That corner had been darkened, but I could clearly make out that the Princess Tanith was standing surrounded by two ghastly gray gargoyles and an incredible pallid zombie chewing on his fingers as though frightened.
“It’s just a rosebud, Euclid!” Tanith shouted. “Gray, Gina did not, I repeat, did not switch the green and white china plates!”
“Stop being unreasonable, Tanith!” one of the gargoyles snapped back. “If I say Gina switched them, she switched them!”
“Tanith, the rosebud. The rosebud!” the zombie cried out, now tugging at her wide purple sleeve.
The princess looked just a lovely as usual. There was no loss to her rosy color. Her long black braid, though, just looked a tad untidy and her expression was clearly one of barely suppressed anger and frustration. I started to take a step to rescue her from the dreadful monsters, but Flavian latched onto my arm and wouldn’t let go. I turned to glare at him. He only lifted an eyebrow in Tanith’s direction and bit off the top half of a fresh stick of cinnamon. I turned back to Tanith, still trying to wench my arm away and failing miserably.
“The rosebud! The rosebud!” the zombie was still plaintively carping on.
“I did not, Gray!” one of the gargoyles snapped. “If anyone did it, it was you!”
“Don’t be absurd, Gina!” the other roared back. “Why would I want to touch those?”
“The rosebud! The rosebud!”
“How would I know? It’s just like you to deny everything! I’ve just got to accept it. You’re nature is one that is impossible to deal with!”
“It’s going to kill me!”
“I’m impossible to deal with!” the second gargoyle raged in a thunderous voice. “You’re the one who’s impossible! Why don’t you just admit it? You’re the one who switched the plates! Go tell Manny so he can get off my case about it!”
“Why should I when I didn’t even touch them? That’s such a ridiculous idea!”
“The rosebud! It’s going to get me and kill me in my sleep. It’ll climb out of the greenhouse, wind its way up to the third floor, head down the hall, and burst through my door! You’ve got to do something about it, Tanith! Oh, please, please, please!”
“Would you all be quiet!” Tanith shrieked, her hands balled into fists and her face red. She yanked her sleeve from the zombie’s grasp and tossed her braid back over her shoulder, catching sight of me as she did so.
Her face brightened and she squealed in delight. The next I knew, she was suddenly hugging me and asking how I liked the castle and how well Flavian was showing me around. All I could do was simply stare at her excited face.
“Another human! Another human!” And with that, the zombie went zooming out of the room, looking about as frightened as I felt.
I drew myself up straight a moment later and held Tanith at arms length, a serious expression on my face.
“I’m here to rescue you, my princess.”
She stared at me and then burst out laughing. She grasped onto my armored shoulders and her head fell back as she laughed. I shook her and she only laughed harder.
“Oh, Shane, don’t you understand?” she finally asked, trying to catch her breath, a hand pressed against her heaving breast. “I don’t want to go. This is my home, these are my family members.”
“They’re monsters!” I yelled, pushing her away.
Silence permeated the room and eight eyes stared at me in shock. I shifted uncomfortably in my armor as Tanith backed away from me and took one of the gargoyles’ hand.
“Don’t you dare say that again, Shane,” Tanith said quietly. “They are simply misunderstood creatures. If anyone’s a monster, it’s that father of mine! I’m happy here, Shane. These creatures are my new family. You had better accept that.” She closed her eyes and took a deep breath to calm herself. When she opened her eyes, she smiled brightly. “Shane, I’d like you to have met Euclid,” she said, indicating the door the zombie had used as an escape route. “He can be somewhat paranoid, but is otherwise quite a wonderful creature. I’m afraid you scared him, but he’ll come around sooner or later. And the other two nuisances are Gina and Gray.”
“Nuisances!” one of the gargoyles cried out, and I could faintly recognize a female voice.
“How dare you!” the other, presumably Gray, replied at the same moment.
Tanith rolled her eyes. “Pay no attention to them, Shane. Their favorite past time is to argue with each other and everyone else.”
“I resent that!” both gargoyles shouted, then glared at each other and huffed out of the library through different doors.
Tanith sighed and turned her eyes on Flavian. “Are you going to go, too, Flavian?”
The vampire had been fluffing his slicked hair and admiring his complexion in a nearby mirror. He turned when Tanith addressed him.
“Oh, well, if you insist. I’d better go and see that Eva uses the correct oranges for supper. Mi scusi, my dears.”
And, with that, Flavian swept out of the library, leaving me with Tanith.
I instantly grabbed hold of her arm and tried to drag her from the room, but she held fast to a chair that had apparently been bolted down to the floor (I later learned that nearly every piece of furniture had been bolted down so that Gray and Gina could not use them on each other and so that Euclid wouldn’t be afraid that they would get up in the middle of the night to attack him and so that Drago, the gluttonous wood-eating dragon I would soon meet, wouldn’t eat all the furniture) and refused to let me pull her from the room.
“Stop it, Shane,” she said crossly, wrenching her wrist from my armored grasp and pulling herself up straight. “I’m not going back. I can’t. My new family needs me here. Who am I to disappoint them?”
“What about your father and your sisters?” I demanded.
“With me out of the way, my father only has to worry about six princesses that he has to marry off. And my sisters are probably moaning about how they weren’t bright enough to come running over here to avoid Father. Besides, none of us particularly cared for the others. It’s hardly a loss.”
“But, Tanith, these are evil creatures,” I hissed, leaning close to her, ignoring how right she was.
Anger flashed in her gray eyes and she balled her hands into fists at her sides. “I won’t have you insulting my friends, Shane, even though we were once playmates. No, I won’t have it. You are welcome to return to Father’s castle or you may remain here. Eva will show you to a guestroom if you choose to remain. You will probably find her out in the gardens out back or in the kitchen.”
She looked me over, sniffed, suppressed a chuckle, and stalked out of the library. I watched her go and collapsed into the chair she had been hanging onto, my armor clattering as I did so.