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Queen of the Faire

Hello World,

It’s me Sadie.  I have had a frustrating week. I’ve been busy with the other cats that live with Gillian, and I haven’t been able to take out any magical secrets that she may have revealed. When I sneak into Gillian’s office, they follow me…and observe my every move.  I have to act like a cat. I haven’t been able to make changes to the book. In fact, Queen of the Faire is available for pre-order on Amazon. That sneaky Gillian.

Here comes the cat named  Javiar. He’s looking at me.  Got to go.

Later,

Sadie/Zabrina

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The Latest!

Hello World,

Sadie, here. I’m in my fae cat personae today.   I’ve been busy with Knot and Coyote at the Appalachian Foothills Renaissance Festival. New Faire. Finch is losing it.   Lots happening. You’ll have to read Queen of the Faire before I can reveal more.

Gillian has been busy writing new short stories. I’ve been monitoring her words closely to make sure she doesn’t reveal too much about the fae world and the magic.  I discovered something new the other day that was funny.  Whenever she walks away from her computer, I like to add extra words  to her work in progress and then jump down before she returns to her office chair.  When she sits down,  she’ll read what she has written and scratch her head in confusion. “I didn’t write that.”

I innocently sit by the window and pretend to be observing the birds, but I’m secretly laughing. That’s one way to keep her off track—keep her discombobulated.

I did want to let you know that Gillian will be at the Decatur Book Festival.  

Hope to see you there!

Huzzah!

Zabrina/Sadie

Hello

Sadie

 

Hello Readers, 

Let me introduce myself, I’m Sadie the new fairy cat helping(maybe) Keelie in Queen of the Faire. In your world, I’m known as Zabrina, and the one half of Gillian Summers known as Michelle thinks I’m her cat. 

Foolish human.

As Zabrina, it’s my job to make sure “Gillian” won’t expose the secrets of the magical world. Sometimes, she reveals too much, and I have to bite her ankles. While she’s distracted, I delete what she’s written. 

As Sadie, I can walk equally between the summer and winter courts. So, I know what’s going on in the magical and the human world.

Knot and Coyote are with me, too. However, I’m the brains of the outfit because Keelie needs all the help she can get. I’ll keep you posted on events.  

Huzzah,

Zabrina/Sadie

QueenoftheFaireChapter Three

 

One of the good things about a Fall faire was that it got dark early, so that aside from special events like the Firelight Fairy Ball, there were no late nights. She followed Dad up the sturdy pine stairs behind the shop building after helping him close up shop, tripping over Knot, who glared at her as Dad went into their apartment.

He wanted her to tell Dad about the Dark Fae app. She started to, a couple of times, but each time she’d changed her mind. Something was definitely wrong here, and she was afraid that the dark fae app was connected to the missing tablets.

“Go with Coyote,” she whispered to Knot.

He looked out into the darkness and then silently slinked down the stairs and disappeared. Dad stuck his head back out. “Coming, Keelie?”

“Be right there.” She looked around when she got to the top of the stairs. From here, she could see the rows of buildings and the castle. Lights shone from the upstairs of many shops, where vendors who lived upstairs from their businesses. Lights glowed from the other side of the parking lot, too, where the performers and other workers lived in tents and RVs. A dozen kinds of music drifted from that area, accompanied by drumming.

This was home now, more than the life she’d had in California with her mother, more than the big house she shared with Dad when they were in the Dread Forest in Oregon. If any magic threatened it, she would find it and defeat it.

Keelie sent a calm good night to the forest, and the trees around her fluttered their leaves. As if a breeze swept from her, the fluttering extended beyond the faire and up the mountain. Keelie gathered the green energy, pulling more from the earth below her, and she returned it to the grateful forest. Except for a patch of darkness that her senses followed – and found, on the other side of the grassy clearing. The woods where she’d been earlier. Something was wrong there.

“I agree.” Dad stood beside her on the landing. He put a hand over hers, and together they reached out the dark forest, but it was as if they were blocked.

“I was there this afternoon. Those are some angry trees.”

“Did they give a reason? Come inside, Keelie, it’s getting cold.”

It was, and she rubbed her arms as she followed him inside. “They didn’t want to talk at all. And now it’s as if there was a shield over them.”

“I’ll check it out tomorrow.” Dad was the senior Tree Shepherd, and she was happy to let him deal with the trees. She had enough other stuff to do.

The upstairs apartment, a copy of the one they’d had at the High Mountain Renaissance Faire, was tiny, but the windows were large, and by day it was full of light. She loved the smell of fresh wood, and sight of the trees and other shops, but after dark the dark windows were spooky. Keelie had felt exposed until she’d tacked up sheets over all the windows to serve as curtains until they put up real ones. “I need to go shopping tomorrow. We need curtain rods so that we can hang the curtains.”

“Good idea.” He hesitated. “Do you need help?”

She almost laughed. Dad couldn’t stand shopping centers. He’d taken her to a mall once and nearly became unconscious from the concrete exposure just in the time she’d picked out an outfit. She hadn’t known that full-blooded elves had to stay near trees, and malls and that concrete buildings made them ill.

“I can handle it. Of course, your financial assistance is required.”

Dad gave her the elf Dad evil eye. “How goes the job search?”

“Ouch.” She’d given him the perfect opening by asking for money. “I was super nice to the cashier at the castle. She’s hiring.”

Her father speared her with his emerald stare. “Did you actually apply?”

Did he know her or what? “I was going to. I mean, I will. The time wasn’t right. She’d just had her tablet stolen, and I helped her look for it. She was grateful.”

“Another theft,” Dad muttered. He was pulling bowls from the cupboard. “We have squash soup for dinner and salad, too.”

“Yum,” she said automatically. Actually, it sounded pretty normal. Elves ate all sorts of twigs and leaves, and Dad liked to “stretch her taste buds”. She should find an Elven cookbook and see if there was anything decent that she could learn to fix.

She shivered. The thought of books reminded her of the Compendium and its new app. Even though her father had sensed the darkness in the trees, she didn’t mention the app. On the other hand, a goblin might be trying to hack the Compendium and the app might be an early warning system.

She was afraid he’d take the tablet away from her, unnerved by the tablet adding apps to itself, and its growing magical potential. He’d been worried when she used magic to disguise Coyote, thinking that the more she used fae magic, the bigger the chance that her power would spark another situation like the one that had touched off a brief war in Colorado.

What had once been the elves’ book of magic had grown sentient while in her care and had absorbed goblin and dragon magic so that now it was greater than it had ever been, and it seemed to have bonded with her. Dad might be able to take the tablet away from her, but that didn’t mean that it wouldn’t find her again. Before she told Dad about the dark fae app, she should tell Herne.

There was an app on her tablet, a little antlered stag head that would summon Herne the Hunter if activated. She’d pressed it once before, to test it out, and he’d appeared instantly.

The thought of seeing the woodland god made her face hot. He was busy running the world of the dark fae, and would be annoyed to have a kid call him. She needed dinner and a hot shower. Or maybe a cold one.

“Do I have time for a shower?” Suddenly, a shower sounded like the most delicious thing in the world.

The apartment was one big room, except for the galley kitchen by the entrance and a proper bathroom with a toilet, tub and shower behind a door. Dad had divided the remaining area into bedrooms with curtains that hung from dowel rods suspended from the ceiling with chains. Each of the two rooms held a twin-sized bed, one for Keelie on the left side of the room, and one for him on the right side, just like their old apartment at the High Mountain Faire, where she’d first lived with him after her mother’s death.

“Soup’s almost hot. Why don’t you wait. Sit here and chat with me.”

Keelie sighed, then sat on the end of his bed and watched him stir the pot. “Thanks for helping with the trees.”

“I like when we work together.” He smiled at her.

“Is it okay if I bring up one of the spruce tables for my sleeping area?”

“Of course. Bring up any piece you want.” He looked around the small room. “Within reason.”

“I love the way those little tables feel.” She needed something comforting after the tablet craziness, not to mention the weird episode with the crows and Coyote and Knot in the forest. “I think they’re like friends. Happy, and comforting.”

Dad stopped and looked at her. “Yes, they are.” He shook his head. “Sometimes it catches me off guard that you know and feel the same things I do, like out on the landing. There aren’t many Tree Shepherds in the world, Keelie. I hope you know how important you are.”

“A tree super hero, I know.” She said it lightly; to be funny, but it came out serious.

“Exactly,” Dad said. “And your fae blood makes it even more important that you keep up with your studies. You must learn to control your magic.”

“Right, I’ll get to it in my free time.” She stopped at the look on his face. It was totally unfair that she had to work at Heartwood, plus help Finch, plus look for a job and be expected to learn all the magic in the whole darn world, too.

Dad frowned. “You’ve made those complaints before. No need to shout.”

“I didn’t shou— Oh.” Since they were both tree shepherds, he could sometimes hear her thoughts, and she must have been shouting mentally. “Sorry. But it’s true.”

She started to set the table so that she didn’t have to look at him. She had to be more careful to shield her thoughts from Dad.

“Unfair, I know. Maybe you’ll have some good news tomorrow. I forgot to tell you earlier that Finch sent her new helper around with a message.”

“You mean Steve? I ran into him a couple of times today. What did he say?” She thought of the handsome General’s curls and big brown eyes.

“I didn’t catch his name.” Dad looked at her, eyebrows raised. “He said you need to be at the sewing room first thing in the morning. Don’t be late.”

She groaned. “Probably wants a report on the missing tablets.”

Her father put the salad bowl on the table. “Keelie, if you don’t have time for magic, you don’t have time for romance.”

She grabbed the salad tongs and started to serve herself. “Stay out of my head, Dad.”

#

The following morning, Keelie waited outside of the sewing room, listening with trepidation.

“Out. Out. Out. Now,” Finch bellowed from her office.

Keelie’s stomach tensed. Finch was wound up tighter than ever for some reason. Maybe another tablet had gone missing.

A long-haired, pale-faced elf girl rushed out of Finch’s office as if her butt was on fire. She was lucky it wasn’t. Keelie had seen Finch flame a goblin. Several goblins. As she pushed past Keelie, she realized that it was Alandria. She looked different without her makeup and crown.

In the office, Keelie didn’t make eye contact with Finch. She focused on the green dragon statue on the faire director’s desk.

“Elves and their ridiculous demands.” Finch swept her hand against the statue and smacked it into the wall, destroying it. That left only one dragon in the room, Finch herself.

“What did she want?” Keelie asked.

“Never mind. It’s over.” Finch belched and black smoke poured from her mouth. “She thought she could stand up to me.”

Keelie shook her head. “Very brave of her.” Elves still thought they should receive privileged treatment.

Finch had dark bags under her eyes and wrinkles above the bridge of her nose from frowning. She was too young for wrinkles, although really, how could you tell how old a dragon was? She definitely looked sick though, and the extreme crankiness had to be part of it.

“You know, I used to be afraid of you,” Keelie said, her fists parked on her hips. “But I’ve seen your mom, and she’s way worse, in a kindly old lady way. Terrifying. What are you going to do, go all dragon and flame the faire?”

Finch jumped to her feet, smoke curling from her nostrils, and for a second Keelie was afraid that the angry faire admin really would turn into her dragon form, which was almost as big as the building. Suddenly, Finch collapsed into her chair and began to sob.

It wasn’t pretty. Her face was red and shiny from tears and snot, and her hair had begun to stick straight out and wave around like tentacles. “I don’t know what’s the matter with me,” she wailed. “I feel sick all the time, and I’m a bundle of nerves. Me! I used to live off of stress. Problems were like candy to me.”

She looked up at Keelie, eyes wide and swimming with tears.”And I’m mad all the time, for no reason.”

No kidding. Keelie held back from saying the words aloud. She’d taken a risk, speaking frankly to Finch, but she didn’t have a death wish.

“I’m sorry you don’t feel well. Is there anything I can do to help you?”

Finch sat up, back stiff. She blew her nose noisily on a tissue, then puffed a tendril of flame toward it. It burned itself out as it drifted to the floor. “Quit feeling sorry for me. I can take care of myself.”

She reached under her desk and brought up a bag of grilling charcoal. She tore the bag open with a fingernail, stuck a hand in, and came up with a sooty square briquette. She bit it in two, then crunched both halves noisily.

Finch looked at Keelie as if considering something. “Zekeliel told you to come here, didn’t he?”

Keelie nodded.

“There is one something important that I need help with.”

What else was new? Keelie waited.

“You know new faires need time to ramp up in popularity. We’ve advertised, but that’s not enough. We’re going to turn this Faire into a wedding destination.”

Keelie blinked. There had been weddings at other faires.

“We’ll have special areas for exchanging vows, and for photo opportunities, and I’ve got everything priced out. Whatever the bride wants, she’ll get.”

“Wow. That’s actually a great idea.”

Finch glared at her. “Don’t sound so surprised.” She stood up and straightened her tunic. “Follow me.”

Keelie trooped after Finch, across the hall and through the sewing room door.

In the sewing workshop, several beautiful elves were being laced into their silky court costumes. They stared at Keelie. Several exchanged stares and nods.

Keelie took a deep breath to maintain control. She was not a confused fourteen-year-old any more. She could handle the elf girls.

Finch was rummaging through the racks of gowns that lined one wall of the long wooden-floored workshop. Keelie touched a fingertip to the paneled wall. A muddled vision filled her head and she snatched away her finger. Plywood. She rubbed her fingers together. It looked like real wood. She couldn’t tell where it came from, and it was upsetting.

Finch had pulled out and discarded several gowns, but now she nodded and thrust one at Keelie. “Try this on.”

Keelie looked at the fine blue silk with little golden birds embroidered on it, and long flowing sleeves. Another garment floated into her arms, a thin white underdress with tight sleeves that would set off the oversleeves of the gown. Silver buttons chimed against each other, and Keelie saw that they were shaped like acorns.

“This is lovely, Finch. But why?”

The room had grown silent, and Keelie noticed that the elf girls had stopped talking and were blatantly eavesdropping.

Keelie’s tablet dinged. She froze. She didn’t want to pull it out and see if another Dark Fae app had appeared—not in front of Finch.

The dragon narrowed her eyes. “Was that you or me?”

Another chime came from Finch’s phone.

“I think that’s you.” Whew!

The Faire Administrator pulled out her phone. “I have two messages. One is from Steve. The battle ax and her groom are here.” Finch’s upper lip lifted in a snarl.

Not a comforting sight, nor comforting words. Battle ax?

“And it seems as if we’re having problems at the Knit for Ewe yarn shop. There’s been another theft. My day isn’t turning out so pleasant. One happy event after another.”

Keelie didn’t say anything comforting to the dragon. She feared being flamed.

“I’ll introduce you to the bride and groom while I take care of the yarn shop. I’m going to call the cops, and I want them to make their report and then get out. “

“Why call the police now?”

“Insurance. And word of the thefts is getting around. Don’t want to seem negligent.” Flames flickered in the woman’s eyes. “What do you know about crows?”

Keelie thought of the bird that had seemed to attack her. “I’ve seen a few around.”

Finch nodded and lowered her voice. “There were ten of them outside of the Knit for Ewe. What does that tell you?”

“Nothing good,” Keelie answered just as quietly.

Finch stomped to the hall and tugged open her office door. She whirled around and glowered back at the Keelie, who was still in the sewing room, clutching the gown. “What are you waiting for?

“Me?”

Finch frowned. “Yes, you’ll need to give the bride the facility tour and she’ll be here at eleven. I’ve got it written down…” She felt at her pockets and pulled out a scrolled paper tied with a bit of twine. She stomped back and handed it to Keelie. “Just follow the map, show her the stuff, then bring her them back here to sign the contract.”

She snapped her fingers. “Almost forgot. You’ll need this.” Finch pulled a box from a shelf and handed it to Keelie. “See if it fits,” she ordered.

Keelie opened the box and stared at a golden crown embellished with rubies. “Wow. That’s the crown that the Queen of the Faire wears.”

Keelie touched one of the rubies. It looked like something out of a fairy tale. Or a museum. “Gorgeous.”

“I think it’ll fit.”

Keelie looked up at her. “Yeah, right.”

Finch slammed down the lid of the box. “Serious here, Keliel Tree Talker. We’ve had a sudden vacancy. You’re now the Queen of the Faire. Act like one.”

The elf girls gasped. Finch glared at them. None of them would meet the angry dragon’s gaze.

Keelie stared at the crown in her hands. Queen Keelie Heartwood.

“Finch?”

The Faire Admin stopped, about to close her office door. “Yeah?”

“Is this a paying job?”

Flames scorched the paint on the sewing room’s door frame, and then the door slammed shut.

“I’ll take that as a yes,” Keelie yelled to the closed door.

Queen of the Renaissance Faire. Knot and Coyote were going to die of laughter.

Chapter Two

 

As they walked towards the castle Keelie sniffed her arm. She still smelled a little briny, but she was wearing her favorite blue gown, with a leather belt tied low on her hips, and she knew she looked good. One of the available jobs was cashier at the castle gift shop, and she wanted to make a good impression.

The path to the castle was bordered by forest. She’d greeted these trees earlier, before the unfortunate pickle incident, and now tuned out the tree chatter.

The southern forest felt different from the ones in Oregon and Washington. Green, but without the underlying spiciness of the California woods, or the deep, mossy wetness of her home forest in Oregon. The woods here were light, almost springy, if that word could be used to describe the forest.

The pines in the North Georgia woods were lush and green, and the hardwoods were alive with fall color. Usually she and Dad would be home in Oregon by now, in their home in the Dread Forest, but this new faire was intriguing, and Keelie had eagerly agreed to join him on one more trip.

After the battle at the High Mountain Faire, Dad had wanted to put distance between them and Colorado, and he wasn’t prepared to return to the Dread Forest yet. Her uncle Jake and his wife Elia were watching over the forest and caring for their new baby. Keelie’s former boyfriend Sean and his Silver Jousters troop were booked solid at other faires.

The Appalachian Foothills Faire’s hard-packed earthen paths were arranged like spokes in a wheel, with the wheel’s hub being a big two story castle of stone-shaped concrete. Zeke had frowned at the castle when he’d first seen it looming over the site. He hated concrete. It was convincing, though.

Keelie oriented herself by following the pennants that snapped in the cool breeze, beckoning her forward. She pulled out when the combs that held back her hair and repositioned it. Dad had carved the combs for her, a Winter Festival gift. She touched one for luck, feeling the raised hearts. Aspen, from Colorado.

“I’m hungry.” Coyote pointed his snout toward the line of food shops they were approaching. Knot jumped up lightly and sat on his back. The few passersby stared and pointed. Phones and cameras were pointed in their direction.

“I’ve got a job to do. We’ll eat later.” Keelie arched an eyebrow.

“You’re no fun.” Coyote sighed.

The smell of wood smoke was pleasant. She passed Johnny the hot cider man, who wore an apple hat with a giant cinnamon stick coming out of the top.

“Good day Lady Keelie.”

“Good day, Master Johnny. “ Keelie remembered to stay in character and gave him a brief bow of her head.

“Wouldst sample my latest creation?”

She curtseyed and pulled a dollar bill from her crocheted shoulder bag. “I’d love to.”

While the cider man prepared her cup of spicy hot brew, Keelie heard the ping of another app appearing on her tablet. She removed it from her bag. The new app was a scroll. Latest news in the realm of elves.

Just what she needed to know—the latest elf headlines.

She quickly slipped her tablet back into her bag and accepted the hot cup of spicy cider and paid him. “Thank you, and fare thee well.”

“You can stop for a drink but what do your guardians get? Nada, that’s what,” Coyote grumbled.

Knot hissed in agreement.

“Enough already.” She stomped over to the Steak on a Stake vendor and bought two skewers of Teriyaki Chicken, then handed one to Knot and one to Coyote, who snatched their treats and vanished into the woods. So much for gratitude and guardians.

The castle’s tall front wall loomed up as she turned the bend of the path and came out onto the village green, the big clearing in front of the castle. The castle’s immense gates were now only slightly ajar, and a man with a tripod stood in front of them, angling his camera around the green, looking for a good shot.

Vangar’s forge was to the right of the castle in a prime spot, understandable if you knew that he was Finch’s sweetie. Keelie shuddered at the thought of dragon romance. The forge was set up, and the hot coals were banked and ready, but there was no sign of the blacksmith. She’d stop by later to say hi. Vangar looked like a giant Norseman and when he wasn’t at the Faire, he rode an enormous motorcycle that belched fire and smoke. Sometimes he rode the thing right in the middle of the Faire, too, which annoyed Finch. He seemed to enjoy annoying Finch.

On the other side of the castle’s gates was a stained glass shop and a glassblower. Keelie didn’t intend to go anywhere near the beautiful glass panels. A few months ago at another faire, she’d wrecked one of the artist’s unicorn windows, smashing it into a million jewel-colored shards with a thrown pickle. In her defense, the pickle had been jinxed, but the man still blamed her for it. After today she was steering clear of all brined vegetables.

“What ho, Lady Keliel?” cried a jolly deep voice.

A tall, broad-shouldered man emerged from the back of Vangar’s forge and Keelie grinned at his familiar smile.

“Tarl! I didn’t know the Mud Men were going to be here.”

The mud men had a hilarious show that they declared loudly to all was “very dirty.” Dirty as in, everyone got splashed with lots of mud.

“New faire,” said Tarl. “Growing pains. A couple of folks backed out and others have come to fill in.”

Keelie curtseyed to him and he answered with a bow that was complicated with ridiculous flourishes that made the folks passing by laugh. She left him cracking mud jokes with his audience and went through the castle doors.

The central room had high ceilings with exposed beams that seemed to be blackened with age, and tapestries hung on the walls. For sale, of course. The place was jammed full of wicker baskets full of rolled posters, walking sticks, bowls of shiny pebbles and dowels strung with pewter rings. A shelf of hand-thrown pottery mugs with “Foothills Renaissance Faire” hung over the cash register, which sat on the only blatantly twenty first century element, a glass counter filled with fancy and expensive jewelry and small carved gemstones.

The shopkeeper was a tall woman with a beaky nose and thin lips turned down in a frown. She stood behind the counter, moving trays of merchandise around.

“Hi, I’m Keelie Heartwood. Ms. Finch sent me to help you find your tablet.” She smiled at the woman, trying to radiate charm and organizational skills.

The woman looked up sharply, and her face momentarily lost its harsh angles, softening into the familiar gooey look that her father’s name evoked in a lot of women. “Heartwood? Zeke’s daughter?”

“Yep. That’s me.” Keelie widened her grin, although she was thinking that this was another one who’d fallen under Dad’s spell.

“Nice to meet you. Your father is so charming, and so…” The woman blushed. “Well, I appreciate your help in looking for my tablet. It’s about yay big“– she held her hands out about ten inches apart – “and it has a blue Celtic knotwork cover with my initials, TN, Terri Norton.”

Keelie helped her look, lifting tee shirts and looking behind displays. After a while they both gave up. “Do you think maybe someone took it?”

“During store hours the tablet’s usually in my hands, and after we close for the day there aren’t that many people around. Terri’s frown was back, and the furrow between her eyebrows deepened. “I have the entire store inventory on that tablet. Finch gave it to me.”

Uh oh. No wonder Finch was so eager for Keelie to help find this thing. This woman was going to be Ground Zero for a Finchquake.

“Is the information backed up?” As she asked, Keelie looked up at the corners of the room, looking for surveillance cameras. There weren’t any.

“Yes, I have everything on a thumb drive, but the tablet was expensive and I’ll need to get another one in order to process payments.” Terri shrugged. “Not sure what use it would be to anyone. It was locked with a password.”

“Did it have a locator?”

“No. I meant to download one, but didn’t get around to it.”

Of course. That would be too convenient. “Sorry I couldn’t help, but I’m going to keep looking. Finch suspects it was a thief, so I’ll let you know if I see someone with a tablet cover like that.”

“Yeah. Thanks for helping me,” the woman said, “And say hi to your dad for me.”

“Sure will!” Keelie pasted on her Great Employee smile again, but the woman had gone back to work. This wasn’t the time to ask about a job.

As she left the castle, she consulted the site map she’d picked up earlier, then kicked through colorful leaves on the way to the coffee shop at the bottom of the next path. The cottage-like structure had a roof that looked thatched, but probably wasn’t, and a big deck all around it with room for tables and chairs that were stacked up in a corner. The shop didn’t have a sign either, but the unmistakably yummy scent of fresh brewed coffee beckoned Keelie closer.

She stepped up onto the deck and went through Dutch doors to stand behind a tall guy. He turned to smile at her, and she grinned.

“You!”

Her messenger grinned back at her. “Did you run your errand?”

Keelie made a face. “Yes. Unsuccessful. You?”

“The same.”

A serving girl with blonde ringlets and a tight bodice popped out of the kitchen. “What can I get you?” She only had eyes for the guy.

“Oh, ladies first,” he said, signaling to Keelie.

“Thanks.” She turned to the server. “A large latte and a scone.”

The guy chimed in, “Me, too.”

The server looked them both up and down sourly, as if her dating prospects had just gone south, and went back into the kitchen, grumbling.

“Wow, that was professional,” Keelie laughed. “Not.”

The guy shrugged. “She didn’t pretend. She was truthful. I like that.”

Keelie thought of the fake business smiles she’d been doling out.

She offered her hand. “I’m Keelie Heartwood.”

“I know. Lady Keliel, right? Steve Barrows.” he said. “Errand guy for the Faire. The lowest possible job you can get. I think Ms. Finch actually called me the general dogsbody. I took that to be a title and a name. General Dogsbody.”

“At least you’re a general. I’m unemployed,” Keelie answered. “That’s lower.”

He laughed, a hearty sound that lit his face up and made her smile for real. “I think she meant General as in, generic.”

“Well, I think I’ll still call you the General,” she said. It made her sad to think that this handsome guy had accepted such a low job. On the other hand, he was paid for his work.

“Do you go to school around here?”

“Yes, I’m a Junior at North Georgia.”

“Nice.” She didn’t volunteer that she was in high school.

She’d just broken up with her first boyfriend, the head of the Silver Bough jousters, and the son of one of the powerful elven council. Maybe she was flirting with the guy because he was as different from Sean as possible, and the Faire’s human Dogsbody had to be the polar opposite of an elven jouster. Although this guy didn’t give off a meek errand boy vibe. The opposite, in fact.

“I’d better go. See you around,” Steve said. He paid for his coffee and left. He hadn’t even paid for hers, the way guys always did for the elf girls. Clearly, she was a loser at flirting. She pushed money at the smirking barista and walked back outside, thinking how she needed to get in touch with her elven self. Elves could charm anyone.

She also needed to spend time being a Tree Shepherd. She’d been so busy setting up the shop with Dad and running errands for Finch that she hadn’t had time to explore the forest, or even the faire. The little map showed that there was a grassy area surrounded by forest to one side of the main parking lot. She could start there.

She headed that way, sipping her latte and nibbling at her scone. Trumpets blared and she stepped off the path as the Royal Court paraded by. The beautifully dressed courtiers paraded to the jousting stands, where the Queen oversaw the jousts, pardoned the losers, and performed scripted funny bits with the crowd. Then they all paraded by again, giving everyone at the Faire a chance to see them up close.

The Queen walked behind her guards, surrounded by men at arms, and followed by her elven ladies in waiting. The Queen was played by Alandria, a tall, slender elf with long golden hair. She looked to be around Keelie’s age, but Keelie knew that elven ages were deceiving and Alandria was probably over one hundred years old.

Alandria turned her head and stared at Keelie as she passed. Sunlight made the rubies on her crown glow red. Keelie met her angry gaze and lifted her chin so that she wouldn’t be tempted to break the eye contact. For a long moment they looked into each other’s eyes, and then Alandria blinked, and the elegant Queen swept by.

None of the other elves glanced at Keelie as they passed. She couldn’t think of anything she’d done to upset Alandria. She barely knew her.

At her first faire, Elia had bullied her out of contempt for her half human side. Now some of the elves avoided her out of fear, since she was a member of the Circle of Magic, the joint council of all magical races.

Keelie moved on through the bystanders who still curtseyed and huzzahed for the royal court. She’d had a lot to deal with today. Dad groupies, grumpy Finch, public relations, failure to impress a human guy, and now she’d mysteriously ticked off the queen.

She needed a win to keep the day from being a total loss, and a little Tree Shepherding would be perfect. She headed toward the forest on the other side of the meadow, leaving the faire and its noises and smells behind her. She thought of her friend Laurie in California, where she’d lived before Mom died.

Her friend would be voicing some very loud opinions of Keelie’s lameness about now. She let Laurie’s voice badger her mentally as she sipped her coffee.

“First off, Keelie, forget the angry elf girl in the pointy metal hat. You need a paying job, something fancy and easy and this unpaid personal assistant job has got to go. You’ve saved the world and stuff. You don’t need to interact with the peasants. You need more clothes, so that you can look good at the shop and attract more paying customers that aren’t middle aged women in love with your smokin’ hot dad. Like, ew.

“And that guy? Who cares if he’s a loser or headed back to college after the faire? He’s HOT. Go for it, girl. You don’t have to marry him, just convince him that you’re perfect and he should adore you.”

Keelie laughed at her pretend conversation with Laurie. Did she know her friend, or what? She’d Skype her later for a real conversation, but with her laptop, not the tablet, or she might end up in Laurie’s bedroom, hundreds of miles away. She had no idea of what the tablet could do, and it was too scary to experiment.

The trees were tall here, old pines and oaks, and the forest floor off the newly carved paths was cluttered with broken limbs and tangles of briar. No running through these woods, that was for sure. Overhead, a massive pine shot straight up about fifty feet before sending out branches, a sign that other, shorter, trees had once stood around it. A crow cawed, and another one answered.

Then, it was quiet. Eerily quiet. Keelie listened for bird songs, the crackling of sticks.

Nothing.

A crow launched from a nearby branch and flew toward Keelie.

Startled, she stooped just as the edge of its wing brushed her face as it swooped upward. Keelie whirled to follow its flight into the tree canopy.

Out of nowhere, Knot and Coyote crashed through the briar and broken branches. Claws extended, Knot leaped and swatted at the air, as if he could fly after the crow.

“What is wrong with that bird?” She wondered if Herne could be around, in disguise. “Were you two chasing it earlier? I swear, it was on a branch, and then all of a sudden it flew right at me.” Had it attacked, or just flown too close?

Coyote sniffed. “I sense magic.”

“Dark magic?” Keelie swallowed. She opened her senses and felt the trees crowding around her. They felt strange. She sent greetings, but none of the trees answered her.

Coyote’s eyes glowed. “Not dark magic, it’s different.”

“Meow. No.” Knot turned in the direction of the crow. Coyote’s attention was drawn to something on the ground. Her dropped scone.

“Tree Shepherdess, greetings to you,” the forest suddenly answered in a deep, collective voice.

Keelie jumped. “Greetings,” she replied. “Have you seen intruders in these woods?”

“Humans. You.”

These trees were not as friendly as Lorath and the others closer to the Faire.

Her tablet dinged again. She expected to see a relevant app, maybe to do with tree identification. Instead, she went still as she saw that the app was the face of a goblin, captioned Dark Fae Detector.

Why this, now? She turned the tablet to show Knot and Coyote. The cat hissed.

She sent her senses out to the seemingly peaceful woods, which now seemed full of lurking menace. No sign of magical energy of any sort – only a forest of surly trees. “Let’s get back. I need to show this to Dad.”

As the three hurried back to the Faire, Keelie was sure she felt eyes on her back, tracking her the entire way.

 

 

 

Watch for Chapter Two in a couple of days!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Appalachian Foothills Renaissance Festival

 

Chapter One

This had been a bad, bad, bad idea.

“Finch is going to hear about this. Just when she was starting to trust me, too.” Keelie Heartwood had been sent by the Ren Faire’s administrator Ms. Finch to investigate a missing tablet computer in one of the shops, the second one lost this week. So far she hadn’t found out anything.

As an unpaid public relations assistant, she’d been charged with making sure that the vendors were happy, and now one was anything but.

Keelie glared at the orange tabby cat next to her on the dirt path. Knot was her father’s cat, and her supposed guardian. They had a long and stormy history.

“We stink, thanks to you.” They both smelled like brine and vinegar, and Knot’s fur was flecked with bits of translucent green pickle.

At least her Compendium tablet was safe in the crocheted bag Grandma Jo had made for her.

“Meow.” He delicately removed a bit of dilled cucumber clinging to his fur.

“You should’ve stayed away from Sadie.” Sadie was Pearl the Pickle Lady’s beloved cat. Knot had fallen hard for the black-furred beauty. He’d washed her tail, and apparently that set off Sadie’s crazy owner.

“Meow luv her.”

“You’d better stay away from her for a while.”

When Pearl discovered Knot and Sadie together – and Keelie didn’t want to think about exactly how they were together – she’d thrown pickles at Knot with the pickle sling. Keelie had come to her cat’s defense, which had resulted in the pickle tornado.

Something slid from her hair and plopped onto her shoulder. Disgusting. Keelie tossed the broken pickle in the woods: it hit an oak tree, which caught it in its branches.

Hey. Watch it. The tree spoke in her head, as trees often did to Tree Shepherds like Keelie.She’d learned to block out their constant conversations. They talked to themselves a lot, too.

Sorry, Keelie answered. Guilty that she’d been neglecting the trees, she added a bow to the elder oak. How are you, Lordath?

The tall hardwood waved its branches in response. On the trunk, eyes opened and a mouth curved upwards, as his face pushed through the bark. As far as she knew, only Tree Shepherds could see the tree faces.

Very well, Tree Shepherdess. Finch searches for you — the tale of Knot and Sadie has already reached the director’s ear.

Great. Thank you.

Keelie’s tablet pinged with a message and she removed it from her bag. The smooth wood that enclosed was hawthorn, from the High Mountain Faire. A polar bear app had popped onto the screen. The new app was captioned Northwoods. Was it a guide to the portal that led to the fae High Court? The Northwoods was home to elves and dragons, too. The tablet had a mind of its own. Literally.

A dog slinked out of the woods, a black and white Siberian Husky with gloriously lush fur. Keelie could see through the glamour she’d put on him, but no one else could tell that it was a coyote underneath the spell. That was what she called him, Coyote. He trotted up to Keelie, ears up and eyes alive with interest. “You’re getting more and more of those pings every day.”

No ordinary coyote, this one. Keelie had met him on a return trip to Los Angeles, and he’d followed her to the Redwood Forest. She wasn’t sure exactly what Coyote was. He usually looked like a regular little coyote, but he was more like some sort of fae, or maybe a god, like Herne. She quickly pushed away the thought of Herne. She’d spent a lot of time with the horned forest god, and she needed to recover.

Coyote grinned, as if he could read her thoughts. Maybe he could. She’d dared to use the tablet to find a magical spell that would glamour him so that he looked like a Siberian Husky. At least she’d found some practical uses for her magic since the incident at the High Mountain Renaissance Festival. Blasting goblins was not an everyday skill.

“Let’s go face the music, guys.” She headed towards the big concrete castle that held the Faire’s administrative office. Long silky pennants moved in the breeze from the top of its tall, copper-roofed towers, and shops and vendors’ stalls crowded around it, giving it the realistic air of a medieval village. The smell of horses mixed with the scents of cooking meats and fried dough. Huzzah and cheers filled the air, along with the occasional clang and smash of wood and metal crashing together.

Knights jousted on horseback on a broad, open air field within wooden gates at the rear of the castle. It was free to watch them, but for a price visitors could sit near the royal court, and be served a tasty beverage by a costumed server who called them milord or milady.

Pretty slick. Jousting was always popular, and the elf girls that played courtiers were excited about the arrival of the jousting troupe. Jousters were usually elves, but this was a human troop, The Knights of Time.

People bustled in and out of the carved wooden front gates of the castle, but Keelie circled around to the rear of the building and opened a door marked “Employees Only. All Others Will Be Eaten” and went down a short, modern hallway with a door on each wall and one on the end. The door to the right was the entrance to the enormous costume and prop room. The end of the hall led to public part of the castle. She knocked on the door on the left, the dragon’s lair.

“Get in here,” a deep woman’s voice snarled.

Keelie entered. It had been a while since she’d first met Finch, and she didn’t cower before her any longer, but the Faire’s administrator was a fearsome sight. Red hair piled high over a long face, hunched shoulders that seemed to carry the weight of the world, squinty eyes that sparked fire, smoke curling from her nostrils…

Whoa. Keelie stepped back. That was not a good sign. Finch only smoked like that before a major flameout. Finch had been the administrator of several of the Renaissance Faires where Dad sold his furniture, and she was usually in a bad mood. Keelie had not been thrilled to see that she was in charge of this one, a brand new Faire in the North Georgia Mountains.

“Sit.” The woman pointed a long, manicured nail at the plastic chair in front of her desk. What was it with Ren faire offices and plastic chairs?

Keelie lowered herself gingerly into the cheap chair, afraid it would collapse. When it held, she released the breath she was holding. “I was just talking to the Pickle Lady,” Keelie began.

Finch held up a hand. “I know what happened. I can smell it on you, too.” She glared at Knot. “Why aren’t you fixed?” Knot puffed out his fur and hissed at the red haired woman, who hissed back, her tongue looking just a bit long and forky.

“He didn’t hurt the cat, and the Pickle Lady seriously overreacted.” Keelie was used to taking the blame for Knot, but this time he really hadn’t done anything bad. Or at least, there was nothing broken other than some pickles.

Finch grunted. “Keep an eye on him. And what’s this about a dog following you around? It’s late for rabies season, but be careful around strays.”

“It’s Coyote. I glamoured him.” Finch knew Coyote. There wasn’t much that Finch didn’t know.

“I’ve got an errand for you,” Finch said. “The cashier at the castle gift shop says her tablet’s gone missing. That’s the third one now. It’s got all the inventory for the shop listed on it and we use it for making payments, too. We need to find it, pronto. Go help her look for it.” She seemed about to say something else, but stopped herself.

“Is something wrong?”

Red eyebrows rose as green eyes considered her. Little flames danced in Finch’s pupils. She nodded slightly, as if to herself. “Three tablets. These shopkeepers aren’t absentminded. Someone is taking them –“ Again, she stopped herself. She eyed the wall pensively.

“No one say anything unusual, but it’s a Ren Faire, and there’s a million people walking around. It could have been anybody.” Keelie had asked the vendors all the usual questions, but had gotten nowhere.

“Word of a sneak thief gets out and it’ll hurt business.” Finch was on the edge of her seat, once more looking like she would explode out of it any second. “We’ve spent buckets of cash on advertising and we can’t afford to get a bad reputation.”

“You mean you won’t call the police because then word will get out.”

Finch nodded grimly.

“I’ll get the trees to keep an eye out for any unusual visitors,” Keelie promised. “And maybe Knot and Coyote can look for the missing tablets.” She hesitated, then blurted out, “Do you think I could get paid for this? I need a job.”

Finch waved a hand. “I’ve got plans for you, Heartwood. I promised you before, do this for me, and you won’t be disappointed.”

Keelie frowned. What did she mean by that?

“And Heartwood? You smell delicious. Bring me a pickle when you get back.”

As soon as Keelie was outside Finch’s office she pulled her own tablet from her messenger bag. It was unharmed. She slumped against the wall, relieved. All the elven lore was on this tablet, the great magical Compendium of the elves, transformed by her magic into a digital format. She wished she knew how she’d done it, although she suspected it had done it to itself. Did someone else know and want it for its power? It seemed like a coincidence, and she didn’t believe in those any more. Maybe she could glamour it, as she’d done to Coyote.

Maybe not. It took her a long time and she’d made some awful errors when she’d spelled Coyote into looking like a dog. Knot had found the mistakes hilarious, Coyote, not so much, but she couldn’t afford to mess with the Compendium.

As she watched, a faint light appeared on the tablet surface, resolving into a sparkling swirl. The sparkles faded, leaving the swirl, next to the other icons visible. Another new app. Great.

#

“Did you know there’s a creeper on site? Someone’s stealing tablets.” Keelie announced to her dad as she marched into Heartwood. “Finch wants me to find them. She hinted that she might pay me.”

Zekeliel Heartwood looked up from his workbench, its surface strewn with the rough-faceted crystals he used to embellish his fantasy-inspired furniture. Keelie missed working with her dad. He’d put word out among the faire workers that he was searching for a new assistant. Finch had grown dependent on Keelie’s help, and her new magical duties kept her away from woodworking. His former one, Scott, had started his own furniture business and Dad hadn’t found a new apprentice.

“Is your tablet safe?” Dad pushed his long brown hair behind his pointed elf ear with one hand.

“In my bag.” Keelie smiled to assure him. “I checked as soon as Finch told me about the last one.” She put her hand on the bag, feeling the familiar shape of the tablet inside. She did not mention the new apps that had appeared. He wouldn’t know what an app was.

“Finch is in an epic bad mood,” Keelie added. “Have you noticed there’s been more smoke flowing out of her nostrils, lately? I understand the stress of the faire, but she’s beyond her normal crankiness. “

“I haven’t spoken to her in days. She hasn’t been around to see me, either.” Dad calmly sorted crystals by size. He didn’t even jump when a furry orange shape the size of a large duffel bag landed in the middle of the table with a solid thump. “Move, Knot.”

Knot the cat looked down curiously at the crystals around him, then batted one to the floor and took off in an impromptu game of hockey.

Dad looked after him, amused. “This cool autumn weather makes old cats feel like kittens.”

“He’s always acted like a kitten. Or a troll.”

She grinned when Knot stopped his game to glare at her before swiveling in mid air to bat his shiny toy some more.

“It’s not the weather that his him revved up. It’s this new cat named Sadie.”

Dad grinned at Knot. “Love, old man? Better be careful. You remember what happened last time.”

Knot scowled. “Meowstake.” He stalked off, tail high, its end flipping back and forth. “

“Oh my. It’s really him. Zeke Heartwood!” The woman’s high pitched squeal provoked the flinch that the cannon-balling cat had not produced. Dad looked as if he wanted to melt into the floor.

Keelie watched two women giggle like little girls by the entrance to Heartwood. They worked at one of the new pubs. It was a little creepy to have a parent who was such a chick magnet. “We’ll talk later, Dad, after your fans go home.”

Keelie had to squeeze past them to leave. The shop was a decent ten by twenty feet, but it was crammed with armchairs, dressers, tables, mirrors and coat racks. The women surged forward as she stepped away from the workbench.

She skimmed a hand lightly over the burled pattern of counter where the register stood, enjoying the satiny smooth wood, and the now familiar rush of images that the touch brought her. Walnut, from New York. She saw the lightning blast that had killed the tree. Rest well, friend.

Keelie’s ability to talk to trees was inherited from her father, her elf side. Mom hadn’t been one hundred percent human, as she’d recently discovered, but Dad was a Tree Shepherd, and so was Keelie.

She picked up a little map of the faire from a stack on the counter, and was slipping it into her bag when she noticed a tall man run up the path, straight towards her. He ran lightly, a natural runner, and wasn’t out of breath when he stopped in front of her. He sized her up boldly, an appreciative look in his brown eyes. “My lady Keliel?”

“That’s me.”

He bowed, floppy brown curls flipping down and then back up as he stood. He seemed just a little older then her. Lots of college kids worked the faire for extra cash. “I bear a message from Mistress Finch. She says, get a move on, there’s no time to waste. Also, that the lady at the gift shop expected you to go right away.”

Her face flamed. “Um, thank you. I’m on my way.”He was handsome, and he seemed to like her, too.

He bowed again. “I have another errand to run, or I’d deliver that message.”

“She could have just called me.”

The man was headed down the path again. He turned, grinning, running backwards to keep her in sight. “Not forsoothly, she couldn’t.”

He waved, then turned and leaped over a box in front of a shop and vanished around a corner. If he ran errands at the faire, then she’d run into him again.

Was she like him? Errand girl to Finch? She totally needed to find a real paying job. She glanced back into Heartwood, but Dad was still talking to the two women.

“Knot?” Instantly he appeared at her side, and rubbed against her leg. Coyote was waiting on the path, grinning his Siberian Husky toothy smile. “Let’s go guys. We have a mystery to solve.”

 

**Chapter Two will be up in a couple of days. See a typo or continuity error? Please don’t leave comments about it. Instead, email us at mail@gilliansummers.com. We’ll fix it and thank you!)

There’s nothing more satisfying that drinking from the bathroom faucet. The water trickles down, always fresh, and then vanishes down the little dark hole in the center of the white bowl. My human put a silver cup full of little holes into the dark hole, and now she doesn’t get mad any more when I play hockey with her earrings and they go down the hole (sad. I liked that game), but my paw just fits the cup and its fun to pull it out and bat it around the white bowl. Then I can stick my paw in the dark hole and let the water tickle my paw pads as it flows past.

I guess my playing makes noise, and that brings the dog. He always shows up, and if I’m concentrating on my game, sometimes I don’t hear him and he manages to slobber on my tail. It takes a while to fix that, let me tell you. Dog slobber makes cat fur stand straight up. My human chases the dog away eventually. She yells “Go, Fred, Off!” And Fred gets down, but not quickly. Then I get picked up and petted and my chin gets tickled and my ears rubbed. That’s nice. Not sure it’s worth the Fred, though. Here’s wishing you wild water wherever you go, and no Freds.Image