Summer Knight Chapter Thirty Four

I'd done it. I'd saved the girl, stopped the thief, proved Mab's innocence, and won her support for the White Council, thereby saving my own ass.

Huzzah.

I lay there with Aurora's empty body, too tired to move. The Queens found me maybe a quarter of an hour later. I was only dimly aware of them, of radiant light of gold and blue meeting over me. Gold light gathered over the body for a moment and then flowed away, taking the dead flesh with it. I was left cold and tired on the ground.

The gold light's departure left only cold blue. A moment later, I felt Mab's fingers touch my head, and she murmured, ’’Wizard. I am well pleased with thee.’’

’’Go away, Mab,’’ I said, my voice tired.

She laughed and said, ’’Nay, mortal. It is you who must now depart. You and your companions.’’

’’What about Toot-toot?’’ I asked.

’’It is unusual for a mortal to be able to Call any of Faerie, even the lowest, into service, but it has been done before. Fear not for your little warriors. They were your weapon, and the only one accountable for their actions will be you. Take their steel with you, and it will be enough.’’

I looked up at her and said, ’’You're going to live up to your side of the bargain?’’

’’Of course. The wizards will have safe passport.’’

’’Not that bargain. Ours.’’

Mab's lovely, dangerous mouth curled up in a smile. ’’First, let me make you an offer.’’

She gestured, and the thorns parted. Maeve stood there in her white armor, and Mother Winter stood behind her, all shrouded in black cloth. Before them on the ground knelt Lloyd Slate, broken, obviously in pain, his hands manacled to a collar around his throat, the whole made of something that looked like cloudy ice.

’’We have a traitor among us,’’ Mab purred. ’’And he will be dealt with accordingly. After which there will be an opening for a new Knight.’’ She watched me and said, ’’I would have someone worthy of more trust as his successor. Accept that power and all debts between us are canceled.’’

’’Not just no,’’ I muttered. ’’Hell, no.’’

Mab's smile widened. ’’Very well, then. I'm sure we can find some way to amuse ourselves with this one until time enough has passed to offer again.’’

Slate looked up, blearily, his voice slurred and panicky. ’’No. No, Dresden. Dresden, don't let them. Don't let them take me. Take it, please, don't let them keep me waiting.’’

Mab touched my head again and said, ’’Only twice more, then, and you will be free of me.’’

And they left.

Lloyd Slate's screams lingered behind them.

I sat there, too tired to move, until the lights began to dim. I vaguely remember feeling Ebenezar heft me off the ground and get my arm across his shoulders. The Gatekeeper murmured something, and Billy answered him.

I woke up back at my place, in bed.

Billy, who had been dozing in a chair next to the bed, woke up with a snort and said, ’’Hey, there you are. You thirsty?’’

I nodded, throat too dry to speak, and he handed me a glass of cool water.

’’What happened?’’ I asked, when I could speak.

He shook his head. ’’Meryl died. She told me to tell you that she'd made her Choice and didn't regret it. Then she just changed. We found her on the ground near you.’’

I closed my eyes and nodded.

’’Ebenezar said to tell you that you'd made a lot of people see red, but that you shouldn't worry about them for a while.’’

’’Heh,’’ I said. ’’The Alphas?’’

’’Banged up,’’ Billy said, a hint of pride in his voice. ’’One hundred and fifty-five stitches all together, but we all came out of it more or less in one piece. Pizza party and gaming at my place tonight.’’

My stomach growled at the word ’’pizza.’’

I took a shower, dried off, and dressed in clean clothes. That made me blink. I looked around the bathroom, then peeked out at my bedroom, and said to Billy, ’’You cleaned up? Did laundry?’’

He shook his head. ’’Not me.’’ There was a knock at the door and he said, ’’Just a minute.’’ I heard him go out and say something through the door before he came back in. ’’Visitors.’’

I put some socks on, then my sneakers. ’’Who is it?’’

’’The new Summer Lady and Knight,’’ Billy said.

’’They looking for trouble?’’

Billy grinned and said, ’’Just come talk to them.’’

I glowered at him and followed him out to the main room. It was spotless. My furniture is mostly secondhand, sturdy old stuff with a lot of wood and a lot of textured fabrics. It all looked clean too, and there were no stains in it. My rugs, everything from something that could have flown in the skies of mythic Araby to tourist-trap faux Navajo, had also been cleaned and aired out. I checked the floor underneath the rugs. Mopped and scoured clean. The hod had fresh wood in it, and the fireplace had been not only emptied out but swept clean to boot.

My staff and blasting rod were in the corner, gleaming as if they'd been polished, and my gun hung in its holster, freshly oiled. The gun had been polished too.

I went over to the alcove with the stove, sink, and icebox. The icebox was an old-fashioned one that stocked actual ice, given my problems with electricity. It had been cleaned, and new ice put in it. It was packed with neat rows of food - fresh fruits and veggies, juice, Cokes - and there was ice cream in the freezer. My pantry was full of dry foods, canned foods, pasta, sauces. And Mister had a new litterbox, made of wood, lined with plastic, and full of fresh litter. He had a carved wooden bowl as well, and a mate for water, and he had emptied it of food. Mister himself sprawled on the floor, batting idly at a cloth sack of catnip hanging from a string on the pantry door.

’’I died,’’ I said. ’’I died and someone made a clerical error and this is heaven.’’

I looked around to find Billy grinning at me like a fool. He hooked a thumb at the door. ’’Visiting dignitaries?’’

I went to the door and opened it warily, peeking around it.

Fix stood there in a set of mechanic's coveralls. His frizzy white hair floated around his head and complemented his smile. He had grease on his hands and face, and his old toolbox sat on the ground next to him. Beside him stood Lily, shapely figure showing off simple dark slacks and a green blouse. Her hair had been pulled back into a ponytail.

And it had turned snow white.

’’Harry,’’ Fix said. ’’How you doing?’’

I blinked at them and said, ’’You? The new Summer Lady?’’

Lily flushed prettily and nodded. ’’I know. I didn't want it, but when - when Aurora died, her power flowed into the nearest Summer vessel. Usually it would be one of the other Queens, but I had the Knight's power and it just sort of ... plopped in there.’’

I lifted my eyebrows and said, ’’Are you okay?’’

She frowned. ’’I'm not sure. It's a lot to think about. And it's the first time this kind of power has fallen to a mortal.’’

’’You mean you're not, uh. You haven't?’’

’’Chosen?’’ Lily asked. She shook her head. ’’It's just me. I don't know what I'm going to do, but Titania said she'd teach me.’’

I glanced aside. ’’And you chose Fix as your Knight, huh.’’

She smiled at Fix. ’’I trust him.’’

’’Suits me,’’ I said. ’’Fix kicked the Winter Knight's ass once already.’’

Lily blinked and looked at Fix. The little guy flushed, and I swear to God, he dragged one foot over the ground.

Lily smiled and offered me her hand. ’’I wanted to meet you. And to thank you, Mister Dresden. I owe you my life.’’

I shook her hand but said, ’’You don't owe me anything. I'm apparently saving damsels on reflex now.’’ My smile faded and I said, ’’Besides, I was just the hired help. Thank Meryl.’’

Lily frowned and said, ’’Don't blame yourself for what happened. You did what you did because you have a good heart, Mister Dresden. Just like Meryl. I can't repay a kindness like that, and it's going to be years before I can make much use of my ... my ...’’ she fumbled for a word.

’’Power?’’

’’Okay, power. But if you need help, or a safe place, you can come to me. Whatever I can do, I will.’’

’’She had some brownies come clean up your place for you, Harry,’’ Fix said. ’’And I just finished up with your car, so it should run for you now. I hope you don't mind.’’

I had to blink my eyes a few times, before I said, ’’I don't mind. Come on in, I'll get you a drink.’’

We had a nice visit. They seemed like decent kids.

After everyone left, it was dark, and there was another knock at the door. I answered it, and Elaine stood there, in a T-shirt and jeans shorts that showed off her pretty legs. She had her hair up under a Cubs baseball hat, and she said without preamble, ’’I wanted to see you before I left.’’

I leaned against the doorway close to her. ’’You got out okay, I guess.’’

’’So did you. Did Mab pay up?’’

I nodded. ’’Yeah. What about you? Are you still beholden to Summer?’’

Elaine shrugged. ’’I owed everything to Aurora. Even if she'd wanted to quibble about whether or not I'd paid her back in full, it's a moot point now.’’

’’Where are you going?’’

She shrugged. ’’I don't know. Somewhere with a lot of people. Maybe go to school for a while.’’ She took a deep breath and then said, ’’Harry, I'm sorry things went like that. I was afraid to tell you about Aurora. I guess I should have known better. I'm glad you came through it all right. Really glad.’’

I had a lot of answers to that, but the one I picked was, ’’She thought she was doing something good. I guess I can see how you'd ... Look, it's done.’’

She nodded. Then she said, ’’I saw the pictures on your mantel. Of Susan. Those letters. And that engagement ring.’’

I glanced back at the mantel and felt bad in all kinds of ways. ’’Yeah.’’

’’You love her,’’ Elaine said.

I nodded.

She let out a breath and looked down, so that the bill of her hat hid her eyes. ’’Then can I give you some advice?’’

’’Why not.’’

She looked up and said, ’’Stop feeling sorry for yourself, Harry.’’

I blinked and said, ’’What?’’

She gestured at my apartment. ’’You were living in a sewer, Harry. I understand that there's something you're blaming yourself for. I'm just guessing at the details, but it's pretty clear you were driving yourself into the ground because of it. Get over it. You aren't going to do her any good as a living mildew collection. Stop thinking about how bad you feel - because if she cares about you at all, it would tear her up to see you like I saw you a few days ago.’’

I stared at her for a moment and then said, ’’Romantic advice. From you.’’

She flashed me half of a smile and said, ’’Yeah. The irony. I'll see you around.’’

I nodded and said, ’’Good-bye, Elaine.’’

She leaned up and kissed my cheek again, then turned and left. I watched her go. And illegal mind fog or not, I never mentioned her to the Council.

Later that night I showed up at Billy's apartment. Laughter drifted out under the door, along with music and the smell of delivered pizza. I knocked and Billy answered the door. Conversation ceased inside.

I came into the apartment. A dozen wounded, bruised, cut, and happy werewolves watched me from around a long table scattered with drinks, Pizza Spress boxes, dice, pencils, pads of paper, and little inch-tall models on a big sheet of graph paper.

’’Billy,’’ I said. ’’And the rest of you guys, I just wanted to say that you really handled yourselves up there. A lot better than I expected or hoped. I should have given you more credit. Thank you.’’

Billy nodded and said, ’’It was worth it. Right?’’

There was a murmur of agreement from the room.

I nodded. ’’Okay, then. Someone get me a pizza and a Coke and some dice, but I want it understood that I'm going to need thews.’’

Billy blinked at me. ’’What?’’

’’Thews,’’ I said. ’’I want big, bulging thews, and I don't want to have to think too much.’’

His face split in a grin. ’’Georgia, do we have a barbarian character sheet left?’’

’’Sure,’’ Georgia said, and went to a file cabinet.

I took a seat at the table and got handed pizza and Coke, and listened to the voices and chatter start up again, and thought to myself that it was a whole hell of a lot better than spending another night crucifying myself in the lab.

’’You know what disappoints me?’’ Billy asked me after a while.

’’No, what?’’

’’All of those faeries and duels and mad queens and so on, and no one quoted old Billy Shakespeare. Not even once.’’

I stared at Billy for a minute and started to laugh. My own aches and bruises and cuts and wounds pained me, but it was an honest, stretchy pain, something that was healing. I got myself some dice and some paper and some pencils and settled down with friends to pretend to be Thorg the Barbarian, to eat, drink, and be merry.

Lord, what fools these mortals be.


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