A part of me wanted someone to notice that something had happened to me, but they couldn’t help me. They had no magic, so I smiled like I normally would at the people I passed that I knew, and tried not to give in to the urge I felt. Finally I reached the closest ladies, where I had to hope I could be alone in order to attempt picking apart the spell. Even without trying I knew it was going to be harder than I wanted it to be. It probably had a tracking element in it, so I had to work fast.
It seemed that the only inhabitant left as I entered. Still trying to breathe I sat down next to one of the sinks and started prodding at the spell with a tentative finger of magic. Being on the floor, unsurprisingly, increased the urge I had to sleep, but I knew if I stayed standing I’d only end up injuring myself. There was at least seven parts to the spell, so my cousin had got someone else to cast it for him because there was no way he could have created something as intricate. When I looked at it all I could see was the way they each knotted together, creating the binding that was wrapped around my ribs and slowly making it’s way down my body. Each of the parts was a different colour and it was beautiful. Normally I’d need to slip into a meditative state to start picking it apart, which would make it easier for whatever part of the spell it was to make me sleep, so that was out. I’d never tried to free myself from a spell without being in that state.
“I can help,” a male voice said from closer than I was happy with, making my jump. I winced. “Unpicking spells like that is my speciality.”
For a moment I just stared at him. I vaguely recognised him from one of my classes, although I couldn’t remember which one, and I’d never once picked up that he had magic. That wasn’t exactly unusual. A lot of the fae who chose to live as humanly as possible managed to hide their magic from other fae.
“What do you want in return?” I asked, knowing that I didn’t have time to haggle too much and I probably needed his help more than he realised.
“Rosalind, I don’t want anything.”
The fact he knew my name made me feel strangely guilty for not remembering his, but that was something I could ignore. “You don’t want anything? Are you fae?”
Smiling, he nodded. “Of course I am. I was just raised by people who didn’t believe that we needed something in return for helping someone. Should the time come when I might need help myself I know I could ask you, as I’m hoping that you’d be willing to do the same thing for me if I was in a difficult position. I just won’t expect it, especially if you feel it’s something that’s out of your skill set, and, apparently, that makes me different to the average fae.”
“It really does.” Even though I didn’t believe him I knew that the little time I had was rapidly diminishing. “Unpick it, if you can. The sooner I’m out of the school the better.”
“Who did it to you?” he asked, as he studied what I hoped was the spell.
“My cousin.” Being too honest with him was probably a mistake, but I should have let him know what he was getting into before he started helping, because the one thing I didn’t want to do was drag someone who wasn’t prepared into the mess that was my life. “We have differing opinions on almost everything, including how certain magics should be used, and he feels, because I’m family, that he has the right to make me do whatever it is he wants. I disagree, which is why I’m here. Unfortunately the issue now is that he’s found me.”
“How could he have done that?”
“Someone I trusted to be discrete said the wrong thing to the wrong person.” I sighed. “My only option now, really, is to find somewhere else to go and not tell anyone, because all he’s going to do is try this again.”
“The other option is to find a group of people that you trust to protect you from him.”
“Are you offering?”
Even though I hadn’t expected to I laughed. “You don’t know me.”
“No, I don’t, but I do know of you. Do you really thing we’re all so dense that we haven’t worked out who you are and why you’re here?” He shook his head and I could feel him unpicking one of the bindings around me. “We know, we’ve been watching, and that’s why I’m here now.”
The shiver that went down my spine was much more understandable than the laugh. “Who are we?” I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to know the answer, but I needed it. “You, and…?”
“Right now I’m not telling you, because I’m not going to put them in danger. What you do need to understand is that we don’t mean you any harm, Rosalind, otherwise I wouldn’t be here now. You deserve the chance to make up your own mind about what you want your next step to be and you can’t do that when you’re terrified that you’re going to be captured by someone you’re trying your hardest to get away from.”
“I wouldn’t say that terrified is the right word, to be honest with you. He’s tried this before. He keeps trying this. For some reason he thinks it will work, but it won’t, because I don’t want to be a part of his plans.” I felt the first of the spell starting to come apart, and I could breathe better than before. “If it does work I’ll just leave. Nothing he’s done so far has stopped me.”
“You can’t be certain that’s always going to be the case. Whoever he hired to cast this spell knew what they were doing, and I have a horrible feeling I know who it was.”
Asking the question probably wasn’t going to get me an answer. I studied him. “Are you willing to tell me anything more than that?”
“For now all you need to know if you aren’t the only person who’s made the decision to walk away from family members who wanted to use you.” He shrugged. “They don’t believe that our Queen made the right choices when she came here, because they probably aren’t the choices her father would have made, and none of them agree with me when I say she might actually have had a point.” As he pulled apart another section of the spell I knew the tracker was gone. It might not have been quick enough, and if it wasn’t then I was definitely going to have to leave, even though I didn’t want to. “I’ve had plenty of arguments about that. In the end I walked away. I knew what was coming, and I wasn’t going to let it.”
“Do you ever regret doing that?”
“Yes, and no. There are days when I wish I could be there to be the voice of reason. My siblings, probably, will grow up with the belief that Willow should have done something different. Her age, of course, will be used against her, because she was very young when she became Queen. Being so young is never seen as an advantage, but I think it was. She wasn’t going to follow in her father’s footsteps. She was the Queen we needed at the time we needed her.” He studied me again, and this time I knew it wasn’t the spell. “Do you regret leaving everyone you loved behind?”
“No, because it had got to the point that I didn’t love them any more.” I nibbled my bottom lip. “I may seem young, but I was on Kalinia when the world was dying, and I saw the pain that our King caused by holding onto the belief that things had to get better. My parents accepted what he said. I couldn’t. There was something wrong, so I started looking into what I needed to do, and I was ready to leave when I heard the news. Willow, of all people, was the one to push that something needed to happen, and in days she was making it. My loyalty will always be with her. My parents, my aunts and uncles, my cousins, my siblings…” I shook my head. “There’s a whole list of people I came to see in a new way, and I am glad I walked away. It was the only sensible thing I could do.”
“How come you’re here?”
“There are worse places to hide.” I shrugged, feeling the third part of the spell disintegrating. “I don’t feel that any age is too old to be learning something new.” My eyes met with his. “Being as far away from the fae as possible makes me feel safer. Learning that you’re here too… I don’t quite know how to feel about that right now.”
“If I hadn’t been here you’d have to pull this spell apart alone.”
“Yeah, I would, and feeling thankful is strange. I never expected that to be a sensation I felt. As it is I am ready to accept I might have been wrong to think that I wasn’t going to find any allies within the fae, but I obviously wasn’t looking in the right places.”
“We do exist. Rosalind, having someone like you join us… I was hoping to be able to introduce myself to you in a different way, and give you some time to work out what you want to do, but after dealing with this spell I don’t think you have the time.” He brushed a hand through his hair. “Either your cousin is spending a lot of money on getting someone to do this, or he’s working with someone who’s very dangerous. Dealing with them alone isn’t going to be easy. There is a chance you might not, if they happened to manage to do what they wanted, be able to get free of them. I don’t want that to happen. I don’t want anyone to be used.”
As the fourth part of the spell faded I studied what was left of it again. One of the things I’d always been good at, when I wasn’t being strangled by a spell, was reading magical signatures. Before leaving Kalinia my father had done what he could to teach me as much as he could about the families he thought of as his enemies, and I learnt as much as I could about his allies. As they spent a lot of time together that wasn’t a hard thing to do. When I read the signature within the spell I looked once more at the person who was helping me. He knew the signature. He wasn’t wrong, either, when he said my cousin was either spending a lot of money or he was doing the sort of thing he would never have done before. He wanted me far more than I realised. Maybe I did need help.
“How do you know the signature?”
“You’ve read it?”
“I have, and there’s a reason you know it. They family?” Silence followed the question. I wasn’t surprised. Admitting to being related to certain fae could be a death sentence. It all depended on who you were dealing with. “I’m not going to do anything to you. You walked away. I know from experience that means something, so I have no reason to react badly to learning who you’re unlucky enough to be related to.” His eyes met with mine. “In order to gain trust you need to give it. If you want me to join with you I need to know something and you already know far more about me than I’m comfortable with.”