Changeling’s Island – Snippet 22

It was a solid, heavy piece of steel, with the outside casing made of a yellow, scratched…something.

“It’s supposed to be walrus tooth. Sailor’s knife, been in my family a long time. Must have come from Scotland, somewhere. We don’t have walrus here.”

Tim opened the knife warily. It had obviously been sharpened many times. Once it must have been quite a broad blade. Now it was narrow. He tested it against his finger, and cut himself. “Ouch. It’s sharp,” he said, looking at it.

“Yer keep it that way,” said his grandmother. “What use is a blunt knife? It’s not this new stainless steel, boy. It’ll rust. Yer oil it, clean it after yer use it, and keep it sharp.” She took a deep breath. “And yer keep it with yer all the time. Especially at the sea, or near it. That seal-woman doesn’t like iron. I didn’t know she was still around. Yer don’t ever go into the sea without a knife. You wash it in fresh water and oil it after, as soon as you can.”

“But…it’s dangerous. I…I’m not allowed to have a knife.” He could just imagine his mother finding it. Or someone at St. Dominic’s. Or the store where he’d been caught.

His grandmother snorted. “Townie nonsense. They got nothing they need a knife for, except to try and pretend they’re tough, and cut each other. It’s different here, Tim, working on the farm. A knife ain’t dangerous, any more than a spade. It’s laid there in that drawer for forty years and not hurt anyone. It’s what you do with it that’s dangerous, if you’re a fool or a little child. It’s a tool, not a toy. Don’t play with it. And never test it on yer thumb.”

Tim felt quite peculiar about the old knife. He wanted it. But he was scared about being in trouble because of it. “They won’t let me have it at school.”

His grandmother rubbed her chin, a sign, Tim had learned, that she was considering something. “Fair enough. It’s far from the sea. But the minute you get back here it goes in yer pocket. No going near the water without it.”

That was rather different from the warnings his mother had given him.

* * *

Áed saw the knife and, because he was a creature of air and darkness, saw those aspects to the piece of steel too. It had the marks of blood on it. Fae or half-Fae blood, which left stains that did not wash away. The marks were old and fading, but it was ironic that this knife would come to the child-of-the-child-of-the-child-of-the-child…many times of the changeling blood spilled on it. In the distant past…it had killed Finvarra’s half-human child, here. It was appropriate, a repayment of a kind, that it should now be the defense against Finvarra’s sendling. It would be effective on the selkie too, and quite possibly kill her, if the master had the sense to have it with him, and to use it.

Áed made a point to tell the selkie about it that night, while the young master slept, exhausted by his labors. “An iron tooth he carries. It’s had the lifeblood of one of the Aos Sí gush over it,” said Áed. He relished that part. “He keeps it next to his skin, seal-woman. Neither your art nor all the water in the sea will save you, if he wields it against you in fear.

The selkie smiled, showing her tricuspid teeth. “It’s first that I’ll bargain for what I want, little one. I always bargain first…after frightening them a bit. Forewarned is also forearmed, though, if bargaining fails.”

Áed knew he’d at least made her wary. He was not sure that was a good thing.

* * *

Tim found the December holidays had sneaked up on him. To the other kids, school might drag, but although he would rather have died than admit it, he quite liked going there. One was supposed to hate school, and long for the holidays. However, the holidays were a big uncertain area, and Tim knew it would be majorly uncool to admit it too, but tiny classes and fairly flexible work suited him better than the “you are just a number to pay the fees” attitude at St. Dominic’s. There, money, and how you dressed, and how good you were at ball sports counted. He didn’t drip money, couldn’t get his mother to buy the right clothes for him, and was never going to be any good at ball games. He’d been left out. Here…well, it was difficult to avoid being involved. Besides, he’d found he was good at swimming, at least by local standards. The school pool was a place where he felt a bit of a champion, and where swimming lessons back in Melbourne paid off. There was nothing like winning a race to make you feel like taking part in the other things, Tim found.

Term ended. Tim waited for the call saying he was heading back to Melbourne for the holidays.

So, plainly, did his grandmother. “Yer better call yer mother,” she said, on the second night of the holidays. It hadn’t been much of a holiday, so far. They’d been fixing the troughs and fetching in the hay. Tim was a much better driver by now, but the hay was hard work. He hurt and itched and sweated and sneezed. And Gran just kept going. “Yer’ve come on, boy,” she said at the end of it all. “Yer couldn’t have picked up a bale when yer come here.”

It was still heavy enough, like the telephone in his hand. He dialed. It rang. He tried to think of what he’d do, back in Melbourne. Who he’d go and see. Who he’d hang out with, and…and…

The phone went on ringing. Eventually the answering machine cut in, with his mother’s lilting voice. “I’m sorry, I’m not home. Please leave your name and number and I’ll get back to you.”

He hadn’t thought of what to say.

“Uh, Mum. It’s me. Tim. I was just wondering, um, about the holidays…” He realized he had no idea what the phone number was here. His grandmother hadn’t been about to give him any privacy for this. She was standing right there. He put his hand in front of the mouthpiece. “What’s our number? I’m leaving a message.”

“Our number…” Nan told him, and he had to put the phone down. He wondered where his mum was? If she was all right…What if she was dead, or in a hospital or something? Would he spend the rest of his life here? He felt the little bag hanging around his neck. Not a chance. He was 17.4 percent of the way to Melbourne already.

“Out gadding,” said his grandmother, disapprovingly. “Looking for another man, probably. We’ll try in the morning. Bet she will be in her bed when the cow is being milked.”

Tim had gotten more or less used to that by now. That would be something he could do in Melbourne. Not get up and milk the cow. The cow would just have to cope with Nan.

“I didn’t think. I could call her mobile.”

“It costs extra.”

“Please…I want to know,” he asked, worried now. “She might have had an accident or something.”

His grandmother rubbed her chin, then nodded. “Tell her to call you back on the landline.”

He dialed the number. He had to think to remember it…It had been a while. Hailey’s number, he had down pat still. Not that he would call it after the Island Show! His mother’s phone rang twice, and she answered. There was laughter and music in the background. “Tim? Is something wrong?”

“No. I just wanted…”

“I’ll call you in the morning, dear. I got your report. You have done well, but I can’t talk now. Bye-ee.”