Authors: Kelley Armstrong
“I could see if you used the term for those with fae in their bloodline. For the
—offspring. We do have a drop of fae blood.”
“You have far more than a drop, Liv. You may not be a direct
, but you have enough Tylwyth Teg and Cŵn Annwn to make you more fae than human. To fae,
is a disparaging term, meaning one who has no more than a drop of Old Blood. A base and mortal creature. So, when I call you
“You’re mocking me.”
He smiled. “Exactly.”
I shook my head but did take his point about my lack of patience. I concentrated on the ink squiggles, on catching them and forcing them to be still. Soon they settled and turned into Welsh words. I started to translate.
“They appear as young maidens just past the cusp of womanhood, of marriageable age and …”
The words shimmered and bled into one another, and I struggled to pull them apart again, but they kept running across the page, turning it into a pit of black ink, and then …
I was on a hill. Ahead stood a small marble temple. I climbed the hill to see the temple columns wound with snakes.
I stepped inside. A mosaic covered the nearest wall. I had to squint in the candlelight to see it, but when I did, I could make out a woman in bed with a man who was half snake. Olympias and Zeus, if my classical mythology was correct. History claimed that the mother of Alexander the Great had been part of a snake-handling cult devoted to Dionysus. Mythology further claimed that she’d been impregnated by Zeus himself in snake form. As for the second mosaic … well, I recalled that both snakes and Dionysus were associated with fertility, and that next mosaic certainly suggested that. Let’s just say there were a whole lotta young men and young women and snakes having a whole lotta fun. Well, the men and women seemed to be enjoying themselves. It was tougher to tell with the snakes.
“May I help you?” a high voice asked.
I turned to see a girl, maybe sixteen, dressed modestly in a linen
—the gown so often depicted on women of ancient Greece, a long tubelike affair, fastened with clasps at the shoulders, leaving her arms bare. A belt cinched the waist. A snake-skin belt.
“May I help you?” she repeated, but she wasn’t addressing me. A man stood in the temple doorway. Perhaps twenty, with a military bearing, though he wasn’t in uniform. He looked about the temple uneasily, his brown face darkening with a blush as he saw the mosaics.
The girl smiled. “I am afraid we cannot offer entertainments such as that.”
“N-no,” he stammered. “Of course not. I … I simply wish to pay my regards … That is, I wish to honor …”
“You came to pay your respects,” she said. “And to honor the gods with me.”
He nodded and held out his hand, coins in the palm. The girl smiled and motioned for him to deposit them into the mouth of a carved snake. Then she took his hand and led him to a room in the back.
The scene went dark, and I heard a girlish giggle. I turned to see dim light filtering through a crack in a stone wall. I followed it and came out in a room, unlit by anything except that seeping light. Another giggle. Then I spotted a girl in a simple Edwardian-era garb, suggesting she was a maid or of similar station. A well-dressed young man bore down on her as she danced away.
“Do you want something, my lord?” she asked.
“You know I do.”
He lunged again and she feinted, and eluded his grasp for a few minutes, only to be captured when he faked another charge. He pushed her up against the wall, fumbling with her petticoats. When he shoved them up, I saw a belt of snakeskin around her waist. He got his trousers down and was inside her so fast she gasped. Then she wrapped her hands in his hair, pulling him against her as he thrust.
“You’re good to me, Anna,” he said.
She smiled. “We’re good to each other, my lord.”
The scene darkened again. Nighttime now. I heard whispered voices—a man saying, “I don’t usually do this,” and a girl’s laughing reply, “That’s okay. Neither do I.”
After a moment, I could pick up just enough light to make out what seemed to be an alley. A very dark, very dirty alley. Music boomed from a nearby club. Footsteps sounded and I saw a girl in a miniskirt with a snakeskin belt, cropped leather jacket and leg warmers, her hair teased a mile high. She led a man by the hand. He had to be in his forties, wearing what looked like eighties-style club clothes meant for a guy half his age. A middle-aged divorcee—or not-so-divorced—out for a night on the town. As for the girl, despite the outfit, she didn’t look more than sixteen.
As I thought that, he said, “You are eighteen, right, babe?”
She giggled and replied, “Sure I am,” in a way that said both of them knew better. He knew what he was getting. He wanted what he was getting.
“So, uh, how much?” he asked.
“Isn’t that a little steep?” He looked down the alley. “I mean, I’m no expert, but this isn’t a night at the Ritz.”
“I can give you a night at the Ritz … for five hundred.” She tugged him closer. “Don’t be cheap. I’m quality goods. For men with quality tastes.”
He nodded and pulled two twenties and a ten from his wallet. She took it and stuffed it in her pocket.
“The problem, you see, is one of sociological evolution,” a voice said behind me.
I turned to see Patrick sitting on a trash bin.
“Yes, you aren’t the only one who gets the dramatic recreation version,” he said. “So much more interesting than merely reading the words, isn’t it?”
“You said something about evolution.”
He hopped off the can and started walking down the alley, away from the rutting couple. “Precisely. Look at the lamiae. How old do they appear?”
“Teenagers,” I said as I followed him to the street.
“In the modern period, yes. They’re teens—a stage of life that was created in the twentieth century to deal with the problem of prolonged adolescence.”
“Because in earlier times, you went straight from childhood to adulthood. Betrothed at twelve. Married at fourteen. Usually to a guy at least a decade older.”
“Which makes sense from a biological point of view. Nature isn’t kind to women. They’re at their most fertile in their youth. But times changed, and young women demanded more, not unreasonably. So society accommodated. Today, the average age of a first marriage for Western women is twenty-six. You have evolved, sociologically. The lamiae cannot.”
“Why not just change their glamour? Be twenty-five instead and hang out in singles’ bars.”
“Not all fae have that freedom. The lamiae have only two forms: the girl and the snake.”
“So they look like teenage girls, and they need to have sex. They’d find plenty of teen boys willing to oblige.”
“Boys are a poor source of what lamiae need. They’re too young, too unstable, still coming into their full life power. Ideally, the lamiae need regular and reliable access to adult men. And as society changed, that became increasingly difficult to get in any safe and acceptable way. They go from priestesses to ladies’ maids to prostitutes. From power and privilege …”
“To destitution and danger.”
ur next stop was Rose’s place. The woman who answered Gabriel’s knock was obviously a relative of his. The same pale skin and the same black hair with the same widow’s peak. Admittedly, the tall and sturdy build flattered the male Walshes better, but Rose’s full figure denied any hint of masculinity. She had light blue eyes, too, though hers were darker, well within the realm of normal.
Rose doesn’t smile much more than her great-nephew does, but when she opened the door, she looked pleased.
“I saw the car,” she said. “I was hoping you’d pay me a visit.”
“Something up?” I asked.
She waved us into the parlor. “The cards suggest someone might be in a bit of trouble. Nothing serious—or I would have called.”
“Let me guess,” I said. “Is it Ricky?”
She glanced over.
“If you saw them this morning,” I said, “you’re running on a bit of a delay. That’s what we’re here about: trouble involving Ricky, which involves fae and possibly the Cŵn Annwn.”
Gabriel said, “I’ll make tea,” giving me time to poke around the room. There’s always something to discover in Rose’s parlor. Today it was the underside of a turtle shell.
“Scapulimancy,” Rose said. “Shoulder bones are also used, as the name suggests, but I’d rather have that on my shelf. It was a method of divination in ancient China. Heat the underside of the shell until it cracks and then read the future from those cracks.”
“Huh.” I bent to examine the shell cracks. “This one seems to say that it’s destined to spend a very long time on a psychic’s shelf, where it will eventually acquire a thick layer of dust.”
Rose shook her head and waved me to the desk. We settled, and I told her what had happened and about my visit to Patrick. She pulled a few books off her own shelf. Hers were human folklore, which meant they only mentioned Lamia as the Libyan queen and lamiae as a Greek vampire or succubus subtype.
“What I couldn’t ask Patrick was about the Cŵn Annwn,” I said. “I heard the Hunt right before my vision, and Ricky didn’t.”
“Meaning it was another part of your vision,” Rose said. “Apparently. The Cŵn Annwn were hunting someone. What I saw suggests that this Ciro Halloran guy is killing lamiae. The province of the Cŵn Annwn is hunting killers whose crimes are connected to the fae.”
“In other words, Halloran would be a prime target.”
“And now that he’s disappeared …”
“You’re thinking the Hunt took him.”
“Right. Which means the next step is to confirm it with the Huntsmen, ensure that there’s no way of linking Ricky to Halloran’s death, and tidy up any loose ends. Case solved.”
“You have a method of contact for the Huntsmen, do you not?” Gabriel asked as he brought in the tea.
“Ioan gave me one.” Ioan was the leader of the local Cŵn Annwn.
“Is it a complicated process?” Rose asked.
“Kind of. It needs to be done while standing in a forest clearing flooded with moonlight. Then I face east, chant a few lines
in Welsh, and, at the stroke of midnight, dial Ioan’s cell phone number.” I reached for a cookie. “Or I could just call him.”
“Call,” Gabriel said. “We can have lunch in town and then meet with him.”
I paused with the cookie at my lips and then said, “I should take Ricky to see Ioan. He’s their champion. It’s like you and the Cainsville Tylwyth Teg.”
“She’s right,” Rose said. “This Ioan is much more likely to talk with Ricky there.”
Gabriel gave a curt nod. “Understood.”
“I’d totally go for lunch, though,” I said. “If that offer still stands.”
His jaw worked, as if ready to say,
No, it does not
. I’d rejected an overture. He would retreat behind his wall. That’s how it always went. But after a moment he said, “Of course it does.”
Lunch with Gabriel went well enough. We talked about work. Safe and easy conversation. After it, he suggested I go visit my father in prison. I hate that. No, let me be clearer. I love seeing Todd; I hate seeing him in there.
Todd Larsen has spent the best years of his life in a maximum-security facility for crimes he didn’t commit. I hear about stuff like that on the news. I see it as a plot in books and movies. But until I found out about my dad, I’d never really thought about what it means. My father was a year younger than I am now when he went to jail. He has slept in a cell for twenty-two years. Eaten prison food for twenty-two years. Dealt with whatever horrors befall a good-looking young prisoner. Dealt with whatever shit befalls a convicted serial killer.
I’ve heard he spent a lot of that time in solitary, and while part of me is glad he was shielded from the other prisoners, at least temporarily, I cannot actually fathom what that would be like,
either, living for weeks with little to no human contact. He tells me it hasn’t been so bad for him—I suspect the Cŵn Annwn had something to do with that—but the fact remains that he has spent half his lifetime in prison, wrongly convicted. I’ve known that for months now and yet I can’t get him out. Some days, the sheer frustration threatens to drive me mad.
We sat on our respective sides of the Plexiglas barrier. There was a speaker between us, meaning anyone around could eavesdrop on our conversation. Todd didn’t care. He was just happy to have me there, and that was why I kept coming, as much as it hurt.
Todd and I discussed books, as we often did, sharing a love of mysteries. And, yes, in my mind I still refer to him as Todd. I had a dad growing up, and it feels disloyal to grant that title to someone else, however deserving. But I do call Todd “Dad” to his face because I know how much it means to him.
As he talked with me, I could see him relax. Where Pamela looks every one of her forty-five years, my father could pass for late thirties. The age is there, in crow’s feet and faint lines around his mouth, but his blond hair is untouched by gray, and while his build is slight, he obviously spends time in the prison gym.
“So I’m guessing a PI impersonating a cop is out of the question,” he said, about a private-eye novel he was reading.
“Yep,” I said. “Although, if someone
me for a police detective because of how I dress that day? Or my manner, or my choice of words? That’s fair game. I can’t really pull it off, though. I don’t have the right look, as someone loves to remind me.”
Todd glanced at Gabriel. “Much easier for you, I suspect.”
“True,” Gabriel said. “It’s hardly my fault if my size leads some to draw the conclusion that I work in a different area of the law. Or, occasionally, on the other side of it, which can be even more useful.”
Todd laughed, and we continued dissecting the book until the visit was down to the last ten minutes.
Gabriel stepped in then and provided an update on Todd’s appeal, admitting we hadn’t yet been able to find Imogen Seale. Imogen was the one person who knew my parents hadn’t committed the first pair of murders, but she’d been on the run for months now.