Lenona 5, 1014
A new normal, thought Morgan, always took more adjusting to than a mere change.
Today was the fifth day that the twins were going to school. So far there hadn’t been any problems, though Morgan wasn’t foolish enough to assume that lack of problems today was any kind of forecast for what tomorrow would bring. For one thing, she remembered Ravenna’s experience all too well. Ravenna hadn’t faced the derision of her peers until she was older. For another thing, she knew that Pascal and Chloe were very, very different people from Ravenna. Ravenna had tried to conciliate her peers, then she had retreated into a shell that she still wasn’t fully out of. Pascal and Chloe would give as good as they got — and given their Fae blood and probable magical talents, “as good as they got” may involve a great deal of mayhem.
Not that the little buggers wouldn’t deserve every minute of it.
Morgan took a deep breath and checked her bubbling mixture. Things were progressing nicely. This wasn’t anything special, just a bit of burn ointment that Morgan had–
Something slammed into her wards, and Morgan almost went face-first into the burn ointment.
She bent double over the cauldron, panting, clutching her stick for dear life. What. The. Hell. Was. That?
It wasn’t any magic she recognized. It wasn’t even Dark magic. It was just–
“MORGAN!” The bookshelf swung forward and Accolon stumbled inside. Morgan’s eyes went wide. She thought he had been outside! How did he get inside so quickly?
“You felt that?” Morgan gasped.
“There’s a Fae on the front lawn!”
Morgan blinked very slowly. “When–when you say a Fae–”
“I mean I was minding my own business, trying out those–those far-seeing spectacles you gave me, I thought I saw a–well, never mind. I turned around and THERE IT WAS!”
“There what –”
“It was green!” Accolon jumped up, gesticulating wildly. “Or maybe blue — whatever! It had skin like the kids! And it was riding a green horse!”
Oh, Lord! The kids. The twins! There was no reason a Fae would be anywhere near here, except for the children. But the Fae couldn’t mean to steal them away — they never stole their half-Fae children from their human parents unless they had cause to believe that the children were in harm’s way. Surely, surely, that couldn’t be the case with the twins.
Except, Morgan realized with a sinking stomach, to the Fae, she and Accolon might not count as the twins’ parents …
“What did–was it a man or woman?” Morgan asked.
Accolon looked at her like she was mad, as if that was the stupidest question she could ask. And maybe it was unimportant in the scheme of things, but damn it, Morgan didn’t want to have to face up to a Fae irritated at being called “it” for lack of a better pronoun.
“Man,” Accolon finally replied, “I think. I don’t know. I didn’t look that closely!”
“What did he do? Or say?”
“Nothing! I just jumped out of my skin when I saw it–him–whatever–and ran in here!” Accolon shuddered and pushed his hair away from his sweating forehead. “How the hell are we going to get the kids?”
“They’re at the school. They should be safe there.”
“Safe there? You said all those stories about Fae and church bells and holy water and holy ground and the rest of it were myths! How are the kids going to be safe there?”
Morgan closed her eyes and rubbed her temple. It was true that nothing the Church could summon up — barring cold iron — had much of an effect on the Fae. Or at least, something being Church-blessed didn’t do much against the Fae if it wasn’t going to hurt them in the first place. But church bells were loud, and the Fae had very sensitive hearing. Church bells could prove to be an irritant.
More importantly, there tended to be lots of people around churches, and plenty of them tended to carry iron and steel knives even to church. Few Fae would want to deal with that.
“But more importantly–what are we going to do?”
Morgan blinked at her husband. Then she held up one finger. She reached out with her senses and tested her wards.
They still held. The initial shock, Morgan judged, had not been an attack. It was more like a sudden summer storm than an enemy assault. Thunder had rolled and lightning had struck — something had suddenly appeared on the horizon and caused all hell to break loose — but the house still stood.
And the wards had even let the Fae in the first ring of protection, the outermost and weakest one. The Fae had gone no further. Morgan could feel his presence — and for that matter, his horse’s — just outside the second ring. He was waiting there. Patiently. Not wanting to impose.
Morgan took a deep breath. “We’ll go out and figure out what he wants.”
But Morgan brooked no further argument from her husband, instead sweeping out of the workroom and leaving him to limp in her wake.
It wasn’t, perhaps, the best of ideas, but it was all she had.
She stormed out the front door and stood on her stoop, hands planted on her hips. Her wand was only a flick of the wrist away from being in her hand, and it already pulsed with power. Hopefully the Fae wouldn’t take that amiss. She wanted to show she was strong — but not a threat, not yet.
So it was with difficulty she wiped the preemptive scowl off her face, swallowed her anger, and spoke. “Greetings, my lord.”
Accolon stared at her — but it was always better to be scrupulously polite when dealing with the Fae. Unless you were dealing with the Puck, for he seemed more amenable to banter and playfulness than stiff formality.
This, however, was not the Puck. The Puck never came visiting in silvery maille and a surcoat edged with gold. The armor was in a style common to high-ranking knights of Glasonland and Albion, but that meant little. A Fae could alter his clothing with a thought, especially if he was Underhill.
The Puck would also not have responded to Morgan’s greeting with a respectful bow and a formal reply: “Greetings, Lady Morgan, daughter of Uther, sometime King, and Igraine, sometime mage-woman. King Auberon sends his greetings and fond regards.”
“King Auberon?” Accolon had flipped through enough of Morgan’s books to recognize that name. “Holy shit!”
The Fae looked up, slowly blinking. His eyes were a dark gray from pupil to sclera — rather like the twins’ eyes, but that meant nothing, for many of the Fae had eyes of the same color and type. He stared straight at Accolon. “Our King makes no such claim regarding his excrement, unlike mortal kings.”
“Nor do any mortal kings of my acquaintance,” Morgan said hastily. Even Vortigern wouldn’t have been able to say anything of that nature with a straight face. “Our thanks to King Auberon for his regard. But we are confused — what could two mortals such as we possibly have done to earn such a compliment?”
“If you do not know …” The Fae turned his head to one side, bird-like, staring at Morgan and Accolon as if he would not only undress them, but strip away their very skin to read the thoughts beneath. “No. You do not know. May I ask entry into your house, Lady Morgan, to discuss our affairs there? My magic grows thin here, and cannot protect us long from the prying eyes of mortals.”
Morgan swallowed. So he wanted in. Well, maybe that was only sensible, but if he thought he was getting in unconditionally, he had another think coming. “You may, if you give your word by the Great Lady to agree to certain conditions.” Accolon stared at her, but Morgan did her best not to acknowledge him.
“And what might those conditions be?”
“That you will discharge no magic, unless invited; that you will take nothing and no one other than what you came with, unless freely given; that you will leave when asked and not return within these walls unless again invited; and that you will tell me your name before we go in.” There. That ought to cover her bases.
“I swear by the Great Lady that I mean you no harm, Lady Morgan,” replied the Fae, seeming surprised.
“That is comforting, my lord, but that is not what I asked you to swear,” replied Morgan.
“Then take the oath as a freely-given gesture of good will,” replied the Fae, bowing again. “And as for what you asked — I swear to it all, gladly. May the Great Lady strike me down if I am untrue to my word. As to my name — that is Sir Lankin, my lady.”
Sir Lankin? King Auberon’s Sword? Oh, shit! But it was too late now, and Morgan had to step back to let him in, ushering Accolon inside as well.
Sir Lankin followed them.
Once inside, Morgan could only stall for time to collect her thoughts. “This is a great honor, my lord.”
“Lies become you not, my lady,” replied Sir Lankin with a faint smile. “And even if they did, your heart is too open to let them pass for truths. And …” He turned to Accolon with a raised eyebrow. “Even if your own heart were closed enough, your other heart has a rather expressive face.”
“Sod off, fairy,” snapped Accolon.
“And a temper to match,” Sir Lankin added while Morgan elbowed Accolon as hard as she dared.
“Look, my personality is about as pleasant as my face when I get pissed,” Accolon growled. “And Morgan never made you promise you’d only leave when she asked, and this is my house too. So if I were you, my lord, I’d say what I was here for, and quick, before the zombie ran out of patience.”
Sir Lankin watched Accolon, then he slowly shook his head and clucked his tongue. He turned to Morgan. “King Auberon sent me to be assured of the well-being of his children.”
A rushing sound filled Morgan’s ears, and for the first time in her adult life, she thought she might faint.
By some miracle, though, she stayed upright — and conscious — even if speaking was beyond her power. It was Accolon who first found his voice. “When — when you say King Auberon’s children … you’re speaking meta–meta–”
“Metaphorically,” Morgan filled in.
“Aye, that — right?”
“Certainly not,” replied Sir Lankin.
Morgan slapped her hand over Accolon’s mouth. “We–we are honored that the King trusts us with the care of his children.”
“With all due respect, my lady — that remains to be seen. I will not pretend to you that there are many among my people who are pleased with the idea of King Auberon’s children being raised in the mortal world — certainly not since their other father abandoned them.”
“Father Hugh did not abandon them!” Accolon gasped. “He gave them to us, because we could care for them better than he could!”
Sir Lankin turned those dark, deep eyes to Accolon. “He gave his children into the care of another.” His voice was chilly as a frozen lake. “He hid them away. He put them away from himself, like he was ashamed of them. And to this day, only two men in your ‘church’ know how little good their ignorance and their denial and their lies do them when the world seeks to show them her true face. If that is not abandonment,” he turned back to Morgan, “what is?”
“Abandonment would be putting them into a basket on the side of the hill and praying for the wind and the rain to kill them,” Morgan replied. “Or weighing the basket with stones and tossing it into a river. Or perhaps leaving them on the stoop of the Church’s own orphanage — where the children would have no protection against those who would hate them and persecute them for being what the are. What Father Hugh did, he did for the well-being of Pascal and Chloe above all. For if he had done as King Auberon wanted, what do you think the Church would have done to the children?”
“Nothing,” replied Sir Lankin, “for we would have rescued them before they could be harmed.”
“King Auberon, of course, knows the extent of his own powers, and I doubt there is anything he set his mind to do that he could not accomplish,” Morgan answered. “But Father Hugh had no way of knowing that, or who might come to his children’s rescue if rescue was needed. However …” Morgan put her hand on Accolon’s arm. “You wanted to check on the twins’. They are not here right now, but –”
“I know. King Auberon does not judge it wise that they are acquainted with their heritage until they are older. It will be sufficient for you to show me the place where they sleep.”
Morgan only nodded, leading the way up the stairs with Accolon in her wake and Sir Lankin following Accolon.
They went to Pascal’s room first.
Morgan was not sure what it was that Sir Lankin did when they got there. But she could feel the magic of it. It spread out over the whole room, coating and examining everything like a thousand tiny ants each bringing back a crumb of information. She watched Sir Lankin tilt his head back, nostrils flaring, fingers twitching as he spun his spell.
If this was what he could when his magic was weak because he was in the mortal world, what was he capable of when his magic was strong?
Finally Sir Lankin took a deep breath and opened his eyes. “There is no Cold Iron in this room.”
“Of course not!” Accolon snapped. “Do you think we want our kids getting hurt?”
Sir Lankin glared. “They are not your children.”
“Oh, really? And who changed their diapers? And who took care of them when–all right, so maybe they don’t get sick, but who took care of them through colic and tantrums? And who stayed up all night bottle-feeding them because there was no one to nurse them? And who–”
“Enough,” Morgan laid her hand on Accolon’s arm. “Sir Lankin, are you finished here? Would you like to see Chloe’s room?”
Sir Lankin nodded. “That would be well.”
Morgan opened up the communicating door that led to Chloe’s room, ushered Sir Lankin inside, and followed him.
Again the magic ants skittered across the room, seeking information and bringing it back. But this time there were more of them. This time he sent them out not once, but twice. And when they came back, Sir Lankin stood open-mouthed, staring around the room …
And then at Morgan and Accolon. “You … you truly love them …”
“Um — yes?” snapped Accolon. Morgan was grateful that was all he said.
“But–” started Sir Lankin.
“What they hell do you think?” Accolon challenged. “That we’re keeping them as pets? That we just like having kids, any kids, around? They’re our children! Of course we love them!”
“They are not your children, though.” He turned to Morgan. “They are not of your blood. They are not of your bone. They–”
“Don’t you,” Morgan interrupted, “love the changeling children you will take, sometimes, from mortal parents who cannot love them as all children ought to be loved?”
“But — but we cannot easily have children of our own!” Sir Lankin protested. “You mortals–”
“We are not most mortals.” Morgan took Accolon’s hand in hers. “We cannot have children of our own. Our eldest daughter is the only one we will ever have of blood and bone as well as heart.”
Sir Lankin turned his head to the side again. “We could help you, you know. Have another child. Or children. Robin Goodfellow could surely manage it.”
Accolon perked up at this, as Morgan knew he would. “That would be kind of him, if he would offer it,” Morgan replied. “But it is not necessary at the moment.” She shot Accolon a look.
“But it will be. You will have to give Chloe and Pascal up,” Sir Lankin replied. “And it will be soon …”
“What?” Accolon staggered. Morgan felt a howl of anguish start in her heart.
But she couldn’t give into it. Not yet. “How–how soon?”
Sir Lankin ignored Accolon. “Not more than fourteen — fifteen years as you mortals reckon things.”
Accolon did a double take. “Fourteen or fifteen years?”
“Their blood will call to them. Their heritage will call to them. We will tell them who they are, truly. You will not be able to stop it.”
No, Morgan thought, she probably could not. She probably could not even tell the twins their heritage ahead of time, get them used to the idea, and perhaps soften the blow for her and Accolon. It was not wise to go against the express or implied wishes of the Fairy King. She swallowed. “Every parent must say goodbye when his or her children grow up.”
“And,” Accolon added, “I don’t know in what world fourteen or fifteen years is considered soon –”
“Accolon!” Morgan was just shy of snapping. “We are talking to a Fae! When you’re a Fae, growing old and dying is something that happens to other people!”
At least that quieted Accolon down. But he still glared at Sir Lankin. “Watching your children grow up is one thing. Giving — giving them up is another. St. Robert on a llama, don’t go around scaring people like that.”
Sir Lankin’s words were hard, but his voice was not without pity. “But … do you think they will ever come back to you, once they know who they are?”
“We love them. They love us,” Morgan replied. “If that is not enough to bring them back to us someday — nothing will be. You know as well as I do, Sir Lankin, that there is nothing magic can do to stop the course of true love.”
For the first time, Sir Lankin smiled, truly smile. “True. You would know that better than anyone — and your daughter, too. Perhaps love will win out for you. In any case …”
He bowed. “I have seen what I came here to see. And now, my lady, I must take my leave.”
With that, he left. And after everything she had gone through that morning … it did not occur to Morgan to wonder what it was he meant when he brought up her daughter.
Hours after he had left, though, Morgan and Accolon sat in the parlor, staring at the empty fireplace, lost in their thoughts.
They had eaten after Sir Lankin had left. They had spoken, every now and again. But now the twins were due home from school any minute, and … well …
It was hard to know just what to say, or what to think, when suddenly all of Sir Lankin’s warnings seemed much more real.
Morgan had said that, to a Fae, growing old and dying was something that happened to other people. They saw time differently because to them, time was nothing much to worry about. But a zombie had as much time in him as a Fae did. So did a witch who knew how to make Elixir of Life. The only difference was that the zombie and the witch had not been born with the knowledge of immortality singing through their veins. Their minds couldn’t quite wrap around it on an instinctual level. But on a logical level …
Fifteen years wasn’t such a long time, when you thought about it logically. Morgan tried not to shudder.
Then Morgan felt her wards chime softly. Chloe and Pascal were home. She looked up —
They piled into the door. “Mummy! Daddy!” shouted Pascal.
“Wait until you hear what we did in school today!” added Chloe.
Morgan didn’t wait. She got up. So did Accolon.
For once, Accolon was faster. He dropped to one knee and held Chloe to him. “I love you, baby girl.”
“Daddy! I know that!”
Morgan next grabbed Pascal and held him close. “We love you. We love you so much. We love you more than you can understand right now. Promise me you won’t forget that.”
“Mummy?” asked Pascal.
They were scaring the children. They would have to come up with some explanation in the next few moments. But for now, Morgan held her son close and closed her eyes.
Promise me, when your Fae father comes for you, that you won’t forget us. Promise me you’ll still love us. Because the Lord knows we’ll still love you.