In the land of Faerie, many things were different from the human world. Among the differences was that magic existed, along with creatures that would only appear in fairy tales.
Jude had gotten used to it, although she had not been born there, she had grown up on Madoc’s estate, thus seeing plenty of odd things in her life.
Yet never before had she woken up in a spacious room with no entrance nor exit, surrounded by everyone she knew, agreeable or less so, with no recollection as to how they got there.
After a short period of pure panic on behalf of most people in the room, a voice was heard, seemingly out of nowhere. The voice explained that the people gathered in the room were especially picked to watch what was only described as “The Folk of the Air”. This did nothing to calm anyone’s nerves but as the voice went on they realised that there was nothing to be done.
They took their seats on fluffy pillows that littered the floor and sat, talking in hushed whispers to each other, waiting.
The screen follows a man in a long dark coat as he hesitated in front of a house on a tree-lined street. He hadn’t parked a car, nor had he come by taxi. No neighbour had seen him strolling along the sidewalk. He had simply appeared, as if stepping from one shadow and the next.
The man walked to the door and lifted his fist to knock.
Jude, who had been watching intently up until that point, stifled a small gasp. Although she had recognised her foster father right away, it had taken her far too long to realise what she was watching. Her gaze was now fixed on the screen in front of her.
Inside the house, a young Jude sat on the living room rug and ate fish sticks, soggy from the microwave and dragged through a sludge of ketchup. Her twin sister, Taryn, napped on the couch, curled around a blanket, thumb in her fruit-punch-stained mouth. And on the other end of the sofa, their older sister, Vivienne, stared at the television screen, her eerie, split-pupiled gaze fixed on the cartoon mouse as it ran from the cartoon cat. She laughed when it seemed as if the mouse was going to get eaten.
By now all three sisters were tense. It had been a while since they had been to that house, since they had lived that life. It seemed a lifetime ago that they were as carefree as the girls on the big screen.
Cardan, sitting only a few pillows away, lifted his head to gaze towards the girls, a glint of recognition passing through it.
Outside, the sun was shining, scorching the asphalt of driveways. Lawn mower engines whirred, and children splashed in backyard pools. Dad was in the outbuilding, where he had a forge. Mom was in the kitchen cooking hamburgers. Everything was boring. Everything was fine.
Taryn takes hold of Jude’s hand when their parents show up, only to be followed by Vivi doing the same thing. It had been so long since they’d seen their parents. They had tried their best to remember them to their best capabilities as the years passed, but the thing about memories is that they’re tricky. Once you go over them enough times they become entirely rewritten, faces molded into features which don’t belong to them. This was the first time since their death that the girls had seen their parents.
When the knock came, Jude hopped up to answer it. She hoped it might be one of the girls from across the street, wanting to play video games or inviting her for an after-dinner swim.
The tall man stood on their mat, glaring down at her. He wore a brown leather duster despite the heat. His shoes were shod with silver, and they rang hollowly as he stepped over the threshold. Jude looked up into his shadowed face and shivered.
Jude could only stare in horror as the memories of the day rushed to her. She tightened her hind on her sisters’ hands in preparation for what was to come.
“Mom,” she yelled. “Mooooooooom. Someone’s here.”
Her mother came from the kitchen, wiping wet hands on her jeans. When she saw the man, she went pale. “Go to your room,” she told Jude in a scary voice. “Now!”
“Whose child is that?” the man asked, pointing at her. His voice was oddly accented. “Yours? His?”
“No one’s.” Mom didn’t even look in Jude’s direction. “She’s no one’s child.”
That wasn’t right. Jude and Taryn looked just like their dad. Everyone said so. She took a few steps toward the stairs but didn’t want to be alone in her room. Vivi, Jude thought. Vivi will know who the tall man is. Vivi will know what to do.
But Jude couldn’t seem to make herself move any farther.
“I’ve seen many impossible things,” the man said. “I have seen the acorn before the oak. I have seen the spark before the flame. But never have I seen such as this: A dead woman living. A child born from nothing.”
By now, the others in the room were starting to guess what event they were watching. They’d heard just enough about it in order to pick up the pieces. It was a well known fact that Madoc came back from the human world with three girls in tow, two of them human, to be raised as the Gentry.
“I was never going to be happy with you,” Mom told him. “Your world isn’t for people like me.”
The tall man regarded her for a long moment. “You made vows,” he said finally.
She lifted her chin. “And then I renounced them.”
His gaze went to Jude, and his expression hardened. “What is a promise from a mortal wife worth? I suppose I have my answer.”
Even Madc was watching the screen with an intense look on his face.
From where Jude was sitting, she could hear the snickers of Prince Cardan’s group, sharp remarks about mortals. Jude was vibrating with fury at the sounds of disrespect directed at her mother.
Mom turned. At her mother’s look, Jude dashed into the living room.
Taryn was still sleeping. The television was still on. Vivienne looked up with half-lidded cat eyes. “Who’s at the door?” she asked. “I heard arguing.”
“A scary man,” Jude told her, out of breath even though she’d barely run at all. Her heart was pounding. “We’re supposed to go upstairs.”
She didn’t care that Mom had told only her to go upstairs. She wasn’t going by herself. With a sigh, Vivi unfolded from the couch and shook Taryn awake. Drowsily, Jude’s twin followed them into the hallway.
The girls were all white in the face, all the colour drained out. This was cruel, making them relive this in great detail.
As they started toward the carpet-covered steps, Jude saw her father come in from the back garden. He held an axe in his hand—forged to be a near replica of one he’d studied in a museum in Iceland. It wasn’t weird to see Dad with an axe. He and his friends were into old weapons and would spend lots of time talking about “material culture” and sketching ideas for fantastical blades. What was odd was the way he held the weapon, as if he was going to—
Her father swung the axe toward the tall man.
The axe went past the tall man, biting into the wood trim of the door. Taryn made an odd, high keening noise and slapped her palms over her
The tall man drew a curved blade from beneath his leather coat. A sword,like from a storybook. Dad was trying to pull the axe free from the doorframe when the man plunged the sword into Dad’s stomach, pushing it upward. There was a sound, like sticks snapping, and an animal cry. Dad fell to the vestibule carpet, the one Mom always yelled about when they tracked mud on it.
The rug that was turning red.
Mom screamed. Jude screamed. Taryn and Vivi screamed. Everyone seemed to be screaming, except the tall man.
Vivi had tears running across her face, Taryn looked away sharply, not being able to look at what was yet to come. But Jude... Jude was watching the screen, not being able to make a sound nor move. She was stuck, stuck in the memory of how her life came to be as harsh as it was now, stuck as if she was once again a child.
From around Cardan, Valerian barked out a laugh. Nicasia was talking with Locke with a wicked smile on her face. Cardan was quiet, he’d heard about it. He’d heard how the girls came to Elfhame, it was a given that their parents were dead, he just never thought it had happened in front of them.
“Come here,” he said, looking directly at Vivi.
“Y-you monster,” their mother shouted, moving toward the kitchen. “He’s dead!”
“Do not run from me,” the man told her. “Not after what you’ve done. If you run again, I swear I—”
But she did run. She was almost around the corner when his blade struck her in the back. She crumpled to the linoleum, falling arms knocking magnets off the fridge.
Taryn, although not looking, recognised the words and let out a sob at the sound of her mother hitting the floor. Vivienne turned to Heather, who was now cradling her face, looking stunned at what her girlfriend had experienced as a child. Jude was motionless, and although she would have wanted to cry very much, she would not do so in front of so many people, some of which she didn’t even like, so she stayed silent.
Jude ran at the man, slamming her fists against his chest, kicking at his legs. She wasn’t even scared. She wasn’t sure she felt anything at all.
The man paid Jude no mind. For a long moment, he just stood there, as though he couldn’t quite believe what he’d done. As though he wished he could take back the last five minutes. Then he sank to one knee and caught hold of Jude’s shoulders. He pinned her arms to her sides so she couldn’t hit him anymore, but he wasn’t even looking at her.
His gaze was on Vivienne.
“You were stolen from me,” he told her. “I have come to take you to your true home, in Elfhame beneath the hill. There, you will be rich beyond measure. There, you will be with your own kind.”
“No,” Vivi told him in her somber little voice. “I’m never going anywhere with you.”
“I’m your father,” he told her, his voice harsh, rising like the crack of a lash. “You are my heir and my blood, and you will obey me in this as in all things.”
She didn’t move, but her jaw set.
“You’re not her father,” Jude shouted at the man. Even though he and Vivi had the same eyes, she wouldn’t let herself believe it.
“So even as a child she had no regard for her superiors, I guess that’s expected of a mortal.” Scoffed Valerian. Jude fixed him with a murderous glare but said nothing.
His grip tightened on her shoulders, and she made a little squeezed, squeaking sound, but she stared up defiantly. She’d won plenty of staring contests.
He looked away first, turning to watch Taryn, on her knees, shaking Mom while she sobbed, as though she was trying to wake her up. Mom didn’t move. Mom and Dad were dead. They were never going to move again.
“I hate you,” Vivi proclaimed to the tall man with a viciousness that Jude was glad of. “I will always hate you. I vow it.”
The man’s stony expression didn’t change. “Nonetheless, you will come with me. Ready these little humans. Pack light. We ride before dark.”
Vivienne’s chin came up. “Leave them alone. If you have to, take me, but not them.”
He stared at Vivi, and then he snorted. “You’d protect your sisters from me, would you? Tell me, then, where would you have them go?”
Vivi didn’t answer. They had no grandparents, no living family at all. At least, none they knew.
He looked at Jude again, released her shoulders, and rose to his feet. “They are the progeny of my wife and, thus, my responsibility. I may be cruel, a monster, and a murderer, but I do not shirk my responsibilities. Nor should you shirk yours as the eldest.”
At those words, Cardan fumed. His own parents couldn’t be bothered with him, his siblings viewed him more as a pet than their actual brother. By all accounts, he had been born lucky. And yet Madoc took Jude and Taryn in, the offspring of his betraying wife. Even in the house of a murderer, the murderer of her birth parents, she had grown up more cared for than him, a prince of Elfhame.
A black horse was nibbling the grass of the lawn when they went outside. Its eyes were big and soft. Jude wanted to throw her arms around its neck and press her wet face into its silky mane. Before she could, the tall man swung her and then Taryn across the saddle, handling them like baggage rather than children. He put Vivi up behind him.
“Hold on,” he said.
Jude and her sisters wept the whole way to Faerieland.
Still, Cardan was not completely heartless. Even if he would never exteriorise it, he felt a pang of sympathy for the girls.