“Isn’t it time to go in to dinner yet?” I asked, looking around longingly for some sign that the crowd was moving toward the dining room. No such luck.
“Nice try,” Dad said with one of his wry smiles. “Royalty isn’t avoided so easily.”
The prince was getting closer, and though many people were gathered around him, there were four Knights, dressed in clothing just as archaic as the prince’s, keeping the crowd at a respectable distance. I could feel the magic coming off the group when they were still, like, twenty yards away. Seemed a little rude to me to be so blatantly guarding the prince’s safety in the midst of the Consul’s mansion—as if the mansion weren’t a secure location—but what did I know?
Although the prince bore zero resemblance to my dad, I knew my dad had been Titania’s consort once, a long, long time ago, so I couldn’t help asking, “He’s not another half brother you’ve forgotten to tell me about, is he?”
My dad isn’t the most expressive person in the world, but I was getting to know him well enough to see the slight tightening at the corners of his eyes that said I’d hit a nerve. “Connor is my only son,” he said softly, “and you are my only daughter.”
I wished I hadn’t asked. Connor had been captured and basically enslaved by the Erlking, the leader of the Wild Hunt, a group of Fae huntsman who in the olden days preyed on human and Fae quarry. Now, because of an agreement the Erlking had with the government of Avalon, humans were off their menu. And because the Erlking had also made an agreement with both Queens of Faerie, the only Fae they hunted were ones the Queens condemned. None of which helped Connor, who’d been captured before any of these agreements had been made, centuries ago. My father still grieved for Connor as if he were dead, and I wished I could do something to help.
I didn’t have much time to brood about my insensitive question, because Prince Henry had made it through the throng and was now standing face-to-face with my dad. The annoying tingle of the Knights’ magic made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.
“Seamus,” the prince said with a big smile, “you’re looking well.”
My father returned the smile, but there was no warmth in it. Come to mention it, there wasn’t a whole lot of warmth in the prince’s smile, either. Maybe it was just Fae reserve, but I had the instant impression the two of them didn’t like each other. I didn’t think Titania’s desire to have me killed was going to improve their relationship.
“As are you, Henry,” my father said, and though no one’s expression overtly changed, I could feel the mingled outrage and surprise of the people around us. My guess was that calling the prince by his first name was “not done.” The Knights in Henry’s entourage stopped pretending they were oblivious to all but their duty and stared at my father. It didn’t seem to bother him. “Such splendor as yours is rarely seen in our fair city,” he said with a respectful half-bow, and Henry’s smile froze for just an instant.
Wow. Dad really knew how to take something that sounded like a compliment and make it obviously an insult. All the while smiling as if he were being perfectly pleasant.
I had to admit, as … resplendent as Prince Henry looked in his fancy velvet, he also looked like an escapee from a costume party. The Fae—especially those who live in Faerie—take being old-fashioned to the extreme, and I had no doubt that they had yet to embrace modern fashion. But I doubted the prince was so behind the times that he didn’t know how out of place he’d look in Avalon in that getup.
Prince Henry continued to smile. “And you have been absent from our fair Court for too long and have been sorely missed.”
They shook hands heartily, but I was pretty sure that had been a veiled insult as well. It occurred to me that I’d never asked my dad why he’d left Faerie to live in Avalon. I wondered if he’d come to Avalon because he’d lost status when Titania had put him aside as her consort. Or if it had something to do with their son being captured by the Wild Hunt.
“Avalon is my home,” my father said simply, “and I find myself reluctant to leave it even for the joys of Titania’s Court.”
“I hope you can be persuaded to change your mind,” Henry said, then turned his gaze to me.
Maybe it was because my father so obviously didn’t like this guy, or maybe it was just because he belonged to one of the Courts that wanted me dead, but his gaze felt almost slimy, and it made me want to squirm. But I’d stood up to the Erlking a couple of times—mostly to my detriment, I must admit—and I wasn’t about to let Henry intimidate me. At least, I wasn’t going to let him see that he intimidated me. So I met his gaze and fought my urge to squirm, despite the malice I could have sworn I saw in his eyes.
“This must be your daughter, the Faeriewalker,” Prince Henry said.
Dad put his arm around my shoulders, which was a positively effusive gesture for him. “Yes, this is Dana,” he said, a hint of warning in his tone.
“What a great pleasure it is to make your acquaintance,” Prince Henry said, reaching out his hand as if to shake.
I didn’t want to touch him—he was giving me that bad a vibe—but there were about a million people watching us, and I didn’t want to be openly rude. Unfortunately, instead of shaking my hand like I’d thought, he raised my hand to his lips and planted a kiss on my knuckles. His lips were uncomfortably wet, and I had to resist an urge to yank my hand from his grip and wipe it on my dress.