Elysia warmed her hands by the tiny wood stove at the front of her wagon, rubbing them together to encourage the heat to bloom. The wagon creaked and rocked as the wind battered against it, torrents of rain pelting the worn wooden vehicle from the cliff side.
“You’re sure you can’t lessen the wind?” she asked, knowing the answer, but pausing for a response anyway.
“Have we not had this conversation before?” came the flat reply. Tyr laid draped across the short couch along Elysia’s wall.
She sighed. “I can always hope for a different answer. It’s damned cold.”
“We’ll never make the Port Kendric deadline if this weather keeps up.” He sat up and glanced at the dull flow of the fire through the iron slats. He extended a hand and the flames flared. “Put another log on.”
Elysia complied, using a quilted square, tattered along the edges, to pull open the iron door. The log settled into the flames and they burst from orange to green, erupting in a flash. She gasped and lurched back, only to find Tyr grinning with an arm draped across his eyes.
“Ass.” She rose and grabbed his feet, yanking them off the couch and dropping them onto the floor, only to plop down in their place. “We can’t afford to spend more than a night here. Hopefully, the light of day brings calmer weather.”
Pushing himself into an upright position, Tyr shrugged. “If we wait any longer, we’ll miss the Stone Crab Festival and lose our chance to make it to Dennefall without starving. Moreover, we’ll probably lose half of the acts. No one wants to work for free.”
A gust rocked the wagon and Tyr gripped the couch with white knuckles until it settled again. Slowly, he relaxed and puffed out a shaky exhale. Elysia stood, staring at him. He didn’t look back at her.
“It’s just a little wind. Settle down,” said Elysia, reaching forward and lifting a small, squat kettle from a metal trivet on the table. “You’re awfully jittery for someone who can blast any damn thing into flames. Water’s gone cold,” she grumbled and inched to the stove to set the kettle atop it.
Tyr closed his eyes and sighed. “We should move on in the morning.”
“Fae’s light, Tyr,” she cursed. “I know. If we can manage—”
The wind crashed into the wagon, lifting it up on two wheels. The kettle clattered off the stove, spilling water across the brightly patterned rug. The stove door swung free, and hot embers spilled across the floor and the couch. Flames sparked to life and Elysia scrambled backward, gasping. The wind recoiled, and the wagon dropped to all four wheels again, sending the stove door swinging sharply back against its belly.
Leaping to his feet, Tyr threw his hands out, fingers pressed together into points. Blue cracks burst from his fingertips up to his wrists, splitting vicious, glowing fissures over his flesh. The flames rose from the couch and the drapes, drawn to his hands like a magnet to steel. He exhaled and the flames went out, suffocated to nothing. As the fire died, the blue glow faded, leaving Tyr standing awkwardly in the middle of the wagon with his hands held out. Elysia stared at him with her mouth agape.
“What?” he asked, shifting his weight, and letting his hands drop to his sides.
“Nothing. Thanks.” She cleared her throat and rose, snatching a towel from beside the stove and using it to shut its door. Pushing the handle down, it squealed a bit, but latched securely. From there, she moved to mop up the cooling water on the rug and assess the damage. “It’s just odd. Off stage, I see you do little things, thoughtless, effortless things.”
Tyr backed toward the door, reaching behind himself for the handle. “None of it is effortless.”
“Fine, but,” she huffed as she aggressively rubbed the towel across the rug, “it’s different, that’s all. You seemed nervous before.”
He opened the door and stepped out. “I’m going to the tent,” he said and ducked through the door, taking the few short steps carefully.
She didn’t stop him. It was a small thing, but he was grateful for it. The storm blowing over the cliffs made his skin itch. Every part of him tingled or twitched, making him restless. Outside the wagon, he turned his jacket collar against the cold and wind, grimacing as he fought to keep his footing.
As he thought, the tent was a massive sheet of chaos, flapping free in spots and stretched too tight in others. Performers and crew frantically hammered parts of the canvas down, trying to keep everyone safe from the elements. Tyr jogged through the downpour and grabbed a free-flying corner of the tent, jerking it taut. His fingers glowed and cracks once again grew up his arms to his elbows. Thick, fibrous vines sprang from the rocky soil, and wound up into the ringed eyelets along the edge of the canvas. He joined the rest of the crew, pulling the canvas down, letting the vines weave through. Before long, the tent was stable enough and he followed the others inside. They threaded rope through the flaps to keep them shut.
The glow in his arms and hands dimmed, but no one gave him an odd look. Instead, Tyr received a few claps on the shoulder, nods, and thanks.
“Thought you’d be staying with Ely.”
Tyr turned to find a man, covered in hair, lugging an enormous cookpot over to the center of the tent. In the middle of five support posts, a tattooed woman, bundled to the ears, sat building a fire.
“I can go if you’d like,” he replied, falling into step beside him and grabbing the left pot handle. Together, they hefted it onto the hook of a tripod set up over the new fire. It was remarkable to see these people like a perfect little colony of bees, everyone executing a task for the greater good.
“Don’t be stupid,” the hairy man laughed. “You’re more one of us than that. We appreciate another set of hands. Ely could come down, too, but she likes her comforts.”
The man’s name was Dauphin if he remembered right. The tattooed woman was known as Esmeralda the Warrior Queen. They called her Ezzy. It was odd how they treated him like family and he barely knew their names.
Dauphin tossed a bedroll at Tyr and smiled through his silky black facial hair. Turning it over in his hands, Tyr managed a small smile and nodded his appreciation. The storm raged, but in this tent, there was only warmth.
“Dinner might be a bit, love,” called Ezzy, tossing wrinkled vegetables from a burlap sack into the massive pot as she peeled or cut over her lap. “But at least we’ve got a fire. It’s going to be a late night.”
Tyr cleared his throat. “Elysia doesn’t think we’ll make the first day of the festival,” he said smoothly, ducking his head a little when a dozen eyes lit on him, silently appraising him after his words.
People shuffled, Dauphin whispered to Ezzy, the fire eater turned his attention pointedly to his swords and torches. No one spoke much in those moments and Tyr felt he might crawl out of his skin. It was an uncomfortable stretch—until a flash of lightning, followed by a sharp crack shook the modest camp and left Tyr’s ears ringing.
“Well, it’s not the first time we’ve been late, is it, now?” Ezzy called across the tent, her shoulders shaking with a hearty laugh. A faint roll of laughter rumbled through the tent. “Stop looking so sour. If the rain keeps up, the festival will start late anyway, and we’ll be right on time.” She waved a ladle about. “So, get your acts together and be ready to move out when we clear up, eh?”
Shouts of agreement rose, and the only one to roll his eyes and keep at his task was the fire eater.
“Didn’t mean to kill the mood.” Tyr noted, happy the attention had been pulled from him. He really had just meant to keep the crew abreast of the situation. If there was anything amiss, they should know about it. It wasn’t fair for them to be in the dark, especially if it meant they wouldn’t be getting paid on time.
Dauphin offered him an easy smile and plopped down on his own bedroll. “Elysia has a habit of making decisions without the rest of us. We’re used to it, but thanks for telling us. We’d have found out when she finally decided to venture this way. Probably when the rain stopped, and, by that point, we’d have figured it out already.”
“That seems about right,” Tyr noted as he unlatched the buckles on the bedroll and shook it out a few feet from Dauphin. “I thought you might be angry, but I suppose the storm is just putting me on edge. It sends a ripple through my veins when the air is charged up like this.”
He nodded, leaning back, and tucking his arms behind his head. “Most of us are charlatans,” he laughed. “Absolute frauds. We can’t relate to someone touched by the Fae, you know?”
“You’re telling me that body hair is glued on? Shaved a bear, did you?”
Dauphin snorted a laugh. “I wish that were the case! Imagine having to comb hair like this every morning? It’s time consuming! But in all seriousness, Tyr, you should consider doing more with yourself. We’re all happy to have you around, but I know Elysia treats you like her own personal property. Some kind of expensive acquisition. There are bigger and better things than being laughed at and feared by a hoard of morons every damn night.”
“Maybe.” Tyr settled down, hands propping him up from behind as he leaned back a bit. “There isn’t much out there for ‘Fae-touched’ people, though. I’ve never met another person like me. And, if you hadn’t noticed, it’s not like my… abilities are well-received. You see how they react.”
“Mm. Does that bother you?”
Tyr shrugged. “No. Not really. It just doesn’t really mark an understanding frame of mind.”
“And what do you care about them? You could do bigger things for better people than the dimwits that go to freakshows for cheap thrills. They pay a copper to see you start a fire, and it doesn’t even exercise what you’re capable of.” Dauphin smiled a little. “Listen, I’m not trying to say you aren’t wanted here. Everyone is welcome, but it just seems like you’re wasted here. The rest of us can’t do better.
“I’m covered in hair and I’m in my forties. Who will apprentice me? Ezzy’s too headstrong. She makes a lot more money here than she would running a kitchen for an inn or something, don’t you think? And Mau’rhi over there,” he nodded to the fire eater. “He hasn’t spoken a word to anyone. Been here three years, and no one has heard him speak. It’s safe for him here. It’s the same for everyone under this canvas.”
“How am I any different? In large groups, I have to make an enormous effort just to keep my head together. I don’t want to live my life as a mess, struggling not to let those Fae-touched abilities you like so much to consume me. Why am I different?” Tyr glanced around them. Dauphin wasn’t wrong. The people here were on the fringes of society, and he knew many of them were disowned by their families and had lost enough that it drove them to this solution. Desperation was harsh, and Tyr felt that, too.
“If you’re looking at it from the ground, I suppose that you aren’t different. You’re like us, and, like I said, you’re welcome here. I just think you have more potential than you’re giving yourself credit for.” Dauphin sat up and leaned back on his hands, mimicking Tyr. “We’ve all seen your work, and we admire it.”
“Some of you are terrified of it.”
Dauphin grinned. “So? Fear is a sort of admiration. Sometimes I like to howl at the moon just to make them whisper. What do you care if people fear you? You have the capacity to do frightening things.”
That set a ball of ice in Tyr’s stomach, and he laid back, before turning on his side, back to the wolf man. “Goodnight, Dauphin.”
“Not staying up for dinner?”
“I’m not really hungry, but thanks.”
Tyr heard Dauphin sigh, and get up, but he already had his eyes closed against the dim lantern light. He had had enough of this conversation for one night.
* * *
The storm was wild, crashing and pouring over the cliffs, lighting up the sky until the sparse trees looked like skeletons against it. The bone-like branches shook and rattled as the rain and the wind stripped away what few leaves they boasted.
Dauphin tossed and turned, and Tyr desperately tried to force himself to sleep. It had to be about midnight, not that it was terribly obvious. The sky had been nearly black since well before twilight.
The crashes of thunder had become muffled, and the wind was slowing now, keeping the tent panels fluttering, though at least the whole structure didn’t sway with violent abandon. Tyr heaved a sigh and finally let his eyes fall shut. Maybe now he could get some sleep.
The silence of the wind was so complete, Tyr felt his ears start buzzing. A bright light flashed inside the tent by the sewn-shut door, and he sat bolt upright. The flash was followed by complete darkness, and he squinted to see through it, but there was nothing.
A gasp cut the silence, and a muffled cry. Tyr turned over onto his hands and knees, only to be yanked back down into his bedroll. He threw his elbow back, but it met what he thought was a hand, as another hand clamped over his mouth. Jerked sideways, he felt something brush his ear.
“Hush. Don’t move.” The whisper rustled the hair behind his ear.
Dauphin? He glanced sideways to see the performer staring beyond him, toward the tent door. When his mouth was released, Tyr nudged Dauphin, still barely visible so close to him, and nodded to the disturbance. It was silent now, but there were people moving about the room. Someone kicked the embers of the fire, flaring just a faint orange glow at the center of the tent.
“I don’t know. Saw them knock out two of our own using… something they pinched between their fingers,” Dauphin squinted again. “I can’t make out who they might be.”
Tyr gasped as he was seized by the back of his shirt and yanked to his feet.
“Hold him!” someone called from across the tent, and another figure grasped him firmly.
With two people barring his arms, he twisted and wrenched himself back and forth, only to have a kick to the back of his left knee bring him to the ground. Hopefully, Dauphin had the good sense to get away.
“You’ve been elusive.”
Tyr’s attention snapped ahead, and his breath caught in his chest, every ounce of fight in him trickling away. He knew that voice. A cold pit plopped into his belly, like a stone thrown into a lake.
“Did you hurt anyone?” he asked, trying to force himself not to hesitate. He wasn’t sure he wanted to know.
“We put to sleep a few by the door. They’ll be fine.” The voice was closer now, and he almost felt him approach. “Tell your friend to stop lashing out or I’ll have him put down with permanence.” The figure drew back his hood, and his face illuminated the whole of the tent in a soft yellow glow. His hair was drawn back from his face in up-swept orange spikes, laced with yellow and white. Every peak of his features was so sharp, he might have been made from pure flame. The brightly lit man nodded to Tyr’s left.
“Dauphin,” Tyr swallowed hard as he saw one of the mysterious figures holding Dauphin tightly while the man thrashed and threw his head about, trying to strike anyone who might get in the way. “Dauphin, stop! I know them…”
The other performer screwed up his face but stopped thrashing. “If anyone is hurt—.”
“No one is hurt,” said the flame man. “We came only for him.” He nodded at Tyr.
Dauphin looked at Tyr, brow furrowed. “I don’t understand.”
“What do you mean you’ve come for him?” Ezzy called from across the tent. She was on her feet in a second, stalking over. The rest of the performers were scattered around, refusing to leave their bedrolls. They were showmen, not fighters. “He’s one of ours, and you’ll not take him out of this tent, do you hear me?”
“It’s alright,” Tyr said, pulling an arm free from one of his captors. “I’ll go.”
“What?” Ezzy scoffed.
“It’s alright,” Tyr repeated as the robed figures released him fully. “Raghnal, leave them be and I’ll come with you. No resistance.” He turned his eyes to Dauphin and offered an apologetic smile. “I appreciate that you welcomed me.”
Dauphin scowled. “What will we tell Elysia?”
“Tell her I will meet you at the Stone Crab Festival if I can or that I will catch up with the troupe as soon as possible.”
“That’s not good enough. She’ll be furious,” Ezzy said, folding her arms. She looked pointedly at Raghnal and flicked her eyes to the few hooded figures that had come with him.
Raghnal rolled his eyes, and grabbed Tyr by the shoulder, pulling him toward the fluttering tent flaps. “I don’t have time for this. Tell your silly ringmistress he goes where we tell him to go, when we tell him to go there. His play time with your kind is over.”
Ezzy lunged forward, but Dauphin caught her. Several other performers began to rise to their feet, gathering behind the pair of them. Tyr spun to intercept them, holding his hands up, pleading.
“Peace! Please. I will be back as soon as I can.”
His new friends exchanged glances, but Ezzy the Warrior Queen finally took a step back, conceding to the situation.
“Whatever this is, Tyr, be careful,” Dauphin noted.
The tent full of performers all stood watching as Tyr was escorted out by the one he called Raghnal, the robed figures flowing out behind them like a river.