The Influence of the Iron Range

Issue #237

I can feel the rails stretching out before me as if they come from inside my own skull, the two lines of iron seeming to extend from under my ears out to the horizon. I feel them behind me as if I left a trail. The train I ride on is part of the forged iron in the land, part of the work I do to keep this great country free.

The train is draped with white bunting sewn with red and blue ribbons. One of the junior staffers has painted “Arthur Edward Bagley for President” on a banner and hung it out the window. We have word at the last minute that the station is on the opposite side of the train, and all the bright young men have to jump to rearrange the banner so that it is clearly visible, tied down and fluttering just a little in the breeze, when we pull into town.

I just know that in 1888, the American voters will do the right thing and elect Senator Arthur Edward Bagley for our next president. But that’s not my job, though I am a proud staffer on the Bagley campaign. My job is darker, more vital.

“Excuse me, ma’am,” says one of the staffer boys, his copper soles clattering up the aisle. I pull my tidy little buttoned boots aside. He bobs a quick nod to me. I am important.

I am the safeguard of American democracy on this train.

The steam engine shrieks to a halt. I can feel the wheels settle against the rails. I shake the worst of the dust from my skirts, a plain, serviceable blue serge. My hat is pinned firmly in place. The American people like to see their candidates served by sensible, sober men and women. Men and women who keep their freedoms safe.

The Faery-Free Election Commission stands between you and the debacle of 1876. America will never have to fear again. Because of us.

Because of me.

Bobby Stamford, the Senator’s round-faced young aide, runs to find me. “They’re ready for you, Miss Viola.”

I have a black bag like any doctor, but the malady I cure is that of the body politic. The sickness is uncanny influence. When the Senator speaks, it will be within a ring of cold iron and rowan stalks, and the American people will feel sure—they will know—that they are seeing and hearing his true self, not some glamour, not some Rutherford B. Hayes dream of America but its verified reality.

I follow Bobby down the train stairs. The air is crisp in northern Minnesota in April, and I hold my pelisse about me. This territory reminds me of home despite the hills and trees that are so different from the flat prairies where I grew up. I am supposed to think of all America as my home, but most of it feels very distant from where my brothers farm in North Dakota; I cannot smell the clay soil of Oklahoma, the salty sea air of the Florida coastline, in the same way as I do the middle of the country.

Also I know better where to find the proper plants in this kind of soil, what the iron will do with the air and the land. I know my place here. I know best how to protect them.

The town bandstand has medallions of iron recently emblazoned to it; in the last twelve years since the Hayes election, all respectable towns have added them to the places where politicians might speak. But those are only enough for the local offices. The mayor, the city council. Any redcap or jenny-greenteeth might slip into one of those positions, were the local election commissioners unwary; might find a way around the medallions.

The presidency of the United States needs more protection than replacing a bronze seal on a podium with an iron one.

I walk the circle of the park. They have planted a ring of box elders around the perimeter of the park, which is good. Elder is one of the trees that protects against evil. It does not grow readily here, but it is trying to force its roots down in the iron-rich rocky soil, and those minerals themselves will help me in my tasks. There is a thorn hedge, but it has gaps. I walk the entire perimeter anyway, pacing out the area for all who will hear the Senator speak. Then I open my bag.

I am careful. I am meticulous. And because of these things, we are safe today: I notice that someone has adulterated my iron shavings. When I drop a handful before the magnet, most fall straight to the ground: no iron at all but dark dirt. No protection against faery influence.

Bobby, the Senator’s aide, has long since grown bored with my preparations after dozens, hundreds of campaign stops. He is not even watching. Until he hears my breath suck in through my teeth. He looks as I test the rest of the iron shavings, pouring them from the deerskin bag my brother made for me, soft and falsely reassuring against my hands. Worthless.

“What’s that, then?”

“Someone’s been at my iron. Does this town have a blacksmith?”

“What town doesn’t?” he says. Plenty don’t, but the Senator doesn’t make stops in towns that small, so I don’t explain it to him. “You want his help?”

“I want his iron. You don’t have to bring the man himself, if he’ll fill this for you.”

I hand him my empty drawstring bag, limp without its worthless cargo. I will have to check all the rest of my supplies.

“Miss Viola, who would do this?” Bobby asks.

I look at him over my pince-nez. “You know who, or at least who they were serving. And you know better than to speak their names further. Go on after the blacksmith.”

He nods, more a bow, newly impressed by my worth to the campaign, to the country.

I already know my own worth. And I already know the threat.

There are a few who would have sprinkled the perimeter of the park with holy water, blessed by some mumbling priest. I know my catechism, and I know the hexes of my grandmothers. I have no need of intervention from Rome to keep the hand of the faery from me.

I turn my pelisse wrong-side out for extra surety, and my hat back-side front. It is thus that the blacksmith and young Bobby the aide find me, kneeling in a pile of dead crumbling leaves.

“This is holly,” I tell him without greeting.

“From Christmas,” says the blacksmith, a far lankier man than I expect for his profession, all chin and nose.

“You don’t see it crumble like this, not a thick leaf like holly, not without help.”

He shrugs. I was raised on a farm, but I have come to expect polite treatment, a civil word.

“If you have no intention of helping me protect the campaign site, you may leave your iron shavings and go,” I tell him. “That’s all I asked the boy to bring anyway.”

“Wanted to say,” says the blacksmith, and then such a long pause that I am reminded of my brothers. “This happened the last fella too. The iron shavings. I know my civic duty well as the next man. Just—” He lays a finger aside his nose.

I hate that gesture. It’s supposed to look knowing. It always looks stupid.

I hate even more that the adulterated iron and the destroyed holly point to an attack on the entire system, not just one man.

“Thank you,” I tell him stiffly. “If there’s anything the Senator’s campaign can do for you—”

“I know my civic duty,” he repeats, and he lopes off toward the general store, where he will no doubt tell every Tom, Dick, and Harry what has transpired.

No doubt he will comment on my backward hat as well.

No matter. It is a badge of honor. My honor, and the party’s.

After the Hayes scandal, the Unionist party needed the integrity of machine politics. The taint of magic politics was strong upon the Unionists. They nearly disbanded. People like me, our ridiculous tricks to fool the Good Neighbors and all, had given the American people the faith they needed to assure themselves that the horrible ’76 election was as much a curse upon the party as from it. The faeries had chosen the centennial of the country to make their move; we would have the centennial of the Constitution to restore its honor.

Then, of course, the Constitutionalists had to have us too. We are indispensable.

I test the iron filings the blacksmith gave me. They cling to my magnet like young lovers whose mamma left the parlor for lemonade. They scent the air so that my mouth tastes as though I have bit my tongue. Good. Good.

Bobby whispers, “Miss Viola, do you think this town is cursed?”

“Of course not,” I snap, and then modulate my tone; he is little more than a boy. “Of course not,” I repeat, “but we must be extra-careful. If there is faery work afoot against both candidates here, who knows what their game will be? I think you must run and tell the Senator that something has happened.”

“But you will be—”

“Alone here, yes.” I take my Bowie knife out of my black bag, the little curve of its tip comforting even in its sheath. “This is cold steel, Bobby. I am a practitioner of the arts of the light. Go find the Senator.” He is gone almost before I have finished speaking.

The Bowie knife is at my belt and iron filings are in my hand when the hot lemon wind blows across my face and the faery appears.

She stays a few feet away, outside my perimeter, of course—in that much, at least, my world is sure. She is not as beautiful as the sun or the moon or a stand of snowy birch trees coming up out of a granite hill. She is beautiful but barely more beautiful than every mayor’s daughter who stands on the dais next to her father and smiles while we introduce the Senator. Her hair is a tangle of dark curls that could do well with a brush, her face narrow and foxy and flushed. I don’t know what the shapeless dress she is wearing is meant to be , but I suspect it is Burne-Jones’s fault.

I put one hand on my hip. “Well? Need I recite the charm, or will you go of your own volition?”

“But I have just arrived,” she says in a pleading voice that is not like bells or the wind in the trees. It is a voice. It is just a voice.

I begin to think the stories are exaggerated, except that I am not so susceptible to pleading when it comes from human throats. I keep my hand on my knife. “Watch my preparations, then, and know that you are not wanted.”

“I think you were raised to be more hospitable to a neighbor in need than that, Viola Sandmeier,” she says.

I am on guard instantly, but she does not use my middle name. Perhaps she has not gleaned it—it is only in the church registry, never used except in a few of the most important spells my mother laid upon me. Or perhaps she is trying to set me at ease.

I am not at ease.

“In need, is it? What do you need, good neighbor?” I sneer.

“What we all need,” she says. “To be heard.”

“I hear you, but I will not be swayed by you.”

She smiles. Even, white teeth, no terrifying sharp points. Also no perfect pearls. Just a dazzling smile. “Surely you have no fear of that,” she says. “Surely I can speak and not sway you—or at least not unfairly, not unduly. Your actions affect my people. Surely we deserve a voice. Is that not what democracy is for?”

An illusion arises before me, a mirage: my brothers, walking into the big whitewashed farmhouse from the barn. The grass under their feet is still brown, and I can see little puffs of their breath, but they are not swaddled in mufflers. I dispel the illusion to glare at the faery.

She nods as though I asked a civil question. “You’re seeing the present moment, yes.” And then the illusion is back, threat or promise or... their voices come to me from far away. “It just made good sense, Tom,” Hans says. “He changed my mind, that’s all.”

“You be careful how you set your face against the Pedersens, Hans Sandmeier,” Tom replies. “They own too much of the town.”

They are making the point about influence for her—who influences whom, what is too much—but she makes mine for me: she is using spells to turn me. And I should push the mirage aside again. But one more glimpse of my family...

Resolutely I make it go away in a shower of sparks, like an unwisely poked fire. I don’t want to get into a duel of spells with this faery—who knows what power she holds?—and I should be about my work. But she has my back up. She has shown me that she knows who my brothers are, where they are.

Two can play at that game.

Unlike the faery, I do not seek to show the present but the past. I have shown these images before. They are all true: the President-Elect gaping foolishly at a faery emissary. Venezuelan gold concerns. Disowned noblemen asking for sanctuary in the US. All of it shimmering with magic, all of it false.

I throw it in her face, and I go back to drawing a thin line with the iron filings. It makes her flinch. It hurts her, I can see that. She hangs her head, her curls tumbling around her face in a way that I am sure a lady ought not to do outside a very personal setting.

“That is the shame of our people,” she says. “We were desperate to be allowed in. But we are not all like that. We could have some voice—if we promised to make arguments only—”

“Oh, if you promised,” I say scornfully. I complete the runes in iron. A party that can make the rest of the electorate believe that it is harmless, or wondrous, or a Venezuelan gold consortium, or a three-headed duck—there can be no question of allowing it. No.

She follows me. I do not peer into her face to see if she pales, if she goes white around the lips. I have work to do.

“During the Civil War,” she begins.

I hold up a hand, scattering iron shavings with it as my palm spreads. She jumps back, quivering.

“During the war,” she tries again.   

Stop.

“Your father—”

“You know nothing about my father.”

“I know that he believed in a fair voice for all. He came here because of it. He fought because of it, when you and your brothers were—”

I unsheathe the Bowie knife and hold it up over the line of iron filings. “If you go on, I will stab you. If not, I will merely banish you as I should have banished you long since. Get thee from me, heathen creature, and leave this election fair and free, faery-free. In peace.”

Whatever she sees in my eyes, she believes in it. She does not stay to say another word of my father. She vanishes in another hot, citrusy wind.

My father was a ’48er in Germany, an immigrant, a man who believed in freedom, the rights of man.

My father was a Union soldier, an abolitionist, a man who believed passionately in the slave as his brother.

My father used his magic, the gifts and knowledge he passed down to me, for the good of his new country, alongside witches and conjurers of all the races of the Union.

My father was gone, the shell of him still living on my brother Amos’s farm outside Minot.

And for this faery, this—good neighbor, this abomination—to present herself as my father’s voice, the representative of his views of freedom—I cannot. I will not.

Another argument, perhaps she might have had me. Due influence, undue influence—it was a question worth pursuing.

But then she brought up my father.

It was the sort of mistake another human might make, of course. She had not ensorcelled me. She had spoken to me manipulatively, as another human would. She had tugged on my heartstrings, not wrapped me in faery dust.

But she could not wrap me in faery dust, not with the protections I have. Doubtless that explains it. Otherwise her treachery would already have manifested itself.

I finish the circle and check it to make sure my distraction has not marred my work. Then I step up to the podium, raise my palms to the sky, and begin my song.

I am just finishing as the crowds begin to arrive.

This is, of course, good political theater. It is the sort of thing they like to see, the Faery-Free Election Commission Officer rebuffing the forces of magic and keeping them all safe.

I wish there was some way to know how far away the faery has gone. Not far enough.

I stand on the edge of the dais for the Senator’s speech: not as close as the smiling mayor’s daughter, closer than the Pinkertons who have to be one step down from the platform proper. I try to spot the subtle differences in his speech from the previous night, but I am too preoccupied with the faery.

The bodyguards and I do not get along. The bodyguards and I have the same job, but we see it differently, and we each consider the other’s role the minor part. I do want the Senator kept safe from all physical harm—of course I do—but we have lost presidents to the assassin’s bullet before and it did not shake the Republic. A candidate—even so promising a candidate as Senator Bagley—can be replaced. But where else in the world shines the light of free men as in the United States? France has let that light flicker and die many times. England? England is so entangled in their dealings with the Welsh court that who knows what they have left for the voices of the free, unencumbered by magic. And so on. A candidate is important. But elections, free elections, are everything.

This is not, of course, how the bodyguards see it. They see only the moment, the crowd around them, who has a gun and who does not.

But the Iron Range, for all the growth of the country into the territories, is still the West. Most men have a gun. No few of the women, either. Any assassin would be met not only by the bodyguards but by the indignant folk of the county. So even with the iron in the hills making them feel secure against the faery threat, I think that my portion is the greater.

This town is large enough, with its wealth of taconite mines, to have a hotel to put the Senator up for the night. He could sleep on the train, but the voters like to see him staying in their hotels. We escort him in a group, myself at the head with a specially made iron lantern carved with stars. When we have seen him safely to the welcoming arms of the landlord, some of our party stays with him, filling the hotel.

I am assigned part of the bodyguard detail at night. I am not allowed to choose them myself. I am exhausted and wish I was alone. I have to take Benjamin and Jabez because that is who is on the roster. Jabez wanders off to the tavern, though it is forbidden when he is on the job, and no one can tell him no. It is only Benjamin, loud and covered in badges for the Senator’s previous campaigns, who is with me when the faery reappears.

I have not had time to examine the room for sources of cold iron, hexes, or blessings. I feel blind. My glance yields nothing, and my supplies are all encased in the bag. By the time I can perform a full banishing, the faery can be in the next room, on the train, or with the Senator.

Benjamin swears and tries to get between me and the faery, fumbling for his weapon.

“Stop that, fool,” I say. “This is my job, not yours. I banished you,” I add, directly to the faery.

“You would have banished me. I left of my own volition,” she corrects. Benjamin’s coat is on right-side out, his hat front-to-back. I wonder what he sees. “I must beg of you, my people need a voice! In the old countries we had pacts with the king, marriages to the land. Who is to protect us here?”

“You—you need no protection,” Benjamin quavers, so unsteadily that I wonder if he too has been taking the drink. “You are an apparition sent by the devil, and we will have none of it.”

“Let me handle this,” I insist.

“We got off on the wrong foot earlier,” says the faery.

“The sinister foot always,” I say.

“Get thee behind me, Satan,” says Benjamin. I expect him to have a gun, harmless against her unless he has specially prepared bullets. He is a bodyguard. But when he reaches for his belt, it is a Bowie knife he has hanging there, just like mine.

And this faery has no weapon to counter him. Nor is she gathering a spell to her. He raises the knife, and she waits.

If she were fighting him, I could let it happen, let this man I dislike strike this creature I despise. Let her die in slow agony of iron poisoning, if he didn’t strike true enough that she would bleed out first. But this, no. This is not what I am for. I twist around him. He tries to shove me behind again. “Don’t worry, Miss,” he grates. “We can talk it through with the Senator later, that you couldn’t keep this one off. Perhaps you can be an assistant at this work, perhaps he needs a larger team now that he’s running for—” He grunts with the effort of trying to push me away, for I am more solid than he expects, more determined.

The faery is watching us both with a curious expression on her face. “What is this after all, Miss Viola?”

“No blood of any color need be spilled here,” I cry out, desperately. “You can go away, you can go somewhere else. Go home, wherever it is you are from.”

“This is my home. I am an American.”

I do not want to hear that.

“Make it go, then,” says Benjamin. “If you don’t want me to smash it like a dung beetle, make it go, use your skills, do what they keep you around for, if you can. Banish it like you said you could. Unless you can’t, or unless you won’t.”

I am hanging on his arm like a girl at the fair. He shakes me off, and I see that this will not go as I want it to. This will not end with civilized words, a debate. I will not have the time to cast the banishing spells.

He has threatened the faery’s life. But me, he has threatened my livelihood. And I do not think he even knows it.

I stop clinging to Benjamin. I shove him so that he staggers back. I draw my knife and brandish it at both of them. “Now both of you,” I say. “Neither of you is behaving as you ought, you do see that? You need only behave and all can yet be well. You do see that,” I repeat, pleading now.

My pleas sound even less like silver bells in the moonlight than the faery’s, and no one is listening to me. My words fall like slag to the ground. Benjamin rushes. The faery bites her lip. He pushes me aside, and his knife slices through the serge of my dress, grazing my arm. It hurts like a spell gone wrong. It hurts like failure. I am not allergic to iron, and he is going to hurt the faery worse than this, far worse.

I stagger back to my feet as he gets to the faery.

I stab him.

I hit an artery. I could not have done this if I tried, and I was not trying. I hoped only to stop him. The iron of his blood fills the air, even in these iron-rich hills. It spurts too fast, too much. He scrabbles for me, and I stab again just to get him away. I can taste his blood. I can taste him.

I have never killed a man before.

I can taste his death on the air.

The faery is looking at me like I am a strange and unexpected creature, a leopard in these hills, an elephant. I know myself for nothing like that.

“Please stop looking at me,” I say.

She looks politely away, for only a moment. “We have a problem,” she says, gaze averted. She is staring at Benjamin. No. She is staring at Benjamin’s body.

I have a problem,” I say. “You have nothing. You should go away. Please go away. Why don’t you go away? I should banish you, and then I can deal with this problem. I will fetch—I will fetch—”

There is no one I can fetch. Bobby? Jabez? The town constabulary? Least of all them; it would bring scandal to the campaign, to my profession, so no, no. I must handle her, and this, myself.

“If I worked a spell to remove him...,” she says coaxingly.

Where would you take him? How would we explain his absence?”

The body is there between us, solid, human, immobile. I fancy I can smell each layer of skin and fat and muscle and bone. Each organ decaying, I can smell it. I know I cannot. It is impossible, he is nearly the person he was before my knife went in. He is nearly the man who guarded me and the Senator and let me do my job and did not make trouble, as she makes trouble.

Why must they all make so much trouble? Why couldn’t he just let me do my job? I like my job.

I do not hear the door when it opens, but the faery’s mouth makes a perfect circle, a faery circle. It is a great miracle that toadstools do not spring up on her face. I turn to see what she is looking at.

The Senator is white beneath his muttonchops. The Senator trembles beneath his greatcoat. The Senator, too, can smell the blood of his bodyguard. And the Senator, too, knows my visitor for a faery.

The Senator says, “What is going on, Viola?”

I want to burst into tears. An ordinary woman would burst into tears. Instead I bite my lip until it bleeds, and wait.

But he doesn’t fill in the silence for me. He is not inclined to make this damned and damning scene easier for me. He just waits. So I have to say it: “Benjamin was—he attacked.”

“He attacked you?”

I should say yes. Yes is the right answer. Yes gets us out of all of this. “He attacked this faery.”

The Senator waits some more.

“She was only talking. I am—I am the professional here, I swear to you by the skills I use on your behalf. She was only talking, and he attacked.”

“You know what she is.”

“I know what I am.”

The pause is now thoughtful. Thinking. “And he attacked.”

“I tried to stop him.”

He sighs. “Well, what’s done is done.”

“You’re not going to....”

“I can’t lose you from the campaign,” he says, “and I can’t have the scandal.”

If he had put them in the opposite order, he would have lost me anyway. As it is, I let out my breath. “Well then.”

And the faery says, “I won’t tell you I’m from Venezuela, Senator.”

He turns on her with a glare of iron. She doesn’t flinch. “Don’t mistake me, Mistress Periwinkle or whatever you are,” says the Senator. “I am helping my valuable campaign assistant. You are another matter. We will deal with you after... after this.”

The faery makes a little curtsy, her skirts a waterfall of white and blue froth. Every town miss would sigh for those skirts. It is my job to keep them from sighing.

Why can’t I just do my job?

“I beg your pardon, Senator,” I say, “but it is she and I who must deal with... this.”

He looks as though he is about to object. The Senator is used to being the person in charge. The Senator is used to thinking of violence as an unfit topic for ladies. But I ended this violence, and the faery... is what she is.

He draws back a little, frowning, to let us determine what we can do.

“I will turn myself in if I must,” I say. “The main thing is to avoid scandal upon the candidate, who honestly did have nothing to do with this. But if you will help me, we can do a spell to bury him. That would minimize the risk of disposing of the body, compared to standing outside digging a grave where we might be discovered.”

The faery cocks her head and looks at me. “Or we could just ask the land to take him in.”

I am still. “Show me.”

She reaches for my wrist again. This time I let her. The Senator watches us alertly but does not interfere. My land sense, which tells me about the rails, the iron in the hills, suddenly feels expanded. I reach for her other wrist, hesitantly, and the two of us take a few steps so that we are joining hands over Benjamin’s body.

She shows me how to reach out, how to ask.

And the land takes him in.

It listens very quickly to the two of us, together.

The wooden floorboards are between us and the dirt, but with the faery holding my wrist, the flooring no longer matters. The dirt comes for us, up through the cracks, chilly and dank-smelling. The senator has lost all of the dignity of his office and is cowering in the corner. The dirt piles higher, pressing my dress to my legs, covering the body.

It very nearly takes me too, or I nearly sink in, because it feels so right, the tang of the rocks and dirt in my mouth, the thrum of human activity starting strong and then a faint buzz. I can now see where the lines of iron are surrounded by humans, horses, dogs, faeries. I can feel them first separately and then together, as a pattern. The land knows me. It would take me. Someday it will.

Her fingers pinch hard and pull me back to myself. I glare at her, snatching my hands away.

But the land never reacts that strongly to me alone. And from the look on her face, it doesn’t react that strongly to her alone either. Together we are something more. The land knows it, even if we don’t.

Even if we don’t want to know it.

The last few clods of dirt recede between the cracks in the floor as though they had never been. The room still has a chilly, earthy smell. The body is gone from the floor, and the Senator is mopping at his brow with his handkerchief.

“We will—we will tell anyone who asks that he disappeared,” says the Senator. “That you never saw him after he brought you here.”

I nod. I feel surprisingly calm about all this. “My conscience is clear in this matter. I am not employed to permit murder,” I say. This I can cling to. I have found something I can say that sounds better than “he was threatening my job, the only job I know,” and the Senator, surprisingly, nods.

“Even of foreign parties. Indeed you are not.”

The faery snorts. “Foreign parties. Good sir. I was born in this country and have lived here since before the time of your great-grandmother. I might not be Nanabozho or the nayad of Gitchee-Gumee, but do me the courtesy of not calling me a foreign party. If you must classify me as an enemy, at least I am one of those domestic.”

The bushy eyebrows recognizable in every editorial cartoon across the land shoot up. And the Senator nods, a palpable hit. He is becoming himself again, the debater, the negotiator. “Very well, my domestic enemy. What would you here? Are you suborning my magical protection?”

The faery pouts. “Not successfully, good sir. Not at all successfully. I have pled the case for freedom for my people—votes, sir, votes for my people. And I have found a tin ear, perhaps a lead one.”

“An iron ear,” I said quietly. “Her silvered words fell upon an ear of iron. For indeed, I am too used to hearing reasons why Americans cannot vote. It ought to outrage me, but I have grown accustomed to it.”

Both of them gasp.

“I am no longer moved,” I continue, “by the plight of those of my land who lack suffrage. It is commonplace to me.”

“Viola!” cries the Senator.

“Sir.”

The faery’s bosom barely trembles. Were she human I might wonder at her self-control. But she has come with a job to do, as I have a job. She showed me how to feel the living things on the land, not just the elements; she knows how to feel their tides shift, and she changes how I see the world beneath my feet. How I see my country, beneath my feet. I have killed for her. Now I am speaking for her, though it is like a branding iron pressed to my tongue to do so.

“I cannot go against the principles of my party and myself—”

I close my eyes. I want to reach for my bag, to make him see. To hang a cantrip about his eyes, to shake the scales from them. I could not assemble the best spell from what I have here. But I could make it work. I can see it so clearly.

And the faery is beside me. Her hand is like an iron band upon my wrist. “A principle that cannot be questioned is no principle but a dogma, sir,” she says. And the faery, to my shame, takes the time to talk to the Senator. To convince him, where I would have set the argument into magic.

She takes the time to be what I am supposed to be. And I am what I supposed her.

I listen to her words of faery freedom. I must continue with the Faery-Free Election Commission, but I will address my colleagues within it whenever I encounter them—and the hedgewitches and village simple makers along the roads. The blacksmiths. Those who forge the ways, those who keep the ways.

The Senator, he will have to find a way within the party to figure out timing. But if he is slow, we will be his conscience. This faery and I. If he cannot do it, we will. Because she is right. Influence and undue influence are not the same thing, and it’s not just any man who should have a vote, but any woman.

Any jenny-greenteeth. Any redcap.

Any American.

By iron and rowan, they’ll have a free voice for Senator Arthur Edward Bagley, or I’ll know the reason why.


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Marissa Lingen lives in the Minneapolis area with two large men and one small dog. Her work has appeared in Tor.com, Lightspeed, Apex, and multiple times previously in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, among others.

If you liked this story, you may also like:
“Across Pack Ice, a Fire” by Marissa Lingen
“More Full of Weeping Than You Can Understand” by Rosamund Hodge

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