Changeling’s Island – Snippet 29

This book should be available now, so this is the last snippet.

Changeling’s Island – Snippet 29

* * *

For Tim, Christmas day might have been a different day from any other day. But to the cow it was still a day on which she needed milking. By ten o’clock, when his mother called, he’d been up for more than four hours, and had done all sorts of tasks, had breakfast, and had just come in for morning tea. As a sign that it was not just any other day, there were little gingery star-shaped biscuits. Nan believed in lots of ginger. Tim had read that it was good for keeping off zombies, and it must work because there had been no sign of even one so far on the farm. Until his mother phoned he would have said they hadn’t even got to Melbourne, but obviously they’d eaten the part of her brain that was arranging his trip home. She prattled on about her holidays, like his being here was normal.

Eventually he just had to ask.

There was a brief silence. “Oh, Tim. Your father is being awkward about it. I asked him to organize it. He hasn’t even gotten back to me.”

Tim knew she wasn’t telling the truth. Or not entirely. In the messy bit of his life where he’d realized that Dad just wasn’t coming back, he’d learned to spot his mother’s not quite revealing everything. Well, that was how she might put it. Lying was how he put it. “You didn’t tell him, did you?” he said, crossly.

“I did, Tim. I did. You e-mail him. He sometimes listens to you.”

Like “not unless he thought it would make you mad,” thought Tim, glumly. He hadn’t spoken to his father for months, even before he came to the island. But what he said was, “I haven’t got the Internet here. That’s just one of the other things you did to me. It’s not fair.”

“You did it to yourself, Tim Ryan.”

The call didn’t get any better. It didn’t quite get to shouting and screaming, but when it got down to “you’re ungrateful and didn’t even say thank you for your Christmas present” Tim was actually quite able to say “well, I haven’t got one.” He hadn’t got her anything either…actually, hadn’t even thought of it.

That did stop the rise in temperature. “I posted it.”

“We only get the post about every two or three weeks.”

There was another silence. “Then it’s waiting for you.”

“Well, thank you, anyway,” still resentful. At least she hadn’t forgotten.

“Yes, um, I am sorry it didn’t get there. And contact your father. Now, love, I really must go, I’m going out to lunch with…with Mark. Goodbye, be good and take care.”

Tim was left holding the sound of long-distance silence before he could ask just how he was supposed to contact his dad. He couldn’t phone on Nan’s phone. And who was Mark? It looked like Nan was right about the boyfriend. No wonder she didn’t want him home.

His grandmother put a hand on his shoulder. “Just so yer know, I asked Dicky to check the post for us yesterday. He said there was nothing, but yer can’t always rely on him.” She took a deep breath. “I got nothing for yer, really. Just some chocolate. There’s not a lot of spare money. But I’m hoping we’re going to do better with those steers at the next sale. Prices have been bad.”

That was puzzling. “People at school were saying the price was up. They talk about it. And Gran…I got my present early from you. You let me use the fishing stuff, and…and I enjoyed that so much.” He knew he was being a little devious, but he wanted the freedom. “If I got hold of Molly, and she and her dog met me at the beach paddock…could I go fishing again? She’s older than me. I wouldn’t go down alone.” He felt like a baby saying that.

“Hmph. I’ll see.” With his mother, that meant she was giving in. With Nan it seemed to mean “no.” “Now I got to finish our dinner. You check the sheep near the road for me. My little helper is worried about the water.”

Tim was glad to go out to walk through the bush and tussocky paddocks, to be alone with his head for a bit. Just walking along, barefoot, because he was too hot to put boots on, did seem to make things seem well, less unbeatable. If neither his mother or father were going to lift a finger to get him out of here, he’d just have to get out himself. He just needed somewhere to go. He was thinking about that when a big copperhead slithered across his path. By now, he knew better than to jump or run. He stood quietly and watched it slide away.

* * *

The dancing and feasting continued here beneath the hollow hills, with the Aos Sí lords and ladies on a wide and a level place, where the sun never shone but somehow the grass grew green and long nights followed long warm days. There was a tenuous connection with the world above, and the things that moved and changed there, but this place did not change with them. The great lords of the Fae seldom walked or rode the lands of mortal men anymore. The tracery of steel spread across the land with the railways had set bounds on them, and they did not like to be reminded of the loss of their dominions.

Humans came to Faerie — but far fewer now — and were bound to Faerie lands, with the eating or drinking of the produce of Faerie. The Fae knew how food and drink were a part of the land and place, and that by consuming them, those who ate and drank became part of the place.

Most humans seemed willing to be thus entrapped, and loved the life of Faerie.

But they did not flourish there.

The selkie, Maeve, did not know or care how well they did. But she herself was entrapped and needed to free herself from the ancient obligation, the geas laid on her. The king under the hollow hill at Cnoc Meadha needed to be repaid before she could be free.

The young man had proved stronger than the last one she’d hunted. The bloodline had always been hard to catch, with the magic of the Aos Sí helping them and the spirits of the land binding them. Her last prey, this one’s father, had escaped her by chance and luck, a piece of scrap iron from an old mooring that his desperate hand found as she’d held him down. It had been a bad mischance. She’d planned to frighten him witless and get him to agree, and instead he’d never come near enough to the water to be caught again.

The first changeling and his lesser spirit had fled Ireland long before she had been summoned to the court of King Finvarra. It had taken her some years to track him down, across the wide and wasteful oceans…to find him dead. Killed in a fight over an Aboriginal woman, his half-Aos Sí blood soaked into the sand, leaching down into the water, to the sea, to her.

The key remained, somewhere, hidden on the island where he had died. Not easily found, either, to one who had no claim to it.

There was, however, an heir to the changeling’s birthright. A child carried by the woman. Maeve had planned to search for the key, or at least steal the heir-child…until she slid out onto the beach.

And found that this land had its own hold on the child.

If she was going to catch one of those who had a claim to the key, she needed them in the salt sea.

She’d tried, when the changeling’s heir moved to the bigger island. There, the child had had defenders, besides the land. She still carried the scar.

But she was nothing if not patient. Long generations passed, and still she hunted the changeling-heirs.

This one…she hadn’t gotten him into the water, but her spell-hooks would at least draw him back. She’d felt the lust in him. Humans were like that, and her kind were good at using it against them.

 

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