Ballad: A Gathering of Faerie, page 28part #2 of Books of Faerie Series
Nuala looked at me. “Human,” she whispered.
“Oh, ma’am,” Sullivan’s voice was twenty degrees below zero. “You do not want to threaten me. I have seen so much worse than you. ” A pause; scuffling. “You’re not going anywhere until you tell me what you were doing summoning Them right behind my kids’ dorm. Don’t give me any bullshit about camping or herbal research, either. I know. I know. ”
“It’s not any of your business. If you know anything about Them, you know that you’re better off if you don’t put your nose where it might be cut off. ”
Delia, I thought suddenly, and Nuala frowned at me, not recognizing the name. Dee’s aunt. I recognize her voice now. The faeries saved her life a long time ago, and she’s been helping Them ever since.
Nuala’s eyebrows arched sharply.
“Don’t tell me what I’m better off doing. I’ve given up the last two years of my life to make sure these kids don’t have to go through what I did. ” Sullivan’s voice was a growl. “But all that time, I never thought I’d have to worry about a human. Tell. Me. Why are you here?”
Delia’s voice was frigid. “Fine. I was just using the music here to help me summon one of the daoine sidhe. One of them owes me a favor. ”
“I must look extremely gullible to you. ”
“You look very fragile to me, actually. ” A long pause, and I wondered what filled it on the other side of the door. “You look like someone who has a lot to lose, and I know individuals who would be happy to help you lose it. ”
Sullivan sounded grim. “You are sadly mistaken. I am delightfully unhindered by the attachments and accumulated possessions of most humans, thanks to your friends. I can, however, make you extremely uncomfortable if you don’t start telling me why you’re here. ”
“I’m doing favors for the new queen,” Delia snapped. “Their politics. Things they can’t manage themselves. ”
“New queen?” Sullivan’s voice sounded thin. “Eleanor?”
My heart stopped. Why did Sullivan know her name?
“Yes, Eleanor. I scratch her back and she scratches mine. ”
Sullivan’s voice was strained. “Why is she here?”
Silence. Was there a nod or a head-shake in there that we couldn’t see? Or just nothing?
Then Sullivan again, sounding uneasy. “There’s a cloverhand here ?”
Delia laughed. “And to think you’re supposed to be protecting these children! You don’t know anything at all. ”
Sullivan demanded, “Who is it?”
There was quiet for a minute, and then Nuala and I both jumped back from the door as it rattled on its hinges.
I barely recognized Sullivan’s voice as he snarled, “I’ve killed one of Them and I’m sure a human would be a lot easier. Don’t screw with me. ”
Delia’s voice was slow, level, and dripping with venom. “Boy, take your hands off me. ”
The door jumped again.
“This is all I’m going to say,” Delia said, voice weirdly muffled. “So you’d better listen: You want what They want. You want Them out of the human world, and They want us out of Theirs. I’m killing every faerie who deals with humans, and They’re going to kill every human who deals with faeries. Yeah, some of your kids”—this said with contempt—“might die. But in the long run, you’d be an idiot to interfere. ”
Sullivan’s voice was more like himself. “Why? Why now?”
“If you know Eleanor, then you know you don’t ask Them why,” Delia said. “Now, do you hear Them coming? They won’t like to see you hassling me. Yeah, I’d let go of me too. ”
“I don’t want to see you anywhere on the school grounds again. ”
“Oh, you won’t see me again. ”
There was silence, and Nuala and I backed away, into the shadows, waiting for Sullivan to come inside. But the doors stayed shut, Sullivan and his secrets behind it.
It turned out that Paul and I were the stupidest smart people ever invented, because we couldn’t make the damn play work. We had Megan there, and we had Eric too, lounging over the back of a chair waiting for his part in the script. I’d told Sullivan we didn’t need him yet, which was good, because the only thing we were doing well was making total idiots of ourselves.
Megan, by the piano, frowned at her script. It was all rumpled in her hands, which drove me crazy, but I tried to focus and listen to her deliver her lines instead. She was addressing me, but she didn’t look at me because she hadn’t memorized any lines yet. She said them all flat and gave each word the same emphasis as the last one, so that it all droned together: “ParlortricksLeonSleightofhandThat’sallitis. ”
I shifted my weight from shoe to shoe. “Why is the stage sticky? It feels like someone drank a jug of honey and then got sick on the stage. And then maybe peed on it too. ”
“That’s not your line!” Paul said.
“No shit,” Eric said. He was peevish because we had yet to make it to the scene with either of his characters in it.
“Okay, the stupid piano is really bothering me,” I said, looking past Megan at its bulk. “Do you think we can get it to the side of the stage when we have to? It’s taking up way too much room. ”
“Why do you keep bothering about the piano?” Megan demanded.
“We don’t need it front and center. It’s only getting played in the scenes where Paul can’t do the oboe thing. It’s in the way. ”
“It doesn’t matter,” Megan said. She fluttered her rumpled script in her hands—God, that bothered me, why couldn’t she have just kept it tidy?—and stared at me. “Are we ready to go on?”
Paul suggested, “Do your last line once more. ”
I thought she needed to do it about ten more times until it sounded more like a human and less like a female-shaped automaton, but once more was a start.
Megan flapped the damn script again and repeated her line. “ParlortricksLeonSleightofhandThat’sallitis. ”
I didn’t have to look at my lines but I felt stupid addressing Megan’s face, so I looked at the top of her head while she stared down at her crumpled papers. “I was there, Anna. I saw him do it. This sucks. ”
“That’s not your line!” Paul said.
“No shit,” Eric said. “It’s the truth though. ”
“I’m hungry. ” Paul’s voice was plaintive. I’d promised them all Chinese take-out if they skipped dinner at the dining hall to practice.
I wanted to write automaton on my hand, but I reached into my pocket and got Nuala’s stone instead. I worried it around in my fingers frenetically while I stared at the script and tried to figure out why it felt so colossally stupid doing this. “No food until Eric has his scene at least. This is only a half-hour play, for crying out loud. ”
The door creaked and we all looked up guiltily, as if we’d been caught doing something worse than badly acting a play filled with metaphor. I saw Paul mouth the words “scary hot” at me a moment before I realized that it was Nuala, letting herself in the red door at the back of the building.
Nuala strode down the center aisle between the folding chairs, looking like an Amazon in tight bell-bottoms and seemingly unconcerned by everyone staring at her. She climbed onto the stage, walked up to me, and snatched my script from me. Her long-sleeved yellow T-shirt showed a tantalizing bit of her belly; there was dark black print down the sleeves that said inyourhandsinyourhandsinyourhands.
I tried to keep my face normal, but for some reason a smile kept threatening to appear on it, so I just looked at the script in Nuala’s hands like I was reading it with her and said, “Guys, this is Nuala. ”
Nuala didn’t look at them. “Hi,” she said. “I’m here to make you not suck. Is that cool?”
“Very cool,” whispered Paul.
Megan glared at Nuala. I think she was jealous. Well, she could get over it. I already felt better with Nuala standing beside me.
“Okay, run through the
Like you’ve ever cared about asking my permission before, I thought, and she smirked. She lightly touched the back of one of my hands—a bit of skin without ink—and handed me the script again. That stupid smile kept wanting to come back again. I sucked in my lower lip and stared at the script until I could control my face. “Everyone ready to try it again?”
Nuala crouched on the edge of the stage, looking predatory, and we ran through the first scene. We made it halfway through, feeling even more idiotic with Nuala watching, before she stopped us.
“Wow,” she said, and took the script from me again. “You guys really do suck. ”
“Who are you again?” Megan asked.
Nuala held a hand up to her like shut up and frowned at the script. “Okay, first of all, James, you’re all wrong as Leon. Ro—Paul should be Leon. Why do you have him playing Campbell? Campbell is a misunderstood megalomaniac musician prodigy. Clearly you’re supposed to play him. ”
The others laughed.
“Is it that obvious?” I asked.
“Oh please,” Nuala said. She waved the script. “This has the subtlety of the bubonic plague. Campbell, the brilliant misunderstood magician genius, and his reliable friend Leon, torn to pieces by a sheeplike society that fears real magic? Boy, I wonder who you might be talking about there. But that’s part of its charm. ” She pointed at Megan, who winced, like Nuala was about to shoot lasers from her fingertips. “I think you’ll have an easier time delivering those lines to a Paul-Leon than a James-Leon. Because thinking of James as Leon is like—ha—ha—” Apparently the idea was so implausible she couldn’t even think of a cutting comparison. “Anyway. Try it. And be Anna. Haven’t you read the script? Don’t you remember what happens to her?”
“Well, nothing, in comparison to Leon and Campbell. ” Megan sniffed.
“That’s because you’re not reading it right. ” Nuala flipped through the script, careful to keep the pages crisp and neat—God, I was falling for her so bad—and pointed to a page. “See this here? Crisis of belief. You’ve got to deliver every single one of these lines building up to this part right here so that when you say this line, the audience gasps oh shit and feels the rug pulled out from under them, just like Anna does. ”
Megan rumpled through her script to the line. “I didn’t think of it like that. ”
Nuala shrugged like well you wouldn’t and looked at me. “So you, you do Paul’s part at the beginning. You address the audience as Campbell. Do I have to tell you to believe in the role and make us believe it too?”
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