Get A Rise

By Laura Schiller

Based on: The Faerie Path series

Copyright: Frewin Jones

A fire danced in the hearth of the common room in the Inn of the Blessèd Queen, in the town of Hymnal. Rathina felt its warmth caress her face as she glanced around the wooden walls, empty benches and tables. The common room had a rather bereft, lonely appearance, as if missing the patrons who would usually be laughing and talking there. The Plague had cast its shadow even here.

Still, it was comfortable. Rathina exchanged a glance at Connor, sitting opposite her, absently stirring his soup with a wooden spoon. The coarse blue fabric of his britches and the bagginess of his black shirt looked odd against their surroundings, but his face – pale, sharp-boned, blue-eyed, with messy spikes of blond hair – was not unattractive.

Not that Rathina cared.

"This is good soup," he said, nodding to himself as he took a sip.

"Surprised, Master Connor?" she retorted archly. He needn't think that only the Mortal Realm had good food.

He looked up with a rueful grin. "No, no, it's just … it's nice, after all that travelling. A chance to put our feet up and relax."

Rathina agreed. She was no weakling, far from it, but the past few days – the beginning of the Plague, her introduction to the Mortal World, the voyage to the Helan Archaia, walking underwater, unearthing a millenia-old secret – it was an unspeakable relief just to sit still for a few hours, with a hot bowl of soup and a warm fire. Even with a sarcastic mortal sitting opposite you … a mortal with a very impressive command of sailboats and horses, come to that.

"Master Fulk will take it ill if you place your bemired boots upon his clean table," she said. He scrunched up his face in a look halfway between amusement and exasperation. Rathina laughed out loud.

"You just said that to get a rise out of me, didn't you?" he said delightedly, pointing the spoon at her.

Get a rise? She puzzled over the expression for a few seconds, then smiled again as she understood.

"Indeed," she said.

It occurred to her to wonder when was the last time she had laughed – truly laughed out loud, as she had a moment ago? This lighthearted feeling bubbling up inside her was unfamiliar. Someone who carried the scars in her soul that she did could not laugh … could she?

The past few days, while being an adventure, were also a chance for her to redeem herself, if ever so slightly, for the atrocities she had set in motion. They were also a chance to reconnect with Tania, her beloved sister, once her best friend in all the worlds. She had not expected any of it to be … in Tania's mortal terms … fun.

"What's up?" asked Connor suddenly, his light eyebrows drawing low in a frown of concern. "I mean, is something wrong?"

"Many things are 'up'," said Rathina, a sigh escaping despite herself. "The future of the Faerie Realm lies upon our shoulders. Yet I cannot remember the last time I have felt so … relaxed."

Connor smiled – not a smirk this time, but a genuine, soft smile. "You're making progress," he teased gently. "When all this is over, you'll be talking just like my mates at uni. Tania can sidestep us back and we'll take you to nightclubs, bars, shopping in Camden Market … I could teach you how to drive a car. how's that sound?"

At the first moment, it sounded absurd. But strangely enough, Rathina could see it – see herself, the one Faerie immune to Isenmort, tearing through the streets in an Isenmort chariot, with the windows open and the wind ruffling her hair. Connor sitting next to her, his bright clear voice giving instructions, laughing as they braked and swerved along the tarmac.

"It sounds … okay," said Rathina, making Connor smile again. "I would," trying another phrase of Tania's, "be up for that."

"A goodly idea, forsooth," said Connor, bursting out into laughter at the sound of the (to him) absurdly antiquated phrase.

As she watched his sea-blue eyes crinkle into slits of laughter, the firelight dancing on his golden hair, Rathina felt the first stirrings of something – something small, like a mouse stirring in its nest. The slightest tingle in her cheeks and in the pit of her stomach, a sensation she thought she had lost long ago.

Could it be … that Connor … ?

But before this tentative something could be further examined and realized, Tania walked into the room and the moment was gone. The tear tracks on her sister's face and the weariness and confusion of her expression immediately took hold of Rathina's attention, as did the look on Connor's face when he exclaimed about how worried they had been. His blue eyes all but melted as they looked into her smoky green ones.

Connor was attracted to Tania, who had only just broken her bond with Edric and still loved him with all her stubborn heart. It was hard for Rathina to decide which would be better for her sister – to reunite with Edric and his fascination with the Dark Arts, or to start something new with her Mortal childhood friend, knowing that her Faerie heart could have only one true love and Connor was not the one. There was enough trouble without adding Rathina's own potential feelings to the mix.

Besides, Rathina told herself, she was a Faerie too, irrevocably bound to the traitor Gabriel, whom she had stabbed through the heart on the field of battle with an Isenmort sword. (And to think that, if only Gabriel had known her gift, sharing it with him through the Hand-Fasting Ritual would have granted him his heart's desire and the ruin of the Realm!) She could never love again, even if she wanted to.

Couldn't she?