Brionwy's Lullaby is a short story written by L. J. Smith. It was initially a sneak preview to the final book, Strange Fate, taking place in an alternate future in which the apocalypse of the Night World has come to pass and vampires now rule the earth. The tale centers around a beautiful girl, Brionwy, a member of a vampire harem who desires to escape before she is forced to become the lover of the lamia overlord, or fed to a dragon.
"This is a story from the Night World book Strange Fate about the future—the future which awaits the world if the Apocalypse is not stopped. In this future, Dragons and vampires rule. The vampires pick the most beautiful of human girls, called Beauties, and keep them as slaves in harems. Brionwy is one such girl who is unlucky enough to catch her vampire master’s eye. There will be much more about Brionwy in Strange Fate, but this story is meant to stand alone."
Brionwy is introduced as a seventeen year old human "courtesan" for a lamia vampire overseer; she has lived in the "splendor" of the harem since age 12, and has known no other life, nor has she ever seen anything non-beautiful, aside from eunuchs and servants, whom she deems as not even really counting as people. At twilight of the story's opening, Brionwy comes to observe a group of beautiful girls who are newly brought to the harem; she is ignorant of their dazzling looks due to her background exposure to such things. Brionwy had heard screams, to which a fellow courtesan, Lyric, replies that one of the harem members, Aviva, has had her baby taken from her (the child is implied to be dead). Brionwy, Lyric and their friend Marlin begin to worry if their master's taste in women might change yet again, to which Brionwy is strongly adverse should he suddenly want "girls with red-gold hair and violet-blue eyes" like herself; their master is said to desire women of Brionwy's age and older. However, should Brionwy refuse, like others before her, the fate is to be imprisoned in a pen for "hinds" (unmarried women), to live in filth and hunger until eaten by dragons.
It is also revealed that the Beauties have never seen a dragon personally; they are all drugged when dragons arrive at the human plantations until the dragons leave (the girls are often given drugged wine called yanme to keep them complacent). In the event that Brionwy is forced into becoming the lamia master's lover, she cites that their last duenna (nurse), Ceru, had taught her, Marlin and Lyric to fight, but the latter two state that they haven't been practicing since Ceru's own death at the hands of a dragon (in Marlin's case her statement is a lie; she has been practicing). Ceru had also taught the three girls to develop a talent of their own; Brionwy in particular is gifted at singing songs or "lullabys", "to keep from going mad".
Aviva appears, being dragged outside, demanding to know where her baby is. Brionwy attempts to tell her the baby died of natural causes, but Aviva, hysterical, believes that the child, Kefira, was either taken or murdered by the duennas. She refuses to let go of Brionwy, throwing what she was told were Kefira's creamted ashes at her. For the disturbance, the head duenna, Guntra, and her spy Samsana, has Aviva, Brionwy and Marlin (who had tried to get Aviva off the red-haired girl) sent to the solarium, known to Brionwy as a "disciplinary room", for fighting, which is forbidden among the harem. Along the way, Brionwy throws up, ash still in her mouth and eyes, and Guntra orders Samsana to hold Brionwy's head under a fountain to wash it all out. After bathing, Guntra demands Brionwy's explanation; the girl gives as much of the truth as she can while attempting to minimize Aviva's accusations. All the same, Guntra has them all given yanme, but Aviva refuses to drink it, insisting she is not crazy. Aviva also clears Brionwy from suspicion. Guntra assumes Aviva's sanity has returned upon seeing her "toys"; torture devices used on the harem members who get out of hand, yet still will not let Aviva off without penalty
Aviva reveals that Kefira was named for her mother, and that she had always slept with the baby beside her, yet that morning Kefira was missing. Her duenna had insisted that the baby had died while Aviva had been asleep and that she'd taken the corpse to be cremated. She goes further, mentioning that several other girls, ranging from age 20 to 14, had also become pregnant and all of their babies had died or gone missing (although Guntra admits, when Aviva mentions some children were boys, that boys are forbidden in the harem); Brionwy is shocked at this information. When questioned, however, with help from the yanme wine, Brionwy hides her emotion and states that she believes Aviva is suffering from "the lullaby sadness" (post-partum depression, which Brionwy has heard of), and Marlin, also to protect herself, states that Aviva should be placed in the pens (although this is Aviva's fate anyway for her outbursts).
Guntra ultimately decides to explain to all three courtesans why so many babies have been born and disappearing; the lady who owns the house the overseer controls wants to stage a Hunt. In such an event, unbred (virgin) Beauties are place on a "running track", and the dragons choose and devour whomever they wish, before the pens were opened and the dragons could "Call" to the humans that were awaiting being fed to them. Guntra pointedly adds that she knows Brionwy and Marlin are not bred yet, and that she might keep them "in mind" (which Brionwy knows means she wants to use them as spies). Making a final remark about how Marlin might be selected (for breeding) and that Brionwy needs more beauty treatments, she dismisses the two to be beaten across the feet with a birch rod by Samsana, keeping Aviva with her.
Along the way to be punished, Samsana and the girls are stopped by the Lord Overseer himself, who notes Brionwy's tears from being scratched by Aviva. Seeing a chance, Brionwy indirectly asks for mercy for Aviva, telling the vampire she is "seventeen and very pretty".
Belatedly, Brionwy remembers the lord's vampiric state and that he can read her mind. To her horror, the lord smiles at her, and insists on "a change of taste"; he apparently intends to make Brionwy his next conquest.
The story ends here on a continuation note.
- Although Crispy, a character who appears in Strange Fate, is mentioned as being a friend to Brionwy, she does not appear in this story.
- Duenna comes from a Spanish word for a female chaperone, fitting the capacity of Guntra, Ceru and Samsana as watchers over the harem girls
- Ceru is mentioned by Brionwy as using the expression "O Goddess!" Judging from Morgead Blackthorn's assessment of that phrase as a "witch" term in Huntress, there's in an implication that Ceru may have been a witch.