Naturally, the footman left the room when it was time for my bath, so I slipped back into my nightie and robe and peeked my head out the bedroom door. Sure enough, he was polishing some furniture in the sitting room while waiting for the bathing and dressing to finish.
“Can you help me locate clothing?” I asked him “It seems I’ll be dressing myself.”
He looked quite mystified until I let him into the bedroom. Then, his face went through a memorable transfiguration as he saw three elven maids asleep in my bed, and bathrobes discarded on the floor.
Yes, I properly covered the trio before I called him.
My diplomatic training really paid off. I was able to keep a completely innocent face while he gawked at me.
“Don’t be upset with them when they wake,” I instructed him with a slight smile. “I used a [Sleep] spell on them so they could recover.”
He regained his aplomb and selected for me a royal blue silk court gown that was conservative enough to seriously disappoint Mother. I loved it.
My peculiar wardrobe needs were known already; the dress had the required window for my wings! I learned from him that young sylphs and many half-fairies have the same trouble I do with being unable to materialize their wings through clothing. So Mother’s designs for dresses with wing windows had been based on what she had seen girls with such problems wearing here. I pondered how I might smuggle this one home so I could have at least one court dress with a sense of decency.
The footman then exited the room again so I could dress. Except, I was having trouble closing the back on my own…
I was deciding between rousing the senior maid and asking the footman to help me when I heard Lady Serera arrive with my summons to an audience. I poked my head out and saw her, back in the armor I had been wearing the previous night.
“I need a little help,” I confessed to her with pleading eyes.
Her reaction to the maids when she entered the bedroom was a merry laugh.
My soul is healed just a little bit by the complete lack of judgment on Serera’s part concerning my blood feeding. Contrary to all the others, going “monster, monster” all the time, she treats my vampire half as perfectly natural, the way Mother does. During the latest two occasions, thanks to her attitude and the attitude the Robert thoughts within me were bringing to the equation, I had been able to thoroughly enjoy feeding on my providers without feeling guilty about what I was doing.
Petite Austrydhur, the third maid, had been turned on watching the first two and her hand was busy before I got to her. She stopped in embarrassment when I started paying attention to her, but I was thinking now that I should have asked her to continue. I mean, why not? It made me happy that I had made her feel that way, and my Robert side wouldn’t have minded watching.
It occurred to me, the old Tiana had been years away from being able to think something like that. After practically turning into her for the first month I had been here, I had been just as inhibited about it. Now I was finally becoming my own woman. That thought… made me feel pretty good about myself.
Serera went right to work. Her first order of business was to completely redo all my hard work, because apparently I was trying to wear the dress wrong. It was a modern Dorian style that I wasn’t familiar with, and my Orestanian sensibilities had misunderstood how the bodice was supposed to fit. It was supposed to lift my bust up like a bustier, a fashion that had been rare until only recently in Atius.
She chatted while she worked, and the topic very quickly turned to the events of the previous night.
“I have to apologize that you were out there as long as you were, Your Highness. I tried to come out when Princess Tenre ordered Mára to stop.”
“Tried to?” I wondered. I knew what kind of power this woman was capable of throwing around, and found it difficult to imagine what could get in her way.
“It was the fault of the mages who were in charge of the barrier,” she stated, a little heat slipping into her tone. “They got frightened by all the force you two were throwing around, and refused to open it to let me out there.”
In my mind’s eye, I saw again the sheer power of the blows, and the shockwaves washing across the width of the valley, reaching to the mountain slopes on the north and south.
“I… guess they had a point though,” I mused.
Serera humphed as she pulled on something and my bust abruptly rose a couple inches, causing the flesh bulge rather dramatically above the neck line. As she tied the cord she had just tightened, she declared. “Rest assured, I’m going to have words with their superior, Your Highness.”
It sounded like she was really angry about it. I didn’t say anything further.
The footman had my sword belt ready when we came out. A minute or so later, Serera led me out of the building.
My jaw almost fell open when I exited and saw the enormous subterranean space in which it sat.
“Welcome to the Fairy King’s Palace,” Serera said. Her eyes twinkled a little as she enjoyed the expression on my face.
Although not as huge as the space I encountered deep within the Carael Mines, it was enormous. And, rather than the twilight back there, it was bright as midday. The cavern ceiling itself seemed to be sparkling with sunlight, although it wasn’t clear how exactly that was happening.
My building was one of several two- and three-story buildings lined up along a path. The architecture was a style I had only seen in ancient ruins, and seemed to be carved out of single blocks of stone… no, I realized after a moment that they actually were made that way. The creators of the cavern had simply left solid stone behind in the shape of each building when they carved out the space. It hadn’t been apparent from inside, because the visible walls, floor and ceiling had been covered by plaster or wood panels.
The plant life here included many aboveground species. I viewed the jasmines in front of one building with surprise. “Those can grow underground?”
“Sunlight comes in from the outside thanks to a Light enchantment.”
“An enchantment big enough to light this entire cavern?” I retorted in surprise.
“You’ve seen bigger enchantments outside,” she responded with a bit of amusement. “The valley’s protective barrier, for example. Why are you surprised now?”
At the end of the path running between the twin line of buildings, a line of lesser fairy guards with spears stood at attention. Beyond them, a broad lawn of moonglow grass stretched out before a grassy mound with a trio of ancient spirit elms as a backdrop. Behind them grew a dense thicket of cave hawthorns and other dense foliage. A small crowd was gathered around the mound, facing the five people on top.
“Your victory last night astonished quite a few people,” Serera noted as we passed between the guards. I had the impression she wanted to break into a grin. “Your relatives were pleased, and the rest… I’ll just say you silenced them.”
A tiny ‘ho ho ho’ escaped her as she smiled about that.
I was still uncertain just how much of what I remembered after stabbing Mára was real, so I just nodded.
On the mound sat a handsome man with an apparent age of about thirty, upon a grand throne of jade. On his head sat a crown made of Golden Hind antlers. He wore mithril mail and a heavy mantle of red velvet clasped across his neck, lined with silver fur. His kilt had me a little astonished, since it looked for all the world like the fabric that my mother on Earth was so proud of, the Royal Stewart pattern that she believed to be her ancestral tartan.
A quartet of fairies in elegant raiment stood around him, two on each side of the throne. They included Princess Tenre and Prince Gelon, plus the third fairy that was with them during the duel, and an additional woman standing at Gelon’s side.
As we approached, the Crown Prince held up his hand and the crowd fell silent. Noticing that his gaze was over their heads, they turned to see us, then parted to clear the space between us and the mound.
“Stay here and wait to be called,” Serera directed in a low voice, then walked ahead and dropped to her knee, in exactly the fashion an Orestanian royal knight would before Owen.
Tenre directed, “Lady Serera, please have your charge to come forward on her own.”
Serera stood and walked backward, gesturing for me to approach the mound.
After I passed her, I stopped the appropriate distance away– according to the Atian standards I had learned, anyhow– grew my wings and performed my full deep curtsey with wings extended.
In Ostish, I declared, while holding the position, “I, Tiana Pendor of the High Forest, bring greetings from my king, Owen II of Orestania, to Your Majesty, the King of Faerie.”
I’m Uncle Owen’s knight, first and foremost, and I had come in pursuit of my duty, after all.
I heard no reply. As I remained down there, mid-curtsey, with my head bowed, I began to wonder if I should repeat the words in Fairy, although there was no chance I hadn’t been understood. Ostish is the language of trade and diplomacy for the Eastern end of the continent as well as larger areas of the continents to the east and south.
Then the air began to fill with hushed, confused voices, telling me I wasn’t the only confused one. Several people around me were asking in whispers why I was receiving no reply.
After an uncomfortably long time, the Crown Prince– not the King– responded in Fairy, “Please rise, Your Highness.”
I should mention that everything except when I addressed the king in Ostish was spoken in Fairy, from the time I arrived at the King’s throne onward. I’m just translating it here, because it would get too hard to read, otherwise.
I stood, folding my wings, and looked up at my grandfather once more.
He had been staring at me without moving ever since I arrived, and he was still doing so. I realized that his eyes were fixed on me without blinking.
His lips finally moved.
I don’t know how many people heard what he whispered. Perhaps only Tenre and Gelon, standing to each side of him. But with Tiana’s insane hearing, the byproduct of her mixed fairy and vampire ancestry, I heard it.