He had wondered, when the letter had arrived for his daughter. Oh, she had indeed been applying to myriad schools, but neither of them had even heard of the school before. The letter had seemingly come out of nowhere. Then too, there was the name, Elsewhere. It was exactly the sort of word They favoured, the kind that said everything and nothing at once. The sort that spoke nothing of the truth, and yet nothing but truth.
But it was her decision, and he wouldn’t interfere so when she accepted the offer he agreed to accompany her to the applicants day. And just in case, he braided the old runestones into his slate-gray hair, the tiny discs of hammered iron. He soaked his clothes in the sea the day before and let them dry in the sun.
The signs were strange. There was no greeting, no céad míle fáilte or welcome. It simply stated, in a gothic script ‘Elsewhere University’ next to the seal of a man with a stylized elks head. It wasn’t until he passed the sign that he knew for certain. One never forgot the feel of Them. The stink of Them. Already he could almost feel their bindings on him and his hackles rose.
The RA who was to show him and his daughter around introduced herself as Rogue.
“Cairn.” He growled in response, and his daughter looked up at him.
“We… don’t use real names here…” The RA started, and he cut her off.
“That isn’t mine.” There was something in his voice, she thought. A bit like some of the upperclassmen, the ones who’d had dealings with the Gentry. Who’d come back themselves, but not entirely the same.
She became even more convinced of this as the tour continued. He didn’t question any of the traditions, not the nicknames, or the salt and iron she gave them to carry. He nodded approvingly the first time they crossed the stream where a sprinklers flow overran the path; His look when she suggested they settle for only touring the entrance to library was knowing. But it was his reaction when they met one of the Good Neighbours that made her absolutely certain.
He stepped sideways off the path; she didn’t think it an accident that his feet were planted in a trickle of flowing water. His muscles tensed, and he kept his eyes where he could be sure of the whereabouts of the Gentry without meeting that worthy’s gaze. The Fey strode past, then stopped and looked back.
“Who are you?” It asked, and the visitor almost growled.
“No one of consequence.”
“You were ours.” It was not a question.
“No more.” It was a simple statement. “We will be on our way.” Another simple statement, and a gutsy one. After a moment, the Gentry nodded, and the trio continued on their way.
She asked the same question, when the tour was done and she had led them safely beyond the railway tracks and the road. He gave the same answer. The daughter would indeed study at Elsewhere, and she would arrive with clothes saturated in seawater and iron wardrunes bound into her hair. She would be safer than most, for her father had had dealings with the Gentry on their own terms and walked away his own man, and he made sure she Knew.