“Bogle attacks, Green Ladies, standing stones, secret doorways … Was this what you expected when you volunteered to come with me?” I asked Kimber when we got our laughter under control.
She shrugged. “Well, I wasn’t expecting a walk in the park. And hey, your first trip to Faerie should be memorable, right?”
Oh, I was going to remember this trip all right. And as far as I was concerned, this was both my first and my last trip to Faerie. Nice place to visit, wouldn’t want to live there, and all that.
I let out a groan of pleasure as I sank into the feather bed that was even softer than it looked. I could do with a long soak in a hot tub and then a massage, but I figured a late-afternoon nap was the best I could hope for at this point.
“If I never see a horse again, it’ll be too soon,” I declared as I stretched out on the bed. It occurred to me that I really should have gone in search of a bathroom before even sitting on the bed if I didn’t want the covers to smell like horse, but it was too late now. “Try not to wake me up for at least three days.”
Kimber snickered. “If you think we’re going to have that much time to ourselves, you don’t know jack about Faerie hospitality.”
Unfortunately, Kimber was right. I hadn’t been lying down more than ten or fifteen minutes before my dad came knocking on the door to let us know that Titania was bestowing another “great honor” on us. We’d been invited to dine with Princess Elaine, who was one of the Queen’s granddaughters. According to my dad, I couldn’t be in the Queen’s presence until I’d been officially presented, but the princess would serve as a proxy because Court etiquette required someone play hostess.
The last thing I wanted to do after the exhausting, too-eventful journey was socialize with anyone, much less a princess of Faerie who might be cut from the same cloth as Henry. I stifled a groan.
“I suppose it would be a horrendous insult if we declined?” I asked.
Dad laughed like that was really funny. “We have ninety minutes to clean up and get dressed. The servants should deliver your bags shortly, and there are bathrooms at the end of the hall. The dress code is casual, which means wear the dressiest clothes you brought.”
Better and better, I thought sourly as I reluctantly abandoned hope of a nap.
* * *
We met in the hallway at what my watch said was six thirty. The sun hadn’t gone down yet, but there were torches lit anyway. They must have been fueled by magic, because there was no smoke, and when I got close to one, I realized I could feel no heat coming off of it. Then I caught sight of the ceiling, and my jaw dropped.
When we’d been shown to our rooms, the ceiling mural had been of an azure blue sky, artfully dotted with fluffy white clouds. Now the mural depicted a stunning sunset in tones of peach and pink and purple, and the clouds were thin and wispy.
Kimber followed my gaze and smiled. “Cool,” she said.
“Yeah,” I agreed, but I was more inclined to call it creepy.
My dad had dressed in a charcoal gray suit that looked fantastic on him, especially with the splash of red from his power tie—not that I thought people in Faerie would recognize a power tie when they saw one. Kimber had chosen a light blue sundress paired with cute wedge heels, and I was wearing khakis with a button-down shirt, which was about as dressed up as I ever willingly got. Keane wore his usual all-black, and Ethan had chosen a polo shirt with dress pants. All in all, we were a bit of a motley crew, and we probably looked as silly to the Fae as Prince Henry had looked to me at that state dinner.
I frowned when I realized Finn was nowhere to be seen. I glanced up at my dad, and he read the question on my face before I had a chance to ask it.
“We’re in Faerie,” he reminded me. “Knights do not dine with royalty. And he would not have felt comfortable sitting at table with us anyway.”
I narrowed my eyes at him, though I suppose I should have guessed Finn would be left out. “Then why can Keane come?” I asked.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Keane stiffen, and I realized I’d made it sound like I didn’t want him coming to dinner with us. “You know that’s not what I meant,” I said to him.
Keane’s face said he was less than mollified. “I can come as your guest because I’m not a Knight. And because I was born and raised in Avalon, I don’t give a rat’s ass if someone of my ‘class’ isn’t supposed to eat with royalty.” His lip curled in his trademarked superior sneer.
“Charming,” Ethan muttered. “I’m sure you’ll win us all kinds of new friends with that mouth of yours.”
I groaned. “Don’t you two start!” I warned. “This dinner is going to be long enough already without the rest of us having to play referee.”
They both subsided, but the hard feelings between them hadn’t exactly been softened by the time they’d spent together on this trip.
Dad led the way down to a smallish dining room on the first floor of the palace. Apparently, there were quite a few dining rooms in the palace, some designed for grand dinners, some for more intimate affairs like this one. Of course, “small” in a palace meant big enough for my entire safe house to fit into.
Like every other room I’d seen in the palace so far, the ceiling, walls, and floor were all stone. And like in every other room, the decor was designed to hide that stone. More rugs, more murals, more plants. The walls were lined with liveried servants, and the entire room was lit by the multitude of candles on the dining table. Everything was both ornate and delicate, from the furniture, to the china, to the silverware. And the male servants’ livery included breeches and fluffy white neckcloths, while the women wore ankle-length gowns with bustles.