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Day 15: A Gift for Heather 218 from ladytarara
THE CHRISTMAS FAIRY
Part 4: Through the Mirror Darkly
Light. He had to find light and a reflective surface. Glass or polished metal perhaps. He wandered through the streets of a nameless town somewhere in Northern France, perhaps Burgundy, on this Feast of Fools, the ghost Sieglinde lost to him in the shadows. Should he go back to the cathedral or take his chances elsewhere?
Night’s dark skirts draped around the city, thick and heavy, their soft folds brushing against his skin as he tried to fight his way out of their cloying, perfumed embrace. The cathedral was lost somewhere behind him in the dark, the sounds of merriment and debauchery fading with each step he took. At least on this road there were fewer drunks passed out in the street, less bands of marauding men dressed as devils, and even the sound of people fucking in alleys began to be drowned out by the sighing of the wind. The wooden sign of an apothecary’s shop creaked, echoing up and down the narrow street, mixed with the sound of his footfalls. A thin moon rose in the sky, half-starved from the winter, it’s rays gobbling up the dark.
Would it be enough to create a reflection, enough to bring her to him?
But the moon cast only shadows.
Eric could hear carousing and drinking from an inn up ahead and he stepped inside eagerly, hoping to catch a glimpse of Sookie in the candlelight, but the place was so covered in grime and filth he had little hope. There were people seated at tables, men dressed in filthy clothes sopping bread around wooden plates filled with a thin and watery gravy, their cups a heavy and rough clay.
No good, he thought to himself.
A serving wench approached him, motioning him toward a table and he took it, nursing a mug of ale she deposited in his hands. The girl stared at him, pocketing his coin with barely a glance, glad she did not pay it greater heed and find on it the head of a long-dead king. His outlandish dress served some kind of function then. At least he had found himself a shirt, a rough linen garment torn from the back of a drunk passed out in the street, the Feast of Fools proving too much for his constitution, his belly over-filled with Christmas cheer. The shirt was too short for him, but in a place with standards as low as these, he would pass muster, or near enough.
What the fuck was he to do? Sieglinde had mentioned the bond he had forged with Sookie, but he understood so little about it. Would his maker know the answer? Eric slumped in his chair, his maker so out of reach that he might as well be on the fucking moon.
It was impossible, all of it. He rested his head in his hands, staring down into his cup of ale, wondering how he had ever brought himself to drink the stuff when he was alive, smelling as it did of stale hops and horse piss.
The serving wench nodded toward him and another young woman appeared before him, this one dressed in a low-cut gown, the deep v of her neckline revealing the square neck of her kirtle beneath. Her dark hair hung loose about her shoulders, her lips painted red, doing little to distract from the crooked brown teeth within. She sat opposite him at his table and Eric raised his baleful glare at her. He had no use for a woman, especially not one such as this, a lady of the night, her red-dyed gown showy and coarse, the bright colour failing to hide the cheapness of the fabric or the stains on the hem. She stank of sweat and other men.
“Would you like company, sir?” she demanded. Eric pressed his fingers into his eyes for a moment, wishing he could clear the image of her away. She took his silence as an invitation and threaded her hand through his.
“Come upstairs, sir. It’s only a centime a go. It’s a nice room, a proper one with a bed and a dressing table.”
Eric opened his eyes, seizing the girl by the hand and bidding her to lead him upstairs.
“My, but you’re keen. And you’re a big ‘un. This way, then.”
The room was dirty, the bed unmade, the sheets stained and probably crawling with lice. Eric whirled around to face her, closing the door behind them.
“Do you have a mirror?” he demanded. The girl looked at him strangely, pointing to the wall. Ignoring her, she stripped off her clothing, sitting naked on the end of the bed.
“Can’t say as I know what you want the mirror for, but I’ve had men with kinks before. What’s yours then? Watching, is it? Like to see what’s going on down there when we fuck?”
Eric did not reply, too engrossed as he was in examining the mirror.
The mirror was round, big enough to reflect the face and little else. It was set in a wooden frame that reminded him of a Viking shield except the edges were scalloped, set with tiny paintings Eric recognised as the Stations of the Cross, images of the Christ being made to carry his own cross before he was hung on it. The wood was dark and rich, the paintings fine miniatures, the layers of colour built out of the new method of oil painting. The round mirror was convex, it’s surface like a bubble or a dome, reflecting images imperfectly, distorted by the shape of the glass. The object was in strong contrast to the shabbiness of the rest of the room and he wondered how it came to be here.
“A present from the bishop,” the girl explained. “He owns all the whorehouses hereabouts and he is the patron of many fine new artists, especially the one who painted this. The Renaissance they call it. Rebirth. A journey out of the dark. All a bit fancy if you ask me. I’d sell the damn thing if he wouldn’t flog me for it, or maybe have me clapped in irons and dragged to the local magistrate. The bishop left it here to try and save our souls from damnation, to reform us and seek out forgiveness of our sins. Sometimes I look up at it when he’s fucking me, great fat man that he is, he never lasts long. What about his sins? Should he repent of them? It’s all very well and good to be so high and mighty, but it doesn’t put food in my belly, so I look at it to please him and then I open my legs for those that pays.”
Eric pulled it off the wall, holding it up to the light, the girl’s voice washing over him as he found he could barely listen to it, her words turning into a series of disconnected sounds. There was a candle on the bureau and he held the mirror closer to it, watching and waiting and hoping that he might catch a glimpse of her again.
His Christmas fairy.
The candlelight flickered and sputtered as a draft crept its long fingers between the cracked window pane, cracks so large the girl had tried stuffing rags into it to keep out the cold. She shivered, pulling a dirty blanket around her shoulders.
He tried changing the angle he held the mirror at, holding it up first one way, and then the other, and there she was, his Sookie. As soon as she saw him, she raised her fists, banging them against the glass, trying to force her way out, and it was all Eric could do not to throw back his head and howl to the moon like a beast in his anguish.
The bond burst into life at the sight of her, his emotions and hers blending together, the yearning and the hunger for the other mixed with fear and desperation. And love – always love. He tried concentrating on the bond, not realising that as he did so he began to glow, the whore on the bed dropping her blanket and cowering back against her pillow as she tried to shrink away from him.
“What are you?” she hissed. “What kind of sorcery -”
Sookie’s face stared out at him, beseeching him to come to her, and he tried, he really did, pushing his mind against the glass, the tips of his fingers brushing against the surface. A human hand – Sookie’s hand – pushed its way out of the glass, less than half of it managing to break free and with a sob, his fingers clasped hers and he tried to pull as hard as he could, desperate to break her free from her prison.
Was it working? Had another inch of hand slid free of the glass?
“Please,” he whispered. “Please.”
The prostitute began to scream, her voice high-pitched, easily piercing the thin walls of the room. Eric knew he should stop her, put his hand over her stinking mouth, and restrain her before someone came in to see what the fuss was about. But then he would have to put the mirror aside, to let go of Sookie’s hand, and he wouldn’t – he couldn’t.
The door burst open and three large men wielding billy clubs came in.
“Are you alright, Josette?” one asked. “Fuck me, what’s that?”
“A witch’s mirror!” she screamed. “What demon is he summoning? What devil will come out of that glass?”
One of the men tried to grab Eric and with a snarl his fangs dropped, the men screaming as they saw what he was, his appearance confirming the words spoken by the whore Josette. Another man attacked him, trying to grab at the mirror.
“That’s worth a lot of money!” he spat. “What’s wrong with you? Ain’t nobody refuses to fuck Josette.”
Eric neatly caught one of the billy clubs in his hand, snapping it in two like a twig, throwing the pieces back into the chest of his attacker. Then his hand reached for his sword, a double-handled broadsword, a sword only a giant of a man could wield, and the other two men took a step backward, hesitating. Faster than they could see, the mirror still clutched in one hand, Eric grabbed one of the men and bit deep into his neck, finding he vastly preferred the taste to were blood, even though the man was coarse and running to fat, his blood tasting of the stale mutton-grease he so often soaked his bread in, unable to afford the luxury of meat.
His third assailant tossed aside his club in favour of a sword, a thin rapier that looked like a child’s toy. This man had a thin and ratty face, his clothes finer than the other two, his doublet stitched with lace, his hose less coarse. No doubt he was the girl’s pimp, stationed outside the door to hurry the clientele, to have them get it over with quicker, so he could bring in the next man and increase his profits, and to provide a little muscle if things got messy.
But this – what the hell was this?
Still clinging to the mirror, Eric fought the man one-handed, his rapier bent double with the first blow from his broadsword, the misshapen metal clattering to the ground as the man came at him with fists instead, Eric’s larger hand clamping on to his hand, crushing every bone in it and causing the man to fall screaming to the ground.
Eric loomed over him, a guttural roar tearing at him from deep in his chest as he realised Sookie was gone, her hand returned to the glass and whatever world lay behind it. He plunged his sword deep into the man’s chest, watching his blood pool across the floor.
Throwing his sword onto the filthy bed, wiping away the blood as best he could with the soiled sheets, he turned to face the cowering, naked creature.
“If you have cost me my chance to get to my Sookie, then I will find a way back here to end you!”
He seized the woman by the arm, propelling her out of the door, throwing her kirtle and dress after her. He seized the coin purses from each man spread out on the floor, filching a doublet from one, but drawing the line at the ridiculous hose.
Eric kissed the mirror’s convex surface, willing Sookie to be there, to come back to him, so that he might try to prise her out of the mirror once more, like a precious pearl from its shell. “Come back to me – please!”
A blackness began to fill the strange bubbled mirror.
“No – no!” he yelled, fighting the urge to throw the damned thing across the room. The woman had been right – it was a witch’s mirror and whatever contagion had infected the last mirror had infected this one also.
The black began to spill out of the sides, pouring its way onto the floor, the room filling higher and higher until Eric felt like he was drowning in the dark. Concentrating on his bond to Sookie, light began to fill the room, combating the dark, but still not enough to send it back from where it came.
And then the room faded, at first washed out like a painting done in watercolours, then gradually the colours faded, and Eric stood there, heart in his throat, wondering and praying to every god he knew. Where had he been sent, and was Sookie there also?
Light snapped through the room, the dark mirror unable to cross, left to clatter onto the floor.
When Eric woke, it was to the sound of fighting.
He was inside a wall of patchwork stone surrounding a city. Some of the stone was old and rough-hewn, ancient in its appearance, whilst others looked freshly hewn and mortared. Glancing upward into the dark sky, Eric saw grey towers, impossibly tall, with narrow window-slits for sentries, and he wondered if he had been spotted by the city’s watch. He sat upright, his vision blurred, and he did not know whether it was from being yanked through time or from the grief of losing his Sookie.
Her hand – he’d almost had it. He looked at his own large hand, the one that had gripped it, a hand with so much strength it could crush the bones of a pimp into nothing. Why then hadn’t it been strong enough to hold on to Sookie, to carry her through the glass and into his arms?
Eric got to his feet, hearing voices just down the street. Angry voices and the clashing of swords. It sounded like a battle. But who would fight on midwinter’s eve? Or Christmas, if you will? He thought he could make out some words like those spoken by the Anglo-Saxons his people had raided, plucking the gold and jewels from their rich cathedrals and taking their women and men as slaves.
Keeping to the shadows, he followed the sounds to a large crowd, a mob of angry men and women besieging a rich house. Double storeyed with a balcony at the top, rows of windows capped with plinths, the outer frames echoing the classical style of the continent, a remembered hint of Greek and Roman columns, the doorway set behind a portico, the entrance curved with grand stairs and an arched door of thick and heavy wood. This had to be the house of someone of note.
Arrayed on the steps were soldiers clad in heavy doublets of dark red, their breeches black, legs still stockinged, much to Eric’s disgust. The men held the crowd at bay with pikes, some of them with swords drawn, but of more interest to him were the weapons made of metal, long and thin tubes with stocks of wood.
“Get back, you bloody lot, or we’ll bring in our cannon!” a soldier yelled.
The crowd recoiled, and Eric wondered what a cannon might be to cause such a reaction.
“Bring him out! The mayor – bring him out! Let him face the justice of the people of Canterbury!” an angry man yelled.
“You know the laws!” the soldier shouted back.
“Close the shops! Observe the Lord’s feast-day of Christmas, allow the priests to hold worship, and give sermons!” another yelled.
“Christmas is a Papist feast, a heathen celebration, a time of debauchery and immorality. The newly reformed church has outlawed it; the Parliament has passed its decree – there will be no more Christmas!” the solder shouted back.
The crowd surged forward, some of them with their hands filled with holly and mistletoe, attempting to drape the fancy house in the trappings of Christmas. The soldiers pushed back with their pikes, forcing a woman in a high-waisted blue gown with slashed sleeves down the steps, causing her to stumble and fall, spilling the red berries of mistletoe across the steps as though they were drops of blood.
A roar echoed through the crowd at this affront, to a lady no less, and the men surged forward in greater numbers, pinning the soldiers back against the doorway.
A shot echoed through the crowd, one soldier having fired his flintlock musket by mistake, sending the ball of metal tearing over the crowd’s head as it buried itself in one of the stones of the wall, just to the left of Eric’s head. He sniffed the air, noting the strange smell of the weapon, wondering what mechanism caused it to fire, and thinking of the hole it might tear in a human’s flesh. To kill a man from 20 feet away – this weapon would render swords useless, though he had to wonder at the accuracy given the place was so crowded and the musket ball had hit nothing but a brick.
A cry from the steps returned his attention to the crowd and he saw a soldier fall, run through by the blade of a man in the crowd. The other soldiers turned and fled.
Well, thought Eric, what use is such a weapon if it makes men less brave?
The crowd surged again, this time succeeding in hanging wreaths of holly on the mayor’s house. Glancing upward, he saw the glimpse of a dour-faced woman dressed in black, the severe gown of her bodice buttoned high up her neck, a kerchief of lace, and a cap on her head hiding every possible inch of skin and concealing every glimpse of hair. The effect was quite frightening and he wondered at how different the crowd was, dressed in bright hues of silk, the women’s gowns cut in a low scoop, their creamy flesh exposed to the slight chill of the night. On the women’s necks hung crosses and he wondered what kind of Christians would not celebrate the birthday of Christ, though he knew better than most how many of their so-called traditions were borrowed, even the date.
“Long live King Charles the 1st!” A man in the crowd cried, and others picked up the call. “We will march on London, free him from the Tower, and abolish the Parliament and all its Puritans, starting with Oliver Cromwell’s head on the block!”
“That’s too good for him,” shouted another. “Hang him! Draw him in quarters and toss him into the sea!”
Others took up the cry and Eric realised he had somehow landed himself in the midst of a war.
If Christmas was banned in this blasted country, would Sookie still be here? Could there be a Christmas fairy if there was no Christmas?
He got to his feet, noting how strangely he was dressed compared to the men, thinking he must get himself a doublet and breeches the first chance he got, though few men here came close to his size. A mirror, he thought. A mirror is best. Not this infernal glass, not the light of the moon.
He looked up again at the imposing house, willing Sookie’s face to appear somewhere in the glass, and though there was light enough from the torches of the crowd below, no reflection appeared, other than that of the angry mob baying for blood and the return of their Christmas. No Christmas, no Sookie – his rage began to grow at these Puritan kill-joys, keeping his Sookie at bay.
The soldiers returned with reinforcements from the watch-stations around the city walls, this time with muskets primed and power at the ready. The rag-tag mob didn’t stand a chance, he thought. And if the soldiers succeed, I cannot find her, cannot see her, cannot try to pull her out to my side once more.
Snarling, he drew his sword once more, working his way to the front of the crowd, knocking aside the useless rabble waving their swords at men armed with guns. He stood at the front of them, taking care to keep his fangs in check, remembering how badly that had gone in the brothel.
“I warn you, we are bringing out the canon! We will fire upon you!”
Eric would take his chances against the muskets. Without silver shot, they would be unlikely to do him permanent damage.
“You will give the people back their Christmas! Allow them to celebrate, to eat and drink and whore and be merry, or whatever the hell else it is you Christians do. But you will give it to them or I will end you all!” Eric shouted.
The soldier at the front who had addressed the crowd took in Eric’s size, his dishevelled state of dress, the seemingly antique sword he held in front of him, and the dried blood or mud or whatever it was that stained his clothes, the shirt he wore too short for his body and of a style not even the peasants would wear these days, in the year of 1647. The man looked haggard, like he’d been dragged behind a cart for 40 miles over rough ground.
He laughed in Eric’s face.
The smile was still plastered to his face when Eric severed his head from his neck, his sword cutting through his spine like butter, the head landing at his feet.
Behind him, the crowd roared their approval and he could hear several frightened men standing with the soldiers struggling to cock their muskets, their quivering hands unable to hold their weapons straight as someone from the crowd clapped Eric on the shoulder and shouted, “A patriot! This man has struck a blow for the true king and for the Pope! Down with the roundheads!”
Eric shook off the stranger’s hand, snarling at the man’s words, but not wanting to waste the time or breath it would take to correct him. Let them think what they wanted – it was of no consequence. One of the soldiers managed to fire his musket, the ball whizzing past his head and thudding into the neck of a man behind him, the same one who had dared to touch him and call him patriot. His body landed on the ground and Eric turned for a moment, crouching to dodge another ball, looking with interest at the hole in his body the weapon had made and how his life bled out of him.
A coward’s way of killing, he thought as he swung his sword and righted himself, fighting his way up onto the steps of the mayor’s house, the range too close now for the soldiers to fire their muskets without fear of hitting each other, or having the unreliable weapons blow up in their hands. Cursing, they switched to their swords, the muskets clattering uselessly to the ground as in their terror they turned to face their Viking aggressor, never guessing who he was or how far he had come, or that he could if he chose use his speed and his strength and his fangs to devour them all.
The scent of blood in the air now, Eric had to struggle harder to keep his fangs contained, his bloodlust rising as his sword cut through more flesh, severing souls from their bodies as soldier after soldier slumped at his feet. Sookie. He had to get to Sookie. Bring back Christmas and Sookie would be here, she would come to him and he would find a way this time to get her out, to break through whatever spell had trapped her.
The crowd roared and cheered at his progress, the noise so deafening that they could not hear the slow creak of wooden wheels or the clip-clopping of a horse’s hooves across the road. But Eric heard it, and even in the dim light with his superior vision he could see what must be a cannon, a heavy weapon drawn by a horse, a basket filled with cannon balls and fuses and tins of black powder and flints.
Fucking cowards, he thought. To fire that on your own people. No wonder the wall was so patched. He wondered how many holes they had blown through it, trying to keep their own population in check, trying to stop the uprising and unrest – trying to quell Christmas, for Odin’s sake. Eric chuckled silently at the irony, wishing these Christians could know a pagan was the one who fought for them, who sought to return the light to the midwinter celebrations as Christmas had merely dressed itself up in borrowed pagan robes.
He hoped further to the north that perhaps his own people’s traditions prevailed, though what was Christmas other than the winter solstice and the return of the sun? So what if the spelling had been changed to son – he knew the truth.
The line of soldiers caved in front of him, most of them dead on the steps, others fleeing and hoping the cannon would end him. Eric had no intention of sticking around to find out if they were right. He pushed his way through the heavy wooden door, breaking bolts and chains as he did so, ripping them apart with his vampire strength.
A magical barrier kept him from entering a private house such as this. A tavern or brothel was different, even a church – but here in the private homes of men, the household gods dwelled and they had enough power left to them still to keep the monsters of a mid-winter night at bay.
A small child stepped forward, a girl dressed in a loose nightgown.
“Are you Santa?” she asked. “Mummy told me Father Christmas had left these shores, that he doesn’t come to England these days. If you’re him, can you tell me why we don’t get presents any more, or plum pudding to eat? Even the boring bits of Christmas have gone – you know, the church bits. Can we have them back?” she demanded.
“Invite me in.” Eric looked deep into the eyes of the girl, pushing his will at her just enough to get her to step back.
“Of course – please come in. But watch out for Mummy – she’s dressing in all those black clothes now, which is a shame because I liked her other ones better.”
Eric stepped across the threshold, feeling sorry for the child if that sour-faced woman in the window was her mother, if she was being forced to dress in the drab colours of Puritan black and grey.
“Do you have a mirror?”
“Mirrors aren’t allowed. Mummy says they encourage vanity.”
“There are none in the house?” he demanded, wondering if he could make his way back through the mob and find a house belonging to one of the silk-clad women with the scoop-necked dresses who must have mirrors a-plenty to dress that way.
“Can you keep a secret?” the girl demanded.
“There’s a mirror in Nanny’s room.”
Creeping into the servant’s room and finding it empty, the girl expertly lifted a loose floorboard under the bed and fetched out a mirror and other items such as hair pomade and rouge, all carefully wrapped in a lace kerchief.
“Nanny thinks she will get fired if Mummy finds this. I’m not supposed to know, but I saw her one day and – You won’t tell Mummy, will you? Nanny must be upstairs with her, watching, on account of the angry mob. Do you think they’ll murder us all in our beds?”
“I doubt it. Not with me around.”
The mirror was small, hand-held, not even large enough to show a full face, but enough to check one’s hair or make-up.
“Do you have a candle?” he asked the child, who nodded toward the bedside table. Carefully using two flints to light it, Eric angled the mirror toward the flickering flame.
“What are you doing?” demanded the child.
“I’m bringing Christmas back. Go look out the window.”
Eagerly the child obeyed, pushing aside the heavy drapes and peering out into the street, watching as a fir tree was dragged in a pot to the steps of the house as various people hung it with ribbons and candles and bows, even a makeshift star adorning the top. The girl stayed behind the curtain, watching, and Eric heaved a sigh of relief, focusing instead on trying to conjure Sookie’s image into the glass.
At last she appeared, watery and pale, as though she’d had to fight her way there. Eric concentrated on his bond to her, feeling it grow bright once more, but this time he could feel something blocking him and saw her face grow sadder and sadder, smaller and smaller as though she was moving further away from the mirror.
He’d tried so hard to bring Christmas back, but maybe it wasn’t enough. Did he have to restore this Charles to the throne? If so, then he would do it, he would become the champion of a Popish king and a religion he had little time for.
Eric howled in fury as he saw Sookie’s reflection grow dimmer, more watery, and then the creeping blackness came, stealing its way across the mirror, pushing her out, and filling the bright oval with the darkness of its own night.
Then the blackness came and snatched him away, the mirror left lying on the floor as the little girl continued to stare out the window at the decking of a Christmas tree.
He hadn’t expected the spell to backfire.
Fucking blood magic – the one kind of magic the fae had no control over, the province of vampires alone. Why did Sookie have to go and bond with a fucking vampire right before he activated the mirror?
The mirror was a trapdoor to a place deep beneath the ocean in Faerie, a place mermaids and the water clan reigned, now his allies since he had given them his Sookie as hostage. Breandan was too stupid to realise he was punishing her, too, that he had ceded nothing to him, that Sookie was nothing to him now.
After all he’d done for her – he choked back a tear thinking of the power he had lost by altering her memories, the constant drain it had been to dim her spark, to change it, to make it appear more alien, more like that of the fae, to take away the bright glow of humanity, their warmth and their compassion. Niall spat into the fire.
If Oren hadn’t been so nostalgic for the Earth, for the old days when the fae had been gods amongst humans, then he could have sealed the portals between Faerie and Earth when men first learned to forge metal into iron, but of course, Oren had thought there was still something for them there, that they could save the humans from themselves, that they could combat iron and stop it crossing over to their own world. But of course, the iron had seeped into their land, too – Niall had made sure of it – waylaying traveller after traveller between the realms, contaminating them with iron, making sure they came back ill, their power sapped, their sparks faded, and he even managed to concoct a spell to make it spread like a disease.
“See!” he had shouted to the masses gathered in the glade to hear their prince speak, to hear him explain why the portals should be closed, “the human world is as poison to us now! Let us shut ourselves away, save our kind from dwindling and fading!”
But then Oren, like Mark Antony following Brutus, had taken the podium and stirred the crowd against him.
“Remember our ancestral links!” he had shouted. “Our blood mingled with theirs for centuries! Remember who it was who helped to build the stone circles, to increase the reservoirs of power in their land! If we shut ourselves out, we cut off that power supply, making us reliant more than ever on the prince, my father. And what of our kith and our kin? Would you leave them shut away from us and their homeland forever?”
“Yes, and what about your Celtic whore?” a fairy from the crowd interjected, making Niall smirk. He had, of course, planted the man himself.
Then the crowd had erupted, Oren’s supporters protesting his innocence, that the woman was his wedded wife and could, therefore, not be a whore, whilst Niall’s supporters, following his orders, drew their swords.
Many had died that day.
Niall shook his head regretfully. If only his son had been more like him, then they could have worked together, could have been unstoppable. If only he had never agreed to send him on that sabbatical to Earth, where he had fallen in with the druids and met the bitch-whore Annwyn and got her with this Sookie child.
Well, it was too late for that.
He’d felt the Viking follow his grand-daughter, had felt the pull on his own magic as whatever bond it was that tied the two of them together refused to be severed and had dragged the Viking along with her.
Wherever Sookie went, he would follow.
Could the vampire free her from the mirror? That he did not know. Blood magic was foreign to him, especially where the blood crossed the divide of species as with a vampire and a fae, even if she was part human. The risk was there, and Niall knew he could hardly go to Breandan and demand Sookie back, that the mermaids return her from under the water when he had so explicitly demanded that she be kept in this way, and never married into the water-clan as Breandan had originally wanted. When he told the leader of the rebel tribe of her tainted bloodline, he had nodded his agreement, promising she would be kept apart from all men, knowing only the watery world of the mer-women.
There was no help for it. He would have to find another way to get to her, to separate her from this vampire, to kill one or both if necessary. He would have to do it himself since he had cast the spell and cursed her, and no one else had the power for it, except Oren, who had seemingly vanished from both Faerie and Earth.
Niall held the mirror in his hands, the twin of the one Sookie had carried with her, believing it a treasured object from her father. He turned it over, running his fingers lightly over the embellished gold studded with jewels, the glass seeming so ordinary when it was, of course, a dark portal, the kind he alone specialised in, a type of prison.
There was no help for it. He raised his right hand, activating the magic inside the mirror, the portal spewing out of it and opening itself up wider as he allowed the magic to take hold of him, the imperial office behind his throne room spinning around him as he got sucked straight down the rabbit-hole.
Lights were blinking overhead. Green, then red, followed by gold, and then blue. Always the same pattern. Was it some kind of code?
His head felt like it had been run over by a truck and it took Niall several minutes to open his eyes and when at last he managed it, all he could see were branches of evergreen tree pressing down all around him. Had he materialised in a forest? Were they the Northern Lights blinking overhead?
Something was off – something was strange. He forced himself upright, the branches brushing against his face, the texture all wrong as beneath him he felt the crinkle of leaves and something sharper, perhaps the snapping of sticks. Something was poking him in the back. He tried to stand and the strangely hard and prickly leaves prodded into him, almost knocking him backward. Niall wriggled forward, extricating himself from the canopy only to see the face of a child of eight or nine in front of him.
“What are you doing under my Christmas tree?” she demanded.
Christmas tree? Made of – plastic? Niall shook his head. He had travelled far into the future and he could feel already that it was wrong, that he had overshot Sookie by at least a hundred years, maybe more.
“Resting?” he replied, realising the flashing lights were strung all the way around the tree, the pattern a simple decoration, and nothing sinister at all.
“Who are you?” the child demanded.
“A fairy,” he replied after a small pause. The child looked young enough to possibly believe him.
“You don’t look like a fairy.”
“Oh? Seen many, have you?”
“Of course.” The girl hurried off to a bookshelf, returning with an illustrated children’s book by Shirley Barber and Niall glanced at the pictures, shuddering. Tiny flower fairies were drawn in bright and delicate detail, all of them with wings, all of them benign, and all of them perfectly harmless.
“Haven’t heard of bad fairies, have you?” he demanded. “Like in Sleeping Beauty?’
“‘Course – but you’re still too big. Maybe you’re an elf.”
Niall rolled his eyes. An elf? A fucking elf? What an insult. But of course, if this was the far-future, then he and his kind had been reduced to the stuff of fairy tales.
“But you’re not wearing green. Santa’s elves always wear green.”
“Maybe I’m Santa.”
“You’re too skinny. And where’s your red suit?”
“How do you know what Santa looks like?”
“Come on – every kid knows what Santa looks like. It’s all we do in school in December – colour in pictures of a big, fat, jolly man in red, and read stupid stories about mice not creeping in houses and stockings and stuff.”
“So, you don’t like Christmas?”
“I like the presents, but I don’t believe in Santa any more. I used to when I was a kid, but now I know it’s just my parents buying stuff and putting it under the tree. I saw all the toys stuffed into Mum’s cupboard this year. She thought I didn’t know, but I did a bit of snooping around, and now I know exactly what I’m getting.”
“Isn’t that a bit boring?”
“Yeah. That’s why I don’t like Christmas.”
“You know what, I don’t like it either.”
“Why? Cos everyone thinks you’re an elf?”
Niall suppressed a shudder.
“Because Christmas used to be so different. It was about the dying of the light in the deepest depths of winter and the return of spring and the light leading to rejoicing.”
“Boy, you’re really not from around here, are you?”
“Look out the window.”
Niall stepped over the heavy cream-coloured curtains, pushing them aside, the blazing brightness of the sun pouring through the window, making him wince in pain and close his eyes tight. The heat assaulted him through the glass and he thought he could feel his skin beginning to sizzle.
“And it’s still only five o’clock in the morning. Are you from the North Pole?” the girl demanded. “Cos if you are, then I reckon you haven’t been here before.”
“Where is here?”
“Australia. It’s summer when we have Christmas. Dad said it’s gonna be 42 degrees today. That’s really, really, hot. As you can see, no shortage of light and no snow. That’s another reason I hate Christmas. There’s all these cartoon specials on TV, only most of them come from the US or the UK, and all the kids are playing in snow.”
“Well, do you see any snow around here? I’ve been ripped off.”
“That must be very hard for you.”
“Yeah, it sucks, but at least I get to go eat lunch at Grandma’s, and swim in her pool.”
“Shouldn’t you go back to bed?”
“Shouldn’t you fix up all the Christmas presents you wrecked?”
Niall looked and saw that he had, indeed, crushed the boxes of presents, squashing flat all manner of plastic nonsense people brought these days. He sighed, muttered a righting spell, and heard the girl draw in her breath sharply as the presents reinflated, all the shattered pieces mending themselves.
“That was cool! Maybe you are Santa. Let me guess, it’s too hot to wear all that woolly red clothing down here, right?”
“I thought you didn’t believe in Santa.”
“Well, I do now. At least, I will if you give me a bike”
“Go on. Give me a bike. Make it appear right under the tree.”
Shaking his head at the child’s greed, Niall muttered a spell and a shiny red bike appeared.
“Cool! I can’t wait till Mum and Dad see this! It’s going to freak them right out! Maybe I can even get them to believe in Santa again.”
“Santa is bullshit,” said Niall quietly. “I am a fairy.”
The child glared at him quizzically. “But you’ve got no wings! Oh – or do you mean, like gay? Yeah, I know all about that. One of my friends at school has two dads, but I thought it wasn’t nice to call them fairies.”
Niall sighed, rolling his eyes.
“Well, you’ve been very helpful – thank you so much. Now I really must be getting on to other houses, other kids, other toys – you know how it is.”
“Oh, yeah, right. Do you have a sleigh? Reindeers?”
“Why would I need a sleigh in Australia?”
“Good point. Truck, then? I mean, you need something to carry all those presents in, right?”
“Come,” said Niall. “Let me show you how I do it.”
Niall pulled the mirror out of his pocket, casting one last look at the hideous dystopian future of the world, where Christmas was made of plastic, and avarice and greed reigned supreme before summoning the portal to open for him once more, this time putting more effort into trying to locate Sookie’s spark, as he disappeared.
The child, rather than going to bed, began riding the red bike in the lounge room, thinking of how jealous all her friends would be when they saw her out in the street tomorrow.
Niall heaved a sigh of relief when the next time he materialised, there were no irritating humans around.
He was getting closer; he was sure of it. Not long now till he would synch up with the mirror Sookie was imprisoned in.
The room he was in was small and shabby, the apartment small, only two rooms. One was for sleeping, the other was crowded with everyday objects, a small table and chair, a tin plate and cup and a loaf of bread grown stale and a small knob of butter congealed in a dish.
Spread out over the table was a magazine, opened to an advertisement selling something called Coca-Cola, a hideous concoction the colour of tar. The image showed someone slumped in an arm chair patterned with ridiculous sprigs of mistletoe – bet they didn’t even really know what that was for. An enormously fat man in a red suit, his gut spilling out over the side of the chair, a black belt around his middle straining to stop his pants from ripping asunder, was sprawled in the over-stuffed chair. Hmm, he wondered if they’d had to use grease to pop the fat man out?
In Santa’s hand, held aloft, was a bottle of the disgusting stuff, looking like something you’d scrape off the bottom of the frying pan. His head tilted toward the ceiling, his florid cheeks and nose were bright red, and Niall shook his head sadly. Trust humans to immortalise a drunk and turn him into a children’s icon. He peered more closely at the picture. Yep, no doubt about it. He bet when they drew that picture, Santa’s hand holding up the coke bottle had been shaking with the delirium tremens of the alcoholic.
And this was what they made kids draw at school?
To think, an advertising campaign had defined the way generations of children would picture Santa.
Shaking his head, Niall wondered what exactly Santa had in that coke bottle. Scotch? Gin? Turpentine?
Next to the magazine was a folded newspaper, the print smudged by an unseen finger, roaming up and down column after column in the job section of the paper. One advert had been circled in black pen, and Niall wondered if this was where the apartment’s occupant had gone. The job was for manual labour, carting goods at the docks. The blurred words said to turn up, that they would pay by the day.
Working on Christmas day? Had the Puritans won?
Well, so what if they had, thought Niall. The gods knew there was little enough of Christmas cheer in this place. He squinted at the newspaper again. 1933? The date meant nothing to him. The human world could go to hell for all he cared. And maybe it had, if his precious destination was anything to go by.
There was little in the room of Christmas decorations, just some paper bunting in red and green, clearly hand-made. The tree was small, most definitely not plastic, and hung with paper lanterns and a few small ornaments.
On top of the tree, something caught his eye and Niall reached out toward it – a Christmas fairy made of plaster, her wings made of paper, her halo a tatty off-cut of tinsel. Smirking ruefully, he returned the battered object to the top of the tree and began hunting for Sookie in earnest.
A dark wood set of drawers, simple and clearly something that had seen better days, stood next to the bed, the underside scalloped, the top inlaid with a lighter coloured wood, all of it scuffed and worn. But on top of it sat a mirror in three panels, the central piece large and arched at the top, the two side mirrors smaller and set at an angle, clearly intended to allow the person to see themselves from the front and sides at the same time. Niall stood himself in front of it, ignoring his own reflection with its wild hair, hardly helped by trans-dimensional travel, and waited to see if she would appear.
In theory, she should. Her face should be there always, at every Christmas or mid-winter or Saturnalia, trapped beneath the glass, always peering out for those who knew how to call her. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath to centre himself, and when his eyes flickered open again and she still was not there, he prepared a summoning spell.
Wherever she was, whenever she was, she should be dragged right to him.
The spell appeared at the end of his fingers, a delicate bubble, and he blew gently on it, sending it out onto the glass where it popped.
Sure enough, an image other than his own face began to appear, but it wasn’t something he wanted to see.
It was the vampire, on his knees, sobbing as another held him, a tall woman in a gown of watered pink silk. She looked to be at a loss, trying to console this mountain of a man, his chest heaving in and out as he sobbed like a child for whatever he had lost in the glass.
It was worse than he’d thought. The blood magic was powerful; the source must be ancient, indeed, if it could pervert even his own magic. Growling, allowing his own personal glamour to slip enough to allow his sharpened teeth to show through, Niall picked up a tin of hair cream from the dresser, tossing it into the mirror, and smashing it into as many pieces as the one he’d seen the big blonde vampire kneeling in front of.
The sound of splintering glass cleared his head a little as he tried to think what to do. If the mirror was broken, it meant the Viking was trying to pull her through, albeit unsuccessfully. But how long would it be before he figured it out?
Desperate times called for desperate measures.
He hunted through the tiny kitchen, easily finding what he needed, an enamel dish that, even cracked and chipped as it was, would be big enough to suffice. He filled it full of water and set it on the table next to the congealed breakfast things.
It took a moment for the scrying bowl to work. Across such a vast time and space, he could feel the magic pulling at him, feel its resistance against this future with so much metal, so much iron. Eventually though, the bowl flickered and he managed to connect with one of his mages.
“There’s a problem,” Niall explained, the mage already fully-versed on events and his whereabouts, given he had to leave Faerie in his tender care. “The blood magic is interfering. I need troops on the ground. Send a changeling first – I have found the vampire’s future progeny. The changeling can act as a portal for the others.”
The mage nodded, his face watery.
“Is this wise?”
“You dare to question me?”
“Normally I would not – your judgement has always been sound. But troops – the risk is too high. Even a changeling – you know few have the art left to them now.”
“I don’t care! Find me one! If you do not comply, I will have your head!”
The mage nodded, concealing a sigh from his prince’s view. Niall should have had the girl killed long ago, instead of masquerading her as fully fae. The commonfolk might be fooled, but he was not, nor were the others who helped the prince to protect the realm with magic. He had helped Niall close the borders, shut the portals, lock Oren out – but that was before, before he realised that poison of iron had been sent across by the prince himself.
He’d been examining one of the fae who returned with the iron sickness from the human realm, using seeing-stones to read his chakras. The fae man had been in a bad way, his body thin and racked with a hacking cough, his skin discoloured with the pink and red blotches that were the hallmark of the illness. His glamour had stopped working, and the mage had been forced to examine him in his native, unveiled form as it were, his hair grey and balding, his skin clinging tight to his emaciated frame, his hands balled into fists so tight from the spasms that his own long green claws dug deep into the palms of his hands, droplets of his green blood oozing out from the cuts. And all four rows of teeth in his mouth, jagged and sharp as a shark’s, marking him and all the fae as predators, as eaters of flesh, stood poking out of his mouth, his black lips drawn up into a thin snarl. For this was their true form, this was what their beauty and their glamour hid, and the teeth were always the most difficult to mask, and many a fae child struggled to hide them, some of them always having the jagged teeth protruding from the spell. Glamour was a fairy’s strongest gift, necessary to stop humans and other races fleeing from them, to stop them from knowing the truth of what they were.
And as part-human, the prince’s grand-daughter had no idea, the truth being kept from her, the blood of a human flowing in her veins giving her a true beauty that the other fae lacked for all their spells. That was why the fae had always interbred with humans – to keep the dark truth of what they were at bay.
Glamour was always the last thing to go when a fae had the iron sickness, and the mage offered the afflicted fae the customary dose of arsenic, watching him double over with the agonising pain as the poison began to drive the iron out of his body.
But of course, the fae was too weak and, as often happened these days, the poison carried him off and he collapsed dead on to the sanatorium floor. Bending over his prostrate form, that was when the mage had smelled it. Just the tiniest trace, the merest touch – the scent of the prince mingled with iron.
Many others would have dismissed it, but he began to check all the corpses after that, even those who had no cause to ever be in the company of the prince, and, sure enough, it was there, faint, but damning.
Niall was prepared to poison his own people to consolidate his rule, to cut Oren out, and to deny him access to Faerie, he would kill them all.
Rumblings had risen against the prince since Sookie had been banished. He’d made a rod for his own back there, thought the mage wryly. Even with Niall’s interference, the girl had remained alluring enough to win many to her side, as her father Oren had.
Well, thought the mage, if Oren could be found, if Sookie stood at his side, much of the populace of Faerie might be persuaded to support them.
A changeling must be found. The mage nodded to Niall, waiting for the image in the scrying bowl to dissipate before allowing the sigh to escape this time and setting off toward the dungeons filled with the dark and misshapen things birthed by the foulest and darkest of fairy magic.
The corridors were dank and dark, one of the few places where the eternal sun of Faerie could never reach, never throw its healing light onto the darkest and most broken creatures, the products of spells gone wrong, or forbidden matings with trolls and giants. A creature such as this was what was needed, and he shuddered as he walked past the bolted doors, past the sucking, gurgling noises of the beasts within, some of them lacking anything that could be properly called a face. Niall must be desperate to turn to one of these.
At last, he found the cell near the end of the row. His hand shaking, he took out the long silver key to open the reinforced door. He threw a protection spell over the doorway as the beast within threw itself at him, bouncing harmlessly off the door and ricocheting into the wall behind him. Thick, heavy chains dragged at his ankles, and the mage shook his head again at Niall’s foolishness, uttering the magic to cloak this figure, this misbegotten beast, into a form and shape of seeming sanity, seeming humanity.
The beast quieted as the shape of a human began to grow around him, and the mage concentrated harder, closing his eyes as he recalled the image the prince had sent him telepathically, using every ounce of his recall to add in the necessary detail, to tame the beast into something they could use to get a foothold to find their way in.
With hope, the entire venture wouldn’t blow up in their fucking faces.
MANY THANKS TO THE LOVELY AND ALWAYS ENTERTAINING LADYTARARA FOR THIS IMAGINATIVE AND CAPTIVATING TALE, OF WHICH MORE IS TO COME OVER THE NEXT FEW DAYS. DO LEAVE YOUR COMMENTS AND LIKES AS ALWAYS THEY DO END UP WITH HER!
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