Check out The Eighth Court by Mike Shevdon, out from Angry Robot Books on May 28:
The Eighth Court has been established, but petty rivalries and old disputes threaten its stability. The mongrels that make up the court are not helping, and Blackbird enlists the help of the warders to keep the peace.
Has Blackbird bitten off more than she can chew, and can the uneasy peace between the courts continue under such tension and rivalry?
“Would you like a hand?” Alex asked from the doorway.
Blackbird, who had the baby naked on the bed, a wipe in one hand and a clean nappy in the other, wasn’t really in a position to refuse. “You could put that dirty one in a sack and put it in the bathroom for now. I’ll take it down to the bins later.
“They’re very un-ecological, you know,” said Alex. “They just end up in landfill in the end.” She put the heavy nappy in the disposal sack and tossed it into the bathroom.
“I’m not in a position to wash terry nappies myself, said Blackbird, “and it seems a poor reward for the care and comfort that we receive from the court staff to present them with a pile of dirty nappies to wash every day, don’t you think?”
“I s’pose,” said Alex. “Mum used disposables with me, too, when I was little, but we didn’t think so much about the planet in those days.”
“It’s a very recent phenomenon for people to be concerned about their environment,” agreed Blackbird. “And not a moment too soon, in my opinion. Is that what you came to see me about – to remind me to be conscious of the socio-environmental impact of our lifestyle?”
“I came to see if you needed any help,” said Alex, looking slightly hurt but sounding disingenuous.
“I see,” said Blackbird. “Well that’s very thoughtful.”
“And to ask you a question,” said Alex, almost as an afterthought.
“What kind of question?”
“About magic. I was wondering,” she mused, “whether you would you be able to tell if someone was casting a spell on you?”
“Casting a spell,” said Blackbird, “what a quaint idea. We don’t cast spells, Alex. We exercise power over ourselves, our environment, and others. Is that what you mean?”
“Kind of,” she said.
“Would you like to be more specific?” asked Blackbird.
“What if someone laid a glamour on you, or on themselves, so they would appear…different?”
“The Feyre can appear how they wish to appear,” said Blackbird, popping together the baby-grow and tickling the baby’s stomach so he gurgled at her and tried to grab her fingers.
“More than appearance,” said Alex. “What if they made you like them more? Made you think about them, even when they weren’t there.”
“It’s a simple enough glamour,” said Blackbird, “but like most simple things it’s easy enough to unravel. A warding should do it. If you ward yourself against them then they have no power against you.”
“Even if they touched you?” she asked.
“If they were touching you at the time,” said Blackbird, “then that would be more difficult. You would have to break the hold of their power. You could do that with magic, or you could do it physically. What’s this in relation to, Alex?”
“Nothin’ much,” said Alex, clearly lying.
Blackbird held out the baby to her. “Here, hold onto him for a moment while I put all this away.” She busied herself putting away change-mats and nappy cream while Alex held her baby brother. The baby liked Alex because her hair would play with him even if she wouldn’t. When Blackbird looked up, the baby was trying to catch hold of a curl that was doing its best to evade his grasping fingers, while at the same time he was trying to swat away another curl from tickling his ear.
Blackbird finished putting things away and sat at the desk, turning the chair out to face Alex. “This is all theoretical?” she asked.
“Potentially,” said Alex.
“You need to be careful who you allow to touch you. Touch is for people you trust – that’s true for humans and even more so for the Feyre. Is there someone who has touched you against your will?” asked Blackbird.
“No,” said Alex, a little sulkily.
“Is this to do with Sparky?” asked Blackbird, remembering the mud smeared sweatshirt and the grass stained jeans.
“No,” said Alex. “Sparky’s just a friend. We’re mates.”
“Then why do you look so unhappy?” asked Blackbird.
“I…I was touching, as in physical contact with someone…” Alex read Blackbird’s expression. “Not like that. It wasn’t…you know. It was something else. I can’t talk about it, but we touched, and now…now I can’t stop thinking about him. I think about him when I’m reading a book, listening to music, having a shower….” Her colour deepened slightly and she covered it quickly, “Even when I’m doing something else like talking to you, or helping Lesley. I think he might have, you know, accidentally maybe, used his power on me? I don’t think he meant any harm, but I can’t sleep without thinking about him, and when I do sleep, he’s in my dreams…” She trailed off.
“And this is making you feel bad,” said Blackbird.
“Kind of,” agreed Alex. She smoothed the downy hair on the baby’s head while the baby tried to get one of the curls in his mouth.
“Have you tried warding this person from you?” asked Blackbird.
“Yeah. It didn’t make any difference.”
“Then I don’t think the problem is magical,” said Blackbird.
“I thought maybe if he’d got something of mine, he could be using it, like a voodoo charm, or a talisman to focus his power?”
“I think it’s much worse than that, Alex.”
“Yes,” said Blackbird. “ I think you’re in love.”
“You think I’m what?” she said.
“Does you tummy jump when you hear his name? Do you get tongue tied when he’s near? Does the thought of him touching you send prickles across your skin.”
Alex’s look was one of growing horror.
“It doesn’t take magic to do that,” said Blackbird, “and there’s no defence in the universe against it. Wardings are useless, power will not serve you and even though you may deny it, it will find its own way into your heart.”
“It can’t be,” said Alex.
“May I ask who the object of your affection is?” asked Blackbird. “If it’s not Sparky, then who?”
“I’m not sure I should say,” she said.
“Alex, if you want me to help you, you need to tell me who it is. Is it someone I know?”
“Tate,” said Alex. “I can’t believe I just said that. You mustn’t tell anyone. You have to swear to me.”
Blackbird found herself grinning, “Tate? Tate the Warder?”
“It’s not funny,” said Alex. “Yes, Tate. There can’t be two of them, surely?”
“No,” said Blackbird, “I think there’s just the one, though that one is large enough for two. And has he expressed any affection towards you?” she asked.
“No,” said Alex, sulkily. “I don’t think so. I don’t know, I think he likes me, but not…you know, in that way.” She handed the baby back to Blackbird who took him from her and settled him in to her lap. “What am I going to do?” she asked, sitting back in the chair and wrapping her arms around her knees.
“I have to ask this,” said Blackbird, suddenly serious, “and I don’t want to sound prudish, but you said he touched you. Did he force himself on you in any way?”
“No!” said Alex. “He’s been very kind.”
“Have you had sex with him?”
“No! It’s not like that. You don’t understand.”
“Would you like to?” asked Blackbird, frankly.
“No,” said Alex, but the words squirmed on her tongue. “I don’t know,” she admitted.
“I see,” said Blackbird. “So, one thing I don’t understand. How did you come into physical contact with a Warder?”
Alex looked evasive, but then sighed. “I followed him. I know it was wrong, but I wanted to see where he was going. We ended up in a wood and there was no sign of him. I got lost and tramped around in the brambles for hours before he found me. I was scratched, and sore, and cold, and wet.”
“You do know how dangerous it is to follow one of the Warders?” said Blackbird.
“I didn’t mean any harm,” Alex protested. “If there’d been any danger I’d have just hopped back on to the Ways – left him to it.”
“Promise me you won’t do anything that reckless again,” said Blackbird.
“Anyway, he found me and carried me back,” she said, carefully skipping over both the promise and what she’d seen in the woods.
“He carried you back,” repeated Blackbird, “and since then you’ve been thinking about him a lot.”
Alex sniffed. “I guess. You won’t tell Dad will you?”
“We’ve already established that not every conversation we have is shared with your father,” said Blackbird, “though if he knew you were following the Warders around he’d be horrified.”
“Don’t tell him,” Alex pleaded. “He doesn’t need to know.”
Blackbird shook her head. “He may find out anyway, Alex. Your father is also a Warder and Tate may tell him.”
“What am I going to do?” asked Alex.
“About your father?”
“No, about Tate.”
“Well you have the usual options. You can declare your heart to Tate and find out if he reciprocates your feelings,” said Blackbird
“What if he doesn’t? What will I do then?”
“Or you can keep your feelings to yourself, and remain as wretched as you are now,” she said.
“Oh, God,” said Alex.
“Or you can take a hot bath, eat chocolate and get over it.”
“I can’t,” wailed Alex. “Don’t you understand?”
“Or there’s the fourth option,” said Blackbird.
“What’s the fourth option?” asked Alex, miserably.
“Among the Feyre, Alex, it is the custom and practice for the females to choose a mate. The males can register a protest if they are not happy with the choice, but it is not their choice. I chose your father, though he has not been unhappy with that choice, I think.”
“A mate?” asked Alex.
“With the intention of becoming pregnant and having a child,” said Blackbird. “It’s not a commitment to be entered into lightly, and if you are not ready I do not advise you take that course, but if you were to choose Tate as a mate, he could be yours.”
“Oh,” said Alex.
“Perhaps,” said Blackbird, “you are not ready for that commitment just yet. Why not consider one of the other options. All of them are less complicated than the last.”
“Oh God,” said Alex.
“Quite,” said Blackbird.
The Eighth Court © Mike Shevdon 2013