Ashley Cooper didn't understand what the black-haired woman was trying to tell her.
"Wait. You say this guy Jeremy is the guy at the library who helped me with my history paper and my biology presentation?"
"Yes, and you found him attractive, yes?"
"What? Who told you that?"
"No one told me. I saw it."
"You must be crazy. He's old. He must be thirty."
"And I'm sixteen. Is he some kind of sicko?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"Is he sick?"
"Yes, he's very ill. He needs help."
"You said it. And who are you, his partner in crime?"
"Who I am is not important. What's important is that Jeremy is in terrible trouble and he needs your help. He's going to die if someone doesn't help him."
"Die? That's terrible. But . . . What . . . I mean, what are you talking about?"
Tianalamara sighed. This wasn't going as well as she'd hoped. Tracking down the girl was easy enough, but it was a bit disconcerting to find that she was as young as she was, still living at home with her parents, still attending something apparently called "high school" most of the day. Still, she was an adult female, biologically speaking. She should be sufficient for the purpose. But Tianalamara wasn't making herself understood.
"Jeremy has lost the will to live. He . . . it's complicated, but it involves a hopeless love, a woman that he knows he will never see again, and yet believes that he cannot get over. He can be saved only by the love of a good woman."
"Ohhh-kaaaay," said the girl, stretching both halves of the word out to emphasize the skeptical look on her face. "And what exactly do you expect me to do about it?"
"I was hoping you would go to him and care for him and help him find a reason to live again."
Ashley backed away, her hackles rising. When this strange woman had accosted her on the sidewalk a few minutes ago, she had thought her odd. Now she figured she was seriously deranged. She reached into her purse and put her hand reassuringly around her can of mace.
"Look, lady, I don't know who you are or where you think you know me from, but I think you'd better just go bother somebody else."
"No, please, Ashley. Don't be afraid."
"And that's another thing. How do you even know my name? I've never seen you before. Who are you?"
Since that had been her first question when Tianamara had first accosted her and called her by name, that made three times.
She could just ignore it. She had broken the law already telling Jeremy her name. She would be willing to do anything to save him. But she could tell this girl wasn't going to be of any use anyway.
Furious, she turned and walked away, leaving Ashley gawking at her.
* * *
"It didn't work."
"What didn't work, dear?"
"The girl. I found a girl who had been attracted to Jeremy, but she wouldn't help."
"Well, I did say that women like that were rare."
"But it's not fair!" wailed Tianalamara. "He doesn't deserve this."
"Good and bad come to the deserving and the undeserving, Tianalamara. You know that it is so. Life is not fair, and never has been."
Tianalamara buried her head in her mother's lap and sobbed. Her mother stroked her hair soothingly. "There, there. It will pass, love. In a year, or two, or ten, the pain will lessen, and eventually you'll forget all about him."
Never, thought Tianalamara, but she didn't say anything. She knew she would never forget. She would never let herself forget. She would never take another human lover, in memory of what she had done to Jeremy.
There just had to be some way to save him.
What she really wanted was to find some way around King Oberon's prohibition, some way to get to Jeremy, to tell him to forget her, to tell him that he was important, even if he couldn't write those wonderful stories, that just because he was himself, a good man, a smart man, a man who cared for others, he was worthwhile and needed in the world. If only she could . . .
* * *
"And why do you wish to see the Queen?"
"Well, just . . . to talk to her."
The Queen's appointment secretary, who was a tall, stick-like gentleman who bore a passing resemblance to a praying mantis, looked down at her from his considerable height and frowned.
"You don't make an appointment with the Queen just to chat, miss. She is very busy dealing with important matters. She sets aside time each week for her subjects to petition her over grievances, or to ask her favor in some matter, or for other such business as may arise, but you can't make an appointment just to talk to her. You must have a reason."
"Well, I . . . it involves a . . . punishment visited on a friend, and I would like to ask Queen Titania if she might . . . intercede with King Oberon--"
"Tut-tut. The Queen does not interfere with the King's Justice."
"Oh, please! You don't know what this means to me! Even if you're right, even if she says no, please let me speak to her, so I know that I've done everything I can!"
Perhaps her very visible pain moved him, or perhaps he could see that she would continue to take up his time until he either gave her what she wanted or went to the trouble of having her forcibly removed from the premises, but the appointment secretary gave in and set her up for a week from Tuesday.
It was an agony waiting for the day to arrive. She checked the scrying pool every day, fearful that she would find that she was too late, that Jeremy had already succumbed to hunger or some dreadful malady before she could have her meeting with the queen.
Finally, the day arrived. She stood in a long line of supplicants, each of whom were granted fifteen minutes audience with the queen. Some of them ended up staying longer, which made her hopeful, because she wasn't sure fifteen minutes was enough to make her case. Apparently, the sovereign could be moved enough to grant a longer time if one caught her attention quickly.
She had worked and worked on what she would say when the moment arrived, but when she was ushered into the room where Titania held her audiences, she found herself struck dumb. The queen reclined on a couch, more beautiful than Tianalamara had ever seen her, relaxed and at ease. She gestured, to the little stool beside her, and Tianalamara went to it and sat.
"Yes?" said Titania. "You wanted to see me?"
"I . . . er . . . It's my . . . my lover, Jeremy Morrison. You knew him as Hugh."
"Ah, yes, the unfortunate human who trespassed on our realm."
"He didn't mean to!"
"Didn't mean to what? Didn't mean to come here?"
"No, didn't mean to trespass. He didn't know."
"I'm afraid that ignorance of that law has never been an excuse, as you well know. Mortals who come here by invitation are tolerated. Those who come on their own meet a terrible fate. But wasn't he spared? Didn't Lord Oberon grant him a pardon?"
"Well, yes, but . . . you see, he has become enamored of me. He feels he cannot live without me. And because of King Oberon's decree that no one from our world can visit him, he is wasting away."
Titania regarded her contemplatively. "It's Liliana, isn't it? Aren't you known among the mortals as Lhiannan Sidhe, the fairy lover whose attention brings both poetic inspiration and physical deterioration unto death? Isn't what your young paramour going through the logical consequence of having fallen in love with you, regardless of King Oberon's command?"
Tianalamara nodded, miserable. "Yes, I have done so in the past, but Jeremy's plight has touched my heart as no other lover ever has. I would save him if I can. Please, Queen Titania, is there not some way you can intercede with King Oberon, will he not allow me to go to Jeremy and try to convince him to forget me?"
Titania smiled. "I do not think that seeing you in all your glamour would be the way to get him to forget you." She held up a hand to forestall any protest. "Besides, it is not just Oberon's command you must obey. He has put a spell on this man that prevents any magical creature from coming closer than two furlongs -- far enough that even if he could see you, he could not be sure that it was you. King Oberon could not grant your wish without lifting the spell, which I suspect he would be loathe to do."
Tianalamara's heart sank. "What can I do?"
Titania shrugged. "I truly wish I could intercede on your behalf. My inclination always is to further the cause of love, even though it may not seem to be the wisest course. But I do not see a happy ending for your story, Liliana, nor a way for you to spend another last night with your paramour. Perhaps it would have been better if he'd been hunted after all."
"No. Don't say that." Her hand flew to her mouth, horrified that she had just ordered her Queen to silence. "I'm sorry! I didn't think! I'm sorry!" She fell from the stool to her knees, and then prostrated herself full length upon the floor, her hands together before her supplicating forgiveness.
Titania, whose eyes had widened and had drawn herself up to a sitting position, softened, and even laughed. "Ah, child. Your misery is your punishment, and I could not mete out more if I desired it. Go and try to find whatever comfort you can. I cannot help you."