The last minute passengers scooted into the train just as the doors whisked closed with a puff of air. A blonde in earth and mud tones, no makeup, hair in a bun and an oversized tote bag obviously loaded with textbooks quickly took a seat, as did the dreadlocked freckled and blue-eyed boy in the tie-dyed tank top and painter pants. The lithe black man in dancer’s tights and hand-painted T-shirt remained standing, so he could move to the music from his headphones, swaying as the train lurched forward and rocked from side to side on the tracks. He just barely held on to the bar overhead, using it for balance and letting his legs do the rest of the job of keeping him in one spot. He made it look easy.
His eyes were closed, so it was OK to look for a while at the stranger. His T-shirt was a mural showing the man’s idealized face, several bars of music notation swirling around him in a halo, many fountains of color – green, magenta and blue – with words scribbled here and there: “poet” … “dancer” … “child-caring man” … “spiritual”; in all it looked like a wonderful artist’s resume, right there on the man’s chest. Raven gazed at him, openly admiring his athletic build, his peaceful expression and his overall grace.
Reeve Alain couldn’t believe his luck (well, yes, he really should believe in his luck if he wanted to experience more of it! He just wasn’t used to relying on it) – but after only a week of riding the BART during commuter hours, he managed to be on the same train she was taking.
The things he went through to satisfy the Duchess’ whims! This woman didn’t drive anymore, since her car died, and the Duchess wanted her tracked down. That meant Alain had to try his luck with the transit system just to get near enough to speak to her, as she was apparently in the habit of blowing off both her voicemail and her email.
Not that he blamed her – he had spent a fair amount of time dodging ex- and soon-to-be-ex-girlfriends, not to mention the random telemarketing call or political contribution request. But still, he had tried to make his letters and messages sound personal. And she still had not responded. What was up with her?
Rudeness notwithstanding, Alain resolved to have at least one face-to-face conversation with this noble lady to see if the Duchess could be satisfied. This lady, whoever-the-nibs she might be, could at least pay her respects to the Duchess with a social call.
After her casual examination of the lovely dancer, Raven felt a prickle on the hairs on the back of her neck. She resisted the impulse to turn her head, knowing she would meet the eyes of someone watching her. Blessing her mentors for their training, she closed her eyes to focus better.
Blanking her mind for a moment, she waited. Finally a big brown German shepherd bounded up and licked her face! She opened her eyes with a start and realized that there was no dog, and none of the other passengers had noticed anything out of the ordinary. There was, however, that handsome, well-dressed blond man gazing at her with a bemused expression – a small smile playing at the corners of his mouth. She smiled at him (they had made eye contact, after all), nodded, then turned forward again. So … friendly greetings from someone obviously under the totem of dog. No problem there. Did she want to pursue the matter?
Raven debated this as the train lurched on. She’d been attracting many admirers lately. Of course, this was to be expected, as she had put out the call for more social opportunities, including romance, at the Imbolc celebration a month ago. Welcoming the spring with an acknowledgment of the springtime of her soul. Her fingers in the pocket of her pea coat found the card case with her BART ticket as she neared her stop, and she remembered the business card from that psychologist (or was he an actual psychiatrist?) she’d met at Louise’s dinner party a week and a half ago. Jon Montagu – seemed nice enough. Maybe she should give him a call and meet him for coffee or something.
Yes, he was that solid, older man type her mother had told her to go for. Of course, everyone was getting older these days – Raven reminded herself that she now looked “older” to some of these attractive young pups … At the idea of “pup” she turned to the blond man to steal a check-him-out-again glance. He looked up from his paper and caught her eye, smiling at her again. Oh boy!
Time to get off. The train braked to stop and Raven was out of her seat and marching onto the platform with military precision, every step measured and controlled. It was her power walk – designed to communicate a no-nonsense “I can take care of myself” attitude and discourage muggers from choosing her as their target. It worked. Raven enjoyed a freedom walking alone that most middle class white women never considered, coming as they did from their learned helplessness.
Of course, it also helped to be six feet tall. Raven’s height and body language protected her while taking mass transit, even though there had been, and probably would be again, a time or two when she was taken for a target anyway, by less experienced crooks. Raven chalked it up to being a fairly attractive woman, with a gentle, open face and a flair for wearing smart clothing. Since she didn’t look down and out, she knew some would choose her for their crimes anyway – and that was OK, as long as she could spot them before they made their move and outmaneuver them.
Again, she blessed her mentors for the training they had given her, and the hyper-awareness they had honed. That hyper-awareness made her tingle again as she descended the stairs from the platform to the street level. Behind her, Raven knew, was the dog man.
Raven thought of Dan, her landlord who lived in the apartment below her. The tall, blond, down-to-earth, motorcycle-riding, mellow Child of Gaia who worked in a silk-screen printing mill was far different from the pampered pup following her now. Both were attractive in their way, but Raven was on much more solid ground with working class types, like her father and brothers.
So what did this dog man want? The usual? So, Raven thought, does he think we’re in the same league, or what? Or does he know we’re not, and is he just slumming?
No, I’m not putting myself down – she thought, irritated with herself – I’m being realistic. I’m not a yuppie – nor would I care to be. And he must know it. So, what gives?
Raven felt a jolt from behind as something bumped her shoulder.
“Oh, excuse me,” said a mellow baritone voice behind her.
Raven turned with a ready smile of reassurance. “It’s all right,” she said, looking into the smiling green eyes of the blond man – the dog man, of course. For an instant, the eyes were not green, but golden brown, as was the man’s hair. His hair seemed to grow over his face as well, although finer than on his head, and he had whiskers, and pointed dog ears on the top of his head. The eyes shone with feral light. Out of the corner of her eye, Raven saw a brown tail wagging.
With a ripple in her field of vision, the image faded as abruptly as it had come, and Raven was left gazing into the once-again green eyes of the stranger. She noticed a rather large emerald earring in his left ear.
Raven was used to being psychic – she’d been seeing more than external reality all her life – but it still had a tendency to throw her out of rhythm with conversation, and she had the funny feeling that it had happened again.
Apparently not. The man simply pulled a card out of his coat pocket and pressed it into her hand. “I’ve left a message for you,” he was saying. “You must have been traveling recently. I’m conveying an invitation from my lady for you to come to a get-together she’s giving for folk of like minds,” here he paused, waiting for a reaction of some kind.
Raven tilted her head in response, changing her facial expression to one of polite interest. The inarticulate but eloquent response often drew more words from other people – and Raven calculated her use of it to get more information than strangers were in the habit of giving. And invitation? From a stranger? What did he and – his lady, he had said? – already know about her? How long had they been “interested” in her?
And above all, WHY?
The man must have realized Raven did not intend to answer him in words, so with a slight inclination of his head, and a “until then, milady,” he slipped lightly past her and out to the turnstiles.
Raven turned to watch him leave, then looked at the card in her hand as the rest of the passengers milled past her and out of the station. Alain Edward Sirius was printed on it, with four telephone numbers, one of them a FAX. That was all. Raven stared in bewilderment at the printing on the card.
Then recovering herself, she put the card in her pocket with Jon Montagu’s and pulled out her BART ticket. “A visit from Coyote,” she muttered as she exited the turnstiles and headed toward the bus.
Raven reached her apartment in safety and dead-bolted the door behind her. Then she peered through the slit between the curtain and the window frame, through the sliver of glass to the street below. She did not move the curtain to see better, but adjusted her vision to narrow. She waited for fifteen minutes; motionless, concentrating; before noticeably exhaling.
No one had followed her. Good.
So much for her happy, open mood. The old aluminum-in-the-mouth paranoia was back. How could she have been silly enough to think they’d finally let up – that she was free to live her own life now? To emerge and put out the call for more social contacts at Imbolc – what lunacy!
Poor Coyote. He wasn’t with the Feds from her past, he didn’t know why she was so skittish, but she couldn’t take the chance and tell him what kept her from being sociable. The more he knew, the more at risk he would be, and she refused to force another to share her burden.
She reached into the pocket of her pea coat and took out his card. Alain Edward Sirius, she read. There were his phone number, FAX number, cellular phone and email. The man wanted to be available, that was for sure. Or, maybe he was just a millennial. She giggled.
Puppy-pooka. Probably outrageously cute as a youngster, definitely handsome as a grown man; still having the magic, obviously, with his ears and tail still very much in evidence even though Raven guessed he’d passed age twenty-five recently.
Grump enough to be stable, pooka enough to be fun. Raven sighed with regret, realizing she would probably never get to know.
The Feds, from one branch or another, had chased her for ten years, even since she’d left the Army. She wanted to believe it was personal – the result of having spurned a member of the “Old Boys Network” and that her ex had a lot of friends willing to do him a solid by expressing his hostility for him.
She hoped it was personal but couldn’t be sure. There had been that psych intern at the stress clinic at the language school. He had known she was different, had given her a battery of tests, and may have stumbled onto the correct answer. If that was the case, then it was highly likely the whole federal government wanted to study and dissect her, all while covering up the investigation the way they covered up their UFO research. No thanks. Raven did not want to become an “X-Files” story that didn’t make prime time. Her freedom to live her own life was too important to her for that.
No one’s Saining happened at a convenient time, Raven knew. But why had hers been so late? Age twenty-six – she’d already had time to grow up and join the Army, for the Goddess’ sake! Of all the inconvenient situations to be in when the visions and dreams started!
She had grown up knowing she had the second sight. That, she had inherited from her Russian Corax mother. Corax herself, as were half her six siblings, Raven knew how to go about her search for wisdom; knew that it would take her where ordinary humans were content not to go. And still, she had felt OK about joining the Army when she was nineteen. She had not expected any problems, knowing who and what she was, and able to live in both worlds effectively and productively.
Then, at twenty-six, at the decision point before her second term was up, for the Goddess’ sake(!) this other stuff started happening. Thinking she was cracking up, she’d gone to the stress clinic.
Now, Raven was no fool. She’d known she couldn’t tell the good doctors (excuse me, interns) everything. She’d blamed her distress on her disintegrating marriage and the workload of teaching and the Army life, and her physical stress – a bum knee – and the stress of having to make a life-changing decision. (Get out on schedule or stay in? Get out and have babies to save a floundering marriage? Yeah, right!) Stay in and ask for an assignment away from her husband to save herself?
That battery of psychological tests. The “juice” they made her drink before taking the tests. She hadn’t dissembled well enough, she knew. Somehow, they’d been able to get an inkling of the truth out of her. Hell, all she’d wanted was a doctor-ordered rest, for the Goddess’ sake! Something her CO couldn’t argue with.
Raven hadn’t really been able to rest for the ten years since then.
Luckily, a troll Top Sergeant had spotted her and called her into his office after formation one Monday morning that spring. He’d counselled her, writing up a general counselling statement for her to sign, to keep the CO happy; which basically said nothing in two paragraphs of military jargon. The real counselling session happened off duty at the Legion bar off post. That was where he’d told her the who, what, when, how and why about the kithain. He even knew about the hybrids – the werefolk who were also fae. It was hard enough to be Corax, but to add sidhe to it was double the risk and double the demand. Once she knew, she actually felt OK about being miles away from sane. It all made sense.
She’d decided to get out of the Army and to get a divorce. A little while later, her husband found out about that counselling session at the Legion, and accused her, officially and through military channels, of infidelity with the Top Sergeant. This is a crime, punishable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, with a jail sentence, provided it can be proven in a trial by Courts Martial.
That proviso saved both their faerie hides – hers and Top’s. You can never prove infidelity. All you can succeed in doing is smearing two reputations. That had been done well enough, though for the sake of Top, and because of Raven’s previously exemplary service record; (and the fact that he didn’t have a case) the CO had decided not to go to trial; but tu limit his disciplinary action against them to administrative reprimand that would be torn up as soon as either of them left the unit. Raven got out a month later and the letters were torn up on schedule. She was sure of that, because Top had been the one to do the tearing.
She had thought all of that was finally behind her. How foolish!
A glance up from the card in her hands to the end table town the hall showed Raven that she had voicemail. She walked over and hit the button on the phone dock, then picked up the pen and prepared to write any important numbers.
“Hi Tanya,” it was her grandmother’s voice. Her mundane, never-suspecting-half-er-grand-babies-were-shapeshifters, grandmother on her Russian side. Grandma used the short form of her given name (the long form being Tatyana), knowing nothing of the name Raven used among the kithain and the garou. “Haven’t heard from you lately,” Grandma nagged. “So I thought I’d give you a call and see how you’re doing?” She prattled on about family business three thousand miles away that Raven could do nothing about, and signed off without leaving her number. “Of course, Raven thought, she expects me to have it. I’ll have to call Mom and get it.
The next message was from Jack Bunny, until recently her “roomie” and ward for the past ten years. She’d found him on the street shortly after leaving the Army, and since living with her was better than where he was, she’d taken him in. The nine-year-old pooka had lightened things up considerably for her over the years, just by being there. And she had tried to teach him to function within the world, while honoring his pooka nature – some trick!
They had had the assistance of a benefactor – another pooka, this one a well-to-do aging (fifty-ish) wallaby who still had the magic and mischief about him, and had helped Raven find her apartment and her first job out of the Army.
Raven suddenly remembered the wallaby’s name: Myles Gordon Sirius.
Sirius. Raven looked at the card again. Then, realizing she had missed most of Jack Bunny’s message, she pushed the Play button again, fast-forwarding through Grandma and readying her pen at the beginning of Jack Bunny’s monologue.
“Hey, Raven,” Jack Bunny said. “I know you’re not home yet. When you get in, call me, OK? Got some news for you!”
Jack was probably going to tell her where he was appearing next. He’d just found an agent and was doing stand up with music at all the major clubs in the Bay Area. His career had just started, and he was happy. Pooka’s luck. Raven picked up the receiver and dialed his number.
“Yeah?” a surly, almost belligerent voice answered the phone. One of JB’s roommates? Well, after six years of karate at Raven’s insistence, he could certainly handle any guff a roommate might try to give him.
“My name is Raven,” she said to the reluctant receptionist. I’m calling for Jack Bunny. Is he there?” Have to talk to him about his roomie, she thought. If he picks up the phone and it’s work related, he might miss opportunities, as not everyone wants to be patient with rudies.
“Hold on,” came the minimal reply. The receiver was laid on a table or some other piece of unupholstered furniture. Raven could hear background noise. Polite and polished, that fellow.
“F’karya!” came Jack Bunny’s voice a moment later. “Guess who I heard from today?”
The hairs on the back of Raven’s neck (where, in bird form, her ruff feathers were) stood up when she heard JB give Myles’ standard greeting. So, was there more than coincidence afoot? Had she just thought of their beloved benefactor for a reason?
“Myles?” Raven said. All right, JB, I’ll bite. “Is he up here now, or still in Monterey?”
“Here!” Jack Bunny exclaimed. “He’s got family up here and he’s up for a week, at least, he says. And, get this, he’s got some nephew that’s been calling you and not getting an answer. Nephew’s getting impatient, so he told his woes to Uncle Myles. Like he’s the spurned noble, or something. Imagine! Give, girlfriend. What’s been going on?”
Jack Bunny’s voice had covered at least an octave and a half, high at the beginning, then low and conspiratorial at the end. Raven could imagine him sitting at her kitchen table with a steaming coffee mug, letting it go cold as they whiled away a Sunday morning gossiping. The good old days.
“Nothing’s been going on as far as I can tell,” Raven explained, just enough to make the point when it got back to other pooka ears. “You know how I am – if I haven’t been properly introduced to someone, I just blow them off. For all I knew, this Alain guy was a salesman…Of course, now that I know he’s related to Myles, that changes things. I’ll call him sometime next week.”
“Nothing else to tell? Come on, this is me…” Jack Bunny wheedled.
“I promise you, Jack,” Raven said, “as soon as something really juicy happens in my life, you’ll be the first to know.”
“Liar! I love ya anyway!” Jack Bunny said. “Bye, Darling!”
“Later,” Raven chuckled, and hung up.
So, Coyote was related to Myles. How intriguing. Mildly embarrassing as well, that she had snubbed a relative of a friend of such standing. How does a sidhe eat crow before a pooka, and save face? (How does a Corax eat crow at all?)
Oh, well – Raven guessed she’d just have to do the right thing and call the guy. Tonight, not next week.
After I take off my coat, shoes and change clothes; go to the privy, start the laundry, start dinner, pet the cat, and pour a brew!
After doing all the above, Raven settled in at the kitchen table to return phone calls. Family on the East Coast would have to wait ‘til morning, when she was getting ready for work. She made a note to set the alarm an hour early to have time to get ready, as well as chat.
Dan, the landlord at the new place she was looking at, had called her to set a time to sign the lease. Call him back right away. The apartment was a steal. Lots of space, lots of light, upstairs on a tree-lined street, never mind the biker bar down the block. Dan was garou; Children of Gaia. Raven had noticed the insignia on his leather jacket when she went to look at the place two days ago. Why is the rent so low? Raven wondered. Probably the bar. She shrugged. That, she could handle.
At eight forty-nine, finished with all the other calls, Raven could no longer avoid it. She had to call that Alain guy. Coyote. Bracing herself, she dialed his home number.
Voicemail. No thanks.
She dialed his cell. Mechanical voice: “We’re sorry, the cellular telephone you are trying to reach is out of the area.” Yeah, right. They say that when the phone isn’t turned on, too.
Pulling out her cell, she decided to text. Keep it simple. “This is Raven, thanks for trying to reach me. Heard you are Myles’ family. Small world! Catch you when you get in. Cheers.”
Raven got up and started cleaning up the dishes. Spike wound through her feet, petting her legs with his tail and purring. “Hi, boy!” she cooed. “Such a sweet boy. Such a sweetie…”
Across the Oakland Bay Bridge, Reeve Alain was having dinner with another noble lady, the Japanese Ambassador’s new personal assistant. Mundanely known as Viola Munakata, she was “Kappa” to the kithain. The lady’s reputation for destroying her political opponents had preceded her, and the Duchess had sent Alain on a spy mission. What brought her into the area?
Alain knew the treacherous ground he was on, and that he needed to be careful. Still, he knew that he had the advantage, knowing the local nobility and their quirks and armed as he was with the Ring of Truth. He could lie smoothly to anyone, but they couldn’t lie to him undetected.
Petal soft perfect beauty in a sun dress in oversized peach flowers, Kappa dimpled demurely as Alain perused the wine list. The only threat she appeared to present would be to another woman who might be interested in Alain. He made his selection from the list and turned to his lovely enemy. Time to go to work. He smiled.
“So,” he began, “I’m very glad you decided to take a chance on me tonight…” his eyes glittered playfully as he let his words trail off. Drop a hint or two and let her begin making assumptions. See where it went and what she would inadvertently reveal.
“Well I thought I’d give you a break,” Kappa returned his serve, playing a similar game of her own. “After all your persistence while the trade negotiations were going on and I was working late every night and just had no time at all to meet you! Thanks for calling again –“ she remembered to add that last bit, to soften her gloating at having made him wait. For good measure, she decided to do her “innocent face” – widening her eyes and gazing at him for a long moment.
What Kappa did not realize, because she couldn’t see her own face, was that her “wide-eyed innocent look” didn’t quite work. Widening her eyes wasn’t enough. They never quite lost their hard edge. When she widened them, the eyes themselves appeared to be as deep as … bottle caps. Flat and lusterless. Obviously predatory.
The incongruity was not lost on Alain, although he did not let it register in his manner. He glanced quickly to his left hand, noted the slight change of color on his ring, and recovered his serve. Point one, for a score of love-fifteen, to the gentleman.
“Well, you must have a dozen or so admirers,” Alain began. Time to get serious about getting the goods. “You’ve been in town, what, two months now? What made you choose me?”
Kappa looked surprised. She did that one a little better. Maybe she actually was caught off guard. “Why,” she breathed, “Well, why wouldn’t I pick you?” Stall for time, girlfriend! When in doubt, punt!
Alain noted from her use of the vernacular that she probably hadn’t gone to Georgetown, as she had said. He made a mental note to check up on her education. She was probably working class to lower-middle class. College on a scholarship; and if she’d completed her undergraduate degree, she’d have to work nights to earn her Masters. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Thirty-love, to the gentleman.
“I simply meant,” Alain dropped his voice to just above a whisper. “That you must have among your many admirers, some who are, shall we say, a bit higher in station than I?” It was his turn to widen his eyes and wait. He did it better. Sometimes that feral light behind his eyes (pooka’s charm) came in handy.
“Oh, I get it,” Kappa picked up his cue and giggled conspiratorially, dropping her voice a few decibels and a whole octave as well. “You mean nobility, don’t you? Well,” here she looked over both shoulders before continuing. “If you can keep a secret, I’ll tell you – most of those types are bo-ring!” Roll the eyes up to the ceiling and then back around to Alain. She finished with a fetching dimpling just below her stratospheric cheekbones. She restrained herself from batting her eyelashes. Don’t overplay it. She was fairly good, after all.
Alain was impressed. Another glance at his ring told him that that too was not true. Point to the lady, thirty-fifteen.
She had another reason for selecting him. He could very well guess … She probably knew he was the personal assistant to the Duchess Evelyn; who ruled over the San Francisco Bay Area, including the East Bay; and that he was her representative to the common folk. He was well connected, both mundanely and otherwise, and of course this was no secret among the kithain of the Bay Area. It really didn’t matter who had informed her, except to trace the path that information normally took to get to her. That could be useful.
“Oh, surely some of the sidhe can be quite entertaining, even to one as well travelled as your ladyship?” Alain pressed, not letting her off the hook.
It was apparently too much for her “ladyship”.
“I can’t really believe that rank and politics are the agenda for the evening?” Kappa dimpled again. “Could we talk about something else?”
Got her on the run! Forty-fifteen, to the gentleman. Time out from the game. Rematch and resumption to be determined later. Now to enjoy the evening.
“Of course, milady,” Alain recovered smoothly. “You’re quite right. Forgive me for being so obsessive about protocol. I am, as I said, very pleased to be the one chosen to keep you company this evening.” He gave her his best lady-go-weak-in-the-knees smile. It worked on any female; from nine to ninety, mundane, kithain or other, noble or common, as long as she walked upright on two legs. (He had other wiles to work on … never mind.) He hoped it would save the social value of the rest of the evening with this barracuda.
The moment was interrupted by the seeming materialization of a tall, elegant, graying gentleman at Kappa’s left elbow. Old sidhe. Alain knew him from a few of the Duchess’ more formal functions. His name was Jareth. He was over fifty, and still had the magic about him, which kept him seeming fairly young. Ageless.
Powerful. Tread lightly, Alain. Don’t cross this old-timer.
“Kappa, my dear,” Jareth crooned in mock surprise. “How lovely to see you again! How are you, my little darling? We must get together, and soon, to talk about old times! Oh, I see you have company for the evening…” he finished with a barely perceptible sneer of distaste. Disapproval of Kappa for fraternizing with the unwashed rabble? No doubt.
Alain was saved by his phone from having to make a direct response to the snobbish nobleman. “Excuse me,” he said, rising. “I have to get his. Do, please, keep her ladyship company in my absence, would you mind, Sir,” and with a proper bow to Jareth, Alain made his escape.
If that was a setup, Alain thought as he made his way outside, it was undercut by other business. He blessed his unwitting partner in what had become a game of mixed doubles.
Reaching the back courtyard, he looked at the text. Tatyana Schwartz – aka, the Raven of Odin, the Raven of the Battle field. Well, well, well…
Raven’s phone rang ten minutes after she texted Coyote. She dried her hands and picked it up as the second ring hung in the air.
“Hello?” she said.
“Well, hello, yourself, milady. And charmed am I, indeed, to speak to you at last! ‘Tis I, Alain, Reeve of the Duchess Evelyn, who rules the San Francisco Bay Area and the East Bay as well. You know me as Alain Sirius. Please call me Alain, or Alain, according to your whim.” Alain somehow managed to keep any hint of sarcasm out of his voice. It took an effort, but he rose to the occasion, as usual.
Raven laughed softly. “I’m sorry for taking so long to get back to you. I have an explanation, but it’s a rather long story, and we may – that is, if you still want to do this, I know you mentioned something about it on my voicemail last week – we may want to meet somewhere and discuss it…” Raven hoped she sounded more in control of herself than she felt.
She didn’t. Alain leaned back with satisfaction, knowing that this snotty noble lady was on the run now, thanks to gold old Uncle Myles, no doubt. Knowing better than to openly gloat, deciding to save the moment of glory for a more profitable time to claim it, he recovered the conversation deftly.
“Oh, I understand. I know you must be very busy,” he began. Stall and figure out what to do next. “I am glad you called me, however. I do want to speak to you, and a face-to-face meeting is probably best. Unfortunately, I’m in the middle of an engagement at the moment. May I call you tomorrow with some hope of reaching you the same day?” Still without a trace of sarcasm. Damn, I’m good!
“Text me, OK?” Raven volunteered.
Damn! Am I that good? Well, well, well… “I will,” he promised, still managing not to sound startled. Now, how to stall and keep her on the phone? He wasn’t exactly eager to get back to Kappa and Jareth, wanting to give them some more time to get into real conversation before he surprised them with his return. Hoping to overhear something…
“So, mundanely, what do you do?” Alain asked. Classic question, but possibly risky asking the nobility. However, knowing this lady had blue collar roots, he thought it was a safe bet. He had done his homework before following her on the BART commuter train, knowing she was from salt-of-the-earth humble beginnings this lifetime, and held a day job.
“Basically I’m a temp,” Raven replied.
Suddenly realizing that this Alain guy probably wasn’t used to the terminology of the workaday world, Raven rushed to fill him in. “I have certain office skills that I contract out to businesses through a temporary staffing agency. That’s how I make my living.”
“Sounds exciting,” Alain said.
“That’s impossible!” Raven laughed.
“OK, well, then it isn’t. But I was trying to make conversation…” Alain chuckled, pitching his voice even deeper and quieter, conspiratorial. “I’ll text you tomorrow with a proposal for a meeting. I look forward to seeing you again!”
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Jareth lean back in the chair Alain had vacated, and knew it was time to return. “Until then, milady,” he said to Raven and hung up.
Raven sat for a moment, realizing that Alain had said the equivalent of “talk t’ya later.” How courtly. How charming. She smiled.
Careful, he’s a pooka!
Alain took the long way around getting back to his table. On the way, he made sure to pass by his Uncle Myles and give him the high sign. Contact established. Thanks. Now, it’s back to work for me.
Kappa saw him approach and said something to Jareth that Alain was still too far away to hear. Jareth rose, and Kappa followed. They waited for him. Alain felt is hackles rise between his shoulder blades.
Kappa gave him the big eyes again as he came up to the table. “I’m sorry, sweetie,” she cooed. “But something has come up. I’m afraid I really must go…” She looked sorrowfully at him.
Laying it on thick. I guess I’m supposed to be upset. Erech thought. She must think I’m really interested in her, or something.
Jareth was openly sneering at him. What a bore.
“Are you all right, milady?” Alain asked. “Is there anything I can do for you?”
“No, that’s OK,” Kappa answered. Turning adoring eyes to Jareth, she said, “Jareth’s taking me home. I’ll call you tomorrow…”
“If that is your wish, milady,” Alain replied in perfect poise. He bowed low, and when he raised himself up again, they were just turning to go. Kappa raised her hand, Jareth took it, and the new couple left the scene gazing raptly into each other’s eyes.
How cute. Alain chuckled to himself when they were out of earshot. How droll!
“Will the lady be returning, Mr. Sirius?” The Maitre d’Hotel was at Alain’s left elbow.
“No, she will not,” he replied. “In fact, I will not be staying at this table now. I’ll be joining my uncle in the next room.”
“Very good, Sir!” the Maitre d’ responded with a bow. Good help. Good help, indeed, to recognize true nobility when he was in its presence. Good man, that Maitre d’Hotel.
“Well, laddie, how’d it go?” Myles asked as Alain took the chair opposite him. It felt good to be in congenial company again. Time to relax and enjoy dinner.
“Well, I’m off duty for the evening,” Alain replied. “And, man, am I glad! Caught between two game-playing noble ladies and having to massage their egos while they attempted to shred mine! I feel like a turkey sandwich stuffed into a Cuisinart!”
“Is that what you would like, Sir?” asked the waiter, who had just appeared.
“No, heaven’s no!” Alain laughed. “I think I’ll have the stuffed goose. That’s what I feel like. The wild rice stuffed goose.”
Myles all but roared with laughter. “That’s my laddie!” he crowed. The waiter looked confused. Alain waved him away.
“Go, please. That’s what I want,” he assured him. Both Sirius gentlemen were getting a serious case of the sillies.
After a few minutes, they finally calmed down. Wiping their eyes, they each looked at the other, and started laughing again. Time to calm down again.
“Did you get all that?” Alain finally asked between gasps.
“I heard every word, m’boy!” Myles said. “He produced his phone, and touched SEND. “And, even more important, I got ‘tape!’ as they used to say.”
“Good show!” Alain exclaimed. The evening was a success. Myles’ text rang into Alain’s phone as he was speaking.
Their dinner arrived. They turned to the business at hand silently for a few minutes. Then, halfway through, Alain relaxed and took a sip of his wine. He sat back.
“So tell me, Uncle,” he began. “You say Tanya – Raven – is all right?”
“She’s a good egg.” Myles said. That started the simples again in both of them.
“I’m supposed to text her tomorrow,” Alain managed to get out after a few minutes. “Anything I should know before I do?”
“Just that she’s very protective of her privacy, as you’ve noticed,” Myles also managed to get serious this time. “She probably thought you were one of her ex-husband’s friends when she didn’t recognize your name on her phone, and you kept calling her. Her number’s unlisted, you know.”
“I know. Husband, you say?” Alain said. He wasn’t going to tell Uncle how he got non-published telephone numbers, unless the wily old man asked again. Make him work for it, at least a little.
“Quid pro quo,” Myles said, and waited.
“OK, gotta give in order to get. All right,” Alain said. “I’ve got a buddy down at the police station. He’ll run license plates and get me phone numbers, too. For various favors, which I won’t name. Now, you…”
“Ex-husband. Nasty divorce as she was leaving the Army. Followed her for years. She’s starting to think there are more people after her than just his friends, though. Getting paranoid, poor girl. Always in need of a good laugh to lighten things up. Took care of one of my street kids, gave him a safe place to be a kid. Got him to grow up enough to take care of himself, didn’t try to make him grow up too much and lose the magic. It’s been a while and I wouldn’t mind seeing her again.” Myles answered.
“The kid was the one who put in a good word to her for me? Told her I was all right to talk to?” Alain continued fishing. Get as prepared as possible.
“Without a doubt. I saw him this afternoon. He does stand up and whatever else he gets a whim to do. Jack Bunny’s his stage name.” Myles finished.
At this, Alain looked up. “I see his name down at the Chameleon. I better catch his act.” He said.
“He rehearses afternoons at four,” Myles said. “That’s where I caught up with him today. I suppose the lass still has a soft spot in her heart for us pooka types – can’t resist us, even yet.” Myles chuckled.
Alain looked up with interest. There was more?
“Jacko could only have got the message to her today, and she called you tonight. Quite a pull he still has with his foster mum. That means his moving out was amicable.” Myles explained. Uncle Myles was certainly explaining a lot. A few quick glances at his ring told Alain that it was mostly true. That being the case, it boded well for Alain’s interview with the lady whenever they managed to get together.
What could be the reason for the rudeness? Being chased by a vengeful ex? Was that enough to engender such defensiveness?
Well, I suppose if it’s gone on for ten years … Alain didn’t finish the thought.
Was it Jack Bunny’s relationship with Raven that made her so anxious to make contact, or was it her memory of Myles? Just how close had they been?
No, Uncle Myles was still gay, Alain was certain. As certain as he could be, given Myles’ kith…
A soft spot in her heart for pooka? Well, well, well….
At the top of Coit Tower, Jareth poured the champagne into two glasses. He offered one to Kappa, who took it and waited. Let him sip first.
Jareth raised his glass. “A toast, my dear,” he intoned, “To illustrious beginnings. Yours and mine, may our agendas always dovetail so neatly. To the beginning of whatever it is with that Alain fellow – may you ravish your fellow man with ever greater elegance, provided of course that I am not one of them.” Here he gave a throaty chuckle, then continued. “And to my new beginning with Raven – and her undoing. So may it be.”
Kappa raised her glass to clink with his, then lowered it to her lovely lips. She continued to wait.
Jareth sipped, and so, finally, did she.
After a moment, Kappa set down her glass and turned to the parapet to look out over the bay. “Just what is it,” she began carefully, “that concerns you so about Raven? What did she do to you?”
Jareth took a moment before answering. How much to tell her? Still not sure of his partner in vengeance, he weighed his words as he began. “She has some power, to be sure,” he said. “Not too much, but a bit. She interests me as a partner in some of my doings.”
“So, why not offer her a job openly?” Kappa returned innocently.
“Because, my little darling,” Jareth came up behind her and put his arms around her waist. She did not resist, as long as there was more information coming. “Because, the Raven has pretensions of honor that keep her from aligning with me. She doesn’t approve of the things I would have her do.”
His chin just rested on the top of Kappa’s head. Her hair smelled of apricot blossoms, and he inhaled the heady fragrance deeply, savoring the scent and the feel of her under his hands. He moved his body ever so slowly to press against her back, feeling the firm roundness of her buttocks under her skirt against the tops of his thighs. He moved back then, to keep the reawakened manhood that was rising between them from brushing against her. Do not cause offense, he cautioned himself.
Kappa noted Jareth’s interest in her body, and smiled with satisfaction. They were all alike, these men! So predictable.
This one, however, still had some self-control. Chalk it up to his maturity and experience, Kappa thought. That’s OK. Let him keep it for now. There’s still work to be done.
“Well, what would you have her do, that the Raven of the Battlefield would object to?” Kappa said, to all appearances staying with the subject at hand.
These women are so dense, no matter how intelligent they are! Jareth smirked. He was glad Kappa couldn’t see his face, and the moment of contempt that he knew flashed across it.
He didn’t feel like answering her question just yet. He raised his hands to her head and brushed them lightly across her hair from her temples. “I really don’t feel like talking too much shop tonight, my lovely,” he crooned. “I was rather hoping for a diversion from work when I brought you here…”
He let his words trail off, reaching down with his right hand, turning partly away from her and taking her left hand at the same time. He conducted her back from the parapet to a nest of quilts and pillows he had arranged in the shadows.
OK, so I’m still on the clock! Kappa thought, resigning herself to Jareth’s plan. Play along one more night.
Later, in his arms as he lay spent on top of her, Kappa wondered just how many more nights like this she would have to endure. Oh, sure, there had been physical pleasure – she made sure she got that before he got his. Always, girlfriend, always! But she was rather getting tired of having to let a man under her skirts in order to get anything out of him. She had no love waiting for her here in exile, and she knew it. She was bored with the sheer tedium of physical gymnastics when she couldn’t hope for the rapture of recognition.
Perhaps it would be easier, she thought, if I could just look up one of the dauntain, and be done with it! Go to sleep, forever if need be, rather than face an empty existence. Faerie suicide?
Kappa shook her head and brought herself back. No. Not that. She thought of Evelyn and the throne that awaited her if she was successful. Power. That would take the place of the love that should have been hers. It would never be quite enough, but it would at least keep her interested in going on.
“Is there something more I can do for you, my dear?” Jareth whispered into her ear. He nuzzled her neck, but she pulled slightly away, irritated at his interruption of her thoughts.
“No, I just need to shift a little,” Kappa said. He moved off her, she turned to face the parapet and the lookout, and he curled up behind her, holding her around her waist. At least he’s warm, she thought, letting him nestle behind her. She shivered slightly, and pulled up one of the quilts.
Too bad for Evelyn, Kappa thought. She’d never met the woman, and had nothing against her, personally. But the San Francisco Bay area was the most beautiful and inspiring locale Kappa could think of, so it was the one she’d selected to take. Let her rule this glittering city, and she might just forget all the pain…
Beside Kappa, Jareth dreamed. He was back home, in the Autumn land. It was still Indian Summer, by the look of the leaves – they were just starting to turn gold. The old days, the beginning of the present decline.
Jareth stood in his tower, gazing into the enormous crystal at its center. There, he saw a black-haired woman running away from him. He followed Raven through the crystal as she ran down the tree-lined avenue away from his castle. His drones, oversized mosquitos, pursued her, harrying her and trying to make her lose her way. Finally, she became the bird – a great raven with a wingspan six feet across – and soared far above the limits of the drones’ flight. Jareth saw her escape and muttered an oath. The drones returned.
Raven turned from the bulk mailing she had just finished. Ten-fourteen. Time for her mid-morning break, give or take a minute. She put her desk phone on call-forward, picked up her smartphone and headed outside. The Moody Blues songs she had loaded filled her brain as she walked, gazing out at the backwater of the Oakland Bay. This particular song had become known as The Recognition Song among the kithain, and was played at least once every Beltane. Raven was sure that the man who wrote it had be3en sent down from Arcadia himself. Either that, or his faerie muse had pushed a clear memory into his head.
Raven closed her eyes and remembered. The nobles who had courted her, all trying to share and direct her power. She’d spurned them all, finally, for the pooka who had been her dearest friend. That’s why my life is pooka-central now, she thought. I’ll find him one day. If I spend this mundane lifetime, my only sidhe lifetime, searching, I’ll find him. And when I do, I’ll lay my crown, all my power and gifts, at his feet. We’ll spend this exile hand in hand, as we would have spent eternity in Arcadia, had it not been for Jareth!
Raven remembered many conversations with Myles, searching his eyes for signs of Recognition. She remembered having to finally give up. The man wasn’t hers, he was gay. He loved and shared his joy with all, but his mates were men. Good for him. Raven wished him well.
Jack Bunny had been her child. He wasn’t the one, either. She hoped he had done well since moving out. She hoped he was happy.
She thought of the newest pooka to catch her attention. Alain – careful, she warned herself. Could be wishful thinking here!
The song ended and Raven looked at her phone. Ten-twenty. Still some time, but she decided to get back to her desk anyway. It never hurt to create a good impression when she took on a new assignment.
Lisa was there when she arrived. The young golden black woman looked up and gave her a warm smile. “You have a message. Some guy named Allen called while you were on break. This is where he’ll be for the next hour,” and with that Lisa produced a sticky note with his number on it.
“Thanks, Lisa,” Raven said. Lisa headed back to her desk.
As soon as she was gone, Raven dialed the number.
“Point San Pablo Yacht Club,” came the reply after the phone had rung interminably.
“I’m returning a call to Alain Sirius. Is he still there?” she said.
“One mo-ment,” the person at the other end said with a flourish. At least he knew who Alain was, that he’d been there, etc. Raven looked at the number on the note, pulled up her contact information for Alain on her phone, and added the number, just in case she needed it again some time.
“Hello,” Alain’s voice came over the line.
“Alain? This is Raven,” she said.
“Oh, how nice of you to call back so soon,” he replied. “I was wondering if you could meet me tomorrow night? Normally I wouldn’t expect someone of your rank to be free on short notice, but we’ve only made contact and I’m having several folk to a neutral meeting place,” he explained. “You could meet these people as well, then you and I could go somewhere more private. Say Berkeley campus, the corner of College and Bancroft? Eight o’clock all right for you?”
“I’ll be there,” Raven said. “It sounds important, and I would like to see you again.” Recognize the earnestness and reward the behavior.
“Good,” he returned. “Then, unless there are more details I must know before then, in your opinion, I’ll take my leave now. My service is needed here, rather urgently, I’m afraid.” Alain signed off apologetically.
“See you then. Have a great day, Alain,” Raven said.
Raven smiled thoughtfully as she hung up. Tonight, she would meet Dan, her new landlord, at the apartment. Tomorrow night, Alain and a few more of the local kithain. Should she have warned him about her ex and the folks following her? No, if he was connected to Myles he: 1) already knew, and 2) was as well protected against their harassment as his uncle was. But what about those other folk?
Well, let them worry about their own karma for intersecting with hers.
What’s this, Raven, a new attitude?
After the long day was over, Raven rode the BART, but got off in North Berkeley. She walked a few tree-lined blocks to Hopkins and turned. Dan was waiting for her in front of the building.
“Hi,” he said as she walked up. He grinned that wholesome, nature-boy grin of his at her. A few strands of his wheat-blond hair had fallen out of his ponytail and were decorating his forehead rakishly. He reminded Raven of a grown-up Dennis the Menace. His voice, however, was deep and rumbly, like his motorcycle. The contrast was striking, and Raven suspected he used it sometimes on purpose to keep women slightly off balance – in a good, tingly way!
“Hi,” she said back. He handed her the keys.
“C’mon, let’s go inside,” he said. He let her go first, then followed her up the outside stairs to the second floor apartment. Raven noticed that in this light, the siding was faintly peach-coloured.
Raven opened the door with her new key. No problem. Good. She noticed that there was a deadbolt key, as well, that had not been used this time. Good. She was glad to have the option.
They stepped into the kitchen, where two copies of the lease were sitting on the counter. Raven looked one of these over quickly. She looked up at Dan.
Now I know it’s Spring, she thought suddenly. Even this biker garou looks good! Willing herself to behave, she concentrated on business.
“There are a few points I need you to initial before you move in,” Dan said. “Just routine. But I have to make sure you understand these things before you sign.”
Raven nodded. It was the usual stuff about rent due date, grace period, pets and their care, roommates, etc. Raven noted no problems, nothing out of the ordinary. She initialed every spot.
Finally, she signed both copies of the lease, and left the apartment with Dan.
“So, everything’s set. I can move my stuff in next weekend?” Raven asked. “It’s before the first, but no one’s there now…”
“No problem,” Dan said. He grinned that little-boy-in-a-treehouse grin of his, and reached for her hand. She shook it. “Glad to have you moving in,” he said. “I live right below, so if you need anything, the landlord is within easy reach!”
As they were standing on the sidewalk, a satyr got out of a car that had just pulled up. A long-legged blonde female satyr. She sauntered toward them.
“Hi,” she drawled as she came closer. “Dan? My name’s Cynthia Fellowes. But you can call me Cyn.”
Just call me Sin, fellows, Raven thought. Oh, boy!
“Hi, Cyn,” Dan rep0lied. “I’m sorry, but the apartment is already rented.”
“No problem,” Cyn said. “I figured it would go fast. And I didn’t get back when I thought I would. I just wanted to meet the one who would be moving in…”
Raven wondered why. Local kithain checking out the newcomer? And where was her alignment?
Raven did a scan of her aura. Clear. No harmful intent. Curiosity and availability.
“I’m Raven,” she said, then caught herself. “That is, my legal name is Tanya Schwartz, and I go by Raven onstage.”
Cyn’s smile deepened slightly. She was pretty, with no-BS blue eyes.
“You act, too?” Dan asked. “A multi-talented lady!”
“I do some psychic readings, mostly at fairs,” Raven allowed. “In addition to the painting and the writing.”
“It’s too bad about the apartment,” Cyn said. “Here, let me give you my name and number. If, down the road, you decide to take a roommate, call me.”
Raven took Cyn’s number and other information and entered it into her phone. Then Cynthia Fellowes said, “Bye,” and left. Just like that.
“Well, whatever,” Raven said. She turned to Dan. “Listen, I gotta go now,” she said. “I have to finish packing – I’m moving this weekend!”
He laughed. “See you then,” he said.
As Raven walked away, she caught a message on the wind – something she heard clearly, but knew no one else could.
Greetings, My Lady. It is not meet that a noble of your stature should lack a household. I am unaligned and know of your work. I am ever at your service. Should you have need of physical protection or a friendly ear, you have but to call upon me. I’ll be meeting Alain tomorrow night with the others. See you then. Cyn.
Local kithain making contact. OK. We’ll see what’s what tomorrow night.
“I’ll be meeting her tomorrow night, milady,” Alain reported. “And introducing her to Finders Keepers, as well. She and another newcomer. I’ll have more to report then.”
He was keeping his employer and liege lady, the Duchess Evelyn informed of his progress.
“I’ll be watching the meeting tomorrow night, if you don’t mind,” the Duchess said. “I want to meet these other two but not yet. Will that work for you?”
“Whatever milady wishes,” Alain said, and bowed.
“Very good. You may go now,” the Duchess dismissed him with a wave of her hand. He turned and lightly stepped from the presence without another word.
When he was gone, Evelyn returned to her vanity7 table. She closed her eyes and meditated for a few moments, then opened them and looked, or rather gazed into the mirror for a long moment. Finally, her reflection wavered, shifted and reshaped itself to show another face, framed by long, slightly layered black hair. (Her own hair was golden blonde, and her eyes ice blue.) The eyes looking out at her were also black, or perhaps midnight blue. Now and then, a star seemed to flicker within the depths of the eyes.
The lady was no longer young, but still beautiful. Her ears pointed, of course, and her dress was a simple black gown without adornment. Evelyn knew the long sleeves would flutter in the random breeze, as would the hem of the gown around the lady’s ankles. She wore no jewelry. She needed none. No advertisement, no signature, the lady was what she was and in the moment of being with her, one was left with his/her own self to deal with her.
For all the power Evelyn knew the Raven had, the face was gentle. Kind and peaceful, Evelyn knew, leaving it up to the other to start any conflict.
Evelyn smiled. “Hello,” she said to the image in the mirror. “Welcome back.”
A knock at the door broke Evelyn’s concentration. She turned with a sigh and adjusted her pose to greet her petitioner. The demands of rule!
“Come,” she called. She picked up a Victorian-era feather fan in silver from her vanity table and fiddled with it. Always handy to have a prop to gesture with!
“Good morrow, My liege,” Sir Adrian gave the proper greeting. “I am here to inform you that your reeve is using my Crystal Grove tomorrow evening to meet with Finders Keepers again. Do you wish my attendance as well – to inform them of progress with your young ward?”
“No, Adrian,” the Duchess said. “Alain will do that for me. Thank you for your concern, though.”
“You trust him, milady?” Adrian pressed.
Evelyn simply looked at the young sidhe knight for a long moment.
Finally, he caught the hint. “Of course, milady,” Adrian dropped to one knee and bowed his head. “I forget myself. Please accept my apology.”
Evelyn smiled. Adrian was really cute, if a bit of a prig and a stickler for the old ways. What he needs, she thought, is for some satyr to show him a good time and loosen him up. Not that he’d ever consider a commoner…
Suddenly, with that lightbulb above the head that appears in comic strips to mark the moment, Evelyn realized that that was it – the whole problem with her most loyal stick-in-the-mud sidhe knight was that he was still cherry! Such a late virgin. She giggled.
Adrian looked up to see his liege lady’s eyes glittering, and a funny smile on her face. Uh-oh, he thought. How far have I botched it this time? What comical penance will I have to endure to satisfy her whim now? He steeled himself for the humiliating consequences of arousing his lady’s wrath.
“Is there something I can do to make it up to you, my lady?” Adrian asked. Let’s get this over with. I’ve got things to do.
“No, my d3ear,” the Duchess replied, still with that knowing look about her. “There’s nothing for you to do at the moment for me. It was nothing, really. All is forgiven. Come now, get back to your feet,” here she reached both arms to him and waved him up to a standing position. She took hold of his arms just below the shoulders, feeling the taut muscle underneath his shirt. Such a fine and lovely young man! She thought. I wonder who will do the honour? I hope the moment isn’t squandered on some mundane tart with her nose pierced and purple hair. Talk about common! Ugh!
She smiled that knowing smile up at him for a long moment. Adrian was becoming uncomfortable, knowing the Duchess’ proclivity for taking sudden whims to dally with her subjects in her bedroom. He hoped her thoughts never strayed in his direction.
Not that she wasn’t attractive. She was actually very beautiful. But she was awfully intimidating as well, being twice his age, and having all that experience, AND the power and position to make things very difficult for him when the inevitable happened and the romance was over. Thank you, NO!
No that he hadn’t fantasized about someone very like Evelyn taking him under her tutelage in the arts of love. Someone who looked very much like her, but with more compassion. With less of a wicked sense of humor to her.
Someone not so damned intimidating, for the Goddess’ sake!
(a new scene, fixed up by Evelyn, Adrian and Raven … for educational purposes!)
(new scene, meeting with Alain and the others, plans for Beltane Ball, discussion of Kappa, Jareth, Rhys)
The room is decorated in warm dark wood – mahogany paneling halfway up the walls, mahogany bookshelves lining one wall the rest of the way up, hunter green paint on the other walls above the paneling. The carpet is also hunter green, and thick enough to curl your toes in. A massive cherry roll-top desk looms in one corner, and in another, a plush four-poster bed curtained in the same hunter green shelters in the gathering darkness. A young man sits cross-legged on the bed in the middle of the covers, eyes closed, wearing tan suede breeches, a muslin poet’s shirt and bare feet. No jewelry, save for a large-stoned ring on his left hand.
The man opens emerald eyes and slowly removes the ring. No need for it now, he’s alone. He reaches to place the ring on the bedside table and rolls from his sitting position to swing his feet off the edge of the bed, planting them onto the floor in one fluid motion. He stands and saunters slowly toward the desk, his feet sinking slightly into the carpet.
At the desk, the man reaches one long slender arm into a drawer on the left side, and pulling out again, strikes a match, lighting up the corner of the room, the light glinting off delicate brown hairs on his wrist and forearm. With the match he lights a single foot-high taper on the left side of the desk. Then he sits down, selects a quill from a pen stand – the one with the long gracefully waving, ticklishly soft ostrich plume in natural white – a small silver bottle of sepia ink and a sheaf of rice paper. He begins:
“Come to me, my Darling,
For thou’rt already mine
Any many long years of searching
Have brought me at last, to thee…
I am in the Greenwood waiting
And I am already thine
Any many long nights of loving
Will bring thee at last, to me…
For I love thee in the evening
When thou’rt taking thy rest
And the breeze they hair is teasing
Is but my breath upon thy brow
And still I wait this evening
Alone, like all the rest
Though my thoughts of you are pleasing
And my constancy I avow
And yet thou dost not know me
So cannot know my pain
And I must touch thy heart in secret
Within the realm of dream
Yet how many lives to show thee
‘Ere holding thee again
“How many more lives must I wait
‘Ere holding thee again?” Alain whispered, penning the last line.
Of course, the rhythm of the poem was incomplete, begging continuation from the beginning. Alain read the lines over and over, his baritone voice rising and falling just above a whisper, as he chanted the entire verse three times three. Finally, finishing the last time, he raised the paper in his hand to his lips, closed his eyes and kissed the dry parchment lingeringly, reverently; then lowered it and rolled it slowly. The roll he bound with a ribbon of red satin which was right where he had placed it earlier when making his preparations.
Raven realized with a start that she was awake. There was a start, and the sinking realization that what she had been experiencing was a dream. Rats!
She sat up in her own bed, her own room [Rats!] and reached to pat Spike. He looked up, purred conversationally, and stretched. Raven looked over at the mahogany secretary desk and remembered the cherry roll-top in Alain’s room in her dream.
She closed her eyes and saw again: Alain sitting at the roll-top desk, in his poet shirt, illuminated by a single taper, writing with an ostrich-plumed quill pen. The candle’s warm light threw beckoning shadows into the folds of the ruffle at the neck of his shirt, open to expose his throat, his collar bone and adam’s apple to her feather-soft kisses …
He was writing mash poetry – she remembered hearing him speak a few lines aloud before deciding on the right words to commit to paper.
What in blue-blazes is that pooka up to?
Or, was the dream strictly her own responsibility?
She looked at the clock on her nightstand. Three-forty-three. Rats! No civilized time to call him and find out. No way to get back to sleep until a proper time of the morning.
And during that enforced wakefulness, until that proper civilized time of the morning, Spike was the only male energy in the apartment. She patted him again, rolling him over onto his back and rubbing his tummy. He purred even louder, then got tired of being adored and began scratching and play-biting her hands. The game had begun.
They boxed for a few minutes until Raven got tired of having her hands scratched – sometimes he was fast enough to get her, and sometimes she let him get her anyway. Then she grabbed his paws and head in a protective (of herself) grip, kissed his nose and called him a sweetie, and quickly released him, drawing her hands far out of his reach.
He looked up at her, ears back, then licked himself. Still purring.
Three-forty-seven. Jack Bunny might still be awake, having just got home from the club. Call him up to chat? About what? She couldn’t very well tell him about her dream, and he would want to know why she couldn’t sleep. The years of her concern and care for him had established her as the one person he knew he could trust, and he would be there for her if he could. He wouldn’t let her pretend, any more than she let him when she knew something bothered him. No, leave Jack alone this time.
Just as Raven was deciding to ride out the energy tide alone, she heard the familiar whoppa-whoppa of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle beneath her window. Dan returning home from an evening of howling at the moon?
The noise stopped. She looked out the window and saw Dan swinging off the bike, then walking it toward the carport. His aura did not look good. His main aura was dark and muddy, not at all the sunshine gold glimmer she was used to seeing. Lurid red lightning streaks flared through it fitfully, as if the wav e had passed and he was experiencing the aftershocks of terrible rage. That the rage was still in his aura meant that he had not seen fit to give it full expression and had had to suppress it. That meant that the rage was not honorably motivated in Dan’s opinion. Had the moot not gone well? That was unusual – Dan was articulate and persuasive and usually won his way with the other garou.
Well, he needed to talk, obviously. Raven could use a ride on a Harley with the wind in her hair. Maybe they could take care of each other.
Raven got up and dressed quickly, washing up just enough to be presentable, and lightly tiptoed down the outside stairs to the apartment below. As she was reaching up to knock on the door, it opened and Dan hurtled out, crashing into her and knocking her back before he stopped in surprise.
“Hi,” Raven said brightly before he could catch his breath. “I heard you ride up. Are you going out again?”
“Uh, yeah,” he said, recovering himself. His aura showed a token streak of the familiar gold. Encouraging. “I’m going for a ride – probably down by the beach. It’s been a rough night. Can’t stop to talk this time, I’m afraid…” he started to brush past her, giving her the minimum courtesy (and probably the maximum he could manage under the strain of self-control).
“Could I go with you?” Raven called, keeping up with him. They were on the sidewalk on their way to the carport now. “I don’t want to talk – I just want to ride…”
Raven projected her glamour to make herself resemble the perfect Harley-mama – laid back, down to earth, raw and uncomplicated. She knew that with the energy flowing through her this night (morning?) she was sexy as well, but she couldn’t help that. She wanted to be non-threatening to get his “Yes” answer.
Dan stopped, looked her over questioningly, thought about turning her away, then changed his mind. Raven saw all the decision process flicker through his aura. She inwardly cheered as his aura brightened and she knew he’d decided “Yes”.
Dan shrugged and managed a wan smile. “Sure,” he said. “I guess I could stand your company.”
They continued to the carport in silence, and Raven waited as Dan pulled the Harley out and started the engine. He wheeled the bike around to her and waited for her to get on. She slipped onto the seat behind him, reached to hold him around his waist, and they roared off.
Dan felt good in her arms, Raven decided. His back against her breast, his hips cradled in her thighs, the bike vibrating beneath her seat, she relaxed and looked up at the starry sky. Mid-April – there were still a few hours before they would notice the lightening of pre-dawn.
They rode to a familiar spot on Ocean View Avenue, when Dan cut the engine. They sat on the bike for a moment, then Dan turned his head. “Want to walk on the beach?” he asked softly over his left shoulder.
“Mmm-hmmm,” Raven murmured her assent. She swung off the bike, then Dan did the same. He walked the big Harley down behind the embankment of the road to a safe hiding place, then took off his boots in preparation for walking on the sand.
Raven took off her boots as well. Feeling the shocking cold of the sand on her bare feet, she was glad for the pea coat and jeans she had on. Dan was OK in his leathers.
They walked along in silence, and at some point Raven realized that Dan had taken her hand a while back. It had felt so comfortable that she hadn’t noticed it at the time. She just realized that her hand was in his without remembering how it got there.
They walked around a high dune that separated them from view of the road, when Dan turned her around and pulled her toward him, holding her head with his free hand and kissing her. Then he let her go, and they looked at each other wordlessly for a long moment.
They reached for each other again, this time kissing passionately, removing each other’s clothing as they did so. She unzipped his leather jacket while he fumbled with the buttons on her pea coat, finally undid them and they both chuckled slightly, nuzzling each other and retur4ned to kissing. As her pea coat fell, Raven felt the chill in the breeze, but it did not shock her this time. Something else had most of her attention.
Finally naked to the chilly ocean breeze, they fell together holding onto each other, urgently kissing and caressing every square inch of skin. Raven reached up into Dan’s hair – his ponytail was falling out of the tie and she helped it free, raking her fingers through his long wheat-blond hair luxuriously. Her other hand alternately kneaded and lightly scratched his muscles down his back and to his buttocks. One of his arms was under the small of her back, gripping her tight against his chest, while the other hand held her head as he kissed her. His body moved above hers, luxuriating in the feeling of her skin against him.
Then he raised up on his knees and reached for his jeans, pulling something out of his pocket. Of course – a condom.
Raven chuckled softly.
“I have to wear this,” Dan explained as he ripped the packet open. “You don’t want to know where all I’ve been!” he grinned boyishly as he wiped sand off his “instrument” and slipped the rubber on.
“Don’t apologize,” Raven cooed. “Thank you for your concern!”
Well, not exactly zipless, Raven thought. But fun! I hope there won’t be any complications. She thought of the politics of the fae world and how a garou partner would only be frustrated by all the bowing and scraping. But for a fling – a garou was on a level with a satyr for pure animal release.
He was looking at her appraisingly. He smiled. “Thanks, Raven,” he said. “I really needed that!”
“So did I,” Raven sighed. She didn’t tell the garou in front of her that he’d been a stand-in for a canine pooka. Free associating, Raven suddenly wondered where the slang term “pooch” had originated. She laughed softly.
Dan caught her laugh. “What’s so funny?” he asked gently.
Raven just shook her head. Sometimes the nonverbal answer was best.
A little while later, after they had dressed, Raven asked, “So, what happened last night?”
Dan looked at her sideways, gauging how much to tell her. He still didn’t know how much she was able to see before people told her things. She’d told him she could read people by their auras, but it apparently hadn’t sunk in. That means he doesn’t have the same experience, Raven realized. If he did, he’d automatically know how much I’m able to see. Food for thought, to be digested later.
“How did the moot go?” Raven decided to help him begin.
“I wasn’t at a moot – which by the way, you’re not supposed to know about,” Dan corrected her.
“Nonsense!” Raven said. “The Tribes call on me all the time. I’m authorized to know garou business. But let’s get back to whatever happened last night to get you so upset…”
Dan sighed long and wearily. “All right,” he said. “I wasn’t at a moot – the moon is between phases now. I was on a date.”
“Mmmm,” Raven replied. So, petty lovers’ quarrels did not justify the Rage, and Dan had blocked his energy to avoid garou sacrilege. “Anyone I know?”
“I don’t think so. Her name is Viola,” Dan was staring straight out at the ocean now, glossy black waves breaking with a faint shimmer of starlight. Luna had long since set on the night.
Raven waited. Was this lady…?
“I do know someone by that name,” Raven finally breathed. “I wonder if it’s the same person?”
“Viola Munakata,” Dan said. “Works for the Ambassador from Tokyo.”
With no more information, Raven could almost write the script for that scene. Viola was indeed Kappa – from the Japanese name for the mischievous (even deadly – to fishermen, according to tradition) water spirit. Mundanely she was petite and lovely, and knew it. She seduced with cynical abandon, most often several men at once, deliberately goading them to fight over her, just so that she could draw their energy from them as she intensified their feelings to fever pitch, then drove them over the edge of madness with jealousy. Raven remembered that every time she had seen the unseelie sidhe, Kappa had been laughing but not from warmth. When Kappa laughed, she laughed alone.
So, this time Dan had been one of her intended victims, but had restrained himself. Kappa had had to know who, and more importantly what, she had been toying with this time. She was getting ambitious, attempting to destroy the mind of a well-disciplined garou warrior. She was really puffing herself up this time, and probably setting herself up for a terrible fall – one could only hope!
Shame on me for wanting to see the destruction of another being! Raven reminded herself. Still, something had to be done about Kappa. This time she had targeted someone Raven cared about personally. Never mind that she wouldn’t choose to live “happily ever after” with Dan, he was still a good man and her friend, for the Goddess’ sake!
Raven listened with half her attention as Dan recounted the night’s humiliating denouement, catching the details; all the while formulating a plan to set up the wannabe vampiric sidhe. The details Dan told her, Raven wove into the plat she was just beginning to develop.
I’m glad I’m on good terms with a few sluagh! Raven thought.
The Beltane Ball
“Adrian, Darling,” Evelyn called, “Be a dear, won’t you, and dance with first dance with our newest guest!” It was said in tender, solicitous tones, but everyone knew it was a command. Raven watched the dance, searching Arianrhod’s face for signs of recognition. Arianrhod might have been mistaken for a more youthful version of Raven, more Celtic with her blue-grey eyes and shorter nose, but still with Raven’s dark, deep knowingness about her. Her contrast with Adrian’s blondness was striking. Arianrhod smiled up at Adrian shyly as they danced and Raven could see Adrian relaxing and making light conversation with her. Good. Things would proceed.
The couple wouldn’t recognize each other yet, Raven knew. They would have to have their first kiss in order to know for sure. Would Adrian kiss Arianrhod this evening? That was doubtful, given Adrian’s sense of honor. Of course, the night had just begun, there was plenty of brew, and also the tradition of the maypole dance, after which couples would find their way up to the guest rooms to keep Beltane properly. Anything might happen. Raven resolved to wait and see what the night brought as it wore on, before resuming her search for her own mate.
Raven caught Evelyn’s eye and raised her glass to the Duchess, smiling. Evelyn winked back, then resumed her conversation with Jareth on her left.
Jareth! What must he be thinking as all this went on? Wouldn’t he be surprised by the night’s development? Raven chuckled into her wineglass. “Pissy bitch!” she hissed.
“I beg your pardon!” Raven heard over her left shoulder. She turned to see Jack Bunny standing there with mock indignation on his face. “I was going to ask you to dance, but I see you’re busy with court gossip. And I thought Sooo much more highly of you than tha-at!” All of this with mock hauteur.
Raven laughed. “Jack,” she said, “Am I ever glad to see you. As long as you’re free, I’d love a dance!” And she got up to take the floor with him, just as Jareth stood up and began to approach her, no doubt to say something sarcastic about Adrian and Arianrhod. Raven laughed again as she glided away with Jack Bunny, arms about each other’s waists, feeling Jareth’s eyes on her back. If he wanted to try to humiliate her, she couldn’t really stop him at Evelyn’s Beltane Ball, but she could damn sure make him work for it!
They took the center of the floor with a not to Adrian and Arianrhod, and turned to each other. Jack Bunny was gorgeous in a cobalt blue tux with red tie and cummerbund, and bare feet. His long reddish-brown hair hung lank, parted on one side and his ridiculous ears flopped about, not in unison, with his changes of expression. His makeup was flawless, with his eyeliner only accentuating those heart-melting golden eyes. At nineteen, he was finally taller than Raven, and filling out as well, his martial arts training shaping him beautifully into manhood. Raven congratulated herself on a job well done. Here was another pooka who was not afraid of growing up – and would maintain his youthful high spirits all his life, thanks to her guidance.
Would there be a new name coined for adult kithain – one that reflected the new way of reaching maturity without losing the magic? Raven wondered. Time would tell on that one. The more kithain who reached fun-ctional adulthood without succumbing to banality in the next generation, the less applicable the term grump would be. There would have to be a new name – the will and the word – the Word was all important in any manifestation, Raven knew. Well, we’ll just see, she thought.
“It’s so good to see you again,” Raven said and she glided into Jack Bunny’s arms. “I hear you’ve been doing well for yourself!”
“I’m exhausted!” Jack exclaimed. “But happy. I’m in demand, so that means I’m working nonstop. You know how hard it is to come up with new stuff? And have to be ‘ON’ and funny all the time?”
“I’m sure it could get to be a strain,” Raven agreed as they danced. “Just take care of yourself, OK? I mean, don’t forget to eat or sleep in your creative frenzy now.”
“Yes, Mommie!” Jack chuckled. “By the way, I’m not your ‘little boy’ anymore, in case you hadn’t noticed.” He gave her a meaningful look, which Raven chose to ignore.
“I’m sure I haven’t missed it. You’re gorgeous!”
“So,” he continued, not letting her off the hook. “Do you think you and I* might have something together – a casual or not-so-casual fling, and you could, you know, …’show me the way of the world?’ Hmmm?”
Accept a pass from a pooka? Well, he wouldn’t be acting true to his nature if he didn’t at least offer. But she raised this one from a cub! As if!
“You know you’re way too young for me,” Raven began.
“So Adrian isn’t?” Jack Bunny cut her off. He was still smiling, teasing her. How far was he going to take this, anyway?
“Adrian is twenty-one. You, my dear,” here Raven pointed her finger at his chest, “are still underage, like it or not. You know my rule on that one. Besides,” she continued, “I wouldn’t want to irritate any of your boy-toys!”
“Not going to pop my cherry, huh?” Jack Bunny cajoled.
“You’re hardly a virgin, and I know it!” Raven laughed.
“But I haven’t been with a woman yet,” he said. “It would be a new exper4ience for me. And since I like women, too – well, some of them anyway – I think it would be an honor to be taught by you. Besides,” here, Raven knew he was coming in for the kill, “I hear Adrian’s the better for it!” Jack Bunny said this and prepared to duck.
Raven decided to let it go. Why give a pooka what he’s expecting?
“Yes, he is rather lighter and easier to be around, isn’t he?”
“Oh, totally,” Jack Bunny enthused. “You know, I always thought he was such a Babe, to die for, but all work and no play and so bo-ring!” he rolled his eyes dramatically toward the ceiling.
“That was Jareth’s influence, I’m sure,” Raven agreed. That one’s poison is aging him and was threatening to get Adrian too, as long as he was Adrian’s teacher. I’m glad I had the opportunity to step in and disrupt that particular progress.”
“Yes, but now you’ve got an enemy…” Jack Bunny gave her another meaningful look, then glanced over her right shoulder. So, Jareth was nearby, to the right.
“So who doesn’t these days?” Raven whispered. “And wouldn’t I have made that particular enemy eventually? I hear it’s so easy to do!”
“Totally!” Jack Bunny agreed as the music stopped.
Raven noticed Adrian and Arianrhod strolling together toward the balcony, Adrian never taking his eyes from Arianrhod to look for Raven. So far, so good. She slipped her arm around Jack Bunny’s waist and steered him toward Evelyn and Rhys. Why let them have any peace? They were no longer so new a couple, having recognized each other at Samhain, anyway.
“C’mon,” she said, “I’ll make the proper introductions here!”
“Oh, I just love it!” Jack Bunny gushed. “Barefoot to meet the Duchess! It’s just too tropical!”
Evelyn turned her attention from the love of her life as Raven approached with the young pooka. “Raven, Darling,” she called, “Who is that delicious-looking young man you’re escorting?”
(“Rabbit stew?” Raven muttered while still out of earshot.) Raven inclined her head, then indicating Jack Bunny, she said, “Milady, may I present Jack Bunny.”
Jack Bunny bowed low from the waist with a dramatic sweeping gestrure, took the Duchess’ offered hand and kissed it. He knew he was supposed to kiss the ring, but he chose to nuzzle the first two fingers instead. Raven, fearing that he might do something rash, outrageous and totally in keeping with his pooka nature, discreetly nudged his bare foot with her ballet slipper. Don’t blow it yet, kid!... And smiled in spite of her misgivings as Jack Bunny straightened up.
“Just don’t confuse me with Jack Benny,” he3 said, sweeping a hand back over his ears with a flourish. “I hope I’m much more bawdy and interesting!”
“I’ve caught your act,” came a familiar voice. “You are.” Reeve Alain was approaching with Jareth. It was Alain who had spoken. Ever polite and correct, at least at court, Alain had seized the moment and forestalled Jareth’s acid tongue. On purpose, Raven thought.
Raven rewarded Alain with a glowing smile in his direction. (What was that about not accepting a pass from a pooka? Well, if she ever got the chance with this one,,,)
Raven was only mildly surprised as her second chakra flared at the thought of a clinch with Alain. True, she’d been having dreams of him being the One, but she knew from her training and previous experience with dream work that his image could have been used by her subconscious to point to one very much like Alain, not he himself. She couldn’t be sure until …
“Oh, Jareth,” Evelyn interrupted Raven’s reverie, picking up the ball of keeping Jareth busy. “How lovely to see you here tonight. I was hoping you could make it after all! Have you been enjoying the evening so far?”
“Quite so, Milady,” Jareth inclined his head. “And given the festivities tonight, both those you’ve planned and the ones that occur spontaneously, I’m very glad I came. This promised to be a lively evening, indeed!” With this, Jareth turned his icy stare pointedly upon Raven. With a nasty smile, he bowed low to her. “And the lovely Raven LunaSea – what a joy it is to see you! Would you like to dance?”
There was no way out. She had to take him up on it, or be a boor at Evelyn’s party. Oh, well, it was a good exercise for her dignity and character to go through this, whatever unpleasantness Jareth had planned for her, and best him by not taking the bait, whatever it turned out to be. And the rest of this social occasion would b e a lot more pleasant once this was over with.
Raven inclined her head to the cold noble lord, and gave a gracious smile. “I’m certainly available for another dance, as you can see,” she allowed, offering her hand to his waiting one.
“Will you excuse me?” she asked Jack Bunny as Jareth led her away. He, of course, nodded. She turned then to Jareth without another backward glance.
But of course, that one backward glance, at a commoner, had been enough. Jareth was enraged, and Raven could tell by the way he gripped her fingers how much his cool composure was costing him. Good!
As the music began, Jareth took her in his arms, looked down his long nose at her, and smirked. They began a slow waltz to the music, and Raven could tell it would last way too long.
“So my dear,” Jareth said, after a few moments of gazing coldly into Raven’s unwavering eyes, unable to make her squirm with his gaze alone, “Where is your date, anyway?”
OK, there it was. Why tease when you could take a rapier and thrust it home immediately? Ah, but Jareth, it’s only a weapon if you look at it through common eyes, making assumptions, making errors …!
Should she take the weapon out of his hands and show him the point of it directed at him? Or should she play with him for a while longer?
“Oh, he’s somewhere about, I’m sure,” Raven murmured. “Generally enjoying himself, I hope.”
“Oh, I’m sure he is,” Jareth leered. “Enjoying himself, and her!”
Raven loved moments like this, when a self-appointed enemy thought he had her, and she knew otherwise. It was delicious … and downright sexy!
“Yes,” Raven smiled. “And her. As it should be, now and forever, Amen.” This last, she whispered. She gazed up at Jareth beatifically.
For just a moment, a look of doubt crossed Jareth’s features (which had once been and would still be handsome, but for his habitually bitter facial expression) – for a moment only, and was gone. Back was the gloating sneer.
“Don’t tell me you won’t miss your boy-toy?” Jareth pushed. “After all, you know you can’t hold him now that she’s here – you may have been something in your day, but that day is long past. Let’s face it, old girl, you’re no longer the lissome young beauty you once were!”
Why did Evelyn keep him around, anyway? He must be useful, Raven decided. He certainly isn’t much fun!
“Really, Jareth,” Raven retorted, “One doesn’t make a boy-toy out of a knight, you know that. And you know what else? You’d be a lot better looking if you’d crack a genuine smile now and then!”
“Oh, but am I not smiling now?” Jareth returned. He had her there. He had been smiling the whole time he’d been speaking to her. Never mind that the smile he wore was the ugly kind.
Raven’s reply was lost forever to the chaos that followed. It seemed Jack Bunny had decided that a nearby table was a suitable stage and had begun his monologue, when Cyn the satyr and her latest beau crashed into the table, spilling its contents, including the comedian, onto Jareth’s back.
“I’m so sorry, Sir, [not true] Jack said, golden eyes going round and innocent. “It was a mistake [not]. I’m just incredibly clumsy!” [not true, either.]
Jareth returned Jack Bunny’s apology with a torrent of abuse, which brought Evelyn and a couple of trolls to Jack’s rescue.
“I’m sorry, but if you’re going to create a disturbance, you’ll simply have to leave!” Evelyn’s eyes blazed. She was not to be denied.
“Madame!” Jareth thundered. “Madame, I am not to blame! It was all the result of that pooka’s carrying on. He…”
Evelyn cut him off. “I don’t know about that,” she hissed. “What I do know is that he was making an apology and you were being a boor! That behavior from a noble lord of your stature is inexcusable! I will not have it at my soiree. Out you go. Now.” And with that she turned away, making a small hand sign to the troll guards, who began to assist Jareth to the door.
“Just a moment, Madame!” Jareth wasn’t through. “Just one thing you haven’t thought about – a favor for a favor – remember when I bested you at chess at your last Yule fete? You told me I won an indulgence from you when you’re in one of these moods – well I claim it now!”
“I’m sure you’ve already used it,” came Evelyn’s reply, but she was uncertain and wavering.
“Oh no, that I have not!” Jareth roared. “I won your favor – indulgence from you during one fit of pique, and I will have it tonight. I’m staying!” And with that, he turned away and stalked across the room.
The two trolls gave Evelyn questioning looks. They would uphold her will, whatever it was. Evelyn gave them a gesture of dismissal and they retreated. She turned to Raven and shrugged. “Well, he won, fair and square. I don’t like it, and I must keep my word, but I’ll do it creatively. From now on tonight, any minor slight directed at Jareth is forgiven. I will look the other way. Then, if any lady here wishes to refuse a dance, she may, without fear of being called rude at my party!”
Raven let out a peal of laughter. “Well done, Milady!” she hooted. “That should really fix his wagon!” She hoped Jareth heard her across the room.