Peace Talks Chapter 4

This summer brings not one but TWO Dresden Files novels! Peace Talks arrives July 14th, and Battle Ground hits September 29th. Preorder both through the store!

There was a very soft sound from the back of the apartment and the old man came to his feet with the speed of an alley cat. Before he’d even gotten there, he’d hissed a word, and his staff flew across the room and into his hand.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” I said, rising, my hands spread. “Would you relax, please?”

“Who is that?” he demanded. He shot me a hard look. “Who?”

“I just fed you pancakes,” I muttered. How tense were things in the old man’s world that he would react like that? “Stars and stones.”

“Don’t say that,” he said, his tone slipping into a more familiar, grouchier cadence. “You don’t even know what it means.”

“The guy I learned it from wouldn’t teach me,” I said back. “Would you relax for five seconds, please? Please?”

He glowered at me. He lowered the staff only slightly. “Why should I?”

“Because I’d rather my daughter didn’t have her great-grandad scare her to death on their first meeting,” I said.

At that, the old man blinked. Twice. He lowered his staff abruptly. “What? She’s here? She was here? This whole time?”

“She has trouble with new people,” I said quietly. “It’s hard on her.”

I looked down at Mouse and jerked my chin at the door to the bedroom. The big dog got up obediently and padded over to the door to be a reassuring presence for the girl.

“You let the vampire around her?” my grandfather whispered, his expression shocked.

“Maggie?” I called quietly. “Please come out. There’s someone I guess you should meet.”

The door opened only a little. I could see a sliver of her face and one brown eye peering out warily.

“I want you to come meet your great‑grandfather,” I said quietly. “I hadn’t actually pictured it quite like this,” I said, with a glance at the old man. “But I guess we’ve got what we’ve got. Come on, punkin.”

The door opened a little more. She reached out and felt around with one hand until her fingers found Mouse’s fur. She curled them into his mane and then, very slowly, opened the door. She faced Ebenezar without moving or speaking.

“Maggie,” he said quietly. His voice sounded rough. “Hello, young lady.”

She nodded at him a little.

Ebenezar nodded back. Then he turned to me, and an anger I had never seen before smoldered in his eyes. He opened his mouth to speak.

Before he could, I gave him a warning glance and said, “How about we go up to the garden, and Mouse can stretch his legs?”

“Okay,” Maggie said.

The old man glared daggers at me. Then schooled his expression and turned back to my daughter with a gentle smile. “That sounds nice,” he said.

I stood with Ebenezar and watched Maggie and Mouse play with svartalf children.

The garden was gorgeous, centered on a couple of trees that grew in the courtyard in the middle of the svartalf embassy. Grass and flowers had been planted in tasteful balance, leaving enough room for the children to run about and play hide‑and‑seek. Svartalf children are odd‑looking little creatures, with their parents’ grey skin and absolutely enormous eyes—adorable, really. There were half a dozen kids in residence at the embassy of an age to play with Maggie, and all of them loved Mouse, who was engaging them all in a game of tag, lightly springing away from them and twisting and dodging despite all his mass of muscle.

Several svartalves were in the garden. They kept a polite physical and psychological distance from us, clearly savvy to the tension that currently existed between me and the old man.

“Are you insane?” Ebenezar asked me.

“I’m making a choice,” I said.

“You might as well get her a shirt with a series of bull’s‑eyes on it,” he said. He kept his voice pitched too low for the children to hear him. “You raise that child near you, and you’re making her a target. My God, the vampires already know about her.”

“She was in a safe house far away from me for a long time,” I said. “It didn’t work out so well.”

“What was wrong with the Carpenters’ house?” he said. “Short of headquarters in Edinburgh, you couldn’t find a better‑protected place. Why not leave her there?”

“Because her father doesn’t live there,” I said.

The old man looked up at the sky as though imploring the Almighty to give him patience. “You’re a damned fool.”

I ground my teeth. “You have a better idea?”

“She needs to be somewhere safe. Somewhere away from you. At least until such time as she shows potential talent of her own, so that she can learn to protect herself.”

“Assuming she ever does.”

“If she doesn’t, our world will get her killed.”

At that, I felt my own temper rising. “I guess you’d do it differently,” I said.

“I did do it differently,” he snapped. “I made sure your mother grew up far away from the dangers of my life.”

“How’d that work out?” I asked him. “Let’s ask Mom. Oh, wait. We can’t. She’s dead.”

There was a sudden silence. I’m not sure if the sunlight literally dimmed for a few seconds or not. But the svartalves suddenly drifted even farther away from us.

The old man’s voice was a quiet rumble. “What did you say to me, boy?”

“She’s dead,” I said, enunciating. “Your daughter, who you stashed somewhere safe for her protection, is dead now. You have no stones to throw at me.”

The old man looked like something carven from old ivory. He said nothing.

“The monsters already did try to kill Maggie. And I stopped them,” I said. “And if they try again, I’ll stop them again. She doesn’t need somewhere safe. But she does need her dad.”

“How dare you,” the old man whispered.

“I might not be the best parent in the whole world,” I said. “But I’m here. I’m in her life. And there’s no substitute for that. None. There never was. There never will be.”

“You idiot,” Ebenezar said through clenched teeth. “Do you know what these hosts of yours are capable of?”

“Living up to their word,” I spat.

“Boy,” he said, “don’t push me.”

“Why? What are you going to do? Let me vanish into the foster care system? For my own good, of course.”

The old man’s head rocked back as if I’d slapped him.

“Mom died when I was born,” I said in a monotone. “Dad when I was coming up on kindergarten. And you just let me be alone.”

Ebenezar turned from me and hunched his shoulders.

“Maybe you thought you were protecting me,” I continued, without inflection. “But you were also abandoning me. And it hurt. It left scars. I didn’t even know you existed, and I was still angry with you.” I watched the children pursue Mouse. He could run for hours without getting winded. They were all having a ball. “She’s been through enough. I’m not putting her through that, too.”

The back of his neck and his bald pate were both turning red. I heard his knuckles pop as his blunt, strong hands clenched into fists.

“Boy,” he growled. “You aren’t thinking straight. You aren’t thinking this through.”

“One of us isn’t.”

“Your mother is dead,” Ebenezar said. “Your father is dead. The woman who bore your child is dead. And you are the common denominator. Can’t you see that? Can’t you see that it’s  necessary to set your  own feelings aside?”

I felt a flash of rage and pain so intense that for a second I thought I was about to lose control—and it had nothing to do with the Winter mantle.

“What I see,” I said, “is a little girl who needs her father to love her. I can’t do that if I’m not there.”

“You’re wrong.”

“Maybe,” I said. “But she’s my child. It’s my call.”

He shook his head.

“And since I’ve noticed that my life at times resembles a badly written Mexican soap opera,” I continued, “I want you to know something.”


“I think that right now you’re considering protecting her by grabbing her and stashing her somewhere safe. If you go through with it, I’m going to take her back. Over your dead body if necessary, sir.”

The old man turned to stare at me, his face a thundercloud. I stared back. I didn’t blink.

“Lad,” Ebenezar said. The faint burr of a Scots accent had entered his voice. “You’re walking somewhere you don’t want to go.”

“Not the first time. Not the last.”

The old man thrust out a pugnacious jaw and drew in a breath.

“Gentlemen,” said a new voice, deep and rich. “Gentlemen, excuse me.” The old man and I both turned our glares on the intruder.

A svartalf stood before us, clad in a suit of dark blue silk. He was taller than Austri, and heavier with muscle. His expression was calm and absolutely resolute. “Gentlemen, you are guests in my home. This display of yours is unseemly at best.”

I blinked and looked around slowly. The play in the garden had stopped. The svartalf children had withdrawn to hide behind their parents. Maggie stood halfway between the other children and her family, poised on one foot as if set to flee, both her hands clutching desperately at Mouse’s mane. The big dog stood between the child and us, giving me a very disapproving look.

I guess we hadn’t kept our voices as quiet as we thought we had. “Etri,” my grandfather said. He nodded his head once and said,

“We’re having a . . . personal discussion.”

Etri, the head of the svartalf embassy, gave Ebenezar a look devoid of sympathy or understanding. “Have it elsewhere. You are frightening my people’s children. While you are in my house, McCoy, you will conduct yourself with courtesy and decorum.”

The statement was flat, uncompromising, and there was not even the subtle hint that it might entertain the possibility of some other outcome. I raised an eyebrow at the svartalf. I knew he was well respected in the supernatural community, which generally translated to considerable personal power, but only a fool squared off against Ebenezar McCoy.

(Yes. I’m aware of the implications of that statement; I’d  been doing  it for like ten minutes.)

The old man took a deliberate breath and then looked around. His eyes lingered on Maggie, and suddenly he seemed to deflate slightly. It was like watching him age a decade or two over the course of a few sentences.

And I suddenly really thought about the things I’d said in anger, and I felt ashamed.

“Of course,” the old man said. “I formally apologize that the discussion got out of hand and that I disturbed your people’s children. I offer no excuse and ask you to overlook my discourtesy.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Same here. Me, too.”

Etri regarded Ebenezar for a moment and then glanced at me and rolled his eyes a little before nodding. “I believe this visit is over, Wizard McCoy. I will send your effects to the front gate.”

“No, wait,” I said. “Sir, I didn’t mean—”

“Of course you are right, Etri,” Ebenezar said, his voice brusque. He started to turn away.

“Sir,” I said.

“Time to go,” Ebenezar said, his voice weary. “Work to be done.” And he walked out.

I hadn’t seen Austri enter the garden, but the security guard quietly stepped forward to tail the old man. I made a go‑easy gesture at Austri.

The svartalf kept his expression stiff for a second, but then something like compassion softened it, and he nodded in reply to me.

Etri watched him go. Then he gave me an unreadable look, shook his head, and walked away. The other svartalves went with him.

Once everyone was gone, Maggie hurried over to me and threw her arms around my waist. I peeled her off and picked her up and held her.

“Was it my fault?” she asked me, her voice quavering. “I wanted . . . wanted to talk to Grandpa, but I couldn’t make the words happen. I didn’t mean to make him mad and go away.”

My throat grew tight and I closed my eyes before any tears escaped. “Not your fault, punkin. That was so not your fault. You did fine.”

She clung to my neck, hard enough to be uncomfortable. “But why was he mad?”

“Sometimes grown‑ups disagree with each other,” I said. “Sometimes they get angry and say things that hurt when they don’t mean to. But it will pass. You’ll see.”

“Oh,” she said.

Mouse came up to me and leaned against my legs in silent support. “Will Grandpa come for Christmas?” she asked.

“Maybe he will.”

“Okay,” she said. “Are you mad at me?”

“No,” I said, and kissed the side of her head. “You’re my punkin.”

“Good,” she said. “I still want pancakes.”

“Let’s go make them,” I said.

Mouse’s tail thumped hopefully against my leg.

But first, we all stood there for a moment, the three of us, taking comfort in one another’s proximity.

This summer brings not one but TWO Dresden Files novels! Peace Talks arrives July 14th, and Battle Ground hits September 29th. Preorder both through the store!