Undraland, page 19
He smirked. “But I am cool.” When I had something to say to this, he held up his hands. “You’re right. That was lame. Do over. Hey Loos, as much as I want you all the time, we can’t be public about it in Tomten or Elvage.”
“Alright. So no tantric sex in the observatory in front of your friends and my uncle? Boring!” I pulled on him, but he didn’t move. “Come on.”
“Hold on. I’m picturing it.” He closed his eyes with a devious grin.
I walked into the observatory with Henry Mancini, ready to stuff my face with scones, tea and whatever else my uncle’s housekeeper cooked up. My appetite was curbed, though, when I saw Charles Mace added to the band of thieves. The bliss of the kiss faded and crumbled in parts as the night before slapped me in the face.
Brother. Charles Mace and I shared DNA, which made him my brother.
Mace was staring at me in that intensely focused way, as if studying me would bring him closer to the parents he couldn’t remember. I wanted to avoid him, but instead I decided to face the weirdness head-on. Taking a deep breath, I walked right up to him and stuck my hand out in greeting. “Hey. Yesterday was kinda crazy, huh?”
He took in every facet of my very normal hand and finally grasped it, his expression that of wonder at the contact. His tail swished behind him. “Yes.” His silver eyes cataloged my every breath. “I’ve so wanted to meet you, ever since I learned my parents had other children.”
Henry Mancini barked at our contact, making his opinion of Mace very clear. “Hush, now,” I chided the pup. Turning my attention back to Mace, I said, “How long have you known?”
“A few years.”
We were still shaking hands, which I tried not to feel weird about. “Ah. Did you handle it as gracefully as I did?”
The corners of his mouth lifted, his thin lips similar to Linus’s. “I believe I broke Alrik’s favorite teacup.”
“Good for you. He deserves it for keeping us in the dark for so long.” As much as I didn’t want to admit it to myself, Mace looked unbalanced. Crazy, even. Maybe it was the silver touch to his eyes, or the black hair that was a little too long and worse than a good Johnny Depp-type of messy. Perhaps it was the dog collar, or the fact that he wore a black shirt and pants, when no one else was dressing emo. He had hunched shoulders, and a tall, lanky form that was given to hovering. Then there was the unblinking way he stared at me. They were all signs that he’d grown up without a sibling. There was no one to tell him to stand up straight, get a girlfriend and stop being weird. Poor guy.
I dropped his hand, since the handshake seemed never-ending. “Just so you know, if I’d caught wind of any of it, I would’ve pitched a good old girl fit until they introduced us. I had no clue of any of it.”
He rolled his shoulders back a little and gave me a small smile. “A ‘good old girl fit’? What would that look like?”
I rattled my fists in the air, shook my head and mimed screaming to conjure up a nice representation. “You know, like that. Maybe with a ‘how dare all of you’ thrown in for good measure.”
“I tried every trick in my book, including a version of your girl fit, and nothing worked. I’ve so wanted to meet you.” He swallowed, daring me to look away from those strange eyes. “I very much wish I could have seen them. Our parents.”
The way he said “our” made my heart clench in my chest. My mom had another child. My dad had hidden an entire life from us.
I thought I had all the time in the world with them to ask questions of how they met and personal details that might’ve led me to Undra. Linus was a limited edition, but they were supposed to live forever.
“Mom would have liked you,” I admitted, another clue sliding into place. “Her paintings. She was always drawing different kinds of eyes. Ones that don’t exist where I come from. I guess they were yours. I can’t imagine someone forgetting eyes like those.”
It was as if I’d told him he’d won a thousand dollars. Not a million, but a solid thousand. A big, no holds barred smile broke out on his face, chasing away the cagey expression he’d worn non-stop since I first laid eyes on him. “She did?”
“Yeah. Stupid me never asked about them. But they were yours. Unmistakable.”
Everyone else was milling about the room, eating and talking, but Uncle Rick and Jens were sitting at a table in earshot.
Charles lifted his hand as if he meant to touch my hair, but retracted, realizing that was not kosher. “We look nothing alike,” he commented, mildly amused.
“I don’t really look like Linus, either. He was taller with darker blond hair.” I whirled on Uncle Rick, face stern. “Why didn’t Mom and Dad ever talk about this? Why were Linus and I kept in the dark?”
Uncle Rick dabbed his mouth with a pale blue cloth napkin before answering with a guarded expression. “Because the pain of leaving a child behind was greater than they could bear.”
Mace’s expression closed off again.
Though I did not know him, my heart went out to the poor guy. What a crappy situation. I reached out and patted Mace’s back.
Charles stiffened at the contact, as if I’d shocked him. Slowly, he relaxed, offering me a bewildered smile as he leaned into the touch. He had all the haunted markings of an outcast.
Something swished and caught my eye. Sure enough, Charles Mace’s tail was protruding from under his shirt.
I tried not to stare, but I mean, come on. It was a man with a cow’s tail. I had to remind myself not to grab it so I could get a better look.
Uncle Rick stood and called the meeting to order. Instead of finding a seat in the mix, I sat on the outskirts with Mace, determined not to abandon my new… brother.
Brother. I could say that, right? I wasn’t betraying Linus by calling a spade a spade. Right?
Charles and I sat next to each other on a blue and gold loveseat that needed to be restuffed. I could feel the wood on the edge. He watched me in his unsettling way and slowly moved his hand to mine, lifting it and cradling it between his as if I were made of glass. “May I?”
“Um, hold my hand? Sure.” Henry Mancini growled, but I shushed him again. He whined and circled three times before curling up on my bare toes to warm them.
The gold flecks floated around us as we listened to Uncle Rick tell the same story he’d told us last night. Jens was next to Uncle Rick, leaning back in his chair casually, but I could tell that he was on high alert, glancing over at me every few seconds.
Once Uncle Rick caught everyone up, he continued on to new information. “I fear we may run into the same problem we did with the Tomten, that they will not want their portal closed and we will not get our chance. That’s why I’ve decided to move in stealth. It’ll take much time for word to spread to this region that a portal has fallen. King Johannes’s pride runs deep, and he’s got a grudge against King Hallamar of Elvage he’s quite attached to. Letting loose a disgrace like this would be quite uncharacteristic of the Tonttu king. So we have a little time to plan our attack.” This brought about a few noises of appreciation. “To close the portals, you must tear them down using Pesta’s rake, which thanks to Lucy and Jens, we have.” He nodded to me, as if I’d done something impressive. “For those of you not in the know, each land’s portal can only be destroyed or accessed by its people. So elves cannot use the Nøkken portal to the Land of Be, and so forth. I will be the one using the rake on the portal for Elvage.”
I felt Mace stiffen around my hand. His hawk-like angular face was very focused on every detail of the plan.
I kinda wanted to flick his tail.
“When it comes time for each of you to destroy your portal, you must take the rake in your hand and knock down the bone frame without passing through. If you pass through it, your arm and soul are forfeit to her, and she’ll be in possession of the only weapon we have to destroy the portals, so do not attempt it.” Uncle Rick took a sip of his tea, as if he had not spoken of amputations. “We must limit her access to new souls.”
Uncle Rick had a gleam of happiness in his eye when he saw my other hand sandwiched between Mace’s. “Yes, Lucy?”
“Is Charles coming with us?”
“Astute question, dear. Yes. Charles is my charge, and he’s decided to help us.”
I wasn’t terribly fond of Charles being referred to as a charge and not his son. It felt distant, and I couldn’t imagine the hurt I would feel if my dad called me that.
Tor grumbled, “What use can a halfy be?”
Uncle Rick continued on as if Tor had not spoken. He started with the order of nations we would travel to, and various obstacles we might face. Mace was watching me, which I tried to be cool with.
“One key problem we’ll have after we destroy the next portal is the increase in security around the others. I specifically chose each of you because so few are opposed to the Land of Be. Each of you is irreplaceable. We must have one from each land destroy their own portal. So work as a team and leave no one behind.”
Henry Mancini licked my ankle, so I stroked him with my other foot. He could feel my discomfort surrounding the plan.
So could Mace. He stroked my knuckles with his thumb and wrapped his nearest arm around my shoulders. I know it was a sweet thing for him to do, but it felt strange. Linus and I were thick as thieves, but he didn’t hold my hand and put his arm around my shoulders when we sat around watching TV together. I tried to relax into the nonthreatening touch, determined to fit in here with my new… brother.
“Lucy, Jamie and Jens will meet with King Hallamar this evening. I trust you all slept well?” Heads nodded in response. Uncle Rick continued. “They will keep him and a few of the more important names in Elvage distracted while we do our deed at the portal. We rendezvous at Drucken Tavern under the name Holden.”
I turned to Jens, asking him with my eyes if he knew where that was. He nodded, but his mouth was taut with tension and displeasure.
Tor spoke up. His wiry red hair was shoved in a netting of some kind. It looked like a bird’s nest made of red dreadlocks. I kinda wanted to shove pencils in it. “Ya haven’t told us why we’ve got a halfy in on the plan. I thought ya just needed one from each race. But now we got three Toms and a halfy.”
“And two females,” Foss added. “One the size of a rat.”
Mace swallowed, but took no obvious affront to Tor’s slight on his ancestry.
Britta had been attentive and silent the entire time, but somehow the fact that she was a woman trumped all potential usefulness in Foss’s black eyes.
At this, I snapped. “Tor, I’m a halfy, too, so if you can’t handle Charles on the journey, you don’t get me. Good luck tearing down the human portal without a human who has ties to Undra! And Foss? Shut your smackhole about me and Britta. I’ve had enough of it, and she doesn’t deserve that. You heard Uncle Rick. We do this as a team. Get onboard, you jag.” I glared at Foss, who leaned forward and leveled an intimidating stare at me, expecting, to his folly, that I would back down.
Foss growled, “Control your rat, Alrik.”
Uncle Rick’s voice was kind, as it always was, but his eyes had a note of scolding in them. “Foss? Lucy? I trust you can overcome your differences with grace. And Torsten the Mighty, I perceived you to be of the highest intellect, athleticism and judgment of your kind, which is part of why I chose you to join us. Yet you seem to be under the impression that half-breeds are inferior to the purebloods.”
“Aye, sir. They are. They don’t have the full access ta their kind’s magic.”
Uncle Rick motioned to Mace, who stood, taking my hand with him as he moved to Uncle Rick’s side. I could tell he wanted me to vouch for him, and I wanted to, but really? I just met the guy yesterday. When standing next to him and letting him hold my hand was all that was required, I relaxed a little.
“Lucy just learned that Charles Mace is her brother. Charles is one quarter human, one quarter elfish and one half Huldra, same as Lucy. This gives him the ability to destroy not one, but two portals.” I could see light bulbs flashing over their heads at this reasoning. “Even if portals were not our mission, I would still call on Charles as one of my most useful assets.”
The others sized up Mace uncertainly. “You wish me to be elfish?” Charles questioned, his lanky posture adding to his borderline unbalanced menace.
“I do. They seem to need further proof. And I admit, I rather enjoy the sight of a speechless dwarf. A true rarity in nature.” Uncle Rick encouraged his surrogate son with a wave of his hand.
Mace dropped my grip. “My birth father was a wind elf, but I was raised by Alrik, a water elf, so I’m schooled in both arts.” Charles mimed opening the window like a grand magician or something. Like a child at a magic show, I was fascinated when the window started shaking against the pane ominously.
The shutters banged open against the outside of the house as if his hand had actually touched them. The curtains blew out of the room as alien wind was introduced. The mid-morning sun struck me with its brilliance. Normally, I would have just shut my eyes, but I had been looking right at the window when it opened. The shock of the light made me stumble back. I heard a chair scrape the floor, and before I hit the ground, I felt Jens at my back. He steadied me, so I hid my face in his shirt. Henry Mancini yapped around me, but I couldn’t see him. I couldn’t see anything.
“You know she can’t handle our sun!” Jens yelled. “Jamie, shut the windows!”
I heard more banging and assumed Jamie was obeying. Jens palmed the back of my head to keep my face buried in his black shirt.
Jens was arguing with Mace, but the sun was so overwhelming that I was still trying to get the flashbulbs of light to calm down inside my eyelids, and didn’t hear much of their fight.
Foss’s gruff cadence could be heard above the ruckus. “There’s no way we can travel with her! Useless female!”
Uncle Rick let out an attention-arresting whistle, quieting the riotous mules. “We need Lucy to come with us, and I’m working on a solution to her aversion to our sun. Patience, everyone.” He produced the key I’d given him and moved toward Charles.
Jens and Nik both let out shouts of protest. “No, Alrik!” and “You don’t know what he’ll do!” reached my ears.
I heard a click and a whimper from Mace. Uncle Rick’s voice was dripping with emotion. “It’s done, son. You’re free.”
I heard Mace’s choked cry and knew the two were embracing. “Thank you, Alrik. You can trust me.”
“I know, son. I know. Now go help your sister.”
A hand from behind me went over my face and palmed my eyes while I stood in the arms of an angry Jens. “You should’ve told us, Rick! We deserve to have a say in you unleashing a Huldra!”
Tor held up his hands. “The men can’t control us with their whistle. Only the women carry that magic.”
Jens stared down Alrik with a sneer. “I know you, Rick. You wouldn’t have kept Charles so hush-hush if he didn’t have something up his sleeve. He’s the son of Hilda the Powerful! They collared him for a reason.”
Charles gripped my face and tried to remove me from Jens, who only held me tighter.
Henry Mancini was going nuts, barking at the two men I was sandwiched in between. Britta was yelling at Jens to let me go. Tor started shouting, “Get the halfy! He’ll rip off the human’s head!”
Mace’s voice was laden with emotion as he pressed his body against my back. “I’m Huldra, Jens, not a monster. I can fix her! If you trust Alrik, then trust me.”
“Get your hands off her!”
Anxiety flooded me, and then it happened.
Mace let out a beautiful melodious whistle in my ear that, I swear, had three different notes flying out simultaneously throughout the entire tune. I had never heard a whistle like that. I knew the sound was loud, and delivered right into my ear, but it was not intrusive. Instead I found myself leaning into it. I pulled away from Jens so that only Mace was clutchi
When the tune ended, I was released from the spell. I slumped against Mace despite myself and shook sense back into my brain. My eyelids opened slowly, and for the first time, I saw Charles Mace clearly. Lots of baggage. No real home. His collar was gone, and for once, he looked like he was allowed to be himself.
Charles moved to the window Jamie had shut and pulled back the lace curtains. He pushed out the shutters, letting the luminous sunlight into the room. Protests ensued, but the sun was not repellant this time.
I walked toward the window and shoved my hand in the golden glow, relishing the heat I’d been missing.
Mace addressed the room. “That was three different commands. One modified her sight. The second calmed her down. The third healed the blast to her eyes from when she looked at the sun before. I can do anything a full Huldra can do, but I can also work two kinds of elf magic: water and wind.”
“Three in one,” Uncle Rick added, beaming with pride at his protégé. “So now you know he won’t be a handicap on the group. In fact, he’s made Lucy more useful, since she can now walk around in daylight. Lucy? Do you have any objections?”
I turned from my spot in the glittering sun and smiled. “Can he kill spiders?”
Mace nodded slowly with a look of confusion at this inferior talent I insisted upon. His collar was gone, and he looked a new man, radiant with the joy of freedom.
“I’m fine with it. Put it to a vote?” I suggested, unwilling to let myself have the final say in anything in a world where I couldn’t see without help.
Uncle Rick took the floor back. “All those in favor of Mace joining the group?”
All hands went up, except Tor’s. He crossed his arms petulantly and stared Uncle Rick down. “I won’t vote fer it, but I accept yer choice. If ya say he’s good fer it, I won’t stand in tha boy’s way.”