Revenant Eve by Sherwood Smith


  She seemed unthreatening enough, and I was thrilled to be me again, that is, visible to someone else. “May I get back to my question? How long have I been away from my time? Do you know?”

  She spread her pretty hands. “What is time?”

  “To you, I have no idea. But my life is governed by the ticking of the clock,” I said. “I thought my coming to the past like this meant I’d be restored to the same moment I left. So how long have I been gone? Unless,” I added carefully, “this is all some kind of glamour thing, and none of it is real. One of my favorite books when I was growing up was Elizabeth Marie Pope’s Perilous Gard.”

  Princess Moonbeam flashed her hand up in the fencer’s acknowledgment of a hit. “You are discerning. With your leave, we shall dispense with the glory.”

  An eye blink—this time I really could blink my eyes—and the guy was now short and round, with a cap of wavy nut-brown hair. He wore homespun clothes of the sort seen on common Western European folk of that period, his manner no longer the dangerous Prince of Air and Darkness. He took up a fiddle, and joined the musicians now circling the dancing kids.

  The music stepped up a chord, minor to major.

  Princess Moonbeam was now a small woman maybe in her mid-thirties, wearing a peasant blouse and an aproned skirt. Her hair was a pleasant chestnut, pulled up into a bun. I was the tallest person there, a fact I found oddly steadying.

  The dell was an ordinary clearing under the spreading branches of three trees, the picnic table just that, set with doughnuts and jelly tarts and puddings, in the center a bowl of ordinary fruit. The kids dancing with Aurélie were just kids, some with flowers stuck behind their ears, wilting in the warm air. The dryads were gone.

  The very ordinariness of the scene was a kind of relief. So these were fae, and the dell was obviously one of portals between the Nasdrafus—the world of magic—and the world I’d grown up in. I could deal with this.

  “Thank you for your forbearance,” my hostess said. “The glamour is traditional. It is expected. But it requires a great deal of effort.”

  “I appreciate the effort,” I said. “I really do. I’ll never forget your arrival. But this…seems more real.”

  “And so it ought,” she said watching a butterfly alight on a bluebell a few feet away. “Now, to your questions.”

  “Instead of answering them, can you send me home, just long enough for me to let my loved ones know where I am and what I’m doing?”

  She smiled. “It would take me a great deal of effort to send you home. But I can do it.”

  “Is there some hidden cost? Is that what you’re hinting?”

  She opened her hands. “Not to me. And you would be returned to your loved ones.”

  “So there is a cost. To whom?”

  “There is no cost in the sense that I believe you mean. Perhaps I should make a demonstration.” From a pocket beneath her apron she pulled an oval mirror set in plain wood, and handed it to me.

  I looked down, my nerves chilling when I recognized Alec. He sat in my room in Ysvorod House. There was the cream-colored wall with the border of acanthus leaves and laurel painted under the ceiling.

  “Is this real? I mean, now?”

  “This very moment. Though time does not mean to me what it does to you, I cannot bend it.”

  Alex sat in one of the armchairs, his head bowed, his profile closed in. I knew that face. It was his Mr. Darcy mask, which he put between him and the world when he was hurting most.

  “Why—where—” I gabbled as I tipped the mirror—and nearly dropped it.

  She had stretched out a hand as if to stay me, but I turned away, aghast as I stared at my reflection in the mirror. It wasn’t the me standing there in the dell, I was in that room with Alec, lying on the bed, my eyes closed.

  “I did not think you could see so clearly and with such celerity,” she said.

  “Alec!” I cried, frantically reaching into that glass—

  And he jerked upright and looked around wildly, his blue eyes wide.

  Then the mirror vanished from my hand.

  I drew a deep breath. Calm! Reasonable. Think. A temper tantrum would feel great for about ten seconds, but what would it get me? I was not the one wielding magic right and left, here.

  “What’s the price?” I asked. “Of going home. Or at least getting that mirror back?”

  “You may return any time you wish,” she answered softly. “I myself will take you where you wish to be.”

  “How? Before you get to that, you still haven’t said what it would cost me.”

  “There is no cost to you,” the fae said. “We only deal in trade.”

  “As you see, I haven’t anything to trade. So if there is a portal here, just point it out. I can go myself. I’ve dealt with portals before, like last winter, when I had to close one called the Esplumoir.”

  The world stilled for a heartbeat: no music. No sound. The fae froze, then moved again, first the violin guy, then the children. It was a subtle outward flow, as if they took a step away from me.

  One of them spoke, and the girls broke the ring and began picking flowers to weave garlands.

  The music shifted to a minor key, the same enthralling melody that imbued me with a sense of urgency, even purpose. Enthralling—puts one in thrall.

  I tried to shut out the music, to concentrate. Alec. I recalled the desperation in his face as he searched that room high and low.

  “Do you want to go home?” came the gentle voice.

  I glanced down into the woman’s eyes, a brown the same shade as my own, and said, “More than anything.”

  I meant it when I said it. The sight of Alec hurting hurt me so much I longed to be there, to reassure him, and, yes, to get back to my life, which was, at last, the life I wanted.

  Yet the moment the words were out I looked Aurélie’s way. She stood in the middle of the dell, surrounded by girls, their fingers plaiting pretty garlands. One crowned her with purple knapweed and ivory mallow, lavender loosestrife and wood anemone. No roses.

  No roses, but that wasn’t a problem. It was the vampires who avoided roses, and that was way, way to the east.

  A girl with long, tangled brown hair offered a garland on both palms to Aurélie, waiting for her to take it. There was the deliberation of ritual in the gesture, an intensity that seemed strange for a couple of junior-high aged kids.

  Aurélie gazed into the girl’s eyes, her fingers slowly moving up from her waist to her collarbones to her neck. Her neck, under which lay the necklace that nobody on this side of the world had seen. That she had promised Nanny Hiasinte she would never relinquish.

  “Aurélie?” I crossed the grass.

  Aurélie looked up, blinking as if she’d been woken from a daydream. She smiled with her whole face. “Duppy? Are you here?”

  Her search reminded me disturbingly of Alec’s desperate gaze. I reached instinctively, and touched her shoulder. She gasped. “I see you!”

  When I lifted my fingers, her forehead puckered. “Duppy?” Her hands came out, and I closed my fingers over one.

  Her hand was warm, the palm slightly rough from all her practice. She smiled up at me. “There you are again. You are real,” she said wonderingly. “Like a real person.”

  “Call me Kim,” I said. “And I’m supposed to be your guide. So let me ask you, did they offer you something?” I asked.

  “She—the one who looks like Cousin Fiba. She wants to trade me this crown for my necklace.”

  “Don’t,” I snapped, unsettled by the fact that I hadn’t heard these words. I wondered how trustworthy was this scene of ordinary, bucolic bliss.

  Aurélie looked at me in question. “I know I cannot,” she said with grave courtesy. “I promised Nanny Hiasinte. But my hands, because of the music, the beautiful music, my hands were moving…” She gulped and said angrily, “I will not take it off, even for diamonds and emeralds.”

  Cousin Fiba? I remembered Fiba, the black girl in Jamaica. “
What do you see, Aurélie? Who do they look like to you?”

  “The great lady over there, she is more beautiful even than Tante Mimba.”

  “Her eyes? Her hair? What color are they?”

  “Her eyes black as velvet, her hair a puff the color of night, with tiny stars in it. Her skin the color of teak, so beautiful…”

  Whoa. “We’ve got to run,” I whispered. “We’re being—”

  Enchanted.

  They were gone. A nanosecond later the rain hit us with the force of a hose. Or rather, hit Aurélie. I was invisible again, impervious to the physical shock of the rain, but a deep chill passed through me.

  I don’t know how long that poor kid stumbled around in the dark, for it was clear that though minutes had passed for us, it had been hours in real time. She was soaked to the skin instantly, and after blundering into trees and gorse and every kind of bush that grew thorns and stickers, she wept inconsolably, sometimes howling, “Save me, Duppy Kim. Save me.”

  And didn’t that make me feel extra special.

  But I was invisible once again, no matter what I tried. At least I could stay with her, even if I couldn’t save her, and I swear those fae must have done their best to put Aurélie in the way of every root to trip over and every prickly bush to run into, until at last Aurélie caught sight of a lantern winking between trees.

  The lantern was held by one of the farmers. It was soon apparent that the entire population of Undertree had been turned out to search. Aurélie had wandered downhill, as people do when lost, and ended up in the last stretch of woodland beyond the farms.

  She was put in a cart and brought back to the house.

  Unfortunately, her troubles were far from over.

  ELEVEN

  THE REPRIMAND STARTED OUT FAIRLY MILD, suitable for a marquis’s daughter who came with a thirty thousand pound dowry. Uncle Kittredge stood by, silent and somber as Aunt Kittredge saw to it that Aurélie was wrapped up and fed hot milk. She scolded and questioned alternately. As always, there was a lot of dear and we were nigh dead with worry interlarded, but it wasn’t until she threw a couple zingers at Cassandra and James, promising sharp punishment for their neglect, that Aurélie roused sufficiently to say, “They told me not to go far. And I didn’t go far. It was only that the dancing people played their music, oh, it was so like the obeah dances, and they said it was a kanzo, just for me—”

  “The what?” Aunt Kittredge snapped.

  “Obeah dances,” Aurélie repeated. “My duppy was there, too. We both saw them—”

  “You can be forgiven your wandering off so selfishly,” Mrs. Kittredge said, her voice quivering. “We would only put you in your room for a day as a reminder that headstrong, willful girls always end up in difficulties. But when you seek to excuse your behavior with lies—”

  “I do not lie,” Aurélie flashed, jumping to her feet. “I never tell lies, me. Never!”

  Out came Mrs. Kittredge’s hand, quick as a striking snake. She slapped Aurélie across the face, knocking her down.

  If I could have taken a swing, I would have knocked her down.

  “Philomena,” Uncle Kittredge began.

  His wife rounded on him. “Mr. Kittredge! You would countenance this evil in your home?” She stood over Aurélie. “Go to your room. You will not take sup nor sip until you admit the truth and humbly beg our pardon.”

  Aurélie dropped the blanket and fled, me trailing uselessly behind her, leaving the rising voices of the adults, who were arguing about something I couldn’t hear. Their voices were punctuated by Cassandra’s shrill self-justification, “I told her not to speak of taradiddles, and I also told her not to go off for long, but she said…”

  Aurélie flung herself on her bed and wept herself into an exhausted slumber. I knew how horrible she was going to feel, waking up in wet clothing, but there was nothing I could do for her until she talked to me.

  While she slept, I worried about that vision of Alec. Had time passed after all? Or was that as phony as the Princess Moonbeam/country wife guises? There was no way of knowing. So I tried to reach for him on the mental level. I wasted measureless time without success.

  The only way to keep my sanity was to keep my eye on the prize; that is, to help Aurélie, and to remember that the fae were no friends of ours.

  Still, it was a relief when she woke bleary-eyed in the morning, having rolled herself up in the bedding. She looked around in a woebegone daze, then tears welled in her eyes and dripped down her face.

  Her chest heaved on a sob. “Duppy, where are you?” she croaked.

  Here, I shouted with my non-voice, and though I knew she hated it, I tried to touch her on the shoulder. Here.

  She flinched away from my touch, then slipped off the bed and walked to the mirror, the bedcover still wrapped around her. She peered into the mirror, her eyes swollen. “Duppy Kim?” she said in a small voice. She was using ‘duppy’ as a courtesy title, like Nanny or Lady.

  She stretched a hand out to the mirror, and touched her fingers to the glass. I tried reaching my invisible hand to touch hers.

  She jumped, snatched her hand back, then laid her palm flat on the mirror. I laid my invisible hand over hers, and this time it was I who jumped. It felt like the touch of hand to hand, though I did not have an actual hand to be touching with.

  In the mirror I could see myself standing behind her in my rumpled linen blouse and blue skirt, my hair hanging down to my hips, uncombed. The light was different on me than on her; I was partly invisible, outlined in a kind of shimmer. It gave me the creeps.

  “M’entendez-vous?” she asked—do you hear me?

  “Je suis ici,” I said. I’m here.

  “I hear you, I hear you!” she exclaimed joyfully. “When we touch like this, I hear you!” Her smile became troubled. “Who were those people in the dell? Was that an English obeah? I didn’t know there were any of our people in England.”

  “There are some people of color in England,” I said, making a guess at what she meant by our. “But those ones in the dell weren’t people at all, not in the way we mean. They were fae.” I used the French word fée, though what I was thinking was, Those beings could be walking mushrooms in their real form, but whatever they are, they sure know how to manipulate humans.

  Aurélie’s eyes rounded. “How do you know?”

  “By the fact that they showed me two different sets of faces, none of which were the faces you saw. I don’t know what they wanted from me. I suspect they wanted to get me away from you, because they were definitely after your necklace.”

  “Yes.” Her hand flew to her collarbones. “They did try to trick me. What do I tell my uncle and aunt? Nanny said my necklace was to be a secret. Perhaps it’ll be good enough if I beg pardon for making them worried? You saw. I didn’t mean to be gone long. It seemed a little minute, the dancing, and then the girl like Fiba said that I could trade my necklace for a crown, and I was thinking, How do you know about my necklace? For nobody has seen it.” She made an impatient gesture. “Eh, it’s over. I’ll never go to that place again. Never, never, never! I hate them! But I think I must tell Aunt Kittredge about the dell, and the dancing, even if I say nothing about my necklace.”

  “I don’t think the necklace is the problem. No,” I corrected myself, strongly suspecting that Aunt Kittredge was the type to take the necklace away to keep it safe. “The necklace is a part of the problem but only a part. More serious is the subject of the fae.”

  “They will hurt my cousins and aunt and uncle?”

  “I don’t believe Aunt Kittredge has ever seen the fae,” I said slowly as I tried to think ahead. By modern standards, Aurélie had a rough life, what with the pirates and all. But by the standards of the time, she was better off than a lot of kids because she’d clearly trusted and been loved by the adults in her life, before her great journey. They taught her to the best of their ability—they had hugged and kissed her, and they had lived by the words they taught. Aurélie had brought th
at trust to her relatives, even if the love was lagging a bit.

  I didn’t think it right to completely take that trust away, but I owed Aurélie the truth. So I said, trying to pick my way carefully, “I think that if you tell Aunt Kittredge about the fae, she will only say that you’re making up lies.”

  “But I didn’t lie. I never lie!” Aurélie’s hand rose to her cheek. “She was so very angry.”

  I bit back my opinion of Aunt Kittredge. The kid had to live with her. “She was frightened by your having gone missing. Sometimes when people get badly frightened, and the fright is over, their feelings turn to anger.”

  “I saw this, once,” Aurélie said in a low voice. “Before we left Saint-Domingue. There was nearly a fire on board L’Étourneau, and the third mate said Fiba and I were at fault, that we left untended candles. But we took a lamp. That was the rule. Maman believed us, though everyone thought we were the last ones in the hold. And later, when the third mate was caught stealing, they knew we didn’t lie. But before he was caught, Maman knew our words were true.”

  “That’s because she trusted your words rather than what she expected to hear. I think your aunt trusts only what she expects to see and hear, and not your words.”

  Aurélie leaned against the mirror, her face troubled. “She believes that Nanny is wicked and a heathen, so she does not trust me? But she has never seen Nanny! Never heard her speak. My Nanny is not wicked.”

  “No. But Aunt Kittredge doesn’t know your Nanny, and she only believes those who have her respect. I don’t think anybody from Jamaica has her respect.”

  Aurélie nodded sadly. “I think this is right. So what must I say? I hate to lie. That is wicked.”

  “I don’t know what’s right here, but I think she’ll only believe you if tell her that you walked away and fell asleep in the dell and dreamed about the fae and dancing.”

  “But that’s not true. I was not asleep, and in my dreams, there are many strange people, but never these fae.” She scowled down at her hands. “If I say this lie, she will believe me?”

 
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