"Straighter, stand straighter! You are a princess, Bryony, and you must stand like one. You have too much grace to lose it to unseemly folds and slumps. Head high, head high, I want to see the stars reflected on your chin. Do you think I commissioned those stars just to have them sit in the sky?"
Bryony stared up at the stars from her plinth, her neck arched back. Soon this would start to hurt, but she stood perfectly still as the Lady began to paint. If the picture turned out beautiful, tonight she would be taken to dinner at the Court of Air: all the strange, fae princes would kiss her hand and feed her strange fruits the colour of jewels. They would say that she was the most beautiful of the children of men, and all wanted her to be their queen.
"Bryony! Place your ring against the back of your head, I will not see it dangling so! It cost every leaf in my kingdom, and more. No, not like that! Do not wave your elbow like a lusty showgirl, it is not becoming. Here, let me show you"
The Lady of White Silk and Green Cotton stood from behind her black canvas, impossibly tall for someone so petite. She stepped across the ravine that surrounded Bryony's lone plinth in a single stride far longer than her legs. She dug her diamond nails into Bryony's wrist, and started pulling roughly at her arm.
"Further. You are not trying, my love. Try harder."
Suddenly, the Lady yanked hard, and Bryony heard the pop of her shoulder dislocating. She screamed out in sudden pain, but she knew well enough to stand perfectly still, and hold up her arm as best she could for now.
"Yes, that is it. That is perfect. Now you are ready."
But it was not perfect. She could feel the warm pooling of blood where the Lady had grabbed her. She tried to wipe it against her hair, to stop it falling on the plinth, but her arm hurt her too much, and she squealed at the jolts of pain that ran up her arm and into her chest.
"What is it, Bryony? Why are you sobbing? Why are you shuffling your arm? Show me your hand."
Bryony slowly turned her wrist outwards towards the canvas.
"Bryony! You miserable, ungrateful brat! Stop it at once, keep that filthy stuff in your own veins. Do you not remember what you promised me? Does your word mean nothing?"
Bryony remembered the three promises the Lady had made her make, when she first took her into her house. In exchange for breathing her air, she had promised that she would never harm her. In exchange for eating her food, she promised she would never leave without her permission. And in exchange for drinking her water, she promised she would never spill blood on her floors. The final promise was a wretched trick, faery wordplay for exercising power over a scared girl far from home. How long had it been since she made those promises?
"Don't you dare, Bryony! You know how I hate to punish you!"
Blood was running down her hand now. And there was nothing she could do as a large drop fell, as a pebble through water, and splattered silently against the white floor of the plinth.
Save the cheerleader, save the world.