This was a palace meant to remind everyone who caught sight of it that the Queen who resided there was untouchable and steeped in power, meant to intimidate the outside world and defend its Queen from attack. I suppose that considering the history of war between the Seelie and the Unseelie Courts, having a cozy little fortress to hole up in was only practical. No matter how ugly it was.
“I guess subtlety isn’t one of Titania’s strong suits,” I said, keeping my voice down so no one but my dad could hear me.
My dad chuckled softly. “No, it is not. In the eighteenth century, someone brought Titania a sketch of the Caernarfon Castle in Wales, and she fell in love with it. Titania had her palace rebuilt in its likeness, though it’s not an exact replica. To the Fae, mortal architecture is considered exotic, and this palace is stunningly beautiful.” He laughed again. “In a few hundred years or so, she will probably remodel it to resemble what you Americans would call a McMansion, because that will have become the new pinnacle of the exotic.”
“Uh-huh,” I said, feeling an uncomfortable flutter of nerves as we approached the forbidding walls. I wouldn’t be surprised if instead of a welcome mat, the front door had a sign over it that said ABANDON HOPE ALL YE WHO ENTER HERE. I wanted quite desperately to go home.
The road led right up to a set of massive wooden gates, beyond which was a bustling cobblestone courtyard. The gates were open, but I didn’t know if that was the norm, or if someone had seen Prince Henry coming and opened them. I hoped like hell the gates weren’t going to close after us. I already had more than enough of a sensation of entering a prison, thank you very much.
The bustle of activity in the courtyard became a downright frenzy as our caravan trickled in. Henry, of course, made sure he was the center of attention, snapping out orders and generally being a self-important spoiled brat. Dad reined his horse to a stop and slid gracefully from the saddle. My own dismount was far less graceful, and I was glad for my dad’s steadying hand. I thought I’d been sore after riding solo, but that was nothing compared to my misery after hours of riding double. I kept a nervous eye on the gates, but no one closed them behind us. We weren’t trapped, no matter what the hairs on the back of my neck were trying to tell me.
Together, Dad and I rounded up Kimber, Ethan, and Keane, and Dad started leading us to one of the enormous arching entrances.
“What about Finn?” I asked, dragging my feet.
“He’ll stay in the Knights’ barracks,” Dad answered over his shoulder.
“Yeah,” Keane said with a sneer, “he’s a Knight, not a freaking guest.”
Dad gave him the same kind of exasperated look he usually gave me when I commented on the Fae class system, but didn’t otherwise respond.
At the entrance, my dad was greeted familiarly by several people, one of whom seemed to be something like a butler. The butler gave the rest of us a bit of a snooty look, then led us deeper into the palace, to a suite of rooms where we would stay until the Queen summoned me for the official presentation ceremony.
I expected the inside of the palace to be as gloomy and forbidding as the outside, but it was much more pleasant. The floors were stone, but they were covered by luxuriously thick rugs, all featuring white roses on various jewel-tone backgrounds. The walls, too, were stone, but I could barely see them past the potted plants and climbing white roses that lined them. If I didn’t know better, I would have sworn I was walking through a greenhouse. I wondered how the high, narrow window slits provided enough light to keep the plants alive and flourishing. Maybe they didn’t need so much light because they were sustained with Fae magic.
The high stone ceilings were all painted with wall-to-wall murals, sometimes depicting the sky, sometimes sunlit nature scenes. I guess that even while living in this stone monstrosity, Titania wanted to keep the illusion that she was one with nature.
The butler directed each of us to our assigned rooms, but as soon as he had hurried off, leaving us to our own devices, Dad shuffled us around. Originally, we had each been given our own room. Dad didn’t want me staying alone, so he ordered me and Kimber to share, and he traded rooms with me, making sure that my room was the one farthest down the hall, and thereby putting himself, Ethan, and Keane between me and the main staircase. At least he let Ethan and Keane have their own rooms so the rest of us wouldn’t have to worry about them getting into a fight and bringing the palace down around our ears.
“I don’t suppose anyone will give you any trouble,” my dad said, “but after the incident with the Bogles, I think it’s better to be safe.”
The room Dad put me and Kimber in was inviting, if a little … excessive in its floral theme. Floral carpet, floral bedspread, potted flowers on shelves against one wall, a mural of wildflowers on another. But I couldn’t have cared less about the decor once I spotted the bed. I very much looked forward to making its acquaintance, the sooner, the better, but Dad insisted on inspecting the room first. I didn’t know what he was looking for. Until he found the doorway against one wall, hidden by an illusion spell. I felt Dad’s magic gather, and he cast some kind of spell.
“I can’t prevent the door from opening,” he told me. “But I’ve set an alarm spell on it. If it should open, everyone nearby will know it.”
For someone who kept insisting Titania’s promise of safe passage meant I wasn’t in danger, he seemed awfully paranoid. When he left Kimber and me alone in the room, we looked at each other nervously, then started laughing.