bonus chapter: luca’s funeral
Note: This scene was intended to occur between Bea and Mistasinon first sleeping together and Mistasinon turning up at Bea’s flat to discuss her Plot (chapters 23 and 42). Ultimately, I felt it threw off the pacing of the novel and that Bea’s upset when Mistasinon arrived was easily explained due to his rather abrupt exit from her flat. However, in my own head-canon, this scene also accounts for why Bea was particularly surly when Mistasinon shows up.
Bea sat at the back of the room, trying to be inconspicuous. There were two reasons why this was proving difficult.
Firstly, she was the only fairy present and, on top of that, she was a garden fairy. There were very few garden fairies in the city. As a rule, the garden fairy clans lived in the Sheltering Forest, travelling nomadically. As much as the Sheltering Forest protected the city from the orcs and gnarls and ogres that wandered the wastelands beyond, leftovers from the war Yarnis had fought and lost, they did still make raids into the woods. The garden fairies had learnt it was safer to keep moving. Stay too long in one place, and you increased the chances of attack. Even then, fairies went out to forage and never returned…
Bea shivered, and forced her attention back to the room.
The second reason she stood out was because she was about four foot taller than any of the other mourners, who were all witchlein. She supposed she should have expected as much, considering she was at a witchlein funeral, but nevertheless she had been surprised.
Due to the circumstances of Luca’s death, the family had been unable to recover a piece of his bone to place in their alcove in the Library of Faces. Normally, when the fae died, a piece of their bone would be taken, filed down and carved into the clan symbol, and then kept in the Library of Faces for the grieving to visit. The humans, Bea knew, chose to bury their dead in the ground and mark the place with a standing stone. That seemed worse to Bea. How could you mourn someone you couldn’t see? How did you say goodbye to them when there was nothing visible to say goodbye to? It was something she’d struggled with when her father had disappeared.
But Luca had died in a fire at the Academy, far away from the Ænathlin funeral crafters. Not that it would have made much difference; there had been nothing left of Luca for the family to recover. And so, at what expense Bea didn’t like to consider, they had traded for a small, jade token instead, hence the delay for the funeral.
Bea sat silently at the back. It was a nice service, as much as these things could be. She hadn’t known Luca for long, or even that well, but she had liked him. And while it wasn’t her fault he’d died, she still felt in some way responsible. If she’d been quicker to work out what West was doing, perhaps she might have stopped it sooner. Perhaps.
Her thoughts turned, inevitably, to Mistasinon. She knew that there was more to his addiction to the GenAm than she understood. Equally, she was aware enough to recognise that sometimes people don’t recover from their pasts. And yet, she’d seen him; the real him, or, at least, the person he might have been if he’d been given the chance. The person she was sure he was, underneath it all. She didn’t believe he was only his… troubles… She didn’t, wouldn’t, believe that a person could be so defined by their pasts, because if she let herself believe that she’d never, ever, escape her own.
And yet… and yet, and yet, and yet… Mortal gods, she was angry with him. It sat inside her stomach, burning hot. Not just because he seemed determined to ignore what the GenAm was - what kind of person went back to the thing that had harmed them so? - but because he’d managed to get to her when she’d spent so long keeping herself walled-up, fortified by indignation and the crystal clear determination to show the world that she could do anything it said she couldn’t. That she was more than just a cabbage fairy who ran away from home when things got too difficult.
She’d thought he liked her. That he saw something in her, too; something of the person she might have been. The person she could be.
And he’d chosen the GenAm.
The GenAm used to send emissary parties into the Forest, when she’d been growing up. They’d bring the Teller’s words to the fairy clans, along with food and drink and promises of a better life.
She could remember the immaculate, brownie-sewn red flags now, clashing against the earthy green honesty of the trees:
The Teller Cares About You
And now she was sitting in a funeral for a friend who’d died because of the Teller and the GenAm. Now she knew the truth of life in the city, and how little the GenAm cared about anyone. Now she’d seen what they did to maintain their power… the genies, the Redacted women, the stories and the lies and the tight, vicious control it commanded over everyone and everything.
And now she was almost very likely quite possibly rather, er, fond of someone who the GenAm had killed in a thousand little ways, every day he’d been with them. And he didn’t see it. He didn’t want to see it.
Bea wiped her eyes, not sure anymore whether she was crying for Luca or Mistasinon or herself.
The funeral finished, Bea was hanging around the fountain in the Library of Faces, trying to decide if she should speak to anyone or just leave.
The witchlein were gathered in a small cluster a few feet away. It would be wrong to go without at least offering her condolences, but on the other hand, she didn’t actually know anyone. She should probably just leave, shouldn’t she? She’d said her goodbye to Luca; what in the worlds was she supposed to say to his family?
She dipped her hand into the cool, clean water. The Library of Faces was one of the few places in the city were the water didn’t need to be boiled or, the general preference of the fae, be turned into weak beer. Ostensibly, the fountain was there to clean the bone tiles, but Bea knew that a lot of the fae drank from it or filled bottles to take home. Not big bottles, mark you - there were rules, albeit unspoken ones.
It was a strange set-up, Bea thought. Everyone knew everyone did it, and yet it was somehow clandestine. The dead didn’t need clean water. Hells, the bone tiles could easily be cleaned with the yellowy-brown stuff that came out of the public wells. The fae could use the fountain water for drinking, thus saving numerous evenings spent on the toilet when someone forgot to treat the public water with the respect it demanded. But instead, everyone kept on using the wells dotted around the city and put up with the resulting mild dysentery.
Still, Bea very rarely bothered coming here. She didn’t have any family to visit in the Library, and coming in just to take the water was breaking the rules, no matter how stupid they were. Not that she had a problem breaking rules, generally. If she hadn’t gone about changing the Plots, the chain of events that had led to this moment would have broken at the first link. But, for whatever reason and even though she found the whole thing beyond wasteful, the idea of coming here just to take the water felt deeply wrong.
She wiped her wet hand over her face, and stood to leave.
“You’re that fairy, aren’t you? The one that got into the Academy?”
A small, pale yellow witchlein had left the group and walked up to Bea. The witchlein was wearing a simple dress, smart but functional, and her scales were down, giving her the look of a snake. Her sharp tongue darted out of her mouth to lick her lips. “Luca talked about you before he left.”
“Um. Yes. Bea. Hi.”
“He thought you were very brave. Thought you were going to change everything.” The witchlein sounded tired. “He sssaid it wasss going to get better.”
“Oh. Yes.” Bea’s fingers tapped against the palms of her hands, one still cold from the water.
“Doesssn’t ssseem better, though, doesss it? Not for Luca, anyway. He usssed to write to me about you. Sssaid you weren’t doing very well. Sssaid you were getting into fightsss. Sssaid you were ssscared of him, just like all the ressst.”
Bea didn’t know what to say to that. She could hardly deny it, not without lying.
“And then I got thisss letter from him: ‘I’ve made friendsss with the fairy’, he wrote. ‘Ssshe ssstands up for the othersss’, he wrote. And do you know what?”
“That wasss the lassst letter he sssent to me. The next thing I heard, he wasss dead. Found burnt to a crisssp sssomewhere he ssshouldn’t have been, becaussse all the brown sssuitsss had to be on extra watch. Becaussse of sssomething you did. They didn’t tell usss that, by the way. I worked it out from hisss lettersss. The GenAm protected you. But they let Luca die.”
Invisible pins pricked Bea’s skin, making her fingers tingle and her chest hurt. She wanted to back away, but the fountain was behind her.
“I’m sorry.” What else could she say?
“Yesss. I expect you are. You didn’t get your purple dressss, did you?” the witchlein said, referring to the official godmother uniform. “Ssso what wasss the point?”
“I… I don’t know.”
“We were going to get married, Luca and I. He was sssaving up hisss GenAm tokensss.”
Bea’s teeth bit into her lip. “I’m sorry.”
“He thought you and your fairiesss were going to make it posssible for him to open a ssshop. No one trustsss the witchlein, you ssseee? Our clan never found a place after the Great Redaction. Too ssscary.” The witchlein’s scales fluttered, momentarily creasing her dress with their sharp edges. “I told him nothing would change. I didn’t want him to go to Thaiana, to the Academy. I’d almost convinced him, and then you got your place.”
“Don’t you dare sssay you’re sssorry again. Sssorry isssn’t going to bring him back. Why did you come here? Do you think you’re welcome? It’sss your fault he’sss dead. If it wasssn’t for you throwing your weight around, upsssetting thingsss, he wouldn’t have gone. And what for? You didn’t even finisssh the course.”
Bea tried to think of something to say other than to apologise, but there wasn’t anything. The witchlein was right. Sorry wouldn’t bring Luca back, and it couldn’t undo Bea’s part in the appearance of the new jade tile in the Library.
“Jussst go,” the witchlein said. “Don’t come back. We don’t need your kind of help.”
Bea couldn’t move. Her body wasn’t her own; her legs frozen, her chest and arms stinging. Words spiralled in her head, a tornado of useless sentiment and pointless defense.
“It wasn’t my fault. I was only trying to make it better. If I hadn’t stood up to West, the GenAm would still be Redacting humans. Someone had to do something.
“I liked Luca.
But the witchlein was walking away, rejoining her family. A few of them turned angry faces to Bea, but quickly closed ranks. The other fae in the Library paused in their activities, curious. Someone whispered something; Bea’s name, perhaps?
No. How could anyone know her name? She’d made sure to keep herself to herself all the years she’d been in the city. Until recently, her only friends had been Melly and Joan. She’d been too busy trying to join the ranks of the FMEs. To make something of herself.
More fae were watching her now. The whispers were getting louder. The witchlein party glared at her.
Finally, Bea’s legs agreed to move. Somehow, she managed not to run out of the Library.