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 Eva’s cures are always horrendous.
* * *
“We need the Gray Sword,” Tanith said to me one day when we were strawberry picking.
“What?” I said, looking down at her.
She was kneeling on the ground, picking the strawberries, while I followed her with the baskets.
“The Gray Sword.”
“Never heard of it. Why do we need it?”
“It’s the only sword that can protect us, silly. And you need it since you’re our protector. It’s the only way you can protect us,” she said insistently.
“And how do I get this Gray Sword?” I asked dubiously, obediently following her from plant to plant.
“By combining the Black Sword with the White Sword, of course.”
“Right,” I drawled. “And how do I do that?”
“Well, we have the Black Sword and Father has the White Sword. We get them both together and then they’re supposed to combine on their own.”
I didn’t know what to say to that. There was a lot I didn’t know what to say to. I kept quiet. A lot. Like now.
“It’s really not that hard,” Tanith said cheerfully, dropping a nice ripe strawberry into one of the baskets.
“I’m sure you could do it.”
“I didn’t say you said I couldn’t.”
“Honestly, Shane, you’re impossible.”
“And here I was thinking you were impossible.”
“Of course. You refuse to return to the Bottlecreek castle, just to let your father know you’re still alive and well.”
“That’s different. Father’s altogether too annoying. He’ll have some prince lined up to meet me within a minute of my arrival back at the castle and I’ll never be let out again.”
“That’s true,” I admitted, though not happily. “So how do I get this White Sword?”
“You ask Father for it.”
“Are you sending me back to the castle?”
“And yet you won’t go.”
She laughed and stood. “That’s all. Ferguson couldn’t possible eat three basketfuls of strawberries.”
“Want to bet?”
She tilted her head. “Not really.”
“I thought so. Back to picking, my lady.”
She glared at me and I couldn’t help but laugh.
In the end, we both picked another basketful of strawberries. One was given to Eva and the other three went to Ferguson, who finished them in three hours.