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 (7 page)

BOOK: Bones of Faerie
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I
slept fitfully for the rest of the night, waking whenever Matthew wheezed or coughed or turned in his sleep.

Sometime after daybreak he must have fallen silent, though, because I slept for a long time then, and woke when it was evening once more. I jerked awake with a start and saw Matthew sitting against his pillows, staring at me. Tallow slept at my feet. She'd drifted in and out of my lap all night.

“Liza.” Matthew's voice was raspy, but he no longer struggled for breath. “You're all right?”

“I'm
all right?” I didn't know whether to yell or cry. “You nearly died, and you want to know if I'm all right?”

Matthew laughed, a painful sound. “I'll take that as a yes. Where are we?”

“A town. Washville.” I fought to lower my voice. Was he really going to be all right? The thought of those mulberry roots strangling the breath from him still sent cold shivers down my spine. “What do you remember?” I asked.

“Dogs,” Matthew said, and his brow creased. “Trees.” He hunkered deeper into the pillows. He looked so weak, so pale. His hair hung lank and tangled about his face. “Do you trust them?” he asked at last. “The people here, I mean.”

They were strangers. We weren't supposed to trust strangers. Yet I did trust them—because of those strangers Matthew sat beside me, breathing without pain, far from the trees that had nearly killed us both.

Caleb knocked and entered the room. Allie trailed behind him with a pile of clothes in her arms. Caleb leaned down and ran hands over Matthew's skin, tilting his head to one side as if listening for something. “Better,” he declared. “Much better.”

Matthew grasped Caleb's hands. “Thank you,” he said, “for all you've done for us.”

For the first time, Caleb smiled. The expression drew
my gaze from his magic-touched hair and eyes, making him seem more ordinary. “You are welcome, Matthew from Franklin Falls.”

Matthew sighed and released his grip. Within moments he slept once more.

Allie looked up at her teacher. “He's going to be all right, isn't he Caleb?” Her voice so clearly sought reassurance. I waited for Caleb's answer, not admitting that I sought it, too.

“One can never be certain. But yes, I believe with time he will heal fully now.”

“Oh, thank goodness,” Allie said. “I could hardly sleep last night. I was that worried.” She handed me the pile of clothes and gestured to where my boots, belt, and knife lay beside the dresser. “You're healed enough to eat dinner with us in the Commons tonight.”

I shook my head and glanced at Matthew. “I'll stay here.”

“I'll stay with him,” Caleb said. “The air will do you good. I promise to send for you should his condition change.”

“You've already done so much for us.” Surely this town's patience, its kindness, couldn't hold forever.

The smile left Caleb's face. Suspicion returned to his
eyes. “We have done what people do. Would your town have done differently, Liza?”

My town did only what it needed to survive, but shame reddened my cheeks. This town had survived, too, after all.

“Let me know when you're ready for dinner,” Caleb said, “and I'll take your place in that chair.” He left without looking at me again. Allie followed a moment later.

Matthew still seemed to be asleep, but I turned away from him to dress, pulling on wool underwear, sweater, and leather pants. I pulled my boots and belt over that, stopping to stare thoughtfully at my knife. They trusted me as well if they'd left me my knife. Evening sun reflected off the blade. The glare hit my eyes, so fast I couldn't turn away, and by that light I saw—

A man with clear hair and silver eyes, standing amid fire-blackened trees, ash falling like snow to his outstretched hands. A dead hawk lay at his feet, and the horizon glowed with flame—

A small inky shadow rising from a bone-covered hillside, flowing over earth and around trees, while somewhere far away a baby cried—

Mom reaching toward the surface of a huge curving mirror, clutching the metal disk she always wore and
whispering a few words. Moonlight reflected off the disk, off the mirror, off the tears on her cheeks. At last the mirror parted like water, and she stepped through—

I reached after her. Someone cried out. Pain sliced through my palm, and the vision was gone. I fell to my knees, clutching the knife's blade so tightly I feared to let go. I knew there'd be pain when I did.

Another hand touched mine. Caleb unfolded my fingers from around the blade, one by one. Allie knelt beside him. As Caleb drew the knife away, she pressed a strip of yellowed sheet from Before against my hand. My palm and fingers throbbed as I watched bright red blood spread through the bandage. Allie pressed another strip over the first. Blood stained Caleb's fingers and dripped from the blade he now held. I stared at him, knew him: the young man in my visions who'd walked amid the dead trees.

He set the knife down on the dresser and put a hand on Allie's shoulder. “Do you want to heal this, or shall I?”

“She's my charge.” Allie's voice shook, but her hand, pressing the bandages to mine, was steady. Matthew reached for my other hand and squeezed it hard. When had he gotten out of bed? Allie pressed the sheets harder
against my palm. I flinched as pain flared through my hand. She lessened the pressure and said, “You grabbed hold of that blade so tight. Why?”

Caleb said, “Healing first. Questions later. Always.”

Allie nodded and touched the bandages lightly. I felt the faintest of shivers. As I watched, the bright blood darkened and dried, its metallic scent giving way to something older and mustier.

“Good. You stopped the bleeding first.” Caleb's steady voice reminded me of Father's the first time he'd set a bow in my hands.

Allie unwrapped the bandages. I bit my lip as dried blood tore away from my skin. “Sorry,” Allie muttered. She ran her cool fingers over two angry red gashes, one across my palm, one along the inside of my knuckles. “It's not very deep.” She shut her eyes, scrunching her face in concentration. Her fingers grew colder. Slowly she traced the first cut, and the cold seeped through my skin, numbing it. Silver light trailed from her fingers. Beneath that light my torn skin wove itself back together, stretching uncomfortably around first one wound, then the other. The cold moved deeper, chilling bone. Just when I thought I'd have to cry out, Allie drew away. Two silver lines danced over my hand, then sank beneath the skin.

The cold spread out, became part of my hand, became
right.
I saw no blood, felt no pain. I traced my finger over two faint white lines like old scars. I remembered a dream of silver light. I looked up at Allie in wonder.

She opened her eyes and grinned. “That was
fun.”

“Well done,” Caleb told her.

“It was easy. Liza doesn't fuss, not like the time Jared gashed his knee.”

Caleb nodded solemnly, then turned to me. “You were lucky. If Matthew hadn't called out, if Allison and I hadn't come—that wound could have been far deeper. You could have cut through to bone.”

“I know,” I said, avoiding his eyes.

“Such luck does not hold forever. Let's have the source of this so we can deal with it and your shadow both. Tell me what you saw.”

I stared at my palm, wondering how he knew I saw anything. Yet Matthew had known, too, even though, like Caleb, he couldn't see my visions for himself. I shivered, remembering the soft fall of ash from a burning sky. Healing was one thing, but visions of death and fire, visions in which Caleb himself played some strange part? I opened my mouth to speak, felt my throat tighten around the words. No. I couldn't share this, neither with
strangers nor with those I knew. I feared that if I spoke, the visions would turn real.

Caleb frowned, his eyes bright in the fading light. “Magic and trouble have one thing in common. Neither grows smaller if denied. We will speak of this again soon.” He turned away, helping Matthew back into bed.

Allie folded up the bloodied bandages, her grin fading. I knew she wanted answers, too, but she only said, “You're still coming to dinner, aren't you?”

Caleb had set my knife on the dresser. I took it, wiped the blade carefully on a spare bandage, and slipped it into my belt. Allie frowned at that. I glanced at Matthew, hesitant to leave him alone.

Tallow emerged from beneath the bed, stretching and yawning. Caleb turned to me again, eyes narrowed. If I stayed here, he'd only ask more questions. I took the old cat in my arms and followed Allie from the room.

Samuel joined us downstairs. Together we stepped outside into a twilight town much like my own: dirt path, whitewashed houses, open fields. The sky was heavy with the wet dishrag smell that came before rain. Yet
beyond the houses and fields I caught glimpses of a green hedge, taller than a grown man. The Commons was the largest building in town. A cracked sign above the door read Coffee Pot Café. “That sign used to light up pink and green,” Samuel told me as we stepped inside. “Tack iest thing for miles around. I sure miss the coffee, though.”

A few dozen people sat in a room lit by bright lamps much like those in Samuel's house. In one corner, someone played a tarnished old flute while others listened as they ate. Mom used to play the flute, Before, but who had time for such things now? Didn't players and listeners both have work to do, in this town as much as in mine? The listeners here included a toddler with clear hair that curled about her shoulders, but no one seemed concerned, any more than they seemed concerned about Karin or Caleb.

In a kitchen beyond a rusted metal counter, Samuel, Allie, and I served ourselves bowls of fish and bean stew from a cauldron over a hearth. Allie also handed me a round green fruit, which she called an apple. I wondered why any town would risk harvesting fruit. Corn and beans were dangerous enough, and they didn't grow on
trees. Unless, of course, the apple trees listened to Karin the same way mulberry trees did.

Another couple joined us at one of the room's steel-and-plastic tables. They had a girl Allie's age with them, as well as a boy a little younger. I felt everyone's eyes on me as I ate, but no one asked any more questions. For a while Allie's gaze kept straying to my knife, as if she feared she'd find me clutching steel again at any moment. Then Tallow twined around Allie's legs, and she turned her attention to offering the cat small pieces of fish. The other girl joined in. Tallow walked back and forth between them, happily licking their fingers. I bit into my apple. It tasted so sweet my teeth hurt—sweeter than tea dosed with mint, sweeter than new-harvested corn.

As we ate, Samuel and the couple, Alan and Jan, told me about their lives. Samuel's wife, Sara, had died years ago in childbirth. I was wearing her clothes and was staying in the home she and Samuel had moved into just a few weeks before the War, right after they'd gotten married.

Samuel said Sara was in the hunting party that first discovered Caleb and Karin—they were brother and sister—traveling through the woods outside Washville.

They'd come all the way from the city, where Karin had been injured fighting in the War. That startled me, both because it meant Karin was older than she looked and because I didn't know anyone who'd fought in the War. Dad had a brother in the army who had likely died in the fighting, but he hardly ever talked about that.

Yet somehow Karin had survived, maybe because Caleb had healed her. Even so, Caleb and Karin had both been in pretty bad shape. At first no one but Sara had wanted to help them, because they were strangers or because of their magic, I couldn't tell. No one trusted their magic enough to leave them unguarded, either, though. I knew how my town would have solved that—with a couple of swift strokes across their throats, as Father would say—but Washville's people brought Caleb and Karin back with them instead. Over time Caleb and Karin must have earned everyone's trust, for no one questioned their presence in Washville now. Was it because she'd fought against magic that Karin had so much magic herself? But if she'd had magic since she was a child, she'd had it since before the War. I hadn't known there were any humans with magic Before. What about Caleb? Had his magic found him Before, too?

Wherever Karin's magic came from, once she was well she used it to create the hedge that surrounded the town. “And a good thing for us she did,” Samuel said.

“The Wall protects us,” Alan explained as he rubbed Jan's shoulders.

“Lets us decide what magic to let in,” Jan agreed. “And what magic to keep …” Her words trailed off. She stood, brushing her husband's hands away.

The boy beside Allie stared into his cupped hands, gazing in wonder at a glowing stone. It shone in licheny patches, bright violet against dull gray. Allie and the other girl stared, too. My hands flew to my mouth, afraid. Stones like that had been weapons during the War.

Yet no one else seemed frightened. “I'll get Karin,” Alan said, even as Jan moved to her son's side.

“Jared,” she said, but his attention was entirely on the rock. She knelt and put an arm around his shoulders, hugging him without disturbing the stone.

I whispered, “Don't touch any stone that glows—”

“But it's his magic,” Samuel said, as if I should have known, “not some trap left over from the War.”

“You mean Jared made that happen?” The room seemed suddenly cold. I imagined the light overflowing

Jared's stone and consuming him, just as the blackberry plant had consumed Matthew's little brother and parents.

Alan returned with Karin in tow. The pale-haired woman was smiling. Was the stone Jared held truly no danger? Karin glanced at me and nodded, but her attention was mostly on Jared. He looked up at her, his own smile stretching to the edges of his face. Jan and Alan moved to either side of their son, each laying a hand on one of his shoulders. Samuel stood, too, as did Allie and Jared's sister. Reluctantly I stood with them. Other townsfolk gathered around in a rough circle to watch.

“You know the words?” Karin asked him.

“No harm …,” Jared began, but he sounded uncertain.

Karin chanted,

“Blessed are the powers that grant me magic.

I promise to use their gift well.

To help mend my world,

To help mend all worlds.

And should I forget to mend,

Should I refuse to mend,

Still I will remember

To do no harm.”

BOOK: Bones of Faerie
13.79Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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