Broommates: Lord of the Land
* * * * *
“I think I heard a scream upstairs,” Booker said. Six sets of eyes turned to him, including the icy blue ones of the newcomer stuck in the magic circle. He did his best to disappear into a corner of the basement.
Miranda pinched the bridge of her nose and scrunched her eyes shut. “You left the landlord up there alone?”
Booker started to shake his head, then nodded.
“Go check on him,” Anthony said. Booker was happy to oblige.
“Thank goodness the great Anthony Singleton is here to guide us in our hour of need,” Miranda said with a bright smile.
“Oh, come on–”
“No, really! Without you we might do something wild and crazy, like trap one of the fey in a containment field!”
Kitty giggled. “He’s not fey, he’s one of the Ljósálfar.”
“You say álfr, I say elf.”
The captive straightened up. “I am right here and can hear you quite well, witch.” His voice was like running water over pebbles, fluid and lilting, but with a throaty undertone. “I am called Eldir.”
Miranda shot him a look that would have wilted dandelions. Anthony put a hand on her shoulder, which she shook off.
“Let him out, please,” Anthony murmured.
She harrumphed and stepped over to the circle. Raising her arms, she muttered something under her breath and then lowered her arms again, stretching out a foot to scuff the ground where she’d closed the circle.
Quicker than thought, Eldir’s sword was at her throat. “Now,” he said. “You will explain why the contract has been altered.”
“What contract?” Miranda asked, hardly daring to breathe.
“I was not addressing you.”
“It’s the human owner of the house,” Anthony said. “He’s restricted from selling it but he can basically charge us whatever rent he likes.”
“Rent,” the elf mused. “That is the gjald you pay to the lord of this land.”
“Well, this particular land, sure,” Parker said, stuffing his hands into his pockets.
“Anyway, we three couldn’t afford it by ourselves so we sublet some rooms.”
“You have contracted with the young völva and the shieldmaiden and–” Eldir looked at Kitty, who beamed at him. “–the strange haired one because you lack gold?”
“It’s not like the old days, is it?” Parker said. “We can’t just go off and pillage a town or something. It takes work!”
“And they consented to be part of your urðr? Of their own volition?”
“Part of your what?” Miranda asked.
Anthony looked away. “Not as such, no.”
“You thought you would bring them into this place and keep your duties as secrets?” The elf raised a perfectly arched eyebrow.
“Oh, stuff it, Miranda! You know very well what’s going on here!”
“The hell I do!”
Beatrice, who had been leaning against a wall, stepped over to Anthony. She was a bit shorter than him but she managed to loom like a giant.
“What is this about?” she asked.
“It’s… a long story,” Anthony said hesitantly.
“Summarize,” Miranda hissed.
“That’s the last open door in the world to the lands Below and we’re guarding it,” Parker said.
Miranda almost asked “From whom?” but stopped because she already knew the answer. And it was, well, from just about everyone.
“Lands Above,” she whispered. “Who else knows?”
“No one,” Anthony said quickly.
“Well,” Parker said, scratching his neck. “Maybe a few people.”
* * * * *
“I didn’t know you spoke Chinese,” Faustino said crossly.
“Japanese,” Booker said.
Faustino stood off to the side while Booker crouched next to the now very conscious and nearly hysterical girl who kept trying to get up from the settee.
“I did tell her I was sorry!”
Booker winced. “In English, of course. She doesn’t speak it.”
“Is she another new tenant?”
“I don’t… she just…”
Booker’s breath came in ragged gasps. He fumbled in his pockets, pulling out an inhaler and taking two hits in rapid succession. Both the girl and Faustino watched him in silence.
“Listen,” Booker gasped. “Anthony will be up in a minute to explain. I’m going to… have a sit down.” He collapsed into a chair, sending up a puff of dust.
Faustino stroked his mustache furtively. “I think I have seen more than enough.”
* * * * *
Miranda eyed the elf, who still held the sword at her throat. “You going to leave that there all day?”
“My arm never wearies,” Eldir replied. “But I do tire of your questions. And so I pose one to you: why are you and your sisters here?”
“They’re not my–”
“Answer the question.”
“We needed a place to live.”
“Yet surely there are many others you could have chosen? Why this one?”
Miranda looked away. “It was on a convergence,” she mumbled. “I knew we could use the power.”
The elf smirked. “An honest answer. And now that you know of the way between your land and mine, would you use that power as well?”
Miranda considered this. If she could somehow gain access to the unbridled, chaotic magics that governed Below… the things she could do! Reality would be hers to mold. She could make crops grow, change weather patterns, maybe even cure diseases. Or perhaps she was thinking too narrowly. Could she control global warming? Re-mold landscapes so that resources were equally shared? Turn every nuclear warhead to dust? End war and crime and poverty for all time?
“What’s the catch?” Miranda asked.
“I believe I was asking the question.”
“And I’m answering it! I was raised to use magic to help people. I’ve been all over the world doing just that. I could use magic from Below but what would it do to me? To the worlds Above and Below? To you?”
Eldir searched her eyes and she stared back defiantly. Slowly, he lowered his sword and stepped away.
“Know that in living here, his fate is your own,” he told her, gesturing at Anthony.
“I think I can deal with a few dragons.”
Now, the elf laughed. “I suspect that you can, Miranda Sullivan, with the help of your comrades. May your norn be kind.”
With that, he bowed to all of them and turned, stepping through the open door behind him. He seemed to walk down a long tunnel until about twenty feet in, when he vanished.
* * * * *
They found Booker upstairs, still consoling the miserable Japanese woman.
“He’s gone,” Anthony said.
“Yes,” Booker said.
“I mean Eldir.”
“Oh. Well, Faustino, too. He said something about raising our rent again.”
Anthony ran a hand through his sandy blond hair. “We’ll figure it out.”
Miranda put a hand on his shoulder. “Yes, we will.” Then she punched him. “Any more secrets we should know about?”
Anthony rubbed his arm, grinning. “Maybe a few. Come on, don’t you want a little mystery in your life?”
* * * * *