Heart and Hooves: An Urban Fantasy
We spent the next couple of hours talking and
drinking coffee, and everyone seemed to be ignoring that it was the wee hours of
the morning. Ralph had put some light jazz on the CD player and it played
quietly away in the background as we talked and laughed and teased each other.
After the solemnity of earlier, it was a relief to simply sit and chat, and I
felt a strange need to be in their company, almost a physical hunger for their
presence. Something inside of me had been starved for a long time, and now it
was making up for lost time. Every time I looked at them, I felt a shyness and a
sense of amazement that anyone - outside of Dubhain, of course - could know me
as they did and still take such obvious pleasure in my company.
When I hesitatingly mentioned this feeling to them, Ralph smiled at me knowingly and nodded, explaining to me that they had all felt much the same thing when they first had created the bond between the three of them. The feeling would soon pass as the security of what I was part of became a visceral reality, but till that happened I would crave close contact with them.
"And that's ok," he finished with a smile. "We like hanging out with you, too."
And that seemed to be true, because Sandy and Peter spent most of the next day with me too. Sometimes we just sat and read or listened to music, and for awhile in the afternoon, Sandy took both of us downstairs and played the piano for us. It seemed like he knew every song I could think of to ask him to play, and a whole lot of things I had never heard before. I laughed my ass off when he did a camp rendition of "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun," and nearly cried when I heard the deep, beautiful chords of "Clair de Lune" for the first time.
Things got more serious after Ralph woke up and joined us for dinner, around nine o'clock or so. The meal itself was simple - a green salad, some steamed veggies and quiche. Afterwards, we cleaned up the kitchen and retired to the parlor for a planning session.
The way forward seemed fairly obvious, but it was fraught with danger, that was clear. Somebody was going to die, if Sandy had his way about it. I watched him talk about Braewynn and his exploits and I was amazed that I'd ever thought of him as calm about the whole problem. With my new sense of what was really going on with him, I could feel the depths of his anger and indignation that he did such a good job of hiding on the surface. Further, I could feel the same feelings echoed in both of my other brothers' hearts, and I knew this was something they were deeply committed to doing. It made me anxious, because in spite of their confidence I knew it could turn out very differently than how they were believing it would be. I knew that sometimes the bad guys win.
"So we'll contact the Council of Honor tomorrow morning," Sandy said, "and file our statement of intention. That'll pretty much blow the cover off the whole thing, because they'll contact their opposite number in Unseelie, and they'll inform Braewynn of our intentions."
"And that should take some of the pressure off of us, because Bryon will be beyond Braewynn's reach until the duel is concluded, right?" Ralph commented.
"Um, guys, I hate to be a drag, but what happens if the duel fails? What if Braewynn wins?"
There was a moment of silence, and then Sandy said "Then we will be undone. The clan will be no more, I will be dead, and you will be given to Braewynn to do with as he pleases. It's not an option, you see. We must win. And, even though the pimp has a reputation for being a very experienced duelist, I have every confidence that I will win. There is no other acceptable alternative."
"Oh." I digested that in silence for a bit. "All right, I can roll with that." I tried to smile a little, putting on a brave front. I should have known better.
"I know that you're afraid, Bryon," Ralph said softly. "You needn't - you can't - hide anything from us, your brothers. It's only right and natural that you should know some fear and anxiety over this...it means the difference between life and death for all of us. Still, I have seen Sandy in action, and if you thought Lady Elenore was frightening, you haven't seen anything. Sandy is very, very good. We wouldn't be doing this if we didn't think the odds were at least evenly in our favor."
I nodded and tried to tamp down my fear. They really didn't need to be worrying about my fears and anxieties with the upcoming action hanging over their heads.
"So we will all be there when we meet with Braewynn and his crew," Sandy explained. "They will be allowed to bring an equally sized party, by the rules of the Council. I will state our grievance and the terms of our challenge, and Braewynn will have no choice but to accept, because he would lose too much face if he did otherwise. When the actual duel is fought, no one else will be allowed to interfere. But that's the only rule: everything else is fair game. Whatever we each of us bring to the grounds can be used without loss of honor. I have heard that Braewynn prefers to duel with twin rapiers, while I will be using Kaldor." At my blank look, he added "Two handed sword that was a gift a long time ago."
"Ah," I said, and tried to look like I knew anything about swords.
"Don't worry about it," he grinned. "Kaldor and I have won more than our share of duels." And that was where we left it that night, seemingly by common but silent consent not discussing the upcoming duel any further.
The next morning, I awoke early despite the late night the evening before. I felt a sense of energy and animation, a lightness of mood that seemed very at odds with what I knew was scheduled for that day. I thought about it for a moment, and then realized that it wasn't coming from me, but through the clan kin bond. I was catching Sandy's mood, feeling his relief that the wait was over and now some action could be taken on a problem that he had been working on for a very long time. Today he would declare his intentions and have it out in the open, as he preferred it.
After a minimal breakfast, he waited for me to get dressed, telling me to put on the suit I would find hanging in my closet upstairs. I hurried up to the room, curious about what I would find in the closet.
When I opened the door of the armoire - the room, being tucked under the eaves, had no room for a built in closet - I found a charcoal gray suit with lighter gray pinstripes in three pieces, a beautiful and discreetly colorful silk tie, and a pair of black loafers with a pair of black socks stuffed into them. There were braces on the pants, the back of which was leather while the fronts were silk in the same pattern as the tie. On another hanger was a dove gray linen shirt, which picked up the pinstripes in the suit. It was a very beautiful, and very conservative outfit. Not my kind of thing at all, but I gritted my teeth and put it all on. In a gesture of rebellion, I left the top button of the shirt undone and the tie pulled down slightly. All the clothes were perfectly fitted and went on flawlessly. I looked in the cheval glass when I was dressed, and an elegant stranger was looking back at me. His hair was a mess though, so it wasn't a total loss. Long live the revolution!
Back downstairs, Sandy perused me with a critical eye while Peter looked at me with hidden laughter in his smile. I knew he was just relieved it was me in the monkey suit and not him. Sandy gave his approval of the clothes, but pulled me into the downstairs bathroom and crushed my small rebellion with a round brush, a spray bottle and a blow drier. I was soon coifed within an inch of my life, and somehow the top button of my shirt was secured and my tie pulled up. I admit it - I pouted over that one.
Sandy himself was looking very elegant in a cream toned linen suit, tan leather belt and matching shoes. His socks were carefully beige and matched both his shoes and the pale leather vest he wore. His hair was pulled back into a long pony tail and secured with an enameled clasp which bore a strange device that looked almost like what you would see on a knight's shield. When I asked him about it, he said that it was the coat of arms of Agryvaine, the realm ruled by his mother.
"We'll be dealing with people today that place a great deal of emphasis on the importance of tradition, and correct etiquette. They're very, very conservative and hidebound I'm afraid, so every step of the dance we're about to start must be pre-planned and carefully executed. The Council members we'll be talking to will be the ones who decide whether our grievance warrants the issuance of a challenge, so we need to have them on our side right from the start." Sandy glanced over at me, his eyes very serious as he drove Ralph's old volvo wagon out of the driveway and started down the hill towards Broadway. "You will need to say as little as possible, answer only the questions that are put to you, and not volunteer any information. They will be well aware that I left Faerie under a cloud, but I was never officially censured, so it won't be an issue here. My mother has maintained my presence in the rolls of her House, so that will work for us, I think."
I nodded silently, somewhat intimidated by the whole thing. I was going to meet other members of the ruling class of Seelie Court, that was clear.
We rolled down Broadway to Denny, then turned right and down the hill, heading west across town. We were both pretty quiet for awhile. The car didn't have a radio or CD player, so it was just the two of us, and no music. When Denny finally curved around into Leary Way, I broke the silence.
"Where are we going, Sandy?"
He shook himself out of his thoughts and glanced at me. "Ballard. The local portal is there."
"The local Seelie waypoint is in Ballard. It's one of the oldest parts of town, and pretty quiet, and that's two big pluses as far as the powers-that-be are concerned. They don't like nosy neighbors, and they don't like modern."
Sandy cracked a little smile at me. "Don't worry, Bryon. I'll explain as much as I can as we go along. For right now, I need to get us to Ballard in one piece, and this ancient pile of rubbish that Ralph calls a car is making that a little difficult. We'll talk more when we get there, hmm?"
I nodded, noting for the first time the little beads of sweat on his forehead and the rough way that he was driving. It seemed that cars pulling up alongside him on the road made him pretty nervous, and he'd always either pull forward or drop back when it happened. I was mildly amazed - something he wasn't good at! Who knew?
"You know, I could drive on the way back. I'm pretty comfortable behind the wheel." I didn't get an answer for that beyond a distracted frown as the car in the next lane veered slightly toward us and Sandy stepped on the brake to let it move on past. The car behind us honked at him, and Sandy gasped and stepped on the gas, lurching us forward. Without a word I reached over, pulled on the seatbelt and snapped it into place, which earned me a dark look from my companion.
Finally, we turned off of Market street and onto 27th in Ballard. After a couple of blocks, Sandy pulled into an empty parking lot beside a big, worn old building which must have been attractive in its day, but now looked rather dilapidated and nondescript. He relaxed a little as he turned off the ignition.
Sandy sighed in relief. "Thank gods we're here. I truly hate driving, but sometimes it can't be helped. Come on, let's get out and talk for a minute and then we'll do this thing."
The building we were parked in front of had a sign over the front door: Oddfellows Hall 253, with a three link chain symbol beneath the name. I remembered that there was an Oddfellows hall on Capital Hill as well, but I had no idea who they might have been. If Sandy noticed my curiosity, he ignored it.
"All right," he said, "this is it. We're going to go in there and register a complaint and issue a challenge against Braewynn for his treatment of you, going through the official channels. We want this to be as letter perfect as possible, to prevent wiggle room for him to complicate matters, so you need to know what's going on in case something unexpected happens. I don't believe that will happen, but ya never know, right?
"Inside that building, there is a portal to Faerie that will land us in the offices of the Honor Council - they have a longer official name, but that's what it boils down to. They handle all the dueling requests and, with their opposite number in Unseelie court, set up times and places and handle all the small details and arrangements. When we show up there they'll know who we are but they'll ask us for our identities anyway, and I'll present our bona fides. Then they'll ask for the particulars of our complaint, and I'll give them a brief rundown of what happened to you, and what our challenge will consist of. There may be some questions over a challenge to the death, but I have the right and they'll have to agree. Your job will be to stay as quiet as possible and agree when they ask if you bear witness to what I've said, ok?"
I grinned a little. "Keep my mouth shut unless spoken to directly, and then agree. I think I've got it."
Sandy smiled a little wryly. "That's about the truth of it. It's all rigamarole, but it's what we have to get through if we want to get Braewynn off your back and serve a little justice on him at the same time. Don't let these guys intimidate you - they're here to do what we want them to do, but the little power of their position sometimes goes to their heads. No matter what they say, stay serious and focus on our purpose, because all the rest is just posturing."
"That bad, eh?" I was getting a little worried.
"They might try to shake me up a little, but I can handle anything they can throw at me. I've dealt with these kinds of people for a long time. I managed to live through the people at DMV, and this'll be a cakewalk compared to that."
"Right. Let's do it then."
With that, Sandy turned and headed toward the rusty, worn door in the front of the brick building, with me following a pace behind.