Chapter the First

I miss Aris. It’s been two months, more or less, since he died the second and final time, and I still miss him every moment. For almost twelve years I never went longer’n a week without seein’ him—most often I never went longer’n a day—and sometimes I forget that he isn’t there anymore. It’s worst at school, but thoughts a’ him are never far away.

I’d been back at college for nearly a week before things started happenin’ again. Eastwick’s class was easily the worst to go back into, and not just cause I knew somethin’ a’ what Eastwick was. The man seemed to hate me so much I wondered if he’d somehow found out what I was doing. He didn’t, and I knew that cause if he had he would a’ cornered me in some lonely street and blasted me if he could, and he certainly had plenty a’ opportunity, but I still couldn’t help wonderin’ sometimes.

I’d spent the last two months livin’ at home, workin’ on the last minute construction squad. The job was pretty simple. We were makin’ sure that the city would stand through the winter without anything too important going wrong, which meant we were hauled all over the city at all hours, patchin’ up roads, repairin’ telephone lines, takin’ down dead trees and haulin’ away whatever debris the fall storms had tossed down, or up, or just generally around into the public convenience. They paid us well enough that I could go back to school on what I earned, but it was a brute of a job.

I’d managed to get back down to the GypCirc a couple a’ times. I missed the first full moon, cause I’d only just moved back home and me and my parents were still fightin’ about just about everything, and I felt guilty as hell about it cause I’d promised Col I’d be there, but I made it down about two weeks later and Paka had told me that Suora had talked to him and explained why I weren’t there and he’d been satisfied, and promised to be back next full moon and every full moon after that. Aid was ridiculously glad to see me, considerin’ I hadn’t been gone even a month, and he showed it, but the others were glad too, in less obvious ways. I think it was because I weren’t livin’ in their world anymore. I think, though I weren’t sure, that they were afraid that once I got back into the lightworld I wouldn’t be able to walk in the twilight any more, and while I was fightin’ with my parents that had seemed like a real possibility. I never told anyone, but the truth is that if I’d had to choose I would a’ chose them.

I didn’t talk with the GypCirc about the job we were takin’ on next although a’ course Suora knew I was in it. I didn’t see Sebas or Mund or Ly either ‘cept once and we didn’t talk then. (Sebas laughed when he told me Edmund’s nickname—apparently it was an old word for moon. He said it was peculiarly appropriate, since Mund was the one a’ the four who saw the battle as a whole, like the moon lookin’ down at the whole scene. Sometimes they called him Moon as a sorta joke, and his squad a’ spies were called the Moonsquad, or the Stars.) I saw Lawrence three times, the first time when he met me at Aris’ grave to tell me that Eastwick was evil, and a second and third time at full moon when he met the Gamblers. The third time was only a week or so before I was scheduled to go back to school, and I asked him about Eastwick.

“We don’t have anything particular in mind,” Lawrence replied. “The battle over Ferdinand’s death has slowed things down a lot, on both sides of the river, and the next move is more or less up in the air. At the moment the action is confined mostly to hunting parties—the southside vampires are trying to—er—recruit new members and we are trying to stop them, and of course the government is getting in their way with the persistent annoyance of mosquitoes on a hot summer day, which, I don’t mind telling you, fills me with gleeful satisfaction.”

“Nice to hear our government’s good for somethin’,” I remarked. “So what d’yeh want me to do?”

“Watch him—discreetly. Don’t do anything stupid like trying to follow him around or break into his office. Put your remarkable perception to work and if you think something significant is happening—I mean if he’s unusually happy or unusually upset—get in touch with us. Although I don’t think anything is going to happen. In the meantime,” he added, seriously, “it might be a help just to get to know him—again, discreetly. His moods, that kind of thing.”

“He doesn’t like bein’ a teacher, he has a serious superiority complex about bein’ a spark, and he’ll always go for cruel if he can,” I said promptly. “I ain’t actually seen him fight, but my guess is he’ll be quick to hurt and slow to kill. His skill is almost enough to justify his pride, but not quite, and he’s emotional. A well-timed insult will be as effective in a fight against him as a well-timed blow. He’s quick and he’s clever, but he underestimates people, fashers especially. He always underestimated Aris. And one day soon he’s going to find out that he’s underestimated me.”

“So long as you don’t underestimate him,” Lawrence said lightly. “I don’t think Col would ever forgive us if he got you.”

Col, hearin’ his name from the other side a’ the fire, raised his head an’ looked at us, his tail waggin’ gently. Col had taken to me as much as Aid did, but in a completely different way. Aid was as energetic as a lightning storm. Even as a wolf Col was quiet, and he’d turned out to be intelligent, too. He and Victor between the two a’ them were managin’ to do a fairly respectable job a’ educatin’ Aid. Victor had the authority to make the little were-elf sit down and listen for an hour or two every day, but Col had the gift a’ makin’ him interested cause he was always so interested himself. Mornings after the full moon I’d watch Aid and Col sittin’ by the ashes a’ the fire talkin’, and they reminded me a’ me and Aris, a little. Col would sometimes get the same look on his face that Aris would get when he was tellin’ me about somethin’ he’d found out or some question that had been raised, either that he’d thought a’ or that he’d read. Both times I was down there they managed to get into the same tent as me, and slept on either side a’ me.

The first time I went down, shortly after I’d made peace with my dad, I’d told Suora about him wantin’ Aid to come visit. She’d hesitated, understandably.

“You know he is under my special protection,” she said. I nodded. “And your parents—they are trustworthy?”

My turn to hesitate.

“They’re comin’ round,” I said, finally. “I can tell you this, though—they won’t hurt a child, or allow him to be hurt. They’re prejudices about halvers and weres go pretty deep, but their—their parentness goes even deeper.”

For a long moment she stared at me.

“I’d understand if yeh didn’t want to allow it, though,” I said. Her stare was makin’ me uncomfortable.

“I know Gabrielle appeared to you,” she said, abruptly switchin’ subjects. I was startled into not havin’ an answer a’ any kind. “You saw him here, the night you gambled your soul.” That was easier. I nodded. “You saw the child he had with him.” I nodded again. “That child was Chance, and the coin he surrendered to my brother was the deciding coin. Your soul was important enough that the very laws of nature were bent in your favour. Under the circumstances, I will choose to trust you. Do not do anything to make me regret my choice.” And that easily won the award for most terrifying warning of the year, but I was confident in what I’d said a’ my parents so I just said:

“I won’t.”

“I wish to send Victor with you,” she added.

“Absolutely,” I said, feelin’ a little relieved. I didn’t particularly like the idea a’ Aid meetin’ my parents with only me there to ease the tension. “The more the merrier. Maybe you could send Paka, too. I think Pak and my mom would get along like fire.”

Suora almost went so far as to smile, and agreed that Paka was a charm, and then a’ course work started to get real heavy and I barely had time to sleep, let alone invite people over for the afternoon.

Then I went back to school, and sat for a whole week under the curious and commiserating and insulting stares a’ the other students and the cruelty a’ Eastwick and missin’ Aris like I’d miss my heart if that were torn out, and by the end a’ the week I was fed up. Friday afternoon I dropped in at home and asked Mom how she’d feel about havin’ a few people over on Saturday.

She paused in the middle a mixin’ somethin’ and said, “This would be the werewolf your Dad asked you to bring home, yes?”

“Yes,” I said. “And a couple others.”

“A couple others a’ what?” Dad asked. He’d just gotten outta bed an’ hadn’t even bothered to get dressed. He and my Mom had a system on the weekends. Dad would sleep most a’ Friday, but he’d be up well before dinner an’ he’d go to bed with her, and that way they’d have all a’ Saturday together and part a’ Sunday. He’d have to sleep Sunday afternoon, cause he went to work all Sunday night, but it averaged out to two whole days together, and Mom was satisfied.

“A couple others from the GypCirc,” I said. “They want to come with Aid.” Dad raised his eyebrows a little. “Under the circumstances, Dad, they’re kinda nervous too, and can yeh blame them?”

“How many extra will your Mom be cookin’ for?”

I shrugged.

“When Pak gets into the kitchen Mom probably won’t be doing much cookin’ at all. As far as I can tell Pak cooks for everyone. I think she enjoys it.” Mom and Dad both made noises that meant ok with an overtone a’ doubt and an undertone a’ excitement, and asked me to stay to dinner.

“Can’t,” I said, sighin’. “I had somethin’ to eat already and I have homework, and I have to go down to the river, but I’ll see you for most a’ tomorrow. By the way,” I added, pausin’ in the doorway, “they don’t eat meat.”

“Thank heaven,” Mom said unexpectedly. “I’m almost outta meat, but Mrs. Theran gave me bags full of vegetables and spices just two days ago.”

“See yeh tomorrow, son,” Dad said, and I left.

As I walked to the bus stop I wondered, not for the first time, whether our herbalist was a prophet.

I hopped on the bus and headed to the library.

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