The kids, having found an unexpected ally, have just discovered that their ally’s help came at great cost — and now the question is, are they going to even survive the trouble one innocent-sounding question has put them in.
Here’s just a snippet of today’s work. The usual caveats apply.
The servants began dishing out the food. Dan and I waited, and when it seemed everyone would eat but us, and just as I was thinking that surely no harm would come of just tasting the roasted and stuffed goose before me, a hand put a plate down in front of me, and another in front of Dan. The plates held plenty of food, but only greenery. I glanced up and found that our guide had presented them. Servants moved along the table filling gold goblets with dark ruby wine, and one filled Dan’s glass and mine, and moved on. But after an instant, our guide reappeared, and neatly exchanged our goblets with some that looked just like them, but that had been filled with water.
So. Water and bitter greens, when all around us devoured the finest feast I had ever seen in my life.
But we had been warned. Dan and I ate our greens, and drank our water, and when we emptied our plates, our guide replaced them with others, with food no more palatable than that which we had just finished.
I confess, I had a hard time remembering that I ate my dreary meal for my mother’s survival and the safety of everyone I knew and loved, or that I drank water instead of wine for the same reason. No one can know who has not sat at table with the nightlings how their feasts bewitch the senses.
Then, as I ate my greens, the high lord turned to me, and with a smile, said, “Here. You’ve had none of the stag, and it is tender and succulent — the finest I believe I have ever had.” He held out one of the little pitchforks with a bite of meat dripping gravy, so close the rich aroma curled straight into my brain. I wanted that bite as I think I have never wanted anything else in my life.
I started to open my mouth, but Dan pinched me hard on the back of my arm, and I only managed not to shriek with the strongest of wills. I said, “My thanks, Lord Letrin, but I eat no meat.”
He shook his head as if I amused him, and did not pull the fork back. “You did not get those sweet curves, nor those round cheeks, from a diet of bitter greens. Here. Just a taste, and I promise you if you don’t like it, I will offer nothing else.”
I tried to remember what I was to do, and again Dan came to my rescue. He gave my braid a yank, and I recalled what our guide had told me. I caught the tip of it between my fingers, and pressed the little curl of hair below the binder against my lips. I shook my head and said nothing … and to my amazement, the high lord shivered and drew back the proffered bite as if I suddenly terrified him.
He stared into my eyes, again frowning, and then looked from me to Dan. He seemed in that moment suddenly very old, and frail, though an instant before he had seemed younger than Father, and hale and strong and in his prime.
He offered neither Dan nor me another thing during the whole of the meal, no did he say another word to either of us. I caught him staring at us when he thought us unaware, and he seemed so sad as he watched us that I thought my heart would break.
We came at last to the end of the feast, to the end of singing and dancing, to the end of wonders spread before me and forbidden me, and I thought the worst was over.
Then the room cleared of all the guests, though servants still cleaned, and the high lord said, “Then come, both of you, and sit with me, and let us see what I can do for you, and what you can do for me.”
He smiled, and his smile seemed to me warm and friendly, but his eyes looked as cold and dark as those of any snake.