Trailer Park Fae, Page 2Lilith Saintcrow
She could not wait for dawn, the rising sun that would keep most Unseelie at bay. One of the Queen’s mortal pets had sent word, so Robin was sent to fetch and carry.
The Gates were not open, but the postern just to the north of them admitted or released any Seelie who required it—at least, any Summer sidhe not sickened by the damn plague. The Queen wouldn’t tread the path leading to the other side of the Gates for another short while. Sooner or later she must, and who could tell if the infection running rampant outside Summer would enter once the actual Gates were flung wide?
Nobody knew, and even the mortal-Tainted of a scientific bent—now petted and cosseted in the hopes of finding a cure, instead of ridiculed and relentlessly pranked by their more sidhe-blooded betters—couldn’t tell for certain. There was only one assurance so far, and it was that those tainted by mortal blood weren’t prey to the sickness. A quartering of mortal or more seemed to keep the infection at bay.
Here on the borders, safe in the interference, it was perhaps the only place Robin could allow herself to think that the blackboil plague could be a blessing in disguise if it cleared away the proud and malignant. Still, if the fullborn sidhe were all gone, what did that leave for the mortal-Tainted, even the most blessed of mixtures, the full Half?
Once the wellspring was gone, would the smaller freshets dry up? It was an article of unquestioned faith, how the fullborn kept both Courts sideways to the mortal world.
Which still left those with only a measure of sidhe blood in an uncertainty. Maybe a new plague would spring from the old. Or would they simply escape into the mortal world and leave Summer and Unwinter both, not to mention the Low Counties, as fading, dry-leaf memories?
She could have refused to tread outside Summer’s borders. But there was Sean, now at the Queen’s dubious, thorny mercy. The Queen would not let her Robin loose without a silken thread tied to the leg. What else did Robin have left? Her sister was dead, and well so, for it meant she could not be used against the Ragged; grief was a luxury to be shelved so she could do, and just perhaps find a way to slip the leash.
She buried that thought as soon as it rose. Even if it was fairly safe here, the reflex was too strong. Think on something safer. Something that will help you survive.
Her fingers relaxed, undyed nails tapping the silvery metal of the Gates. Clear enough, at least, and it’s likely to become no clearer for the waiting. It would be chill in the mortal realm, but she wouldn’t feel it, not with the warming breath and her own half of sidhe blood. Besides, it was easy enough to steal clothing.
For a moment she toyed with the dangerous idea of losing herself in the mortal world, abandoning the sidhe to their own problems. There was a valley or a city that would hide her somewhere in the wide, wide world. The Queen would no doubt forget her after a while.
Unless she did not.
Sean. The child’s face turned up to hers, his golden hair smoothed by Robin’s own fingers every day. Her shoulders hunched, and she suppressed a shiver. All the stars of Summer’s dusk, and his soft voice following hers as she taught him the constellations. Would it be easier to be fullblood, and able to set down a pretty mortal child and forget it? Regret was, as far as she could tell, only a mortal failing.
Half were oft presented with the choice of being like the sidhe, or like the mortals. As far as Robin could tell, neither side of the coin lacked tarnish.
I’m stalling. She cast a look over her shoulder, an impatient toss of her curls. Fields sloped away behind the Gates’ bars, a sweet green valley opening up and each copse of trees drowsing under golden afternoon sun too richly liquid to be mortal. The Queen would be in the orchard today, because the pennants were up, snapping and fluttering on a brisk hay-and-apple wind. Thomas Rinevale would be harping; he was high in favor at the moment. The ladies-in-waiting would be draped across silk and satin pillows, and the Queen would be resting in the tent, her white cheek against her pale hand, smiling just slightly and very aware of her own beauty as Sean brought her another cup of lithori or a bunch of damson grapes.
If the blackboil plague breached the Court, that white skin might be raddled in days, and that golden hair a snarl of dishwater. Her graceful slenderness would become a jenny-hag’s bony withering. Eventually, Summer might choke out a gout of black brackish fluid, and expire, her eaten body collapsing into foul wet dust.
A comforting thought, and one Robin kept despite the danger. She turned away from Summer and faced the mortal world again. Everything now depended on luck, speed, and her native wit. Her whistle became a high drilling buzz, lips pursing and her hair lifting on a breeze from neither realm. Robin Ragged’s blue silken skirt snapped once, her heels clicking as she stepped with a jolt fully into the mortal world, slipping through a rent in the Veil just her size and shape. Her fingers left cold metal, the Gates’ thrum disappearing like a train rolling into the distance, and the alley closed around her. Bricks, garbage, the effluvia of combustion engines and decay.
For all that, it was an honest reek, and she welcomed it as she took a few experimental steps. The world rippled around her, cautious as it always was to accept a child of the sideways realms, then firmed like gelatin.
She made it to the alley mouth, peered out into the city. Night gathered in corners. It was the perfect moment of dusk, when the tides between all the realms, sideways and mortal, turned and the interference made it difficult to track anything, much less one ragged little bird with a whistle that trilled into silence.
She cocked her head. She’d gone unremarked.
At least, she thought she had, until the ultrasonic cry of a silver huntwhistle lifted in the distance, and she thought perhaps they had been watching far more closely than even the Queen had guessed.
It was whispered that Unwinter himself had loosed the plague, and even now reveled in its destructive force. Certainly Summer had openly hinted as much, when the black boils began to cut a swath through the unaligned. The free sidhe often named themselves the lucky ones who bowed to no master—at least, not fully, though there was always the Fatherless.
Don’t think about him. If all goes well, you won’t see him tonight. He won’t even know you’ve been out and about.
Robin slid out of the alley and set off down the deserted street, cars humming in the distance and every nerve in her body quivering-alert.
Now let’s see how well I run the course. Her heels tapped the sidewalk as she lengthened her stride, her much-mended skirt whispering and her curls bouncing. She was not so foolish as to think fear of any reprisal from Summer would keep her whole should Unwinter’s hounds have orders to bring the Ragged to their liege.
She was, however, just arrogant enough to think perhaps she could outrun them, and if all else failed, there was always the song, its thunder under her thoughts a comforting roil.
Dusk closed around her, and Robin hurried.
She doubled a time or thrice, turned counterclockwise in a deserted intersection, and worked closer and closer to familiar ground. The trashwood that had seemed a fairytale forest once was untidy stumps and clumps of refuse choking a small pond that used to be a blue eye, but the path up the hill was still used by something. Maybe animals, or homeless mortals. Her heels didn’t slip on the greasy, frozen dirt, but she went carefully anyway, stopping often to listen. Night’s wings had folded.
Everything here was familiar. She hadn’t chosen this place, and didn’t like the idea that it was a message from the sidhe who had found her skinny-dipping in the pond so long ago and opened her eyes to the sideways realms. Deciphering what such a message could mean took second place to the consideration that it was familiar ground, since Robin knew every inch of the trailer park. It would be difficult to trick her with glamour or pixie-leading here.
The entire place was abandoned now, maybe because of the fires evidenced everywhere by the gaping toothsockets of scorched, empty concrete foundations between slumping, gutted tin-walled boxes that had once been s
omething akin to homes. Chill, forlorn menace eddied and swirled about the trailers lucky enough to be intact; she ignored it. She’d laid some of the glamours here herself, safeguarding the Queen’s pet.
One of the trailers listed uneasily on its pad, but it was eerily solid underfoot as she climbed the back stairs, finding the stable ones by touch and memory, ignoring the illusory ones and the traps just waiting to clutch an unwary ankle. The flimsy door was locked, but she whispered the password and twisted the knob, stepping through into dim electric light and close, sweating mortal warmth.
“Who’s there?” A pale, fretful voice.
“It’s Ragged,” she answered, gently enough. “You sent word.”
All the internal walls had been taken out. Sidhe chantments had coaxed roots to support the place; it was far more solid than it looked. At one end there was a camp bed with sweat-yellowed sheets, an ancient radio tinkling away with mortal music, and a chair; the remains of a bathroom halfway down the trailer were still functional, but there wasn’t even a curtain for privacy. The rest of the space was crammed with tables and shelves, computer screens with odd designs glowing through their blank stares, glassware of odd shapes and Bunsen burners with their blue flames, alembics and three microscopes, two refrigerators for his “samples,” and various other weird mortal accouterments.
Hunched at the far end was a skinny mortal man with glittering eyes. He leaned against the table and scowled at her, lank, greasy hair falling over his face. Rounded bird-shoulders in a dirty white lab coat, trembling hands, Robin might have been shocked at the change in him if she hadn’t seen it happen so many times before. The wanting consumed them from the inside out, when the Queen took a mind to dazzle a male of any realm, sideways or no.
Still, the mortals burned away so much more quickly.
“I thought she would come.” Petulant, a whining note in his tone. No wonder he sweated; it was stifling in here. “I’ve done it, I did it, all she asked.”
“She wanted to come,” Robin lied. “But it’s not safe, Henzler. She sent me to hear you.”
“I already sent the vials.” He edged forward, into the light. “They’re in a black bag. I gave it to him.”
For a moment she thought he meant Unwinter, and every inch of her skin chilled hard-taut before she reminded herself that Henzler wouldn’t be alive if the shadowy king had visited. The whole point of hiding the mortal scientist here was to keep him safe from Unwinter’s prying, especially if Unwinter was the source of the plague.
Robin sighed. “She will be displeased. You were told—”
The mortal—there was no hint of sidhe about him; he was purely salt and decay—made a short stabbing motion with one hand, something in it glinting. “You keep telling me lies. I know he’ll take it straight to her. Then she’ll come for me. I can do so much more. She’ll see.”
“What did you give, and to whom?” At least she was the entire length of the trailer away from him. “So I may know what to tell her when she asks.” And woe betide us both, mortal—you for letting the prize out of your fingers, and me for carrying ill news.
“The glasses went with the boy.” The mortal shook his head, spattering drops of sweat across the glassware on tables to either side of him. “The boy with the knife.”
Oh, for the love of… It wasn’t as bad as she’d feared, but frustration still sharpened under her breastbone. Her throat ached, and she suddenly longed to let the song loose. It would sweep all this jumbled mess away, and ease the man’s suffering in the bargain. If he had given up what Summer had contracted him for, he was all but useless now, and he would not see hide nor hair of the Queen again. He would sicken and waste away, perhaps take refuge in insanity, a mortal butterfly dipped in dwarven filigree. Consumed, only a husk remaining to clatter in a thoughtless sidhe’s hair.
Her stomach, weak mortal thing that it was, roiled at the notion. Not three months ago he’d been a thoughtful, dark-haired mortal man with wire-rimmed glasses, his sober mien handsome in its own way. A scientist, probably with a good job—Puck had mentioned him as a teacher. Now he was a pixie-led mess, picked like a fruit, a single bite taken and the rest flung away.
There was nothing to be done. “Very well. I shall leave you in peace, then.” There was no way to douse the fire Summer had kindled in him, and he would not thank her for trying.
They never did.
“No, wait!” Henzler stumbled forward, and she saw without any real surprise that the gleam in his hand was a jagged bit of glass, sickle-shaped and wicked-sharp. Who was he planning to use it upon? “Does she speak of me? Does she say anything, anything at all? When is she coming? I’ve done what she wanted, done it twice now. When is she coming?”
You lost any chance of seeing her again when you handed the cure over, mortal. Robin’s breath wanted to fetch up into a sigh; she denied it. Four in, four out, even and slow, for a mortal could be dangerous with the amorous fit upon him and the song was Robin’s only defense.
“I do not know, sir Henzler.” Courteous enough, and she stepped sideways, her hand searching for the doorknob.
He stopped, stock-still. “I’ll wait.” His face was now a crafty child’s, under hanks of limp hair. Now she could see his legs were bare, covered with pinch-scabs, under a pair of stained boxers with smiling penguins cavorting across the cloth. “I’ll wait, and I shall build her more marvelous dolls. Little tiny toys, to creep into blood and breath and brain.”
He’s even talking like a sidhe now. Her gorge rose, she denied it, and wasted no more words on the moontouched mortal.
Outside, the chill was a balm. Even if the place still reeked of smoke and refuse, it was a cleaner smell than inside the glamoured trailer. From the outside, it was a ramshackle, empty cavern, listing dangerously, everything about it warning passerby or poacher away.
She scrubbed her hands together, once, twice, and listened intently. It was quiet.
Robin turned counterclockwise once, and hurried for the main entrance, her heels making soft sounds against cracked, weed-clotted pavement. Each dip and rise was familiar-strange; she could remember riding a borrowed bicycle along its humped back, so long ago. Of all places for Puck Goodfellow to hide the Seelie Queen’s precious little morsel, why had he picked here? Merely to upset one little Ragged? She was not worth such effort from the closest thing to a leader the free sidhe had, even if he had brought her to Summer.
Who knew what Puck ever meant or intended? She hunched slightly and hurried more, faint tendrils of vapor rising from her bare shoulders into the night air. She either had to find the Goodfellow and his cargo, or slip over the border and bring the news to Summer that the Fatherless had absconded with something valuable.
Neither option was appealing, even if it was Summer herself who had traded with Puck to provide some of the chantments and glamours around her mortal toy.
Robin stopped, her head upflung, brushing back her hair and feeling at small items caught in its long flow—the bone comb, two long, thin pins, a ribbon tied about a matted lock to the left of her nape. Chantments in solid form, but she was no warrior to carry weaponry. There was nothing in her hair that would help at the moment.
Especially since another silver huntwhistle sounded. Far to the south, but its high, chilling cry sent a wave of almost-panic through her.
Whatever you’re going to do, Robin, you’d best decide now.
Falida Street lay deserted, shadows swirling uneasily as the streetlamps flickered. Ripples danced, flickers weaving between the lampposts. A weary mortal might think them fireflies out of season, or gossamer traceries of violated night vision. They moved against the wind, sometimes clustering, and if the mortal was sensitive, he might even hear chiming and high, sweet giggles.
A thrill ran along the shivering air, and the streetlamps died one by one, their bulbs fizzing softly. The tiny dots of light dilated, each a palm-sized sphere. Their colors change
d almost at random—crimson, emerald, sapphire, each hue spreading through its neighbors before being replaced by another.
The last streetlamp, on the corner of Falida and 217th, struggled to stay lit. When it finally winked out, the bobbing, weaving lights turned cold blue. They clustered, and their tiny piping chorus took on a darker tone.
Pixies always collected where the Veil was thin, and this night was no different. Any of Summer’s realm or the free sidhe would make themselves scarce as soon as that chill pale azure spread. Even a mortal might have sense enough to flee.
The darkness swirled. One moment, nothing, the next, it appeared, and the pixies scattered shrieking in their sharp, tiny crystal voices. One or two weren’t fast enough to escape the breath of chill accompanying the tall, bulky shape, and their lights snuffed out, tiny bodies thudding onto pavement and decaying quickly, sending up coils of autumn-leaf vapor that vanished through the flux of the Veil.
The killing cold etched frost onto the cracked sidewalk; the black horse pawed with too-slender hooves, a chiming ringing down the dark street. The equine head was subtly wrong, too.
A horse should not have carnivore teeth.
Caparisoned in moth-eaten velvet, its rider in silver-chased armor, the horse pawed again, then stilled as the rider’s spike-helmed head lifted and cocked. A faint green glow limned them both; the rider sniffed deeply.
So did the horse, its nostrils each bearing a greenish spark in their depths. At the rider’s breast a small silver huntwhistle gleamed, a tarnished star. His gauntleted left hand, its six slim fingers all bearing an extra joint, rose to touch it as he inhaled again, a wet snuffling sound. The horse blew out a cloud of frost, small droplets hanging crystalline in the air around them.
The pixies hung back, scurrying into hiding-holes in the sickly sidewalk bushes and the closest free earth, a weed-infested vacant lot that sighed under their tiny hands and the buffets of their membranous wings. The windows facing Falida Street, every one with bars, chopped the sidhe’s reflection into several, an army of Unseelie riders, each with a struggling star at his chest.