If you have not been reading along, the first snippets can be found here.
“What are we going to do about the troll’s body?” I asked her.
“Raven will take care of it.” She pointed and I saw that he was still in giant bird, form, and pecking at the troll. There were a bunch of other ravens there, and clouds of them flying in. I looked away. I really didn’t need this image in my dreams.
Bella looked a little pale, too. “I’ll take you back to Raven’s cabin. We can’t get past him to Tok right now.”
“What about other traffic?” I didn’t really care, but I was curious if she had ever dealt with this before.
She peered skyward through the windshield. “I don’t think this will take long.”
I followed her gaze to the cloud of birds. “I think you’re right. Let’s go.”
She made a nice tight turn and got us headed away from the growing flock of carrion birds. Neither of us talked again on the way back to the cabin. I was nodding in the drowsy heat by the time she turned back onto the driveway and jolted me awake. But at least I was warm again.
Inside, she looked rather helplessly at me, and I could tell she was unhappy and out of her element. The first time I had seen her like that, now that I thought of it. I filed that away as useful information. It took a lot to shake this one, she was steady under fire, but afterward, the reaction.
“Coffee? Or would you rather tea? Raven’s version of tea is… excreable, but…”
I stopped her before she could go on. “Coffee is good. I’m not that English.”
I sat on the couch and watched her get it brewing with quick, economical motions. She knew her way around this kitchen.
I went on. It was time to make her aware of who I was, at least to some of me. “Actually, I have spent as little time there as I could since I was old enough to leave.”
“I thought pixies were bound to their home tor?”
I wriggled out of my coat. The wood stove was keeping the cabin nicely warm. “Not bound, no. Just it’s a trait of our kind to be homebodies. I’m a very odd Pixie, by my family’s opinion.”
“That explains why you have no accent.”
“Well, that, and I tried to get rid of it.”
“Oh.” She brought me a chipped mug full of coffee. It smelled heavenly.
“So, um, Lom, what do you really do? What was that thing?” She sat down on the couch next to me. There really wasn’t anywhere else to sit in the tiny dwelling. I took a gulp of too hot coffee to try and delay my answers to those loaded questions.
“Well, I am not doing any longer what I’ve spent most of my adult life at. I got called into service a few days ago.”
She lifted that eyebrow at me. I regarded the line of her jaw as it tightened with a slight head tilt, and thought for about the dozenth time since I had first seen her that I was going to have to either learn control or become an eunuch.
“The service of the Court?”
I felt apologetic as I explained. “Not exactly. Your service, specifically.”
I might as well have struck her in the face. She flinched back. “What? I don’t want that.”
I sighed. I wanted to rub my face, but a half cup of still steaming coffee in my hand kept me from it.
“I told you we needed to talk. Let me begin at the beginning?”
She leaned back and nodded. Her face was tight and unhappy. I took a deep breath, and then decided I needed to stand and pace a little.
“How much do you know about your heritage?”
She closed her eyes and sighed. “My grandmother used to tell stories. About fairies, and then when I was older I realized that they were about real people. After my mother died, when I moved in with them, she told me more. And she taught me how to use my Sight.”
“That’s why you knew I was a pixie.”
She nodded. “I should have used it on the troll.”
She looked so dejected I took pity on her. “Why would you? You weren’t expecting trouble. I’m guessing you do not scan for the Folke everytime you meet a stranger.” Which meant she had been looking for me? Now, that was an interesting thought.
“No, well, sometimes when I meet someone I’ve never seen before.”
“Have you ever met any?” I walked into the kitchen and put the empty coffee cup on the counter.
“Other than you? Yes, a couple others.”
“So you know that there are other things than fairies out there, you knew I was a pixie. What did Lavendar tell you about your magic, and that of other species?”
“I don’t have any magic!” She looked as startled as she sounded. “I’m only a little bit of fairy. I just don’t understand why they want me to come back to them. Lavendar left, and she wouldn’t talk about why, but I do know she never wanted to go back, or for me to go back. She told me…” Bella stopped talking and looked away from me, toward the door, pressing her lips together.
I sighed and ran my fingers through my hair. She didn’t trust me, even now. “Let me guess, she told you to never trust a fairy or a pixie. To run if you saw a goblin coming.”
She shook her head. “Nothing bad about pixies. She told me that fairies never meant what they said, and goblins are defilers of all that is good.”
I was surprised to hear that Lavendar had borne no ill-will toward pixies. That would have been an interesting story, but it was too late to hear it.
“I don’t have time to give you all the details. That will have to be filled in later. You really are an heir to the High Court.”
“An heir?” She interrupted me. “How many are there? And how can I possibly be an heir, I’m not…” She waved her hand. “All fairy.”
“The fairy line hasn’t been pure since the human race came along.” I chuckled. “Fairies and humans don’t cross breed easily, but that doesn’t keep them from trying.”
She looked taken aback at that. Evidently she had never thought through her grandparents having sex before.
I went on. “And that has been part of the problem, too. Fairy is… not a fertile species. Children borne to fairy and human parents are usually sterile, like a mule.”
Now she raised both her eyebrows, but I had her full attention.
“The succession for the Queen of High Court is matrilineal and it’s partly a meritocracy. Out of the females of each generation to the royal family, one is chosen to be Queen. In order to choose one, they are required to serve at Court for a time. That is what you are going to have to do.”
She sat up straight. “I do not want to. How do I say no?”
I shook my head. “You don’t have a choice. It’s a duty that you are required to fulfill.”
“No one can make me.”
“Ordinarily, I would say that was something you could get away with.” I sat down next to her, facing her. She was very tense, and on the verge of jumping up, I could see. “But there is something else going on here. That’s why the troll was after you.”
“After me? It was an accident.” She had forgotten what I told her at the scene. No surprise, she was under a lot of stress.
“No, it was an ambush.” I was speaking softly and as matter-of-factly as I could. She was practically vibrating with unhappiness. “He, or whoever he was working with,” I couldn’t get the dumb look in his eyes out of my head, “used magic to send a fake radio message they knew you would respond to. He’s a troll, he had an affinity for bridges, that’s likely why they used that.”
I took her hand, and she didn’t resist. Her hand was warm and calloused. “He was going to kill you and it is my job to stop that from happening.”
“I…” she stopped. She looked like she had lost all the breath in her body.
“It’s going to happen again. This is why I was sent, instead of overnight mail. Because the heirs have been dying. Your mother’s generation is almost gone. Two of your generation are dead. There were only seven of you to begin with.” I was doing my best to sound reasonable, rather than ‘listen to me you silly twit.’
She sank back into the cushions, her face pale. She didn’t let go of my hand.
“I’m not important enough to bother with.” She told me quietly. “Can’t I renounce it, or something? Abdicate?”
In this position I was very close to her. She smelled of soap and water and girl, and I swallowed. I would have given anything to assure her it would be all right, she could just say no and everything would leave her alone.
“That is not an option. They are going to come after you, after anyone who they can use as a lever, until they get to you.”
“Who are ‘they,’ and are you saying my family might be in danger?”
The door rattled, and we both jumped.