Authors: Shona Husk
The Changeling Soldier
The Changeling Soldier
Copyright 2014 Shona Husk
Edited by Rhonda Helms
Cover Art by Helen Katsinis
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.
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Her time in the mortal world is running out…
After fleeing Annwyn three centuries ago, Ella built a life in the mortal world making gowns for European royalty and playing in mortal intrigues. Now those Courts are long gone, and she dresses Hollywood starlets. Mortals come and go, but Ella always ends up alone. She longs for the home she left behind.
He’s been dreaming of the coming battle all his life…
Isaac Norton is a returned soldier. Now home, he’s restless and his recurring dream is becoming more frequent: he’s fighting on a snow-covered field stained with blue blood. When he sees Ella, he knows she isn’t human. And she knows what he is, a changeling.
Ella can give Isaac the answers he needs, but there will be a price to pay: his soul.
Table of Contents
Isaac was never ready for the biting cold or the exhaustion of this dream, even though he must have experienced it hundreds of time. Snow was falling, dusting his clothes, and the battleground was silent. Battles weren’t silent. They were noisy and confusing as hell.
He drew in a breath, the cold cutting his lungs, and took a moment to orientate himself. His palm rested on the snow where he was kneeling. His other hand was wrapped around the hilt of a sword; the blade was coated in blue, sticky gore. That he was holding a sword didn’t bother him now, but it still felt wrong in his hand. He was used to guns. There were no guns here.
The blue was more concerning. Blood? It smeared skin and leaked from the wounds of the other fighters. It had to be blood even though people didn’t bleed blue. It wasn’t human blood, though. It was fairy blood.
The sword grew heavy in his hand, and he wasn’t sure he’d be able to hold on to it for much longer. Exhaustion and cold seeped through his body. As he exhaled, his breath clouded. He glanced around looking for a change in the dream, but everything stayed as it always was. He knew this place and had fought this battle all his life, yet things were clearer, sharper now. When he’d been a child, the death had been hidden from him.
He squinted against the glare of the sun on the snow. The battle was over. Around him were the bodies of the fallen. Their pretty faces would never smile again. They looked so young, too young for this. Everywhere he looked, bright blue stained the snow.
Usually he’d wake up now. He waited for the jolt, but it didn’t come.
Panic made his heart beat faster, but he was familiar with adrenaline and didn’t let it take over. He’d wake up…eventually.
Obviously there was something new to be revealed. That was how this dream worked.
People…fairies—that was what they were—gathered around a woman on a white horse. The battle had been stopped on her command. He stood and took a few steps forward, his feet sinking into the snow.
Both sides waited. The only thing distinguishing one side from the other were the ribbons tied onto their clothes. Purple or yellow. He checked his arm and saw he was wearing purple. But he didn’t know what that meant, only that it must be important for him to know.
Who had he been fighting for? He searched for a point of reference, or a clue about what was going on. Behind him was the castle made of trees. He saw other fairies, with purple armbands. Some nodded as if they knew him. He felt himself returning the gesture but had no idea who they were. He was glimpsing the future, but not yet part of it.
Isaac shivered. This was the only dream or vision he’d ever had that hadn’t yet come true. How could it? Humans didn’t fight in fairy battles. Hell, most people didn’t believe in fairies. Most people had never even seen one.
Again he didn’t wake. What else did he need to learn?
Every time he was here he treated it as a chance to gather intel. To memorize faces, landmarks and weapons. Today he hadn’t dreamed of the actual fight, and yet he knew if he picked up a sword while awake he’d know how to hold it. Some dreams felt like training exercises, but not today. Today it was all over.
Words bubbled around him but he couldn’t make them out clearly, no matter how hard he tried to listen. His visions didn’t come with clear audio. He wished they didn’t come with the cold, or the sweet smell of blood and the bone-aching tiredness that must come from fighting in snow that went up to his calves. Even the air tasted different. Cleaner. It lacked the acrid burn of L.A. smog.
None of that was new. But he gave himself a moment to enjoy the crisp cold and the beauty of a place that existed only in his dreams. Maybe this one would never come true.
Cheering broke out, but he couldn’t be sure if he’d fought on the winning or losing side. Why was he fighting at all? This battle wasn’t his fight, he wasn’t a fairy.
The snow stopped falling, not gradually, but suddenly as if it had been switched off. He almost expected the snow on the ground to melt and vanish. But it didn’t. He wiped and sheathed his sword as if he’d been handling one all of his life.
A woman ran toward him.
Isaac jerked awake. He reached for his gun, wondering what had woken him, only to find his bed empty. His heart hammered and he blinked, disoriented. It took several breaths before he remembered he was in L.A., not Afghanistan. The battle in his mind had woken him, not gun shots or explosions.
He lay back down and tried to find calmness with slow breathing, but he’d been having that dream for long enough to know that wouldn’t happen. It always brought a rush of excitement. His skin tingled as if warming up and his heart was beating fast as if he’d just fought the battle.
He pulled the blanket over him to warm up. It wasn’t all in his mind. With his eyes closed he went through every detail that had been different, or new, to make sure he remembered.
He tried to picture her, but all he got was the impression of dark hair and clothes. There was no doubt that she wasn’t human. She was one of them—fairy.
Useful, really useful.
He knew what a fairy was as he’d seen a few growing up. He’d researched them as a teen—which was when the dream changed the first time. Since then it had become more detailed and more real whenever his life took a new direction. Soldiering had given him the dreams filled with the grim reality of a fairy battle fought with swords. He knew what it felt like to swing a sword and have it bite into clothing and flesh. To block a blade aimed at him. He clenched his hand beneath the blanket.
The dream was no longer occasional, or once a week, but every night. That it was becoming more frequent bothered him as it was harder to brush aside, harder to pretend it meant nothing.
Perhaps he was finally losing it and failing to adapt to civilian life.
No, he knew he was failing. He was bored, waiting for something to happen. He’d almost considered rejoining the army. But he’d never fit in there either. Not really. There was always something…
He opened his eyes and checked the time. Sleep wasn’t going to return and it was almost five; he’d go for a run. A long run, and enjoy the summer morning to put the snow and fairies behind him. But this time the cold and the feeling of expectation didn’t entirely leave. His dreams were never wrong. Something was about to change.
It was the middle of summer in Los Angeles. She should be sweating instead of shivering. Ella turned the heat up in the car. A mortal would think she was sick, and in a way she was. The cold was in her blood. The old King of Annwyn was dying, and even though she’d spent the last three centuries in the mortal world, she knew she had to go home before the power shifted. In her heart she wanted to return to Annwyn…but it wasn’t that easy after being away from Court for so long, or after what her father had done.
However, Ella had been saying “one more client” for the last three months. This time she probably meant it. She didn’t want to die just because she was on the wrong side of the veil. A shudder traced down her spine. Would she ever be warm again?
She stopped at traffic signals, and her GPS reminded her to turn left again.
“No kidding,” she muttered. She loved to hate her GPS. Despite living here for three years she still couldn’t find her way around. Worse, at nearly six hundred years old, map reading was a skill she had yet to master. The door stop of a street directory made her want to set it on fire with frustration.
Seriously, who was in charge of planning here? London, Paris, Venice and Rome she knew intimately. It didn’t matter how many years passed since she’d last visited; she always knew where she was in those cities. Anywhere in the New World gave her serious directional problems. Thus she tolerated orders from the GPS.
Technology, while it had its uses, was becoming the bane of her existence. Every time she had to recreate herself, it was a little harder, and another reminder that she didn’t belong in this world. Yet the idea of going home scared her. The knot of anxiety that had been forming over the last few weeks tightened around her chest and made it hard to breathe.
Ella made the turn and checked time. Good, she was ten minutes early. This was definitely a nice address. An expensive address. The street was lined with trees that added shade and privacy to the large houses hiding behind fences and gates. It was much nicer than the concrete boxes in the middle of town where she lived. She cruised down the wide road until she reached the right number then pulled into the driveway.
The gates were closed, which meant she had to wind down the window and press the button. She hoped Melody Riley didn’t have the air conditioning going full force in that big brick house.
“Purpose for your visit?” a male voice asked.
She was sure Melody didn’t need security. She was a small-time actress hoping for a big break, but she liked to act like she was already there. Ella grudgingly admitted that she admired that. It reminded of her the scheming courtesans in the great European courts. A sigh escaped. And of Annwyn.
“Ella Aaron here to show Ms. Riley some dress designs.” She’d simplified her name for humans years ago. Besides, it was always better that humans didn’t know a fairy’s real name.