Rashell walked ahead of the group and the gate swung open. “Me casa su casa,” he stated, fighting his awkwardness as the entourage behind him stared in shock.
The Artist Garden had been an oasis for Leanansidhe and their artistic lovers for centuries. Sometimes a genius and even their Leanansidhe needed a special nudge or a calming environment to work on their latest project. He had never brought anyone who wasn’t an artist here. Rashell felt both shy and excited as everyone gaped at the graffiti grass which was cut in the shape of the masks of comedy and tragedy, they marveled at the little boat made entirely of glass pulled by large swans that swam through the sea filled with paint instead of water. The group strolled by happy rows of beautiful flowers singing loudly at the top of their lungs.
“Do they sing the same song every time?” Brigid asked him.
Rashell grinned. “No me lass, left Rose, B flat, Daisy ya over there sing soprano,” Then to his companions’ amazement the rose he singled out sang B flat and the daisy’s beautiful voice got even higher.
“Okay, and stop: jazz hands end!” The flowers wiggled their petals. “Aren’t they wonderful?” Rashell exclaimed clapping his hands together.
“Your Highness, don’t touch!” Lord Feather shoved Prince Angus away from a rose. “You could cut your finger,” he chided.
“I can handle touching a bloody flower without getting hurt!” Angus retorted.
“Here’s a nice daffodil,” Brigid pointed to it. The prince grabbed the rose, it cried out.
“Yer Highness, please yer scaring her!” Rashell’ s words made his face soften.
“I apologize, my lady.” The prince sounded ashamed of himself as he released her delicately and bowed deeply. The angry rose tried to prick the prince and Tyree pulled him behind him.
Prince Angus laughed. “Spirited thing, isn’t she?” he commented as Rashell soothed the angry flower. Then they moved on past the long green maze of stone sculptures and figures from various eras and cultures. A tropical looking tree that bore musical instruments instead of fruit.
“And look!” Rashell shouted bombastically. “Everything here is an artistic tool or is made of art supplies. We have various gardens here all mashed into one!”
“Every Leanansidhe adds something to this garden, it’s always expanding, fueled directly by our imaginations and whims,” he explained.
As they passed a bookshelf built into a tree so tall it stretched up farther than the eye could see. Rashell put his finger to his lips and whistled and a winged book picked itself up from the shelf and flew directly into his arms.
“We have books of every genre, newspapers, scrolls in every language since humans started writing.” He threw the book up in the air and it flew back onto the shelves.
Darcy and Brigid linked arms with Rashell. “It’s so you,” Darcy remarked.
“Is that good or bad?” Rashell asked feeling uncertain. He wanted them to like this place and feel at home walking its many paths.
“You’re you for better or worse,” Brigid commented with the kind of diplomatic answer he hated. Would it kill any of them to admit they liked him or not?
“What’s that building over there?” Tyree interjected pointing to an elegantly crafted looking dwelling with a shrine which sat outside of it.
“Where you’ll be staying fer the night.” Rashell took them into a grand room with a blazing fireplace in the style of the French court they soon found themselves lounging on the sofa.
“We also have a relaxation room to deal with the stresses of a creative slump as we call it,” the blond Leanansidhe explained. “I’ll take ya ta yer rooms later.”
As Captain Feather unpacked what they had salvaged Rashell found himself asking uncertainly. “Does it please ya captain?”
“It’ll do for the night,” the Captain said.
“Do you have any rations?” Enchanta asked him. Rashell wanted to kick himself.
“I’ll fetch some.” He went out the back and approached the little garden which was the only garden to produce food instead of art. Rashell got a wheelbarrow and begin picking the vegetables. He heard footsteps; Rashell whirled around knife out and saw it was only Prince Angus. ” Your Highness, how many times have I told ya?” he lectured putting the food away.
“I know, I know you’re paranoid, “the prince remarked.
“We da have an assassin here with us,” the Leanansidhe picked up a pair of gloves from the ground.
“You’re the last person I expected to garden,” the prince mused.
“One of my artists liked us ta garden together as a hobby.” He shrugged. “It’s hell on the cuticles so I don’t do it often,” he admitted. “Now what can I do for ya, Yer Highness?”
Angus looked determined. “Another lesson, that’s an order,” he said.
“Knife?” Rashell held out his hand. Angus retrieved his practice knife and he held it down between his thumb and index finger then flipped it down without taking his fingers off the knife.
“Why do we do this?” Rashell tested the prince, hopefully, he hadn’t forgotten his previous lessons.
“Taking my hand off the knife is dangerous,” Angus remembered.
“ Yes now give me the knife and try ta take it” Rashell ordered.
The prince did but the other boy snatched the knife out of his reach with lighting speed.
“ Again” Rashell commanded
Angus tried the same thing happened. “ You enjoy vexing me” he accused.
“ Maybe, i’m going easy on ya” Rashell said, snatching the knife away again.
Angus lunged furiously only to end up in a head lock.Rashell pulled him close wrapping both arms around his throat holding the dull knife to his neck.
“In a hostage situation, ya have seconds to act.” Prince Angus nodded. “Grab the wrist, slightly turn knife grabbing hand away from the body.” Rashell lectured.
Angus did so then the Leanansidhe heard footsteps, letting go of Angus he sprang into action. Putting a finger to his lips Rashell pointed silently to the building.
Then he held up five fingers; a secret signal for “Go inside and find the others. If you don’t hear from me in five minutes then get out as fast as possible.”
Angus nodded and crept back into the safety of the dwelling. Rashell picked up a shovel wishing he hadn’t left his parcel inside as he heard one voice speaking and two pairs of footsteps, one was light either another Leanansidhe or child barefoot, most likely. While the second pair of feet sounded heavier, high heels, which meant the second individual was most likely a woman. This did not put him at ease as female assassins were every bit as deadly as the male ones. He braced himself as they came closer and closer and he nearly hit his twin sister in the head with a shovel.
“What the goddess, Rashell?” Rayanna complained, her hands clamped around the shovel handle.
“Rayanna?” he looked to see Countess Fox. “What are you doing here?!” both of them shouted in unison.
“Rayanna, I believe you promised me strawberry torte and crepes?” Fox reminded her, un phased by the impromptu meeting.
“A minute, Fox,” she called.
“Now go keep her busy,” Rashell whispered to Rayanna who nodded and hurried after them. Then he rushed into the building and up the staircase and knocked two times and said, “The hen house is secure.” And slowly the door was opened to him.
“What’s going on?” Lord Feather demanded. “Me sister showed up with Countess Fox,” he explained. “Rayanna is keeping her busy in the culinary part of the garden.” Rashell produced the vegetables he had picked from his pockets and fixed his clothes.
“You have a culinary section and yet you offer the prince and princess raw vegetables?” Captain Feather looked scandalized.
" I’m sorry I’ll boil them,” Rashell bowed quickly up and down feeling the sting of his Captain’s disappointment.
“No! No. That’s quite alright.” Prince Angus cut in hastily.
“My brother is right, raw vegetables, yum!” Aileen laughed awkwardly.
“Sir, how would ya wish me ta proceed?” Rashell asked his captain.
“Countess Fox is an uncertain element,” he replied.
“That’s putting it mildly,” Darcy snickered.
“However, she is still a high ranking member of the court,” the Lord added.
“It is better our presence remains undetected for now,” Prince Angus cut in curtly. “At any cost,” he quickly added for emphasized.
“What about Rayanna, can we trust your sister?” Aileen asked Rashell.
“I’m not sure,” he admitted grudgingly.
“I should be offended.” Everyone turned to see Rayanna standing there with a plate of crepes. It wasn’t shocking; time worked strangely in Fairie. What seemed like a few minutes could be a full hour to different people.
“Would anyone like some treats? I’ve got leftovers.” She offered the Seelie Court who eagerly took the sweet treats and devoured them.
Rashell looked at his unpalatable vegetables sadly. “I lost Fox in the Maze of Portraits with a stack of crepes. She looked at Meleck. “I see you haven’t come to your senses and roasted that thing.” Melek hissed at her, and then let out a noise of complaint to Rashell.
“I know she’s irritating, try fer me,” Rashell begged, his voice filled with sympathy. Melek gave him a look of reproach.
“Irritating is an understatement,” Aileen stated.
“If you have a complaint about me, Your Highness, please share it,” Rayanna responded crisply.
“My friend, Lady Petunia, knows you got to know her husband at last week’s rave,” the princess accused.
“Does Lady Petunia have proof of this speculation?” his twin sister asked innocently.
“We know you did it, you scarlet women,” Aileen accused.
“Her highness will believe what she wants, as is her birth right ” Rayanna replied.
“Why are you here, Lady Redtail?” Lord Feather demanded.
“King’s business.” She made a scoot motion at the shocked ladies in waiting and reclined on the couch lazily. “Speaking of which, I need to borrow me brother.”
“Absolutely not, we need everyone here until the crisis is averted,” Lord Feather declared.
“Did someone try and kill them again?” Rayanna asked Rashell in annoyance.
“That would be me,” the assassin piped up from the floor. Rashell shoved another handkerchief into quickly and looked at Lord Feather.
" I’m looking after the Highnesses,” he stressed, bowing apologetically.
“Oh, will you roll over if I promise to bring ya a treat?” she drawled. Rashell flinched slightly but remained bent over.
“I’ll give you the Pegasus we rode here on you can all go home and Rashell goes with me,” she offered.
Princess Aileen and Prince Angus looked at each other and nodded. Contrary to popular belief that a Pegasus was just a horse with wings, in reality, Pegasus were bigger while a horse could seat only two or three people. A Pegasus was big enough to seat six people. A few minutes later two Pegasus took to the sky with the whole party on board.
“ Yee look rather vexed” Rayanna said.
“ Ya were a hair away from insolence” Rashell retorted.
“ As if yee don’t tease Briar’s brats” Rayanna scoffed.
“ The Royal family has done a lot fer us” Rashell reminded her.
“ Only because they require the debt paid in full” her sister said sharply. “Day by day I can feel the collars tightening around our necks” her tone was disgusted.
“ Ya’ve done what ya can, cann’t ya rest?” Rashell sighed.
“ The Seelie are not our friends Rashell, their resources” she reminded him.
“ Maybe i want things ta be different here ” Rashell argued. His sister put a hand on his shoulder and he leaned into it hating himself. His constant desire for touch made him feel clingy and pathetic.
“ I want that ta but we have ta be practical” her voice was stern.
Rayanna’s face softened. “Come on, let’s get Fox and go,” she said.
“Did the King really want me ta help ya?” Rashell asked her.
“He wants me ta repair the veil, the bastard doesn’t realize me doing it single-handedly is next ta impossible.”
“The veil is failing!” Rashell’s eyes went wide.
“I’ll explain later. Let’s free Fox from the Maze.” Then she started off. Rashell raced after her.
“What is going on Rayanna! Rayanna?”