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Even the Terrin’s double-wide trailer was too small for everyone and their kids. A loose group milled in the common yard around the arbour, exhaling visible puffs of breath in the chilling air. Lawn torches were staked around the edges of the grassy area, adding a hellish tiki light to the gathering.
Emily realised she’d instinctively ushered the others before her, counting heads. She spotted the two younger girls, Mathilde and Hannah, looking small and concerned. As soon as Hannah saw Ian, she rushed over, starting in on a barrage of words before her brother was fully in earshot. Mathilde, who Emily had last seen toddling, was now one of those sturdy middle school children that have no hint of the adult they’d start to look like in five years. She wore her bulky headphones with an unconcerned air, but Emily remembered the tiny wrinkle between the eyebrows that meant she was worrying.
Grabbing her hand, Hannah dragged a reluctant Mathilde up to Emily. “Gosh dammit, I knew something was up. Matty, do you remember Emily?”
The younger girl shrugged and shifted her headphones to expose an ear. “I was a baby, Hannah. And I mean, like, you were too. You just remember her from pictures.”
Janice spotted Emily and motioned her over. Smiling wanly, Emily excused herself from the now-arguing girls and moved to her aunt’s side.
“Go drop your bag off at the trailer. And get your knife.” She saw Emily’s panic. “Hon, just for show and just in case, don’t be squeamish, just do it. Mrs. Hill is going to start soon”.
Emily jogged to their trailer. In her room, she dropped her backpack next to the lumpy bags of things she’d outgrown. The ache of worry growing beneath her ribs settled as she buckled on her knife belt. There was a glimmer of guilt. She still hadn’t cleaned it. Not that it really mattered, it wasn’t as if it was some named blade that had saved her life in a fairy book. Though it had become a sword again when she confronted the court. Emily wondered where it got the magic to do that. On a hunch, she checked the envelope of cash.
Her mouth went dry and she tried to swallow, as she counted the bills a second time. The amount she’d given Michael had been replaced. Checking the tobacco pouch, she couldn’t tell if the level was the same as when she’d arrived or not. With a deep breath, she replaced the envelope of money in her backpack and decided that right now was a very good time not to think about it.
Mrs. Hill was calling everyone to attention as Emily slipped back into the crowd next to her aunt. Brusquely, Mrs. Hill outlined the basics—the Sidhe, fairy-kind, thanks to Amelia for opening the way back. She directed her words at the court’s children, who stood in a tight huddle off to the side of the yard. Emily exchanged glances with a couple of them, but most of the teens were trying in vain to make eye contact with their parents All of the adults were looking to the arbour, their faces masks in the torchlight.
“Amelia has bound us to provide for you children, in return for what she’s done. You’ll find that in each of your homes is a packet of documents; bank information, the paperwork for the trailer, that sort of thing. You’ve each been added to your parent’s bank accounts. Those of us with no children have deposited our money into the Royal Oak Court common fund. As Amelia will be the only one legally of age once we leave, the information for that account has been left for her as well.”
The old woman grimaced. “We forged your signatures and from now on you’ll have to forge ours. We’ve voted. Our half of the bargain is fulfilled. The rest of your lives are yours to make.”
Moving as a group, the adults walked up to the arbour while their children stared after them, open-mouthed.
“Mom?” Hannah started after Mrs. Terrin, but Ian caught her by the arm. The girl’s shoulders fell when her mother didn’t look back.
One by one, the court walked into the arbour and didn’t walk out the other side. Janice and Becky were the last to go. They faced the court’s children. Mathilde was quietly sobbing, her headphones still askew. Becky leaned in to hug her and the girl hit her in the face.
Rocking back, Becky rubbed her cheek. She looked at Emily. “I left you a lot of documents and information. I was the treasurer, you know. Anyway,” her hands fumbled blindly, searching for words. “You guys will be fine. And I have this for you.” She handed Emily a folded slip of paper.
Janice pulled her niece in for a hug, but Emily was stiff against her arms.
“I’m sorry.” Janice was crying, tears smearing through her makeup. “Honey, I did what I could.”
Emily shrugged, feeling empty except for a knot of anger burning in her throat. “Whatever. It’ll work out.”
The two women went through the arbour, leaving the group of kids and teens in silence. Emily opened the paper Becky had given her. In her round, girlish handwriting it said, “I lied. I’ve always known your name.”
Emily read it twice, then held the paper to the flame of the nearest torch. She lit a cigarette with it, feeling something between terrified and badass. She turned to look at the others. The flickering torches picked out shining tracks of tears on more faces than Mathilde, who had wound down to sniffling.
“You shouldn’t smoke.” The girl was mindlessly rubbing her wrist.
Emily exhaled, looking at Mathilde out of the corner of her eye. “And you should keep your wrist straight if you’re going to punch someone.” She touched her lightly on the shoulder.
Ian cleared his throat. “So it’s just us, we’re the court?”
Emily looked up at him and nodded. “And we’ll be fine.”
We’ve got money, she thought. And I’ve got my name.