Heartweed: Chapter 8

This is the beta version of my novel. If you are a new reader – welcome. You can read from the start here.

New sections are released every Tuesday and Friday. Please let me know your opinion in the comments section. Thank you for reading.

Chapter 8

Artie’s eyes followed the line of his outstretched hand. Nestled in a hollow was a house like none she had ever seen. It was like a giant creature of stone and earth had collapsed to die and smaller creatures had carved into it to make their castle. The light pouring from its high windows outshone the moon.
The wind shifted towards them, and brought sounds on it – glittering shards of laughter and smooth strands of the violin.
“Alex.” Artie darted forward. Gorth clasped her upper arm and she jerked to a stop. She shook her arm fiercely to break away – with no result. His grip was gentle, but unbreakable.
“Let go. My brother is in there.”
“I know, but you can’t just go running in there.”
Artie pressed her teeth together. She glared into Gorth.
“Let. Go. Now.”
Gorth’s grip slackened. She pulled away and backed out of his reach. Gorht raised his hands again in that nonthreatening pose. His soft brown eyes held no malice or evil intent, Artie was sure of it, but there was something troubling and troubled in them.
“How did you know where Alex is?”
Gorth took a step forward, and Artie a matching one backward.
“Your description of the Gentry that took him. Lord March. He is the lord of that brugh down there.”
Artie glanced towards the light and music.
“Lord March is the old-fashioned type.” Gorth continued.  “He likes to collect humans wit ha special beauty or talent. He displays them like trophies at his parties.”
“His violin,” Artie whispered.
Gorth tipped his head towards the brugh, listening.
“Not perfect. But, yes.” He nodded slowly. “There’s something special there. I can see why March chose him.”
Artie hissed through her teeth.
“Hey. Hey. Not saying that I agree,” Gorth said quickly” “Like I said, March is old-fashioned. Most of us don’t see humans as playthings.”
“What do you see us as?”
Gorth grinned. “Me. I see you as customers. Or suppliers. I trade inter-realm.” His face lit with enthusiasm. “When the borders came down I was one of the first to take advantage. Now I am modestly rich.”
“And what do you trade?” Artie asked absently. She stared down at the house below.
“Bit of this, bit of that. Magical to humans. Mechanical or chemical to faeries.” He patted the outside of his satchel. “Which reminds me, I’m due down there with a delivery. Something to make the party swing.”
Artie looked up at him sharply. “I’m going with you.”
Gorth shook his head.
“Not looking like that. You did just hear me, right. March and his cronies are old school when it comes to dealing with humans. You walk in there looking like that and start to kick up a ruckus to get your brother back, and they’ll turn you into a puppet or a plaything or dinner.” He sighed. “And then I’ll be in deep shit for bringing you.”
“You won’t help me?” The little-girl crack in her voice made Artie inwardly wince with embarassment.
Gorth looked past her, eyes clouded. He set his shoulders and then met her gaze.
“I will.” Artie let out a breath she hadn’t realised that she was holding. Gorth continued. But look – I have to live here. And March isn’t an enemy I want to make.”
“That’s fine. Thanks. I mean, whatever help you can give me.”
Gorth nodded. “I’ll help as much as I can. Though I’m not sure why. There’s precious little profit in it.”
“I have money…”
“Nah.” Gorth rummaged in his satchel. “March is paying me enough for party favours tonight that I can help you out for free. That and my soft spot for beautiful damsels in distress. Take this.”
He handed her what looked like an acorn. Artie took it and rolled it in her palm; it was an acorn.
“What’s it for?”
“My card,” Gorth said with a grin. “In case you have need of my mercantile services in the future.”
Artie tucked the acorn into her back pocket. Gorth pawed through his satchel again. He brought out what looked like a violet glass egg and reached towards her head with it in his hand. Artie flinched away from the strange object.
“It’s just a glamour. It will make you look faerie.”
She straightened and swallowed.
“Ready?”
Artie nodded. Gorth held the egg over her head. She heard a crunch and a shower of dust fell around her. A sudden pressure crushed in on her and then dropped away: her ears wanted to pop. Then it was over.
She looked down at her hands; they weren’t her hands. The hands in front of her were pale blue and translucent in the blurry glow of moonlight. When she lifted them closer to her face she could see pale bone and darker blue blood vessels through the flesh.  The thumbs protruded from the middle of the wrists.
Artie shuddered and looked away.
“What am I?” Her dry throat rasped.
“Still human.” Gorth put a soothing hand on her shoulder. “Don’t worry. You only look like an asrai. In one of its solid forms that is.”
He offered his arm. “Shall we go?”
Artie gingerly linked her new arm through his. She tried to avoid looking at the strange shapes her hands had become. Instead she looked down at her clothes. Her jeans and sweatshirt had vanished, replaced by something scant and gauzy and bright magenta.
“I hate pink.” Artie muttered.
Gorth laughed and Artie couldn’t help but allow a small smile in response. Of all the things to be worried about when infiltrating a faerie party, the colour of her dress shouldn’t even make the list.
Arm in arm Artie and Gorth started down into the hollow. Artie kept her eyes on the uneven grass ahead. The feet of her glamour were bare, but she could still feel her trainers on her feet. It was a disconcerting feeling to watch her overlong blue feet sliding through the long blades of grass and feeling nothing of it. She rubbed her free hand against the top of her thigh and felt stiff denim where her eyes told her there should be delicate silk.
“March is hosting a month of parties to celebrate his wedding.” Gorth’s voice made Artie jump. “Tonight is the seventeenth night. All clans and races are invited. Overtly, it is to show willing to the new spirit of inclusiveness and equality. In reality it is so that he can flaunt his power and wealth to everyone. And ot let us ‘lesser races’ know that the Gentry are still in charge.”
His easy voice had taken on a bitter bite.
“If you dislike him so much, why are you doing business with him?” Gorth stiffened against her arm. Before Artie could apologise for offending him he relaxed with a loose shrug.
“It’s where the money is. Plus like I said, I don’t want to make an enemy of a Gentry Lord.”
“Gentry.” Artie frowned. “You said that before. Are they another kind of faerie?”
“They’re the worst of us. With the most magic. Powerful and cruel. And the longest living, except for dragons. They used to run this realm and in a lot of places they still do. We had a revolution recently and killed a lot of them. but those that survived were the most vicious, or canny, or powerful. In this dark corner of the land,” Gorth’s voice took on a sing-song cadence, “there are two powerful Gentry families – March and Threat. It is old Lord Threat’s daughter that march married at the dark of the moon. Threat had kept his child shut away from all eyes for all her years. It was assumed by everyone that she was hideous or deformed or insane, but she wasn’t hideous. Once the marriage agreements were signed and Threat brought her to her groom it was seen that she was beautiful. So beautiful that some clawed their skin in despair that they could not have her and others put out their eyes so that they would never again be profaned by a lesser sight.”
“Ugh.” Artie’s lip curled. “Really?”
“So the poetic say.” He smiled at her, full of mischief. “Though I haven’t seen anyone conspicuously missing their eyeballs.“
They walked in silence a few more steps. “It’s beside the point anyway. What is important is that when old Threat dies, Lord and Lady March will – between the lands they hold and the fae that they have sworn to them – rule a ninth part of the kingdom of Faerie. If I was the Queen I would be very concerned right now.”
Gorth stopped and turned to Artie. “We’re here.”
All her unasked questions tumbled from Artie’s mind. She stared in through the large arched doorway only a dozen steps away. The air shimmered thickly and the sound of Alex’s violin darted through the shrill voices.
Artie swallowed. Her mouth was dry and her tongue rasped along its roof. Some, much more sensible, part of her brain was screaming to her to flee from this place. She could feel the otherness emanating from the brugh like a physical thing.
For the past few minutes she had been thinking of Gorth only as a nice, and kind of cute, guy, but in the reflected light of the party he looked more strange and faerie than ever. Artie suddenly felt so very alone.
Gorth leaned close to murmur in her ear. “Walk in with me. That will get you past security. From then you are on your own. Be confident, mysterious and purposeful. Don’t stare at wonders. Don’t engage in conversation. Don’t eat or drink anything.”
He sounded more nervous than she felt.
“most will be able to tell that you are glamoured, but everyone does it, so only the very rude or very high would mention it. And only those who would torment you for sport will try to take it off you. So stay away from Gentry and their entourages.”
Artie nodded. Gorth drew back and smiled grimly at her.
“Get your brother and get out.”
“Gorth.” Gorth jumped and looked up at the sound of his name. A faerie lolled against the edge of the door. From the amount and variety of weaponry that the faerie was attached to, Artie guessed that he was the security detail. Gorth frowned and made a just-a-minute gesture.
“Once my business is concluded, I’ll find you if I can and try to get you home.” He squared his jacket and smoother his hair back and behind his ears. “Let’s do this.”
They started towards the door. The security guard paced out to meet them. “You’re late,” he snapped at Gorth.
The guard was dressed in a plain grey tunic and trousers. On the breast of the tunic was a patch of red, bright as a splash of fresh blood. When Artie looked closer she saw that is was a simple flower shape with five petals. A black dagger crossed the flower from left to right. The guard saw her looking and sneered at her.
“My Lord is being made to look bad, while you are dilly-dallying in the bushes with your watery wench.
“My sincerest apologies.” Gorth’s soft voice eased between them. “Lord March will find that the merchandise was worth waiting for.”
The guard snorted. “We’ll see. Get inside the pair of you.”
Gorth ducked his head into a half bow and hustled Artie across the threshold. A cacophony of noise and colour struck Artie full on. She felt Gorth squeeze her arm and then let it go.
“Good luck,” he whispered, before disappearing into the roiling crowd.

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