The Hathaway’s held Hathaway Tower for fifteen generations, one of the older families in the Towers of Stone and Metal.
Young Emily Hathaway, the last surviving member of the family, continues their traditions. Like this dinner party, playing hostess to fascinating guests like brave Mr. Bailey who had spent time among the Salvagers.
A scream interrupts dinner, a body in the library, and a mysterious visitor makes this a dinner party to remember.
The whole party was enjoying the silky smooth lemon custard while Mr. Bailey related his experiences beyond the wall surrounding the Towers of Stone and Metal, when a shrill scream came from the library.
All conversation ceased. The candle flames barely flickered. The long dining hall was silent. Eight pairs of eyes in the room fixed on Emily Hathaway, the host of the evening. She was twenty, and no taller than she’d been at thirteen, though she had a more shapely figure now. Tonight she wore a shimmery gown of elvish silk, the color of fresh green leaves, that complemented her flaming red curls and matched her eyes. So pale was her skin, and so delicate her features, that some suggested there was elvish blood in her family. Unlikely, given that the Hathaway’s had held Hathaway Tower for fifteen generations, but she had some of that look about her.
Mr. Bailey coughed into his napkin. Beside him his wife clung to his arm.
Emily lifted her chin. Across the room her butler, and troll, Clasp, stood unmoving against the wall. He was a big gray-skinned figure in a dark kilt with the traditional sash, a slash of scarlet weave, across his chest. She locked her eyes on his tiny black eyes. A twitch of her head and Clasp moved like a boulder breaking loose on a mountain. Thunderous footsteps carried him across the timbered floor to the heavy oak door leading to the library. He pulled it open and disappeared through, shoulders brushing the frame on each side. The door banged shut behind him.
“Never mind that,” Emily said, “Likely one of the housemaids frightened at her own shadow. Mr. Bailey? You were talking about your time among the Salvagers?”
Mr. Bailey was her late father’s friend and the years had stripped away his handsome features along with his right ear. The scar stretched from there down across his cheek and through his lips. He tended to drool when he ate. Or spoke.
He opened his mouth to talk when the door banged open again and Clasp’s crashing footsteps returned. Emily apologetically smiled at her guests. Tall and regal Mrs. Watersmith turned her freshly powdered face to her escort for the evening, the handsome and young Mr. Dempsey, and whispered something.
Clasp’s massive head came down close to Emily’s own. She smelled grilled onions on his breath.
“A body, Miss. In the library.”
She kept her face controlled, even managed a small apologetic smile that would have made her father proud had he lived to see it.
“If you’ll excuse me? I’ll only be a moment.” She rose to her feet. The gentlemen at the table rose as well, Mr. Crane struggling to heave his bulk up. He shook the whole table in the process. His napkin tumbled onto his plate.
Emily followed Clasp, forever a child in his shadow. He stood twice her height, a moving mountain. As a small girl she had climbed those craggy heights, much to her mother’s annoyance. After the fever took her mother in the night, and Emily became the lady of the Hathaway Tower, she had left such things behind.
A body? In her library? She wished for those lost days when she wasn’t the last Hathaway.
Clasp held the library door for her and she steeled herself as she went inside.
There was a body, curled up on the mammoth-skin rug in front of the fire. Emily saw that first, right off, unable to miss it.
That wasn’t all. Anna, one of the house maids, stood just inside the library, not looking at the body but turned away. Her arms clasped her thin body as her shoulders shook.
Most shocking of all was the man that stood across the room from her. He was tall, nearly as tall as Clasp but lithe. His skin, like hers, was pale and unmarked. He wore bright green leather shorts but his chest and arms were bare. The black hilts of his knives rose above his belt on each hip. A band of silver circled his neck. A green cloak billowed around him, fastened with green leather straps to his wrists, bare ankles and thick shoulders. A long white braid, decorated with knobs of bone, stone and wood trailed down around his neck, across a hard chest, all the way down past his navel.
Piercing green eyes above high cheek bones met her gaze and didn’t look away when she took in his pointed ears. She looked back to his eyes.
He was beautiful and impossible. Not a normal man at all, but an elf. And elves never came to the Towers of Stone and Metal.
Emily looked up at Clasp. “You didn’t think to mention the elf?”
Dark eyes blinked down at her, but the troll was mute.
Frustrated, she looked back to the elf. “I am Emily Hathaway, lady of this tower. Is your business here concluded, sir?”
She glanced at the body.
The elf’s green eyes were still on her. He moved with the grace and power of the great scaled cats from Mr. Bailey’s stories. Two quick strides to stand at the edge of the mammoth-skin rug.
“I did not kill this one.” His voice and cadence sounded musical, as if he was singing the words.
Elves were seldom seen, even outside the wall surrounding the Towers. Not that the wall stopped them. Elves were said to be stronger than ten men. Some said that they had the ability to fly and most agreed that elves were only seen when they wanted to be seen. There were stories of elves seducing humans, men and women both, although she always credited that to human fantasies. Why would an elf seek out a human? It was said that elvish beauty was unmatched, true as far as she could see. In any case elves didn’t come past the wall out of choice, remaining above human affairs unless humans attempted to revert to their old destructive ways of the forgotten ages, in violation of the Treaty.
Looking at him, Emily’s heart ached. He was so beautiful, more so than she would have imagined. She steeled herself. She wasn’t some elf-struck little girl. She was the lady of Hathaway Tower and it seemed most unlikely that the body on her rug and the elf in her library were unrelated. She crossed to the other side of the rug and faced the visitor.
“If not you, then who?”
He looked at her as if he could see right through her. She shivered and refused to look away.
He turned away first, looking down to the body. “I tracked this one here, it was already dead.”
It. Emily forced herself to look down. The corpse scarcely filled out the suit it wore, like a child playing dress up. Where exposed, the limbs were wrinkled and deflated in great pink folds as if the insides were sucked away. There was a shiny, almost oily look to the skin. Most shocking of all was the face. A dear face she recognized, though the skin there too was slack and wrinkled, particularly around the bruised neck. Strangled, apparently.
It had her father’s face.
Emily lifted her head. The elf was watching her, as was Clasp, but she looked instead to the portrait above the library fireplace. Her father, in a formal black suit stood beside a chair where her mother sat in a deep iridescent blue gown. It looked like the same suit the body wore, perhaps stolen from his rooms? In the painting her father’s face was relaxed and happy. A square, handsome, kindly face on a man fond of laughter. The same face, more or less, as the body on the mammoth rug.
There was only one possibility.
“A shifter, yes,” the elf said. “Killed while imitating the man in the painting. Have you seen this man?”
“He’s my father, and he’s been dead a year.”
“Shifters usually mimic the living, stealing their lives away.”
“Perhaps it meant to, not knowing he was already dead.”
Emily turned. “Anna?”
Anna sniffed. “Yes, Miss?”
A quick nod. Anna was only fourteen, fostered from the Vail Tower. Emily waited for more.
“I came in, meaning to check the fire before the party moved to the library. And, it was there, just as it is.”
“You didn’t touch anything? You didn’t see anyone?”
Anna shook her head twice.
“Good. Go have Mrs. Cormandy gather the staff in the kitchens. Everyone is to stay there and have their dinner until Clasp dismisses them. Understood?”
“Yes, Miss. Thank you.”
Anna hurried across the room. The elf moved around the mammoth rug to Emily’s side. Clasp stepped between her and the elf. It was a brave and loyal thing to do. Even with his bulk, Emily didn’t believe that Clasp could stop the elf if he wanted to do her harm. She put her hand on Clasp’s arm. His hard skin was hot and comforting beneath her hand.
The elf’s eyes watched Anna disappear through the door. “That was foolish, the other one, she may be.”
“Other one? You mean another goblinman?” Emily fought back her irritation. “You might have mentioned that first.”
The elf’s brow wrinkled as if he hadn’t considered that.
Leaving him confused, Emily looked up at Clasp. “Take the body and store it below. Lock it in one of the wine cellars. Secure the tower. No one leaves or enters without my permission. Rejoin us once you’ve finished.”
Clasp moved between her and the elf, stooping to pick up the goblinman’s body. It looked like hardly more than a badly dressed doll in his arms. Seeing her father’s face on the thing had shaken her, but she was the lady of the tower and there was apparently another goblinman on the loose.
Carrying the body, Clasp disappeared out the same door Anna had used. The elf moved closer, and she smelled something like a fresh rain in the forest. He lifted his hand, but didn’t touch her.
“I must find the other goblinman.”
“Why? Why are you after them? And do you have a name, sir elf?”
She was testing him. Her father had told her stories of elves, when she was a girl. He always said that they guarded their names.
“I pursue the goblinmen known as thieves and killers. My common name is Brookwind, Lady Hathaway.”
Not his private name then. She was disappointed, but not surprised. She tilted her head up to look at him. She wanted to run her hand over his braid, and along the smooth pale skin. She clasped her hands together.
“How do I know you aren’t the other goblinman?”
Brookwind’s right eyebrow arched upwards. Emily felt heat creep up her neck, either from the foolishness of her question or from being close to him.
She fought down the feeling. “My guests must be getting anxious. I need to get back to them and tell them something.”
Brookwind touched the hilt of his knife. “I can force the goblinman to reveal itself.”
He shrugged. “Pain forces shifters to reveal themselves.”
“I’ll not have my guests or staff tortured!”
“If the goblinman has replaced one of your people, then that person is most likely already dead. If I don’t capture it, others also will die.”
Brookwind moved across the room in an instant. His hands seized her upper arms and his cloak billowed around them. Her mind froze. She drew a breath and he released her left arm.
His finger went to her lips, pressing gently. He stared into her eyes as if he was looking into her, through her.
She inhaled and that rich forest scent was there, clinging to him, and beneath it something warm, yeasty, like fresh baked bread. The strength of his hand on her arm was like steel, but the finger on her lips was soft.
Looking into his eyes from this close, they weren’t only green but shot through with specks of gold and blue like a sunlight sky seen through leaves.
His breath was a warm breeze on her face. Her heart hammered in her chest. She reached out with her free hand and placed her palm flat on his muscled chest, as smooth as a sea-polished shell, to steady herself.
He jerked and twitched away like a skittish horse. She stumbled without him there.
“What was that!”
Brookwind bowed his head. “Lady Hathaway, my apologies. A soul search is an intimate thing, yet I had to know if you were the goblinman in disguise.”
Soul search? What was he doing? What did that mean?
“I do not believe you are the other one.”
She trembled and took a deep breath to steady herself. “Can you do this with the others, to find the goblinman?”
“No.” His answer was flat, final, like a rock cracking.
Brookwind shook his head. His long braid rolled across his chest. “It is not done with outsiders. Only those we are drawn to.”
Oh. Emily’s thoughts skipped on that. Her skin on her hand, arm and lips still tingled where they had touched. He was drawn to her? What did he mean?
She rubbed her hand where she had touched him as if she could rub out the feeling and made her decision.
“Come with me.”
“I will introduce you to our guests. A special surprise for them, and we will determine if any are goblinmen in disguise.”
“How will you do so?”
“I’m the lady of Hathaway Tower. I know my guests.”
“A shifter adept is skilled at imitating others. If it had access to the victim it may have absorbed memories as well.”
“Even so.” The whole thing about absorbing memories disturbed her. “I will know. And if it is not one of the guests, then we will investigate the staff, although I find that less likely.”
“Why is that so?”
“The staff know their own habits and duties. They would see if anyone was behaving oddly. It’d be easier for the goblinman to infiltrate the Towers by replacing someone with more position. As the one had attempted to mimic my father.”
Brookwind pressed his hands together in front of his chest and then spread them apart. “As you say.”
Emily went through the door into the dining hall first, with Brookwind following. As soon as she entered the men at the table rose, Mr. Crane struggling once more to rise. She watched their faces most carefully as they saw Brookwind coming in behind her.
Of the men, all showed surprised. A small smile played on Mr. Dempsey’s thin lips, like a kid spying a jar of candies. Mr. Crane gaped like a gasping fish landed on the shore. Drool dribbled from poor Mr. Bailey’s torn lips and he turned very pale. He reached to the table to steady himself. The last gentleman rising slowly at the table, was old Mr. Mumford. He beamed with open delight and ran a liver-spotted hand through his white hair.
The women showed equal surprise. Mrs. Watersmith pursed her lips and tilted her head. “My, he’s a big one, isn’t he?”
Mrs. Mumford giggled in a most girlish manner and grabbed at her husband’s other hand.
Mrs. Bailey’s red lips formed a round ‘o’ of surprise, while across the table the formidable Mrs. Crane pressed her hands to her plump cheeks.
“Friends,” Emily said, mustering her enthusiasm. “Tonight we have an honored guest from beyond the wall. He goes by Brookwind. If you’re all quite ready, we can retire to the library for drinks and conversation. I’m sure we’re all quite fascinated to hear from someone that lives beyond the wall.”
She looked to Mr. Bailey. “Not that your stories aren’t equally fascinating, Mr. Bailey.”
He dabbed at his dripping lip. “Not at all. Not at all! Even in my journeys, the chance to converse with the elvish folk is a rare treat. However did you manage this?”
Emily favored him with a sly smile and then stepped to the side and gestured to the open door. “If you please?”
Mr. Dempsey tossed his napkin onto the table and stepped back. “Alas, Lady Hathaway, I must bid an early night. Please forgive me.”
Mrs. Watersmith’s head snapped around and fixed on Mr. Dempsey. “Mr. Dempsey, what can you possibly be thinking? Of course we must stay!”
Mr. Dempsey’s smile faded as he turned to Mrs. Watersmith. He was sweating as he leaned close. “I have that case to prepare, you must remember it. The evening has already gone on too long.”
“Case?” Mrs. Watersmith gave a brittle laugh. “You are my escort for the night, are you not?”
She raised her chin. “Then we shall go, when I say we shall go.”
While they argued the Baileys went on through into the library, Mrs. Bailey lifting her hand as if she was going to touch Brookwind when she went past. Under his gaze, she lowered her hand and Emily was glad of it.
Why? What business is it of yours if she touches him?
She shook her head. It wasn’t her business, and she was still glad. That didn’t bear much examination.
Instead she watched her guests.
The Mumfords went on in, with Mrs. Mumford giggling as they went past. Beatrice Mumford was the youngest of three daughters from the Porter family and was always a bit silly. She had married well, to Anthony Mumford, the heir to Mumford Tower. When it came to Towers, size did matter as much as placement and Mumford Tower was one of the Seven central towers that rose up on the hill next to Hathaway Tower.
The Cranes followed and then finally Mrs. Watersmith went on through with Mr. Dempsey following along much like a boy following his mother to the market.
Emily noticed Brookwind’s eyes following young Mr. Dempsey. She knew that he was a lawyer from Watersmith Tower. By all accounts good at his job, at least until he caught Mrs. Watersmith’s eye. If rumors were true, she pitied him. He was handsome with his blond hair and blue eyes, and yet as he passed Brookwind he looked little more than a child.
She hesitated before following and looked up at Brookwind. His gaze was still fixed firmly on the young man. She reached up and touched his jaw.
He turned his head, instead of jerking away, so that her hand slid along his cheek. Blushing, Emily lowered her hand.
“Your goblinman isn’t Mr. Dempsey.”
“He wanted to leave, when the others wished to stay.” Even in his musical tones, she heard the confusion.
“It wasn’t a case that he wanted to work on. He had planned to meet the girl that he is in love with tonight.”
Brookwind glanced into the library and back and remained silent.
“He’s here at Mrs. Watersmith’s behest. She’s the lady widow of Watersmith Tower. He can’t refuse her commands. If he was the goblinman he would have used the excuse of the case to leave. What does he care about Mrs. Watersmith’s opinion? If he was the goblinman it wouldn’t matter, and yet he stayed.”
“None of the others attempted to leave.”
Emily clasped her hands tightly. “No.”
“Then it could still be this Mr. Dempsey.”
She almost laughed at his confusion. “Of course not. If it was him, it wouldn’t have drawn attention to itself by attempting to leave before the others.”
“He is not the shifter because he tried to leave, and also because he stayed?”
“Exactly. Now, you must distract our guests with conversation.”
Brookwind’s eyes widened but she wasn’t going to give him a choice. She walked into the library.
Clasp had already returned and was pouring a brandy for Mrs. Bailey. She was setting on the antique moleskin love-seat with Mr. Bailey. The Cranes had taken up the matching couch, its ancient cushions sinking low beneath their combined weight. The Mumfords had the other couch, with the stiff floral cushions. Both Mr. Dempsey and Mrs. Watersmith were on the stiff-backed floral love-seat, but there was a wide chasm between them.
That left the two great lizard skin chairs at each end of the gathering. Emily touched Brookwind’s arm, giving him a nudge to the seat at the head of the gathering, with its back to the great fire where they’d found the body. He moved with fluid grace to the chair, his cloak billowing around him with each step. He was absolutely magnificent. She went to the chair at the other end where she could sit facing him and watch her guests.
“Will you be staying long?” Mr. Bailey asked Brookwind.
Brookwind sat perched on the edge of the chair, with his hands resting on his knees. He shook his head when Clasp offered him a drink. Then he actually smiled, an expression that brightened his face considerably.
He shook his head. “We don’t build dwellings of stone. We move with the seasons.”
“Yes, of course,” Mr. Bailey said. “In my travels outside the wall I guested one day in an elvish camp during a storm. It was marvelous. I don’t believe I’ve ever eaten so well.”
Mr. Bailey laughed and nodded to Emily. “With no insult to our gracious and beautiful host.”
Emily shook her head. “None taken.”
Clasp came around to Emily’s chair. She rose and took a few steps aside with him.
“Are the staff gathered? Are any missing?”
Clasp shook his head as he leaned close. “All accounted for, Miss.”
“Good. Thank you.” It seemed unlikely that any of them were the goblinman, but there must be a reason for the goblinman to stay. She touched his arm and returned to her seat.
“I thought we were to call them Gaians,” Mr. Mumford said.
Mrs. Crane leaned forward, sloshing her brandy. Crumbs from a small cake tumbled from her lips. “Gaian? Why do you say that, Mr. Mumford?”
Mrs. Mumford snorted. “Because some of us are polite enough not to insult our guest with slang.”
Mrs. Crane blinked in confusion and looked at Mr. Crane. He patted her arm. “Elves, dear. They don’t like being called elves.”
Brookwind pressed his hands together and parted them. “Words only, blown away with each breath. Truth resides in actions, not words.”
“Very gracious,” Mr. Bailey said. Brandy dribbled from his lip. “In any event, it was marvelous. Beautiful structures were strung between the trees in such a way that I hardly felt the storm at all. They had this wine as sweet as honey and as refreshing as cold spring water. I’m afraid I must have drank too much. When I woke the next morning it was to the birds singing and the sun shining in my face, but the camp was gone as if it had never been.”
“Perhaps you dreamed it,” Mr. Dempsey said.
Mr. Bailey laughed and lifted his glass. “Perhaps!”
“I say,” Mr. Crane said to Brookwind. “Mr. Bailey has entertained us with tales of the savage saurian beasts and the not-men that live in the wilds beyond the wall. Are the wild lands really so fierce?”
“For such as you, yes.”
Mr. Bailey traced the line of his scar with one finger. “You only have to look at me, to see that!”
Emily had sat silent through their banter, gauging their responses. Mr. Bailey was his usual self, including that gesture with the scar. He brought it up frequently, and his encounter with the raptor that had nearly taken his head off.
The Cranes were their usual jovial selves, flushed with drink and food in equal measure. Mr. Dempsey, she had already ruled out, looked uncomfortable sitting next to Mrs. Watersmith. She sat quite stiff and tall, sipping her drink the way a bird might dip its beak to drink. For her, that was normal.
On the other couch, the Mumfords were whispering to one another, following the discussion of what to call Brookwind. As far as Emily was concerned, elf was perfectly polite.
Of the whole party, only Mrs. Bailey was quiet. In fact, she hadn’t said a word most of the night. Mr. Bailey did tend to go on at length, but she’d been particularly quiet since the break just before desert.
In the awkward moment following Mr. Bailey pointing out his scar, Emily spoke up.
“I quite forgot to mention that the scream earlier was my housemaid discovering a body.” She pointed past Brookwind. “Right over there, in front of the fire.”
She watched their reactions carefully. Everyone tried speaking at once, except Mrs. Bailey who shrank closer to her husband.
Mr. Dempsey rose to his feet. “Have you called the constables?”
Emily shook her head. “Our friend Brookwind was pursuing the victim, apparently a criminal from beyond the wall.”
“Here?” Mrs. Crane squeaked.
Mrs. Watersmith rose to her feet. “Mr. Dempsey, please escort me back to Watersmith Tower at once!”
The Cranes both tried rising at once and the entire couch tipped forward. They fell back into the cushions, their brandy sloshing from their glasses. Pieces of cake tumbled down Mrs. Crane’s front.
Mr. Crane recovered first and leveraged himself up. Once on his feet, huffing hard, he helped Mrs. Crane out of the couch.
“We’re going too!” he said when he finally got her up.
Mr. Mumford shook his head. “Fools. We’re staying right here where it is safe. At least until the constables arrive and provide an escort!”
Emily rose to her feet. Across from her Brookwind also stood.
“I’m afraid I can’t let anyone leave, quite yet.”
Mrs. Watersmith looked down her nose at Emily. “You can’t keep us here!”
“Oh, I think our guest is quite capable of ensuring that no one leaves.”
Mrs. Watersmith darted a glance at Brookwind and took a small step closer to Mr. Dempsey. The young man placed himself in front of Mrs. Watersmith.
“Look here,” he said. “You can’t mean you’ll force us to stay!”
Still seating, Mrs. Bailey huddled against Mr. Bailey’s arm. He patted her hand.
Emily smiled at Mr. Dempsey. “By the Treaty, I have no say in this, it is an elvish matter.”
“Gaian,” Mr. Mumford muttered.
Brookwind looked over the others to her. “You know who the shifter is?”
“Shifter?” Mr. Bailey stood up. “I say, do you mean that the killer is a goblinman?”
Mrs. Bailey squeaked and grabbed at Mr. Bailey’s leg. He stumbled and barely avoided spilling his drink.
Emily gazed across at the others. Maybe she was elf-struck. She’d happily gaze into his eyes for hours and hours. Of course there was a killer to deal with. She smiled.
“Of course.” She pointed at Mrs. Watersmith. “She is the other one!”
“I saw her!” Mrs. Bailey shrieked, springing to her feet and clutching Mr. Bailey by the shoulders. “I saw her!”
Mr. Dempsey turned and Mrs. Watersmith snarled, her once-regal face twisting, and struck him with a back-handed blow that knocked him aside. She ran toward the servants’ door.
Brookwind vaulted over the couches and in a few swift strides caught her well before she reached the door.
“Unhand me!” She yelled.
A obsidian blade was in Brookwind’s hand and pressed to her powdery neck. She went very still.
Mr. Crane and Mr. Mumford were helping Mr. Dempsey to his feet as Emily walked over to face the impostor. Clasp’s bulk was a comforting presence behind her.
“It’s okay, Mrs. Bailey,” Emily said. “She won’t be harming anyone else. What did you see?”
Mrs. Bailey, clutching Mr. Bailey’s arm, peeked at them.
“Before desert, Mrs. Watersmith went to the powder room. Then I decided to go, and on the way, I saw her with herself going into the side hall! And one of her was wearing a man’s dinner suit! It was only a second, and I thought my eyes must be playing tricks on me. By the time I got back, she was sitting with Mr. Dempsey at the table. I thought I might have imagined it, except she kept looking at me.”
Mrs. Watersmith’s breath hissed between her teeth. Emily went to Mrs. Bailey and touched her arm.
“Thank you. I had noticed that she had freshly powdered her face when she returned, not just a touch-up, mind you, but she was entirely powdered even down her neck and hands. That seemed unnecessary, but at the time I didn’t think much of it.”
Emily walked back to face Brookwind and the impostor. “You can drop the disguise. You’ve given yourself away more than once.”
Mrs. Watersmith’s face wrinkled and sagged like collapsing bread. Her eyes rolled up, and when they came down the irises were pink shot through with red. Her mouth puckered and she sneered at Emily.
“You wouldn’t have figured it out if that fool hadn’t imprinted on her also!”
“Maybe,” Emily said. “If you hadn’t killed him and left the body you might have gotten away with it.”
“I didn’t have time,” the goblinman hissed. “I didn’t expect the elf!”
“You truly believed you could elude me?” Brookwind sheathed his knife, keeping a tight grip on the goblinman’s arm. He pulled the silver necklace free and wrapped it around the goblinman’s wrists, behind its back. The silver band constricted like a snake.
“I was more interested in your actions,” Emily went on. “You didn’t remember Mr. Dempsey’s other appointment tonight. Leaving early would make you stand out, so you insisted on staying. At least until I broke the news to everyone else. You were the first to want to leave then, when there was a good excuse. But the Watersmiths and Hathaways have always been allies. The real Mrs. Watersmith would never have left me here to deal with this alone.”
Mr. Bailey patted Emily’s shoulder. “We wouldn’t leave you, dear.”
The goblinman wasn’t looking at any of them now. Its gaze was fixed on the floor. Emily stepped in front of him. “Where is she?”
Then it looked up. “Why?”
“To save yourself pain, why else?”
Brookwind pulled up on the silver binding the goblinman’s arms. Its breath hissed between its lips.
Emily turned to Clasp. “Find her, make sure she’s unharmed.”
The troll nodded and thumped off.
Emily looked up at Brookwind. “You’ll take it, now?”
“Yes. Thank you, Lady Hathaway.”
His gaze lingered for a moment, his beautiful eyes on hers, and then he moved away with the goblinman over his shoulder. The door banged behind him and she was left alone with her guests.
Emily stood alone on her balcony enjoying the cool night wind through her thin night gown. It was late, already well past midnight. Hathaway Tower dropped away far, far beneath her. Around her tower stood the others, including Watersmith Tower where Mrs. Watersmith was recovering from her ordeal after being rescued from the closet.
There was a soft sound behind her, like that a cat might make. She didn’t move until she felt the heat of his skin and his forest scent touched her neck. She turned and gazed up at his beautiful face.
“Are the stories true then, you can fly?”
“What happens to the goblinman now? Is it dead?”
His smile faded. He shook his head. “Death is not enough, for justice.”
Emily stepped close and raised her hand. Her fingers hovered above his bare chest. When he didn’t pull away she lightly touched him. The muscles jumped beneath her finger tips but he stayed.
“You came back,” she said, “why?”
Brookwind pushed closer. He ran his hands lightly along her hair as he gazed into her eyes. His eyes caught the dim light and gleamed. “The soul search, you called me back.”
Was it possible? If she was elf-struck, could he feel the same about her?
She licked her lips, watching his eyes. “What now?”
He picked her up and carried her inside.
This story is the 40th weekly short story release, written in June 2013 at a workshop on the Oregon Coast while listening to Metric’s Gold Guns Girls. It doesn’t really have much at all to do with the story, I just kept writing with the song on repeat.
The story went on to sell to WMG Publishing, to appear in Fiction River: Fantastic Detectives (Fiction River: An Original Anthology Magazine) (Volume 9)
Fiction River is a great anthology series. Check it out for more terrific stories. I was thrilled to be included (plus my story was next to Kevin J. Anderson’s story in the contents, so that was fun). Later on I wrote Astrasphere set in the same world.
Eventually I’ll do a standalone e-book and print release when I am satisfied that I can create the cover art that I want for the story. In the meantime I’m enjoying these weekly releases. Stories will remain until I get up the new e-book and print versions and at that point I’ll take the story down.
If you’re interested in longer works, feel free to check out my novels through the links in the sidebar or on the Books page. I’m also serializing a novel, Europan Holiday, now on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Check back next Monday for another story. Next up is my horror story Bed Bugs.