Elf Blood — Free Novel — Chapter 3
*You guys know we talked about doing a shared world. We went with a whole continent so that Dave can have his jungle and I can have my big city with diners. We’re working on a contract which we should have in a week or two (and yes, we’ll post it for your enlightenment although we haven’t decided yet if anyone not in the group can play. OTOH if it’s very successful, we’ll inevitably enlarge it. For now, here’s the second chapter of Elf Blood, book one of Risen Atlantis. And for now it is ©Sarah A. Hoyt 2013. All rights reserved. Do not copy, distribute or otherwise disseminate without the author’s name, and a link to this page. You do not have the right to alter it. You do not have the right to claim it as yours. For permission to do anything other than quote it for review or recommendation purposes, email Goldportpress@gmail.com. This is a work of fiction, all coincidence between it and real people place or events is assuredly imaginary.*
Previous chapter here.
“Your name?” I said impatiently. The impatience was partly to hide a tide of empathy for him. Look, it’s stupid to feel empathy for an elf, and I’m no dumber than I can help. But at the same time, I was Un’uruh enough that I’d never been able to avoid feeling sympathy with the wounded and persecuted.
A sharp glimmer of thought, not quite words, informed me that I took after my mother and that perhaps that was how she’d been drawn in. After all, I had no proof city elves sacrificed their own.
He was staring at me, his mouth half open.
“Come,” I said. “The one you use among humans.”
He blinked and shook himself a little, and I realized he’d not been looking at myself at all, but at some dismal internal panorama.
“Oh,” he said. “Yes. Ardghal Parthalan. Ard, my family calls me.”
I raised my eyebrows at him. Not at the first name. his first name would be Irish or English or German, and often families used all three, but at the Parthalan. I knew the family. Oh, not in person, but they usually advertised before the talkies. They owned most of the fashion houses in Pomae. In many ways they were the fashion business in Pomae, if not in the whole of Atlantis. I’d never known they were elves.
He seemed to guess my thoughts, and something almost a smile tried to form on his lips, but he suppressed it and swallowed, and nodded. “Yes, that Parthalan. I’m my father’s older son. There is one more, and a daughter.”
Now my eyebrows rose. For an elf family this amounted to bragging. Most elves produced only one son or one daughter, and that was pretty much it. It was well known, too, that the older Parthalan, Ciar Parthalan had arrived here fifty some years ago, a barefoot pauper, and proceeded to build a fashion business, starting with clothes he designed and which his wife ran off on a sewing machine, and which they sold in a grimy store front not far from where I was. My head spun. Elf glamour. No wonder.
Aloud I said, “How old are you, and how long have you been married?” I was writing all this down in my notebook, as though this were a normal interview with a normal client.
“Thirty five,” he said. “And twelve years. Look, is this really necessary?”
“I’m not quite sure what you expect me to do, or how I am to intervene in a grand cycle marriage, but you have to tell me the background in any case, so, please do.”
“I want you to tell me if it’s true I’m to be the victim and that my wife is the executioner,” he said. There was a tone of exasperation in his voice that, for the first time, made him sound almost rude. “That’s all I want. If I know it, I can deal with it myself.”
I bit my tongue. “I will not be party to murder.”
“No one asked you to be party to anything,” he said. “Save preventing my being killed. Or do you have any objections to that, Miss Smith? Is the only good elf a dead elf?”
“I’ve often thought so,” I said, before I could stop myself. I do not enjoy being baited. Then I apologized immediately. “Pardon me, I didn’t mean it.”
He frowned and stared at me a long time, as though trying to decide if I’d liked then or was lying now. “No,” he said at last, as though making a great concession. “Of course not. But trust me that there are ways to save my life that don’t involve killing anyone. It’s part of the reason that I—” He shook his head. “Never mind. That’s internal family matters, and I would be flayed for telling you, even if it has nothing to do with this.”
“Your wife?” I said. “And her background?”
“Her name is Chara. When I married her, her family name was Photine,” he threw the words at me and snapped his mouth shut as though he hoped the words would choke me, and for the first time I realized in exactly how scared he was. An elf wouldn’t give information against his will unless he were on his last rope. I still couldn’t imagine what he thought I could do.”
“A mixed marriage,” I said, trying not to sound malicious. “She’s a forest elf?” I said.
“Yes,” he said. And then reluctantly, “There are apparently considerations that overcome Un’uruh. My being the heir to a vast fortune and even vaster power for instance.” He chewed the corner of his lip, as though considering what else to tell me, then said, “My father opposed the match.”
Curioser and curioser. I’d bet old Ciar was in fact the king of this peculiar hill distributed through his shops and factories all over Pomae. I wondered that he would allow his heir to do something against his will. Most kings had a remedy for that. Of course, perhaps his father had too. Perhaps he’d just been patient. “Any children?” I asked. “Of your marriage?”
He seemed about to say something else, but what came out was “no.” and that wasn’t surprising for an elf marriage of relative short standing. He might live hundreds of years and there was time enough or children. If they didn’t kill him first.
“Look, this is all a waste of time,” he said. “What I had in mind was asking you to come tonight. My father is giving a party at his house. A lot of people he knows and works with, and I can introduce you to everyone.”
“Won’t it look funny?” I asked.
He blinked at me. “What? Oh. That. Not particularly. I’ve been looking for a secretary. Social secretary. We can say I made you an offer but, because of your background, you’re not sure about taking it, and so you came to the party so you can see what a happy family we are.” He twisted his lips. “And that I hope you’ll accept the job. I do hope you’ll accept the job, though of course not as secretary. Secretary will just give you cover to be much around the house and pry into our affairs. We have only two weeks till the solstice, and you must know before then.”
I inclined my head. “I must know before then,” I said. “If I take the case.”
“So, I’ll send the car for you at … six? The party starts at seven thirty and—”
“Mr. Parthalan, I haven’t the slightest intention of stepping into one of your cars. I know what you use for cars.”
This time he smiled. “They’re quite tame, really. Nothing to fear. But yes, I can see… Can you make your way there, though?”
“I can,” I said, firmly. “Because you are going to give me a non-refundable retainer to the amount of a thousand magus. This I’ll use in my preliminary investigation of your case. If I take it, you’ll give me a second retainer.”
I thought he was going to protest. He thought so too. But instead, he drew his wallet from his pocket, and counted out a thousand magus onto my desk. Which of course was impressive, since the currency of Pomae is spelled so no one can fake it, counterfeit it, or make copies. Who carries that much in his pocket, anyway? A month’s salary for most people.
“I’ll give you a receipt.”
“It’s not necessary. You’ll come?”
“You might want to wear—” he said.
“Something respectable but cheap, so no one thinks you’ve been keeping me.”
“Oh. Of course. I will see you at seven or seven thirty, then.”
He left so abruptly he might as well have ported, but he didn’t. Looking down from the window, I saw him getting into a long, shimmering green limo.
It’s a fine mess you got yourself into, Kassia. As though he couldn’t make sure every cab you take is spelled, too.
You just volunteered yourself for the grand sacrifice, wanna bet?
I didn’t answer myself. I would not bet a straw.