“Oi, da’ – there’s a feyor at the door!”
I pause in the midst of my chronicling. “Pardon?”
Terrance leans into my study, his insouciance as delightful as it ever was. “Some feckin’ pretty fellow. Barely more’n a cub. Says he’s got to see you, and swears you’ll be grateful.” He smirks, and his green eyes glint like light off his many daggers. “Want me to send him off?”
“No, I think not.” I place my feather quill down. “It is not every day we have visitors, and I find myself in need of a distraction.”
He glances at my work – reams of soft, thick paper, thoroughly spoiled by my own ink-smeared script. I have not shared their purpose, and he has not dared ask.
Nor will I share. It is not a burden for Terrance to carry.
I rise, smoothing down the velvet of my jacket. “Perhaps this feyor has something of interest to say.”
He has, as it turns out, much more than that.
Before me stands the bedraggled crown prince of the Unseelie Fey. I know him, though not well; John Barron MacCarrig, son of Owen MacCarrig, son of Leith of the Stone, son of Eithne the Offspring of Stars, daughter of Mab – and next in line to inherit the terrible weight and power of the Throne.
Rumor has it he’s run away, somehow abandoned the Silver Dawning like some madcap jester, but I had not credited it fully true. Royalty among Fey do not make escapes, madcap or otherwise. They cannot, as the thousands and thousands of years have shown.
Clearly, this one has tried. He looks as though he’s spent at least one night underneath a bush, which does not bode well for this conversation.
I skip the steps of introduction, for we have danced them before. “Good evening, John. Would you like some tea?”
I pretend I do not see how desperately he hoped I’d invite him, and he pretends that he does not have bits of twig sticking out of his hair.
“I would, thanks,” he says, and executes a bow that would have made Baryshnikov jealous. “On behalf of my people and myself, I am grateful, oh Blood King, Nox Aeterna, Lord of the Night Whispers.”
A leaf drifts from his jacket to the threshold.
I grant my own small bow in return. “Please – call me Notte. We are not formal here. Enter at will.”
He hesitates and clears his throat. “Only if you’ll call me Grey, yeah?”
He has chosen his mother’s surname. Interesting. “As you wish.”
At first glance, my home does not lend itself to informality. I am indeed the Blood King, and all Night-Children are mine – linked to me and my power – and we, the vampire, are known for our self-control. We must be, for without that discipline, we would devour the world.
Curious, that Grey has come to me in his time of need.
It is not as though the Fey and the Night-Children have an antagonistic relationship, but we are not allies. While dalliance between our People is pleasant, Fey blood is as nutritious to us as cotton candy – to be enjoyed, indulged, but hardly a staple. Our relationships are rarely permanent.
We enter my favorite drawing room, which is equipped with a wide fireplace and comfortable seats, small tables and cushioned footrests.
Terrance melts into the corner shadows, where he is far less visible than a pale, freckled man with near-orange hair ought to be.
Grey and I sit before the fire. Tea is served by my wraiths. We sip. We wait.
Grey’s hand shakes. We both ignore that, too. This is his visit, and I shall not prod him.
“So the thing is,” he suddenly says, “I need help, and I’m willing to trade big for it, yeah? I promise it’ll be worth your while.”
I avoid presumptive commitment. “May I ask precisely what it is you need?”
He takes a deep breath. “I’ve left the Silver Dawning.”
From the shadowed corner, Terrance whistles. “So that’s a thing I’ve heard.”
“Peace, knife,” I say to my shadowed assassin. “I believe this conversation demonstrates a courage deserving of respect.”
Grey boldly plunges on. “I mean it. I’m done. I won’t take the Throne when it’s my turn.”
I reply with great care. “I was unaware that was your decision to make.”
“I’m making it mine,” he says, which means he will do his best to fight blood, inheritance, and the unrelenting will of Mab the Conqueror.
I do not hold much hope for his chances. “Indeed?”
“Look, I’ll square with you. She cut me off.”
“Of course she did.” Starvation: that is how she shows her displeasure with her progeny. “Unfortunately, I cannot simply share my power with you.”
Grey actually looks offended. “I’m not here for your magic. I can take care of that bit on my own,” he says, and he transforms.
Suddenly, here is no tattered prince, but gleaming and silken desire enfleshed. His long, thin ears unreasonably graceful, his lips slightly parted and temptingly pink, his eyes promising pleasure and passion and release, his smirk an offer for a dance so glorious it could change a lifetime – and all this with one sidelong look. He tosses his hair over his shoulder, and it catches the firelight like spun gold. Then he blows me a kiss.
He preens. “I’m very good at the Exchange, as you can no doubt see,” he says.
I’m certain few humans would turn this down. “Yes, very nice,” I say encouragingly.
“I know what I can do, but I also know what you can do, and that’s why I’m here.” He leans in, dangerous and tempting. “My problem is the folks coming after me because of my father. I need a new identity. I need people to not know I’m Owen’s blood child. I’m just a runaway Fey, Unseelie on the loose. If I have that, if I have a clean slate, I can do this on my own – but most of the folks who specialize in new lives won’t help me.”
“Of course. They wouldn’t dare risk Mab’s anger. Yet you believe I will?”
“Oh, yes,” he purrs. “After all, you’re not afraid of the Throne, are you?”
And here we come to the crux of the matter.
Grey is very good; more than a few drops of persuasion magic color his voice like petals in a stream. I suspect that if he sang, he would be devastating to most – but I am not so easily swayed. “This is true; yet it would be troublesome for the Unseelie people to view mine as antagonists. What do you offer in exchange?”
He does not even hesitate. “A favor of your choice. Any kind, any time, any place. It doesn’t matter what or who or why. Everything I have – had, will regain, whatever, is yours for the asking if you help me now.”
Behind him, Terrance purses his lips again as though he would whistle once more, but does not dare.
Can Grey possibly know what he is offering?
A blank check among the Mythos is a thing only a fool would write. Surely he knows this. “Are you certain?”
“I could ask for anything. I could ask for a piece of the Throne. I could ask for the head of your father. I could ask for Fey blood tribute for the rest of your life. Are you certain this is what you want to offer me?” It is my turn to lean forward, to allow the shadows to lovingly caress my frame, to allow my Beast to gloam through so that my hunger – so much greater than the breadth and depth of creation – pins him in place like a spear.
Grey thrusts back. His ears flick down, and his tremble grows.
This thing, this moment, hangs between us taut as fragile web.
And then Grey speaks: “’As you from crimes would pardoned be, let your indulgence set me free.’”
It is a rare Fey who knows human literature. My voice is low, death’s caress. “An interesting reference. And what does that quote mean to you?”
“It means I’m asking you to put up with my bullshit so I can get what I want.”
Bold little thing!
I laugh and withdraw once more behind the veil of civility, as though I could not devour him to the sound of his thanks. “Very well. Consider me a spirit enchanted, then: I will take you at your word. I will provide a new identity, as fresh a start as I and all my resources can create, and then in time, I will claim that favor from you.”
And he smiles, his fear expertly swept beneath his gold and rascal guard. “Knew you would.”
What a character he will be should he live a thousand years!
Grey lifts his bone-china teacup and toasts me. “To your health and mine, yeah?”
I do not believe in coincidence. His daredevil timing and clever plan bring to mind the reams of paper on my desk waiting to be inscribed, waiting for a home. And I wonder: could he be the one?
Right now, he is too young, and too tied to a key actor in my tale to be of use – but time may fix both these things. Perhaps, if he survives, he will become worthy of the favor I must ask.
Meanwhile, we have arrangements to be made. “Terrance, would you be good enough to ask the wraiths to prepare a room for our guest?”
Terrance grins like the devil. “Sure thing, da’. And Grey, sorry about earlier. Tell you what: stick around, and I’ll make it up to you.”
Naughty creature – but then, I tend to prefer the naughty ones.
Terrance leaves, whistling a merry tune as though he had not witnessed a trade worth the weight of the whole world.
Grey smiles, and his tremble is nearly gone. “Here’s to a long and bloody good partnership.”
Even moreso than he could imagine.
“Indeed.” I toast.