Undraland, page 20
“That settles it. Lucy, you’re set to meet King Hallamar shortly. Can you be ready to leave soon? Send your bags with Britta, and she can bring them to the tavern.”
“Sure thing.” Bags. That’s funny. All my crap is inside Jens’s Mary Poppins backpack. I stared out the window in amazement at the nature I could finally get a good look at while Uncle Rick carried on talking to the others about traveling to the tavern.
Awakening the Bear
The trees were so tall and thick; I could scarcely understand how houses were built around them. And such grand homes, too. Some were three stories tall and narrower than I would have thought could be architecturally sound. The gold dust was everywhere, not just in the house. I wanted to dance in it and roll around in the moss-like grass.
Mace stood behind me, watching me watch the world he was accustomed to.
I motioned for him to stand next to me. “What’s that?” I asked, pointing to an oddly-shaped tree with golden leaves.
“Those are knut trad. Thousands of years old.” He touched his neck where the collar had been and smiled at me, relief still washing over him in waves. “Thank you. Alrik said it was you that stole the key from Kristoffer. I can’t believe you did that for me.”
I didn’t look over at him because I could tell he was still staring at me. I didn’t have the heart to tell him I hadn’t known what the key was for, and that I was just doing what Uncle Rick told me to. I shrugged. “Well, thanks for using your Jiu-jitsu to Kung-Fu me new eyeballs. I really hate being cooped up.”
“You also hate when people have to do things for you. I can tell. This way you won’t be so dependent on Jens.”
“You caught that, did you?”
“Hard to miss. What’s Jiu-jitsu? And what’s Kung-Fu?”
I tried to explain it, but I think I only confused him more. I turned around and saw everyone grouped up in deep discussions about provisions and the trek. I knew nothing about any of it, so no one asked my opinion. “Feel like a jailbreak?” I asked conspiratorially.
Delight flooded Mace, who nodded. “The back entrance. No one’s there this time of day.”
“Keep it casual,” I warned. I was so tired of being followed and cooped up and told what to do. I had been living and operating as a full-fledged adult before this. Now I had a short leash, and did not care for it.
Mace and I strolled toward the hallway with Henry Mancini tagging along at my heels. As soon as we cleared the observatory, I broke out into a run. Mace grinned as we raced for the win and burst out the back door.
I welcomed the sunlight that greeted me and bathed me in its beauty. I dared it to be too much for me this time, now that I had Mace in my artillery. I ran with my elfin-Huldra-human brother through the trees with trunks so thick, I swear a car could have passed through if it was hollowed. Mace led the way to a creek with water so blue, it looked like someone dumped a bucket of dye in it to get it that explosive cerulean color. I stuck my toe in to see if it would dye my skin, but it did not.
Once one toe was refreshed, both feet wanted in. “Come on!” I waved to Mace, who shook his head with the most natural smile I’d ever seen on the man. “Oh, but it’s so cool. The water’s perfect.”
“I believe you.”
I looked down and saw opaque rocks catching rainbows from the sunlight in their hard surfaces. I bent down to pick one up, frowning at how wet my dress was getting. “Yikes. You think Uncle Rick’ll be pissed I’m ruining my dress?”
“Yeah. You know. Be so mad, he pisses himself?”
Mace laughed at my crude terminology. “No. He bought you a few dresses. I imagine he won’t piss himself, if I understand what that means.”
“I’m sure you can figure it out.” I watched his easy smile and the shoulders that had once been hunched relax. “You’re happy,” I observed. “That’s good. I’ve only ever seen you with that intense face you do.” I mimicked his penetrating stare.
Mace started collecting a few opaque stones. “I was nervous to meet you. I thought you might hate me. I’ve known about you a lot longer than you’ve known about me. More time to obsess about why my parents left me, and what made you worth sticking around for.”
“Oh.” I dropped the hem of my dress in the creek. When he put it all in such blunt terms, I realized my selfishness in all of it. I only thought on how my parents’ previous life affected me. I smacked my inner teenager in the forehead. “Jeez. I don’t know what to say to that.”
“I don’t assume you have the answers to questions meant for them.”
“I don’t hate you. I can’t imagine they did, either.” I ran my big toe over a smooth stone, marveling at the glassy texture. “You were a kid. Sounds like they were when it all went south, too.” I gave him a good look, now that he was standing up straight and not lurking. “How old are you?”
I tried not to scowl, but I knew my attitude was evident on my face. “Of course you do. You, Alrik, Jens, and the stinking tooth fairy. Everyone knows everything about me, and I know nothing about anything here. I couldn’t even see without help.” I tipped my head toward him. “Thanks for that, by the way. Cowering like a child in front of seasoned warriors sucks.” I clinked two of the stones together to test their strength. “I’m out of my element here, so you’re not getting a good picture of me.”
Mace squinted at me. “I think you look just fine from where I stand. Forget everyone else. You have to if you want to survive here.”
“Yeah. What’s all that nonsense about half-breeds? That kind of talk would not fly where I come from.”
“So you don’t mind that I’m not a pureblood?” he asked, his insecurity poking through as his tail rose behind him. His shoulders sagged, and though he was easily six and a half feet tall, he looked small in his shame.
“Your blood’s as pure as mine is.” I shrugged. “Most of your world’s things that matter have zip meaning to me. So, unless you’re a Dodger’s fan, we’re square.” I tried my hand at skipping the glass-looking rock, pleased when it made three whole jumps before sinking.
“I don’t know what you’re speaking of.”
I sighed. “I know. No one does.”
Boots stomping in the direction we came reached me, and Henry Mancini did not bother alerting me to the intruder. That’s how I knew it was Jens. I looked up and saw his grim expression. “Uh-oh. Garden gnome on the warpath. Hide your valuables.”
Mace greeted Jens with a nod of his head, which Jens ignored. “What do you think you’re doing out here?”
“Am I your prisoner?” I asked politely.
“Did you tell me not to leave the house as long as I live?”
He snarled at my disinterest in his fit. “I’m about to.”
“I’m not in any danger. I took a chaperone,” I said, pointing to Mace. “And I can see the house from here.” I motioned to a chimney in the distance.
“No, you can’t. And that’s not even Alrik’s house! You have no idea where you are!”
“Oh. Whoops.” I put my hand on my hip. “You know, I lived without supervision before all this. I can come and go as I please.” I motioned to myself. “Grown woman, here.”
“Teenaged pain in my ass! Take this seriously!” He huffed at the edge of the creek. “And you’ve never lived without supervision. I was watching out for you every day for the past five years.”
I placed two fingers to my lips and spoke to him like I was the schoolteacher, and he was the child who needed things explained very slowly. “You were silent then. Let’s revisit that, shall we?”
“You make me crazy!” he raged. He took a step forward, and I backed up instinctively. “Don’t you dare run!”
And then the water mutated. I’m sure there’s a more technical term for it, but that’s all
I let out an indelicate screech and fell backward into the water. Henry Mancini growled at the water wall and tried attacking it to save me.
I looked up and found Mace standing at my side. His expression was pure fury. He was glaring at Jens with his hand up, controlling the liquid divide between us. Then it dawned on me that by fighting with the pit bull, I’d unwittingly awoken the bear. “Mace! Mace, it’s alright. That’s just how we are.” I struggled to my feet and tugged on his sleeve. “Charles, calm down!” I gently pressed my hands to his chest to remind him I was in one piece, and that he was overreacting.
He tore his searing gaze away from Jens and looked down at me with those inhuman eyes. He wrapped one arm around my hips in a lax half-hug. “He should not speak to you like that.”
I waved my hand at Jens, as if it were all just a big joke. “Who, Jimmy here? That’s nothing. You should see when it’s my turn to yell at him. Cries like a baby, he does.” I worked up a semi-convincing smile. “That’s just how we are. Probably seems weird to you, but it’s normal where I come from. They don’t have that same iconic view of women you people do here.”
Mace’s expression twisted in confusion. “That’s how you do things? That’s normal for you? What kind of a place do you come from?”
I shrugged. “The real world. When people are mad at each other, they duke it out. That was just Jens telling me he cares about me.” I winked at Jens, adding fuel to his fire. “See how worried he got when he didn’t know where I was?”
“I don’t understand,” Charles admitted. “But you’re okay with it?”
I rubbed his arm to calm him down. “Of course. Jens just worries too much.”
“And you don’t worry enough,” Jens growled. “It’s like you’re asking to get lost or abducted out here. You know nothing about this world, and yet you’re perfectly fine running off whenever you feel like it. We’re going home right now.”
“You gonna add a ‘young lady’ to that?”
“How about ‘childish brat’?” he snapped, pointing behind him. “March!”
“Say pretty please.” Henry Mancini licked Jens’s boot to calm him down.
Jens was livid. It was kinda funny. Not the whole Mace freaking out thing, but Jens thinking he had any sort of control over me.
Then he lunged forward and grabbed me around the waist, throwing me over his shoulder. That was not so funny.
Jens summoned Henry Mancini, and then exhaled deeply, tugging on his ear. By Mace’s confused exclamations, I deduced that Jens had turned us invisible.
I responded to being carried so degradingly by singing the Partridge Family theme song. His back muscles tensed, and I could tell he was finally trying to control his temper. I lifted up the hem of his shirt and gave the middle of his back a few little kisses to make up for worrying him.
“Knock it off, Loos. I’m still pissed.”
“No, you’re not. You were worried about me.”
“Sure. Without you, I’m out of a job.”
I smiled. Even in my upside-down state, my blonde curls dangling and bouncing with each step, I took comfort in the fact that anyone worried about me. It had been a while since anyone cared to ask where I was, when I’d be home, or expressed any interest that my well-being affected them. I hugged his ribs, kissing him all over. “Okay, okay. I forgive you,” I said, snuggling him as best I could.
He scoffed. “You forgive me? That’s rich.”
“I just can’t stay mad at you. You’re such a lovebug. A big, giant Care Bear.” I dragged my fingernails across his belly, enjoying the shudder that relaxed his nerves.
“Knock it off.” He tromped over a large stump, clicking his tongue so Henry Mancini could still find us. “You heard Alrik. You’re meeting the elfish king soon. You need to get ready, and then we have to go. I don’t have time to go around trying to find you in the woods with some guy.” He sneered in Mace’s direction, who could not see his disdain.
“Some guy? I was hanging out with my new brother!”
Mace walked beside us, thoroughly confused. “This is all normal talk, Lucy?”
“Yup. This is how Jens tells me he missed me. Now he’s taking me back to his cave for a throw down.”
“Shut it, Loos. He doesn’t understand your sense of humor.”
Mace took affront to this. “I’m not completely obtuse.”
Doesn’t understand my humor? We’ll see about that. While my arms were around Jens’s torso, I gently began working off his belt, holding the metal buckle from clanking too loud with one hand, and holding up his pants with the other. I had to work hard to keep my giggling under wraps as he stepped over the threshold to my uncle’s home.
Jens marched us into the populated observatory, un-invisibled us and hiked me from over his shoulder to the floor, drawing the eye of my fellow adventurers. “I found her,” he declared. “You deal with her, Alrik. Make her understand that she can’t just go wandering off.”
Uncle Rick was about to address me in a kinder manner than Jens would have liked, but his eyes were drawn upwards. “Jens, what… what happened out there?”
Mace grinned and then looked at me with appreciation.
“What?” Jens demanded of the laughter and knowing looks popping up throughout the room. He took a step forward and heard the jangle of his belt. He looked down and found his pants undone and sagging slightly, exposing his boxer briefs to everyone. He turned red and hiked his pants back up, fastening his belt as he glared at me. “Real funny, Loos. Get upstairs.”
I obeyed, scampering up the steps and grinning at the outcome of my little prank. I sauntered into the room and was about to shut the door in his face so I could change, but he followed me inside. “I know you gave all the guys down there a free show, but I don’t do that sort of thing. Out you go. I have to change.”
He stood in the center of the room, fuming at me, a giant wet spot marking him across his shirt from my river-wet dress. “You… you…”
I stood up on my toes, yanked him down by his collar and kissed him lightly on the lips. “I’m sorry,” I admitted behind closed doors. “I shouldn’t have run away like that. I was just feeling a little cooped up. Wanted a chance to hang with Mace on my own and get a feel for him.”
“I don’t like him,” Jens ruled. He pressed his forehead to mine, and I could feel some of his tension dissipating.
“Then why did you show him your underwear?”
“Crap. That was good.” He cracked a smile and backed me toward the bed. I toppled backward onto the mattress, eyes wide as he loomed over me. “Enjoy your moment, Kincaid. Payback’s coming.”
Then he kissed me. It was urgent, laced with frustration. I could feel how scared he was that he’d lost me in every kiss, and I began to understand that someone here actually did care about me. I had nowhere to go that was mine, but Jens was mine, and somehow without my knowledge, I had let myself become his.
Queen Lucy of the Humanoids
Dinner with the King of the Elves was weird. First off, there was no table and no real food. There was only a tea service, and the tea tasted kind of like sun-dried mulch with an afterthought of honey mixed in. Jamie and I sat in tall-backed ornately carved wooden chairs across from King Hallamar and Queen Sorena. We were in a room with so many golden decorations, it was hard not to feel overwhelmed. Grape clusters as large as giant platters hung from the walls, and gold vines twined across the ceiling to give visitors the impression of being outside while they were still inside. There were three white birds with gold wings that flew around to different nests in the ceiling. Various rich-colored paintings of heroic elves in the throes of battle bedecked the walls in enormous gold frames, giving me a preview of what the elves judged as aesthetically pleasing.
Kristoffer was Head of the Guard, so he was standing at
Don’t get me started. Martin Luther King would have had a field day.
I’d made my opinion known to Jens and Jamie on the way over in no uncertain terms. I believe the phrase “bigoted aristocratic smackholes” was thrown around at one point. Apparently Toms, male Huldras and dwarves were lower class in this society, while Fossegrimens were feared in all societies. Since I was a fairly new species to them, I was like, Queen Lucy of the Humanoids or something. It was hard to keep up.
I sipped tea as I’d seen done in Jane Austen movies my mom and I watched together and nodded politely to the conversation, keeping my opinions to myself unless asked a direct question. Not my first time being the new kid in town. I refer back to Rule #1: When in doubt, shut your mouth.
It helped that I was the oddity. The king and queen looked at me as if I was a giraffe in their room, strange and fascinating in my differentness from their normal. They were enraptured at my smaller stature, confused that I was clearly not dwarf. Everything I did, they took notice of, so I did very little to compensate.
The royal couple was almost seven feet tall, slender, had brown braided hair and sat erect like they’d sewn a yardstick into their flowing gold robes. They had those kinds of teeth you know have to be veneers, so you try not to look directly at them. The woman had spindly tattoos on her fingers that wrapped around her wrists and vined up her arms. It sort of looked like henna, but the ink was green. I wanted to ask about them, but knowing me, I’d be accidentally calling her fat or something.
It was three long hours that we were sipping tea refills in the dining room when I felt an invisible hand on my shoulder. I tried not to jump when Jens whispered in my ear, “Say something. This is moving too fast. You need to take up more time.”