The servant bowed slightly before addressing my father. “You and your daughter will be in the main house,” he said. He turned to Keane. “You and your companions”—his gaze flicked briefly to Ethan and Kimber—“will be in the servants’ quarters.”
I felt an instant surge of indignation on my friends’ behalf, and despite my best intentions to abide by the local customs in Faerie, there was no way I was letting that one go. I opened my mouth to protest, but to my surprise, my dad beat me to it.
“That is not acceptable,” he said, sounding every bit as snooty as the prince at that moment. “These young people are my daughter’s companions, and they are under my care. They will be lodging with us.”
I never would have expected my dad to stand up for the son of a Knight and a pair of Unseelie kids who were de facto second-class citizens in Seelie territory, but there was no hint of give in his voice.
The servant looked alarmed and distinctly uncomfortable. “I beg your pardon, sir, but our hosts—”
“We will need three rooms,” my dad said over him. “One for me, one for the boys, and one for the girls.”
I felt bad for the servant, who was obviously getting stuck in the middle of this mess, and sorry for our beleaguered host and hostess, whoever they were. I considered suggesting we all stay in the servants’ quarters, but knew there was no way that would fly with my dad. Maybe being relegated to the servants’ quarters was one of those “signs of weakness” my dad had told me we couldn’t afford. I bit my tongue on a number of comments that would probably have been unwise under the circumstances.
Another servant, this time a smiling woman I was pretty sure worked for our hosts rather than for Henry, hurried over to us. “Of course, sir,” she said, shooting Henry’s servant a disparaging look, “we will be happy to accommodate you and the children. There has obviously been a misunderstanding. Please, follow me.”
Gee, it felt so good to be called “the children” again. Made me feel real grown up and respected. I suspected it bothered the boys, who were both eighteen, even more than it did me. I glanced at their faces, and realized they were too busy giving each other dirty looks to notice. Putting the two of them in a room together might be dangerous. I hoped the house would still be standing by the time we hit the road again tomorrow.
* * *
My first day in Faerie ended with me sharing a large feather bed with Kimber in a room made almost entirely of dirt. Not that you could tell it was dirt unless you looked at it real closely. The floor and ceiling were of packed red clay so smooth it looked like tile, and the walls were an intricate pattern of earth tones from ivory to nearly black, giving the impression of a series of mosaics. I tried touching a finger to the designs in the wall, and though the texture felt rough and grainy—you know, like dirt—it was packed in so solidly that even when I scratched it with my fingernail, nothing came loose.
“What happens when it rains?” I wondered aloud, trying not to imagine all that dirt turning to mud and collapsing on my head while I slept.
“Remember, we’re in Faerie,” Kimber reminded me, yawning behind her hand. “This house is held together by magic. I’m sure it could weather a storm.”
Her yawn was contagious, and I eyed the bed longingly. I’d never shared a bed before, and if I were any less tired, I might have worried I wouldn’t be able to sleep. As it was, that wasn’t an issue. The only issue was forcing myself to clean up before collapsing into bed, but I was tired of smelling like horse. With a minimum of exploring, Kimber and I found a bathroom, which had a soaking tub and a steaming waterfall that served as a shower. Claiming excess modesty once more, I insisted Kimber and I take turns, even though we probably could have fit a half dozen people under that waterfall. It delayed getting to bed even longer, but it once again allowed me to keep the Erlking’s mark hidden.
I fell asleep the moment my head hit the pillow. About sixty seconds later, there was someone sitting on the side of my bed, shaking my shoulder. I made an incoherent sound of protest and tried to swat the hand away, my eyes firmly closed. The hand just shook me harder, and Keane’s voice hissed in my ear.
“Wake up, lazy,” he said. “It’s Thursday morning.”
This time, the sound I made was more like a snarl, and I sat up in bed, jerking away from the touch of his hand. Pink-tinged light streamed in from the windows. I rubbed my eyes, but the light was still there. Guess I’d gotten more than sixty seconds of sleep after all. I glanced at my watch and saw that it was six AM. I’d slept for eight hours, and I was more than willing to collapse back into bed and sleep eight more.
“What are you doing here?” I growled at Keane, who was already fully dressed and showered, looking wide awake and completely impatient.
“Thursday morning,” he reminded me. “I know we don’t usually practice this early, but I’m not sure what time we’re going to hit the road this morning.”
Thursday morning. Practice. I groaned. “You have got to be kidding me. We are not having a lesson today!”
He crossed his arms over his chest and raised his eyebrows. “Says who?”
Beside me, Kimber stirred and mumbled, “Turn the radio off.”
“I see no reason to skip practice just because we’re on the road,” Keane replied, ignoring Kimber’s sleepy protest. “Now get your ass out of bed, get dressed, and meet me in front of the stables in thirty minutes or less.”