Read Bones of Faerie Online

Authors: Janni Lee Simner

Tags: #Runaways, #Social Issues, #Magic, #Action & Adventure, #Body; Mind & Spirit, #Juvenile Fiction, #Fairies, #Fantasy & Magic, #Fiction, #Coming of age, #General, #Magick Studies

Bones of Faerie (5 page)

BOOK: Bones of Faerie
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we ran branches caught in my hair and tore at my sweater. My breath came in gasps and my back throbbed, but I kept running. Matthew limped at my side, clutching the torch. Tallow pressed up against my neck. The dogs crashed through the undergrowth and onto the trail just a few yards behind us. We veered away from them, off the path and into the forest. Yips and howls echoed close behind. I heard cracking wood and snapping bone. The barking stopped; there was a single strangled yelp and then—silence.

Matthew and I stopped running and stared at each other. Bruised purple mulberries littered the ground at our feet, filling the air with a sickly sweet scent. Mulberry
trees surrounded us on all sides. The flickering circle of torchlight suddenly seemed small. Tallow mewed softly, and the branches around us bent low at the sound. I was sure their green leaves heard our every breath.

Without speaking we inched back toward the path, searching for gaps amid the trees.

The ground heaved upward. A root broke through the earth beneath my feet and I fell. Tallow leaped from my shoulders and darted into the forest. “Run!” I shouted to Matthew as I struggled to my feet, yet he stepped toward me, not away. His injured leg gave way and he fell, clutching the torch in one hand. I reached for him. Tree bark grabbed my wool sweater, pulling me back. Stickiness seeped through the sweater—blood or sap, I couldn't tell. The trees were much closer together than before.

“Liza!” Matthew rasped. He was half-buried in the dirt, roots writhing over his legs and chest and neck, face scarlet as he struggled for air. I strained toward him, but the tree behind me wouldn't let go. Bark cut through wool, biting my skin and sending fire down my back. I tried to wriggle out of my sweater, but branches snapped down from above, pinning my arms. My feet were stuck, too. I looked down and saw bark flowing like warm taffy
over my boots and toward my knees. Moaning started up around us from the trees or the wind or possibly both.

Bark flowed up my thighs. I screamed as I fought the wood, calling for help—not caring that calling was useless, not caring how much my fear showed. Matthew mouthed words I couldn't hear. Pain shot through my ankles and calves. Any moment bones would snap. The torch fell from Matthew's hand and guttered out. In the sudden dimness bark rose past my waist and toward my throat, strangling my screams to whispers. From amid the trees a shadow moved toward me: a fox-sized patch of inky blackness, not tethered to any tree, darker than the moonlit night.

I heard a shout muffled through the wood around my ears. Someone ran forward, past the shadow, and placed hands against the flowing bark. “Leave be,” a woman's voice said firmly. “Let blood and bone go. Seek soil, seek water, seek earth.”

Bark flowed away like a receding flood. I fell forward, gasping for breath. The woman knelt beside Matthew and put her hands to the roots that held him. As she spoke those roots whipped back, flailed in the air, and withdrew into the soil. Matthew sat up, coughing violently. The coppery tang of blood mixed with the sweet
smell of the mulberries. Even by moonlight, I saw the concern on the woman's pale features.

The shadow was gone.

I crawled to them. Matthew opened his mouth as if to speak, then shut his eyes and slumped forward instead. His breathing was ragged and slow; his hair fell limp over his face. His clothes were torn, covered with dirt or blood or maybe both. Dark bruises stood out against his neck. His pack was gone, leaving behind just a few scraps of nylon in the dirt.

“Can you stand?” the woman asked me, her eyes still on Matthew, her voice the same voice that had told the trees to let go. She was younger than Mom, older than me. Her long hair was pulled back in a braid.

I nodded and forced myself to my feet, back aching, ankles throbbing.

“Good,” the woman said. “Once a tree has tasted blood it won't forget the taste for long. We must leave this place, and I cannot carry you both.”

I reached for Matthew's hand, drew back. “Will Matthew …” I couldn't speak the thought aloud.

“I don't know,” the woman said. “I'm not a healer. We must get back to my town, where my brother can look at him.” She reached for Matthew and, with more
strength than I expected, lifted him over her shoulder. Matthew hung there, limp as a sack of grain.

“You never should have followed me,” I whispered.

The woman started walking. I followed, ignoring pain, determined not to slow her down. The way ahead of us was clear, even though a moment earlier the trees had been so thick. Tallow appeared from somewhere in the forest and trotted along beside us as if nothing had happened.

Night sounds started: chirring crickets, a hooting owl, a wail like a baby's cry. I glanced up, knowing we'd have no chance against an owl's talons now.

Clouds thickened over the moon and the owl fell silent. The woman seemed to have no trouble seeing in the dark. We came to a wider path and moved more quickly over the packed dirt. Pain knifed through my knee as well, and I fought not to limp.

“What possessed you to walk the woods at night?” our rescuer asked. I heard no accusation in her voice, only curiosity. She sounded so ordinary now, yet somehow she'd made the trees let us go.

“How …”

The woman shifted Matthew's weight on her shoulder. “Trees have always listened to me, since I was a
child. Who knows how such things happen? Come, faster if you can. You were lucky. I don't normally patrol quite so far. I don't know what compelled me to do so today.” The moon came out again and lit her smooth, troubled face. “I only hope we're in time. I am called Karin, by the way. And you are?”


The night deepened around us, but the trees kept their distance. At last the path left the forest and came to a hedge, where hawthorn and ivy and briars were all woven together into a wall. Karin reached for the green leaves, and for a moment vines seemed to twine lovingly around her hands. I backed away, fearing those vines would consume us, but Karin showed no fear. “These two humans are Matthew and Liza. I ask you to grant them safe passage.” She glanced down at Tallow and smiled a little. “Them and their feline companion.”

The greenery rustled and parted, forming an archway. “Walk quickly,” Karin said.

The hedge could have swallowed us whole. “Wait!” I looked wildly around. A shadow—the shadow I'd seen in the mulberry grove—flowed from forest to path, moving toward us.

Karin didn't seem to notice. She was already on
her way through, taking Matthew with her. I had no choice—ignoring the shadow, ignoring the chill seeping into the air, I closed my eyes and plunged after her.

I heard voices on the other side and saw figures rushing forward. The pain in my back and legs turned hotter. I stumbled. Someone caught me, and all the world went dark.

Chapter 6

knelt on a moonlit hillside, sifting shards of jagged bone through my hands. I knew I didn't belong here, but still I searched, knowing there was someone, something I needed to find before I could go.

A shadow rose from the fragments. Shadow hands reached toward me, and I reached back, but then howls cut through the night.

The shadow melted into earth as a creature trotted toward me, larger than a dog, teeth gleaming. “Liza,” the wolf said, and its voice was a human voice, its eyes human eyes. As the wolf met my gaze I turned away. It loped on, disappearing into the dark.

Out of the night a voice called, “Lizzy, my baby, my girl—” I stumbled to my feet and chased after the sound, knowing that if only I could catch it all would be well, night forgotten, shadows forced to flee. I ran until my legs cramped and my knees gave way. I fell then, and bark rose up to catch me. I tried to cry out, but wood clogged my throat and sealed my lips. It forced its way past skin and bone, through ears and eyes and heart—

I woke and bolted upright, screaming. Dream fragments fled like sparks from a blacksmith's forge. I was sitting on a feather mattress in a wooden frame, surrounded by white walls and dark windows. A small lamp burned on a dresser nearby. Someone had pulled off my boots, and bruises the color of mulberry juice stained my swollen feet and ankles. My sweater was covered with dried blood.

The latch clicked in the door. A woman with wild silver eyes stepped into the room, braided hair clear as glass falling down her back.

I swallowed my screams as I stared at her. Was this what my sister would have grown to, had she lived?

The woman looked back at me. “Caleb said we should expect you to wake soon.”

I knew her voice. “Karin?” She'd looked so different
in the dark. I hadn't realized magic was rooted in her so deeply. Yet you didn't speak to trees without magic— or if you did, the trees didn't listen. I'd been too hurt, too scared, to think it through.

“Yes, of course.” Karin stepped forward and offered me a mug filled with dark liquid. “Here, this will help with the pain.”

I just kept staring. She was too old to have been born with magic, like Rebecca.
Trees have always listened to me, since I was a child.
Had magic found her later, the way it had found Cam?

I hadn't known there was magic that could make a tree release its hold. Matthew had known, though. He'd said magic didn't have to kill.

“Matthew.” I looked around the room. He wasn't there. I shoved the mug aside and tried to stand.

Daggers of heat stabbed through my back. My knees gave way. I reached upward, like a swimmer struggling through deep water, but darkness found me once more.

This time I dreamed only of silver light. Light flowed around me, over me. Slow at first, hesitant, then stronger, like a gathering wave. I threw my arms up against this new magic, trying to protect myself, but instead of pain or heat I felt only cool, cool healing.

∗  ∗  ∗

When I woke again, Tallow lay purring on my chest.

I opened my eyes and saw a girl, maybe ten or so, red hair pulled back into a tangled ponytail. She scratched the old cat behind the ears, and Tallow bent her head this way and that in response.

“You're awake!” the girl said, then pulled her hand guiltily back. “Sorry. Dad said I should ask before I pet your cat. But you don't mind, do you?”

“Not if she doesn't.” I nudged Tallow aside and sat up, expecting pain. Tallow leaped to the floor.

My back didn't hurt, and neither did anything else. I stretched, knowing I couldn't possibly have healed that fast, not unless I'd slept for weeks and weeks. The girl smiled. “I don't have a cat. I have two goats, but that's not the same thing.”

I stood. The wood floor creaked beneath my feet. My legs trembled, then steadied. Still I felt no pain. Even the blisters on my fingers were gone.

“Hey, you really are better!” The girl's smile turned to a grin. “I told them so! I told them I was old enough to help, and not just with little stuff like bumped toes or
scraped knees. They didn't believe me, though, not until they had no choice. Wait here—I'm supposed to tell Dad and Caleb as soon as you wake. What's your cat's name?”


“Tallow's a good name. I'll be back.”

I heard her footsteps clomping through the hall, then back again and down the stairs. Tallow leaped from floor to dresser, from dresser to window. She stretched out on the sill and closed her eyes, morning sun bright on her fur.

It had been night when we came here. Night when Matthew—

I went very quiet, listening. I heard a few birds outside the window as well as movement down the hall. The bruises on my ankles were gone, and someone had replaced my torn clothes with a soft wool nightgown. From downstairs I heard someone—the girl—talking to herself as she moved about.

I left the room and crept down the hall. The floor sighed beneath my feet.

Through an open doorway I saw Matthew lying motionless in another bed, his skin dull and gray. A man bent over him. He had clear hair like Karin's, only it
hung loose to his shoulders. I felt a shiver of familiarity without knowing why. A second man with ordinary reddish-brown hair stood by his side, watching him.

BOOK: Bones of Faerie
3.71Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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