I made coffee for myself while the water boiled for Dad’s tea. I could drink tea in a pinch, and I could drink it to be polite, since everyone in Avalon apparently worshipped at the Holy Church of Tea, but I would never learn to love it.
I set my coffee and Dad’s tea down on the coffee table, then curled up comfortably on the couch beside my dad. With typical Fae formality, he was sitting up straight with both feet flat on the floor. I wondered if it made him uncomfortable to have my bare feet up on the couch so close to him. If it did, he made no sign of it, merely stirring some honey and lemon into his tea as he waited patiently for my first question.
It was hard to decide what to ask first. I had so little idea what to expect from this trip, or from Faerie. But instead of asking a sensible, practical question, the first question that came to my mind was far more personal.
“What’s up with you and Prince Henry?” I asked. “You obviously don’t like each other.”
Dad hesitated a moment, probably as surprised as I was that that was the first thing I wanted to know. Then he grimaced and took a sip of tea.
“No, we don’t like each other. In fact, we’d each be happy to see the other dead.”
I couldn’t help a little gasp. My dad always seemed so cool and rational, even in the face of danger. It took a lot to crack his facade, but what I saw in his eyes now was nothing less than pure hatred.
He smoothed the expression away and then took another sip of tea. “I have enemies at Court, Dana. Everyone who’s ever spent any significant time at Court does, and I was Titania’s consort for well over a century.”
“Enemies who want to kill you.”
“No, enemies who’d like to see me dead. There’s a difference.” He gave me one of his wry smiles. “If one is a courtier, one does not kill one’s enemies. That would be far too vulgar. I told you once that at Court, lying and deceit is an art form. I was speaking rather more literally than you probably imagined. The Court awards figurative style points for the subtlety and ingenuity with which one destroys one’s enemies.”
Geez, and I was going there to meet a whole bunch of courtiers and the Queen herself. Fabulous.
“So why are you and Henry enemies?” I asked.
“Titania is never without a consort. Prince Henry’s father was her consort before me. There was a noticeable reduction in both their statuses at Court when Titania put Henry’s father aside. Henry, quite naturally, blamed me for it. He was only twenty when it happened, and I was a far more experienced and polished courtier. He tried to start various unsavory rumors about me, but I always managed to turn them back on him. And he never could control his temper, which is a fatal flaw in the Court. To lose one’s temper is to admit defeat, and I had little trouble making Henry do it, even in public.” Dad smiled like he was reminiscing about the good old days. “Every attack he made saw his status within the Court slip just a little more. He was forced to leave Court or eventually he’d have faced total social ruin despite being the Queen’s son.”
I gaped as Dad took another sip of tea. This was a side of him I’d never seen before. Sure, he was manipulative, and had a politician’s way with words, but I’d never thought he’d take such obvious satisfaction in basically ruining someone’s life. Henry seemed like a total jerk, but still …
Dad saw my expression, and he put down his teacup and turned to face me on the sofa.
“The primary reason I left Faerie and came to live in Avalon was to escape Court social politics. I am still capable of playing the game, but that isn’t who I am. Not anymore.”
That didn’t make me feel a whole lot better, and nothing he’d said so far made me any more pleased with the idea of going to Court. “So are you and Henry going to be taking potshots at each other for the whole trip, like you were at the dinner?”
“Undoubtedly. And he’s gotten a lot better at it since he was that sullen, untried boy. Luckily, my standing at Court is no longer of great concern to me.” Dad’s smile held a touch of malice. “And his temper is clearly still a liability. He must be beside himself at the thought that Titania would invite my daughter to Court. And he must have done something to annoy her for her to send him, of all people, to escort us.”
Glad to know Henry saw having Dad and me traveling with him as some kind of punishment. “But she didn’t really invite me,” I pointed out. “Not if she’s really planning to have us arrested if we don’t go. Or is that part Henry’s idea?”
“Hardly,” Dad scoffed. “I’m sure he’d have been happy to drag us off to Faerie in chains, but it certainly wasn’t his idea to blackmail us into going. He’d rather eat iron nails than see my daughter honored. No, he’d have loved nothing better than if we’d been free to refuse the invitation and mortally offend his mother.”
I grunted in exasperation. “How much of an honor can it possibly be when she’s blackmailing me into going?”
“Trust me. It’s an honor, no matter what inducements she felt it necessary to offer in order to be certain we come. The end result is that you will be presented at Court, and that is a very public show of favor.”
“Okay. I’ll take your word for it.” And try to remember that the Fae don’t think like normal people.
“Good. Now, what’s your next question?”
“How long will we be gone?”