This chapter is told from Leila’s perspective.
Evander was right about time flowing differently between our worlds. On Earth, the full moon wasn’t due for another eight days. I would probably have at least one other opportunity to visit Tierney Ríocht before then– without needing the key, I mean. I could actually go back whenever I wanted, but I had no plans to visit until the moon was full.
I was able to sort out my schedule so that I could get work done and have more energy to stay up late when the full moon came. It was the very end of September; two weeks until my birthday. I had just enough time to learn what I could about how Jean-Marc thought I could actually help his world and then– well, and then maybe decide what to do next. It was getting hard to make sense of it all and keep the facts straight.
When the day came, I decided that there was really no need to wait until midnight to go to Tierney Ríocht; I had the key, and it would now work to take me there. I had a backpack with a change of clothes in it– just in case– and a notebook where I could write things down in order to sort them out better. I wore my boots this time; I might actually get a chance to go outside. I’d already dropped hints to Stefan that I had a busy couple of days coming up, hoping that such knowledge would make him worry less if I didn’t respond to his messages right away.
Once I had everything together, I headed to the library. The double doors were still there on the far wall; up until my last visit to the magical world, they’d disappeared each time I’d returned home. The wall would be solid again, with only its large painting to speak of. The painting was still gone, and as much as I tried to remember back to who it had been of, I couldn’t recall. The double doors were still locked, which was a relief to me; I wouldn’t want my guests to get through them and ask after what was there.
I leaned down an inspected the doorplate that stretched out around the handle. Just like everything else from the baroque period, it had scrolls and leafy designs. Just above the handle, almost blending in with the rest of the filigree, was a roman numeral seven. I don’t know whether that had been there before, but I know the key hole hadn’t been; something about the magic of leaving using the key had made this one appear.
I slid my key into it, and turning it felt like turning the gears of a gumball machine, although on a much larger scale. The handle shone a bright gold rather than its usual dull brass, and the blue of the rest of the doors became more brilliant. The door clicked open, and I peered inside to see the winding staircase I was used to, except colder and quieter. The lights glowed in their sconces, and I wondered whether unlocking the door had activated enough magic to light them, because it didn’t seem possible for them to always be lit.
“Well, here we go,” I murmured to myself as I pulled the key back out and passed through the door. Once I closed it and glanced around, I realized what I’d missed every other time I’d passed through. “Oh my gosh!”
It just about startled me. On the wall just past the foot of the stairs– in a spot that would have made a good window– was the painting I’d just been wondering about. Clearly there was something about the magic that caused it to move, though I didn’t have the time to contemplate it too much. I could, however, pause to look it over: it was a painting of my Great-Uncle Morrigan, but when he’d been much younger. He was standing, poised as he were just about to raise his viola. Sitting in a well-upholstered chair beside him was a woman with pale skin and endless curls of red hair. Her eyes were half closed, but the painter had still managed to give them an emerald gleam. Her arms were around her harp, ready to play the first note of what I imagined would be a heavenly song.
“That must have been his wife,” I told myself.
Morrigan had married young, I recalled, but his wife had passed away before they’d had any children. I never knew her, and I’d never spent enough time with my great uncle to hear about her. I would have been too young, anyway. It had probably all happened back in Ireland.
“She was beautiful,” I said, as much to the man in the painting as to myself.
I lingered only a moment more before heading up the stairs and along the hallway. There was no keyhole on this side of the doors that would have led into the music hall, which struck me as odd. Reminding myself that I was amidst magic now, I simply turned the handle and pushed open the door. There was music already coming from the other side, stringed instruments as well as the flourish and refinement of the harpsichord.
“You still play too fast, Jean-Marc,” I heard a voice complain when the music stopped.
“And I say that you play too slow,” Jean-Marc sniffed as though offended. “It’s a minuet, not a dirge.”
“All your bickering seems to have made the two of you blind,” Brom said as he stood up from the harpsichord. “Behold and rejoice, our newest and dearest friend has returned!” he crossed the room, arms outstretched towards me.
I gave him a bashful smile. “Hello again, Brom.” I want to say I don’t know why I was acting so shy, but I supposed being around so many finely-dressed gentlemen would do it.
“Oh, what a miraculous sight to behold!” Jean-Marc exclaimed. He, too, approached me, not so bold as to expect a hug, but to bow, low and sweeping. “A very lovely welcome to you, Miss Moss.”
I nodded to him, then looked over at Aubré, who looked partially bored and partially relieved.
“After the way you’d left last time,” he said, “some of us were worried that you wouldn’t return. I must admit that I am gladdened to lay my eyes upon you once again.”
“Did Evander not tell you that I would come back?” I replied. “I might have my doubts about all of this, but I do tend to keep my word.”
“Most esteemed Lady Moss,” Evander said. He’d already risen from his armchair and knelt before me. “How lovely it is that you have returned to us.”
“Hey, I already told you: you don’t have to kneel.” I laid a hand lightly on his shoulder.
“You should get used to it,” Aubré said. “The world needs to know that you are to be held in the highest esteem.”
“I really think it’s too soon to do that, though,” I insisted as Evander stood up straighter. “We’re not even sure that I can–”
“Of course you can,” another voice interrupted.
I looked over to see a man almost as tall as Evander, his body leaner than I’d thought possible. He had a faint lilac hue to his skin, and eyes like the most perfect violets. His hair was cut short and combed back in a way that reminded me of leaves. It was a sage sort of green, with lilac streaks here and there. Like Ilphara, he had a pair of iridescent faerie wings at his back.
“You have the house at the key,” he went on. “The owl has acknowledged you as one who knows music and loves magic. You have the sense of wonder that can breathe life into anything. You can help us, Lady Moss, and once you shed your doubts, you most assuredly will.”
I blinked and stared at him. We hadn’t even been properly introduced– though of course the others had told him all about me– but he was already addressing me directly to tell me what I could and would do.
“My dearest Lady Leila Moss,” Evander said as he stood by my side, “may I present to you the violinist of out septet, Tobias Wagner from the land of the faeries. I hope that you can understand his temperament, milady, when I say that his kind are one of the most at risk should the music and magic of our realm begin to fade.”
I looked between Evander and Tobias as I thought over what he’d said. “It makes sense, right,” I told them, “but aren’t the fauns and elves threatened, too?”
Tobias looked hurt– not much, but It seemed like he might have been trying to hide just how much the realm’s situation and my perception of it unnerved him. I hope we hadn’t started off on the wrong foot; I really did want to get to know him. But I was nervous, too.
“It is about time, I daresay,” Evander replied, “that we make an attempt to… classify, if you will, the different beings of our world. We shall endeavor to help you understand.”
“That would be easier with the scroll here,” Aubré commented.
“The scroll with the ballad written on it?” I asked him. “Nikolai was going to bring it here, wasn’t he?”
Aubré nodded. “Aye, milady, but it’s already sundown, and he’s still not here.”
“I came on the correct day, didn’t I?” I asked Evander, looking up at his warm and friendly face.
“You did indeed, milady,” he said, “and we are grateful, one and all, to see you again.”
“What… what time should he have arrived?”
“It is difficult to give an exact hour, Miss Moss,” Jean-Marc said, “given his mode of travel.”
“He doesn’t like to travel by night, though,” Brom added. “Not unless he has to. We have scouts watching for anyone’s approach, so we’ll know when he’s almost here.”
“How worried should we be?” I asked next. “Is it all that unusual for him to be a day off?”
“It isn’t an outright portent of trouble,” Evander told me. “The scouts will do their duty of looking out for him, and if he is still not sighted, there will be some sent out to look for signs of what happened.”
A knock came to the door just then, and one of Jean-Marc’s maids stepped in to say that the table was now set for dinner. Evander offered me his arm, which I accepted, and we followed the others downstairs. He didn’t seem too bothered that Nikolai had yet to arrive, and his level of calm had me at ease, too. I wasn’t completely sure what level of technology this world had, but I doubted they had anything more advanced than what Earth had during the Renaissance period, which meant that a lot of things could slow down travel. Nikolai could very well be just fine.
The dining room was long, just like I’d seen in many a movie involving nobility. It was lit by dozens of candles in a chandelier hung above the center of the table, as well as a few thick pillar candles on the table and several carefully-spaced wall sconces. The only windows were on the far wall, and I could see through the open curtains that there was only the dimmest remainder of daylight outside. Evander tucked his walking stick under his arm in order to pull the chair at the head of the table for me.
“R– really?” I blinked, uncertain as to whether I should accept such a position.
“We are honored to have you with us, Miss Moss,” Jean-Marc said. “You are our guest, and I would have you treated to the greatest hospitality.”
“I see…” I looked at the others, who stood beside chairs that ran along either side of the table. After a moment, I realized that they were waiting for me to sit first. “All right, but Evander, I want you to sit near me.” I gestured to the chair to my right.
“As you wish,” he replied, still waiting for me to sit. I took the chair, and he helped me scoot in before asking, “May I have Ilphara take your bag up to your room for you?”
“Ah– no, I can take it myself later,” I replied. “Let’s just relax and talk, okay?”
He nodded concedingly, then sat down. The others followed suit, and I noticed that Jean-Marc took the opposite head of the table, which was near the windows. I placed my backpack just under the table, not far from my feet, just as a small handful of servants entered with large trays. The first few came by offering wine, but I asked for water instead.
“The water here is good, right?” I asked. “Not like it is in some parts of Earth…”
Evander nodded. “The waters of Tierney Ríocht run clear and fresh, milady; they are far less polluted than the streams of the furthest reaches of your land. I daresay that you might very well find the water… lacking when you return home.”
“It’s one of the things Lord Morrigan loved most about being here,” Jean-Marc added.
“That’s good to hear…”
A bowl of soup was placed in front of me, a deep orange freckled with chopped herbs. It also came with a few small slices of toast. The others were served the same, and Evander looked pleased to see it.
“What flavor is it?” I asked him as I picked up my spoon. I’m rarely adverse to trying new things, but I do like to know what I’ve been served.
“It’s pumpkin, milady,” he told me warmly, smiling as always.
“Oh, that’s just right for autumn,” I replied. Noticing that the others weren’t going to start eating until I did, I decided to taste it before delving into conversation. It was rich and robust, carefully spiced so that it enhanced the natural flavor of the gourd instead of overpowering it, and with just the right amount of cream added.”
“Wow, Jean-Marc,” I said after several spoonfuls, “your cooks are amazing!”
“I thank you for your kind words,” he replied, “though I should admit that I have a certain advantage when the other musicians come to stay with me.”
“Is that so?”
He nodded. “They bring some of their staff with them,” he explained. “It helps to keep from over-stressing my own staff, and when they work together, they can accomplish far more.”
“That is handy,” I agreed.
We made light conversation until it was time for the next course, which was mushroom caps stuffed with herbs, cheese, and finely-chopped vegetables, then roasted until toasty and aromatic. I was glad that so far, Evander was able to eat the same things we were, and that he seemed happy with every serving. I noticed that he was having tea instead of wine, and I was thinking of asking for something caffeinated to go with my own dinner.
I was going to get the attention of the next server I saw, but that ended up being someone who rushed down to the far end of the room as quickly as he he could while still acting proper. As I watched him whisper to Jean-Marc, I realized that he probably didn’t even have any kitchen or dining room duties. Once they were done talking, Jean-Marc stood up and placed his napkin on the table.
“I must ask for your pardon,” he said to the others. “I am needed outside for a moment.”
He started heading for the door, and I got up, too.
“It’s quite alright,” he tried to assure me. “The salads will be along shortly, and I should only be away for a few minutes.”
“I’m sure he’ll explain once he’s back,” Evander said.
I looked to him, not liking the feeling I was getting from all this, and by the time I looked back to where Jean-Marc had been he was already gone.
“Could it be Nikolai?” I asked Evander. “Then again, does he need a special greeting from Jean-Marc?”
“Please, my dear Lady Moss,” he replied, “be at ease. All is well.”
I had my doubts, though; how could he be so sure? Still, I stayed at the table and waited. The salads were brought in, their mixed greens tossed with something citrusy and cucumbers, onions, and tomatoes cut into bite-size pieces. I tried to focus on enjoying it, but I was so curious about what Jean-Marc was up to that I hardly did more than pick at it.
When another man came in and whispered to Brom, I was hardly surprised. Something was going on outside, and I wasn’t sure that it was Nikolai’s arrival; he would have simply been brought to the dining room. Brom stood up, and I noticed him giving Tobias and Aubré a look that told them to follow him. I don’t know whether he realized that I’d noticed, but he certainly wasn’t doing much to hide it.
“I can’t think of anything good that would give them cause to leave in the middle of dinner,” I told Evander, my arms crossed over my chest.
Vivaldi’s Springtime song from “Four Seasons”.