Merry Gentry series
To all my friends, both writers and nonwriters, who love me still, even though most phone conversations have begun lately with “Hello, Stranger.” Hope to see more of everyone this next bit.
I HATE PRESS CONFERENCES. BUT I ESPECIALLY HATE THEM WHEN I’ve been ordered to hide large portions of the truth. The order had come from the Queen of Air and Darkness, ruler of the dark court of faerie. The Unseelie are not a power to be crossed, even if I was their very own faerie princess. I was Queen Andais’s niece, but the family connection had never bought me much. I smiled at the nearly solid wall of reporters, fighting to keep my thoughts from showing on my face.
The queen had never allowed this much of the human media inside the Unseelie’s hollow hill, our sithen. It was our refuge, and you don’t let the press into your refuge. But yesterday’s assassination attempt had made allowing the press into our home the lesser evil. The theory was that inside the sithen our magic would protect me much better than it had in the airport yesterday, where I’d nearly been shot.
Our court publicist, Madeline Phelps, pointed to the first reporter, and the questions began.
“Princess Meredith, you had blood on your face yesterday, but today the only sign of injury is your arm in a sling. What were your injuries yesterday?”
My left arm was in a green cloth sling that matched my suit jacket near perfectly. I was dressed in Christmas, Yule, red and green. Cheerful, and it was that time of year. My hair was a deeper red than my blouse. My hair is the most Unseelie part of me, sidhe scarlet hair for someone who looks good in black. Not the gold or orangey red of human hair. The jacket brought out the green in two out of the three circles of color in my iris. The gold circle would flash in the camera light sometimes as if it truly was metallic. The eyes were pure Seelie sidhe, the only part of me that showed that my mother had been of the golden court. Well, at least half.
I didn’t recognize the reporter who had asked the question. He was a new face to me, maybe new since yesterday. Since yesterday’s assassination attempt had happened in front of the media, on camera, well, we’d had to turn away some of the reporters, because the big room wouldn’t hold more. I’d been doing press conferences since I was a child. This was the biggest one I’d had, including the one after my father was assassinated. I’d been taught to use names for reporters when I knew them, but to this one I could only smile and say, “My arm is only sprained. I was very lucky yesterday.”
Actually, my arm hadn’t been injured in the assassination attempt that got on film. No, my arm had been hurt on the second, or was that the third, attempt on my life yesterday. But those attempts had happened inside the sithen, where I was supposed to be safe. The only reason the queen and my bodyguards thought I was safer here than outside in the human world was that we had arrested or killed the traitors behind the attempts on me, and the attempt on the queen. We’d damned near had a palace coup yesterday, and the media didn’t have a hint of it. One of the old names for the fey is the hidden people. We’ve earned the name.
“Princess Meredith, was it your blood on your face, yesterday?” A woman this time, and I did know her name.
“No,” I said.
I smiled for real, as I watched her face fall when she realized she might be getting just a one-word answer. “No, Sheila, it wasn’t mine.”
She smiled at me, all blond and taller than I would ever be. “May I add to my question, Princess?”
“Now, now,” Madeline said, “one question per.”
“It’s okay, Madeline,” I said.
Our publicist turned to look at me, flipping off the switch at her waist so her microphone would not pick up. I took the cue and covered mine with my hand and moved to one side of it.
Madeline leaned in over the table. Her skirt was long enough that she was in no danger of flashing the reporters down below the dais. Her hem length was the absolute latest of the moment, as was the color. Part of her job was paying attention to what was in and what was out. She was our human representative, much more than any ambassador that Washington had ever sent.
“If Sheila gets to add to her question, then they will all do it. That will make everything harder, for you and for me.”
She was right, but . . . “Tell them that this is an exception. Then move on.”
She raised perfectly plucked eyebrows at me, then said, “Okay.” She hit the switch on her mike as she turned and smiled at them. “The princess will let Sheila ask another question, but after that you’ll have to keep it to the original rule. One question per.” She pointed to Sheila and gave a nod.
“Thank you for letting me add on to my question, Princess Meredith.”
“If it wasn’t your blood yesterday, then whose was it?”
“My guard Frost’s.”
The cameras flashed to life so that I was blinded, but the attention of everyone had moved behind me. My guards were lined up along the wall, spilling down the edges of the dais, to curl on either side of the table and floor. They were dressed in everything from designer suits to full-plate body armor to Goth club wear. The only thing that all the outfits had in common was weaponry. Yesterday we’d tried to be discreet about the weapons. A bulge that ruined the line of the jacket, but nothing overt. Today there were guns under jackets or cloaks, but there were also guns in plain sight, and swords, and knives, and axes, and shields. We’d also more than doubled the number of guards around me.
I glanced back at Frost. The queen had ordered me not to play favorites among the guard. She’d gone so far as to tell me not to give any long lingering glances to one guard over another. I’d thought it was an odd demand, but she was queen, and you argued with her at your peril. But I glanced back; after all, he’d saved my life. Didn’t that earn him a glance? I could always justify it to the queen, my aunt, that the press would think it strange if I hadn’t acknowledged him. It was the truth, but I looked because I wanted to look.
His hair was the silver of Christmas-tree tinsel, shiny and metallic. It fell to his ankles like decoration, but I knew that it was soft and alive, and felt oh so warm across my body. He’d put the upper layer of his hair back from his face with a barrette carved from bone. The hair glittered and moved around his charcoal-grey Armani suit that had been tailored over his broad shoulders and the athletic cut of the rest of him. The suit had also been tailored to hide a gun in a shoulder holster and a knife or two. It had not been designed to hide a gun under each arm, or a short sword at his hip, with a leather scabbard strapped tight to his thigh. The hilt of a second sword rode over his shoulder, peeking through all that shining hair. He bristled with knives, and Frost always had other weapons that you couldn’t see. No suit was designed to cover that much armament and hold its shape. His jacket couldn’t be buttoned at all, and the guns and sword and one knife glinted in the camera’s flash.