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Authors: Jaclyn Dolamore

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BOOK: Magic Under Stone
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“What is making her sick?” he asked.

“The doctors aren’t sure.” She looked weary. “She’s as bad as I’ve ever seen her. I’ve hardly been sleeping for making poultices and giving her medicine and urging her to eat her bread and milk, but if something happened to her, I’d die myself. Mr. Valdana lives
to bring her presents and tell her stories.” The girl who had been so fierce at the door now slumped against the bedframe, as if she had been strong for a long time and our appearance had finally given her another shoulder to lean on.

I knew how that felt.

“I’m no healer,” Erris said. “Even what little magic I had is gone.”

Celestina looked at him a moment and then nodded. “Yes, I understand .... I just don’t know what else to do.”

As she spoke, the girl stirred. Her eyes blinked open to Erris standing over her. Suddenly she gasped, sitting bolt upright and coughing. “You—” she started.

Celestina rushed to her side. “Don’t overexert yourself.”

“Your face, I know it!” Violet said, regaining control. Her voice, though weak, sounded terribly excited. “You look like Mother!”

“I’m her brother,” he said.

Violet, moving with unexpected speed, reached out to hug Erris. I could see his reaction before he even thought it through, shoving her down with a strength he still wasn’t accustomed to. She fell back on the pillow, looking stunned.

“I’m—I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to—I just don’t want to be touched.” He was looking at the floor. “I’m not ... a fairy anymore.”

“Don’t be sorry!” The girl paused to cough, and then pushed back the covers, reaching for Erris again. He went rigid as she made a second attempt to embrace him. “I’ve been waiting for you,” she said. “Father gets the papers from the city in the summer, so I know all about it, and I hoped you would come.”

Just as Erris gingerly reached out to return her embrace, she jerked away, her whole body wracked with coughs. Her face flushed with exertion.

Celestina patted her back. She regained some control, breathing in a strange way, and sank back on the pillows.

Erris looked around the room. “Well, it’s obvious what the trouble is. There should be plants here. And flowers. Fairies grow sick without exposure to nature. She should be outside. That will help her heal.”

“Mr. Valdana knows she needs plants and trees around her,” Celestina said. “But how can we take her outside when it’s cold half the year? And what plants could live in her room?”

“When the snow comes, we’ll cut boughs from the evergreens,” Erris said. “That’s what we did back home. And what is she eating? Bread and milk, you say?”

“Yes. Good food. Sausages. Fish stew. We don’t have much fresh meat, but we have eggs sometimes.”

“Meat should be sparing,” Erris said. “She needs food from the forest. And no bread and milk.”

“What will she eat, then?” Celestina said, a hint of skepticism creeping in. “What on earth is wrong with meat and bread?”

“Well, we have rules about meat, where I’m from,” Erris said. “It has to be hunted in a certain manner that is respectful to the forest and the animal. When I was sick, my mother fed me fresh fruits and vegetables.” He sighed. “Knowing Mel, I suppose it’s no surprise she didn’t think to tell him how to raise a fairy baby in case something happened to her. Planning never was her strong suit.”

He suddenly reached for the girl, scooping her up as if she were a little child and gathering up her blankets around her. She wrapped her arms around his neck and settled her head against his chest, where I knew she would hear his clockwork innards ticking.

Celestina glanced at me and followed Erris out. Violet seemed to trust him instantly. She must’ve been deeply comforted by the
familiarity in his face. Indeed, the two of them looked very much alike.

Maybe it would make Erris happy to nurse her back to health. Yet, even if Ordorio knew some way to restore Erris to a real body, where did that leave me? Would Erris be interested in me when his old life returned? If he was to be a fairy king, I was no fairy, and no queen. Just a dancing girl from halfway around the world, with nothing and no one to call my own.

No. I could not pity myself. We had too much to do first.

Chapter 4

Celestina spread a blanket across the lawn, and Erris laid Violet down upon it. It seemed a very strange introduction to a new house, to have barely exchanged names and proceed to spreading oneself upon the grass, but perhaps fairies did much of their entertaining out-of-doors. Celestina pulled Violet’s blankets closer around her body, nodded with satisfaction, and walked away.

“I’m so happy,” Violet said breathlessly. “My uncle! You can tell me all about my mother. Father doesn’t like to speak of her. She was awfully pretty. I’ll be prettier when I’m well.” She rattled all this off, oblivious to the increasingly pained look on Erris’s face until he waved a hand at her.

“Oh ... I’ve said something wrong, haven’t I?” She glanced at me.

“We’ve had a long journey,” I said. Even without the thin cheeks and sallow skin, her features reminded me of a little woodland animal’s, like a sparrow’s or a vole’s—cute, perhaps, but not a great beauty.

“Violet, how long have you been sick?” Erris asked.

“Oh, always. Sometimes I feel better in the summer, and then I get sick again.”

“Hmm,” Erris said. “You must be outside more in the summer.”

“I suppose everybody is,” Violet said. She didn’t sound especially interested in her sickness or the outdoors.

Celestina returned with a plate heaping with moist bread studded with blueberries, and two pillows, which she positioned beneath an oblivious Violet.

“But, Erris—
Uncle
Erris—I want to hear about your adventures. What was it like fighting those sorcerers? What was it like being trapped in clockwork?” Violet reached for a piece of bread, but Erris pulled the plate away.

He handed it back to Celestina. “This isn’t good for her, I said. No bread at all.”

“What!” Violet cried, her voice hoarse with coughing. “What’s wrong with bread? I never heard such a stupid thing!” She started to get up, but Celestina pressed on her shoulder.

I was starting to think Violet was a girl quite used to having her way.

“It looks delicious,” said Erris. “But I suppose my mother knew what she was doing, since she brought up ten children to adulthood. She would have said no to that if I was in your condition.” He paused, lowering the plate again. “You remind me so much of Mel.”

Violet stopped fighting Celestina’s grasp at that. “Was Mother much like me at my age?”

“Very.” He smiled at her. “She asked impertinent questions to our visitors at court, and my mother finally told her she was not allowed to say a word except ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’”

Celestina started to go again, and I got up to follow her. “Do
you need any help?” I asked, ignoring Erris calling after me, and my own horrible thoughts. I couldn’t take another moment of him coddling Violet and talking of his sister, but if I told him that, I would seem quite the villain.

“There is always plenty to do, before the snow comes,” Celestina said. “Besides, I think we should leave the two of them alone.”

I tried not to stare at the scar on her cheek. She didn’t seem at all self-conscious, which made it easier. “Yes,” I said, trying to sound as if I was happy to leave them alone myself. “It’s wonderful that Erris still has family.”

Celestina marched along the path, where weeds sprung up between the stones. “Your arrival is all such a surprise.” She stopped at a small door at the side of the house, handed me the plate of bread, and took keys from her pocket. But instead of unlocking the door, she met my eyes.

“Will you consider staying the winter?” she asked. “I know the place is a bit run-down, but we have abundant stores of jam and delicious pickles. I make really wonderful pickles. Erris could help Violet so much, I can tell. I hardly know what to do with her.”

One would imagine that I was used to abrupt changes of residence. So many times had my life been pulled out from under me, only to be replaced by something vastly different—from my childhood in the royal court of Tiansher, to my uncle’s farm, to a cheap dancing show in Lorinar, to Hollin Parry’s fine mansion. Now I found myself invited by a stranger to spend a cold winter eating pickles in a lonely house. But it remained as strange a feeling as on the day my father had entered my room and started throwing my clothes into a traveling sack, spitting out three frustrated words: “We’re leaving, Nim.”

I wanted to tell her that we ought to go back to Karstor’s
apartment in New Sweeling, where I could pretend Karstor would take care of everything. But, truthfully, I feared we were in his way. And I knew he couldn’t take care of everything.

“We need to see Ordorio, one way or another,” I told her. “If you don’t know where he’s gone, I suppose we will have to wait for him.”

She nodded, the slightest smile crossing her lips. “I’ll show you what I’ve put up,” she said, unlocking the kitchen door.

When my father lost the family fortune to gambling debt, we had moved to the farm where my uncle grew fat root vegetables, along with a handful of fruit trees, and a few goats for milk and cheese. I had been surprised to see how poor and plain my cousins appeared compared to the children at court. Most of my fine things had been sold, but what was left still made their eyes bug, and I had shown it all proudly. They introduced me to their friends as “Nimira, from the royal palace,” their voices full of wonder.

That had lasted less than a week. I was asked to do more and more chores, and I did a poor job of most of them. They laughed when I complained about my dirty hands. They teased me mercilessly when I was afraid to milk a goat. They told all their friends I was snooty and mean, and at night I would cry silently for the dancing and the food and the servants at the royal court, hating the farm, hating my cousins, hating my mother for dying and my father for getting us into this mess.

That was why, when I was thirteen, I jumped at the chance to come to Lorinar, where I thought my singing and dancing would bring me fame and fortune.

There was one matter I had not wanted to admit.

Perhaps I had been a little snooty and mean to scorn hard work. There are things I didn’t see at twelve that I understood at seventeen.

I thought of these things, standing in the clean but lived-in kitchen, while Celestina took a match from a tin box and struck it, briefly releasing the stink of sulfur, and touched the match to a candle wick. I followed her down narrow steps to the dark cellar full of jars and crocks and boxes, with apples and pears neatly placed not to touch each other, all the fruits of her summer labors.

For a moment, she stood with a hand to her hip, directing the candlelight across glass jars that gleamed at the attention. “Blueberries, blackberries, raspberries,” she said. “We still have more apples to put up, but they’re almost there. Not many cherries this year, but peaches, and quince and crabapple jelly.”

“Do you do all of this yourself and take care of Violet too?” I hadn’t seen evidence of any other servants in the vast house.

She shrugged slightly. “There’s Lean Joe. He chops the wood and tends the grounds, and people don’t rob the place because he’s here, but I don’t see much of him. He’s the sort of old man who keeps to himself. And we send out the laundry. But people don’t want to work for Mr. Valdana. Hence the dust in the parlor.”

Finally, I could ask the burning question while remaining prudent. “I noticed he isn’t popular in town. Is it because he’s a sorcerer?”

“It’s not just that,” she said. She glanced back at the cellar door and started walking toward the light, as if she did not wish to discuss these things in the darkness. “I was five or six when he came back. They thought, for a long time, that he had died in the fairy war. I remember the stories about how he came home with a baby girl and his wife’s body, still looking half dead himself, and how his mother wept that he had come home. She died not long after his return, and that didn’t help the rumors either.”

My heart began to beat faster. The fairy war. That was where it
had all began, where Erris had been turned from flesh and blood to clockwork.

She cut a slab of blueberry bread and offered it to me, then cut another for herself. “He was one of the sorcerers in the fairy war,” she said.

“I guess that when he left he didn’t trust fairies, like just about anyone else,” she continued. “He was such a great sorcerer at such a young age, people thought he would take care of everything.” She bit her lip. “That’s what my mother used to say. And then, he didn’t. He disappeared right in the middle of everything, because he had fallen in love with a fairy princess.”

“Oh,” I said. “That’s very ... romantic.”

Celestina was slightly flushed. “It is, really. But no one around here thought so. I guess they were upset that their great hero fled the scene. They forgave him when they thought he was dead or kidnapped. But when he showed up again, the truth came out. At least a little. They thought he was a traitor.”

I wondered how she had come to work here. “You must have been scared of him.”

“I was, at first, just because that’s how everyone talked! But not anymore. No, when I came to work for him I was very apprehensive, but he’s a good man and he never avoided looking me in the face, but he never stared either.” She touched the mottled skin. “It was an accident with a lantern when I was fourteen.”

She made a little dismissive sniff as if to dispel the heavy mood. “So, it’s hard work here, but I’m happy. I have the run of the place, and it’s lovely. I’m glad he pays to send the laundry out, of course.”

I smiled. “Me too, if I’m to stay until spring.”

“So ... Erris is ... a clockwork man? What does it mean, exactly?”

“It means that his face and hands look real, but under his
clothes his body is just ... metal armature.” I could never explain without a horrified shiver sliding down my back. I couldn’t imagine being in his position. I couldn’t imagine what we would do if we couldn’t fix it. “Every night the clockwork winds down. And every morning, he must be wound.”

BOOK: Magic Under Stone
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ads

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