It was now official, these past two days were indeed the “lowest point” in the social life of one Mr. Conor O’Neill – ladies’ man.
Standing in front of him was possibly one of the most attractive young mortal ladies in Conor’s acquaintance. Without a doubt her exotic Japanese heritage and nubile age of 19 contributed tremendously to her appeal; not to mention her training as a dancer and “geisha” (of a sorts). She was also wearing nothing but a robe, and for all intents and purposes “throwing herself at him.”
However, the bee in the ointment involved the fact that in order for him to partake of what was offered… he’d have to cough up the tidy sum of a half million US dollars.
Now he has to “pay for it?!” He had to mentally review the chain of events that had led to this surreal moment.
Late Afternoon, Saturday the 29th
“Sure Conor, I’ll talk to my boss, but we should be able to deliver a good portion of your order in the morning if that’s ok?” Molly, the main bartender at Atwater’s Speakeasy, was easy on the eyes. She was also extremely competent at her job, which is why Conor was working with her to stock his new private “pub.”
“That’ll be grand Molly, grand. Someone from my household will be there to take delivery. Just leaving it in back will be perfectly fine. We can take it into the Nevernever from there ourselves.” Conor had just tentatively negotiated a contract with Atwater’s to be his beverage provider – a distributor of sorts.
“Can do Mr. O’Neill!” They shook hands on it.
He then turned to go and noticed that Elena had slipped into the building. Atwater’s Speakeasy was Accorded Neutral territory for the Metroplex; and it made for an excellent watering hole for the area’s supernaturals. Elena also happened to really like their supply of tequila. Additionally, late afternoons in late June were rather warm in North Texas. Waiting for nightfall while inside with air conditioning was just a good idea.
“Elena! Howthehellareya anyway. It’s been over a week since last we talked!” Conor walked over to her table in one of the building’s shielded corners (with an excellent view of the room and entryways). Roxie, his driver and personal assistant, was with him as usual.
“Mind if we sit? Can I buy ya a drink?”
She motioned to the empty chairs with a shrug, “I won’t say no to free tequila.”
After sitting, Conor motioned to Molly, holding up three fingers, then pointing to the group around the table. He then pointed to himself and rubbed his fingertips together in the universal sign for money, indicating to put it on his tab. He hadn’t actually spoken a word, but was utterly confident that Molly would bring exactly the drinks everyone preferred and bill him accordingly. She was that good.
While waiting, Elena spoke up. “I have gotten a new burner, I need to have you update my contact number on your phone.”
“Fair play,” he pulled out his phone and pulled up the contact. “Alright, ready…”
Elena looked over at Roxie, then around the room saying nothing, but then held out her hand for Conor’s phone. With a finger twitch it was clear she wanted him to hand it over.
He did so and she entered in the new number herself, reviewing his Contact list in the process.
Shortly after she finished, Molly came over with a pint of Guinness, several shots of Republic Tequila (and lime wedges in a bowl), and a Grasshopper in a Martini glass.
As they took their drinks Conor just let his “rest” (the ritual of a properly rested Guinness was sacrosanct) and sighed, “It’s been a while since I got to buy a lovely lady a shot of tequila in a pub, so enjoy it eh?”
Elena looked over at Roxie, eyebrow cocked, “You no longer a playa’ or something? What up with that?”
“No, I still am, just been busy.” He grinned.
"You still are…" She paused to enjoy one of her shots of Tequila (with a lime). She had a smirk. "So, remind me, how long ago did you and Marisa start up?"
He snorted, “Would have been a year next month, August.”
Elena nodded, “… and from Marisa to Roxie.”
Roxie grinned, saying nothing, however Conor’s eyebrows shot up. "Oh no, that’s… em… " He paused to consider his words.
“Roxie is a cherished part of my household and a valuable assistant but that’s the extent.” Conor looked over at his ‘valet’ who was one of the Summer Fae. She slightly nodded her head to the side in a show of deference as she sipped her Grasshopper.
Elena saw the exchange, knowing that Conor didn’t usually lie (a combination of being Fae and his own personal mores), but there was something “else” going on. If she had to hazard a guess, the reason there wasn’t more going on was all on Conor’s side. Which jived with her observation.
“Okay, if you say so. So, in nearly a year… one girl. Yeah… you’re not a playa’ anymore Conor.”
Conor sputtered some unintelligible sounds picking up his Guinness to take a drink. Elena knew it hadn’t rested properly yet. Yep, she had him pegged.
He set down his drink, “Wait, there was Belle!”
She laughed, “She doesn’t count. That was a magical ritual. You were used, boytoy.”
Elena saw Roxie look away, unsuccessfully concealing a huge grin. Conor didn’t notice because he was looking at Elena, silently gaping like a fish trying to formulate a retort. Finally he just shut his mouth and went back to his drink.
Finally, with a throat clearing sound, “Alright that’s a fair point.”
She chuckled, saying “Ha Ha” in a tone that the Nelson character from The Simpsons cartoon would have been proud of.
Conor mumbled, “Muise… An bhfuil mo ‘mojo’ caillte?”
Roxie smiled and replied, “Níl, mo Thiarna. Smaoiním go bhfuil do ‘mojo’ agatsa fós.”
Elena, however, only recognized a single word. “What was that about your mojo?”
“I said I think it’s gone, that’s what.” He grinned. “This is terrible.”
She nodded sagely, eyebrow cocked, “It’s like you grew up or something.”
He looked insulted, “Nonsense, Peter Pan doesn’t grow up.” He pushed himself back from the table. “Enjoy your drink an’ patrol tonight, I’m gonna go lookin’ for a Wendy.”
“Have fun with that.” She laughed.
“Allright, see you then.” Conor was speaking into his phone while riding in his chauffeured black BMW 750LI. He looked every bit the Dallas suit wearing executive at this moment. Well, minus the cowboy boots and Stetson.
“No it’ll be fun! I’ll trust your judgment. Right. Bye. Yep. Bye bye. Bye.” He hung up, bloody long Irish goodbyes.
For a few blocks he just watched Big D scroll by his window. “Roxie…” he paused.
“Yes my Lord?” She glanced at him through the rearview mirror.
“Ah Jaysus I have no idea how to broach a topic like this.”
The blue eyes in the rearview mirror were smiling, “Is this perhaps the topic of why you have yet to open your gift?”
When distracted, he apparently became dense. “Gift?”
The eyes became suddenly sultry, “Me, my Lord.”
“Aye, aye that’d be the topic.” He exhaled as he stretched his back, pushing his upper torso into the car seat; a nervous gesture.
He watched more city blocks go by.
“It’s not a matter of desire Rox. That’s completely there, please understand. My concern is… well… repercussions.”
“Such as my Lord? I am your Oathsworn. I’d face death at your command, this is a far, far more enjoyable thing, I should imagine. Some High Lords treat it rather as a privilege of position.”
He nodded, “Aye, abusin’ one’s servants an’ vassals is indeed the privilege of High Lords. I’m not like them though, I should hope.”
“Is that your worry my Lord? Abuse would require impropriety and coercion. The former is dealt with by our nature as Fae of Summer, the latter does not exist here.”
He cocked an eyebrow, “What does bein’ Summer have to do with making all this proper?”
She giggled, “My Lord, your friend Elena touched on this but moments ago. You were, in fact, more ‘Summerlike’ before you became a High Noble within the Court. Your dalliances were oft discussed.”
“Oft discussed…” He didn’t like the sound of that.
"Ducal spies observed you more than you realized I believe. You were the undeclared and Wyldfae son of a High Noble Lady of the Summer Court. The Duke was obliged to keep a wary eye on you. Between your music and everything else, it was an enjoyable duty from what I understand. The sylphs and pixies could answer more directly for themselves I should imagine. For lack of a better term, you have fangirls within the Court my Lord."
He was silent, pondering what he just heard.
“My Lord, were any of your dalliances serious?”
He looked at her eyes in the mirror, “Two were, the rest were just… well… uncomplicated.”
“Exactly my Lord; but two only in your entire lifetime. Thus it seems, in this matter, you were more ‘Summerlike’ before you became a High Noble.”
Conor had a thought, “You said I have fans in the Court?”
“Were you one of them?”
The blue eyes smiled, “‘Were’ is not the correct tense my Lord. ‘Are’ is the correct tense. ‘I am’ would be my reply. I am also now the envy of most of them.”
He laughed. “I see.”
However Roxie’s words helped clarify the concern upon which, until now he’d been unable to place a finger.
“The envy an’ jealousy of vengeful Fae is a classic of the old stories, Rox. Many a mortal paramour has suffered because of such things.”
Roxie said nothing for about a mile.
“Yes my Lord, thy words ring clearly. Though Winter is more famous for souring things with emotions such as those, they are not unknown to Summer.”
“My Lord, an observation if I may?” She glanced at him in the mirror again.
“You and I are nearly immortal beings my Lord. I am, certainly, and you can be if you wish it. I am thy Oathsworn and I will always be with you unless you dismiss me or I am slain…”
She paused for the briefest moment, Conor was watching her eyes as she watched the road.
“…also, you have pledged to me no paramour’s troth. Nor have you given tokens of love – romantic, courtly, or otherwise. I am thy vassal in all things. I swore to love all you love and hate all that you hate. To be blunt my Lord, I would have no reason to grow jealous of a mortal paramour. "
He shrugged, “Jealousy and reason have nothing to do with each other Roxie.”
“True my Lord, I mean only that there is no reason for complication between us. To enjoy dalliances is Summer’s way. I feel you fear needlessly.”
He sighed, “I will think on it.” His body language clearly indicated he was done speaking on the matter.
“As always my Lord, I await thy pleasure. I serve thee however thou dost require.”
Thoughts continued to bounce around in his head for the rest of the trip. As they pulled into his garage he spoke. “Aye me… you’re a well set trap Roxie. I can see it plainly.”
“If that is the analogy you wish to use my Lord, I humbly beg to differ. I am the bait.”
Night, Saturday the 29th
Conor, Roxie, Belle, and Pallas were sitting around a table at Kuby’s Sausage House. It was a quaint German butcher shop and import store attached to a restaurant. The place had also been an icon within the German-American community of Dallas since Karl Kuby opened it in 1961 after moving to Texas from Kaiserslautern. It was located in University Park, just next to Highland Village. Thus, it happened to be within Conor’s direct “fief” as far as the Summer Court was concerned.
At one end of the restaurant near the entrance, an old man was playing folk music on the accordion for the customers. Conor thought he was a competent enough musician considering that most of the people in Kuby’s were barely listening to him. He was, only because he wasn’t part of the conversation going on at the table.
When it was discovered that a) nobody in the restaurant spoke German (the wait staff included), b) that Roxie did and c) Conor gave Roxie permission to visit and speak freely however she wished with Belle and Pallas… he basically was on his own. Luckily the food was good, to go along with the music.
It also gave him time to collect his thoughts, what with all the other conversations today, starting with Elena… he had no idea how to bring up the topic with Belle that he’d invited them over to Kuby’s to discuss.
“Conor your assistant is a joy!” Belle was laughing. “You always hang out with the most amazing women; but of course she would be, what with it being Summer and all.”
He nodded, “You’re pretty amazin’ yourself, Belle.”
“True!” Everyone laughed.
Pallas took a sip of his lager, "So Conor, Roxie tells us that you’re wanting Belle to come over so you two can “pray at her altar” again, right?"
Somehow, with doing air-quotes with his fingertips and with the inflection of his voice; Pallas managed to turn that sentence into something so loaded with sexual innuendo that Conor was speechless for a moment.
Belle, blushing, also looked playfully shocked “Pallas! Oh my gosh you’re awful!”
Conor looked over at Roxie incredulously.
She demurely looked down, “It is the duty of a personal assistant to make arrangements, is it not?” She had left off her customary ‘my Lord’ because Conor had told her to leave it off, what with them being in a public place. Then in Irish she continued, <Also you had said you were looking for a Wendy.>
“Aye that is so. Eh, Pallas’s turn of phrase aside, aye I have a new… em… call it addition to the house that needs some protective security like what you did before.”
“I’d be happy to. I’m free tomorrow, what with it being Sunday and all. If all goes well and we get all the components, should be ready to turn on the alarm system by lunchtime on Monday.”
“That’d be grand. So will you an’ Pallas be staying over tonight so as to start fresh in the morning?”
“Oh Conor honey, if I came over tonight I think I’d probably be too tired to start early in the morning.” She had an impish grin and winked as she said it. Pallas laughed approvingly.
Belle then leaned forward, more seriously. She spoke softly, “Besides, I tend to not willingly put myself into the lair and under the sway of alfar princes any longer than I need to… even ones I like.”
He nodded, “I understand.”
Night, Sunday the 30th
The day had gone well. Invitations had gone out to his closest friends for the final casting of the Ward itself tomorrow. The morning had been spent building the fire in the altar , arranging for a feral hog, seeing to all the other elements of the spell, and then slaughtering the hog. Molly and the delivery from Atwater’s had arrived sometime before noon, so that had also taken up about an hour or so lugging beverages into the Nevernever to stock the pub.
It wasn’t all work. Several hours around the mid-day had been spent enjoyably with Belle herself. However the interlude, while pleasant, was odd. Elena’s comment yesterday about him being merely Belle’s ‘boytoy’ for her spells echoed around in his mind. Seeing as how there were no further preparations until tomorrow, she had gone home. The hog was cooking, and that was the main thing. Left to do were decorations and seeing to the other foods, beverages, and desserts (Roxie was tending to most of that).
It was regarding desserts that had led to his house guests earlier in the afternoon. Conor had contacted Midori about providing the desserts (for pay of course) and when the details became known, Claret and of course Erica wanted to come along as well (with Hobbes). After Roxie gave them all the nickel tour, Erica had come to him wanting to “borrow” a room in his Demesne. She wanted a magical “danger room” that had a slightly altered flow of time within it.
Conor didn’t have any conceptual problems with her request, he just wanted to wait until after the Ward was in place. In truth, a “danger room” sounded like a fantastic idea.
One of the many wonderful features of Conor’s Highland Park home was the near-restaurant grade kitchen. Whoever had built the home intended for it to be used to host gatherings. Once the dessert chef actually began the boring “work” stuff (mixing batter and doughs, making various icings, baking, etc.) Claret and Erica had excused themselves to tend to other matters until the big party tomorrow. Midori had pretty much worked in the kitchen all through the afternoon and early evening, finishing up only about a half hour ago. She had borrowed one of Conor’s several guest bathrooms to shower so that she wouldn’t have to drive home sweaty and covered in flour.
Having always been something of an extrovert, Conor actually enjoyed all the activity in his home. The place felt alive, thrumming with only barely organized energy; that suited a Summer Changeling like him just fine. Even still, now that it was wrapping up, he was happy for a quiet moment to brush up on a few tunes his hobby/music room upstairs.
“That is a lovely song, what is it called?” Midori asked from the doorway.
“It’s called Buachaill ón Éirne, which means “A Boy from Lough Erne.” That’s a lake in the north of Ireland. It’s a song about a boy who’s somethin’ of a rake… it’s rather like my theme song of sorts."
He chuckled and looked up and saw Midori. His chuckle died and was replaced with awe. Her hair wet but styled, kept in a bun by what appeared to be – for lack of a better word – chopsticks. She had also refreshed her subtle but elegant makeup. Well, usually it was subtle. Presently, her lipstick was a shade of red that would cause candied apples to grow jealous.
Gone was her chef uniform from before. The jacket, hat, and pants replaced with a gold Japanese kimono. It wasn’t the whole traditional Japanese outfit, just a single layer – basically worn loose like an ornate bath robe.
“Yes, thank you very much Conor-sama.” She bowed. As she did so the front of her robe parted enough to make it clear that she wore little else. Conor glanced back at his guitar so as not to stare. Propriety had certain requirements for behavior after all.
“So is there anythin’ left to do from your side of things?”
“I do not believe so. The ordered pastries are all in your fridges and should be perfectly ready for your guests tomorrow.”
“That’s great. Thank you for being able to come to my aid with such short notice. How did you want to handle payment?”
“That is what I wished to discuss, Conor-sama.” She hesitated so he looked up. “May I come in?”
Conor motioned around the room generally, “No need to stand on formality Midori, please make yourself comfortable.”
As she did so, he couldn’t help but notice the grace with which she moved. She seemed to glide rather than walk on the carpet. Even when she sat, she did so with a flourish that seemed to perfectly arrange the robe around her. Her movements carried her perfume into the room as well, sandalwood.
“Conor-sama, how much do you remember of the unpleasant events of last March?”
"Last March…" He let out a deep breath. "Well meetin’ you for the first time was pretty much the highlight. Seein’ Wani in his huntin’ form was a sight that haunted my nightmares for many a night after."
She said nothing for a moment, surprised. “I did not realize that Wani-san had affected you. You seem so… invulnerable. I am sorry Conor-sama for my role in that.”
“Never you mind all that. I understand from Ren an’ Erica you were worse off than any of us. It was the first time you encountered the supernatural world if I recall correctly.”
“Hai, Conor-sama.” He’d seen enough movies and been around Anime-geeks like Erica, Matthew, and crew to know Hai meant yes.
“Do you know or remember the details of why Ren was trying to help me flee Dallas?” Her voice had just picked up a slight timbre of an emotion Conor couldn’t place.
“Em…” he thought back, “You had negotiated a deal on your own for somethin’ at a better rate than what the Yakuza had… Then we had to do a few things to offset Wani’s potential loss so you’d get your parents back an’ then be free to pursue that deal on your own. That about right?”
She hung her head, “You remember well Conor-sama. I am ashamed to say that yes, my greed and conceit had put those I cared for, and those who I have now come to care for a great deal since, in great danger. I was so stupid.”
“Never you mind that. What’s past is prologue.”
She lifted her head; there were the beginnings of tears in her eyes even though she smiled. “Shakespeare…Hai.” She then got out of her chair and knelt down, hands flat on the floor forming a triangle shape, touching her forehead to her hands. “Even still, please forgive my stupidity and any pain or dishonor I brought upon you.”
Conor was at a loss for what to do. “Em. Never you mind all that. There’s nothin’ to forgive, but if it makes you feel better you have it. Please, there’s no need for that.”
“Domo arigato gozaimashita, Conor-sama.” She rose up but stayed kneeling on the floor, her feet tucked underneath her. Two locks of her hair had come loose in the process and now framed her face exotically. Her robe had also parted a bit more, to a point just under her impressive bosom.
She spoke softly, “Conor-sama, do you remember what it was I was trying to accomplish? To what the arrangement pertained?”
He actually did remember, the topic had taken Ren some time to explain. He took a moment to choose the words for his reply. “You were going to Nevada; half a million dollars for a very special part of who you are.”
“Hai” There was a long, expectant pause followed by a faint whisper that was perfectly understandable in the silent room, “So I humbly ask… would you be my patron, Conor-sama?”
Conor thought to himself with amusement, Now I have to pay for it?! I really have lost my mojo. Yep… totally gone.
His thought must have been visible on his face because Midori, eyebrows knit in concern, spoke up. “Conor-sama?”
“Give me a minute Midori.”
He sat there quietly, thinking. She continued to kneel in the same spot, still as a stone.
“Midori, this is important for you to understand, you don’t want to sell a piece of yourself to a Lord of the Fae.”
“To my kind, intangible things are as real as any commodity. Dreams an’ concepts are as much a part of our reality as the deed to the family farm.”
She cocked her head to the side, “What could happen, Conor-sama?”
He puffed out his cheeks, exhaling. “Jamie and Erica call them links in their magic. If I buy a piece of you, I’d have a link to you, forever. All my Fae powers would work on you, forever. Dear girl, by forever I mean it. I’ll likely still be alive when your grand-children are old.”
She smiled, “Conor-sama, for you to have a sympathetic link to me does not sound so bad. I trust you. You’re not the devil after all, and I’m not selling my soul.”
“I appreciate that, I do. But though you trust Conor O’Neill, don’t be so quick to trust Lord Dallas, Earl of the Summer Court, Black Knight of the Lady of the West. That one has oaths an’ obligations to other, ancient, powerful forces. Midori, do not willingly enter into his control in that way. A piece of you is a piece of you all the same.”
She sat quietly for a while.
“From my observed interactions with Erica and Hobbes, terms and specific words are important, yes?”
He nodded, “You could say that is the very foundation upon which the Fae build.”
“Please allow me to explain. Often, non-Japanese do not fully understand the nuance. Perhaps in this you must try and see as a Japanese. The misunderstandings that non-Japanese maintain because it is easier than us trying to explain do not serve here.”
“I am not formally a geisha or part of ‘The Willow World’ in any way. I was raised here. However, I have adopted many of those traditions to keep my connection with the land of my parent’s birth. When a young novice geisha – a maiko – completes her training and moves to the world of womanhood, as with many cultures, there is a symbolic step – a rite of passage.”
He said nothing, just listened.
“The cost of becoming a full geisha is significant. The tools of the trade, all the parts of the kimono, musical instruments, the ornaments for the hair, the makeup, all these things are expensive. To facilitate this transition and defray the costs to the geisha’s house, a patron is found. With the powerful houses of ‘The Willow World,’ there is no understanding of sexual favors in exchange. However, it was customary for the maiko to show her appreciation to the patron in precisely such a fashion.”
“As always, a geisha’s sexual favor is her own to give or deny as with any woman,” she blushed as she said it, meeting Conor’s eyes directly for a moment.
Again she paused, averting her gaze demurely. “The reality however, is that not all geisha houses in hanamachi, the geisha district of Kyoto, were rich. Few had the ability to easily absorb the costs of a new geisha. What began as a sign of a lady’s appreciation and favor became a commodity. It was bought and sold, as poorer and less reputable geisha houses traded the maiko‘s virginity – which we euphamistically call mizuage – to make extra revenue. Selling a young courtesan’s virginity was common practice in Shimabara, the neighboring red light district in old Kyoto. In the long centuries, things became confused between oiran and geisha. It is a nuance, generally lost to non-Japanese; but it is vitally important to a young geisha’s sense of self that she is not oiran… a prostitute.”
Again she bowed to the floor, “Please try to understand the nuance, Conor-sama.” Her voice sounded pained.
“In Vegas an’ to the Yakuza, you were sellin’ your virginity.”
“But you asked me to be your patron.”
He said nothing for a few moments, “Why? You said yourself you’re not actually geisha. What are these symbols to you, as you don’t need those tools of the trade?”
Now it was her turn to be silent. She straightened back up to a kneeling position. “I do not yet feel like I have begun the next phase of my life. In many ways I still feel like a high school girl, pretending to be an independent woman. I want that symbolic transition. I am not geisha, no, but the equipment and needs of ninjutsu and shugenja are no less expensive. Does that make sense?”
She didn’t feel the need to mention that she was also unemployed; having recently quit her job at the Meido Kafe.
Conor smiled, “Yes. Perfectly. As a Fae, I see the distinction is clear enough. It’s a hair’s width, aye, but that’s sufficient.”
He stood up, helping Midori to her feet. He then gently tucked her errant locks of hair back behind her ears and adjusted her kimono back over her ample charms to fully restore modesty (He was now certain that the locks of hair and the strategically opened robe had both been done deliberately).
“I will be your patron, as you describe it, for your chosen path of… I believe you said shugenja… an’ ninjitsu as well. We’ll work with my attorneys an’ accountants an’ set up something for you. I have a great deal of wealth, but a half million dollar check, all at once, is beyond me at the moment. But we’ll see what we can do.”
“Ninjutsu Conor-sama.” She gently stressed the ‘u’ in the middle of the word. She sinuously wrapped her arms around his waist. “And the other matter?”
“Let’s take care of the first; get that settled. Then, if you’re still of the same mind as you are now… call me.”
He thought of his conversation with Roxie earlier in the day and gently stepped out of her embrace, “Independent of all else, let it be simply a woman calling a man. It’ll be a date. We’ll see how it goes. No need to make things complicated – all right?”
With a huge smile, she bowed deeply, “Hai Conor-sama. Hai.” As she stood back up, she winked. “It’s a date.”
After Midori had driven off in her Prius (she’d be back along with all the other guests for the party in the Nevernever and Belle’s Ward in the morning) Conor went to his bar and poured himself a shot of Jameson 18. After downing it, he said aloud “What the #### is wrong with me?”
“Nothing that I can tell my Lord, aside from a strange hesitation to open gifts when offered. At least now I know I wasn’t singled out for your peculiar consideration.” Roxie’s playful voice came from the direction of the back patio doorway.
“Will there be any further task I can perform for you today your Lordship?”
“No Roxie, thank you for all your assistance… and counsel. We’ll start bright an’ early in the mornin’.”
“My pleasure my Lord; until the morrow.” He then felt her vanish back to the Nevernever.