However, Grey did their duty to Thing and Court and prepared for the Scion Trial of the Mind; although, there wasn’t really a way to prepare because the Scion Trial of the Mind was a series of tests and games and challenges that were uniquely (i.e., magickally) generated specifically for the person in question.
No one knew what anyone else’s tests looked like. Not even the people who generated their magickal field and administered them. They existed, effectively, in the taker’s mind, and that was it.
The Administers had brought Grey to a cylindrical room—smelling of damp and mold, the old stone walls cool to the touch, a coolness that was almost damp, odd aqua-ish stones fitted tightly together, a desk and a chair sitting in the middle of the room upon a small-ish ochre and gold rug—and bid them sit at the desk and, then, left Grey.
And, nothing kept happening.
And, because Grey could handle being bored about as well as, well, nothing, they began to go through the desk to see what was in it and found a sheaf of parchment—because, yes, the Court of Miracles was in fact stuck in the Middle Ages—a quill (Exhibit A), a bottle of ink (Exhibit B), a deck of tarot cards (a bit of an oddity in the Court of Miracles but not uncommon either; one of those Euigilans Somnium things that had started, once upon a time, in the Venery, had filtered out, been deemed “out of style” by the Venery, and come back via the Euigilans Somnium as a sort of novelty), three marbles (cats-eye orange, a swirling blood red, and a clear, pale blue), and a thick, leathery lime leaf.
Picking up the lime leaf, Grey inhaled its scent and just—yeah.
Thing High Atop the Thing, that smells heavenly.
Just—after the permeating smell of seep and damp, lime was the best thing.
Just—the best thing in ever.
Grey placed the leaf on their head and continued to pick about the other bits and pieces, amusing themself by building card towers out of the cards and rolling the marbles around them and through them to build them again, building additional structures out of the some of the parchment while drawing diagrams and mathing angles of deflection and force and velocity on another piece of parchment and finding patterns and peace and prosperity in the intricacies of numbers and structures and the flickering of card faces like the Moon and the Fool, the Empress and the Magician.
The Lovers and the Star tucked away together—their art being particularly lovely to Grey’s mind—and Grey started to consider and wonder about these places and spaces and traditions in the Court of Miracles and why they were the way that they were and why hadn’t some of these archaic, antiquated (and kind of assholier-than-thou) practices been rooted out and eradicated from the accepted culture of the Court of Miracles—they were supposed to be the Court of the Mind and Air, Creativity and Thought—and really, Grey didn’t know how they would do it, but there had to be a way to do. There had to be a way to ensure that everyone was safe and prosperous while, at the same time, ensuring that the marginalized and vulnerable populations of the Court of Miracles—of the Venery, because, even in the Venery Courts, there were many, many, many groups and sub-sects who were in danger from the beliefs of their (not-actually-but-might-as-well-be) autocratic oligarchy of a ruling class.
And, maybe that was it. Maybe it had to be a group effort? Maybe it had to be lead by the First Unkindess, which might mean that Grey wouldn’t be able to do the thing directly, but maybe there was a way for Grey to do something to help change the Court of Miracles from the sideline? Grey wasn’t going to be the First Unkindness, but they were still a member of the ostensible Royal Family; surely that could/should mean something? Right?
And, for the first time in Grey’s life, they found themself actually wanting the position of First Unkindness if it meant that Grey could actually change the Court—the Venery—for the better.
If Grey could effect change, if Grey could help—
Yeah, for that, Grey would willingly become the First Unkindness.
Not that it was remotely a possibility.
Grey flicked the blood red marble at the Lovers card a little harder than Grey had intended to, but that was okay too, and Grey wondered if anyone would care if they made off with the contents of this little, forgotten desk that was clearly here just for people who were expected to participate in the Trial of the Mind, but not actually succeed.
This “test” had not been remotely what they expected—even as someone who was never going to even be given a chance to be the First Unkindness.
Then, the chamber door opened, and one of the Administers stepped inside, approaching Grey’s tiny desk, and motioned Grey to follow them back out of the room.
Grey quickly grabbed up the marbles and the tarot cards and the parchment that Grey had been doodling and planning on and hurried after the Administer because, at the very least, Grey would be out of this freakin’ room.
Out of this ridiculous excuse of a bureaucratic necessity with the beginnings of plots and plans to create a better world.
Grey could do this—would do this.
Change the Court; Change the Venery.
Be loud and non-compliant and Not Back Down.
Grey would will it to happen.
That’s what the Court of Miracles did, after all, they willed.
That was Grey’s super-power.
Grey followed the Administer down a long hallway that wasn’t the way that they had entered Grey’s weird little room and emerged into the light and cold and color of the Throne of Stars (so needs a better name) where Grey’s parents were sitting upon their thrones and Grey’s twin Lux was sitting in the places where they had spent their childhood’s sitting when they were expected to attend Court proceedings.
As Grey went to move to their usual position, one of the Administers caught Grey’s elbow and redirected them to stand beneath the center of the oculus—The All Seeing Star—that was the ritualistic center of the Court of Miracles ceremonies, stood behind Grey, and placed their hands upon Grey’s shoulders.
An envoy who was clearly from the Court of Dreams stood in the doorway of the throne room, and as Grey was settled beneath The All Seeing Star—began to walk towards Grey and the Administer who was—kind of holding Grey in place? Kind of without Grey’s permission, which was causing Grey ALL SORTS OF PROBLEMS.—and as the envoy came closer, Grey could see that they carried a small, blood-red plush pillow and, upon it, sat a raven skull, but there was something about this skull that seemed alive and alert.
It was a Redcap. It was the Redcap who was designated for the Scion of the Court of Miracles, who would make the final choosing and would act as the final binding of the Scions of Miracle and Dream—sometime in the future.
The Redcap had never been brought to the Court of Miracles. As a rule, the Court of Miracles (and Grey in particular) had ISSUES about the bondage that had been placed upon the last few Redcaps that had survived the Court of Dreams genocide of them, and yet, here was someone from Dreams bringing an enslaved, sentient, person bound to their own skull for all eternity into the Court of Miracles.
Every part of Grey recoiled in revulsion—not from the Redcap—but from the envoy, from the Administer, from their parents and twin, from the entire Court of Miracles.
It was no wonder the Euigilans Somnium was such a mess when atrocities like this were tolerated and normalized in the Venery.
So went the Venery, so went the Euigilans Somnium.
The envoy stood before Grey and the Administer, who was still holding Grey in place with a tight grip on their shoulders, and presented Grey with the pillow holding the Redcap.
“You must take the skull, Child,” the Administer said, punctuating his words with a sharp shake. “You don’t have a choice in this.”
Grey wasn’t so sure about that—Grey could break free, could run, could disappear into the Euigilans Somnium never to be seen again—but that would leave the Redcap to their twin’s—everything. And, that, was a far greater sin that taking up the Redcap in some sort of apparent compliance.
At least with Grey, the Redcap could potentially be safe, and Grey might even be able to figure out how to release it.
There has to be a way.
Grey bent their head towards the Redcap so that they would have this private moment together—despite the Administer and envoy being right there and likely to hear. “What’s your name?”
I am called Otello, bird-child. The voice was old, old, old and tired and sounded so done with everything, but scrupulously polite. Grey didn’t have to wonder or imagine why.
“May I pick you up?”
There was a beat of surprise and then a slight warming to Otello’s voice. You may.
Grey picked Otello up, cradled in their hands like the precious life that they were, and raised Otello up so that they were now eye-to-eye—after a fashion—but Grey could see Otello’s light deep inside the recesses of the skull: hot, burning white and blood-red swirling and coalescing and dividing and swirling again.
And, as Grey looked into Otello, Grey could feel Otello looking into them and being found, surprisingly, not to be wanting.
I would bond myself to you, if you would agree.
“And, I would bond myself to you, if you would agree.” Responded in kind, realizing that these were not the ordinary words of the Scion-Redcap bonding, but something different and older and more powerful.
Grey could feel Otello’s hope.
Hope was a thing with feathers.
And, Grey felt hope in turn.
“The bonding has been accepted,” The Administer, still behind Grey, boomed out into the silent throne room. “All hail Grey Halkyon, Scion to the First Unkindness of the Court of Miracles.”
A cheer went up around the room, but all Grey could hear was that hope that Otello had felt, and Grey promised, with every part of themself, to not betray it.