I avoided going to see my dad for as long as I could. I mean, yeah, I wanted to see him, wanted to assure myself with my own two eyes that he was okay. Facing his anger was a whole other question.
I followed Kimber’s directions to a little sitting room where every horizontal surface that wasn’t a seat was covered with bowls of fruit, or pastries, or bread. There was also a vast selection of different teas, and a steaming pitcher of water. Even not being a tea fan, I made myself a cup, wanting some liquid to wash the food down with.
While my tea was steeping, I put together a plate of the most recognizable of the fruits along with a thick slice of bread and some kind of turnover. When I sat down on one of the chairs with my plate on my lap and reached for my tea, I saw that the water pitcher was still filled to the brim and steaming.
Magic water. I’d never seen that trick in Avalon. Then again, in Avalon we had electricity and water mains.
My stomach wasn’t up for a big meal, but I ate as much as I could before heading back toward the suite of rooms where we were staying. My hands were clammy when I stood in front of my dad’s door and tried to get myself to knock.
It wasn’t that I was afraid of my dad. I knew he’d never hurt me. But aside from the fact that I’d taken what he was sure to think were unacceptable risks in coming back to the palace, he had now learned a whole lot of secrets I’d been keeping. Things I should have confided in him, just as I should have confided in Kimber. And let’s not even talk about the fact that I’d killed someone. Someone my dad hated, but still …
Maybe knowing about my secret spell, my dad would be afraid of me. The thought made the hunk of bread in my stomach feel like a lump of lead. Even the Erlking had been unsettled when he’d learned what I could do, but I wasn’t sure I could stand it if my dad suddenly looked at me as if I were something dangerous.
I guess I wasn’t completely silent, because as I stood hesitating, trying to find the guts to knock, the door swung open.
My dad was dressed in what was, for him, casual clothes: wool slacks with a button-down oxford shirt. A kink in the leather of his belt showed that he’d had to go down a notch to make it tight enough, and the shirt looked almost baggy on him. I felt my lower lip start to quiver as I thought about how terrible an ordeal he must have been through to lose that much weight in so little time.
Dad pulled me over the threshold and into a hug before I had time to get too maudlin. I hugged him back and tried not to notice that I could feel his ribs.
“I was afraid I’d lost you,” my dad said, his voice all husky like he was about to cry himself. “I was so sure bringing you here was the right thing to do, and I almost got you killed.”
I hated hearing the pain in his voice. I’d have preferred he yell at me, like I’d expected him to. Of course, I was sure the yelling would come eventually. Not that he ever really yelled. Yelling was too undignified. But he could give the softest whisper the same bite as other people could give a full-throttle bellow.
“You had no way of knowing,” I said, surprised that he was still hugging me. Effusive displays of emotion were not his thing.
“I should have known. I should never have risked you.”
“Dad, I’m all right. And you’re smart and all, but I don’t see how you could be expected to know Henry had a Faeriewalker daughter and wanted to eliminate the competition.”
He finally released me from the hug, though he kept his hand on my shoulder as if afraid I’d disappear if he didn’t hold on.
“He told me you’d been caught,” Dad said, his eyes haunted. “He told me they were torturing you for information and there was nothing I could do to save you. I knew he was probably lying, but I couldn’t be sure…”
I assumed “he” was Henry. Somewhere along the line, I’d lost all hint of guilt about killing him. The idea that I’d killed a person still gave me the shivers, but I was glad Henry was dead, and knew that if I had it all to do over again, I’d do the same thing. If there was anyone who needed killing, Henry was it.
“I’m all right, Dad,” I said, though he could see that for himself. “I’m actually more worried about you and Finn. You’ve lost so much weight…” I hadn’t seen Finn yet, although Kimber had assured me he was okay.
Dad sighed, finally letting go of me and moving to a pair of chairs facing an empty fireplace. I followed and sat down, though I watched his face carefully. He’s usually really good at hiding his feelings, but he wasn’t doing such a good job of it today. That told me more than I wanted to know about what he’d been through.
“It was an ordeal,” he admitted, his eyes saying “ordeal” was too mild a term. “I won’t insult you by lying about it.” Was there a hint of reproach in those words? “But I’m not going to give you the details, so don’t ask. We will both recover fully, and that’s all you need to know. You can pester Finn about it tomorrow when we leave, but right now, you have a whole lot of explaining to do.”
And just like that, my dad was back to being himself again, giving me that stern paternal face he had perfected. Usually, I’d either dig in my heels when he looked at me like that, or I’d start feeling guilty, but today I was just glad he was alive and well. And I knew that however mad he might be at me for the chances I had taken, he could never make me genuinely sorry for it.