Mongolian: Долоо дахь минутын байшин – Doloo dakhi minutyn baishin
“Okay,” I said. “You’re right; I’ll tell you everything. Let’s just go back downstairs.”
“No,” Stefan stated. He was firm, and probably upset that I hadn’t told him about this sooner.
“Stefan, please, let’s just go downstairs,” I repeated. “Larsa, Killian, let’s go.”
“No,” Stefan said again, flatly. He shook his arm to try to get Chopin off of it. “Get this owl out of here.”
Chopin fluttered her wings and hooted as though to say, ‘hey, what are you doing?’
“Stefan,” I pleaded, “she’s nice. Don’t be rough with her.”
“I’ve had enough trouble already without dealing with this thing,” Stefan grumbled.
“Chopin, viens,” Jean-Marc said, holding up his arm like a perch. Chopin flew to him and settled down. “it’s all right, little friend,” he soothed her. “He just doesn’t know you.”
I tried to pull away from Stefan to take Killian and Larsa’s hands, but he just took my other shoulder and kept me in place. “Stop trying to avoid this,” he said, firmer than before. “I need to know what’s going on with you.”
“Okay,” I said. “Can we just go downstairs?”
“No,” he said again. He was starting to have just the slightest amount of anger in his voice, which did not sit well with me; I don’t think I’ve ever been the one to make him angry before.
“Do we have to go?” Larsa asked. “I want to meet your dream friends!”
“It’s not a dream, Larsa,” Stefan growled at him. “Gods, could you stop acting like this for just a few minutes?”
Larsa gave him a hurt look.
“Lady Moss,” Brom said before anyone else could, “if I may, you and your friends are more than welcome to talk in your room– that is, unless you would rather we have more chairs brought in here?”
“You have a room here?” Stefan asked me, no more pleased by that than by anything else.
“I– well, it was just one–”
“The truth, Leila,” he said, more insistent than before. I could tell from his tone that he wasn’t going to be talked out of having things his way.
“As Brom said, they are welcome here,” Jean-Marc reminded me. “There is no undoing this meeting, and we are here to support you in explaining what needs to be explained.”
I was grateful to Jean-Marc for his willingness to help, but that only comforted me so much. I still felt cornered into talking about something that I didn’t want my friends being involved with– for their own sakes.
I let out a heavy sigh. “Yeah… okay, let’s go talk in my room. But for the record, I’ve only slept there once or twice.”
Stefan’s expression didn’t change. Could I really expect it to? I didn’t think he’d ever be this angry at me, but now that he was, would the number of times I’d been there really make a difference? I still hadn’t told him about any of this.
“I’ll go downstairs and let the kitchen know we have guests,” Tobias said. “We’ll have tea and something to eat brought up shortly.”
“What?” Larsa all but whined. “Can I go with the faerie?”
Killian grasped his hand tightly. “Ye know better than tae invite yerself along, lad. Ye havnae e’en been introduced yet.”
“Oh!” Larsa said, his face brightening. “We can fix that. Hello, sir, my name is Larsa Báltu. It’s so amazing to meet you!”
He held his hand straight out towards Tobias, who smiled as though he found the situation charming.
“A pleasure to meet someone with your spirit,” Tobias replied with a warm, friendly smile. He shook Larsa’s hand. “I am Tobias Wagner, from the fae kingdom of Tylwyth.”
“Tylwyth?” Larsa repeated. “Killian, doesn’t that sound Gaelic?”
Killian smirk. “I think ye’d better let the man go, Larsa. We can discuss such things later.”
“Larsa!” Stefan snapped, which made Larsa’s expression more like that of a hurt puppy.
“Okay…” Larsa sighed. “I’ll see you soon, Tobias.”
Tobias gave him another kind smile before excusing himself from the room.
Stefan gave me an expectant look.
“I know, I know,” I told him. “My room is upstairs. Let’s go.”
I led Stefan out into the hallway, and Jean-Marc followed us, along with Brom, Killian, and Larsa. Under other circumstances, Stefan might have found the house more impressive. He wasn’t typically interested in Baroque or Rococo-era art or style, but he knew when something was considered fancy. I think that this being a place he hadn’t known about me visiting only made it even less appealing to him. While Larsa looked at things with a bit of wonder, Stefan just maintained a glare. Killian seemed to be having a hard time remaining neutral.
We headed up the stairs and down the hall, where Jean-Marc opened the doors to my room and gestured for us to enter. Stefan walked in with me and stood in the middle of the room. He glanced around, his arms crossed over his chest, still not looking satisfied. He glanced to his right, were the door to Evander’s room was open, and I knew from where he was standing that he could only see a couple book shelves and possibly part of a desk. Then he looked left, where the door to my bedroom was partly open.
Stefan frowned down at me when I tried to take his arm and lead him over to the table. He still hadn’t said anything, and I think his mind was racing as he processed all of this. Larsa was a little more excited, although Killian had to stop him from literally going into the side rooms without having been invited. He plopped down onto the couch, admiring the fancy cushions and the intricate carvings in the wooden frame. Killian had to keep telling him to relax and try not to break anything.
After a couple minutes, Stefan pulled two of the armchairs closer together and gestured for me to sit down.
“Wouldn’t the dining table be better?” I asked him. “They’re bringing tea and something to eat.”
I swear, if his frown could have deepened just then, it would have. As it was, his eyebrows just furrowed a little more tightly. “I’m not hungry,” he practically growled. “Take a seat beside me.”
I swallowed the lump in my throat, nodded, and took the seat he’d gestured to. He sank down beside me and crossed one leg over the other, keeping his eyes on me, and folding his arms back over his chest.
Killian sat with Larsa on the couch, and Jean-Marc took one of the other arm chairs across from us. Brom stood behind him until Killian said he didn’t mind sharing the couch with him, as there was still plenty of room.
Stefan’s gaze felt oppressive.
“Aren’t you exhausted?” I asked him. “It’s been a long day, and this is probably all best explained in the morning, when we can think better.”
Stefan looked at me the same way a parent would look at a child who’d just said something unbelievable. “Do you actually believe I can get to sleep without understanding what’s going on?”
“I mean… I could probably explain it better when it’s not midnight, and after the alcohol wears off.”
He shook his head. “Heh… I’m sure you’re feeling the effects of adrenaline by now. Why not introduce me to your new friends?”
It felt like there was a tinge of jealousy in his voice. I couldn’t believe it; how could he be this hurt about me having more friends? He’d never acted like this before.
“Y-yeah…” I said, my voice trembling. Him being upset had me upset, too. “So… Th-this is Jean-Marc. He’s the first person I met here. He plays the viola.”
“Oh, you you play with an orchestra?” Larsa chimed in. “I bet you–“
“I don’t care what he plays,” Stefan cut in.
“Umm… okay.” I didn’t want to question him just then, so I moved on. “And this is Brom. Okay, Brom, Jean-Marc, this is my cousin, Killian, and his boyfriend, Larsa. And Larsa’s cousin is also one of my best friends, Stefan.” I gestured to each of them as I made the introductions.
Stefan nodded as he listened. “So then, where is ‘here’?”
“It’s called Tierney Ríocht,” I explained. “It’s not… it’s not part of earth.”
“Yet it looks like Earth– like Europe some two or three centuries ago.”
“I admit that there undeniable similarities and connections,” Jean-Marc said.
Stefan narrowed his eyes at him, then asked me, “How did you find this place? Or the way here?”
“It was random…. Mostly,” I replied. “Sometimes, at midnight… well, you saw what happened.”
“That’s happened tae the house more then once, then?” Killian asked.
I nodded. I thought it was a weird dream at first, just like Larsa.”
“I’m not a weird dream!” Larsa protested.
That got him a glare from Stefan, but at the same time, I could tell that Brom was hiding a smile.
“I do like his spirit,” he told Jean-Marc. “The playful ones can bring a lot of joy to our world.”
“You’re going to encourage him?” Stefan grumbled.
“Laughter like his is like music,” Brom replied.
“And music sustains our world,” Jean-Marc added.
Stefan grunted and refused to reply to them, unwilling to give them the satisfaction of showing that he understood their perspective.
“So the house you inherited randomly connects with this world,” Stefan paraphrased. “How do you get back home, then? Do you have to wait for another one of these alignments?”
I shook my head. “It’s much easier getting back. I can go through the same door. In fact, I don’t always have to wait for something special to happen at midnight. I can just use– oh, shoot!”
“What is it, Lady Moss?” Jean-Marc asked.
“The key…” I breathed. “I forgot the key!”
Stefan furrowed his brow. “You have a key to this place?”
“Yeah, I–” I gave a heavy sigh. “Stefan, is this how you’re going to act with every question?”
He just stared at me. “Considering how much you’ve been keeping from me, yes.”
I groaned and rubbed my face. “You wouldn’t have believed me if I’d told you.”
Stefan was forming his reply when a soft knock came to the door. It opened, and Tobias stepped in with Ilphara at his side. She curtsied and slid a tea tray onto the coffee table; Tobias set down a platter of cakes, breads, and pastries, then took an armchair near Jean-Marc. I made additional introductions while Ilphara poured cups of tea.
“What kind of tea is this?” Stefan asked her.
“Chamomile with lavender, sir,” she told him.
“‘Sir,'” he repeated. “I don’t get called that often. Is chamomile all you are offering?”
Ilphara froze. “Ah… well, I could go back to the kitchen to get you something else…” It seemed as though she wasn’t used to such opposition or requests.
“Oh, Stefan– please.”
He frowned at me. “look at this from my perspective Leila: you’ve been here multiple times, and you’ve never told me about it. I don’t know how long we’re stuck here, or anything else about this house. I mean– Leila, what if they’d been hostile the first time you came here?”
“Overprotective much?” I asked, starting to feel irritated by his behavior. “You may as well be asking me what if there had been a landslide, or an earthquake. It’s not like I walked into a place where I knew they’re be an active shooter.”
“You’re missing my point, Le–“
“No she’s not!” Larsa interjected. “She found something incredible about her house, and you’re freaking out about it.”
“Stay out of this, Larsa,” Stefan snarled.
“No.” Larsa crossed his arms over his chest. “Du har för mycket uppdämda känslor. Du borde bara berätta för henne att du älskar henne och få det över.”
“Håll käften!” Stefan growled back in Swedish.
“Knock it off, guys!” I told them. “Whatever you’re avoiding saying in English, either settle your differences or bring it out into the open.”
Stefan glared at his cousin. “He promised he’d stop.”
Killian placed a hand on Larsa’s shoulder. “Ye really did, lad,” he reminded him.
“I wish I hadn’t,” Larsa said, partly pouting, but also clearly upset. “Leila’s right; why not just come out with it?”
“This isn’t the time for that. I need to know whether this place is safe for her to be in.”
“You’re here with her now,” Larsa muttered bitterly. “You wouldn’t let anything bad happen to her.”
“Of course not! But that doesn’t mean we have to go hurtling into danger.”
“You want to go home and go to bed?” I asked, jumping in before they could keep arguing back and forth. “You want me to be safe and cozy? Fine. But Tierney Ríocht will suffer for it.”
“No!” I snapped. “No, you don’t get to say you don’t care. I care, Stefan. I’m still trying to figure things out, and I’m clearly fine. Give me a chance to learn more about this world; learn about it with me, now that you’re here.”
Ilphara was offering the baked goods to everyone. While Larsa split a rather large apple danish with Killian, Stefan took several butter cookies to dip in his tea. I couldn’t decide whether I’d lost my appetite or wanted to stress-eat, so I took a croissant just in case.
“Why do you think this place will supper if you leave and don’t return?” Stefan asked me.
“Like I said, I’m still learning about this world.” I turned my gaze to Jean-Marc and the others. “What could happen?”
“Without music and magic, Tierney Ríocht would eventually fall apart,” Jean-Marc said.
“The forests would wither,” Tobias added, “and soon there wouldn’t be enough food for all of the people and creatures.”
Brom was the next to speak. “The sky would shatter, the mountains would crumble, and the oceans.” he shook his head sadly.”
Stefan raised a brow, and I could tell from his expression that he was skeptical. “You’re saying that it would be the end of the world if Leila couldn’t help you?”
Larsa was trying to listen intently, but he let out a big yawn. Killian soon mimicked him.
“We are,” Jean-Marc said. “I know it’s a lot to take in, and it’s already late in the evening, but–“
“But you still expect me to believe you?” Stefan interrupted.
“Not right away,” Brom replied, “but you being here means that you have the spark.”
“Is that the same as spunk?” Larsa asked. He was trying to sound playful, but I could tell how sleepy he was.
“Do ye ne’er settle down, lad?” Killian asked, nestling closer to him.
Brom glanced their way, but still went on. “Somewhere inside you, you believe that a magical world is possible. This little fellow has joy, but you–” he shook his head– “you understand wonder and power.”
“I think he means your practice of Ásatrú,” I pointed out.
“He can’t already know about that,” Stefan replied.
“I don’t know your exact beliefs,” Brom said, “but I can tell that you are valiant and protective, and I’m certain that you believe in honor.”
I noticed Stefan trying to suppress a yawn. “So you… you want me to allow Leila to visit your world? And do what? Find a magical unicorn and ask it for a blessing?” That last part was said more sarcastically than I was used to hearing from him.
“They are not as rare as you may have been led to believe,” Tobias replied, ignoring his biting tone, “but still, that isn’t what we need.”
“What–” Stefan paused to let out a wide yawn. He set down his now-empty teacup and rubbed his hands over his face. “What is it that you need Leila for then?”
“For her music, bien sûr,” Jean-Marc replied, as though it should make complete sense.
I watched Stefan yawn again, and then couldn’t help but do the same. His eyelids looked really heavy, and I was sure that mine were, too.
“What– what music… she…” Stefan’s speech was now a little slurred. “She’s.. a… she… writes…”
Stefan’s head leaned against the side to the high-back armchair. His eye-lids drooped shut, and I felt my body wanting to do the same.
“I think this is a talk we should finish in the mornin’, ladies and lads,” Killian said. He had an arm around Larsa’s shoulders.
“But I want to know more about magic!” Larsa protested.
“Ye can hardly stay awake, though, love.”
“I’m fine,” Larsa pouted, though Killian was right.
I snuggled into my chair, wishing I had a blanket nearby. The teacup felt heavy in my hand, even though I’d finished most of it. I felt it slipping, but I was so tired that I hardly reacted. Thankfully, Ilphara was there to take it from me. The last thing I heard before my eyes closed and I succumbed to sleep was Jean-Marc inviting Killian and Larsa to another part of the house, where they would have a bed of their own to sleep in.