Sevenna must’ve loved the king. Surely she did. Once more I try and find sympathy for her, as hard as it may be.
“I can assure you she’s very real. Oh, speaking of her, she did mention something. Or rather, Eldas did.”
“Eldas mentioned that he sent Poppy away and she won’t be back for at least two more months.” I finish gathering the supplies I think I’ll need and proceed to check them twice. “I remember you saying she was on some kind of a trip a while ago… Is it the same one? Is everything all right?”
“He sent her to the Natural World.”
“What?” I gasp softly.
“I thought you knew…” A frown briefly crosses his face. “I’m sorry, I would’ve mentioned it sooner.”
“No, it’s fine. What did he send her for?”
“He was worried about the city across the Fade not having its healer after you left, or that’s what Grandmother told me. It seems a bit odd, if you ask me. I’ve never heard of a king sending aid to your side.”
I pretend to focus on my basket as my insides knot. I remember the conversation we had in the Fade and the fears I confided in him. Here I was going about my days, oblivious to this kindness… I merely figured Poppy was busy elsewhere in Midscape. Why didn’t Eldas say anything?
“Are you all right?”
“Yes, I’m fine.” I sling my arm through the basket. “Do you mind watching Hook while I run this errand? If he gets troublesome you can send him off.”
He gasps. “I would never send my Hookie off!” Willow hops from his perch to grab Hook’s face with both hands. “Are you ready? We’re going to figure out those biscuits today. Yes we are. Yes we are.” His puppy talk brings a grin to my face and I depart knowing Hook is in good hands for the time being.
I’m recall the way back to Harrow’s chambers from memory. It’s slow going and I second-guess every step. But the leisurely pace gives me time to think about Eldas’s gesture in sending Poppy back, as well as Sevenna, Harrow, Eldas, and the unconventional family I’ve found myself not quite a part of.
I knock on Harrow’s door and pray Sevenna isn’t there. There’s no response, which I take as a good sign. It’s possible he’s still sleeping.
“Hello?” I say as I crack open the door.
“Is that my brother’s queen?” Harrow rasps.
“And your personal healer,” I respond and shut the door behind me. Someone has cleaned up the room. There’s much less for me to dance around as I make my way to his bed.
“Lucky me,” he says dryly.
“We both have the best luck, it seems,” I retort, just as dry.
“Fair. You had to end up married to my bastard of a brother.”
“He’s not half as much of a bastard as you.”
Harrow snorts and gives me a tired grin as I check on the status of the medicines I left behind. Both the powder and second dose of the potion are gone. And judging from the color that’s returned to Harrow’s cheeks, my concoctions worked.
“Careful, Luella, if you keep talking to me like that I may end up liking you.”
He snorts. “I do find I prefer the company of people who treat me like shit.”
“And why is that?” I ask offhandedly, though I’m genuinely curious of the answer.
“Who knows? Maybe because I know I’m not worth anything better?” Harrow speaks as I finish the potion I started in the laboratory. A bundle of thyme turns to dust in my fingers as the liquid in the mug I’m holding shifts in color to a murky brown. Magic tingles on my palm. I have more control of my powers, I think, more confidence at the very least.
“That’s not true,” I say as I hand the mug to him. I sit on the edge of the bed. He eyes the movement, but doesn’t tell me to get out…which is progress I didn’t know I was after.
“What do you know?” he says, half hidden behind the mug.
“Everyone is worthy of decency. It’s why I’m helping you, after all.”
“And I bet you think you’re so much better than I am because of it.” He sneers. But the expression lacks the same kind of venom it once held. Or perhaps I’ve become immune to his particular brand of poison.
“I’m not better than anyone.” I sigh. “Though I wish I was better for myself.” If I was, I might have known I was the queen earlier. I might have been able to figure out a way to stop the cycle and fix the seasons of Midscape by now. I might have seen Eldas’s kindness. I might not be ignoring the stirrings in me toward him.
“Don’t we all?”
“So, what happened?” I divert the topic and my thoughts. “Tell me what actually happened to you this time.”
“So you can report to my brother?”
“It’ll stay between us. I swear it to you.” I look Harrow dead in the eyes.
“You swear it?” He arches his eyebrows.
“I take the relationship I have with my patients seriously, Harrow. You have my word I won’t tell Eldas—or anyone else—anything.”
“I guess I can believe that. You didn’t last time.” He sighs. “I…I may have involved myself with something I shouldn’t.”
“What?” I ask as he passes his mug between his palms.
“I can’t believe I’m telling a human this,” he mutters.
“I’m your healer; think of me that way and nothing more.”
“Right. Well…I don’t know how it happened. It wasn’t supposed to.”
“A few weeks ago, I think I took glimmer for the first time. You have to believe me, it was completely by accident. I would’ve never sought out the stuff,” he says defensively.
“I don’t know what glimmer is.”
“Oh, right, human.” He rolls his eyes and I roll mine right back. “Glimmer is a…substance made by the fae. It heightens the connection with the Veil and, because of that, can improve elf magic. The sensation of power flowing through you is like none other. As if you’re halfway into the Beyond—halfway to the immortality we once had. Some people take it to perform incredible acts. Others…for pleasure.”
“I told you, I didn’t intend to. Not originally…”
I frown. At the academy there were students who experimented with various substances, natural and created. Some I even heard of selling such things on the streets of Lanton. But I never gave the matter much attention, choosing instead to distance myself from the shadier acts as much as possible. My studies kept me from everything I couldn’t grow in dirt.
“We were at a party. People were having a good time. I think something was slipped into my drink. That must’ve been it. But after…I…I craved it. Just a little at a time. But the allure of the Veil is overwhelming.”
I resist frowning. I don’t want him to interpret my worry as judgment. Instead, I keep my face passive and listen.
“Plus, when I take it, I don’t think about anything. The world slips away into that hazy blue void.” Suddenly, anger flashes in his eyes. “Do you know what it’s like to hunt for your whole life for a place you can just exist?”
“Yes,” I answer honestly. He’s startled. “It’s something I’ve always pursued—a place of my own, built by my own hands—a corner of the world I can make my duty to look after. Not for the same reasons as you, Harrow…but I know that feeling.”
“Look at me, relating to a human. They’d never believe it in the salons and lounges if they heard,” Harrow muttered.
“These are strange times indeed.” I grin slightly. But my expression quickly becomes serious. “Harrow, you can’t—”
“Before you say it, I know. I know I can’t keep doing this. And I don’t want to. But that siren call…” He stares off at nothing, as though he can hear it even now—the pull of this substance known as glimmer. “They call it glimmer because elves get a ‘glimmer’ of their immortality back. Now that I’ve tasted it, I want more. I don’t know how to stop the cravings.”
“I’ll help you,” I declare. I don’t like the way he’s talking about being closer to the Veil. Then, I add, “That is, if you want me to.”
“What can you do?”
I wish I had access to the library at the academy and its wealth of knowledge on all topics. Or that I could write to one of my past teachers who dealt with students who became trapped by the substances they created. But I may have something just as good here.
“Plants are magnificent things. They can create something as powerful as glimmer and they can also create ways to stave off such cravings.” I look him in the eyes. “Would you like me to try and make something like that for you?”
Harrow finishes his mug and passes it to me. He looks away like an obstinate child. Yet, despite all his body language to the contrary, he says, “Fine, I suppose. It’s not like I can stop you. I’m drinking whatever you put in front of me, anyway.”
“All right.” I take the mug and set it down. “I’ll see what I can do. In the meantime, don’t leave the castle.”
“No, Harrow. If you must, bring Jalic, Sirro, and Aria here.” I cringe inwardly at the suggestion. They’re the last people I want here, but if it helps Harrow then it’s what must be done. The wellbeing of my patients comes first, always.
I remember Aria in the alleyway and something passing between the fae and her. I bite my lip. Even if she wasn’t involved with the horned fae who tried to kidnap me, she still might be up to something. But if I bring up any suspicions now, Harrow will likely become defensive. I can’t risk him shutting off to me. Instead, I simply say, “Make sure they bring nothing harder than alcohol.”