The blunt rejection threw me into confusion. “I’m sorry?”
“No girls allowed. That room’s men only. We don’t want girls doing business back there.” She softened her voice slightly and asked, “You don’t have a room?”
I grimaced. “I made a miscalculation. I thought I would find a friend of mine in the town, but I couldn’t locate him before it got dark.”
She picked up my tray. “I’ll ask Master’s permission to let you stay in my room. It’ll be tight with three of us in there, but…”
The swing from rejection to charity was a little astonishing. But I wasn’t going to lose the opportunity. With a nod, I said, “Thank you.”
“I gotta go collect some lost clothing. I’ll come back after I talk to Master.”
The master insisted I pay a half-gelder to the serving girl for the lodging and he ordered her not to give it back to me. It was probably less than a third of what I would have paid for a room, but he didn’t want to set a precedent of letting someone stay for free. Apparently it was what he charged the men sleeping in the ‘big room in back’.
Her daughter Aurie, I shall dutifully report, was cute as a bug, as expected. A four-year-old cat girl would almost have to be, right? Calico ears, hair and tail, and bright green eyes. That inner otaku kept trying to make me add -chan to her name. I’m such a weeb.
Ana wasn’t thrilled with my undergarment, and made me borrow a sleeping gown. It seems the master often stayed up quite late, so if I had to get up at night, he might see me in that skimpy thing. But other than that, and how tight it was with two women and a child on one bed, the lodgings were not bad.
Actually, the room was surprisingly nice, once I knew Ana’s circumstances better. When Ana said ‘Master’ I had thought it was because he was the master of the inn, but it turned out she meant her literal master. After her husband died, she had indentured herself to him in return for learning the publican trade and getting support for herself and her daughter. She was basically a slave for a set term, and slaves don’t usually get such nice quarters.
Despite the good treatment, the idea bothered me, but Ana was insistent I was worrying for nothing. Indenture came with contract conditions, like limits on punishment and receiving an allowance.
I leaned close and asked her, “So what if he … got forward with you?”
She patted my arm and said, “I don’t think Master would, anyhow, but I have the right to say no to him. Don’t worry.”
Well, I still worried about her. He wasn’t exactly over the hill, and she was an attractive woman. But I nodded.
“That’s why I offered to let you stay, you know.”
She grinned. “Those two adventurer girls. Most people would just sneer and not care what happened to a couple floozies, but you were worrying about them. Now you’re worrying about me. I just feel like I can trust you.”
I blushed slightly, since I don’t think I’m anything special in that respect.
Motherhood had not robbed Ana of her charm, and as we prepared for sleep, I was thinking about how Robert would have been nervous to share a bed with such a woman. That left me wondering why I was able to do it so easily. It wasn’t as if I had flipped over to Tiana’s sexual preference; guys still didn’t attract me.
Not only the pretty woman in her bedclothes fussing with her child, but also the two naked girls dancing earlier… rather than sexy, they looked tasty.
I had thought occasionally that Tiana’s straightness and Robert’s straightness would add up to bisexual eventually. But was it instead the case that opposites would add to zero? Did I have no interest in either sex now?
Once we were all in bed, Ana wondered, “You don’t take off that necklace?”
I shook my head. “No.”
Her eyebrows puckered. “Why not?”
“Mother wants me to keep it on, no matter what.”
“Oh. Is it magic?”
“What’s it do?”
I took the amulet into my hand and looked at it. “I don’t know. It’s just important to her that I keep it on.”
Puckered eyebrows again, this time with her nose wrinkling. It would have looked intensely cute on her daughter. “But… you’re a fairy, right? Don’t you guys know everything about magic?”
So she did realize it. She had acted up until now like she didn’t realize what I was.
And, she had a point, so I had to admit, “I’m half fairy, so I don’t have that level of knowledge. I sort of ended up with some of my mother’s powers, but not all of them.”
Her face wrinkled up, and she asked, “Oh. Half fairies are just humans though, aren’t they?”
I shook my head. “That’s if their father is the fairy and their mother is the human. Which is most of the time, because it’s rare fairy girl that lets herself get pregnant. But for me, my mother’s the fairy half. That makes me a genuine half fairy.”
In Mother’s case, it had been a freak interaction between her contraceptive magic and the spells my father employed to enslave her. The contraceptive got reversed, forcing pregnancy instead of preventing it.
Of all the reactions I might have expected from Ana, what I got wasn’t one of them. She clapped her hands together lightly, her eyes wide and glowing. “Then you’re two things, just like me!”
She explained, “My mom was a cat-kin. I’m human on the outside, cause it was some human that made Mom pregnant, but inside I have a lot of cat in me. I don’t really feel much in common with humans.”
That’s how it works with beast-kin half-breeds, including hybrids with humans. The father’s species decides the child’s.
“No wonder you married a cat man.”
Ana smirked. “Yeah. I guess they look more handsome to me. I’m putting out the light.”
She put her hand on top of the little magic lantern as if she were smothering the chimney of a candle lantern, and it went dark.
I hadn’t thought about it before, but if Brigitte ever got her wish with Arken, would the kid be an elve? I would have to ask him, sometime. I’ve heard elven children are adorable; was that her motivation? To me, Arken’s just my uncle, and I don’t see him that way…
Fine, okay, maybe Tiana did find him attractive too, and just didn’t like to admit it. Elves can’t help but be sexy, just like fairies. While growing up, poor Tiana had been surrounded by people better looking than herself. Elves, Fairies, Royals…
You’re two things, just like me!
I lay there awhile with those words echoing in my head. They really did describe me well. I’m Fairy and Vampire. I’m Robert and Tiana. I’m American and Orestanian. Deceased and Alive. Human and Non-human…
# # #
I’m not sure when I fell asleep, but my senses forced me awake while it was still completely dark.
Vampires have a sort of no-light-required second vision that sees in the night, but only short distance. When my eyes snapped open, I could just see, at the limit of Vampire Sight, a shadow figure crawling toward the bed, with something in its hand…
I keep my genoa knife strapped to my thigh when I’m sleeping. I leapt from the bed while drawing it, and pinned the figure to the floor with the blade against its neck. It made a huffing sound as I knocked the wind out of it.
“Who are you?!” I demanded.
“Don’t… don’t kill me!” a boy’s voice pled.
“What’s going on?” Ana cried out. In a moment, the magic lantern came back on.
“Mama!” Aure complained as Ana wrapped her up to protect her.
I scowled down at the boy under my knee. He was perhaps ten years old, a red-headed human child with dirty clothing and smudges on his face. He was shaking violently. In his hand was…
A folded piece of paper?
I recognized that fancy way of folding a note into its own envelope. A certain elve did it.
With a waggle of my blade in front of the boy’s eyes, I warned, “I’ll let you go, but I will catch you if you try to run.”
“Ye… yes, Milady!”
After I did as promised, taking a seat on the floor, he got up and held the note out to me.
“I tried to get this to you, but you kept moving, Milady. And he warned me only to hand it to you alone… but I couldn’t, so… I thought I would put it in your hand while you were asleep.”
Not the brightest kid, huh?
I took it, frowning, and unfolded it.