BETRAYAL. ASSASSINATION. KIDNAPPING. AND THAT'S JUST THE BEGINNING...
The most surprising book of The Fey saga, with a twist so powerful the rest of the series hinges on that one moment. The Changeling alters everything from the balance of power to the very nature of power itself.
For years, an uneasy truce has settled over Blue Isle. But in a series of betrayals, that truce gets shattered. First with an assassination. And then with the destruction of all hope that the warrior Fey and the people of Blue Isle will ever experience peace.
Human, half-human, Fey, it becomes impossible to tell hero from villain, impossible to figure out who wants to heal Blue Isle—and who wants to destroy it.
"A very good, very large fantasy...nicely done and with a particularly satisfying and unexpected resolution."– Science Fiction Chronicle
"Rusch is a great storyteller."– Romantic Times Book Reviews
HE PUT WORDS to the memory years later, when he tried to tell people of it. Some doubted he could remember, and others watched him as if stunned by his clarity. But the memory was clear, not as a series of impressions, but as an experience, one he could relive if he closed his eyes and cast his mind backwards. An inverse Vision. None of his other memories were as sharp, but they were not as important. Nor were they the first:
Light filled the room. He opened his eyes, and felt himself emerge like a man stepping out of the fog. One moment he had been absorbing, feeling, learning—the next he was thinking. The lights clustered near the window, a hundred single points revolving in a circle. The tapestry was up, as if someone were holding it.
He turned his head—it was his newest skill, but he saw only the curtained wall of the crib. Voices floated in from the other room—his mother's voice, sweet and familiar, almost a part of himself, and a man's voice—his father's?
His nurse sat near the fireplace, her head tilted back, her bonnet askew. She was snoring softly, a raspy sound that sometimes covered the voices. He could barely see her face over the edge of his crib. It was a friendly face, with gentle wrinkled features, a rounded nose, and generous mouth. Her eyes were closed, her mouth open, her nostrils fluttering with each inhalation. He reached toward her, but his fingers gripped the soft blanket instead.
A cool breeze touched him tentatively, smelling of rain and the river. The lights parted to let a shadow in. The shadow had the shape of a man, but it was dark and flat and crept across the wall. He put his baby finger in his mouth and sucked, eyes wide, watching the shadow. It slid over the tapestries and across the fireplace until it landed on his nurse's face.
He whimpered, but the shadow did not look at him. Instead, it molded itself against his nurse's features. Her hands moved ever so slightly as if to pull it off, then she began twitching as if she were dreaming. Her eyes remained closed, but her snoring stopped.
His mother's voice penetrated the sudden silence. "You will not give him a common name! He is a Prince in the Black King's line. He needs to be named as such!"
The nurse's breathing became regular. The twitching ceased. If not for the blackness covering her face, she would have appeared normal.
"I thought Fey named their children after the customs of the land they're in." His father's voice.
"Names have to have meaning, Nicholas. They are the secret to power."
"I do not see how your name gives you power, Jewel."
The breeze blew over him again. He peered over his blanket at the window. The lights were no longer revolving. They had formed a straight line from the window to his curtained crib. The lights were beautiful and tiny, the size of his fingertips. They gathered around his crib, twinkling and sparkling. Suddenly he was warm. The air smelled of sunlight.
"I'll agree to the name if you tell me what it means." The voices moved back and forth, near and away, as if his parents were circling each other in the next room.
"I don't know what it means, Jewel. But it has been in my family for generations."
"I swear." His mother sounded angry. "It was easier to make the child than it is to name him."
"It was certainly more fun."
He turned to the curtained wall, wishing he could see through it, wishing they would come to him. The lights hovered above him. They were so beautiful. Blue and red and yellow. He pulled his finger out of his mouth and raised it toward the lights.
By accident, he touched a blue light and pulled his hand away with a startled cry. With the smell of sulfur and a bit of smoke, the blue light became a tiny naked woman, with thin wings shimmering on her back. Her skin was darker than his, her eyebrows swept up like her wings, and her eyes were as alive as the lights.
"Got him," she said.
His fingers hurt. He snuffled, then looked at his nurse. The shadow still covered her face, and she was breathing softly. He wanted her to see him. But she slept.
The tiny woman landed on his chest, put her hands on his chin, and looked into his eyes. "Ah," she said. "He's ours, all right."
Her hands tickled his skin. The other lights gathered around her. With a series of pops, they became more winged people, all dark, all graceful and small. The men had thick beards, the women hair that cascaded over their shoulders.
They landed around him, their bare feet making tiny indentations on the thick blanket. He was too startled to cry. They examined his features, poking at his skin, tugging on his ears, tracing the tiny points.
"He's one of ours," the woman said.
"Skin's light," one of the men said.
"Lighter," another man corrected. Their voices were tiny too, almost like little bells.
In the other room, his mother giggled. He moved at the sound, knocking some of the little people over. He reached for his mother. She giggled again, deep in her throat.
"Nicholas, it's been just days since the babe."
His father laughed, too.
The little people got up. One of the men came very close. He squinted, making his small eyes almost invisible. "Nose is upturned."
"So?" the woman asked, her wings fluttering.
"Our noses are straight."
"He has to have some Islander."
"Rugar said leave him if there is no magick."
The woman put her hands on her hips. "Look at those eyes. Look at how bright they are. Then tell me there's no magick."
"The magick is always stronger when the blood is mixed," said another woman.
In the other room, his mother's laugh grew closer. "Nicholas, let's just see the babe. Maybe we can decide what to call him then."
The little people froze. His hands were still grasping. Outside the protection of the crib, the air was cold. The little people had brought deep warmth with them.
"Stay for a moment," his father said.
"The Healer said—"
"Healers be damned."
The little people waited another moment, then the woman snapped her fingers. "Quickly," she said.
Their wings fluttered, and the group floated above him, as pretty as the lights. He wasn't sure of them. Touching them had hurt, but they were so pretty.
They fanned out around him, holding strands as thin as spider webs. They flew back and forth, weaving the strands. The woman stood near his head, outside of the strands, clutching a tiny stone to her chest.
"Hurry," she said.
"Nicholas, really." His mother laughed again. "Stop. We can't."
"I know," his father said. "But it's so much nicer than fighting. Maybe we shouldn't call him anything."
"Can you imagine?" she said. "He's a grandfather and his friends all call him 'baby.'"
The strands had formed a piece of white gauze between him and the world. The shadow moved on his nurse's face, lifting away a tiny bit, and glancing over its flat shoulder at the flying people.
"Not yet," the woman said.
The shadow flattened out over the nurse once more.
The gauze enveloped him and his blankets. He felt warm and secure. The little people held the edges of the gauze and lifted him from the crib.
He could see the whole room. It was big. His nurse sat in one corner, the shadow over her face, her eyelids moving back and forth. A bed with filmy red curtains sat in the far side of the room, and chairs lined the walls. All the windows were covered with tapestries, and the tapestries were pictures of babies—being born, being held, being crowned. Only one window was open—the window the people had come through.
Floating was fun. It felt like being held. He snuggled into his blankets, and watched the little woman put the stone on his pillow.
Then the door handle turned. The little woman floated above the crib, shooing the others away with her hands. "Hurry!" she whispered. "Hurry!"
"We might wake him up, Jewel," his father said.
"Babies sleep sound."
"Wait," he said. "Let me find out what the name means. Then we can have a real talk. If it has no meaning, then—"
"Find out who had the name before," she said. "That's important."
They were almost to the window. For a moment, he had forgotten his mother. He remembered her now. He wanted her to float with him. He rolled over, making the little people curse. The net swung precariously. He cried out, a long plaintive wail.
"Shush!" the little man nearest him said.
The shadow lifted off the nurse's face. She snorted, sighed, and sank deeper in sleep. The shadow crawled over the fireplace toward the window.
He cried out again. The nurse stirred and ran a hand over her face. His feet were outside. It was raining, but the drops didn't touch him. They veered away from his feet as if he wore a protective cover.
The nurse's eyes flickered open. "What a dream I had, baby," she said. "What a dream."
He howled. The little people hurried him outside even faster. She went to the crib and looked down. His gaze followed hers. In his bed, another baby lay. His eyes were open, but empty. The nurse brushed her hand on his cheek.
"You're cold, lambkins," she said.
The little woman huddled in the curtain around the crib. She moved her fingers and the baby cooed. The nurse smiled.
He was staring at the baby that had replaced him. It looked like him, but it was not him. It had been a stone a moment before.
"Changeling," he thought, marking not just his first word, but the arrival of his conscious being, born a full adult, thanks to the Fey's magick touch.
He screamed. The little people pulled him outside, over the courtyard and into the street. The nurse looked up, and went to the window, a frown marring her soft features. He cried again, but he was already as high as the clouds, and well down the street. The nurse shook her head, grabbed the tapestry, and pulled it closed.
"Hush, child," the little man floating above him said. "You're going home."