"Is that why they all despised me?" Toff's cheeks were getting wetter.
"Hush, child, none of this is your fault." Roff rocked Toff carefully. "They should know not to shift blame for their mistakes onto an innocent child. Nearly all of them chose to do the kidnapping, even when they knew it was wrong. And then Redbird thought to keep you for herself, because she could not have children with her Half-Fae mate."
"It's true," Lissa said. "Did you not notice that the Fulls can become parents, but the Halves can't—not with the Fae. They might with a humanoid, but that's it, and their children will be born without power. It's just the way things are with the Fae."
"That was you, then, arguing with Redbird after I was attacked by Haldis and Sark." Toff looked at the Queen, unsure what to feel.
"Yes. Sadly, I sometimes let my temper run away with me. You can believe me when I say, though, that I never stopped loving you, Toff. Never gave up hope that you'd come home to us, where you belonged. I realize that Redbird's mindbond may still have a hold on you, but I can't leave you there when they mistreat you. After they tried to kill you—twice—I had to get you out of there. Corent may come and visit anytime he wants. As can Father Willow. Redbird is not welcome in my home. Tiearan and Rain will never be welcome, either. Rain came up with the idea to do the kidnapping, Tiearan stole you away and then Redbird placed the mindbond. I will not forgive that willingly."
"There is one other who is on that list as well," Roff said quietly, tightening his arms around Toff.
"Yes. I know." Lissa stood and sighed. "Toff, please stay. You will break my heart if you don't, and Nissa will be heartbroken as well."
"I will stay." Toff couldn't look at the Queen when he said the words. He cared for her in some way and he couldn't explain it. And Nissa? Toff would walk through fire for her.
"Then you should sleep now, young one. You have had a terrible day, and I hope your dreams are sweet." Roff gave Toff one last hug before letting him go. "Come to me or any of the others; we will help you if we can, and if you cannot sleep, Karzac will remedy that." Roff rose. "Come, Raona, we will leave the young ones alone." Roff took the Queen's arm and led her from the suite.
"Oh, my gosh." Tory used one of his mother's favorite phrases. It wasn't cursing—she always did that in a language they didn't understand.
"Toff, do you know what this means?" Ry sat in the spot his mother had previously occupied.
"What does it mean?" Toff picked at his coverlet.
"That we're practically brothers." Ry reached over and swatted Toff on the arm. Toff looked up at Ry in surprise and then slowly—very, very slowly—Toff began to smile.
"I want to see Cheedas." Nissa looked as if she were about to cry and Toff couldn't stand it. She'd arrived for her birthday party, but that was the last thing on her mind. She worried for the old cook, who'd watched over her and her brothers all their lives.
"Honey, right now he'll just look like he's dead," Lissa held her daughter against her side and stroked her hair.
"But I need to see him, mama."
"Baby, are you sure?" Lissa held Nissa and kissed her temple.
"All right, honey. Do the rest of you want to go, too?" Nobody felt like eating right then, though the kitchen was still operating. Some of the cooks had been brought from Niff's in Casino City—the regular kitchen staff had been given time off.
Toff was nodding right along with Ry and Tory.
"Come on, we'll go, then." Lissa stood, lifting Nissa with her. Gavin, Tony and Roff went with them and they didn't drive this time, someone folded them straight to the hospital.
"These are called the waiting rooms," Lissa led them down a quiet corridor. "There are five turns in progress now. We must be quiet—not for the ones who are going through the turn, but for the sires who are waiting and watching over them," Lissa said softly. She rounded a corner and walked through a door that led to another corridor. This one was lined with windows made of one-way glass. They could look down into the waiting rooms but the turning sires could not see the visitors. That was why they had to keep quiet—noise might upset the vampire waiting for his newest child to wake.
"See, there is Oluwa," Lissa whispered as they peered through the darkened glass at the scene below. Cheedas was lying on a narrow bed, covered by a blanket while Oluwa was sitting in a comfortable chair nearby, watching over the old cook.
"It is good that his body is whole, still," Gavin knelt next to Nissa and placed an arm around her waist. "If he were not making at least a partial turn, his body would be gray and already turning to ash. This is a very good sign, little one."
"This is what happened to you?" Nissa turned to look into Gavin's deep-brown eyes.
"Yes. Long ago. Aurelius was my sire, pretty girl, and you may ask him all the questions you like about my turning. Aurelius was a better parent than my natural parents, even."
"I like him," Nissa agreed. "I just didn't know that he made you vampire."
"Gavin's Cousin René, who was also turned by Aurelius, was my sire," Tony said softly, kneeling on Nissa's other side.
"What happened to him?" Nissa put an arm around Tony's neck.
"He died saving my life," Tony replied. "Your mother and Gavin were both there when he died."
"So many people believe that vampires are evil, because they drink blood to live," Ry said softly next to Toff. "But just like any other race, they can be loving or brave."
"With vampires, the odds are better for those qualities, since their sire chooses them carefully," Gavin said. "There have been bad vampires, but the race has always weeded those out as quickly as possible."
"They drink blood from people all the time?" Toff asked.
"No, honey," Lissa explained. "We've developed a very good blood substitute, and it tastes almost the same. A vampire on Le-Ath Veronis drinks from the comesuli perhaps twice a month, and the comesuli ask for the bite. They find it pleasurable. Feel free to ask any of the adults inside the palace—they will tell you that they like it."
"They don't ask—they beg," Roff snorted. "I have been on both ends of that bite, and I can verify that it is intensely pleasurable. It does not matter that you do not have those parts we spoke of—the bite negates the need for them," he added.
"Toff, honey, the vampires are taught to be gentle with the bite by their sires. They have no desire to harm the ones from whom they take blood. In fact, many of the comesuli love the vampires who bite them—they have their favorites. Someday, those vampires may be their sires." The Queen was asking him to understand.
"I am trying to understand, it just may take some time getting used to this," Toff sighed.
"Many of us had no idea that vampires existed when we were turned," Gavin said. "Lissa most certainly had no idea, and her story is more tragic than any others that I know."
"Honey, don't go into that," Lissa said, turning back to the window to look down at Cheedas. "Cheedas, make the turn for me," she said softly.
"He will if it is at all possible," Gavin rose to put an arm around the Queen. "He will not want to disappoint you, cara."
"Nissy, this is the worst birthday for you," Lissa said, looking at her daughter.
"Mom, right now all I want is for Cheedas to turn into an amazing vampire."
"Me, too," Lissa agreed. "And if he makes the turn, he will be an amazing vampire."
They went back to the palace shortly after that and had a quiet dinner, followed by a nice cake for Nissa's birthday. Shadow came for that and Nissa opened gifts. She hugged Toff when she opened the comb from him and Toff turned pink when she gave him a kiss on the cheek, too.
"We'll let you decide what you want to do tonight," Queen Lissa told Nissa after the gifts had been opened and admired.
"Can we play in the pool for a while?"
"Of course. With or without adults?"
"Can we do without adults?" Nissa looked hopeful.
"Yes. But I'll keep an ear open anyway," Lissa smiled at her daughter.
"That's fine, Mom—you can save us if we're drowning."
"I'll be there in no time," Lissa promised.
What Nissa really wanted to do was hear the story from Toff, Tory and Ry about Toff's kidnapping by the Green Fae. They barely got into the water after dressing in swimsuits before she asked.
"Really? They tried to kidnap Wyatt?" Wyatt was King Wylend's heir and the child originally targeted by the Green Fae.
"And somehow they got Toff instead. I'm not sure how they managed to mess that up, but they did," Ry said. "I'm going to ask Em-pah Wylend about it when I see him again, if Dad won't tell me anything."
"Why didn't they tell us about this?" Tory was still trying to figure that out.
"Mom said it wouldn't do any good—she didn't know whether Toff was going to come back to us or not."
"At least I know now that my parent is dead instead of abandoning me, as I always thought," Toff muttered. "All that time I thought my parents were awful for just leaving me for the Fae to take."
"The Fae took you, all right, they just didn't have permission. And things might have turned out different if that Redbird person hadn't done the mindbond."
"Yes, that was the turning point in all of this," a tall, brown-haired man appeared at the edge of the pool and sat on a chaise.
"Who are you?" Nissa was ready to call for her mother.
"I'm your grandfather," the man replied.
"You're Wyatt's father." Ry had pieced the mystery together, somehow. He hadn't met Wyatt's father, but he knew that Wyatt had a father. "Why aren't you the heir instead of Wyatt?"