Content warning: This chapter continues the death and destruction of the previous one.
Puck followed Oberon dutifully to the site of the fire. He had first heard about it in the papers, under the headline of Fire on Temptation Street! Cause unknown!, but Oberon had heard about it through the death of his loyal manservant.
He told Puck as much as they walked to the ashy remains of the apartment building.
“His name was Mark Murphy,” Oberon said. “He lived on the uppermost floor with his family, and he died of smoke inhalation.”
“Last Saturday?” Puck asked.
“That was the time of the fire.”
“Did anyone survive the fire?”
“Of Mark’s family, two younger brothers did, his niece, and his brother-in-law. The niece and brother-in-law are in Faerie right now, where I suspect they’ll stay. Maybe the brother-in-law will even remarry, who knows? I sent the older brother off to a boarding school that Rowland’s been going to for the time being, and the younger one’s at my house in the city with Gloriana. I don’t know what will become of him. I think perhaps I might adopt him like I did with Rowland, but I’m not sure.” Oberon paused. “The rest of his family’s dead or dying. His youngest sister, Martha, she’s holding on the strongest, but something’s infected. I could tell when I went to visit her in the hospital the other day. I paid for the funeral costs of the others, and I’ll pay for Martha’s when she does die.”
Puck was silent. Death and mortality had always fascinated him, being things that he could not and would not ever experience. What was it like to die, to pass beyond this realm and into the afterlife? What was the afterlife like? He’d debated it with Oberon many times, but he didn’t think this was the right time to bring up their shared fascination with death. His lord seemed particularly affected by this death. Instead, he said, “Is there anyone else there we should care about?”
“Duke Mephisto’s side project was caught in the fire, but he survived, along with his girlfriend and her two friends. Johann Faust, remember? He didn’t suffer any wounds, apparently.”
“Anyone we should care about?”
“They caught the one who did it. Some kid. He was mad about something, he said, or something like that. His two little siblings survived, and I need you to go find them, too, so that I can take care of them. I talked to Faust and he said it was them who Mark died trying to save. I’m not letting that sacrifice be in vain.”
“Now?” Puck asked.
Oberon shrugged. “If you can. I just want to see the wreckage. Thought it might be interesting. Mortals are doomed to die, I suppose. Anyway. Off with you! Go find the Egertons!”
“And what are their names?”
“David and Elizabeth. Davey and Eliza, or maybe Davey and Betsy. They’ll have blonde hair. Remember that boy in the paper who did the burning? They’ll look like him.”
Puck was dressed in a full human suit, which meant that he had a hat to tip at Oberon before he ran off. He refused to wear shoes even in the human realm, but otherwise he had pants, a shirt, a waistcoat, a coat, the works. His messy auburn hair was hidden under his hat, and he wore gloves to cover the various scars and cuts on his hands. All in all, Puck thought he looked like quite the gentleman.
He ran along the side of the street, looking at the urchins and beggars that waited there to see if he could spot two Egertons. There were plenty of blonde people, plenty of children, and plenty of couples, but no one that he thought looked like the boy from the papers, Ransom Egerton.
Puck stopped and tapped a wayward brown-haired child on the shoulder. When the boy turned around, he saw that there was a distinctly fae look in his eye.
“What’s your name?” Puck asked.
“Brownie,” the child said.
“Have you perchance seen a brother and sister with blonde hair that look like the arsonist from the papers? You know, Ransom Egerton, the boy who burnt down that building on Temptation and broke his leg jumping out a window to escape the fire.”
Brownie shrugged. “Not really. Names?”
“David and Elizabeth. Davey and Eliza, or Davey and Betsy.”
“Younger than fourteen, older than eight.”
“Pretty big window there. Yeah, I’ve seen a lotta kids like that. Maybe try-” Brownie paused. “Ransom Egerton might have been called Nuck on the street. I know where a criminal named Nuck that matches what Mr Mephisto showed me used to stash his money. C’mon, I’ll take you there, they might have gone that way.”
Puck followed the boy down several backroads and alleys, passing all sorts of people along their way. At last, they arrived at an alley with a tall iron fence at its back. A woman sat at the mouth, holding a baby and a begging cup.
Puck handed her a faerie flower that he’d stuck in his hat, which would bring her luck and charisma. He regretted not having brought any money.
At the end of the alley, sitting against the fence, were two small blonde children, counting money they had in a bag.
When Puck approached, the boy clumsily picked up a pistol and held it up. “Better not come no more closer, mister.”
“Are you David Egerton?” Puck asked. He saw now that it was a boy and a girl, sitting by a pile of random things and several bags of money. Hopefully there were the children he was looking for.
“Davey,” the boy said. “Rans- Nuck’s brother.”
“Need a better nickname,” Brownie said.
Puck pointed to the girl beside Davey. “Your sister? Eliza? Betsy?”
“Libbie.” Davey straightened his shoulders. “Only Da called her Eliza.”
“I didn’t like it,” Libbie Egerton said. “Not at all. You aren’t taking us back to him, are you? To Da and to- to Ransom?”
“No,” Puck said. “I’m taking you to live with my employer. He’s a nice man, you’ll see, he’ll take care of you.”
“That’s what Ransom said he’d do, too,” Libbie said. “After Mumma died.”
“And did he?”
“The opposite. He tried to kill us. What will your employer do for us?”
“Well, I suspect Davey will go off to a fancy boarding school with Rowland – Oberon’s adopted son – and Morgan Murphy. Oberon doesn’t like having little boys as his servants. You’ll be given the education of a high-class young lady at home. How would you like to be educated by a queen?”
Libbie screwed her face up in confusion. “Queen Victoria?”
Puck laughed. “Not quite.”
“A foreign queen? Isn’t that treason?”
“Not really. You don’t have to do it, if you don’t want to, but once you meet her I suspect you will. They can hire someone else.”
“Will you keep us safe?” Davey asked. “Really safe? No horrible brothers, no thieves, plenty of food, and doctors?”
“Of course,” Puck said.
Davey jumped up, and Puck noticed how ragged his clothes were. “I’ll come, sir!”
Libbie got to her feet more slowly, nodding quickly. “Yes, yes, oh, yes!”
“Go wait for me at the end of the alley.”
They ran off, and Puck turned to Brownie. “Thanks.”
“No problem. Can I keep this stuff they left behind, maybe? As payment, ya know?”
Puck pulled another flower out of his pocket and handed it to him. “Take this, too. For good luck.”
Brownie tucked it behind his ear. “Thanks!”
Puck walked to the end of the alley and led the children back through the winding streets, until they found Oberon sitting at a table in a restaurant.
“I found the children,” Puck said.
“Very good,” said Oberon, sipping his tea. “I’ll have need of you in the next few weeks, Puck.”
Puck sat down at the table across from him. “Why?”
“Well, for one thing, I’m taking Clara to Nantucket Island.”
“Hmm.” Puck took a drink of sweet faerie wine from his flask. “Well, I’ve always wanted to see New England sober.”
And that’s a wrap! Thank you all for reading, and I hope that you’ll stick around to read the next part, the first chapter of which will be released on Monday. Since this new part will come with a few new characters, if any readers have any favorite mythological creatures they would like to see make an appearance in this story, leave a comment with the name and I’ll incorporate them in some way. If you’re confused about why I’m talking about mythical creatures, check out the ‘sources’ page for a full explanation.
Today I also released an ‘extra content’ page, which is mostly for a series of short stories I wrote, but has a few other things on there, too. The short stories haven’t been released yet, but there is one thing already there.
Thank you for reading!