There were many times Martin wished he'd just stayed in Reverdie.
He missed the bright awnings at the Sunday market, how the sunlight filtering through the stalls cast colored light against the pale brick road like stained glass. There was fairy floss and an exotic fruit stand, and the Seneschal from the local Court dressed in every hue of summer.
He missed the breeze in from the ocean, salt-tinged and cool, mixing with the rising fog from the machair every morning as he went for his morning walk down to the creamery. It had tousled his hair as he carried glass milk bottles and fresh butter and soft cheese back to the house.
He missed sitting outside with his bundles of imported wool, carefully separating them out and dyeing them in wooden buckets to the perfect hue before working them on the blending board, crafting smooth gradients of colors. It was distance from his mother, who hated how much space his "yarn rubbish" took up around the house.
In the end, it wasn't enough distance at all. Eventually the topic of Lacuna came up, and how good it would be for Martin to move up north. And there was some truth to the idea. He had been importing wool from Lacuna for years now, and it'd be useful to live closer to the source.
But more than anything, he knew his mother wanted him out. And the brisk cold air of Lacuna was still easier to breathe through than the knowledge that he was unwelcome in his own home.
Still. It was fucking raining all the time.
Back home (if he could still call it home) the Court didn't get on with rain, and it was part of their blessing to shepherd away the grey clouds when they collected. Now, every day seemed to begin with a mist through the air. His galoshes were becoming everyday wear.
Lacuna was a smaller town than Reverdie, but… taller. All of the buildings had the same white-washed sides, the curves of every brush stroke clear in the paint, and the framing and windowsills and shutters were all a dark stained wood. The bottom floors had wide entrances for visitors and shoppers, and hanging signs proclaiming what could be found inside.
The upper floors, where the people actually lived, were quiet, the shutters closed tight enough only the hint of lamplight shone through at night.
Also the mobile reception was atrocious.
The walk from his cottage to the village was just long enough to be a hassle, and too far to carry too many groceries, so he spent a week making the journey down the road to fill up his hand-cart with pantry goods and produce and whatever homegoods he found himself lacking.
When he was finally mostly pretty much settled in, Martin dressed himself in the best clothes he had that could withstand the weather, including his very finest scarf dyed in a dusk cascade of blues and violets and the truest black he could manage. Walking down into Lacuna proper, he stopped at the bookstore, Pinhole Books.
Martin liked bookstores, especially ones with older books. The smell of vellum and leather and dust was a treat after just cold wet mist. And they were practically required by rite to be informational places.
"Hey, could I bother you for a moment," Martin asked the shopkeep on duty, a young man with matte black hair pulled back into a sloppy ponytail. He was kneeling by a low shelf, rearranging the books, and looked up at Martin with a flat look that nearly withered Martin's friendly smile.
"I, uh, I was just wondering where the Seneschal is? Like, where do they have Court?" He tangled his fingers in the trails of his scarf. "I've been here 'bout a week and I've not seen them around?"
"The what now?" the shopkeep asked. He had a name tag, but the name itself was crossed out with black marker.
"The Seneschal? Whoever is the head of the Court around here?"
"Don't know what a Seneschal is, but our glorious protector the Echelon Elias of the All Seeing is up in the forest." He jerked his head vaguely to the north. "Big terrible tower you can see right over the treeline."
"Right, right, the— The Court of the All Seeing." Martin nodded. "So they… aren't around town?"
The shopkeep snorted. "Thank fuck, they are not, no." He rested his elbows on his knees. "You eager to meet them?"
"I… no? Should I not be?"
"You should not be," he answered firmly. Picking up another book, he frowned at the spine. "How do they do it… where you from?"
"Ah, down south? Loamy Green Spills Into The White Salt Stone, Reverdie?" Martin smiled. "Court of the Deft Hands."
"Huh. Far from home," the shopkeep said, still looking at the book spine. "What'd you say your name was?"
"I didn't," Martin said, still smiling.
A suspicious glance cut through the man's dark fringe. "You a weaver?"
"I dye wool and spin yarn," Martin answered, giving a curt nod. "Thanks for your help."
Even back home people were afraid of the Weaver. Which Martin could totally understand. Sometimes fears were well-placed. In a faerie court, almost always.
But Martin knew what he was getting into when he sat under the gossamer canopy and let the Weaver teach him to spin. She offered to teach him to thread the constellations themselves with silver thread.
Martin said that sounded lovely but all he wanted was to learn to make yarn. It was honest, useful work, and would keep the roof over his head.
After his tutelage, he saw the Weaver plenty of times, and saw the way she smiled and tipped her head his way. It wasn't unlike a cat watching a bird that had successfully escaped its reach: hungry, but admiring.
At least he'd always seen the Weaver around Reverdie. The Court in Lacuna was just absent. Utterly a non-presence in the village. No fancy chair in the pub for their use, no saved table in the restaurants, no brioche left out at the bakery.
It made Martin anxious, honestly. He couldn't see how the Court was being repaid for its mercy, and that worried him dreadful.
So he kept to his cottage. After all, he had work to do. Moving to Lacuna had done the trick; he'd been able to meet with the shepherd and see the farm for himself.
Daisy was tall and stood with her back straight at all times. She looked precisely like the type of person who would write the terse letters that had accompanied every shipment of wool down to the shore. Her dungarees were grey, faded from black, her hair was pencil straight and wisped across her face in the wind until she blew it away with puffed breaths.
She also walked around with her earbuds in, listening to some show apparently.
Tugging one loose, she gave Martin a stern look up and down as he trudged along in his galoshes. "Blackwood, right?"
"Daisy," Martin greeted amiably. "I stick out around here, huh?"
"Still tryin' to keep your trousers clean. They're going to get muddy, just accept it and walk like a person," she advised coolly. "You wantin' some wool? I got a few clips."
"I'll take two fleeces, please." Daisy lifted her eyebrows at him, so Martin elaborated: "I'm local now, don't have to devote an entire shed just to keeping wool handy."
"Leavin' it with me," Daisy said and grunted. "Fair enough. You better be a regular customer. C'mon."
Her house was a wide ranch that looked maybe converted from old stables. The stone floors had a slight uneven leveling that made Martin think they were set by hand. He felt it was fair to assume whose hands.
Daisy left him in the foyer for a spell, then returned with two bags stuffed full. "I'll invoice you," she said, putting them by his feet. "I know where you live."
"Ah, ha, right…"
Suddenly, the slate blank expression on her face broke into a grin. "You'll get used to it around here. Keep your curtains shut at night."
"Okay, what?" Martin sputtered. "Are you— have I done something?"
"Heard you were asking Gerry about the All Seeing. So, you don't know." She patted him briskly on the arm. "We don't talk too loud, we keep our windows shut, and we don't sleep on the night of the new moon."
Oh thank goodness, someone willing to talk about the Court. "Right, okay. So… how do you repay them? I haven't seen any offerings or anything?"
Daisy's grin softened into something weary. "We don't offer. They take. Every few months, someone's to go to the Court and meet the Echelon."
"Oh. Is that bad?"
She shrugged a shoulder. "It's not good. Best not to pry. If they hear you're interested, they might pick you."
That didn't sound good at all.
True to her word, Daisy sent him an invoice. Along with a few bundles of rosemary, thyme, and fennel. From the garden, she wrote on the strip of paper that was shoved in with the invoice.
Maybe Lacuna wasn't as lonely as Martin feared.
On a cloudy day, Martin decided he wanted to bake something.
He wasn't necessarily good at baking, but that didn't deter him. Especially now that his mother wasn't around to accuse him of wasting good flour.
There were pots of wool dyeing around the house, waiting for the color to set. He had a little time, so he washed up and then got out his ingredients.
There was no yeast. That was fine. He could make scones. There was a lemon in the fridge and Daisy's rosemary. A nice combination for a treat.
For once, it wasn't raining out, so Martin opened the kitchen window to let the cool air in as he smushed cold butter into the dry ingredients, humming to himself. Snatches of songs drifted through his head; his mobile was useless out here, so he had no music on hand to fill the quiet of the house. Maybe he could get into vinyls. The idea was exciting. There was a tactile pleasure to conjuring music out of a needle and a meticulously grooved disc. Like baking.
There was a consignment shop in town. If anyone would have a player, it'd be them. He just had to remember to check. However, actually acquiring good music would be tricky. Martin was horribly picky.
The bakery had wifi. He could walk into town, buy something, and place an order from there.
He was contemplating how much one had to spend at a shop before it was acceptable to use the wifi when Martin saw him.
Martin's cottage was far enough from Lacuna proper that he honestly had never seen another person out here. Daisy's farm was in the opposite direction, on the other side of town, and the road seemed to exist for Martin alone to travel into town.
But today, someone was just walking down that same road. The movement spooked Martin at first, making him wheel away from the window, crumbly scone dough on his hands.
Heart racing, Martin glanced out the window.
He was tall, and walked quickly, and had on a long black cloak that kicked up around his feet, always swishing just a hair over the damp gravel. His arm was crooked around a stack of books.
His nose was sharp in profile, his features otherwise obscured by distance and dark hair streaked in grey.
Briefly, he looked skyward, examining the quality of the clouds in the sky, but did not break his stride, hurrying along the road, right past Martin's cottage.
Martin watched him until he strode entirely out of view of the window.
Sure, the road went further away from the cottage, but Martin hadn't been aware of another house further down the line. Maybe he had a neighbor? That… sounded very nice, actually. Someone who liked to read, too!
Biting his lip, Martin shuffled back to his sheet pan to finish his scones.
Now that Martin knew to look for him, he saw the stranger walking by the cottage every few days. Always, he was laden down by books.
What he needed was a woven bag, a nice satchel to help him carry so much along on such a long walk. Martin looked at his dyes and thought about maybe a nice seafoam green, just a pinch of his light blue mixed with the jade. He could dye it into the latest fleece Daisy sent him; there was a texture to the color of the wool that would blend over once it was dye, giving the final hue dimension.
The satchel took two weeks to make. He sold it to some person over the internet, packing it into a box and leaving it for the courier.
The next day, the stranger walked by the house late in the afternoon while Martin brewed a pot of tea and stared out the window. Today, he was carrying three books under his arm and another three braced on his shoulder.
Martin watched him trudge up the road, and startled as his kettle whistled.
He was being foolish. More than that, he was going stir-crazy. It was so very quiet in his cottage, and while the people of Lacuna were warming up to him (especially as he began selling yarn and simple textiles), only Daisy was truly friendly with him. Martin knew how he was, always wishing on stars and pinning his hopes on the wrong people.
The stranger was handsome at a distance and he was the person Martin saw most. It was all terribly predictable.
So too was Martin deciding to pull on his galoshes and go for a walk. Not down to the village, but up the road. If he was going to call this damp landscape home, he could stand to be more familiar with it.
The road turned to gravel soon after leaving the neat paving stones of the village, but even further past the cottage, it turned to more of the idea of a road. Scattered rocks that gave into earth soon after. There was a trodden path, with stubborn grass springing up, trying to reclaim the strip of land more and more as Martin followed it.
The rain made the path downright sodden, and more than once Martin paused to haul his foot out of sucking mud before continuing on.
Daisy was right; the hem of his trousers were terrible, clotted with dirt. But he'd already walked enough, he wanted to reach some sort of conclusion.
There were no houses along the road, no secret home for a long-legged bibliophile. The path wound further from Lacuna until the trees thickened around it, narrowing the way forward.
Soon, the shade of the trees plummeted the temperature until Martin shivered. Overhead, only patches of the grey sky were visible through the branches.
Further on and he might find himself straying close to the Court of the All Seeing. Which: no thanks. Not today. Martin looked balefully around, as if he'd somehow missed an obvious domicile hidden just behind a tree.
There was nothing. Just more remoteness.
The walk back home was slower, as Martin scanned the horizon, looking for a hunch of a house or just a trail of fireplace smoke. As if he could spot such a thing against the endless grey.
Upon returning home, Martin filled the tub with the hottest water he could stand and lounged for hours, coaxing heat back into his bones.
The next day, Martin walked the other way, down into town.
"These are decent," Daisy said, pulling apart one of his scones with her fingers to eat it bit by bit. "Should put some salt on the top, the big kind?"
It was his third batch, and thus the first one he felt okay sharing. "Say, who else lives up the road by me?"
"Nobody," Daisy said immediately.
"Well, no, I think someone must?" He described the stranger, with his books and his long cloak and his definitely living further off than Martin.
"Never heard of him." Her eyes were narrow and serious.
"The… The Court's up that way, right? Gerry said there wasn't a Seneschal, but—"
"They don't come into town," she said firmly. Then, snorting indelicately, she added, "And certainly not thrice a week. No." Pushing the last of the scone into her mouth, she chewed, considering. "Mhm. Books," she said, a few crumbs escaping her mouth. She folded a hand over her lips as she swallowed. "Tch, yeah, might ask at the library. She'd know if someone was swanning around with so many books. Ask her."
The library was the cramped lower floor of a building, the overfull stacks watched over by a severe woman Martin only knew from selling her a few skeins of sunset yarn. Since he last saw her, she'd evidently turned the yarn into a headscarf, the colors blending together beautifully, standing out against her black longsleeve and her black jeans.
When Martin entered, she was up on a ladder. Not reshelving or taking anything down. Just… halfway up the ladder, her eyes landing immediately on him as he came in.
"Hello, uh, Basira?"
"Yeah," the librarian, Basira, said.
"Daisy sent me," Martin offered up.
She let out a breath. "Yeah?" Her tone was exactly the same, but still somehow less oppressive. Something about the slope of her shoulders. "What do you need?"
"I need nothing," Martin said primly. "I'm curious about this person I keep seeing up along the north road. Tall, wears a long cloak, dark hair."
Basira's brow furrowed. "Doesn't ring a bell. Why ask here?"
"Oh, he's always carrying a load of books?"
"Up the road, past the old cottage." She shook her head slowly. "No one lives up that way."
"The Court does?"
"When one of the All Seeing comes to A Stone's Throw From The Highest Tower, you will know it. There is no mistaking it." She tilted her head at Martin. "You don't drink, do you?"
"No." Alcohol tended to taste awful, and… also seemed a bad habit for someone who lived on his own. "He's carrying books up the path about three or four times a week. You've really not seen him?"
"No one here reads that much," Basira said. "Sorry."
"Right. Thank you anyway." He looked around the library.
"Want a library card?"
She sounded like she'd prefer to do anything else but sign him up, so Martin took the hint and excused himself. The sky was rapidly darkening anyway, and he had a walk before he was safe at home.
It was honestly a wonder that Lacuna did not slide down the hill in a landslide. The village dotted around a lazy slope that crested with the forest, that perilous tower watching over everything. When a storm rolled in, pounding rain that turned an afternoon sky to darkest night, Martin thought it curious this place even survived.
Perhaps that was the protection of the Court. It certainly seemed like magical intervention.
He wished they'd be a bit more thorough about it. As the storm continued, Martin walked around the cottage with his dye pots, finding the places the roof was dripping. At least he had an abundance of containers to catch all the water. Soon, the cottage was ringing with the sound of plinking and plonking as shallow pools rippled with each new drop.
Sighing, Martin flexed his hands.
That was the other thing about rain. His wrists and shoulders throbbed with a low, dull ache as the downpour continued. His hands were his livelihood, and the effects made him feel so old sometimes.
Rice socks were so important. Sighing, Martin retrieved them and went to put them in the microwave. It seemed a fine way to spend the rest of the day, draping warm weight over his joints and maybe watching Pride & Prejudice from the sofa. A big cup of tea, too, just to hold in his hand, letting the warmth permeate would be lovely.
In the kitchen, he started the kettle and the microwave, leaning on the counter to look out the window.
It's just slightly ajar, not enough to allow any rain in. The breeze flowing through was a nice counterpoint to the fire in the hearth.
Watching the rice socks spinning around in the microwave, Martin nearly missed it when something fell down from the window. There was just enough movement out of the corner of his eye for him to straighten up, hopping back from the counter.
There was… a moth. There was, in fact, a large moth that was crawling sluggishly across the smooth wood kitchen top. Martin had grown up with the small white and grey bugs that got into the closets and bashed themselves against any exposed bulb they could. This one looked out of glossy nature magazines or documentaries: a furry dark body (thorax, maybe?) that dragged a set of oversized wings, rich chocolatey brown with waves of cream-white and dashes of an almost iridescent dark teal.
Martin gasped in awe and delight. "Hello, there, what— where did you even come from?" he gushed.
Carefully approaching, Martin assumed the moth would take off if he made any sudden movements. But the moth continued to pull itself along the countertop.
Up close, Martin could see big droplets of water scattered over the moth's wings. They didn't seem to be soaking into the dense, fluffy chitinous material, the drops solid and perched on top.
His heart immediately sank. It seemed dreadfully cruel, for him to see a beautiful, enormous insect that looked like it was dressed in a wooly jumper, only for it to go and die because of the rain.
The microwave went off, beeping insistently. Tutting, Martin turned it off and moved back to his visitor, gently placing a hand in the moth's path.
The moth's antennae, big feathery things, flick around for a second. Changing its mind, it trundled around in a circle, its fuzzy legs tapping rapidly against the countertop as it about-faced and tried to go the other way.
"Aw, poor little puffball." Leaning down, Martin set his arm in the moth's path again. "C'mere, little friend. Where are you going?"
Picking it up was a slow process. Closing his arms around the moth by degrees caught it eventually, and with a nudge, Martin got it to climb up onto his sleeve.
The size of the thing became clear. It was like carrying around a weird, colorful corsage, the body of the moth stretching down the back of Martin's hand. Gently pressing down on the moth's back, he lifted it, making shushing, comforting noises.
Could moths hear things? He had no idea.
He had a leftover box from buying a new needle for the record player. It seemed as good a place as any to keep his guest as he… figured out what to do.
Once he tried to lower the moth inside, it seemed far more agitated, trying to climb back onto Martin. It's little tappy legs explored every corner of the box.
"It's okay, you're fine," Martin soothed, sitting back on his heels. "I can't very well put you outside, you're already lucky to be alive."
But it did beg the question: now what?
Now, Martin poured his tea, and took out his phone as it steeped. The reception was so spotty here, he paced around, holding it up as he looked at the bars.
By standing on the chest at the end of his bed, Martin managed to get some information. The webpages wouldn't load any pictures and all the formatting was ruined, but he could read enough.
Opening the flaps of the box, Martin lowered in a dry bundle of spare yarn, just some bits that didn't dye properly. In a shallow saucer, he put some sugar water and a slice of apple.
Then, holding a hand towel very carefully, he pressed two fingers to the back of the moth's body. With all the grace Martin had ever had in his entire life, Martin caught the droplets with the towel, letting them be absorbed up and off the moth's wings.
For two minutes, Martin barely breathed. Until he was done, and all the droplets were gone. Exhaling slowly, he sat back on his heels. "That was… Well, you're all set, I think. Ah, rest up? Have some… sugar." He watched the moth scuttle around in the box, apparently relieved to not be held still anymore. It's long legs tapped at the yarn clippings, then waved in the air.
So he'd saved a moth. Smiling, Martin closed the flaps again and patted his thighs.
… Goodness gracious, his shoulders hurt. Lumbering to his feet, he went to reheat the rice socks. He'd definitely earned a night watching some DVDs.
When morning came, the rain finally ceased. It was, for Lacuna, almost sunny. At least the light through the clouds was vivid enough to illuminate the landscape.
Checking on the box, Martin found the moth tucked back in the corner, and felt a pang. "Oh no. Please don't be dead," he whispered, reaching in.
The moth was still, still, totally motionless as Martin gingerly curled his fingers under the fuzzy little thing.
"Please, please, come on…" He tapped his fingers against the butt of the abdomen (definitely the abdomen, he'd googled that before bed) to urge it forward.
All in a moment, the moth stuttered forward, its legs bracing it on Martin's palm, already propelling it up his wrist.
A relieved breath whooshed out of Martin. "Don't do that, you scared me something awful." Rising out of his crouch, Martin cupped his free hand over the top of the moth. "Ready to go? I bet you are."
Insistently the moth journeyed up Martin's forearm, then to his elbow. By the time he got the door open and stepped out onto the porch, he was doing his best to tilt it away from his face. "Here, we're here!" He stood out in his slippers, the cold air nipping at his toes. "Uh."
He'd expected an immediate take-off into the clear air. With the same careful movement, the moth spun around, it's antennae waving around toward Martin.
"Hi," he said nervously. Was it worse off than he thought? Maybe the water had damaged its wings and it couldn't fly?
As he started to fret over that, the moth flapped its wings, and lifted off Martin's arm. Instead, he yelped and froze as it landed on his head, just against his hair. He could feel it move through his hair, a ticklish sensation that had his body locking in place in his effort to not fucking move.
Then, it was gone, fluttering away from him, out into the field to the left of the porch. It was just huge, the teal streaks on its wings vivid as it flew away.
Slowly, Martin's heart rate settled, and he smiled. He'd saved a moth. Sure, it was just a moth, but… the feeling of good work well done filled him with suffusing warmth.
"Bye," Martin called belatedly. "Try not to get caught in the rain again!"
He watched until he lost sight of the moth, then retreated back inside, still smiling to himself.