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A Lick of Frost (Merry Gentry #6)(2)

By:Laurell K. Hamilton

I nodded at the compliment.
“—has never affected anyone so strongly, but a lot has been happening in the Unseelie Court in the last few days. Ambassador Stevens has filled me in, as have other sources. Princess Meredith and some of her guard have moved up the power grid, so to speak.” Veducci still looked tired, but now his eyes showed the mind inside that overweight, overworked camouflage. I realized with a start that there were other dangers besides ambition. Veducci was smart, and hinted that he knew something about what had happened inside the Unseelie Court. Did he know, or was he fishing? Did he think we’d give something away?
“It is illegal to use glamour on us,” Shelby said, angry. He looked at me now, and his look was no longer in the least friendly. I looked back. I gave him the full force of my tricolored eyes: molten gold at the outer edge, then a circle of jade green, and last emerald to chase around my pupil. He looked away first, dropping his gaze to his own legal pad. His voice was tight with controlled rage. “We could have you arrested, or deported back to faerie for trying to use magic to sway these proceedings, Princess.”
“I’m not doing anything to you, Mr. Shelby, not on purpose.” I looked at Veducci. “Mr. Veducci, you say that simply seeing my aunt and uncle was difficult; am I difficult now?”
“From my colleagues’ reactions, I believe you are.”
“So this is the reaction that King Taranis and Queen Andais have on humans?”
“Similar,” Veducci said.
I had to smile.
“This is not funny, Princess,” Cortez said, his words full of anger, but when I met his brown eyes, they dropped from me.
I looked at Nelson, but it wasn’t me distracting her; her problem was behind me.
“Which one are you staring at the most?” I asked. “Frost or Doyle; light or dark?”
She blushed in that pretty way human redheads have. “I’m not…”
“Come, Ms. Nelson, confess, which one?”
She swallowed hard enough that I heard it. “Both,” she whispered.
“We will charge you and these two guards with undue magical influence in a legal proceeding, Princess Meredith,” Cortez said.
“I agree,” Shelby said.
“Neither I, nor Frost and Doyle, are doing this on purpose.”
“We are not stupid,” Shelby said. “Glamour is an active magic, not a passive one.”
“Most glamour, yes, but not all,” I said. I looked down the table at Veducci. They’d put him farthest from the center of the table, as if being from St. Louis made him less. Or maybe I was just overly sensitive for my hometown.
“Did you know,” Veducci said, “that when you see the Queen of England, they call it being in the presence? I’ve never met Queen Elizabeth, and I’m not likely to, so I don’t know how it works for her. I’ve never spoken to a human queen. But the phrase ‘in the presence,’ to be in the presence of the queen, means more when it’s the queen of the Unseelie Court. To be in the presence of the king of the Seelie Court is also a treat.”
“What does that mean?” Cortez asked. “A treat?”
“It means, gentleman, and ladies, that being king or queen in faerie gives you an unconscious aura of power, of attractiveness. You live in L.A. You see that it works in lesser ways for major stars or politicians. Power seems to breed power. Dealing with the faerie courts has made me believe that even us poor humans do it. To be around the powerful, rich, beautiful, talented, whatever, it isn’t just human nature to suck up. I think it’s glamour. I think that success of a certain level has a glamour to it, and you attract people to you. They want to be around you. They listen to you more. They do what you say more. Humans have a shadow of real glamour; now think about someone who is the most powerful figure in faerie. Think about the level of power surrounding them.”“Ambassador Stevens,” Shelby said, “shouldn’t you have been the one who warned us about this effect?”
Stevens smoothed his tie, played with the Rolex watch Taranis had given him as a present. “King Taranis is a powerful figure with centuries of rulership. He does have a certain nobility that is impressive. I have not found Queen Andais as impressive.”
“Because you only talk to her from a distance, over the mirrors, with King Taranis by your side,” Veducci said.
I was impressed that Veducci knew that, because it was absolutely true.
“You’re the ambassador to faerie,” Shelby said, “not just to the Seelie Court.”
“I am the United States Ambassador to the courts of faerie, yes.”
“But you never step foot into the Unseelie Court?” Shelby asked.
“Uh,” Stevens said, running his fingers over and over the watchband, “I find Queen Andais a little less than cooperative.”
“What does that mean?” Shelby said.
I watched him play with the watch, and a tiny bit of concentration showed that there was magic on it, or in it. I answered for him, “It means he thinks the Unseelie Court is full of perversion and monsters.”
They were all looking at him now. If it had been purposeful glamour on our part, they wouldn’t have. “Is that true, Ambassador?” Shelby asked.
“I would never say such a thing.”
“But he believes it,” I said, softly.
“We’ll all make a note of this, and make sure the proper authorities know of your gross dereliction of your duties,” Shelby said.
“I am loyal to King Taranis and his court. It is not my fault that Queen Andais is a sexual sadist, and quite mad. She and her people are dangerous. I have said so, for years, and no one has listened to me. Now we have these charges, proving what I have been saying.”
“So you told your superiors that you feared the queen’s guard would rape someone?” Veducci asked.
“Well, I, no, not exactly.”
“What did you tell them?” Shelby asked.
“I told them the truth, that I feared for my safety at the Unseelie Court, and that I would not be comfortable there without an armed escort.” Stevens stood up, very tall, very certain of himself. He pointed at Frost and Doyle. “Look at them, they are frightening. The potential in them to do carnage, why, it just radiates off of them.”
“You keep touching your watch,” I said.
“What?” He blinked at me.
“Your watch. King Taranis gave it to you, didn’t he?” I asked.
“You accepted a Rolex watch from the king?” Cortez made it a question. He sounded outraged, but not at us. 
Stevens swallowed, and shook his head. “Of course not. That would be totally inappropriate.”
“I saw him give it to you, Ambassador,” I said.
He ran his fingers over the metal. “That’s simply not true. She’s lying.”
“The sidhe don’t lie, Ambassador, you know that. That’s a human habit.”
Stevens’s fingers were practically rubbing a hole through the watchband. “The Unseelie are capable of every evil. Their very faces show them for what they are.”
It was Nelson who said, “Their faces are beautiful.”
“You are fooled by their magic,” Stevens said. “The king gave me the power to see through their deceptions.” His voice was rising with each word.
“The watch,” I said.
“So this,” Shelby gestured at me, “beauty is illusion?”
“Yes,” Stevens said.
“No,” I said.
“Liar,” he screamed, shoving his chair back so that it rolled on its wheels. He started walking past Biggs and Farmer, toward me.
Doyle and Frost moved like two halves of a whole. They simply stood in front of him, blocking his way. There was no magic to it, except the force of their physicality. Stevens stumbled back from them as if he’d been struck. His face contorted in terror, and he cried out, “No, no!”
Some of the lawyers were standing now. Cortez said, “What are they doing to him?”
Veducci managed to yell above Stevens’s screams. “I can’t see anything.”
“We are doing nothing to him,” Doyle said, his deep voice cutting under the higher-pitched voices like water undercutting a cliff face.
“The hell you aren’t,” Shelby yelled, adding to the noise of Stevens’s screams and those of the others.
I tried yelling above the noise, “Turn your jackets inside out!” No one seemed to hear me.
Veducci bellowed, “Shut up!” in a voice that smashed through the noise like a bull through a fence. The room was stunned into silence. Even Stevens stopped screaming and stared at Veducci. Veducci continued in a calmer voice, “Turn your jackets inside out. It’s a way to break glamour.” He moved his head toward me, almost a bow. “I forgot that one.”
The others hesitated for a second. Veducci took off his own jacket and turned it inside out, then put it back on. It seemed to galvanize the rest. Most of them began taking off their jackets.
Nelson said, as she folded her jacket so the seams showed, “I’m wearing a cross. I thought that protected me from glamour.”
I answered her. “Crosses and bible verses would only work if we were of the devil. We have no connection to the Christian religion, either for good or ill.”
She looked down, as if embarrassed to meet my eyes. “I didn’t mean to imply anything.”
“Of course not,” I said. My voice was empty as I said it. I’d heard the insult too often to take it to heart. “One of the things the early church did was to paint anything they could not control as evil. Faerie was something they could not control. As the Seelie Court became more and more human-friendly, the parts of faerie that could not, or would not, play human, became part of the Unseelie Court. Since the things that humans perceive as frightening are mostly at the Unseelie Court, we got painted as evil over the centuries.”