13 Secretsby Michelle Harrison
Happy with life at Elvesden Manor, Rowan is doing her best to put the past behind her. But it's tough to forget the past when fairy messengers won't leave her be, no matter how many magical boundaries are put in place to keep them away.
When Tanya arrives to spend the summer at the manor, she notices that Rowan is acting strangely and becomes determined to find… See more details below
- Checkmark Kids' Club Eligible Shop Now
Happy with life at Elvesden Manor, Rowan is doing her best to put the past behind her. But it's tough to forget the past when fairy messengers won't leave her be, no matter how many magical boundaries are put in place to keep them away.
When Tanya arrives to spend the summer at the manor, she notices that Rowan is acting strangely and becomes determined to find out what she's hiding. As Rowan sets about a risky secret quest, those she is working with soon begin to vanish one by one each in a way that is symbolic of the Thirteen Treasures. With time running out, will Tanya be able to prevent the past from consuming Rowan altogether?
In this stunning finale to the 13 Treasures Trilogy, Michelle Harrison delivers a dark tale of mystery and adventure, set against a deliciously wicked fairy world.
Read an Excerpt
By Harrison, Michelle
Little, Brown Books for Young ReadersCopyright © 2012 Harrison, Michelle
All right reserved.
Rowan Fox hovered by the school gate, scanning the yard as pupils spilled out, jostling in their eagerness to begin the summer holiday. There was no sign of Fabian’s fair head in the crowd, and so, impatiently, she headed over to the shop opposite the gate. Jingling some loose change left over from her lunch money, she went in and bought two bars of chocolate. When she came out most of the crowd had gone, and the melody of someone playing a guitar had begun nearby.
Fabian was still nowhere to be seen. She wondered if he had walked to the bus stop without her for some reason. Tucking one of the chocolate bars into her bag, she held on to the other and began to walk. Then she saw the girl—the player of the guitar.
She sat cross-legged in the doorway of an empty shop two down from the sweet shop, leaning back against the door as her fingers swept over the guitar strings. Her straggly white-blond hair was in need of a wash. Next to her, a tattered knapsack rested on a grubby sleeping bag.
As Rowan drew near she paused by the girl’s open guitar case, lying on the pavement. It contained pitifully few coins. Reaching into her pocket, she pulled out her last few pennies and added them to the meager pile. Then, looking down at the chocolate bar in her hand, she threw that in too, and continued on her way.
“Thanks,” the girl called.
Rowan turned back. The girl had stopped playing and was staring at her. “I was starting to think I was invisible. You’re the first person to give me anything all afternoon.”
Rowan’s eyes moved to the coins already in the case.
“Mine,” the girl said. “I just put them there to… well, never mind.”
Rowan came over and put her schoolbag on the ground. “You put the coins in to make it look like you weren’t being ignored,” she finished.
“Right.” The girl gave a little laugh and stood her guitar against the shop door. Reaching for the chocolate bar, she tore the wrapper off and took a huge bite, closing her eyes in pleasure.
“Not the friendliest of places, this,” she said, between munches. “Don’t think I’ll stay.”
“Probably best not to,” Rowan answered, eyeing the girl sympathetically. It was difficult to put an age to her, but she looked older than Rowan—eighteen, perhaps. “You’d be better off somewhere bigger. Busier, with more people.”
“You sound like you’re talking from experience,” the girl said. She licked chocolate from her thumb and trained her eyes on Rowan.
“That’s because I am,” Rowan muttered. “It’s the reason I stopped—” She broke off and met the girl’s eyes. “I was on the streets for over a year. I know what it’s like.”
“Really? What happened to you?”
“My parents died in a car crash, and me and my little brother were put into care. But my brother… he went missing. So I ran away to look for him.”
“Did you find him?” the girl asked.
Rowan hesitated before answering carefully. “I never got him back, no.”
“So what did you do?”
Rowan shrugged. “I was lucky. Met some people who… cared. I live with them now.”
“Lucky,” the girl echoed. She eyed Rowan’s neat school uniform with envy. “It certainly looks like you’re doing all right now.”
“What are you doing here, anyway?” said Rowan. “Tickey End isn’t the place to be if you want to stay unnoticed. I mean, people will act like they don’t see you, but they don’t miss a thing around here.”
“I’ll be gone before the day’s out,” the girl answered quietly. “I wasn’t planning on staying long.” She leaned forward and lowered her voice. “Just long enough to deliver a message, after finding the right person.”
“Message? To who?”
“To you, Red.”
Rowan’s breath caught in her throat. “What did you just say?”
“Red. That’s what you used to call yourself, isn’t it?”
Rowan dragged her schoolbag closer to her feet. “Who are you? What do you mean you have a message? From who?”
“From the Coven.”
Rowan stood up. “Leave me alone.”
She turned back. “Who sent you?”
“Sparrow,” the girl said in a low voice.
“Why didn’t he come to give me the message himself if he knew where to find me?”
“He said you wouldn’t listen if it was him. That I’d have a better chance of… getting your attention, making you listen—”
“He was wrong.”
“Just hear me out. All he wanted was for you to listen.”
“What’s in it for you?”
The girl flushed.
“Of course. You’re not homeless at all, are you? You’re one of them.”
She nodded. “He was certain you’d stop to talk to me, and he was right. But even then I had to be sure… it wasn’t until you mentioned your brother…”
“Just give me the message.”
“There’s a meeting coming up, on the thirteenth.”
“I know,” Rowan answered. “There’s always a meeting on the thirteenth.”
“They want you there this time. No excuses.”
Rowan nodded, eyes downcast.
“He said they need to let you know where it is, but to do that you have to let them in. That’s it. That’s the message.” The girl stared down at the chocolate wrapper in her hands.
“And if I don’t go?”
The girl opened her mouth to answer, but then looked past her. Rowan turned. Fabian approached, his face twisted into a scowl. He stopped next to her, loosening his tie and muttering under his breath.
“Where have you been?” Rowan asked him.
“Detention,” he said sourly.
Fabian nudged a pebble with his toe. “Fighting.”
“Fighting? With who?”
Before Fabian could reply, Rowan noticed that the girl was packing up her things. She stood up, slung her guitar case over one shoulder and her sleeping bag and knapsack over the other, and nodded good-bye.
“See you, Red,” she said quietly, then moved off.
“Fighting with some of the boys in my class,” Fabian said distractedly, staring after the girl. His scowl softened to a frown. “Who was that?”
“No one,” said Rowan. “Just a beggar. I gave her some spare change.”
Fabian’s frown deepened. “You don’t know her?”
“Well, she knew you,” Fabian said suspiciously. “She called you Red. No one calls you that anymore, not since you’ve been living with us.”
Rowan watched the girl’s figure getting smaller until she vanished around a corner into one of the many crooked side streets of Tickey End.
“I spoke to her once or twice when I was on the streets,” she lied, mentally reminding herself never to underestimate Fabian’s powers of observation. “It was ages ago. I don’t even remember her name—I’m surprised she remembered mine.”
“Oh,” said Fabian, rubbing at his cheek. “Funny how she ended up here, of all places.”
“Coincidence,” said Rowan, keen to change the subject. They began to walk. “So what was the fight about?” She checked him for cuts and bruises. “You must have got the upper hand—there’s not a mark on you.”
“It got split up as soon as it started,” Fabian said. “And it started the same reason it always does—they were saying things, rotten things, about Amos. They said… they said they’re going up to the churchyard to mess up his grave. One of them said he’d write things on the headstone. I lost my temper and walloped him.”
“I don’t blame you for losing your temper,” said Rowan. “But they won’t really do anything, Fabian. If they were thinking of it, then you’d be the last person they’d admit it to. They’re just saying it to hurt you.”
“Well, it worked. Why can’t they just leave him alone? Even now that he’s gone they won’t let him rest!”
Rowan sighed. “You’ve got to ignore them. The more you keep rising to the bait, the more they’ll keep on at you.”
“That’s easy for you to say,” Fabian said hotly. “You don’t have to put up with the whispers and the pointing. How would you like it if people thought your grandfather murdered someone?”
Rowan went silent as she pondered the dark history of Elvesden Manor, the old house she and Fabian both lived in. During Fabian’s grandfather’s term as the groundskeeper, a local girl named Morwenna Bloom had vanished in the nearby woods. Unfortunately, Fabian’s grandfather had been the last person to be seen with her, prompting accusations that he had been involved in the disappearance. The rumors had followed him throughout his life, and now, it seemed, beyond his death two months ago as well.
“Of course I wouldn’t like it,” Rowan said eventually. “But I could bear it if I knew it wasn’t true. And you know it isn’t, Fabian. Everyone who really matters knows Amos was innocent. Remember that.” She reached into her schoolbag. “Here. I bought you some chocolate. It’s a bit soft now.”
“Thanks.” Fabian cheered up a little as he took it, and began eating messily as they walked through the town square toward the bus stop.
“Anyway,” Rowan continued. “I do know what it’s like to be whispered about and pointed at. I’m the new girl, aren’t I? And everyone knows I live at Elvesden Manor now too. So, like you, I’m guilty by association.”
“I suppose,” Fabian said, through chocolate-coated teeth. “So how do you react to it all?”
“I don’t say anything,” Rowan replied. “I imagine their faces if they were to be told the truth. If we actually came out with it—that Morwenna Bloom willingly vanished into the fairy realm. Just think of what they’d say.”
“They’d think we’re even crazier than they do already,” said Fabian, cramming the last of the melting chocolate into his mouth, but his expression was lighter as they boarded the bus.
Rowan led the way to the back and sat down as the bus lurched away, rattling through the streets of Tickey End and on down the country lanes of Essex. Fifteen minutes later they stepped off the bus and began walking, passing acres of land that, in places, was still boggy and damaged from the terrible flooding of the past winter and spring.
Soon they passed under the watchful gaze of two ferocious stone gargoyles, which were mounted on their own pillars on either side of a great set of iron gates. Beyond the gates, across a graveled forecourt, stood the imposing ivy-wreathed mansion called Elvesden Manor. As they crunched through the gravel to the front door, Rowan stared up at the house.
“I still can’t believe I actually live here.”
“You say that every time we come up the path,” said Fabian.
“That’s because I think it every time.”
She inhaled deeply as they went through the front door. The hallway was dark and musty-smelling—the kind of smell that would never leave a place, no matter how well it was cleaned. Moving toward the back of the house, they passed the huge old staircase where, on the first landing, a grandfather clock stood mutely, its hands frozen in place. From inside it, Rowan heard the telltale scuffles of its inhabitants and, further up the stairs, the monotone of a vacuum cleaner filtered down.
In the kitchen a shrill screech greeted them.
“Young whippersnapper! Off with his head!”
Rowan winced at the piercing sound, while Fabian glared at the speaker: a gray parrot with gleaming yellow eyes perched in a tall silver cage.
“Good afternoon to you too, General Carver,” Fabian muttered sarcastically.
The bird narrowed its eyes, then started as the back door opened and Fabian’s father, Warwick, stepped in.
“All finished for the holidays now, then?” he said, closing the door and filling the kettle at the sink. After leaving it to boil, he took off his long overcoat and hung it on the back door. The iron knife tucked into the belt of the coat thunked softly as it hit the wood.
Fabian grinned and nodded. “No more school for six whole weeks!”
“Well, don’t start bickering with each other when you get bored.”
Fabian snorted. “We won’t get bored. And anyway, even if we did, you could take us on patrol with you in the woods—that’s never boring!”
Warwick raised an eyebrow at the suggestion. He opened his mouth to answer but was interrupted as a thin, white-haired woman in her mid-sixties entered the kitchen, followed by a slightly younger woman, who was stouter and short of breath.
“I tell you, Florence,” the stout woman wheezed. “That girl has problems, up there”—she tapped a finger to her head—“you know. I dread to think what kind of state her room’s in. Youngsters shouldn’t be allowed keys to their own doors, it’s just not—” She broke off as she caught sight of Rowan and scratched at her mop of untidy brown hair.
“You know why I lock my door,” Rowan said quietly.
“We’ve discussed this, Nell,” said Florence briskly, but as she looked at Rowan her gray eyes were kind. “As long as the room is kept tidy, then Rowan may keep it locked if she wishes.”
“All the same,” Nell continued. “I haven’t been able to get into it to clean it for weeks now. It must be a bleedin’ mess!”
“How many more times?” Rowan said in exasperation. “It’s clean! And if you hadn’t kept moving things I wouldn’t need to lock the door! Don’t you understand? Things need to be kept the way they are… the way I leave them… for a reason!”
“Well, if you insist,” Nell said huffily.
“I do,” Rowan retorted. “And if Florence doesn’t mind then I don’t see why you should—it’s her house.” She turned her back on the silent kitchen and left, running up the stairs. No one followed, not even Fabian. She was glad. She paused outside a door on the left, her breath coming in angry hisses, and pulled an old key out of her bag. Fitting it into the lock, she opened the door and went in, throwing her bag into the corner. Then she sat down at the dressing table and stared into the mirror.
Her reflection stared back: slanted green eyes in a pointed, pale face dotted with freckles. Her hair had been jaw-length when she first came to live at the manor. Now, five months later, a smooth sweep of auburn reached nearly to her shoulders. She picked at a strand.
Red. That’s what they used to call you, isn’t it?
“Red,” she whispered to herself, looking around the room. She hadn’t lied when she told Nell it was clean. The room was immaculate; nothing out of place. After such a long time of sleeping out on the streets, of belonging nowhere, having her own warm, safe room was something she would not take for granted in a hurry.
Her eyes swept the room. It was a nice room, decorated just after she’d moved in. The walls were painted a vibrant crimson, making it appear warm and snug, and the worn furniture made it seem cozy, like she had been there for years. On the surface, apart from the tidiness, it was everything an ordinary fifteen-year-old girl’s bedroom should be.
But Rowan was no ordinary fifteen-year-old girl. She got up from the dressing table and performed the same ritualistic checks that she performed every time she entered the room. Starting at the door, she knelt and rolled back the shabby rug to reveal the floorboards. A thin line of a white, grainy substance reached from one side of the door to the other.
Satisfied, she put the rug back in its place and checked the windowsill. Along the ledge, a matching line of white ran unbroken along its length. Pressing her finger to it, she lifted her hand and allowed a sprinkle of the granules to fall onto her tongue. The sharp bitterness confirmed it was salt.
Next she checked the grate, where, below the chimney opening, a wreath of dark green leaves and dried red-brown berries sat, sealing off another potential entrance to the room.
Finally, she crossed to the bed and slipped her fingers beneath the pillow. The coldness of the dagger there reassured her, and at last she allowed herself to relax.
The girl in Tickey End had worried her. Moving to the window, she stared out, beyond the walls of the garden and toward Hangman’s Wood. But she did not see the trees, or the little brook that ran past the edge of the forest. Nor did she see the tiny church that stood in the distance. Instead, her mind’s eye saw a cold, damp cellar beneath a stone cottage, where an iron manacle imprisoned a wrist with burned skin. Bitter words replayed in her head.
You’ll regret this, girl…. I’ll track you down and make you pay for this….
A sudden thud at the window made her gasp. Shaking herself from her thoughts, she peered through the glass, squinting in the afternoon sun. On the outside window ledge a small, winged creature scrabbled at the glass. It was about the size of a bird, and at a glance could be mistaken for one, for it wore garments of feathers and leaves. It was, however, a tiny man with sharp features and something square and white clamped between his teeth. She watched him, her face expressionless. The window had been left open a crack to ventilate the room. The gap was wide enough for the fairy to squeeze through, but even if he tried, she knew he would be unable to cross the salt barrier. It was a deterrent to fairies, just like all the other barriers she had set in place.
As the fey man stopped scrabbling, about to give up as he always did, Rowan relented and brushed away some of the salt, creating a small opening. The fairy blinked in surprise, then darted through the window, releasing the thing in his mouth, which fell to the floor.
“About time too!” he grumbled in a nasal voice. Then he took flight and was gone, leaving Rowan hurrying to sweep the salt back into an unbroken line again.
She knelt and collected the thing the fairy had dropped. It was a plain envelope with a single word printed on the front: RED. She stared at it, the name she had gone by for so long. The name she had tried to forget she’d ever had.
She was sick of pretending. Sick of hiding. Sliding her thumbnail under the lip of the envelope, she tore it open.
It was time to face her past.
Tanya arrived at Elvesden Manor a week later. As she followed Warwick over the threshold, a thrill of excitement to be back at her grandmother’s old house rose up inside her.
“All right, Oberon. Stop pulling,” she told the large brown Doberman straining at the end of his leash. His tail wagged erratically as she released the clip from his collar, then he shot through the house, claws clattering on the tiles.
“I’ll take your things up to your room later,” said Warwick, leaving Tanya’s suitcase at the bottom of the stairs. “We’re just in time for lunch.”
Tanya followed him into the kitchen at the back of the house. There, her grandmother and Nell were heaping fat ham-and-cheese sandwiches, boiled eggs, and salad onto plates and transferring them to the table. Slices of fruit were piled up for dessert. Florence’s face broke into a smile as she caught sight of Tanya, and after hastily brushing her hands on her apron she pulled Tanya into a warm hug, then stepped back to appraise her.
“Look at you,” she said. “Brown as a berry—and freckled, as well!”
“Hello, dear,” said Nell, beaming. “How was Devon?”
“Good,” said Tanya, steering Oberon’s long nose away from the tray of sandwiches. “We got back last night. Mum said I should wait another day and have a proper rest before coming here, but I wanted to come as soon as I could. It feels like forever since I last visited. Properly, I mean.” There was an awkward silence. Tanya and her mother had last come to the manor only eight weeks ago, for Amos’s funeral.
“Poppycock!” General Carver announced from his cage, his voice an exact imitation of Nell’s. He clicked and began to preen his feathers.
“Sit down,” said Florence, ignoring the parrot. “Fabian and Rowan should be along any moment.”
“Where are they?” Tanya asked, reaching for a plate at the same moment that the lid to the tea caddy on the counter began to lift. She watched as the ill-tempered brownie who lived there squinted out, then reached forward with his walking stick. With a stab of the stick, he looted a piece of tomato before he vanished beneath the teabags once more.
“They’re outside, helping Rose with the animals,” said Florence, apparently not noticing the brownie’s antics, though Tanya knew she must have seen and was turning a blind eye. Like Tanya, her grandmother was second-sighted, and they, along with Rowan, were the only members of the household with the ability to see fairies, though everyone else in the house knew of their existence. Until last year, Tanya had not known of Florence’s gift, and the secret had prevented them from becoming close.
“You haven’t seen the animals yet, have you?” Florence continued. “Rose has worked wonders with the old courtyard—you must go and see after lunch. Oh, that sounds like Rowan and Fabian coming in now.”
“She’s here!” Fabian could be heard exclaiming from the hallway in evident excitement. “Look, there’s her suitcase!”
He burst into the kitchen, grinning wildly, accompanied by Rowan and a woman with the same long auburn hair. While Rowan and the woman, Rose, went to the sink, Fabian pulled a chair up next to Tanya and started to sit down. Tanya noticed a light brown feather stuck to his shirt.
“Just a moment, Fabian,” Florence interrupted. “Your hands.”
Fabian looked puzzled. “What about them?”
“You know what,” said Florence. “You’ve been up to your elbows in chicken droppings all morning. Wash them.”
“Bleedin’ pest!” the General added, as though in agreement. Nell chortled and took a slice of apple to the cage. Sliding it through the bars, she gave a little coo as the parrot took it in his scaly claws and nibbled at it.
“Oh, all right,” said Fabian, getting up again and going to the sink. He nodded toward a dish of speckled hard-boiled eggs on the table. “Have one of those, Tanya. Collected them myself this morning!”
Tanya took an egg. Rowan sat down on the other side of her and began piling her plate with food.
“How was your holiday? Did you visit that old house you were telling me about?”
“What house?” Fabian piped up, sitting down again.
“Chambercombe Manor,” Tanya answered. “It’s similar to Elvesden Manor but not even half as big. My mum’s wanted to go there ever since reading about it in a book of ghost stories—it’s supposed to be haunted.”
“I’ve heard about that,” said Fabian. “That’s the one where they knocked down a wall and discovered a secret room with a skeleton on the bed! And it’s been haunted ever since!”
“There’s a secret passage too,” said Tanya. “One that pirates used to smuggle their goods from the beach. But it’s completely caved in now.”
“Huh,” said Fabian. “I bet their secret tunnel wasn’t a match for any of ours.”
“Which none of you should even know about, let alone have been in,” Warwick added gruffly. Tanya stole a look at him. He looked older, but better than he had the last time she had seen him. His eyes had been red-rimmed then, and his cheeks sunken. Warwick had been the one to find his father dead one morning when he had taken up Amos’s breakfast. After years of a slow descent into madness, the old man’s last few months had been eased after his memories of Morwenna were erased, until finally, he had slipped away peacefully in his sleep.
“Yes, but still,” Fabian persisted. “One of ours leads into a graveyard. You can’t get much creepier than that!”
“I’ll say,” Nell retorted, her plump shoulders wobbling in a shudder. “You grisly boy.”
Fabian smirked as though the comment were a compliment while Tanya watched him and wondered whether “boy” was quite the right word for Fabian any longer. He had grown taller and broader over the past few months and was losing the gangly appearance she was familiar with. He was not so thin, nor so pale, and his cheeks were flushed with good health from spending time out of doors.
“How’s school been?” Tanya asked Rowan, quietly. “It seems like you’re settling in better now, from what you said on the phone.”
Rowan took a bite from a sandwich and expertly smuggled the rest beneath the tablecloth to Oberon’s ready jaws.
“It’s all right,” she said, “now that the attention has died down. It’s always worse when you’re the new person. The main thing is trying to catch up on the schooling I missed.” She made a face. “Rose wants to pay a private tutor to give me extra lessons. So far I’ve managed to convince her I’m coping.”
“And how are things with her?” Tanya continued, lowering her voice even further.
Rowan glanced over at Rose, who was chatting away to Florence, oblivious to the girls’ conversation. “Strange,” she said, chewing slowly. “We get along, but then we always did. Some days I completely forget, just for a moment, and it’s like it always was. Rose is just my oddball of an aunt, nuts about animals. And then she’ll look at me in a certain way, and I’ll remember—” She broke off as the conversation around the rest of the table lulled. “Talk to you about it later,” she muttered.
Tanya ate the rest of her lunch in silence. Rowan had grown up believing that Rose was her aunt, and had only recently discovered that Rose was in fact her mother. When her aunt and uncle, whom she’d believed were her parents, were killed in an accident, Rowan was placed in a children’s home, along with her cousin, James, whom she had always thought was her brother.
While they were staying at the children’s home, James was stolen by fairies, prompting Rowan to run away in search of him, using the name “Red” to remain unknown on the streets. Neither Tanya nor Fabian knew much of Rowan’s past, but what they did know was that she’d been involved in switching back fairy changelings left in place of stolen human children. It had been her hope that one day she would make a trade that led to her getting James back.
Only by chance had Tanya discovered Rowan hiding out in the tunnels below Elvesden Manor. Since then, Tanya and Fabian had helped her in her search for James, but in finding him, the truth about Rowan’s parentage had come out—and had revealed not only that Rose was her mother, but that her father was fey.
Now Rowan was rebuilding her life at Elvesden Manor… and building a new relationship with her mother.
After lunch, Tanya helped her grandmother tidy up and chatted to her about school and her vacation. As they moved around the kitchen, the timid little hearthfay skittered away from the table, where she had been keeping the teapot warm, to her favorite nook behind the coal bin, nudging it slightly.
Once she was finished cleaning, Tanya went out through the back and into the courtyard at the side of the house. Oberon followed close behind her, his nose bumping at her heels. Beyond the wild rosebushes, an area had been cleared of weeds. A fence had been put up, and small hutches were placed around the edges within it. An old goat with only one horn was tethered to a fence post, and a chicken coop was at the back.
Inside the fence, Rose was bottle-feeding a calf. Tanya peered over the fence.
“What happened to it?” she asked softly, not wanting to disturb the young animal.
“Orphaned,” Rose murmured. “Won’t you come inside?”
Tanya went through the gate, careful to latch it after her. She left Oberon outside. He jumped up at the fence and watched her, his nose resting on his huge paws. Further back, Rowan was leaning over a pen containing a small, rust-colored fox with a heavily bandaged leg.
“What’s the matter with its leg?” Tanya asked.
“Poacher’s trap,” Rowan answered. “Luckily nothing was broken, but he had a wound that was infected. Rose says it’ll be healed in a week or so. We can’t have much contact—we need to keep him wild for when he’s released.”
“What if he comes back for the chickens once he’s better?” Tanya asked doubtfully, glancing over at the coop, where Fabian was scattering feed.
“He won’t,” said Rowan. “Rose found him in Knook while she was walking her dogs in the fields. We’ll release him there. He won’t find his way back—it’s miles away.”
Tanya nodded. “So what’s the deal with this place, then? I mean, who pays for it all? And is Rose keeping her cottage in Knook?”
“Yes,” said Rose quietly, from behind them. The calf trotted along after her like a lamb. “I’m keeping the cottage. The animal sanctuary is off to a good start. I already have offers of sponsorship to pay for any medical treatment they need, and Florence and Nell have come up with some fund-raising ideas for the upkeep of the facilities here.” She smiled at Tanya, her green eyes crinkling. “It was kind of your grandmother and Warwick to offer to let me use the land for this. My cottage is so tiny, and there are so many animals that need helping.”
Tanya shrugged. “Well, so much of the house and the land isn’t used for anything. I think it makes sense. It’s a good place for animals. Will you be bringing your dogs here? And Rowan mentioned that you’ve got geese too.”
Rose shook her head. “No. The dogs are settled, and they have plenty of space. It’s the larger animals I was struggling with. And the geese, good grief, no! They’d terrorize the rest of the animals—better that they stay where they are, in the cottage garden.”
“Thank goodness for that,” Rowan muttered.
“You know… you can always come to the cottage,” Rose said quickly, her words directed at Rowan. “To visit, or even stay over. It’s perfectly safe… and protected.”
“I know,” Rowan said, looking uncomfortable. “I’ll think about it.”
Rose forced a smile. “I’ll see you tomorrow, then.” She left the enclosure. Minutes later Warwick’s Land Rover rumbled through the gates as he drove her home.
“Give her a chance,” Tanya said, watching as Rowan fastened the fox’s hutch. “She’s trying, you know.”
Rowan shrugged. “I know. So am I.” She left the pen and looked up as Fabian finally came away from the chickens to join them. “It was never going to be easy, was it?”
“I suppose not,” Tanya conceded.
The afternoon gave way to evening. After walking Oberon by the brook bordering Hangman’s Wood, Tanya went to her room to unpack. As she took her toiletry bag into the bathroom that she shared with Rowan, a gurgling from the sink caught her attention. Peering into the murky plughole, she saw two bulbous eyes gleaming back at her. In the autumn, a drain-dweller had taken up residence there. It was a slimy, amphibian-like creature with a fondness for all things shiny, much like a magpie.
It had not been the first of its kind, however. Another drain-dweller had once lived in the bathroom, and it had taken a liking to an old silver charm bracelet given to Tanya by her grandmother. Tanya had learned that the charms symbolized the thirteen treasures of the fairy courts. She had also learned that her ancestor and the first lady of the manor, Elizabeth Elvesden, had been a fairy changeling. The subsequent bloodline running through the family ever since was the reason for Tanya’s second sight.
Rowan came in through the adjoining door opposite the one that led in from Tanya’s room.
“Oh, sorry,” she began. “I didn’t realize you were in here.”
“It’s all right,” Tanya answered. “I’m just unpacking. But on second thought, I’ll leave my toothbrush in my toiletry bag—I don’t want that slimy drain-dweller crawling all over it.”
“Good decision,” Rowan remarked. “Make sure you don’t leave any jewelry lying around, either—it’s an even bigger thief than the first one, according to Warwick. He’s had to unblock the pipes three times since the winter to get back all the stuff it’s stolen.”
“I’ll remember,” said Tanya, watching as the gleaming eyes narrowed. Evidently the creature knew it was being spoken about, for it belched in her direction and then squelched further into the pipes and out of sight, leaving the smell of rotten eggs in its wake.
Rowan went back into her own room, leaving Tanya alone with the unpleasant scent of the drain-dweller. She left her toiletry bag zipped up and placed it on the back of the sink, then went back into her room.
It had been redecorated since her last visit. The peeling wallpaper had been stripped and replaced with a fresh coat of cream paint, and the cracked glass in the dressing table mirror had been renewed. It was warmer, more welcoming. A new painting above the fireplace had replaced the one of Echo and Narcissus that she had taken down a year ago following a cruel trick the fairies had played: making her repeat the last words of other people’s sentences. She pushed the memory from her mind. Things were different now.
She didn’t have much to unpack, and soon everything was put away. She left the room, walked along the landing to the bedroom next door, and knocked.
“Come in,” Rowan called.
Tanya went in. Rowan was sitting at her dressing table, and Fabian was hunched on her bed, reading. He pushed his glasses back up his nose as she entered.
“Oh, it’s you,” Rowan said in surprise. “You could have just come in through the bathroom.”
Tanya sat down next to Fabian. He closed the book, a tome on folklore, and set it to one side.
“So what do you think?” he asked, his eyes sparkling.
“About what?” Tanya replied.
“The animal sanctuary.”
“It’s great,” Tanya replied. “I think it’ll be good for the manor if people know what’s being done here. Maybe it’ll go some way toward helping people to forget all the bad stuff that happened here… with Amos and Morwenna and everything.”
Fabian nodded. “I helped Warwick build the fence, you know. And I painted the chicken coop.”
Tanya nodded, only half-listening. Her eyes were drawn to the various charms and deterrents that were placed around Rowan’s room. Salt; dried rowanberries and leaves; an iron horseshoe on the wall above her bed. Fabian had told her about them on the phone, but Tanya hadn’t been able to visualize it. Even now, seeing it with her own eyes, she couldn’t believe it. Nor could she get used to the new Rowan, with her neat hair and clothes and her quiet manner. Was this really the fearless girl who had trekked around the countryside with only a knife and a meager bag of belongings just a few months ago? It seemed impossible.
Tanya went to the window, looking past the unbroken trail of salt to the sprawling forest beyond the garden. Her mind swam with possible words, some way of broaching the subject gently. But before she settled on something she was comfortable voicing, Fabian interrupted.
“We haven’t seen much of Mad Morag recently. I wonder if the compass she gave you is still working?”
“I don’t know,” said Tanya, thinking of the old gypsy woman who had helped them in the past. “I haven’t even looked at it yet.”
“We saw her in Tickey End in the spring, didn’t we?” Fabian said, looking over at Rowan, but she was staring into space, gnawing her lower lip.
“Didn’t we, Red?” Fabian persisted.
Rowan’s head snapped up. “Don’t call me that anymore!”
“Sorry,” Fabian muttered, looking baffled and more than a little hurt. “I didn’t mean to. It’s just… an old habit. It just came out.”
Rowan’s fierce expression softened. “No, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have snapped.”
“Anyway,” Fabian continued uncomfortably, “we saw her in town. I spoke to her for a few minutes. I was hoping she’d let me have some more of that tonic to see fairies, but she said it wasn’t to be used lightly.” He sighed. “Warwick’s being really stingy with his too. Says I’ve got no business messing with it.”
“He’s right,” said Rowan shortly. “Here’s me trying to keep them out”—she gestured around the room—“and you’re positively looking to encourage them in!”
Fabian’s face began to flush. “I’m not encouraging them. I just want to be able to see them.” He flicked the book open and hunched over it again, muttering to himself. “I’ll find my own way to see them. Plenty of ideas in here.”
Rowan made a noise of exasperation, and Tanya decided to take the plunge.
“Why are you being so cautious?” she asked. “Do you even need all these charms to keep the fairies out? I mean… now that we know about your name….”
Rowan didn’t look at her. “It’s not a case of whether I need it. I want it. And yes, being named after the rowan tree protects me from harmful magic, but what if that’s not enough?” She lifted her feet up onto the chair and hugged her knees to herself.
“I don’t understand,” Tanya said. “How can it not be enough? You’ve faced the worst and won, surely? You defeated the fairies after they took James. They let you go! You’re here, with us. You’re safe!”
“Am I?” Rowan turned to face her. “Am I really? It’s not easy to let go of the past. Not easy to start fresh, even when you want to, more than anything.”
“But you already have,” said Fabian, putting the book down again.
Rowan gave a short laugh. “Some things aren’t easy to put behind you. I’ve done things, bad things. I can’t help feeling that somehow, someday, they’re going to catch up with me.”
Tanya felt a chill at her words. “What things?”
But Rowan’s face had changed, closed off. Whatever was on her mind was not about to be shared.
“Come on,” Tanya said firmly. “Let’s take all these deterrents down.”
“We can help,” Fabian said eagerly. He got up and reached for the horseshoe above the bed.
But Rowan shook her head. “No. Not yet.”
Fabian lowered his hand, and then Tanya saw him lean closer to the calendar on the wall.
“You’ve circled the thirteenth,” he commented, a forced brightness in his tone that told Tanya he was trying hard to change the subject and lighten the mood in the room. “That’s today. What’s the big event?”
His words seemed to have completely the opposite effect from what he had intended. Tanya glanced at Rowan and saw a look of panic and fury sweep across her face.
“Nothing! Mind your own business and stop poking around my stuff!”
“I wasn’t exactly poking around,” Fabian retorted. “I just saw it!”
The emotion left Rowan’s face suddenly. It became unreadable.
“If you must know, I circled the date because I knew Tanya was coming today,” she said smoothly. “I’ve been looking forward to it.”
“Huh,” said Fabian. “Then why didn’t you just say so, instead of biting my head off?” He snatched his book and, looking decidedly grumpy, headed for the door. “I’m going back to my room.”
“I think I’ll go back to mine too,” said Tanya. “I’ve still got some unpacking to do.”
“All right,” said Rowan, meeting her eyes. The look in them was challenging, as though she knew Tanya had lied about the unpacking.
Tanya shut the door behind her and stood in the hallway. She did not enjoy lying, but it was something she had grown accomplished at over the years. Consequently, she had also learned to recognize when she was being lied to.
So, standing in the cool, dark hallway with her back to the door, she trusted her own judgement enough to know that Rowan had just lied about the meaning of the date on the calendar.
She just didn’t know why.
The cottage had been without an owner for several months. For a long time it had been a feared place, but news of its owner’s death had spread, and the deserted woods surrounding it began to stir once more.
Inside, cold ash was all that remained in the grate of the fireplace. Jars and bottles cluttered the surfaces, their contents untouched, and around the edges of the cottage, cages stood empty, doors open. Animal skins of all kinds hung from the rafters, stiff and dried and no longer dripping. Below them the stone floor was dotted with old, dark stains, but the tangy scent of blood no longer filled the air.
Rowan stepped into the center of the cottage, her heart drumming a familiar beat of fear. She kicked aside the animal pelt on the floor, revealing the trapdoor beneath. Slowly, slowly, she descended the staircase into the cellar, not wanting to, but unable to fight the need to know what the cellar held.
The stench hit her a few steps down, sending her reeling. It was the smell of dead, rotten things. Covering her nose with her hand she urged herself to the bottom. Blindly stumbling in the darkness, she felt her feet hit something solid on the floor. A body. Suppressing a scream, she recoiled, allowing herself a moment of composure. Gradually, her eyes adjusted, and she was able to make out the dark shapes littering the cellar. Only one remained upright. As she edged toward it, her breathing quickened. It was slumped forward, one wrist encircled in an iron manacle. Greasy black hair fell over the face. There was no movement.
She moved closer. Things crunched under her boots, glinting in the light filtering down. Fragments of mirror, eggshell, and a curse that had gone horribly wrong. She remembered it all. She stopped in front of the motionless figure, trembling. Only then did she realize she had something clenched in her sweating hand. She looked down and found a key there.
Reaching forward, she jammed the key into the iron manacle and jiggled it around, trying to unlock it. Something was in there, some wedge of dirt perhaps, preventing it from turning.
The hand in the manacle sprang to life, grabbing her wrist. Rowan screamed, dropping the key as the head snapped up. Two black eyes burned in a waxen face, emanating hatred.
“I’m sorry…” she babbled in terror. “I’m sorry—”
The lips in the face parted, breaking a thin seal of crusted spittle. The face loomed as the hand pulled her nearer… nearer… and three words were spat into her face.
“YOU… LEFT… ME…!”
Rowan awoke, trembling and soaked in perspiration. The dream clung to her like a cobweb. It was the same dream she’d been having for months now. Everything about it felt so real: the memory of the hanging animal skins, the trapdoor, the cellar… the stench. She threw the covers back, sniffing at herself self-consciously. All she could smell was her own sweat. She shook herself, forcing it out of her mind. She would not think about it. Not now. She had other things to attend to, and drifting off to sleep hadn’t been part of the plan.
She glanced worriedly at the clock but found that she had only dozed off for about ten minutes. It was late now, past eleven o’clock, and gradually the manor was going silent. Only Warwick was yet to go to bed, his heavy footsteps clumping through the house as he locked up for the night. Finally, she heard his boots on the stairs, then the sliver of light beneath her door vanished as Warwick turned off the light in the hallway. She heard his door close, and then silence.
She waited another twenty minutes to give him the chance to drop off to sleep. Silently, she drew back the covers and slid out of bed, fully clothed, and then padded silently to her bookshelf. From there she removed the slip of paper tucked into one of the books and cast her eyes over it again in the moonlight from the window. There was a map, roughly drawn in pencil, and a few lines of writing—a scrawled instruction. Committing both to memory, she crossed to the fireplace, took a box of matches from the mantelpiece, and lit one. In the darkness of the room the yellow light glowed brilliantly, the hiss of the flame loud. She held the piece of paper to it until it caught, then put it carefully in the empty grate. By the time she had collected her fox-skin coat from the wardrobe and slipped her knife into her belt, the paper had curled and blackened and fallen away to ash.
With a final glance around the room, Rowan crept to the door and opened it, stooping to collect her boots on the way out. In the hallway she paused for a split second outside Tanya’s room, half-wishing she could knock. Swallowing down her regret, she continued onward, down the stairs and toward the front door. All was well until she reached the little table upon which the telephone stood. Something warm and soft moved beneath her right foot. An angry yowl pierced the silence.
Spitfire shot out from under the table and fled to the grandfather clock, stopping to lick his matted tail where it had been stepped on. His single eye glowed through the darkness in a demon glare.
Rowan remained still, alert for signs that anyone had awoken. There were none. Edging down the hallway, she took her key from the hook and quietly opened the front door. Stepping outside, she pulled the door to and inserted her key to hold the latch back until the door was closed. On the porch she slipped her boots on and laced them. Then, standing up, she drew the fox-skin coat around her shoulders and fastened the clasp. The transformation, as always, was instant. Every hair follicle twitched, as though red-brown fur really was growing all over her. The night loomed large as she shrank into it, yet all her senses magnified and became pin-sharp.
Then she was off, over the courtyard and through the gates into the lanes beyond Elvesden Manor. The dream had been pushed into the furthest corners of her mind.
Tanya’s eyes snapped open at the sound of Spitfire’s yowl. She lay quiet for a moment as sleep pulled at her, wondering if perhaps Oberon had dared to get too close to the crotchety old cat, but this seemed unlikely. She was almost asleep again when a draught unexpectedly whistled past her ears. It was enough to wake her fully, sending her eyes to the windowsill, where she expected to see Gredin, Raven, and the Mizhog. But there were no fairies.
She sat up. Somewhere in the house, a door had opened. She slid out of bed and crossed to the bathroom. Faint gurgles and gargles could be heard coming from the drain-dweller in the plughole. She ignored them and quietly entered Rowan’s room, sniffing at a smoky scent. Something had been burning. Approaching the bed, Tanya reached out.
“Rowan,” she whispered. “Are you awake? I think there’s someone in the house!”
Her hand sank into the empty bedclothes. Where was Rowan?
She hurried back to her room, throwing on jeans, a sweater, socks, and sneakers. Then she left her room and tiptoed across the landing to Fabian’s door. From Nell’s room, next to Fabian’s, loud snores were making the floor practically vibrate. Tanya twisted the doorknob and slipped into Fabian’s room, closing the door behind her.
The lamp was on, but Fabian was fast asleep, still wearing his glasses. His right cheek rested against some loose pages. He had evidently fallen asleep while reading them. Tanya leaned closer, wrinkling her nose at the gusts of stale, dragon-like breath coming from Fabian’s wide-open mouth.
She reached out and poked him. “Fabian! Wake up.”
His eyes flickered open momentarily, then shut again. “Drain-dwellers took it,” he mumbled, and started to turn over.
“Fabian!” She pulled back the covers. Fabian huddled up like a squirrel at the sudden lack of warmth. Tanya prodded him again.
“Rowan’s gone!” she whispered fiercely. “Get up, quickly!”
Fabian shot up in bed, a page stuck to his cheek.
“Gone where? What?” He straightened his glasses and peeled the piece of paper away from his face.
“I don’t know!” Tanya hissed, throwing a rumpled shirt and trousers at him from off the floor. “That’s the point. Get dressed; we’re going after her. Nice pajamas, by the way.”
Fabian blinked sleepily and peered down at himself. A brightly colored solar system was printed on the dark blue fabric.
She turned to face the door to allow him to get changed, but he appeared beside her so quickly that she realized he’d simply pulled his clothes on over his pajamas.
They crept downstairs, walking a short distance apart to minimize creaks. When they reached the clock, Spitfire slunk out of their way as they passed.
Fabian grabbed some socks from a pile of laundry in the hallway. “Darn it, Nell,” he muttered to himself. “These socks aren’t properly dry.” He pulled them on anyway, grimacing, and they backed away from the stairs toward the kitchen. There, Tanya quickly put a leash on Oberon.
“Did you even see which way she went?” asked Fabian. “Front or back?”
Tanya shook her head. “I didn’t see anything. But I think we should go the front way. If Rowan’s been so intent on keeping fairies away, then it doesn’t make sense for her to head toward the woods that are full of them.”
“Good thinking,” said Fabian. “Now, where’s my other shoe?”
Oberon stepped behind Tanya as Fabian huffily pulled his missing shoe, lightly nibbled, from Oberon’s basket. Fabian glared at the dog and tugged the shoe on with as much dignity as he could muster.
“You were right. Rowan’s key is missing,” he whispered as they opened the front door. He took his own front door key from his pocket.
Outside, there was no crunching across the gravel. This time they stuck to the path through the forecourt.
“We’re going to have to run,” said Tanya, once they were safely through the gates. Broken moonlight played on the dirt road through the gaps in the trees. “She’s got at least five minutes on us. She could be anywhere.”
“Head for the bus stop,” said Fabian. “All the main routes out go from there.”
They began to run, wordlessly, side by side, with Oberon slightly ahead. Five minutes later they neared the junction.
“Slow down,” Fabian said, his chest heaving for breath. “If she’s close by, she could hear us running.”
They continued forward, though with Oberon’s heavy panting a quiet approach seemed unlikely. Tanya stared in both directions, searching the lanes. They were quiet even during the day. At night, they were deserted.
“We’re too late,” she said in dismay, seeing nothing. “We’ve lost her.”
“Don’t give up yet,” said Fabian. “She would only have gone this way”—he nodded to the left—“or that way, toward Tickey End. Let’s just pick one and take a chance. We can’t be that far behind.”
Tanya turned from side to side. She was desperate to know where Rowan was—what was going on. “You decide,” she said finally. “I feel like whichever way I choose will be the wrong one.”
Fabian raked a hand through his bushy hair.
“Tickey End,” he said at last, as a look of recognition lit up his face. “I’ve just remembered something. Last week after school I saw her speaking to a homeless girl on the street. She acted like she didn’t know her, but I heard the girl call her ‘Red.’ I didn’t think of it until just now, but that’s when she started acting cagey. It’s something to do with that girl, I’m sure of it.” He started to walk. “Come on.”
Tanya made to follow, but a sudden jerk on her arm made her stop. Oberon was resisting, staring in the opposite direction with his nose twitching and his ears pricked up, alert.
“Wait,” she said.
“What’s up with him?” Fabian said impatiently.
“He doesn’t want to go that way,” said Tanya. “He’s pulling to go the other way. He’s scented something—it must be Rowan!”
They followed Oberon along the narrow lane, walking as quickly as they could while still remaining quiet. Less than a minute later, they followed the road over the crest of a hill. Before them, the lane spread out. There was no sign of Rowan’s boyish figure anywhere. Yet the road was not quite empty, for a small animal was skirting along the shoulder. They both saw it at once.
“Of course,” Fabian breathed. “That’s her. She’s wearing the fox-skin coat!”
“It could just be a fox,” said Tanya.
Fabian shook his head. “Look at the way it’s moving. It’s sticking to the edges but it’s bold as brass. Real foxes are more alert for predators, I’m sure of it.” His nostrils flared indignantly. “What’s she playing at? I say we just catch her up and confront her!”
“Don’t be nuts,” said Tanya. “She wouldn’t tell us a thing if we did that. The only way we’ll find out what she’s up to is by following her. If she’d wanted us to know what was going on she would have told us, wouldn’t she? Instead she’s chosen to sneak out in the middle of the night without saying a word.” Her throat tightened. “I thought she trusted us.”
“So did I,” said Fabian, bitterly. “Just shows that we don’t really know her at all.”
They set off, keeping at a safe distance from the fox-form up ahead. Thin wisps of cloud scudded across the moon overhead, and the stars winked at them.
“Keep to the edge of the road,” Fabian whispered. “Walking on the grass is quieter, and it means we can hide in the hedges if she turns around.”
They continued through the darkness, taking the lead from the fox. Once or twice the vixen slipped out of view, causing a flurry of panicked whispers between them, before one of them caught sight of her once more and the trail picked up again.
“Does she even know where she’s going?” Fabian whispered.
They had been walking for nearly thirty minutes and, despite the coolness of the night, Tanya’s cheeks burned with heat. Now that her senses had adapted to being outside in the night, she was picking up strains of whispering fey creatures and a few rustles from the trees surrounding them. Their presence was not going unnoticed.
“Maybe she doesn’t have a particular place in mind,” she replied. “For all we know, she’s running away.”
“Why would she run away?” Fabian spluttered. “She always says how much she likes it at Elvesden Manor. And, anyway, she hasn’t taken any of her stuff. It looks like all she’s got is the coat on her back.”
“I know,” Tanya said patiently. “But she’s used to coping with having nothing.”
“That still doesn’t explain why.”
“Something’s rattled her,” said Tanya. “That’s the only explanation. She’s scared anyway, it’s obvious from the way she keeps her room full of protection against fairies. I think it’s something to do with that girl in Tickey End. Are you sure you didn’t hear what they were talking about?”
“No,” said Fabian. “The girl was already leaving when I turned up.”
They continued in silence. Above them, trees towered over the road and met in the middle, and Tanya recognized it as the route her mother took whenever she drove to the manor. Through gaps in the hedges they saw a wide expanse of fields and farmland. After another forty minutes they had twice more ducked into the bushes at the side of the road as Rowan paused to navigate the lanes, and Fabian complained that he had torn his shirt.
“Why is it we always end up doing this?” he muttered, pulling brambles from his thick nest of hair. “Skulking about after dark. I thought our skulking days were over—”
“Shh!” said Tanya. “She’s stopped.”
They backed into the hedge, watching as the fox sniffed the air, then vanished into the foliage.
“Where did she go?” Fabian whispered.
They waited, wondering if Rowan would emerge. There was no sign of her.
“She must have seen us,” Fabian said. “She’s waiting for us, I bet.”
“Or maybe she’s taken a shortcut,” said Tanya. “We’re surrounded by fields, she could have gone into one. Let’s just head to where we last saw her. If she has seen us then we may as well confront her.”
They eased out of the hedge once more and headed onward. Tanya kept her eyes fixed on the spot where she thought Rowan had vanished. When they reached it, they poked about for a bit before determining that there was no break in the hedge at that point. Tanya wandered on a little further, watching Oberon for any telltale signs that they were on the right track. He snuffled at the grass and shuffled forward, pulling her closer to some bushes several meters from where Fabian stood.
Up ahead there was a fork in the road, with a weathered signpost informing travelers that Tickey End was twelve miles away, in the direction they had just come from. Tanya viewed it, calculating that she and Fabian must have walked at least three miles from the bus stop.
Excerpted from 13 Secrets by Harrison, Michelle Copyright © 2012 by Harrison, Michelle. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
and post it to your social network
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews >