Towards the Fates – Excerpts
From Saturday of Third Weekend
There is such a thing as too many choices, Ryna thought, eyes glazing as she scanned the brochure from the Drop Hammer Coin Press. Tanek was right—a necklace from this place would be right up Phoenix’s alley. Even if she didn’t decide to wear it, she could always tie it on her staff.
The problem was picking which two symbols to have imprinted on the pendant.
Thunder rumbled, and a fat raindrop stained the brochure. A second followed with disturbing speed.
“Wonder what that’s all about?”
The fiddler looked up at Tanek’s remark to see the Merry Maids—minus their token guy—marching past Bakery Stage with their quarterstaffs. “Looks interesting. Let’s find out.”
“Where’s Lord Marion?” the dancer asked as the Gypsies fell in step with their allies.
“Militia’s got him,” Mutch said. “They’re holding him in the Hand Maid Sweets Tower.”
“Grabbed him right out of line for bangers ‘n’ mash,” Jen elaborated.
“Want help?” Tanek volunteered.
Scarlett Will shot him a roguish smile. “Wouldn’t dream of turning away an offer from a Gypsy.”
Another sky-grumble. The rain increased, speckling the ground. The Gypsies and Maids continued unperturbed, but others scurried for cover. Even so, a sizable crowd of patrons remained around the marooned, half-finished turret, separated from the dampening Militia by a wide ring of rennies.
Ryna raised her eyebrows. Spotters. Someone anticipated combat.
“Forsooth, thou took’st thy sweet time!” Marion hollered from the wooden ledge that clung to the tower’s second story. He tugged at the railing to which his wrists were firmly bound. “The storm gathers apace!”
“Get thyself kidnapped to somewhere local next time; then we’ll talk,” Jen hollered back, shaking water from her hair.
“So much for a sneak attack,” Mutch grumbled.
Jen gave the youngest Maid an evil grin. “And why sneak when we have the advantage of skill?”
Her tone made Ryna’s hair prickle, made her heart race in fear. Something shifted, darkening Pendragon more than the clouds over the sun. She took a step back at the battle-ready energy sparking from Jen, at the strange glint in her eyes. Shadow Fae! her mind screamed in terrified recognition. It was like last year, just like last year, with the thousand scenes that had played out and ended in blood and death and pain.
“Something’s not right,” she said, her voice wavering like a frightened child’s, but no one heard.
The Militia stared at her, eyes blank and unholy. They drew their swords with a bloodthirsty yell, drowning out their captain’s puffed-up demand for surrender.
The Maids, death in their eyes, walked past the spotters and readied their own weapons.
Ryna caught an echo of her own terror in the captain’s expression before a fearsome snarl transformed his face. She whimpered, trying to remember to breathe, trying not to scream into the growing downpour. Tanek had abandoned her, wading into the fray with a glow of dark joy, boot knife drawn.
The patrons cheered like spectators at a gladiatorial combat—Ryna wondered if they knew blood was about to be shed.
Her friends’ blood—
No. Not again. Fear spurred her to action; she plunged into the melee, ducking blows from friend and foe alike. She had to get through, had to get to the tower…
The Hand Maid Sweets vendors hawked their nut rolls with unholy vigor.
Ryna vaulted the serving window’s low stone ledge, ignoring outraged shouts. She swung around to the wooden stairs that led to the balcony, took the winding, narrow steps two at a time.
Potted plants, of all the ridiculous things, sat on the ledge. Ryna stumbled over one in her haste; dirt flew everywhere. Cursing, knife drawn, she skidded to a halt beside the captive and began to saw at the rope that bound his left hand.
Rain pounded her head.
“Robyn really does love me,” Marion murmured, calf-eyed.
“You’re all insane,” Ryna spat.
A quick glance down… the combatants screamed and slashed at each other. Between one blink and the next their shadows battled, too, with motions utterly different than their owners’.
And then the shadows were battling their owners…
The final strands separated; Ryna lunged at the rope holding his right wrist.
Tanek’s laughter echoed upward: dark, malicious.
Ryna would’ve screamed, but she couldn’t draw the breath for it around the knot of terror in her chest. She hacked through the last strand and nearly slit her belt in two trying to get her knife in its sheath. “Come on.”
She didn’t wait for a response. She grabbed Lord Marion’s hand and ran. They both nearly fell down stairs meant for careful, slower steps, but Ryna couldn’t stop.
“Go!” She gave him a shove.
Ryna turned to face the combatants, some moaning and sprawled on the dirt.
At least they were alive to moan…
“Lord Marion is free!” Ilya shouted beside her.
Ryna glanced down in alarm. The girl was panting, winded from running. When had she arrived? Why had she come? This was no place for children.
A horrible, suspended moment. Ilya drew breath to yell again–
“Merry Maids, retreat!” Robyn called.
Tanek slung Ryna over one shoulder and, laughing, ran.
His old, cheerful, charming laugh.
Ryna nearly fainted with relief.
“Nice timing, kid,” Mutch complimented.
Ilya, trotting beside Tanek, gave Mutch a sideways look.
“Was anyone hurt?” Ryna asked as the pack of thieves passed the Harvest Man.
“With stage combat that slow?” Scarlett scoffed. “If it wasn’t for the weather, I’d say you’ve been in the sun too long.”
Or not long enough, Ryna thought, but said nothing. Not nearly long enough.
From Friday after First Weekend
The wind blew wild and restless through Pendragon; Ryna raised her face to the cloud-streaked sky and let the eddies tug their fingers through her hair. The third story of Flying Buttress Stage afforded a gorgeous view of the waxing moon’s cradle, hanging low over the BLUE’s ramshackle bulk.
Her perch had been condemned for years, but she was light, and handholds for climbing weren’t hard to find if you knew the trick of it.
This had been one of her favorite haunts in the Otherwhere. A good, defensible spot if you didn’t count the drop. Or if you knew how not to let gravity snatch at you.
Here she felt peaceful… and free.
A train’s whistle echoed across the landscape, its lonesome sound resolving gradually into the baying of hounds.
She knew it for a dream, then. They only came to her in dreams—and had, at least once a fortnight, since she left. The knowledge did not wake her—seemed more a point of curiosity as she waited, holding breath she didn’t need in anticipation.
You can check out any time you like, she thought, the melody of “Hotel California” ghosting through her mind.
The fall of silver bridle bells came next, a tinkling descant to the syncopated beat of hooves that rang through earth and air to light Ryna’s soul with incandescent joy.
And then They rode into view, breathless beauty intent on their prey. It was as if someone had brought to life an ancient tapestry of some medieval hunt… if that tapestry had been woven in threads of silver and gold, amber and lapis and garnet and jade. Even from such a distance, they stood out—a bright riot of reality overlaid on a shabby backdrop of make-believe.
“Please,” Ryna cried, one hand reaching out in helpless desire. No further words came—she couldn’t form thought or wish for them, merely stood there, tears of longing in her eyes at their perfection. “Please…”
The leader’s head turned, and Ryna saw perfectly the jet hair, the cloak studded with stars, the pitiless, inhumanly blue eyes.
The fiddler’s eyes flew open to a truth as cold and hard as the Faery woman’s gaze.
She had been cast out. Every fiber of her being wept; she wanted to crawl back into that dream, to see that beauty just once more…
Phoenix propped herself on an elbow, groggy and worried. “Artemis?”
But the specifics had begun to fade, leaving only a flash of awe and longing, the memory of the intensity of those eyes…
“Hold me,” she croaked, welcoming the solid, warm feel of flesh as her love gathered her close and murmured sleepy endearments.
This would ground her.
This would save her.
Without it, she knew the temptation would be too great. Knew she would dance after Fae pipes and spend eternity happily in their thrall.
And the worst part was… she didn’t know if the thought frightened her or not.