Petals of the Rose
On the Hunt
They ate breakfast and then headed to the shelter downtown again. The Hospitaller changelings greeted them and asked what they were needing help with. They explained, and an impossibly slender woman in a blouse and skirt stepped up to speak with them. She had curly red hair, but all of her features were worn down or missing. She had no brow, barely any nose, thin lips, and tiny, flat ears. Her head resembled that of the mythical gray-skinned aliens, except for her hair. And her limbs were too long for her body. She would have been short except for the extraordinary length of her legs and arms, with fingers and toes to match. The term, Shade had commented to Polly in the past, was arachnodactyly. Spider fingers.
“Molly, we need your help,” Pollock began.
“We were here yesterday looking for someone, and we found her. Mollycoddle, this is Porsche.” She waited while the two exchanged pleasantries. “But we’re back because we’re looking for someone else.”
“Why so many new friends?”
“It’s hard to explain. Dream stuff.”
“I get it. But we haven’t had anyone new in a while. A mixed blessing, really. You never know if it’s because there isn’t anyone being taken, or just that no one else has managed to escape.”
“Could you let me know if anyone else does show up? We’re looking for a beast, a tiger-striped man.”
Pollock looked at Shade. “You’re smart. What should we do?”
“I haven’t really been outgoing since I’ve been back. I’m not sure.”
Mollycoddle waved her long fingers at a passing troll. Krunch was squat with long gorilla arms and giant hands. Two little horns sprouted just above his eyes on his forehead, and he had a sloped brow, a long muzzle, and sharp teeth. “Krunch, honey, you know a lot about tricks and trades and various things about the hedge.”
“Yeah, Molly, more than most.” He shrugged his slender shoulders and lifted his hands as though weighing things.
“Could you help these folks find a friend?”
“What, lost in the hedge? Probably not. But I do know some tricks to help find someone, no matter where they are.” He looked at the trio. “I am not promising anything, but I do know there’s a trifle that can help. If you put it on your tongue and think about a person, the flavor tells you what direction they are from where you are. I don’t remember what it is called.”
Polly mumbled, “damn.”
“Sorry. It’s the best I can do. I’d say your best bet is to look for such a thing at the garage sale.”
“When is the next one?”
“Every Saturday from noon to midnight.” The garage sale was a special kind of market. A goblin market, put on by the faerie creatures most commonly called hobs, or hobgoblins. It was where the Lost could go to buy and sell strange and impossible things, bargain to gain power, trade away memories, obtain special arms and armor, or just get a nice outfit to wear that actually fit their unusual physiology.
Unfortunately, it was Tuesday and they couldn’t wait until the weekend to start looking. Pollock’s disappointment showed in the way her hair went limp and turned five shades darker blue. Krunch seemed to be very sorry that he hadn’t helped, and so he put his hands up on the counter and said, “You know, there is this Winter courtier I heard of who knows all about the hedge. Problem is, he doesn’t do favors any more, not since the dark days. Too many things went sour for him, too many rotten deals. But he’s around town somewhere.”
“My pleasure. I’m off to gnaw on the doorframe,” and with that, he left, his arms swinging grandly at his sides and his stumpy legs impacting the floor with more weight than his small frame seemed like it could carry.
Mollycoddle put her head on her hands and sighed. “I wish he were kidding.”
Finding a Winter Court member meant talking to the one woman who handled contact with the rest of the changeling community on behalf of the court and knew everyone in the court. Shade had joined the Winter Court shortly after his return and reintegration into society. He wasn’t done grieving for his lost life, his plans for a career, and everything that made him who he used to be. Every time he ran his hand over his bald granite head, it reminded him of the sorrow he felt, and Winter was in tune with sorrow.
Although a little unconventional to bring outsiders to the office of the Winter Court, Shade wasn’t concerned about whether he’d lose standing in the court. He didn’t have any to begin with. And he knew where to go.
From the shelter downtown, they piled into the car and drove out through the tunnel and all the way to downtown Hillsboro on the west side of the metro area. They parked near the Washington County courthouse, and walked up to it. Shade led the way to a small, unattended door on the side of the building. Humans, he explained, didn’t see this door. Couldn’t see it. From there, they entered the building, bypassing the security check and metal detectors on the entrances. The stairs and hallway that they took brought them into the body of the courthouse just beyond security, and they shared a moment of glee at superseding mundane human rules.
Shade led the two girls upstairs to the smaller offices and storage rooms, then up again and again to the truly uninhabited spaces on the top floor of the building. There, a single office hid behind an opaque glass door. On the door was a sign that simply read “Information.”
Shade stopped at the door. Suddenly, he was unsure of whether he should really introduce changelings from outside the court to the woman inside, or just go in by himself. Porsche resolved the dilemma for him by growing impatient and brushing past and into the office.
Amongst an incredible clutter of papers and boxes, a single heavy oak desk was cleared of unnecessary objects. Behind the desk sat one of the most beautiful women that any of them had ever seen. There was nothing obviously fae about her, save an indefinable aura of beauty and glory that contended with her drab surroundings. The changeling known as Miss Information was gorgeous, with pale Caucasian skin, in a red dress and her raven hair done up in an elaborate style. She resembled nothing more than a 1940s pinup, out of time and place in twenty-first century Hillsboro.
“Come in. I’m Miss Information.”
A plaque on her desk repeater her name, omitting the space between the words. MissInformation.
“Good afternoon. How can I help you?”
Shade cleared his throat and looked left and right, trying to see if one of the girls would take the lead here. “Um, yes. We’re looking for someone. In the hedge.”
Miss Information batted her eyelashes at him distractingly. “I’m afraid I can’t help with anything like that. But I believe you knew that when you came in. What is it I can really help you with?”
Shade felt moisture seep out of his stony exterior. He tried to come up with words, stammering for a moment. Miss Information simply smiled placidly, waiting for him to regain composure. Finally, he managed to clear his mind and start over. “We’ve all had a dream, a very important dream. And there’s someone in the hedge we need to find. We need help with that.”
Polly added “We are trying to find a friend who is lost.”
“That’s a noble goal.” She fell silent again after speaking, not offering anything.
Shade resumed, “And I believe I’ve heard that amongst the Silent Arrow’s number is a guide, a hedgeblazer who goes by Quick Slim?” He’d heard stories of the skill at navigating the hedge of the darkling, and when Krunch had brought it up, he knew it was Quick Slim that the troll had meant. “Is he still around?”
Miss Information shook her head negatively, but said “Absolutely.”
Porsche narrowed her eyes immediately. Shade was puzzled by the conflicting response. She pushed in front of Shade and said, “Oh, so he’s not hanging around here any more, huh?”
“I see him all the time.”
“He’s a member of the Winter Court.”
“But where do you see him?”
Miss Information casually flipped a photo on her desk down onto its face. “Oh, here and there.” Shade had missed something in this exchange. He tried to think backward and put together what Porsche and the obstreperous Winter beauty were really talking about.
Porsche smiled knowingly and said, “Any help you can’t give us would be terribly unappreciated.”
“I see you don’t understand what I’m talking about. It’s awful when I meet someone who doesn’t get me.”
“No, I don’t understand a word.”
“I wish I could tell you that he had retreated from public life. I wish I could tell you that he spends most of his time drinking himself into a stupor. I wish I could tell you that he’s made a permanent dent in a seat at Sean’s Irish pub down about eight blocks from here. But I can’t tell you any of that. It’s against the natural order of things and would be contrary to my place in the court.”
“I understand that you can’t help us with any of that. You’ve been really unhelpful.”
“Have a terrible day,” Miss Information offered cheerfully.
On their way out, Shade grasped that they’d just gotten the information they needed, just not quite how. Shade looked to Pollock, and she seemed equally confused. He tried to query Porsche about it, and she enigmatically answered, “You just have to know how to talk to people.”