The princess wasn’t there yet, but one of the servants directed us to our assigned seating, and another hurried around the table filling wine glasses. With a start, I recognized Elizabeth. I hoped that didn’t mean Henry would be dining with us. I smiled at her as she poured my wine, but she wouldn’t meet my eyes. She seemed to be in a perpetual state of fear, and it made me hate Henry just that much more. When I thanked her for the wine, she practically flinched.
“I’m sorry,” she said in the faintest of whispers.
I didn’t know if she was apologizing for being so jumpy, or for me having to take her place in the Green Lady’s embrace. Either way, the apology struck me as a little strange, but she hurried away before I had a chance to respond or ask her what she meant. I guess she was so scared of Henry that she was edgy even when he wasn’t around.
I had been seated next to Keane near the head of the table, and I turned to share an inquiring glance with him. He’d noticed Elizabeth’s skittishness, too, but he shrugged to indicate he was as clueless as me.
Everyone else picked up their glasses and sipped the wine, but I wasn’t much of a drinker, thanks to my mom. And I didn’t like the smell of wine, so I suspected I wouldn’t like the taste much better. No one talked, the room seeming somehow oppressive in its formality.
There was a very definite sense of waiting, like we weren’t allowed to move or even breathe until the princess graced us with her presence. I tried to shake the feeling off, to no avail, and I wished more than ever that I could have a nap, followed by a quiet meal in my room.
The princess kept us waiting for half an hour before sweeping into the room. My dad pushed back his chair and stood when she entered, gesturing for the rest of us to do the same. I was grumpy enough to want to stage a sit-down strike, but I decided that would make this ordeal last even longer.
Stifling a yawn, I appraised our hostess. She looked remarkably like Henry, although the features that looked harsh on him somehow looked lovely on her. Her neck seemed impossibly long, almost swanlike. Her gown of lush green silk glittered with jewels, and despite the bustle—a fashion accessory that looked just plain silly to me—her fashion sense was considerably better than Henry’s. The green of the gown was a perfect complement to her green eyes and strawberry blond hair.
She began making the rounds of the table, greeting each one of us by name without need of an introduction, and though the gesture came off just as formal as the room, she seemed a lot less stuck-up than Henry. She had an easy smile, and there was genuine warmth in her eyes.
When she got to me, she took both my hands in hers. “My uncle has told me so much about you,” she said, and I realized she meant Henry.
“Umm…” I had no idea what to say to that. I seriously doubted Henry had said anything even remotely good.
She patted my hand, laughing lightly. “Never fear, child,” she said. “I have always chosen to form my own opinions rather than rely on others’.”
I hoped that meant she wasn’t a charter member of the Prince Henry fan club. I tried to smile, but the expression felt forced. “Thanks.” I felt once again like there were undercurrents I didn’t understand here, and I figured my best bet was to say as little as possible. What I didn’t say couldn’t hurt me. At least, that was my theory. I wished she would let go of my hands, but I didn’t want to pull away and be rude.
“I have never been to Avalon,” she said, releasing my right hand, but keeping my left and bringing it closer to her face. I realized she was looking at my watch. “This is beautiful,” she said, touching the face of the watch gently, as though it might break. I almost laughed, because the watch was a cheap digital with a fake leather band. I’d bought it at a drugstore, and it was about as far from beautiful as could be.
“Is this technology?” The word sounded strangely alien and uncomfortable, like she was trying out a foreign language.
“Um, yeah. I guess.”
The princess’s gaze slid to my backpack, which I of course had to carry with me even to dinner to preserve my mortal goods. “Have you any other technology you can show me?”
The excitement and eagerness in her voice made me wonder why she’d never gone to Avalon herself. She could have seen a lot more “amazing” things there than what I had in my backpack. But there was no reason for me to say no, so I rooted through the backpack and pulled out my digital camera.
I hadn’t taken as many pictures in Faerie as I probably should have, seeing as I was the only person capable of doing it and this was the only time I ever planned to come here. Still, I had a few, and I showed them to the princess one by one. She seemed amazed, if a little unnerved by it, especially when I took a picture of her. The flash made all the servants in the room jump, and I felt an instant surge of magic in the air. Someone in here was more than just an ordinary servant.
“It’s just a flash,” I hurried to explain. “It’s too dark in here to get a good picture without it. See?” I held the camera up, showing everyone the princess’s picture. Dad gave me a reproachful look. Maybe I should have known better and should have warned her about the flash in advance, but I hadn’t thought of it.
The princess looked at the picture a bit warily, but the magic in the room died down, and I let out an internal sigh of relief.
“Would you like to try taking a picture yourself?” I asked, holding out the camera to her.
There was a hint of wistfulness in her gaze, but she didn’t take the camera. “I think I’d best not.” She smiled and took a step back from me. I wasn’t sure if the flash had made her suddenly afraid of me, or if she had just decided that playtime was over.