Lyra repeated herself. “I want to go to the stables and see Coco,” she said.
The fairy chewed his lip. “I don’t know,” he said. “You’re upset, emotional – expending the energy to walk down there when you’re distressed like this will only make that shard more brittle.”
“I don’t care,” Lyra insisted. “I want to see her. I want to talk to her about this.”
The fairy frowned, but then looked up, towards the door. “No need – she’s right here,” he said.
Lyra followed his gaze, and gasped – as much as the fairy told her she needed to control her emotions, she couldn’t stop the amazement and confusion when the woman walked into the room.
She looked completely different, but Lyra knew – somehow, she knew it was Coco.
She was a hugely tall, muscular woman, with olive skin and the same pointed ears as the fairy. But she had the same liquid dark eyes, and her long, black hair had the same curl to it. Her bangs even resembled the horse’s forelock. The woman tossed her head, just like the horse, and Lyra stood up. “Coco!”
Coco smiled, looking sheepish. “I haven’t changed form in a long time. I’m not used to it. I want my tail back.”
“But – you – how?” Lyra stammered. “You never changed! I thought you couldn’t.”
Coco walked over to Lyra, sitting her back down on the couch. She sat next to her, bumping her hands against her shoulder the way she used to bump her nose against her as a horse. “There was never any need to,” she said. “I’m a horse. I was born a horse. Being able to change form doesn’t change that. This is just… more useful, sometimes.”
“You just don’t like being left out,” the fairy said accusingly, smiling.
Coco snorted. “I wasn’t going to sit in a stable and let you two figure everything out without me. I’m used to being useful. I’ve been pulling that damn caravan for the past fifty years, remember.”
Lyra blinked. She’d never known Coco was even that old. The woman’s youthful appearance didn’t reflect it.
Coco laughed. “Don’t look so surprised – I’m fae, remember,” she said. “We last a lot longer than your average horse. I was barely a filly when Maggie chose me, too.”
“She would have been a young woman,” Lyra said. “She never mentioned that.”
“She never thought it was important.”
“The king never forgave Maggie for that,” the fairy mused. “He always resented her running off with one of his prize horses.”
Lyra’s head began to spin. “What? How would you know?”
“He knows because he was there,” Coco explained, and turned to look at the fairy. “That was before you became close to the king. I remember you.”
“She remembers my face when Maggie told the story about -” the fairy winced. “Damn. I only remember being amazed by it, now. But I’m sure she remembers how giddy I was afterwards. Made a total fool of myself in front of everyone.”
“You didn’t tell me you’d seen Maggie perform!” Lyra exclaimed. “You – you knew. When I mentioned my ‘friend with the signing hands’. But you waited for me to say her name.”
“I wanted to be sure,” the fairy said. “She’d changed a lot when I saw her with you. I recognised the horse, but the woman was very different. Mute, old, and mentoring a young girl I’d never seen in my life.”
Lyra tried to sort everything out in her head. “What did Maggie do that upset the king? He gave her Coco. One of his horses. I thought she impressed him.”
“She did, on the first night,” the king said. “But Coco… he didn’t give her the horse. The queen did.”
Lyra groaned. “What?”
“The king was impressed, but the queen…” Coco laughed. “She was entranced. Maggie was a beautiful woman, back then. The queen couldn’t resist her. They would meet in the stables, so I saw what they tried to hide from the king.”
“She embarrassed the king by giving her one of his prize horses,” the fairy said. “She didn’t keep discreet about her feelings for Maggie. Which… you should know that’s no small matter.”
Lyra’s head reeled.
“But fairies can’t love,” she said.
“They don’t love,” the fairy corrected her. “They can choose to love. We maintain an ability to keep from love, but some fairies choose to lose that ability. The queen did so for Maggie, who rewarded her by running away with the horse she gave her.”
Coco let out a low whistle. “I wish I could have seen the outcry over that.”
“It was diabolical,” the fairy said. “The queen was heartbroken, and the king was furious and embarrassed. They never loved each other, but they were supposed to be a partnership – they were meant to work together and at least care for one another. Keeping secrets like human lovers isn’t a good way of honouring that partnership, and the king didn’t appreciate it. Maggie was banned from the fairy realm after that.”
Lyra sat stunned.
She thought she’d known just about everything about Maggie. Maggie had told her all sorts of stories about her life; from when she was born in a backwater village as the youngest of eight children, to her initial life after running away from home as a circus acrobat, and her subsequent discovery of storytelling. She knew Maggie had won the caravan from an organ-grinder in the circus in a bet, after he’d challenged her to capture the moon. She’d done so by walking to a river, dipping a bowl into it, and ‘catching’ the reflection of the moon in the water. The organ grinder was so impressed he handed her the key to the vardo that night.
But Maggie had never spoken about love, and Lyra wondered why she’d never asked.
“This is a lot to process,” Lyra said uneasily. “First, losing the stories. Then the deal, the shard – Coco, your ability to change – Maggie. I don’t know how to feel about all of it.”
“Try not to feel anything,” the fairy said, looking concerned. “This is all probably too much. No more shocks for you, I think.”
Lyra laughed. “I can’t feel nothing,” she said. “Right now I’m just… very confused. And a bit scared.”
She looked to Coco. “The stories – the reason I can’t even create more to replace the stolen ones, it’s because of something the witch did.”
“I overheard,” Coco admitted. “An enchanted shard. Clever, as horrible as it is. Can you feel it?”
Lyra shook her head at first, but as soon as she did she noticed something. She hadn’t realised before, as she hadn’t been paying attention. But if she paid attention inwards, feeling for it, she could detect an unpleasant, throbbing twinge inside her chest. She suspected it pulsed with each heartbeat.
“I want it out,” she said shakily. “It feels wrong.”
“It smells wrong,” Coco agreed.
“We’ll get it out,” the fairy assured her. “We just need to find this witch. Once we do, we can fix everything.”
Lyra nodded, and suddenly felt very tired. It felt like a hundred years since she had woken up in the middle of the night, feeling that intense fearful sense of wrongness. And from then, things had just grown more and more wrong.
“We should take you to bed,” Coco said. The horse knew her better than anyone else and no doubt saw her exhaustion, Lyra realised.
The horse-woman stood, taking Lyra’s hand to help her up. “Where are our quarters?”
“I’ll show you,” the fairy said.
Lyra barely remembered the walk through the house, up stairs and down corridors, to the guest rooms. There was a huge canopied double bed, with an ensuite bathroom and another crystal chandelier. A short fairy in a black dress and white smock, human-looking except for her ears and eyes, quickly laid a couple of pillows and blankets down on the bed. Evidently it was being prepared at short notice.
This was all Lyra noticed, as Coco took her into the bathroom, running the water – magically heated and fed through pipes built into the house, filling up a large pale stone bathtub that made Lyra feel cleaner and warmer than any bucket bath she’d ever taken.
Coco scrubbed her arms and washed her hair, and for a single twinging moment, Lyra thought of Maggie scrubbing her hair and complaining of dirt and lice.
She had to stay level-headed, she reminded herself. She tried to think of something else.
Coco helped her out and gave her a towel, and then the fairy servant handed her a clean nightshirt that Lyra hadn’t seen before. It was white, and the softest thing Lyra had ever touched, with long sleeves and a hem that reached her knees. “From the wardrobe,” she said. “Our lord had the cupboards stocked, seeing as you haven’t been able to take clothes with you.”
“Who is he?” she asked.
The servant gulped. She had fair skin and slightly green-tinged yellow hair, pulled back into a practical bun. She was a slender thing, her appearance calling to mind a sapling.
“It’s not really for me to say,” she said sheepishly. “He’s my employer, so… I’m not awfully comfortable gossiping about him, you see. He’s kind enough to us, though.”
“Did he give you a name?”
The fairy’s mouth opened, but it took her a moment to speak – she seemed surprised. “Well, yes,” she said. “He called me Ren. He gives names to all of us who don’t have them.”
“Why?” Lyra pressed. She couldn’t stop her curiosity.
Ren shrugged. “We like to think it’s kindness, but it may simply be practicality,” she said. “Giving us individual names allows him to call upon specific house staff for various tasks. It’s easier than, for example, rounding up all of the gardeners just to find one specific gardener he wanted to ask to prune the shrubs.”
It made sense, yet something told Lyra that practicality wasn’t the only purpose, otherwise all fairies would have their own names.
Lyra turned to look at Coco. “You know of him.”
Coco’s ears flicked back a little, almost like her horse ears had. “He’s a lord of the king. One of his advisors, I think. He wasn’t always that way, though.”
“Did you know him personally?” Lyra asked.
Coco snorted, laughing. “Of course not! I’m a horse. I did see him around the stables, though, before he became one of the king’s advisors. He would stop to admire my mother. She was a beautiful creature.”
“Do you miss her?” Lyra asked.
Coco shrugged. “I was young when I left with Maggie,” she said. “I think I missed her at first, but horses don’t hold on to pain for very long.”
“I miss Maggie.”
Coco was silent for a long while. “I miss her too.”
Ren glanced at the door. She looked a little uncomfortable, and Lyra felt guilty for making her witness the private conversation. “I’d best leave you two to rest,” she said. “Sleep well.” She excused herself, leaving Lyra and Coco to put themselves to bed.
Lyra climbed into the bed, and Coco climbed in on the other side. “It feels weird sleeping lying down,” she complained, shifting incessantly.
Lyra still couldn’t stop thinking about the fairy, about Maggie. “What’s his name?”
Coco stilled. “I don’t know. Fairies don’t really give out names, like humans do. I might never have had a name, if Maggie hadn’t give me one. The fairy must have one – he’s a lord, he’s noble, he needs a title. What it is, though, I’m not sure. I don’t think he’d be offended if you asked him.”
Lyra nodded. “I wonder if we’ll have to give him one. Like we gave you one.”
Coco snorted. “As long as it’s not as stupid as Coco, then sure.”
Lyra was falling asleep, but something kept niggling her. “His pixie. He called it Ziggy.”
“You said fairies don’t give out names. Why does Ziggy have a name if its just a pixie? Why does Ren have a name? Why do any of the servants have names?”
Coco yawned. “I don’t know. Maybe he’s particularly fond of his servants. Go to sleep, Lyra.”
She did, the questions and confusion finally subsiding, growing too difficult to hold on to. She fell asleep, and her dreams were filled with confusing images. Maggie melted into Coco and then back into Maggie, a heartbreaking liar, embellisher of true tales. She thought she was chasing the fairy, but he kept disappearing into the mist. There was a wedding, but she didn’t know who she was marrying, and her hands kept changing in front of her, morphing into long clawed fingers.
And through it all, a steady, insistent pain in her chest, a trembling rock in her heart, threatening to explode into pieces.
The next morning, Lyra awoke to piano music.
She sat up, pricking her ears to listen. She’d only heard piano a few times. There was always music on the road, in many of the towns and villages they stopped at – lyres and lutes and pipes, small portable instruments that weren’t too expensive to make.
Pianos were rare, though. Usually only the wealthy could afford them, so Lyra only heard piano when she was invited to noble homes to perform. She’d always loved the sound, though. It was what she imagined water would sound like if it could sing; smooth and rich and melodic, bubbling from the instrument.
Once, a pianist played as she performed, adjusting her melody to reflect the story. It was an incredible experience, making the hair on Lyra’s arms stand on end even though she was the one telling the story.
She took small comfort in the fact that while the witch had stolen all the stories, they hadn’t been able to steal music. She supposed music was a different kind of story, shared in a similar way.
Coco had already gotten up and left the room, so Lyra got out of bed, wishing to find the source of the music.
She left the room and trailed through the house, until she found the room where the music was the loudest. She pushed the door open and stepped inside, hair on the back of her neck standing up as the wave of music rolled over her like an ocean swell.
Inside was a sitting room, with a fireplace and a cards table. And in the corner, a great black grand piano, vines coiled around its legs but not hindering the strings, keys or pedals.
The fairy sat on the piano stool, eyes almost closed as he focused on playing. Lyra couldn’t see his hands, but she could see his shoulders moving, his head and upper body leaning with the rise and fall of the melody.
He didn’t see her until the piece ended, when she clapped lightly. He jolted upright at the sound, startled, eyes wide when they fell on her.
“You’re awake!” he said. “We didn’t want to wake you. Coco said you were exhausted, we thought it was better to let you sleep.”
Lyra nodded. “It’s alright. I needed it, I think. What was the name of that piece?”
The fairy looked down. “We don’t name our music,” he said. “We mostly just identify them by reading the music sheets, recognising the melody. Some of them are important enough to get names, but not this one.”
Lyra blinked. “Music gets written on paper?”
“Of course,” the fairy said. “Most people can’t play them by ear, and I certainly can’t. I feel like you could, though, if you learned to play. If you can memorise whole stories, you can learn a few pieces.”
“Maybe,” Lyra said, stepping over to the piano and peering at the sheets of paper the fairy had propped up on the stand under the piano lid. “I can’t read, though.”
“It’s letters you can’t read, isn’t it? Maybe music notes would be easier.”
He pointed at the black dots, the lines and dashes attached to them, where they were positioned along each group of ten horizontal lines that ran along the page. “The notes correspond to keys on the piano, and they’re each drawn a little differently to indicate how long to play each note. The lines are divided into bars – four beats, usually.” He pointed at a little circle. “This is a whole note, which means you play it for four beats – the whole bar.”
The notes didn’t swim on the page like letters did. There were small written instructions on the page – indicating speed or style – but the fairy said they weren’t always necessary, and it depended on how the musician wanted to play the piece. If she wanted, she could ignore them.
Lyra’s heart thudded as the fairy explained how the music worked, showed her what notes corresponded to what keys. Here was a story she could actually read.
It was a long while until Lyra’s stomach growled audibly, and the fairy blinked. “Have you eaten yet?”
“No,” Lyra confessed. “I came here as soon as I woke up. It’d been a long time since I’d last heard a piano, and I wanted to know where it was coming from.”
The fairy shook his head. “Well, then we’re taking a break. You need food.”
He glanced at her. “You might also want to think about getting dressed.”
Lyra looked down at her nightshirt, flushing slightly. “I wasn’t sure what to wear,” she said. “All the clothes in that guest room’s wardrobe are so much more… elaborate, than what I’m used to. I don’t think I’ve ever worn a dress.”
The fairy smiled. “I won’t force you into any dresses,” he promised. “Perhaps I could lend you some of my clothes?”
Lyra nodded gratefully – shirts and pants were familiar to her, being all she and Maggie could easily afford and make. Maggie had her own layered skirts, tailored from cheap yards she’d found from time to time, but Lyra had never been able to replicate the way she’d sewn them, and so had stuck to pants and shirts. Fine dresses and robes were another world to her, and she wasn’t sure exactly how to even get them on.
The fairy brought her a pair of loose pants, a poet-sleeved shirt and a fitted tunic with split sides. He had so far exclusively worn dark colours, silver and dull reds, and these clothes were no different. Lyra had only ever worn brown or grey clothes, and it was a shock to her how the red tunic brought out the colour in her hair, made her eyes seem brighter and greener. The clothes were simple, but so much finer than anything Lyra had ever worn, and she felt a bit odd putting them on.
Over it, she wore her scarf wrapped around her neck – long and wide, it often doubled as a blanket, and was comforting among the unfamiliarity of the fine clothes. It was still quite clean, and didn’t clash too much against the fairy’s clothes, having a striped red, grey and charcoal pattern.
She also felt odd going barefoot as the fairy did, missing her dirty boots. It was hard to feel dressed in bare feet.
The fairy brought her to the dining room, where they found Coco.
Coco, it turned out, looked stunning in a dress. Despite rarely spending time in a humanoid form, she was clearly much more familiar with fine clothes than Lyra was. The the form fitting black dress that flared out at the waist looked spectacular on her, especially dramatic with her dark eyes and hair, contrasting against her skin. Lyra half wanted to ask how she’d got it on.
“You’re awake!” she said as the pair entered. “Good timing, I’m ready for lunch – I’m starving.”
“Would you say you’re hungry as a horse?” Lyra joked, and Coco glowered at her.
Lunch appeared out of thin air the same way it had before, and Lyra noticed how for each of them, the fairy created a different plate.
The fairy ate mostly fruit, with a few sugary pastries on the side. Lyra had heard fairies had a sweet tooth, but it was strange seeing it was true.
For Coco, he manifested a bowl of oatmeal, peppered with strawberries and pieces of apple. It smelled sweet, like it had been flavoured with molasses, and Coco made a delighted sound as she tore into it. It looked like a human-food version of the oats and molasses Lyra used to make up for her, and the odd treat apple she used to give her when they passed through orchards.
Lyra looked down at her own plate, which had the same fish, bread and fruit as the day before, as well as a few different pieces of cheese. She tried not to think too much about how the fairy could magick food from thin air, and started eating.
“Ziggy has been trying to track down your witch,” the fairy said. “They left soon after we discovered the shard. It turns out that there’s not many witches who use that particular trick, which narrows down our search a little. The shard also has a very distinctive energy, which Ziggy is using to trail the witch.”
Lyra’s appetite weakened at the mention of the shard. She’d mercifully forgotten about it, but now she could feel it pulsing in her chest again. She set her fork down slowly.
Coco narrowed her eyes. “You’ve got to eat, keep your strength up,” she chided. “You’ve got to take care of yourself if you don’t want that shard to damage you.”
Lyra glared at her in protest. “I’m not fragile,” she said. “You’ve never commented on my eating before. Don’t try to start now.”
“I never commented because you’ve always been healthy as a horse,” Coco snorted. “Pardon the expression. But things are different now. You need to take care, and be careful.”
Lyra’s chest burned with frustration, but she couldn’t find it in herself to argue. She exhaled hard through her nose, and picked up her fork again.
“Don’t let it bother you,” the fairy said. “It’s good news. It means we can hopefully find the witch soon.”
“How will we know when Ziggy finds the witch?” Lyra asked.
“They’ll send me an owl,” the fairy said.
It was logical; sending a small, quick servant to track the witch, while staying in the house and waiting. But it felt too easy. And Lyra didn’t like the idea of just sitting around and waiting.
“Can’t we go with Ziggy?” she asked.
The fairy frowned slightly. “We could, but this way it’s faster, more efficient,” he said. “And my owls are fast. Once we know, it’s just a chalk door to join Ziggy and deal with the witch. It’s hardly going to take longer; the fact is, if we all went in your vardo, it’d take much longer to travel and follow the trail. Ziggy alone can cover great distance very quickly, they’ll be able to work much faster.”
“I know, but…” Lyra wrung her hands under the table. “I hate waiting. I don’t want to sit around, being useless. Let one pixie do all the work themselves.”
“You’re not being useless here,” Coco said. “You’re saving your strength and extending your own time.”
“Ziggy doesn’t mind the work, I assure you,” the fairy added. “And besides, if it helps, I can check in regularly and give you updates on their progress.”
It was logical. It made sense. It would be faster.
And yet Lyra wasn’t happy with it.
“I want to do something,” she said. “I’m not going to sit around helplessly while everyone else takes care of my problem.”
“You made the deal to let us take care of your problem,” the fairy said, sounding confused.
“I made the deal for you to help me,” Lyra snapped. “That’s what we agreed on. I want you to help find the witch, not take over.”
Coco said nothing, but Lyra could see the horse woman’s jaw clenching. The fairy sighed, resting his elbow on the table and kneading his forehead with his fingers.
“Alright,” he said. “We can join Ziggy, trail the witch. But I want to ensure a few things that won’t diminish our speed,” he said.
Lyra’s chest loosened a little, and she nodded.
“We maintain a chalk door in your vardo, leading to the house” he said. “That little caravan is too small for all of us, even if Coco returns to horse form and sleeps outside. It also gives us easy access to anything we may need here.”
“A bed, bathroom, creature comforts?” Lyra teased.
The fairy frowned. “Books, tools, research,” he corrected. “Don’t think I’ve just been tinkering on the piano. I was working late last night to find out how common that shard trick is, see what kind of witch it takes to pull it off. Any new information we come across, I want to use to research this witch and find out what we may be up against.”
Lyra nodded; that was fair.
“Coco can pull the vardo if she wishes, but I respectfully request to modify it just a little, to allow for greater speed,” he said. “I don’t want us to get slowed down just because you want to tag along. It’s your own time that’s limited, after all.”
Lyra chewed her lip. “What kind of modifications?”
“I want to enchant the wheels,” the fairy said. “and Coco’s hooves, if she’ll allow it. It’ll allow the wheels to turn faster, to glide over any surface as if it’s glass.”
“Do you actually want me to pull the caravan?” Coco asked.
The fairy shrugged. “If you were alright with remaining in this form and staying in the vardo, I could just enchant the wheels to turn by themselves. I could lock them onto Ziggy’s trail, too, so we wouldn’t need to even steer it.”
Coco chewed her lip. “I would like to return to horse form, pull the caravan again,” she said. “But if this is faster… I’ll remain in this form.”
Coco was much better at compromising, Lyra realised with a small twinge of guilt. But despite it, she felt relieved to be planning to leave.
The house was beautiful and comfortable, and part of her desperately wanted to return to the piano with the fairy and learn those music stories. She wanted to try to play some of them, too, as much as she’d never been very good with a lute or pipe. If she agreed to stay while the pixie tracked the witch, she could do that.
But sitting in the house waiting just felt too easy. Stagnant. It didn’t feel right, for some reason. She wanted to be on the road again.
“Does that sound fair to you?” the fairy asked. “Can we do that?”
Lyra nodded. She saw Coco’s jaw relax.
“When can we leave?” she asked.
The fairy laughed. “You really want to get out of here, don’t you?” he asked, smiling. He pushed his chair back, standing up. “We could leave tomorrow morning. I’ll arrange things here, let Ziggy know what’s happening, and you can prepare the caravan. That won’t take long, will it?”
Lyra shook her head. “Other than your modifications, the vardo can leave at any time,” she said. “All it needs is oil on the wheels, I think. I’ll detach the shafts, if Coco doesn’t need to pull it.”
She thought for a moment. “I suppose if we have direct access to the house from the vardo, we won’t really need to stock supplies.”
“No,” the fairy said. “I’ll let the servants know, so they can prepare food as we travel. If you want, instead of sleeping in the caravan, you could sleep here.”
Lyra immediately shook her head. As comfortable as the guest bed was, she already missed her little bunk.
Coco laughed. “Well, I for one will be keeping the guest bed.”
“That’s fine,” Lyra said. “One of us should stay in the caravan, anyway. If we all slept in the house, the vardo would be left empty on the road, which isn’t safe.”
“Should we be letting you sleep in it by yourself, though?” the fairy asked. “All night, on your own?”
Coco snorted. “Well, unless you plan on sharing the bunk with her…”
The fairy flushed. “Perhaps Ziggy could stay with you,” he said. “They’re a tough little creature, despite their size. They could keep you safe.”
“I can keep myself safe,” Lyra protested. “I’m not helpless!”
“No,” the fairy agreed. “But even with Coco there, the witch was able to sneak into the caravan and steal your stories, put that shard in your heart. I don’t feel right leaving you alone when they could always come back.”
Lyra wanted to protest, but the fairy was right. And besides, she was getting what she wanted – to be back on the road, even allowed to sleep in her vardo. She couldn’t complain.
“I’ll do what I need to do here before we go,” the fairy said. “You two let me know when the vardo’s ready, and I’ll come down to the stables and enchant it.”
A glowing red light appeared at the fairy’s shoulder. “This is Nixie,” the fairy said. “They’ll go with you, in case you need any help. Once you’re ready, they’ll report back to me.”
The pixie grinned, zooming across to hover at Lyra’s shoulder.
“Hello, miss Lyra,” the little creature said.
“Hello,” Coco said politely.
Lyra glanced at the pixie. It was smaller than Ziggy, with a short braid down its back where Ziggy had its hair cropped in haphazard tufts. It also had sharp teeth, each one showing as Nixie smiled.
“Hello,” she said, and the pixie beamed.
“I’ll see you when I come to enchant the vardo,” the fairy said, turning to walk around the table and leave the dining room. “I’ll see you soon.”
“Alright,” Lyra said as the fairy left. She wondered what sort of preparations the fairy had to make before he could join them.
“Come with me, miss Lyra!” the pixie sang, tugging on a lock of Lyra’s hair. “To the stables we go.”
Coco harrumphed. “We know the way to the stables,” she said, but she followed Lyra and the pixie as they made their way out of the house.
Preparing the vardo didn’t take long, as Lyra had thought. The shafts that attached to Coco’s harnessing were designed to be able to be detached quickly and stored away. Inside, it was a matter of putting away all the books Lyra had disturbed when she’d found her stories stolen, and checking the locks and window shutters. The vardo had just been on the road the day before, so not much had been changed.
The pixie disappeared once the pair were finished, and before long the fairy joined them, walking around the vardo and inspecting the size, the wheels.
“This shouldn’t take long,” he said, clapping his hands together. A look of intense concentration passed across his face.
The wheels began to glow.
The strain increased in the fairy’s face as the wheels grew brighter, to the point that they were blinding and Lyra had to look away. On the back of her eyelids, glowing circles burned.
A soft ringing sound grew as the magic built, peaking to a whining squeal. Then, it stopped.
“It’s done,” the fairy said.
When Lyra looked back at her vardo, the wheels didn’t appear to have changed at all. But the fairy was smiling, looking satisfied despite small beads of sweat dotting his forehead. “It should be able to move on its own, now,” he said. “It’ll stop and start as you wish. I’ve instructed the wheels to follow the trail Ziggy picked up. Tomorrow, its just a matter of opening a door to where Ziggy is now, and continuing to follow the trail from that point.”
Lyra nodded, unable to help feeling amazed. “Thank you.”
“It’s alright,” the fairy said. He looked back at the house. “I don’t think anything else needs to be done. Does anyone want tea?”
Lyra wasn’t sure how, but the three of them ended up in the sitting room with the piano. Coco perched in one of the soft armchairs, happily dropping sugarcubes into a steaming porcelain cup. Lyra forgot her tea in favour of the sheet music, sitting in a chair across from Coco to read it.
In the chair next to her sat the fairy, who leaned over to look at the sheafs of paper she held, explaining the symbols and notes.
“I still don’t quite get the pacing of the beats,” she said. “The – half notes? And one-and-a-half notes… I don’t know what that would sound like.”
“I’ll show you,” the fairy said. Coco burst out laughing when he started drumming on his knees, demonstrating the beats notated in the music, but Lyra gasped as it clicked into place.
“All you need to do now is learn to play it,” the fairy said, smiling.
There was a small word written in the top right corner of the page. Lyra pointed to it, unable to decipher it; all she could make out was an S, E, R, Y, and letters that could be L’s, T’s or I’s, an N or an M. Those ones kept switching and changing, making it hard to make out. “What does that say?”
“That?” the fairy asked, peering the paper. “That’s the name of this piece – Sterlyn. It’s not like the one that I played this morning; this is special. Its composer was a great musician, and wrote this piece in honour of the reigning queen of the time.”
“What does it mean?”
“I think it’s an old word relating to silver,” the fairy said. “The queen he wrote it for wore a silver crown, not gold. That might be why he called it that.”
Lyra looked at the fairy, with his silvery hair and freckles. “Do you have a name?”
The fairy blinked. “Pardon?”
“Do you have a name?” Lyra repeated. “I have one; you know Coco’s.” She became suddenly aware that the fairy had never asked her name once, no more than she’d asked his when they’d met. Was he aware of it? “My name is Lyra.”
The fairy laughed softly. “I know your name,” he said sheepishly. “As it is, I don’t own one. I have a title; the Lord of Roses. But fairies don’t always take names. Sometimes close friends or family give us names; the royalty are always given names, for obvious reasons. But I’ve never had one.”
Lyra wondered how someone could live an entire life nameless. Even before she’d had hers, she’d at least had a number. What did people call the fairy before he was Lord of Roses? Did they just call out ‘hey, you, with the silver hair’?
Even the pixies in the house had names. Yet their master had never been given one.
“Well, I have to call you something,” Lyra said. “And I’m not calling you Lord of Roses. You need a name.”
The fairy blinked. “What did you have in mind?”
Lyra pointed at the music sheet, at the word that had inspired her question. “You said this word relates to silver. You have silver hair. What if we called you Sterlyn?”
The fairy blinked again; opened his mouth, and then closed it. His eyes were wide with surprise. Lyra glanced at Coco and saw that she was trying to hide a grin behind her teacup.
“Sterlyn sounds fine,” he finally said. “If you’re happy to call me that.”
“Its miles better than bloody ‘Coco’,” Coco piped up. “You’re a better namer than Maggie ever was, Lyra.”
The fairy smiled. “Sterlyn it is,” he said.
Lyra looked back down at the sheet music, hoping it would hide the flush beginning in her cheeks.
Coco harrumphed. “Would you look at the time,” she said, glancing across to a clock on the mantlepiece above the fireplace. “I’m starving again. Surely it should be dinner soon?”
The fairy – Sterlyn – smiled, and nodded. “Just about. Shall we move to the dining room?”
Dinner was a somewhat more elaborate affair than lunch had been. Ren returned, helping Sterlyn conjure platters of food, more than enough for the three of them. Or so Lyra had thought; the fairy never ate much else besides fruit and sweets, but her own appetite had returned, and Coco appeared to have retained her horse’s stomach.
There was wine, which Ren poured into crystal-encrusted glasses for each of them; roast meats studded with caramelised fruit, vegetables and gravy, smoked fish. Lyra wasn’t sure she’d ever had so much food. As for wine; she’d never tried it before, her only experience of alcohol being the cheap beer or gin available in most pubs, or handed to her by way of payment for stories. She found it oddly tart, yet fruity, with hints of spices. She wasn’t sure if she liked it, but it was a great deal easier to swallow than the acrid cheap drinks she was used to.
It was much stronger too, though, and it didn’t take more than a glass and a half for her to feel lightheaded. She pushed her glass away, shaking her head when Ren stepped close to refill it. “I think I’ve had more than enough.”
“I suppose we do have to leave early,” Coco said. She’d downed at least three glasses, but seemed unaffected. Lyra wondered if fairy metabolisms made her tolerate the alcohol better. Or horse metabolism, even.
After they’d finished, Ren conjured more sweet food and pastries, but Lyra felt ready to burst. They looked mouthwatering, but she honestly wanted to go to bed.
Coco and Sterlyn opted to stay up and keep drinking and eating, so it was Ren who took Lyra back to the guest room. She didn’t help Lyra bathe – she wasn’t so exhausted as the day before to need help with that – but she straightened the blankets, fluffed up the pillows, and drew the curtains. She sat Lyra down and combed her damp hair, untangling the knots and snarls almost painlessly. Lyra often avoided brushing her hair for the pain of disentangling knots, so Ren’s gentle, deft fingers came as a surprise.
“How long have you been here?” Lyra asked.
Ren’s hands paused, the comb freezing halfway through her hair. “I’m not sure, now. At least a hundred years?”
Lyra saw Ren smile in the mirror, at her own shocked face. Ren suppressed a laugh. “A hundred years is not as long to us as it is to you. For me it doesn’t feel like I’ve been here very long.”
“Why did you become a servant here?”
Ren shrugged. “My family were never wealthy,” she said. “I always knew I’d have to find some sort of work while growing up; that or marry someone with money. I don’t want to marry just yet, and this isn’t a bad job. It also pays decently, so this allows me to support myself without putting strain on my family.”
Lyra pondered the information quietly. “Did you always want to be a servant?”
Ren laughed. “No, when I was very young I wanted to make violins,” she said. “My cousin was a violinist, and I wanted to make beautiful ones for her to play. I liked the idea of great orchestras using instruments I’d made, making them sound wonderful. But to make violins you need money, which I don’t have.”
“Do you still want to make violins?”
Ren smiled. “Sometimes. But whatever happens, I need to save some money, first. In the meantime, this isn’t bad work.”
Ren finished brushing Lyra’s hair, and left the room, leaving Lyra to go to bed. It didn’t take long for her to fall asleep, and when she did, her dreams were filled with music.