While their familial connection was a striking fact in itself, it remained to be seen whether it would be a biological fact only, or something more significant to the two of them. She already knew it was inordinately significant to Rhoswen.
“What has changed for her, Lord Keldwyn?” she asked. “My Fae abilities might be the trigger that brought me here, but why am I such an issue for her?
You say she is a good queen, but so far all I have seen is irrational anger, driven by pain that seems far too fresh to be connected to our father's death a thousand years ago.”
Keldwyn showed no surprise that she'd figured out the blood link between them. “Rhoswen had to fight something very similar to your Territory Wars here.
She became queen about three hundred years ago, after many battles between the four castles that had to do with centuries of poison seeded by her mother and descendants of King Dagda. Like your own Council, there were very different ideas of the role of the mortal world. Suffice it to say, in the end, Rhoswen sat on the Unseelie throne. Tabor, descendant of Dagda, now sits on the Seelie one, thank all the gods, and that poison has been eliminated. But in order to make that happen, Rhoswen had to take her mother's life. Tabor kil ed two of his brothers.”
As Lyssa's brow creased, he nodded. “It resulted in years of instability, fear and quick, brutal justice for any uprisings supporting the old factions. That was when Rhoswen completely shut down the doors to the mortal world. Human crossings have been rare, exceptional circumstances only these past few decades. It was not only to protect the Fae. After the wars, our numbers had dwindled. Fae were stealing children, bringing them here. Once the children ate or drank in our world, they could never be returned, parents left bereft with no knowledge of what had happened to their offspring.”
Lyssa could imagine something like that only too well. It must have reflected on her face, because Keldwyn's expression for once showed genuine emotion, a deep chagrin.
“As I said, it was a horrific time. But the Fae numbers stil haven't recovered, because our birthrate has slowed to an alarming rate. Some believe it is because we have cut ourselves off from the lifeblood of the mortal world, that there is an essential lifeline between our worlds that helps feed balance, fertility. Rhoswen herself may even have begun to believe that, but she will be cautious, because she's seen the abuses that happen on both sides.”
Lyssa considered that. “Al right. But that stil doesn't explain why she wants to hate me so much.”
“Because your father was high on the list to be chosen for the Unseelie throne.” Keldwyn turned to face her, coming to a halt. “When he was executed by virtue of Tabor's brother and Rhoswen's mother, that cloud of suspicion and anger hung over Rhoswen's head for many centuries. But now, it is well past time to name a successor. She has discretion to choose, but it must be sanctioned by her Council and the Fae themselves. And thanks to court gossip, not from me”—he gave her a straight, stern look that said it was the truth—“the rumor has spread that there is another daughter of Reghan, one with a child.”
“Kane is a vampire.” Lyssa's gaze snapped to Keldwyn's face.
“Yes. One with Fae blood. Not just yours, but that of your father. My lady, you came from vampire and Fae royal lines. Your servant has reincarnated three times to be at your side, and was turned into a vampire of inexplicable power by accident. I think it's safe to say that your son will be far more than a mere vampire.”
The music coming from the vil age was getting louder, an irresistible melody that cal ed the feet to dance. While Lyssa tried to quel her reaction to his words, Keldwyn took her arm, resumed walking.
“And that is all I will be saying today, Lady Lyssa.
You are intel igent enough to figure out the rest, when Fate chooses to unfold the other pieces before you.” She knew not to waste effort persuading him otherwise, but she wasn't going to let him off the hook that easily. “Have you seen Catriona yet? Is she well ?”
It was the most personal question she'd ever asked him. Though she looked for some change in his face, she saw none. However, she noted that he paused before he answered.
“When a Fae is freed after such a long time, there is a period of adjustment. She is here, in our world, but she has gone to ground, to heal. I am respecting that, for now.”
She thought there was more to it than that, but she left it alone. The music was swirling around her in earnest, demanding that she notice the sun touching her hair and warming her dress, the fact that they were coming into a vil age fil ed with laughter, excited cries and wonderful food smel s. “Where are you taking me?”
“This is the merchant pavilion area for the Samhain celebration. I assume all women like to shop.”
“I have no currency here.”
“I'm sure I can cover any purchases you wish to make.”
Lyssa's first thought was she wished Jacob could see it, because it was a snapshot from a Tolkien novel. Pennants and pavilions in multiple colors stretched out through the streets of the vil age, fil ing every corner. The crowds checking out the wares were an astonishing array. She saw smal gnomes stumping out of the way of lumbering giants. A woman passed them with a smal pet dragon on her shoulder, the tail curled around her upper arm. As she moved, she phased in and out of the colors of the pavilions, a rainbow chameleon, the creature cheeping softly on her shoulder, changing colors with her. Handsome men in tunics wore short daggers and soft, thigh high boots, escorting lovely women in dresses like hers, only trimmed in more jewels.
The air was ful of flying Fae of various sizes, cutting above the crowd in aerial acrobatics, and amusing themselves by occasional y tossing out smal projectiles. They would explode in the air, raining everything from glitter dust, flower petals or the occasional shower of acorns or pebbles on the shoulders and heads of the earth-bound, resulting in laughter or good-natured threats.
In this world, all these mysterious, remarkable creatures were not remarkable to one another at all.
They hawked and bargained, flirted and scowled.
They sat down to scratch their backs against a tent pole, or drank a tankard, legs stretched out, relaxing as they appraised those who passed.
“Care for a mask to scare the mortals?” Keldwyn inquired, stopping at one stal and lifting it for her inspection. It appeared to be a scrap of bark with eyeholes, but when he lifted it up to his face and let it go, it hovered there. Now he had a monstrous visage that enhanced his natural features, the eyes large, dark pits of hell fire, mouth stretched with sharp teeth, pointed ears swept downward and back for a more menacing, animal-like form of aggression.
“Impressive,” Lyssa said, reaching up to touch it. It stil felt like the bark, though her fingers phased through the magical energy.
“From what I hear, she already scares the kiddies with her looks.” That remark came from a crone sitting in the booth, working another scrap in her hands with a knife and what looked like a scraper for skinning. “But if you want to make yourself even more frightening, miss, you can have that for a bargain.”
“ A Fae bargain. Two words fraught with peril.” Keldwyn snorted. Ignoring the woman's rude gesture, he lay the mask down and took Lyssa's elbow again. “Pay them no mind,” he murmured, moving her away from the booth.
“You thought as much yourself when you saw me.
It's to be expected.” She was resolved that no one but Jacob would ever know she was vain enough to be hurt by it.
Keldwyn made a warning noise, just as she was brought up short by a tug at her elbow. Looking down, she then had to look up, fol owing the smal Fae as she moved from Lyssa's elbow up to the level of her face. The fairy was the size of a dol , but obviously a young adult, like those Lyssa had seen flitting across the meadows this morning. It was in the curious, open eyes, the set of the mouth, the somewhat cocky-yet-not-quite-confident demeanor.
That, and the smal cluster of similar-looking Fae males and females hovering nearby, suggested it. Despite the dwindling numbers of offspring, young Fae stil ran in packs like any other teenagers.
“Wil you show us what you look like, as a Fae?
They said it's like nothing no one has ever seen. Do you fly? will you fly with us?”
Lyssa glanced at Keldwyn and he shrugged, though she thought there was an indulgent look hovering around his eyes. The male definitely had a soft spot for children. Despite that, she noted the young Fae kept her between herself and Keldwyn, obviously finding the High Court liaison far more intimidating than Lyssa.
Why not? She could tel other adult Fae were listening, watching. Jacob wasn't the only one with intuition. In this world of unknown rules and unpredictable responses, this felt right.
“Certainly,” she said. However, while she wasn't modest, there was something about disrobing in the midst of such a public crowd that felt inappropriate.
As she glanced around, Keldwyn read her intent and gestured her toward the narrow channel between two of the tents. As she moved into that opening, she found the tents were angled so the back corners came together in a closed vee, forming a private area. Keldwyn positioned himself in front of her. Like all high-court Fae, he was more tal than broad, but she was petite and it was cover enough.
Slipping off her ankle boots and the high-waisted dress, she laid the garment over his shoulder and tucked the shoes into his curled hand for safekeeping.
They didn't real y believe in undergarments here, so that was all it took. She shifted into the Fae form, a much smoother process when it wasn't forced by Rhoswen's magic. She had to remember to keep her wings tucked in so the tough, leathery substance of them didn't cut through the silken fabric of the pavilion tents.
She hesitated, but then that hesitation snapped her spine straight. She was a queen, not a teenage girl. She didn't all ow self-consciousness to dictate her actions. Instead of stepping out in front of gawking eyes, she gathered herself and shot straight up, executing a dramatic rol and swoop that took her over a cluster of Fae browsing. The unexpected aerial maneuver dropped several of them to the ground in reaction, to the delight of the teens and her own personal satisfaction. Lifting herself back up on a nice twist of air currents, she met the eyes of the young Fae girl, hovering a few feet below her, her dark eyes wide and round. “Coming?” Lyssa rasped over her curved fangs.