Today's Reading

Messer Rupert had said hello was the preferred manner in which to greet people one did not know. The green woman had already violated that protocol. Ivar borrowed his manners from Grytt, who usually snorted when Messer Rupert pronounced on etiquette, skipped the greeting, and went straight to the thing he most wanted to know.

"What do you want?"

The green woman's green eyebrows climbed. Her smile remained, if a little stiffer now, sharp as her teeth. "Most people ask what I am, first."

Ivar shrugged. He had learned if he didn't say anything for long enough that two things happened: one, he could not get into trouble for saying the wrong thing; and two, people tended to lose patience and say whatever it was they'd intended in the first place.

"You certainly didn't get a Naming, did you?" the green woman muttered. Her smile had turned into a husk of itself. "Charm is the first thing we hand out at those. Well. Not the first thing I hand out. I usually get stuck with great strength or physical prowess or whatever best fits the father's expectations."

That confirmed it. This was a fairy. Ivar forgot to be suspicious, or rather, he set his suspicions aside. Rory had told him about the fairies that had attended her Naming, and the gifts they'd handed out. He had thought, at the time, she'd been teasing him, even though Messer Rupert and Grytt had, when pressed, confirmed the account. ("There were unknown xenos present," Messer Rupert had said; and Grytt had made one of her faces, which was as good as a verbal confirmation.)

Ivar had been vaguely jealous at the time. His father, and later Moss, had been relentlessly dismissive of anything which did not conform to his worldview, including fairies, imagination, and cats.

He eyed the fairy. "What did you give Rory for her Naming?"

"I gave her the ability to play the harp, which I understand she subverted to good cause." The fairy smiled, this time without teeth or humor. "If I'm called for a prince, I give things like incredible strength and physical resilience, but there's not much call for brawny princesses. Bet someone's regretting that now."

"She's not a princess anymore."

"She's still Rory Thorne," the green fairy said, enigmatically. "To answer your first question: I want you to deliver a message for me."

Cold sweat prickled on Ivar's skin. He hated talking to people with very few exceptions, and four of those exceptions had left Lanscot almost two years ago. "You should talk to Messer Rupert or Grytt."

The fairy snorted. She sounded a bit like a sheep when she did it. "That's who I want you to tell. Rupert's the one who most needs to hear this, but he's also the one most likely to get fixated on what I am and where I came from and how I got here. Not my first choice. And Grytt, well, no. There's too much metal on her now. If Two or Five had come—but of course not, no, Send Three, she travels best," the fairy muttered. "But you can tell her what I say, too. She's sensible."

The fairy paused.

Ivar supposed this was the place he was meant to ask tell them what and continue the conversation. He said nothing.

The green woman grimaced. Her teeth were definitely pointed. Ivar revised his opinion about them looking like pearls. They were yellower. More like bone.

That was not comforting.

Then the fairy began to speak, and that was even less comforting. Ivar listened without interrupting. And when the green woman was finished, he ran down the hill to find Rupert and Grytt.

"I can stay, if you want." Grytt stood by the door, balancing on her mecha foot while she tugged her boot over the other. The polysteel toes flexed like claws, scoring tiny gouges in the tile.

"No," Rupert said, and then, regretting the terseness of the syllable, "Thank you. I will be fine. I can handle Samur."

"Huh." Grytt shifted her weight, one side to the other. The mecha limb had its own special boot, more for tidiness than for necessity. The mecha joints were hexed against moisture and cold and heat, but not as much against mud. Grytt's boots were an appalling, deliberately bright yellow, in contrast to her practical, drab coveralls. Her mecha hand winked from the frayed grey cuffs.

She frowned at him. "I'll be right outside."

Rupert nodded. Then he turned back to the quantum-hex viewing ball. It looked like a plain, polished glass globe at the moment, sitting on a base of plain iron which was etched all over with hexes. He had already fed it the appropriate coordinates. He made eye contact with his distorted reflection, composed his features, leaned forward, and whispered his personal code.

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