rest their souls, never saw or heard of any imaginary friends from their son. He had been a simple and polite boy, though dreadfully dull, and they merely resigned themselves to the fact that the boy was acceptably mediocre. The pixies that squatted in his childhood home garden thought the same, when he refused to meet their eyes or acknowledge their shrill voices, and shrugged alongside the parents.  

All through school, teachers despaired at Albert’s lack of imagination, which was astonishing considering the fact that one of his primary school teachers had been a faun under the glamour of a heavyset middle-aged woman. Only Albert had been able to see the horns sprouting from her thick hair and the hooves peeking out from under her long skirt, yet the most interesting piece he wrote for that year was a poorly worded essay on the quality of wool versus a cotton-blend in his favorite jumpers.

Throughout his life, average, common, ordinary, and pedestrian were probably the most exciting and generous adjectives used to describe Albert, from the students he went to school with, to the neighbors in his apartment building, to the small family of hobgoblins that lived in the upper crawl space of his closet. And frankly, Albert thought the same. His biggest concerns amounted to catching the Tube on time to get to work (accounting, nine-to-five, wore a cardigan to Casual Fridays), hoping his favorite tea was in stock at his local Tesco (Twinings Earl Grey, two sugars, no milk), and wondering if lovely Ms. Teslind in the flat upstairs would notice the growing grey among the dirty blonde at his temples (unlikely, as the lawyer was currently dealing with the fact that after bumping her head against the cabinet one morning, she realized her flat was actually inhabited by a rather uncouth troll, and he refused to help split the rent). Things were simple, and he liked them that way.

      So that is why it is especially important to take notice of Albert, for this uninteresting human, a common Londoner with a penchant for crap telly and the crosswords in the morning post, caused one of the greatest civil wars amongst Fairy Kind.

      And all he got out of it was a crap cup of tea.


      Year after boring year, Albert exercised his single most contributing asset in keeping sane and alive in the inane fantastical muck that was London of the Fae. He was, without a doubt, through-and-through, British.

So he merely kept calm and carried on.

       But it was on a very unremarkable Friday that Albert upset the status quo by, for the first time in his life, not just seeing, but noticing.

       Juggling a briefcase, a folder of almost finished paperwork in one hand and a Styrofoam cup of break room tea, Albert rode the elevator down from his twelfth floor office with the same amicable calm that he faced the world with every day, even as the day was nearing its end. He shared a few words with his coworkers as the elevator sailed downwards, laughing softly at a snide joke made about their boss, accepting their teasing about his ugly Casual Friday maroon cardigan. In his head, Albert thought that maybe he’d go grab a pint with some of these blokes, catch a game or two if one was on, do some shopping on the way home. He knew he needed milk and bread, but was it the beans or the eggs that he had to get more of-

         His train of thought was broken by the elevator’s ping and a slight shudder under his feet, causing the cup in his hand to jostle and spill some of the tea down his trouser leg.  He assumed he had reached the ground floor, but the doors opened onto the first storey instead, where a rather beautiful young temp worker, blond hair bobbed, lipstick bright and alluring, short skirt cut oh-so-fashionably, was waiting to enter. Or, rather, what looked like a beautiful temp girl. While the rest of his coworkers ogled quite obviously at the long smooth legs and low neckline before them, Albert took in the sight of a writhing mass of snake-like hair that was anything but bobbed, the scaly tail curling out from beneath the pencil skirt, down at the tea staining his trousers, and did something he had not done in quite a long while.

        He got annoyed.

        Baring needle teeth in what she thought was a charming smile, the temp girl slithered forward on a powerful expanse of scaled muscle, but was stopped by Albert’s outstretched hand. She gave him a curious look, but before she could open her frankly hideous mouth, Albert spoke.

       “I’m sorry miss, but this is going to the ground floor.”

       “Well, yes, that’s where I’m trying to go too, handsome,” the snake-woman replied, manicured, scaly hands on her hips. Handsome was a bit of stretch, the naga thought briefly, but besides the dreadful color of his cardigan, she thought he didn’t look half bad for a human. She gave him another smile, this time batting her eyelashes for effect. The drooling men in the corner of the elevator proved that her glamour was working marvelously, but Albert’s stern brown gaze stirred up something she hadn’t felt in a few decades. The panicky feeling of being watched.

     “Then I’ll have to insist you use the stairs. It’s mighty inconvenient for those of us unable to take the stairs down to have to stop for someone who can but just won’t be bothered to.” Albert’s curt reply had the girl, and his coworkers, frozen with shock. “Now, I’m sorry if slithering down the steps might be uncomfortable for someone in your position,” he gestured vaguely at the girl’s lower half, “but in all aspects of fairness, we all make do with inconveniences, and shouldn’t trouble others with them.” He gave her shoulder a light pat, before pressing the “close-door” button on the elevator.

       The other men in the elevator were baffled by what he meant, even more than the fact that it was Albert, tame, meek Albert, who was making this scene. Was it her high heels? Is that what he meant? But the temp-snake-girl went wide-eyed, toothy mouth agape, staring at Albert as if he were the one with snake parts instead of her. Their eyes held until the elevator door shut between them, whereupon Albert was immediately heckled by his coworkers. He shrugged mildly, adjusting the numerous papers in his arms, and put the matter completely out of his mind.

The same could not be said of the temp-girl on the next floor up, who was getting rather odd looks from some of her office mates as she simply stood there, staring completely bewildered at the closed elevator. But, when she did gather her wits, she all but sprinted to the stairs, out the building, down the crowded street to Hyde Park, whereupon she slithered down a hole under an ancient oak tree. There was no record, none, of a free walking human that old with the Sight currently within the London metropolitan area. The naga felt beside herself with alarm and just a little bit of gossipy excitement.

        Gossip is the same among fae folk as it is among humans, in that it spreads quickly and is usually entirely false. The naga slithered to her friend the dryiad, who passed the story on in leafy whispers to the treant in the maple tree next to her oak home, who then spoke in a slow and low groan to the few sprites lounging about his branches, and from there, the story only exploded outward. By the time Albert was leaving Tesco, bag of milk, bread, and eggs (it had been eggs he needed, he remembered correctly with a smile) in hand, nearly every fae, whether in the Seelie court, Unseelie court, or rogue, knew of Albert, He With The Sight And The Ugly Maroon Cardigan.

       There were whispers that he had endless iron knives and tools hanging from the walls of his flat, that he had gryphon eggs and a cup of hot basilisk venom for breakfast every morning, that his hideous sweater was once a normal beige before he stained it with the blood of countless fae folk, just to name a few. One elf swore, albeit drunkenly, that he once came face to face with the great Albert, and he barely got away with his life by offering the mighty warrior a magical elixir.

      The event that actually happened was that months ago the elf in question, glamoured as an astute young lawyer, had accidently bumped into Albert at a coffee shop and, spilling his drink, bought Albert a new cup to make up for it. But the point was that soon every mouth spoke, whispered, buzzed, hissed, growled his name and his conquests, whether real or imagined or simply blown so far out of proportion that many fae doubted he existed at all.

       But pacing in their respective throne rooms, the King Djerdin of the Seelie court and the Queen Delja of the Unseelie had no doubt that this man, nay, this GOD, existed. They had been fiercely competitive since taking their thrones, each thinking that they knew what was best for their fae and beloved England. And they were each sure that he would be the key to the other’s downfall. Trumpets were blown, messages were sent, and there was much running about and many wings bruised in the process. But finally the King sent a long-winded declaration of intent to the Queen, and she replied in kind. He insulted her intelligence and alluded to her flagrant promiscuity with ugly mortals. She called him a pretty-boy elf that was more interested in his hair than ruling his court.

      It was war.

     Sitting in his recliner, Albert had no idea that in the span of a few hours he had become a legend, a myth, and the single most feared and desired man in all of England, besides Gordon Ramses.

      And he had just spilled spaghetti sauce into the lap of his trousers.



      The dual court system of the fairy is a tricky concept to negotiate, at least amongst the fae themselves. But looking at it objectively… it is just as tricky, and infinitely more ridiculous to define. Mortal mythology dictates that the Seelie court is typically where one would find the “good” fairies; benevolent and wise elves, friendly tree folk that brought forth bountiful gifts of fruit, bright winged pixies braiding wreaths of flowers. The Unseelie, then, was typically of the more unsavory sort, witches and bog hags, kelpies luring you into water in order to drown you, trolls and giants grinding mortal bones to make bread (a ridiculous concept, ask any troll baker, dough doesn’t rise without yeast, what will these humans think of next, the idiots).

      Of course, mortal mythology would be correct in the most wrong way possible. The courts were practically one and the same, faeries and demons and elves and beasts interspersed between the two, with the Seelie only slightly less likely to kill you or trick you than the Unseelie.

      Only slightly.

      But after that notorious Friday, the Seelie Court was desperate to live up to its glorious reputation, all to catch the attention of one Albert Fincley Hayes. The accountant woke to garlands of flowers and grasses stringing throughout his flat, his windows open to bright September sunshine and more beautiful than usual birdsong. He froze, briefly disoriented, before giving a rather large couple of sneezes and making his way carefully to his kitchen, fixing a cup of tea whilst he pondered the copious amount of fruit that was currently buckling his dining table. It was a weekend, so Albert went outside to grab the Saturday post, empty teacup with two sugar lumps in hand as the kettle boiled, but was again briefly frozen by a new addition to his morning. A horse, gilded and stunning and very much not a normal mortal horse, shuffled patiently on the road just outside his building, all six of its limbs clicking the pavement daintily with silver shod hooves. Whilst people left and right passed the beast as if it were nothing more than an idling cabbie, Albert stared as the horse stuck out two fore limbs, bowed grandiosely, and proceeded to inform Albert that he would take him wherever he desired to go, all in a dainty, lilting Irish accent.

Albert blinked once, twice, before looking down at his empty cup and then back up at the horse. With a benign sigh, he picked up a sugar cube and offered it to the creature, chuckling as the soft horse lips tickled his palm for a brief moment. He then patted the beast heartily on the shoulder, before turning promptly and retreating to his front door. Albert nearly tripped over on the top step, several bowls of fresh cream and honey had appeared in his few seconds with the faerie horse, but his slippered feet held firm, and he wordlessly picked up these new gifts, clumsily juggling the bowls whilst closing the front door behind him.

Over the next hour or so, glamoured eyes watched in disbelief as Albert took most of the numerous gifts and dispersed them to his apartment neighbors. The fruit he carried laboriously down to his landlady’s room, bearing her charmed squeals and overzealous hugs with a smile, the flowers to several of the couples on the floors below him. He even felt brave enough to deliver one particularly beautiful garland to Ms. Teslind upstairs (she didn’t answer, as she was currently busy arguing to the terms that in exchange for troll’s silence about her Sight, he’d have no rent and would get to take her out to dinner sometime). The bowls of cream were placed carefully up in the crawlspace for the hobgoblins he always knew hid there, and by the time noon rolled around, all that was left were several small bouquets around his flat, and the neat “thank you” post-it note he left on the building’s front step.

       A small thorn fairy delivered the note to King Djerdin, almost at the same time a letter arrived from the Queen. Her note was much the same as Albert’s, in that it was short, sweet, and to the point.

       It said, “HA.”


       There was little surprise amongst the fae of London when Queen Delja tried and failed just as spectacularly as the King to woo Albert.

It was a little known secret (which means, by all accounts, every single fairy knew it), that King Djerdin and Queen Delja were actually siblings. They were about as different as a brother and sister could be, in that they were alike in every way possible and extremely adamant in insisting otherwise. Both shared typical elven beauty, eyes almond shaped, hair like spun sunshine even in the dark of the Underground, and a steadfast English pride for their country. And they each had (though neither would admit it, they’d rather swallow iron tacks first) a certain fondness for mortal television dramas.

        No one was quite sure of why the two hated each other as much as they did, or where they even got the time to hate whilst dealing with the politics of fae courts across the globe. But one old swamp hag alluded it might have been something about a misplaced hair brush, and the fae of both courts shrugged and thought this idea just as possible as any other and probably the most likely one out there.

       Queen Delja’s gifts of arachnid silk suits had been returned (“not quite my size, and far too fine for an accountant, but thank you – Albert”) and the post office grievously worried when they couldn’t find an single return address, or even any postage, on the fine packaging before a large ogre that worked there part-time took it back. The enchanted mechanical songbirds, scripted by the most talented mortal mage the Queen knew, flew back soon after being sent out, remarking that while, yes, Albert had been pleased with such lovely gifts, he wasn’t too fond of pop music, and frankly, that was all the birds knew. Queen Delja then remembered that the most talented mortal mage she knew was a particularly annoying and chipper 13-year-old girl, and was not as put out by that rejection as the others.

        As September passed into October, gifts wouldn’t cut it.

Faeries and fae folk are notoriously impatient, so as Albert continued to (politely) decline the wonderful and extravagant glories that were practically thrown his way, the King and Queen allowed for more… convincing methods to be used. Over the course of several days, Albert found tacks placed in his morning slippers, his ties shoved unceremoniously into his peanut butter and all of his milk spoilt. The Tube was delayed several times, nearly every time, actually, whenever he tried to get to work. Potted plants would fall from high building windows, and it was only through sheer strokes of dumb luck that Albert made it through the week intact. But Albert faced it all, and the faeries marveled at just how calm he carried on. His smile was genial and the most reaction the fae ever got from him was the occasional exasperated sigh, a weary shake of the head.

        It was then, the courts decided, that this great warrior would not be appeased. So kidnapping it was.

        Which was much easier said than done, as the fae folk soon found out. They called it magic, or skill, that Albert could see the future and know whenever they tried to come for him, that he was well versed in the ancient ways of protection. But honestly, the most Albert ever did purposefully that week was to work a little overtime at the office, if only to avoid going home and finding more gifts in his flat.

       Everything else was accidental.

       An inside out sock one day prevented a particularly nasty ghoul from taking a swipe at him. An iron cross around his neck on Sunday (morning mass at the local catholic church, he wore the cross mostly with the foreboding feeling that his old ‘nan might come back from the grave and smack him a good one if he didn’t) kept a ring of sharp-toothed sprites at least five feet away from him all that day. Bumping into a Uni student on the side walk and helping her pick up her books saved Albert from several enchanted arrows shot his way, which would’ve glamoured him into obeying the elven archer’s commands.

       Faeries would actually get into feuds over who would be the one to capture the great Albert, and more often than not, the accountant would blandly watch as the city around him took more blows from the warring courts than he did. Hyde Park was a mess of fallen trees and destroyed statues, though officials were at a loss as to how it happened (the weather had been fine all week, no way vandals could’ve moved those heavy statues in a night, and why do the statues look like they stopped in the middle of a brawl!?).

        People (well, they looked like people) were getting into fights daily, the assaults as bizarre as a cat fight between an elderly woman with a walker (actually a centaur) and a pair of five year old girls (boggarts), or a rather portly lawyer (dark dwarf) and a flock of pigeons (…just a flock of pigeons, actually, though Seelie court pigeons).  It was all the news could do to keep up with the miscellaneous acts of vandalism, brawls, and out-of-nowhere weather catastrophes that rocked London off its feet for an hour with hurricane-like winds and then slammed it for another with blinding sunlight and heat.

       But when Albert, calm, ever steady Albert Fincley Hayes, stood before his beloved Tesco as it went up in flames, watching a fire elemental chase a bunch of elven warriors through aisles of crisps and paper towels and tea, his beloved Earl Grey tea, he was surprised to feel annoyed for the second time in less than a month.

     No, more than annoyed.

    He was miffed.

    Brassed off.

    Bloody well furious, yes, that was the right one.  

    And so, empty shopping bag in hand, Albert stormed back to his flat, and oh, it was as if all of England stormed behind him.


       Now, the hobgoblins of 33 Tufnell Park Road prided themselves on being separate from all the nuances of politics. They lurked in the attics and walls, played pranks here and there, tidied up some of the nicer tenants’ flats, and generally kept to themselves. The humans never examined too closely the scurrying in the walls late at night, and all in all it was a very British agreement of one species steadfastly ignoring the other in order to keep a respectful status quo. All this mess about Albert this, and Albert that, had the hobs shaking their stumpy, mottled heads and remarking at the state of affairs of their beloved Fae London.

So when said Albert knocked firmly on the crawlspace door inside his closet, asking politely but briskly who he had to talk to in order to end this whole mess, a hobgoblin head popped out almost immediately. It gave him a firm once over with large, luminous eyes, before taking the human’s hand in its small ones and writing an address in small, spidery calligraphy on the skin of his thumb.

       “Albert, my boy, you fix this mess, or by Jove, you’ll never make a proper tasting cuppa’ in this flat again.” The hob’s voice was gruff, but earnest, and Albert nodded solemnly as the little crawlspace door closed again.  Pausing only to grab something from the closet whilst he was in there (it was the maroon cardigan, he’d been in it when this mess started, and it could damn well finish the job), Albert locked the door to his flat, exited the building, and walked down the street, his pace sure and head held high.

       To be honest with himself, he wasn’t quite sure where the address the hob gave him was, but as he walked, fae folk began to drift in here and there, lining the streets like participants in some over-the-top Halloween festival. They guided and shifted and walked with him, utterly silent to start with but growing in whispers and barks and singing voices, until it was a whole cacophony of sound swirling around him as he turned a corner and another and another. And it was all frankly dizzying after a while, so Albert was quite relieved to find himself at a gate entrance to his local park.

      He strolled inside, was directed to a rather shoddy looking fountain by two extremely irritated looking elves and found himself stepping into the shallow water, shoes, trousers and all. With a calming breathe, and honestly, it had to be a deep one, Albert gave a last wave to the faerie conglomeration that accompanied him, listening to their shrieks and cries and cheers. He looked down at the fountain bottom under his feet, and dear god he hoped this worked otherwise it would really hurt.

        He dove in.


       Neutral ground was a necessity when you had two volatile factions like the Seelie and Unseelie. Normally, the King and Queen would meet in the courtroom under Hyde Park, a longstanding neutral ground before the two had ever taken the throne. But given the state of things over there at the current time, Djerdin and Delja were more than happy to make do with the spare court under Whittington Park.

      More than happy, meaning irate and cranky as toddlers.

Spare court, equivalent to an old junky room filled with ridiculous odds and ends.

       “So, as you can see, sister dear, The Sighted One wishes you to abdicate all claims to his powers, which is only proper since he’ll be falling under my protection-“

        “Oh give it a rest Djerd,” Delja hissed. “Obviously our dear Sir Hayes here has grown tired of your merry-perry flouncing about. Honestly, it’s no wonder you haven’t had a lover in half a millennia, if your attentions annoy even a mortal.”

       “If you two would be so kind as to-”

       “Oh yes, because lovers are the most apt sign of successful attention. Should I assume that your own failed attempts mean that you’ve either lied about all your past conquests, or that they were just all too unsavory to care how you showered the gifts, so to speak?”

       “I really just want to know if-”

       “Well, we could just ask your last lover, brother mine, seeing as I just bedded him last week.”
     “Don’t you dare speak ill of Jethro, he was a saint-!”

     “EXCUSE ME.”

      The two siblings snapped to attention, remembering that the human was actually present. All three of them were sitting, rather cramped, in mismatched chairs, towers of junk and strange items piling around them. Finally assured that he had caught their attention, although already the royal siblings were back to scowling at one another, Albert cleared his throat before speaking again.

       “Right… would anyone fancy a cuppa’?”

       Two sets of emerald eyes stared owlishly at the mortal, stumped beyond words. Delja gave a quick look to her brother, who shrugged, wide-eyed, before raising her hand. With a nod, Albert struggled quickly out of his chair and began climbing over the refuse. He managed to dig up a tea kettle between an old stack of scrolls and a rather shoddy looking wardrobe (there was a lion and a witch carved on it, how absurd), some planty bits that looked vaguely non-deadly and smelt only slightly revolting, and was searching around rather desperately for some sort of stovetop and water source when he heard the two elves begin bickering again.

       Albert let out what felt like his hundredth sigh that month- and, oh, there was a whole kitchen over there, as if it was torn away from a house or something- and set about boiling the water. How he was able to draw water or light a stove-top when the pipes and wires ran broken and scattered from the crumbling kitchen unit was beyond Albert’s comprehension at the moment. So he merely accepted it with the good grace that those with lacking imaginations tend to have and tried to think around the problem of the King and Queen behind him. Already their voices were rising yet again, something about England needing the King like a hole in the head or how the mortal Queen made a better ruler of fae England than Queen Delja did. It seemed to Albert that the fight wasn’t even really about him at all, and honestly, how two siblings of the same blood and country were so at odds was beyond him-

        And it was then, as the kettle started to whistle its boiling song, that Albert knew exactly how to appeal to the fae, in the one way that no British citizen, mortal or not, could deny.

      “Well, your mother is a disgusting troll!”

      “Your mother IS my mother, you twit!”

      “Tea is ready.”

       Yet again the siblings were surprised into silence, their gazes falling simultaneously to the three cups Albert held. Silently, they accepted the brew, each staring into their own cracked or chipped teacup as the accountant settled himself back into his chair before resting his own cup on the chair arm.

       “Now then, since we’re all settled in, let’s have a nice reasonable chat about all this.”

       At once, Djerdin and Delja opened their mouths to speak, but Albert hushed them with a wave of his hand, instead motioning them to drink their tea. “And by chat, I mean I’ll talk, and you two will sit quietly and not fight. Understood?” He received glares, but only those, and twin elven faces sipped grumpily at drinks in their hands. Good then, Albert thought, tea always is best when you need someone to listen, not talk.

        “I see that I’ve caused quite the fuss, and I’m sorry that my existence has surprised you enough to start a bloody war over, but that’s all done and over with.” With a grimace, Albert took a sip of his own tea before setting it back, noticing with jealousy the two Royals across from him stupendously enjoying theirs (typical, make fairy tea with fairy weeds, and of course they’d like the bloody stuff, wouldn’t know a good cuppa if it hit them on their blond noggins). “What you two fail to realize is that you’re not really fighting over me.”

        “What?” Djerdin and Delja spoke together, forgetting to even send each other a sneer or a glare for the slip up in similarity, so focused were they on Albert’s words. Was the mortal daft? Of course they were fighting over him.

        “Well, the way I see it, you two are fighting for the benefit of what’s best for the thing you love most. The most important thing of all, the thing you two should be working together to protect and hold strong.” Albert rested his arms on his knees, locking eyes with both siblings. “Your country. Good old England. How long have you two lived here?”

       “Seven hundred years.”

      “Seven hundred fifty!” Djerdin cried proudly, flashing a condescending smile at his younger half.

       “Oh please, just because you were born a mere fifty years earlier-”

       “AND SO,” Albert continued pointedly, gathering their attention once more. “Why are you two fighting each other? You’re each English citizens, through and through. You should be campaigning for Queen and Country, if you’ll pardon the expression.”

         And it was quiet in the dingy spare-court-storage-room, the only sounds made by Albert as he drank his tea slowly but surely (but god, it was revolting). King Djerdin stared determinedly into his cup, pouting, before looking at his sister.

       “But… she’s a thief and ill-tempered. Her politics are probably no better, and I’ll be damned if I see my subjects suffer for it.”

      “For the last time, Djerdin I did not steal that hairbrush! I even offered to get you a new one, the last time we tried making a treaty, but you got all uppity and stormed out.”

       Albert gave them both a shrewd look. “Have you two ever once actually sat down together and heard the others ideas without attacking one another for personal reasons?” They had the good grace to look sheepish, and Albert merely sighed, feigning extreme disappointment.             “Oh, how shameful for the faeries of England. You must be so behind on all that important political work…”

        “…By the gods, Delja, he’s right.” The king set his cup down and turned to his sister. “England needs us more than ever, and we’re at fault.”

        “Wha- just like that!? You cannot mean-“

      “No no, four hundred years on the throne, we’ve been nothing but ignorant children. Think! What must the other fairy courts of the world think of us? The Americans!?”

      “Oh, not them,” Delja hissed, running an elegant hand through her long hair. “Ugh, they’re probably mocking us as we speak. Did you know they abdicated the court system there? They have a, get this, freeform republican democracy.” The last words were said with a sneer, and it was all Djerdin could do not to grimace at the thought.

       “Sister, we’ve been fools. I’m sorry I called you a harlot and insulted your sexual prowess.”

        “And I’m sorry I mentioned Jethro. Never actually slept with him, too much of a poofter to lay a finger on me, honest.”

         “And you, Sir Hayes?” Albert looked up, surprised, at the two expectant faces before him, before catching on.

        “What? Oh, um… Right, I’m sorry for not giving due notice I had the Sight, and causing such ruckus.” The two elf royals seemed to accept the apology, and Albert sighed with relief. But just as he managed to struggle up from his chair once more, intending to leave this whole nonsense behind him for good, King Djerdin’s voice called out to him again.

        “What can we do to thank you, wise mortal? It is not often humans have come to our aid, but we are not ungracious. We will repay you whatever you see fit to ask.”

        The Queen nodded as well, and honestly, Albert wanted nothing more than to go home and sleep for a good long while, but something made him pause. “Well-…”


        He gave them a sheepish smile. “There is something I’d like…”


        Albert Fincley Hayes, of 33 Tufnell Park Road, stood in his flat kitchen, watching the brisk October air outside toss leaves around in small whirlwinds. With a small sigh, he looked down at the tea bag in his hands, before begrudgingly dropping it into the steaming mug of water.

The King and Queen had kept good to their word. And this was a gift he couldn’t refuse, because he’d asked for it, and honestly he had finally gotten them to stop bothering him about all that Sighted Warrior business. They’d sent tea, good tea. Good, noxious, vile, fairy tea. They thanked him, in spidery handwriting, for that lovely brew he made them at the spare court, and they tried to imitate his recipe as exact as possible. Flattered as he was that he was able to impress Faerie Royalty, he was mostly disgusted.

      But, Albert Hayes was nothing if he was not British.

     So he kept calm.

    Carried on.

     And made his bloody tea.







The POLYSPEC Prize is a bi-annual competition held at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University for undergraduate authors of speculative short fiction. The contest is adjudicated by a panel of speculative fiction writers.This semester's panelists include Brad Parks, Shirl Sazynski, and Delia Sherman. Be sure to check in this summer to read the Spring 2013 POLYSPEC Prize winner!

A perfectly healthy sentence, it is true, is extremely rare. For the most part we miss the hue and fragrance of the thought; as if we could be satisfied with the dews of the morning or evening without their colors, or the heavens without their azure. - Henry David Thoreau


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