Oh, the world was uniformly terrible. Who had placed her head into a vise? Why did her mouth taste of the true death? She peeled her eyes open, only to discover that someone had replaced her inner eyelids with crushed gemstones.
It was within the realm of possibility that her reveling at the Third Spring Moon revels had been somewhat too enthusiastic.
She whispered a standard hangover charm, to no effect. A second. The third. How could this be? No mere drink could flatten her so.
Third Lady of the Dark Freshwaters, Hyacinth Rootwell Starlighter Marshhavens Oakshaft Freeholm, Fifth Heir of the Lake Wardens of the Sunrise Kingdoms and Bound Daughter of the House of May, teased around the edges of her headache and found the scent of tricksters. Well. Some unfortunate sprite was going to have a very bad time once she felt less like a wrung-out cloth.
Eyes open was no better than eyes closed. This was not her room. It was not any kind of room but was instead a. Cave? Those stalactites above her looked ready to drop and cause any manner of unpleasantness. And yet she was clearly in a bed, warm under covers. Hm, naked. Also, she had a lovely little soreness between her legs suggesting – oh dear. Her unknown trickster was certainly going to have a very bad time.
She rolled over.
Marvelous. Because one definitely wishes to wake up in a strange cave, hungover, next to some horse-headed Unseelie thing.
Which of course opened his eyes at that moment, snorted, and flinched away from her, taking most of the covers with him.
Delightful. A bit of cold air was just the thing to improve matters.
“Who are you?” the kelpie asked.
He had a fine voice, anyway, for a thing that crawled in stagnant waters. A fine set of muscled shoulders, the deep brown of tannic water. A very fine set of shoulders. But how had they worked it out, with that face?
She told him her name. As she went on, the kelpie leaned farther and farther back from her. Taking even more of the blankets with him, what a kindness. Rolling his round, dark eyes.
“Oh my holy mother Night Mare,” he said in his ridiculous Unseelie accent, all long vowels and sibilants, “I’ve gone and fucked a high-court sidhe. My death will last a century.”
Hyacinth laughed. Such drama! Her death would last a year at most. His might only last a season.
Her laughter made the kelpie’s eyes blink slowly, and his pretty shoulders lowered.
“Aren’t you lovely,” he said.
If her mind didn’t remember that rumble, her body did.
“I wish I could remember our tumble,” he said. “It would make the death worthwhile to remember the sin.”
How nice, a charmer.
“Three tumbles at least,” she told him, “if my sore bits are anything to go by.”
He grinned, huge and horsey.
“Aye, my balls do feel like empty nets.”
“Where are we?”
His dismay returned as he looked around. The edges of the bed were unraveling into dead leaves and cobwebs. His spell, then, losing focus as he fretted.
“Spider kingdom lands, I think,” the kelpie whispered, his eyes rolling in fear again.
Hyacinth flinched. She reached, and there was little magic for her in the chill, dry air. No water, no sun. Nothing with roots to ground one or leaves to strive toward sky. Her body might be strong, but her magic was nearly as weak as a child’s.
“There’s no love lost between my people and Spiderholm.”
“Perhaps it would be in the best interest of what remains of our lives to relocate.”
“But of course, madam,” he said, aping her accent and tone.
Making her sound like an arrogant fool. The urge to touch him winked out.
Still, Hyacinth thought as they sorted out the pile of clothing on the floor, his shoulders were so lovely. From the neck down, all of him was lovely.
And those things they say about the horse peoples: deliciously true.
“What’s your name?” she asked him when they were clothed enough to step into the gloomy passageway.
“Searrach of the Bogs.”
Hyacinth hissed and laid fingertips to forehead.
“And it’s cradle-robbing I’ve stooped to now! Riding tender young steeds not even old enough to have their own names!”
His laugh was akin to a whinny. Unfortunate.
“Reckon I earned my name last night,” he growled at her.
He grabbed her about the waist and nuzzled at her neck. Surprisingly mobile, those warm lips. It made one reassess the ugliness of that face.
She grasped his hand and pulled him forward through the ill-lit, excessively drafty hallway. It was empty, at least, with not even an echo of folk about. It was also none too clean. Tsk. Spiders.
“What name do you think it’ll be?” she murmured as they inched along, “Granny Fucker? He Who Comes Above His Station?”
Surprise made his face flash flat, into a visage shaped more like her own. It was still long-featured and homely, but with a mouth that could be kissed and huge, pretty black eyes.
He clapped his hand over his mouth and laughed silently.
“Oh, look at you,” she said.
Searrach – “foal,” how ludicrous – shrugged.
Then he grinned, and in an eye-blink she stood in front of herself, down to the slightly torn gown trying to fall off one shoulder.
What delicious possibilities lay in. Laying. With this little thing.
Hyacinth reached out to herself and pulled herself close, but it was his mouth that covered hers. Not such a shame. He kissed her like she was delicious fruit. There was familiarity in it. Enough more, and she’d remember their beginning. Oh, his mouth was a jewel.
Thank the constellations for her urges, because they fumbled their way into a side tunnel just before the passing of a crowd of spider folk.
This cooled their heat, alas. All that skittering. Legs and hissing voices, so ungainly and scratchy. And not precisely welcome news that so many spiders could come upon them with no warning. Hyacinth clamped her magic down tight.
“Right,” the foal murmured after a pause long enough to remind one of the chill air and one’s unfortunate lack of shoes, “leaving, as originally planned.”
So unpleasant. Dust, darkness, craggy stone and packed dirt. Hyacinth saw no point in it. Even the monstrous should have some luxuries. Proper walls, for example.
“Is this like your home?” she whispered.
“Why are you speaking?”
Poor infant, so terrified of a little death. She elbowed him. Touching his warm skin only made her wish to touch him more.
He frowned at her. It made his plain features look older, fierce. This one had chieftain in him, assuming that they didn’t become spider food.
“Kelpies live in bogs,” he said.
She elbowed him again. Fancy speaking to her as if she were a mortal.
“No,” he said with a sigh almost heavy enough to have come from his horse face.
“Under the water, our houses are – frankly palaces compared to this.”
“This is horrible.”
The foal stopped and glared down at her. Was he slightly taller than before? Perhaps even broader of shoulder? She reached out to touch.
He grabbed her hand and bared his teeth.
“Agreed,” he rumbled, “so will you please stop trying to fuck me again until after we find out way out?”
Hyacinth shrugged. Of all the stories she had heard about the unseelie, none had suggested they’d be boring. Shame.
A long wail echoed through the tunnel: some poor creature undoubtedly being prepared for breakfast. The foal grabbed her and pressed her behind him.
Dear thing, to wish to protect her, when she had centuries on him. Now she considered it, if she didn’t mind the political fallout and two seasons flat on her back to recover, she could probably send the true death to all of Spiderholm with an orgasm and seven drops of her own blood.
Spiders. So awful.
When the cry ended, the foal grabbed her hand. He pulled her along behind him, back to his equine head, nostrils flaring as he peered back and forth like a hunter. The wail sounded again, and his skin twitched like a horse bothered by a fly.
No, Hyacinth. Thoughts of making him twitch were not useful. Later.
Hopefully not too much later.
At a cross-way, the foal lifted his head and smelled the air.
“East, I think,” he said, “can you tell?”
Oh. Well. Here she was, forgetting herself. The spider folk had been inattentive before. Perhaps they were focused on their meal.
Hyacinth unfurled her mind. To the good, she saw that east was in fact the way out, and the exit wasn’t far away.
To the otherwise, spider folk had plenty of magic of their own, and they saw her.
“Cold iron and resurrecting gods,” she spat.
“East. Quickly. They know we’re here now.”
The foal picked her up over his shoulder and ran, and sure that was the sound of hooves on the packed earth. It was an uncomfortable ride on that lovely shoulder, but the strength in him gave her ideas. She ran her hands down his wonderfully muscled back, and he actually neighed at her! Adorable.
The light of dawn shone, not far ahead of them. Now that they were looking at one another, Hyacinth could feel the host of spider folk roiling toward them from the heart of the caverns, a mass of legs, fury, and hunger.
“Run faster,” she said, and the foal shifted under her, his speed increasing. The cavern walls were half-lit around them. So close. Then,
And the foal threw her, up and back-first toward the tunnel exit as a spider soldier slammed into him.
“Run!” he shouted at her as she landed.
The whites of his eyes showed, and his teeth were bared as he struggled with six spiked, whirring arms. Fear rolled off him.
The spider sliced across his bicep with one claw, and the foal neighed sharply, kicked out with one hoofed foot, but he could not escape those many arms.
Hyacinth watched the young Unseelie begin to lose. The other side of that struggle meant capture, pain. They would dissolve him from the inside out, a true death. He would cry out like the unfortunate they had heard.
No. His cries were for her. This child with no name who was in the midst of giving up his short existence to protect her.
It was not to be borne.
She was close enough to the tunnel opening to feel the strength of all the roots pushing through earth. She could feel her sun on her back. Anchor and blossom.
Hyacinth stepped forward and grasped one of the spider’s arms. The foal gave a wordless cry. The spider turned to her, its mouth parts moving busily. She squeezed the arm and felt the chitin crack. The spider attempted to pull away, but it was also young. Weak.
“This foal,” she said, putting a thrum of power into her voice, “is mine.”
She pulled, and grasped, and pulled again. When she was done, she was most unpleasantly covered in a sticky mess, the foal stared open-mouthed, and the spider was in pieces.
Her rage was a halo around her – if she could change shape like the kelpie, she would’ve been mountain-sized as she turned to stare at the crowd of spider folk chittering at them across the tunnel.
“Sidhe,” the foremost of them hissed.
Hyacinth raised her head.
“That’s Danaan sidhe,” she said, and some of them took a step backward.
“And what are you?” she asked, her throat aching with the magic in her voice.
“You are a new kingdom of the dead.”
They tried to run on all those disgusting legs. But the death she sent after them needed no legs or speed. It wasn’t a true death: it would last only a season. And there might be a dim corner or two that the death might not bother with. There might be a handful of spider folk still alive by nightfall.
Unlikely, however. And if she and the foal lingered, the death would find them too.
“We should leave,” she said.
She made it three whole steps before she lost consciousness.
Hyacinth came to pinned by the most adorable little binding to the back of her kelpie in his full horse form as he raced across the Unseelie lands. Hyacinth snuggled into his broad back and twined her hands into his mane. He tossed his head. She let herself sleep again.
When she woke next, the foal was back to bipedal, laying her on the mossy bank of a pond filled with her namesake flowers. Deep in Seelie lands, where he stood a considerable chance of being pulled apart like her spider. Sweet child.
“Are you safe here?”
His dear, homely face was all worry wrinkles. How fun he was.
“Can you call for help from here?”
Desperate to get away. But there was time enough for him to leave later. Her protection was enough. She pulled him down and kissed him, plucked at his clothes. He squirmed in a most lovely way.
“What are you doing, you’re half dead! I don’t even know what that magic was, and please don’t tell me.”
Not that he moved away from her while he said it. His hands were already drifting upward from her waist.
“Lady, if I get caught here, they’ll string me up by my ears.”
“They won’t,” she said, “no one would dare, while you’re with me.”
She wriggled, and he gasped.
“You fell, and I didn’t know -“
“I overreached a little,” she said, “I was angry.”
His voice was muffled, but Hyacinth felt him speak, his face pressed against her neck. Blossom unfolding, what a treasure he was.
“You said I was yours.”
She felt his grin against her skin.
“This will help,” she said, as she touched his waist and his trews fell away, “this will heal.”
“Oh,” he said, moving, and then she gasped, “you’re one of those.”
The foal – he really needed a proper name – leaned up on his elbows and pushed forward, and Hyacinth felt the anchor of it pin her to the earth and fill her up with strength.
Then again, and great wheel of stars holy root and flower there was so much of him and then more and everlasting cycle of the moon her eyes were going fly out of her head, there was even more.
“What,” she whispered.
He grinned, her foal.
Somewhat later, she found that even her hangover was gone. Maybe she wouldn’t bother with the trickster after all.
Virginia M. Mohlere was born on one solstice, and her sister was born on the other. Her chronic writing disorder stems from early childhood. She lives in the swamps of Houston and writes with a fountain pen that is extinct in the wild. Her work has been seen in Jabberwocky, Lakeside Circus, Goblin Fruit, Strange Horizons, Ideomancer, and Through the Gate.