The Many Tales of Blackjack: Jokers Wild

Cheshire reached out and patted Erin on the head. She couldn't really help it. The little moth was just adorable beyond words when indignant. "Aye, you're not scary, you're Seelie through and through."

"Maybe she has hidden depths." Rook said, not nearly so convinced. The crow woman was gazing at Erin now, a piercing look in those beady-black eyes of hers. Rook was a clever person, and she was a secretive person, and like many people, she assumed everyone else must be the same, at least until proven otherwise. What secrets was Erin hiding?

"Hidden Autumn-y depths or not, Aurora would be glad to see you." Squick said with certainty.

"Autumn-y?" Hammond said, raising one thin brow.

"Al-alright. If you think the Queen wants me, I'll try to drop by," Erin said tentatively, though not promising anything. "Anything I should know about? I'm... bad with politics. Don't really keep up well with Freehold news, I guess."

"We've got a new Autumn King." Hammond said, shuffling the cards and then doling out new hands. "You'll be hard pressed to guess who it is. The Rider."

"Guess it's not a surprise it took this long to figure out who the Crown would go to, after the Jack retired." Squick said, looking at his hand and seeming to be markedly unimpressed with what he saw.

"Given that the Rider is even more a part of the Wyrd than the Jack-of-Crows ever was, one has to wonder what it is about Autumn monarchs and tenuous sanity." Hammond said, with an expression that may have been a grimace or may have just been a tired smile. "None of the other Courts have these problems."

"Dana's nice, I like her." Cheshire said, looking at her cards. "She's trying to organize the Summer Court into more of a militia, weapons training and stuff. It's kind of fun, she got some hobs to make armor and we all have to march around the near Hedge on patrols."

"I guess the crown just goes to the scariest person?" Erin asked, neatly arranging her cards once more. She did not seem surprised by the string of mad monarchs. Indeed, the Autumn court seemed practically set up to encourage that. "Did someone... pick him, or...?"

"Maybe you should try for the crown someday, Mr. Hammond," Erin said, possibly teasing. "Then they wouldn't have that problem. You could just be scary on TV instead, like Vincent Price."

"Don't even joke about that, please, Erin." Hammond said, shuddering. The idea of ruling the markedly insane and terrifying Autumn court absolutely failed to appeal. "The Wyrd uses its own ways, and I'll be just as glad to wish the Rider long life and good health if it keeps me off the throne."

"I dunno, Robert would make a good Autumn King." Squick said, grinning. "And Erin can be the Spring Queen if Aurora retires. We'd be the best fed Freehold in Britain."

"Mr. Hammond's right, don't joke about it," Erin replied, abruptly reversing her opinion. "I'd be a rotten ruler. You can ask me to cook you something without crowning me queen, you know. I can stuff you so full you'll be spherical." She imagined the boneless tunnelgrub rolling through the underground like a ball, and giggled randomly.

She could have brought up the shop, she supposed, but the human problem came back to the forefront, then. Why did she trust the mages so much more in that regard then the changelings? Perhaps because the mages were still human? Or perhaps because she'd never had a choice in telling the mages? She bit her lip, pensively.

"I suppose three of our monarchs are on good terms and the fourth doesn't talk a lot. That's pretty good, I guess I would think," Erin said.

"But then it'd feel like I was mooching." Squick explained. He put a card down, and ended up getting the Queen of Spades for his trouble. This just was not his day with the cards. "Not right." Whether he was referring to freeloading off Erin, or the way the game was going, was anyone's guess.

"Look on the bright side, Squick." Hammond said, a mechanical smile on his face. "Unlucky at cards, lucky in love."

Rook took her turn to shuffle the cards after the hand was over, still looking at Erin with that hooded expression. "It's better than it was before. Alexandra and the Jack-of-Crows never took things to open blood, but the thought was never too far away."

"Well, you could arrange a dinner party. Or pay me, or owe me a favor. Isn't that how the Freehold works, we all do favors...?" Erin trailed off a bit on the realization that she wasn't quite certain.

"It's good now, I think," she repeated, to Rook's statement. "Pretty good."

"It is at that." Hammond said. And they played on into the night.


It was later now, deeper into the darkness, and only Erin and Hammond were still left in the frost-windowed room just inside of the Hedge. Rook had been the first to go, called off by the duties of her job, to cut open the dead and see what lay inside. Cheshire had gone to keep her company, and this had left just three behind. Squick had hung around for another half hour, had treated himself to a cup of coffee, but then sleep beckoned, and he had made his goodbyes.

Now it was just Erin and Hammond, and Hammond fixed both himself and Erin a hot chocolate, measuring out the ingredients with clinical care. He smiled back at Erin as he did this, an unnerving, steel-toothed smile to any other person. "How have you been?"

"I should say great," Erin said, staring out through the iced windows. Her fingers rested upon the glass, but the heat of her body did nothing to the frost. "It has been great," she continued, sincerely. She kept looking through the window for a moment, unable to see anything through the distortion of the ice.

"I don't know," she sighed, turning herself back to Hammond.

"They seem... normal," Erin said, in reference to the other changelings. The statement seemed hesitant, and the small moth shifted uncomfortably in her seat.


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