Juliet slept restlessly, dozing lightly in the early afternoon heat, her dreams full of darkness and both fear for and anger at her brother. It had taken Dmitri nearly half an hour the night before to convince her not to storm over to the farm where the elves were staying and forcibly drag Jesse away, after they’d learned where he was from a text. She’d finally tossed him the phone and told him to answer Jesse himself, then stormed off to bed, pretending to already be asleep when Dmitri came up later.
She’d felt a little better in the morning, enough to apologize to Dmitri, but still so tired that after an early lunch she’d gone for another nap. The afternoon dragged on while she slept, and it took a few minutes for her to wake up at the sound of the phone. She squinted one eye open, untangled her arms from her pillow and pushed a dragon off her butt, and managed to snag her phone off the bedside table just before it would have gone to voicemail. Her growl into the receiver was greeted by a few beats of silence, then the sound of a cleared throat and Jesse hesitantly saying her name.
“Yeah.” She pushed herself up and sat on the edge of the bed, head hanging. Her skull felt packed full of cotton and she had to keep forcing her eyes open. Sweat trickled down her back and she realized she’d forgotten to turn on the fan before stripping and falling into bed. “Calling to apologize?”
“You kicked me out, remember?”
“I didn’t—” Juliet took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “What do you want? Going to officially tell me that you’ve switched sides?”
“Can you just not, Jules? Please? I called for help.”
Juliet sat up straighter. “Are you okay? Did one of them hurt you?”
“No, not me. I’ve just kind of... acquired an injured gryphon. I thought maybe Dmitri could fix it up.”
Rubbing at her forehead, Juliet asked, “How the hell did you acquire an injured gryphon? No, you know what? I don’t care. Are you still with the elves?”
“One of them. He sent the others into town and he’s willing to meet you. Maybe you could talk.”
Juliet felt her lip curl. “Let me go find Dmitri.”
She pushed herself to her feet and pulled on one of Dmitri’s T-shirts, then went downstairs to see where he was, the dragons trailing along at her heels. Stepping out into the backyard was like stepping into an oven and she shielded her eyes against the sun, thinking how Canadian it was to spend most of the year talking about summer, then complaining once it did arrive. The sound of hammering brought her to the back of the barn, where Dmitri was busy putting the last bits of the chicken coop together, shirtless and sweating under the sun. She spent a moment admiring the curve of his back and the play of muscle in his arms, then cleared her throat and waved the phone when he looked up.
“Jesse says he’s acquired an injured gryphon,” she said, arching an eyebrow slightly.
Dmitri blinked. “Really?”
“So he says.” She picked her way through the mess of tools on the grass, careful of her bare feet. “And he says the head elf is willing to talk to me, isn’t that just so gracious of him?”
“I can still hear you,” Jesse said, voice tinny through the phone’s speaker. “Learn how to put people on hold, Jules.”
“Eat me.” She handed the phone over to Dmitri and crossed her arms over her chest, tapping the fingers of one hand on the opposite arm.
Dmitri shook his head at her and answered the phone, pushing his hair—curling at the ends where it was damp with sweat, a look Juliet had always found oddly attractive—off his forehead. “Hey, Jess. You holding up okay?” He paused a moment. “Yeah, I can come over. You sure you want Jules to come too?”
“Let me guess,” Juliet said when Dmitri smiled. “Something along the lines of, ‘No, but she’ll probably come anyway’?”
She snorted. “He should know better. I’m definitely coming now.”
“Give us twenty minutes,” Dmitri said into the phone. “Your sister has to put some pants on first.” He listened a moment, then grinned and held the phone out to Juliet. “He hung up on me.”
“I would too.” She took the phone back and stood on tiptoe to kiss his cheek, then went back to the house for a glass of water and to change.
They took the truck over to the farm, windows wide open to let in some air. On the horizon clouds were building again, slowly darkening from white to grey and black, but there was still little wind that wasn’t generated by their movement. Juliet lifted her hair off the back of her neck as Dmitri pulled into the driveway of the Henderson farm, tying it up into a bun and giving serious consideration to shaving her head.
Jesse was waiting for them at the top of the driveway, standing beside a tall man with long dark hair pulled back in a ponytail and an air of arrogant confidence that immediately put Juliet’s back up. She slid out of the truck when Dmitri stopped and approached them, gathering magic so it was right to hand if she needed to defend herself. The man—the elf, she told herself, whether he was choosing to make that known or not—smiled at her and she felt herself react before she regained control of herself.
“Afraid to meet me as what you really are?” she asked, making her voice even. “You okay, Jess?” Her eyes narrowed when she saw he had a scraped elbow and bruises on his bare chest. “Jess?”
“I’m fine.” He looked down at himself. “Those are from the gryphon. Jules, this is...” He hesitated, looking up at the elf standing beside him.
The elf smiled again, but by then Dmitri had joined them, resting a hand on Juliet’s shoulder, and she felt nothing. “My name is Kith.” As he spoke, the glamour faded away, taking the human aspect with it.
“You have the only name I’m giving you,” Juliet said, not quite liking the amused twitch of his mouth when she said it. “I’m willing to have a truce for now, because of Jess and while we look at the gryphon. That doesn’t mean I’ve given up on sending you right back where you belong.”
He bowed slightly. “This way.”
Jesse fell into step beside the elf as he led the way towards the barn, glancing back over his shoulder at Juliet and Dmitri. Juliet itched to pull him back and smack the smug smirk off the elf’s face, but she just took Dmitri’s hand instead, feeling a little better when he gently squeezed her fingers. They followed the gravel path down to the barn, and into the musty darkness. Stalls lined either side of the concrete walkway and Kith took them down to the one at the far end, stopping a few feet away from it.
“I shot the gryphon,” he said as Juliet and Dmitri came up beside him. “It doesn’t much like me.”
“I like it already.” Juliet let go of Dmitri and pushed past, approaching the stall cautiously. The gryphon poked its head out and screeched at her, clacking its beak in warning and half-spreading its wide copper wings. “Knock it off,” Juliet told it, and it settled back, though still watched her warily.
“It likes me,” Jesse said, opening the stall door and slipping inside before Juliet could stop him. The gryphon kept one golden eye on them but swung its head against Jesse, gently for such a big beast but still almost hard enough to knock him over.
Dmitri nodded to Kith. “Can you grab me some hot water and bandages? I at least need to get the arrow out first, then we can see how bad it is.”
“Of course.” The look the elf gave Dmitri before he turned away made Juliet bristle, but Dmitri seemed oblivious, already heading towards the open stall door.
Content to let Dmitri work, Juliet leaned against the stall’s rough wooden side and watched him approach the gryphon, hands held out. He made soothing noises and after a few moments the gryphon started to relax, pushing its head against Jesse and making a low crooning noise. Jesse scratched at the small feathers between its eyes and it relaxed further, allowing Dmitri to start gently inspecting the arrow wound. Juliet couldn’t help smiling a little, feeling her own muscles ease a little as the quiet settled over them.
“Your supplies,” the elf murmured from beside her, and she jumped, the sudden movement startling the gryphon into shying away. The elf just grinned at her glare and handed her the bowl and bandages, moving a prudent distance away from the stall again.
Resisting the urge to say something childish—like that she hoped the gryphon ate him—Juliet went to the stall door and handed the supplies over. With Jesse’s help, Dmitri cleaned the swollen area around the arrow, then handed Juliet his pocketknife to sterilize. She wrapped a healing spell around it as well and gave it back, inching closer to watch him gently start removing the arrow. The gryphon fidgeted and squawked a few times, but otherwise stood still, even when blood began to drip down its shoulder to soak into the straw scattered across the floor of the stall.
“Doesn’t look like it’s infected,” Dmitri murmured, coaxing the arrow out of the gryphon’s flesh. “Jules, do we still have some of that penicillin we used on Mojo in May?” He made a ‘tsk’ noise. “Should’ve looked before we came here.”
“Not sure and I’m not going back alone to look. I’d rather just send it home.” Juliet crossed her arms when Dmitri and Jesse gave her near-identical scandalized looks. “Doesn’t belong here, boys.”
“Neither do dragons of any kind, but I notice you still have the Musketeers,” Jesse said. “You didn’t send them back when they hatched.”
“They’re the size of cats,” Juliet said. “This thing is bigger than my horses. I think it’s a little bit noticeable.”
“At least wait until it heals,” Dmitri said. “We’ll take it back to our place so I can keep an eye on it.” He glanced up at her, blowing hair off his forehead because his hands were soaked in blood. “That’s okay?”
Juliet sighed. “All right. You get to explain if we get a visit from any Guelph investigators.” She turned to look at Kith. “As for you, you’re not injured, so explain to me why I should let you stay.”
“Jules!” Jesse let go of the gryphon and scrambled out of the stall, putting himself between Juliet and Kith. “You said you’d talk to him.”
“No, I didn’t.” She sighed at his pleading look. “All right. Talk. I already know you’ve convinced Jesse that you’ll be killed if you go home, which is the oldest story in the book. Every single thing that comes here, if they don’t just go straight into the killing and maiming, asks for asylum. What, do you have a newsletter that gets passed around down there? Is there a list of things you need to invade the upper world, right under bringing clean underwear?”
“It may be the oldest story in the book,” Kith said mildly, “but that doesn’t make it untrue. The gryphon is proof. It was sent to kill me and my companions.”
“You stuck an arrow in it and left it.”
“It was attacking us at the time. It tried to attack me again today, but Jesse pushed me out of the way. So I allowed him to call you and Dmitri over.” He raised an eyebrow at her. “Don’t take me for a fool, mage. While I would not like to fight you over this land, I am still willing to if it comes to it. But I am also willing to compromise.”
Juliet snorted. “Yeah? You’re willing to go get registered? To stop glamouring people into doing your bidding and actually getting a job? Paying taxes, getting your hands dirty, taking a minimum wage job at the local McDonald’s if that’s what it takes to pay your bills? Using your magic only in secret, hiding who you are, moving once people start to get suspicious that you don’t age? That sounds like a good life to you?”
“At least it is a life.”
Juliet bit back a sharp retort and took a deep breath, ignoring the elf to look at Jesse. “You really going to fight me on this, Jess?”
“I’m...” He hesitated, then squared his shoulders, meeting her eyes. “I’m going to do what’s right. And I don’t think it’s right to send them back to be killed. Elves or not, they’re still people.”
“Go get registered,” Juliet said, thinking of Mike in his bar and the Fae Lord in the hotel. “And bring me back proof. You are still in my territory, Kith—” she layered a touch of magic into the name, making him wince— “and I will kick your ass if I catch you putting one single toe out of line. We’ll talk again if Guelph allows you to register.”
Jesse looked back at the elf. “And if you threaten my sister again, I’ll kick your ass.”
Kith blinked, then put a hand over his chest and bowed. “Now I see the family resemblance. I will register today, if Jesse will come with me.”
“As what,” Juliet asked dryly, “a hostage?”
“Just a companion.” Kith flashed her a grin. “I enjoy his company, is that so strange?”
Juliet just snorted in response and turned back to Dmitri. “Okay, how are we getting this thing home?”
“Back of the truck should hold it. I hope.” Dmitri finished tying bandages in place and put a hand under the gryphon’s beak, like it was a horse without a halter. It followed him willingly out of the stall, making an odd purring sound as it passed Jesse and lashing its tail angrily when it passed Kith, then out into the bright sun.
Juliet went out to help get it into the back of the truck, casting a concealing spell once it had settled into the truckbed and hoping that its weight wouldn’t knock them completely off-balance. She hugged Jesse and whispered in his ear for him to be careful and that she still wasn’t happy with what he was doing, then reluctantly hopped into the truck’s passenger seat. Dmitri joined her after washing his hands quickly with the garden hose, and drove slowly home, where they installed the gryphon in an empty stall and gave it a shot of penicillin.
The Musketeers greeted them at the back door when they walked in, hissing and yowling, three pairs of golden eyes glaring out into the backyard. Aramis sniffed at Dmitri’s pants, sneezed, and stalked off into the living room, the tips of her wings fluttering in indignation. Porthos and Athos stayed seated on either side of the door, growling to themselves and occasionally bumping their noses against their respective windows.
“They’ll get over it,” Juliet said, going to the sink to wash her hands. “Just don’t let them out into the barn. Can you take me to get my car? Hopefully I’ll be allowed to bring it back now.” She rolled her eyes. “Then I’m going out for a couple hours.”
“Going to visit someone who can give me a hand if our elves do decide to cause trouble.” She put her arms around his waist and leaned against him for a moment. “What a mess.”
He kissed her temple. “You’re handling it well though.”
“Don’t patronize me.” She gave him a swat on the butt and reluctantly pulled away. “Come on, I want to be home before dark.”
To her relief, her car started up as soon as she turned the key in the ignition. She told Dmitri she would call if she ran into trouble and pulled back out onto the road, heading towards the Rasmussen farm. The wind was picking up when she pulled into their driveway, enough to pull her hair most of the way out of its bun when she got out of the car in front of the farmhouse. The twin girls, playing on a wooden swingset at the side of the house, spotted her and went running in the front door, calling to their mother that the mage was back. Juliet leaned against her car and fixed her hair back in a ponytail, straightening up with a smile when Sarah came out to greet her.
“Is Onias home? I wanted to ask him if he could make something for me.”
“Down in the barn.” Sarah held her prayer cap to her hair with one hand. “The wind is certainly picking up. Feels like there’s another storm in the air.”
Juliet paused a moment, struck by a sudden thought. “Has it been especially stormy in this area recently?”
“Yes, lots of storms. Even a few tornado warnings.” Sarah shivered. “No actual tornadoes though, thank the Lord.”
“Don’t jinx it.”
Sarah smiled. “Well, Onias is down in the barn. Will you be staying for dinner? Plenty of room and food.”
“No, I have to get back. How’s Jacob, by the way?”
“Healing fine, thank you.”
“Good. I’ll come say goodbye before I leave.” Juliet lifted a hand in half a wave and made her way down to the barn, ducking out of the wind into the dark interior. She went to the forge and rapped her knuckles against the doorframe, offering a smile when Onias looked up from the horseshoe he was beating into shape on his anvil. “Hey, do you wear those?”
He laughed. “Some of us do. How may I help you, mage?”
“I have an infestation of elves and they’ve convinced my baby brother to feel sorry for them. In case it comes to a fight, I need some stuff made of black iron. I was thinking some manacles at least, in case I need to stash them somewhere.”
Onias scratched at his dark beard, looking thoughtful. “Yes, I can do that for you. It will take me a few days though.”
“I can live with that. How much?”
He waved a big hand. “Don’t worry about payment. My people are not friends with elves either. There has often been trouble between us. You can return at the end of the week?”
“Sounds good. Thanks, Onias. You guys have a phone? I’ll give Sarah my number and you guys give me a shout if you need anything.”
“Thank you. How’s the car?”
“Good. Runs well, when it’s not being voodoo’d by elves.” She grinned. “I’ll just keep teenage boys away from it. See you in a couple of days.”
She stopped in at the house long enough to give Sarah her phone number and to accept another basket of food, then headed home, feeling better about the whole situation.