Larry waved us over to their pine picnic table. He had thoughtfully set out corn on the cob, American style french fries, water, and a salad bowl for a snack. He and Fawn had learned how much work went into marriage, and that no one family ever had it like the fairy tales. They had more good days than bad now, and Zhira was one reason why. I’d just sat down to grab an ear of corn, when my cellphone buzzed. An instant later, a shrill ringing came from an open window in their house.
Fawn grumbled and stalked toward the back screen door while I stayed outside with my cellphone so I could have a bit more peace and quiet since Larry and Zhira had followed her inside. Sinera, my secretary, didn’t waste any time with greetings.
“Fern, you have a potential client waiting for you here. What time shall I tell them you’ll be into the office?” I blinked.
“Umm, today’s Sunday. I’ll be in the office tomorrow morning.” I held the cellphone in front of me and checked the date. It agreed with me that it indeed was Sunday, and that at twenty-one Celsius, with clear skies, a hint of a north wind, and no threat of rain, it was a good day to be outside.
“I was contacted directly, and informed I must call you. I do not believe this is one client who will appreciate sitting in your office until tomorrow morning.”
The identity of the client was not my first thought. My first thought was how did she contact Sinera directly? Sinera’s an elf. She doesn’t have an official number. All of my calls get routed to an answering service when no one’s in the office, which is how weekends are, or are supposed to be. The immediate thought was that she’d been contacted magickally. If that was the case, it was someone we already knew because they knew of Sinera. Thinking about it, beyond my previous clients, who mostly preferred Magick stay away from them, had no idea how to get hold of Sinera. All I remember them using was the advertised phone number.
This person knew about Sinera well enough to contact her directly. That meant Elves. My potential client had to be an Elf. I have an aversion bordering on an allergy to Elves. Sinera is the notable exception. Elves live in Underhill. They do come to our world and trade goods, a number of them Magickal, for things they consider of value. Your guess is as good as mine what each one wants.
Elves are scrupulously truthful, but that does not mean they’re honest. An Elf will always look for the best way to present the truth and in such a manner so you want to believe it. They tell you what you want to hear using the truth as the lever and it’s a bit like the old joke about ‘Irish diplomacy’ which is telling someone to go to hell in such a manner they look forward to the trip.
The most classic example of Elves I can think of is trading something for a service. That the service could span generations of humans doesn’t make it any less legitimate, and it’s not slavery. It’s payment for a good or a service. It’s indentured servitude, but not slavery. The difference is slavery is forcing servitude on another, indenture is someone agreeing to it.
“Should I be concerned that we might be dealing with a fae?”
“I would say yes to the might.”
I stayed quiet for a few moments, thinking. Sinera politely gave me time to gather my thoughts.
“Is it someone that you and I are familiar with?”
“Yes, you have had unfortunate dealings in a legal decision some time ago.”
Legal decision. Only one person fit that description. Judge Caddus. He was forced to declare me beholden to the Elf Lord Cobb when I falsely accused him of deliberately bespelling me. His daughter did it, but the hard fact was he wasn’t the caster. No one except Cobb was happy with that, especially the Judge.
“Has he indicated what the reason for this emergency?”
“He has said he will only speak with you face to face, in your office.”
So not helpful.
“I’ll be there within the hour. If he offers anything in the way of a hint or explanation, give me a call. I’d like not to go in cold.”
“I will inform you if further information is revealed before you arrive.”
I ended the call and grabbed a second ear of corn. The Judge could wait a few more minutes. After nibbling my lunch, I walked to Fawn and Larry’s back door and stepped on inside to tell Fawn and Larry that I had to go over to my office. As I pulled the screen door open I spotted Fawn rummaging in the closet by the front door. She pulled out her police jacket she’d gotten as a new officer. She still wore it in preference to anything else. She settled it on her shoulders and flipped her blonde hair back, then bent down to give Zhira a hug.
“I have to go to work sweetie. I’ll be home soon.” She straightened up and shared a hug with Larry. They held onto each other for a moment more, looking into each others eyes until they noticed me watching.
“Hey shortstuff. I have to go in. There’s a crime that doesn’t appear standard. So the special unit will be covering it.”
I nodded. “It’s a day for it. I just got a call from Sinera that there’s a client who wants to see me now of all times. I have to go too.”
Larry reached down and picked up Zhira. She giggled and leaned over to Fawn to give her a kiss on the cheek. She then wiggled in Larry’s arm to give me one on the cheek and a pat of her hand.
“We keep corn” she said smiling.
“Yeah you will ‘cause it’s your favorite. I know you” I said with a chukcle. There’s something about laughing innocence that lightens any mood. Here I was going to talk with a Elven Judge, and all I could think of was how nice a day it was. Children are magic.
The good mood stayed with me on my drive over to the office. I pulled into the near empty parking lot and parked the dull black PT cruiser under the lone light post in the lot. It was still missing the rear seats, but I hardly used them. The large back without the seats allowed me to carry a whole lot of things. I felt a stab of melancholy as I got out, closed and locked the door. There not so many around now which made it stand out more. TO do my job I was likely going to have to get a newer old car so it would fit in more when I had to stake out an area. The bright blue sky gave the red brick a more vivid color as I walked to the front door. Reality intruded on my happy mood as I began considering more the reasons an Elf Judge would need to see me so desperately.
I couldn’t think of a reason why and that bothered me more the closer I got to my office. When I pushed the door open of my classic nineteen thirties noir style office, I took a moment to savor the gritty ambiance. Two four drawer file cabinets were bolted to the bottom of the Murphy bed in the far corner. The four-blade fan in the center of the ceiling turned silently on its refurbished bearings over my large Oak desk with candlestick phone and new Rolodex that sat in gleaming black on the polished wood. The new bricks on the repaired section of wall next to the Murphy bed stood out against the older faded ones.
The only bit of ambiance missing was the neon glow of the building’s sign because it was too light outside for it’s orange color to be seen. This was home, moreso than any other place I’d lived.
Judge Caddus was in the guest chair next to my desk, in full formal dress. His dark blue robe covered him from shoulder to ankle and his boots were of bright blue laquered leather with some silver highlights. His pale hair was in a long tail between his shoulders. He stood up and bowed politely as I moved to my desk and sat down. He sat after me, the action telling me that he was requesting my help rather than standing and demanding it. Sinera had schooled me on some of the Elvish eitquette.
Whoever bows lower is the one requesting the meeting, and who stands last is the one who is petitioning the other for assistance. If they remain standing, they will be negotiating from a position of power and making demands. If they sit last, then it will be as a potential ally or looking for assistance. When both stand and sit at the same time with the other party, it is an armed truce to negotiate a settlement between them.
That he sat with me and stood until I began sitting meant he was not trying to pull rank. He was genuinely concerned about something, and that something was extremely upsetting, if I understood Sinera’s lessons properly. I smiled and did what I always did, start with small talk. It gets people, most of them, to be more at ease.
“Hello, Judge. It’s been a while since the last time we saw each other. I’m hoping you have been doing well for yourself.” He looked at me like I’d grown horns and hissed at him. Too late. Whatever gaffe I’d done I did accidentally. Judge Caddus calmed himself and realized the mistake. He actually smiled, if the faint raising of the lips was an Elvish smile.
“I am also unfamiliar with proper human reaction and form. Let us both understand our differences and allow each the room for unintentional error.”
I smiled. He’d spotted the problem and offered a complete solution that blamed neither and focused on understanding. I am nowhere near so diplomatic. I much preferred not fighting, but I had little tolerance for errors that could be avoided with a little effort such as study or practice.
I nodded to indicate I noticed his layered solution.
“Yes, let’s not get in a fight because of a misinterpretation of someone’s intent.” I paused a moment to let him consider the words. “If I am not being overbearing, may I ask what had you contact my partner Sinera directly and request this meeting on a day that is almost never an office work day?”
He stared at me for a long moment. His eyes locked on mine and I don’t think he ever blinked. He sat and stared, as if trying to find a way to broach a subject. Finally he sighed, then reached up a sleeve on his robe. He took a few moments to locate something by touch, then removed his closed hand and placed on my desk in front of me. He opened his hand and withdrew it, leaving behind a small metallic-like blue glass bottle. The same kind of bottle that cost my friend Zhirk his life and Hervald Thensome his soul.
I’m not sure if I shrieked and scrambled back or just teleported to where I was, mashed back against the wall next to the window that had been replaced during that first hellish case. The Judge, thoroughly alarmed at my reaction quickly grabbed my coffee mug and placed it over the bottle, covering it and hiding it from sight.
I struggled for breath for a few moments before the adrenaline shakes hit. I was scared to death. I had smashed that thing! At PEI Anolyn had deliberately targeted the box with glass bottles and burned it to ash, along with the huge oak tree that Cobb had used as a torture chamber to make them from the agony and despair of his victims.
I could hear Kent Nix and Kevin Love scream their lives out all over again. More than anything at that moment, I wanted to grab the bottle of scotch and drown my fear in the bitter alcohol and forget that cursed thing under my upended coffee cup. It’d taken the better part of a year of twice-weekly therapy to finally get a control on all the trauma that went with the previous jobs. My head was more or less back on straight, and I didn’t wake up screaming or paralyzed by nightmares.
Now, that thing shows up on my desk out of the blue. Well, blue robes anyway. Snark and sarcasm has always been a way I handle stress. It just isn’t the best choice because giving someone attitude when they’ve got the upper hand is just begging for bad things to happen. It had more than once and somehow I managed to avoid most of the bad intentions sent my way. I rubbed the nub of my little finger while Judge Caddus attempted to apologize by bowing his head almost to the desk top in contrition. Now was the time to use that diplomatic moment.
“Judge Ca-ddus. I apologize for alarming you.” I took a shaky breath and walked back to my chair, turned it deliberately slowly back to the desk and sat down. “That item you thoughtfully brought me has many bad memories and experiences tied to it. I, uh, did not realize that any still existed.” Another shaky but calmer breath helped focus me. I closed my eyes and pictured my room mentally, using its familiarity as a calming influence for my body. I could feel the wire-tight tension ease as I mentally pictured each item in the room.
“I humbly accept your generosity and would have you know I meant no disrespect nor harmful intent. You are one of the few that know the nature of that creation and I am very desirous of temporarily procuring your abilities and expertise to determine the reason for its reappearance.” He gestured at my cup. “This was found in the hands of an Elf that had used it to overwhelm a Troll. The Elf has been judged and executed in accordance and balance to the crime committed. I have brought this to you to request your expert assistance.”
In truth, I never had a job I wanted to turn down so badly as this one. But one thing had changed my mind. The Troll. I saw Zhirk, who Zhira was named after, in my head. His face dissolving in the shotgun blast. I shut my eyes again and went through my office again mentally, remembering where each item of my office was. It helped divert my mind from the horror of those vivid memories and let me release them instead of replaying each one again and again in my head.
“Judge Caddus, I must admit I would rather never to have anything to do with that object you brought.” I held up a hand as his face screwed up in stricken despair, which was a shock to see on his normally serene and stoic features. “I will help you. One thing I am sure we both have learned is that if you do nothing, evil like that flourishes.”
There was a faint ‘snap’ like a static shock. I, for better AND worse now, had a binding fae contract with the Judge. Gods and powers, I sounded like a freaking superhero or something. How much more pompous could I sound? I guess it was the right bit of bombast, because the Judge’s features smoothed out and I think I detected relief emanating from him.
“I thank you for your reminder that no one being need stand alone. We have to trust, and reach out to confront imbalance and chaos.” That was one way to put it. I’m certain I don’t mind imbalance and chaos, we humans live with that all the time. Perhaps they look at Imbalance as Injustice. I don’t know for certain. What I was absolutely sure of however, was that bottle was made to cause misery and death. Ahiah had drunk from it and become immensely powerful.
That was burned into my memories. What I wasn’t sure of was the ‘why’. Why did it show up? Why did and Elf have it? I could somewhat understand his coming here. I was mixed up in that horror before. Both I and Fawn.
I’m certain he came to me because of our prior meeting, rather than go to Fawn. She represents human law, and Elvish law is not close at all to it. What we judge by is intent and morals of our society. What Elves judge are certainly not on those qualities. I’m not certain what they are based upon, but one thing we are certain of is Elves despise Magick used for ill. They rightly hate and fear those powers that have free will to meddle in the physical world, especially those of malevolent nature.
Be it human, fae, or other, it was a monster that needed be caught and put away. I’d prefer it gone and buried and the bottles broken and tossed in the ocean. The problem would be to hunt it down. Which meant locating the source of the one the Judge had brought.
I looked over at the cup resting over the cursed bottle. “Judge Caddus, where did you acquire that particular item?” Diplomacy. Yep. No vicious names for things. No strong emotions. Nope, not a thing to unbalance the calm, or whatever passed for it currently.
“The bottle was procured from the remains of a burned oak on what you name Prince Edward Island.”
I went cold with memories again. Cobb. The tree. Kent and Kevin. Anolyn. Being possessed by him, and his rage at Cobb for making those abominations. I’d thought the dragon fire would have burnt them all. I looked up at the Judge, who seemed anything but calm now that we were discussing the main reason for our meeting. He appeared suddenly careworn. Deep lines were etched on his face that I hadn’t noticed earlier. Fae magic or just normal human inattention. Neither he or I reached for the cup to expose the bottle underneath.
“In the reopening of the Way, we found the devastation that had been wrought upon the tree, and the abominations that were warped into its heart. We found the remains, and the tools to create.” He paused, as if to add a more colorful term, but refrained and continued. “We found a crate made of bespelled wood which had been destroyed by dragon fire. The Bottles inside melted and rendered inert.” He paused for a moment, like he was a movie actor about to dispense an ominous statement to make the audience gasp.
“There were four empty locations in the crate. We procured this one from an Elf that had used it on his own.”
My stomach churned at the thought of three of those things loose. But why Halifax? Wouldn’t the United States be a more fertile hunting ground for the users? Why here?
“I have found myself wondering why we are the recipient of such a menace” Judge Caddus said quietly. He paused a moment, then continued. “It would much simpler to go where the population is greatest. There one could hunt and use the bottle to their heart’s content. Disappearances would be lost in the myriad of other disappearances that occur daily in large populations. Nova Scotia is far from being a huge metropolis such as London. What reasoning would bring something so dangerous here?”
We were on the same wavelength, which made me wonder at the apparent coincidence. With Elves, never expect coincidence. I learned that already. Never ever trust in coincidence. It will trip you up at the worst possible time. So using the ‘there are no coincidences’ rule, the Judge was reading my mind or following my intent and using that to reinforce the idea in hopes of something breaking loose. I suppose it’s his method of helping, but, soooo not helpful.
“If you’re observing my thoughts, I recommend against it. Agreements of that nature do not help discovering new paths. Right now I’d love to talk to the person who had this bottle in their possession. Asking the right questions could get us answers where the others are.”
He bowed contritely. “I do apologize. This is a very dangerous investigation. I had hoped to assist in creating active thoughts that would find a method of advancing along this perilous conundrum. Please forgive my earnest error. I meant no insult nor harm.” Take note. He did apologize for his enthusiasm, not for trying to manipulate my thoughts. Always pay attention to what Elves say, and more to what they DON’T. I decided to let it go. In his own way, the Judge was doing his best to be helpful and cooperative. My job, as I saw it, was to track down the rest of the bottles. Just how was the real question.