Tag Archives: magic

The English Section: The Killing Of The Saints – Alex Abella

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I’ve recently discovered our local library, which has a large selection of English books, most of which are not the sort I’d usually read (fantasy, comedy or both). In the aim of opening my mind (and to avoid dithering in front of said bookshelves for ages while my partner and child wait impatiently to leave), I’ve decided to read all of them, one by one, in the order I find them, that is according to the Dewey decimal system, and to do a book review of each one. Of course, I’ll miss some because they’ll be taken out, but I’ll just pick those up later as I go along.

The first book is called The Killing Of The Saints by Alex Abella.

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Not sure I want to know what the image is supposed to be.

It’s about a lawyer who, seemingly in spite of himself, ends up having to defend a mass murderer who claims he was possessed by a god – that’s what the blurb says. It’s also about racism and corruption and politics. It’s about a guy who goes above and beyond the call of duty to defend a mass murderer who he secretly hopes will end up with a death sentence, because even he has a right to a proper defence. It’s about a man who seems bent on destroying his own life, who subconsciously sentences himself to misery for crimes you can’t entirely blame him for, but you can’t say he’s entirely innocent, either. It’s about dealing with huge moral grey areas with a justice system that sees only in black and white.

And it’s about gods and ghosts and religious fanatics, and you could probably explain away most of the scenes through mass hysteria etc., but then you could also not, and choose to believe, because it’s a story, and it gives you that choice.

Unfortunately, what with my new motherly duties, I didn’t actually manage to finish this book before I had to return it, which is not an excellent start to a project which entails doing book reviews, but never mind. I got to the very last chapter, which I think was something of an epilogue – in other words, I know how the trial turned out. I don’t know what the deal with the ghost was (you’ll see what I mean if you read the book, I’m not saying more because no spoilers), but I can tell the last chapter attempts to explain it. I want to finish the book, and maybe I’ll speed-read the ending next time I’m in the library, but that would be a pity, because speed-reading means skipping all the colourful descriptions that drew me in in the first place.

I give it four stars on Goodreads, because it wasn’t at all what I expected, and I had no idea how it would end until I read it (and I still want to read the bit I didn’t finish). It introduced me to a culture (Cuban latino) and a religion (Santeria) that I knew little to nothing about, which was fun, I mentally read almost all the dialogues in a Brooklyn accent (despite it being set in L.A.) which was also fun, and I didn’t expect the paranormal aspect to be such a big part of the story, which was interesting in a crime novel. I liked how there were odd bits of Spanish – artfully translated by the narrator where needed – that immersed me in a whole different culture to the ones I know. The legal stuff goes right over my head, but that’s ok – the author tells it in such a way as not to make it boring.

The main character is deeply flawed, sometimes downright stupid in his life decisions, and often a bit of a twat. The moral principles he lives by make him hate the environment and the people he lives with, who seem to have none for the most part, and he also hates himself for past transgressions that, while they’re undeniably serious, are also somewhat understandable given the circumstances, and god this is hard to talk about without spoiling anything, so I’ll just say this: it’s a good book. If you see in your local library, take it out and read it.

Wow, I am shite at book reviews. Join me in three weeks (or less, if we’re lucky) for my opinion on whatever I’ve managed to read of Alentejo Blue by Monica Ali.

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The Silver Locket

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Arwyn was lost. She hadn’t left the castle, but three moons of living there weren’t nearly enough to memorise the endless tunnels, halls and chambers that riddled the hill. It wasn’t so much the rooms themselves, than the ways in which they sometimes disappeared, reappearing elsewhere, or led to someplace completely different. There were certain patterns to their wandering; however, each place had a different pattern, and Arwyn hadn’t figured all of them out yet.

Usually, finding her way around was a question of willpower. The will of the castle could be overpowered with glamour, just like a living being, as long as one remained alert. Arwyn, however, had come to the Glimmerlands with a dangerous tendency to let her mind wander, which would have made her excellent prey to certain rare species of man-eating fairies, had she truly been human. As it was, it meant that Orren had spent much of their first moon home fetching her back from secret courtyards and hidden wine cellars with fast-waning patience.

Since then, she had learned to glamour her way back from wherever she found herself, although Orren would have been alarmed if he’d known how often she still had to do it. Lack of incentive had a lot to do with it: secretly, Arwyn liked getting lost.

Today she found herself wandering down a tunnel so long that she couldn’t see either end of it. She walked down it for a little while longer, but it didn’t lead anywhere interesting so eventually she put her hands on the earthen wall and asked the castle to take her back. The trick was to try to sound like a brownie, as they were the guardians of hearth and home, and homes obeyed them. She’d met some of the castle brownies, but they didn’t talk much. They were always occupied with some task, and got irritated if you kept them from it.

“Hello Castle,” she said, making her voice a little deeper and more gravelly than usual. “Take me back to the moonlit courtyard please? I’d much appreciate it.” She stroked the wall, and it hardened into a wooden door. “Many thanks,” she said, opening it.

The circular moonlit courtyard was Arwyn’s favourite place in the castle so far. It was usually empty and always brightly lit, even on moonless nights, by floating spidersilk lanterns that drifted here and there like so many brightly-coloured ghosts. The courtyard also held a series of odd wood-root statues that in turn held small mirrors, probably sneaked in from Cat’s Court by an inventive ancestor. These placed in such a way that, depending on what phase of the moon it was, the light they reflected cast shadowy images on the walls. Orren had told her there were stories behind the images, but these had been lost in time, when writing had been banned and before tellers began to learn the lesser histories.

The statues rose from gaps in the mosaic that covered the ground, the image of which shifted according to the mood in the castle. Today it depicted a tall yellow beauty surrounded by bowing subjects, all lined up to with gifts: Arwyn had accidentally introduced her to the notion of birthdays, and Yorwen had decided to overlook the fact that it was a human tradition and adopt it as yet another excuse to have a party. Today, she had decided, was her own birthday, and every one of her Borderland subjects had to give her a present. Gifts had indeed been arriving since moonrise, and piles of them now littered the entrance hall. Orren had managed to persuade her to have them displayed in store rooms, where she could open them later, and was now occupied giving orders to the team of servants charged with carting them away.

This suited Arwyn. Her brother had barely left her alone of late, and she was getting tired of his company – and that of Echo. It was good to be alone again.

Movement nearby caught her eye. She turned as though to walk away from it, then spun when she saw it again – to find Tarendal facing her.

“Ah,” he said, a little ruefully. “I didn’t expect to find you here, my lady.”

“Nor I you,” she said. “But it surprises me more that you tried to sneak out without greeting me. Are we not supposed to be lovers?” She smiled at the surprise on his face.

“Not that I’d refuse should you choose me to be your lover, lady,” said the elf, licking his lips, “but I fear I might get you into trouble, should you be found with me, ah, right now.”

She frowned as she noticed how his glamour flickered, leading her eyes away from… where?

“What’s that in your pocket?”

For a second she doubted that she’d seen anything in his pocket, but then his glamour dropped altogether.

Arwyn stared at one of the first unglamoured fairies she’d ever seen, and wondered what she was about to hear. Fairies dropped glamour on the rare occasions when they took oaths, for though they couldn’t lie, it was traditional to show one’s true self as proof of honesty in such times. Nervous under her gaze, Tarendal glanced around before pulling her to a bench in the shadow of a statue.

“Please forgive me for even thinking of hiding this from you, my Lady, but I didn’t know how you… how I should…” He stopped. Without glamour, his long, thin fairy traits were exaggerated, and yet his awkwardness made him look almost human. He took a deep breath.

“I know I said I couldn’t find anything about the identity of the girl you used to be,” he began, “but what you said about her reminded me of a – no more than a rumour, really – about a child who had been found in the woods one day and adopted into a certain household. What struck me was that when I went in on a routine mission for artefacts to sell, I asked around, and the humans of the village all seemed to have forgotten about it. They did mention a young lady who had disappeared into the woods quite recently… that would be you.

“One of the humans was particularly talkative, and she showed me where the girl had lived. I went back in the night to see if I could find out anything else, and while I was searching I came across a woman… and this woman could see me for what I was. She didn’t seem alarmed. On the contrary, she looked like she’d been waiting for me, and before I could speak, she said ‘I know you’re not the one who took her. I know…'” he stopped, troubled. “I… can’t remember all of it. She made it clear that she knew where you were, and who had taken you, and she asked me to give you this.”

He opened his hand.

Arwyn clapped her hands over her mouth. She reached out her hand to touch the silver object, making sure it was real, then withdrew.

“There is glamour on this.”

“It is not mine,” said Tarendal. “That’s what I found curious. I could feel a fixed glamour on it – an unbreakable one, if you will, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it were magicked, too. But the oddest thing was that I also felt glamour on the woman who gave it to me, and yet there wasn’t another fairy in sight.”

On Mother? Arwyn thought. Somebody was lending her their glamour, the way Orren had lent Arwyn his? Who? And why?

She picked up the locket and opened it. In one side was a cracked mirror, in the other, a watch. Leah had often let her play with it as a child. She remembered playing in the forest with Kieran and John, and…

…and?

The names surprised her, coming so readily into her mind after three moons of them slipping through her fingers like water. If only the rest would come as easily… there had been something special about this locket, she remembered. The watch never worked, but it had been an essential part of their games.

Questions spun in her mind. She picked one at random.

“Can humans use glamour?”

“No,” said Tarendal. “But they can lie without consequence, which is a much better power, if you ask me. Glamour can be sensed, whereas lies cannot.”

“My father… her father, he always knew when I was lying.”

“But he is a wordsmith, is he not?” Arwyn looked at him, surprised. “The woman who showed me where your foster family lived mentioned it. A man who writes lies and sells them for a living must surely be an expert on the matter.”

Arwyn nodded slowly. It was fairy logic, certainly, but she had learned that fairy logic was far more often applicable in Cat’s Court than its inhabitants would think – the grown-up ones, at least.

The memory of a dream fluttered through her consciousness. She strained to maintain her glamour over the blush that warmed her cheeks, then felt oddly guilty for maintaining it before Tarendal’s pure honesty. She hesitated, but had to know.

“Tarendal, did you meet a dark-haired boy called John? He was a chandler’s son. We were… friends.”

Tarendal shook his head. “I spoke to several people, but most of them were of higher rank than a chandler would be, or else house slaves.”

“Servants,” she corrected him.

“What’s the difference?” he asked.

“Servants are paid. They can leave for better employment if they wish to.”

“So they are allowed to choose their masters.” Tarendal seemed to consider this, then shrugged in the face of what appeared to him to be a purely human distinction.

Another question pushed its way to the front of her mind.

“The person who showed you the house… what did she look like?”

“Quite fairy-ish, actually, for a human,” he said. “Long, silver hair, pale, delicately pointed features. If you don’t mind my saying so, Lady Arwyn, you look more human sometimes with glamour than she did without it.”

Arwyn frowned, and Tarendal’s smile wavered. “Sorry,” he added, “I didn’t think you’d take that badly, since you grew up there and all…”

“Oh! I’m not offended.” And she laughed, because after three moons of trying to fit into fairy society, she still clung to her own humanity. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I know who you’re talking about. She was called Lucy, am I right?”

“Miss Farrel was the name I addressed her with.”

“We didn’t get on very well, so I’m not in the least surprised that she would gossip about me. What does surprise me is… Tarendal, when you are in Cat’s Court, who do you pretend to be?”

Tarendal grinned. “A historian,” he said proudly. Then he added, “Or an explorer, or an auctioneer, depending on where I am. But in Edgewood, I’m a historian.”

“How can you be a historian without knowing how to read?”

Terror flooded his face for an instant before reflex kicked in and he glamoured it over. “Lady Arwyn, such topics are taboo,” he murmured.

“Sorry,” she said, even as she wondered if he had indeed taught himself to read. Tarendal was fascinated with all things human; that was part of what had drawn her to him in the first place. Another part was his refreshing disregard for fairy rules. It wouldn’t be surprising, she realized, if he could read.

She looked at the silver locket in her hands again. “How does it work?” she wondered.

“It looks to me like a finding or scrying device,” Tarendal said, visibly glad to change the subject. “They’re quite common in the Seelie Court, as true magic is permitted there. This one is unusual in that it has both magic and glamour on it, though I can’t tell what the glamour is supposed to be for…” He bent over her hands, peering at the locket. His hair tickled them and she wondered if he’d done it on purpose.

He straightened. “It doesn’t seem dangerous. I recommend experimenting with it.”

“How?” she asked.

He shrugged. “Tap it, shake it, throw it at things. Speak to it. Ask it questions. Try to glamour it as something else and see what happens. Sleep with it under your pillow… but glamour your room first, and lock your door.” He chuckled. “Don’t show it to Orren, whatever you do. I hesitated to give it to you in case it put you in danger somehow, and I came here to think alone, but I’m glad you found me. You asked me to help you, and you are not a child to be coddled. I can only trust your judgement in this.”

Something about him in that moment sent a rush of nostalgia for Cat’s Court through her, and suddenly she wished she could return there, if only for a day, to embrace the people who had once been her family. And John. Loneliness filled her chest.

“Arwyn? You seem upset.”

Tarendal touched her face, and she leaned into his hand. “I miss them,” she whispered. “I understand that my whole human identity was a lie from start to finish, but the bonds I shared with those people… they were real, Tarendal. I loved them. I loved Edgewood. I didn’t know it, but I loved being Darcy Sullivan.”

Tarendal pulled her into his arms, and she let her glamour drop the way he had before. Oh, but it felt good to cry real tears! She buried her face in his shoulder and tried to sob quietly as he stroked her back and murmured reassurances, like a father to his child.

After a while she pulled back and wiped her eyes, then looked up at him, smiling ruefully. He looked troubled.

“Arwyn,” he said. “Did you love being Darcy Sullivan more than you love being Arwyn of the Border?”

Yes, she thought. Of course she did. But she couldn’t say that aloud in her mother’s house. Not after the trouble and grief both Yorwen and Orren had gone through after her disappearance. Not now that she was back home, and everything was alright again.

“I’ll be fine,” she said instead. “I just need to get used to it. It’s harder than I thought.”

He smiled back at her then. “That’s alright, then,” he said, just the way John would have, and she wondered if he’d managed to lie to her after all.

War’s End and the Birth of the Unseelie Court.

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Finally, an update! You have no idea how long I was blocked on this scene for. Actually you do, just look at the date on my last Glimmerlands entry. I didn’t know how to finish this scene, and so I got out of rythm, and lost my motivation to write, and it was summer and I wanted to go and play guitar in the park anyway, so I thought I’d wait a while. And then recently I’ve had that restless need-to-write-but-can’t-get-it-out feeling…

Many thanks to Zen|Xen for giving me that one last little push that happened to come just at the right time. 🙂 (Also, check him out, he’s getting published.)

Oonagh, whose family had disowned her in an effort to kiss up to the acting queen Titania, dropped her Seelie name and took instead a name she had once been given in a human incarnation: Morgana. She and Tamlin hid out in the countryside under a Name, waiting for the search to calm down and assume they had gone elsewhere, to the Dragonlands perhaps, or even to Cat’s Court. Back then it wasn’t unusual for fairies to emigrate to Cat’s Court, usually infiltrating circuses or posing as magicians or bards, and changelings were quite common, too. Some Seelie families swapped their babies for prettier human ones if they didn’t particularly like how theirs had turned out.

Morgana disliked this practise, insisting that all fairy children were potentially valuable, and as such, her recrutement strategy first targeted children. There was no shortage of orphaned Seelie children even then, and cross-breeds were usually abandoned. Morgana took them all. Under her care and Tamlin’s guidance, they grew strong and vengeful. When they grew too many to hide under even Tamlin’s spells, they chose a remote hill, hollowed it out and enchanted it, like the gates in Cat’s Court, and inhabited that.

Each one had a role to play according to their abilities, and they thrived in a way they never would have under Titania’s rule. Morgana encouraged competition, including with herself and Tamlin; of course, both were far more powerful than any of their protégés. In beating all of them, they proved that not only were they worthy to lead the rebellion, but they were also far more honourable than their Seelie counterparts, since they had been willing to put their places as leader on the line.

As the army grew, they began to occupy more and more hills, and these hills formed a line where our border is now. The plan was to surround the Seelie capital and then lay seige to the palace, attacking only the nobles, not the servants or the common folk, who they hoped would join them.

But before this could happen, Oberon’s spies found the hiding spot and told him about it. Oberon reacted by gathering his troops in order to attack, but they were slow to gather and many of them refused to fight for Oberon. When they heard an army was gathering in the hills, they gave themselves over to Morgana.

So Morgana and Tamlin quickly learned of Oberon’s plans, if such a brutish idea could be called a plan, and struck first, doing great damage to the Seelie army. But Titania had used couriers to spread rumours amongst the people that Tamlin had killed his mother and Morgana was out to kill all the weaker folk, so they met unexpected resistance from the common folk. Of course, that did away with the idea of not attacking the common folk or the servants, so it turned into an outright massacre.

Titania sent messages to the Dragons to come and help defend them, and two came. Two is more than enough to right the balance that until then had tipped in Unseelie favour, and so the seige was broken and Morgana’s forces retreated back to their hills.

But nobody had thought of the impact of Titania’s rumours on Tamlin’s reputation, and as everyone knows, reputation and belief are what give gods power. More and more Unseelie loved Tamlin, who was always on the front line of any battle, and more and more Seelie feared him, who had managed to injure one of the dragons badly enough that it had retreated from that battle, allowing much of the Unseelie army to escape. Whether they hated or loved him, all knew that Tamlin was powerful, and the more they knew it, the more powerful he became. And power corrupts.

After so many battles, his beaten fairy form became too fragile to hold so much power any more, so like Morgana, he became an incarner. It is said that all gods are incarners, and that fairies who share such traits are gods fallen from belief.

So Morgana held another competition of power, and this time the reward would be the honour of becoming Tamlin’s body. It may sound horrifying now, but Tamlin was so well-loved by his soldiers that there was no shortage of candidates. The winner was a female fairy named Wick, a small but powerful cross-breed between a pixie and a leanan sidhe. Tamlin took her body and possessed it, and it changed to fit him, which showed that he truly was a half-god, since incarners’ bodies do not usually change. Awe in him grew once more, and it soon became evident that Wicksy’s body would not last long unless Tamlin could spend some of his power.

So another attack was launched. And another. Eventually Tamlin felt Wicksy’s body dying, and another competition was held to replace her. When he changed bodies, Wicksy came back for a few moments before death, and the look of ecstasy on her face was such that soldiers came to believe that being possessed by a god must be pleasurable. Even more candidates competed, and so Tamlin never had a shortage of bodies to possess, even though they kept dying off.

Titania, meanwhile, had finished letting Oberon pretend to be Queen, and taken over the army once more. When she got wind of Tamlin’s incarnations, she sent a message to Morgana, offering her husband’s body to Tamlin in order that the three might rule together. She claimed that Oberon’s body would be far stronger than those of the half-breeds he was using, and would last much longer even in times of peace.

Morgana didn’t fall for it for a second, of course, but that wasn’t the idea. She knew that Titania must have a plan, but perhaps she could turn it on its head. So Morgana agreed, and the four of them met, backed by their respective armies. Order had been given not to attack, but the tension in the air was so palpable, storm clouds gathered and lighting began to zip from cloud to cloud.

Morgana thought Titania’s plan was to kill Tamlin’s body before he had a chance to incarnate to Oberon, leaving him bodiless, and had hatched a plan of her own. Tamlin had to touch a body in order to possess it, this was common knowledge. Morgana therefore held on to his hand so that he could possess her first, passing into Oberon’s body through her’s. She kissed Titania formally, and Tamlin waited. Then she kissed Oberon.

Tamlin shot through both of them like the lightning above, and at that moment, a dragon reared its head from under the platform they were standing on and bit Oberon’s body in two.

Titania smiled, and Morgana screamed. She had never imagined Titania might kill her lover. Her forces attacked the Seelie, and she threw herself at Titania, and the two Queens fought like only Queens know how. But without Tamlin, Morgana’s forces were confused and scared, whereas Titania’s still had their dragons. Morgana refused to give in, and nearly managed to kill Titania, but at the last moment Oberon himself rescued her. Morgana understood that the Oberon she’d seen earlier had not been the real one, although she hadn’t felt a glamour on him. Later it turned out that Oberon had Named one of his most loyal bodyguards to become him. Not ressemble him – become him.

Oberon fought Morgana while Titania escaped, and finally Morgana was forced to retreat. She and her rebels went back to their hills, exhausted and grieving for their lost leader.

But that evening something strange happened in the capital. In every home, family members turned against each other and killed each other and themselves. The next night, and the one after that, the same thing happened. It was the first case of possession ever heard of in the Glimmerlands – although such things had been said to occur in Cat’s Court before – and on the third day, the folk went to the palace to complain to their Queen. Titania and Oberon sent guards back with certain families, but guards were by no means impermeable to possession, and they are more practised at killing.

People began to fear their own families. They would turn against each other on their own, on suspicion that one was possessed, and thus began a series of killings that would later be known as the Incarner’s Mass Murder. Oberon rounded up Incarner families everywhere and executed them all. When some tried to flee to Cat’s Court, he closed off the entrances and reinforced the barrier between this world and the next, making anyone who tried to pass through an outlaw. Their only refuge was with the remnants of Morgana’s rebels in the hills.

Titania finally caught her. She sent the dragons after the rebels and laid seige to the hills, and Morgana gave herself up. Titania knew that if she killed her, Morgana could incarnate again, so she and Oberon enjoyed torturing her instead. One day she received and urgent message while this was happening, mentioning the possessions, and Morgana, despite her cuts, burns and broken bones, started to laugh. She laughed so long and so hard that even torture couldn’t stop her, and eventually this unnerved Titania so much that she made the connection between the possessions and Tamlin. Killing the body of an incarner fairy would allow them to reincarnate in a newborn, but Tamlin was no ordinary fairy, and had been able to incarnate – or possess – grown bodies before, leaving the original soul in it intact.

The killings had only happened in Seelie families. She brought some of Morgana’s loyal soldiers out of her dungeon and put them in a cage in the middle of the village, and called the rest of the villagers to come and jeer at them. Sure enough, as twilight fell, the Seelie villagers stopped stoning the prisoners and turned on each other, one at a time, leaving the prisoners – but also their guards – untouched.

Titania watched from the palace, and noticed the possessor seemed to target children and weaker fairies. She rightly guessed that Tamlin’s power had been weakened when his forces had seen him die. The nobles were safe, then, but if she wanted to keep the people on her side, she had to get rid of it somehow.

She went to see Morgana and offered her a deal: if Morgana could destroy the Thrumli then she and her remaining rebels would go free. Morgana, tortured and exhausted as she was, negociated further: that she and her Unseelie rebels would be allowed to have their own Court, in the lands beyond their hills. Titania accepted.

So Morgana was healed of the worst of her injuries, just enough that she could walk from the dungeons to the center of the village under heavy guard. As soon as she appeared, a silence fell, and even the wind stopped blowing, as if the land itself waited.

Oberon was unhappy that they were letting Morgana go. He cared little for the weaker folk, and would not have mourned their loss. Titania had had to exercise her ultimate right as Queen in order to make him go along with the plan, but still he muttered and fidgeted like a human child, and nobody noticed that something was wrong until he stood and pointed at the crown of villagers, shouting “They are his weapons that we must destroy!” and with that, he hurled his sword into the crowd, grabbed the spears off two guards and threw himself into the melée.

“Guards! Stop him!” cried Titania, but even she did not realise what was happening until she saw Morgana laughing again; the high, manic laugh of one who is irreparably insane. Seeing this, Titania put a spell on Morgana so that her skin writhed and her gut wrenched, and approaching through the chaos, ordered her to make it stop.

“Unspell me…”

“I will do so if you obey me,” said Titania, and Morgana knew then that she had no choice. Her face twisted in pain, she uttered a word that went unheard in the pandemonium, but stopped it immediately.

“Come to me!” she said, and then Titania’s spell stopped without Titania stopping it, and Morgana stood straight and tall as before. She looked at Titania. “I have fulfilled my end of the deal,” she said. “Now it is your turn.”

“You have betrayed us!” Oberon roared, but Titania signalled to the Guards to hold him back.

“Take your mongrel folk and leave,” she said.

The Guards and people stood aside as Morgana walked out, back straight, calling as she did to those who had been loyal to her, and others who would join her now. Only her melodious call and Oberon’s roars could be heard as she left.

Magic lessons

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I know this is late, I’m sorry… but the article was foremost in my head on Monday, yesterday was spent feeling “off” and today I woke up feeling so dizzy I actually thought I might have an inner ear problem until I got some salt and magnesium in me and realised it was just low blood pressure caused by yesterday’s stress (I nearly had a panic attack when a queen wasp came into the living room and burrowed into a duvet, and I had to get her out… I’m not phobic, she was just HUGE and I don’t even know if I’m allergic because I’ve never been stung). Short excerpt today, it’s not exactly about what I wanted it to be about, I’ll have to try and insert those parts of the story in elsewhere.

 

Over the next few days, between lessons, parties, and other activities, Arwyn got the distinct impression that not only was Orren watching her more than usual, but he was deliberately trying to keep her occupied. He woke her early and insisted she stay up late practising dances and glamour and all sorts of strange etiquette. Her lessons redoubled and became far more difficult – “You’re the one who wanted to learn true magic,” he reminded her when she complained – and she couldn’t shrug off the feeling that this was Orren’s revenge for proving that she didn’t need him. He was as patient and gentle as ever – more so in fact – and despite the fact that she knew he was doing it for his own purposes, she had to hide her smile every time he turned down Echo’s advances in her favour.

Echo was Orren’s lover and she hated Arwyn, but had Arwyn not spent so much time in Cat’s Court, things might have been different. Indeed, the first night of their triumphant return to the Borderlands, after the tearful reunion with their mother, Echo had sat next to Arwyn during the feast. Arwyn, her head still full of Cat’s Court manners and principles, had been relieved to have such a friendly neighbour – although a little disturbed by her dress (or lack of it). Only once the feast was over and the dances had begun did she realise that Echo’s friendliness was, in fact, flirting. Her reaction – influenced as it had been by her human upbringing – had, in retrospect, been more than a little hurtful, and Echo had never forgotten it. Even now, she still did her best to make Arwyn’s life miserable.

Luckily for Arwyn, Echo’s tricks no longer bothered her as much since the night she’d turned into a dragon. Echo’s usual game was to drag Orren away from his sister, who had been wholly dependant on him in the beginning and prone to panic when he wasn’t there. Now though, Arwyn grabbed the opportunity to seek out Tarendal – who people were starting to refer to as “Arwyn’s lover” and who Echo seemed to hate even more – and pester him for information about Cat’s Court. Her aim was to find out who she had been before she’d become Arwyn of the Border, but Tarendal – though delighted with the attention – knew very little about the girl called Darcy who haunted Arwyn’s dreams.

Echo was disappointed to find that not only did Arwyn not come looking for her brother any more, but the opposite happened: after a while, Orren tired of her, and insisted on searching for his sister, becoming more and more irritable the longer it took. After a while, he refused to see Echo at all.

Foiled, Echo tried a different tack: remembering how Arwyn had strived to fit in with Unseelie society, she did her best to humiliate her in public. This did not go down well with Orren either – he had become exceedingly protective of his sister since the incident with Rayth. Besides, even fitting in didn’t matter quite as much to Arwyn any more – finding out what Orren had hidden from her and mastering enough magic to prevent him from controlling her again had become her priorities.

She couldn’t let Orren know that, though. He was her teacher, after all, and if what he’d told her was true (and he’d said it plainly enough that it couldn’t be a lie), true magic, though not illegal, was feared and hated enough by the Unseelie that she would have trouble finding another.

“Why do the Unseelie hate true magic?” she asked one evening after another long, exhausting lesson.

“Because magic is what the Seelie used to create the Border between our lands, and steal the twilight from us so that we must live in perpetual darkness. It’s their fault we need esbats to keep us from wasting away.”

“Is this another story that everyone knows but me?”

He frowned. “You do know this one, I told you it when we were children.”

“I’ve forgotten it, then,” she said. “Tell me again.”

Orren’s face was drawn with fatigue, but he sat back down on her bed anyway.

“It’s a long story…”

Link

I translated a novella!

The Ritual of Elements is teen fantasy, the author is French, and it’s the kind of book I used to love when I was twelve. Self-published, available on Kindle (which you can download for free if you don’t have an actual Kindle, remember), so please buy/spread the word if you know anyone who you think would like it! 😀

I think it’s worth mentioning that she did the cover of the book, too.

Glamour Human, Magic Dragon

Standard

Because FUCK TITLES.

The party was in full swing, although rumours of Thrumli activity ran through the room like lightning, and the guests were somewhat agitated. They feasted and drank, danced and flirted like this would be their last night alive, and some had even retreated to various corners of the immense hall for more intimate activities under a glamour shroud. Arwyn noticed that many of those who’d been there at esbat hadn’t turned up this time, and these had been replaced by others she had never met before. Rayth was one of the missing ones, and she wondered if he had been forbidden entry, or had voluntarily abstained from the festivities.

She had her answer when he barged in, pursued by a tiny, furious goblin and stinking of rosewine, pushed gracelessly through the crowd to get to her, and pointed a finger at her accusingly.

You’re human!” he slurred triumphantly, his finger pushing the end of her nose. Arwyn, too surprised to argue or even glamour herself, stared at him.

What are you talking about?” Orren came to stand between them, pushing Rayth’s arm out of the way. Rayth sneared.

Ah, the prodigal son. Thought you could fool us, eh? Thought you could bring a human into our midst and none of us would be the wiser? Long-lost sister indeed! I bet you never even had a sister-”

Orren’s hand was a blur, but the next second found Rayth stumbling backwards, one hand over his eye, blue blood leaking through his fingers.

Care to develop that argument, Rayth?” Orren’s voice was barely more than a whisper, but it cut through the sudden silence like a knife. “I’d be careful what you accuse me of. Remember whose territory you’re on.”

Rayth’s good eye blazed fury. “You don’t scare me. I’m more powerful than the lot of you half-breeds put together! I admit your glamour is good – you nearly had me fooled with her -” he pointed at Arwyn “- but you must have known it couldn’t last. Yorwen’s mad to think she could get away with this-”

Yorwen would like to know how you got past her guards,” said the lady in question, coming to stand next to her children. She lifted a hand, and Rayth glanced behind him to find himself surrounded by goblins in yellow livery, waiting. He licked his lips.

Alright,” he said, “I’ll go quietly, if -” his gaze swept across the assembled fairies, “- Arwyn can prove that she truly is a fairy.”

A murmur broke out in the crowd. Some edged away from Arwyn and her family, other’s craned to look at them. Rayth grinned.

Should be easy,” he said. “Humans have no glamour. All she has to do is prove she has.”

The crowd chattered, some of them laughed. Orren grinned. “Can’t you see she’s glamouring herself already?”

But that’s not her power, is it Orren?” said Rayth, and there was a cruel glint in his eye. “I thought she smelled strange. She smells of human – and you.” Arwyn stared from her brother to Rayth and back again. The crowd hushed, listening. “You must lend her your own power permanently,” Rayth went on, “that’s quite impressive. But then, what else should we expect from the child who killed the Thrumli? Only – ah! Wait! Haven’t you heard? It’s not dead!” The tension in the hall was suddenly palpable. “It’s back. So, Orren, tell us – what happened all those years ago? Since you didn’t kill the Thrumli, what did you do? Did you beg to be let go? Did you find some other child to die in your place?” The gleam in Rayth’s eye had taken on the shade of madness. “Or were you simply not a good enough tithe?”

Kill him.”

Yorwen’s order was still ringing around the hall when the goblins completely submerged Rayth. For several seconds all that could be seen was a writhing mass of brown and yellow, before suddenly, it collapsed. The goblins fell about, confused, their pray gone.

Where is he?” Yorwen shouted. “Find him! Kill him!”

The goblins scoured the hall, then streamed out, leaving the guests in chaos. Yorwen followed them.

Orren glamoured himself a foot taller and shouted for quiet. “Noble guests, I apologize for the disturbance. Rayth should have learned to hold his rosewine before accusing anyone else of human weaknesses -” a few of the guests tittered, “- and I can assure you that not only is my sister a fairy, but she also holds her rosewine better than him.” The whole crowd laughed.

Prove it!” someone shouted. The rest grew quiet again, all turning to the culprit.

Have you been abusing the rosewine, too, Rowan?” Orren asked.

N-no,” the brown-haired fairy stammered. He swallowed, but stepped forward, seeming to gain confidence. “Without presuming to accuse her,” he continued, “I’m sure all of us would like to see how Lady Arwen has progressed. We all know, of course, that she is your sister,” he added hastily. “We remember that her time in Cat’s Court had left her nearly bereft of power, and that you, her kind brother, had to lend her your power so that she could, ah, catch up.” He smiled nervously at Arwyn. “My lady, would you care to show us your power, so that we may congratulate you on your progress?”

Everyone turned to look at Arwyn. Arwyn looked at Orren. Orren shrugged, but she could see the tension in his eyes.

I fear my progress has been slow,” she replied. “But I don’t mind showing you, if you wish it.”

Of course,” said Rowan encouragingly, “Orren must let you do this on your own. We know that – loving brother that he is – he lends you power. Why not let him take his share back, so we can appreciate your true progress?”

Arwyn turned to Orren and held out her hand. He hesitated, then took it, and closed his eyes.

Arwyn had known that Orren lent her power, but she hadn’t known quite how much. As she felt it flowing through her arm like a rush of pins and needles, she felt changes she hadn’t anticipated. Her mind cleared, felt sharper than it had since she’d left Cat’s Court. Her body felt heavier, more clumsy, but also more stable. Her limbs shortened, each finger and toe lost a joint, and although her sense of smell diminished, her odour changed to something more earthy. Never had she felt more human.

The pins and needles slowed to a trickle, then suddenly Orren let go of her hand. Her palm tingled, and as she opened her eyes, she saw the other fairies staring and whispering amongst themselves. She caught the words “human” and “traitor” several times.

Go on,” said Orren. “Prove you’re my sister.” There was something of a challenge in his voice, and Arwyn’s stomach knotted. What if Rayth had been right? What if Orren had never had a sister, and Darcy was her true name?

She turned to face the crowd, gulped. Closed her eyes, knowing it was a beginner’s trick, not caring. The voices around her hushed each other and silence filled the hall. She felt it on her skin and concentrated on that, felt every inch of her body the way Orren had taught her to – skin, flesh, muscle, bone, blue Unseelie veins. I am a fairy, she thought, I look human because I’m a leanan sidhe and I spent too long in Cat’s Court, but I am a fairy. She willed her body to change, her limbs to grow, her ears to point out of her hair. For several agonizing moments, nothing happened.

Then, so slowly that she could barely feel it, her fingers started to grow. She concentrated on what it felt like to have that extra joint, and they popped into existence one by one, first in her fingers, then in her toes. Her limbs grew. Her ears grew. Her body thinned out and she felt her skin tighten just a little. It happened faster and faster, and suddenly she was confident – of course she could do this, she did it every day, Orren surely couldn’t lend her glamour all the time – and she felt silly for doubting herself. She could hear speculative murmurs in the crowd. They knew now that she was a true fairy, of course, and some were already discussing her progress. They found it lacking. She felt a rush of angry pride. She’d show them.

She screwed her eyes shut tight and thought of a dragon. It was big, almost half again her size, and long, like a massive, winged lizard. She felt her dress melt into her skin and become scales – green, she thought, and knew it was so – felt her face form a snout full of long, sharp teeth, her pupils slit and turn green, wings and tail sprout out of her. Her limbs shortened again and her hands and feet grew claws.

She heard gasps and opened her eyes. She towered over the awed guests, some of whom looked more than a little nervous. She grinned, showing them her teeth, and two of them yelped in fear. Her laugh was her own, though, and hearing it, the guests laughed, too. She let go of the glamour, popping back to her original form, straightened her dress (which had become a little rumpled due to the fast switch back) and curtsied. The guests applauded, and Rowan clapped her on the back, nearly knocking her over.

Careful,” Orren warned, catching her by the arm. “Don’t clap too hard or she might eat you.” He smiled at her as though he’d known she’d do it all along, and waved to the crowd for quiet. “Now, dear guests, I fear our little game has tired out my sister. But please,” he added over the protests of the crowd, “stay, eat, drink, dance your feet to the bone. We shall return once she has rested a little.”

Several of the fairies wanted them to stay, and some begged Darcy to turn into a dragon again so they might see how it was done – but Orren politely refused them. Darcy didn’t understand – she did feel tired, but not the bone-deep exhaustion she usually felt at the end of a lesson.

I’m not sleepy,” she protested while they climbed the stairs to her rooms.

I know,” Orren replied, “and I’m impressed. I hadn’t expected you to do the dragon. You managed it well for your second time.”

I forgot to change my voice,” she complained.

You’ll remember next time.”

She pushed open her door and sat down on the bed. Orren closed it, warded the room, and bounded on top of her, pinning her down by her wrists.

How did you do it?” he growled, eyes blazing. How?” He pushed her further into the bed. Arwyn, dazed and terrified, shook her head. “Tell me! That wasn’t glamour, that was magic – a dragon – someone else is teaching you, who is it?”

Nobody!” she whimpered. “I did it by myself! I swear!”

He glared at her, and for a second she thought he looked afraid as well as furious. Then, abruptly, he released her.

You’re not lying,” he said.

Fairies can’t lie,” she retorted, anger replacing her fear. “Why did you do that? After all those lessons, have you no faith in me at all?”

He looked at her, and his eyes were unreadable. “It… surprised me, is all. Luckily I don’t think any of those idiots have seen true magic operate in their lives. You should be safe.” He sighed. “I apologize if I hurt you. I… I feared that, if someone else were feeding true magic into you, then he or she could influence your behaviour.”

Arwyn massaged her wrists and didn’t reply. She wondered how much Orren’s glamour had influenced her.

I think I can do without your glamour, now,” she said instead. “I’ve proven it, haven’t I?”

“That wasn’t glamour you were using. True magic does prove that you are not human, but it doesn’t necessarily prove you to be a fairy.”

“What else could I be? Besides, you said yourself they wouldn’t recognise it. Can’t I just use magic? It’s easier than glamour.”

He studied her as though she were a creature he hadn’t seen before. For a moment she thought he was going to protest. Then he schooled his featured to a pleasant smile and said, “Of course.” He walked to the door and turned. “You ought to rest anyway, though,” he added, looking earnestly into her eyes, like no quarrel had happened between them. “Such an effort has tired you more than you think.”

With that he turned and left, and as he shut the door, she found he was right. She crawled onto the bed and barely had time to wonder if he’d glamoured sleep onto her before sliding into unconsciousness.

Cruel memories

Standard

When Arwyn had first come returned to the Glimmerlands, the rules and morals of Cat’s Court still engrained in her humanish mind, nothing had shocked her more than her first esbat. On the way home she had seen fairies devour other fairies, but these had been grotesque, like the monsters in tales. Though it had frightened her, as Orren had explained their story and long-lost memories had crept back, she had stopped being surprised. Like wolves and sheep, this world too had it’s predators and prey, she’d thought then.

She had been completely unprepared for the ritual dance of the sacrificial fae. Like everyone, when she’d first seen it, she had been entranced by their beauty. The dancers’ movements were so fluid that it was difficult to see where one stopped and another began. Difficult to care, also. Their voices intermingled in an ethereal song that seemed to come from inside her head the more she listened to it, and it had taken Orren’s nails piercing the skin of her upper arms for her to come back to herself. Only then had she seen how the ones in the middle seemed to vanish in a starbound shower of light; how, every time it happened, she felt a little less of the hunger for sunlight that had haunted her since she’d returned from Cat’s Court.

She had denied it at first. The Glimmerlands were full of glamour and illusions. Perhaps these fae were simply pure manifestations of magic. But when she had asked Orren, he’d told her they were prisoners.

“Those child-like things?” she’d asked. “What was their crime?”

He’d laughed. “Being human.”

She’d stared at him in disbelief. He had gestured towards them nonchalantly and turned away to speak to someone else. She turned her gaze back on the sacrifices, scrutinizing them now. Sure enough, this time she’d noticed the small, round ears, the short limbs, the lack of a third knuckle. The panic in their eyes.

Orren had grabbed her in time. Glamouring them invisible, he’d carried her, struggling, back to the castle, to her tower, and locked her inside without saying a word. She’d banged on the door, tried to escape through the window only to find he’d somehow managed to place a barrier around the entire room; screamed at his silhouette walking back across the gardens to one of the exits. When she’d exhausted herself trying to escape, she’d curled up on the floor and sobbed her soul to sleep.

In time, she seen the sense in letting go of the human rules that kept her from reintegrating fairy society. Orren had helped her. He’d explained that the humans in question had been caught trying to catch fairies, and she knew what happened to captured fairies from tales both human and fae. Children were cruel – even the human in her knew that. The ones that tried to catch and torture fairies would often do the same to insects, small animals, and even other children. Neither did their youth make them more precious: children could be birthed whenever they were needed, but elders were rare and should be valued for their wisdom. And the children in question were replaced by changelings, so it wasn’t as if their families suffered from their absence.

Everything he said made sense. It wasn’t his fault she still felt for them.

In an attempt to distance herself from these humans, she pelted Orren with questions.

“If they are human, why is their blood blue?”

“It isn’t,” he told her. Sometimes he had the air of a teacher she’d once known as a human, minus the beard. “The esbat dance transforms moonlight into ether, and when they die, the energy dissipates into the living things around them. The concentration of ether turns everything blue. You didn’t notice it because of the darkness, but once your eyes finish adjusting, you’ll be able to see these things, too.” He smiled mirthlessly. “If you meet our Queen one day, you’ll see what I mean. She holds so much power that the very air around her is blue.”

“I’ve only ever seen fairies evaporate like that, when they die,” she said. “You told me this was because fairies are lighter than humans, and humans that die here die the normal way.”

“The normal way for humans,” he corrected her. “Here, evaporating upon death is what you call normal. In fact, ‘normal’ is one of the human concepts the Seelie prize themselves on having, and the reason we Unseelie despise them.”

“That doesn’t answer my question.”

He sighed. “Esbats always take place in fields of songrass. That’s where the song comes from, if you hadn’t noticed. It’s not the same kind of song it usually uses to lull people; the esbat song is one that agitates and calls to dance. Humans, especially feeble-minded children, can’t resist it. Their bodies move on their own. The dance boils their blood, which excites the songrass further until they reach a point of exhaustion that kills them, one at a time. Their spirit rises the way ours do, and their bodies are absorbed into the ground very quickly. The energy released by the death spreads to all other energy sources, including the sacrifices themselves, allowing them to continue a little while longer.”

Arwyn shuddered. “How can you not pity them?” she murmured. “What a terrible way to die, being trapped in a body you can no longer control.”

Orren raised his eyebrows. “There are far worse things that could happen in such a case than to be danced to the point of exhaustion. Don’t you remember the Thrumli?”

Something about the way he said that word – Thrumli – told her that they shouldn’t be talking about this.

“You look nervous, brother.”

“Do I?” He reinforced his glamour. “I’m just checking the sound glamour. Mother doesn’t like us talking about him.”

“Him?”

“Thrumli means ‘nightmare’ in one of your human languages. Nobody knows who named it that, but it fits.”

“It? You said ‘him’ just now.”

“Him, it, we’re not sure. It’s… a bad spirit. One that possesses fairies. Our Queen keeps it trapped in a room in the palace, but there are rumours she can’t control it well. Sometimes it escapes.”

“It possesses fairies? Like a ghost?”

“You might call it that. It’s a mad thing, anyhow.”

“What does it do that would be worse than dancing to the point of exhaustion?”

Orren’s laugh was high and mirthless. “You really can’t think of worse?”

Arwyn frowned. “I suppose I can, but if it possesses fairies, then it feels their pain, too, doesn’t it?”

“That’s the whole point, sisterling. The Thrumli likes pain. It revels in fear. It is a trickster of the worst sort. No fairy, Seelie or Unseelie, does not fear it. Even our Queen would admit it. She tries to keep it under control, and she has sufficient power to resist possession, but she cannot destroy the thing.”

“How does she control it?”

“By appeasing it as best she can. Don’t you remember this, sisterling?” Something was wrong. His glamour was flickering. “This is why you got trapped in Cat’s Court. Don’t you remember?” Do I have to tell you? She heard the words as though he’d said them.

She closed her eyes. She remembered playing with him and the others as a child, she remembered him leaving her in the forest in Cat’s Court. He had told her Mother was waiting for her there, but the woman that had found her had not been her mother, although she’d gradually forgotten that.

“I’m sorry, Orren.”

He attempted a smile. “Mother had managed to offend Queen Morgana. I don’t even remember how, now, I was too young to understand at the time, but it was common knowledge that you didn’t offend the Queen because of the tithe. In recent years, the tithe had become less and less frequent. The Queen was surely gaining control on the monster, we thought. We ought to have feared her power.

“Mostly the children were abandoned, or came from poor families. Sometimes they were given. Some were kidnapped, of course – it was said that the Queen would reward families who willingly gave up their children for tithe. That it was a sacrifice for the entire people. In the Seelie Court they’d say it was worthy of honour, but honour isn’t one of our concepts over here.

“So Mother insulted Morgana, and Morgana, knowing how much Yorwen loved her daughter, decided that she should be the tithe this cycle. In her mercy,” – he laughed – “she gave her a week to say goodbye. Mother charged me with a mission.”

“I remember the part where you left me,” Arwyn said. “I don’t remember any other little girl, though. No human.”

“You never saw her,” he said. “She met the Thrumli. She may have died… but we know that since then, we haven’t had a tithe. Perhaps her heavier body allowed her to stay alive, being forever possessed by the Thrumli.”

Arwyn gasped. “But… she didn’t do anything wrong! We have to save her!”

Orren shook his head. “You’re mad. Take on the Queen and the Thrumli? Morgana was merciful when she realised the sacrifice was human, because she saw the advantages. It didn’t take her long, despite the glamour. The girl’s probably dead. If she’s not dead, then even if you somehow managed to free her, she’d be mad from all those years of possession. Killing such a child would be a mercy.”

Arwyn felt tears prick her eyes. Sighing, Orren pulled her into his arms.

“It’s so awful,” she sobbed. “That little girl was tortured and killed so I could live. How am I supposed to live with that?”

“She’d been caught in a fairy ring,” he murmured into her hair. “Probably trying to catch us.”

“I don’t care!” She pushed him away. “You should have just let me die!”

The look on his face wrenched her heart. There was no trace of glamour left on him. “I’m sorry,” he whispered.

She stared at her hands in her lap, doubling through tears. She knew it wasn’t his fault. “Mother made you, didn’t she?”

“Yes.”

“Why did I let you do that?”

“You didn’t understand,” he said. “You were very young, and we didn’t tell you.”

“Everyone is so cruel in this world,” she spat. He didn’t reply.

Eventually she asked, “Is there anything else I should know about this place? Things you’re not telling me, that everyone assumes I know?”

He hesitated. “There have been rumours recently that the Thrumli is back. Some went as far to assume it had somehow been slain by its human host, but the Queen has denied it bluntly. So we know it still lives, if such a thing can live. There have been what seem like Thrumli attacks on a few remote families and solitary fairies. Though of course, you can never be sure it was him unless there are witnesses, and there never are.”

“Great,” Arwyn said. “An innocent child is sacrificed in my place and I spend years thinking I’m someone I’m not, and as soon as I get back I’m in danger of the same fate anyway.”

“Not really,” he said cheerlessly. “The Thrumli usually attacks only children and poorer families. It has never been known to attack rich houses. It is said to prefer the more primal emotions of simpler minds.”

Arwyn snorted. “It has an easier time possessing less powerful fairies, more like.”

Orren nodded. “Of course. Speaking of which,” he added, “as cruel as this world is, you do have allies. I am here to arm you, and that is why I push you so hard. I want you to know how to defend yourself.”

Arwyn glared at him. She wanted to scream at him, punch him, hug him, find Yorwen and scream and punch her, too. She wanted to find Queen Morgana and kill her. She wanted to destroy the Thrumli, avenge all the children it had tortured and killed and save all the ones it would have.

She wanted power.

“Teach me,” she ordered.