Ethan placed a green Granny Smith apple on a small table in a small area he used as a magical testing ground and stepped back twenty feet or so. He found this spot extraordinarily beautiful, surrounded by trees, one of which Mickey had claimed as his own.
It was in the backyard of the Barton house on his Sorcery and Stick Farm beyond a cement walkway in an area that might have once been intended for a garden. The last owner had let fall into disuse and it transformed back into dirt and weeds, which made it perfect for magical target practice.
It was still cold but it had not been snowing heavily for a while and the ground was covered in a thin layer of white. Ethan was wearing his black jacket with its orange and orange stripes, with a black beanie, black pants and black boots again and felt like he was getting used to the cold but that probably had more to do with his spellcasting than his ability to handle cold.
He was practically sweating from the effort of casting his new spells.
Ethan moved his hands together in a manner that looked almost like he was molding an invisible snowball, forming the spell within his palms, and creating the bauble of orange light that was his Amplify Plant spell.
He fired the spell with his right hand, the bauble shooting across the space and leaving a line of orange steam-like material rising up into the air behind it. The spell hit the green apple sitting on a small table at the end of the practice area set between two trees and Ethan felt the spell solidly connect.
Unlike most spells, it required deep concentration, and as he worked, he watched as the apple started to grow like a beating heart, first expanding, then shrinking but not back to its original size, then repeating the expanding once more. It soon doubled in size with the spell slipping to the edge of Ethan’s control, and soon after, it had tripled its size. Then, carefully, Ethan pushed it even farther.
“I think I got this—” the apple shook madly for about a second, Ethan lost control of the spell, and then it exploded into a thousand pieces “—goddamn it!”
Mickey burst out laughing.
Triple was his record but triple wasn’t great. Experts in such spells were supposed to be able to go ten, even twenty, times the starting size of an object. Most of the spells Ethan had ever used or tried didn’t require a lot of concentration if concentration was even required at all, and he was clearly behind in the skills he required.
“A master could make this grow to the size of a car,” he said in an irritated voice. He was reaching down for another apple when he saw Judy Aberdeen walking up to him, her hands in the pockets of her white winter jacket, her head down. She was wearing a cute, matching white winter hat with a small ball at the top, light gray pants and white boots.
Her hips swayed as she walked in a cute, sensual way she didn’t seem aware of, and she seemed strangely even more different from before. He felt that every time he looked at her, she looked less like Lana and more like Lana’s sister, even though sensuality was becoming more in tune with her personality. She was no longer even a twin sister. Just a sister or maybe a cousin.
“Hiya,” he told her as she approached. He gestured to the basket of triple-sized green apples. “Want a giant apple?”
“No, I—” Judy looked over at the five giant, perfect, green apples. “Oh my gosh, look at the size of those! They’re like basketballs!”
“The ones that live, yeah,” said Mickey with what passed for a grin on a hawk’s face.
“I’m practicing a plant growing spell. Also my boomerang skills.” He held up a black boomerang with an orange grip and orange ruins along the sides. “My newest enchanted item. Comes back from wherever I throw it.”
He threw it around a tree where it went smoothly, spinning around the trunk, and then when casting the easy return spell, it guided itself back to him. He caught it easily and showed it to her.
“Is it deadly?”
“Yeah but not Mad Max level deadly. It’s mostly for fun. I can even pick up things like in The Legend of Zelda which is just awesome.” He placed it down on the table next to the basket of apples. “Aren’t you supposed to be at school?”
“I, uh—sort of.”
“Playing hooky, little girl?” he asked with a smile and she gave him an uncomfortable look. “Alright, what can I do for you?”
“Are you doing anything really important today?” she asked him in a strange voice, her eyes unwilling to meet his.
“No,” he replied half-suspiciously. “I already talked to Officer Hotness and Merrick about the wolf thing.” They had come back again that morning to ask him more questions about the wolf and the yeti. It was a follow-up to the first round of questions about the yeti a week before when they still hoped they could link the yeti with the attack on Janet Dupree.
“Officer Hotness?” asked Judy with one raised eyebrow.
“Detective Christopherson,” he said with a smile.
Christopherson was the unlucky soul leading the case. What she actually believed was a mystery, the woman was great at hiding her feelings or emotions, but Ethan was pretty sure she believed that it was some kind of monster responsible although she may have been holding out on the hope that it wasn’t a werewolf.
Mary Merrick, her partner, seemed a bit darker, colder, and more convinced. She had been in Bartlett Bay all her life and she damn well believed it was something bigger than some troll or yeti monster. She seemed less enthusiastic about the yeti angle than Christopherson was.
That was all he could get from either, though. For the most part, both women had incredible poker faces.
“Wolf thing, you say?” She had a different, strange expression on her face when she spoke that time.
“It’s probably a werewolf,” Ethan replied and then looked into her eyes. “What do you know about werewolves?”
“The last time you popped up, you had that look in your face, and I ended up healing your friend, which was awesome. She around?”
“No, Becky’s is at school right now. I just, uh, got off school.”
“It’s ten AM in the morning, Judy.”
She swallowed and asked, “Do you really think it’s a werewolf?”
“It seems likely with the moon and the manner of the victim’s death,” Ethan replied. “What’s strange is the werewolf rumor came out right after the first murder. Usually, it takes longer for them to make that connection. What do you know about werewolves?”
“Not much,” she replied uncomfortably. “I heard stories when I was a little girl. I’ll tell you about them sometime.”
“Did you have fun at the party?” he asked and she instantly blushed.
Darcy told him some boy who she “had thought was smart” had invited “Lana” to some party in Edwards Grove for Valentine’s Day. Not much happened, which surprised Darcy, ending only in her kissing the boy. She said, “It looked like it was the first time she had ever kissed anybody.”
“Nothing happened,” she said uncomfortably, tilting her head around a little bit in a nervous way. “What did you do for Valentine’s Day?”
“Not much. Just went to a different party. It was boring as hell so I drank myself stupid.”
“He didn’t invite me, the prick,” said Mickey.
“He followed me anyway,” Ethan told her. “I had fun despite my bird getting jealous.” He said that only because he enjoyed the girl he spent the night with although she was such an obvious gold digger there was no chance in hell of him dating her.
Judy bit her lip nervously as she looked at him and he knew she wanted something “unusual” from him. “Stop looking at me like that,” she said, completely misreading his look.
“I will when you finally tell me what this is all about.”
“There is a problem that I want you to help me with,” she told him in an awkward, uncomfortable way. “You remember how I had fairy dust before?”
“I’m in,” he said with sudden, wide-eyed eagerness. “I’ve got nothing else going on today and this sounds fun.”
“Yeah, well, it’s not,” she said uncomfortably. “It’s—dangerous.” She again found it hard to meet his eyes.
“I’ll get my stuff,” he replied and he then grabbed his baskets and boomerang and went back over to his farmhouse. She followed after, her white-gloved hands rubbing together, still looking nervous. Mickey landed casually on her shoulder and she began to pet him.
“How do you get fairy dust?” asked Mickey as Ethan opened the door.
“You get them from fairies,” Ethan told him with a smile. He placed the baskets on a table beside the door and unstacked them to be side by side. “Whatever happens out there, ‘boring’ will not be a part of it.”
“Fairies?” asked Mickey.
“Pixies, specifically,” said Judy. “Fairies actually mean all fairy-kind but most people think you’re referring to pixies.”
Ethan held the door open for her. “I’ve only seen pictures of them in books, drawn mostly, so rare that originals are extremely valuable.” Once they were inside, he walked entered the temporary armor he made out of a parlor, took off his jacket and put on his vest, avoiding the suit that he had before because it was too cumbersome, he was going to need something different soon. “Also, mostly European. The Native Americans have things you could say were similar but they’re the only ones who know how to find them.”
“Fox spirits can be kind sometimes,” she told him.
“So, why are pixies here if they’re European?” asked Mickey.
“They came with the Engelstad,” he told him as he slipped his jacket back on.
“Yes,” said Judy with wide eyes. “The Engelstad.”
“Engelstad,” Mickey repeated softly.
“I don’t think you’ll need your rifle,” she told Ethan as he picked up his Mossberg 500. “This is going to be a close-up affair, I think.”
“Alright,” Ethan said and he slipped the shotgun over his shoulders and equipped his left and right pistols, his sword and his dagger. He wasn’t sure if she was right about the rifle but he suspected nothing he had would be useful in dealing with fairies directly. When they stepped outside, he locked the door behind him and walked with her to a blue 2010 Ford Fusion.
“Is that Lana’s car?” Ethan asked. He seemed to recall Lana had something far more expensive and silver-colored, maybe.
“No,” said Judy uncomfortably. “My—her, uh—mother, took it away.”
On the passenger seat, Ethan saw a tub of gummy bears about the size of a hatbox. He placed it down on the floor, then took his shotgun and his sword, and put them beside it. When he sat down, all three of them were nestled between his legs.
“Gummy—” Mickey suddenly dropped down onto his lap hard enough to make him grunt “—bears? Is this their favored treat?” He had read that pixies loved “treats” of all sorts.
“For now,” Judy told him as she started driving. “They’re—picky sometimes. They tend to favor sweet candies as opposed to chocolate and things with chocolate although they are fond of caramel. I used to give them lifesavers but I think they got bored with them. They only reluctantly took them the time before last, so I got a selection last time and they preferred the gummy bears.
“You seem off today.”
“I get a little nervous introducing people to my friends. They’re very gentle and I’m worried about them. Worried about what will happen to them if I’m not careful.”
“Fairies are not gentle,” Ethan told her. “Fairies are goddamn terrifying.”
“Fair-folk are terrifying,” she told him. “Pixie fairies are sweet as long as you don’t try to harm them.” She drove off his property onto Alberta and turned right to the south. As she drove, a very light snowfall was being brushed away with her windshield wipers, and he could see her staring through them with a distant expression. “They saw me right through my new form. They knew me the instant I appeared.”
She turned left on Charlotte Rd carefully, still looking nervous and uncomfortable. Ethan saw the familiar fence on his left blocking the southern side of the Engelstad and noted a strange hole in the fence the exact shape of a door.
She turned the car around and parked along the road next to the doorway.
Ethan stepped out, reequipped his things, and grabbed the gummy bears. She was already slipping into the doorway before he was finished and he shut the door and quickly rushed up after. Mickey had flown off his lap the instant door opened and went flying up into the trees above.
“They did that,” she told him as he passed through the doorway.
“Interesting,” Ethan replied. He looked around as they approached the tree line and added, “This is close to where Little Julian died. Peter Bartlett was nailed somewhere else.”
“What happened to them?” she asked as he moved up beside her.
“Got shot,” Ethan told her as they walked into the Engelstad. “They never caught who did it.”
“Do the police have any idea who it was?”
“They know who their enemies are,” Ethan replied. “They’ve narrowed it down to a shortlist consisting of ‘everybody.’” He looked around and his eyes went wide. “What the hell?”
The path she had led him to had seemed normal at first but it had very suddenly grown wider and very straight. The trees on either side were like perfect pillars and the branches above created a thick canopy that seemed stunningly similar to a nave above a cathedral. The path had become wide enough for three cars to drive side by side in as well even though it had barely been big enough for two people seconds ago.
“I feel like I’m walking toward a Roman palace!” Ethan exclaimed.
“You’ll never find your way out without me or their willingness to let you go,” Judy told him. “You’re not one of those people who can always see the path or a very young child. If they wanted to, they could let you find this path but then keep you on it until you died of starvation or even old age.”
“How is that even possible?”
“It’s complicated,” she told him. “There are ways out, of course, and I think Mickey might be able to lead you because I don’t think these kinds of glamours work on animals but the other methods, you’d never know or use.”
Ethan looked back the way he came and saw the path he was on stretched off for what looked to be miles. “Other methods?”
“Blood sacrifices,” she said simply.
“I don’t do any kind of sacrifices,” he told her sternly. “Not even animals.”
“Well, someone did once,” she said bitterly.
In the distance ahead, the clouds parted, and the sun made diagonal beams through the trees to the west and beyond. At the end of the path, he saw an opening but all he saw was an open plain and, beyond that, mountains in blue with white tops.
Looking there, he got a sense of endlessly wondrous, yet frightening, hiding places. He had mental images of secret groves, little caves, chambers behind waterfalls and rocks: endless places for small, dangerous, creatures to hide. Creatures that no human being should ever dare involve themselves with.
“‘Up the airy mountain, down the rushy glen, we daren’t go a-hunting, for fear of little men,’” Ethan quoted in a low, Irish-accented voice.
“‘Wee folk, good folk, trooping all together; green jacket, red cap, and white owl’s feather,’” quoted Judy softly. She gave him a gentle smile. “You read poetry.”
“A little bit. I heard the first part of that poem in a movie called Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and I followed it to William Allingham. There is beauty out in these woods but there is danger too. I wonder, are the redcaps out there? Or gnomes? Or leprechauns? Or their nobility, the sidhe, who are said to be the most terrible of all? Are their courts, the Seely and Unseely, still forever in competition and battle over what remains of the world that man has left for them?”
“Yes,” she said in a low, hushed voice. When he looked at her, he saw her eyes were wide and she was genuinely frightened. “You do not want to meet them and you definitely do not want to anger them.”
“I know,” he told her softly, his eyes wide. “I really do.”
Judy nodded. “We all should. They say there are still fools screaming in a realm trapped between worlds, who angered some great fey over some dumb thing or another. Some say that realm is the ancestral inspiration for what the Christians call ‘hell.’”
“I’ve heard that too,” Ethan replied.
He was walking in a straight line the entire time, never turning his body once, but he got the strange sense the path was moving. Every time he looked ahead, the mountains were in a different place and the sun had moved as well. He was starting to feel dizzy, confused and just all-around weird.
“Hey, Mickey,” he called out. “Have we changed direction?”
“A bunch of times?” he replied from something like fifty feet up in one of the tall, pillar-like trees. “Why?”
“How big is this path?”
“Not very. Typical trail. Like three people wide. You really can’t see it?”
“He really can’t,” Judy told him.
“It looks gigantic,” said Ethan.
“Animals really can see through this glamour,” said Judy. “I suppose he might be able to help you out of here if you were trapped.”
“How come you can see through it?”
“I’m one of those people who can. I also did them a small favor when I was a child and they took a liking to me. I don’t really know why.”
“What the hell is that?” gasped Mickey. Ethan could see him up there, staring straight ahead, but when he followed his eyes, he didn’t see anything.
“What is what?” asked Ethan. The forest looked the same everywhere he looked. “What are you, Judy, and what’s this really about?”
“What am I?”
“Fairies don’t become that friendly with normal humans if half of what I’ve heard is true.”
Judy sighed. “Promise you won’t tell anyone.”
“I promise,” he said.
“No really. The Umm still hunt us. Actively. They think our powers are unnatural and come from demons or something. We don’t learn spells like your kind does and they can’t control the kind of magic that comes from people naturally. It makes them nervous having no access to our abilities and when they get nervous, people die. Historically speaking, when witches are burned, they’re usually us.”
“You’re a true witch,” said Ethan in awe. “I didn’t think any of you were left.”
“I didn’t think any of us were either,” she replied uncomfortably. “I think the term used now is ‘druid.’”
“Sounds like something out of D&D,” he replied but he was in awe of her. A druid, true witch, or white witch or whatever they were called, was a person born with an innate magical ability attuned to the world and nature. Not much was known about them, some didn’t even believe they were real, but if they were, they were not casters in the sense that Ethan was. They just had powers of some sort much like a psychic might, all attuned with nature. In ancient times, they were renowned as healers but eventually became the Umm sect of Catholicism’s favorite victim to burn for “witchcraft.”
“What kind of powers—”
“I don’t want to talk about being a druid,” she said quickly. “I—look, I—there’s a man near the tree. He’s kind of trapped there.”
“Trapped near a tree?” Ethan asked.
“Well, you see, it’s, uh—complicated. I believe he tried to cut the tree down at some point in the past before I, that is Judy, was born. The fairies have managed to lock him down purely because he screwed up the sacrificial ritual but they need him gone now. They need their full power and concentration for something else that is coming and they asked me if I could help in some way. I figured you could fight off one ordinary man, right?”
“Sure. I could just shoot him, probably. Who is he?”
“I don’t know. He looks like some kind of gentleman from the early twentieth century.” She pointed ahead. “He is on the other side of that tree.”
Ethan looked straight ahead and suddenly there it was. It was in the center of a grove of trees, ancient and tall, with beams of light shooting through its countless branches that reached up to create a gorgeous canopy. It was like an oak in shape, but all white, with soft flowers of pink that bloomed everywhere as if it was full springtime.
And amid those branches and flowers, he saw colors. Each was a pure shade of some color of the rainbow and, as he grew closer, they grew brighter. He was becoming overwhelmed and his eyes grew wider and wider.
“I’ve seen one of these once!” he half-whimpered, half-cried as he stepped out into the grove that surrounded the tree. He fell to his knees before the great wonder before him, tears slipping down his eyes, and remembered.
Henry VIII and Francis I had a treaty. They met south of Calais, in a no man’s land near Guisnes and there created a wonderland of beauty, fun, and festival.
It was not just any treaty, or meeting, it was a once in a thousand years summit known as the Field of Cloth of Gold, and as Ethan stared up at the tree, his heart beating faster, the memory came, and slammed him across his soul like a bat across his brain.
He looked up into those rainbow lights and saw—
* * *
—the dead fairy tree.
It was still white but it was an ugly white similar to that of faded dog feces, and its leaves were all dead or gone. Whatever magic had been found in such a thing had long vacated and at the bottom where it was chopped down, there was a gory, reddish interior that looked almost like dead flesh. It had a reddish sap, and it was clearly sap, but to Walter, it looked like blood.
“Since, you were denied the capture of the magic of a horned horse,” King Francis I told King Henry VIII, “I thought I’d show the magic of the fabled fairy realm.”
Henry VIII’s eyes narrowed and, though he smiled and applauded generously, it was clear he was angry and jealous.
The two had been adding in various “surprises” much to Wolsey’s dismay. Henry brought in a dead wyvern, a horse-sized scaly dragon shaped like a bird with leathery wings and two legs, all red like the Cadwaladr dragon, which was bad enough without the tree.
They stuffed the poor beast and had it on display like a mediocre trophy at a bumpkin’s festival.
Oh God, Walter thought miserably. Wyverns were incredibly rare, generally only still found in Wales, but a fairy tree was incredibly rare. The only one Walter was even half-sure existed was the one in the forest of Orléans and that, of course, must have been the one Francis cut down.
Francis had also killed and stuffed a griffon too, one to match the wyvern, so the fairy tree was a complete victory as far as kings go but one great loss for the world.
Walter felt like he was going to start weeping.
“You seem upset, Lord Kent,” said a voice.
“I—” He looked over and saw it was Queen Catherine. He resisted the urge to look her over and see her growing obesity and agedness, and instead tried to will himself to see her in her prime, as she had been when she had just married to the king at twenty-three years of age.
They said it was her childbearing that put her in such a state but Walter thought it might also be a lack of purpose. Henry gave her no real purpose, no reason to get excited or energetic, and used her as nothing more than a breeding cow. Catherine of Aragorn was a woman who thrived in power and he gave her none. Eleanor of Aquitaine had been such a woman as well, a warrior queen as Catherine’s mother had been, and she had ten children and lived into her eighties.
“I’m just saddened, Your Majesty.”
“Whatever for?” she asked.
“Fairy trees are wonders in the world,” he told her. “There aren’t many left. To cut it down for some showman’s piece to show off to another king is not—” He lost the words and shook his head.
She smiled at him sadly. “We are not masters and mistresses beyond our own realms,” she told him. “You should not hold the weight of the world upon your shoulders, Lord Kent.”
He nodded miserably.
When she left, he watched her leave, feeling sad. He looked beyond her, at the king, and watched him flirt with a French beauty right in front of her. So much for love, Walter thought.
“You’re too soft, Kent,” said a courtier. “Besides, the French got its seeds.”
“Fairy seeds do not grow in men’s gardens,” Walter told the young courtier. He did not know much about fairy tree seeds but he knew from his readings the Romans, who were often great with magic, had never successfully grown fairy trees. Francis was unlikely to succeed any better.
The sight of that tree on one of those first days had led him down the road of indulging in alcohol for the remainder of the great summit meeting. With wine, he rather enjoyed himself, for as long as that tree was out of sight, he could still somewhat see the meeting as awe-inspiringly as it was intended to be seen as.
Cardinal Thomas Wolsey had built this wonder of the modern world out of nothing but dreams and money. He had planned it, piece by piece and action by action, overwhelming the guests with a very careful protocol that ensured every event created the equal treatment of the kings and the exaltation of royal power. In the mock battles that followed, the kings were on the same side so as to never have a loser, and Wolsey even went so far as to level the ground of the valley the summit was built over so no king stood higher.
Walter stood there, overwhelmed by everything, from the tournament field, the gorgeous courtiers, the endless festivities, and the two fountains that never emptied of wine and beer. There were at least ten thousand people all around him, all of them displaying opulent wealth, and it was almost blinding to look upon them and their wondrous garbs and tents. Of tents, there were so many of every color they dotted the valley near Guisnes like a rainbow forest of cloth of gold. Some were big, some were small, some for kitchens, some for people, and others makeshift meeting halls with various interconnecting sections within.
There were feasts, jousts, foot-combat, choirs, dancing, endless displays of opulent wealth, fireworks, and even three annoying monkeys Henry dressed up in gold to distract him. Walter had never felt anything like it in all his life and probably never again and, after a day or two of staying away from the tree, he was deeply happy.
Walter drank his wine and got lost in that world. The days that followed passed like in a dream.
At some point, he recalled an intriguing animal that was especially interesting and captured his imagination mostly because it wasn’t dead. A falconer from Flanders had a talking falcon he called a “companion.” Everywhere he went, lords and ladies fawned over his bird and offered him fortunes for it but, alas, he would not, and according to him, could not sell a companion. They had to bond with someone before they could be a proper companion and the person they bonded with had to be a magician.
Someday, I’m going to get one of those, he thought with a smile and then he added in awe, This is the greatest summit of all time and the glory of our modern kings could rival the Caesars of old. He blinked and sighed, Except they ruined it by bringing in the fucking corpse of a fairy tree.
He sighed and tried hard again to do as Queen Catherine suggested. He had not been the tree’s destroyer or responsible in any way so it should have been easy to put it out of his mind but he found it wasn’t and his misery lingered.
He indulged in more wine to dull his unhappiness and it soon worked.
Pouring yet another cup of red wine from the beautiful red and white fountain, he drunkenly stood himself in front of Henry VIII’s palace as he often did. The French called it the Crystal Palace and it was a thing of wonder.
Made of wood, two floors high, and covered in canvas that imitated stone, it was a fully functional palace created over two months in preparation for this summit. There was a stained glass window, regular windows, carpeted floors, and the fountain that poured real wine, his favorite, was right outside. At night, with the natural windows lit up, it was almost indistinguishable from a real palace.
All Francis had was a boring tent albeit one that was a hundred and twenty feet tall and colored a shiny, bright gold.
But that Crystal Palace was something else. Walter would stare at it and watch it in awe and dream of futures, possibilities and worlds unimagined.
“Why did he have to kill that tree,” Walter said to himself for the thousandth time. It was no falsity to say that the sight of that dead fairy tree ruined much of this occasion for him and he could not get it out of his head.
“Lord Kent,” said a voice and he turned over his shoulder to see a servant approaching him. “Their Majesties, the kings, desire to speak to you.”
“Both of them?” he asked incredulously.
“Yes, my lord,” said the man.
Walter filled his cup with wine again, drank it very quickly, then tossed the cup to the servant and walked into the Crystal Palace. He found King Henry VIII and Francis I both waiting for him. Another man, a well-dressed Frenchman, was already waiting there beside where he would stand and looked at Walter anxiously as he approached.
“My magician Baptiste Carbonneau,” said Francis I.
“And my magician, Lord Walter Kent,” said Henry VIII.
The two magicians looked at each other and each was instantly curious about the other’s magic. They knew they would never get any spells from each other, or at least not the ones that weren’t incredibly common, simply because that was part of the world of magicians. Walter doubted he could wring even the simplest of spells from a commoner without torture and he suspected that Carbonneau knew it would be even harder through a lord.
Walter looked back to see Henry’s smug smile and became instantly nervous.
Henry had made the idiotic decision to challenge the king of France to a wrestling contest on some earlier day. It seemed like an easy victory, he was much larger than Francis was after all but it was against the delicate balance of equality that Wolsey had set up even more than the tree had been. Of course, Henry was perfectly willing to break it over something as insignificant as vanity.
It might have been because of the tree, which brought up his failure with capturing the unicorn, or perhaps Francis’s constant bragging but Walter suspected Henry might have done it anyway. For Wolsey, it was his worst nightmare, and his expression might have been hilarious if the danger hadn’t been so real.
Then, to top it off, Henry actually lost. He lost to a smug Frenchman half his size. No Englishman laughed or cheered but Henry reacted as if they had wanted to and were holding themselves back. He angrily asked for a rematch but Francis said no and Henry seethed.
Henry also was not particularly pleased when he found out Walter had drunkenly bet against him. Walter did that partly because he was too drunk to realize what a bad idea it was and partly because he saw the confidence in Francis I’s face and he had been right. Walter later learned from a mocking, drunk French courtier that Francis had been wrestling most of his life and he was well trained in how to take down opponents larger than himself.
Later, Henry tried to humiliate Francis by asking him to use his longbow, which had been designed in such a way as to be used by someone of Henry’s size, strength and practice. It worked, Francis couldn’t fire it, but it still wasn’t as humiliating as losing a wrestling match to a man half one’s size.
At least he didn’t lose to a girl, thought Walter.
Henry wasn’t satisfied and had made some snide remarks about various French things, such as underplaying the much finer clothing of the French and mockingly the tent Francis had used as his palace, which had fallen in a light wind before the negations even began, but it felt a little desperate to Walter. It seemed that Henry really wanted to put Francis in his place and that was what made Walter nervous.
There was an obvious tension in the air and even a man as drunk as Walter Kent could see the sovereigns did not like each other. Expert courtiers and ambassadors would all see it better and report it to their masters. It seemed that despite the wondrous magnitude of this awe-inspired meeting, it might be just turn out to be an incredible waste of time and money.
Francis I’s voice snapped Walter back to reality.
“As a Frenchman,” Francis had said in French, “I feel great pride in my subjects for even my poorest subject can match a great English lord. Baptiste Carbonneau is but the mere son of a winemaker in Boulogne and yet he has risen up to become my court magician. Not the easy path that your English nobleman has taken.”
His voice was hinting with mockery and Baptiste Carbonneau of Boulogne did not look particularly comfortable. He looked at Walter and, for the first time, Walter saw he was as drunk as he was.
Walter wasn’t insulted by Francis’s words, even if an insult was what was intended. He would tolerate almost anything in the world to defuse this situation.
“As talented as your winemaker might be,” said Henry with a smug smile, “I’m not in the habit of relying on the peasantry as my protectors.”
“Well, that truly is strange, Brother,” said Francis I as if genuinely perplexed. “I could have sworn your lord high chancellor was the son of a mere butcher.”
Walter saw Wolsey tense just slightly but otherwise showed no evidence he had been slighted. Looking at him then, Walter found he was not as ugly as he initially thought, built for his weight, and somewhat stout as opposed to round. He seemed more in his element there, more in control, and he proudly wore his cardinal robes as always to display that his power in the realm of God matched his power in the realm of man.
The court despised him of course, partly because of his haughty personality, but mostly because he was the son of an Ipswich butcher and not some great lord and lady as they all were. Everyone, notably Edward Stafford, the Duke of Buckingham, were absolutely convinced that they were far better suited for his position.
Walter rather doubted it. Thomas Wolsey was many things but incompetent wasn’t one of them. It was not something the majority of them could claim.
“My magician is trained in battle,” said Henry. “He defeated the Scottish magician warrior, Lord Reid in the Battle of Flodden.”
“And my magician is trained in battle as well,” Francis replied. “It is said he killed at least three English knights in the Second Battle of Guinegate.”
“That was him?” asked Henry softly and he gave a withering look at Carbonneau who lowered his eyes and became much more uncomfortable.
What the French called the Second Battle of Guinegate, the English called the Battle of the Spurs. The French were defeated and chased out in an embarrassing rout, as Henry loved to retell and had many times during that summit. Several important French lords or generals were said to have escaped this rout because a French magician in their service hurled fireballs into the knights chasing them. Evidently, the French magician had killed a few.
“Do not feel bad, Brother,” said Francis I. “You had won that great battle and defeated the great French army although, admittedly, you could not keep the prize.” He smiled as if kind. “Though elderly and close to death, Louis was very experienced, and you should be proud of your victory. And with your wife, who defeated the dangerous, experienced, and youthful Scottish king on your own border without any need of you, you really had nothing to fear.”
Henry’s eyes darkened and his face had a very familiar, stubborn expression on it. “My lordly magician can easily defeat your peasant one,” he stated.
“Wh-what?” asked Walter. He felt a desperate need to have misheard that.
“Are you sure you wish to see what a Frenchman can do better twice?” France asked with a smile.
Walter and Carbonneau shared a look with each other and then looked back. Carbonneau was too low born to speak to his king out of turn but Walter could see he had the same desperate need to do so.
“Your Majesty,” said Walter awkwardly, “I do not think that is a good idea—”
Henry held up his hand and Walter stopped speaking. “My lord magician versus your peasant magician. Against each other, as magicians of old Rome used to battle in the great Colosseum.”
They battled to the death, whimpered Walter in his mind.
“As you wish,” said Francis with a satisfied smile.
Walter and Carbonneau looked at each other with nervous, drunk glances of dual horror. “Your Majesties, magic is very dangerous,” said Walter slowly. “Perhaps we could set up a contest like archery but for spells—”
Henry held up his hand again, this time angrier. “Can you fight here?” he asked abruptly.
“No,” said Walter instantly. “We’re going to need—” he swallowed a lump down his throat “—space.”
“Space? How much ‘space?’”
“A lot,” he replied uncomfortably.
“I know just the place,” said Henry with a smile and then he ordered everyone out over to the jousting grounds.
Everyone left in an eager hurry except Walter and Carbonneau who both moved slowly. In the distance, they could both already see that it was filling up with people eager to see two experienced magicians battle each other.
Carbonneau moved up beside him. “My lord, we cannot have a magic fight!” he told him worriedly in French.
“I know that,” he replied back in fluent French. “How do we avoid it? Both of our kings basically just commanded us. You don’t happen to have spells that could knock someone out, do you?”
“I have growth spells meant for farming grapes and fire spells meant for fighting, my lord.”
“God’s blood!” Walter snarled through his teeth. “I’ve just got lightning and fire! This is a catastrophe!” Any stray spell could maim or kill any lord or lady that it touched. Sure, they might get lucky and hit a servant whose agonizing death throes might stop the contest cold, but those individuals tended to be in the back or out of the way.
And God protect them should either be unlucky enough to hit a king or queen.
“Look, one of us needs to take a hit and fall,” Walter told Carbonneau.
“It can’t be me,” he told him. “I understand your position, my lord, but if I get knocked down here today in a way that shames France, I’ll be picking grapes in Boulogne tomorrow. My family is relying on my favor with the king.”
“Henry is already on the verge of kicking me out of the court. He thinks I am some kind of weakling for taking my annulled wife’s daughter as a ward. Getting beaten out by a French peasant would ruin me.” He groaned and came to an unhappy conclusion. “We’ll need to hit each other, so no knocking our spells aside which could hit anyone. We’ll aim to the lower or mid-body if possible; avoiding the head at all costs, at low strength, and defeat each other simultaneously. If we do this right, it’ll look like we both won, or at least a draw, and—”
In French, a voice called Carbonneau away and he bowed low before an annoyed-looking French king on his magnificent horse. Henry came over on his white stallion just as Carbonneau was walking away.
“What the bloody hell were you two blathering about?” asked Henry.
“Nothing to be worried about, Your Majesty. Just—magician stuff. For safety.”
“You better not make me a fool of me, Walter!” Henry said coldly. “The king of France will not humiliate England this day!” He rode off angrily without another word.
“Yes, Your Majesty,” he said even though he couldn’t hear him and then sighed. “I’m doomed,” he added.
The two magicians were shoved out onto the jousting grounds the instant they arrived, the jousting wall in the center removed so everyone could see them perfectly. On Walter’s left were the boxes for the royals and other high lords while on his right were the lesser lords and ladies all packed together. Even though Walter had asked them not to, they piled in on the ends as well making a perfect box of potential victims all around them.
If there were servants and other low-level workers in the crowd, he couldn’t see them.
Walter and Carbonneau shared a look, both somewhat sobered by fear and horror. Their faces said it all: this was going to be very bad.
“Begin!” Henry boomed.
Walter and Carbonneau both took a deep breath and then formed their spells in their right hands. A moving bolt of deep orange lightning appeared in Walter’s palm and a ball of pale green fire in Carbonneau’s. For some asinine reason, no one thought this dangerous, and the crowd gave happy oohs and awes at the sight of it, many even clapping happily.
The magicians faced each other, neither with any kind of protection spell, which was for the best. The more they blocked, the more they were required to cast, and the more they cast, the more chances they had for one shot to go wild and hit a king or two.
After they looked at each other for a moment, they both nodded and lowered the intensity of their spells as best they could. Then they nodded again, took a deep breath and then fired.
The impact of each spell sent Walter and Carbonneau stumbling backward in agony. Walter’s clothes were set partly set on fire, which followed a feeling similar to that of being kicked by a mule. There was some kind of impact magic associated with the ball, perhaps some earth magic mixed in, and he felt his ribs might have been cracked or even broken.
Carbonneau was smoking as well, quite literally, his body shaking from head to toe from the lightning that had just shot through his veins. Their magic was both intense, neither of them knowing anything for combat but kill magic and Walter suspected they mucked up the intensity lowering thing they were attempting to do for the very first time ever.
“We’re sober now,” Walter said suddenly and then formed and fired another spell at the exact same time Carbonneau did. Their shots winged each other’s left arms and the two spun around in a stumbling, almost graceful, way before they fell back first down into the mud.
“That—really—hurt.” Being shot with attack spells was a lot like being shot with an arrow: not something that could be easily done without damaging its target. “If I was sober, I bet it would have hurt even more,” he concluded, his eyes staring up at the endless blue sky above him.
A physician checked him and, after seeing him blinking and staring dumbstruck into the heavens, he concluded Walter was fine. A French physician concluded the same thing for Carbonneau.
No one took their pain too seriously. Walter concluded that they acted as though both magicians were fine because the two kings would look like fools for suggesting or going along with a magician’s duel. It was announced to be a “draw” and happily did not upset the delicate balance Wolsey was trying so hard to maintain.
King Henry suddenly appeared above Walter looking very displeased. “Well, Walter, that was disappointing. I would have thought a man of privilege and education would have made short work of a simple winemaker’s son.”
Walter thought, You goddamned knave, but said, “Yes, Your Majesty.” He lied there, in the mud, staring up at him and moved his limbs around painfully.
“Well, get up already. The peasant is already up.” Walter bent his neck and shoulder a bit and looked awkwardly over toward where Carbonneau had fallen. He saw several servants had picked him up to his feet and were helping him walk away. He had friends among the servants, apparently.
Walter dropped back down and sighed.
“You know, Walter,” Henry said as if in thought. “I think Francis was a fool to suggest this fight.” Walter blinked over at him with unhappy eyes. “I think magic might be a little more dangerous than he knew.”
“Uh—” the king gave him a hard, “don’t you dare” look “—yes, Your Majesty?”
Henry smiled in a seemingly genuine manner and walked on.
Walter took a deep breath and was about to get up when a dark figure appeared above him. It was a woman standing in the front of the sun, her face and body a black silhouette. “Hello cousin,” said she in French.
“Hello,” Walter replied. He blinked hard, forced himself shakily up to his feet and got a good look at the woman. He found he did not recognize her.
She was pretty, although not very pretty, with a slender finger and almost no curves, with long, tapering fingers. Her dark hair was the most beautiful shade of dark brown captured in a French gable hood, which was part of a magnificent French gown of vibrant emerald green and gold. The French had definitely beat them on outfits.
“Do I know you?” he asked.
She gave him a smile and somehow summoned his eyes to hers. They were black, gorgeous and sultry. Whatever beauty she lacked in face or body, her eyes more than made up for them, and sensuality emanated outward from her like heat from a fire.
“Are you sure you don’t know me?” she asked in perfect English.
He looked into her eyes and then remembered where he had seen them before. “Thomas’s daughter, Anne. Anne Boleyn.” He smiled. “You’ve grown.”
“So have you,” she replied. She smiled back at him and it was a radiant smile full of confidence. There was something more aggressive in that smile than he would have expected, however, and it made him wonder about her.
Anne was serving in France as one of the ladies-in-waiting of Queen Claude. It made sense, her being the daughter of Thomas Boleyn, the king’s ambassador to France, who could no doubt use her in that position in some way. Walter’s biological aunt, born Lady Elizabeth Howard, was her mother and thus they were first cousins.
“That was quite the duel,” she told him. “It didn’t look particularly gentle.”
“It didn’t feel particularly gentle either,” he replied. “Let us walk to the wine fountain so I may drink my pain away.”
She laughed and walked with him, her arm flirtatiously wrapped into his. The two of them conversed for the first time as adults and shared a drink at the red wine fountain in front of the Crystal Palace but it didn’t last long for soon Claude required her back and she disappeared.
That left him alone with his thoughts and feelings but for some crazy reason, he had almost forgotten about the duel and had become entranced with his cousin instead.
Clearly, Anne Boleyn was not a normal girl. Walter wasn’t sure how but there was something powerful and unique about her. He had an idea that Anne Boleyn was going to be a very interesting person when she came to the English court.
He also had an idea that he should be careful around her. It was not that she was wicked in any way but that if he wasn’t careful, she would have him wrapped around her finger whether she wanted him there or not. She was one of those women that had men following them around and eager to defend them even when she didn’t want them to.
There was so a lot of French in her too, for whatever that was worth. She might have always had confidence but that confidence was as sharp and focused in some indefinable French manner. She even spoke French so well that unless she spoke English without a trace of an accent, it was impossible to tell that she was even English at all.
Yes, he concluded. He had no idea what might or might not be in the future but he had a strong suspicion that Anne Boleyn was going to be a big part of it.
“Oh, who cares,” Walter said aloud suddenly and then grabbed his cup, filled his wine again from the fountain, and started to wander again. It might have been hours, perhaps days, when he stumbled back in front of the dead fairy tree. That depressed him all over again and he tried to push the depression away but it didn’t work. After the duel, he was now depressed and hurt.
He drank and stared, and stared and drank, and wondered about all the glorious wondrous things that might have been found in a fairy tree that wasn’t dead.
He awoke the next morning with a mad hangover and stiff from sleeping against the tree and a very light rain dripping down on him in the earlier hours of the day. The morning filled the world in a gentle misty light, the sun not yet out but the sky still a vibrant shade of deep blue off in the distance. He was sitting with his legs stretched out and wishing his head would stop pounding.
A man appeared in front of him and he saw that it was Carbonneau. “This might have been the last fairy tree in France,” Walter told him.
Carbonneau nodded and said, “I had the same thought myself, my lord.” He leaned over, held out his hand, and opened it. Walter forced himself up to his feet and looked down at what was in his hand with wide eyes.
There were six large, rainbow-colored seeds about the size of large grapes in the center of his hand.
“Six seeds,” Carbonneau told him. “Three for me, three for you.”
“I heard they were all dead.”
“Plant magic works well on them,” he told them. “Six was all I could manage, though.”
“Six is enough,” Walter replied and he took three of them. He knew what Carbonneau was going to say before he said it and he had already agreed in his mind.
“I will search France, Flanders and the Holy Roman Empire for places to bury these and make these trees live again,” said Carbonneau.
“And I will search England, Ireland and Scotland,” he told him. His hands closed over his seeds and swore it. Even if the Frenchman failed, Walter had no intention of doing so himself, and he knew the first place he would bury a seed and make a fairy tree live again.
It was going to be a lot harder to get to a fairy tree in that forest.
* * *
“Is this one of the places?” Ethan asked aloud. “Darkwood must have been one of the places and this is Darkwood, isn’t it? The same castle, the same woods? Isn’t it?” He could not remember that far ahead but Walter had been very determined to go there and now there was a fairy tree.
He looked across the space of centuries and looked into the eyes of the Frenchman from Boulogne. The winemaker’s son had been as determined as he was. One could never bring back a dead fairy tree but if the two of them were successful, there would be six living trees to replace the deceased one. That was as good a repayment against such a crime as one could ever hope to have.
Ethan placed the tub of gummy bears down, forced himself to his feet, reached out, and touched the side of the tree.
It felt warm, almost flesh-like, and he thought he could feel a heartbeat deep in its center. A wondrous sensation moved up through his hand, up his arm and then into his torso in a manner that felt like a vibrating massage.
“Are you okay?” asked Judy but Ethan didn’t answer. “Ethan?”
“Oh I’m great!” he told her and swallowed a lump down his throat. “I’ve never been better!” He started around the side of the giant tree, nearly ten feet in diameter, his hand still touching it, and he felt that massage go through his entire body. He didn’t know what it was but he thought it might be some kind of healing magic because of how it felt. It felt like warm soup on a freezing day, his entire body growing very comfortable and warm. “God, this feels wonderful.”
He looked up at the branches above him and for the first time, he saw what was beyond the lights. His eyes grew wide, his heart began to thud in his chest and he felt himself growing dizzy. They were simple balls of light at a distance, simple baubles like candlelight in the darkness, but as they neared Ethan, he saw they were forming into people with beautiful butterfly wings of every color. None of them were any larger than an action figure but they were real.
One of them flew down, looked into his face, and then smiled at him. Her features were shifting, always a beautiful girl, but a redheaded one moment, then golden-haired another, then green-haired, sometimes white, sometimes black, sometimes Hispanic—
Ethan blinked hard and then followed her with his eyes as she flew flying upward.
“Those are pure fey,” Judy told him. “They only kind of look like what we think pixie fairies look like and their forms are always shifting and changing.”
Ethan looked past the fairies and saw Mickey was sitting on a branch and several fairies were fawning over him, all petting his feathers happily. His bird face had what amounted to a wide, satisfied grin spread across it.
“This is Red Willow,” said Judy.
Ethan looked over at a fairy floating down in front of him and was surprised to find he could see her features very clearly. She had long, silky red hair, bright green eyes, a slender body with a supermodel’s glamorous face with soft red lips, and was wearing a red dress of leaf-like material that matched the color of her wings. Her wings moved super-fast like those of an insect but he could still tell they were red.
“I can see her better.”
“She’s a changeling,” said Judy. “She used to be human.”
“You’re kidding!” he replied with wide, shocked eyes.
“Sometimes we die lonely and they take us,” she told him in a strange voice. “They like girls, mostly. I thought I might become one when I would die and wake up beautiful but I woke up as Lana Creed instead so I was half-right. It’s led to me believe that the Black Cats stole my soul.”
“I got nothing,” he told her as he stepped over a huge root, his hand still on the tree. The feeling from the tree didn’t decrease, becoming more wonderful as the seconds passed, but when Red Willow moved aside suddenly, he saw what was on the other side of the tree and he took his hand off the tree.
There was a man on the side of the tree opposite where Ethan entered, hidden from sight by the tree’s trunk. He was attractive, dapper even, with his short hair parted in the center and a mustache that looked like a thick “W.” He was wearing a green suit from the early 1900s, complete with a green vest and matching tie but minus his jacket and hat, revealing his arms to be covered in bright white sleeves. He wore green pinstripe pants tucked into tall, dark green socks with black shoes.
He held a two-handed lumberjack’s axe in both hands, had a knife on one side, an early twentieth-century revolver on the other and was in the act of walking aggressively toward the tree.
He was completely frozen in mid-motion.
“Is that what I’m here for?” asked Ethan.
“Partly,” said Judy. “I’m—not really a match for him or a fighter of any sort but they think you might be and there is something else coming. They want you to stop him and the others.” She swallowed. “The thing is, if the others come too close to him with their fairy blocking magic, he’ll be free to chop the tree down.
“When he comes into motion, you need to stop him. You can’t shoot him until then or the bullets won’t affect him.”
“How the hell did Francis pull this off?” Ethan asked.
“I don’t know who that is but if he came with enough people, they might not have had enough power to stop him.”
“That makes sense,” said Ethan. “He probably sent fifty men to cut it down.” He blinked at the frozen man for a moment. “Hey, I know this guy. Not personally but I think know his face—” the name came to him easily “—Gurney. Not one of the ones around today but the old ones. He looks like that asshole who murdered his slaves. Aloysius Gurney.”
“He’s not him, is he?” she asked in a horrified whisper.
“No,” said Ethan. “I don’t know what had yet become of Aloysius Gurney but I will. Sooner or later.” His voice was bitter and the vision of that little black girl in a yellow dress hanging from a tree branch haunted him in his dreams sometimes. Even more than his visions of the Civil War.
The Murder House, originally known as Dustwood Manor, had been part of the property given to him by the O’Briens. Every now and then, he stopped in front of it and looked at it, seeing the dead black bodies in his memories hanging from the trees or lying on the ground with their heads caved in but he most especially saw that little girl. He had recently found the doll by the same tree she had been hanged from but oh, how he did not want to think about that.
“It looks like him, though. One of his sons, perhaps.” His eyes narrowed. “How long has he been here? Before you were born, right? You have a year?”
“I’m not certain,” said Judy. “He was farther away when I first arrived, though. Over by the trees just entering the grove. He has been getting steadily closer. He’s—”
Ethan felt a weird wave of something like heat slide through his center like a ripple spreading out from a pond. Without thinking, he stepped out in front of the tree and the man came to life and raised the axe with a cry.
He jerked to a stop when he saw Ethan, the axe held over his shoulder ready for a swing. “Where the blithering fuck did you come from?” the man cried out in an old-timey accent.
Ethan grabbed for his right hand’s gun and cried out as his hand stung from the touch as if was covered in needles. The man lowered his axe and did the same thing to his revolver but he only touched it lightly with his fingers.
“What have you done, boy?” the man asked Ethan.
“Look,” Ethan said, “It’s complicated, everything about this is complicated, but the short of it is that I can’t let you cut this tree down.”
The man laughed and said, “Well, then you’re dead, old sport,” and then rushed at him with his axe.
Ethan whipped out his sword and parried the axe easily. The man dropped the axe very suddenly, stepped forward, and punched Ethan across the face with his right fist. The hit was professional and hard and the left, just as professional and just as hard, followed.
Ethan lost his sword and blocked the third punch awkwardly enough to hurt his arm. His opponent was an experienced boxer, no softy, and both of hits nearly broke each side of his jaw where they made contact.
“I know you, Bartlett!” snarled the man, his fists up and readied professionally. “You’re one of Thomas’s boys, are you? Or is Le Sueur now?”
“And you’re one of Aloysius’s boys? Which one are you? The one who killed black people or the one who raped and killed black people?”
“McDowell Gurney, at your service,” he said and then made a bow that was as mocking as his tone. “And you, Mr. Bartlett, are cocking up my right to vengeance!” His voice was quavering and when Ethan looked into his eyes, he saw unfathomable, yet controlled, rage. “It stole my wife! Leigh Wellington Gurney!” He pointed angrily. “She’s right there! Right there!”
Ethan quickly looked but he saw nothing. There were tons of fairies and it could have been any of them.
“What happened to her? Did you forget she was white and hang her from a tree or something?”
Gurney snarled and rushed at him.
For a man frozen for a century, he moved rather fast. In fact, he moved so fast that the fists that came were the quickest Ethan had ever seen. He could barely block them as they came, a blur of left and right punches, but then he saw an opening and punched Gurney across the face.
It felt like he was hitting carved wood.
Gurney stepped back, felt his face, and smirked at him. “Well, well, well,” he said. “The pup has teeth.”
Behind him at the tree line, Ethan saw several figures but they were shadowed in under the canopy and he couldn’t make them out at a half-second glance.
Ethan quickly blocked the next hit, failed to block the second, and felt something possibly break in the right side of his face. He punched Gurney back as hard as he could, breaking or almost breaking his nose, and sent him stumbling back. The hit Ethan took was by then already starting to make his eye swell up.
“You little bastard!” Gurney cried and he jerked forward, grabbed Ethan’s shoulders, and slammed his forehead into Ethan’s face and sent him stumbling back. Ethan almost fell over and blood poured down from his nose over his lips, chin and the front of his neck.
Ethan stumbled into the tree back first. “There is someone at the tree line,” he hacked out and then saw blood-red colored magic held in the hands of what appeared to be a female figure. “Someone with magic.”
“Your father was nothing but a nigger-loving traitor to his class and I was not sorry in the slightest to watch him die!”
Ethan shoved himself away from the tree with a snarl and started toward him.
“Whoa ho, ho, come on, old sport!” he cried with a smile, his fists out and ready. “Let’s see what you got!”
Ethan swiveled his neck around, his bones cracking several times, and then rushed at him. He blocked Gurney’s first hit and slammed his fist across the face, and when Gurney stumbled, Ethan did it again with his left hand, and then repeated himself, making solid contact each time.
Gurney snarled and punched him once and almost knocked him over and nearly took out several of Ethan’s teeth. He saw the armor, didn’t bother with a hit toward his center, and didn’t need to. He made a wide swing that would send Ethan flying upon contact.
Ethan blocked that hit, feeling his arm almost break in pain, then stepped forward and slammed his fist into Gurney’s face as hard as he could. He then punched him in the stomach, in the sides, in the face again, and more. Over and over again he punched, three times, maybe four, with each fist but Gurney took them all because he was used to being hit professionally and Ethan was not nearly as good as he was in a fistfight.
Gurney punched him once in the face, as perfectly centered as a machine hammering a nail and the impact sent Ethan stumbling backward harder than before. He lost his balance and would have fallen off his feet had he not hit the tree, which he fell hard against back first and spat out blood.
Gurney gasped in pain, felt his black and blue face, and then grinned at him. “Good fight, boyo.”
“Jesus!” snarled Ethan. His shotgun behind his back dug into violently on impact and the thought it might have cracked a rib or two. “There is something dangerous all around us!” As he spoke, bloody spittle flew from his lips.
When Gurney’s grin widened enough to show all his teeth, Ethan saw they were red from blood. “There is something dangerous in that tree too, boy!” He suddenly pointed at one of the fairies. “Leigh!” he cried miserably. “You belong to me, Leigh!” Ethan tilted his head to the left, his swollen right eye watching Gurney out of his peripherals as best it could, and that time Ethan did see her. She saw a gorgeous, dark-haired woman wearing a purple dress of flower petals with purple wings.
She was weeping, her tears glowing purple, and staring at Gurney in abject horror.
As Ethan looked back, Gurney said, “Get out of my way, boy, or I will kill you just like I did your father!” His voice was low and full of loathing. “Ever seen a man blown to pieces before? He might have gotten my brothers but we got him! We got him good!”
Ethan tried to cast but the lightning unraveled in his hand. The magician just outside the grove was doing something that he deeply craved to understand and have at his control.
“No buzz, buzz, my fine, low-class French chum,” said Gurney.
“They’re going to kill us all!” Ethan told him and he pulled out his dagger. “All of us!”
“Are they or are they after the tree? Maybe they hate it as much as I do.” He shrugged, reached down, pulled out a large bowie knife with red runes on the side, and spun it around in his hands. “Tell your traitor father, McDowell says hello.”
Ethan pushed away from the tree and the two of them approached each other carefully and expertly. Gurney watched him closely and, after sensing his opponent’s training almost instantly, he became very careful.
“You’re not the kind of schmuck your kin has become, that’s for goddamn sure,” Ethan replied.
“I’m going to kill you for that insult,” he told him angrily but he did not act rashly.
“Ah, what’s the matter, Clampett?” asked Ethan and the two blades met as they moved to slash each other, a resounding clang filling the air. “Don’t like to be reminded of your hick background?”
Despite not knowing that reference, Gurney was enraged. He rushed forward in a calculated manner and slashed violently, as good at blades as was with his fists. No major hit was given but in seconds the two of them were covered in slashes, his armor was helping since Gurney’s earlier wounds had slowed Ethan down enough to balance out any advantages it would have given him.
“I’m going to get you, boy!” Gurney cried with a grin.
Ethan feinted, knew Gurney would not take it, and then threw his blade. Gurney sliced Ethan across the left arm violently with the bowie knife just as Ethan’s blade stuck into his chest. Gurney stumbled back, eyes wide, his face a sneer of defiance. “Dirty trick!” he cried and then stopped stumbling and stood there. “I should have expected no less from a dirty honor-less nigger lover like you!”
“Honor-less?” Ethan laughed, blood gushing down his arm and onto the floor like a waterfall. “You’re father murdered innocent men, women and children! He lynched them all in the streets of our town! The youngest of them was a little girl! She was six years old!” Ethan’s face was a sneer of contempt. “Oh you love honor but you drop it like a heavy rock when it fails to benefit you!”
Gurney tried to step forward but instead fell to his knees, blood pouring down his chest. “I’ll kill you for this!”
“Just fucking die already!” Ethan retorted and reached for his dagger.
Gurney grabbed the blade first, ripped it out, and blood spewed from the chest wound everywhere. He attempted to swing it at Ethan but he wasn’t able to, so instead tried to say something more, some last comment of hatred and or defiance, but wasn’t able to do that either, and then fell forward onto his face.
Ethan looked up and saw the crowd of shapes for what they were.
They were goblins, a dozen of them, with one taller version that could only be a hobgoblin and next to them were two human females, one a tall, statuesque, gorgeous blond woman with bright blue eyes, and another with short black hair that he instantly recognized.
“Julia,” said Ethan bitterly. He looked back to the other and saw the taller one resembled Julia’s sister Sally a great deal. “Older sister this time?”
“Audrey,” said the older one. The red magic was coming from her and her blue eyes stared into his with cold, ugly, hatred as she focused her spell in the form of a blood-red ball in her hands. She was clearly better at concentration magic than he was. “Well, Julia, it looks like Christmas came early this year.”
“Or late,” Ethan replied. He reached for his knapsack awkwardly across his stomach with his right hand but Audrey dropped the spell, whipped out a Glock and pointed it at his heart.
“I wouldn’t,” she said.
Ethan’s right eye had swollen completely shut by then and his left arm was going numb. “What do you want?”
“Fairy trees are valuable,” said Audrey. “We were going to harvest its sap and use it to kill you in some indirect manner but now we can use its sap for other purposes and its seeds to grow our own fairy trees. How shall I kill you, Ethan? A shot to the head and be quick or—” she lowered the gun toward his pelvis “—to the cock and be slow?”
“Let’s talk about this,” Ethan told her gently.
“Don’t underestimate him,” said Julia. “I don’t know how he does it but he keeps slipping away unharmed.”
“I’m not going to let him out of this,” Audrey told her. “I’m going to kill him slowly after what he did to Sally and Michelle. He’s going to be scream-begging for death long before he actually dies.”
“I didn’t do anything to Sally!” Ethan cried. “I didn’t do anything to any of you!”
“Oh, but you did,” Audrey said with wide eyes. “I know you had a youth potion. You gave it to Grace O’Brien and I’ve heard you had another one that you gave to Jessica Downs. Everyone knows.” Her eyes narrowed and her voice turned bitter. “Everyone!”
“I tried to give one to Sally,” Ethan replied, “But Julia stopped me.” He shrugged. “I genuinely tried.”
“Did she?” Her face was hard and unforgiving. “I have another question for you before I pull this trigger.”
“And that is?”
“Where is Vera?”
“Who the hell is Vera?”
“The girl in the house,” she told him bitterly. “Our little sister who disappeared into Beechwood. Where is she?”
“I have no idea what happened in that house. After I saw—” Regan “—something, it all went to hell. I don’t know what happened to anyone who was there. Not even what happened to myself, truth be told.”
“Shame,” she said. She aimed and suddenly Ethan knew he was going to be shot. He could see it in her eyes and he was going to try to leap away almost certainly in vain when she suddenly started to shriek, a bundle of black feathers in her face.
Ethan whipped out his gun and shot Julia in the shoulder. She shrieked as her shoulder jerked back and her gun fired off in a random direction. She shot Audrey in the arm as she tried to raise her gun at Mickey, then the goblins rushed forward and he unloaded his last eight rounds into them.
They were skinny, slender, child-like little monsters with grayish-green skin, black hair, black teeth, tufted ears like a cat, a pointed nose like that on a cartoon witch and black eyes with a yellow-colored sclera. They were wearing kids’ clothes mixed with rags all in bright colors of blues, greens and yellows, including hats, all very dirty. They had been preparing to chop the tree, several of them with jugs strapped to their bodies like backpacks and one-handed lumberman axes they were using two-handed.
They had been running straight toward him with those axes, all grinning like little psychopaths.
He dropped his gun, reached awkwardly into his knapsack on his left side with his right hand, and then pulled out a Heal Potion. He popped off the top with his teeth, drank it down, and then, just as the swelling on his right eye retreated, he saw the hobgoblin rush at him with a two-handed sword.
The hobgoblin swung wide, trying to chop Ethan’s head off.
Ethan ducked the swing, jerked toward his sword on the ground, and then raised it up in a crouch position just as the hobgoblin swung his blade around into a chop.
The swords made a loud clang as they met in the air.
Ethan stood up with their blades still pressed against each other and saw the hobgoblin’s face sneer into his from a few feet away. It was full of loathing and hatred.
He looked like a normal goblin, still slender with the same type of skin, ears and face, but he was as tall as a man was and much more muscular in a lean, gymnast sort of way.
The hobgoblin was also neater, his hair cut short, his teeth yellow instead of black, and he wore black armor from head to toe with steel metal studs on them known as studded leather with heavy gloves. The inclination to look medieval was part of the reason they got the nickname “orcs” after the monsters in The Lord of the Rings.
Ethan shoved him back and the hobgoblin snarled like an animal. Almost. He stepped back cautiously and the two faced each other holding their swords two-handed style. Ethan’s form was solid but his left arm felt shaky and the hobgoblin could see it.
“Die, you human fuck!” the hobgoblin snarled in a guttural way and he swung at him. He had talent, was stronger than Ethan, but he was moving recklessly fast, trying to get Ethan before he cast something or pulled out his remaining pistol or shotgun.
He beat down on Ethan who parried him for several moments. Ethan hoped he had been getting tired but he wasn’t.
The hobgoblin swung toward Ethan’s neck again and Ethan ducked. The blade stuck into a tree and Ethan slashed him across the front of his armor. It did not injure the hobgoblin but it startled him.
The hobgoblin ripped the blade out of the tree, chunks of wood flying, and then commenced swinging. Ethan parried him a few times, feinted a move that made him chop downward, and then sliced the hobgoblin across the neck and sent his head rolling away. I trolled halfway across the eastern line of trees at the edge of the grove where it stopped diagonally against one of the natural trees on the southwestern side, its face still snarling at him. The hobgoblin’s body half-swung its blade before it lost balance and fell, blackish-red blood shooting from its neck.
Before Ethan could do more than even blink, a bullet went through his left shoulder and he turned to see Julia pointing her gun shakily with one hand. When it was clear he wasn’t dead, she started to fire recklessly, slicing him across the thigh but otherwise missing him due to her wounded shoulder.
He dropped his blade, formed a lightning bolt, and shot it across the grove as fast as he could.
Julia shrieked as it hit and burned in the same general area that had a bullet go through it moments ago. She almost crumpled over in pain but somehow managed to stay standing.
Ethan reached across his front, awkwardly grabbed his left gun with his right hand, and pointed it at her. She squeaked, turned and ran. He unloaded his entire magazine at her, missing each time, and only giving a glancing shot across her right arm.
Then she was gone and it was over. Audrey was nowhere to be seen and the hobgoblin and his goblins were all dead.
“Goddamn it!” he cried and sucked in air between his teeth as the pain overwhelmed him.
“I think they’re gone!” Judy said from behind the tree. “I think—the fairies say they’re gone and their magic went with them.”
“Are they sure?” asked Ethan as he walked over to the tree. “What about their magician?”
“Oh she’s gone,” said Mickey. Ethan looked up and saw that Mickey was sitting on a branch of the great white tree and was using one of his human-like appendages to hold up a severed blue eye. “I have a sneaky suspicion she’s going to remember me when we meet again.”
“How did you ever cross these women?” asked Judy.
“Completely by accident. Every time I bump into them, one of them gets really hurt and something weird and unpredictable precedes or follows.” He took off his shotgun and knapsack, placed them on the ground by the foot of the tree, and then, awkwardly, removed his jacket and then his vest with his right hand.
“That was brutal,” said Judy. “That—” She watched him sit down in front of the tree, open his knapsack, and pull out a pair of long pinchers.
“This is really going to hurt,” he said. He was about to jam them in when he looked ahead and saw what was left of McDowell Gurney. It was a horrifying sight that he was not surprised in the slightest to see.
Gurney was a skeleton, his clothes rotted away to almost nothing, and even the blood was gone as if it had decomposed into the earth. His axe and pistol both looked ancient and rusty but the bowie knife was fine because it was enchanted and resistant to rust and decomposition although its handle was ruined.
“Indiana Jones,” said Ethan softly.
“It’s a movie. Well, four movies.”
“Oh. Okay.” She clearly had no idea what he was referencing. “I think he aged to what he would have been had he not been frozen,” she decided. “I suppose it must take a little while, though, otherwise he wouldn’t have been able to fight you. I suppose they were afraid of what damage he would do before he died so they never unleashed him.”
“Never mess with fairies,” Ethan said and readied his pinchers.
“Ooh,” said Mickey with a grimace. “This is going to be brutal.”
Ethan, before he could think too deeply about what it was going to feel like, pushed the pinchers into the wound on his shoulder. He cried out as he did, eyes staring off into nothing in agony as he tried to find the bullet.
Judy knelt down in front of him. “Hold still.”
She gently took a hold of the pinchers. “I said hold still.”
“Sure,” he said and let go of pinchers. He mentally braced himself for more incredible pain but it was harder now that he knew what was coming.
She put her hand gently on his shoulder. “Why is this necessary? Doesn’t your potion fix this?”
“The bullet’s too deep for that. It could get jammed in there and then I’d have to cut myself open again to find it.”
“Geez,” she said uncomfortably and then she pushed the pinchers in. She used his shoulder as a balancing point as she did. “Stop jerking.”
“It’s not that easy,” he told her in a guttural way through gritted teeth but he managed something close to that, his face tense.
She found where the bullet was, clamped the pinchers down, and then easily pulled it out. “I think I might actually have what it takes to be a doctor,” she told him.
“I think you’re right,” Ethan replied and he took out another Heal Potion from his knapsack, drank it, and then slumped down against the tree. The combination of magical massage and healing overwhelmed him. “Well, that sure was fun,” he added as he stretched his legs out in front of him.
“How do you handle such pain?” asked Judy.
“I’ve had lots of practice,” Ethan replied distantly.
He felt like he was drifting away and, as he sat there, he saw various fairies flying down around him. Most had that changing quality where he could not accurately see who or what they were, some of them even male he noted, but only a few, like Red Willow, had a solid form.
He could feel all their wings pushing air into him like portable fan heaters and it helped him relax even more.
One of them, a gorgeous black woman, with yellow wings in a yellow dress, appeared in front of him. “I know you!” he said and she smiled at him. “You’re Charlotte! You made the best apple pies!”
“Charlotte?” asked Judy.
“A servant we had in the Bartlett household when Thomas was a boy. She was old when Thomas was born and died before the Civil War. She was a good cook and a better woman and I like her a lot.” His face fell. “Aloysius killed her brother and his entire family.”
The fairy’s face fell. She reached over, touched his shoulder gently, and then flew away.
“You really are Thomas Bartlett, aren’t you?”
“Yeah. And Walter Kent.” He blinked and saw the hobgoblin’s body along with his head and all his goblin friends being lifted out by some unseen magical force. They were then tossed out of the grove along with all of their tools in a matter similar to someone tossing garbage out into a trash bin. A second later, their blackish blood began to vanish from the ground as if quickly evaporating.
Judy sat down next to Ethan. He put his arm around her and she shut her eyes and leaned up against him. “Goblins have been trying to cut this tree down for centuries,” she told him.
“Why?” he asked.
“They hate it. It is beautiful and magical and they hate anything like that. Why did those women want to do it?”
“They just wanted the sap,” he told her. “It’s rumored to be insanely more potent than dust. Maybe it was just to kill me just like they said, or maybe to help Sally with some ancient, probably false, magical ritual requiring said sap or any number of reasons, really.”
“Fairy trees’ sap is like blood but they can’t lose any of it. It kills their tree to lose it.”
Ethan felt dizzy from the healing and everything was going from painful to simply sore as it healed. “It’s a waste to damage something like this. I’m glad I got to see one alive in all its glory. I’m not sure Walter ever did.”
“What do you mean?”
He told her about the Field of Cloth of Gold and the sight of the dead fairy tree displayed by King Francis I to show off to Henry VIII. He then mentioned how he and the French magician Baptiste Carbonneau had sworn to bury the seeds of the tree in new and safer places. Not in the gardens, or other controlled environments as the Romans had tried, but in the deep wilderness of the great forests as was proper.
“This might have been one of them,” he concluded.
“They say the tree knows you and likes you which is rare and, for them, rather surprising. That feeling you get from the tree is not normal for people who aren’t druids or part fey.”
“I like this tree too,” he told her. “I don’t ever want anything to happen to it.” The tree was so comfortable that it felt almost like he was sinking back into it, which was rather odd for a tree, which usually felt something like a hard wall or rock. It was warm too and that made him think of summer days in California wandering in the hills with his friends.
He felt a wave of warm air pushed in his face to get his attention and then opened his eyes to see Red Willow was in front of him.
“Hey there,” Ethan said. She was staring at him strangely. “What is it?”
“She wants to help you. She knows what you’re looking for.”
“Cool,” he replied. “How will she—” She moved up to him, leaned over, and kissed him on the forehead.
His eyes dilated and suddenly he saw some other place. He still felt his body against the tree but his eyesight had shot across the world through objects and environments so fast he was barely aware of it. It then stopped so fast when it reached the location, it made him think of the Road Runner from the Warner Brothers cartoon bouncing back and forth with his feet planted after jerking to a halt.
Ethan saw a lovely, peach building on a street with the words, “Sunset Valley Retirement Community,” written across the front in gold lettering. He was suddenly flying like a ghost through the doors and walls into a room. He saw the number of the room before he went through the door.
Within, was a very old, very sickly woman lying on an uncomfortable, cheap old hospital cot. She looked extremely thin, her body emancipated and withered with age, her hair bone-white and her skin yellow, and all the normal things associated with old age but her eyes were very different. They were filled with horror, shock and fear but mostly unfathomable misery. Tears slipped down either side of her face and her lips were quivering like a woman on the verge of breaking down.
He suddenly knew exactly what he was looking at even before he saw what was around her. He saw a woman who was barely older than a girl staring out through that crone’s face.
He was not surprised when he saw the ghosts appear around her because Frances Courtenay had told him they would be there. They were all around her, young, beautiful and female, looking as miserable as she was and all from different time periods going back centuries. He recognized one as a seventeenth-century girl and another from the nineteenth century in a dress that Regan Kavanagh would have cherished.
Then, all sensing him at the exact same time, they lifted their heads up away from the old-young woman almost in unison, turned, and looked at him.
The force holding him yanked him back out of the building. He might have stood there looking at them even as they swarmed around him if it hadn’t. He had no sense they would do him harm, nor believed they intended to do so, but he came to believe they had desperation in them that was at a dangerous level.
It was because they were dead: really dead. Not like zombies, who are just animated corpses or whatever those 1950s punk kids were who were more like living people with dead bodies. No, they were actual ghosts of people who were no longer alive and they were filled with an absolute need for someone or something Ethan almost certainly could not provide.
He was back outside of the building as the ghosts crowded up at the window and stared down at him mournfully. They were speaking, waving their hands, slapping at the window, hoping to get his attention but he could not hear them.
Ethan looked around and then said, “I need more information—” He was suddenly yanked upward, high into the sky, and above the country as if he was in a spaceship looking down at a point where he was able to see the curvature of the earth. Unfortunately, he couldn’t tell what he was looking at from such an angle beyond the fact that he was looking at the east coast United States somewhere north of Florida.
“I can’t tell—”
He shot back down into the world and there he saw what he needed.
Ethan was on a road and read a sign exclaiming, “Welcome to New Hampshire.” And then, sensing what was needed was finished, the force pulled him back.
“That was why I couldn’t find her!” he said as his eyes refocused back in his head. He blinked hard, trying to get moister back into them. “The bitch moved her two goddamn states away!” He saw Red Willow was floating in front of him looking exhausted.
“What?” asked Judy.
“It’s nothing,” he replied and then memorized what he had seen. A room number and a building called “Sunset Valley Retirement Community” in the state of New Hampshire. He squeezed his eyes tightly for a long moment and then his eyes seemed to clear up. “Too much is happening too fast,” he added.
“Are you alright?”
“Not really,” he told her and blinked some more and felt better. “I’ll be fine, though.” Today, he would get himself the address for the “Sunset Valley Retirement Community,” then tomorrow he would pull its string and see what unraveled.
“What was the Field of Cloth of Gold like?”
“Aside from the murdered fairy tree?”
“Aside from the murdered fairy tree,” she said.
“It was wonderful,” Ethan told her. “I can barely remember it. Not because it was five centuries ago but because I was stone drunk but what I can remember was amazing.” He told her about all his adventures there, about how he rode in a jousting tournament, watching the kings fight in mock combat, about the fountains of wine and beer, the beautiful women, the gambling, the fireworks, the endless merrymaking, the Crystal Palace, Henry’s wrestling match and his own, painful, duel with Baptiste Carbonneau in great detail. He was smiling when his story was over, his mind’s eye reliving every scene of that adventure. “It was wonderful,” he concluded. “It was the greatest waste of money in the history of European politics.”
“You met Anne Boleyn,” she said softly.
“I was an English courtier in the court of Henry VIII,” he told her as he stared off into the distance with a strange, distant smile. Across the ages, he could still see those beautiful, deep, black eyes and still feel them haunting him. The vision of them felt far more real than it had in Beechwood. “It wasn’t going to be the last time I saw her.”
“She was actually your cousin?”
“Maternal aunt’s daughter,” he replied. “We weren’t close, though.”
He forced himself up and stretched out his left arm. It and his shoulder were fully healed and not even sore. He collected all of his things, adding the bowie knife, and put on his vest and jacket. He looked at the bowie knife for a moment then knelt down by the body. Gently, he turned McDowell Gurney over.
A grinning white skull looked up at him with absolutely no trace of flesh anywhere.
“Jesus,” said Ethan as he stood back up. “He was tougher than the average opponent.”
“They were scared of him,” said Judy. “There aren’t many fairy trees left and they’re deeply afraid of losing their home. There’s also a very real possibility other pixie communities would not accept their changelings.”
“They were right to be afraid,” Ethan said softly. “How did the Bellator bitches get through your fairy’s defenses? They didn’t have the fifty-plus whatever lumberjacks Francis I must have sent.”
“Sacrificial magic,” said Judy. “It had an area effect so when they got close to Mr. Gurney, they released him. That Audrey had used it.”
“They said they were doing this to kill me,” Ethan replied. “How did the goblins get involved?”
“She probably offered them help in getting to the tree in exchange for sap. They don’t really care about the components of the tree. They just want it to die.”
“That Audrey is going to be a problem.”
“Not if you come at her from the left side,” said Mickey from above.
Ethan looked up and saw the fairies were fawning all over him again. The eye was gone and he was grinning just as happily as before. “Having fun up there?”
“Oh yeah,” he said in ecstasy.
“He’s a cute bird,” said Judy sweetly.
“Yeah, until he talks.”
“Bite me,” said Mickey.
Ethan laughed, walked around the tree, and saw the tub of gummy bears was now filled to the brim with fairy dust instead of gummy bears. “Noice!” he said happily.
“I think they like you,” Judy told him. “Red Willow is especially fond of you. She thinks you’re sweet.”
“Really?” Ethan looked over and Red Willow waved at him. He waved back and turned to Judy. “Anything else they need?”
“No, that’s pretty much it for today. I think they’re happy. They didn’t like having that man around and now they can turn what is left off into a guardian. Red Willow says they’re going to use the eye too.”
“I can see why they wou-wait, turn him into what now?”
“A guardian,” she said. “They put so much magic in him; I guess they figure they might as well make some use out of him.”
“Oh—kay. And the eye?”
She shrugged. “That’s just what they say,” she told him.
Ethan laughed uncomfortably. “Okay. Cool. I guess.” Never mess with fairies, he thought. “How do you know all this stuff?”
“Red Willow tells me,” she said. “She tells me all sorts of things but she doesn’t always explain it.”
“Who is Red Willow? She was human once, right? Like Charlotte and Leigh?”
“She was a sorceress like you. A hedge mage back in the colonial days. A bunch of puritans or people very much like them thought she was a witch. They tried to burn her once but she says someone you know saved her life. A woman by name of Muire Lindsay before the Revolutionary War.”
Darcy, he thought. “That feels like a wild coincidence.”
“We’re all connected here,” she told him. “Others too. Even ones you have forgotten about or so she’s said. Some are dangerous.”
“Like who?” he asked.
“She says—” Judy listened for a moment and Ethan heard something coming from Red Willow. It was the sound of flutes being played. Specifically, a willow flute “—a man in the woods,” Judy finished.
“She says you’ll remember in time.”
“I’m sure I will,” he replied. A man in the woods could literally mean any man he’d ever known in all three lives. England was practically all forests then and how many forests were there in Connecticut and the South? His flee from Bull Run had been through a forest. What she said couldn’t have possibly been any vaguer unless she said he had forgotten a “man who breathed air.”
Still, it was important. It meant something and he intended to get to the bottom of it if he could.
“Fairies know a lot about the world and our fate,” Judy told him. “They didn’t—didn’t know much about mine, though. I think that means something with very dark magic was going to be in my future. They, uh—” she swallowed “—don’t know much about yours either.”
“What do they know about the wolf?”
She listened to Red Willow for a moment and then said, “That it’s coming. Every full moon. Its magic is shrouded from them, though. They suggest leaving the city. Red Willow calls Bartlett Bay its ‘feeding ground.’”
None of that surprised Ethan one bit. One of the rumored quirks of werewolves was that they were shielded from being seen by magic. Scrying, a term used for magical spying, detection and or predictions, seemed helpless to find them and, if someone were to be killed by them, it was rumored that a prophet might even find a blank spot in the victim’s future instead of an event. Prophecy, however, was infamously inaccurate and could mean nothing.
Psychics, on the other hand, were rumored to be a lot more reliable in that area but rumor was all it was. Even ones that were close to him, such as Becky Masterson, would never tell him anything. They were in a constant state of paranoid fear but if even half of what Ethan heard about their abilities were true, they could be very dangerous as well. What his mother had shown him alone had gone a long way to convincing him of the effectiveness of their abilities.
They could be very useful in dealing with a werewolf.
“Are you okay?” Judy asked and he looked at her. “You look very strange.”
Ethan swallowed a lump down his throat. “I’m fine,” he told her. He was thinking about his mother again. “Want to get some food?”
“You’re covered in blood. You’ll probably need to change first.”
He smiled awkwardly. “Sounds good to me. We’ll head back to my place and then go somewhere.” He picked up the dust with joy. “Ready?”
“Yes but I can’t get food. I should go back to school. Tomorrow I’ll tell my father I had an emergency and he’ll cover for me for the periods I missed. I think I can make it back by lunch hour.”
“You are literally the nicest person I know,” he told her.
“Why? Because I care about my education?”
Ethan laughed. “Hey, bastard, it’s time to roll.”
“Gotcha,” he told him and then flapped off from the tree. The three of them left the grove back in the direction of south, or what Ethan thought was south. To him, it still just looked like a long, straight path between trees.
Fifty feet away, he looked back and saw no sign of the fairy tree. It was completely gone and behind him was just a line of ordinary, boring woodland trees.
“You’ll be able to find them if again you need them and they allow it. You’ll want to bring candy, though. If you don’t have candy, they might not let you find them. They expect gifts and candy is an easy one.”
“I don’t think I’ll be back for a while,” he told her. “I’ve got something I’ve got to do and it could get ‘complicated.’”
“That’s good,” she told him. “They don’t like it when any of us come back too often anyhow.”
As they walked out of the woods and back to the car, his mind drifted backward, away from Gurney, away from the trees, and back to the Field of Cloth of Gold and those deep black eyes belonging to a future queen.
As he sat down on a blanket she took out from the back and spread over the seat so he wouldn’t get blood on it, he thought, Things are about to get pretty damn interesting in Tudor England.” He wasn’t sure if he was should be intrigued, terrified or both.He wasn’t able to find much on Walter Kent and it wasn’t exactly a guarantee that he was going to live through what was coming.