I thought I’d post one of my favorite scenes (all right, CHAPTERS, if you must) from Paper Hearts, in which Rooney and Azrael go to visit Theodora and Asterope and the chemical mixture creates quite a lot of humor. If you’re able to take the time to read it (it is rather longish, I know) I hope you enjoy it.
In Which the Apprentices and their Wyslings Have Tea
Azrael seemed to entirely forget about yesterday’s catastrophe after I took the orange rolls out of the oven, drizzled glaze all over them, and set them out as a peace offering. Patrick hovered over the plate, sniffing so hard I thought he might splinter something. Rusty had one roll, and Azrael topped them both by eating six rolls and using a spoon to scrape out the contents of the icing bowl.
As soon as he had finished, he strode toward the front door. “Come along, Rooney.”
“Where are we going?” I asked, assuming the answer would be Five Points.
He opened the door. “The greylands,” he said. “I need to talk to Asterope.”
“How are we going to get there?”
He shut the front door behind him and raised a finger to it. “Don’t let anyone in or out while I’m gone.”
“Fine,” said the door.
To me, Azrael said, “I’m going to make a rend behind the house.”
“You’re like one of those little lap dogs you see people taking for walks,” he said affably, when a glance over his shoulder provided him with a good view of me, trying to keep up with his long strides.
“Yeah, but I get twice as much exercise as you,” I told him. The grass crunched beneath my feet, turning brown with coming winter.
Azrael came to a halt in front of me. “This is far enough.”
“For what?” I asked.
“Far enough so you don’t get caught up in the wyse and end up as part of the door,” he said.
I took a few more steps back.
Azrael raised his arms and began doing what appeared to be conducting the air toward the space in front of him. A wind whipped up from nowhere and my hair was yanked out of the ponytail I’d had it in. My indignant, “Hey!” was caught up in the wind and swept away before I could hear it.
I blinked furiously and a moment later, Azrael said, “We’re good to go. Rooney, any time now would be great.”
I brushed stray hair out of my eyes. “I’m so sorry,” I said, walking up to him and completely ignoring the door that had appeared out of nowhere. “I was busy trying not to go blind from the hair stinging my eyeballs.”
He rolled his eyes and clicked his tongue. “So dramatic,” he said, waving his hand toward the door. “Go on. Turn the knob. Step through.”
Hopeless. He was hopeless.
The door looked normal enough – polished wood, cut in the sort of curved, half-diamond shape I usually saw in medieval buildings. I turned the knob – worn, greenish-black and twisted in the shape of a branch – and stepped through.
A girl blinked once at me. Her curly black hair stood up like electrified springs all over her head, and for a moment, it was all I could focus on.
“Yo, Asterope,” she called, never taking her amber eyes off me, “we’ve got a live one.”
The wysling Azrael had met in Five Points came around the corner, buttoning up his sleeves. “Theodora, we do not refer to visitors as ‘live ones’.”
“Some of us do,” she said. “Anyway, it’s the red-headed chick.”
He looked up from his sleeve. “Well,” he said, with a congenial smile in my direction. “If it isn’t you!”
“The one and only red-headed chick,” I said. “Hi. Azrael was right behind me; I don’t know where he—”
Something crashed into me from behind and I tumbled to the floor as Azrael burst through the door behind me. His foot caught on my leg and he managed to trip without falling. He caught himself and said, “Drat you, Rooney! Don’t stand in front of doors!”
“You never even told me where we were going or what we were doing or what the door was!” I smiled at Asterope as he helped me to my feet, while Azrael fixed me with a black-eyed stare and folded his arms.
“At least there’s one gentleman in this house,” I said with a glare at Azrael as I brushed off my throbbing knees. The denim of my jeans hadn’t done much to break the connection of the wooden floor and the bonier parts of my body.
Theodora made a sound somewhere between a snort and a harrumph and said, “I’m gonna finish drying up.”
“Oh, Rooney could help,” said Azrael. “She’s an expert at drying dishes.”
“Huh,” said Theodora.
“Actually, I only just learned,” I admitted, scratching the knuckles of my right hand. They were begging to smash into Azrael’s ribs, but I didn’t want to make a bad impression on Asterope.
“No problem,” said Theodora. “It only takes a sec.” She disappeared into the back and Azrael said, “She’s learning fast.”
“Too fast,” Asterope agreed, stretching his arms over his head. “She’ll be more advanced than I am in a few years. How’s yours?” His glass-green eyes shifted over to me.
“Oh, you know.” Azrael tossed his curly ginger hair out of one eye. “Bossy, snoopy, bossy, human, bossy, hopeless, bossy, demanding—”
“Bossy?” Asterope suggested.
“The snoopy, bossy, hopeless, demanding human is right here, you know,” I told Azrael with a dark look.
“Sure she is,” he said, without looking at me.
“He’s cursed,” I whispered under my breath. Only my sympathy was keeping me from doing serious damage to his physical form. “He’s cursed, he’s cursed, he’s cursed.”
I dragged my attention away from the wyslings to look at the house. It was a nice place; larger than Azrael’s cottage, but no less cottage-like. There were so many doors in the walls that overnight guests probably wore themselves thin looking for the bathroom, and instead of a chandelier or a lamp, candles hung upside-down from the ceiling. They were burning brightly and I could clearly see the melting wax, but it seemed to be dripping up the candles.
Outside the window, I could see other buildings, just as fanciful as this one, making up a cozy, fairy-tale town. Trees stretched up between the houses, leaning against them, winding around them as if the forest were just as much a part of the town as the houses were. Rain pattered against the window and left streaming artwork on the glass.
Asterope sank down onto the couch. He took up the whole length of it, from one end to the other, while Azrael folded himself frog-style in the chair opposite the fireplace.
“Would you care to sit down, my darling?” Asterope called. His accent danced across the words, turning ‘my darling’ into ‘me darlin’.’
“No, thanks,” I said, trying to remember which door Theodora had gone into. “I’ll stand for now.”
“Help yourself,” he responded, then turned his attention back to the other wysling. “Now, Azrael, what can I do you for?”
“I have it,” said Azrael, steepling his fingers together, “a dead end.”
“No,” said Asterope, stifling a yawn.
“And on top of that, I’ve got an added house guest.”
“Rusty,” I said. “He used to be a cello.”
Asterope blinked a few times. “You mean the cello you kept in the corner? The opinionated one?”
“That’s the one,” I said.
Azrael turned his head to raise an eyebrow at me. “Who’s doing the talking, me or you?”
“Oh, there’s no harm in both of you filling me in,” said Asterope, propping a pillow up between his head and arm. “The more the merrier.”
Azrael groaned. “Anyway, the cello was a wysered faerie.”
“Did he put himself in the cello, or did someone else?”
“It seemed to be a self-induced wyse,” said Azrael. I was surprised. He hadn’t mentioned it to me. I found myself wanting to punch him more than I had a moment ago.
Asterope lifted one hand in a kind of lazy shrug. “So where’s the problem?”
“He doesn’t remember who he is,” I said.
“Ah,” said Asterope. “That does dampen things a bit.”
Azrael snorted. “A bit? He came out of the cello and wanted to call himself Rastaban, of all names.”
Asterope lifted himself a few inches off the couch, a sign of real alarm. “He isn’t…?”
“No.” Azrael shook his head. “He doesn’t look a thing like Rastaban, and he isn’t using a disguise.”
“We call him Rusty,” I said.
Asterope winked at me. “Nice moniker. Whad’you call Azrael here?”
“Well,” I said, ignoring the sparks in Azrael’s eyes, “I don’t really have a nickname for him, but sometimes I call him Digby just because.”
Asterope nodded solemnly. “Town by the ditch.”
Azrael slid down in the chair.
“Sorry?” I asked.
“The illustrious meaning of the name Digby,” said Asterope. “Town by the ditch.”
“I can see why you changed it,” I told Azrael. “Angel of death sounds much fiercer.”
“I thought he should have changed it to Sirius,” said Asterope, “but he never listens to his elders.”
“Please,” said Azrael. “Imagine if I’d been called Sirius. Rooney would have thought of every pun available to use.”
“Let’s be Sirius,” I said, just to prove his point.
Azrael pointed at me. “Like that.”
“Ah, well,” said Asterope, covering another yawn with the back of his hand. “What does he call you, Rooney?”
“Miss Bossy,” I said. “Miss Suspicious. Sometimes Rooney-roo, but only when he’s in a really good mood.”
“I hate you,” Azrael mouthed toward me.
“Mutual,” I mouthed back.
“Theo!” Asterope called.
A door painted the color of raspberries opened. “I’m coming, I’m coming.” She held a tea-tray in her hands, set with a silver cream pitcher, a silver sugar-dish, a silver teapot, and three cups and saucers stacked neatly in the middle.
“Aren’t you having tea?” I asked her as she set the tray down in the middle of the air and waved it toward Asterope.
She shuddered. “No. I hate tea.”
“She’s an insult to the entire faerie race,” said Asterope, sitting up and using the sugar tongs to delicately place six sugar cubes in his cup.
She jutted her thumb out at him like a hitchhiker and said to me, “Plus, he makes his way too sweet. If he weren’t a wysling, his teeth would rot and fall out.”
A sugar cube sailed through the air and bounced off her head. She ignored it. “How’d you get stuck with Digby?” she asked me.
“Azrael,” said Asterope and Digby at the same time.
She rolled her eyes and grinned. “Azrael, then.”
“She barged in,” Azrael called.
“I didn’t barge,” I said. “I offered to cook and do the dishes in exchange for lessons.”
“It’s only been a week and already she’s turned the house upside-down and attempted to reform me,” Azrael informed Theodora.
“Don’t worry,” I told him. “They can see it’s not working.” When I looked back at Theodora, she was squinting at me. “What?”
“I can’t tell whether you two get along,” she said, motioning toward Azrael and myself with two fingers, “or whether you want to poison each other in your sleep.”
“To tell you the truth,” I said, with the realization she was right, “I don’t know, either. He’s a hopeless case.”
“Is that right,” she said.
I thought. “No,” I said after a moment, “he just acts like it. I think he’s pretty close to being hopeless, but he’s not quite there.”
She jerked her chin toward Asterope. “You want hopeless; it’s right there.”
“I am offended,” said Asterope mildly, without looking offended at all.
I was surprised. “He seems a lot easier to get along with than mine,” I said.
She put one hand on her hip and shook her head. “Nope,” she said. “Mine’s as lazy as a mushroom on a log. Just sits there and does nothing.”
“Lazy?” Asterope called, his voice laced with indignance. “How dare you. Let me assure you, Theodora, that it may look as if I do nothing, but on a cellular level I’m really quite busy.”
“Can’t even get a sandwich by himself,” she said. “It’s pathetic.”
“I’m perfectly capable,” he replied, sipping his tea.
She turned to face him, both hands on her hips now. “You know, one day at your funeral, I’ll have to say you died of starvation even though the kitchen was filled with food, and nobody’s gonna believe me when I tell them you were too lazy to get up and get it yourself.”
“Theodora,” he said, sounding injured.
She shook her head, her curls bouncing like slinkies. “I’ll bring a cube of sugar to the wake.”
“Well, that’s all right, then,” he said, sounding considerably happier, “Because, as you know, I shall refuse to resurrect and get it myself.”
A giggle escaped me before I could stop it. “You must sacrifice a lot to learn from him,” I managed, with a semblance of a straight face.
“It’s no sacrifice if I want to give it up,” she said, loud enough for Asterope to hear.
Their happy banter was an inverted version of mine and Azrael’s relationship, I thought. It gave me a sort of hope in the realization that we were not the only wysling-apprentice relationship to bicker about everything.
Azrael might be annoying, but at least he wasn’t lazy.
“We all have our faults,” said Theodora, watching my expression as if my thoughts were running across my face in black and white.
“Oh, sure they do,” I agreed. “I think our wyslings have more than most people, though.”
“You got that right,” she said, bumping me with her hip.
I decided I liked Theodora.
“Not to distract the ladies,” said Asterope to Azrael, “but don’t be telling me you came here just for the tea.”
Azrael sighed and leaned back in the chair, his long legs stretched out in front of him. “I’ve hit a dead end,” he said.
“Operation Find the Missing Prince.”
“Ah.” Asterope tapped the side of his nose with a finger. “The poor queen’s so distraught over it she didn’t attend the last interland meeting. Halcyon took her place. It isn’t as if consorts aren’t allowed to do that sort of thing in extreme cases,” he added, “but everyone noticed.”
“Yeah, well, get this.” Azrael leaned forward, the contents of his teacup shifting dangerously toward the rim. “I think it was Rastaban.”
This must have startled Asterope, because he sat all the way up and stared at the other wysling. “Are you certain?”
Azrael had everyone’s full attention now. “It’s the only thing that makes sense,” he said. “Think about it – Rastaban was exiled, but he was clever.” He lowered an outstretched finger for each point he made. “Oberon exiled him, so it makes sense he’d have a grudge against greyland royalty. And he’s the only one who could have kept Orion hidden this long, considering how many people are probably looking for him.”
“Delightful child, Orion,” said Asterope. “Cerulean hair. Looks just like his father.”
“That’s beside the point,” said Theodora. “If Rastaban has the kid…”
“Do you think he killed him?” I asked, horrified at the thought of having to tell Ginger her son was dead.
“Cat’s teeth!” Asterope exclaimed. “I doubt that!”
“Remember the whole ‘Rastaban is clever’ thing?” Azrael said to me. “Killing the prince would be a huge misstep. His best bet would be to hide him somewhere.”
“Why?” I asked, moving closer to Azrael’s chair. “He hasn’t asked for anything in exchange, so it isn’t a hostage situation or anything.”
“Spite,” said Azrael. “Or something cleverer. I’m hoping spite.”
“If he found a way to break his exile and get back into the greylands, he may still be hovering around,” said Asterope thoughtfully. He took a sugar cube from the bowl and bit it in half. “I’ll see what I can dig up.”
“Oh, goodie,” said Theodora. “We get to do something, finally.”
“Theodora, don’t you have an intermediary lesson to get to?” Asterope asked pleasantly.
Theodora rolled her eyes, but smiled. I found myself wrapped in a warm hug and when she released me she said, “Come back soon, Rooney. It was nice to have someone who understands, y’know?”
I nodded sagely. “I know.”
Azrael jumped to his feet. “We need to get back now anyway,” he said. “The thought of leaving Rusty and Patrick alone in the same house for too long isn’t a happy one.”
I winced at the thought. “You’re right.”
Asterope did not bother to get up, but he was helpful enough to say, “Blue door.”
Azrael opened the blue door, and I was looking out at a familiar, rolling hill with a white cottage in the distance. And was that…? I leaned farther out the door, peering hard at the cottage.
And then it struck me.
“Oh, Azrael,” I said.
He turned away from his good-bye conversation with Asterope. “Yes?”
I pointed. “I don’t want to worry you,” I said. “But Bernadette just pulled up to your house.”