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Authors: Jaclyn Dolamore

Magic Under Stone (21 page)

BOOK: Magic Under Stone
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Somewhere in the middle of his dream list of animals, he fell asleep.

He woke to a whisper in his ear. “Ifra?”

“Hmm?”

Violet was sitting behind him. “I thought those stupid girls would never go to sleep. They snore too, at least one of them does. Were you sleeping? I thought you didn’t need sleep.”

“I
want
sleep.” He turned over to look at her. Her hair was down, and all rippled from being in braids. She had a nightgown on that should have buttoned to the neck, but the buttons looked like they’d mostly been torn off by the previous owner, perhaps in some sibling scuffle, baring her neck and the sharp edge of a collarbone.

The longer he looked at her, the less peevish she looked, and the more anxious ... and lovely.

“I’m cold,” she whispered.

He rearranged the blanket so he could throw a corner around her shoulder, and she settled down with him, her small body rigid.

“Is something wrong?” he asked.

“It’s so ordinary here. I mean ... these people are nice. Maybe a little too nice. And then when everyone went to bed and I had time to think ...” She took a deep breath. “I can’t believe ... Uncle Erris might be dead. And I’m going to the fairy kingdom, and ... it doesn’t seem quite real. I’m not prepared for it to be real.” She turned to him, stricken. “I don’t want to be a queen! I want to go home.”

“I’m scared, too, but—”

“I never knew jinn could be scared. You must have granted zillions of wishes already.”

“Twelve,” he said. “I guess Luka’s wish for me to serve him was the thirteenth.”

“Three wishes times four? You’ve only granted wishes to four people?”

“Well, I’m only seventeen. I haven’t been doing this for long.”

“What were the wishes?” she asked.

“I’m starting to forget. When I have a new master, I forget the last ones, mostly.”

“How do you become a jinn who grants wishes? It obviously wasn’t something you wanted.”

“It happens to all of us. On our seventeenth birthday. I wasn’t sure what day I was born, exactly, so it was a surprise, but maybe it’s best that way. One day I guess I just blacked out, and the next thing I knew, I was waking up to this person holding a golden oil lamp. My first master was young, I remember that. A boy. Wait—a
thief. He’d lost a thumb as punishment for pickpocketing, and he asked for it back.” Ifra smiled a little. “That wasn’t such a bad wish.”

“And before that ... you lived somewhere without chocolate?”

“We didn’t have a lot of food. There was grass, so we raised animals, and we had milk and yogurt, but we only had about ten fruits and vegetables. The best time of year was when we’d go to the big market and get spices and tea.” His eyes glazed in the dark room, thinking of the colors of the bazaar that were such a striking contrast from the tan rocks and dull green brush he had stared at every day.

“What about your family? Do you have sisters and brothers?”

“No. I don’t have a family, not really. My mother is a slave and my father is her master, so a free jinn raised me. I spent the better part of the year on a farm, with a couple that didn’t have any children to help with the crops and the animals. I was good with the animals. Plus, if there wasn’t enough food, they didn’t have to eat as much when I was around, so they never had to starve.” That was a good memory too. Sometimes his magic truly felt like a gift. “Why so many questions, anyway?”

“I don’t know you. I’m not afraid of you like Celestina and Nimira wanted me to be, but when you came out of the forest, I thought you were immortal and mystical, and you would protect me and say wise things, like in books.”

Ifra laughed. “I was never like that.”

“All I had to go on were those books. I had a book of stories about jinn.”

“Well, what about you?” he said. “I don’t know you either. I know people forget you, and your father wants to protect you, and the people in Cernan don’t even know you exist, so I presume you don’t leave the house much.”

“Sometimes in summer, Papa takes me to New Sweeling to buy me new toys and books and clothes. That’s it. I was always sick, anyway, especially in the cold months, so I mostly stayed in bed and read books and made up stories with my paper dolls. Nobody knew what was wrong with me. They thought it might be tuberculosis, and that I would die.”

“But you didn’t, clearly.”

“No. Uncle Erris knew what was wrong. He knew things I suppose my mother would have known. I don’t know how much alike they were, but when he told stories about her ... I almost wished he’d stop. I didn’t realize, until I heard them, how much I wanted a mother.” She paused. “No, that’s not true. I always knew it. I just tried to hide it away because Papa would be so sad. He was already sad.” She sniffed. “I guess I associate my mother with sadness, but Erris told me she was always cheerful and silly, and she was always getting in trouble, and for the first time I could really imagine her.”

She wiped her face, rather dramatically, with her sleeve. “But anyway. I mean, it’s no use thinking about that. Except that Erris ... he made me curious about being a fairy. I wanted to see where my mother came from. And now he’s gone too. I just don’t understand why the fairy king would want to kill him without even meeting him.”

“He did meet Erris, when they were young,” Ifra said. “Of course, that still doesn’t explain why he wanted to ...” The word “kill” jarred him. Those were not the words of the wish. “No, that’s not right. He didn’t want him killed. He wanted his clockwork body destroyed.”

“Same thing.”

“But ... it’s a funny choice of words. It would have been easier to tell me just to kill him, but Luka was very aware that jinn can
twist the words of wishes, and those were the words he chose.” The way Ifra kept feeling a wisp of Erris back in Telmirra nagged at him.

Violet’s eyes shot wide open. “Death sleep,” she said.

“Death sleep? I don’t understand.”

“We don’t know what happened to Uncle Erris’s real body. Is it dead? But if it was, wouldn’t the fairy king just have asked you to kill him? Wouldn’t it be the same thing?”

Violet told him a story about poking around her father’s study, finding clockwork mice and a clockwork cat and a clockwork woman, and journals that explained how her father had enchanted automata by putting living creatures in a death sleep and then coaxing their souls elsewhere. “I guess he was looking for a way to raise the dead, but it never worked,” she said. “Or else ... he could have brought back my mother.”

Ifra sat up and took from his pocket the cravat pin Luka had given him to aid in tracking Erris. “Maybe that explains why I kept feeling Erris back at the fairy kingdom even while I was supposed to track him down at Cernan. I could never pinpoint exactly where his spirit was, so I assumed it was just because he used to live there, and the strange nature of his enchantment. Like a bit of a ghost.”

“No. He’s alive. He must be.” Violet met his eyes. There was a new brightness to her, an electric sense of purpose. “We just have to find him. And wake him up.”

THE FAIRY KINGDOM

Ifra’s sense of the weather was not as sharp as his ability to sense living beings, but he had a little warning of the winter storm approaching. They were not long past the fairy gate. He didn’t tell Violet—didn’t want to alarm her—but aimed for a nearby village. If the storm snowed them in for some days, he didn’t want to impose on an isolated family. Maybe they could find an inn of some sort.

“Is there a festival going on?” Violet asked, looking delighted by the main street coming into view.

A bonfire blazed in the town square, with a dozen or so fairies singing and dancing while musicians played merry music. A few brightly painted carts decorated with now-familiar fairy designs of animals, intricate knots, and symbols, sold hot food and drinks, their smells roasty and alluring.

“Ohhh,” Violet moaned. “I haven’t had real food since the pancakes.” After the hospitality of the farm family, including a generous
pancake breakfast with the last of their blueberry jam, Ifra felt too guilty to impose on anyone else. He’d accepted a few of their apples and given them to Violet twice a day, enchanted to resemble the best foods he could think of, which rarely pleased her. They slept in sheds, barns, or abandoned cabins.

“Wait here.” Ifra dismounted and approached one of the food carts.

“Hello, traveler. Popcorn?”

Ifra wasn’t familiar with popcorn, but Violet was clapping her hands. He nodded, digging coins from his pocket. “Is it a holiday?”

The man grinned in a way that was more teeth than eyes. “Have you not heard, traveler? The Queen of the Longest Night’s come for the king. He named his son Belin as his successor. They’re not even waiting for the first day of spring for the coronation.”

Ifra turned back to Violet. Had she heard that? She was petting the horse. “The king’s ... dead?”

The man nodded. “Where’ve you come from?” He looked cautious, clearly noting the fairy horse and Violet’s appearance—Ifra wasn’t sure if her fairy blood was obvious.

“Everywhere,” Ifra said, trying to calm his shock.

“Everywhere is close kin to nowhere,” the man said. Ifra wasn’t sure what that meant. He numbly accepted the paper cone overflowing with fluffy white kernels, glistening with butter, handing over a coin in response.

“Is there an inn here?” he said, struggling to keep composed.

“The big two-story building there.”

Ifra hurried back to Violet, stomping down the snow. She grabbed a huge handful of popcorn and shot her gaze heavenward with delight.

“King Luka’s dead,” Ifra said. “This is bad.”

“Luka or Belin, why does it matter?”

“Because Luka wasn’t as cruel as Belin is. I hoped we’d have a little more time.” Ifra swallowed. “I don’t want to go back to him. I don’t want to serve him.”

“You never told me Belin was crueler than Luka! I’m supposed to marry someone who’s cruel?”

“Luka wasn’t cruel, but it doesn’t matter now, not really,” Ifra said. “He was sort of ruthless, but not cruel.”

“Well, what do we do?”

“I don’t know. I need to think. Let’s see if there are rooms at the inn.”

The inn doubled as some sort of restaurant or pub. Beyond the small foyer with a spiral staircase and an empty desk, an intricately carved entranceway led to a room warmly lit by hearth and candles, full of fairies, singing and stomping.

Ay di day
We’ll gather up our swords
Ay di day
We’ll gather up the hoards
Ay di day
We’ll take to the roads
Down with the rebel king!

Violet looked up at him, her eyes glittering with excitement.

A bird flew from the rafters and off into the pub. Ifra watched it land on a girl’s shoulder, and she glanced back at the foyer and mouthed “Oh!”

She walked in, stuffing a rag in the waistband of her apron. “Are you in need of a room? They say there’s a storm coming.”

“Yes. Please, if you have any.”

“We have a couple left on the second floor. Over the pub. I’m not sure you’ll get a wink of sleep at a time like this, but ...” She shrugged.

“That’s fine.”

Violet suddenly burst out, “Are you really going to take to the roads and march on the king?”

The girl’s cheeks flushed. “Oh ... no, no, they’re not serious.”

“I’m Violet—”

Ifra covered her mouth. “Let’s see our room first and then maybe we can come have a drink.”

The girl gave them an odd look for a moment, and then unlocked a drawer and gave him a ring with a key on it. “It’s the last one down the hall, on the right. Five silvers. Show them your key downstairs and your dinner is on the house.”

“Thank you.” Ifra hustled Violet upstairs, hissing in a whisper, “Why were you going to tell them who you are?”

“Why does it matter? They’re my future subjects, and they hate the king!” She rolled back and forth on her toes. The music was pounding through the floorboards. “You told me about the Green Hoods and all that, but I never realized what it would really be like—people singing about the king! I bet if I walked into that pub right now and said I was a Tanharrow, they’d start singing for me. Maybe they’d go with us.” She gasped. “Maybe we could show up with an army!”

“Maybe that’s a
horrid
idea,” said Ifra. “What do you think Belin will do to
me
if we show up with an army?” He unlocked the door.
The room was spare but clean, with two quilts on the bed and a rag rug on the floor.

“That bed is far too small,” Violet said. “Don’t they have any rooms with a larger bed?”

“I’ll sleep on the floor.”

“But then I’ll be cold.” She glared up at him suddenly. “Are you ever going to kiss me again?”

Ifra stared at her a moment, and she stared right back, her brown eyes firm and even indignant.

“Are you serious?” he said. “My master is now King Belin. You aren’t queen yet. He could change his mind about needing a Tanharrow on the throne. He could ask me to kill you. He could ask me to attack the Green Hoods, and I might take out an awful lot of them before they kill me. We have advantages, chances to win this, but we must be careful because there is a lot at stake. We have to consider what we’re doing. We can’t just charge into some town, tell everyone who you are, and get up an army.”

“But ...”

“And you know what else? I am sick and tired of you being so ungrateful for everything that’s put before you. You complain about every meal and every bed you’re ever given, even when the people offering hardly have anything themselves. I am sorry—more sorry than I can ever express—about what happened with Erris and Celestina, and I know this is not an easy situation for you, but being a good queen isn’t about having everything handed to you on a silver platter. A good master wants his servants to be happy, and a good ruler wants the same for her subjects. There is give-and-take for the good of
everyone
.”

BOOK: Magic Under Stone
6.64Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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