“That isn’t at all what I meant, my dear Lady Moss,” Evander said. “It is not my place to pressure you into helping us, and neither is the time for us to do all that we have asked of you so limited.”
“That’s a relief,” I breathed, sitting back in my chair. “Why does the timing of the full moon matter, then?”
“That is when Nikolai expects to be here,” Evander explained. “He is the second musician, taught by Lord Brendan Moss ages ago.”
I nodded and let him go on.
“He will be riding through a few outposts on his way here to inquire as to whether there have been any sightings of or word from Brielle or Maël.”
“That’s a good idea,” I noted.
“And he has one of the ancient ballad scrolls,” Ilphara added.
I glanced over at her. “You mean a scroll with the Ballad of the Kingdom of Music written on it?”
She nodded, still smiling brightly. “He has one of the oldest copies of it.”
“That he does,” Evander agreed. “You may read it, if you so wish. Either way, it’s about time that Jean-Marc made a copy of his own.”
“I…” I swallowed hard as I hesitated. “I might… But Evander, that’s a long time for me to stay here. If Stefan can’t get hold of me, he’s going to worry. Plus I have work, and–” I paused and tried reminding myself to breathe. “I really only came last night to hear what Jean-Marc had to say, and he told me that if I brought the key, I could come and go as I like.”
“It’s quite all right, milady,” Evander said in the same calm tone as always. “You are not expected to remain here until his arrival.”
“Right…” I got up and glanced around the room. “Where is the key, anyway? I didn’t feel it in my pocket this morning.”
“I thought it best that you not sleep with it in your clothing,” he explained. “I would have preferred to leave it where you’d seen fit to put it, but I worried that it might hurt you if you laid on it.”
“I understand.” I was already heading back to the bedroom to look for it.
Evander got up to follow me. “There is a dish on the nightstand, milady…”
I saw what he meant as soon as I was through the door. It was a dish made of blown glass in the shape of a seashell, something that looked like an experienced craftsman had made, given the details and the added colors. I took my key from it, then my phone. It still had power, but no new messages, making it clear that the magic that brought me to Tierney Ríocht couldn’t bring any signal over from my world. I slid it into my pocket.
Evander waited in the doorway as I slipped out of my robe and hung it back on its hook. I stood in front of him, hoping that he really meant it when he said he served me.
“I should go home, Evander. You and Ilphara have been very kind this morning, and the breakfast was delicious. I just– I need time to think.”
He nodded, his understanding clear on his face. “Would you like to bid Jean-Marc and the others farewell?” His tone was even gentler, and I wondered whether he was worried that I planned to leave without saying goodbye.
That was my guilty conscience thinking, because that was exactly what I had planned. “I think that if I did, he would try to get me to stay, even if it was just a few hours more. And then I would end up sleeping here again, and then…” I shook my head.
“I can explain it to him,” he assured me. “He will come to understand your limits and his own soon enough.”
“Sooner would be better for him,” Ilphara added; she had come to the doorway, too. “He has to work in harmony with you so that he can help you.”
“I hope so…” I sighed and took Evander’s hand. “Can you show me the way to the door I’m supposed to use this key in?”
He nodded. “It’s the very one you came in through; the difference now is that you’ll be using the key instead of the brief harmony between our worlds.” He stepped over to the doors leading to the hallway and peered out. “I doubt that they are in the practice hall this early, milady, but if they are…”
“It will be fine,” I said. “If I really can’t avoid it, I’ll tell them what’s on my mind.”
We stepped out into the hallway of the third floor, which was wide and quiet and empty. The double doors leading to Jean-Marc’s room were right across from my own, but they were closed. I paid them no mind, but walked with Ilphara and Evander to one of the stairways at the end of the hall. The second floor was quiet as well, making me think everyone else was in the salon downstairs.
We stepped into the music hall to find that only the instruments were there: the harpsichord, the French horn, and the viola. There was another one near Jean-Marc’s, which I assumed was Tobias’s violin. I couldn’t help but think that there should have been three more, but Brielle and her cello were missing, Sir Maël hadn’t contacted the others for far too long, and Nikolai had yet to arrive from his homeland. All that, and they wanted to add an oboe player to their group, even though I didn’t think I’d be able to help them.
“Okay…” I sighed, stopping beside the ornate door that would take me back home. “I suppose I’ll see you soon enough. Or maybe Chopin will see me first.”
“It is far easier for her to visit Earth than it is for us,” Evander reminded me.
Ilphara surprised me with a tight hug. I mean, I think she considered it tight for a faerie. “We’ll miss you while you’re gone, Miss Moss!”
“Oh, wow, you’re really affectionate.”
She grinned up at me. “I hope it’s okay!”
I gave her a half smile. “I don’t see the harm in it.”
“Lady Moss…” Evander began. He sounded nervous, which was unlike him. “It is your choice entirely when you return, but I felt that I should remind you that time flows differently for your world than it does for ours. Should you wish to return for Nikolai’s arrival, count the time until your moon is full, not the number of days.”
“That’s… interesting.” I wasn’t sure off the top of my head when the next full moon would be. “I’ll keep it in mind, though.”
“I would explain so much more to you, milady,” he added, “but the gentlemen may come up here very soon to practice, so I shall focus on the door. You can try it without the key and find that it is locked. It was no mechanism by which we may lock it, so unless our worlds have harmonized, the only way through is with your key.”
I pulled it out of my pocket as I listened to him. “Do I still have to wait for a special midnight to come back?”
He shook his head. “They key will unlock the magic as well, milady. Once you use it here to depart, you can use it to return.”
“Okay,” I replied with a nod. I glanced at the door, then down at the key, then back to him. “Thank you, Evander… for being patient… and for helping me.”
He smiled and gave me a bow. “It is at times through service that our greatest achievements come to fruition. And now, my dear, I offer you my warmest wishes and my fondest farewell.”
It was time for me to put this strange key to use. I could go home and think things over. I could even decide not to come back. I just had one more thing to do before I left. Before I could think to stop myself, I wrapped my arms around Evander. I embraced him tightly, taking in his foresty scent and feeling the way the cloth in his formal clothing folded beneath me. He was warm and gentle, and after a moment he returned the hug.
“I… To be honest, I still don’t know if I can help any of you,” I admitted once we let go. “I’ll come back, though. I’ll come back and hear you out again.”
“We are grateful for even that, my dear,” he said.
And with that, I turned around and pressed my key into the lock. I could feel gears inside the door rotating as I turned the key, the teeth making an almost musical chime. The door cracked open, and I pulled out the key before slipping through to the long, shadowy hallway that would lead me back to the spiral staircase, back to the library, and back to my home.