Sensing my ideas through the bond, Ash had gotten a message to my abandoned house by the time we arrived. I took the envelope, marked with a gleaming black raven feather, off the front step before going inside. Puck did a perimeter sweep and then followed me.
I had to walk around the entire first floor before I could even glance at the staircase in my periphery. Puck watched me from one of the middle steps, emerald eyes bright in reassurance. I tossed him Ash’s letter on my way past, taking my time re-familiarizing myself with everything on the second floor. The last time I was here by choice, I had been attacked.
“We’ve turned the tide by now, right?” I called down to Puck.
The trickster suddenly appeared at my side where I stared at the door to my parents’ bedroom. “You want to attack them as soon as you heal,” he guessed easily, although he seemed to bite down on each word.
“It’s not even a matter of want at this point.” I rested my hand on the doorknob. I couldn’t bring myself to do it. “We have to.”
Covering my hand with his own, Puck tried for a grin. “Even changelings don’t brave their parents’ histories.” It had to have been a challenge to get my confidence up, but I heard it as reassurance that I didn’t have to go through with this.
Yes, you do, that same voice from before whispered in the back of my head. It sounded suspiciously like Ash this time, despite my knowing he would use telepathy as little as possible while I recovered. And since I didn't have a very good history with recovery...
“I love you,” I began hesitantly. “But I have to do this alone.” He nodded and kissed the top of my head. I sighed when he moved away, my pendant not scorching hot for the first time all day. Guess he wasn’t in danger of overusing his time anymore.
In the past, I had never known my parents. I went into war before they could call me home, which was the price they paid for sending me to be raised farther away in the first place. The price I then paid for making enemies so soon was that I never got the chance to learn about my family. And I didn’t remember ever having any in this lifetime. I must have, considering; I just didn’t remember.
The master bedroom held a four-poster bed, the only piece of furniture that echoed what it should have been. One wall was filled with the windows that seemed intimidating if looking at them from down on the front lawn. Across from them, nearly half the opposite wall was layered in weapons. Sentient blades hummed a kind of greeting to my sudden presence, and I walked closer to them. Each sword, staff, dagger, even arrow was marked with specific glamour, tribute to my inner guard. Belonging to my inner guard.
Latin and Greek spell work etched its way across the room in brilliant cursive scrawl, facing the bed. Interwoven with the ancient phrases were words hardly any fey knew, let alone the wizard who had already invaded once. As I read it, my memory translated just as quickly. It was the story of a long-lost queen, one who harnessed the ability to change even the slightest of fates around her. Her story was never finished, because too soon, she had given up her abilities in order to save her daughter. The king consort was only mentioned in the beginning, for he was slaughtered soon after their daughter’s birth.
Despite her royal lineage, the girl had never been a princess. That comment was written as a post-script, the epilogue to the queen’s uncompleted work.
Running my hand over the spells, over the story, I wondered who had written it so beautifully that I couldn’t differentiate charm and legend. Most of all, I wanted to know how it came to be in my possession, when they were older than even my old life.
The walk-in closet was similarly bare. Its walls held no traces of ever seeing a hanger bang together; the poles went unmarked where clothes might have been hung over them in another timeline. None of the empty space bothered me, though. What demanded my attention was the dress form that glittered with chain mail.
When I reached out instinctively to touch it, the chain mail flashed with magical light and faded away, leaving regular armor in its place. The platinum metal gleamed. It was hardened specially by glamour, to turn any but the hardest blows. I traced my finger along the reinforced joints. Spider-silk greeted my exploring touch when I reached for the lightweight cloak attached at the shoulder. In my mind, I recalled seeing Ash with a spider-silk pouch. I blinked away the memory in favor of this awe-inspiring cloak. Its impenetrable surface was decorated with a coat of arms I knew only from myths.
Puck? I called mentally.
My trickster stepped inside the armory carefully, giving a wide berth to the weapons. He rested both hands on my shoulders and looked at the cloak I stared at.
Neither of us said anything. My crown was stored safely at our waterfall hideaway, but clearly it would match this armor. Puck squeezed my shoulders on and off, as much to get the knots out of my back as to reassure himself I was still there. The family crest called to me, somehow, even though I was pretty sure I hadn’t been a part of that legendary trio.
Heat licked at my spine. Puck moved out of the closet so that he could read the etchings, one of the few faeries who recalled the ancient language. The monarchs and the Wolf had to remember it, too.
I looked up suddenly. There was no light bulb to explain why the closet was lit, especially since it faced away from the windows that were never opened. It was as if every particle in the air was providing its own glow.
When I walked back out to join Puck, I saw that the mattress had transformed into a dais and a rather plain throne, when compared to the fey queens’. I ignored the urge to sit down on it.
“You aren’t their family,” he said quizzically, not quite asking.
I shook my head. “There’s something I still can’t remember, apparently.” I eyed the throne, which was more or less a fancy dining chair. “From… from when I was sent away.”
Goodfellow pulled me close in a peace offering. “Try.” His breath warmed my ear. I relaxed against him.
The instant they called the sparring match a draw, I retreated into the surrounding woodland. My boots bit into my heels, not fitting properly after my nursemaid had been put in charge of my money. I could have bought myself new equipment with the few coins I really did earn for myself, but no. It was improper for a lady to do such a thing.
Another match was called, and I peered out of my hiding place curiously. Worry crashed through me. A girl much shorter than me faced off with a primed soldier I’d taken on once before. She looked barely big enough to handle the staff she carried, despite her ease in wielding it. I narrowed my eyes in appraisal.
Fair game for someone to call cheat, if she won.
Slipping closer, I forced myself to block out the grammar and manners I continued to be forced into learning. Here, manners got more seasoned fighters than I killed. Manners meant money.
“Oh, girly, what’d ya say we make a trade? That staff for your life?” The soldier grinned as if this was an easy victory. I blinked my Sight into focus. Last time I had only won against him in a burst of power that may or may not have been my own. He continued to taunt her, not noticing what I did. “Saves you the disgrace of defeat, too, girly.”
Magic trailed her every move, even the slightest breath. She dove for him. At the same time, I lunged for one of the soldiers’ friends, knocking him down. Men appeared in the woods that had been safe for weeks, their eyes all trained on the outnumbered girl. Dispatching several of them quickly enough, I leaped for the nearest tree.
The girl had immobilized her main opponent. I wondered where the regulators of the sparring matches had gone; the intrigue faded when I saw their bodies, sprawled near the gamblers. My gaze snapped back to my newfound ally, whether she knew that tidbit at the moment. Fear showed on her face, but just barely.
“Come with me!” I yelled. Hyperaware of the attention that attracted me, I glamoured myself into looking like a faery to anyone except her. Faeries were revered in these lands. Blowing a gust of wind to the western front moving in on us, I jumped to the ground. Landing on my feet proved useful yet again as I took off running. The girl followed suit. “Stay close! I’m going to get them away from us.”
Using some natural magic and some learned forest skills, I managed to throw them off our trail. Eventually I looped around to a cave that we had passed twice before –– the first time glamoured to look like a rockslide, the second to appear dark and foreboding.
In reality, it glowed bright with the fire that wouldn’t die unless I ordered my glamour to cease feeding it.
“Who are you?” I asked first, merely to break the silence we had fallen into within our safe walls.
Toying with the staff she had kept with her by some feat, the girl eyed everything inside my cave skeptically. She had to have been eleven or twelve, not much older than me. Her auburn hair gleamed in opposite to my dark brown, polished enough to show she had come from wealth at some point. I met her flinty gray gaze without cringing. Two could play at that game.
“You are not fey, yet you have their affinities.”
I folded my arms across my chest. At least my nursemaid had long since given up on finding me; she would never survive hearing of the rules I had broken today alone. “No, I am not,” I replied icily. “Who’s asking?”
“Someone who needs a friend,” she answered quietly, as if ashamed. The two of us sat in the firelight for a minute. Neither one of us was sure about what to do with the other. Finally, she spoke up again. “Thank you for helping me.”
A smirk pulled at my lips before I could stop it. “Careful where you throw those words. Pretty thing like you can get tangled up with real fey a bit too fast.” I saw the challenge flicker in the stormy depths before she shoved it down, somewhere deep inside her. She really was high-born, then.
The girl sighed. “Not much else can happen to me. I’ve already lost my family.” My smirk vanished into a scowl that a twelve-year-old shouldn’t have been able to accomplish. There were far worse things that could happen to someone like her, although she did not recognize those dangers. “My name is Eliza.”
“As in…” I trailed off in disbelief.
Curling her shoulders inward, she nodded ever so slightly. “I am the lost one. Neither princess nor soldier; not after what I’ve been through.” She straightened abruptly, shifting her small weight so quickly I reached for my belt knife. Her smile was apologetic. “You’re better suited to this than I am. My magic is crying out to yours. I can feel it straining against my skin, while you sit there ignoring its call.” I had been, but she did not need to know she was right. It was bad enough I hadn’t recognized the princess, no matter what she said. All high-borns looked the same, honestly, but she had the bluest blood of them all. “You don’t have to accept it, of course, but I doubt you would give up something so wonderful. You are already involved in this war.” That was wrong. I fought in border skirmishes, to protect some fey that were innocent when compared to their mortal opponents, yet I was nowhere near a soldier in the war.
“Accept what, exactly?” I laughed, not intending to be cruel. Eliza winced anyway. “Your mother’s ability to change destiny? That was a joke, created by the cleverest of tricksters to fool her into a sense of security. What do you think all this is?” I gestured toward the cave entrance. “I may fight, coward, but that makes no war mine.”
Unfortunately, Eliza had already been casting the spell in her head. Magic engulfed me. I was thrown forward in time, eradicated from the legends, and gifted with an ability that hadn’t existed in the first place. Because of the glamour, I supposed, or maybe the way time folded around my changing presence, I became known as part of their family –– sometimes as Eliza’s lost sister, in fact. It was bad enough knowing she pushed me into a war I didn’t want.Some days I often wished I hadn’t saved her at all.