This story is set in the Dresden Files universe, copyright Jim Butcher. It is not officially sanctioned by anyone in any way.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License ( /licenses/by-nc-sa/3. _US). Furthermore, I give Jim Butcher full rights to do as he pleases with it. Most notably, that means I won't sue him if he writes something similar.
I mean, really, what kind of person would do that anyway?
Also, be aware that this spoils plot points from Cold Days.
"Tickets please," requested the kindly old man in Mickey ears. I handed him our tickets and after a moment he continued, "Let's see, we have Sarissa." I nodded when he looked back up at us. "And that must make you Mab," he said to my mother.
He didn't bat an eye at our somewhat unusual (by human standards) names. After all, this was Disney, where they see visitors from all over the world. Between that and a glamour making us appear as any other mortal mother and daughter on their first visit to the Magic Kingdom, it was unlikely he would remember us five minutes after we were done here.
The reason we were handing him our tickets, instead of using the automated gate system, was a small...misunderstanding. Unfortunately, when you're dealing with the Queen of Air and Darkness even small misunderstandings can become larger problems. While trying to enter the park, Mab, my mother and the aforementioned queen, tried to pass the gate without sending her ticket through the machine. The nearby attendant reminded her, quite politely, to do so, but as the Winter Queen she is more accustomed to giving instructions – perhaps orders would be a more appropriate term – than taking them.
She bristled just a bit, but even that was enough to freeze her little cardboard ticket solid. When it had thawed out again, the magnetic strip containing the ticket data was no longer working. For no apparent reason, mine had decided to malfunction as well. Maybe it was related to my mother's outburst, or maybe it just picked that time to fail. Technology doesn't always need a magical cause to misbehave. Of course, tickets weren't even strictly necessary. A Sidhe Queen can pretty much come and go as she pleases, but because this was an educational trip I insisted that we do it the "right" way.
Which brought us to the gentleman looking intently at his screen. I crossed my fingers that my mother's presence wouldn't cause problems with the computer. In theory the Sidhe weren't supposed to have the same effect as mortal wizards, but the way things had been going so far I wasn't taking anything for granted.
"Looks like there was some water damage to this ticket. I'll whip you up a new one in just a second and we'll get you on your way," he said. "Just make sure to keep this one someplace dry when you ride Splash Mountain, okay?"
"I will take your advice under consideration," responded my mother, still a bit uncomfortable with a mortal telling her what to do.
She's such a charmer.
"I hope so. Here you go and have a magical day!" he answered with a smile, and just a hint of the exasperation he no doubt felt.
"I always do," she said. "Your assistance in this matter has been noted." Then she turned and headed back toward the gate.
"Thank you, sir, and have a magical day yourself," I said, trying to smooth things over as I took my ticket and left. Even so I could see him shaking his head well after we were gone. Maybe I was wrong about him not remembering us. I hoped a few ruffled feathers now would pay off in better human-Sidhe relations in the future, though.
I caught up to my mother and said, "A simple 'thank you' probably would have been more appropriate."
"I let him know that he had gained my favor. I thought that thanks enough."
"For Queen Mab of the Winter Court, that might be true. For mortal Mab in Disney World, not so much."
"Hmm, I see," she said thoughtfully. "Long have I worn the Winter mantle. It seems that may have caused me to forget some of what it is to be mortal."
"Well, that's why we're here. Try to relax and just blend in with the crowd. We are on vacation, after all."
"I shall endeavor to do so."
I decided we could work on her informal vocabulary another time.
We made it through most of the day without incident, though it got a bit dicey on It's a Small World. I guess that's kind of a love it or hate it thing, and my mother's opinion tended more toward the latter. Fortunately, I don't think any permanent damage was done.
On the other hand, I think she may have almost cracked a smile on the Jungle Cruise. It's possible she just enjoyed the imagery of a witch doctor shrinking heads, but I'd like to think she was actually amused by the corny jokes.
It was nearing the end of the day when events took an unusual turn. Well, more unusual than the Winter Queen at Disney World, anyway. We had just gotten off Splash Mountain, the ride the man at the gate had cautioned us about. Like most of the park, it reminded me more of Summer parts of Faerie than Winter. In retrospect, maybe Blizzard Beach would have been a better place to start our trip.
In any case, we were headed toward Cinderella's Castle so I could take some pictures up close. My mother doesn't understand the concept of photography very well, but that's not surprising if you think about it. When you can recreate any location you've ever visited back in the Nevernever, there's not much need for a simple photo.
"My ticket is undamaged, just as the servant requested," she noted. I ignored her use of 'servant'. Explaining that they were called 'cast members' here would have been a colossal waste of effort.
"Well that's easy when you freeze any water that comes near us," I replied with a smile. "We were probably the driest passengers on Splash Mountain in the history of the ride."
"It worked, did it not?" she said matter-of-factly. "I'm not sure I understand this concept of 'thrill rides', however. If people enjoy being scared, I could do a much more effective job. Perhaps Winter should open a mortal theme park."
"When you say mortal..." I said speculatively.
"I merely mean for the mortals."
"Glad to hear it," I replied, smiling again. "I suspect a theme park that killed its guests wouldn't last long."
By this time we had arrived at the castle, so I stepped away to find the best angle for my pictures. After taking a few, I turned to my mother to ask her to pose in one. She would appear on the digital film as her glamoured self, but I would know who it was.
As I looked in her direction, my heart leapt into my throat. A little girl, no more than maybe four or five years old, was approaching her. The girl was wearing one of those souvenir princess dresses – Sleeping Beauty I think. A somewhat macabre coincidence given that Sleeping Beauty's real name was Princess Aurora.
Or was it a coincidence? That would explain the Summer feel of the park. I filed the thought away as something for future consideration.
"Princess, can I have your autograph?" asked the little girl, holding out a colorful book full of signatures. Her r's sounded a bit like w's, in the way they often do at that age.
But that wasn't right. Not even a child would have mistaken my mother, in her glamoured Grumpy t-shirt (my cheeky, but often appropriate, suggestion), for a Disney princess. Except that was no longer how she appeared.
Now it was perfectly understandable that the little girl would have mistaken Mab for Disney royalty, as she was wearing a shimmering silver gown that displayed flashes of blue and green when the light hit it just right. Her hair was also back to its usual snow white (sorry, couldn't resist) color, and she was as beautiful as ever. Not simply beautiful in the supermodel sense, though she was certainly that, but also in the way a glacier is beautiful – larger than life and a natural wonder. Even I couldn't help feeling a bit of awe when seeing her like this, and she was my own mother for crying out loud.
My mother's real face – insofar as such a thing has meaning for an entity with her powers – showed surprise and confusion. But only for a moment. One does not rule the Winter Court for long without learning to react quickly to unexpected circumstances. Dealing with the question of why her glamour was no longer effective took a momentary backseat to the small mortal speaking to her, who clearly saw her as I now did.
"I think you may have me confused with someone else," she said. "I am Queen, not a princess."
"Oh, but you can't be," answered the little girl. "Queens are evil and ugly and old. You're too pretty to be a queen. You must be a princess like me!"
"You might be surprised how old I am," said my mother thoughtfully, but she seemed pleased with the compliment. She received plenty of them in the Winter Court, of course, but there a compliment was as likely to be a precursor to some sort of coup as a genuine expression of appreciation. With the Sidhe it was almost impossible to tell the difference.
"Here you go, dear," she continued, suddenly all sweetness and charm. "A gift from Qu...Princess Mab."
With that and a dramatic flourish of her hand, an ornate 'Mab' magically appeared in the girl's book. The little one looked at it in surprise, then turned her wondering eyes back to my mother.
"Wow, thank you! How did you do that?" she asked.
"Magic," my mother answered truthfully.
At this point I realized that my appearance had changed as well, and knew in what role I had been cast by our mysterious meddler. I found myself dressed in the colorful outfit of a Disney cast member, just like the ones who escorted the "real" Disney princesses around the park. My job was to make sure things did not get out of hand. Given the crowd starting to gather, that seemed like a distinct possibility.
I walked over to where the little girl was still staring at the "princess" in amazement.
"It's time for the princess to go," I said to her. "She has important things to do yet today."
"Bye bye," she said, still completely awestruck. Since she had come over alone, I briefly wondered where her parents were, but saw a couple in front of the gathering crowd taking pictures and concluded that she would be just fine.
"Good bye," replied my mother. Just before she turned to walk toward the castle, she added, "And have a magical day!"
Once I picked my jaw up off the ground I followed her toward a door under the castle. It was probably locked, but that was of little consequence for Princess Mab. We passed through the door as it opened of its own accord, just another bit of "Disney Magic" to anyone watching.
And walked into...a broom closet. Well, what did I expect? That one little door would give us the run of the castle?
"That was kind of you," I said as the door closed behind us. "She'll always remember when she met Princess Mab."
"I know. All of the mortals present will remember this for the rest of their lives, which could be valuable in the future. Besides, she did me a kindness, and I could not remain in her debt."
Of course there were layers of meaning in her actions. There always were.
"And have a magical day?" I said teasingly.
"Let it never be said that I repay my debts in half-measures," was her only response. I could swear I saw a twinkle in her eye as she said it though.
"So were you planning to spend the rest of the day with the cleaning supplies?" I asked, looking around at the mops, brooms, and various colored bottles surrounding us. "Perhaps for your next trick you could re-enact that scene from The Sorcerer's Apprentice?"
"Of course not. There is still the small matter of someone interfering with our...what did you call it? Vacation?" I nodded, and she continued, "Then we had best go find him and remind him that I repay slights to the same degree as kindnesses."
"Him? You know who it is?"
"I have my suspicions, which we can confirm momentarily."
With that we were suddenly inside the castle's suite, where the very lucky could spend the night as though they were Cinderella herself. The room in which we found ourselves was full of ornate woodwork and Disney-themed decorations, but one thing stood out as not belonging.
"Kringle," said my mother, just a bit too sweetly.
"Your Highness," he replied with a grin.
"Give me one good reason I shouldn't decorate my coffee table in Arctis Tor with your bowl full of jelly," she continued, all sweetness gone.
In spite of the Florida heat outside, I shivered.
His grin faded just a bit, but he answered, "Because deep down you enjoyed yourself, whether you admit it or not. Is that not why you are here, indeed why everyone comes to Disney World?"
"No," she said. "I am here because Sarissa is trying to help me understand the mortals better. They are...complicated, and yet inextricably tied to us."
"My apologies then. It appears I misunderstood your intentions," he said, winking at me. "I note that you did not deny enjoying your time as a Disney princess."
"I did not deny it because it is absurd."
"I see." Another wink. "In that case, I'll be taking my leave if it's alright with you."
"It is not." She turned to me. "Sarissa, you wanted to meet Mickey Mouse, correct? Here is your chance."
Before my eyes, Kringle was transformed into an improbably large version of Mickey Mouse. I hid my smile behind my hand, but it was a futile gesture as I'm certain they could both see it in my eyes. Kringle looked down at himself and started to laugh. When the sound coming out of his mouth was not his usual deep belly laugh, but instead the high pitched laugh of Mickey Mouse, he stopped. Even as a cartoon mouse, he managed to look taken aback. Then he smiled and continued laughing in Mickey's voice.
"Well played, my Queen," he said, squeakily. "A glamour for a glamour. Would it be safe to say we are even, then?"
"You would be safest to say nothing and count your blessings that I didn't bind you to It's a Small World for a few hours. Or days. Or years."
"Oh no! Don't throw me in that particular briar patch!" Yet another wink. Apparently Kringle was on the 'love it' side of that ride. My mother pointedly ignored him.
"I understand it is traditional to have your photo taken with Mickey, Sarissa. Perhaps you would like to do that now?" she asked.
"I...I guess," I stammered, still grinning at Kringle Mouse.
"Then if you'll show me how your camera functions I will oblige. But first, something must be done with those," she said, pointing at my clothes.
With that, I found myself no longer dressed in the cast member outfit I had been in since this little adventure started. Instead I was wearing the most gorgeous Cinderella dress imaginable, conveniently in a perfect shade of Winter blue. I had seen such things done many times before, but even so it never failed to amaze me.
"Thank you," was all I could say.
"As my daughter, you are, in fact, a princess. You should look the part. Appearances have a power in their own right."
As she said that, something occurred to me. My mother may not have understood mortals very well, but power was one thing on which she was an expert. Passing some of that knowledge along to me was her way of showing she cared. I may have a strange relationship with my family (don't get me started on my sister), but I still felt my eyes welling up a bit that she was making the attempt to be Mom, not just force-of-nature Mab.
Before my eyes could get out of control and ruin the moment, I started toward her with the camera. As I did so, a better idea occurred to me. Instead of giving her the camera, I set the timer and put it on a nearby table. I took her by the arm and led her toward Kringle Mouse.
"You should really be in it too," I explained.
"If you say so, dear."
"I do, now say 'cheese.'"