I own nothing. But Tanith Lee owns The CJ stories.

Poppy by lunamaria.

How could this be fair? I'd been born into it, earned it so completely–and lost it all so entirely. And she was, in large part, to blame. Her rebellion stole the comfort from my very lips, leaving them cold and dry. Yet here I was now, servant girl to the witch in her hills. But I could not fault her. She was beautiful, terrifying and commanding, royalty if I ever saw it (and I have seen my share). It was this Claidi who was to blame, my maid–here, not my maid, free to destroy the precious remnants of my bile-of-a-life. I was too encompassed by my anger to be terrified by the unfathomably large thing (???) that housed the evil inside. Claidi. Claidi. Claidi. Besides, Ustareth's grounds were haunted by worse; several things about her witchy estate were more mind-boggling than this.

But I had to admit it was the shock of my life–revolution, I spat mentally, aside–to see Claidi both here and at the House. Who was she to be summoned by Ustareth? She was nobody, that's who. I had dreamed her return many times, always with that Golden Boy who had helped overturn everything. He was handsome, to be sure, but I would just as soon slit his handsome throat for what he'd done. He had filled her ugly little head with pretty ideas and given her the push to act on them. That pushed me, inevitably, into the balding person I had become. At least Ustareth saw to it that my hair would resume growing. She used some of her witchery, I think???

I would sooner kill Jizania, too. But she was out of my reach, the calculating spawn.

Instead, dear reader, she came trouncing in like she had no right to be. Two years older, two years I hated more. And it only got worse, you see. At her side, protective, strong and keen, stood a man who was not Golden Boy. He was handsome, also, no doubt. He wasn't handsome like GB or pretty like other House Princes'–his was a wild and dark allure. Exotic, like the bird I used to chain to my little wrist. When I was loved and adored and not bald. I doubted you could chain this bird to a wrist, but somehow that Claidi had done so.

It was later I learned they were married. Claidi had married a tea-stained God and I had gone bald. At dinner, I tried to kill her. Den-whatever was merely a circumstantial bonus.

But before anything had happened, I woke up to the striking gaze of the most beautiful woman I'd ever seen (myself disclu–never mind). And that was how my life in the hills began, far from that evil House, from Jizania and from the ladies (!!!) who made it all possible. Disgusting lot, all of them. I was chagrined, as any lady might be, by the mysterious property, but Ustareth did explain. A little. I gathered she was something of Jizania and kept my pride by not implying my confusion or questioning her 'science'. I would piece the mystery together without her, because I would not surrender the last part of myself to her. It was all I had left. My pride. Some of it, anyhow.

I was getting along fine the past few weeks. I collected poppies and other flowers among Ustareth's–she did quite frighten me now–back fields and explored the grounds. I felt as though I was watched, but I didn't care. She had given me some measure of freedom, and even treated my scalp. I had a head of hair as a newborn, stalky and short, and it grew by the day. Ustareth was all right.

And then the bit of trust I'd allowed her was strained.

"My sons are coming," she'd told me, correcting my small hands as I poured the tea (the color faintly reminded me of Claidi's husband!), "With their loved ones." She seemed quite sad as she paused, adding, "So be a dear and get lost in the fields until you are called, Leaf." –she had taken to calling me Leaf (???)–"And catch me some poppies."

I'd be proud to do so, for I had begun to treasure what Ustareth thought of her Leaf.

But then her abominable sons turned out to be Tealeaf Man (Argul, I learned at my inquiry) and a man of lighter coloring, but quite similar. Venn. And, of course I forgot to mention, Claidi and Den-whatever. My temporary affection of Ustareth was lost. Claidi had married Ustareth's son, Argul, and by her talk after the guests left her home, Dengwi was poised to do the same with Venn. Still don't know why the pale girl and her handsome escort came at all. Kissing and dancing in the fields like ninnies!

Ustareth had planned it, of course. Asked me to fetch Claidi and her party, to face my greatest antagonist face to face. Be shamed by the sinner. And it was then that I lost all essence of Jade Leaf, seeing Calidi's sympathy–empathy maybe. She seemed to understand, the way her eyes dropped and mouth frowned. I hated her for her understanding and her pity. I was simply now Leaf, Ustareth's poppy.

I contemplated that as I led Claidi away, and even long after she and her handsome tealeaf Argul had gone.

Poppies grow best in the summer they say
So, fetch them up litte girl, Darling Dear
Fetch them in your skirt but do not stray
For there are more than Poppies to fear

– Poppy Leaf, once Jade