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Chapter Seven

Friday, June 9

High Tide 10:41 a.m. EDT

Sunrise 5:01 a.m.

Precisely at eleven-oh-five-ay-em, I slipped into Fun Country from the beach side following the curve of the carousel’s storm gate past Summer’s Wheel, and toward Baxter Avenue. The shore-side breeze brought me the smell of egg rolls frying and my stomach rumbled appreciatively.

I figured it had a right. Breakfast had been some hours back, followed by a brisk walk up to the northern corner of Archers Beach, and the salt marsh where, six or seven weeks ago, I’d put a little bit of magical muscle into unfreezing a frozen sluice gate. Once the gate was up, the tide could go in and out of the marsh—Heron Marsh, by name—as it was meant to do, cleansing the waters and nourishing the small lives.

Heron Marsh having been cut off from the beneficial influences of the tide for…a long time, it’d been in bad need of cleaning. I wanted to check on my handiwork, and also on the trenvay who belonged to the marsh, one Eltenfleur. That was something I should’ve done weeks ago, but I’d thought it prudent to give him a little time mellow out after our last interaction.

That had been one of my better ideas. Eltenfleur was hardly mad at me at all anymore for having dumped a juiced-up Ozali on a mission to destroy into his marsh. In fact he’d seemed a little concerned.

“I held him as close as love, Guardian,” he said, as we sat together on the edge of his marsh; “but love were not enough for him.”

He was a brown-skinned and slender youth with long yellow hair, eyes the green-brown color of marsh mud, thin, sensitive lips, and a mouthful of teeth like a lamprey. His fingers were very long, and webbed, and so were his toes. As trenvay looks go, his trended to the middle of the bell curve. A good many trenvay are indistinguishable, visually, from ordinary folk. A good many more are strange-looking, and rightly absent themselves from the mundane world.

Besides the keeping of his marsh, Eltenfleur’s specialty—call it his hobby—is clasping unwary trespassers in his marsh in a loving embrace and bearing them under the water. I only learned about that from research, after the event, but Eltenfleur had damn’ near drowned me at our first meeting, so I’d hoped he’d be able to handle Ramendysis. I hadn’t expected that a mere trenvay could effect the drowning of an Ozali, but I had sort of hoped that Eltenfleur would prove himself enough of a pain in the ass that Ramendysis would have gone home—and that part of the plan had worked.


Unfortunately for me—and ultimately for him—he’d then opted to immediately return to the Changing Land and carry on hostilities.

“I appreciate it, that you tried,” I told Eltenfleur. “In the end, the land prevailed.”

He nodded, politely, and changed the subject.

“The waters continue to freshen,” he said, raising a languid hand to direct my attention to the marsh.

It did look considerably better; the surface moved freely, no longer bound with scum, and the water level was higher. The cattails had recovered their cheerfulness; darning needles darted through the salt hay; even the mud smelled cleaner.

“I don’t take them, anymore,” Eltenfleur said, almost too softly for me to hear.

I turned my head and looked at him; his face averted, as if he was studying something highly interesting among the sparse blades of grass.

“Beg pardon?” I murmured.

He looked up and met my eyes, his showing slightly red at the edges.

“I said that I don’t take them anymore—the passersby. I haven’t, since…

since…” He took a breath. “For a very long time.”

I nodded, carefully, keeping my eyes on his.

“We get older,” he said, sounding defiant. “We…change.”

“Yes,” I said, feeling that resonate deep in my chest. “We change.”

We change

I rounded the edge of the storm gate, the aroma of egg rolls making my mouth water, and swung out into Baxter Avenue, meaning to cross over to Tony Lee’s, get myself a plate of early lunch, and have a chat with Anna, Tony’s wife, who knows everything going on in the park, though she hardly ever leaves the booth.

Intent as I was on this goal, I didn’t see him bearing down from my right until it was almost too late—and truth to tell, I didn’t see him so much as register something too big and too close. I’d been trained in the arts of war—House Aeronymous core princess curriculum—and training will out.

…usually at the worst possible moment.

I ducked, kicked, and connected.

“Hey!” Was the first shout, quickly followed by, “Ow! Hey! Ms. Archer!”

I’d ridden the kick into a spin, now I straightened, staring up into a wholesome face that was at the moment wearing an expression more pained than pleasant.

Despite which, I recognized him.

“Kyle,” I said. “Sorry about that. You startled me.”

“Guess I did,” he said ruefully, bending down to rub his knee. I felt a pang, remembering the solid connection I’d made.

“You okay? Let’s go over to Tony Lee’s and get you some ice.”

“Nah, hey, it’s fine,” he said, sending a quick glance down, then back up to my face. He grinned, sort of.

“Good thing you weren’t wearing boots, though.”

That was the truth. I’d’ve crushed his kneecap if I’d been wearing proper footwear instead of sneakers. Still…

“Ice’ll keep it from swelling. Doesn’t hurt to be proactive.”

“I’ll ice it and elevate it and do everything good when I get home, promise.” He was looking more pleasant and less peeved now. “I’ve studied martial arts, off and on. You’ve got good technique.”

I laughed. “Good technique includes being certain of your target. I didn’t even get a look at you.”

“I was too close, and you were spooked.” A shadow passed over his face. “Sometimes, the past does our thinking for us.”

I felt the truth of that echo along my link with the land. It saddened me to think that even wholesome apple-cheeked boys learned that lesson, and I gave him a small bow, in acknowledgment of a truth said well.

“I take it you’re headed home, now?” I asked, deliberately breaking the seriousness of the moment.

“Roundabout,” he answered. “Ms. Anderson’s doesn’t have any work for me today, so I thought I’d come by and see the carousel, like we talked about.” He held up his hands.

Which was why the lad had been lurking by the front door. True, I’d asked him to give me some notice for a private tour, but it wasn’t unreasonable to think I might be at the carousel half-an-hour early on an open day, and be grateful for a little company.

“Be glad to give you the quick tour,” I said, and firmly closed my lips before if you think you’re up to it got loose. A man is the best judge of his own injuries, my grandfather’s arms master used to say, and add, after a wink and a beat, until he swoons.

Fishing the key out of my pocket, I turned, unlocked the padlock, and opened the door.

“Go on in,” I told him, putting my hands on the gate’s edge. “I’ll just push the walls out of the way.”

It didn’t really surprise me to see him set his shoulder against the opposite side, and push.

The storm walls moved, clattering and groaning as they went back on the track, meeting the stops at the sides of the maintenance shed with a clash of steel against steel.

I jumped up on the carousel, crossed the platform and dropped down into the pit, pulling open the panel, and flipping various switches. One switch snapped the lights on along the sweeps, and the outer ring. Another lit the fancy facade that hid the center of the machine from view. A third illuminated the orchestrion. I opened the door and ducked inside to kick the motor on.

By the time I was out, door latched behind me, Kyle was on the platform, both hands resting on the charger’s gilded saddle, looking around, as wide-eyed as any kid. I waited at the center, loath to jump onto the platform and shatter his moment of wonder.

Slowly, as if he stood by a living animal, he raised one hand, and ran his fingertips down the proudly arched neck, armored in ebon and red. He watched his fingers move, then looked up and about again. His steps soundless on the platform, he walked down the wheel, caressing the creatures as he went.

I stepped quietly onto the platform as he vanished around the curve, walking like a man in a dream, as silent as a dream, himself.

My attention was on the ticket box when he came back into sight, walking a little brisker now, eyes still rounder than most adults allow themselves, his hands gentle on carved necks and noses.

I slapped the box back together, adjusted the stool that I hardly ever sat on, and turned to face Kyle as he slipped through the gap in the safety rail. He turned and conscientiously pushed it flush with the other sections, before facing me.

“That rooster,” he said. “It doesn’t belong.”

“In the sense that it’s where it is because I put it there, it does belong. On the other hand, I know exactly how you feel. Problem is that I lost a horse just at the end of April. Takes time to carve a new one—and money—and I probably don’t have to tell you they want the moon and a couple stars for one of the old animals, restored.”

“Well…” He took a step forward, and put his hands on the ticket box. “I’m a finish carpenter. I can make you a horse.”

I raised my eyebrows.

“Ms. Anderson doesn’t keep you busy enough?”

“There’s only another week until that job’s done. I could go back to Amesbury and hustle work—it’s summer, after all, but—” He paused, his cheeks flushing a delicate, pale pink. “See, I took the Wishes job because it was at the ocean. I thought, after it was done, I’d pick up more work here, and kind of have a…working vacation.” He sighed. “I grew up on Hatteras Island—that’s North Carolina. Miss it, sometimes. But, look, when I was learning—I ’prenticed with a guy up—well, down—in Glen Echo, Maryland. He made custom carousel horses, and I worked with him for almost a year. He’d gotten backed up and needed another pair of hands. I can give you his number, if you want to check.”

I shook my head. “I’m guessing that I can’t afford you,” I said, giving it to him straight. “There’s a lot of time in a horse, not to mention materials.”

“Around four hundred hours;” he grinned, “about a million of ’em sanding. And there’s down-time, for glue to dry. But, see, I was talking to Mrs. Ellenbach the other day—you know Mrs. Ellenbach?”

I shook my head. “Townie or summer person?”

He gave the question serious consideration, brows drawn.

“Summer person,” he said eventually. “She lives in the condos, marsh-side—Black Duck Manor—and she needs bookshelves built in.”

The light dawned. “So you’ve already got some work lined up, and the more work you do, the more references you’ll have in-town…”

“…and the more work I’ll get, and the longer I can stay here.” He finished, grinning at me like I done something particularly clever—it reminded me, unsettlingly, of Mr. Ignat’.

“There’s still the question of price,” I said, getting back to brass tacks. “How much?”

He pushed the Home Depot hat back off his forehead, and frowned down at the ticket box.

“What’s the wood?” he asked abruptly. “Bass?”

I shook my head. “Tupelo.”


“The original animals were carved by a great-great-etcetera-uncle, and the family woodlot had tupelo.”

He nodded, but the frown was more pronounced.

“If I can get you the wood,” I said. “Will that help?”

He looked doubtful. “It’ll be…a hundred fifty board feet, near enough.”

I nodded. “If I can get it at all, I can get all you need.”

“Well, then.” He tipped his head to one side. “Twenty-five hundred.”

“The sea air’s gone to your head, son. That hardly covers your time.”

“It’s my time,” he said, “so I get to say what it’s worth. I hardly ever get a chance to make a carousel horse, Ms. Archer. I’ve got the skill, and it’s going to waste. Besides,” he grinned. “I want to do it.”

“Hard to argue with that,” I said, and stepped Sideways.

It’s rude to look at people in Side-Sight, like talking about someone in their presence, in a foreign language. Still, if he was an ordinary citizen of the Changing Land, he’d never know.

And if he was an avenging Ozali from another of the Worlds…I brought one of my premade defense spells to the tips of my metaphorical fingers, even as I Looked at Kyle.

No jikinap, no glamor, no glow of geas or spell; nothing but the faintest silvery shine of luck about him.

I let the defense spell go, and stepped fully back into the here and now.

“You’re provisionally hired,” I said, “pending my ability to provide the wood. Give me a cell number—yours, and that reference from down Away. I’ll call you tomorrow with a yes or no.”

“Great!” Forget palpable, his delight damn’ near knocked me down. “I’ve got a—”

But whatever it was he had was drowned out by a blare, as rude as it was unmistakeable, followed by another just like it.

Marilyn had hit the air horn.

Fun Country was open for business.

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