Lou hoofed it through the forest, anger burning her insides as much as fear. Anger at herself for leading the fae right to her family.
She found Warren’s little hovel, but he was not outside, and everything looked shut up tight. She went to the door, and wrapped hard. The sound was not terribly impressive on soft wood, but seconds later, the door swung open.
Warren greeted her with a look a disappointed shock, then tried to close the door in her face. Lou thrust out her leg to block him. “I need your help. They took my family.”
Warren closed his eyes, and sighed. “I can’t help you. I’m a coward, my magic is weak.”
“But you can tell me how to fight them, and you can get us out safely once I find my parents. I don’t want them growing old or young just from walking out a door.”
He looked away from her, flinching. “The last time you relied on me for that, I failed. I’d rather you not be disappointed again.”
Lou kicked against the door when she felt him try to close it on her. “Then don’t disappoint me.”
He glared at her. “I may not be strong for a fae, but I am stronger than you.”
She knew that. She had felt his strength in how he pushed the door against her and knew he held it in check. Lou caught her lower lip, realizing she could not force the man to do anything. “At least tell me what weapons I should take.”
He stared up at her a moment. “Iron. Something sharp if you can find it. And salt is poisonous to us.”
Lou recalled how iron always made her hands feel stiff and sunburned, and how much she hated salty food. Mami had taken to making separate spaghetti sauce just for her. “Anything else.”
Warren leaned against the door, looking very old though his odd face betrayed no particular age that Lou could recognize. “Fae can’t lie, but most are clever with words. Cian especially. Think carefully about what he says, and take nothing for granted.”
She backed away, and turned to leave. A rough hand seized hers, and Lou turned back to meet Warren’s large green eyes. “I’m sorry. I really am.”
Not able to resist driving the knife a little deeper, Lou narrowed her eyes at him. “If you say so.”
Warren rocked back as if she struck him. The door slammed closed, and Lou found herself alone again. She ran back to the house to find her weapons.
Warren thumped his head against the door, fingers flexing into the soft, pulpy wood. He loved his little house. It was not the Mound, by any stretch, but he felt safe, tucked away.
Had she known? Had she remembered what those words meant to him?
Always a little joke between Warren and Beatrice. Because he could never lie, and he’d always been so terrible at twisting words. Beatrice would insist she made a better fae then he was. And always, he would tell her, “if you say so.”
His Beatrice. He missed her still. He hadn’t even been able to say goodbye.
So, you abandon her daughter and those that raised her to the same fate. Warren flinched at the dark voice in his head. He was a coward. He knew that well and good. Beatrice had died knowing it, and certainly Jay Bird, no Lou, now knew it, if she had forgotten it.
You get called things, but that don’t mean they’re true. Her voice drifted back to him from so long ago. When I was a little girl, out picking berries, these men snatched me up, called me a slave, but that didn’t make it so. I was born free and I’ll always be free. I just have to make the world see it that way.
“I was born a coward, Bea.” No answer drifted to him from his memories, because he had never said that to her. Because before that awful night, when he’d been too afraid to meet them, he never thought himself a coward.
He closed his eyes against the onslaught of possibilities. The life he, Bea, and Jay Bird might have had if he had only gone to them.
Lou had managed to save herself once, and she still had a chance for a good life ahead of her. Or she might well lose everything trying to escape the Mound.
Warren backed away from the door, and it opened for him. He hurried out into the falling dark.
“Weapons?” Snowtail hissed. “Are you a complete fool?”
Lou gave the cat a sour look, and for a moment contemplated the odd turn her life had taken. Her parents had been kidnapped by fairy people and she was having an argument with a cat. “Well, my common sense told me my Daddy’s rifle wouldn’t do much good against these fae, but feel free to tell me otherwise.”
The cat’s tail flicked with obvious annoyance, then she seemed to soften. “I know you fear for your family, but …”
“Don’t say it.” Lou pointed the iron poker she held at the cat. “I’m getting them back. They won’t die because of me.”
“You may well die for them.” Snowtail proceeded to lick her paw and smooth her whiskers, a cat’s way of avoiding an undesirable topic of conversation. Lou almost laughed at the novelty of it, understanding a cat’s mannerisms. She sobered quickly, and resumed packing her supplies.
Iron poker, a container of salt, Mami’s gardening gloves, all went into the backpack Lou took to school. Perhaps not the best storage for weaponry, but she had no time to fashion a Batman style utility belt.
Lou shouldered her backpack, and looked around. The disaster in the kitchen drew her gaze. Tears stung her eyes at the sight of the cake pans and smears of milk sauce all over the floor. She lifted her gaze to the stove top.
The pan of cherries still on the stove. On a whim, Lou found a small jar in the cupboard. She scooped a few spoonfuls of cherry sauce into the jar. She went to the bathroom, and found Mami’s iron pills. A few minutes of grinding, and she poured the powder into the jar. A quick stir with her finger, thought she winced at the sting. She screwed the lid on tightly, and tucked the jar into her pocket.
She crossed the living room, past Snowtail still sitting on the coffee table.
“There is an unspoken agreement,” the cat began.
Lou looked back, and waited, though she itched to leave.
“The fae do not harm each other within their own walls, except in self-defense.” She gave a cat shrug, rolling herself along an invisible wall. “That will afford some meager protection, as they won’t attack you right away.”
Lou filed the information away, and headed toward the woods. She had always had a good sense of direction, and found the woven door fairly quickly. She stared at it, so utterly unassuming in the day, but eerie at night. The moon seemed to shine straight down on the door, casting a milky glow over the interwoven lengths of bark.
She approached it.
The voice startled her so badly she damn near jumped out of her skin. She whirled around to find Warren behind her, large eyes flashing in the night. “What are you doing?”
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to frighten you. I would have gone to the house, but I was afraid I’d miss you.”
Lou pinched between her eyes, hoping to stave off the headache building behind them. “What do you want?” She winced at her tone. Mami and Daddy had raised her to be polite. “I don’t mean to be rude, but you did say you wanted nothing to do with this.”
Warren nodded. “I failed Bea and you once. I won’t do it again.”
Lou studied his expression, trying to read any hint of deception in his odd, but still somewhat human features. She gave a brief nod and moved to the door. Warren seized her hand. “Wait. They don’t like me much. I’m not sure …”
“Just stay by the door.” Lou rolled her shoulders, as if to shift off her unsettled feelings. She knew nothing about what she was walking into, yet she was ordering him to stay behind.
He didn’t look pleased, or even relieved by her order. As they approached the door, he glanced at her. “Do you remember anything?”
Lou shook her head. “It only comes in little flashes, when I’m not thinking about it. I tried to force it and …” She shook her head. She reached for the door, and grazed it with her fingers.
It flexed and peeled away, revealing the same long tunnel, shrouded in darkness. Lou retrieved her flashlight and clicked it on. And entered the Mound.