Mercy Thompson

 
 

Mercy Thompson Book 3 - Page 3


If I'd known this was going to be repayment for favors rendered, I'd have been more apprehensive from the start: the last time I'd had to repay a favor hadn't ended well.

"I'll be all right," I told him despite the cold knot of dread in my stomach.

He gave me a sour look. "I had not thought about what it might mean to bring you into the reservation after dark."

"People do go to the reservation," I said, though I wasn't really sure of it.

"Not people like you, and no visitors after dark." He shook his head. "A human comes in and sees what he should, especially by daylight, when their eyes are easier to fool. But you...The Gray Lords have forbidden hunting humans, but we have our share of predators and it is hard to deny nature. Especially when the Gray Lords who make our rules are not here - there is only I. And if you see what you should not, there are those who will say they are only protecting what they have to..."

It was only when he switched into German that I realized that he had been talking to himself for the last half of it. Thanks to Zee, my German was better than two requisite years of college classes had left it, but not good enough to follow him when he got going.

It was after eight at night, but the sun still cast her warm gaze on the trees in the foothills beside us. The larger trees were green still, but some of the smaller bushes were giving hints of the glorious colors of fall.

Near the Tri-Cities, the only trees were in town, where people kept them watered through the brutal summers or along one of the rivers. But as we drove toward Walla Walla, where the Blue Mountains helped wring a little more moisture out of the air, the countryside got slowly greener.

"The worst of it is," Zee said, finally switching to English, "I don't think you'll be able to tell us anything we don't already know."

"About what?"

He gave me a sheepish look, which sat oddly on his face. "Ja, I am mixing this up. Let me start again." He drew in a breath and let it out with a sigh. "Within the reservation, we do our own law enforcement - we have that right. We do it quietly because the human world is not ready for the ways we have to enforce the law. It is not so easy to imprison one of us, eh?"

"The werewolves have the same problem," I told him.

"Ja, I bet." He nodded, a quick jerk of a nod. "So. There have been deaths in the reservation lately. We think it is the same person in each case."

"You're on the reservation police force?" I asked.

He shook his head. "We don't have such a thing. Not as such. But Uncle Mike is on the Council. He thought that your accurate nose might be useful and sent me to get you."

Uncle Mike ran a bar in Pasco that served fae and some of the other magical people who lived in town. That he was powerful, I'd always known - how else could he keep a lid on so many fae? I hadn't realized he was on the Council. Maybe if I'd known there was a council to be on, I might have suspected it.

"Can't one of you do as much as I can?" I held up a hand to keep him from answering right away. "It's not that I mind. I can imagine a lot worse ways to pay off my debt. But why me? Didn't Jack's giant smell the blood of an Englishman for Pete's sake? What about magic? Couldn't one of you find the killer with magic?"

I don't know much about magic, but I would think that a reservation of fae would have someone whose magic would be more useful than my nose.

"Maybe the Gray Lords could make magic do their bidding to show them the guilty party," Zee said. "But we do not want to call their attention - it is too chancy. Outside of the Gray Lords..." He shrugged. "The murderer is proving surprisingly elusive. As far as scent goes, most of us aren't gifted in that way - it was a talent largely given only to the beast-minded. Once they determined it would be safer for all of us to blend in with humans rather than live apart, the Gray Lords killed most of the beasts among us that had survived the coming of Christ and cold iron. There are maybe one or two here with the ability to sniff people out, but they are so powerless that they cannot be trusted."

"What do you mean?"

He gave me a grim look. "Our ways are not yours. If one has no power to protect himself, he cannot afford to offend anyone. If the murderer is powerful or well connected, none of the fae who could scent him would be willing to accuse him."

He smiled, a sour little quirk of his lips. "We may not be able to lie...but truth and honesty are rather different."

I'd been raised by werewolves who could, mostly, smell a lie at a hundred yards. I knew all about the difference between truth and honesty.

Something about what he said..."Uhm. I'm not powerful. What happens if I say something to offend?"

He smiled. "You will be here as my guest. It might not keep you safe if you see too much - as our laws are clear on how to deal with mortals who stray Underhill and see more than they ought. That you were invited by the Council, knowing what you are - and that you are not quite human - should provide some immunity. But anyone who is offended when you speak the truth must, by our guesting laws, come after me rather than you. And I can protect myself."

I believed it. Zee calls himself a gremlin, which is probably more accurate than not - except that the word gremlin is a lot newer than Zee. He is one of the few kinds of fae with an affinity for iron, which gives him all sorts of advantages over the other fae. Iron is fatal to most of them.

There wasn't any sign that marked the well-maintained county road where we turned off the highway. The road wove through small, wooded hills that reminded me more of Montana than the barren, cheat-grass and sagebrush covered land around the Tri-Cities.

We turned a corner, drove through a patch of thick-growing poplar, and emerged with twin walls of cinnamon-colored concrete block rising on either side of us, sixteen feet tall with concertina wire along the top to make guests feel even more welcome.

"It looks like a prison," I said. The combination of narrow road and tall walls made me claustrophobic.

"Yes," agreed Zee a bit grimly. "I forgot to ask, do you have your driver's license with you?"

"Yes."

"Good. I want you to remember, Mercy, there are a lot of creatures in the reservation who are not fond of humans - and you are close enough to human that they will bear you no goodwill. If you step too far out-of-bounds, they will have you dead first and leave me to seek justice later."

"I'll mind my tongue," I told him.

He snorted with uncomplimentary amusement. "I'll believe that when I see it. I wish Uncle Mike were here, too. They wouldn't dare bother you then."