Thief or Felon Bold
Alter S. Reiss
Fortified wine cost forty-seven centimes less at the liquor store up on Care and 118th street than anywhere else, so Ander would trudge up the hill from his apartment on Grace and 109th once a week or so. Twice a week, if his benefit check cleared early. During the day, when he could, and at night, when the thirst got too strong to wait for morning.
When things went wrong, it meant going home with bruises and empty pockets rather than wine or distillate. Sooner or later, at night, someone would kill him for his money or his liquor.
Ander Villar-Marn had graduated fifth in his class in St. Amn’s college of Newsom University, with a first in classics, and another in poetry. His undergraduate work — his undergraduate work! — was still being cited. He’d fallen slowly from downtown to the slums uptown, and the further he fell, the worse things got. It was a strange thing now to go through the grimy doors of the public library on Banner Street and 121st, and see his name in journal references.
He had stopped keeping up with the field. Not that there was much point in keeping up with classics. Just about everything important had been said centuries ago; there was little left but a buzzing among the headstones, critiques of critics who wrote on the works of other critics.
Some philanthropist had endowed the library with creaky old leatherbound editions of the classical corpus. After his bottle of Rockrose 18 or Bonny Lass, Ander would totter over to Banner Street, and lose himself in the unmixed wine of the classics. The wars of the gods, the treachery of women, the beauty of mountain peaks, of seas in storm, and of silent meadows.
In the halls of St. Amn’s or the slums uptown, it was the same; Ander was transported to someplace better. When the library closed, the thirst came in through the cracks, and it was back up to Care Street for whatever he could afford.
Provided that he could get there without being rolled by the street gangs, like the one now waiting at the corner of Care and 116th. Since it was day, Ander saw them from far enough away to recognize the look in their eyes, the flashes of steel behind sleeves, the way they stood. If he could have gone back home, he would have, but the thirst was too strong, and he only had a thaler nine centimes — enough for Rockrose 18 at the liquor store on Care, but not enough for anything else, anywhere else.
So he turned down 116th, and headed up Matin’s Alley. It was narrow and dark and there wasn’t any space to run; bodies were found in places like Matin’s Alley every month. But the thirst was on him, and he went up the alley.
Ander had a crick in his neck and an ache in his back from having spent the day lost in the Lays of Home-Longing. They had taken him out to lands of wonder, and left him noticing things, like the regular slope of the alley’s hill, the way the peak rose at the northern end. After he got his bottle of Rockrose 18, he went back down through Matin’s Alley, stopped ten paces beyond the peak of the hill, and turned to face it.
Ander had lost just about everything in his descent from St. Ann’s. His diplomas and his correspondence, his family and his hopes. But he’d kept a share of his dignity. So though there was nobody in the alley, it took a long while before he made three turns widdershins, with his eyes closed, and headed towards the hill, whispering that he was no thief or felon bold, come to steal what was not his to hold.
Though the critics put layers of meaning on them, the Lays of Home-Longing were children’s stories. But they were the real stuff, more potent than the bottle of Rockrose 18 he had tucked under his arm. The alley smelled like rock and rust and rats. He was going to walk into a girder and break his nose and his bottle, but he couldn’t deny the thirst to turn and say the words any more than he could the thirst that had bought the fortified wine.
The compulsion was as strong as a vision from jimson distillate, and he expected it be as insubstantial. But instead of tripping over a trashbag and cracking his head open, there was a sudden feeling of heat and cold all at once, and his hand found a door. He pushed it open.
He took one step forward, another, so shocked he hadn’t even opened his eyes. When he did, he wasn’t in some sub-basement or access tunnel. There was a hedge behind him, and a clear blue sky overhead. It had been cold in Newsom, but now the sun was warm on his skin, and there was a cherry tree in front of him, the boughs groaning with fruit, red and pale yellow, clear and ripe and beaded with dew.
For the first time in his forty-three years, Ander Villar-Marn dropped a bottle of wine.
He stood swaying for a long moment, shuddering,the sharp, sugary smell of the Rockrose 18 lost in the fragrances of the hollow hill. Wine and brandy and jimson distillate and all the rest made people see things that weren’t there. This vision was crueler than hearing Nim curse him for a sot, crueler than believing the dean of St. Amn’s had called when she had not. When he woke in Matin’s alley, alone and dirty, and with nothing to eat or drink, it would break him.
But for now he was standing beneath a cherry tree, on stones that led down to a brook. He reached up to the cherries, then pulled his hand back. He now had neither food nor wine, but he was no thief or felon bold, and he would take nothing without paying. Ander didn’t believe this was actually happening, but the Lays of Home-Longing were the real thing, and he knew them too well to take that fruit.
The stream was water when he crossed it, cold and clear, but his trousers were stained with blood when he reached the other shore. There was a path there, in the hollow hill, that went beneath apple trees and damson trees and cherry trees, with gold and jewels along its side, half hidden by ferns and green, green grass.
He followed the path to a crossroad where sat maidens three, braiding flowers in their hair. They looked up as he approached, and smiled. “Come sit with us,” said the first. “Share our wine and our bread.”
“Lay your head upon my lap,” said the second, “and rest. You have been weary for a long, long time.” And the third was silent, but she looked at him as well, and her look said more than any word.
“I am no thief or felon bold,” said Ander. “And here I cannot tarry.”
The three looked at each other, mischief dancing in their eyes. “So why have you come to the hollow hills?” one asked. “Would you like to hear us sing and dance?”
“More than words can say,” said Ander, “but here I cannot tarry. And I can take nothing without paying.”
That was the formula that the Lay had taught, but it ended there; after that, each visitor made different mistakes. Ander felt he had just stepped beyond the end of a page, followed a path to its end and then took another step out over nothing.
“What will you trade?” said the first maiden, and there was something sharp in her voice, and her eyes. Still merry, but hungry as well. “Is it a fine thing, that you’ve brought with you?”
Ander had owned fine things; he’d had rooms just off campus, and a new automobile, and Nim’s ring. Now… now he did not have even his bottle of Rockrose 18. He hesitated.
“If you come here to trade, without goods to trade,” said the second maiden, “you are wasting your time and ours.” And the third said nothing, but again, her eyes spoke clearly, as threatening as storm clouds.
“I have the eighteen Agonistes Sonnets,” said Ander. “I will give these to you.”
“We’ve heard them before,” said the first maiden.
“I have more love for them than you’ve heard before,” said Ander. “I know them so well, I love them so well, that people still quote my love for them, people have written books on my books about them. I have thirty years of knowing them, thirty years of having slept with them and woken with them. I have thirty years of love for those words, my ladies. This I have brought to trade.”
“Will you give us all that?” asked the second maiden. “All those words and all that love? All the roots and rootlets of that love, that filled your thirty years of days and nights?”
“I will,” said Ander, the words burning in his throat.
“And what do you ask for in trade?” asked the third maiden, her voice low and clear.
“Wine,” said Ander’s thirst. “And a flute,” another part of him added, a part of him that had not spoken for a long time.
The three looked at each other, and back to him. “You say you are no thief or felon bold,” said the first maiden.
“If you take back what you give us, we shall take back what we give you,” said the second.
“Done,” said Ander.
“Done,” said the third maiden, and “Done,” they all said, together. Ander forgot the Agonistes sonnets, and took a bottle of red wine, and a bottle of white wine, and a flute of ivory and gold, of emerald and onyx. He stumbled out, through the stream of water that stained like blood, past Matin’s alley, back to his apartment.
There was so little to steal in Ander’s home that he never bothered to lock his door. That night, he locked it and barred it and closed all the window shutters. It had been so long since he had tasted anything finer than Rockrose 18 or Bonny Lass that his corkscrew was rusted shut. He broke it loose, and opened the bottle of white wine. It tasted of joy and light, of freedom and beauty, of everything that Ander ever held and lost. It tasted of glory.
If he’d had any money left, and, if he’d been able to think, and if he hadn’t been carrying with him two bottles of the wine of the fae and a flute of ivory and gold — he’d have bought more distillate or Rockrose, to distract himself, so he didn’t down a whole bottle in one sitting.
But he hadn’t, and he did, and he sat in his slumped armchair, and laughed, and cried, and saw everything in the glow of a different and better world. There was that flute as well, more beautiful than any ever been made by man. And the drink and the flute and the light all made him better than he was; he played a quick, bright tune, the sort that Nim had liked, when they had been courting. Then another, and another, until he fell asleep in his chair, the flute clutched in his hands, a smile on his face, all shadows banished, everything bathed in light.
When he awoke, the joy and light were gone, and though the flute was still a thing of beauty, it felt light, strangely cheap. Like a bubble that would burst or float away. And he thought of what he had given up.
Eighteen sonnets. He could remember that Atresso of Castaign had written them three hundred and eighty-seven years ago. He could remember that his essays on them had been well received. But he could not remember why his memories of them would be worth even a bottle of Rockrose 18, let alone two bottles of the wines of fairy, and a flute grander than anything he had ever owned.
That wasn’t true. The flute was onyx and gold and light and beauty, but his love for the Agonisties Sonnets had been grander; the maidens three never dealt poorly. And they would never sell back a thing they had purchased without charging more than they had spent. He had only taken the white — he could return the flute, and the red. . . the red. It was sitting on his table, bright as a ruby, dark as a dream.
There was no food in the fridge, and no money in his coat. He could go to the soup-kitchen, or to the shelter. He couldn’t leave the wine behind, and he couldn’t carry it with him. Once he drank it, it would be gone. The fairy might take seven years of service in exchange for one bottle, but they would want seven times seven for two.
Ander fought the thirst and the hunger and tried to leave the bottle be. But oh, it was as sharp and dry as a winter wind. Small sips; he could ration himself like that — a sip, and then a tune on the flute, a sip, and then a chapter of the Mentations, a sip and then a long look at that picture of Nim which he ought to have burned but which he couldn’t.
So the day went, into the night. Where the white had brought a froth of joy and light, the red brought a sad, sweet melancholy; he had drunk the one at night, and the other by day. The white had given him the light of day, the red gave him the darkness of midnight. It was as glorious, it was as sharp, it was as dry. And just like the night had passed, the day passed as well. He slept again, empty again, and in the morning, the wine was gone, and the joy was gone.
Twelve days later, the flute was gone as well.
The benefit check had come on time for once, and he spent it on Rockrose and jimson distillate, on Black Ocher and Bonny Lass, trying to find what he had tasted in the wine of fairy. He tried so hard that when the monthly rap on the door came, he didn’t have enough to pay the landlord.
“It’s not the first month you’ve missed,” said the landlord, carefully. He was an immigrant, and he didn’t always have the right words, and his hair seemed thinner each time Ander saw him. “I told you before; if you miss again, it’s out. I am sorry, Mr. Villar.”
So Ander gave him the flute. It had a glorious sound, but without wine, he couldn’t face its music. And there wasn’t any way he could keep something as fine as that in the shelter. So he gave it to him.
The landlord didn’t know what it was, but he could see that it was gold and ivory, and he could see how it hurt Ander to give it over.
“I’ll see what I can get for this,” said the landlord, finally, weighing it in his hand. “I have a cousin with a pawnshop.”
He gave Ander a smile that was probably friendly. “Just until you can pay him back for the pawn, of course, yes? And if you want to sell it, later, he will be fair. Yes?”
Ander waved. He wouldn’t be able to pay back the pawn,but it was fine to pretend he might. The landlord left, and it was dark, and his head throbbed, and he had nothing; not those sonnets, not the wine, not the flute. Ander put down his head and wept. Then he took the money he had left, and went to get more Rockrose 18. Harshly sweet and strong, it would turn what he lost into a background ache, a memory that hurt only when considered.
The Rockrose 18 worked so well that Ander was confused when days later the landlord came back. His shirt stained with sweat. It was hot, but not that hot.
“They . . the pawn was taken, Mr. Villar.”
There was a pang at that, but dull, distant. “It was from a customer who could not be refused. A very fair price, though, and I have for you the balance. All your debts are paid, you understand? This is left after all your debts.”
It was a wad of cash thicker than any Ander could recall seeing. Not just Rockrose 18 or Black Ochre there. Why give it to him? He had lived in the slums so long it didn’t make any sense. The landlord pushed the money into his hands.
“And Mr. Villar, please, remember me well? If it is. . . there were things that I did not do, which I might have, and I have always done my best with this building. She is all that I have in this country; if I lose her… please.”
“Yes, of course,” said Ander, off his balance. “Thank you?”
A beaming smile; the landlord shook his hand, and left; Ander sat in his chair, and stared at fifteen thousand thalers in clean bills. If anyone found out, he was dead where he sat. There were times the street gangs just let him pass. That was when he had nothing. Fifteen thousand — he couldn’t even go to the liquor store. What would he do? Leave the money behind, and risk it being stolen? Carry it with him, and try to walk like someone who wasn’t carrying enough money to buy two new automobiles and a first class ticket to anywhere in the world?
It wasn’t even a surprise when an hour later, someone knocked and came in, without waiting for an answer . Three men, tall, heavily built, wearing docking jackets and spats; A higher class of thug than usual that far uptown.
Wordlessly, Ander held out the roll of cash to the first of the trio. Perhaps if he gave it to them, they would spare him?
The man gave Ander a gaptoothed smile, peeled off a fifty, and gave the rest back. “No need for thatm’lord, but tips always welcome. We’ve got a motor waiting, if you’ll step this way?”
Ander stood, unsteadily, and was herded down to a heavy black car, where another two men were waiting. They all piled in, Ander in the middle, and headed off. Not downtown. Out to the country villas west of Newsom. A big damned house, with marble pillars out front, and elaborate wrought iron furniture on the lawn. The men who’d brought him fit in as naturally as the wrought iron; Ander was out of place, shabby.
It wasn’t a baron or duke waiting for him; just a pinched man in a business suit, with the flute he’d given the landlord.
“Mr. Ander Villar-Marn,” he said, after Ander had been led to the seat in front of his desk. “Apologies for the circumstance; I’m Oben Rais.”
“How do you do?” said Ander, absently.
Oben gave him a pleased smile. “This had been yours?”
“Yes,” grated out Ander. It was unwise to admit anything to someone like that, but there was no use denying it.
“Tell me, please — can you get more items of similar quality?”
He had not trusted himself to even look at Matin’s Alley, after he had come out with his flute and wine. He had given away something more precious than he had been given. The trades with fairy were always bad, even when the value was exactly even; he would not make the same mistake again.
Ander looked up at one of the men who’d brought him out to Obed’s house. He looked like a bulldog crammed into a jacket; there was a tracery of scars around his ear and neck.
“I am afraid so,” said Oben. “My apologies for that. But I have buyers, and they are not men to be disappointed. It’s good for you that I caught wind of this before any of them, or. . .” he shook his head.
So, Ander would make the same mistake again. And he had more to sell. Plenty more.
They talked for an hour. He was shaking by the end, and not only because of the thirst. When they were done, he had a passbook account at a bank, reservations at a hotel downtown, and a list of things to acquire. “My education was not as thorough as yours, Mr. Villar-Marn,” said Oben. “But I know enough not to trust the gifts of fairy. My clients do not want a mirror that shows them the truth, or a cup that reveals true love —truth is not beloved by men in power, and the love they prefer is less true and more convenient.”
Odem held up the flute. “Such things as this, they want. Things of beauty, Mr. Villar-Marn. They have the best of everything, and this is better than anything they have.”
“There are. . .” Ander’s voice cracked. Just the thirst. The thirst, and the fear. “There are the works of Heroll and Dake, there are — ”
Odem laughed. “My apologies,” he said. “I fear that they prefer less erudite beauty . And if you provide it for them… well, the payment for the flute was moderate. There is a limit to how much I will spend, without knowing if a relationship is to be established. But if you can provide quality of this sort, on a regular basis? It will not be long before you can endow yourself a chair at the university.”
“I’ll trade for beauty for your clients. But I do not have an unlimited supply of goods.” said Ander quietly.
Odem sighed. “Well, we shall cross that bridge when we reach it. And rarity has a value of its own, as I’m sure you understand.”
What Ander understood was that unless he produced a chess-set and a mirror and two snuff-boxes, the bulldog in the docking jacket and spats would take him out to the back lawn, and break his bones.
So he went back, and he traded. The plays of Araseit, and the complete works of Dake. For the mirror and the snuff-boxes and the chess set, and a few months later, other works for other items. Each time he came back he could feel the gaps in his memory, like missing teeth.
Every book he still remembered, he could see how they had changed who he was, and how they had changed as he had. The romance of Paita and Kirr had shone in one light when he had read it as a boy, and another when he had recited fragments of it to Nim, and another after she was gone; all of them lovely, all of them different, all of them now at risk.
Volume by volume, the books went. Each time he traded, the maidens three left him enough to know what he had lost; they left the titles, the books of criticism. They left the bookcases, so that he would be able to see that the shelves were bare.
Ander was swimming in deep waters, and he knew it. Rarity had a value to it, and there was an easy way for one of Odem’s clients to cut off his supply of snuff-boxes. And Odem’s thugs would give him the occasional tap when he made noises about leaving. Ander ought to have stayed off the drink, living in such a trap. But the thirst was too much. He’d wake up looking up through the bottom of a bottle. Not Rockrose 18 anymore, but sharp, flinty reds, and cool, clear whites. And after one bottle, another. And after that, some brandy, and then… well. He never could stop, once he started. There was guilt after every sip, but guilt didn’t cork bottles. But with more and more books going, he was being emptied of everything besides guilt.
He had money, but not much to spend it on. He paid for a place in Riverside, clean clothing, food, and what the thirst made him buy. The rest just piled up. He even sent a few thousand back to his old landlord. He didn’t owe him anything, but, well.
It couldn’t last; those bookcases in his mind were emptying. He’d savor the works to be sacrificed one last time, he’d pick and choose until he had enough to buy what was demanded, and then he’d go trade. It wouldn’t be long before they reached that bridge where nothing was left, and while crossing he’d be dropped off into the darkness below.
After his sixth trip to the hollow hill, the bulldogs took the cane and the hunting horn he’d acquired, and sped him out to Odem’s villa. Normally, Odem would take what Ander had bought, and send him on his way. This time, Odem looked more nervous than the landlord had when bullyboys from downtown had come to his little building.
“You are going to have to go back,” he said. “And last trick pays all.”
There was a hole in his memories, where the Mentations and the Elysiad had been; he couldn’t —
“An eminent personage has taken an interest in your imports, Mr. Villar-Marn. And he wants something; get it for him, and I swear to you, you will be rewarded. But it has to be perfect. Absolutely perfect, in every respect.”
“What?” asked Ander.
“He wants a girl,” said Odem. “A beautiful girl. A woman, but with the bloom of childhood still in her cheek. Trustworthy and true, and more beautiful than anything in the world.”
Ander understood. He didn’t want to understand, but he did. He felt himself curling up. He shook his head. “No.”
“If I don’t deliver, he’ll destroy me. And you’ll be one of the pieces he’ll pick up, once I’m broken into bits. You will do this, either for me, or for someone a good deal less gentle.”
“Beautiful and true,” repeated Ander.
Odem hesitated. “The client,” he said, finally. “Has refined tastes.”
Ander curled into himself even deeper.
“He wants someone he can hurt,” said Odem. “And corrupt. Destroy, over and over, always fresh, and then always broken. Give him what he wants, Ander. I do not exaggerate when I tell you your life depends on this, and the rewards will be more than you’ve ever desired.”
That was impossible; Ander had been giving up everything he’d ever desired, whenever he went beneath the hill.
“Send someone else. You’ve had me watched. You’ve read the Lays of Home-Longing. Send someone with pleasant memories to sell and tastes as refined as your client’s.”
“I have. They don’t come back,” said Odem. “Maybe they say the wrong words, or forget and eat the fruit, or decide to lie with the women of fairy.”
“Lie with the women of fairy?” said Ander. “That’s worse than— ”
“What I threaten?” said Odem. “Perhaps. But it seems not everyone agrees or has your self control.”
“I want to leave,” said Ander, suddenly. “I’ll have to spend everything I have left. Whether or not you can find someone else, I’ll be no further use.”
“Done,” said Odem. “The payment will be in your account the moment you step back out, and I swear I will not seek you out, provided you bring back what he’s looking for.”
Ander nodded. Everything he had left to trade. Everything besides the Lays of Home-Longing. All the rest he’d ever read and loved, the whole corpus, the whole canon. He’d give it all away.
There wasn’t even time to dip into those books for one last visit. The car was idling in front of Odem’s villa, and they drove quickly back to Matin’s alley.
“Call a livery cab,” said Ander. “When I’m done, you take… what I’ve brought. I’ll take the cab.”
The driver tipped his cap. “Yes lord,” he replied, with good humor. “Good thinking, there.”
There was more than a chance that Odem was going to have him killed once he came back out. But it was risk that, or stay behind in the Hollow Hills.
So Ander said the words, and crossed the river, and sat down to bargain with the maidens three. It went as before: they made their offers, and he made his. “All the works I’ve ever loved,” he said. “Saving only the Lays of Home-Longing. Everything surrounding that love, as well. All the honors I’ve received. Every paper I ever wrote, every word that I read about those books, all the satisfaction and misery, all the love.”
“All the love?” asked the third maiden. “Or…
“Just for the books,” said Ander, harshly. Not Nim, not ever.
“All of it?” asked the first, hungry.
“All of it,” said Ander.
“And all this for a girl, and not even a girl for yourself?” asked the second. “You do not keep that which we give you, Ander Villar-Marn; it is taken from you as soon as you leave our hollow hill. Stay with us instead, and everything you have traded to us will be given back to you, and you can stay here forever.”
“I have read the Lays of Home-Longing,” said Ander. “And I know them, and I love them. I say nothing against this place, or those who are here. But here I cannot tarry. If I remained, the home-longing would grow, and grow, until I traded everything for a return to a world that would be long gone and forgotten.”
“I fear you intend — ” started the first.
“He is no thief or felon bold,” said the third, and she smiled, like Nim sometimes had. “If he plays us false, we can always take back that which we have given.” She knew, and understood, and had made her choice to let Ander make his choice, for better or worse.
“She will be waiting for you on the other side of the stream,” said the third maiden.
“Done,” said Ander, and “Done” said all of them, and it was all gone. The books, and the bookcases as well. Ander knew that he had been a scholar of the classics, and he knew the Lays of Home Longing, but that was all. He stumbled back to the stream, and past it. There was a girl on the other side; small, and as perfect and as delicate as a flower. She took his arm as he crossed, trust written on her face. He couldn’t. He had gone this far, but he couldn’t.
She laughed. And it was not the innocent, frightened sort of laugh that Ander had paid for. He looked at her, startled.
“We are within the hill and beyond the stream that stains like blood,” she said. “I will tell you now one true thing: when you bargain with those who live within the hollow hill, you give us things which it amuses us to take, and we give back things which it amuses us to give.”
That was a pattern in the Lays of Home-Longing; Pricarn had written about it. The wine they had given him — it had been glorious, but he did not count himself the better for having drunk it. To the contrary, drinking that wine had nearly destroyed him.
“He’s going to hurt you,” he said.
“He will hurt me a great deal. First he will delight in it, then it will frustrate him, then he will fear it, then he will lock me away and eat himself whole through love and fear of the key to my cage. I am bound into this form by your bargain, but my own true nature is as it always has been. The stories you once knew would have told you this. The seal-skin is always found, the questions that must not be spoken are always asked.” She gave him an achingly sweet smile. “What he tears apart will be himself.”
Ander shuddered. He did not know who had pushed Odem into pushing him. He’d wished for a weapon that would destroy Odem and the men he worked for. But instead they’d wished for it themselves — the fairy bride for whom he’d given up everything he had left — young, feet neatly together, arms clasped behind her back, and far more terrible than any weapon he might have requested.
“Right,” he said. “Well, come along then.”
She curtseyed, and linked her arm with his, light as air, excited and eager, looking forward to a grand adventure. They walked out together from the fairy hill, to the bricks of Matin’s alley crusted with sooty air, to the girders and graffiti and mangy dirt, glittering with broken bottles.
If there was one car at the end of the alley, they were going to kill him. If there were two… there were two. She went with Odem’s men, and he went to the livery cab.
He didn’t even stop at his new rooms on Riverside. He emptied his bank account, bought a great deal of what he thirsted for, and went down to the docks. Ander had accumulated enough money to buy an entire ocean liner, so he splurged on a cabin large enough to spread out everything he had bought.
Ander hadn’t kept the memories of the Lays of Home-Longing solely to give himself a road-map back out from beneath the hill. He wanted a way to remember what love for a book felt like. He had given the fairies his love for them, but the books were still there, in a thousand different editions.
Ander Viller-Marn had three steamer trunks filled with books. It had not been much of a soul, but it was his, and he was going to put it back together. His thirst for wine made his hands tremble, and his vision blur. But there was a greater thirst. He kept them both in check as long as he could, but on the third day out, he opened the collection of the Agonistes Sonnets, and a dictionary, and a grammar. There was so much, so very much he had to read. The second first time he read those words — they were grander than any wine had ever been, from beneath the hill or anywhere else.
There had been an edge to his thirst for wine, ever since he’d drunk the wines of fairy, a longing for more of the same. As he read, that longing abated, but a vague apprehension crept in. Ander had kept the Lays of Home-Longing to remember something else as well. When someone cheated the fairies, their gains turned to wrack and ruin, to ash and fangs and poison. Ander could only imagine what would happen when he took back what he had given to acquire the girl for Odem’s eminent client. She would be whatever she wished. Whatever she wished. And Ander knew that as he read, in some private collection or exclusive club, a flute of ivory and gold was turning into something very nasty indeed.
“Thief of Felon Bold” © Alter S. Reiss
Alter S. Reiss is an archaeologist and writer who lives in Jerusalem with his wife Naomi and their son Uriel. He likes good books, bad movies, and old time radio shows.”
Lead illustration and “The Lays of Home-Longing Book” photomanipulations by Fran Eisemann. Stock credits: Three Sisters by Eirian-stock; Misty Forest stock by wyldraven;”Old Book” by Esperanza La Loca .