Story: Pride

As always, the rest of the series is under the ‘Writing’ tab.

Pride
By Liberty Gilmore, 13/02/13

Ava makes a stand.

Adam could sense Ava’s reluctance as she hovered in the doorway of the bathroom. He got the feeling it wasn’t just the events of the previous night that were on her mind, but Percy’s little story about a prophecy that seemed to involve them. And their future child.

That part was getting to Adam as well. Sure, he liked to imagine that Ava was his forever, that they would marry and have a family. But it was one thing to daydream and another to be told it was foretold. It took the fun out of it, somehow.

Adam knew prophecies were a big part of magical lore, though how much of it was true he didn’t know. From the way Ava was reacting though, he thought it likely that prophecies carried some weight of truth. Did that change anything that he needed to worry about in the immediate future?

No.

He stepped behind Ava, wrapping his arms around her waist, resting his chin on her shoulder.

‘Been a weird couple of days, hasn’t it?’ he said.

‘Weird is just about the understatement of the century,’ Ava said, shifting her weight so she was leaning back into him a little. ‘We really need to talk.’

‘I know,’ Adam said, reluctant to move.

He stepped away, though, taking Ava’s hand in his and pulling her into the room, pushing the door shut behind them. Ava pushed her hair back from her face, then, slipping out of her shoes, sat on the edge of the hot spring bath, dipping her feet into the warm water. Adam followed her example, the hot water relieving his feet after the long walk. Ava looked across at him, a demure smile on her face, and for a moment she looked so otherworldly it was almost hard to tell she was the same girl he’d known all his life.

Her hair looked darker, shining in the soft natural light through the skylight, her skin’s blue tint accented by the glittering water. The sadness in her eyes as she looked at him nearly overwhelmed Adam, his desires torn between scooping her into his arms and giving her the space he thought she needed.

‘I feel like this is all spinning out of my control,’ she said.

‘I know.’

‘And I hate that you’ve wound up right in the middle of all this.’

‘I know.’

‘I don’t know what to do.’

I know, Adam thought, but didn’t say. Instead: ‘It’s okay.’

‘It’s really not.’

She stretched her legs out, raising them out of the water, watching the droplets fall from her calves. Adam had a brief, distracting flash of those legs either side of him, as Ava kissed him last night, but pushed it from his mind.

‘Ava, I don’t really know enough about what’s going on to be any use.’

‘I’d like to say I could help with that, but…’ Ava smiled a little as she looked at him. ‘I’ve never heard of this prophecy before – the Winter Court doesn’t like to listen to anything that suggests things are outside of their power. They think prophecies are sort of self-fulfilling – that if you “know” you are going to win a battle, you’ll fight ferociously and recklessly because you’ll have no fear, and that will win you the battle. If you know your downfall will be a tall dark stranger, you’ll be unduly fearful of tall dark strangers, and it will ultimately cause your downfall.’

‘How… um,’ Adam hesitated. ‘How likely is it to be true?’

Ava flushed, a glow of red crossing her cheeks, telling Adam the answer before she spoke. ‘Very. Fairy predictions are usually incredibly accurate. The only trouble comes in working out who they’re about. It might not be about us.’

‘But it seems likely.’

‘It does.’

Ava bit her lip. ‘We could make it not about us.’

Adam felt his heart go cold. ‘What do you mean?’

‘We could go our separate ways…’

Adam took her face in his hands and kissed her, cutting her off before she could finish her sentence. ‘Don’t talk like that, Ava,’ he said, pressing his forehead against hers. ‘Don’t.’

She nodded, sweeping his hair back with a delicate touch, then kissed him, swift, chaste, but each touch of their lips pushed the awkwardness of the night before from their minds.

‘I think,’ she said, ‘this is one inevitability that I really don’t mind.’

A tentative smile flickered across her lips. Adam wanted nothing more than to kiss her again. And again. But he pulled back, linking his fingers through hers, instead.

‘Always wanted kids,’ he said, trying to keep his voice light.

‘I didn’t.’

‘Really?’ Adam was surprised.

‘Didn’t want them to have to go through what I went through,’ she explained with a shrug.

‘Well,’ Adam said, voice rough with the sudden wave of pity that swept through him. He wanted to take her in his arms and make her forget she ever had reason to feel sad. ‘We’re safe here, slightly skeevy attempts to drug us aside, right?’ He squeezed her hand and drew it close to him. ‘We’ve got time to figure things out.’

‘Like how I can control the weather and why you are apparently immune to glamour?’

‘Exactly. Baby steps first. Figure that stuff out, then we’ll worry about prophecised children and wars between fairy courts.’

‘Right,’ Ava said, but there was a smile on her face.

And then something outside made a loud crashing sound, followed by the frantic noise of frightened voices. Adam glanced to the door then to Ava.

‘We should go and see what’s happening,’ she said, standing up on the edge of the bath.

Adam followed her outside and felt his stomach turn to ice when he saw Natalia at the head of a group of fearsome looking soldiers.

~.~

Ava first noticed the cut healing on her mother’s forehead. A cut she had probably inflicted when using the wind to throw Natalia around. It did not mar her mother’s beauty. In fact, wearing clothes more typical of a fairy warrior than the business attire she usually wore, wielding a pike, Natalia looked more beautiful and terrible than Ava had ever seen her.

Ava felt a thrill of cold fear, but it melted in the face of the broiling anger she felt. She took a step forwards, but was grabbed from behind by someone.

‘What are you thinking, going out there!’ Percy hissed in her ear. ‘Stay back here, stay hidden. She can’t know you’re here.’

‘She’s here, she already knows!’ Ava said, shrugging off Percy’s grip.

‘You don’t know that – your aura will be disguised here by everyone else’s. You don’t know that she’s found you.’

‘I know my own mother. She never makes a move this aggressive unless she’s sure!’

Percy faltered. ‘Then we need to get you both out of here.’

‘You don’t think Clotilda can fight her off?’ Adam said.

‘Clotilda was counting on Natalia not daring to strike here,’ Percy said. ‘I wouldn’t place bets on her winning in a straight fight.’

‘Then we have to stay,’ Ava said. ‘I’ve fought her off before.’

‘Not with a bunch of lackeys to back her up,’ Adam said, a hint of nerves in his voice that he tried to cover with his usual jokey tone.

‘Okay,’ Ava said. ‘We’ll watch from here for now, then run if we have to.’

But she only said it to placate the other two. Ava knew she wasn’t running any more. She was done running from her mother. It was about time Natalia learned Ava wasn’t just going to do what she said. Ava didn’t want to be afraid any more. If that meant starting a war between the Courts… well so be it. Winter couldn’t hold sway much longer anyway.

Clotilda walked out to face Natalia, everything in her pace and posture suggesting she was unconcerned by the appearance of a fighting force in her home. She gave Natalia a bored appraisal before she spoke.

‘This is a bit aggressive, even for you Natalia.’

‘You know why I’m here, Clotilda, don’t waste my time and the lives of your people.’

‘I’m sure I don’t know why you’re breaking the agreement between the Courts not to engage in unprovoked attacks against each other.’

Natalia’s eyes narrowed, and Ava could feel a chill in the air. ‘Unprovoked? Sheltering a fugitive is a provocative act.’

‘Depends on the manner of the fugitive, I suppose,’ Clotilda said, still sounding unconcerned. ‘Who are we supposed to be sheltering?’

Natalia gave a mirthless laugh. ‘It was always your pride that let you down, Clotilda. All that power you think you have, all the people here you think will do your bidding – it’s nothing. You have nothing. You’re just a fat bureaucrat of middling power. Your only importance is your self-importance. Those who live here in your little corner will soon flee. Do you really think you command their loyalty?’

‘Of course I do,’ Clotilda said, though that certainty was gone from her voice. She looked very small on her own in the clearing.

‘And what of your pride, Mother?’ Ava said, stepping out to Clotilda’s side. She felt Adam, or maybe Percy, try to grab her, but Ava pulled herself loose. ‘Do you really think you inspire such fear that no one will ever stand up to you?’

Natalia’s smile could have carved marble. ‘Daughter, it’s time to go home.’

‘No.’ Thunder clapped in time with the syllable.

‘Defy me now, Daughter, and it will mean war. A war you can’t possibly win.’

‘Are you sure about that, Natalia?’ Ava said, sensing rather than seeing the crowd gathering behind her.

Natalia’s expression faltered, but it lasted moments. As her features realigned into the confident, cruel look Ava was so accustomed to, she pointed her pike towards Ava and Clotilda.

‘Sure enough to take my chances,’ Natalia said. ‘Soldiers, attack!’

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