Read Bones of Faerie Online

Authors: Janni Lee Simner

Tags: #Runaways, #Social Issues, #Magic, #Action & Adventure, #Body; Mind & Spirit, #Juvenile Fiction, #Fairies, #Fantasy & Magic, #Fiction, #Coming of age, #General, #Magick Studies

Bones of Faerie (10 page)

BOOK: Bones of Faerie
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He fell to his knees. Allie cried out. Samuel and Karin ran to help him to his feet. “You need rest,” Allie said severely.

Caleb stumbled toward the door. Allie started after him, but Karin laid a hand on her shoulder. “I'll see him safely home,” Karin said. “He'll be fine, I promise. You
stay here and help Liza pack, all right?” Allie swallowed and nodded. Karin helped Caleb from the room. “You're a fool,” she said to him again, not with anger this time.

Allie whispered, “Caleb could have killed himself, pushing so far without a watcher. Why didn't he call me? I would have helped him. He knows that.”

Samuel drew her close. If he was still angry at her for going beyond the Wall, he gave no sign. “Caleb knew you would have stopped him. And he knew he needed to do it anyway.”

“I don't
understand,”
Allie complained.

I looked down at the disk in my hand. The surface was worn and tarnished, but I could tell the metalwork came from Before. The picture etched on its surface was more intricate than anything we had craft for now: on one side a man's face, on the other a silver arch over a river, stretching from one forest to another. A boat lay on the river, but the arch was what caught my eye.
A huge metal arch stretching from river to sky…

Words were inscribed on the disk:
Missouri
on one side,
United States of America
on the other. Old words, words from Before. But the Arch—what was it doing on the disk Caleb had handed me? That made no more sense than his knowing my mother's name. I felt like Allie, like

I didn't understand. I slipped the chain around my neck, letting the disk hang beneath my sweater.

“Liza.”

I looked up at the sound of Samuel's voice.

“Karin has told me where you must go, though she didn't have time to tell me why. I don't like it, but— whatever you require for your journey, I will see that you have it.”

“Why?” I asked before I could stop myself. I was just a stranger here, and yet they'd done so much for me already. “Why did you let me into your town at all?”

“Because that's what people do,” Samuel said, just as Caleb had. But then he added, softer, “Because it's what we forgot to do during the War.” He stroked his daughter's tangled hair. “Because some of us have sworn, on our very lives, that we won't forget again.”

Chapter 9

S
amuel gave me all I asked for: flint and steel, plastic water bottles, a change of clothes. Bedrolls and warm leather jackets. Several days’ food.

He gave me things I didn't ask for, too, not because I didn't need them, but because I feared to ask too much: long cloaks oiled against the rain. A leather tarp, oiled as well. Cooking pots and extra socks. A hunting bow, so strong and light I knew it came from Before. A small plastic torch, also from Before, that produced a beam of cold white light at the push of a button. Tallow sniffed each item Samuel handed me as I packed. Allie watched us, sulking, from the couch.

“Most of our batteries are long dead,” Samuel said as
he showed me how the torch worked. “But a few have held their charge, against all reason.” He thrust the torch into my hand, along with an extra set of batteries. “I've been saving these until there was need. And I'll sleep better knowing you have a reliable light with you.”

“At least tell me where you're going!” Allie said. I realized neither Samuel nor I had told her. I drew Caleb's disk from beneath my sweater and showed her the Arch.

Samuel set down the coil of rope he was handing me, good nylon rope from Before. “The Arch was where the War began. The Arch and the Needle and the Pools. You know that, don't you?”

I shook my head. I hadn't known. “The Arch was at the heart of the city,” Samuel said. “St. Louis, gateway to the west. You sure you have to go there, Liza?”

The dark look on his face sent icy shivers down my spine. I knew about the city, of course, knew that it had fallen much harder than the towns. I forced my voice to stay steady, feigning confidence I didn't feel. “Karin said you know the way.”

Samuel rested his head in his hands. “I know.” He sounded suddenly tired. “I could still give you driving directions, right down to which interstate exit to take.”

“Will you tell me?”

He said nothing.

“My mother's there. I have no choice.”

“If she is there …” Samuel frowned. “She probably didn't survive the journey, Liza. And if somehow she did survive, she wouldn't want you to follow her. She'd want you to stay safe.”

I shook my head. “I can't leave her.” Tallow shoved her head under my hand. I scratched the cat behind the ears. “Please. If there's something I can do for you in turn—”

“All right,” Samuel said, but he kept frowning. “Hang on. I'll show you.”

He left the room. Allie leaped from the couch the moment he was gone. “You can't go, Liza! You can't go somewhere so dangerous that even Dad is scared.” When I gave no reply she shook her head, hair falling into her face. I saw a few clear strands scattered amid the red. “I can forbid you to go. As your healer. Just like I would forbid someone who broke their leg to walk on it.” She drew a gulping breath, voice wavering between anger and tears. “At least let me see your hand. To make sure it's healing right, before you leave.”

I held out my palm. The scars were barely visible now. Allie closed her eyes and ran her fingers over the
two pale lines. Rain fell gently against the roof. “No sign of infection. That's good.” She opened her eyes. “But you still haven't told me why you did it. Why you cut yourself like that.”

“I didn't do it on purpose.” I felt for the knife in its sheath. What if I didn't have someone to pull my fingers away from the blade the next time my magic led me to grab it?

Allie caught her breath as my fingers tightened around the hilt. “Don't,” she said.

“I wasn't.” Silently I let my hand drop.

“Promise you
won't.
Not here, and not after you leave, either. Words have power, that's what Caleb and Karin say. Especially for people with magic. It's like the oath about doing no harm. You can't say it if you don't mean it. Promise you won't hurt yourself again.”

I hadn't meant to hurt myself the first time. I didn't know where my magic would lead or what harm it might do. “I won't do it on purpose,” I said.

Allie irritably brushed her hair out of her face, as if that wasn't good enough for her. “Why do you make everything so hard?” she demanded. “Why did I have to wind up with you, of all the people who could fall under my charge?”

“You healed me well,” I assured her.

“No, I didn't. Because you wouldn't be afraid to promise if I had.”

Samuel returned and spread his map out on the table. I knelt beside him. “We're here,” he said, pointing to Washville. “If you take the main way out of town, it will eventually bring you to what's left of I-Forty-four…” He took an old pencil and began tracing a route east and north. If all went well, that route would take me all the way to the Arch—and to a thick river labeled the Mississippi.

“So far away,” Allie breathed. Not with anger, not with fear, but with envy.

“It would have taken only an hour or so by car,” Samuel said. “On foot—I don't know. Four days, maybe? Five? It depends on the road and the trees and who knows what else.” His frown deepened. “If you were my daughter, I wouldn't let you go.”

“If she were your daughter, she'd never have left home at all,” Allie said morosely.

Samuel refolded the map and handed it to me.

“Thank you,” I said. “I'll bring it back if I can.”

“You'd better!” Allie said. “You're still my charge, you know. Leaving doesn't change that.” She grabbed Tallow
from where the cat was trying to nose her way into my pack. Tallow squirmed, but Allie didn't let her go.

The pack was made of strong nylon, like the rope. It bulged with supplies. So did a second pack beside it, for Matthew. I still hoped to leave him safely behind, though. I'd been careful to make sure my own pack held a fair share of everything I needed.

I wedged the map into a pocket of that pack and turned to Samuel. “Thank you. For everything.”

He reached out and drew me into his arms, as if I were as young as Allie. I stiffened, but Samuel didn't let go. “I pray that I'm wrong, child. I pray that you find her.”

I hadn't intended to sleep. I'd intended to lie on the couch until Samuel and Allie went upstairs, then quietly leave before Matthew could follow me. But I must have drifted off, for I woke to Matthew gently shaking my shoulder.

I jerked to my feet. Matthew stood in front of me, fully dressed, his hair pulled neatly back from his face. His breathing was easy, his eyes bright and alert. He favored his left leg a little but otherwise seemed well.

Too well to risk his life all over again. “You needn't come,” I said.

He ran a hand over his hair, making it pull loose around his ears, as if he were just the quiet, smiling boy who'd come to say Father was looking for me. Who'd offered to face Father with me. “I'm going with you, Liza. So there's no point in arguing, unless you want to waste time.”

“Do you even know where we're headed?”

“I assume you'll tell me on the way.”

Samuel came from the kitchen and handed us slices of brown bread thick with butter. Someone knocked at the door. I feared I'd find Caleb there and was relieved to see only Karin.

She smiled and took my hands. “There's no use telling you to be careful, Liza. You know that well enough. I'd offer warnings about Faerie, but I haven't been there since the War. I do not know what you'll find.

“Listen to your magic. That's the first thing I tell the children here. Don't fear it—but don't expect it to be safe, either. Don't expect it to be one thing or another at all. Magic is never simple. And it flows in both directions: a shape-shifter can return to human form, a healer can wound with her touch. Because I can draw trees to me, I can also push them away.”

I felt Caleb's metal disk beneath my sweater.
Tell your

mother she was right.
Right about what? “Karin, how does Caleb know my mom?”

Karin's smile turned sadder. “I think that story is not mine to tell. Ask your mother when you find her.”

Matthew and I shouldered our packs. Outside, dawn was brightening to orange and light shone through scattered clouds. Karin and Samuel walked us to the Wall along a path made damp by last night's rain. Allie was nowhere in sight. I wondered if she was still angry at me for failing to make promises I didn't know I could keep.

Tallow was missing, too. I longed for her weight on my shoulders but said nothing. If I couldn't keep Matthew safe, at least I could protect Tallow. Allie would care for her well enough. She'd probably let the cat sleep on feather beds all she wanted.

At the Wall we stopped a moment more. Karin looked at me. She looked away before I could drop my gaze. “Stay to the path, don't travel at night if you can help it, and return when you can.”

“Let us know that you're safe,” Samuel said.

I nodded, not promising, not refusing to promise. I turned from them, and I stepped through the Wall's parting branches.

A moment later Matthew emerged beside me. The
dirt path continued beneath our feet, just as it did on the map, so we walked on. Matthew limped a little, but he matched my pace easily enough.

If any shadow followed us, the morning was too bright for us to see it. I took off my jacket and tied it around my waist. Forest soon surrounded us, tall oaks and hickory, but the path beneath our feet remained clear, with only bits of black rock poking through here and there. Blackberry and wild plum kept to the undergrowth. Ragweed and wild grape held close to the trees.

Beside me Matthew said, “Now, Liza, where exactly are we headed?” I looked at his face, pale as if after long illness, at the way his fair hair fell around his ears. He rubbed at his scarred wrist. That and his limp seemed to be the only things Caleb hadn't healed.

I should have felt uncomfortable, alone with Matthew on the path, but I realized I was glad of his company, for all that I'd have been gladder if he'd stayed safe. One of the oaks threw an acorn at us. It grazed my ear. “We're going to find my mother, like Karin said.” I picked up the acorn and flung it back into the forest.

BOOK: Bones of Faerie
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