Veil of Shadows, by Armintrout, Jennifer
- ISBN: 9780778326786 | 0778326780
- Cover: Paperback
- Copyright: 11/17/2009
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Cerridwen opened her eyes, reluctant to leave the sleep that had been her refuge from the terrible sickness she'd felt while awake. The vessel they had departed on that morning, a ramshackle boat the man had kept calling a ferry—not, Cedric had assured her, in mean-spirited jest toward their kind—still churned and tossed. How the Human could stand, so straight and balanced, as the craft pitched from the crest of one wave to another, Cerridwen did not know. But the motion made her stomach seize, her head go dizzy.
Cedric and the rest of the Fae they traveled with seemed unaffected by the motion, as well. Cedric, particularly, seemed to revel in their time on the sea, standing at the prow, listening to the bearded old man call out stories against the wind and the spray. Though the blinding sun had set, Cedric still stood in the place he'd inhabited when she'd fallen asleep. Face turned toward the horizon, an expression of serene pleasure—or as much of one as Cerridwen had ever seen on the ancient Court Advisor. Calmness gilding his features the way the morning sun had, it seemed as though he had completely forgotten the precarious position of their future, and the violence they had left behind.
Cedric had been alive long before the rending of the Veil had spilled all the creatures of the Astral onto Earth. To him, the sun, the wind, the water were all old friends. They greeted him with familiarity and Cerridwen realized how much he must have longed to escape the cramped and dank Underworld. To her, born after the Fall and in the cavernous Underground, the elements showed only hostility.
Cedric nodded, but did not face the old man. "I did not know there were other cities… I thought that most had died in the battles, and that whoever remained of us were underground in the same area. That it was just too large—"
"If you'd kept going, you'd hit the end." Edward spoke with such authority, it was as though he'd been there.
It was not impossible to believe. Cerridwen had always wondered that the boundary between the Lightworld and the Darkworld was so well defined, and yet no one seemed to know if there were other boundaries, and if there were, where they lay.
"Everyplace where they didn't just get rid of you. New York, that was one of them. Boston, well… you saw what that's become. No one wanted to stay, once your kind were underground. Up and left. Most of the cities went that way. Decided it was easier to give up and leave than try to live with knowing what existed just beneath them." The old captain seemed to be amused by this.
It was not amusing. The Humans had forced them underground, then abandoned the very spaces they'd coveted for themselves. Cerridwen wondered if she'd ever understand these strange beings.
She sat up, her stomach lurching. But before she could speak, Cedric turned, the serenity bleeding from his expression. "You are awake."
She wished he would not look at her with such concern. Concern she did not merit. "As you can see."
"You should rest. The mortal healing has only restored your body. The sickness you have felt—"
"Seasickness, the Human says." She closed her eyes. It only made the sensation worse. "Is this because I am part Human? The element does not affect you."
"It is not because of your Humanity. It is because you have never been outside the Underground." He held out his hand for her, and when she did not move to take it, he stooped and lifted her, blanket and all.
"Put me down!" She had enough strength, despite her sickness, despite the wound in her ankle, to be outraged.
He did not listen, and she had not expected him to. He set her down gently in the place where he'd been standing before, let her lean on him for support. "Look out there, at the horizon. The place where the sky meets the water."
"I know what a horizon is," she snapped, pushing down the finger he used to point the way.
"That won't help," Edward called to them cheerfully. "Not a fixed object."
"It will help," Cedric reassured her. "We see things differently than they do."
She squinted against the sun. Its light did not assault her the way it had when they'd first emerged from the Underground, but she had to blink against it to make out the difference between the dark of the water and the blinding curtain of sky.
"You are resisting the elements, because you are unfamiliar with them. You fight against them," Cedric told her, and again he pointed out to the horizon. "They do not fight against each other. See how when the waves rise, the sky relents? You must learn to do the same."
It did make her feel a bit better. Though the craft still rocked against the waves, she did not struggle against the movement in an attempt to keep herself upright. Instead, she let the motion rock her, and she did not stumble or fall.
"Getting your sea legs," the old Human said. "You'll need 'em—you got a long way to go still."
"I thought we would meet up with Bauchan by nightfall." Cerridwen did not look away from the waves, or lean away from the comforting presence of Cedric standing behind her.
"We will," Cedric began. "But we will meet up with the ship that the rest of the Court is already on, and then we will sail across the sea. The False Queene's Court is on an island, what you might think of as the Land of the Gods, if your mother taught you about it." His tone suggested that he did not believe Ayla had instructed her daughter correctly in this matter, and he continued. "It was less difficult for us to travel when we lived on the Astral Plane. We merely spoke the words, or imagined the scene, and we could be anywhere."
"Not so much anymore, huh?" Edward called down. "Don't you worry, though. The captain of the Holyrood will get you where you're going, if not as quick as you're used to."
Cerridwen grew annoyed at the weathered Human's constant interruptions, and limped back to her pallet in the shade. She crouched and flared her wings for balance, resting her weight on the front of her feet. Something about this posture made Cedric look away, but she did not know what could bother him so. Probably, he still hated her for her stupidity. It was his right. She had foolishly betrayed her mother, her entire race, and gotten so many killed in the process. Both her parents, though she had not known it at the time, and countless guards and Guild members. If Cedric wished to hate her for all time, well, she would not argue with him.
But he had saved her, had he not? Not just from the Elves, but from the Waterhorses in the Dark-world, and again in Sanctuary. When she'd been willing to stay and die beside her mother, he'd dragged her into the Upworld. When she'd been too weak to continue, still he'd carried her, despite his own fatigue. Perhaps he did not hate her. He was angry with her, that much was certain. He had made a promise to protect her, but if he truly hated her, would he keep that promise?
She was too weary to think of this now. There would be a confrontation with Bauchan when they reached the ship called the Holyrood, that was certain. At the very least, he'd question her right to kill her mother's treacherous Councilmember, Flidais, who had been working with him. In the end, no matter her reasoning, he would be upset over Flidais's death and would not accept her as Queene, being eager to steal away her inherited Court for his own False Queene.
A thought struck her, one she did not like. "Cedric, if there are others…other Undergrounds, like ours, could there not be other Queenes and Kings? Who believed that they deserve to rule over all the Fae?"
"I had thought of that." Cedric sat down, his legs folded beneath him. His wings, papery thin and colored like those of a moth, shivered on his back, sending motes of blue powder through the beams of sunlight that reached beneath the ferry's upper deck. "It is heartening to think that there are more of us. That might prove useful, especially if we can garner their sympathy in our plight. But there is no guarantee that we will be able to contact them, or that they will look kindly on rejoining Mabb's Court."
Cerridwen eased her weight onto her uninjured foot. "Mabb was the Queene. The true and rightful Queene of the Fae from before our fall to Earth. All other Fae fought behind her in the war against the Humans, did they not?"
"She was. They did." There was sadness in his eyes as he talked about her. Cerridwen, born after Mabb's death, had never seen the Faery Queene who'd preceded her mother. The rumors of Cedric's involvement with Mabb had persisted, though, and Cerridwen wondered if lost love was what made him seem so very troubled now.
"Mabb was not a popular ruler. Not once the Veil was torn asunder. Some blamed her, for allowing Humans to glimpse us as we were trooping, or for not punishing those in her Court who intentionally sought out the company of Humans." He fell silent, looked out toward the water. "Ah, well. It is not the past that will help us now. You will meet Lord Bauchan tonight. Are you ready?"
She snorted. "You make it sound as though I am going to war."
"You are, in a way." Though he shrugged, his expression held a seriousness that Cerridwen did not like. "You are fighting for control of your Kingdom."
Another derisive sound crawled up her throat, and she swallowed it. "Some Kingdom. My inherited subjects ran and left my mother when she needed them most. If they cared so little for her, why should they care about me?"
"By your same thinking, why should they care about Queene Danae enough to bend their knees to her?" He was right, and infuriatingly reasonable. Cerridwen said nothing. "Your mother would not have wanted you to give up. She did not wish to see her Kingdom in the hands of this False Queene. Perhaps…" he continued, then stopped himself.
She had seen him do this very same thing with her mother. Though he might have an idea, he would withhold it until invited, and would not speak out above his station to the Queene. Whether he did it out of habit or he held Cerridwen in the same respect that he'd had toward Ayla, she did not know. But it pleased her, nonetheless, to be treated as though she were worthy of deference. "Perhaps what?"
"Perhaps, when we see Lord Bauchan, I should speak on your behalf."
That destroyed the illusion. He thought she was incapable of speaking for herself without some disastrous outcome. A part of her agreed with him, was thankful, even, that she would not have to pretend at courtly manners and political thinking. She had no head for either of them, and even if she had, her hatred of Ambassador Bauchan, the fiend who had come to the Lightworld with the intent of causing civil war, would have broken her concentration.
"Yes, fine." She nodded, a bit too enthusiastically. "It would help keep up the pretense that you are the Royal Consort."
He nodded. "Yes, that is something that needs to be established early with Bauchan. I would not think that seducing the Royal Heir would be below him, if it would give him what he needed to succeed at his own Court."
"No longer the Heir—the Queene" she corrected, though even in her insistence the title was too new to be comfortable for her. "Perhaps we should do with Bauchan as we did with Flidais. After all, is he not guilty of the same offenses she is?"
"He is not," Cedric stated firmly. "Bauchan came to your mother's Court with no deception that we could not see, and in spite of the fact that your inheritance comes from Mabb's succession, he was not considered your subject when he arrived, and this Queene Danae is unlikely to accept your killing him. Flidais hid her plans, and turned traitor to her own Queene, in contrast. Besides, we need Bauchan. He is our only guide to finding Danae's Court and some measure of safety."
Silence fell between them again, the only sound the mechanical chug of the ferry's engine and the soft slap of the waves against the tiny craft. The sound had lulled her to sleep that morning, and, in hearing it again, woke the vestiges of those things she'd seen in her fitful slumber. Without knowing why she did so, she suddenly blurted, "I had a dream, earlier. While I slept from my sickness."
Cedric made a noise of uncommitted interest. "Do you believe it means something?"
Did she? It was such a simple dream, and she had never truly believed in such nocturnal signs. "I do not know," she answered honestly. "If it does mean anything at all, I would not know how to interpret it. And I have never given much credit to dreams."
"If you tell me what it was about, I might be able to help you." He looked out to the water again. "Or, if you prefer to keep it secret, I will understand."
"There is no secret to keep. It was not disturbing, or terribly important." That was not entirely true. When she thought of the images, a feeling of grave urgency taunted her. "I saw a forest, as though I were standing in it, and I was alone. I came upon a clearing to see a white bull." She closed her eyes, and in her mind saw the shaggy, matted coat of the animal as it stood, almost ghostly white, in the darkness. "In the sky above the treetops, the stars made out the form of three triangles, locked together in such a way as to make one large copy of themselves." She stopped herself. "Can they do that? Stars, I mean? Do they show pictures?"
"They show forms that Humans can navigate by, forms that tell a story. But they cannot twist themselves into something they have not shown before." He seemed troubled, but in a flash that troubled expression was gone. "Ah, well. It was probably just a dream. Nothing worth worrying over."
And though she might have agreed with him before, the vision had crept back into her mind, insisting upon a place there. It would not have done that, if it did not have something to tell them. She did not know how she was so certain of this, but she was, and his studied disinterest irritated her.