I am at LTUE this morning, looking forward to a day full of scintillating conversation and educational panels. So I’ll leave this with you all to enjoy. Remember, you can start the snippets here, and this is a rough draft.
The boy’s face was transparent as glass. I could see his thoughts chasing themselves around in his mind, like puppies with tails to catch. “Mother?”
“She was a brilliant woman, with a façade of a…” I trailed off. Dumb blonde didn’t translate well into Faery, where it just wasn’t the epithet it was Above. “Parents are usually more than their children give them credit for.” I told him gently. “I don’t know what she was doing that got her killed, but you should know she likely died a hero. Which also means this family is in danger, and possibly the whole kingdom. That’s what I have to go find out.”
He nodded, speechless. I’d given him a lot to think about. I handed him a canvas rucksack with the boxes of ammo and spare magazines tucked into it. “Keep this somewhere discreet, but nearby. You know your grandmother’s trick for luggage?”
His face cleared a little, and something that was almost a smile crossed it. “You mean the nospace?”
I hadn’t heard that name for it, but it fit. I nodded, and he picked up the bag and tucked it into thin air, where it slid through a slit in reality and disappeared. It would follow him until he wanted it and pulled it back out, but as it didn’t intersect with the real world, it wouldn’t bump into things. Very handy trick, and one I had long wondered where my mother had learned it. Likely from Alger, and that brought me back to my next unpleasant task.
I squeezed Dev’s shoulder. “Now git, kid. I have people coming, and when Ash shows up, send him down here, please. He’ll be the one running security for the Lodge, you will be staying at Elleria.”
He nodded solemnly, understanding that he would be in charge there, at the manor. He’d been in charge for months, since my assumption of the Dukedom and long illness coincided to make me unable to execute those duties. Until the changes in life that had landed Bella in our family, he’d been my heir. It occurred to me now, listening to his footsteps going up the stairs, that my children would supplant that inheritance. I wondered if he’d mind.
I had left the doors wide open, and sent a brief message to Ellie that those who arrived were to be sent down to me. I didn’t care how out of character it might seem, I knew they would come, and there was no point in playing games. I’d made a splash with my noisy arrival at court, it was time to see what the ripples brought back to me.
Dean walked through the door, silent as always. I looked up from the pistol I was assembling, and he nodded, reached out and squeezed my shoulder, then turned to the shotgun rack. We didn’t need to talk. There was enough water under that bridge to know where the course would take us. Violence, and shadows.
We’d worked together off and on since we’d both been apprenticed to Alger at the same age. It had ended in tragedy for me, and to this day I didn’t know how it had ended for Dean. I didn’t ask any questions, and he told me no lies. He was an outcast, never showed his face in Fae high society, and had spent years living Above as a human, which he could pass for better than I could. That, too, had ended badly. But he was a good man in a fight.
I’d moved on to a bigger gun, and Dean was assembling an impressively heavy load out even for him, when we heard the pipes. I felt my eyebrow go up on its own, and exchanged glances with Dean. They were coming closer, the mad skirl of the music crawling up and down my spine like a live thing. Without a word, we both headed for the stairs.
Ellie and Ash were standing in the open doorway, and when Ellie realized I was behind her, she stepped aside so I could fully see what it was. The garden was full of sprites. I’d never seen this many in one place before.
“What the hell?”
The pipes screamed to an ending, a cacophony of shrill wails, and fell silent. I’d known about the pipes, but had never seen this many assembled in one place, either. They were ranked, like… like a military battalion ready for review. Sprites, like most of the wilding Fae, were not known for organization or regimentation, so this was beyond strange.
A familiar sprite popped into the space a mere foot from my face and snapped off a sloppy salute without waiting for me to return it.
“Reportin’ for dooty, sor!”
“Ewan? What is the meaning of this?”
“We haird y’had big troubles, mon, and t’Queen might need us.”
“The Queen. You mean Bella?” Ewan McGregor nodded with a wide grin. “Since when do your people have loyalty to a Queen?”
“Sinc’t she’s a bonnie warrior lass who will gi’us glory and freedom!” He practically quivered in midair, his wings a shimmering blur.
“I… I don’t know what to say.” I had a garden full of a Sprite army, and I had no idea what to do with it.
He nodded, a sage look on his face. “Dinna fash yerself. M’captins will take their troops to assigned posts.”
But it was too late. Like a firecracker, he popped sharply out of my personal space, and into the ranked masses in front of me, setting off a chain reaction as the group broke into roughly four sections. With a ripple of popping, they transported out to who-knew where. One remained in the garden, and then there was another sprite in my space, saluting again.
“Ian…” I started. Then stopped myself. I was going to say something I’d regret later. “Report to Ellie and Ash.”
I turned on my heel and headed for the Armory. I needed a little space, and time to think. Then I needed to get out of here before it turned into a three-ring circus with more clowns. The thing about making waves, it wasn’t a very controlled way of getting results.
Past Intersects Present
Alger came late, as I knew he would, in the evening. I’d sent him a message urgently that morning, before my Court entrance, but I hadn’t known where he and his apprentice were, so there was no way of telling how long it would take them to get back. He could have been anywhere Above, or Underhill. I was still in the Armory, alone, having billeted Dean to a room here in the Lodge, while most who came in during the day were given brief instructions and dispatched elsewhere. I wasn’t gathering an army. Not yet. Now, it was time to prepare, and train. I didn’t foresee action for a considerable time, if ever. This could all be some small, petty thing. But I didn’t think so. There was too much pressure built up in my Court, and at the Low Court with the death of the Low King by my hands.
Something was coming, and it was ugly. When Alger walked into my armory I greeted him silently, unsmiling, with a grip of forearms and then handed him Bella’s sketch. He and I had history, some good, most bad. But he was family. And he was arguably the most powerful magic user living. If anyone would know what that thing was, it was him.
As he looked at it, I turned to Mark and greeted Bella’s cousin with a more conventional human handshake. The man hadn’t even known his special skills were magic until he’d been part of a party of humans led Underhill by Bella in an attempt to rescue me that had gone spectacularly well. I didn’t remember any of it, having been rather badly damaged.
“Ï’m sorry to hear about your sister,” He told me, then looked around with a low whistle. “This is impressive.”
“Feel free to look around, just don’t touch… some of it is dangerous in ways that aren’t visible.”
He nodded his understanding, and as his gaze flickered back and forth between the tall, stooped Alger and I, I knew he got the subtext. I needed to talk to his teacher alone. Mark was no child, but his training was progressing. I wondered if Alger was learning anything in return.
“He’s a good kid.” Alger spoke softly as Mark disappeared into the shelves.
“Not really a kid.” I looked at him, but he was still staring at the paper, his bushy grey brows furrowed in thought.
“Look, boy,” He spoke without looking up, “From my point of view you’re all kids.”
“Bella created that after she’d scanned Margot’s body,” I explained. “I don’t know what she did, or how, but she was pretty certain that thing is responsible for Margot’s death.”
He looked at me directly, his eyes penetrating, his brows still drawn down. With the long beard obscuring the lower half of his face, it was difficult to read his expression as anything but glowering. I stood still and returned his stare.
“Do you know what it is?”
“No. I don’t, and I’m less and less able to access my library these days. Something is keeping me out of it, and I would have come back even before your message to compare notes with Bella about this lack of access. It’s important, and the answer is eluding me.”
He tossed the paper at me and I caught it. “The library is more important to you than Margot’s death?”
“Not more important. But without it, I fear I can be of little use to you in hunting for answers.” His shoulders dipped a little. “I can only keep so much in mind, m’boy. The library has been the repository for all the things I needed to know, or knew and have forgotten. So while that…” he pointed at the paper I held half-crumpled in my hand, “is important, and I think I’ve seen something about it, without access to the library, I am unable to give you a direct answer.”
“You told me once the library was a physical place. Is that where you were?”
“No. It’s not… accessible easily from Underhill. And before you ask, it’s not Above, either. It’s on another plane entirely. I discovered it by accident, and I won’t return in corporeal unless I need to.”
He pounded his staff on the floor, glaring at me. I held up both my hands in a gesture of mock surrender. “Don’t get angry with me. I’m just looking for the easy way out. If you don’t know, I can only think of one other I can go ask, and he’s not exactly fond of me.”