As they did each December, the day shift workers at Knight's Realm left work to enjoy a month-long holiday with pay, courtesy of their immortal employers, the Darkyn of the Realm. Those left behind didn't mind the absence of their human servants. They looked forward to four weeks during which they could indulge in real versions of the medieval contests and battles they usually performed to entertain the thousands of tourists that visited the popular Orlando attraction each year.
This night, however, the Kyn lords and lady paramount gathered in the guard's hall had come together for a grim purpose. They had but to wait the arrival of one last suzerain, Robin of Locksley, whose flight out of Atlanta had been delayed, before they carried out the unpleasant task that had befallen them. As they sat around the king's table, they brooded or toyed with their goblets of bloodwine, each avoiding the other's gaze.
Jayr, a slim, dark-haired female who had spent seven centuries serving as seneschal to Aedan mac Byrne, the former suzerain of the Realm, now presided as lady paramount of the territory. She had never used her gender as an excuse to evade any of her duties, but for the first time in her long life she considered doing exactly that.
She glanced across the table at Lucan, suzerain of the southernmost American territory. "You are quite certain of this, Lord Lucan? For if it is some sort of sick jest of yours--"
"Your enormous confidence in me warms my heart, my lady," Lucan drawled. Big, blond and utterly lethal, the former chief assassin of the Kyn had silver eyes that now gleamed with malice. "But it is the truth, and you have seen the evidence with your own eyes." He gestured toward the white plastic FedEx envelope sitting in the center of the table, which no one would look at.
"Aye, but we all know you've an evil wit, assassin," Aedan mac Byrne, Jayr's lord and life companion, said. The enigmatic blue tattoos on his broad face did not hide his disgust. "'Twould be like you to inflict a hoax like this on the lad and the rest of us for your own entertainment."
"Scotsman, even I would not be so cruel. But I do know best how to deal with it." Lucan picked up the envelope, rose, and carried it toward the fire burning in the hearth.
"No. You must not keep the truth from him." Valentin Jaus, the Chicago suzerain who resembled a fairytale prince, said as he stood. Yet even as the words left his lips, Jayr's body became a blur and streaked around the table.
"I thank you, my lord," Jayr said as she appeared between Lucan and the fire, and held out her hand. "But you cannot do more than delay for a few weeks the inevitable humiliation he must suffer."
"Who must suffer?" Robin of Locksley asked as he strode into the room. His beautiful violet eyes shifted as he scanned his friends' unhappy faces. "And why the devil are you all sitting in here in the dark?"
"Mon ami." Thierry Durand, as tall as Aedan but much broader and darker, left his seat and went to clasp hands with Robin. The warrior-priest, who had once been a killing machine whom all men feared, spoke in a soft, kindly tone. "Come and sit down with us. We must . . . talk."
"All right." Robin's frown eased as he saw a familiar green eyes in the shadows. "Gabriel, good Christ, what are you doing here? I thought you were in Europe, rescuing our brothers and sisters from the Brethren."
"I had to come when I heard . . . that you would be here," Gabriel said, his long fair hair gleaming as he turned his fallen angel's face away and stared into the fire.
Robin turned around slowly. "Jayr, why is everyone not looking at me?"
"We have some news, my lord." Jayr took his arm and led him over to the table. "'Tis not all bad, although . . . " she glanced down at the envelope in her hands. "It could have been much worse. That is how you must think of it."
"Think of what?" He saw the address on the envelope and grinned. "Is that my book?"
"Yes, my lord, but--"
"Well, give it here." He seized the envelope, and tugged on it when Jayr wouldn't let go. "'Tis my book. I'll not wait until January like the rest of humanity to lay eyes on it. Give it to me." He wrestled it out of her grip.
"We had no warning about this, Locksley," Lucan said, his voice gruff.
"Of course you didn't," Robin agreed as he tore open the envelope. "They never send her author copies on time. I thought I'd have to steal a shipment off a truck to have one to give to my lady for Christmas." He took out the book inside the envelope. "So how did you manage to get . . .this . . ." he stopped speaking as the firelight illuminated the cover, causing it to glow brightly.
Aedan mac Byrne came to stand beside him, and rested a big hand on his friend's shoulder. "'Tis not as bad as you think, lad."
"It's pink," Robin said, his voice flat and distant.
"More rose than pink, I would say, my lord," Jayr put in quickly. "'Tis not a color one sees every day on books about our kind."
"Or even every century," Lucan muttered under his breath.
"Mine was but a cold silver and blue," Thierry said. "Yours is so much warmer. Like . . . the promise of spring."
"It's pink," Robin said again. "My face is pink."
"When the Brethren were torturing me for two years in their dungeons," Gabriel said, "I would have thanked God to have seen such a book. Or a face. Or anything at all, in the end."
Jayr touched Robin's arm, the muscles of which felt like inflexible iron. "Women do like pink, my lord. Humans dress their little girl children in it all the time." She grimaced. "Not that I am saying you look like-- that is--"
"They made me pink. Like a rat's tail. And my eye -- my bloody eyes are not blue." Robin met her gaze. "I am Robin of the Hood. I am the greatest thief of all time. I have been many things, but I am not, nor have I ever been, pink-faced or blue-eyed."
"That settles it." Lucan pulled on his long, black cloak. "I will go to New York and deal with this."
"You cannot slaughter the staff of an entire publishing house, my lord." Jayr saw his expression. "Very well, you can, but you must not. They are mortals. We have sworn to live among them in peace."
"And you have sworn to stop killing," Jaus reminded him.
Lucan shrugged. "So I forget my vow for a day or two."
"Has it shipped?" Robin asked. When no one answered, he shouted, "Tell me now."
"Yes, my lord, it has," Jayr said. "In three weeks the distributors will begin delivery to the book merchants."
"We could siege the warehouses," Aedan said thoughtfully. "Aye, and burn them to the ground. The mortals have insurance."
"They will only print more," Thierry advised him. He tried to take the book from Robin's white-knuckled grasp. "Do not allow this to toy with your sanity, Locksley. 'Tis not worth it."
For a long time Robin said nothing, and Jayr began to fear that this indignity had destroyed his mind. Then, at length, he spoke.
"She wore a pink scarf, the first time we danced together." Robin traced his long, scarred fingers over the ridiculous colors on the novel's cover. "I used it to blindfold her, later, in my penthouse."
"Indeed." Lucan perked up. "What happened then?"
Robin seemed to come out of his trance. "None of your damned business." Straight black hair fell over his eyes as he bowed his head. "It is done, then? I cannot stop it from being released?"
"No, my lord," Jayr said gently.
"Very well." He tossed the book onto the table. "I have business to attend to. My lords. My lady." He bowed and strode out of the hall.
"I knew this would be bad," Jayr said.
Valentin Jaus rubbed his eyes. "I will go after him. Of all of us, I understand his pain only too well." But before Jaus could follow, Robin reappeared with a mobile phone and a bottle of blood wine.
"Yes, that's right, love. I want to buy all fifty thousand copies. And put in a back order for another fifty. No, of course I'm not the author. I'm simply a very good, extremely wealthy friend of hers." Robin took a drink from the bottle, looked at the other Kyn and grinned. "Now, how quickly can you deliver them to Atlanta?"
(This post is dedicated to author Charlene Teglia, who kindly gave me the idea, and all my visitors, whom are now and forever Robin of Locksley's personal heroes.)