We are grateful for everyone here. We wish you peaceful and happy holidays.
Here is a little more of Dina and Sean to keep you company and to say thank you for reading our work and hanging out with us on the blog to offer suggestions of yarn and tea.
I studied our reflection. Innkeeper robes came in a variety of styles, but these simple ones were our daily uniform. We looked like a couple. My parents wore robes just like this, except my father preferred grey and blue.
I never thought I would have this. When I was younger, I had imagined myself as an innkeeper of a successful inn, but in my dreams, there was never anyone standing next to me. My parents were still missing, my sister left to marry a vampire marshal on a faraway planet and took my little niece with her, my brother still wandered the Galaxy, but I had Sean. He loved me and I loved him. We were no longer alone.
The blond innkeeper woman in the mirror smiled back at me. She looked happy.
“I like it,” Sean said.
Three days ago, he refused to wear a robe, but I had made this one myself and now he liked it.
“You don’t have to pretend,” I told him.
“I like it. It’s soft.”
“I tumbled it with rocks for 24 hours. And I tattered the hem.”
Sean hiked up the robe and looked at the worn hem.
Our profession was old. By chance, Earth sat on the crossroads of warp points and dimensional gateways, a convenient waypoint on the way elsewhere. We were the Atlanta airport of the Galaxy. Because of this special location, an ancient pact had been made between humans and the rest of the Galactic civilizations. Earth was designated as neutral ground. Nobody could conquer us. Nobody would ever enslave or devour us. Human race would be allowed to develop naturally, ignorant of any alien intelligence in the great beyond.
In exchange, Earth provided the alien visitors with safe havens, specialized hotels, each manned by an innkeeper like me, existing in magic symbiosis with our inns. Within the inns, we could bend physics and open gateways to worlds hundreds of light years away. Outside of the inns, we were only slightly more powerful than normal people. The innkeepers had only two primary goals: to see to their guests’ every need and to keep their existence secret from the rest of the planet.
Gertrude Hunt, my inn, accepted Sean because it sensed that he loved me. When he spoke to the inn, it obeyed, and it tried to make him comfortable without being asked. Sometime in the last couple of weeks, between fighting off a clan of alien assassins and nursing me back to health after the death of a seedling inn turned me catatonic, Sean had become an innkeeper. He had been an innkeeper for a few days, I had been an innkeeper for a couple of years, and in that short time we both had skirted dangerously close to crossing the primary laws that governed the inns. Now the innkeeper Assembly, a gathering of prominent innkeepers, decided they wanted a closer look at me and Sean. Refusing the invitation wasn’t an option.
“In the eyes of the Assembly, I’ve only been an innkeeper for blink and you even less,” I said. “I don’t want to show up there in brand new robes.”
Sean reached over and caught me in a hug. “It will be fine,” he murmured into my ear.
For a long moment I just stood wrapped in him.
“What’s the worst that can happen?” he asked.
“They’ll downgrade Gertrude Hunt to half a star, and nobody will ever stay with us again. Without the magic of the guests, the inn will wither.”
“We still have Caldenia,” he said.
That was true. Once a galactic tyrant, her Grace had chosen Gertrude Hunt as her permanent residence. She paid a hefty sum for it, but it didn’t come anywhere near the size of the various bounties on her head.
“Orro is staff, not a guest.”
“And your sister and the thick-headed vampire.”
That was true, too. Maud and Arland loved each other. No matter what happened I was sure they would end up together, and House Krahr, Arland’s clan, would always stay at Gertrude Hunt.
“And the Otrokars.” Sean kissed me. “And the Merchants.”
I kissed him back.
Something banged below in the kitchen, followed by a deep roar. “Fire!”
Gertrude Hunt must’ve been concerned enough to channel the sound to us.
Sean groaned. “He has to stop doing that.”
“I’ll go check on him.”
I sank through the floor, slipping through his arms, and landed in the kitchen. Sliding through walls required practice. Sean would take it as a challenge.
The delicious aroma of broth and cooking meat enveloped me. At the stove, Orro poked something in a large pot with an even larger fork. Seven feet tall and bristling with two-foot long brown spikes, the Quilonian chef looked like a monstrous hedgehog. He spun toward me and bared a mouth of nightmarish fangs. “Water for tea is boiled!”
I tossed tea leaves into a small glass teapot, poured the near boiling water from the electric kettle into it, and watched it turn golden brown. Orro found our TV fascinating. His latest discovery was the Food Channel and Garry Keys’ Fire and Lightning cooking show. Garry specialized in Latin American cuisine and when things went his way while cooking, he’d shout “Fire and Lightning!”
Orro had shortened it to “Fire!” which he yelled at surprising moments, giving Gertrude Hunt kittens.
I poured my tea into a cup and sipped it. Mmmm…. Five days ago, the siege of the inn had finally ended, and we celebrated Christmas, a full week late, on New Year. Two days from now, on January 7th, we would celebrate Treaty Day, the oldest of the innkeeper holidays. You could skip Christmas and forget Thanksgiving, but no inn ever failed to celebrate Treaty Day. Hopefully we’d still have the inn to celebrate in. If everything went according to plan, tonight we’d leave for Casa Feliz, a large inn in Dallas where we would attend an Assembly meeting and answer uncomfortable questions…
Tony walked into the kitchen. Tall, tan, and dark haired, Tony Rodriguez gave an impression of being harmless. Sometimes he looked sleepy and slightly befuddled, although the prospect of tasting Orro’s culinary masterpieces cut right through that and reduced Tony to excited giddiness. Sometimes, especially around his father, Brian Rodriquez, who ran Casa Feliz, he wore the “Grant me patience” expression instantly recognizable by any adult child who had to endure lectures on the wrongness of their life choices.
Some of it had to be a front, because Tony was an ad-hal, Assembly’s guardian and enforcer of its judgement. But most of it was genuine Tony. And right now, Tony looked like he wanted to be anywhere but here.
My stomach dropped. “What happened?”
“I have good news and bad news.”
“Give me the good news.”
Sean walked into the kitchen.
Tony perched on the edge of the dining room table. “The good news is that we don’t have to go to my father’s inn, because your appointment with the Assembly has been postponed.”
Orro spun around. “I do not like this Assembly. It jerks the small human to and fro.”
He stabbed the air with his giant fork for emphasis. “Can they not see that she is exhausted? Do they not know what she has been through? Come to the meeting, do not come to the meeting, is there no decorum?”
“I’m not in charge of the Assembly’s decisions,” Tony said.
“What’s the bad news?” Sean asked.
“You have a special request.”
Now? “Treaty Stay?”
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 forty-eight hours, but the Assembly had cancelled our meeting, which meant they thought I would require these forty-eight hours to prepare… Oh no.