DOYLE GRACIOUSLY LET ME TAKE THE WINDOW SEAT. HE SAT VERY straight in his chair, hands in a death grip on the arms, seat belt buckled. He closed his eyes when the plane took off. Normally, I like watching the ground get farther away, but today watching Doyle turn grey around the edges was much more fun.
"How can you possibly be afraid of flying?" I asked.
He kept his eyes closed, but answered me. "I am not afraid of flying. I am afraid of flying in airplanes." His voice sounded very reasonable, as if it all made perfect sense.
"So you could ride a flying steed and not be afraid?"
He nodded, finally opening his eyes as the plane leveled off. "I have ridden the beasts of the air many times."
"So why do planes bother you?"
He looked at me as if I should have known the answer. "It is the metal, Princess Meredith. I am not comfortable surrounded by so much man-made metal. It acts as a barrier between me and the earth, and I am a creature of the earth."
"As you said, Doyle, there are benefits to not being pure sidhe. I don't have a problem with metal."
He looked at me, turning just his head. "You can do major arcana within such a metal tomb?"
I nodded. "I've never found any magic that I can't perform just as well inside a metal tomb, as I can outside of one."
"That could be very useful, Princess."
The flight attendant, a tall leggy blonde wearing nearly perfect makeup, paused by Doyle's seat, bending over enough to make sure he got a look at her cleavage, if he wanted it. She'd made sure he had a chance at a view every time she came by his seat. She'd come by three times in the last twenty minutes to ask if he wanted anything, anything at all. He declined. I asked for a red wine.
She'd brought my wine this time. Because it was first class it was actually served in a long-stemmed glass. The better to spill it all over yourself when the plane hit turbulence, which it did.
The plane bucked and swerved so badly that I gave the wine back to the flight attendant, and she gave me a handful of napkins for my hand.
Doyle closed his eyes again and kept repeating to all her questions, "No, thank you, I'm fine." She didn't actually offer to throw off her clothes and have sex on the floor of the plane, but the invitation was clear. If Doyle heard the invitation he managed to ignore it beautifully. I don't know if he actually didn't realize she was hitting on him, or if he was just accustomed to human women acting like fools. She finally got the hint and wandered off. She had to grip the backs of the seats as she moved down the plane, or she'd have fallen.
It was bad turbulence. Doyle looked greyish. I think it was his version of turning green. "Are you all right?"
He squeezed his eyes more tightly shut. "I will be fine once we are safely on the ground."
"Is there anything I can do to help the time pass quicker?"
He opened his eyes just a slit. "I think the stewardess made that offer already."
"Stewardess is a sexist term," I said. "It's flight attendant. So you did pick up on her hints."
"I don't think squeezing my thigh and brushing my shoulder with her breasts count as hints-more invitations."
"You ignored her beautifully."
"I have had much practice." The plane rocked violently enough that even I wasn't happy. Doyle squeezed his eyes shut again. "Do you really want to help this flight pass more quickly?"
"I owe you at least that much after you flashed your official Guard badge and we both got on the plane with our weapons. I know legally we're both allowed to carry in the U. S., but it doesn't usually go that smooth or that quick."
"It helped that the police escorted us to the gates, Princess." He'd been very carefully calling me Princess, or Princess Meredith, since I woke up this morning. We were no longer on a first-name basis.
"The cops seemed eager to get me on the plane."
"They feared you might get assassinated on their... turf. They did not want the responsibility for your safety."
"So that's how you got me on the plane armed."
He nodded, eyes still closed. "I told them that with only one bodyguard, it would be safer if you, yourself, were armed. Everyone agreed."
Sholto had dropped off the LadySmith 9 mm. I actually had an inner pants holster for it that fit nicely for a front cross-draw. I usually wore it at my back covered by a jacket, but the police had given me carte blanche to carry weapons, so I didn't have to worry about hiding it.
I had a ten-inch knife in a side sheath, the tip of which was tied around my leg with a leather thong for a fast draw, like an Old West gun-fighter. The leather thong also made the sheath fit the movement of my leg better. Without a sheath tied off, you ended up having to move it every time you shifted position, or it tended to poke into your body or get caught on things.
I had a Spyderco folding knife clipped over the underwire of my bra. I always carried at least two blades at court, just a rule. The guns would only be allowed in certain parts of the sithen, the faerie mounds. But I'd be allowed to keep the knives. Before the banquet tonight, in my honor so Doyle informed me, I'd add more blades. A girl could never have too much jewelry or too much weaponry.
Doyle had Mortal Dread in the back sheath, the hilt sticking out from under his shoulder for a cross-draw like a gun shoulder holster. He had his own gym bag full of weapons. When I'd asked him why he hadn't used them against the sluagh, he'd said, "Nothing else I had with me would bring them true death. I wanted them to know that I was serious." Frankly, I've always found that blowing a hole bigger than a fist out someone's back lets them know you're serious. But many of the Guard feel that guns are inferior weapons. They carry them out among the humans, but guns are almost never used among ourselves, except in times of war. That Doyle had even packed a gun meant that things were bad, or maybe there'd been a policy change while I was away. If the other guards were carrying guns, then I'd know.
The plane dipped so suddenly that even I gasped. Doyle moaned. "Talk to me, Meredith."
"Anything," he said, voice tight.
"We could talk about last night," I said.
He opened his eyes just enough to glare at me, the plane took another dive, his eyes snapped shut, and he almost whispered, "Tell me a story."
"I'm not very good at stories."
He'd called me Meredith, an improvement. "I can tell you a story that you already know."
"Fine," he said.
"My grandfather on my mother's side is Uar the Cruel. Other than being a complete and utter bastard, he earned the name because he fathered three sons that were monsters even by fey standards. No blooded fey woman would sleep with him after the birth of his sons. He'd been told that he could father normal children if he found someone of fey blood who would willingly sleep with him."
I peered at Doyle's closed eyes and blank face. "Please continue," he said.
"Gran is half brownie and half human. She was willing to sleep with him, because she wanted more than anything to be a part of the Seelie Court." Silently, because it wasn't part of the story, I didn't blame Gran. She more than even myself understood what it was like to tread two very different worlds.
The plane had straightened but was still shuddering as wind buffeted it from every side. A rough flight. "Are you bored yet?" I asked.
"Anything you say will be most fascinating until we reach the ground in safety."
"You know, you're cute when you're scared."
He did the open eyes to slits, glare, close eyes again. "Please continue."
"Gran bore two beautiful twin girls. Uar's curse was ended, and Gran was one of the ladies of the court-Uar's wife, as a matter of fact, because she'd borne him children. To my knowledge, my grandfather never touched his 'wife' again. He was one of the fine and shining gentlemen. Gran was a little too common for him now that he was curse-free."
"He is a powerful warrior," Doyle said, eyes still closed.
"That's right; you must have fought against him in the wars in Europe."
"He was a very worthy opponent."
"Are you trying to make me feel better about him?"
The plane had actually flown straight and relatively smoothly for about three minutes. It was enough for Doyle to open his eyes completely. "You sounded very bitter just now."
"My grandfather beat my Gran for years. He thought if he hurt her enough he'd drive her away from court, because legally he couldn't divorce her without her permission. He couldn't put her aside because she'd given him children."
"Why did she not simply leave him?"
"Because if she were no longer Uar's wife she would no longer be welcome at court. They would never have allowed her to take her daughters with her. She stayed to make sure her children would be safe."
"The queen was most puzzled when your father invited your mother's mother to accompany the two of you into exile."
"Gran was his lady of the house. She oversaw the household for him."
"She was a servant, then," Doyle said.
It was my turn to glare. "No, she was... she was his right hand. They raised me together for those ten years."
"When you left the court this last time, so did your grandmother. She opened a bed-and-breakfast."
"I've seen the write-ups in the magazines: Victoria, Good Housekeeping. Brownie's Bed-and-Breakfast, where you can be waited on, cooked for, by an ex-member of the royal court."
"Have you not spoken with her since you left three years ago?" he asked.
"I haven't contacted anyone, Doyle. It would have endangered them. I disappeared. That means I left everything and everyone behind."
"There were jewels, heirlooms, that were yours by right. The queen was amazed that you left with nothing but the clothes on your back."
"Any of the jewels would have been impossible to sell without it getting back to the courts; same with the heirlooms."
"You had money that your father had put away for you." He was watching me now, trying to understand, I think.
"I have been on my own for three years, a little over. I have taken nothing from anyone. I have been a woman on my own, free of obligation to anyone of the fey."
"Which means you can invoke virgin rights when you return to court."
I nodded. "Exactly." Virgin in the old Celtic ideal was a woman who stood on her own, owing nothing to anyone for a space of time. Three years was minimum for claiming it at court. To be virgin meant that I was outside any old feuds or grudges. I could not be forced to take sides on any issue, because I stood apart from all of it. It was a way of being in the court, without being of the court.
"Very good, Princess, very good. You know the law and how to use it for your benefit. You are wise as well as polite, a true marvel for an Unseelie royal."
"Being virgin allowed me to make hotel reservations without risking the queen's anger," I said.
"She was puzzled as to why you did not wish to stay at the court. After all, you want to return to us, do you not?"
I nodded. "Yes, but I also want some distance until I see just how safe I'm going to be at court."
"Few would risk the queen's anger," he said.
I looked at him, searching his eyes so I would catch whatever he thought of my next words. "Prince Cel would risk her anger, because she's never seriously punished him for anything he's ever done."
Doyle's eyes tightened when I mentioned Cel's name, but nothing more. If I hadn't been watching for it, I wouldn't have noticed any reaction at all.
"Cel is her only heir, Doyle; she won't kill him. He knows that."
Doyle gave me empty eyes. "What the queen does, or does not do, with her son and heir, is not for me to question."
"Don't give the party line, Doyle, not to me. We all know what Cel is."
"A powerful sidhe prince who has the ear of the queen, his mother," Doyle said, and the tone in his voice was a warning to match the words.
"He has only one hand of power, and his other abilities are not that great."
"He is the Prince of Old Blood, and I for one would not want him using that ability on me on the dueling ground. He could bring every bleeding wound I have had in over a thousand years of battles on me at once."
"I didn't say it wasn't a frightening ability, Doyle. But there are others with more powerful magic, sidhe that can bring true death with a touch. I've seen your flame eat over a sidhe, seen it eat them alive."
"And you killed the last two sidhe that challenged you to a duel, Princess Meredith."
"I cheated," I said.
"No, you did not. You merely used tactics that they were not prepared for. It is the mark of a good soldier to use the weapons available to him or her."
We looked at each other. "Does anyone but the queen know that I have the hand of flesh now?"
"Sholto knows, and his sluagh. It will not be a secret by the time we land."
"It may frighten any would-be challengers," I said.
"To be trapped forever as a shapeless ball of flesh, never to die, never to age, merely to continue; oh, yes, Princess, I think they will be afraid. After Griffin... left you, many became your enemy, because they thought you powerless. They will all be remembering the insults they heaped upon you. They'll be wondering if you have come back holding a grudge."
"I'm invoking virgin rights-that means that I have a clean slate, and so do they. If I acknowledge an old vendetta, then I lose my status as a virgin, and I'll be sucked right back into the middle of all this crap." I shook my head. "No, I'll leave them alone if they leave me alone."
"You are wise beyond your years, Princess."
"I'm thirty-three, Doyle, that's not a child by human years."
He laughed, a small dark chuckle that made me think of what he'd looked like last night with half his clothes gone. I tried to keep the thought out of my face, and I must have succeeded, because his own expression didn't change. "I remember when Rome was merely a wide spot in the road, Princess. Thirty-three years is a child to me."
I let what I was thinking into my eyes. "I don't remember you treating me like a child last night."
He looked away, not meeting my eyes. "That was a mistake."
"If you say so." I looked out the window, watching the clouds. Doyle was determined to pretend that last night never happened. I was tired of trying to talk about it, when he so obviously didn't want to discuss it.
The flight attendant came back. This time she knelt, skirt tight across her thighs. She smiled up at Doyle, magazines spread in a fan across one arm. "Would you like something to read?" She laid her free hand on his leg, slid her hand along the inside of his thigh.
Her hand was an inch from his groin when Doyle grabbed her wrist and moved her hand. "Madam, please."
She knelt closer to him, one hand on either of his knees, the magazines partially hiding what she was doing. She leaned in so that her breasts pressed against his legs. "Please," she whispered. "Please, it's been so long since I was with one of you."
That got my attention. "How long has it been?" I asked.
She blinked as if she couldn't quite concentrate on me with Doyle sitting so close. "Six weeks."
"Who was it?"
She shook her head. "I can keep a secret, just don't deny me." She looked up at Doyle. "Please, please."
She was elf-struck. If a sidhe has sex with a human and doesn't try to tone down the magic, they can turn the human into a sort of addict. Humans that are elf-struck can actually wither and die from want of the touch of sidhe flesh.
I leaned close to Doyle's ear, close enough that my lips brushed the edges of his earrings. I had a horrible urge to lick one of the earrings, but I didn't. It was just one of those wicked urges you get occasionally. I whispered, "Take her name and phone number. We'll need to report her to the Bureau of Human and Fey Affairs." Doyle did what I asked.
The flight attendant had tears of gratitude shining in her eyes when Doyle took her name, number, and address. She actually kissed his hand and might have done more if the male flight attendant hadn't ushered her away.
"It's illegal to have sex with humans without protecting their minds," I said.
"Yes, it is," Doyle said.
"It would be interesting to know who her sidhe lover was."
"Lovers, I think," Doyle said.
"I wonder if she always flies the L. A. to St. Louis run?"
Doyle looked at me. "She might know who'd been flying back and forth to Los Angeles often enough to set up the cult that's worshiping them."
"One man doesn't constitute a cult," I said.
"You told me the woman mentioned a handful of others, some of them with ear implants, or perhaps even sidhe themselves."
"That's still not a cult-it's a wizard with followers, a sidhe-worshiping coven at best."
"Or a cult at worst. We have no idea how many people were involved, Princess, and the man who could have answered the question is dead."
"Funny how the police didn't mind me leaving the state with a murder investigation hanging over my head."
"I would not at all be surprised if your aunt, our queen, made some phone calls. She can be quite charming when she wants to be."
"And when that fails, she's scary as hell," I said.
He nodded. "That, too."
The male flight attendant took care of first class for the rest of the flight. The woman never came near us again, until we were getting off the plane. Then she took Doyle's hand, and said, voice urgent, "You will call me, won't you?"
Doyle kissed her hand. "Oh, yes, I will call, and you will answer every question that I put to you honestly, won't you?"
She nodded, tears trailing down her face. "Anything you want."
I had to drag Doyle away from her. I whispered, "I'd take a chaperone with me when you go to question her."
"I had not intended going alone," he said. He looked at me, our faces very close because we were whispering. "I learned very recently that I am not unaccessible to sexual advances." His look was very frank, open, the look I'd wanted on the plane. "I will have to be more careful in the future." With that he raised up, so that he was too tall for whispering, and began to walk down the narrow hallway toward the airport proper. I followed him.
We left the noise of engines behind and walked toward the sound of people.