by Stephen J. Herron
There was something missing.
No matter how often she thought about it, about her life, there was part she couldn't account for.
It felt like years of her life, sometimes, but she knew that couldn't possibly be the case.
Memories were not solid things, though. She knew that. They were like the sea, always in motion, never the same one time to another. A bit like her, really. Always moving.
Still, something was missing, and it troubled her.
And it had been becoming more and more of a worry over the last year.
The girl sat now, in the corner of a library in the center of Coventry, England, wondering what she couldn't remember, and getting more and more frustrated. A novel lay, forgotten, upon her lap. She had her legs tucked up under her, and a cup of coffee on the arm of the comfy chair. Rain pounded down outside, released from the grey heavens of an English winter. The library was a very old building, older than America, and familiar to her. She spent many hours a week in here, when she wasn't desperately trying to sell the small trinkets and decorative pieces that she made in the small one bedroom apartment that was her home.
During the day, the noise that came up through the floor from the cafe underneath the flat was just too much, and when she couldn't concentrate on making her crafts, she escaped to here, and vanished into the books she read.
She had arrived in this town four years ago, tired and lonely. She had come to like England, but it just wasn't the same as back home- or what she could remember of it.
The coffee tasted good. The rain pattered against the large window, and she let a little shiver of contentment out.
The voice belonged to an older woman. She had just come in from the rain, her coat dripping wet and her umbrella held out at a safe distance. She was short, a little round, and rosy cheeked most of the time.
"Hello, Margaret!" said the girl. She unfolded herself from the chair, and gave the woman a light hug, giggling and trying not to get wet.
There was something about her that made Ella feel warm and looked after. Margaret was like a mum to everyone, including Ella, and when she dropped off her little pies and pastries, it was like eating a little bit of magic every time.
"Ah, I just knew I'd find you here. I've brought you a cheque from the antiques shop- they're very pleased at how well your little things are selling."
Ella smiled, but her heart fell. She looked at the cheque and saw that the amount was lower than she'd hoped. She knew that her friend had bought the artwork again, with all she could afford to pay. Such a kind woman, and had been protecting Ella since she arrived in Coventry last year.
"Oh, Margaret... what is it about my work? Why isn't anyone buying it?"
Her friend smiled sadly, and patted Ella's shoulder. "I don't know, Ella... I like it, though!"
Ella gave a grateful smile. "Thank you. You're a good friend to me. But you can't afford to buy all of my art."
Margaret laughed, and everyone in the library looked around, startled. "My dear, when you're rich and famous, I'll be able to retire when I sell all your early work!"
Ella giggled. Margaret was just the best. They went out for lunch. Ella insisted upon paying for it, making sure that her friend got some of her money back, somehow. They chatted and gossiped, and Ella felt the emptiness shift and move to the back of her mind. But, as always, it remained. It never really went away.
As the afternoon wore on, Margaret apologetically left, needing to do some shopping for her family. She had a couple of teenage kids, and a husband that spent most of his time driving a taxi-cab around the city.
But Ella had never met anyone so sure of what they wanted to do. Margaret knew who she was, what she wanted and she had more-or-less gotten it all. She didn't have lofty goals, beyond raising her kids and working a couple of days a week in a small antiques shop that tried to sell her stuff. Margaret was always surrounded by children, either hers or her neighbors, and she delighted in telling Ella tales about their adventures. Sometimes Ella worried that Margaret got a little caught up with the kids and their fanciful tales, but it made her happy to share in them, even for a little while.
Ella knew that she'd forgotten all that she'd wanted from life. It was like an itch that couldn't be scratched, always there, never going away.
She looked down at her wrists, pulled her sweater sleeves down over the long white scars that lay like bitter bracelets across them. She vaguely remembered that night, the decision that led her to making that mistake eluded her.
Ella often wondered if she'd been a drug-user. That would explain the missing memories, the weird dreams and the flashbacks she'd sometimes have. Bright colors where there would really only be dull normality, seeing things that simply couldn't actually be there. It happened less now than before, but she had vague memories of seeing that stuff all the time. She remembered being somewhere else, not here or in Dublin, when she'd tried to kill herself.
Ironically, she'd always had a desire to create things, to work with her hands. It was difficult finding time for this, as her heart always pushed her to move on before she had a chance to settle down in one place. But the urge to create remained, and she found herself folding little origami figures when she sat in bus stations, or waiting for trains to move her to the next spot down the line.
Over the last couple of years she'd been all over the UK, even spending a few weeks in France, but she never really had enough money to stay in one place for too long.
She slept on benches, made the small amount of money she had last a very long time.
She'd work in café's here and there, washing up dishes or serving customers. Just when she felt that it was time to settle down, an inner urge would move her on.
Then she'd headed back to Dublin, and then just drifted over to the Mainland, finding work here and there.
Finally, she arrived in Coventry, and stayed. Five years of traveling was enough. She was tired, exhausted, and empty.
Ella called into one of the small art shops that sold her pieces. She barely sold enough to keep herself in supplies, but the fact that she broke even most of the time was a small victory.
She usually had about ten pieces here, but she couldn't see them on display as she browsed the shelves. She sighed, unsurprised. There were certainly better things to put up, things that would actually sell.
She tried to imagine seeing one of her pieces for the first time, placing herself in the shoes of a customer.
They were usually made from dark wood, carved and polished into vaguely human shapes. Sometimes they'd have feathers carved into their backs, or the hints of horns upon their brows. Usually, she'd decorate them with bright stripes of color, as if they wore bright robes or crowns. They were found deep within her soul, buried beneath her lost memories. They seemed ethnic, in some way. As ethnic as the single soul that she suspected everyone shared. African, or from the Middle-East perhaps. Foreign, exotic, but untraceable to a single place. A little like her.
She bit her lip.
Was she making these as a kind of therapy? Was the art just a side-effect of a quest for knowledge? She didn't know for sure.
"Ella, ey, it's funny you should pop in," said the guy behind the counter. He waved her to come over.
"Hey, Neil, what's up?"
Neil flashed her a grin, and she smiled back despite herself. "I've got a surprise for you," he said, and handed her a bundle of cash.
Ella took it, held it like it was a dead fish. "What's this?" she asked quietly.
Neil grinned. "Some bloke came in, asked if I had anything by an artist called Ella or… what was that other name? Shaheen? Something funny like that."
A shiver went down her back. That other name, Shaheen, was very familiar.
"What did you tell him?" she asked carefully.
"I told him that we had a few of your pieces, and he just bought them all. Gave me cash for them, too."
She looked down at the handful of five and fifty pound notes in her hand. "How much?"
Neil patted her on the arm. "It's all there, girl. I took ten percent, but the rest is all there. Three hundred quid. He's a real fan, or so it seems. An admirer, you might say!"
He thought this was particularly funny, and chuckled to himself. "Easiest thirty quid I ever made, girl. You keep bringing your stuff here, I'll give you a nice place in the shop window for it."
Ella wasn't really listening to him now. She was thinking about that name, the other exotic name that she felt she should know, but didn't.
"What was the man like? The one that bought my stuff."
Neil shrugged. "Tall, good-looking I suppose, if you're into blokes, which I'm not. Funny accent, Scottish or something. Fair hair, looked like an actor or something. Probably a fairy, by the looks of him."
She shot him a look. "A what?"
"You know, gay. All those actors are. And he was too well-dressed to be straight."
She blinked. "Oh, well, I suppose. I don't know. They can't all be, though. Actors, I mean."
Then she reached over and slapped him playfully. "And don't be so narrow-minded, Neil. Some might say working in an arts and crafts shop isn't the most macho of jobs."
"I was just saying, he looked odd. Mind you, a lot of our customers do. And our best sellers," he said with a wink. The conversation was getting weird. Too weird for her.
"Well, Neil, thanks for this," she lifted the handful of cash, "I'll probably end up spending it here on supplies."
Neil nodded. "I've no problem with that. Your money is good here, Ella."
She gave him a smile, and left the shop, mind racing. The cash got stuffed deep into a pocket, and she wandered around the city center for a long time, trying to find some order in her thoughts.
Several days went by. She found a little inspiration from somewhere, and even the loud chatter and clatter from the coffee shop below couldn't stop her from working. She had pinned one of the fifty pound notes from her recent windfall to the cork-board above her desk, and would look at it from time-to-time, smiling and feeling a little brighter when she imagined her mysterious admirer.
She found herself carving a little more quickly, with more certainty and panache. Her figures were taller, prouder, and all seemed to follow a similar pattern, of a male figure, with the mien of a leader, yet with a great sorrow that she evoked on the carving's face with economical flicks of her knife.
As she worked, she found that, as usual, she slipped into a thoughtful place. Her work became automatic in a way, a creative meditation that did not require her conscious mind. While she was in this place, she thought about that familiar name, Shaheen, and what it meant to her.
It was a lot of different things, and it was hard to pin any of them down. The name reminded her of places she couldn't possibly have been, of things that she couldn't possibly have seen. Memories that before made her worry for her sanity now made her concerned that she had lost something very true, very real.
She slowly faded back into reality. The figure was complete. It looked like someone she knew. She searched for a name.
"Kelly." And she carved the name on the base of the wooden carving.
Life went on as usual. For a few weeks, she'd take her carvings to Neil's shop, and give some to Margaret, too. They would all be gone by the next day, and it baffled her. She was a little scared, both by her success and by the thought of someone single-mindedly buying up all that she created.
One day, she tried to hide across the street from Neil's shop, to see if the mysterious buyer would come. She'd confront him, thank him for his money and ask him to stop being so damn scary.
She waited until just before the shop closed, and went home. Neil told her the next day that the man had arrived five minutes later, and had bought all the carvings again.
It wasn't so bad. As unnerving as it was, it made her feel good. Confidence was returning, more than she'd felt in many years. She knew her work was getting better all the time, and she began to wonder if she could afford to move into a proper studio and work from there. She was walking back from Neil's shop one afternoon, early in Spring. Cherry blossom filled the air, and there was a sense of hope in the air. Ella felt spring in the very center of her soul, and it was wonderful.
Ella opened her door, walked up the stairs to her apartment.
Sitting outside the door of her apartment was a wooden figurine, much like the ones she had been carving. It wasn't one of hers, however. She picked it up, and examined it closely. Made from oak, she realized, from a very beautiful piece of living oak. It was heavy, solid and yet her figures help it lightly. The piece was beautiful. She stared at it, looked at its face and realized it was in her image. Every feature of her face was reflected in the carving, and even the figures eyes seemed to hold light within the grain.
She nearly dropped it.
She opened the door, and closed it behind her. The basket attacked to the letter-box was full of letters.
Placing the figurine on the table, trying to ignore it and the possible implications of finding it on her doorstep, she began to flip through her mail, tutting at bills and junk. The last piece she came too was different. It was a heavy paper, like parchment.
"Vellum," she said, and she wondered why the word sounded familiar to her, and where it had come from at all.
The lettering was flowing and beautiful, her name and address inked with consummate skill upon the creamy paper.
There was no stamp, no postmark. It had been hand-delivered, then. No return address on the back, either.
She immediately knew that it, and the wooden model, was from the same person. No doubt about it.
She sniffed the envelope, and her eyes closed as a slight scent overwhelmed her for a moment. It was like falling asleep for a moment; she swayed and then came back, opening her eyes slowly as if awakening. She felt her heart beating faster, a little giddy from the rush of sensation that the subtle scent had induced.
She pulled her antique letter opener, the one she'd always seemed to have, from its resting place by the telephone, and with a deft flick of her wrist, had the envelope opened.
There was thick parchment within, and she pulled it out, unfolded it.
One word, flowing and almost alive upon the paper.
And then the rush of sensation came again, a hundred times what it had been before.
She fell to the ground, in a rustle of falling mail that settled around her like a paper aura.
Memories greeted her. Things she'd put away, thrown out. Dublin, her secret life as Herald for the King, and her travels across the world. A thousand places, only some of them real but all of them on her path- that was the live of an Eshu. She remembered meeting a fallen nobleman in a coffee shop near the Liffy, handing him a flower and a hand up out of the Mists.
They had become lovers for a time, but it couldn't last- she couldn't stay in one place that long, and his love was more of a danger to her than cold iron- at least she had thought so then. And he had a destiny; one that she knew couldn't be denied. And it would require a sacrifice of love, somewhere along the line. She decided to make that sacrifice for him. She fled, taking a position in a different court, but it didn't help.
She remembered buying a cold iron knife from an Unseelie Redcap, the kind of Changeling you didn't admit to knowing. He gave her the one-way ticket out of her misery, out of her pain. She couldn't live with the memories of her lover, and what she couldn't have. She cut her wrists with the knife, and threw both her Fae and Human souls into the air, for Fate to decide what to do with.
She survived- at least part of her did. The Fae within shriveled and died.
Or so it had seemed.
Now Winter had turned back into Spring, and everything was made new again. Perhaps nothing was impossible.
Eyes open. Colors are in the air now, colors that she'd not seen in a long time. The flow of Glamour was so strong in the room that she felt dizzy looking at it.
"Shaheen?" The voice was soft, male and filled with emotion.
She recognized it immediately, and she cried out. "Kestry!"
He was sitting on the floor, holding her hands. He was looking at the scars on her wrists, and tears trickled down his cheeks. She turned her head to look at him, and reached a hand up to touch one of the wet trails.
"I've missed you." That was all she could say.
He kissed her brow, and she could feel him holding back so much. Things had changed. She knew now that it had been five years since she left Dublin and Kestry behind. Five years is such a long time.
"I've missed you too. I never thought I'd...it took me a long time to find you."
She sat up, and grabbed him in an embrace that summed up all the time and distance that had been between them for so long. Kestry held her in his arms, and sighed deeply.
"Oh, Shaheen... why did you do it?"
She released him, and shrugged.
"It was the easy way out. The wrong way out. I've missed so much... but how- how have you done this?"
Kestry lifted the wooden carving of her from the table beside the telephone, where she'd left it. He held it up, turned it over in his hands, and it seemed to change. With a second turn in his hands, it now resembled a small wooden ball. He let go of it, but it hung there in front of Shaheen, whirring softly and spinning slowly about, the brass and gold inlays glinting in the twilight. She touched it gently, and it squeaked with delight.
"It's the Wishmaker," she said in amazement. "Then it really did exist. How did it- I mean, the figurine…"
Kestry gently touched the floating orb, which span delicately in different directions with each touch. "It hid itself from the world within another shape. I've been discovering how it works, and it's quite amazing. But not mine. "I was given it to look after, for a while. I've not used it in a long time, and I always said I'd only ever use it once."
Kestry touched her cheek, stroked her hair, trying to memorize her as she looked now, in her Fae Seeming. Beautiful, but only slightly more so than in her human form. And I'm so glad I used it for this, he thought.
Her eyes were bright, luminous. She gazed at him with all the love that had been there before, when they had shared their lives together in Dublin for that short time, so many years before.
"Tell me everything that I've missed, Kestry. All of it."
So he did. It took a many hours, while twilight began to paint the sky with stars and beyond, into the morning as dawn stained the horizon with fire.
She listened to him speak, as he spun the tale with pure Glamour that lit the very air around them. She felt her spirit lift with the story, and though some of it was sad, she knew that all was now well, and that Kestry had found his destiny.
All the while, the Wishmaker floated between them, above them, glowing with a soft light that shimmered with a rainbow of colors.
Kestry went on, and told her of his adventures in America, of a water-fight in a kitchen that led to his true love.
"I'm happy now. I did what needed to be done in Ulster, and I got my reward for it. She's called Gale," he smiled, "and she's perfect."
"What's she like?" asked Shaheen, her face unreadable.
He grinned. "Petite. Perfect. Pooka."
Shaheen smiled, and lay her hand upon Kestry's arm. "Good. I'm glad you're happy. After all that you've been through, you deserve it. And you deserve her."
She thought for a moment, and then sighed. "I'll never forget you, Kestry. I was wrong to try to. But… I'd never have been able to give you what you wanted. I could never have settled down. I never will be able to."
She wept then, for herself and for Kestry, and for the chance that they never really had for happiness, despite everything. Kestry held her gently for a while, and shed his own tears.
Eventually, he found the words that had evaded him all evening, the subject that could no longer wait.
"Your Fae soul has been saved- but I have one more gift to give you. And this time… it'll be done right. You're too important and precious to lose… and yet I know that the reason behind what you did is still true."
Her eyes widened, as realization overcame her. "Are you... sure?"
He nodded slowly. "I think so. I think we both need this."
Shaheen shook her head. "I once told you- in that letter- that you had to remember us, because I couldn't. That's still true. If you make this wish, make it just for me. You need to remember us. It gave you strength before, and it may give you it in the future."
Kestry looked hurt. "Maybe it's me. Maybe I need to forget you. You still live inside me. It scares me that you're still there, after all this time, even now that I have Gale. And I love her so much, you know. But there's still part of me that she'll never have and never find, because you have it."
She took his face between her palms and looked him in the eyes. I'm serious. Part of who you are today is what we were, what we had and what we couldn't have. You cannot give that up, because too many people depend upon that person."
Kestry tried to look away, but couldn't. Shaheen nodded slowly. She could see that he knew where she was going with this.
"Gale fell in love with that Kestry. You learnt from what happened between us, and that made you stronger, better, more understanding. Don't take that away from her."
She sighed, a deep heartfelt exhalation. She'd made her decision. "I'll do it, Kestry. You will have to bear the burden of memory for both of us."
Kestry knew she was right. He nodded. She planted a firm kiss on his lips, and buried her head in his shoulder, trembling from the weight of the truth they had both confronted.
He held the Wishmaker, and took her small hand in his.
"Make a wish."
A year later
Shaheen entered the Brick Glade, her first trip to Belfast. King Finn had been restored to Light. The Kingdom was blossoming, with peace and prosperity for Fae and mortal alike. She was working as a Herald again for a Countess in Oxfordshire, nothing too taxing really. She'd travel a few times a year, and spend the rest of her time making trinkets and small works of art, imbued with Glamour, that she'd sell and share with mortals and Fae alike.
This was a very special trip, though. The Duke and Duchess of Belfast had specifically requested that she be the representative for the English Counties at this meeting.
She walked into the Ducal Hall, nodded and smiled at the various dignitaries that were there. By her side was a tall, old Troll, who was the Duke's best friend. Lord Galway was serious and concerned, more than he needed to be, she thought.
He led her up to the Duke and Duchess, who were chatting amiably with a young Pooka woman with red hair and a young attractive Sidhe noblewoman. They all looked around as Lord Galway approached with the dusky young Eshu.
"Your Grace- may I introduce Shaheen, Herald of the Countess of Oxford."
"Your Grace," said Shaheen, curtseying to the Duke, "It is an honor to meet you."
"And to meet you," said Kestry, nodding. "This is my wife, Duchess Gale," he said, indicating the delicate young woman beside him. She wore a look of deep sorrow, and could barely look at the Eshu. "It is a pleasure to meet you, Shaheen," she said softly, but the sorrow was clear in her voice. The Eshu looked into her eyes for a moment, and saw sadness. Regret. And a little bit of fear, too.
"It's especially nice to meet you, your Grace."
Shaheen was aware that a lot of people were looking at them, and most of them wore sad faces. She narrowed her eyes, trying to gauge what the mood was. She felt as if they were expecting either her or the Duke to say something incredibly important or meaningful, waiting for some sort of reaction to the meeting between them.
She turned her attention back to Kestry and his wife. She curtseyed to Gale, and waited.
The Duke nodded to Gale and Galway. Galway returned the nod, and placed a hand on Gale's shoulder. She gave Kestry a last unreadable look and then walked away with the Troll.
Kestry's gaze followed his wife, and Shaheen could see his love for her, yet there was a hint of regret there. He turned his attention back to Shaheen, and his smile returned.
"Come. There's plenty to eat, and drink. I'd like to hear the news from Oxford, and find out more about your work there. I have it on good authority that you're one of the finest Heralds in the Kingdoms."
Shaheen smiled. "Well, it's true. I should ask how you know so much about me, I suppose."
"I have kept an eye on your career. One never knows when one might need a good Herald on one's payroll. And the Countess speaks highly of you."
"Are you trying to steal me away?" she asked with a raised eyebrow.
Kestry said nothing, but he was still smiling.
She grinned. "Ah, I'm one of the best, it's true. How could you not want me?"
They walked into the crowd, meeting, greeting and eating.
Eventually, Shaheen found herself sitting beside Kestry as they listened to the Shanachie telling tales, possibly slightly tall ones, about recent events in the city.
Kestry turned to her, and spoke quietly. "You must be wondering why you're here, in Belfast. Why I asked you to come."
Shaheen looked at him, and smiled mysteriously. "What makes you think that it was your idea to invite me?"
Kestry gave her a baffled look, and she touched his cheek gently.
She leaned close to Kestry, whispered in his ear. "You might be surprised what I actually wished for back in Coventry."
The Duke pulled back, stared at her in a mixture of shock and amazement. "What did you wish for?"
She just smiled.