My face was hidden in my hands, my back arched. I groaned; I was frustrated, overwhelmed, and exhausted. Why did the way to Tierney Ríocht only open at midnight? Had it been like that for Morrigan and the others back in Ireland? They’re on Greenwich Mean Time, so maybe the magic occurred in the morning for them… I hadn’t had time to ask that question yet.
“I haven’t tried to write music for years,” I told them. “And even then, it was an assignment, and I had guidance and parameters.”
“Surely we can offer you some of that, milady,” Evander said, trying to sound reassuring.
I gave him a look that I hoped said I was grateful he was trying. “The thing is, writing for oboe is different from writing for other instruments. I wouldn’t be able to properly write anything for horn or viola or anything else, and…” I sighed, “I doubt that anyone who doesn’t play oboe could help me.”
Jean-Marc looked ready to say something, but I really wasn’t in a mood to hear it.
“Explain this to me: why do you think I’ll be able to trek across this realm of yours and find your missing musicians?” I needed to understand what set me apart from the rest of my family. “I have no training in combat or– or anything else integral to adventuring. I’ve dabbled in things at best; a self-defense class, a little bit of basic karate, some camping with my family… all of our hikes were easy ones.”
“You won’t be alone,” Jean-Marc said. He saw me balk, and went on to explain, “First and foremost, Evander will always be at your side.”
I looked over at Evander, who squeezed my hand and bowed in his seat.
“It is a duty that I am most honored to carry out, milady,” he said. “I am here to advise you, to serve your needs, and to ensure your safety.”
“My safety,” I repeated with a worried sigh. “First was that satyr who came to Earth to accost me; now it sounds like there will be other threats out there.”
Thunder rumbled outside again. Chopin hooted, then went back to preening.
“Evander is not your only defender,” Aubré said when nobody else spoke up immediately. “My blade and bow will be at your service. Jean-Marc is good with a rapier, and Brom with his broadsword. There will also be a spearman and an axe-man, once they join us.”
“You know, saying I’ll have a miniature army doesn’t make me feel any safer,” I pointed out. “Why would anything want to hurt me? And are Brielle and Sir Maël in danger?”
Evander’s brow was furrowed, and he looked between the others. “Might I suggest,” he said, keeping his voice calm, “that you allow her time to rest and collect her thoughts?”
I looked to him, my face scrunched to one side. “I don’t know if I can sleep if I’m wondering what’s out to get me.” Then I turned to Brom and Jean-Marc, hoping that I’d made my point.
“There is nothing and nobody on its way to assault you,” Aubré informed me wearily.
“Then what happened to Brielle?” I challenged.
“We’re still not certain,” Jean-Marc said.
“There are a good many wild, mischievous, and outright mean creatures in the world,” Aubré add, “but they do not exist for the purpose of harming the musicians of Tierney Ríocht.”
“Why do I get the feeling that you’re choosing your words carefully?” I asked him. “Do they respect the musicians, or do you mean that they’re not the– what do you even call what’s out there– their sole target?”
“Oh, I do like her wit,” Jean-Marc tittered, giving Brom a sly grin.
Brom didn’t seem quite as amused, but he was much less gruff than Aubré was at that moment. “IF you had known Lady Ashleen,” he told Jean-Marc, “you would know why I’d expect nothing less from her descendant.”
I regarded Brom carefully for a few moments, trying to make sure I properly untangled what he’d said. It seemed that he appreciated my personality.
“You are sharp of mind,” Brom said, “but it isn’t all science, is it? You’ve maintained your sense of wonder and imagination. You have a fair amount of balance in your life.”
“Are you really talking about me in specific, or is this like one of those so-called fortunes that’s actually more general than it seems?”
“He speaks the truth, milady,” Evander said; I could tell he meant to be reassuring. “He speaks more to a question you’d had earlier about why things have fallen to you. There are qualities in members of the Moss bloodline that lend to them being the next to finding us.”
“I feel like you could have explained everything better all along,” I told him.
“I appreciate your faith in me, Lady Moss.”
“So these traits,” I went on. “Imagination seems to be a big deal.”
“Yes,” Jean-Marc agreed. “There can be only one of your family here at a time. Your lifespan might overlap with the previous or the next, but not your knowledge of our world. More often, one passes away years or decades before the next is born. They must be able to play an instrument, but that alone is not enough.”
“And it’s been a different instrument every time so far, right? I also recall, the first time I came here, Jean-Marc somehow knew that I believe in magic.”
Brom nodded. “Those who view the world only through the lens of science or religion cannot access Tierney Ríocht, no matter how beautiful their music. As for those with a sharp and focused path… it is unlikely.”
“Ouch,” I said, pretending to be stung. “So my more relaxed approached to life landed me here?”
“There is beauty in living in the present,” he pointed out.
“So really, everything in my personality set me up for coming here.” Well, there was no changing that. “Back to the dangers out there… what bad things are in Tierney Ríocht besides satyrs?”
Jean-Marc gave Brom a look that said he was worried about spelling it out. Aubré scoffed at them.
“You cannot avoid telling her,” he snapped. “She’ll likely assume something much worse and refuse to ever return.” Then Aubré looked to me. “There are trolls and imps, succubi, selkies, ghouls… There are others, but they are all things of that nature.”
“Creatures from our folklore?” I asked. “Which would you say is the worst of them?”
“Which would you say is worse,” he replied, “death by drowning, or by being taken deep into the mountain?”
I blinked. “I wouldn’t choose either.”
“Of course you wouldn’t,” he sighed. “That is why they are terrible. All the same, they are each living as their kind are wont to live. If you aren’t in their territory, they won’t bother you.”
“Then explain the satyr who had me pressed against the wall, threatening to undress me.”
Aubré sat up straighter, looking sharply at me. “When did–“
“It was a few weeks ago,” Jean-Marc told him. “Almost a couple months by now; my how the time does fly.”
“Was it here?” Aubré snapped. “In this manor house?”
“No,” I told him. “It was on Earth, in the city I’m from. I was trying to have fun with my friends when that pompous freak showed up and all but molested me!”
They were staring at me. I knew why of course; I admit I was yelling. I was seething with anger. The satyr had taken advantage of me and it had taken Stefan to get him to leave me alone. I didn’t like my friends being involved in this, and I didn’t like not being able to fend for myself.
Aubré glared at Jean-Marc. “How did the satyr find out about her before you could send the faun?! Your duties are simple, you–“
“That’s enough,” Brom said, stepping between them. “They’re watching closer, it would seem.”
“Who is–” I could have just growled at him then. “So there is something or someone interested in us. You said ‘they,’ and I don’t think you were trying to be gender neutral. How many are there? Is it only satyrs?”
Brom sighed. I think he wanted to facepalm, if I’m being quite honest. I glance over at Evander, who looked worried and nervous, then to Jean-Marc, then Aubré.
“You can tell me the truth, or I can take my key and leave.” My words seemed to make Chopin nervous, because she hooted and flapped her wings a few times. I reached up to pet her, and she relaxed.
Aubré sighed. “They did not emerge until Lord Morrigan’s time,” he began. “There is a… a group of sorts that seems to want to… influence the song that is written. I have not been able to surmise more than that.”
“Tell me everything,” I demanded.
“Of course,” Jean-Marc said. “But for now, Miss Moss, I must insist that you get some rest.”
“I don’t…” I paused. My head was spinning with everything they’d been telling me. “I can’t sleep until… until…”
“You look exhausted,” he said.
I looked to Brom, who had his arms crossed over his chest. He looked… I’m not sure what to call it; dissatisfied, maybe. Whatever it was, it had me uncomfortable, too. “I can handle it,” I insisted. “Just tell me what’s going on.”
“You’re safe here,” Aubré said. “The miscreants who want your favor are opportunists at best; they won’t come to the manor house.”
“Who…” I paused to yawn. It was getting harder to keep my eyes open. “Who are they? What are they?”
“Let us tell you in the morning,” Jean-Marc insisted. “Tobias should be here by then.”
I wasn’t going to be put to bed that easily. “If you want something from me,” I grumbled, my patience wearing thin, “you owe me a full and… and…” Another yawn. “An honest explanation.”
“We’ll have time,” Brom said.
I think that was when Aubré gave him an uncertain look. My eyelids were so heavy then, which made it hard to tell.
“What happens if… if…” It was getting harder to get any sentences out between the yawns, “What… the song…”
“Don’t let her slide off her chair when she falls asleep,” I heard a voice say. I think it was Aubré’s, but at that point my mind didn’t want to sort them out.
“Wait,” I groaned, “who… oh man… how strong did you… brew the chamomile…”
I felt an arm go around my shoulders. There was also cooing coming from above.
“Are you sure she’ll be more willing to listen when she wakes up?”
“Either way, it was her bed time back on Earth.”
“She responds well to the faun; the faerie should be able to convince her.”
“She’s not impressed by you, though, despite how often she writes about elves.”
“You could be nicer to her.”
The voices were fading. I mean, they were still talking, but my mind didn’t want to sort out the words anymore. I felt another arm behind my knees, and then my body cradled against a wide, warm chest. I could hear breathing, a heartbeat. It smelled of the forest, pine and cedar, and… and other trees, I think. And rich soil, like after a spring rain.
“Get her up to bed,” a voice commanded. I don’t know why it was my most prominent thought at the moment, but I remember thinking that whoever it was didn’t need to be so bossy.
“I shall see to her every need,” the voice closest to me– holding me– replied. It had to be Evander’s, given how kind and soothing it was.
It quieted down after that– and after a few hoots from the owl. The arms held me closer, and I felt the slight, gentle rocking of being carried. There were walking footsteps, sturdy and sure. I felt the air move as we slowly ascended the stairs. It was soft in those arms; secure and warm. Even so, no matter how much I felt I could trust Evander, my mind flowed to different thoughts. I didn’t want it to be the faun carrying me. I wanted it to be Stefan. I didn’t want him to have to deal with this bizarre phase of my life, but at the same time, I could no longer deny how much I needed him by my side.