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The Fractured Grey
*I think I'll return to edit this one at some point. This is the only part of the story I've had trouble with. I had quite the writer's turmoil, of how it should be written; how much should I reveal, what should I hold back...please, please, please, let me know your thoughts :)*
Logic, or Reason as they are more commonly known, stand opposite the boy on trial and cast a stern atmosphere upon the remaining courts. They are the only faeries – besides the rulers of the Broken Regions – who rule their court with absolute equality. They are of the same towering height, slender frame and silver of hair. Lady Reason wears hers high and elegant; under the sunlight it glimmers with a thousand metallic tones. Lord Reason’s is straight and long, flowing in a waterfall of beauty down his back. Around his head a simple leather band holds his silvery locks gracefully in place. We do not see their faces. They are concealed with pearl-grey screens of a material of the same density as a spider’s web. Perhaps the screens will be removed today, but it is unlikely; I know not a soul who has seen their true faces.
They walk, move, stand, breathe and think in unison, and their peaceful court is just as in sync with them. They are pristine and magnificent, ordered and placid – they move as the most disciplined army I have ever seen.
The instant hush that drops is frightening. This is the court whose sole voice is law; the court we must all, in the end, answer to. The ones who step out of line face a punishment which once would have been beyond my primitive human understanding.
This calm, disconcerting boy faces them with unmasked blasé and brazenness. Lady Reason sends a guard on either side of him, and then steps back to say to the fey in her clear, bold voice, “You are here today to witness the trial of this Nameless one, a child from Winter no one has of yet come to claim, for the murder of our last Queen of Tides, Odessa.”
“Surely, Lady, it should be a sentencing we see here.” Fire gives an arrogant, sure smile, turning his charm on each fey as if he the most irresistible faery there ever was. Lady Reason is unmoved.
“Sentencing requires conviction, Fire King,” she says coolly.
“Therefore, we will decide his punishment, if he is owed one,” Lord Reason continues.
“And our ruling will not be brooked,” she finishes, speaking to Fire directly. He nods once, his expression a little sour. I look for my sister and see her smiling madly. My eyes narrow. I smell deception.
Not his style, Nara remarks.
Too obvious, I agree. What is he up to?
Remember your sister’s words. Fire has a grip on this.
I sigh and return my attention to the proceedings. The regents, Lady and Lord Reason, observe the courts. This is the way of it. We, the fey, are not a jury to judge, we are not gaolers or persecutors, and we are not his protectors. We are here to witness – and see what becomes of a criminal. They, Logic, are here to make an example of him. We are to watch and take note; nothing goes unpunished, no one is exempt. They fear no one.
The trial continues for half a day. Aureole is summoned to stand centre stage twice, once to deny claim to the boy, again to drain him of his Winter power; and thus, relinquishing any allegiance he might have owed her, bound by law and blood from queen to subject. It is a great shaming. I look across the faces, and we are all sober, and very sad. If he is found not to be guilty, and is banished to the Iron Fey or sent to the Solitary, we will none of us sleep easy.
There are some who once might have cackled and mocked at this degrading event – but no one dares to do more than watch, not after a quick glance at the child’s very un-childlike expression. Aureole is stony throughout, while I hiss and spit under my breath. What is she doing?
She has a plan, Nara says without much conviction. This is not a lie. The lie is that her plan is a sure thing. We cannot know this for we do not even know the plan itself. Is he being handed to an ally? Is she truly giving him up? Does she know something I do not about this child?
She must know where he came from. She is Queen of Winter, he is of Winter.
Clearly, Nara says. And what do you suppose that means then?
I gaze into his narrowed, ancient purple eyes and fill with dread as I catch his meaning. She does know. She knows everything. He might not even be faery. She could have faked draining his power.
And she does not want them to know.
I curse. This reeks of Aureole. Why can she never been satisfied?
Do not get ahead of yourself, Cas. Watch and wait as I do. She may not have had any part in Odessa’s death. Or Fintan’s. And neither may have this boy.
A weak possibility and you know it. Look at him. Look at Her.
We do. Nara snaps his teeth together. She is ambitious, but no half-wit.
Exactly. She is the most cunning creature I’ve ever known.
We lapse into silence, unable to come to any sort of conclusion.
Some councillors of Tides speak a time, of the dead Lady and her poor, broken body, and that this child is a monster, but they are so tiresome I block them out. Sometimes I think I have swapped one life of politics, power and courtiers for another not much different.
Witnesses are called. I know that there were six or seven to begin with, and three stand here today. The others have scattered. I do not blame them. If I were facing the wrath of Reason, never mind a legion of feuding courts, I, too, would run, and possibly never stop.
They say what we already know. One is a handmaiden; she is uncomfortable in the human plane, let alone on land. Her skin is a dark teal-green grey, slick and tough, like a dolphin’s, but her bones and sharp and narrow-looking beneath. She holds herself uneasily; she does not belong here. Her obsidian eyes flick over the faces intently watching her. The light of the sun bounces off the sheer blackness, leaving an eerie thing, just a small bead of light in each wide eye.
“Maid.” Lady Reason’s voice is resolute. “Recount what you saw.”
The handmaiden draws herself up, summoning strength from somewhere we cannot see. “The child,” she points at him without looking, “entered the courtyard, the Queen’s own private place of rest, and she seemed to know him. He walked up to us, we were both by the fountain with two other servants, and she smiled. Then she told me to go. I was reluctant at first; it was bizarre. The day was so calm, the people were calm and there were no disturbances; we had been at peace for quite some time. And then this child appears, unmistakably a thing from Winter.”
My court hiss, shriek, scream, bark, snarl and growl at her in a collective low, menacing murmur. Their distaste rolls over her in a frosty wind.
“Enough,” Reason demands, and they are silent.
The handmaiden is gestured to continue. “I looked between the two of them. He frightened me. He was looking as he is now. I thought to myself, “He should not be alone with her”, but she ordered me sharply, then, that I was to go at once. I was torn; I had to obey my lady. Stranger things have happened than some child walking into court…but he was a Winter child, and an odd child.” She bows her head. Her sand-brown hair, thickly beaded and braided and fixed at the crown of her head, sits over her shoulder, partly hiding her face from my view; but I can tell she is heart-broken. “Yet I did leave her. I could not disobey the queen. This was the last I saw of them together. I did not see the act. I did not see what he did to her. But there can be no doubt it was him. I have never known a more disturbing child.”
Lord Reason nods and she is allowed to step back, but the two remaining witnesses, guards, are brought forward. They are identical; they are almost as intimidating as Reason. Deep lagoons of azure and sapphire, glimmering vaguely with a spotted hazy buttercup from the barely piercing sunlight, surrounded by luscious green forestry, springs to mind when I look at them. With every fey this is so, even the Solitary – the ones with no allegiance to any singular court – conjure images, perhaps only emotions. A fey of utter misery can be seen to be a wraith. Some of the Sands faeries can bring such illusions of drought and fatigue that your mouth dries out, and you shudder with the heat. These two have mottled swirls of black and golden yellow in their eyes, like a night sky speckled with stars; their aquamarine hair wisps liquidly through the air above and around their accentuated, pointed ears. Their features are fine and prominent, like many fey, the only difference being that their noses sit small and flat, with black slits for nostrils, across their chiselled faces. They emit the most ethereal aura. I shiver. Tides are a famously motley bunch; mysterious, dangerous, deadly.
“We were not her guards,” one of them, male, interrupts. “We were her own personal agents.”
I suck in my cold lips at this point. Like me, they are much more than the average guard. Unsurpassed in speed, strength, skill and cunning, they are desired above all in terms of protection. They will feel particularly emotional this day, having failed as her elite guardians, and having lost their beloved queen.
Lady Reason bows her head at him. I have always admired the restraint and fairness of this court. If there are any redeeming qualities, it is that they are just and without anger. I look at Beltane, Rosalind, Aureole– even Celie. The downfall of the seasonal courts is the exact strength of the deciding, law-holding court of Reason; each of them are prone to emotional outbursts.
“You were present, in any case. Please relay your version of events.”
The twins simultaneously glance at once another. The female opens her mouth; her voice is as deep as her male counterpart, but rather like the sound of blowing on manipulated glass; low, haunting, and beautiful. It echoes around the clearing. “We did not see, as the handmaiden did. We stood at a distance from the queen, as we always do. It is not our place to be so close unless there is reason. Especially when the queen is in her place of rest and relaxation. However, we did hear.”
This is interesting. The courts stand to attention now.
She goes on unperturbed. She is made of sterner stuff; I glance at the rapier at her side, admiring the dark, impressive steel, which glows a faint, cobalt blue from the infusion of Salt, Water and Storm (found only, and gifted only, in and by Tides). Much like my own, it is inlaid with faery bone. Incredibly rare, but worth it, it is ultimately unbreakable. Most were stripped of weapons upon entering the mortal plane; but the twins, and all court agents, are exempt. And anyway, they have no reason to fight when they have no lady to protect. Their weapons will be destroyed and remoulded with Fire and Ice, when the time comes.
“We were further down the courtyard, where the boy should have passed. He did not. All we heard was the queen sending the maid away. When the maid approached us, she seemed unnerved, and told us the arrival of the strange boy. Then came a horrible whistling, screaming sound – not unlike that of a banshee. Through the screaming we heard the queen, shouting something. Lir and I ran at once towards the source of the noise, to our queen. Somehow, in those small seconds, the boy had sucked the life force from her. The noise subsided. She was just lying there, with him standing over her.”
Lir grinds his teeth. “He was a thing of stone as he is now, in his soul. You have but to look at him.”
And we all do. Even I, utterly reluctant, terrified of reliving the fears he invoked within me, watch him, this boy of stone, of former ice and unknown power.
“Oh, I do wish the queen would send us home,” one of the Winter undines whispers to her sister.
“Hush,” Nerida hisses back at her.
“I need the river, I need the cold; I do not need this boy staring at me. Oh, please, must we stay?”
Someone quietens her. Just as well, Reason are turning their spotlight upon us. “Winter. You have twice denied him. You have stripped him of your essence. Can you cast your light upon this enquiry? Do you know if this boy could have had the potential to kill the queen in this manner?”
Aureole is expressionless. “He did so without any assistance from Winter. Whatever this ability, it did not come from us.”
They are unhappy with her wording. I am unhappy with her wording. She is dodging their question whilst also answering it. This will make them think she was involved in some way. Her reply is too vague for them. I draw my lips into a thin line.
Many do not notice her blatant aversion, but Reason turn to one another, as if privately conferring. In this moment of distraction, I throw my queen a violently questioning glare. She catches my eye, holds it, and then moves it towards the child. I shake my head, clearly, back and forth. I still do not understand. Her chest heaves slowly; her lips twitch, and she turns her attention away from me, quite exasperated.
This is suicide, I think quietly to Nara.
If we don’t live.
You like our chances?
He is thoughtful. I do not know what she is up to, but Aureole is rarely on the losing side of anything.
A beetle scuttles over my foot. I grind the heel of my boot into it, twisting this way and that, and its weak body cracks and disintegrates. Only because she always makes sure she has little to lose. You and I are expendable, in the larger scale of things.
He rolls an eye at me. Don’t be stupid.
Don’t be naïve. You think she wouldn’t? She is limitless.
She loves you.
She loves herself, I assert.
I am sick to my stomach. There is a torrent of words between courts; I cannot follow it all. They are arguing, of course. The scarcity of evidence alarms them; the three meagre witnesses who didn’t truly witness much are the only remnants of the half dozen others who should have joined them, what does that say about the strength of the case? And what sort of punishment should the child even receive if Reason believe him to be guilty? One of their incredible skills is that they have an uncanny talent for finding the truth; but even they are not infallible, and at this moment, they looking worryingly doubtful. Large assemblages of fey desire this boy to die very badly. More refuse to reach a unanimous decision; partly out of fear, partly out of morality. And all the others are eager to use him as their puppet. I can see it on their faces. I look at Fire and Summer; there is something lurking between those two, some secret triumph.
Celie alternates between fretful and cheery. Her host do not seem to care which way the proceedings go. They enjoy being out in the open, human air, even in the colder months of autumn.
Beltane catches my wandering eye and holds it with a tight smile. I purse my lips, bristling. He makes a move as if to cross the trial to come to make, but I shake my head and abruptly move my gaze away, pointedly ignoring him.
The discord rages on. In sentencing the boy to death, there is always the grim fear that we could be mistaken. And if he dies…it will be one less fey child, in a world of few fey young. It is rare for our kind to reproduce so easily. A child comes around once every few centuries.
The reality is we are violently conflicted; we fear him, we worry for him, we need him, we crave him for our own selfish ends. The court of Logic are silent and watchful. They will be until the ruling.
The overwhelming sickness does not leave me. It curdles with dread and anxiety and all things dark in the pit of my stomach. The frost builds on my arms. Trying to be as inconspicuous as possible, I brush it away. The tiny icicles clink to the ground. Nara’s nose butts my leg.
You are nervous and anxious, and making it snow to boot. Calm down.
I twist my mouth but say nothing. I can say no more, in truth. Aureole refuses to give me more information; Nara is quick to comply. No matter my discomfort this day, I can do no more than what I am bid – whatever this may be.
A fold of clouds blusters above us. I can see each seasonal monarch wear a mask of restrained irritation. They hate being out of control, and they like the human realms even less. In this situation, under a mortal-realm sky almost unsusceptible to manipulation, they are entirely thwarted. Logic looks to Autumn, for we can tell by the coppery sheen of the leaves and the fresh, earthy smell in the air that we are somewhere in the month of October. Beltane shrugs, and a few of his Storm Hags lift off from the ground and disappear into the air. A few moments later the bruised storm of clouds swirl in a white, fluffy haze; they pass over the massive clearing, onwards to wherever they may drift.
“Do they not worry that, well, humans might see?” I roll my eyes at the Summer Court councilman. He is wringing his thin, spindly thorn-freckled hands nervously. Rosalind gives him a sharp look; every word that spouts from her court matters so intensely that his very question could make her look weak. There is some sniggering, some murmuring – but many agree with his question.
Lady Reason regally brings her hand up above her head, twitches it, and a bright film of silvery, incandescent light surrounds the clearing in the shape of a dome. When I lower my chin I see that many fey are still watching the dome with unease. The light flickers and fades, and is invisible once more; but many still look. Are we being protected? Or are we being caged in?
As I come to this quandary, I have the urge to look at him – the boy. He is staring at me, again. I realise that now, with him stripped of his Winter essence, he looks remarkably human. His eyes are still abnormally large, his nose upturned and ears a little pointed; he is the most beautiful child I have ever seen, but he could pass for a mortal.
At first the word does not quite register in my mind. But it comes again, louder, an urgent shout. I swivel my head round and glare at Nara. What is it?
He huffs impatiently, a miniature blizzard of snow swirling from his long snout. I did not speak. What’s the matter with you?
It hits me. I meet Aureole's eyes. She must know. She looks at me utterly impassively, as if we are merely looking at each other, mother to daughter – but she must know.
The boy nods. For the first time he actually moves, with a faint flicker of emotion on his porcelain face.
“Who?” I murmur softly.
He tilts his chin as if considering. Then I see that he is giving me the answer. I watch his eyes roll to one side and then the other.
“Run, run,” I repeat in a soft mutter.
Someone slips their hand into mine. I jolt with shock, but it is only Nerida. I come back to reality, and see that the trial is continuing on – without much progress, though.
“We all feel you,” she whispers, and glances around the court. “You must reign in your emotions. This is so unlike you, Cas.” With a gentle hand on my face, she frowns. “So, what is it? What is happening?”
I look at her, and briefly consider my guards. No. I shake my head. I cannot involve them, I cannot put them at risk. In any case, if Aureole wanted them involved, she will have meant it so. As such, she has made no move to suggest they should be.
“Stay close to the others,” I breathe in reply. “And stay away from me.”
“Be quiet,” Winter says shortly, coming to stand closer to us, and, covering my shock, I stare the ground in compliance. There is a host of curious eyes upon me. I curse my connection to my court; they are my family but they are also the face I strive to mask in unsettling times.
Lord Reason takes the floor. “We have heard the little evidence presented. Our ruling is obstructed.”
I frown. What does that mean?
Nara’s gravelly voice hums in my mind. It means they have no clear sense of the truth, even when it reeks of falsity.
The Lady Logic is almost hesitant, as she states, “We have found it implausible to pass sentence without a Memory Trace.”
Impatient hissing, my own not exempt, snakes around the clearing. A Memory Trace is not as much as spell, as a clever trick, a skill of Logic, used to relive the last moments of a person’s life. All that is needed is the place of death and able fey from Reason. However, they are lengthy and fraught with complication, and they do not always work – especially if something other than faery is involved.
In the corner of my eye, a twitching shadow I almost dismiss, but my keen, predatory sight will not let escape, catches my attention. I see Fire and Summer look at one another, king to queen, a secret, cunning look I do not like.
The boy looks at me. They won’t allow the Memory Trace. Run, run, they’ll pounce now.
I suck a breath through my teeth. His words are clearer now, burning in my mind like sparks of electricity.
As the courts rise up to add their heated, passionate and questioning voices to the discussion, Jas winks at me with feverish glee.
Nara, tell me you trust me.
He snorts. Whenever you ask me such things you are about to embark on something idiotic. Always, dear one. What’s to be done?
We’re saving the boy. When I –
I had thought this was the idea, didn’t Aureole imply it so?
Not exactly. I do not know, still, what she anticipates us to do. But I mean to do more than shield him from our enemies. I mean to steal him. There is a secret plot brewing in Seelie, we are all in danger if they get hold of the boy.
He bristles instantly. A plot…by Seelie, to overthrow Unseelie?
Perhaps, I am not sure yet.
Madness. There must always be balance, even Aureole knows this and she is more ambitious than all of them.
Sobering, I reply, I think it has very little to do with ambition. We know nothing, Nara. We are blind but for the boy. He knows something we don’t.
Where are we to take him?
Anywhere. Not back to the Otherworld, however. We must remain here. We will be weaker, but so will they. You are faster at ripping the veil than me, and I believe Reason have put a binding spell on that dome of theirs. They will have predicted this. But I think the rather unnatural likes of you and I are exempt from any sort of barrier that they have placed; we were created, Nara, not born like the rest of them. We may escape. I will distract them while you work on a route.
You know you will have to be quick.
I will be lightning itself. Just keep them off me.
I will. I hesitate. You have not asked me how I know this.
I don’t need to, Cas.
I smile. “Then good luck. And see you on the other side.”
“Each court sovereign will accompany us to Tides to bear witness the Memory Trace, in the meantime I suggest the rest of you return to your homes and await our instruction,” Lady Reason announces, quieting the disorder and rising ruckus.
I hear the murmuring, the protests, the confusion; but all that I truly can concentrate on is the impending doom to come. I must signal Nara now, or never, for Fire is suddenly electrified with excitement, and Jas is a wild flame of restlessness.
This is our one chance.
He lunges forward before the words have slipped from my cold, blue lips, bounding for the place the boy sits. I catch Nara up before the first guard reaches him, who feels the stinging thrust of my rapier between his ribs; his companion I crumple with a few well-aimed blows. In less than two seconds I am fending off an onslaught of Logic soldiers, whilst Nara makes a jagged, silvery arch through the air with his teeth.
“Cas!” Aureole’s scream reaches me far too late. I barricade the child, Nara and myself in a blasting blizzard of ice, sleet, snow and biting winds. Logic fey freeze where they stand, trying to get to us with their lances of light. When the pulsing, jagged things break through and almost lodge right in my throat, I wind an arm around the waist of the child, calling to Nara, “Hurry!”
He savagely shakes his head back and forth, tearing the fine, wiry pieces with a strength I could never hope to possess. I bend low to the ground, with the boy’s arms locked around my neck, my hand outstretched to keep the fey at bay. I feel their ferocious power stab at my blizzard from every place possible. I hear Jas, from a distance, cackle maddeningly, and shut my eyes, gripped with a fear I have not known in over five hundred years.
Nara yelps, blood pouring from his gums, and jumps back. Now, quickly! I latch onto his back, and we leap through the hazy gash in the air, landing on hard concrete, with a cold storm at our backs, and nothing but iron and trouble beyond.
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