A dim gloom was
heavy in the lower level of Jenks’s stump, only the high ceiling of the
cavernous great room still holding the fading haze of the setting sun.
Working by the glow of his dragonfly-like wings, Jenks hovered in the wide
archway leading to the storerooms, feet dangling and shoulders aching as
he smoothed a nick from the lintel. The smell of last year’s garden
drifted up past him: musty dandelion fluff, dried jasmine blossoms, and
the last of the sweet clover used for their beds. Matalina was a
traditionalist and didn’t like the foam he’d cut from a sofa he’d found at
the curb last fall.
The rasping of
his lathe against the living oak only accentuated the absence of his kids;
the quiet was both odd and comforting after a winter spent in his
human-size partner’s church. Shifting his lower wings to push the
glowing, silver pixy dust upward to light his work, Jenks ran a hand
across the wood to gauge the new, decorative curve. A slow smile spread
across his face.
she’ll never know,” he whispered, pleased. The gouge his daughter had
made while chasing her brother was now rubbed out. All that was needed
was to smooth it, and his beautiful and oh-so clever wife would never
know. Or at least, she’d never say anything.
tilted his wings and darted to his tools arranged on a silk cloth that
hadn’t passed Matalina’s standards. He would’ve asked his daughter to fix
the archway, but it took cold metal, and Jolivia was only five, not yet
having the finesse to handle toxic metal. Spilling more dust to light his
well-used tools, he chose an emery board, swiped from Rachel’s bathroom.
he thought as he returned to his work, the sparse sawdust mixing with his
own pixy dust as he worked in the silence and chill. Late March, and they
still hadn’t moved back into the garden from Rachel’s desk, on loan for
the winter. The days were warm enough, and the nights would be fine with
the main hearth lit. Cincinnati’s pixies were long out of hibernation,
and if they didn’t move into the garden soon, someone might try to claim
it. Just yesterday his kids had chased off three fairy scouts lurking
about the far graveyard wall.<
against the oak dust, Jenks wondered how many children he would lose this
fall to romance and how it would effect the garden’s security. Not much
now, with only eight children nearing the age of leaving. Next year,
though, eleven more would join them, with no newlings to replace them.
A burst of
anxious motion from his wings lit a larger circle to show the
winter-abandoned cushions about the main central hearth, but it wasn’t
until a sudden commotion at the ground-floor tunnel entrance that he
spilled enough dust to light the edges to show the shelves, cupboards, and
hooks built right into the living walls of the stump. “If there’s no
snapped wings or bones sticking out, I don’t want to hear about it!” he
shouted, his mood brightening as he recognized his children’s voices.
Jerrimatt shouted in excitement as one of his youngest sons darted in
trailing a silver dust. “We caught an intruder at the street wall! He
wouldn’t leave, even when we scared him! He said he wanted to talk to
you. He’s a poacher, I bet, and I saw him first!”
Jenks rose, dust
spilling from him in alarm. “You didn’t kill him, did you?”
suddenly dejected boy said as he tossed his blond hair in a credible
mimicry of his dad. “I know the rules. He had red on.”
let his feet touch the ground as, in a noisy mob, Jack, Jhem, Jumoke, and
Jixy, pushed a fifth pixy wing-stumbling into the room.
“He was on the
fence,” Jixy said, his daughter roughly shoving him again to make his
wings hum, and she touched her wooden sword, ready to smack him if he made
to fly. She was the eldest in the group, and she took her seniority
“He was looking
at our flowerbeds,” Jumoke added. The dark-haired pixy’s scowl made him
look fiercer than usual, adding to his unusual dark coloring.
“And he was
lurking!” Jack claimed. If there was trouble, Jack would be in it.
The five were on
sentry detail this evening, and Jenks set the emery board aside, eying his
own sword of pixy steel nearby. He rather have it on his hip, but this
was his home, damn it. He shouldn’t need to wear it inside. Yet here he
was with a strange pixy in his main room.
Jerrimatt, all of
three years old, was flitting like a firefly on Brimstone. Reaching up,
Jenks caught his foot and dragged him down. “He is wearing red,” Jenks
reminded him, glad they hadn’t drawn blood from the hapless pixy,
wide-eyed and scared. “He gets passage.”
“He doesn’t want
passage,” Jerrimatt protested, and Jixy nodded, her serious expression
affirming the youngster’s claim. “He was just sitting there! He says he
wants to talk to you.”
added suspiciously. “Hiding behind a color of truce. He’s pixy trash.”
She threatened to smack him, stopping only when Jenks sent his wings
clattering in disapproval.
stood with his feet meekly on the floor, his wings closed against his
back, and glancing in unease at Jumoke. His red hat of truce was in his
hands, fingers going around and around the brim. “I wasn’t plotting,” he
said indignantly. “I have my own garden.” Again, his gaze landed on
Jumoke in question, and Jenks felt a prick of anger.
“Then why are you
looking at ours?” Jhem demanded, oblivious to the intruder’s prejudice of
Jumoke’s dark hair and eyes. But when Jhem went to push him, Jenks buzzed
a warning again. Eyes down, Jhem dropped back. His children were
wonderful, but it was hard to teach restraint when quick sword-point
justice was the only reason they survived.
At a loss, Jenks
extended a hand to the ruffled pixy as his children watched sullenly. The
pixy buck before him looked about twelve or thirteen, old enough to be on
his own and trying to start a family, married by the clean and repaired
state of his clothes. He was healthy and well-winged, though they were
now blue with the lack of circulation and pressed against his back in
submission. The unfamiliar sword in Jmoke’s grip led Jenks to believe the
intruder’s claim to having a garden was likely not an exaggeration, even
if it was fairy steal, not pixy. The young buck wasn’t poaching. So what
did he want?
suspicions tightened. “Why are you here?” he asked, his focus sliding
again to his own sword, set carelessly next to his tools. “And what’s
pixy said immediately, his eyes roving over the sunset-gray ceiling. “You
live in a castle!” he breathed as his wings rose slightly. “Where is
Vincet, Jenks thought, wary even as he straightened with pride at Vincet’s words
concerning his home. A six-letter name, and out on his own with cold
steel. Pixies born early into a family had short names, those born later,
the longest. Vincet was the seventh brood of newlings in his family to
survive to naming. That he had a blade and a long name to his credit
meant that his birth clan was strong. It was the children born late in a
pixy’s life that suffered the most when their parents died and the clan
fell apart. Most children with names longer than eight letters never made
it. Jerrimatt, though . . . Jenks’s smile grew fond as he looked at the
blond youngster scowling fiercely at Vincet. Jerrimatt, his birth
brother, and both his birth sisters would survive. Matalina was stronger
now that she wasn’t having children anymore. One or two more seasons, and
all her children would survive her. It was what she prayed for.
Not knowing why
he trusted Vincet, Jenks gestured for his children to relax, and they
began shoving each other. The earth’s chill soaked into Jenks now that he
wasn’t moving, and he wished he’d started a fire.
“I heard you
investigate things,” Vincet blurted, his wings lifting slightly as the
kids ringing him drifted a few paces back. “I’m not poaching! I need
“You want Rachel
or Ivy.” Jenks rose up to show him the way into the church. “Rachel is
out,” he said, glad now he hadn’t accompanied her on her shopping trip as
she searched for some obscure text her demonic teacher wanted. She’d be
in the ever-after tomorrow for her once a week teaching stint with the
demon, and of course she’d waited until the last moment to find the book.
“But Ivy is here.”
exclaimed, his wings blurring but his feet solidly on the poker-chip
floor, rightfully worried about Jenks’s kids. “I want your help,
not some lunker’s. I don’t have anything they’d want, and I pay my
debts. They’ll tell me to move. And I can’t. I want you.”
His kids stopped
their incessant shoving, and Jenks’s feet touched the cold floor. A
job? he thought, excitement zinging through him. For me? Alone?
“Will you help
me?” Vincet asked, the dust from him turning a clear silver as he regained
his courage and his wings shivered to try and warm himself. “My newlings
are in danger. My wife. My three children. I don’t dare move now. It’s
too late. We’ll lose the newlings. Maybe the children, too. There’s no
where to go!”
Newlings, Jenks thought, his focus blurring. A newborn pixy’s life was so chancy
that they weren’t given names or considered children until they proved
able to survive. To bury a newling wasn’t as bad as burying a child.
Though that was a lie. He and Matalina had lost the entire birthing the
year they moved into the church, and Matalina hadn’t had any more since,
thanks to his wish for sterility. It had probably extended Mattie’s life,
but he missed the soft sounds newlings made and the pleasure he took in
thinking up names as they grasped his finger and demanded another day of
life. Newlings, hell. They were children, every one precious.
landed squarely on Vincet, assessing him. Thirteen, with a lifetime of
responsibility on him already. Jenks’s own short span had never bothered
him—a fast childhood giving way to grief and heartache—until he’d seen the
other side, the long adolescence and even longer life of the lunkers
around them. It was so unfair. He’d listen.
And if he was
listening, then he should probably make Vincet feel at home. Like Rachel
did when people knocked on her door, afraid and helpless.
A flush of
uncertainty made his wings hum. “We’re entertaining,” he told his kids
with a firmness he’d dredged up from somewhere, and they looked at each
other, wings drooping and at a loss of what that even meant or what to
do. Pixies didn’t tolerate another on their land unless marriage was
being discussed, much less invite them into their diggings.
gestured for Vincet to sit on the winter-musty cushions, trying to
remember what he’d seen Rachel do when interviewing clients. “Um, give me
his sword, and get me a pot of honey,” he said, and Jerrimatt gasped.
“Honey . . .” the
youngster stammered, and Jenks took the wooden-handled blade from Jhan.
The fairy steal was evidence of a past battle won, probably before Vincet
had left home.
her cookies, go!” Jenks exclaimed, waving at them. “Vincet wants my
help. I don’t think he’s going to run me through. Give your dad an ounce
of credit, will you?”
His cursing was
familiar, and knowing everything was okay, they dove for the main tunnel,
chattering like mad.
“I brought you
all up,” he shouted after them, conscious of Vincet watching him. “You
don’t think I know a guest from a thief?” he added, but they were gone,
the sound of their wings and fast-words fading as they vanished up the
tunnel. It grew darker as their dust settled and went out. Chilled,
Jenks vibrated his wings for both the warmth and light.
huff, Jenks handed the pixy his sword, thinking he’d never done anything
like that before. Vincet took it, seeming as unsure as Jenks was.
Asking for help was in neither of their traditions. Change came hard to
pixies when adherence to ridged customs was what kept them alive. But for
Jenks, change had always been the curse that kept him going. [. . .]