More from my work in progress, SOLOMON’S CHOICE. Be sure to sign up for the newsletter for a chance to beta-read this upcoming dark fantasy novel!
“Why are you doing this?” It comes out more raw than I expected, not loud, yet almost a sob.
“I get it. Is all.”
“Right. You ‘get’ it. What does that even mean?”
He glances at me.
We are so close now that voices – thousands of voices, maybe – curl and warm and flush the air, filling it with softness and unfamiliar rhythm, enticing and overwhelming and terrifying. I’m not sure I can do this.
“I got made in the 1300s,” he says utterly casually, and I trip over my damn feet and nearly fall.
He catches me.
Leaning on his arm, I stare up at him, trying to relate such tremendous age with the youthful man (thing, I remind myself, thing) before me.
His knife-hardness makes more sense, suddenly. He’s had a lot of time to hone it.
“Know your history?” he says.
“Wasn’t much cause to after the Flare,” I manage.
He shrugs. “Well, it was bad. Real bad. The English were takin’ liberties they oughtn’t. Tried to outlaw marriage between Irish and English, tried to outlaw our own damn language, tried to outlaw our customs. They put up this damn fence and ditches and tried to take our land and fill it with their shit. Combine this with the black death, and yeah. Not so good. Yeah. Not good at all.”
He’s not seeing me anymore.
Lambent green eyes stare off into the distance, into a past that makes him harder, that makes him darker, that makes him sharper than he’s ever been, as if all these centuries only served to dull that edge instead of whet it, until he is the exact opposite of that loving warmth I saw in the kitchen when he looked at the god of blood.
“There was a parliament at Kilkenny… but it doesn’t matter,” he says.
“I can’t imagine what this was like,” I whisper.
He stares at me as though remembering I’m here and mildly surprised by it. “Orphan by eight,” he says. “I had a dog left, after they took the farmland. Then they poisoned the dog.” This smile, this is not a good smile, this is a killing smile with too-wide eyes and too much teeth and more of a snarl than a smile at all. “Wasn’t all right after that.”
I try to picture fields and farms and dogs, and come up flat, with two-dimensional images from books, none of it alive.
I am entranced. “What did you do when not all right?”
“Stole. Set fires. Hurt people. It didn’t exactly make me feel better, but it made sense at the time, yeah? I had a lot of anger, and the only power in my hands was destruction.”
That line is power.
I’m not sure if there is regret. There is oppressiveness; a weight he still carries, somehow, though surely so much passing time would have lightened the load? “Oh,” I whisper.
“I don’t even think they noticed,” he says, bitter as old mud. “Then one day, I picked the wrong pocket.” He laughs, and it hits me: he has all his teeth.
If he was a vagrant in the fourteenth century, he should not have all his teeth. My mind splits into two, half listening, half whirring in other directions. “Why the wrong pocket?”
“Because I got his attention.” Terrance glances back down the path, toward the distant manor with its looming angles and lambent windows. “Picked his pocket successfully – which folks hadn’t done in a long time. Found some real weird shit, let me tell you.”
“He was there?” I shake my head. Of course he was. “You picked Notte’s pocket? Are you all so ancient?”
“Most of us, yeah. Da’s real particular about who gets made.”
That is the opposite of everything I know. “Why?”
“Because most people don’t have the kind of temperament to live this long. They break down. They go crazy. Or, more often, they get so depressed that they ask to be let go. He can’t take that. Rips him to pieces every time.”
“What happens to him when he’s like that?”
“He grieves.” Terrance looks away.
None of this lines up with what I know. And it’s so… human. Grief, loss, fear – no, no, I can’t accept this.
“I never considered any of this.” Breeze moves around us, caressing; the trees whisper, a sound I never imagined and now want in my life always. Gravel crunches when we shift our weight. Other than this, it is only me, my monster, and the moons. “But what does it have to do with you ‘getting’ me?”
“I wasn’t a safe person,” he says. “Everything had been taken from me or gone bad. I knew I didn’t have long to live. Heh – was sick as fuck, but still trying to hurt the English. I stole from their houses. I killed their cows.”
“Oh.” Yes. It’s true. We do mad things when we don’t believe we’ll live. “Did you… murder English people?”
“Of course – just less often. I didn’t want to get caught. I wanted to keep going as long as I could, until they got me, and the rope stretched my neck.”
I look away for a moment, undone by his intensity, and by the fact that I have been able to make eye contact all this time.
I don’t undersatnd why I can look at him. Why this is different from looking into the eyes of humans. I take a deep breath. “So what happened?”
They got me,” says Terrance. “I’d killed some cows over the Pale, and got caught. I was in the gaol. They were going to execute me, and I didn’t care. I thought I’d done enough, harmed enough. I thought my parents would feel avenged, wherever the fuck they’d gone after death. I was pleased like poison sol old it stains the glass, yeah? I didn’t care if I went to hell for it.” A slow exhale, and his face changes. Rapture – yes, that’s what that is, looking into the sky, as though these memories are ascendant.
I want to look at him. “Did you die?”
“No. He came.” He smiles. “Made me an offer.” He looks at me again, and though he has controlled his irises so now they do not glow, this is worse: in shadow, he is angles and edges, planes of darkness with hidden eyes. “Offered me the choice to go with him – though I’d be changed.”
“He said it was life and death, holding hands.” He shivers at the memory of pleasure, a memory that has marked him for a thousand years or more. “So I took his hand.”
“How do you… how did….” I have to ask, it’s related to what Merit did, it’s important – “How much did you change?’
“In here?” he says, tapping his chest. “Not much, right away. Took a lot of time for that. Healing. But my body changed right away.”
“Is that why you have teeth?”
He laughs. “Good call! Yeah, you’re right. I’d lost most of mine.” He smirks. But that’s the thing. When we’re made, we sort of… I dunno, reset? So this is what I would’ve been with a proper diet and eight hours sleep, or whatever,” he shrugs. “Didn’t look like this in the gaol, I’ll tell you that right now.”
I need this knowledge. “How does that work?”
“It’s magic, spréóg. You’re human. You can’t access it, even if you do understand it.”
“Maybe I can.Maybe I need to -uh, ‘sprog?’”
He ignores that. “Still want that drink?”
“Are you joking? More than ever.” So we walk on.
They reset back to what their DNA originally required.
This would change everything. This would be a cure for sickness, an end of rot; a fix for radiation damage, for the long-term cell-failure resulting from severe malnutrition.
I need to understand this.
And… I need to know if it can be separated from a thirst for blood – assuming those legends are true.
I’m beginning to doubt most of what I “know” about the magical Peoples is true.
I was certainly wrong about him.
Terrance just exposed himself to me. Naked, an ugly and rotted past.
I can’t say we have similar lives, exactly, but I think he’s right. I think he does, on some level, understand what I’m going through. Losing everything, having to relearn everything, unsure of the rules or anything else.
I should not find this comforting. He is a monster. And yet, I do.
Gods help me, I do.