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Authors: Jaclyn Dolamore

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BOOK: Magic Under Stone
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“She can’t be a good queen if she can’t do anything for herself,” I said.

“Maybe not a good queen,” Celestina said. “But certainly she wouldn’t be the first pampered and sheltered queen in the world. Perhaps it won’t matter, now that Erris is here.”

Yes. Erris might be the one to inherit the throne and all its troubles. I was not sure if this thought was especially comforting either. I changed the subject to music until the noise of the sewing machine forced us into silence.

By lunchtime, Celestina was handing me a simple pair of newly made trousers and one of her own shirts. I slipped up to my room to change, a flush on my cheeks, as if I were still in Hollin Parry’s
house and any moment he would turn the corner and say that I was a lady and should have fine things.

And I loved fine things, it was true. Since I was a girl, I had been attracted to a flash of gold or the shimmer of silk. Clothes do not change a person’s appearance only, but their feelings as well. Now I changed from well-to-do girl of Lorinar in a fine full skirt and puffed sleeves, with my hair swept over my ears and demurely pinned, to a creature of the forest, camouflaged in cream and brown, rough and quick and ready. I looked ridiculous now with my hair neat and ladylike. I pulled out the pins and let it tumble down. The girl who looked out at me from the mirror was no longer a shadow of my mother or a foreign girl pretending to be a lady of Lorinar. She was wild. She was strange.

There was something about her I rather liked.

I plaited my hair, for the hair of a wild girl would quickly get knots and fall into her food, and went down for lunch.

Chapter 7

After lunchtime, Erris still hadn’t returned from foraging, so I set out to find him somewhere in what Celestina said was a hundred acres of forest and rocky shoreline.

The fog had vanished; the sun shone at last on trees just beginning their autumn transformation. It was not only that the day looked bright; it
felt
bright, sweeping into my lungs, scented by ocean, filling me with strange vigor. I started running just to feel my legs and heart pumping and my braids flying. I leaped over a fallen tree trunk, fleet as a deer, and then I stopped, gasping for breath. I wanted to feel like a child again, but my body seemed shocked by it; it had grown used to stately movement and stuffy rooms. Even dancing was something I rarely did anymore.

I recalled playing in the gardens as a girl, ducking under bushes, seeking hidden places. I remembered clambering up mountain paths and slipping off my shoes to cross the wide but shallow river near Shala, where the court went in summer. When had my limbs
grown long and stiff and unable to slip under and over and through? My heart was pounding in my chest still. I didn’t want to feel as tired and grown-up as I did.

My steps tugged me toward the shore. I crossed a plank thrown across a trickle of river and passed through a grassy patch that had been cleared of trees once, and where only bushes grew now. The trees turned to dwarves near the shore, and then the sky opened completely, a bowl of blue above the deeper shade of the sea.

Erris didn’t hear me approach over the pounding waves. And for another moment, I let him be alone. I was alone too; we were alone together with the waves beating stronger than my heart. I had crossed the ocean, I realized, but I had never seen the shore. I had only come on and off of ships.

I made my way across sun-warmed rocks that separated the stubby trees from a slick world of tide pools and algae. Erris had a basket at his side, with seaweed and shells, but he was very still, looking out at the islands that rose from the water like giant turtles sunning themselves, carrying tiny forests on their backs.

“Erris?” I finally said.

He rose and turned in one motion. “Oh ... it’s you, Nim.”

“Who else would it be?”

He shrugged a shoulder, then grinned. “I see Celestina dressed you up.”

“Do I look terribly silly? Like a little boy?”

“Never like a little boy. No, not at all. You look naughty. Like a runaway.” He walked near enough to touch me.

“I suppose I
am
a bit of a runaway,” I said, looking at his hands. I wanted to touch them. I knew they would feel warm and alive. I didn’t care if it was all an illusion. “I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t run away from home.”

“But you won’t run away anymore?” he said casually, now looking at my hands. I wondered if it was something he truly worried about.

“You don’t think I would abandon you, do you?” I answered.

“I wish I could abandon myself,” he said, and suddenly we weren’t casual at all. “Do you really think there could be a good outcome to any of this?”

“Well, yes. I mean, Annalie told us to come here.”

“The spirits told her to tell us to come here. Who knows about spirits. What if that spirit was my sister? What if Annalie misunderstood? Maybe I’m just supposed to help Violet.”

“You don’t think you’re here to help yourself at all?” That was, admittedly, a bit of a horrifying thought.

“I have to be realistic. If I start hoping to have my real life back, I think I’ll break down entirely. Hope is painful. I waited all those years to be freed from clockwork, and I don’t think I can wait anymore. I can’t imagine that my body is still alive somewhere. This is it. This is all I’ve got, Nim. I’ve got to deal with that.”

“So, you’re just giving up?”

“I’m trying not to give up,” he said. The cries of seagulls around us seemed to echo the desperation inching into his voice. “I’m trying to find some purpose, some rhyme or reason for what happened to me. If I’m here to help my sister’s child, then that is something I can do even as I am.”

I wrapped my arms around myself. “Where does that leave me? I can’t just ... go back to dancing in penny music halls.”

“I told you I love you,” he said, putting his firm hand atop mine. “And I meant it.” He started again. “But a clockwork man obviously can’t marry. I know we’d prefer ... I mean, in different circumstances I would certainly court you, Nim.” His eyes traveled along
my boyish garb, the braids that draped across my chest, to my face, and then the back of his hand moved to my cheek. My hands fell away, and my breath came quick as he let his fingers slide down my neck, and now they hovered there, and I could hardly bear it. I wanted so much for him to be real flesh and blood. I wanted so much to pull him closer.

Abruptly, he shut his eyes, and his hand drew back a moment later. “I can’t stand it. When I think about all the little flirtations and kisses with girls back home, and this is the first time I’ve felt like it actually meant something, and I can’t do anything about it.”

I put my hands over his now. “I still think you’re giving up too soon on the idea that you might live again.”

“Stop!” He was suddenly ferocious. “Please stop. Do you honestly think there is a chance the human sorcerers that enslaved me actually saved my body? That they’ve been keeping me preserved and no one knows about it? I’ve gone over every possible circumstance, and I can’t imagine any in which that would be the case.”

I was left briefly speechless. “But why did they save your soul at all? Do we understand any of this? Why make an assumption?”

“I told you. Hope is painful. I want to be myself again, or as close to myself as I can manage, and I can’t do that if I’m thinking I might get my real self back. I have to be myself like this. I have to try. Otherwise I can’t bear it. Does that ... make any sense?”

I was afraid that everything he said both made sense and did not make sense at the same time. I could imagine his plight—and often did—but I would never have to live it. Maybe I could never understand the weight of it. Maybe I didn’t want to.

“It does.” The fresh sea air blowing across my face somehow helped keep away the tears.

He put his hands to my cheeks, cupping my face, looking
tender and sad. I wanted to return the touch, but of course, he didn’t want to be touched. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath.

His hands lowered. My eyes opened. He smiled a bit.

“I’ll walk back with you,” he said.

Even now, I hoped he would take my hand, and when he didn’t, I felt my empty hand as if it were missing a finger. But the day was lovely, and Erris pointed out the bright rowan berries and a whistling bluebird perched in a tree. He was trying so hard to cheer me, so I made an attempt to smile.

“I’ve been thinking about my magic,” he said. “I wonder if it’s gone only because I’ve been cooped up for so long.”

“Do you think it could come back?”

“Well, does magic come from the body or the soul?”

“The soul, I would think,” I said. “Only, the body must have something to do with it or fairies and humans would have the same magic, wouldn’t they?”

“But are our souls fairy or human or ... just spirit?”

I laughed. “Too philosophical. I don’t know. But if you’re asking whether or not your magic will come back, I say it will.”

“You are an optimist,” he said. “I didn’t take you for one at first, but ...”

“I would have had to be an optimist to have tried to free you in the first place, wouldn’t I?”

He smiled. “I think I feel the magic stirring in me again.”

“And we only arrived yesterday,” I said. “You have all winter to get it back.”

SOMEWHERE IN THE FAIRY KINGDOM

At first Ifra was timid as he traveled the fairy lands to find Erris. He peered in the windows of cottages at night, drawn by the warmth of hearth and life he could sense from miles away. He watched a mother nurse her baby, running her hand over the small head. He watched a father reading to his daughters. He saw a man sleeping by the faint glow of a banked fire, his arm slung affectionately over his dog.

Ifra had been raised by his tutor—a free jinn—along with five other jinn children whose parents were still enslaved. Free jinn always helped enslaved jinn, but his tutor was not affectionate. Like many free jinn, he believed the only way to truly find happiness was to maintain no worldly attachment to anyone or anything, and to prepare for a life of servitude. Ifra and the other children were sent many miles away during the growing season to work on neighboring farms, with no compensation besides food and shelter.

But the farmers Ifra boarded with were kind to him—so kind
that he had to hide it from his tutor, or Ifra knew he wouldn’t be sent there again. Arkat and Hami had no children, and every year they looked forward to having him, treating him like a son. Hami told Ifra stories while her calloused hands ground seeds with her mortar and pestle. Arkat let Ifra name one of the horses and call it his own. He had learned to love and trust and miss them, just as he was
not
supposed to do. The growing season was a golden time; the colder months a shadow, where play was discouraged, and education only allowed to further one’s spiritual growth and to cultivate one’s sense of detachment. They lived in a rocky, barren valley surrounded by mountains on which nothing grew but scrub. Winters were harsh and food was meager, but jinn could go for a week without any food at all.

Ifra had never seen country like this—lush forest turning the colors of flame; lakes too wide to see across; deer and little striped rodents and sly-faced red foxes with slender black limbs. Ifra could feel the harmony of so much life packed together, and he longed to be a part of it and not just an observer, so he stopped peering in windows and began to knock on doors and ask for a place to sleep.

One late afternoon, he led his horse to a log house. A little girl sat in the doorway, shelling nuts, and he sensed two more inside. The girl called into the house as soon as she spotted him; a woman joined her, her dark red curls like a reflection of the autumn leaves all around them. Her mouth was set, her eyes staring, as she took in the sight of him and the horse. Luka had given Ifra one of the beautiful white fairy horses, so different from Ifra’s stocky brown horse back home. But any horse Ifra rode could go for days without food or water.

Ifra lifted his empty hands in greeting. “Good evening. I’m passing by on a mission for King Luka, and—”

“We have no room. There’s another house, down the road, three miles.”

Ifra wondered if she was a supporter of Erris Tanharrow. Everyone else had freely opened their doors when he mentioned the king.

He was honest with her. She wouldn’t remember him anyway. “Please. I’m a jinn. I’m merely a servant, not a supporter.”

“A jinn? King Luka has a jinn?”

“That would be me. Yes.”

“Come in,” the woman said, looking grim. He slid off the horse and patted its side.
Don’t stray far
.

The cabin had one room, warmed by a brick stove with a little opening like a mouth. Another woman, this one dark-haired and willowy, was slicing onions and tossing them into an iron pot, but she paused to look at Ifra with suspicion. The little girl went to her side wordlessly and left the shelled nuts on the table by the onions. Ifra looked around at the neatly made bed, the table and chairs, the kitchen tools, and the rafters painted with trees, birds, and snakes—not unlike the designs embroidered on the women’s bodices—and felt like an intruder.

The red-haired woman spoke into the ear of the dark-haired one.

“How did he manage to find a jinn?” the dark-haired one said. “His circle must be more loyal than we supposed—Sery, don’t touch those now, they’re for the stew.” The woman was cutting the shelled nuts in half as she spoke, staying the girl’s hand when she reached for a potato.

“Remember how he sent his sons off to bring him gifts?”

“Oh ... do you think ...?”

They spoke as if he were not even present, or as if he were not a
person—the same way all people treated jinn, as he had quickly discovered with the handful of masters he had served thus far. A more experienced jinn would take no interest in the situation around him, would have no care for these women, or King Luka, or Erris Tanharrow. But Ifra hated to think he would become like that.

“You’re correct,” Ifra said. “The king’s son Belin found my lamp.”

BOOK: Magic Under Stone
10.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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