A SHORT STORY
BY RUSSELL UNDERWOOD
Probably, we should have stayed put down on Ocean, masked by all that shade magic swirlin' about, but who knows? They might have found us, anyway. Besides, I was gettin' seriously spooked. I never had any dealings with shades, and I wasn't of a mind to start now. I know some people -- namin' no names, of course -- who gave up a little piece of soul just for a taste of uptown food or a warm clean blanket or change of clothes. I didn't need that kind of temptation.
Meanwhile, the more Tatiana saw, the more curious she seemed to get. She half dragged me into one of the haunts before I got it into her head how bad an idea that was. When she saw how scared I'd got, she apologized real sweetly and didn't bring it up again. We went down to the waterfront for a while and listened to the waves crashing and gulls squawking and that was nice for a while. She asked me all kinds of questions about magic and Pump City and I explained as best I could. Told her a few stories about the shades and the one I'd heard about Lisbeth the Crow Woman and what had become of her.
Tatiana traded with a few stories of her own about various doings in Elfame, and as alien as the words were, it was like she was painting pictures in my head. Maybe you're thinking that was just glamour on her part, but I know it wasn't. Like I told you before, I know lies when I hear them, which is another way of saying that glamour don't have no hold on me.
Finally, I couldn't hold it in no longer. I said to her, "Tatiana, you tell me straight, okay? I'm a... I'm a fairy, ain't I? Same as you."
Tatiana laughed again like I'd just said the funniest thing in the world. It wasn't a mean, laugh, though, so I guess I wasn't too bothered. Besides, I knew that even if I wasn't exactly right, I wasn't too far off base, either.
"No," she said. "Not exactly. And we don't actually use the `F' word very much, by the way. It's sort of offensive."
"It's quite all right," Tatiana said, and I could tell she was still amused as hell.
"So all right, what am I? You can't say I'm just human, because that don't make no sense anymore. I can feel those goons comin' as well as you, and your glamours ain't gotten to me yet. Don't say you haven't tried, because I know you have. Specially back there in the alley this morning. There's something about me that knows about what's Over There, even before you tell it to me. Plus there's the word that unseelie fellow called me. Changeling."
This time, Tatiana's voice was more serious. "Well, okay, you're right. Sort of. I'll explain it to you if we can go take a walk."
And that's how we came to leave shade country -- to my great relief, if still against my better judgment.
We headed up Station Street, away from the ocean. Station's the Southern border of Pump City. Below that, there's just factories and slaughterhouses and then open country. I could tell where we were by the smells, especially after the sulfur stench died away.
Tatiana asked, "What do you know about your father?" I laughed.
"Exactly nothin'," I said. "Just that he was some handsome young man from the country who blew into town just long enough to knock up my ma."
"Did she ever mention a name?"
I nearly blushed again. Didn't speak.
"What is it?" she asked.
"It's a stupid name. I say that because for some damn reason my ma saw fit to give it to me. She always called me Obie, but the full version's Oberon. I don't go by it."
"Thistle and thorn," Tatiana breathed, some kind of awe in her tone.
"What? Is all that supposed to mean something?"
"It's just... Well, Oberon's kind of a big name where I come from. He's one of the queen's consorts and an earl in his own right. He's also one of the finest warriors in the seelie court."
"Is?" I snorted. "Listen, girl, just because maybe I buy into some of what you said, that don't mean I'm a fool. I'm 76 years old. If my father was still alive, he'd be past 100."
"Time's different in Elfame," she said distractedly, like her mind was on something else besides convincing me of what she already knew was true. She said, "There was always a rumor that old Oberon had fathered children in the world."
"So what are you sayin'? That I got some kind of -- of birthright over there?"
"I'm afraid not," the girl said apologetically. "After all, you're a -- "
"I was going to say changeling. That means you're half human. So there's no right to title or anything. But it does mean Oberon's responsible for you. Legitimate or not, offspring must be provided for in Elfame." She put an arm around my shoulder and crowed. "And wouldn't it just twist old Oberon's tail to see you show up at court?"
I couldn't hardly speak, the joy was so big inside me. Just the thought that there was some way out of this life, this city, that there was a better place for me after all. Not a perfect place -- I'd heard enough to judge that -- but at least a place where maybe I belonged.
"You'll take me with you, then, when you go?"
"Not -- not right away." Sensing my disappointment, she quickly said, "There's a lot to sort out when I return. Everyone will still be dealing with the aftermath of the teind. It wouldn't be right just to spring you on everyone so soon."
"Likely to make a splash, am I?"
I nodded. "Promise me one thing, Tatiana," I said softly, in the dark. "If I can get you out of this mess, you won't forget me, okay? I don't want to die in this World."
Tatiana said, "I promise."