Friday, July 20, 2018

Fiction Friday: The Faery Tale (OIA #6)

FAERY TALE

Jedediah Cabot stood in the aisle of the office at the Occult Investigations Agency, his fists on his hips, accusing both LaCroix and Markur. "Okay, who has them?"
"Who has what?" asked Gideon LaCroix. He sipped his tea.
"I had DVDs of some Bogart movies, Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon. I was going to have Susan over to watch them."
Markur and LaCroix laughed. "Yeah. Right. Waaaaatch them," said Seth Markur.
"Listen, just because you're both...earthy...doesn't mean I'm going to—to—leap on Susan."
Lamb Hutton came over. "Susan is the woman in the city hall?"
"Yes," said Cabot. "We were going to watch movies." He whirled on the other two men. "And that's all! At least I've certainly never slept with an immortal companion of a demon or...or a history grad student."
"Don't knock it until you've tried it," said Markur, and both men laughed again.
"I think it's good that you weren't going to force yourself on Susan," said Hutton.
Cabot turned back to her. "It wouldn't be force! I mean, I just felt that I should...you know...move on."
"Of course," said Lamb Hutton. She left the men, one fuming and two snickering, and returned to her desk. Once there, her hand strayed to the hiding spot for the DVDs.
They were gone.
* * *
I deal in things hidden, things occult. They call me Toomey. I'm a private eye.
He breezed into the office, ten pounds of sex appeal in a five pound sack, almost literally. He was my height, maybe a little smaller. If the tall ones could have seen him, Lamb and Talithe would have swooned, the men would have wanted to be his friend. He has that effect on people.
He can't help it; it's the way he was made.
I kicked a chair over to him and said, "Rest your wings a while and talk." He was no friend of mine. In fact, he was the reason I was here.
So it had to be bad if he had come to me. Or he didn't think I cared. We fey are funny that way; we can hold grudges for the longest time, but sometimes we're surprised that anyone was offended.
He perched on the edge of the chair. It was too large for him, but so was everything. I'm used to that—back in Faery things were sized differently, but here they're made for the Tall Ones. His wings brushed the back of the chair. His rapier knocked against the wood.
"Thank you," he said. "My bride has gone missing."
I raised an eyebrow. "Gloriana?"
He ignored my tone. A good thing; his rapier wasn't just for show. "You've been away. My beloved Mab."
"Dumped Gloriana?"
"Our time was up." Faery voluntary marriages last 7 years, 49 years, or 343 years. Though I had been in the mortal world only three hundred years, time in world of Man doesn't correspond to the world of Faery.
"So you had Queen Mab?"
"We were to be married."
"Tell me about it."
"Believe not the calumny that she is the midwife, for she is—"
"I meant about the disappearance." After he had Gloriana banish me here, I wasn't going to cut him slack.
"It was our wedding day. We were going to jump the sword at noon, and we had a large tree available. I went to collect her shortly before the jump, and something that looked like a black-haired man grabbed her and disappeared into a mirror."
"Disappeared?"
"There was a doctor in attendance; he said it was the Elegant Enchantment." Which led here: the world of Man. Gloriana had used the Winding Coil to send me, and a long trip it had been.
"So you want me..."
"To find her. I must be married, I simply must be." Sculpted that way before being given the Breath of Life, probably of petals and earth. "Otherwise I shall have to marry Gloriana again."
That didn't sound awful to me, but then, I had been in love with her.
"I'll take the job," I said. "Describe the man."
* * *
Lamb Hutton looked at the bare floor under the desk. No DVDs. Then she looked at the black boots that had appeared beside her, attached to work pants, and the tattered hems of several skirts that covered them.
A homeless woman gazed down, her hair wild and brown. "Pull out five items," she said to Hutton and thrust forward a grimy velvet Crown Royal bag. Hutton pulled out a blue cat's-eye marble, a ball of tinfoil, a Lincoln penny, a brown marble, and a small photograph torn from a magazine, of a naked woman with enormous breasts. The woman placed the items in a cross on the receptionist's desk. "Hmm. You'll do. The heir of the Fairies has been kidnapped. You need to recover the Tiara of Tir Na Nog. It will be part of the ransom." She swept the items back into the bag. "I'd rather you were Toomey."
Hutton opened her mouth to respond as the hall doorknob clicked. Hutton turned—and found she was alone with Talithe, who had been collating.
"Thanks for watching— What is that smell?" Talithe picked up a label from the desk. "Who do you know on Miller Drive?"
"I'll take that," said Hutton. "Where's Toomey?"
***
I figured the man to talk to was the one who couldn't stop stealing brides—Koschei the Undying. I didn't know where he was, but I knew somebody who had once employed him: Baba Yaga.
Since she got rid of the hut with the chicken legs, she's been living in a condo by the shore. Secure access isn't a problem; all I had to do was find a nearby winecellar—and sneak out of that condo. Soon I knocked on her door.
A meek young woman let me in. I didn't recognize her. I cooled my heels in the living room.
When Baba Yaga came in, I almost didn't recognize her. Nose bob, dye job, and breast implants. She was still old, but didn't look much like she had before.
"How do I know it's you?" I asked.
She tapped a fingernail against one smooth white tooth. "Ceramic coating, but still iron underneath." She fetched a fridge magnet in the shape of a pineapple from the kitchen. When she put it on her tooth, it hung. She plucked it off. "None of us are what we appear to be, dearie." She looked me over. "Not even you. Leprechaun?"
"Clurichaun," I said. "Not one of the cobbling bastards."
She sank into a chair. "What can I do for you? A clurichaun isn't my usual clientele."
"Just a moment. Maiden or slave?" I asked, and jerked my thumb to the girl.
"Personal assistant," said the witch. "Maiden's having fun in Florida this time of year, and you can't eat slaves the way you used to."
"Times have changed," I agreed. "I'm looking for Koschei the Undying."
"He prefers Faery," said Baba Yaga.
"Where did he hang out when he was in this realm?"
"He had a place in Little Russia." She wrote down the address and gave it to me. "Drink? I have a Reisling you might like."
I should have said no; I was on the job. But instead I said, "Well, if it's already open..."
* * *
Lamb Hutton looked at the bar, which looked seedy, even to her. "The Russian Beer Room" matched the address she had. The address had no phone number, no name. If she had known the name, she could have done this by phone. Cabot could probably figure out the phone number just from the address.
Or he would just ask Susan's help.
She stalked into the bar.
"Can I help, miss?" The bartender continued wiping the bar; his voice mingled Russian and British accents. Beside Hutton and the bartender, four men watched a soccer game on a television at the back of the bar.
"I'm looking for someone. I'm a detective."
"Could I see some identification?" She handed over her passport. "It says here you're sixteen."
"Yes."
"Sixteen year olds aren't allowed in bars."
"But I've been in bars before."
"We get searched on a regular basis," he explained. "So we try not to break the rules. You'll have to leave. It's the law."
"Oh," said Hutton. She turned and left, then took out her cell phone.
"Russian Beer Room," said the bartender into the bar phone.
"Hi," said Hutton from outside the big window. She waved to him.
The bartender sighed. "Who are you looking for?"
"I don't know his name. He kidnaped the Heir of Faery."
"The Aero Aerie?"
"Heir of Faery."
"I'll check." The bartender hung up.
Hutton called back. Through the window she could see the bartender ignoring the phone.
She paced. Finally a man left the bar. She stepped in front of him. "I need your help."
"No speak English," said the man.
"Sure you do."
"No, I don't."
Defeated, she let him go, and called the office. Dr. LaCroix and Markur arrived half hour later.
"Why not go in?" asked Markur.
"I'm not old enough."
LaCroix nodded. "Being twenty in a twenty-one state is a bitch."
"No, I'm sixteen."
"Really? You look—"
"Does Cabot know?" asked Markur.
"No," said Hutton. Markur snickered nastily. "What is this age thing? I can plough a field. I'm good with children. Someone—he was ready to marry me. Why should it matter that I'm sixteen?"
"It's complicated," said LaCroix. "To the point. Seth?" He walked into the bar.
Hutton watched their progress. Three men approached them. Markur gestured with his penknife, which became a sword. The men ran to the back of the room. Markur and LaCroix talked briefly to the bartender, then LaCroix raised his walking stick.
Her cell phone rang.
"Bozhemoi. Make it stop," whimpered the bartender.
"Do you know the man I want?"
"Da. I think so. Regular customer. He has a room over the bar. I know him as Grigor."
"When's the last time he was in?"
"I don't know! I haven't seen him in a week."
Markur took the phone from him. "We're looking upstairs."
"Is that legal?"
"Who cares?" said Markur. They left the bartender, still whimpering. At the doorway to the stairwell, LaCroix raised his stick again.
* * *
When I awoke, I was hanging upside down in the bathroom, hung from a handrail over the tub. Baba Yaga came in. "I haven't had clurichaun in a long, long time—and there's no messy paperwork because you're a denizen of Faery."
"Your personal assistant..." I croaked. Funny how hanging upside down does things to your voice.
"...wants to be a serial killer. I said she could stay to learn at the cost of being my personal assistant." She turned and said, "Beata!"
Beata sashayed in. She had dropped the meekness. "Yes, boss?" The way Beata said it made me wonder when she was going to be shoved into an oven.
"I have a recipe in the other house. In the meanwhile, get him ready." She left. Beata produced a pair of kitchen shears and started cutting off my clothes. I swore then, because I have trouble finding clothes my size that aren't kid clothes.
"Quiet." She kept cutting. Presumably she wasn't going to untie me. When she got to my underwear, she said, "Let's find out if a leprechaun is built like a man."
I was about to retort when I thought better of it. "It's a shame conditions aren't right to give you my pot of gold."
"Why?" she asked.
"Well, you didn't catch me. She caught me. If you had caught me..." I shrugged as best as I could, hanging upside down.
"It's a trick to escape," she said.
"If you lock the bathroom door, I can't get away from you, and you can catch me. After all, my hands and feet don't work so well after being tied up."
She thought about it. "A pot of gold?"
"Enough for independence. All she wants to do is eat me. She can still do that."
She turned and pushed in the button on the bathroom door.
She laid me in the tub, then untied all the knots.
"There."
"You'll have to untie me all the way. I have to be free before I can be recaptured." I tried to shrug; chains clinked. "Law of Faery."
Carefully keeping herself between me and the door, she helped me stand up and then unwound the chains. Baba Yaga knows I'm strong, but leprechauns...well, they're not so strong as clurichauns.
"You're free," Beata said.
I grabbed her, turned her around. She twisted and stabbed me once with the kitchen shears, but it was only a glancing blow, and I turned her so she couldn't do it again.
"I'm not a leprechaun. I'm a clurichaun." She had to bend a lot on our way to the kitchen because I was holding her so low. I am still short.
There wasn't enough wine in the kitchen.
So I choked her until she fell limp. I wasn't sure I had done it right—she could have been faking—so I left her on the kitchen floor and ran for the hall.
As I found the elevator, I saw Beata come out of the condo with a butcher knife in her hand. I hustled down the stairs instead of waiting for the elevator there in my undershorts.
She never found me. We Faery folk can hide in plain sight when we want to—and I wanted to.
* * *
The car parked near the bar. Cabot got out, followed by Toomey. Hutton noticed Toomey had changed clothes—though why he wore a Spongebob Squarepants shirt puzzled her.
"Didn't expect to see you," said Cabot. "Another case?"
"Tiara of Tir Na Nog."
Toomey whistled. "We're looking for Queen Mab of Faery. Sounds connected."
She nodded. "Seth and Gideon are examining a room over the bar."
"Dear God, they'll burn it down or something," said Cabot. "Demons will show up. Why aren't you with them?"
She fought not to blush and lost. "I'm not old enough to go into the bar."
"Being twenty sucks sometimes," he said kindly. "Place like this has to have a back entrance—otherwise the tenants couldn't get in when the bar's closed." He headed down the alley beside the building. Toomey and Hutton followed.
They found LaCroix and Markur outside a locked door. "Nobody inside," said LaCroix.
"You knocked?" asked Cabot.
"No," said LaCroix. "I had someone look."
"Oh," said Toomey. The little man took the doorknob and turned it. The doorknob stopped, then creaked in his hand. Toomey turned harder, sinews standing out in his neck and arms. "It came off." He held up the doorknob and smiled. "Oops."
Cabot pulled out a pocketnife and stuck the blade in the hole, then twisted. "Looks open to me."
Markur looked at him. "You do have redeeming qualities."
Cabot shooed them all in. The small apartment stank of old borscht and cabbage. An unmade king-size bed, a big birdcage, and a floor-length mirror dominated the room. Litter filled every flat surface.
"How big is this Tiara anyway?" asked Hutton.
Toomey held his hands apart to show the size.
"Great," said Cabot. "We're looking for a bracelet."
"Some of the Fey do have small heads," Toomey agreed.
"What Tiara?" asked LaCroix. Hutton told him. "It's a real object? I thought it was a metaphor."
"You know about this thing?" asked Cabot while looking at the empty birdcage.
"John Dee and Paracelsus both wrote about it, but received wisdom says it's a fanciful name for an alchemical stage."
"What did it do?" asked Hutton. Cabot called Toomey over.
"Gave the wielder power over animate things without souls," said LaCroix.
"Like Fae," added Toomey.
"Or demons," said Markur.
"Or assembly-line robots," said Cabot. "I think we're too late. The birdcage would have held Mab. The fact that it's here and empty means he doesn't have her now."
"Did he act on his own?" asked Markur. "Or was he hired?"
Cabot said, "Good question. You do have redeeming qualities." Markur stuck his tongue out.
"She's already gone," Toomey mused. "So he had two birdcages, one for travelling."
"Shh!" said LaCroix. Footsteps were coming up the hall. They paused outside the door, then a man rushed in and dove for the mirror.
But Toomey had been waiting, and he spun the mirror so the silvered side faced the wall. The man hit the mirror, the mirror hit the wall, and the man fell down, staggered.
* * *
As the only one strong enough, I stuck to Koschei like the label of a winebottle and grabbed his wrists. "Listen, sweetheart," I told him, "you may be Koschei the Undying but I can make you Koschei the Unpainless if you don't cooperate."
"You took my movies!" said Cabot.
"Later, sweetheart. Well?" I jerked Koschei's arm up.
"I'll talk."
"Do you give your bond to tell us the truth?"
"Da. I don't know much."
"Do you further swear not to hurt us?"
"Yes, and I swear not to hurt or steal those close to you. Enough?"
"Enough." I let him up. He dusted himself off but the dirt still marked his shirt and pants. "Tell us what happened from your point of view."
"A man contacted me. He wanted someone in Faery kidnaped on her wedding day. I couldn't resist, and he offered to pay me. So I did it. I just got back from giving the ransom to him."
"Mab is safe?" I asked. He nodded.
"We still have to get the ransom back," said Lamb.
"Who is this guy?"
"A man. He lives in his mother's basement; I could hear her voice sometimes. His name is Macauley Marlowe."
"He told you his name?" Cabot seemed incredulous.
"He used a spell on me later to make me forget, but that spell is meant for demons. I'm not a demon; I still remember."
I said, "So he's a sorceror."
"Da."
He gave me the address they exchanged princesses and ransom. I tossed him the doorknob. "Thanks," I said.
Cabot stared at me. "After all that, you're leaving him?"
I said, "It's Koschei the Undying." He still didn't move. "Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, Koschei's gotta take the brides till he dies. Come on."
* * *
The address was the student life building on the FCU campus. "Pretty clever," admitted Cabot. "Someone overhears something, you can explain it away as roleplaying or improv."
"And the forensics suck, because the rooms get reused," said LaCroix. "But you have to give them your student card to get a room."
Markur said, "Let me. I've been here before." When Toomey looked at him, he said, "Dates. With Melody."
"He has no money," explained Cabot. "This place is cheap."
"I have money," said Markur. "I just spend it. Melody is a student here."
"Go," said LaCroix. "Or I will. I still have professor privileges here."
Between Markur and LaCroix they discovered the name on the card, and that it had been borrowed—but the turnkey at the desk knew Marlowe by sight, and he had rented the room. Marlowe failed out of arts some years before but never left the university. Cabot got his address from the administration building—and Marlowe lived nearby.
* * *
An elderly lady answered the door, and I saw she was wearing a seeming. I didn't know what she was, or why she was there, but I was ready. Cabot did the talking.
"Macauley?" asked his mother. "Oh, he's in his room. I'll call him."
When she left, I whispered to Cabot, "She's not what she appears to be."
"I know," whispered Cabot. "See how the floor bends under her weight?"
She hollered down the stairs. "Macauley!"
* * *
She returned. "You can go right down." She smiled at Hutton. "All of you."
They trooped down the stairs, with Cabot and LaCroix ducking to get under a heating vent. They entered a room out of Wonderland: grass grew there, and vines went up the walls, twining around the small windows to the backyard. A bead curtain hung by one wall, and they could see a plateau in the next room—or rather, where the next room would be. A throne stood in the center of the room, and a pear-shaped bearded man squatted on it. He wore a loose purple-and-gold robe over a T-shirt and grimy jeans; a bracelet hung off one wrist. A crown sat askew on his head. His feet were bare.
Cabot said, "Macauley Marlowe? We've come to ask you some questions about your part in a kidnapping."
"Koschei talked? How sad." The young man seemed to have his mind elsewhere. He chewed at one of his nails.
"You don't seem worried," said LaCroix. Cabot and Markur each moved farther away from the group.
"I know something you don't know."
"Oh?" asked Hutton.
"That was a quote. From The Princess Bride. Don't you know anything?"
"I haven't seen very many movies," mumbled Hutton.
"You have iocaine powder?" asked Cabot.
"I have something better. They will be noisy eating you, but I'll get over it." He snapped his fingers. "Destroy them!"
Around him, things appeared: A wispy woman with a beautiful body and a decayed face; a handsome little man, armed with a sword and dressed like an Elizabethan dandy, except for the wings that grew from his back; a woman, her hair twined with leaves and her body covered in bark; and a short, bestial man with pointed ears and a bow and quiver.
Markur said, "Fey. Turning your coat inside out won't work with these."
"It has been too long since I have had sport with mortals," said the hobgoblin. "Robin Goodfellow has missed this." He raised his bow and suddenly Cabot was elfshot. He had been looking at Hutton, and his features softened. He smiled and reached for her.
The winged man, Oberon, flew across the room, but Markur wore his jacket loose and it took the first stab from the fairy. The ghostly woman screamed, but there was no obvious response. The bark-woman also hit Cabot with an arrow, but the results were slightly bloodier, opening a line across his arm.
"I don't think I ever realized how lovely you are, Lamb," said Cabot. An arrow whizzed past him.
Markur parried a thrust from Oberon, clanging metal against metal. His pocketknife had grown to a sword. "Great. Cabot's elfshot."
The ghostly woman screamed at LaCroix again, and he ran, horrified, up the stairs. Toomey tried to grab him, missed, and ran after him.
What if Toomey's under the influence of the Tiara? Hutton thought, and groaned. She said, "Prove your love by—uh, by defeating them!" Hutton lifted her arm, chanting, and dirt broke the basement windows and poured into the room, assembling itself into a wall between the two groups.
Markur had dodged another thrust by the flying man, and pulled out his pocketknife. With a flick of his wrist it was a sword. His first thrust was tentative, just meant to engage.
"For you!" said Cabot, "I'll get the Tiara." He saw the other side clearly in his mind: The hobgoblin and woman were waiting until the wall fell, and Marlowe looked at them with annoyance. Behind Cabot, the swordplay continued. The winged man dashed forward to a weak spot in Markur's defenses, but Markur parried.
The rotting woman strode through the wall, ghost-like, and keened at Markur, who grunted. "Banshee," he said, "I'm busy. I have no time to die now." His sword went through her and hit the winged man's blade. My blade is longer, this should be easier, he thought; but the little man is fast. And good.
Flowers popped out of the earth wall and bloomed within seconds.
Hutton grimaced and used a clot of the earth to bind the flying man's wings—but he shook it off, rising higher as he flapped faster, then back into the battle. But re-entry is difficult, and Markur pierced him. The blade bit into his torso, and the little man smiled widely. "A touch," he said. He took to the air again. "But I was on the ground, then."
Cabot concentrated on the metal ring he had seen on Marlowe's wrist, on easing it, and just it, off Marlowe's wrist. He did it, and the Tiara sped through the air across the room—
—and into the dirt wall Hutton had erected.
There was madness then, as the hobgoblin, the woman, and Marlowe all grabbed for the Tiara; Cabot whirled it around to prevent them. "A hole! Make a hole," he said.
The Tiara thumped into the wall and then rolled down and under a bookcase.
There was a creak on the stairs, and LaCroix reappeared. He looked for the ghostly woman and avoided her. "Marlowe's mother was a redcap;" he announced. "She's upstairs and Toomey's gone nuts. He tried to hit me."
"He's under the compulsion of the Tiara," Hutton explained.
With a feint, Markur drew the small man out and got past his defenses—but the small man managed to turn aside at the last moment.
LaCroix nodded. While looking for a bottle or jar, he noticed that the scratches on Markur's face and hands had gone away. LaCroix spotted a nearly empty two litre Mountain Dew bottle in a laundry room and headed for it.
The ghostly woman reached out an arm for Cabot, but he saw her in time and dodged her touch. The second shot from the hobgoblin came through the hole and narrowly missed Hutton.
Pollen puffed out of the flowers—seeing it, Hutton held her breath. Cabot and Markur didn't, and their movements immediately slowed. Markur struggled to keep the winged dandy at bay.
Hutton looked through the hole and saw the hobgoblin. More dirt came through the window and pummeled him, hard, until he was invisible in the rain of soil. When it stopped, he was unconscious.
Cabot bent to look through the hole. "I can't see the Tiara. But you smell nice, Lamb."
Marlowe stood, and when he turned, Hutton saw the Tiara gripped in his fist; he was taking no chances on dropping it. Marlowe said some words, and light flew from his fingertips: the wall vanished.
The bark-woman sighed, and fired another arrow. She missed.
In the laundry room, LaCroix had emptied the Mountain Dew bottle (he suspected the contents were not Mountain Dew), and spoke the words of an enchantment over it.
The winged man and Markur had settled into a clanging impasse. Neither could get through the other's defenses, but both had sacrificed their attacks.
The spirit-woman reached for Hutton but Cabot pushed her out of the way, avoiding her touch as well.
Cabot mentally tugged on the Tiara, but couldn't quite pull it from Marlowe's grasp.
"I'll summon a troll! That will beat you!" Marlowe called, "I summon a troll!" The troll appeared, bent over by the short ceiling. It roared once—
—and the sunlight from the broken windows hit it. The gray color of stone sped from the sunlight through the entire troll, leaving a troll-shaped statue.
Markur had moved backward, forward, backward, to one side and another, all as the battle seemed to be turning, but he had been stopped at almost every opportunity. The little man was fighting defensively, hoping to get through Markur's defenses; Markur was fighting defensively, because that small flitting man could be where Markur didn't expect him.
Hutton looked at Marlowe's hand. He was holding the Tiara as if it were a ring. If she tried hard, she could shoot a column of hardened earth up through the Tiara—a stalagmite, as it were. She did, though it took all of her attention to do so.
Toomey appeared at the doorway to the basement. "I'm sorry, lass," he said, and knocked her over with a heavy thump. "If ye get hold of the Tiara, don't claim it as ye're own. Do you hear me? Mr. Marlowe wouldna like that." His brogue was thicker than usual.
LaCroix chanted again, words of power—
—and the spirit-woman vanished inside the bottle. LaCroix twisted shut the cap. "That's another one," he said.
Cabot leapt on Toomey. "If you've hurt her—" He grabbed the clurichaun and carried him to the ground, but Toomey shrugged him off.
"Ah!" said Markur, taking advantage of the distraction to sink his sword into the winged man's rapier shoulder.
The bark-woman said, "Come here," to LaCroix, and he did, walking slowly toward her.
"Are you—do you menstruate?" he said.
Lying on the floor, Hutton pulled the stalagmite to herself, and Marlowe gasped as the Tiara ripped from his hands. "I claim this Tiara as my own," she said, "and I declare the Fey will not fight us any more."
The Fey stopped and stood still. "Good fighting," said the little man.
LaCroix was nearest to Marlowe, and punched him. Marlowe had a glass jaw or LaCroix hit him on the button, because Marlowe folded next.
"Good work, lass," said Toomey. "Oberon," he said, nodding to the little man.
"Toomey."
The clurichaun grinned. "That's Clarisant in the bottle, LaCroix, and Eigyr over there you're looking all mooney at."
"Sorry," she said and closed her hand. LaCroix straightened, as though an enchantment had been lifted.
"The hobgoblin sleeping in the pile of dirt is Robin Goodfellow," Toomey continued. "There's a redcap named Throttlegush upstairs, too. Good thing no one was really fighting against you."
Hutton refrained from mentioning that Cabot had been elfshot. "I give the Tiara back to its rightful owner, the Queen of Faery." She handed it to Oberon.
He took it with his non-sword-holding hand and rubbed his shoulder. "We have to try that again some time," he said to Markur. "And you," he said to Toomey, "didn't get Mab back in time, so I owe you nothing."
"But we did get the Tiara back, which should be worth something."
"I grant you each a boon. Toomey, you can return to Faery for some period of time."
And Toomey was gone.
* * *
My name is Toomey, and Gloriana hadn't remarried yet. She married me, and for seven years I was happy. Then the time was over, and the boon was done. I came back. Only an hour had passed since I left.
Time—and love—is funny that way.