Home > Sweep with Me (Innkeeper Chronicles #4.5)(2)

Sweep with Me (Innkeeper Chronicles #4.5)(2)
Author: Ilona Andrews

Tony nodded.

No innkeeper could turn away a guest during Treaty Stay unless that guest had been banned from the inns. The Treaty Stay didn’t start for another twenty-four hours, but the Assembly had cancelled our meeting, which meant they thought I would require these twenty-four hours to prepare… Oh no.

“A Drífan?”

Orro sucked in an audible breath. Tony nodded.

“Are you serious?”

He nodded for the third time.

During the fight with the clan of assassins who had besieged our inn, the leader of the assassins sent me a seed, a little baby inn, too weak to survive. I had jumped through a dimensional gateway to keep its death from injuring Gertrude Hunt, but living through it had rendered me unresponsive. Gertrude Hunt had survived several days without me. If it hadn’t been for my sister and my niece, the inn would have gone mad or turned catatonic. It’d been thirteen days and as I moved around the inn, Gertrude Hunt watched me. The inn was always aware of me, but now it had redoubled its efforts. If it was a person, it would be hovering over my shoulder, terrified that I might stumble and it would miss the opportunity to catch me.

And now the Assembly wanted me to host a Drífan.

“Is it a liege?” I asked. “Please don’t nod again.”

“Yes,” Tony said.

Perfect. Just perfect.

Orro spun around and hurled a cabbage at Tony’s head. Tony caught it and set it on the table. “Again, I’m just the messenger.”

I sighed and poured more tea. This was fundamentally unfair.

“I swear, it’s not a punishment.”

“Who are the Drífan?” Sean asked.

“Drífan is singular,” I told him. “Drífen is plural. The first comprehensive account of them was given by an Anglo-Saxon innkeeper and we are stuck with a lot of Old English terms which we have since butchered. Drífan is a very old word. It means to drive, to force living beings to move, to cause one to flee before one’s pursuit, to chase, to hunt, to force by a blow, to proceed with violence.”

“Okay,” Sean said. “None of those are good.”

“The Drífen are probably the most magical beings in the galaxy,” Tony explained. “Their star system is only accessible through a dimensional rip. They are magic, the star system is magic, and their planets are very choosy about who they allow to enter and leave. We don’t know very much about them. We do know that there are several states within the star system and they may or may not be at war with each other.”

“The states are ruled by emperors,” I added. “The emperors rely on a vast bureaucracy and liege lords, dryhten, for power. Each liege lord is responsible for a dryht, a combination of a clan, a sect, and a magic order. The dryht exists in a magical symbiosis with the territory it occupies, and its members take on the characteristics of whatever their dryht is dedicated to.”

“So, if the dryht is dedicated to an animal predator, they develop a better sense of smell and grow claws?” Sean asked.

“Sometimes.” I drank more tea. Right now, I’d need an ocean of tea to make me feel better. “For example, if we had to host a person from a Fire Dryht, we would have to make special quarters for them as far away from the main building as we could, because Gertrude Hunt would think that they were literally living fire and would try to douse them. The inns intensely dislike the Drífen. Their magic scares them, especially if they are from a dryht that’s dedicated to a landscape or a plant. The inns, at their cores, are trees.”

Sean turned to Tony. “Which dryht are we hosting?”

Tony took a deep breath.

Please don’t be a regional dryht, please don’t be a regional dryht. I would take an element, a mineral, an animal…

“Green Mountain.”

I groaned.

“I’m sorry.” Tony raised his hands.

Sean looked to me.

“Green Mountain is called that because it’s covered with trees,” I said. “It’s one of the worst for us.”

“Can we decline?”

I shook my head.

“You could,” Tony said. “But the liege specifically requested this inn and no guest, unless they have been banned already, can be turned away from an inn for the duration of the Treaty Stay.”

“It’s worse than that,” I told Sean. “The Treaty Stay is the anniversary of the three days when the Treaty of Earth was written into being. The inns had existed before that, but not in an official capacity. On the first day of the Treaty Stay, the oldest inns in China, the Kingdom of Aksum, the Satavahana Empire, Rome, the three inns in the Americas, and the lands of the Northern Venedae hosted representatives of different galactic civilizations. Each inn had three guests, each from a different species: a warrior, a sage, and a pilgrim. One of the warrior guests was a Drífan. Their name is on the original treaty.”

“If you absolutely kick your feet and refuse, Casa Feliz will step in,” Tony said. “But I wouldn’t recommend it.”

Caldenia swept into the room. Her Grace had elevated the idea of aging gracefully to an art. She wore a deep-green robe of shimmering silk. Her grey hair curled on top of her head in an elegant wave, studded with emeralds and dripping with platinum filigree. Her makeup was subtle and flawless, accentuating her cheek bones and brightening her skin. It did nothing to diminish the predatory light in her eyes.

“Why the sour faces?” she asked.

“The Assembly meeting has been cancelled. We’re hosting a Drífan liege instead,” I told her.

“Which dryht?”

“Green Mountain.”

Caldenia shrugged. “I have no doubt you will rise to the challenge, my dear. Or were you thinking of declining?”

“Gertrude Hunt honors our Treaty Stay obligations,” I told her. “As you well know.”

“Excellent. Life gives us precious few opportunities to put our best foot forward, so when a chance to shine presents itself, one should always take it.” Caldenia grinned, baring inhumanely sharp teeth. “Besides, it’s been almost two weeks since anyone was brutally murdered. Things were getting a bit dull. We wouldn’t want to die of boredom, would we?”

The official colors of Treaty Stay were green and pastel lavender, closer to pink than to purple, because the first inn to receive the three visitors for the ceremonial signing of the treaty was located in China and the innkeeper, hoping to impress the guests, coaxed the foxglove trees on the grounds to bloom.

I surveyed the Grand Ballroom and waved my broom. The glowing nebulae on the ceiling turned pink, lavender, and white against the cosmos. The enormous light fixtures suspended from the ceiling withdrew. New green stems of pale metal spiraled out, braiding into a canopy around the columns, and sprouted glass flowers a full two feet across. The foxglove tree blooms started purple at the base of the flute, then paled at the tips of the frilly petals. The flowers shivered and opened, revealing glowing yellow centers and dark purple dotted lines running down the length of the delicate flutes. Pastel-colored lanterns appeared in the canopy, bathing the room in a soft light. Matching banners unrolled on the walls that had turned sage green. I turned the color of the columns to a deep red and surveyed the room.

Good. The floor didn’t match though.

Fatigue rolled over me. Tinting the floor mosaic would take a lot of magic.

I sat down with my back against the nearest column. Beast, my little black-and-white Shih Tzu, trotted over to me and flopped at my feet. I scratched her tummy.

Tony left back to Casa Feliz, his father’s inn. I’d spent most of the day making rooms for the Drífan. Or Drífen. In my experience beings in position of power rarely travelled alone. I had stripped the Otrokar wing of its decorations, since we wouldn’t be expecting a large delegation from the Hope-Crushing Horde any time soon, and repurposed the space. Sean spent the day cataloging the damages to our defenses. Fighting with a clan of interstellar assassins had taken a toll, and he had gone through the garage looking for tools and ended up pulling spare parts out of storage. I’d passed him on the stairs a few times, as he carried various odd-looking doohickeys a normal human shouldn’t have been able to lift. At some point he went to repair the particle cannon on the west side, and I heard him cursing in three different languages while I reshaped the balcony.

It was evening now, and I was tired. The fight with the Draziri damaged more than just our guns. Living through the death of the baby inn was like entering a comatose state, except I had been aware of everything that was happening. Breaking out of it was the hardest thing I had ever done in my life. I still felt…depleted somehow. And the inn wasn’t responding as readily as I was used to. It didn’t exactly hesitate, but the connection between us was slightly muddled. Maybe I could do the mosaic first thing in the morning.

Sean walked into the Grand Ballroom. He’d traded the robe for his usual jeans and T-shirt. There was something wolfish about Sean Evans even in his human form. It was the way he moved, with a deceptively leisurely stride, or the way he held himself, ready, or maybe it was in his eyes. Sometimes when I looked into them, a wolf gazed back at me from the edges of a dark forest.

He approached and smoothly sat on the floor next to me. Beast immediately crawled in his lap.

“I can’t find anything on the Drífen in the archives,” he said. “I’ve read Wictred’s account in the inn’s files and looked through the books, but there is nothing since that. Is there a code word I don’t know?”

“No. There simply isn’t that much information available about them.”

“Usually there are notations by other innkeepers,” he said.

I raised my eyebrows.

“I read a lot when you weren’t yourself. The inn helped me to look for a cure.”

Poor Gertrude Hunt. Poor Sean. I could picture him sitting in the room searching for the answer while the inn pulled up one archive after another. I had to make sure this didn’t happen again.

   
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