The Unseelie Court was beautiful, in a dark and aged way.
No delicate lines or swooping arches, none of the affectations and pretty dresses of the Seelie Court. In truth, Malcolm had only seen a handful of fey since he had arrived and petitioned to see the King. A lovely lady with teeth like knives who wore a tunic of frost, a man almost seven feet tall, clad in feathers and a magic that set Malcolm’s teeth on edge.
Then there had been the king himself. Malcolm had seen the Russian court, when he had been running away from memories and sorrow. That had been glittering and splendid, full of colour and sophistication. He had admired the Emperor, their Czar, who wore power gaudily. It had all seemed like magic to the little boy from Cornwall.
By the standards of the Russian court the Unseelie King was plain. Tall, dark, with an unseemly pallor and features that seemed carved into his alabaster face, his eyes like starlight. He wore black, plain cut and draping around him like folds of night. It was austere. It was terribly old fashioned.
It was more menacing than the Czar of Russia could have been in a thousand years.
Even after being released Malcolm still felt chilled to the bone. The draft sweeping through the room that he had been ushered into, despite the lack of apparent doors, didn’t help. The floor was stone that shone as if it was slick with water, though to the touch it was dry and almost sandy. The walls were covered in faded cloth, painted with scenes of strange, flat figures in red and black and white, as they danced and fought. Malcolm could not help but notice many of the figures were decidedly inhuman.
The one and only seat was a low stool, upholstered in purple velvet, somehow bolted to the floor in the exact center of the room. Malcolm had opted to cross to the far corner and sit on the ground, where he curled, knees to his chest, trying not to shiver. Annabel. He needed to remember, he did this for Annabel.
“Wait for my emissary.” the King had said. “A trusted advisor. Speak to them, and no other, or it may end badly for you, warlock.”
When two gnarled hands with too few fingers curled around Malcolm’s shoulders, the shoulders against the wall, he panicked. He grabbed the grasping hands, which felt strangely textured beneath his fingers, and pulled, until a tall figure with what looked like antlers in his head appeared.
Not antlers, branches.
Malcolm didn’t wait, he pulled the magic from his core, the familiar purple light like a comforting word, and shoved the faery against the once more solid wall, holding him in place.
“Impudent, demon-borne brat!” the tree snarled in a voice that seemed to hold the creak of a door hinge at midnight, and the rattatat of branches on a window.
“Who are you?” Malcolm demanded. “How did you get in here?”
“I was sent by my king.” the tree said haughtily. “To bring you that news which you sought. But now I am of half a mind to have to torn asunder.”
Malcolm blinked. He felt more uncertain than he had at fifteen, suggesting to Annabel, so softly she could barely hear, that they could get married. “I was told to wait for the King’s advisor.”
Dark humor flitted across the faery’s fave, along with anger. “And you assume only one who looks as mortal as you, whose veins bleed blood like the blood of men, could ever be so exalted?” His tone of gentle query still belied his rage.
Malcolm faltered again. He knew the fey had certain class distinctions, various species keeping different places, and that the gentry were highest of all. But that didn’t technically mean a, well, tree, couldn’t hold a high post. The faery was wearing fine clothes of what mlooked like rough silk, fashioned into a loose robe. Gilt paint glittered in places on the cloth.
“You are the king’s advisor?” he asked, still cautious enough to want a full confirmation. The fey were notoriously tricky.
“Of course I am.” the faery hissed, struggling to get down. “Now release me at once!”
Malcolm let him down.
“I’m terribly sorry.” Malcolm said, wringing his hands. “I really didn’t mean… I suppose I must have forgotten.”
“Forgotten what, pray tell? Your manners or your sense?”
Malcolm swallowed. He was old as a grandfather technically, but the court, his fear and his anger, made him feel like a child. Utterly helpless, begging for just a favour. The faery’s cold regard and glowing eyes set in bark like skin didn’t help.
“Both, perhaps.” Malcolm said.
The faery laughed unkindly. “I have half a mind to leave you to stew for a few millennia, warlock.”
Malcolm’s fingers curled, and he remembered all his magic, and knew he should use none of it. Who knew what powers a councillor of the king had, or what other forces he could bring down? Besides, Malcolm needed the Unseelie, they were the only ones who might know… who might be able to tell him about Annabel.
“I’m sorry for my rash action. I am over wrought with worry and not thinking straight.” Malcolm said, his head bowed. When he glanced up the faery seemed pacified. The branches on his head even appeared less restless
“Very well. I will forgive you your trespass.” the fey decided, with the overblown grace of a career courtier. “I am named Iarlath and I serve the King of this place.”
Iarlath paused as if he expected Malcolm to name himself as well. Malcolm just stared, trying not to look like a starving bird or a quaking coward. The truth, it was so close he wanted to hide his head under a pillow and ignore it all.
“You came to seek information about a daughter of the Nephilim?” Iarlath prodded.
‘Not of the Nephilim’, Malcolm wanted to scream. ‘She was so much better than them.’
His mouth was dry as he spoke, a stumbling “Yes.”
Something strange seemed to pass over Iarlath’s wooden features and Malcolm thought it was either vicious glee or some strange empathy that colored the faery’s voice as he spoke.
“She is dead.”
To Malcolm’s surprise he did not weep. It made sense. The poem, the whispers, he had known even as he knelt before the Unseelie King, begging for knowledge.
Iarlath looked at him carefully. “That is not the face of a mourning lover. You do not sob or rend your clothes.”
“She has been dead a long time, I think.” Malcolm croaked, stumbling to the stool in the middle of the room. He might not have been able to muster tears or shock, but a certain despair had settled in the pit of his stomach and he found it hard to stand up. “I have missed the time for clothes rending. Besides, I didn’t pack an extra shirt.” He wanted to be dead, to join her in death. He wanted to be left alone.
Iarlath cocked his head. “She died without air.” he said conversationally.
“The king consulted his daughter, and the other seers of the court. They have keen sight. Your Nephilim girl was dragged by the hair down to the seaside, where there was a place made for her burial. Her family discovered, they said, that she wanted to make off with a demon’s son, and so they made her a grave of stone and waited till the night to bury her.”
“They could not bear to spill their own angel’s precious blood, so they put poison to her lips, held her down, and forced her into a tomb, hand by hand, until she was subdued and drugged, left to die in the dark. Her nightgown was her burial shroud. They said the last word on her lips was your name.”
Malcolm wanted to throw up, or throw Iarlath against a wall again. Rage and sorrow curdled in his lungs, until he felt he was choking as surely as Annabel had. He threw up his hands as if to ward off the words. Still, no tears came.
He could feel Iarlath’s eyes on him, gauging, measuring.
Iarlath’s casual cruelty as he said, “I have to admit, I expected more than frozen horror. But what more could you expect from someone who fell in love with a Shadowhunter?”
Breath hissed snakelike through Malcolm’s teeth and he rocketed to his feet. He had never taken pleasure in anger, it was so much lesser than love, but sometimes there was no love left to counter it. “Annabel was no Shadowhunter. They were jealous, those horrible monsters who called themselves her family. It wasn’t her fault! They killed her! And if you had an ounce of sympathy, if you had ever lost someone you would understand!”
Malcolm barely had time to catch his breath from the rant, which sounded half mad even to his ears, before he found himself being propelled across the room by a significant force. His back hit the cloth covering the wall, and it turned out it was not thick enough to offer much protection. His head was slammed back against the barely cushioned stone and something was around his neck, vise like.
When his head stopped swimming he was looking up at Iarlath’s face. Malcolm was not a short man, but the faery towered over him and his features were so twisted with fury that Malcolm wondered how he had misidentified any of his previous emotions as rage.
“You will not say that again in my presence, boy. I have lost more to the Shadowhunters than you could ever fathom.”
Malcolm resisted the urge to lash back with the magic already fizzing under his skin. Sorrow would make a madman of anyone, he realized, as the ache of anger and repressed violence coalesced in his gut. He wanted to hit someone, to hurt someone. He wanted someone to pay.
“Then you know how it feels.” Malcolm said, the words coming out pinched thanks to the strangle hold Iarlath still had on his throat. “How much it hurts. They killed her.” He felt the tears welling up in his eyes, as if oxygen deprivation had finally allowed him to mourn. He didn’t feel mournful, despite the sobs trying to twist through him. There was still a strange emptiness to it, as though sorrow had given up and disappeared entirely, leaving only traces of rage and confusion along with the sinkhole numbness.
Iarlath dropped him.
Malcolm collapsed to the floor in a tangle of legs and coattails and didn’t bother getting up. His face was streaked with tears and probably snot and he tried in vain to wipe it off with his shirtsleeve.
“For a child of demons you look pathetic.” Iarlath sneered, but once again there was something lacking in his condescension.
“How can you stand there?” Malcolm asked him. “If they killed one you loved as you say, how can you stand there? How can you not be dead as well?”
Iarlath’s gaze was as cold as the night wind. Out of a cloud by night.
Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee, Malcolm thought with a shudder. No matter how he tried to focus on his murderous faery companion or his sorrow, it kept coming back to her. The truth of their parting, that she had wanted him and had been taken away, that they had been ripped apart so cruelly, it bit at him.
“What would you have me do?” Iarlath asked, too calm given his vicious rage just a few minutes before.
“Die. I would die to be with her.” Malcolm said. “I cannot imagine a world without her. Not knowing what I know now. Certainly not for an eternity. It would be like living without water, or food.”
“In my experience people can tolerate a period of starvation for the promise of revenge, child.” Iarlath commented.
Malcolm shook his head mutely.
The unseen untraceable draft blew through the room again, audible against their silence. “Come with me.” Iarlath ordered, after a time. “I have something to show you.”
When Malcolm failed to move the faery bodily yanked him to his feet, and pulled him out of the room. He was not careful with things like shoulder joints and wrist bones, not even after Malcolm’s first few pained whimpers.
The halls of the Unseelie court were paved with obsidian and dark and dread were the portals that led off from the hallways. Iarlath pulled Malcolm past groups of goblins huddled on the floor and tall sallow guards at various doors, until they came upon an entry much like the others. Iarlath opened the door just enough to shove Malcolm in and then enter after him, but not enough to let any nonexistent watcher in the halls see inside.
It did not look very Unseelie, in Malcolm’s admittedly amateur opinion. The floor was dark green and mossy, the furniture made out of winding wood that looked more like it had grown than been carved.
Table, chairs, a lounge. Through an open doorway Malcolm could see a bedroom and what looked like it might have been an office. It looked like a wooded glen and the appearance was not helped by the light, bright and warm as noon day sun give in a court where Malcolm had seen little but shadows and sickly light. The sunshine beamed out from shards of… something set at strategic points in the ceiling amid a mosaic of precious stones.
A small fountain bubbled from one wall, water cascading down rough cut stone.
It was, in short, a room made for a tree. A very, very high ranking tree.
Except…. the chairs were padded for the comfort of someone made from flesh, not wood, and the doorways were too low for Iarlath’s head of branches. Other trinkets and tokens were scattered about, ever so slightly out of place.
“Is- is this where you live?” Malcolm asked.
Iarlath ran a flat fingered hand through the falling water. “For many a year now, it has been. It was the room of my love.”
“I-” Malcolm stammered. Annabel was still a weight on his chest, though the tears had mercifully stopped.
“He was a prince of the court.” Iarlath added.
A thread of interest wormed it’s way into Malcolm’s heart. “He was?” he said, voice still froglike.
A ligneous hand gestured to the bedroom. “We slept together in that bed for human decades. I tell you this, warlock child, so you know what I lost when the Shadowhunters killed him.”
“How?” Malcolm asked.
How did you live, how did you love? How are you still standing?
Iarlath walked into the bedroom, rocking dancer’s gait and long legs, terribly fey even in what Malcolm thought was grief. He gestured for Malcolm to follow him, into the bedroom. Malcolm stood one hand on the the gnarly posts, as Iarlath sat, feet tucked underneath him. He looked prim, gentlemanly.
“We met,” the faerie said, voice like a whisper in a night woods, “Long after I came to this court, seeking power and fortune that did not come easily to one not of the gentry. He was one of the king’s many sons, a diplomat, of sorts. I had shoved and cajoled my way into the king’s inner circle before we met, and under stars we knew each other. After that power came much more easily.” A dark smile split his features.
“The lovers of the royal children rarely stayed that way for long, but we would not be parted. Time flew like thread under a weaver’s hand, and we lived and worked as one. I was favoured in the court, for my connections among other things, and we thought ourselves in love. A formal marriage was out of the question but we whispered our promises and among our kind a promise is a bond good enough. This was a century ago, before that which is named the Accords.”
At the mention of the Accords, the too little too late, not enough, falsehood laden treaties Malcolm respected and hated, Malcolm swayed. He leaned into the bed post, wrapped his thin arms around it, and stared at Iarlath.
Iarlath laughed. “He thought he could reason with the Shadowhunters, make them come to an agreement of sorts with the court. We begged him not to, but he was ever the diplomat, and a foolhardy one. The meeting was set up.”
“And they killed him.” Malcolm whispered, seeing the blood in his mind’s eye. Annabel, at least, had not bled. Her body, wherever it was, was still lovely in it’s sepulchre. Her murder had been almost romantic, like in one of the romance novels they had read together. Annabel Lee, lovely by the sea. He knew, bone deep, that Iarlath’s lover had not gotten a romantic death.
Iarlath snarled with animalistic rage, Somehow, Malcolm was not afraid. “I know not what happened there, an ambush or a disagreement. He asked me to fetch some trinket he had left here, that he hoped to give to the angel blooded curs as a gift. When I came upon the meeting place the dead lay upon the ground and he wore red, as he had not before. The Shadowhunters laughed and left, and I saw his last breath leave him.”
“You speak, warlock child, as if you killed him. Another might strike you down for that.”
“But you’re very understanding.” Malcolm said, with odd affection. “A font of empathy.” Hesitantly he sat on the bed next to the faery.
“My king,” Iarlath growled, barely noticing Malcolm anymore, caught up in the past, “took no notice of his son’s demise. He took no action against the Shadowhunters. He let me stay by his side, and forbade me from doing anything to look for the murderers.”
They were probably dead, Malcolm realized, just like Annabel’s family was. He had kept some track of the Blackthorns, his former patrons and almost in laws. Those that would have hurt her were long gone.
Malcolm laid a hand on Iarlath’s much different one. “So, what did you do?” he asked, mind flying to elaborate plots and plans, tricks and capers involving pies and decapitation, even though he still felt deep down that there nothing to be done but perish as well.
“I waited.” Iarlath told him. “Disgraced, imprisoned, dead, there is no satisfaction there, there is no recompense. I wanted revenge on the Shadowhunters. Is that not what you desire as well?”
Was it? He was Malcolm Fade, silly Malcolm who was a bit condescended, who liked nice clothes, happy endings, music boxes, and rescuing kittens out of wells. He couldn’t deny that he wanted the Blackthorns to suffer, to feel the weight of their crimes, to lose someone wonderful and innocent for no reason but pride and revenge. But he still couldn’t help but feel that all of it was useless if it didn’t reunite he and Annabel.
“I don’t know.” Malcolm said, looking away. “The Shadowhunters, they deserve any punishment meted upon them, but…”
Iarlath grabbed on of his shoulders. “You would forswear revenge and waste away, let your lady love’s death go unaccounted for? To turn a blind eye is to allow future transgressions.” There was a glimmer in his dark eyes as he said, slyly, “We saw her. Wasted away in a tomb, mummified. Almost untouched. A dry husk of a maiden, all youth stolen from her. You would ignore that?”
“No!” Malcolm shouted, pulling away. Softer, he said. “You’re right. The Blackthorns, the Clave, their crimes can’t go unanswered. Love is sacred.” he said, as if it was a vow. “None of their laws can justify destroying it. All laws would condemn them.”
Iarlath nodded. “I have been forbidden from taking my revenge, but perhaps I can help you with yours. I can bring you before the King, and you can ask for help enacting it. He will not involve the court directly, but you are not one of us. We cannot be blamed for your actions.”
“Thank you.” Malcolm said, grateful for at least one ally. Iarlath was a bit strange, but Malcolm was fairly certain without him he would have done something rash.
At the same time, he couldn’t help but think. The Unseelie King knew many things. Magics dark and untold. Malcolm could plead for his help in destroying the Blackthorn family, tearing the Clave down to it’s foundations, or….
Her sepulchre by the sea. Almost untouched. Beg a favor. No life without her.
Surely, there could be no better revenge than to bring Annabel back? Undo what had been done to them. Let love triumph, once and for all.
Malcolm suspected Iarlath would not see it the same way. But surely he could be convinced of the justice of it all.
“Thank you.” Malcolm said again. “I’ll- I’ll have to think about it.”
“Do not ponder too long.” Iarlath advised. “We are immortals, we can possess patience but we must not abuse it, lest we see our chances slipping away from us. You may lodge under this roof in the meanwhile.”
Malcolm felt too tired to think. The exertions of the day- days, however long it had been- laid heavy on him. He sat back on the bed and slumped. Iarlath patted his back in a manner that was probably intended to be amiable.
“Thank you.” Malcolm said a third time, three time’s the charm in Faerie. “It’s a very nice room.” he added. “I like the natural light. It could use more purple, though.” Iarlath looked unamused. “Not that there’s anything wrong with it.” Malcolm continued. “It’s lovely. Wood-like.”
There was silence.
“She’s really dead.” Malcolm whispered and felt the tears start up again.
Iarlath was clearly not a comforter. But the fey took touch lightly, and he wrapped an arm around Malcolm’s swaying form, which was really what was needed. Malcolm rested his head on the faery’s shoulder, feeling his hair catch on rough bark and protruding twigs.
“As sure as the moonrise, there will be blood for blood.” Iarlath promised, vicious delight in his words. “And the Shadowhunters will scream for their angel.”
In time, Malcolm drifted off and dreamed of recrimination, of Annabel back, safe and happy, and of the Shadowhunter’s bloody city razed, for all of them. Annabel, Iarlath’s prince, the unnumbered Downworlders Malcolm had seen hurt and killed…. the list went on and on. Every memory stung, but the thought of retribution was a salve, just as analgesic as Iarlath’s eloquent and slightly condescending murmured pronunciations of violent payback.
Revenge was a warm bedfellow after all.