We were crossing the Bosphorus in an open fishing boat in February. The wind scored our faces raw, so it hurt to speak. It was close to midnight, when the Imperial sentries dotted along the Asian shoreline changed shifts and would be cold and eager to go home, cast a ten-hour warming spell, and go to sleep.
Not only did we have to watch for Imperial troops on the shore and the odd patrol upon the water, but we also had to keep an eye out for rusty Russian and Ukranian tankers and container vessels, supercontainers and freight barges ploughing majestically up and down the straits. They were so big, they could run right over our dinghy and never notice a thing. The Turkish government had never had control over their passage through the straits, not even to demand they insure themselves. The Fae just didn’t care.
On a still, icy night like this, I figured it was a sure bet most of the pilots of those vessels were sitting back in their seats, sipping a glass of vodka and hot tea, letting a smart computer steer the thing.
It was a dark-lined miracle the Fae allowed us to ship oil and food anywhere. During the twelve months they had limited human traffic to neighbourhoods only, too many of their servants and staff died of starvation or cold, or complications arising from being wretchedly poor and forced to extremities like burning goat dung for light and cooking fuel. Too many of the Fae’s favourite eateries and markets and services nailed cardboard over their shopfronts, that year.
The Fae didn’t have a spell to reverse wretchedness. Instead, trade had opened up once more, along with the shipping which moved the trade goods. That was a bummer for us, tonight.
On the plus side, no ferries had chugged between the east shore and old Istanbul since General Grady Cabral, First Lord of the Light, had swept across western Europe, driving the Empire back to the Asian side of these straits, ten years ago.
I might have paused to appreciate that tiny speck of positivity, only I didn’t want to be here in the first place. Trying to be cheerful about it was beyond me.
I had argued against the salvage run. A lot. That was unusual for me. Only, my gut said to stay in the old city tonight. Stay down, stay safe.
The other eight members of the gang were anxious to make the run. The intel we’d got about Cabral’s Allies’ latest attempt to infiltrate Imperial territory was too reliable to ignore.
“It’s not like we’re never made the crossing before,” Okan told me. He was the gang boss, and didn’t like having his decisions questioned. “Wear an extra jumper and be there at eleven, Nikol Gianni.”
I got the message. He’d used the name the gang had given me. The gang used the chopped off version, they said, because my full name, Aikaterini Nikol Giannopoulos, was too much of a mouthful. I knew they used the cute version because it didn’t remind them I was Greek.
Okan had used both chopped up names to say without saying it that I wasn’t really a member of the gang at all. Not only was I Greek, I was a girl, and I did things that came way too damn close to magic to sit well with them, even though they profited by what I could do.
So I shut up and pulled the oversized down parka in close around my chin and ducked my head deeper into the collar to protect my cheeks a bit better, and waited for the crossing to be over. It had to be warmer on the other side, out of the wind.
The parka smelled mildly of olive oil and masculine spice. It made me smile.
We were heading for Üsküdar, which had once been a pretty, residential suburb with fantastic views. It was a cratered dust-bowl now. One stepped carefully, moving through it. No one lived there, which was why we were taking the long way north-east, across and up the straights. We would walk south through Üsküdar, craters be damned, and in that way avoid Grady Cabral’s infiltration units, who would cross by the most direct routes—bridge and tunnel—and fight for a toe-hold on this side of the straits.
Cabral had been trying to break the Emperor’s line for nearly a decade. The Emperor was just as determined to have his favourite city back, even though the Imperial seat was in Tehran, two and a half thousand kilometers behind him. Tehran was what Cabral wanted. Tehran, and Emperor Eutropin’s head on a pike.
The old metal hull of the dinghy scraped across rocky shore and the tiny outboard motor shut off. So did the wind—enough for me to feel the fiery burning of my cheeks. Now that we were still, the stench of weed and dirty water wafted over us. I wrinkled my nose, gripped the gunwhale, and stepped over the side of the boat, onto wet, slippery rocks.
The others eased silently onto the rocks around me, their breathing hard and fast. The two scouts moved ahead to spot sentries and deal with them. Their boots crunched softly on the rocks as the others hauled the dinghy up higher, well out of the water.
They spoke in murmured, single words only when they needed to, as they lifted packs and duffels out of the dinghy and turned it over, then draped it with smelly fishing nets.
I didn’t have to carry a pack, so I moved up the sloping beach. A hand grabbed my arm and silently tugged me over to where the group was forming around Okan, as he gave directions in a low voice.
We moved out in double file. Lesley Davis, who claimed he was American, but spoke bad Turkish with a British accent, was beside me. He trod heavily in his big boots, which was oddly comforting.
The march south took two hours and tension rose as we got closer to where the Imperial troops would be thickest. There was no curfew over on this side because there were too few humans left here to bother. So many of us in a group would draw attention.
Finally Okan told us to squat in the abandoned shell of a building that had once been a diner. The faded scents of spit lamb and curry lingered, still. He sent out four scouts. They knew what to look for. The rest of us didn’t relax. We didn’t talk, either.
Okan stepped over to me, his Nikes crunching in the dusty pebbles on the tiled floor, and nudged my knee with his sneaker. “You ready for this?”
“I will be.” Same question, same answer, every time we did a salvage run.
He snorted. There had been no hot chocolate, no coffee, not even English tea, in Istanbul for years. Not for humans, at least. The trade embargo had only been partially lifted.
It was a cold wait, but close to an hour later, one of the scouts returned and whispered to Okan. “Prásinoi are building up across the street from Vénetoi, a klick from here.”
My heart picked up its pace. In Turkey, especially in Istanbul, the Fae Allies under Cabral were called the Prásinoi—the Greens. The Prásinoi had been one of the two primary factions in the days of Byzantine chariot racing. The Vénetoi, the Blues, had been the other primary faction, the one the Emperor of the day had supported. Those factions had ended up fighting each other, too. The irony made the names stick, even though the human factions of the sixth century hadn’t lobbed hexes and explosive power orbs at each other.
Okran said, “Okay, move out. Someone get Nikol. Davis, she talks your lingo. Make sure the stupid cow doesn’t step on anything that makes a noise.”
Either Okran didn’t know I could hear him from across the ruined diner, or he didn’t care. I settled for the latter.
Davis came over to me. “We’re moving out,” he said softly, in English. “Here.”
I groped for where I thought his hand would be, relative to his voice, slapped mine into it and let him haul me to my feet. He gripped my upper arm.
“Don’t hold tight like that,” I said. “Squeeze if there’s something in front of me. You know how it goes.”
I shrugged. “I’m blind, that’s all.” Although that wasn’t all to it and we both knew it. The whole gang did. That was why I was here.
“Let’s find a battleground,” I said grimly.
A new enemy of the Fae threatens two mere humans…
In contemporary Istanbul, a long, drawn-out civil war between Imperial Fae on the Asian side of the Bosphorus and an alliance of Fae occupying the ancient city has ground down the human occupants for ten long years.
Nikol—human, orphan and a Greek in a city of Turks—is touched by disturbingly magical abilities of her own. The humans in the city treat her with suspicion. Yet she is valuable to the human resistance and beloved by the resistance’s greatest spy among the Fae. Arda Sokol is terrified the Fae will learn of Nikol’s abilities, and his effort to protect her strains their relationship–until they must work together to defeat a new threat to the Fae, and he learns she is not weak at all…
“Touched by Faelight” is a short story by urban fantasy author Taylen Carver, originally included in the Street Magic urban fantasy anthology from Camden Park Press, and now published as a standalone.