Elves, Fairies, Trolls, and Goblins fight for equality in an alternative Victorian England.
The distant bells of Westminster Abbey tolled suddenly and the sound, wafting over the cold morning air, made Arthur Freeborn stop in his tracks.
“What is it?” Nairn asked. “Do you see something?”
Freeborn shook his head. “The bells. Westminster. Her Majesty and Prince Albert are proud parents once again.”
Nairn gave Freeborn a wry smile. “God bless good Queen Victoria. Do those keen ears of yours tell you if it’s a boy or a girl?”
Of course Nairn could not hear them, not this far away. Freeborn smiled and then rubbed the tops of his ears in a self conscious gesture, his fingertips trying to rub warmth into the furrowed scars they found there. The scars, which he’d had since childhood, felt the cold December wind quite keenly as it whistled over them beneath the brim of his stovepipe hat.
Nairn squeezed Freeborn’s arm in a warm gesture. “We’ll have to have a tot of rum at The George in celebration. Once we’ve found our quarry.”
“Indeed,” Freeborn agreed. He resumed his course, walking a steady pace, his shoes sinking into the newly fallen snow, his ears and eyes alert for their quarry, a murderer the yellow journals had named the Eastcheap Phantom. It was that pursuit that had brought them to this lonely cemetery near Wanstead.
There were no mourners this morning neither was there any sound that Freeborn could detect other than the tramping sound made by Nairn’s boots as he trudged through the snow. Not that Freeborn was expecting to hear anything. Their quarry was a cunning one. He knew how to move silently and swiftly and hide in plain sight from most human eyes. But Arthur Freeborn was a Fey, despite all his attempts to appear human, and he could sense the other’s presence and the other was close.
He stopped moving and closed his eyes. He could still hear Nairn moving. Nairn probably thought he was moving quietly, but to Freeborn’s sensitive ears the dour former jesuit was lumbering around like a bull. But Nairn was a good man. He had always treated Freeborn fairly, even stood up for him against his fellow constables at the Yard who were prejudiced against him because he was a Fey.
Being a Fey was a secret that Freeborn was never able to keep despite his efforts to look and act like a human. Despite the painful disfigurement that he had put himself through in early childhood to make his ears look normal, Arthur Freeborn could do nothing to disguise his willowy frame, his ethereal manner and his startling bottle green eyes. He could not disguise the softly lyrical quality of his voice, nor could any amount of coloring agent cover up his golden hair. Despite this he had tried to live as a human, but it had never been easy. Even achieving the status of police constable at Scotland Yard had not lessened the prejudice, the taunting nor the outright hate that he experienced daily.
If it hadn’t been for Nairn, Freeborn didn’t think he would have lasted as long as he had. The kindly ex-priest had been supportive and had sponsored each and every one of his promotions. Rather than being frightened or intimidated by Freeborn’s Fey qualities, Nairn had known enough to put them to use in their work. Freeborn’s uncanny senses and attention to the most minute detail had put more than one villain behind bars.
Nairn had stopped moving. He had finally noticed Freeborn’s stillness and had stood still himself, trying not to breathe too loudly or to interfere with Freeborn’s perceptions. Freebornr could still hear his partner’s breathing, the ragged wheeze of his lungs that had survived consumption and still worked despite the foul smoke inflicted upon them by Nairn’s pipe. He could hear the bustle of daily commerce in the nearby market. He could hear all of these things but he could ignore them all to concentrate upon the one sound, the single noise that should not be there.
It was difficult because his quarry made almost no noise when he moved, seemed not even to breathe. It seemed the Phantom could mask himself completely from attentive ears, but he could not disguise the quiet whisper of a blade as it slid out of a hilt.
Freeborn was able to pinpoint where the sound came from and he sprang into action. Too late he realized that he had made the wrong move.
As fast as Freeborn had sprang, the Phantom had sprang as well, and the Phantom was faster. He felt the other brush past him and Freeborn turned, but too late. The other’s blade whistled in the air. Freeborn could only watch, helpless as Nairn’s expression registered shock. Nairn’s hand went convulsively to his throat and he dropped trying to stop the sudden flow of blood to no avail.
Freeborn froze for a moment only, but it was enough. The Phantom made a dash for stone wall that enclosed the cemetery. There was no chance that Freeborn could catch up with him now and the Phantom knew it. He stopped and stood stock still for a fleeting moment. Human eyes would barely have noticed but it was long enough for Freeborn to get a look at his enemy.
He… no… it was she!… wore a cloak of deep green. Raven hair, darker than the blackest night spilled out from underneath the hood. She wore a leather jerkin and leather breeches. and boots of animal skin. Her flesh bore marks… some sort of tattoo or scarification. Her eyes were darkened like they were smudged with kohl… more tattoos perhaps? Her eyes were white within the dark smudge and they seemed to taunt him. The edges of her crimson stained lips drew up into a smile. She knew he could see her. She had stopped this long just so that he could see his enemy.
Then she moved and faster than Freeborn thought was possible, she was over the wall and gone.
Freeborn blinked once then rushed back to Nairn whose life was pouring out of his open throat, making the surrounding snow a bright crimson. Nairn’s eyes locked with Freeborn’s… so quick had the attack been that Nairn was only now apprehending that he was dying. He tried to say something but no words would come. Freeborn touched his head to soothe him and he could feel the weakening pulse suddenly go still. The light went from Nairn’s eyes and he was no more.
The Eastcheap Phantom, as the yellow journals had dubbed him, had managed to kill five of London’s citizenry – a shopkeeper, a clerk, a banker and finally a barrister. None of them seemed to have any connection to each other. Witnesses to the murders were few and those that came forward said they saw nothing but a shape that was gone before they could even turn their heads to look. There were a dozen witnesses to the murder of Sir Archibald Wintonleek, including Mister William Locke, his private secretary, who was standing right next to the barrister, yet none could say for certain who or what had stuck the knife in the hapless barrister’s chest before vanishing into the crown on the steps of the Old Bailey.
Nairn and Freeborn had been tasked to find him. It had been given the highest priority from Whitehall. So when Freeborn returned with Nairn’s corpse and the news of their failure on his lips he was not surprised to be called into the Chief Superintendent’s office.
“Are you certain?” Chief Superintendent Hodgkiss asked again. “You’re sure it was a Fey?”
“As certain as I am sitting here,” Freeborn said. “We tracked the Phantom… the Fey… from Eastcheap all the way up to Wanstead. It could have been no other.”
Hodgkiss leaned back in his chair behind his desk. He looked out the window at the snow that was falling in big fluffy flakes.
Freeborn remained still, though he wanted to leap into action, tear across the city and turn over every corner to find Nairn’s killer. “We must keep this out of the newspapers.” Hodgkiss interrupted. “The journalists have already made a mockery of us with this Phantom nonsense. They will not get hold of this. I need hardly tell you what is at stake.”
Indeed, Hodgkiss did not. Arthur Freeborn knew very well the status of Feys in Her Majesty’s Empire, and it was not a favored one.
“If it were up to me,” Hodgkiss said, his expression sour, “I would pack the whole lot of you off to the gallows.”
Although used to statements such as this to hear his superior speak the words with such naked contempt to his face came as a shock. He bit back a retort but could feel a flush creeping up his neck and past his collar. “Nairn…”
“Nairn was a good man! He was too good a man to have died at the hands of one of your kind! A Jesuit, he was! A man of God! What would you know of God? Lilith spawn! That’s all you are!” Hodgekiss stood up while he spoke, his voice raising and traces of spittle flying from his lips.
Freeborn took a breath and kept still, barely restraining his anger. “If you wish my resignation…” he managed calmly.
“I would take it in a moment,” Hodgekiss spat. “In a moment! But I cannot. I have been given orders. Orders from Whitehall. They want you, Freeborn, the Good Lord alone knows why. They’ve sent a representative.”
The representative from Whitehall was named Darome. He was a big man, thick thewed and wide at the shoulders. his hair was black and pushed back from his low forehead and he wore a small round pair of spectacles, the lenses of which were darkened. When he spoke it was with a thick Irish brogue.
“Freeborn,” he said, not extending a hand when he was introduced. “So you’re the Fey.”
Freeborn said nothing.
“We’ve heard of you at Whitehall, so we have,” Darone continued a small half-smile forming on his lips. “Been keeping a weather eye on your work, naturally. Can”t be too careful with Fey’s runnin’ around the country, undeclared labour in farms and factories all over this country. With a Fey at the yard… well, we’ve got to keep a special eye on you, don’t we. Have to make sure you ain’t soft on your own kind. That you wouldn’t let a murderer slip away, avoid the noose.”
Freeborn had to struggle to keep his voice steady. “If you’re suggesting that I didn’t do my duty in the pursuit of the Phantom — this Fey killer — then I can assure you…”
“Oh, assurances are all very well, aren’t they? But what good are they comin’ from a forked tongue devil such as yourself? No, no. Actions is what it’ll take. Actions and loyalty. I’ll be keeping a close eye on you, Freeborn you can be assured of that. We’ll catch this killer, you and I, this Fey, one of your own own kind. We’ll catch her and then the hangman’ll stretch her neck. And you and I will stand and watch, we will. Watch as she swings. What about that, eh?”
“I will gladly deliver Nairn’s killer to the hangman myself,” Freeborn growled.
Darone paused and looked at Freeborn searchingly. “That remains to be seen, my lad. That remains to be seen.”
So it was that Freeborn found himself following Darone as they trudged through the snow to the grey brick building that housed the Yard’s morgue. Down the steps, they had to step over the sluices so as not to get blood on their shoes and cuffs. Coleville was there as usual, corpulent, red faced and half-drunk.
“They were dead,” Coleville said when Darone asked if he had noticed anything unusual about each of the Phantom’s victims. “Not that that’s too unusual in this day and age. Many end up dead and if someone’s done ’em in they end up here.”
Darone smiled at the old drunk. “What I mean is, did you notice anything unusual on their person? A possession… a necklace… a bracelet… a ring, perhaps?”
Coleville shrugged his meaty shoulders. “Whatever is on ’em when they get brought in here goes back to the Yard. If the family comes for it, it goes back to them.”
Darone looked at a shape on a table. “Is that our barrister?”
Coleville nodded. He pulled out a little silver flask and took a drink. “You’re welcome to have a look if you’ve the stomach for it.”
Darone went over to the corpse. Sir Archibald had been a not unhandsome man in his fifties. Now with the ghastly pallor of death and a gaping hole in his chest he looked hideous. Darone seemed unaffected by that. He went to work examining the corpse, peering closely at his fingers.
“You won’t find anything more than what’s in my report,” Coleville said, taking another sip from his flask.
Darone ignored him and turned the corpse’s head. He pulled out a small magnifier and examined the skin on the back of the neck. “Freeborn. Look at this.”
Freeborn came around and looked where Darone was pointing.
“What do your Fey eyes see that our good doctor has missed?”
“I missed nothing!” Coleville protested.
Freeborn looked and saw plainly a small white indentation in the skin at the back of the neck. The skin had been broken as if by something rough and jagged. “No blood.” Freeborn noticed.
“A post mortem injury,” Darone proclaimed.
“Leave that assessment to the professionals!” Coleville barked.
“Be quiet, you drunkard!” Darone snapped.
Freeborn saw a glint on the table directly below the corpse’s neck. There was something there. He reached in gingerly and picked up a small clasp with a few links of chain still attached. He showed it to Darone. “He was wearing a necklace. Someone pulled it off after the corpse was here, causing the small wound and snapping off the clasp.”
Darone smiled thinly. “Very good, Freeborn. You’ve a sharp mind to go with those sharp Fey eyes.” he turned to Coleville. “Who took the necklace? Was it you?”
Coleville blanched. He’d lost his aggressiveness now. “I don’t know anything about no necklace.”
“Then who did?” Darone demanded.
Coleville looked away. “I don’t know what you are blathering about. Get out of my…”
Darone grasped Coleville by his shirt front. “I have been tasked by Whitehall to get to the bottom of this and, by God, I won’t be humbugged by a drunken reprobate of a medical examiner! Who took the necklace?”
“I don’t know! It’s not my job to report petty thefts committed by policemen!”
“Thefts? How many thefts? Which policeman?” Darone demanded.
Coleville remained stubbornly silent, trying to extricate himself from the big man’s grip.
“Steady on, Mister Darone,” Freeborn said, stepping forward, trying to keep his voice calm. “Let him go.”
Darone let Coleville go with a snort of frustration.
“Thank ye, Mister Freeborn,” Coleville said, adjusting his shirt which had pulled out of his trousers. “You’re a good ‘un, sir, despite the fact that you’re a Fey. Mister Nairn always spoke highly of you and he was a kindly man, he was.”
Freeborn felt keenly once again the loss of Nairn. “You’re very kind, Mister Coleville.”
“Where’s Nairn’s corpse?” Darone suddeny demanded.
Coleville blanched and Freeborn began to protest. “I say, Darone…”
“Where is it?” Darone demanded.
Coleville gestured to a shrouded corpse on the table behind him. Darone grabbed the shroud and pulled it aside. Freeborn had to stifle a gasp as he saw Nairn laid out on the table, his naked flesh deathly pale, his throat opened wide. His eyes were closed and sunken in. He hardly looked like Nairn without his little round spectacles.
“Darone, for pity’s sake, show some respect!” Freeborn said. He found he had to stifle back a sob that came from deep inside his chest.
“Where are his things? His clothes? His personal effects?”
Coleville pointed meekly to a wooden box on the floor. Darone knelt beside it and began rifling through the box.
Freeborn had taken almost all he could take. He pulled at Darone’s shoulder “For God’s sake, Darone!”
“God?” Darone turned, snarling. “What does a Fey know of God?” He reached into the box and pulled out a chain. Dangling from the chain was a small white pendent embossed with a sigil that Freeborn did not recognize. “What does a Fey know about anything to do with God?”
“What is it?” Freeborn asked, staring at the disc.
“Have you never seen it before?”
Freeborn shook his head. He had never seen the chain nor the pendent in all the years he had known Nairn. “Nairn never spoke of…”
“Well, he wouldn’t, would he?” Darone said. “It’s the mark of Saint Patrick.”
“What of it?” Coleville asked. “Nairn used to be a Jesuit. What’s so unusual about a Jesuit wearing the symbol of a saint?”
“I’ll wager Sir Archibald wore one as well. That is unusual, is it not? Where are the rest of the chains?”
Coleville shook his head. “I’ve never seen the like of it before. I swear!”
“Never? Don’t you undress the corpses when they come in?”
Coleville shook his head. “My assistant, Tully. He does all that for me.”
Darone nodded. “Leaves more time for you to drink, I imagine.”
Coleville looked wounded but said nothing.
`Where is Tully now?”
Coleville shook his head. “I don’t know. When they brought Nairn’s body in he started to undress him. I told him I’d do it myself.”
“What? Actually do some of your own work for a change? Why?”
“Out of respect! Seeing as it was Nairn…”
“Tully got hot about it. He protested. I told him to leave.”
“You sacked him?”
“No. No! I might have hurled an insult or two…”
“Where can we find Tully when he’s not here?”
Tully lived in a small room above The Dancing Sprite. Coleville gave them the address and Darone hired a hansom driven by a taciturn dwarf who bit the silver coin that Darone tossed him as he shouted the their destination at him.
“Saint Patrick,” Freeborn began as the horses drew the hansome cab through the streets.
Darone smiled without humour. “What Fey doesn’t know about Saint Patrick?”
“I know that according to legend Patrick cursed the Feys and enslaved them to the followers of God.”
“Indeed. Saint Patrick – Quatrikias, as he was originally known – delivered the children of Lillith into the hands of the men of God. He is a symbol of man’s dominion over the Fey race.”
“But why does it matter if Nairn wore his symbol? A former jesuit…”
“Saint Patrick is not merely a saint. He is also a symbol. That symbol has been co-opted by a secret society. Sir Archibald wore one of these,” Darone held up the pendent. It swung back and forth with the motion of the cab. “I’ll wager all of the other victims of the Eastcheap Phantom wore one as well.”
“How do you know that?”
“Because Whitehall has known about the society for years. We keep tabs on the members. So when they are killed, we take notice. When more are killed we become alarmed. When they are all killed by the same hand… well, that’s when we must take action.”
“Are you saying that Nairn was a member of this secret society? I cannot believe that.”
“He must have been the newest member because Whitehall has no knowledge of that. He may have been inducted when the killings began. The membership obviously suspected trouble long before we did. Having a member inside the police force would have suited them.”
Freeborn shook his head. “Nairn said nothing of this to me.”
“Well of course he wouldn’t! It was a secret society! One that held the slavery of the Fey to mankind as its basic tenet. Of course he wouldn’t speak of this to you!”
Freeborn shook his head. “Nairn was kind to me. He was the only one of my colleagues to show me any respect whatsoever. If it weren’t for Nairn I would have left the police a long time ago. He encouraged me to stay.”
“Don’t you think Nairn knew that?”
“But why would Nairn want me to stay on the force if he hated the Fey?”
“Are you familiar with Sun-tzu?”
Freeborn shook his head.
“Sun-tzu was a military strategist in ancient China. He wrote a treatise called The Art of War. In it he wrote: Keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer.”
Freeborn said nothing for a moment. Then he asked: “Are we in a war?”
But Darone did not answer and they passed the rest of the way in silence.
The Dancing Sprite was lively when they arrived. It was early evening and the alehouse was already doing a brisk trade. Freeborn saw Fey servers in tattered clothes serving drinks to a crowd that was becoming exceedingly rambunctious. Whores and drunkards mingled at the tables. There was a small table of Fey women at the back of the inn. They were slightly better dressed but all had sad and hollow faces. A man stood in front of the table. Fey whores and their procurer.
Freeborn looked away from the tableau as Darone led them up the stairs to Tully’s lodging on the upper floor.
Darone knocked, but them immediately barked; “Tully! Open this door now! I’m quite prepared to break it down, so you’d better…”
The door opened and a young man with a pronounced adams apple and big ears stood before them. “There’s no whores here…” Tully began before Darone pushed himself into the shabby room, a beefy hand pushing the young Tully backwards onto the bed. “Oy!” Tully shouted in alarm.
Freeborn shut the door behind them. Darone pulled out the pendent of St. Patrick. “where are the rest of these?” he asked.
Tully’s face went deathly pale. He shook his head. “I don’t know nuffin’ I swear!”
Darone picked up the foot of the bed and then slammed it down on the floor. “You know enough to send men to the gallows! Maybe you can avoid the noose yourself if you talk now!”
Tears began to flow from Tully’s eyes. “No, please don’t let me swing! I swear, I didn’t do nuffin’ wrong!”
“Who did you give these to?” Darone roared.
Tully kept shaking his head. “No, please, they’ll kill me if I say!”
“I’ll bloody kill you if you don’t!”
“Darone!” Freeborn said. “Stop it. You can’t get anything coherent out of him if you frighten him to death!”
“I don’t need any advice from a damned Fey!” Darone snarled.
Tully looked at Freeborn and his face became even paler. His mouth worked in sudden fear. “A Fay? Oh God! Keep it away from me! Don’t let ‘im near me!” Tully was sitting up on the bed scrabbling madly at the back wall.
Darone, sensing a new leverage, pushed Freeborn towards the frightened young man. “Go on, Fey! Work your black magic on him! Make him spill it!”
“Darone,” Freeborn protested “Stop this nonsense right now!”
“I don’t know nuffin’! I swear I don’t know nuffin’! He just paid me to take ’em, that’s all!”
“Who paid you? WHO?!” Darone roared.
“It were Mister Locke! But it were for someone else! I dunno who! We was all just go-betweens! I don’t know anyfing!”
“Locke?” Freeborn asked. “William Locke?”
“Mister Locke!” Tully shouted. “‘e brung me the money and I gave ‘im the chains! That was it? I don’t know nuffin’ else!”
“Who is William Locke? Darone asked.
“He was Sir Archibald’s personal secretary. Nairn interviewed him. Did Nairn know?”
Tully nodded his head. “Mister Nairn… ‘e were the one who told me to do it… take the chains. ‘e said if I didn’t he’d let you get me… ‘e said you’d ensorcle me wif’ your black magic!”
Freeborn could scare believe what he was hearing. “Nairn and William Locke were working together?”
“Yes! I wanted to get Mister Nairn’s chain but Mister Coleville wouldn’t let me. I didn’t know what to do so I came home. Please, don’t let me swing for this. I was just doin’ wot I was told to!” Tully managed to crawl off the bed and backed towards a corner of his shabby room. He looked like a small and frightened boy.
Freeborn saw the blur of a sudden movement. A black shadow seemed to move out of the corner Tully was backing towards. Freeborn saw the glint of a blade but could not stop it as it drew itself across Tully’s throat. Tully managed one sound, a squeak of terror before his life’s blood spurted out of his open throat.
“GOD’S BLOOD!” Darone roared.
The shadow moved swiftly. It flew through a tiny closed window which shattered outwards scatterin glass and wooden splinters out of the room. Freeborn knew it was The Phantom – the Fey assassin who’d killed Nairn.
Freeborn didn’t think. He followed. He squeezed out the window and dropped onto the rooftop.
Outside the moon gave a pale light but Freeborn’s Fey senses could see the snowy rooftops around him like it was midday. He saw the assassin running across the roof of the inn. Freeborn gave chase. The assassin leaped from one roof to the next, her leather cloak flying about her like great leather wings. Freeborn leaped as well. He landed on the edge, and for one heart stopping moment lost his balance. He pinwheeled his arms and found his footing but that valuable second lost allowed his quarry to put distance between them.
Freeborn put on a burst of speed. He leaped from rooftop to rooftop, his footing growing more certain with every leap. Like a trapeze walker the assassin dashed over the crowns of the roofs, leaped from chimney pot to chimney pot and slid down slopes. Freeborn kept pace, trying not to think about the rooftops seeming to move beneath his feet at a dizzying pace or about the ground far below waiting for him to make a single misstep.
He saw the Fey drop from the edge of a high rooftop. He followed without hesitating. The cobbled stones of the street rushed towards him. As he landed her rolled forward on his shoulder then back up onto his feet.
The Fey assassin stood directly in front of him. Freeborn started away but there was a blur of motion and he felt the kiss of cold steel. He froze and found himself staring into the face of the Fey woman who was holding a blade still stained with Tully’s blood at his naked throat.
She narrowed her eyes and looked first at one side of Freeborn’s head, then the other. “Where are your ears?” she asked.
Freeborn let out a small laugh. It was the last thing he expected her to say. “I cut them off when I was a child.” Freeborn explained.
The Fey woman spat. “So foolish. As if that could disguise what you are.”
Freeborn said nothing to that. He just stared into her eyes. They were a dark green and as he stared into them he sensed depths within them in which he might lose himself. In his head he heard a strange sound like music playing in the distance. He felt something shifting in his mind, as if the world were suddenly turning upside down.
Freeborn’s fugue was disturbed by the sound of a pistol being cocked. “Step away from him,” Darone bellowed from somewhere behind him.
The female Fey looked over Freeborn’s head and her features tightened. Then she leaned close. Freeborn felt her lips brush against his ear. “Find the Queen,” she said, then she was a blur and was gone.
The pistol report shocked Freeborn into action. He felt the rush of air as the bullet sped through the space where his head had been a moment before. He rolled and then sprang back to his feet, facing Darone.
Darone put up the pistol. “BUGGER!” he shouted.
“You tried to kill me!” Freeborn shouted.
“I was aiming for the Phantom,” Darone snapped.
“Your aim is atrocious.”
William Locke was not at home when Freeborn and Darone called on his modest house in the early dawn light. “Mister Locke is in the country today,” they were told by the housekeeper, a pleasant and garrulous woman.
“Oh, he does ever so much traveling in his work,” the housekeeper said, amiably. “At least he did before poor Sir Archibald was done in. Poor man. Is this part of the investigation into his death?”
“Indeed, it is, Madame,” Darone said, pleasantly. “We’re following up on several enquiries and we need to speak to Mister Locke. Do you know where he is traveling today?”
“Well I imagine he’s at Sir Archibald’s country estate today. He said something about tying up loose ends, and he took his boots which he always does when he has to go out to the estate.”
Darone thanked the woman, and told her that she had been most helpful in their inquiries, which seemed to please her immensely.
It took nearly all morning for the carriage to reach Cloverdown, Sir Archibald Wintonleek’s sprawling country estate. They rode in silence and Freeborn pondered the female Fey’s cryptic words. Who was the Queen? He had no idea but his mind kept drifting back to her hypnotic eyes and the sound, like distant music, that he had heard in his head. He tried to bring it back, but found that he couldn’t. The strains of it were like a tune still sweet in his mind but the notes of which he could not recall.
The main gate was closed when they arrived. Darone told the carriage driver to wait. Freeborn opened the gates and they approached on foot. Darone had insisted that they be armed and they approached the ivy covered manor house now with their pistols in plain sight.
There was no sign of life or movement in the house. The windows were shuttered and curtains were drawn. Darone gestured Freeborn to silence. Freeborn stood still and listened. His heightened fey senses could detect movement inside the house. He heard ragged breathing and the clink of chains. He heard a door open and footsteps walking somewhere behind the house.
Freeborn opened his eyes. He indicated to Darone that there was movement at the back. The began circling the house.
Around the side of the manor was a small garden in front of a low wall. There was an open doorway in the wall. Freeborn moved swiftly and silently through the garden to the doorway. Beyond Freeborn could see an expansive square of ground surrounded by wooden buildings. There was a stone well in the centre. Freeborn smelled straw and the unmistakable stink of horses. Stables.
He heard a voice shout a harsh command. Freeborn dashed over the muddy square, his feet barely touching the ground. He could see two figures in the gloom of the stable. One figure was on its knees. The other held an axe.
Freeborn cocked his revolver. “Stop!” he shouted. The man with the axe turned. Freeborn could see that it was William Locke. The other figure was a Fey woman in ragged clothes. Her arms and legs were manacled.
“Put down the axe in the name of the law!” Freeborn commanded.
Locke squinted at Freeborn. “You’re the Fey policeman!” he said and he smiled hideously. His hair was unkempt and dark circles ringed his eyes. “You may as well be next!”
Locke raised the axe and ran at Freeborn, murder clearly in the madman’s eyes. Freeborn fired his revolver. He hit Locke square in the chest. Locke stumbled and gasped, but then raised the axe again and charged anew. Freeborn fired again, this time putting a bullet between Locke’s eyes.
Freeborn discovered the remains of several unfortunate Fey women scattered around the stables. There were five bodies. Locke had obviously dispatched them one at a time.
Tying up loose ends.
Inside the manor house Freeborn and Darone found the rest.
They were seven Fey women chained up in a stone cellar. The stench of decay was overwhelming and Freeborn felt a wash of horror course through him as he saw the emaciated bodies, each of them manacled hand and foot. Limbs as thin as twigs reached out to him in supplication.
Freeborn found a pitcher in the kitchen and filled it with water. As he helped the women drink they tried to speak. “…the queen…” one woman, more articulate than the others managed. “…see to the queen…”
The queen. That was what the Fey assassin had said. “Who is the queen?” Freeborn asked.
The women who could manage it pointed to a splintered wooden door at the far end of the room. Freeborn walked over and tried the door. It was locked, but the wood was old and easily splintered under the force of his shoulder.
Behind the door was a smaller room, stone like the cellar, but dark and windowless. Flies buzzed about as the air was disturbed. In the corner of the room was a narrow bed upon which a figure reclined. Freeborn approached. The woman was as emaciated as the others and was similarly manacled, and her clothes were rags, but she had an aura bout her, a certain radiance that seemed to shine in the darkened room.
As Freeborn approached her the music that he’d heard earlier seemed to play in his mind. It was louder now, stronger and it seemed to flow with life.
He knelt by the bed and helped the woman sit up. Her hair was golden, the same shade as his, her eyes the same shade of green and her features, though painfully thin, were as familiar to him as were his own.
“Who are you?” Freeborne asked, though he knew the answer. It came into his head unbidden. He had seen this face before when he was but a babe. There had been tears in her eyes then. Now the face broke into a smile.
“I knew you would find me once again, Tuato” she said, her voice hoarse from disuse. “What dutiful son would not?”
“I’m afraid you have confused me with another, Madame,” Freeborn said, although somewhere in his soul he knew the truth of her words. “My name is Freeborn. Arthur Freeborn.”
“There is no mistake, Tuato” she said, shaking her head. “You are mine and I have given you the gift of our blood. It is up to you now, to give that gift to our people. Take them home, Tuato. Take them…”
And then softly as a butterfly wing, her body went limp and she was no more.
Freeborn stood in the square near the stables. It was dark now and clouds had come in to obscure the moon. Small flakes were slowly drifting down from the sky. Freeborn felt in the grip of a powerful grief. He wanted to cry but tears would not come.
He and Darone had examined the rest of the manor house. They had found the chains, each with the sigil of St, Patrick emblazoned upon them. They found papers and communications and among them one name kept coming up again and again. Freeborn could scarcely believe it, but the evidence was overwhelming.
“You found her,” a voice said. Freeborn turned and was not really surprised to see the Fey assassin standing at the edge of the square. “You found the Queen.”
“Who are you?” Freeborn asked.
“My name is Fierna.”
“Fierna,” Freeborn said, tasting it on his tongue.
She took a step towards him “Where is the Queen?”
Freeborn shook his head. “She is dead.”
The assassin — Fierna — seemed to start at that, but then she nodded sadly. “Then it is up to you.”
“What is up to me?” Freeborn asked. “I do not know who that woman was. She called me Tuato. She seemed to think I was her son.”
“Don’t be a fool!” Fierna said, taking a step forward. “Can you not feel it in your heart? Do you not feel the truth of who you are? How can you continue to deny your nature? How can you turn your back on your people?”
“I was raised by good Christian people! People who showed mercy and charity…”
“People who suffered you, you mean. People who allowed you a place in their company, but not a full place. How much real acceptance have you had from them? Very little. How much fear and loathing? Much! It is time for you to look to your own people. Take them home!”
“Home? What home? What other home can the Fey have?”
She shook her head. “There is much you see but you refuse to really look. The chains — did you not wonder why it was the symbol of Saint Patrick stamped upon them?”
Freeborn shook his head. “A symbol? What of it?”
“Saint Patrick was the one who trapped us here!” she shouted. “In Ireland in 428 A.D.! He was supposed to banish us! We had reached an agreement with Ciaran the Elder. Saint Patrick agreed to abide by that. We were to be allowed to cross back into the Fey realm where we came from and we were to never come back.”
Freeborn shook his head. He’d remembered reading something like it in seminary class. “Legends. Myths. Fey stories.”
“I was there!” she shouted. “I was there and so was your mother, the Queen! She had the key, but St. Patrick betrayed us. He delivered us into slavery to the men of the One God. The key was shattered into eight pieces, and the pieces were given to blacksmiths…”
Freeborn heard the cock of a revolver. “That’s enough!” Darone commanded from behind him. “He is not listening to you. You might as well give up and come quietly with us.”
Freeborn turned. Darone was aiming the revolver at her. “Freeborn, stand behind me.” he ordered.
Freeborn looked back at Fierna. He expected her to vanish, to become just a blur and be gone, but instead she stood, resolute, unmoving.
“Darone,” he began.
“Freeborn, do as I say!”
“Darone, listen to me…”
“YOU LISTEN TO ME, FEY!” Darone roared. “Don’t listen to this Fey Trollop! She killed Nairn, or had you forgotten? Now get behind me!”
Freeborn looked back at Fierna. She had killed Nairn. He had seen it… been helpless to stop her. But Nairn was part of the secret society that kept this horrible place, that enslaved Feys… that had enslaved the Fey queen — his mother.
“Freeborn! Now!” Darone barked. “Or do I have to shoot you as well?”
Freeborn regarded Darone. “You would murder a fellow officer?”
“You’re no fellow officer if you don’t do as I say! You’re either a policeman or you’re a Fey that needs killing! Which is it going to be, Freeborn?”
Freeborn could see that Darone meant what he said. He would kill Freeborn and Fierna and probably all the other Fey in the house, in the entire country if he could. He looked back at Fierna who stood unmoving as if waiting for something.
He heard the sound of Darone’s pistol cock, and he decided.
Darone had moved around the muddy square, his pistol still pointing at Fierna. Behind him was the stone well. Freeborn moved swiftly, more swiftly then he ever had. His body collided with Darone as the hammer came down. The shot went wide and Freeborn felt the air escaping from Darone’s huge lungs. The back of his thighs caught the lip of the well and Darone’s body folded as it fell into the black, gaping maw.
Freeborn heard Darone shout in rage, his voice echoing from the hollow stone shaft. Then he heard a loud crash as Darone hit the frozen water at the bottom.
Then he heard nothing.
Freeborn reeled with what he’d done. He grasped the lip of the well to keep himself from falling in the mud. His finger’s brushed the edge and he fell. Suddenly strong arms were about him, holding him up. “Are you well, My King?”
“What did you call me? He turned and saw Fernia grasping her arm. Dark blood was seeping from between her fingers. “You’re hurt!” Freeborn said.
“’tis nothing,” she said through gritted teeth. “I will live. Although had you not interfered with Darone’s aim I likely would not have been hit. The man’s aim was notoriously inaccurate.”
Freeborn found a clean cloth inside the manor house. “Why did you not move?” he asked as he bound her wound. “You could have vanished as you did before. Why did you stand still?”
“I had to see what you would do. I had to know where your allegiances lay.”
“And if I had chosen to go along with Darone?”
Fernia stared at him gravely. “I am very glad that you did not.” was all she said.
Windsor Palace was a cold and drafty place. A liveried servant ushered him in to an opulent waiting room. Freeborn looked about at the furnishings and the bric-a-brac. It looked like it should be warm and inviting, but something about it left Freeborn cold.
A door opened and the Royal Consort entered. He moved precisely and formally. Freeborn bowed as he approached. Prince Albert smiled, but like the bric-a-brac, the smile had little warmth in it. “Mister Freeborn,” Albert said in his clipped German accent. “Zis iss a most irregular.”
“I apologize for that, your highness, but I am grateful you agreed to meet with me.”
“Yess. You haf news from ze investigation? Ze Phantom, iss it not? A most distressing affair. Haf you captured him?”
“I found the Phantom, yes,” Freeborn said. “I also found many other things along the way. I discovered the existence of a secret society, the members of which wear pendents with the sigil of Saint Patrick impressed upon them.”
The Prince’s smile faltered then.
“We also discovered Sir Archibald’s estate in the country and many Fey women.”
The Prince tried to recover, his smile widened but Freeborn could see the alarm in his eyes. “Men do put Feys to interesting uses,” the Prince said. “I have heard zat Fey women are devilish saucy in bed. Sir Archibald had certain… tastes… zat he indulged.”
“We also found one woman in particular. A Fey woman. A rather special woman.”
The Prince dropped all pretense then. His expression hardened and he glared at Freeborn with hateful eyes. “Zere can be only one qveen in Enkland,” he said darkly. “Vere is she?”
“Beyond your reach,” Freeborn said.
“She iss… dead?” he asked, hopefully.
Freeborn nodded. “We discovered something else in Sir Archibald’s property. All of the pendents that the Phantom’s victims wore. Sir Archibald’s secretary had gathered them up. Do you know what else I discovered? I discovered that when the pendents are melted down each contains the shard of a special key.”
“A… a key?”
“Indeed. A certain special key that, once complete, will open a passageway to the Fey realm.”
“Zat passage vill never be opened,” the Prince declared. “Ze key will never be complete!”
“No,” freeborn agreed. “Not without the final piece. The piece that resides inside the final pendent… the one that you are wearing around your neck even now. A pendent that I mean to have” Freeborn drew his revolver and aimed it at the Prince.
The Prince started, then glared at Freeborn. “You vill not live long enough to leave zis room. I have but to call my guards and zey vill cut you down…”
There was a sudden blur of motion and a very sharp and very cold blade was suddenly pressed to the Prince’s throat. “I would do as he says,” Fernia said to the Prince. “If you value your life.”
Albert unbuttoned his shirt with trembling fingers. “You sink you can bring an army of Fey into our land? You sink to overvelm us with superior numbers? You vill not get very far vit zis mad scheme, Freeborn!”
“My name is not Freeborn! My name is Tuato.” he said, grasping the pendent. “And I do not intend to bring any more Fey to this land. I mean only to keep the promise that I made to my mother.”
Pembroke Dock was a bustle of activity. Fey of every description — elves, dwarves, sprites, fairies — all of them newly freed from their positions of servitude crowded the docks readying to board the three ships that would take them across to the shores of Ireland. From there they would all gather at the gateway to the Fey realm.
Tuato fingered the key which he kept on a chain around his neck. Soon it would be time. The passage would be opened, something that only he could do with his royal blood, and his people would return to their true homeland.
Fernia came up behind him and wrapped her strong arms around him. “Soon, my love,” she said.
Freeborn nodded, watching in satisfaction as his people boarded the waiting ships. Her body was warm against his and he turned in her embrace and held her close.
“How touching,” a voice said from behind him. Freeborn froze. He knew that voice.
“Darone?” he turned, his guts churning, ready to fight.
Darone stood in a casual pose. “Hello, Tuato,” he said, smiling.
“I don’t understand. I threw you down that well.”
“That would have killed a man. For a troll, though,” Darone changed then in front of Tuato’s eyes, he grew and his features broadened. “It was just a minor inconvenience.”
Tuato stared at Darone in disbelief. “You’re a troll? What about Whitehall?”
Darone laughed a booming laugh. “I was surprised that a tiny bit of Fey glamour could have deceived you, Tuato. You clearly have much to learn. As for Whitehall… well, If you when there and asked for me they would have no idea what you were talking about.”
“Then why the deception? Why…”
“We had to be sure which side you would choose. We had to be certain that our King had the interests of his own people at heart.”
Tuato gave Fernia a questioning look. “You knew?”
“Please do not be angry with us, my King. We had to know where your allegiance truly lay”
Freeborn looked at both of them and tried to remain stern, but he could not. When he looked at both of them he could hear the sound in his head, the distant tune, the call of his homeland, that was growing close and stronger with every passing moment. He laughed.
Darone joined Tuato in laughter and Fernia beamed at him in perfect happiness. “Take us home, my King.”
This story was originally published in Dark Worlds Magazine in 2011. It currently appears in Heralded by Blood from Rage Machine Books.