It can’t be— he thought dazedly, from the perspective of half a century away. It can’t be—
Despite the Sight, he’d assumed for decades that the whole incident had been a dream, something his childish imagination had conjured up to explain his father’s brief, alcoholic binge and his recovery.
He’d only been five, after all. But this, this tall, blond man striding toward them was the same, the very same person as that long-ago stranger. No matter that the long hair was pulled back into a thick pony-tail, not flowing free beneath a circling band of silver about the brow. No matter that the clothing was a form-fitting black coverall, incongruously embroidered with “Kevin” over the breast pocket, and not the tunic and trews of a man of the ancient Celts. There was no mistake.
Sam knew then that he must be going mad. It was an easier explanation than the one that fit the situation.
The man strode towards them with all the power and grace of a lean, black panther in its prime. As he neared them, he smiled; a warm smile that reached even into those emerald eyes and made them shine. “You’ve grown into a fine man, Sam Kelly,” he said, stopping just short of them, and resting his fists on his hips. “A fine man, like your father John, and smarter than your father, to wash your hands of a dying land and seek your life on this side of the water. Now you know why we chose you, and no other.”
“I see you’ve met,” Tannim said, with an ironic lift of an eyebrow.
This man, this “Kevin”—he hadn’t aged a day since Sam saw him fifty years ago. He’d looked thirty or forty then, which would make him what? Ninety? A hundred?
Either he had discovered the fountain of youth, or—
“You—” Sam said, finally getting his mouth to work. “You’re—”
“One of the Fair Folk?” Keighvin said, with a lop-sided smile, and a lifted brow that echoed Tannim’s. “The Lords of Underhill? The Kindly Ones? The Old People? The Elves, the Fairies, the Sidhe?” He chuckled. “I’m glad to see you still remember the old ways, the old tales, Sam. And, despite all your university learning, you believe them too, or at least, you’re willing to believe them, if I read your heart aright.”
In the face of a living breathing tale out of his own childhood, how could he not believe? Even when it was impossible? He had to believe in the Sidhe, or believe that someone had read his mind, picked that incident out of his childhood, and constructed someone who looked exactly like the Sidhe-warrior, and fed him all the pertinent details.
It was easier and simpler to believe in the Sidhe—the Wise Ones who had stolen away his granny’s brother, because great-grandfather had beaten him once too often, for things he could not help. He remembered his granny’s tales of that, too, for Patrick had been granny’s favorite brother, and she’d told the story over and over. Poor Patrick; from the vantage point of near seventy-five years Sam knew what Patrick’s problem had been, and it hadn’t been willfulness or clumsiness. They’d have called him “dyslexic,” these days, and given him special teaching to compensate. . . .
“We helped him,” Keighvin said, as if reading his mind again. “We helped him, and sent him over the sea to this new land, and our kin here in Elfhame Fairgrove. He prospered, married a mortal girl, raised a family. Remind me to introduce you to your cousins, one day.”
“Cousins?” Sam said, faintly. “I think I need to sit down.”
“. . . so, that was when the Fairgrove elvenkin got interested in racing,” Tannim said, as Sam held tight to his cup of coffee, and Keighvin nodded from time to time. Sam sat on an overturned bucket, Tannim perched like a gargoyle on top of an aluminum cabinet, and Keighvin leaned against one of the sleek, sensuous racecars. Now that there was no need to counterfeit the noise of a real metal shop, things were much quieter, though there was no less activity. “Now roughly a fourth of the SERRA members are either elves or human mages. At first it was mostly for enjoyment. The Fairgrove elves in particular got interested in the idea of using racing to get some of their members out into the human world, the way things used to be in the old days.”
“Aye,” Keighvin seconded, leaning back against a shining, black fender, and patting it absent-mindedly, as if it was a horse. “In the old days, it could be you’d have met one of the Sidhe at any crossroads, looking for a challenge. You’d have found a kelpie at every ford—and on moonlit nights, the woods and meadows would be thick with dancing parties. Plenty of the Sidhe like humans, Sam; you give us a stimulus we sorely need. It was Cold Iron that drove us Underhill, Sam, and Cold Iron that drove us away, across the sea. It’s deadly to us, as your granny doubtless told you.”
“But—” Sam protested, gesturing with his coffee cup. “What about—that? You’re leaning against Cold Iron.”
Keighvin grinned, white teeth gleaming in a way that reminded Sam sharply that the man was no human. “That I’m not.” He moved away from the car, and the car—twisted.
It writhed like something out of a drug-dream. Sam had to close his eyes for a moment; when he opened them, there was no car there at all, but a sleek, black horse, with wicked silver eyes. It winked at him, and stamped a delicate hoof on the concrete. Sparks struck and died.
“An elvensteed,” Tannim said, with a chuckle. “That’s how the pointy-eared smartasses got into racing in the first place. They transformed the elvensteeds into things that looked like cars, at least on the outside. But once club racing started having inspections—”
“I’d have found it damned difficult to explain a racecar with no motor,” Keighvin supplied, as the elvensteed nuzzled his shoulder. “Rosaleen Dhu can counterfeit most things, including all the right noises for an engine to make, but not the engine itself. Only something that looks superficially like an engine.”