October 7, 2012 by Lyn
Tuesday, September 30, 2003
“Some days,” the pixie on Laurel’s couch admitted, “I want my life back.”
Laurel had been hearing that for years, many more years than the eight she’d been teaching at Addergoole – from Students, from her children, from her friends, once upon a time; there had been times when she had looked in a mirror and said it herself.
She patted the girl’s hand, but before she could dig into the problem, Miryam began again.
“I know that I don’t have it that badly, Professor. I’m not collared, not Kept. I know that it could be a lot worse.”
“Being Kept isn’t always a bad thing, you know.” Talking to new students was a tightrope walk at the best of times; at times like this, it was a razor-wire walk over lava. This one was in a Crew with three possible-trouble sorts, thorns in the garden but not necessarily, yet, weeds; what she knew, how she’d take what she was told, and what she was allowed to say were all up in the air, and any one of them could come back to hit Laurel in the face.
Worse, none of the students in her Crew were Laurel’s to Mentor, except this one, and this one was frowning uncertainly.
“That’s what Agravain says sometimes, but I never get the feeling he believes it.”
“Well, everyone has a different experience. Perhaps, instead, you should speak with… hrrrm.” Rowan, Wren, and Nydia were all gone; so were Alisha, Shahin, and Mea. “Kees, perhaps, or Liliandra, Cabal or Adannaya?” Laurel took a breath. “Or there are others, adults who were Kept at some point, who might be willing to talk to you, in the Village.”
“And what about Agravain, or Damaris?” Miryam had leaned forward, and Laurel didn’t think it was because she wanted to show off her pretty cleavage, nice as it was. “What about… others?”
Ah, that was the conversation they weren’t having. She made a note to ask Maria Mendosa to check on the Kept in Miryam’s Crew. “Well, as with everything in life, there are good Keepings and bad Keepings, and those a peculiar shade of gray.”
“Gray?” Her pixie wings flapped quickly, although her hands stayed still. “What counts as ‘black,’ then?”
Laurel took a couple breaths, feeling the way the temperature of the room had changed. She was going to have to go carefully here. She didn’t want the girl to think she was being ignored – but, on the other hand, most Keeping problems could be resolved or handled within the year allotted, leaving both parties the wiser and stronger for the experience.
Most, of course, being the key word. If she had another Shadrach, another Agatha on her hands (on Mike’s hands), they would deal with the situation. Somehow. No matter what Regine said about it.
And she should answer the girl’s question. “Black. Well. I had a friend, once, a good long time ago, who grew up in the same area I did. Not the same town, but the fae are stretched pretty thin across the New World. We met when we were both young women, going through our Change at the same time. It wasn’t common, then, to share a Mentor, not the way you students do here, but, again, we were stretched thin. There was only one older half-breed fae that both my mother and Abigail’s trusted, so Briar-Fist Mentored us both at once.”
She could remembered the old man, his grizzled beard a tangle of vines, his wide hands patient as he taught the two of them war, and magic, and patience. She hadn’t seen him in over a century, and nobody she spoke to knew where he’d gone. “Rooted,” an old friend had said. Maybe she should look for him again, with things being the way they were.
Maybe another day. Today she was telling Abigail’s story.
“Briar-Fist was an old man already, and a strong fae, and he’d had many Students… but I don’t think any of them had been a pair of juvenile girls before. He did his best, but he was a hard taskmaster, which just drove Abigail and I closer together.”
They’d lain in bed at night, whispering to each other, plans to escape, plans for when they were no longer Students and the world would be theirs. In the dark, they’d forgotten their differences and shared their confidences, their hopes, and their deepest dreams.
“And then we were free… we were recognized as Adults, given our Names and our way in the world. All of our plans before us.” She glanced at Miryam, to see the girl smiling wistfully. “As you will be, in due time, although – with all respect to Briar-Fist – likely far better educated than we were.”
She could see that Miryam had her doubts, but she nodded anyway. Polite – or already learning not to stick her hand into lions’ mouths. Valerian smiled at her young Student. “You doubt the education?”
“No, of course not. I know it’s a very good school….”
Ah, that again. “It is, or would be, if it were included in rankings, a top-ranked school and college prep. What’s more, it has a more full Mentoring program than any normal Ellehemaei child receives.” She caught herself and smiled ruefully. “But you don’t need the recruitment brochure. You’re worrying about dark Keepings.”
“I… yes, please, Professor.” She was struggling against something. A geas, a promise? She wasn’t wearing a collar, but that didn’t always matter. Not everyone always wanted to advertise, and maybe her crew had figured out that the quieter you were, the more you could get away with.
“Then I’ll continue. Abigail and I received our Names, and we went out into the world – young, brash, brave, and full of excitement. We were full of power and going to make our mark on the world. We knew everything.”
She pressed her fingers together. Even now, even knowing that this girl had to understand, needed to understand, she didn’t like to think about it.
The next breath she took was ragged. “We didn’t, of course. We ended up in a border town, the sort of place where nice young ladies didn’t go. And just being there was enough to mark us as different – no escort except each other, no worry for our immortal souls…”
“Do…?” Miryam put a hand over her mouth. “I’m sorry, Professor Valerian.”
“That’s a long and complex answer for another time, but have no fear, I will answer that sometime. No, we were living in a Christian era, and we had just learned that we were descended from gods. It made us cocky…” She felt her lips twitch, a smile for Abigail, a sneer for herself. “Cockier. We were already very full of ourselves.”
Her Student shared a small smile with her. She understood, Laurel thought, being full of oneself.
“It was a lovely town. It’s still there, in a manner of speaking, although they call it a ‘ghost town’ now.” It held enough ghosts for Laurel, all right. She coughed, and plowed through to the hard part. “We thought we were in heaven. And the boys, the men, of course. Two unescorted ladies – it was easy enough to look the part, once we knew how to fake it. Something else Briar-Fist taught us. We thought we owned the town. We thought we had the men eating out of our hands.”
She looked pointedly over her steepled hands at the young girl. “What we really had was men feeding us bait until the trap closed shut. And when it did…” She snapped her hands together with a loud, wooden sound, and was rewarded by her audience flinching. “It closed around us like steel and rowan.”
Miryam gulped. “What sort of trap, ma’am?” Laurel could tell by the look in her eyes that she had some idea. Addergoole gave good lessons in what traps could look like; it just went too short on the consequences of trapping the wrong prey.
“In Abigail’s case, a doddering old man who turned out to be an old but not in the least feeble Ellehemaei. Shenera Endraae, nominally, a Child of the Law, as we are. But – you have noticed that the Law is no guarantee of goodness?”
The pixie nodded, with a faint smirk touching her lips. Yes, although what she thought of as dark was a mere shadow of the darkness the school had seen before, and that itself… Laurel thought taking Miryam’s crew, what did they call themselves? The Revenge, that was it. It might be educational to take them to visit Shadrach and Meshach.
Later. “This man, he was one of those who followed the Law, but saw no problem in showing a young girl that she wasn’t the big fish she believed herself to be. Abigail had been gold-digging, you see, mistaking the man for human. He worked the words of a Belonging into the wedding vows – and then revealed himself.”
“Sneaky.” Oh, dear, she sounded as if she approved. Perhaps Feu Drake had been correct, and Miryam should have been his. Laurel generally preferred more direct methods.
“Rather. And out there in the world, with nobody to protect her but me, Abigail was trapped for the foreseeable future.”
“And you didn’t believe you were strong enough to challenge her Keeper?”
“No.” Laurel pursed her lips. There was more to it, of course. “I wasn’t strong enough, and it wasn’t that long before I’d gotten caught in my own trap. Not as bad as Abigail’s – my Keeper wasn’t cruel, just firm, at least then – but I couldn’t challenge. I couldn’t do much at all.
“I couldn’t even visit Abigail, not for the first few months, so by the time things had gone bad, they’d gone worse than I could have fixed. He’d broken her spirit, but in doing so…” She frowned. Miryam looked nothing like her old friend, but for a moment, she could see the wild, dangerous look she’d last seen on Abigail’s face.
She wasn’t the one with the Sight. It had to be her memory playing tricks on her.
She took another breath. Time to finish this story.
“I don’t know, not really, what he did to her. I never wanted to know, too deeply. The body, when I saw it… I’ve only seen the like of it one other time.” And that was an Addergoole student.
“Body?” Miryam looked ashen. Yes, dear, sometimes the badness goes that deep.
“Bodies, really, but I wasn’t concerned with his. All he had was the killing wound.” She waited until comprehension began to dawn on her Student’s face. “She’d finally snapped, or snapped months before and finally found a way around his orders. Either way, they were both dead. She’d jabbed one end of a pike into herself and then walked him onto it.”
She shook her head. “It wasn’t a quick death. They’d lain there for days before anyone went looking. He wasn’t a popular man, you see, her Owner. But by the time I found them, they were too far gone to save, even for the descendant of gods.”
“She killed herself?”
“She killed both of them.” Laurel looked over her hands at Miryam. “That, that was a black Keeper.”
Miryam seemed as if she wanted to say something, to argue or complain. Instead, she filled the space, her eyes going to Valerian’s neck. “What about yours? Your Owner? You can’t still be collared…?”
“No, no, that was centuries ago.” Valerian smiled; it was a good question and gave a chance for a secondary lesson. “My former Mentor challenged my Keeper and rescued me.”
“Something to keep in mind – and for your Crew to keep in mind as well. Your crew will have your back. Your family will be your foundation. But your relationship with your Mentor shouldn’t end when you become a free Adult, and as a Student, it should supersede all other relationships.”
“Supersede…” She was doing the math in her head. Good girl.
“All other relationships. Yes. You might want to relay that to others of your Cohort.” It might put the little shits on warning.
And if not, well, it was time to put some teeth into their consequences, too. Before someone else ended up like Abigail.
Addergoole: Year Nine updates every Wednesday evening EST.
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