The room Eva showed me to was right across the hall from Tanith’s and, thankfully, none of the monsters were quartered in that part of the hall. They called it the “Human Visitors Quarters.” Ferguson wasn’t considered a human. He was a werewolf to them and he seemed perfectly happy about it, so it was just Tanith and I.
It was actually a very nicely arranged room with soft ruby red carpet and matching heavy velvet curtains that pulled back to reveal a view of the meadow and the forest and mountains beyond. There was a wide, long bed with drapes that matched the curtains and carpet and the quilt was a ruby red and sapphire blue checked pattern and the pillows a snowy white. The desk, wardrobe, and a small round table and two chairs were all made of dark wood decorated with gold leaves. The fireplace across from the foot of the bed was blue and white marble and I was astounded to discover that it turned on in every room like clockwork to announce dinner and then turned off sometime during deep slumber.
When the fireplace burst into flame, I heard a knock at the door and warily went to answer it, wondering which monster would be on the other side. I don’t know why, but I had removed my armor and now stood in dark brown trousers, a loose white shirt, and my boots. The armor was strewn across the little round table. I suppose I should have kept it all on just in case one of the monsters decided to attack me, but it got hot in there and the clanging had been driving me crazy.
Anyways, to my great surprise and utter delight, Tanith stood before me in a lovely cream colored gown when I opened the door.
“Dinner is ready,” she said cheerfully. “Come on. Eva’s fixed a wonderful dinner. You’ll love her cooking.”
I looked at her warily, not moving an inch. “I won’t eat poisoned food,” I said, perhaps a little too harshly.
Her features hardened and she clenched the skirt of her dress in her hands tightly, which told me she was far from pleased with me.
“We do not keep poison in this household,” she said, very, very quietly.
Then she turned and swiftly walked away down the hall. I was forced to run to catch up with her, which wasn’t easy because Tanith is actually a very swift walker and I knew from our childhood that it was impossible to catch up with her when she ran.
The dining hall was snug, but large enough to fit everyone, even Drago, who lay curled around the table with a huge dish of wood sitting before him, accompanied by a large slab of meat that he was eyeing disapprovingly. The table was long and wooden with a red tablecloth running down the center of it. Golden dishes lined the edges of the tablecloth and a golden goblet and dish sat in front of every chair. No one sat at the head of the table; everyone sat on the sides.
I took a seat beside Tanith and she passed me a dish of potatoes. My stomach embarrassingly growled, but she was kind enough to not comment, but her small grin didn’t escape me. I very soon found my goblet filled with cold water and my plate filled with a little of everything: potatoes, greens, a fruit salad heavily made up of oranges and tangerines and a few sliced strawberries (though I didn’t get any because Ferguson had already picked through it for all of the slices), an unidentifiable red meat cooked to perfection accompanied by a brownish-white gravy, a thick slice of bread slathered with butter, a selection of four different cheeses that I failed to recognize, and a slice of chocolate cake. These monsters really didn’t seem to be into eating meat, but I refused to believe them.
I kept my eye on all of the monsters as I ate and caught sight of one I hadn’t yet had the honor of meeting. I was startled to note it was a basilisk with glasses perched close to its eyes. It was peering rather closely at its food and carefully picking through it.
I nudged Tanith. “What’s that?” I whispered, looking at the basilisk.
“Oh, that’s Virgil,” she said, spearing a potato. “He’s a basilisk, but can’t hurt you because he’s incredibly myopic. The glasses barely help him. Bede and Ferguson are trying to come up with stronger lenses, but it’s just not working. He’s also a poet, so don’t get him talking for long.”
I had finally met every monster that lived in the castle. And I can tell you I didn’t sleep much that night, so my fireplace was on until dawn.
Anyways, dinner was surprisingly delicious and my conversation with Tanith and Eva, who sat across from me, and Flavian, who sat across from Tanith, was more entertaining than I thought it would be. We talked about everything from my childhood with Tanith to Tanith’s sisters to Eva’s gardens to the various types of oranges that Eva cultivated in the orange grove in the middle of the forest. I almost, almost, forgot they were monsters.
They were monsters; how could that possibly be completely forgotten?
The surrounding conversations were lively and the gargoyles were sitting far enough apart that they didn’t even register the other’s presence, so there was no arguing. Euclid was sitting far enough from me that my presence didn’t make him throw himself out of the beautiful stained glass windows. Virgil was too intent on picking through his food to care about poetry. Bede had engaged Manny in some supposedly interesting conversation (though I don’t know what could be so entertaining about knitting), so Manny was relaxed and somehow didn’t notice a piece of lettuce hanging out of one of the salad bowls.
I have to admit it was much better than dining with the squires and attending to the knights or the royal court. I will admit to you, and to no one else but you, that I did enjoy myself. Somehow. I’m not quite sure how, and I’m afraid to find out.
The next several days passed in the same manner and I found myself eating less and less meat. There was always a meat course, but it was always eaten as a chore by everyone. Each of the monsters was employed in his or her own activities for most of the day and, on occasion when one of the harpies in a far off castle would visit, we all would have to have tea together until she took her leave. I must say that my favorite was Annie because she always brought fresh cookies. I didn’t see much of any of the monsters. I spent most of my days practicing my fencing with Tanith, following Tanith around, wandering around the grounds, or being bored to death by Flavian or Bede when there was absolutely nothing else to do. I hardly ever saw Euclid, who was still terrified of me and even broke right though one of the lovely stained glass windows in the library.
Needless to say, the monsters came to grow on me and I came to enjoy their company. I could see why Tanith didn’t want to leave, but I never could give up on calling them monsters. They, in turn, usually referred to me as “human” and it became something of a joke between us all.
If Tanith was their “lady of shining merit,” I was dubbed their “protector in beige.”
I still wish I knew how that had come about, because they were still monsters to me and I was still human to them. We didn’t understand each other any better than we did when we first met. Life is often very strange, stranger than I care to figure out most of the time. I hate getting headaches, because Evas cures are always horrendous.