Read The Steward Online

Authors: Christopher Shields

The Steward

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictionally. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Copyright © 2012 by Christopher Shields

All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of the publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without prior written permission of the Author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

Contact the Author at www.wealdfaejournals.com

Cover Art © 2012 by Christopher Shields

Cover Art by Derek McCumber

Editor Richard Shelton

Kindle Edition

For:

Lance, Doug, Billy, Greg, and Danny.

Forever loved.

Always an inspiration.

Never forgotten.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

PROLOGUE
5

CHAPTER
ONE
7

CHAPTER
TWO
12

CHAPTER
THREE
18

CHAPTER
FOUR
27

CHAPTER
FIVE
37

CHAPTER
SIX
44

CHAPTER
SEVEN
51

CHAPTER
EIGHT
59

CHAPTER
NINE
63

CHAPTER
TEN
68

CHAPTER
ELEVEN
72

CHAPTER
TWELVE
80

CHAPTER
THIRTEEN
89

CHAPTER
FOURTEEN
97

CHAPTER
FIFTEEN
102

CHAPTER
SIXTEEN
107

CHAPTER
SEVENTEEN
109

CHAPTER
EIGHTEEN
114

CHAPTER
NINETEEN
119

CHAPTER
TWENTY
120

CHAPTER
TWENTY
-
ONE
124

CHAPTER
TWENTY
-
TWO
124

CHAPTER
TWENTY
-
THREE
124

CHAPTER
TWENTY
-
FOUR
124

CHAPTER
TWENTY
-
FIVE
124

CHAPTER
TWENTY
-
SIX
124

CHAPTER
TWENTY
-
SEVEN
124

CHAPTER
TWENTY
-
EIGHT
124

CHAPTER
TWENTY
-
NINE
124

CHAPTER
THIRTY
124

CHAPTER
THIRTY
-
ONE
124

CHAPTER
THIRTY
-
TWO
124

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep.

—Robert Frost,

Stopping by Woods on a

Snowy Evening

New Hampshire

PROLOGUE

June Twenty-First, Nineteen Eighty-One

The Weald, Carroll County, Arkansas

Four weeks into their summer break, David and Kyle were up to no good. Each summer played out like the last, with both boys hell bent on mischief, although on the family’s remote property, the Weald, their options were limited. The boys were eleven-year-old cousins, best friends, and co-conspirators.

They had stolen four cans of Budweiser, a half-pack of Marlboro cigarettes, and planned to share their spoils like they had at least once a week for the past month. Their favorite hiding place was the cave tucked into a bluff high above Beaver Lake. The cave was the one place on the Weald they thought Kyle’s parents wouldn’t catch them. Kyle and David were too young to know the real dangers on the family’s property, so they trudged up the hill to the bluff, blissfully ignorant. It was the opportunity the Unseelie were waiting for.

Chalen, an Unseelie Fae, watched his prey from atop the hill, hidden from the boys’ view among the old trees and thick underbrush. The Seelie Fae had let down their guard and allowed the cousins, both potential Stewards, to roam the woods without protection. After all, why would the Seelie worry about the boys? The détente between the Fae clans had gone unchallenged for over two thousand years. Chalen’s foggy blue eyes never glistened or looked happy, but a smile formed on his pockmarked face. He was ecstatic. After two centuries of planning, who knew it would be this easy?

Confident they’d snuck away unseen, Kyle, the oldest by nine days, tied a thick, knotted cotton rope around the nearest pine tree and tossed it over the side. He was the first to begin climbing down toward the opening. Though the edge of the bluff was ninety feet above the lake, he wasn’t afraid. He climbed into the cave dozens of times—he knew every toehold and crevice by heart. The toe of his Adidas sneaker found the first small ledge, and he shifted his weight to it. He gripped the rope, grinned up at David, and slung the knapsack over his shoulder.

Still hidden from view, Chalen let the smile slip from his face as he concentrated on the bluff surface. With a slight pop, the stone holding Kyle’s weight snapped and gave way. It fell and shattered on the large slab of rock at the water’s edge. Kyle swung on the rope and wrapped his legs over a knot. The fear he felt quickly subsided as he pulled himself closer to the bluff with his right hand, and he laughed.

Chalen’s eyes misted over—he’d truly missed the pleasure of tormenting humans. His satisfaction welling up with each blitz, he snapped the rope a few feet above Kyle’s left hand. A sharp breath caught in Chalen’s chest as he sensed the growing fear in the boys.

Gripping an outcropping just below the ledge, Kyle screamed for help, his face contorting from the strain of swinging by one hand. David sprawled out on his stomach and fought to catch Kyle’s outstretched fingers.

“Grab my hand!” he yelled, reaching down to Kyle.

“I can’t hold on!”

“Grab my hand ... I’ll pull ya up.”

Kyle swung hard enough that their fingers touched once more, and David grabbed his hand. Kyle easily found another toehold and took several deep breaths.

Soaking in the terror that both boys radiated, Chalen concentrated on the surface of the bluff. Droplets of water formed, slowly at first, then more rapidly. In seconds the entire surface became wet and slick, even though there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.

“What’s going on?” David said with a strained voice.

“Pull me up! Pull me up!”

Dizzy with rapture, Chalen decided to create more water on the bluff surface. He wanted to drag it out as long as possible. It was his job, sure, but he relished it.

David struggled with Kyle’s weight. Water ran down their arms and snaked into the knapsack, filling it, making Kyle heavier by the moment.

“Drop the backpack!”

Kyle tried to dislodge it, but it stuck to his t-shirt and the straps pulled unyieldingly against his neck. Frantic, Kyle tried to tear it loose, but the pack clung to his shirt as though it were stitched on.

“It’s frozen ... David, help ... oh god, oh god!”

“I got ya and I ain’t lettin’ go.”

Not yet, anyway,
Chalen thought to himself gleefully. Water ran down the bluff in thick rivulets and slowly began to freeze. While David struggled to pull his cousin to safety, the bluff surface became a sheet of ice that filled every nook and cranny.

Kyle’s cries for help sent spasms of pure pleasure through Chalen, who closed his eyes and basked in the euphoria of Kyle’s anguish.

The ice grew up the vertical surface and spread underneath David. Each time Kyle struggled, every twist, every attempt to find footing on the smooth icy surface, he pulled David a little further over the edge. David sobbed uncontrollably. Every muscle in his hands and arms burned under the strain.

Kyle stopped struggling and looked down, fidgeting. David felt him loosen his grip.

“No you don’t!” David sobbed, “I ain’t lettin’ go.”

The boys, who could almost pass as twins, exchanged looks. A smile formed on Kyle’s tear-soaked face. David cried even harder. “Don’t give up!” he screeched through his clenched teeth, “Don’t let go ... promise ya ain’t lettin’ go.”

“Maybe I can make it to the water.”

“It’s too far!” David howled in agony, his hands going numb.

Desperate, David pulled as hard as he could and Kyle moved up a few inches. Only a little further and Kyle might be able to reach the edge of the bluff. David struggled again but slipped on the slick surface. Kyle slid lower in David’s grip.

Disturbed by the brief window of hope the boys experienced, Chalen decided enough was enough. He had one more surprise for them. A thick rope of water coiled around David’s body, his neck, and then down his arms. The boys stared in horror as the watery snake forced itself between their clasped hands. It took only a second to pry them apart.

Kyle screamed as he plummeted nine stories to the rocks below, several feet short of the water’s edge. David stopped breathing as he watched Kyle hit the rocks, chest first. The dull thud echoed in David’s head. As he watched Kyle’s still form splayed on the rock edge below, a wave much higher than any other on the calm lake lapped up the surface of the table-sized stone and pulled Kyle’s broken body into the murky depths. Within moments he sank out of view. Only a bloody stain on the rocks remained.

Chalen’s breath came in rapid bursts. His eyes rolled back in his head—he was delirious, but not quite sated. He steadied himself, feeding on every morsel of grief David experienced. Chalen reached out to David’s mind.
You let go. It’s your fault Kyle died.

David heaved, still lying prone over the edge of the bluff, not noticing that the ice and water had disappeared. The stone surface was dry, warm, and exactly as it should be on a sunny June day.

You will remember nothing except letting go.

Chalen left David alone at the bluff, begging for Kyle’s forgiveness.

ONE

THE DOOR

I stared at the wide, glassy brown eyes reflected in the mirror just a few feet away. Mine, though I hardly recognized them. Only anger and fear looked back. The taut, puffy lids revealed too much white around the irises. Red veins, like frayed yarn, bulged beneath the wet surfaces. The shaking hands in the reflection, my hands, worked to press the wrinkles out of the smooth, olive skin above the brow. No use—the craggy lines returned instantly. The jittering eyes, the deep lines, the grimace plastered across the face, all ample evidence of the scream that wanted out.

Abruptly, I diverted my attention away from the reflection, as if I were hiding my eyes from the scene in a horror movie where the actor is about to stumble into a dark room to meet his tragic end.
Ironic metaphor.

“Good lord, Maggie O’Shea, get a grip. It’s just a cave.”

My words did nothing to dispel the mental pictures of being trapped by falling rocks in the dark, dank bowels of a mountain. Of all the things that one can be afraid of, caves were at the top of my list. I closed my eyes and tried harder to force the images away.

I focused on the shiver that ran up my spine and worked its way to my icy hands, hoping somehow it would shake loose the vice-like grip my chest had on my lungs. After lacing on my hiking boots, new and stiff, I breathed deeply, letting the air slowly escape, and imagined myself back home in Florida, lying on a beach.
I’m warm, hot even.
What I’d give to be back there … in my real home.

Over the past two years, my life had changed in ways I could never have imagined. My dad lost his job, and was forced to pick up two more to make up the difference. He worked longer hours, much longer, but in time we still ended up losing our house in Boca Raton. And despite my bitter arguments, and my prayers, bad luck forced our move to Eureka Springs, Arkansas … the Sticks. I begged my parents to stay in South Florida … well—I waged a short-lived civil war. But after they tired of trying to speak rationally with me, they told me how it was going to be.

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