I wanted to track down Oberon the next morning and give him a piece of my mind, but I couldn’t find him. The staff of the Fairy King’s Castle wouldn’t reveal his location to anyone unless he had instructed them in advance to do so.
But when it was time to leave, Mother came to the dock to see me off, and to pass a few last minute instructions. I asked her if any means existed to summon him.
“Whatever for?” she wondered. “You sound angry.”
“Of course I’m angry!”
Even after a night’s sleep, I was outright pissed, frankly.
Why was I angry? Shouldn’t it be obvious? The bait he’d held out to lure my maids into Servanthood had been entirely the wrong choice. I described the issue to Mother.
She didn’t get it at first. I guess it wasn’t as obvious to a fairy as it was to me.
“Is it because it would be too uncomfortable to have your son sleeping with your Servants?”
“Eh… maybe a little…” I twisted my mouth, then shook my head. “No, that would not be a problem.”
“You don’t mind if your Servants cheat on you?”
“It isn’t like I demand them to be faithful to me, Mother. They aren’t my wives or girlfriends.”
Mother dimpled. “I thought maybe they were exactly like that. I definitely got that impression from Melione.”
Apparently, Mother had done intense interviews of my first two Servants when she met them at Owen’s war camp. Something like grilling the boy her daughter brought home, as I understand it.
Wait, Melione saw me that way?
I shook my head again, forcing that question out of my head.
“No. I’ve already made peace with that idea, after Ceria teased me about not taking care of her needs, making her have to find guys to do so, instead.”
That drew a laugh out of Mother.
With a shrug, I added, “I don’t know how often that actually happens, or if it happens at all, but with Ceria, I wouldn’t be surprised.”
After all, my first encounter with her had been when she stripped in a crowded bar and then let one of the patrons carry her upstairs naked, with obvious intentions. At the time, I had worried for her, but now that I knew her, I understood that she had gone to that bar planning on that specific result.
“So, no jealousy?” Mother pressed.
I explained, “Rather than making me jealous, I consider it a good thing if my Servant enjoys her life the way she did before blood bondage. My maid trio, by their own words, are happy to be working in Oberon’s apartments when I’m out, in hopes of ending up in his bed, so the idea that they would get their wishes fulfilled is not a bad thing.”
“I wouldn’t have minded it, if he had chosen to give them that deal after the fact,” I stated firmly. “If he chose to support them for me after I made Servants out of them, or even take them as concubines, I would have appreciated the help. But this!”
Finally, Mother’s face lit up with understanding.
I nodded. “Exactly. He knew that maids would prize royal concubinage highly enough to be willing to throw away their mental freedom. He used their desire against them like that. It’s a horrible thing to do.”
That’s why, after my bath, rather than simply enjoying a feast of beauties and their sweet, delectable blood, I had lectured the three, giving them a firm and clear understanding of what they were asking me to do to them. Um… that is, after spending some quality time with Pirkitta. When she began begging me to bond with her, the fun was over.
In the process, I had to clearly explain that only powerful magic users and healers would get much benefit from the bond, but I learned as a result that these three did qualify to an extent. At least, two of them, Pirkitta and Khortys, were magic combat specialists, and Austrydhur was a healer.
Combat maids were nothing new to me. Mother’s staff divides into those still in training and those that are already combat trained, including my lady’s maid, Genette. But she and her colleagues didn’t have magic training advanced enough to be considered “combat mages”. Oberon’s domestic staff were of a higher caliber, it seemed.
So I couldn’t say they ‘wouldn’t benefit’, when they clearly would level up after bonding. Oberon wanted three Elder’s Servants in his palace, first as combat maids, and then, whenever he got around to actually impregnating them, as concubines, because they would become valuable military assets.
He saw the deal as a win-win for me and himself. Perhaps he hoped to switch in more staff to replace my three, after they graduated to concubinage, in order to increase the numbers further. Although perhaps he would simply let the trio continue being my maids when I was in and enjoy their life as concubines when I was out, instead of having to work in his quarters.
I could not let them persuade me, but I was unable to dissuade them. I could only convince them that they had to think it through much longer and more carefully and decide later.
Mother nodded. “I understand. Don’t worry, dear. I’ll explain to him why you’re upset.”
With suspicion, I asked her, “Do you really understand?”
Mother is a fairy, after all.
“It’s true, most fairies wouldn’t,” she admitted. “Mortal minds are normally somewhat mysterious to us. But I understand mortals better than most, Dear. I’ve spent most of my life living with them, after all. I don’t much care for fairy company, you know.”
I tipped my head. “Amana is proof that you aren’t completely against fairy company, Mother.”
She gave another laugh. “A fairy man is fine from time to time. I’ve enjoyed many fairy women as well. But those are simply acquaintances I play with, while I’m between real relationships. I don’t dally with Amana’s father for years, like I’m doing with Owen.”
“But Amana’s father is present tense?”
“He is both past tense and future tense,” she said. “Owen will die, eventually. It’s sad, but it’s something mortals do, Dear. I will certainly mourn for him, and I’m sure I’ll do so for several years, but eventually I will return to playing with Amana’s father and other friends for a time. Then, one day, I will end up with another mortal man, because that is something I do. It isn’t infidelity, Dear. It’s simply the way life works for us.”
I had memories in my heart of living a life that long, so I understood. It made me feel a little sorry for Owen, who surely understood it, too.
She tipped her head and dimpled. “You should praise me for keeping it one man at a time, instead.”
I remembered Dana’s insinuations. “One man, but what about women?”
She giggled. “Only when Owen buys them.”
“There’s a reason the Velvet Retreat is an official Royal Purveyor,” she stated with twinkling eyes. “When it’s business, they can’t sue for concubinage.”
“So he… buys them for you?”
“He likes watching. He also enjoys sharing.”
My cheeks were blazing, by this point. I really did not need to know that, but I was the idiot who asked. And then kept digging the hole deeper.
Mother gave another giggle, then gave me a hug, telling me, “I’ll straighten His Majesty out. But you understand that once those girls decide they really want to go through with it, and become your Servants, you can’t just say no without hurting them? They would hate you for it.”
I frowned, but I already understood. If I still said ‘no’, then I would be the bitch standing between them and the shiny goal of concubinage. And that was the ultimate reason I was pissed at Oberon about it.
Hopefully, the maid trio would see reason and let the idea go on their own. I could hope for it, anyway. But if they didn’t, then eventually I would have to make a decision.
# # #
Even though I had my brand new seal, Pasrue insisted on keeping me on board all the way to the border. I had wanted to fly ahead, since I had a pretty clear idea of where to find Anto, but she said it was better to be led through Relador the first few times, to get used to how the seal worked, without getting lost.
It seemed Pasrue had the same level of seal as I did. That’s why she was the one flying Manlon’s launch, and not Talene, the designer. As to why she’d received such a high security rating… she wouldn’t say. I recalled Oberon referring to Manlon’s disciples/apprentices as his concubines and assumed it somehow related to that.
The seal really was an odd thing at first. It affected vision in an odd way, revealing like an overlay of CGI the presence of the invisible barriers, traps and spatial twists that had disoriented me so badly. Every time we encountered one, I would see why Pasrue changed course to maneuver around it, or to follow some hidden path through it. I could tell why, in order to fly a particular direction, she would suddenly turn in an odd direction to counteract the hidden force changing our course.
It would be like a crosswind that my wings couldn’t feel, blowing us off-course. Or like a wall that my fairy sight couldn’t see, ready to block us or turn us or reverse our direction of travel. And there would appear secret gates or hidden paths that could fix the problem, if one could only find them.
Pasrue made me stand near her every time we encountered one, so she could make sure I understood what I was seeing and what she was doing about it.
The biggest one appeared as we passed over Royses, where Serera and I had battled those fairy noblewomen a month before. She brought the ship to a halt just so she could teach me about it.
“Leaving this city by any route other than the rivers is almost impossible. Can you see why?”
I could see the hidden barriers, above the mountains surrounding us, so I nodded.
“They aren’t solid, though. Can you see where they are different?”
Narrowing my eyes, I inspected them. They were like faint red curtains, almost everywhere I looked. But…
I pointed at one point, to the east. “I can see a slight change in color, there.”
She nodded. “We call those ‘bird passages’, because they allow the migratory birds to come through at those points. But if we just go through without doing anything, we will find ourselves stopped. We’re over the size limit for the passage. We’ll slow to a halt, no matter how hard we push forward.”
“So we have to go out over the river, right?”
She shook her head. “If we do that, we have to stay low, to stay inside the river gorge. And we have to follow the river. We would go out through that one.”
She pointed at exactly the river I followed to leave this valley.
“That’s the Tain,” she declared
I frowned. “But that’s going west?”
“Yup. The Tain flows far west first, winding around through mountain ranges and mortal cantons forever before it finally turns east and heads into Pendor. And there aren’t any good shortcuts that will turn us east sooner.”
She looked at me. “That’s why I didn’t want you wandering around on your own. You can get from Tëan Tír to Suldor easily. The river flowing through Tëan Tír is a tributary to the Hart. So you could have done that and flown to Pendor from there. But the Hart snakes around and takes forever, too. The fast way is to come cross-country the way we just did, and then do this.”
Pasrue had taken over the ship’s wheel to give this lesson. She spun it, turning the bow toward the ‘bird passage’, then gave an order. Somewhere, a crewman opened up the throttle on the jet engines and we began moving forward.
“I thought you said we couldn’t go through,” I said.
“If we don’t do anything. I’ll let you do it yourself, so you learn how.”
“Do what exactly?!” I asked, a little alarmed as I saw the faint red curtain coming at us.