I had started out in Underhill, of course, safe at home, my feet propped on the hearth, a good pipe going, and book in my hand. All was right with my world. Then the summons had come, and dragged me all the way out to the end of the world. I knew, lying on that musty bed in a cold hotel room, alone and with danger closing in, that I’d never get back there. It had the force of a Sight, and I sat up with a growl.
“No, dammit. Not going to just lie down and let Fate walk all over me with her stiletto heels, the bitch!” I spoke a little louder than I’d planned, and someone banged on the wall.
I stared at the wall. It was a vanilla hotel room wall, something I knew better than I wanted to. I hadn’t been entirely truthful with them. I wasn’t just a messenger boy, although that was how it had started. Just not with me, but with my great-great grandfather.
The Pixie clans and the Fae who ruled Underhill had been at war since before humans started scratching down records on birch bark. We were peoples of a cold, wet land, scattered over islands, back then, even on the mainland of what would become France. There just weren’t enough resources for both of us, it was proclaimed, and the feud carried on cold and hot from generation to generation.
The rise of humans gave us something. The Fae preferred to use humans as tools, the pixies used them as well, but more as refuges. The legends of the brownies, knockers, and coblyns (which gave rise to the word goblin) all came from my ancestors. For the Pixie clans had fragmented by then, into several discrete groups which had their own codes of honor. Fae had remained united, but two-faced, as Summer Court and Winter. Only the Dark Hunt lay outside the Court’s rule, and they were a horror. I shuddered in the overly warm room as a touch of the cold hound’s breath lingered in my mind.
They had almost had me, that once. I’d been young and foolish, trying to do something heroic, of course. I wouldn’t do that again anytime soon. Now, I worked for duty, but nothing more than was necessary to fulfill the family debt.
My clan, a sept of the Brownies, had fallen on hard times somewhere around the reign of the human Queen Elizabeth. The Fae were in ascendance, and the feud had quietened. But my great-great had done the math, and had seen the population of his people plunging. Pixies are shorter-lived than the near-immortal fairies, and neither group reproduces like humans. He had done the unthinkable, trying to keep his family going.
I wondered what he’d been like, he had been long dead by the time I was born. The Family hated his guts, of course. With all our reverence for family and tradition, I had never seen the portrait of him that ought to be hanging in the tor along with the others. Rumor had that it existed, though. I had no sympathy for him, his bargain had cost me my life.
There are things worse than being dead. Some days, I wondered what would have been wrong with letting that Direhound close his jaws over me. That would have ended it. Well, except that then wee Devon would have been on the hook for the Debt. I grunted, a soft sound in the heavy silence of the room. Time to get over myself and get the job done.
It was lunchtime, but I wasn’t hungry after the hearty breakfast at the Northstar. I wondered if I dared venture back to her, if Bob had had the time to soften her up a little. Frankly, I was bored, sitting in an empty room. The television was a blank eye looking at me, but I didn’t feel up to that level of vapidity any more than sitting in silence.
I had looked it up, it would be dark in a couple of hours. Maybe it was time to look around town a little, see what was here, and who was from out of town. Bob and Dan couple probably do that far better than I, of course, but I might recognize one of the Folke. And it beat sitting here twiddling my thumbs.
I was mostly bundled back up when there was a loud knock at the door. I unzipped the parka to give me more flexibility of motion and cursed the modern air travel security as I went to the door. There were no peepholes on the wood door, and I had no illusions about the chain keeping someone from entering, even though I had engaged it. Without a weapon, there wasn’t much I could do about it.
I popped the door open and peered out and up into Bella’s eyes. You could have knocked me over with a feather. She was smiling.
“Er…” I really needed to regain some semblance of suave around this woman. “Hang on a sec.”
I shut the door in her face and popped the chain, then swung it back open. “Sorry.”
She chuckled. “I knew what you were doing. May I come in?”
I stepped back and she slid by me into the little room. I hesitated to shut the door, then shrugged. This wasn’t Court, where being alone with her would spawn whispers for a hundred years.
She plopped into the only chair. I opted to stand, which put me eye to eye with her.
We looked at each other for a long moment in silence. I was seeing her in better light, here. Her skin was a pale cream that looked shockingly pale contrasted with her black hair, and dark violet eyes. In appearance she was not a typical fairy, at all. I wondered what her father had looked like. The dossier had been more concerned with Lavendar and her mother Daisy. Fae bloodlines were matrilineal.
She looked very relaxed. This concerned me. She had gotten pretty big news today, and it didn’t seem to have affected her. Perhaps she wasn’t aware of the import of it.
“So, you came all this way to tell me that I am a fairy princess?”
Well, she knew. So why was she so at ease?
“Yes, sort of. I have a job to do, which was to bring you those papers, and get a signature.” I wanted to see how much she understood.
She nodded. “And when I sign, I bind myself to a life at Court. I must never again leave Underhill. My family here, my house, my work, I abandon it all.”
I nodded. She understood, all right.
“Come with me for a drive?” She invited abruptly, standing. I looked up at her, trying to follow what she was thinking. I shrugged, there was no reason not to, and I wanted some more time with her. Wear her down, maybe.
I followed her out to her little truck. She climbed in in silence and I got in the passenger side. At least it wasn’t so tall I needed a stepstool to get in. I noted the rifle case tucked behind the seat as I climbed in, and wondered what she was carrying. It didn’t surprise me to see the gun. Alaska has a certain reputation.
“Where are we going?” I didn’t figure she was going to take me out and make me disappear, Alaska is not that lawless. But at twenty-five below zero, I would be in trouble fast should she decide I was walking back to town.
“I thought I would show you my world, before I send you back with the bad news.” She turned her head briefly and grinned at me. My heart sank. She wasn’t going to make this easy.