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July 15, 2024

Tam Lin 07

By Alexandra Queen

Obeying a mysterious, wordless command, Michelle has asked her reluctant guide in the realm of Fae to lead her into the lair of creatures known to loathe mortals. The lair contains a library full of biographies on the mortals kept as pets and companions, which Michelle shouldn't have looked at under these circumstances, and malevolent creatures that Michelle must not look at under any circumstances. The creatures have summoned Michelle to show her a body that reeks of cold steel, but it's the lost knight, DeSorcy, who knows the identity of the corpse...

Behind them, the mistress of the cellar spoke out in a forceful tone. "Who was she?"

Both of them nearly turned, but caught themselves. "She was a mortal named Marquisa Ran. I believe she was a guest of a troll called Rejak."

"Ran. We will look her up in our library to be certain, but we believe you to be wrong. How was it killed?"

DeSorcy looked slightly irritated at having been contradicted, but he stepped forward and examined the body more closely. "There are... what could cause this?"

Michelle took a deep breath and leaned over to look where he was pointing. There was a gaping, messy wound. She was reminded of pictures she had seen in books she had read on the Civil War. "Um, gunshot, I think. Look at this... these might be powder burns. Uh, is there a metal ball in there?" She leaned back and waited.

Drawing his sword, DeSorcy poked through the flesh in its first stages of decay. She was a little gratified to see he looked paler than usual. At least she wasn't the only one who was squeamish about this. "Here. Hm." He hesitated a moment and then reached in to pull out a round sphere roughly the size of a gumball. "Is this what you were looking for?"

"Man, that's an old kind of bullet. Like from a musket, I think. That makes more sense, though. I think they use lead and copper bullets nowadays. Different type of wound. No, I don't want it!" she protested as he went to hand it to her.

From behind them, the voice commanded, "You will remove it from our realm when you go."

"I'll hold on to it for you for the time being," DeSorcy did the gentlemanly thing and put the gorey object in a pocket. Michelle looked up from shuddering to realize he was quietly trying to catch her eye. He was looking from her to the blade of his sword. Frowning, she looked where he indicated and realized that in the flickering light of the torch, a large form was visible in the reflection on his blade. It writhed like a giant mass of snakes.

"My beloved has returned," it spoke, causing Michelle to jump and nearly turn to face it. DeSorcy caught her upper arm to stop her just in time. That was a really tough instinct to break. "You were wrong, mortal. Marquisa Ran was not the pet of the troll. She was brought here by a pouka named Helliwell, however he has effectively lost interest in her and abandoned her. She was cultivating Rejak as a patron."

"Silly ass poukas," grumbled a second voice from the shadows.

"We shall update her volume in the library. You shall find who did this and bring them to me. When you hear the door close, you will know that we are gone and may look about freely. There will be water here from your realm so that you may drink. No food. It shall be your incentive to complete your task more quickly. Do not enter our lair with fire again." A faint sliding sound and then the slam of a heavy door.

DeSorcy picked the torch up off the ground. "Are you well, my lady?"

"I'm fine. How badly are you hurt?"

"Not very. The gorgon's mate was toying with me, I think." Inspecting her closely in the torchlight for damages, he suddenly stopped and heaved a sigh. "To think that before you came along, the tedium of my existence here was starting to wear on me."

"Thanks, I think." She walked over to the doorway and looked. There on the ground was a crate of bottled water, still encased in plastic with a shipping label on it. "Did they steal this off the 7-11 loading dock?" DeSorcy looked a bit blank at that, but she was busy tearing in to free a bottle. She downed it almost without stopping. "Want some?" she offered.

He looked at his soiled hands, then wiped them off on his trousers with a faint grimace of distaste before taking the bottle from her. He took a sip and was clearly astonished. In a negative way. "Thank you." He politely handed the bottle back.

"Not impressed, huh?"

"They say that once you've tasted food or drink in the realm of the Fae, nothing else will ever taste good again. That's why I've been so insistent that you consume nothing while you are here. Even those who return to the mortal realm are said to spend the rest of their days pining for just one more taste of faerie fare."

"Could be. Then again I've always thought this brand tasted like diluted sewage. Are we just going to leave the body here?"

DeSorcy pursed his lips. "I fear there are no graveyards or hallowed ground here to take the body to."

"Just seems kind of disrespectful to leave her here like this."

After a moment's hesitation, the knight pulled off his tunic and laid the shirt over the corpse. "Better?"

"Oh, yeah," she murmured absently, looking at DeSorcy's chest. It's been too long since I've had a decent relationship, Michelle decided, cutting short what was threatening to become a protracted stare. "Uh, seems like a fairly good arrangement to me. Now, how do we figure out who killed Lady Ran?"

"She was no lady." DeSorcy hefted the crate of water up onto his shoulders, with an unconsciously distracting display of rippling muscles, marred only by a number of darkening bruises and a few gouges.

That seemed odd, coming from someone so bent on courtesy. "Um. Isn't it ...inauspicious to speak ill of the dead?"

"What's ill about it?" He swiveled at the hip to peer at her around the crate. "She was not a lady. She was a commoner."

She followed him down the sewer tunnel. "Well, I'm not a lady, but you refer to me as one."

"You are a lady."

"Nope. No noble blood in my family. My father's side of the family came over as indentured servants in the eighteen hundreds and were farmers and farm workers ever since. My mom's side doesn't count. As near as we can figure, my grandmother was a cannibal. At least, that's what Mom remembers trying to grow up in that household. She says I'd have more aunts and uncles, but Gramma rolled over on them and crushed and ate them at birth."

DeSorcy looked like he was going to pursue his point, but gave up and turned back around, shaking his head. Michelle thought she saw the corners of his mouth fighting a smile. "I suggest," he changed the subject, "that we return to the farm so that I may clean my hands and dress more appropriately." Michelle schooled her face carefully to prevent any signs of disappointment. "At that point, we can go see if Rejak will speak with us." He frowned and hesitated for a moment. "Perhaps I should go alone."

"Why? You're very kind to help and all, but when it comes right down to it, this is my responsibility."

"That's a non-issue, my lady. However, Rejak has certain hobbies which are inappropriate to expose a lady to."

She picked her way across several puddles of standing water as they crossed into a larger tunnel. The ceiling was much higher here. A channel across the bottom conducted a sizeable stream of runoff somewhere deeper into the heart of the sewers. A walkway bordered either side. "Do I have to explain my grandmother to you again? I thought we went through this."

"He's a troll, Lady Licciardi. I would not willingly take any female, even your grandmother, into his presence. Trolls are not known for their selective tastes."

"I'm not worried. You're prettier than I am. I'll discuss Marquisa Ran with him while he has his way with you."

"Are you ever serious about anything?"

"Nope. With gramma in the family, the rest of us figure we're living on borrowed time."

"What's this about 'Keesa?" a deep, rocky voice boomed from down a tunnel.

"Moot point," DeSorcy sighed, dropping the crate and drawing his sword. "Lady Licciardi, allow me to introduce Lord Rejak." An intimidatingly large creature turned a corner up ahead and began sloshing through the wastewater toward them. It took up most of the tunnel, its slanted, malicious eyes flickering green in the torchlight. Nose, chin and forehead jutted starkly out around a mouth filled with crooked, pointy teeth and twisted in a nasty sneer.

"Oh, look. It's Sir Limpdick. With another pretty little lady that I bet he can't please. Did you bring her to me so she can get what she needs, Limpdick?"

Aghast, Michelle glanced at the knight to see how he would take that kind of language. He glared at the troll for a long moment, nose wrinkled in anger, but when he spoke, it was with a politely cool smile. "I'm flattered that you remember me, Lord Rejak. We found Marquisa's body in one of the medium-sized lateral tunnels. Someone has killed her. I was wondering if you recall with whom you last sent her out?"

"Dead, huh? Damn. Marquisa had her uses. She always told me you liked little boys."

"I'm sorry, Lord Rejak." His tone was clipped with anger. "Were there too many words at once? Shall I speak more slowly?"

"Who's your little friend?"

DeSorcy was having none of that. "Whom did you last send Marquisa out with?"

The troll peered around DeSorcy at Michelle. "Aren't you a pretty little thing? Why don't you ditch this eunuch and come see my jewel collection, sweetie."

"Because you exceed my odor emission standards and don't meet my minimum intelligence requirements. And your genital-size-to-ugly ratio is pathetically unfavorable."

"What?" The troll squinted at her, in nearly as much shock as DeSorcy.

"Sorry, I forgot you can't handle the big words. Try this: Sir DeSorcy is helping me run errands for my patron. How about you answer his question and stop hassling us before you make Mr. and Mrs. Gorgon angry?"

The troll shouldered past DeSorcy to peer into her face. His breath was worse than the smell off the corpse. "You're the gorgon's pet?"

"Yep. And your little friend died outside their back door. It's made them pretty angry. Right now, they don't seem to feel it's your fault. Am I going to have to tell them it is?"

Michelle stood eyeball to eyeball with the troll for a long minute. Plenty of time to note that its mouth was more than large enough to crunch her down like a hotdog. That huge mouth abruptly split into a reeking leer as wide as the span of her shoulders. "You're kinda frisky. I could use a little girl like you in my operation. Sure you don't want to come back to my place?"

"I assume Mrs. Gorgon will devour me long before I become so useless as to warrant that kind of degradation."

"You know, it's my girl as was killed. Why don't you ditch girlie britches there and let me help you find out who did it? I've got more muscle and I'll give you more action. Him -- his inadequacy is legendary. They still tell stories about it at the Queen's Court."

"Yes. I notice how you're not still being kept at a little love-nest in the countryside in hopes you'll come around again. Hm, who is? Now how about you answer the question."

The troll growled and reached out a gnarled fist to seize Michelle, lifting his elbow to pin DeSorcy to the wall before the knight could stab for the gut. "How about I pop your head off and crunch on your brains?"

Through the red haze in her eyes from being squeezed so tight, she could see DeSorcy hack at the creature's arm with the sword to little effect. With her lungs constricted, it was difficult to wheeze out the words. "...Like... Mrs. Gorgon... won't... smell me... on your breath."

Rejak laughed abruptly and dropped her, rocking back on his haunches and sending the knight tumbling down the tunnel with a flick of his wrist. "You're too much fun to be traveling with Limpdick, sweetie. You come back and tell me who killed 'Keesa. Maybe I'll have a little trinket for you. A big one, if you're a good girl," he leered. "Bowgren, the fletcher." He knocked her to the ground as he pushed past her, stomping off through the water and stepping on DeSorcy as the knight attempted to struggle to his feet.
Article © Alexandra Queen. All rights reserved.
Published on 2003-06-30
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