The Audacity Gambit: Chapter 1 continued

“You’re going to think this is a bunch of bullshit at first.” Mrs. James —Becky—munched chips while she spoke. “But you’ll be able to verify it with your aunt and the rest of Royal Oak. I was picked to talk to you because I’m a ‘trusted adult,’ somebody not part of your immediate family, but a person who has known you your whole life. It’s also related to my job, keeping records and whatnot.”

Emily felt like she was already getting lost. “I feel dumb asking, but what do you mean your job? You work at a nail salon. And all of the court knows about whatever this is? I don’t—”

“Just let me tell it, hon.” Becky patted Emily’s knee. “It’ll maybe not make the strictest sense when I’m done, but you’ll see where I’m coming from.”

“As you may know,” Becky continued, “pretty much everybody here at Royal Oak has known each other for a long time. We built the court, actually. We pooled our money to buy a junky trailer park and started fixing it up. We upgraded the trailers and cleaned things as we could get loans and save. The goal was to make a safe, comfortable place to raise our families and be together. I think we succeeded. All you kids may not have fenced yards or houses with foundations, but you have a community. And you, Emily, have been a boon.’

“You know a lot of this already. I know you’re smart enough to realise how helpful it is that you mind the kids. It’s very selfless and probably doesn’t much help your social life, though you’ve always felt a bit of an outsider anyway, haven’t you?” Emily met Becky’s eyes, startled. The woman kept talking. “No real best friends, no real goals, sometimes picked on, much put upon, hardly appreciated and always with that feeling of potential but no direction to meet it, right?”

Taking a careful drink, Emily nodded, not trusting her voice. Becky sighed. “Good, that’s what we were hoping.”

“What.” Emily’s face contorted and her fingers twitched around her drink. Becky took the glass from Emily and folded her hands around the girl’s.

“Stay with me, I’m not done. Before I can explain myself—”

“Which, what? If I was popular in school or not, I don’t—it’s not.”

Becky tightened her grip, her fingers an ivory cage around Emily’s tawny ones. “I will explain. But you have to listen. And keep your voice down; remember your sleeping children.” Her sharp grey eyes met Emily’s. “Now, I don’t know if you believe in magic—Ah!” She shushed Emily, raising finger from her grip to wag warningly.

“So, I don’t know if you believe, though I’m guessing,” —she smiled—“I’m guessing that probably you don’t. But you’re well-read and I know the books your aunt has, so you’re familiar with the idea of the faerie-land Sidhe and the Folk, all that sort of lore?”

Emily nodded. She felt dozens of protests and questions piling up behind her teeth, but they were quelled by the cold, pooling apprehension in her stomach. Becky released Emily’s hands and leaned back into her chair, taking a long drink before she spoke again.

“I’ve gone over how I wanted to do this a million times, but there’s no real segue, so here it is flat out. The whole lot of us who live here in the court, we moved here from the Sidhe. There was a coup and the survivors were kicked out, forced into mortal form, and dumped with just enough funds that we wouldn’t die starving on the streets immediately.”

Emily blinked. “So my parents—”

“Were not among the survivors,” Becky said. Emily picked up her forgotten cigarette. Nearly burned down to the filter, it softly dropped inches of ash as she took the final drag, her mouth a firm line as Becky kept talking. “They died, like you’ve been told, out of the country while you were young. The only difference is that they died in battle and not in Central America visiting family.”

“So you’re all faeries, from faerieland.”

“We’re not fans of either of those terms, but yes.”

“And I was born in the Sidhe? So am I—are the other kids, the littlest ones . . .” Emily trailed off, unable to frame the question without choking on disbelief. She felt carsick. Everything was being presented as facts but they were most ridiculous things she’d ever heard.

Becky took her time answering. Holding an unlit cigarette, she flicked the lid of her lighter open and closed several times before sparking the flame. She exhaled through her nose and didn’t meet Emily’s eyes.

“Yes, you were born in the Sidhe. If you’re one of us, or if the younger children that were born here are, that’s trickier. There are a lot of rules where we’re from.”

“I know, you don’t outright lie, everything has layers of meaning, there’s all this stuff about guests and boons.” Emily’s eyes widened. “You called me that, a boon?”

The older woman frowned. “Fewer questions, I still have a bit to go. Just let me tell it, Emily.” Becky eyed her cigarette and taped carefully at the ashtray. “There are a lot of rules. We lost our abilities, which was very, very hard to deal with. Think of being dropped in a country where you don’t know the language, the customs, even the appliances, the transportation: all of it foreign and you don’t get a guidebook and your mouth is stopped, your fingers clumsy.’

“The first years here, we spent a lot of time trying to find loopholes, even just to get some small piece of our abilities back. None of us could accept that this was It, that we were stuck here with nothing. It was Franklin who figured it out.”

“Mr. Jacks? Blue trailer with the cement deer?”

Becky raised her eyebrow, but smiled at the interruption. “Yes, he works in a law office, you know, always had an aptitude for that sort of thing. Anyway, he found just one loophole, one risky shot that could do more than get our—well, our magic—back. And, if we played it right, it could get us back into the Sidhe, reinstated. I want you to understand this, Emily. It could get us, all of us, home.’

“There are ways mortals and humans can access the Folk and the Sidhe. Most of them rely on chance encounters that link a body in. None would work for us. You can’t “stumble” onto a hunt if you know where it’s going to be, for instance. We all of us knew too much, so even though we were technically mortals, the usual paths were closed. But. Someone who didn’t know could.”

Emily fidgeted. “Me? But you’d just told me everything.”

Becky shook her head. “You were less than a year old when we settled here. Once we knew what to do we put a lot of responsibility on you as you grew up. Even though we didn’t like it, we did what we could to qualify you for the loophole, make you aloof from your contemporaries, an outsider.’

“You’ve read enough to be familiar with our gambit, the magical chosen child?”

Emily gaped, forgotten cigarette hanging loose between her fingers. “Oh shit—sorry, I mean, are you joking? Loner gets reveal that only they can save the world and are gifted with abilities to do so, it’s a staple!”

Becky smiled and lifted her chin, straightening up the best she could in a sagging camp chair. When she spoke, her words rang like a proclamation.

“Well, due to no small amount of work on the court’s part, you qualify. Of the lot of us exiled from the Sidhe only you, Amelia Anderson, called Emily, can go back and gain us our rightful place.”

The two women sat silent, smoke coiling lazily in the summer night air. Emily felt a different tone to Becky’s use of the word “court”. It encompassed more than the residents of Royal Oak; it hinted at power. When Becky spoke again, it was softer, with no hint of formality.

“When the kids’ folks all get back, we’ll have a proper ceremony and give you all the details. I was just to give you the basics first and, more importantly, see if you believe it.”

Emily crushed out the ashy remnants of her cigarette and flung her arms around Becky. “I’ve got to. I knew there was supposed to be more than college.”

This post is part of The Audacity Gambit – Serialised. Learn more about when the book was first published here, see the archive and overall content warnings here, and find more of my writing here. I’m over on both Comradery and Patreon, if you feel like supporting my creative endeavours. If you’d like to subscribe to this story, here’s a handy email box for you:

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