Naming Day (Jake Underwood Book 1)

BOOK: Naming Day (Jake Underwood Book 1)
13.91Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

To my Mother

She gave me my love of reading and SF

She was my greatest fan and I was hers.

Chapter One


This story really started in 1900, about 104 years ago, with my birth. Maybe that’s not quite true. Perhaps it would fairer to say that the story really started about nine months earlier when my mother succumbed to the charms of a noble of the Bright Kingdom. It may have started before then, but since my mother died in childbirth I can’t get her side of the story. My father pretends that I am some sort of shit that he’s picked up on his shoes and like all good inhabitants of the Bright Kingdom, he considers half breeds less than the humans he takes advantage of. He has deigned to speak to me only when he must and then with only the barest offer of courtesy, although I am told that he is well respected and renowned for his hospitality among his peers. I seldom regret that I am not among their number.

I suppose that’s too far back. Really, the current crisis began less than a week ago in my office in the Americana building in downtown Houston. Naming Day was far from my thoughts as were any thoughts of my mixed heritage.

Naming Day should be on your hundredth birthday, but in all honesty, I was more than happy to let the day pass unmarked four years ago. I had forgotten about it and had busied myself sorting out a bit of insurance fraud when a messenger announced himself to my secretary, Adriana.

The intercom crackled and Adriana’s voice lilted through the tinny speaker.

“Boss, there’s a …gentleman here who says his name is Cuthbert Brightwater. He say’s he has news of your father and that he brings a message from the Court. You really should keep me informed when you have to testify and shame on you for telling me your father was dead.”

“May as well be” I muttered and opened the drawer and took out the silenced Glock and made sure that it was fitted with pure iron shells with the high temp accelerant. I had discovered a few decades ago that it was a bad idea to see anybody from the Bright Kingdom unarmed. The pure iron bullets had to be custom made, but they were worth every penny. Some of the Fey pranced about spelled against every conceivable earthbound danger. Normal copper jacketed slugs could be warded against in the same manner as lead but no user of the Craft had found a way to protect against pure Iron. It was still as deadly to the Fey as it had been in the days of the Empire of Oberon.

Cuthbert Brightwater strolled into my office and let the door shut behind him. With the click of the knob, he dropped the glamour that had hid his raiment from mortal eyes. He was wasting his time with me, but I didn’t bother to tell him that. The Fey are vain and fickle for the most part. When you see someone from the Court you almost always never see the truth. Mortals usually see whatever they expect to see, say someone in suit and tie or a vixen in a tight dress or even a cleaning lady. Other Court members see whatever bizarre fashion is the current trend at court or whatever signature style someone is affecting.

Me? I can see what they really look like. Glamours with a half breed can be a bit dodgy. Most half breeds I’ve talked to see exactly whatever anyone else does. One in a hundred is like me. We can see things. We can see through glamours. Occasionally we see things that aren’t really there. Are they hallucinations? All the ones I have talked to like me see visions and memories and sometimes residual emotions of tragedy and terror. Rarely, we see other worlds, full of twisted images, demons and angels, all the bright and dark stuff that clouds the imagination. As you can imagine most of us who see things like this are crazy. Sometimes I wonder if we are crazy because we see these things or seeing these things makes us crazy. With a little concentration I can see magical effects and see through glamours. The visions can come uncalled for but with a little bourbon you can block them out, then you’re left with what passes for reality.

“Jake Underwood? Son of Lord Caren’s Blight?” Cuthbert wasn’t wasting any time and came quickly to the point. I guess court messenger’s have hectic schedules to keep.

“It has come to the attention of the Court of Dawn, under the High Lord of the Hunt that your Naming Day has come and gone. As a subject of the court and servant of the Tenth Circle you are required to present yourself to the Court of Renown for Naming, seven days hence. You must be prepared to recount your deeds of valor and accomplishments, also your record of services to Court of Dawn. All quests and tasks completed should be offered for consideration in regards to your name.

He wasn’t armed. I least I didn’t see anything that appeared to be a weapon. I didn’t count the sword that he carried. It was part of his courtly glamour. I could just see it if a squinted a little and concentrated. Very fancy.  Completely useless since it didn’t exist.  With the mortal world being the way it was, there were just too many metal detectors around for anybody to sashay around with a three foot long steel manstaber strapped on at the waist.

“Is that so? Missed my Naming Day, did I? Imagine that. It must have slipped my mind in the past four years, what with all the business the court has with me.” It was at times like this that I wished I still smoked. Smoking always gave me something to do with my hands and gave me a moment to think. Now I just sat there and used a few seconds up pushing business cards around my desk blotter and gathering my thoughts.

Cuthbert sniffed. “You are Jake Underwood, are you not? That is your mortal name, isn’t it?” He said the words like they burned his tongue. Maybe they did. The Fey were weird.

“Yes. I am Jake Underwood. Would you care to tell me why the Court of Dawn cares about this at all? They’ve barely noticed that I’m alive the past hundred years or so, why bother with this ceremony?” Cuthbert looked uncomfortable and probably was. He looked like he would rather be somewhere else.

“It is not my place to question High Lords, I merely deliver messages, not divine their intent.” He stood waiting for a response. “Jake Underwood, I require a reply. Let me remind you that failure to appear at the request of a High Lord can lead to your name being stricken and listed as unclean. The Unclean…”

“…have a bounty on each of their heads depending on the seriousness of the offense. Yes, I know. I’ll be there.”  Cuthbert looked relieved. I guess that was the answer he was waiting for.

“Yes, well, I shall report to the Keeper of the Court of Renown to prepare for your ceremony. Will there be…ah…any guests? Special requirements for mortals can take time. He will want to prepare.” I gathered that Cuthbert certainly hoped there would be no guests and as much as I hated to do it, I was forced to please him and tell him that there would be no mortal guests which would require preparations.

“Well, then I shall take my leave of you. “ Cuthbert was pleased to go and I was pleased to see him go. I got a sense of an unheard pop and realized that he must have raised his glamour back for my secretary.

Adriana brought in coffee and placed it on the desk. It was bad, as usual. I really wished sometimes she would just give up trying to make decent coffee and go to instant or maybe switch to tea. 

Her eyes were bubbling with questions that were fated to go unanswered. She seemed to pick up on this, as she set the cup of steaming, hot, black death down. I handed her a file and she retreated to her desk and became busy typing a report to an insurance company,  a case of fraud involving a worker who claimed a debilitating injury that didn’t seem to effect his golf.

I considered the “invitation” from the Court and thought about what it meant. It was true that I was nominally a subject of the High Lord, but all those with any blood of Fey were technically under his jurisdiction. He rarely bothered with half breeds, certainly not with half breeds blessed with a dubious past and clear disinclination to draw upon their inheritance from the Bright Kingdom. Curious.

I sat at my desk and tried to puzzle out what the ploy was and where the politics were and decided that all of my info was about fifteen years out of date. I would need more up to date intelligence and that meant field work.

I quickly set Adriana to work on the accounts payable and checked the schedule for other appointments that could be rescheduled. I had two other employees, who were out doing case work, but they could handle it and they could always reach me on my cell.

For the sake of my clients and my self respect I decided to spend a few hours making sure that none of the cases I had open would suffer if I were forced to spend some time away from the office today or a week from today. The case load was light. A good and a bad thing at the same time. More business would mean more money but would also make it hard to slip away when I needed to.

On the street, it took but a moment to find a trolley bus that was headed the way I needed to go. The Doubletree hotel was considered a high-end business hotel and frankly it was nice enough, but it was really the bar, The Silver Tree, which drew me. Serving a double purpose, I always though the name a little too cute, but the Fey enjoy a good double entendre, or truth be told, even a bad one.

The Silver Tree was well appointed and hardly crowded this time of day. Most of the lunch crowd had reluctantly or otherwise returned to work and left the bar to those whose drinking day started early or those who enjoyed a late lunch.

One side of the room was mirrored and to mortal eyes it made the whole place seem a lot bigger than it really was. It also served as a convenient way to check your necktie, to make sure that you hadn’t spilled liquor on your shirt. For some it also served as an entrance to another room, just hidden from view. A split second before or after this room there existed the other Silver Tree, the realm that I sought.

I often considered what one saw from this side when a patron stepped through the mirror. Does the glass ripple like when you run your fingers through still water or do you just squeeze through? I guess it doesn’t matter. The portal is spelled so that when people should see something, they don’t. They get distracted and turn away or glance down at their drink or maybe see somebody in lobby they think they know. They just don’t see.

The crowd in the Silver Tree was pretty small. Like mortals, most of the Fey who went out to drink did so at night, not the afternoon. In one corner of the room was a short hall that led to a bathroom. It was located next to the mirror wall making it an easy step to from using the facilities to crossing over.

              As I pushed though the glass, I considered how much like crossing the Veil this felt like. The momentary disassociation and disorientation quickly passed once you stepped through and the new reality settled on your shoulders like a wet raincoat.  Of course, crossing the Veil took longer, at least it seemed to take longer and the Silver Tree wasn’t a full blown realm like Faerie, Jottenheim or Hellenica, it was more in the way of a pocket realm. Vast for a building, small for a realm. I have never fully explored the place but I suspected that a through survey of the environs would take a few days and yield a space the size of crowded city block.

              The foyer was laden with gilt and richly decorated carpeting. It always reminded me of a movie palace or a gaudy bordello. Appropriate in many ways. Behind me the mirrored glass displayed a view of the mundane world. The few customers lingering over their drinks had noticed nothing.

              Past the main reception area, past the velvet drapes stood the bar proper. This time of day was too early for members of the Dawn Court and far too late for members of the Twilight Court. Even so, there was always someone on duty at the bar. Kevin the owner of the Silver Tree, a goblin, stood behind the bar polishing a glass, affecting a look that bartenders and pub owners had honed to perfection. I had often wondered why they didn’t just get spelled glasses that were smash proof and automatically cleaning. Once, when I posed that question to Kevin he replied with needle sharp grin that it went against custom and besides where would fun be in unbreakable glass? He accused me of being soulless. A mortal insult to some, but a jest to me when delivered by one of the few Fey I actually trusted.

              “Jake! You’re here a little early aren’t you?” I grunted and took a seat at the bar. It was polished teak, dark and scarred and probably old as hell.

“Bourbon? I’ve got some fine single barrel stock from a boutique distillery in South Carolina, and I am aching to have someone with discriminating taste tell me if it’s worth 48 dollars a bottle or not.” Kevin placed a heavy bottomed tumbler on the teak counter and poured two fingers of amber liquid with a grace acquired through many years of serving customers without waiting for me to agree.

              “It’s pretty early in the day for me to start drinking, even good stuff. But I guess a small taste wouldn’t hurt.”  The Bourbon was smooth and smoky in my mouth. You could taste the charred white oak barrels and the care of the distiller. It spoke of a dark warehouse and the care of its aging. It left that little tickle at the back of throat and just a hint of heat as I swallowed. It packed quite a kick at 110 proof yet the taste of the alcohol was lost in the subtle mix of the single barrel blend. Exquisite.

              “Kevin, that’s some fine stuff. How much are you charging for a slug of that?” I was really asking out of curiosity as I doubted I would ever bother buying anything that nice at a bar. That kind of bourbon was best enjoyed at home after a good meal and with pleasant conversation. A bar was full of noise, smoke and stale cologne, all designed to rob a good bourbon of its special cachet.

              “Well, this one is free, but to paying customers, I guess about ten dollars a snort.” Kevin replied. Kevin wasn’t his real name of course. Goblins each had three secret names and a public one. Kevin was his public name, special because he choose it himself. I guess after all this time it seemed to suit him.

BOOK: Naming Day (Jake Underwood Book 1)
13.91Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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