By Magic Beguiled
By Maggie Shayne
*Originally titled Fairytale
Copyright 1996, 2014, 2017 by MS Lewis
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Cover Art and E-book Formatted by Jessica Lewis
Summer Solstice, 20 years ago
Seven-year-old Adam Reid raced through the forest, zigging and zagging like a mad bumblebee, arms spread out at his sides. The summer breeze turned into a wind that whooshed past his ears and tangled his hair. He pretended he was flying. He liked pretending. Even though his father was always telling him how bad it was, how foolish. He got the strap for it sometimes, when his tall tales got a little too tall.
But only if his father had been drinking.
He buzzed around the base of a giant maple tree three times, then came to a halt when his keen eyes picked out a barely visible path beneath its broad, leafy limbs. No longer interested in playing bumblebee, Adam lowered his arms. He hunkered down and squinted at the almost invisible trail in the mossy ground. No matter how many times he came out here, he never failed to find a new adventure to pursue.
Adam loved these woods. He wasn’t supposed to be here. The forest was not on his father’s property, but on the state land that bordered it. And he’d been warned repeatedly to stay away. But that hadn’t stopped him.
Now he began following that trail, wondering what it might be. Deer trail, he decided, his seven years of wisdom assuring him it was so. Maybe he’d see a big whitetail if he went really slow and quiet.
The path meandered for a ways, wriggling this way and that in S-patterns and loops and figure eights. Then it vanished into a patch of mean-looking blackberry briars, with deceptively pretty white blossoms that smelled so good he wished he could taste them. But when Adam squatted on his haunches, he saw that the thorny, flowering briars sort of arched over the trail. If he bent really low, he could still follow it. So he did.
Bending almost double, even crawling on all fours here and there, he continued to follow the path. It was like a covered bridge now. Or a tunnel. The ground beneath him slanted upward, taking him over a small hill and partway down the other side before the brambles finally thinned out. He emerged on a grassy slope that seemed to be one side of a big old hump in the ground. And about halfway down that grassy hump, he saw a dark hole, sinking back into the mound. It looked like...Adam ran closer and stopped, bracing his hands on his knees and breathing fast from excitement. It was! A cave! He’d discovered a cave. Maybe pirates had holed up here. Or a dinosaur! Or cave men, a zillion years ago, Neat!
Without hesitation, Adam crawled inside. The opening wasn’t big enough to go in standing up. It was kind of dark, and a lot cooler than it was outside. But Adam wasn’t afraid. Not much, anyway. He had his penlight, which he was never without. Just like his jackknife. He flicked the light on now, and ventured deeper. The farther he went, the wider the walls opened out, and the ceiling got higher, too. He came, at last, to what looked like the very back of the cave. A room about the size of his tree house, and big enough so he could stand up. This was the best discovery he’d ever made.
He played in there for hours. He explored, and carved his name in the stone walls, and yelled really loud to hear his voice echo, until he got tired. And then he decided to take a short nap before heading home. It was a long walk, after all.
So he sat on the ground and leaned back against the cool wall, and he closed his eyes.
When he opened them again, Adam wasn’t sure if he’d been asleep or not, or if he had, how much time had passed. Not wanting to be late for dinner and risk another walloping, he hurried to the cave’s entrance. He had to crouch low again, of course, but he made good time, scuttling closer to the bright yellow sunlight he could see up ahead. He stepped out, stood up straighter, and brushed the dirt from the knees of his jeans. Then he brought his head up, blinking first at the brightness of the sunlight, and then in shock.
This was not the same place he’d been to before. This was...this was different.
Everywhere he looked there were flowers like he’d never seen before, blossoming in every color he could imagine and a few he never had! And they filled the air with their smells. Wonderful smells! There were pebbles and stones on the grassy ground. But they were no regular stones. Every rock he saw glittered. Like...jewels or something! Adam turned to look back at the cave entrance, wondering if there had been another tunnel in there, one he hadn’t noticed. He sure as heck hadn’t come out the same way he’d gone in.
Okay, then. He’d take a look around, really quick, and then he’d go back inside and find the right way out. If he dawdled out here much longer he’d be in hot water with his father for sure. But gosh, this place was too much to resist. Like something out of The Wizard of Oz!
He ventured farther, and took a closer look at the trees. Squinting, moving closer, he looked again. Heck, there were pictures in the bark! A moon. Some stars. A sun. A fairy.
What the heck?
Adam moved through the trees, curious, amazed. This was no normal forest. This was...this was...
“This is Rush, young man. And you are most certainly not supposed to be here.”
Her voice was like music. Like bells. Adam whirled to see a woman...a beautiful red-haired woman whose belly was swelled like she’d swallowed a basketball. He guessed she must be expecting a baby. She wore the kind of glittery, gauzy dress you’d expect to see in a fairytale, and her eyes were just about the bluest he’d ever seen in his life.
Something moved behind her and Adam narrowed his eyes. Then he thought he was going to drop dead in his tracks. He blinked, rubbed his eyes and looked again. She had wings! Fragile-looking, like a dragonfly’s wings. You could see right through them, but they were there.
“Who are you?” he managed to ask her.
“Maire,” she said, smiling. It sounded like “May-ruh” to Adam. But he didn’t have time to ponder it long. She was leaning closer, squinting at him. “Few mortals can see the doorway to this place,” she told him. “It’s enchanted, you know.”
Adam looked around, nodding. “Yeah, I was starting to figure that.”
“Maybe you are supposed to be here.” She tapped her chin with one dainty finger. “After all, there’s no such thing as coincidence. So, there must be a reason for your coming here, mustn’t there?”
“Uh—I don’t think so, ma’am. I—I ought to be getting home.” He took a step backward.
She sighed. “Yes, that’s probably for the best.”
Adam agreed. He didn’t want any part of any enchanted forest or any fairy godmothers or whatever the heck she was. Sheesh, he’d read about fairies. They could be dangerous. He turned, feeling lucky he was going to get out of here unscathed, but then he got a chill right up his spine. Because he didn’t see the cave. He’d wandered too far.
“Oh, don’t worry. I’ll show you the way.” The lady took his hand in hers, and then she went still, and stared down at him, her eyes sparkling, her eyebrows lifting in surprise. “Now I know why you’re here!” She smiled, looking at him like she was seeing something awfully sweet. One of her hands rested lovingly on her swollen belly, and she ran her other hand through his hair. If she pinched his cheeks, he was outta here, he decided. Then her smile faded, and she even looked a little sad. “You must be a very strong little boy. And a brave one, too.”
“Well, sure I am,” he confirmed, wondering how she could tell.
“Tell me, young Adam. Would you like to see your fate before you go?”
“Your future. I can show you, if you want.”
Adam swallowed hard. His heart was racing, his hands were sweaty, and he really wanted out of here. Now. But he’d be awfully dumb to pass up a chance to see his future, wouldn’t he? He’d particularly like to know if he’d missed dinner, and whether he was going to get beat when he got home tonight because of it. Trying for a nonchalant shrug, he said, “Okay.”
The lady smiled again. She drew him off through the trees a little ways. Then she stopped and pushed aside a dense tangle of branches. “Look through here,” she told him.
There was a pond there, with water as blue as the winged lady’s eyes. This side of it was dense with dark green reeds. But there was no mistaking the splashing and the laughter he heard coming from beyond them. And when he squinted harder and looked, he saw a woman.
Bunches of long black curls trailed over her back and shoulders. She was playing in the water like a little girl, only she was no little girl. He couldn’t see all of her, which was a good thing because he didn’t think she was dressed. Looked like she was skinny dipping to him.
All of a sudden she went still, and turned her head in his direction. Her eyes were black as coal as they met his through the gaps in the reeds. And Adam felt a shudder work its way right to his toes.
Then Maire let the branches snap back into place, cutting off his view.
“Who is she,” he asked.
“You mean, who will she be,” the woman corrected him. He frowned hard at her. “She will be your future, Adam. Your fate. She’ll come into your life when you least expect it, because she needs you to show her the way.”
“What way?” He was more confused now than he’d been when he’d spotted her wings.
“The way to her sister, and then the way back home.”
“Oh,” he said, as if he fully understood, though he didn’t.
“Whatever you do, Adam, you mustn’t let yourself fall in love with her. She’ll break your heart if you do. She has to leave you in the end. Don’t forget.”
“Don’t worry. I don’t even like girls.” Adam turned and yanked the branches aside again, but when he looked now there was only more forest. No pond. No skinny dipping woman.
“What the heck?” He turned back to Maire again, but she was gone as well, just like the vision. And right beyond the place where she’d been standing was the cave he knew would lead him home again. Though Adam was certain it hadn’t been there before.
Vernal Equinox, 18 years ago
St. Mary’s Orphanage, Maybourne Row, Brooklyn 9:00 p.m.
“Read it again, Sister Mary Agnes.”
Sister’s gentle smile added creases to her lined face. One withered hand ruffled Brigit’s curls. “All right, little one. But this is the last time.”
Brigit snuggled more deeply into the small wooden bed. Her pillow was lumpy, and her blanket none too thick. She ran her hands lovingly over the intricate embroidery on the book’s cloth cover, her fingers tracing the elegant scroll of the title, Fairytale. Her parents must have loved her very much, to have made such a wonderful book for her. Brigit knew that because Sister told her so often. She opened the book to the first vellum page, with its brilliantly colored, hand-painted illustration. The one showing the mystical forest, with the crystal water in the center, and way off in the distance, the castle spires. Brigit looked at the picture for a long time, before pushing the book into Sister’s powder soft hands.
“Once upon a time,” Sister began, “not so very long ago, two princesses were born. No ordinary princesses, though. These babies were special. These babies were fay.”
“And that means fairy, right Sister Mary Agnes?” Brigit didn’t need to ask. She knew the Fairytale by heart. But her comments and questions had become a part of the ritual.
“Yes, Brigit. That means fairy.” Sister Mary Agnes turned the page, and let Brigit take a good long look at the next picture. This one was of the beautiful fairy princess holding her twin daughters in her arms. One had raven’s wing curls just like Brigit’s, and the other had hair as yellow as spun gold.
“Their mother was Princess Maire, the only daughter of King Padraig. And their father was Jonathon, the mortal man who’d come through the invisible curtain to find her. ‘Twas the hand of Fate that led him there, for the enchanted realm is invisible to most mortal eyes.”
Despite the thinness of her blanket, Brigit felt warm when she thought about Maire and Jon, and the love they’d had between them. So strong it had crossed worlds to find fulfillment. Sister Mary Agnes often said Brigit was too young to think about love the way she did. But Brigit didn’t think so. She thought nine was plenty old enough to understand matters of the heart. Sister would think so too, if she knew about Brigit’s dream. One dream which came to her over and over again. A lovely dream in which the Princess Maire appeared to her and whispered, “Would you like to see your fate, little one?” And Brigit always answered yes, and waited as Maire parted some mists with a wave of her dainty hand, and pointed. When Brigit peered through she saw a man. A golden-haired man who looked very sad and confused, and she felt an instinctive urge to try to comfort him. He needed her, that man with the hurt in his deep blue eyes.
But she couldn’t tell Sister about that dream. She’d never understand.
Sister had turned the page, and was reading again. “Their home was the forest of Rush, which lies beyond the mortal world. And the princess’s daughters were born at a time of peace. But alas, by the twins’ first birthday there came a period of great turmoil in Rush. For even in the enchanted realm, evil exists.”
A little shiver raced up Brigit’s spine. The vellum made a whispery sound, and Sister’s voice came again, as raspy and soft as the paper.
“The Prince of the Dark Side was never content to live in the part of the realm to which his family had been consigned. That part beyond Rush, where daylight never ventured. Always, those dark ones had coveted the fay forest and kingdom. They’d raised up an army of trolls and goblins and all manner of dark beings, and together, they laid siege to the castle of the king.”
Brigit didn’t look at that picture. It was too scary. A mishmash of nightmarish creatures storming those pretty castles, wielding swords and maces and looking as fierce as death itself.
“Princess Maire was killed in the battle, and poor Jon was beside himself with grief. Only wise King Padraig knew what must be done. He ordered Jon to take the wee princesses away from Rush. To part the invisible curtain once more, and to return with his daughters to the mortal world, where they would be safe from the Dark Prince’s blade.”
Brigit nodded. “And before Jonathon left...” she prompted.
Mary Agnes smiled and turned another page. “Before Jonathon left, King Paddy gave him two books, fashioned by Princess Maire with her own hands. She’d been blessed with the second sight, Maire had. She’d been able to see into the future. And she’d crafted the books for the time when her daughters would have to get by without her.”
“And is this book one of them, Sister?”
Sister made her eyes very big, as she always did when Brigit asked the question. “It might very well be, Brigit.”
Brigit nodded. It was fun to think her mother might have been a fairy princess.
“The king told Jon to see to the children’s safety. For one day, when they were grown, they would be called to return, the eldest to take her place on the throne of Rush. And the younger to assist her in regaining it. As firstborn— though only by a minute—the eldest had inherited the largest share of her mother’s magic. And when the time came, she would regain some memories of the kingdom. The youngest, though, would likely remember none of it. The accepting of her true calling might well be more difficult for her.”
Mary Agnes flipped to the last page, the page depicting Princess Maire, with her cascades of red-orange curls and her glittering gown. Her love-filled, sea-blue eyes seemed to stare at Brigit from the page.
“Trials and turmoil await you, little princesses. But when things seem hopeless, turn to the Fairytale to remind you of who you are. And remember, if you be true to your heart, happiness will greet you at the end of your journey.”
As always, Sister Mary Agnes left the book open to that page and laid it in Brigit’s lap.
Brigit traced Maire’s beautiful face with her fingertips, blinking tiredly. “Do you think she really was my mother?”
Mary Agnes sighed. “I only know what I know, child. Father Anthony found you and another tiny girl sleeping at the altar one morning. And each of you had a book just like this one. Yours with the name Brigit inside, and the other with the name of Bridin. And tucked into a little pocket sewn within each cover, was a pendant for each of you.”
Brigit fingered the necklace she never took off. A dainty pewter fairy, embracing a long, narrow crystal, with points at both ends.
“The note Father Anthony found beside you said simply, ‘My time in this world is ending. Please, take care of my girls. Jonathon.’”
“And what happened to Bridin?” Brigit knew, but asked again anyway. Sister’s tales seemed more real when Brigit made her tell them right to the end.
“Bridin was adopted right away, darling. But you’d taken ill, and were in no condition to go with her. One day, though, you’ll find a fairytale all your own. One day you’ll have your happily-ever-after.”
“Will I really, Sister Mary Agnes?”
For years Brigit had trusted utterly in the Fairytale. She’d had to, because she’d had nothing else. And she adored the woman who told it, knew Sister Mary Agnes would never deliberately lie. But Brigit wasn’t a baby anymore. And the longer she remained here at St. Mary’s, the harder it became to believe in fairies or enchanted kingdoms or...or especially happily-ever-afters. She closed her eyes as Sister’s crinkled palm slipped repeatedly over her hair.
“You will, Brigit. I promise you will. No girl with a gift like yours will be alone for long.”
Brigit frowned, her eyes popping open again. “I have a gift?”
Sister Mary Agnes lifted her head to stare at the picture, and Brigit followed her gaze, still unsure what was so special about it. The rectangle of construction paper hung a little crookedly above the painted white headboard of the bed. Brigit had discovered her knack with a paintbrush for the first time today, when Father Anthony had brought boxes of brushes and paints and paper for the orphans here. Sister Mary Agnes had seemed to think she’d witnessed her first miracle. She’d been a little breathless earlier, when she’d caught Brigit in the act of balancing on a stack of pillows while trying to Scotch tape her painting to the wall. To cover that crack in the plaster.
“Yes, child. Make no mistake, you have a gift.”
The tears that came into Sister Mary Agnes’s eyes made Brigit frown. Why did she get so choked up over a construction-paper lady? It was just a copy of a picture Brigit had found in an art book. Some lady with two first names. Mona Lucy or something like that.
“From God, Brigit.”
Ah, well, there was no understanding grownups. Even Sister Mary Agnes, though the sister was better than most adults, in Brigit’s estimation. She rolled over, sliding her storybook under her pillow as she did every night, and pulled the worn blanket up over her shoulder.
“You’re a blessing, child. You’ve brought an honest to goodness miracle right here to Maybourne Row. In a shelter nearly falling down around our ears, beside a church with chipped paint and folding chairs instead of pews. A miracle, Brigit.”
But Brigit was tired, and thought Sister Mary Agnes was overreacting a little. Or maybe she sensed that Brigit’s belief in the Fairytale was getting shaky, and now she was trying to invent a new one. Give her something else to hang on to. How could a picture be a miracle, anyway?
“Sleep, love. And tomorrow we’ll show your painting to Father Anthony. He’ll know what to do.”
She crossed herself before leaving in a rustle of black fabric.
Only, for Sister Mary Agnes, tomorrow never came.
Vernal Equinox, 18 years ago. Binghamton, NY 9:00 p.m.
Big guys all dressed in black stood around the place like sentries guarding a border. One in the hallway outside her rooms. Two outdoors, underneath her bedroom window. Bridin didn’t mind them. They treated her like gold, being that she still wore her pendant. They didn’t dare do otherwise. If any of those dark ones tried to hurt her—if they so much as touched her—they’d suffer. Die maybe. She couldn’t be sure, since none of them had ever tried. They were afraid of her, those big, dark beings. So the Dark Prince had needed mortals to care for her. Weak ones, whose minds he could control.
The nurse, Kate, of course, had no idea who the guards really were or who they worked for. She simply believed what she’d been told, that Bridin was sickly, and not quite right, and needed constant guarding and protection and care. Her kindness to Bridin didn’t come from fear, the way theirs did. Hers came from her heart. She was good inside. Bridin was surprised the Dark Prince would tolerate her presence.
But he did, and Kate adored her, was constantly trying to please her. Always bringing games and toys for her. Making sure she got to eat the things she liked, and often sneaking in ice cream for dessert. She even rented film reels and a projector now and then, and showed Disney movies on the stark, white wall of her room. But even so, Kate couldn’t see the truth. Despite all Bridin’s efforts to reach her, her mind remained clouded by the Dark Prince’s magic.
They’d let her keep her book. They’d had no choice about that, because it was protected by magic. They couldn’t touch it anymore than they could touch her. Even though poor, confused Uncle Matt still believed it was the book that had driven her insane in the first place.
She wasn’t insane. And she knew that Uncle Matt was no longer thinking for himself. His mind was just as weak as Kate’s had been, that was all. It had been easy for the Dark Prince to take over, so she couldn’t hate her uncle too much. He’d tried to give her a home after her adopted parents had been killed. And really, if she’d only been older and wiser, she would have known better than to make such a fuss when her dreams told her their car accident had been no accident. That the Dark Prince was behind all of it. That he was trying to orchestrate things so that Bridin would never be able to return to Rush. Really dumb of her to blurt all that. But she’d only been eight then. And the visions...the memories had come as a terrible surprise.
She was older and wiser now. Nine. And she knew better than to try to explain her visions to just anyone. Better she not even admit to them, when she could hide it, since doing so only reinforced Uncle Matt's belief in her insanity.
So Uncle Matt went about his business, which took him all over the world, and Bridin rarely saw him. He was convinced he was providing the best possible care for his poor, confused little niece. Convinced by the control the Dark Prince exerted over his mind. As for Bridin, she remained here, a prisoner in her uncle’s home, held captive by forces her uncle didn’t even believe could exist.
She was wiser now. Wise enough to know she had to bide her time. She’d just stay here until she was old enough to return to Rush. She’d just pretend to have resigned herself to life as an inmate in her own bedroom. At least that way, her enemies would have no reason to take further action. And it wasn’t as if she could leave here, even if she tried. Oh, the others could come and go as they pleased. The unaware mortals could cross through the invisible barrier the Dark Prince had erected around this place, and not even feel it there. And those men in black, the prince’s henchmen brought over from the other side, could pass freely as well. Evil didn’t harm evil. But no fairy could pass. The force of the negativity would crush her. The house that looked to mortal eyes like any other house was in truth a pretty cell to Bridin. But when the time was right, she’d find a way to escape.
She looked across the table at Raze, who’d been sitting in quiet contemplation of the Monopoly board for some time now. Of the handful of mortals in her uncle’s employ, he was the only one not completely blinded by the Dark Prince’s spell. She’d reached Raze, enchanted him, and gradually made him see the truth.
Who’d have believed the formerly homeless man, the bum who used to sleep in the park across from the orphanage, would turn out to be the strongest of them all?
“Aren’t you gonna shake the dice? It’s your move, you know.”
Razor-Face Malone snapped to attention and ran one hand over his graying stubble. “Sorry.” He scooped up the dice and tossed them. Then promptly moved the boot, which was her token, instead of the race car, which was his.
Bridin covered his hand with hers. “Raze, what’s the matter? I know something is.”
His pale blue eyes met hers. So sad! Bridin felt a shiver go up her spine, but ignored it. Nervously, she fingered her pendant, sliding it back and forth on its thin silver chain.
“Okay,” he said softly. “I’ll tell you. I have to, sooner or later. Bridey...” He looked straight into her eyes. “I’m leaving. They’re sending me away, tonight.”
She felt her eyes widen, felt them burn. “Leaving?”
He nodded, looking as upset by this as she was.
“But Raze, you can’t! Where will you go? What will you do?”
He smiled, to reassure her, she knew. “Just like you to worry more about old Raze than yourself,” he told her. “I’ll manage. I got by just fine before, and I can do it again.”
Swallowing her tears, Bridin brought her chin up, forced a smile. Tried not to think about Raze returning to the life he’d led before he’d been brought here. A lonely man scraping a living from the streets. He was older now. He’d never survive that way again. “Well,” she whispered. “It was only a matter of time before they wised up. I should have been expecting this.”
“Yeah.” He put the boot back where it had been, and moved his race car.
“Are you in danger, Raze? Do you think he knows your mind isn’t his anymore?”
Raze gnawed his lower lip for a moment. “I think he suspects that his hold on me is slipping. I think he believes he’s getting rid of me before you have a chance to get through.” He met her eyes, gave his head a shake. “But you did, Bridey. I know the truth. I won’t let him brainwash me again.”
Raze reached a hand across the table, covered hers with it. “I’d rather be shot than leave you. You know that. I’d stay if I could.”
“I know that, too.” Bridin would not cry in front of Raze.
Though he was like a grandfather to her, he was as much a child as she was—more so, in a lot of ways. She loved him. Crying would only hurt him more, and she refused to do that. “We’ll see each other again,” she told him.
“Sure we will. I’m not going far, you know. I’ll stay close, try to find a way to see you, make sure you’re okay. I just don’t know why he had to catch on.”
Bridin shrugged. “Me neither, Raze. But everything happens for some reason, right? Maybe...” She let her words trail off, and vaguely knew the dice she’d been holding had fallen to the floor. But she wasn’t seeing them. She wasn’t seeing anything that was here or now. Instead, she saw flames. She heard cries. And she knew something she hadn’t known before.
“Bridey? Baby, you okay?” Raze was there on her side of the table now, gripping her shoulders. She ought to be smelling the minty ointment he used for his achy joints, but she was smelling smoke instead. Raze yelled for Kate, but she barely heard that beyond the roaring and crackling of the flames, and the screams of the children. She knew she was shaking all over and staring off into space. She felt the sweat trickling down her face, and stinging her eyes. She screamed, very loudly, shrilly, endlessly. And she knew it was her voice, but it didn’t feel as if it was. She felt apart, separate, as the vision unfolded in her mind. Episodes like this one were what had made her uncle question her sanity in the first place, and left him ripe for the subtle influence of the Dark Prince’s power. But she watched the vision, despite her terror of it. She explored its every aspect.
Kate’s gentle hand gripped her arm, and she felt the sharp jab of a needle. It overwhelmed the feeling of that searing heat on her skin. And in a few seconds, the vision faded away.
It was such a silly way to treat people of magic, she thought, as the drug began to fog her mind. She knew it was happening to others, in other places. The mortal world just didn’t understand them, so they locked them up, and labeled them crazy, and tried to medicate their visions away. Made no sense at all.
The nurse was picking her up, but she squirmed, reaching for Raze.
“Please,” she heard him say. “Let me.”
And then she was shifted into his bony arms. Good. She had to talk to him, and she wouldn’t be awake much longer.
“I know the reason,” she whispered, hooking her arms around his neck, resting her head on his shoulder.
He stopped walking and looked down at her. Of all the people in the world, Raze was the only one she dared share her visions with. Because he was the only one who no longer discounted them as imaginary. He was the only one she trusted not to report all she said back to the Dark Prince. He’d seen her book, too. He’d told her he thought it was something sacred.
“It’s my sister, Raze. Just like in the story. She’s real. I...wasn’t sure before, but now I know.”
“Another vision?” he asked, and his voice was a low whisper. He started walking again, staying a few steps behind Kate as he carried Bridin from her playroom, through the double doors and into the room where her bed lay waiting.
“She’s in danger,” Bridin rasped. “You have to go to her, Raze. You have to save her. Tonight.”
The old man blinked, but she didn’t see disbelief in his eyes. Only surprise.
“She’s still at the orphanage. St. Mary’s. You remember. There isn’t much time.”
“You have to believe me, Raze. It’s real. I know it is.”
One of his hands smoothed her hair. “Now haven’t I always believed you?” His smile reassured her, and she relaxed a little. “I’ll see she’s all right, Bridey. Don’t you worry.”
Bridin’s eyes fell closed, but she popped them open again. “She doesn’t know...about me...and you can’t tell her. Not yet.”
“If she tries to come to me now, they’ll get her. They’ll find a way to get her locked up somewhere, like me. They’ll think she remembers, and they’ll do anything to stop her if they believe she might try to go back.”
Raze didn’t ask who “they” were. He knew. Bridin sensed he’d understood everything she’d ever told him. She didn’t know how she’d broken through the Dark Prince’s spell over him, but she was sure she had.
“But what about you, Bridey?”
She sniffed, lifted a hand to stroke his whiskers. He was lowering her into her bed now. She didn’t want to let go of him. But she had to. “Keep her away from me, Raze. It’s me they’re watching. I’m the one they see as a threat right now, not Brigit. We have to keep it that way.”
“When the time is right, I’ll know. And I’ll get a message to you both. I’ll send you some kind of sign. I’ll know how to find you. You know I will. I can do it.”
Raze nodded as the nurse came to the other side of the bed to pull the covers over her.
“Poor little thing, always ranting like this,” Kate said softly, her cool palm stroking Bridin’s forehead. “She thinks she’s some kind of fairy, you know.”
And Raze nodded, because he knew it was what was expected of him, and one never knew who might be watching. “I know. It’s a shame.”
“Just when we think she’s coming out of it, another delusional episode,” Kate went on, and she lovingly tucked the covers around Bridin.
“Come on, Raze,” she said when she’d finished. “Time for you to go. Bridey needs to rest.”
Bridin met Raze’s eyes, and nodded. “Go. Go to her. Do it for me.”
He nodded back at her, then turned to Kate. “Be kind to her,” he said, and there was no plea in his voice. More like a command. It was very unlike his usual, gentle tone.
“She’s my special angel. Raze. I’ll take good care of her. Go on, now. Mr. Darque is waiting downstairs with your last week’s pay.”
“Darque?” Bridin whispered, her eyes widening a bit, though she was barely awake now. “He’s here?” He, like Uncle Matt, rarely put in an appearance. Bridin knew why. He was busy running the kingdom of Rush. Her kingdom.
Raze turned back to Bridin. “Don’t worry, Bridey,” he whispered. “He can’t hurt you. You know that.”
“If you need me, child . . .”
“I’ll let you know. I promise.” Her eyes fell closed, at last.
Razor-Face Malone was gone. Expelled, because his will had been stronger than Darque had realized. Malone had been quietly repelling the spell for some time now, and Darque would have known that, had he been here. The fools he’d left to watch over things should have seen it, sensed it. But of course, they hadn’t.
Maybe the child had got through to Malone. Unlikely, but possible, Darque knew. He probably should have simply killed the old man. Would have...but the child adored him. Killing Malone would only solidify that fairy child’s hatred of him. And that was not the plan. Not at all.
He’d keep her here, his prisoner, until the fight had gone out of her. And then he’d use her. He’d use her to regain control of the kingdom he saw as rightfully his own. The kingdom his family had been banished from a thousand years ago. Banished. Condemned to life in a part of Rush where the sun’s light never ventured. Renamed, even. The family name dropped, outlawed, forgotten. They’d become the Dark Ones.
Darque stood over the bed of the sleeping child, and looked down at her. He shouldn’t do so. It was unwise, because looking at her beautiful, innocent face might soften his heart, and he could not afford to allow that to happen.
When his father’s armies had stormed the kingdom of Rush nearly a decade ago, the fay king had been defeated at last. This child’s mother, heir to the throne, had been killed. And the twin daughters, next in line, driven from the realm altogether. But his own father had lost his life in that battle as well, and still they hadn’t regained power in Rush. Oh, he held the throne, yes. But there was constant rebellion. Countless pockets of those loyal to the fay, hidden in the forests, always stirring the citizens to battle.
He wanted his rule solidified, dammit. He wanted power over all of them, and he wanted peace. A verdant land filled with citizens who’d be loyal to the point of death.
And he’d have it. He’d have all of that, and more.
He’d have it, because he had Bridin. She would return to Rush one day, though she believed it his desire never to let her. The only way she could return would be at the side of her twin sister. Such was the way of the magic, that the twins could only reenter Rush if they did so together. Which was why he must keep them apart, just until the time was right.
They would return, though, eventually. This one...he looked down at her golden curls again, and quickly averted his eyes, hardened his heart. This one would return at the point of his sword. He’d find a way to liberate her of that enchanted pendant, and she would no longer have any protection from him. He’d have her kneeling at his feet, for all the kingdom to see. And then those damned fay folk would bow to him as well or watch their precious princess die.
8 years ago, A Brooklyn slum
Ten years had come and gone for Brigit since that horrible night. Ten years, and she’d been living on the streets with the homeless people like her. She was nineteen, now, but God, she felt so much older. Older than Raze. Older than Sister Mary Agnes had been.
Brigit remembered it as if it were yesterday, every word, every line in Sister Mary Agnes’s face, and the sound of her aged voice rustling like dried leaves at the hand of the wind, as she read that ridiculous Fairytale night after night. Brigit still knew every word by heart. Sometimes she’d open the book, reading it in a whisper late at night when she couldn’t sleep, and she’d imagine Sister Mary Agnes there beside the bed, draped in that black habit from head to toe.
So many vivid impressions, all instigated by one tiny scrap of paper. Why had she saved the thing anyway?
Against her will, Brigit scanned the clipping, reading the words again, reminding herself why she had to go through with this scheme of Mel’s. Her hands trembled, and tears blurred her vision, but she blinked and made herself read.
“Fire swept through St. Mary’s last night, destroying the church and leaving the children’s shelter heavily damaged. So far only one death is reported, that of Sister Mary Agnes Brockway, seventy-two, formerly of Queens. One child is still listed as missing, and Father Anthony Giovanni, parish priest, theorizes the nine-year-old girl ran away in panic. He does not believe the child’s body will be recovered by fire fighters as they search the premises today. ‘Brigit is a special little girl,’ he told reporters at the scene this morning. ‘Too special to be taken like this.’ “
Brigit folded the yellowed newspaper clipping exactly the way it had been folded before, and returned it to its spot in the bottom of the cardboard box where she kept her clothes. The physical act of putting it away helped her to put away the memories as well. None of them mattered. Not now. They might as well be as fictional as the Fairytale that lay in the box beside the clipping. The elaborate creation of some kind soul determined to placate a lonely little orphan girl.
Sister Mary Agnes herself might have created the book, for all Brigit knew.
She’d called Brigit’s talent a gift. A miracle.
“If she could see me now, she’d turn over in her grave.”
Brigit turned, looking through the sagging doorway with its peeling gray casing. The folding card table in the next room seemed to be holding Raze up as much as the stool beneath him. Even beyond the stubble, and in the shadow of his ever-present Mets cap, she could see the grayish tinge to his face. The green shirt that had once been part of someone named Bob’ s uniform, hung on Raze as if he were a stick figure. He coughed, and Brigit thought the rickety table would collapse.
She swallowed her doubts, lifted her chin, and went to him, running her hands over his frail back until the spasm passed. He was old. When had Raze become so old? He’d always been the strong one, he’d always been the one to take care of her, right from the start. That awful night at St. Mary’s when all the other children had obeyed the sisters and joined hands and made their way out of the burning shelter. All but Brigit. She’d let go. She’d gone back, looking for Sister Mary Agnes. And she’d ended up trapped in an inferno more terrifying than anything that Dante fellow had dreamed of.
Her hands tightened on Raze’s frail shoulders. He’d heard her screams that night. He’d come after her. Somehow, a man she assumed was one of the bums who slept in the park across the street, had pulled her out of that hell. And she’d been with Raze ever since. She’d been convinced that because he’d saved her from the fire, because he’d taken her from the orphanage, that somehow made her his little girl. And she’d loved the old man with all her heart from the instant he’d rescued her. He’d wanted to return her to Father Anthony. But she’d cried and pleaded and begged to stay with Raze, and he’d been too soft-hearted to send her back.
Razor-Face Malone had become the only family she’d ever had. He’d saved her life. So now she’d do what she had to do to save his.
“Come on, Brigit,” Mel called from his spot in the corner. “Break’s over.”
She nodded in response to the slightly whiny voice. Mel sat on the bare floor, back against the naked lath wall, legs crossed. His gray chauffeur’s cap was too big for his puny head, but managed to look jaunty anyway. And besides, it covered the bald spot.
“The quicker you finish up, the quicker you get a warm bed and some medicine for Raze.”
“You don’t have to keep reminding me of that.”
“I think I do,” Mel said, getting to his feet. “Hell, with your talent, you should have been into this scam years ago. You could’a been rich by now.” He gave a sharp, slanting nod and a wink. “You stick with me, and you’ll get that way soon enough. I got connections now.”
He shrugged and paced the room. He was better off than she and Raze. But he got that way because he was a crook. Oh, she knew, she wasn’t much better herself. But aside from pinching a few groceries and a wallet here and there, she’d been fairly honest, out of respect for Sister Mary Agnes, and the things the nun had taught her. Not for any other reason. Not because of morality or values. Hell, with the way the world treated people like her and Raze, she didn’t figure she owed anyone anything. She’d do what she had to do to survive.
And when she wasn’t surviving, she’d race through the alleys and vault mesh fences and cartwheel in the gutters. Because she had to. Raze said she had too much energy and she’d explode if she didn’t let it out.
Not today, though. Today she was tossing Sister Mary Agnes’s teachings aside, using all that pent-up energy to make her hands obey her mind. She was taking the step that would brand her as much a criminal as Mel was. And still, there were men far worse. At least Mel had never hurt anybody. His game was the con, though he had yet to score big, as he put it. Deep inside, Mel was good. If Brigit didn’t believe that so firmly, she wouldn’t be doing this.
Lately, though, he’d been keeping some bad company. These connections he kept talking about. One of them was a man named Zaslow, a man Brigit knew was evil just by looking at him—as if she really were half-fay and could read a man’s heart by plumbing the depths of his eyes. This entire scam had been Zaslow’s idea. Fencing stolen artwork was, Mel claimed, Zaslow’s specialty. So when Mel had offhandedly mentioned Brigit’s “gift” in one of his endless efforts to impress the man, a plot had been born.
Raze coughed again, and Brigit caught her breath. He was getting worse.
“I know, I know,” Mel said, a touch of mockery in his voice. “You’re only doing it this one time. You keep telling me. But you wait ‘til you have that money in your hands, kid, You wait ‘til you smell that green, and then we’ll see if you’re so damn noble.”
Brigit closed her eyes. There was no sense talking to Mel. He’d been a small-time con all his life, and he’d convinced himself she was his ticket to wealth untold.
But she vowed, she swore on Sister Mary Agnes’s memory, that she would only do it once. Just this one time, and only because Raze’s life depended on it. She didn’t like being even remotely involved with a man like Zaslow. It made her feel soiled and low.
Raze hadn’t wanted her to do it, even this one time. He’d fought tooth and nail against her going along with this thing. He said it was wrong, plain and simple. But Brigit didn’t see that she had any choice in the matter. Raze was dying.
He was dying. That talent she had for seeing things in a man’s eyes had shown her that when she’d looked into Raze’s. And she’d known then that she would do whatever it took to save him.
She sighed and crossed the floor of the condemned apartment to the easel that seemed as out of place here in this ruin as a diamond in a dime store. A color print of the Matisse was Scotch-taped to the crumbling wall. She clamped her jaw against the memories the sight of it evoked; memories of Mona Lisa on construction paper, hanging crookedly above a small wooden bed, and of the awed expression Sister Mary Agnes wore when she stared at it. Better not to let the thought of that horrible night enter her mind now, or her hands would start shaking. She had to finish. Now, while the afternoon sun was still slanting in through the broken windows, giving her so much light to work by.
Brigit drew a breath, squared her shoulders, took one last glance at the Matisse nude, and then surveyed what she’d done so far on canvas. It would be a perfect likeness. She didn’t know how she knew that, she simply did. And she didn’t know how she could wield the brushes and match the colors and brushstrokes the way she did, either. There was no technique to it. She’d never had an art lesson in her life. She just studied the image she wanted, kept it focused in her mind’s eye, and...and painted.
Raze coughed again, a deep, racking cough that sounded painful. Brigit picked up a palette and a brush.
1 year ago
It was time.
Bridin knew it, sensed it the way birds sense the proper time to migrate. It was time to get out of this place. It was time to find her way back to Rush.
She needed help. She needed her sister and Raze. The time had come to get a message to them. And the method came to her just as easily as the knowledge did. Brigit might not understand it, when she saw it. But Raze would. And he’d know the time had come. And even if he didn’t, it wouldn’t matter. Bridin would simply send the message on its way with a fairy’s wish clinging to its tail, and the same protective spell as the one cast by her mother over her book and her pendant, coating it like fairy dust to keep the Dark Prince from going anywhere near it.
When she’d finished perfecting every last detail of the intricate painting that would be her message to her sister, Bridin clasped her pewter fairy pendant in her right hand, lifted it, and pointed its quartz crystal toward the canvas. In a strong, steady voice, she chanted:
“By the powers of the fay, Darker forces, keep at bay. To my sister, wilt thou flee. Bring my Brigit back to me!”
Bridin felt the magic surge through her, down her arm into her hand, and from her hand into the crystal. It zapped from the glowing stone— a pale amber ray of light that suffused the entire painting for just an instant, and then vanished. Bridin sank into her bed, exhausted.
There. It was done. Soon she’d be with Brigit again. And together, they’d find a way for Bridin to get back to Rush. They’d raise up an army there, and they’d send the Dark Prince back into the far reaches of the forests where he belonged. She’d free her people from his evil rule. She would.