Tag Archives: fae

Innocents, Part 1

This short serial takes place about 500 years before the start of Glamourhai.

Falthro examined the kneeling human the guards had brought before him. He detected no sign of the evil lurking in the man’s soul, but evil always conceals itself well. Two of his victims were missing. Two children whose mutilated bodies hadn’t been found and who might still be alive. Their families had petitioned for Falthro’s help. Another fae could have used his glamour to compel truth. Unfortunately, Falthro had…limitations…most fae didn’t. He would need to resort to other methods.

He seized the man’s chin, forcing his head up. The human was passive in his hands, but fire lurked in his eyes.

“Take him into the play room and prepare him for me.” His collared servants grabbed the prisoner and dragged him away. Falthro turned to the guards. “My page will show you to the kitchen. I will get the information you need as quickly as I can.”

“Yes m’lord.”

Falthro entered the glamourhame a few minutes later. The prisoner had been stripped, and hung from the ceiling by his wrists. His legs shackled to the floor, stretching his body painfully. Left there long enough, his own weight would suffocate him, and even a short stint could cripple him. Falthro wasn’t interested in coddling a child killer.

They would start slowly. “Do you know why you are here?”

“No.” Falthro tasted the lie in the curt answer. His whip flashed out, laying a searing line on the man’s face that stopped a half inch from his eye. Falthro smiled as the man jerked in the restraints and bit back a cry.

“That was one lie. For the next lie I will take your eye.” Falthro’s lip curled and he fought down his desire to spill blood. “Four children disappeared from Elm Grove. The guard found two bodies. You are a dead man for what you have done, but your death will be easier if you tell me where the others are.”

The prisoner said nothing, staring through Falthro as he struggled to breath. The lash this time wrapped itself around his neck. His eyes bulged out of his head as Falthro yanked the whip taut, cutting off his airflow. Falthro allowed him to jerk and struggle until his eyes began to glaze, than pulled the whip off of him. The man gasped and choked, tears streaming down his face. Falthro waited until he was quiet. “Where are they?”

The man sagged in the chains, chin dropping to his chest. To Falthro’s surprise he reeked of hopelessness and despair. The strength of the emotions seared Falthro’s glamour so badly that when the human spoke, Falthro couldn’t understand him. The fae lord placed the handle of his whip under the prisoner’s chin and lifted his head. “Repeat yourself.”

The fire in the prisoner’s eyes was gone, his gaze vacant. “You won’t believe me.”

Falthro stared at him. Something in the man’s emotions, his demeanor, made Falthro’s stomach twist. “Tell me. I will know if you speak the truth.”

“I can’t tell you where the kids are. I didn’t take them. Didn’t even know they were missing until the guards dragged me from my home.”

The strength of the man’s belief was a spike hammered into Falthro’s mind. Long experience allowed Falthro to block out the pain, but nothing could help face the horror filling him. He heard only his own silent scream. For the first time since childhood he came near to cursing Dannu. How had She allowed him to trap himself like this?

The man stared at Falthro. “You believe me?” the hope in his voice nearly broke Falthro.

Releasing the winch and lowing the man to the floor took only a moment. Falthro undid the shackles holding the man’s arms and one ankle, leaving the other ankle chained. “I will be back shortly.” Falthro grabbed a small chest with balms and bandages and shoved it at him. “Care for yourself.”

“What–”

“You spoke the truth.” The flavor of it still lingered on Falthro’s tongue, taunting him with his own guilt. “You are innocent. I must deal with another matter, and then I will return.”

Nearly out the door Falthro stopped and turned back. “Do you know anything of what happened to those children?”

“No…”

Falthro nodded and hurried down the hall.

The guards waited in the kitchen. Falthro ignored both the cook and her helper, approaching the guards with an expression schooled to regret. “The prisoner cannot tell us why all the bodies weren’t found together. I will speak with your town council and the presiding judge on this matter. They are to present themselves here as soon as possible.” He had questioned these two earlier—they believed the story they had told him. His answers would be found elsewhere.

He turned to leave and one of the guards said, “M’lord, we have orders to witness the prisoner’s execution.”

Falthro face them, as his expression hardened into a granite mask. “I swore to Dannu I would punish this man for the deaths of those children. You will go and leave the matter in my hands.”

They left.

Falthro allowed himself ten blessed minutes alone. Ten minutes where the emotions and thoughts surrounding him did not burn like fire through his mind, and he could just be. Ten minutes to grieve for the children he had failed. Ten torturous minutes to agonize over what he must now do. “Dannu, show me the way. Will you spare me the burden of more innocent blood? Will you release me of my oath?”

He hands trembled as he raised them to his face. The lack of Dannu’s presence was an empty ache. He gathered himself and left his sanctuary, returning to the glamourhame, and his victim.

When Falthro entered the room the man stood from a crouch. Falthro stopped and searched his memory for the human’s name—Dannel… Dannel’s face gleamed with a thin coating of one of the housekeeper’s creams, something to help the lash heal cleanly. He rattled the remaining ankle shackle, “If you believe I’m innocent, is this necessary?” He tried to sound relaxed, but Falthro tasted both hope and fear.

The fae shook his head, “Perhaps it is not, however I cannot permit you to leave.”

The flavor of fear grew stronger, and Dannel’s hands clenched. Still, the human managed a chuckle. “Well I’m definitely not returning to town any time soon.”

Falthro handed Dannel a loose robe and turned his back while the man shrugged the it on. “I was a fool, and I have done you great wrong. I am unable to make it right, or change what must happen. I can only tell you that I regret it. If it is with in my power both the true guilty party and those who wrongly brought you too this place will be punished.”

Dannel stared at him, wide eyed, “Lord Falthro, I won’t pretend this wasn’t one of the most horrific experiences of my life…expecting to be tortured to death for something I didn’t do…” He stopped, and when he spoke again his voice was a harsh whisper, “I was locked in my own mind, screaming in horror while my body carried me to my doom. You believe me.”

Falthro made himself face the plea in the man’s eye. “I am sorry. When the town first asked for my intervention, I swore to Dannu I would punish you for the deaths of those children. She accepted that oath.”

Life itself seemed to flow out of the young man’s face, a death of the spirit that was far worse than death of the body. “You can’t…you can’t, you know I am innocent. You know!”

“Yes.” Falthro forced himself to show no sign of his own pain as the man’s shock and horror ripped through his mind.

Frozen, Dannel stared about the shelves lining the glamourhame, at the many tools Falthro could use to tear him apart slowly. Killing by inches. “What kind of monster are you…”

“Not quite as much of one as you think.” Falthro allowed himself a small sigh. “I have prayed to Dannu to release me of my pledge, but she does not answer. I do no know why. I do not know why she accepted such an oath. I do have some discretion in how I fulfill it.”

“Discretion? Earlier you offered me an ‘easy death’ if I gave you information. Is that your ‘discretion’!”

Falthro took a deep breath. “Dannel, formerly of Elm Grove, falsely accused and falsely condemned. Your punishment may take three forms, I offer you a choice. You may be given an easy death, to fall asleep and not wake up. No pain, no suffering. If you prefer, I can castrate you, brand you and exile you from these lands. You will live, and you will have your freedom.”

“And the third choice?” The question tried to be a challenge, but the anger and despair behind it were all too clear.

“You may choose to become one of my slaves, bound to obey me by sigil. Once a week you will come to this room, and I will torture you to feed my glamour; no permanent harm will be done to you, but you will suffer greatly. The rest of the week you will have duties throughout my manor. Your needs will be supplied, and you will be able to witness what punishment I can craft for those who falsely accused and condemned you.”

Dannel was silent for a long moment, then asked. “And what is your punishment, Lord Falthro? What of my executioner?”

Falthro’s grim smile showed no hint of pain as the strength and rapid shifts in the human’s emotions made stars explode behind his eyes. “If you become my slave, your presence will be my punishment. If you stay, and only if you stay, you will learn why. Suffice to say I do not speak of anything so ephemeral as guilt or shame.”

Dannel looked skeptical, but allowed the question to drop. Taring at his hands, he asked,“Must I choose now?” ***give some emotional context here***

“No.” Falthro pulled a bell rope. “Rest the night. Sleep, as best you can.”

The door opened and one of Falthro’s servants entered. “My lord?”

“Escort Dannel to one of the guest rooms. Bring him anything he wishes.”

“Yes, lord.”

She bent and undid the shackle then gestured for Dannel to precede her from the room.

“I offer no apologies, for they are meaningless. You may speak with any of my people and explore the manor as you wish.” He summoned his glamour, imposing his will on the other’s mind. “You will not leave this building, nor seek to escape.” Dannel rocked on his heels as the force of the order went home. Falthro turned away. When the door closed, the ripping pain of using his glamour added to the agony of enduring Dannel’s emotions brought him to his knees.

Falthro stayed up through the night, praying. Dannu ignored him, responding to neither his pleas for absolution nor demands for an explanation. Finally, as dawn broke the east, he braced himself for the day to come.

Breakfast was an ordeal, but he was used to choking down food—both physical and spiritual—no matter how much he suffered. He was grimly certain that on this morning, Dannel’s suffering was far worse than his.

Almost as if the thought summoned him, Falthro’s personal servant escorted Dannel into the room. Before either could say anything Falthro asked, “Have you eaten?”

“No, Lord Falthro.” Dannel swallowed, hard.

His servant…was this one Beattie? No, Beattie had been the last one. Regardless, she knew his ways. She set a second plate on the table and filled it. Falthro pointed at it. “Eat. No matter how badly you feel, no matter what you face each day, unless you wish to die, you eat. Food is life, and not eating makes it that much more likely you will die.”

Dannel glared at him, but Falthro didn’t notice. The man’s emotions had lit a fire behind his eyes, a fire only partly eased by his servant’s soothing presence. He chose his people for that quality.

One bite at a time he forced himself to finish his pastry. When the last crumb was gone, he shoved his plate away. Across the table, Dannel half swallowed, half choked on, a mouthful of eggs. After a few more bites he set his fork down and met Falthro’s eyes.

“I can say nothing to sway you? No plea, no argument.”

Falthro looked away. “I cannot break my oath to Dannu. Not will not, cannot.” The last of Dannel’s hope died, but the man only nodded. “They say there is a special black stone fae are helpless against.”

Falthro sat back in his chair. The anger and hate pouring of Dannel told him where this was going. Something other emotion flickered behind them but subtleties were lost on the fae. “Starmetal. I have seen none since we came to this land.If you did manage to find any and use it against me, I would call it be justice.”

Dannel’s eyes widen. “Would you?”

“The crime you were accused of is so very heinous, no lesser punishment will fill the terms of my oath. And yet does that not make my crime against you just as heinous?” Falthro shrugged, “Note I do not say I would stand still while you plunged starmetal into my heart or any such dramatics. Only that if you managed to do so, I would call it justice.” Closing his eyes, Falthro saw the coming horror clearly. Dannel had choosen exile and to seek revenge, no matter what it cost him.

The taste of determination overwhelmed that of hate and anger. Determination and…respect? The slither of cloth broke the silence. He opened his eyes. Dannel knelt before him, hands fisted and face strangely calm.

“Lord Falthro, I doubt I will ever forgive what you do, but you have been honest with me. Of the choices you offer me…I will be your slave.”

Falthro gripped the table with trembling hands and whispered a prayer of thanks. The next several decades would be pain filled, but his hands would not bear more innocent blood. “So be it.”

For the first time in his long life, the fae lord bowed to a human.

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Hey folks, due to combination of life and holidays, this months story will be delayed. Barring further acts of Murphy, it’ll be up next Sunday.

In other news, my full-length kinky fantasy romance novel, Glamourhai, is out on Amazon.

When the fae lord, Oeloeff, takes his sister, Mattin seeks out Countess Jahlene n’Erida, a fae noble who is Oeloff’s enemy, and begs her to help free his sister. In return for her help, he offers the only thing he has–himself. Lady Jahlene accepts Mattin’s offer, and he finds himself an initiate of a strange world where pain is pleasure, cruelty is love, and nothing is as it seems.

Mattin hates being a slave, almost as much as he hates and fears the fae. But as he learns more about Jahlene, he finds himself drawn to her, and her sadistic pleasures. As they race to prepare their trap for Oeloff, Mattin fights to reconcile his desires with his fears. Until he makes a mistake that costs him everything…

Glamourhai cover

Novel Excerpt

Hey all, a few folks know I’ve got a femdom themed fantasy novel I’ve been working on. I’m currently in edits and hope to be releasing the book in late October/early November. Because I’ve been buried in edits I’ve fallen behind on my short stories. So since the novel kept me from finishing a story this month, I thought I’d share the first 3000 odd words of the novel. I hope you enjoy.

Mattin filled the trader’s tankard before taking the empty plate back to the kitchen. His steps echoed in the inn’s near-empty common room. The dozen traders who would usually be breaking their fast of a summer morning had made themselves scarce the past few weeks.

His father glared at him as he started scrubbing the plate. “That’s Marta’s job.”

“Ah, let her be, Pop.” Three month’s ago Count Oeloff had claimed Losel, the blacksmith’s apprentice who’d been courting Marta. Losel was one of Oeloff’s slaves now – if he was still alive.

“Work is a better cure than idleness.” Bren had worked himself like a dog the past year, trying to forget the wife Oeloff had taken from him 20 years ago. Mattin had a few vague memories of his mother, Marta didn’t remember her at all. Bren took a swig from the bottle that he kept close at hand these days. “It’ll be over soon. One more time, he’ll come. One more woman he’ll claim. Then the tribute year will be over. Business will return to normal and we can forget for another ten years.”

Whatever Mattin might have said was forgotten as the sound of a horn rang through the inn. Father and son dropped what they were doing and ran to the front of the inn.

Mattin felt his heart plummet as he peered out the inn door. The coach filling the small in yard was drawn by a matched set of four, heads high and tails plumed, were just slowing to a halt. The coach they pulled was not painted black, the wood itself was darker than Mattin’s hair. It was decorated with gold filigree and sparkling gems. Emblazoned on the side was the sigil of Count Oeloff, lord of South Tarn.

Perched on top of the coach was a battered, one-eyed man wearing a leather and bronze collar. Mattin didn’t recognize him at first. Losel had been whole and hale when the Lord had claimed him a season ago. Now he was covered with scars. His single eye was dull and despairing.

Heart in his throat, Mattin backed away from the door. There was only one reason the fae lord would come to a tradesman’s inn. He had to warn Marta.

Turning, he ran for the back door of the inn.

The Maresday market in Trader Square was quieter than the full seven day market held every Sunsday, but White Oak was a large enough town (almost a city) that none of its markets were ever quiet. Even so, the usual boisterous noise of trading and gossip was subdued. No one met Mattin’s eyes as he pushed through the crowd. No one knew why he had come, and they didn’t want to know. Better to pretend that everybody one passed was about their normal errands. Better not ask questions when you might not like the answers. Mattin understood how they felt. He didn’t ask anyone if they’d seen Marta. Didn’t want anyone asking why he was looking. Didn’t want anyone to… He found her trading gossip and haggling at the chandler’s with Mistress Pors. As always, she was surrounded by a little coterie of friends and admirers. Mattin pushed through the crowd. “Marta! Marta!”

She smiled when she saw him. “Mattin! I’m sorry I left you to do the dishes today. Father wasn’t too angry, was he?”

The older she grew, the more she reminded Mattin of their mother. Especially when she smiled. His tongue froze. As long he didn’t say it, it wasn’t real, right? Just a dream.

“Mattin?” Marta put a hand on his shoulder as around them her friends began to pull back, as if they already knew what he would say.

“Marta…” He took a breath and just blurted it out. “Marta, the lord’s at the Inn.”

She froze. Before she could say anything Ared, who’d been hoping to take Losel’s place, pushed himself between the siblings. “He’s probably come for you, Mattin. Best get home and leave Marta out of this.” Marta gave Ared a little shove, but he didn’t budge. Mistress Pors, who everyone had been ignoring, shoved a package into Mattin’s hands. “Give that to Bren, boy,” the old woman said, “and tell him we’ll get drunk together later.” She blinked away the wetness in her eyes and turned to the rest of the little crowd. “One thing about Lord Oeloff, he’s predictable. He claimed a man three months ago. This time he’ll be claiming a woman. And Marta is the only woman at the inn since he claimed Polla, may she ride easy.” She shook herself and looked at Marta. “If he’s at Bren’s inn, girl, best be preparing yourself.”

Mattin nodded, “You need to run. We need to get you out of here. Maybe if we hurry…”

Marta laughed “Oh don’t be silly, Mattin. A Lord, looking for me! Of course I can’t run. And Mistress Pors, don’t worry! I’ve been ready for this for years. Oh, if only I had worn my blue dress this morning.”

“Marta!” Mattin begged.

“Please Mattin,” she patted his cheek, “I’ve never met a male yet I couldn’t twist around my little finger. Fae or no fae, Lord Oeloff won’t be any different. This time tomorrow I’ll be wearing silks and eating venison off of gold plates!”

Her beaus, one by one, slipped away. Mistress Pors sighed, “Wouldn’t do any good to run, anyway. It’s been tried before. But, girl, you aren’t the first to think so… I pray for you.”

Marta hurried through the cobblestone streets, Mattin following behind. When they reach the inn, the ebony coach was still sitting in the yard. Mattin watched as Marta stopped and fixed her hair, dusted off her skirt. “I knew I should have worn my blue dress today!”

“Marta, please!” He knew Mistress Pors was right. Running wouldn’t help. But what else could they do? “Don’t do this!”

She winked at him over her shoulder, “Mattin, you have never understood me. Wish me luck!” With that, she opened the door and stepped inside.

Mattin took a last shuddering glance at Losel, still perched on the coachman’s bench. Then followed her.

Inside, he saw what had to be Lord Oeloff seated on a sturdy chair by the fire. He had features that Mattin knew women would call handsome, with long brown hair the pulled back to reveal pointed ears. He wore leather polished to a high shine, and a tunic with an expensive, glossy look. Mattin’s father stood beside him, holding a flagon of what Mattin was certain was the inn’s finest ale. From the look on the Lord’s face it suited his palate about as well as horse piss.

Just ahead of Mattin, Marta swept toward the lord, dropping into a surprisingly graceful curtsy. “Greetings, Lord. I am Marta, Brensdaughter.”

The lord’s eyebrows rose on his brow, “Your father told me he did not expect you back for some hours.” The simple sentence was threaded with menace.

Marta looked up at the lord and smiled. “That is true Lord, but my brother saw you arrive and came to get me.”

“Clever boy.” Mattin froze under the piercing gaze and dropped his eyes to the floor. “Under the circumstances, I’ll forgive you leaving my horses to stand in the courtyard.”

For a moment Mattin couldn’t say anything, torn between relief and disgust at his own cowardice. He spoke, forcing words through gritted teeth, “Thank you, Lord.”

“Come here, girl.”

Still keeping his eyes on the floor, Mattin heard Marta’s footsteps approach the lord’s seat. He lets his eyes trace the grain of the oak floorboards, swept every morning and mopped weekly.

“You are not afraid.” Mattin shuddered at the hunger in the lord’s voice.

Marta cooed, “I am flattered at your interest, lord.”

Wood creaked as the lord stood. “Come, girl.” Mattin forced himself to look up, to see the tall fae stride towards the door. Mattin stayed where he was, half blocking the doorway. He saw his father’s frantic signal for him to move aside.

The lord was two steps away and glaring. Mattin spread his hands wide and was careful not to look in the lord’s eyes. “Please Lord, don’t—”

Terror gripped him. He shook like a leaf, unable to speak. The lord grew, filling his vision. The inn, his father, Marta, all fade into the background. There is only Lord Oeloff, and the terror the lord invoked.

“Kneel boy.” Mattin sank to his knees, unable to resist the crushing weight of the lord’s will. “Be silent.”

Suddenly, Bren was between him and the lord, kneeling, pleading, “Forgive my son, lord. He… he is a foolish boy and doesn’t understand the… the honor you do his sister. I beg you, lord.”

The lord was silent for a long moment. Mattin could only wait, fear freezing his breath. “Your taxes for the year are doubled, innkeep. See that your boy learns his place.” Then he swept out the door. Marta trailed behind, whispering a quiet goodbye.

Mattin watched her as long as he could, tears blurring her small form as she walked away.

Over an hour passed before Mattin was able to regain control of his body. The force of the lord’s command held him fast. After the lord left, the inn filled. Friends, patrons, family, stepping around him – and sometimes on him. He listened to his father explain, over and over again, what happened. Many expressed sympathy, concern or grief.

And they all spoke as if Marta were already dead.

When he was able to move again, he stood, legs still shaking, and approached his father.

Bren slapped the back of his son’s head, but smiled with teary eyes. “Damn fool boy. Nearly got yourself killed, and then where would I be?”

Mattin couldn’t help smiling in response, “Pop, what about Marta? What can we do?”

The inn fell silent. The constant small noises of eating, creaking benches, clinking cups, stopped. Mattin could feel everyone staring at him.

His father frowned and shook his head, “Nothing. You felt the lord’s power. Best accept it now. Your sister is dead. Mourn her and move on.”

Mattin stepped back, banging into one of the long tables. “No! We can’t just abandon her.”

The older man turned away and began wiping down the counter. “Only one of the fae can fight a fae.”

“You know what he’ll do to her!” Mattin found tears tracing their way down his cheeks. “You know…”

Bren stopped, both hands braced on the tables. His head hung low and his shoulders shook. “Go tend the stables, Mattin.”

“But-”

“Go.”

A few hands reached out to touch his shoulder or pat his back as he walked past and out the door.

Marta couldn’t stop shaking her head as the inn door closed behind her. Trust Mattin to make a fool of himself. He was such a GOOD brother.

But her new life was upon her and she had no time for fools, even brotherly ones. She slipped her hand under her sash and palmed the star-metal knife fate had brought to her hands when she was a child. As she climbed into the coach behind Oeloff she brought it forward. When he sat, she squeezed herself in beside him and pressed the blade to his throat.

He chuckled, “Put the knife down, girl.”

The force of his command rolled past her like a ruffling wind. Inside, she exulted – the stories were true! “No.”

He stiffened under the blade and glared at her. “Drop the knife.” For a moment, she could see the glamour behind his words. A brightness that shined along his skin, making him the center of the world. But though she could see the power, it didn’t touch her.

She twitched the knife, his skin parted beneath the blade, “I hold starmetal, my lord.” She watched in delight as the blood drained from his face. He opened his mouth but before he could say anything she placed a finger across his lips. “Why don’t you signal your slave to drive on. Then we can talk.”

For a moment he did nothing. Then, he reached up and rapped on the top of the coach. The battered fool up top responded, and the carriage moved beneath them. “What do you want?”

Marta smiled, “A bargain.”

He sneered, “I don’t bargain with humans.”

Marta shrugged, “I doubt your household would object to finding your dead body. If you won’t bargain with me, i have no reason not to cut.” He tried to glare at her, it was rather amusing. The all powerful fae, reduced to blustering. The coach went over a pothole and the jarring bump threw her into Oeloff. The knife dug in and blood began to trickle down his throat. “I will skin him alive and make him sleep on salt!” Oeloff exclaimed. His hands moved to the cut, but froze when the knife shifted.

“An interesting idea. But have you considered sandpaper made with salt?”

Oeloff turned to her, and for the first time looked at her. “That is… a novel idea. You might almost be fae, girl.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment. Now, my bargain?”

She was surprised to see he looked excited as he leaned back against the seat. “Put that toy away, girl, and tell me what you have in mind.”

Mattin sat in the hay loft, trying to come up with a plan. His father could crumple and give up, but he wouldn’t. He would get Marta back, free her from the fae lord. If he could just figure out how.

He pushed aside visions of climbing over the walls of the lord’s manor – staging a daring raid on the heart of the tyrant’s home. In his imagination he slipped through the dark night, snuck into the depths of the lord’s horror-filled dungeon, and used a previously undiscovered skill at picking locks to free her and escape from the lord’s clutches. In reality, he knew if he tried any such thing he’d only get caught.

Confronting the lord directly wasn’t an option. His hands shook at the thought. The memory of the lord’s power, of being overcome and controlled like a puppet, terrified him. Even for Marta, he couldn’t face that again.

And even if he could, what good would it do?

His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of footsteps from below. “Boy! I need my mules.”

Mattin clambered down the ladder, the old trader was standing in the doorway.

“Right away, sir.” Mattin led the mules out of their stalls and went to fetch their harness.

When he came back, the trader was just finished inspecting them. The man grunted, “Not bad, boy. You took care of your sister as well?”

Mattin growled and kicked the floor, “Not that it matters now.”

“Aye, your father has the right of it. No way to fight a fae straight up. Only another fae can do that.” Mattin turned on his heel and went back into the stable, fetching out the man’s cart.

They worked together in silence, hitching the mules. The strong animal scent was calming, an old friend from years of working in the stables. Mattin let the familiar aroma calm him and asked, “So I should just give up? Let my sister be tortured and killed?”

The old man snorted, “I wouldn’t be surprised if your sister manages to turn the tables on the lord. She wouldn’t be the first.”

“But you said—”

“I said a human couldn’t take a fae straight up. There’s more than one way of fighting back, boy.”

Mattin didn’t reply, just buckled the last straps of the harness in place and stepped back.

“If you are serious about saving your sister, head west to County Erida and strike a bargain with the lady Jahlene.” The trader swung up onto the cart’s bench, “She and Oeloff have hated each other for years.”

Startled, Mattin trotted alongside the cart as it pulled out of the courtyard, “But… I don’t have anything I can bargain with!”

The cart turned down the main thoroughfare and was soon lost in the crowd. Just before it disappeared from sight, the man called back, “You have yourself, don’t you?”

At first, Mattin didn’t understand the trader’s meaning. When he did his heart started to pound. Tapping his fingers against the side of his leg, he force himself to confront the idea. He could buy his sister’s life and safety, by selling his own. He had an answer – if he was brave enough to take it.

The stench of fear filled his nostrils – his own fear, not for Marta now, but for himself. If he followed the trader’s advise – if he offered himself as a slave to Countess n’Erida – then going by what happened to Lord Oeloff’s slaves, he’d be lucky if he died quickly. He had heard, from other traders, that not all fae were as bad as Oeloff. That many preferred to keep their slaves alive and healthy – if only so they didn’t need to keep training new ones.

And even if n’Erida was like Oeloff, could he just abandon Marta? He had been her protector since their mother died, was he to just abandon her now?

No. He took a bracing breath and turned towards the inn. Bren wouldn’t like it. It was a moment’s work to climb the old oak tree and shimmy though the window into the attic where he slept. He would be gone before his father knew what he planned. Hopefully, after she was free, Bren and Marta would be able to comfort each other.

In a short time, he had a change of clothes and his small store of coins bundled for the road. He’d wait until late, and then slip out once his father was in bed. It was best that way.