The Wand’s Boy

 

                        1.

     Mortals believe that the Fey always know what’s coming. They have the Sixth Sense and the Foretelling, people say and it’s impossible to take the Gentry, as they call them, by surprise.

     When I see some mortal or another half-breed waiting on a corner or looking out a window, I always think he’s worried because dates are scarce that evening or she’s anxious, wondering if her Lord will come out of the Hill tonight. Lives full of uncertainty.

     That’s how I remember my mother: standing at the front window of The Careless Rapture Café looking out at the old streets of the Maxee, the Mortal Quarter. It’s exactly what I find myself doing on this January afternoon. As a half-breed, in this like a lot of things, I’m somewhere in between with enough foreknowledge to tantalize but not enough to make me sure of anything.

     These tiny coffee houses and bars, these narrow streets are always awash in memory and rumor. Today part of what’s afloat is reminiscences of The Clathurin, how he came out of the Hill years ago and won the heart of the singer Athalia and the love of the population of the Maxee. It’s also whispers about young Lord Calithurn, his son, and what he’s been up to and why.

     Evening still comes on fast in early winter. On the opposite side of the cross streets, I see pillow girls and dollar boys emerge from The Busted Straight Coffee House. They start to split up on the corner as they make their way to the condos and townhouses of their current patrons. And I know it’s the blue hour, the time of assignation.

     Behind me, the ones who spent the afternoon in here get up to leave. I let them hang out; linger over a beer or an espresso because business is slow in these cold months and because my mother never turned them away.

     She was one of them, a refugee, an exile. Her story was theirs. In the Maxee the mortals love the Gentry for their beauty, their magic, the cold elegance of them. But no mortal has ever been quite certain what it is that the Gentry might love about her or him and whether it will continue or for how long.

     It’s understood that at the moment what the Fey find most attractive in mortals is their vulnerability, their perishable flesh. They seem to regard a little bit of wear, that first wrinkle beside the eye, the hairline’s first retreat as piquant, enticing.

     For a sex worker, it’s really lucky that those first hints of age are not considered a drawback. They came to this calling many of these men and women after being raised for other things. They were athletes and pilots and actors, who found that none of that is worth much of anything in the demimonde. They are refugees with only their bodies to sell all vying for that invitation back to the Hill and the realm that lies beyond it.

     Motorized traffic is mostly mortal vehicles; mongrel jalopies, tied together with wire, jitneys with coughing motors. But then, silently, its windows opaque, a long Faery car glides by afloat on a cloud of Glamour.  

     The new Wand strides down the sidewalk opposite me. I’d heard the mortals call him a cop and a rookie which are close but not quite right. In fact, he’s somewhere between an apprentice knight and a game warden.

     Just assigned to the neighborhood, tall even for Fey, he steps into the intersection and looks up at the sky, sublimely confident he will not be hit. His cape of lights slowly changes from silver to blue then back again. Traffic stops.

     The mortals call them ‘Wands’ because of the slender mace of magic each one carries. And for the sake of the double entendre. This one holds his so loosely in those long, tapering fingers that it’s obvious only Glamour keeps it from falling on the pavement. He twirls it 360 degrees and quests all around him.

     A Wand’s quest is a mental probe, a quick scan of every mind in an area. He probes and mortals have no choice but to let him in. I deflect him. That’s become routine in the short time he’s been around. By now, no doubt he’s been well briefed and knows where I got my legacy.

     My father too was a Wand like the one across the street, the son of a noble house doing his service to the Realm. It was over at The High Peru Musique Room over in the Concourse that he met my mother. She’d made her way to the Maxee as an adventure in the demimonde; a thing humankind did in those days.

     He took one look and that made him look again – right into her as the Faery do. He was attracted by her beauty and hooked by her mortality and her soul. She fell for him too but she had strong reasons to go back to Gotham. He wooed her and bedazzled her and enticed her into staying. That’s how it was done not so long ago when things were far more even between humans and the Gentry.

     As a kid, I could stand on the Concourse on a clear day, look east and see the towers of Gotham waver like a mirage then look west to where the Hill sat and shimmered. And one was no stronger or more real than the other back before disaster struck their world and mortal visitors came not as adventurous tourists but as refugees.

     Now, even on the clearest day the towers are no more. The routes from the mortal world are carefully guarded and only the most gifted and the most beautiful get through the checkpoints. 

     Even in the gloom of winter, though, the Hill looms just as green as and maybe a bit larger than ever. It beckons mortals. But no matter how far humans may travel, none will ever reach the Hill by themselves. Only a Faery can take them and that only happens if they have abilities the Fey desire.

     “Jacky boy,” my father used to say, with an emphasis on the second word, as amused and amazed as his kind over get that I was such a human looking kid. I favored my mother outwardly and emotionally. My Faery traits are hidden ones.

     My father left us about twenty years ago when I was seven. Perhaps he was bored or summoned by some Sidhe command that a half breed couldn’t sense. Or maybe the legend he found himself enacting demanded that he leave his woman and child at that moment. Whatever the reason, he went off to the Forests of Avon with little warning and few words for my mother and me.

     I inherited a couple of his abilities. Not the Watching and the Hearing, that ability to reach into mortal minds and bodies that the Gentry have. But I did get the ability to block any Faery who tries that with me. And I have traces of that sixth sense which they call the Foretelling.

      My mother was unhappy when he left. But she didn’t really begin to die inside herself until a year or two later when the towers fell. From her, when she was gone, I inherited this café. She also passed on a few of her tastes. Like her, I fall for Wands though they are rarely interested in me.

     Everyone on the street was aware from the first that the new Wand liked boys more than girls. This evening I’m aware of him looking me over in the way of the Gentry, catching a glimpse of me by hooking into the mind of a passerby and looking their eyes.

     What he’s doing isn’t standard security and it isn’t love. So I stare right at him, as no mortal would dare to do. Aware of my look he turns and moves away.

     The very youthful looks which I will probably have forever are not in fashion among the Gentry. Nor am I Fey and well connected, which would win me a mortal boyfriend. So what I’ve had are a lot of overnight love affairs and a few protracted ones. But nothing much that caught me. Until a week ago.

                        2.

     This part of my life in which I now find myself, began on that quiet night that always follows the Twelfth Night celebrations. We had closed and I came out of the back to make sure the door was locked when I realized there was someone sitting in the corner. He was tall, leaning back in his chair with a hat pulled down over his face.

     “Last call is done, friend,” I said and wondered how we’d missed him, how stoned he was, how much trouble it was going to be to get him out

     “Forgive me for laying in wait, Jack. My name is Cal. I’ve noticed you all through the holidays and wanted very much to talk.” His voice was silver. He raised his head. His eyes were amber. He wore no trace of the Glamour, that small magic in which the Gentry dowse themselves.

     He stood. I am a good height for a mortal but he was Fey and stood a head taller. His face was beautiful, long and V shaped. He smiled and I was caught completely by him

     The next several days were spent almost entirely up in my rooms above the café, without clothes, pausing only for bouts of sleep. Once or twice a Wand’s questing swept through the bedroom. As I blocked it, I was aware of Cal beside me blocking in the same manner, at the same moment as I so we seemed as one. He was hiding I knew but he treated it as a kind of game.

     Occasionally, I put on a robe and came down to The Careless Rapture long enough to make sure that everything was running as well as it needed to. The cook, the busboy, the waitresses were amused, sent me back upstairs. They brought up food and wine, knocked and left it on the landing. The name my mother had given the cafe made more sense to me at that moment than it ever had before.  

     The dollar boys and pillow girls when they boast about their protectors/lovers always talk of velvet tongues and cocks that know no rest and orgasms that ride on until you’re hoarse with yelling. More than a little of that’s the Glamour.

     But some is real. A partner who can float above you and move the way you are about to move, who rests only when you want to and is ready to go again when you awake is magic enough that you won’t ask questions or much remember that you have any.

I knew who he was, of course. And he was aware that I knew. The nickname, the absence of any sign of rank was like a reveler’s mask, not a disguise so much as a sign that his identity was not to be mentioned.

     When Cal had to leave, he promised to return very shortly. He said that and, as sometimes happens for me, I foresaw that he would climb through my back window at twilight which made me happy.

     It was a bright, cold day when I got dressed and set foot on the street again. The Maxee was all on fire with disquiet and rumors of trouble in the Hill and in the mortal world. A street entertainer I passed sang a song I hadn’t heard in years about a prince who walked the street and who could be yours for the price of a place to lay his wanted head.

     Tales abounded of a quarrel between Lord Clathurin and his son and heir. The cook told me he’d seen fire in the sky that dawn and customers whispered that a great crowd of mortals had tried to force their way through the checkpoints and into the Maxee and been driven back by the guards.

     Suddenly, large and clear in every mind, was an image, a figure huge in his ceremonial armor, striding in mid-air, wreathed in fire, hurtling down the Concourse. We saw him through the eyes of the Fey in charge of turning the undesirable, the sick, the ugly, and the ungifted back to the ruined, mortal world.

     Coming out of nowhere, the assault took the Fey at the checkpoint by surprise.  Their attacker ripped the images of what they saw from their minds and broadcast them throughout the Maxee.

     They got knocked aside like hapless mortals. The armored figure removed his helmet. His hair was golden, his eyes wild. It was the heir-apparent Calithurn who, of course, I knew as Cal.  He beckoned and the refugees surged forward, poured down the Concourse and into the Maxee.    

     Some of them tried to blend into the neighborhood, others ran like rats. A few looked more rat than human as I’d heard was sometimes the case now back in my mother’s old world.

     All that afternoon, flights of winged horsemen from out of the Hill galloped across the winter sky, swooped down when they spotted refugees. As night fell they were still out looking for strays. No one had any idea where Prince Calithurn has gone.

     In fact by then Cal was back upstairs beside me in my bed, allowing me to block the Wands who flooded the neighborhood. And when that was done, he was all over me inside and out. The sex was almost as good as the first time even though I now knew that he was here mainly as a means of hiding in the Maxee.

     They say the cum of the Fey will keep a mortal young. And I know my mother half thought that’s why she faded so fast when my father left us. I think it’s the excitement of their presence that does it. Makes those they choose for their pleasures all giddy as children.

     I knew I was supposed to be grateful that he had taken an interest in mortals in that distant, diffracted way of the Gentry. What I wanted to tell him was that his stunt that morning had done the refugees no good had in fact gotten a lot of them killed.

     But none of that got said and before dawn this morning he was gone, kissing the back of my neck and whispering, “Until we see each other again, my love,” then disappearing out the window. Again, I saw just how and where that would be.

     Ten minutes later, a light flashed bright as the sun at noon, and a noise like a thunderclap awoke everyone in the Maxee. We saw him in an arc of light stride across the sky, a sign that the young successor had split and a way of making sure the Maxee would not soon forget that he’d been here. And that, I was sure, had been the most important part of this whole episode for him.

                          3.

     The Wands are out in force this winter evening. I see a pair of them at the end of the block talking to the one who just walked past the Careless Rapture. I know that there will be repercussions and I wonder if Cal ever thought about that or cared about the trouble and danger in which he’d left me.

     Without turning I sense Gentry behind me. I’d expected a visit from the authorities so it isn’t a surprise. But it is a shock when a voice say, “Jacky boy,” and gives the familiar pause between the words.

     My father, when I face about, stands swathed in Glamour. The years have not changed him nor have they erased the amazement he feels when he looks at me. I wonder at whose behest and for what Faery plan I was produced.

     “I am back in Maxee again,” my father says like this must be the word I’ve been waiting for. He steps inside The Careless Rapture but I remain where I am. I know enough of Faery ways to be sure he won’t think of mentioning let alone apologizing for walking out on my mother and myself or for his silence when she died and in the years since.

     We stare at each other. It occurs to me that I’m more a mystery to him than he is to me. Then, over his shoulder, I see another figure in the doorway. Few among the Gentry are quite so tall as this one. And he looks right into my eyes instead of right through me like all the others including my father. Again I’m not quite surprised to see him but I am amazed by how much Cal resembles his old man.

     “My Lord Clathurin…” I begin

     “Just Clathurin,” he says and steps forward to shake my hand. The grip of those long, tapered fingers is firm, the smile is sincere. The ones who remember him in the old days when he lived for a time in the city between worlds said that it had seemed as if he was running for mayor.

     Back then there had been great argument among the Gentry about what to do with the Maxee. The population of mortals was rising. Law and order, as they saw it, was breaking down. Many of them wanted to demolish this place. The Clathurin, the great lord, came out of the Hill and lived here in the Maxee, went out among the mortals and half-breeds.

     If it had been a question of a campaign, he would have won in a landslide. Older inhabitants still speak of him with affection and reverence. The power of the Fey was extended right up to the very gates of Gotham. All this was years before the towers fell.

     “Ah, Jack,” he says. “Your father insisted on seeing you as soon as he arrived back here.” And he smiles a bit ruefully. “It seems he and I are two fathers whose sons think badly of them. Maybe with some reason.”

     His charm is in this direct speaking. Ones who remembered him said you might think he had mortal blood. He doesn’t let go of my hand, but draws me forward. 

     “I’ve appointed your father to a position we have just created for him. He will be the Knight of Wands.” Here he gives an amused shrug. “Maybe Police Commissioner would be a better title.”

     My feet almost leave the ground as he turns me toward my old man who opens his arms to embrace me and say, “I’m going to need your help in this, Jack.”

     And I wonder for long they’ve known, in the off-kilter way of the Gentry that we would come to this moment. What do the prophecies say about the half-breed son he was so careful to propagate? What role was I created to play?

     Outside, Wands have mounted guard around the café. My father gestures me to be seated at one of my own tables.  

     This is where I find out why these two think I was created. I will have to be braver than I feel and smarter than I’ve been to come through this intact. I’ve never felt my mortal side as strongly as I do right now. All I can think of is my mother gazing out the window and the poor refugees who died today

     The Clathurin sits opposite me and says, “My son and I have disagreed about many things lately, especially about what to do about the mortals and their world.”

     And it takes no gift of prophecy for me to know that my father will add. “We understand you and he got together recently. We know he’ll be back to see you.”

     And I realize that with all their Sixth Sense and Foretelling, they don’t know where Cal is or where I’m going to find him.

     This part of my existence; the Careless Rapture, the Maxee, my life as a Wand’s bastard son is about to end. My meeting with Cal will happen shortly in the ruins of Earth with both of us on the run. And though I fear it a bit, I would have it no other way.

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