In the grand scheme of things, the Faerie war in the Twin Cities was neither remarkable nor significant. Faerie wars happened all the time in a myriad of places, and in time -- regardless of the winner -- war would happen in the Twin Cities again. Granted, a court being banished from a locale for seventy times seven years was worse in this country with its shiny new large cities and their sprawling suburbs, so unlike the old days when banishment was from a village of a hundred inhabitants or a castle or a swath of woodland. But the pattern repeated, steady as a pulse and about as commonplace.
Hedge wasn't good at war, and he'd lived through a couple by simply being unimportant and below notice, curled in on himself. Now, Willy Silver was dead, and here he was, waiting to play the main room at First Avenue in another battle -- at the side of three humans. Now, he was oddly unafraid, serenely calm, able to laugh at Swamp Thing's battle against Floronic Man without even a tinge of hysteria. If they lost, there would be more battles and death, but -- Oak and Ash -- if they won, the Queen of Air and Darkness and the whole Dark Court would be bound to leave.
And he, an insignificant faerie musician who hadn't wanted to be involved, was in the thick of it all.
The war had shown up on his doorstep in the form of a paper airplane from a phouka.
He crumpled it into a ball and went to a folk jam at the Homestead Pickin' Parlor instead of replying. Music was far more important than whatever the message could be, and this was the last scheduled jam before May Eve. He'd rather listen to songs about Faerie wars long ago than think about the one to come, wallow in the music of his old Shetland and Yorkshire homes and think of the past.
When he returned home -- a cozy spot hidden in a tangle of foliage on the northeastern bank of the Mississippi across from Nicollet Island -- he found another paper airplane. This one, however, he couldn't ignore, for the phouka, grinning maddeningly, held it balanced on his fingertips.
"I have," the phouka said, "need of help. Naturally, I thought immediately of you."
"Bullshit," Hedge muttered under his breath, but secretly he was pleased that someone was asking him for help. It was an unfamiliar sensation. "Nothin' I can do would help you."
"Ah, but I can't play this and you, I am assured, can." The phouka stepped aside with a flourish. The glossy black Steinberger bass he'd been idly coveting since they were designed in 1979 -- for he'd never steal from other musicians or those who made music possible, mortal or fey -- lay on top of a brand new amplifier. The phouka dropped the paper airplane on top of the bass and closed the case. "There's the advertisement. Think on it, my dear hedgehog, and call to audition." Then the phouka was gone, and he was sitting and staring at the instrument case and the amp.
He looked up from Swamp Thing as Eddi left the room. Carla and Dan both looked over at him, and he shrugged a little. Eddi was far too tense tonight, like his own constant dread was contagious; maybe a walk with the phouka would do her good.
The music was the best he'd ever played and Eddi the best bandleader he'd worked with; one of the Sidhe had treated him as -- at least while they played -- an equal; and Carla was -- bar her humanity -- all he could ask for in a drummer. "'S too good," he'd said during the break of their MCAD show. "Nothin' so good lasts." And it had been true. Eddi and the Fey hadn't lasted, not intact, and none of them were heart-whole since Willy's death in Como Park.
Eddi had asked him at MCAD to believe in her, and he did -- to a point -- because he wanted to trust her so badly. Now, though, after his continual betrayal had been revealed and she'd let him regain her trust, he believed in her completely, believed in the band completely.
He hoped she could, too.
The Unseelie Court didn't show up on his doorstep, but he was pretty sure the phouka's visit had led them to him, since he was usually beneath their notice, too. They found him on Block E, that first time, redcaps straightening up from where they were slouched against the wall outside Moby's. He didn't spot them until too late, intent on going home, and they were ignored utterly by most of the humans, even those they were loitering with, so similar to themselves. He thought of running, but that wouldn't do any good.
They wanted the same thing the phouka wanted -- an eye on the Seelie Court's mortal -- but their tactics weren't nearly as kind. And why should he care about some human anyway? A tool -- a passive weapon, really -- of the Seelie Court that would make everybody die. He'd met the Unseelie Court's pet while they were threatening him and wasn't impressed; how could the Seelie Court's be any better? So he told them, told the Dark Lady, who Eddi was and where she was and about the band and that Willy Silver was slumming to play guitar and fiddle with her. He was scared -- always scared -- that the Seelie Court, particularly Willy, would find out, but that fear was more than balanced by his terror of the Unseelie Court.
"They just changed the stakes," Eddi said when she returned and, with a frisson of horror like an arpeggio along his spine, he knew. He just knew that the Lady had decided to abide by the results of the challenge and the phouka was hostage to the Dark Lady. At least, he supposed, the phouka's death would be quick should they fail; there would be no such guarantee on his life or those of the humans he played with.
Still, Rowan and Thorn, they'd been convincing themselves all week that they were good enough to win -- and they were -- and the higher stakes couldn't change that. At the first battle, at Minnehaha Falls, he'd been as numbly afraid as Eddi seemed to be now, but he'd been all alone then; at Como Park, he'd been part of the team, and that made all the difference, made him brave. And he was much better with a bass than a tire iron... He told her that, but didn't think she heard him, and watched her tune her guitar.
They didn't even play all ten songs of their set. He wasn't entirely sure what had happened -- and he was used to magic -- but the Dark Lady was gone, the Lady and her consort were applauding. Eddi was on her knees, weeping in what had to be happiness, for she was laughing, too. Carla was out from behind her kit, hugging Eddi, then Eddi was hauling him into the hug, bass and all, and he couldn't keep the smile off his face. Eddi had to be carried offstage, but he felt like he was floating.
They ended up at Lake of the Isles several hours later. It was over, and he wouldn't have to face another war for hundreds of years, unless he moved away. His bliss mellowed to a drowsy pleasure, and he still couldn't stop smiling every time he realized he was happy.
It was over. He was alive -- they were alive.
Eddi and the phouka were talking quietly, and he closed his eyes to listen. "What about all the things you wanted to see changed, all the things in the Seelie Court?" Eddi asked.
"I'd intended to plant a seed or two, and wait to see what grew there. Things grow slowly in Faerie, my beloved," the phouka murmured in response.
Not always, Hedge thought. A seed had been planted in him, as well, without his knowing it, and the seed had sprouted quickly. He'd changed more over the few months he'd known Eddi and the rest of the band than he had in hundreds of years. He knew now that he was important, that he was good at more than just playing bass.
In the grand scheme of things, the change in him might not be remarkable or significant to anyone else, but to him... it was everything.
And it was good.
pinnsvin; det sikreste
tegn på at noe likevel
er i orden der du er.
hedgehug; da surest
sign dat, whaar you ir, somethin eftir aa
is in order.
hedgehog; the surest
sign that one thing at least
is well where you are.
- from Pinnsvin (Erinaceus Europaeus) by Andre Ruste,
translated into Shetlandic by Christine De Luca (Hedgehug) and English by Kenneth C Steven (Hedgehog (Erinaceus Europaeus))