Hedge nodded, his eyes narrowing. “So! You were sent on a dangerous quest to rescue me. Excellent!”
“Um. ” Piper got to her feet, holding out her hands so Coach Hedge wouldn’t attack her. “Actually, Glee—can I still call you Coach Hedge? Gleeson seems wrong. We’re on a quest for something else. We kind of found you by accident. ”
“Oh. ” The coach’s spirits seemed to deflate, but only for a second. Then his eyes lit up again. “But there are no accidents! Not on quests. This was meant to happen! So, this is the witch’s lair, eh? Why is everything gold?”
“Gold?” Jason looked around. From the way Leo and Piper caught their breath, he guessed they hadn’t noticed yet either.
The room was full of gold—the statues, the tea set Hedge had smashed, the chair that was definitely a throne. Even the curtains—which seemed to have opened by themselves at daybreak—appeared to be woven of gold fiber.
“Nice,” Leo said. “No wonder they got so much security. ”
“This isn’t—” Piper stammered. “This isn’t Medea’s place, Coach. It’s some rich person’s mansion in Omaha. We got away from Medea and crash-landed here. ”
“It’s destiny, cupcakes!” Hedge insisted. “I’m meant to protect you. What’s the quest?”
Before Jason could decide if he wanted to explain or just shove Coach Hedge back into his cage, a door opened at the far end of the room.
A pudgy man in a white bathrobe stepped out with a golden toothbrush in his mouth. He had a white beard and one of those long, old-fashioned sleeping caps pressed down over his white hair. He froze when he saw them, and the toothbrush fell out of his mouth.
He glanced into the room behind him and called, “Son? Lit, come out here, please. There are strange people in the throne room. ”
Coach Hedge did the obvious thing. He raised his club and shouted, “Die!”
IT TOOK ALL THREE OF THEM to hold back the satyr. “Whoa, Coach!” Jason said. “Bring it down a few notches. ” A younger man charged into the room. Jason guessed he must be Lit, the old guy’s son. He was dressed in pajama pants with a sleeveless T-shirt that said cornhuskers, and he held a sword that looked like it could husk a lot of things besides corn. His ripped arms were covered in scars, and his face, framed by curly dark hair, would’ve been handsome if it wasn’t also sliced up.
Lit immediately zeroed in on Jason like he was
the biggest threat, and stalked toward him, swinging his sword overhead. “Hold on!” Piper stepped forward, trying for her best calming voice. “This is just a misunderstanding! Everything’s fine. ” Lit stopped in his tracks, but he still looked wary. It didn’t help that Hedge was screaming, “I’ll get them!
“Coach,” Jason pleaded, “they may be friendly. Besides, we’re trespassing in their house. ”
“Thank you!” said the old man in the bathrobe. “Now, who are you, and why are you here?”
“Let’s all put our weapons down,” Piper said. “Coach, you first. ”
Hedge clenched his jaw. “Just one thwack?”
“No,” Piper said.
“What about a compromise? I’ll kill them first, and if it turns out they were friendly, I’ll apologize. ”
“No!” Piper insisted.
“Meh. ” Coach Hedge lowered his club.
Piper gave Lit a friendly sorry-about-that smile. Even with her hair messed up and wearing two-day-old clothes, she looked extremely cute, and Jason felt a little jealous she was giving Lit that smile.
Lit huffed and sheathed his sword. “You speak well, girl—fortunately for your friends, or I would’ve run them through. ”
“Appreciate it,” Leo said. “I try not to get run through before lunchtime. ”
The old man in the bathrobe sighed, kicking the teapot that Coach Hedge had smashed. “Well, since you’re here. Please, sit down. ”
Lit frowned. “Your Majesty—”
“No, no, it’s fine, Lit,” the old man said. “New land, new customs. They may sit in my presence. After all, they’ve seen me in my nightclothes. No sense observing formalities. ” He did his best to smile, though it looked a little forced. “Welcome to my humble home. I am King Midas. ”
“Midas? Impossible,” said Coach Hedge. “He died. ”
They were sitting on the sofas now, while the king reclined on his throne. Tricky to do that in a bathrobe, and Jason kept worrying the old guy would forget and uncross his legs. Hopefully he was wearing golden boxers under there.
Lit stood behind the throne, both hands on his sword, glancing at Piper and flexing his muscular arms just to be annoying. Jason wondered if he looked that ripped holding a sword. Sadly, he doubted it.
Piper sat forward. “What our satyr friend means, Your Majesty, is that you’re the second mortal we’ve met who should be—sorry—dead. King Midas lived thousands of years ago. ”
“Interesting. ” The king gazed out the windows at the brilliant blue skies and the winter sunlight. In the distance, downtown Omaha looked like a cluster of children’s blocks —way too clean and small for a regular city.
“You know,” the king said, “I think I was a bit dead for a while. It’s strange. Seems like a dream, doesn’t it, Lit?”