Larkspur Promo (Clandestina)

Buy the story on Amazon for 99¢, or grab it on Kindle Unlimited: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00J7H9JIG

***
She caught his eye that evening. It was a coincidence that hers was the first gaze he saw upon entering the ballroom as he had not even known that she would be attending, but at every hint of deep blue he turned his head in hope of it being her gown. They had not seen each other in years, and oh he missed her. He moved politely among the guests (the party was, after all, in his name and honor) but kept her in view. The longer he stayed the more he desired to be in her company.

Etiquette dictated he should have taken another to dance, but he did not wish anyone else on his arm. Instead, he spoke with fellow gentlemen about his studies whilst waiting for Lady Elizabeth Anne.

Conversation was spirited. Many among the noble houses were knowledgeable in the healing arts, which is after all what Clandestina was famed for. With the completion of his own medical degree — one of the reasons for this party — there was much to discuss. He would have enjoyed the celebration more had other things not been on his mind.

“Principicule?”

“Hm?” He turned from where her dark blonde curls had his attention, taking note of the title of address. A duc’s son by birth, he had been fostered by Roi Edgard and some at court indulged him by calling him princeling.

“Yes, Margrave Bastoni?”

“Who shall be given the honor of your care?”

“Whoever is ill,” he replied. “I may not be able to open my own practice with the duties of my land taking precedent, but I will make the rounds at local hospitals and care for those of my household.”

“If that is the case, then you are always welcome to my mountains, with full privileges.”

“That is most kind, Bastoni.” Before he could say more her perfume caught his attention. Honeysuckles. Memories of summers spent at play filled his head. He turned again in search of her and found her smiling, aware of how they circled each other.

She hid behind the fan in her right hand—follow me. His heart fluttered, and his breath hitched. He took a step toward her to ask her to dance, but she was already being led away by another. Her dance card hung full from her wrist. It seemed the comte’s daughter was occupied for the evening, and it would not do to pursue her.

Yet, the duc excused himself and did just that, only paying enough attention to those around him to avoid suspicion of his intentions. He was near enough that when the dance set changed, he could ask for her.

Their eyes met again. She was ignoring her partner in his favor, keeping strict form and looking over her partner’s shoulder rather than into his eyes. Her fan was closed, but as she was turned away, she dropped it open—ask me to dance.

He cut in at her request, and the other noble graciously let his duc have the young woman’s attention.

“Lady Elizabeth,” he said, wrapping an arm around her, “Do you fear we may not see each other again?” He was awash in the scent of summer though it was barely springtime.

She blushed, realizing the situation she had put herself in, but was unable to look away. To flirt with the principicule from a distance was entirely different from being in his arms.

“Your Graceful Highness,” she replied. “It is a pleasure to catch your eye.”

“One as beautiful as yourself should be accustomed to catching the eyes of lords.” Her smile now accompanied the blush which reddened further. He squeezed her hand and began to lead her away, going against the wave of dancers. His were not the only eyes on her; several were interested to know for whom the duc had been so impatient as to ignore decorum.

“You are not a lord, Your Grace.”

“Then am I merely someone to flirt with from afar?”

“No, monsieur. I have just never quite had your full attention.”

“Oh? And when you and I were younger, the times I plaited flowers in your hair—at your request?” he tucked a loose curl behind her ear as he spoke. She felt the once familiar touch of a stem and leaves as he left a bloom that seemed to come from thin air.

“I was a child then, monsieur,” she replied, reaching up to touch the flower and the tips of his fingers. “It was some time ago. And we were in a field, not your ballroom.”

“It is hardly my ballroom.”

“The gala is in your name, making it yours,” she pointed out, and when he could not dispute this, she felt more at ease.

They danced with freedom, the crowd blending as the music took people to their fancy. The waltz was a dance between only those two who were partners, and not a choreographed dance for everyone in the room. Pierre guided her across the dance-floor, one hand on her waist and the other holding her hand in the air. A few of his steps were imperfect.

“And what do you think of my formal attention thus far, Elizabeth?”

The young woman repositioned her form, blue eyes moving away from his grey. He tightened his grip.

“You are taller than I remember,” she said. “But you know your steps well enough for someone who has had all of their time taken up with studies.”

“The next time we dance will not be after such a time that height becomes an issue. And thank you, there are few ladies to partner with at a men’s university.”

“So have you forgotten ballroom etiquette as well, Your Grace? You took me to dance outside of turn.”

“You asked, my lady.”

“After you had already begun pursuing me.”

“Ah, true,” he said, giving in to her. “Seeing you after all this time brought forth more feelings than I had expected. Your brother speaks of you often.”

“Only because he visited his lands between semesters. This is your first time home in years.”

“And suddenly I regret never taking up Piers’s offers to accompany him.”

She was silent a moment before saying, “You did not write this past year.”

“It was a very busy final year. I apologize for not being in contact.” He squeezed her hand to accentuate the apology, guiding her into a twirl with a press to her waist.

She had first written him in his second semester away, and for a while their correspondence had been frequent. Then, other matters became more important.

“The flower, monsieur,” she said after returning to his arms. She finally recognized it from its scent and touch. “Do I seem fickle in your eyes that you give me larkspur?”

“It is the royal flower,” he reminded her. “Deserving of a noble lady, to keep away things of dread. You have never been fickle, Lizzy. It was my fault entirely that our communication stopped. I do believe last summer you sent Piers to the dorms with so many baked goods solely to force him to share with me.”

She did not deny this, unable to hide a smile, though said, “Eglė helped as well,” referring to her brother’s wife. “Do things of dread follow me about?”

“Perhaps now they never shall.” Another spin and a change in posture brought them so close together it would be improper in any other context. They were to then step in unison, but he let her go entirely. He stepped back and stumbled as if about to fall.

“Monsieur!”

“Forgive me,” he said, trying to regain his balance while not interrupting the dancers around him. A hand in the air stalled those that would have rushed to him. “I seem to have forgotten those steps,” he mumbled as an explanation, not meeting Elizabeth’s eyes. He was pale, the little color in his skin seeping away so that his cheeks matched his black-and-grey attire.

“Monsieur, Pierre, perhaps…” She reached out to him.

“Were you not born during Iovilios?” He caught her hand in the air. “The larkspur, if nothing else, is your flower, my lady.” Pulling her towards him, he whispered, “I have not forgotten about you.”

She broke their gaze. “If I may beg of you a drink.” If she was truthful, this was more for her worry of the duc than her own wants.

“Of course, Elizabeth.” Their hands remained clasped, and he led her to the edges of the ballroom. Several tables around the perimeter had been laid out with food and drink.

“How long shall you be at court?” he asked, handing her a glass of watered wine. He took none for himself.

“My mother thinks it best we return home soon. Eglė’s time is near, and she wishes to meet her first grandchild.” Ah, yes, he had forgotten. No doubt this was why Elizabeth was here instead of her brother.

“And your thoughts, Lady Elizabeth?”

She took another sip. “Monsieur, it is rude to speak during a gala.”

He grinned. “Yet until this moment you forwent that rule yourself.”

“I do believe it would be even ruder to deny the guest of honor.”

“In that case—” He held out his hand to her, asking for another dance. She put the glass aside and placed her hand in his. They walked through the ballroom together as the orchestra changed sets.

They had not even returned to their previous spot when he tripped again, pulling her off balance. He caught her but landed hard on a knee. This time, he did not straighten and ignore what had happened. He held her as they recovered. “Forgive me, Lizzy.” His pale cheeks were now flushed. Others around them began to watch. A few whispered.

“I did return just this afternoon,” he said, half to the young woman in his arms and half to everyone around them. “I must still be tired from my journey. Perhaps I took ill along the way.” When he stood everyone was occupied again.

Pierre squeezed her hand once more before letting go. She stepped back, curtsied, and bowed to him as a means of goodbye.

“Oh no, my dear.” He lifted up her chin. “We’ve danced tonight as partners. You may not bow to me.” His thumb rested at the corner of her lips. He was half-bent over her. Elizabeth felt the heat of his hand through his glove, and for a fleeting moment, she wished he would kiss her. Instead, he stroked her cheek and took back his hand.

She curtsied again and inclined her head, but did no more. He in turn bowed from the waist. “Good evening, Lady Elizabeth.” Without waiting for her reply, he slipped through the crowd and out of the ballroom.

It was only after he left that she pulled the flower down to see its color and remembered the meaning of purple larkspur: first love.

Intimacy (Clandestina)

He walked to his first patient and saw a woman standing by the side of the bed. Though she wore the uniform of a nurse at this hospital, he knew she was not. The spirits of death and illness flocked to her instead of away. He glancing about the room— they were the only two there beside the patient and he had closed the door after coming in.

“My Lady,” he said, offering a bow. Mora turned to him with a smile and then back to the dying young man. She reached out to stroke his cheek. He took one last breath, a gasp, and stilled beneath her fingers,

Ophion bowed his head in respect.

Mora continued to study the body for a time, playing with the young corpse’s hair. His eyes were open and she made no move to close them. She then stepped back and held out a hand to Ophion. “Come.”

“My Lady?”

“It is not his time yet. His soul is too restless and does not wish to leave the body, much less enter my plane. Settle it.”

“Thank you.”  

Her suitor walked over to her and she stepped aside to make room, but nevertheless did not stray far. She waited while he took off his dark grey gloves and cut into his palm, then took his hand before he could transfer the blood and magic from himself to the body. Mora kissed his wound, and as if she was his Familiar, healed it for him. With his blood on her lips she then turned and kissed the corpse.

Ophion felt the young man’s soul, as well as Mora’s, both humming as if in his own chest. He clenched a fist against his heart, closing his eyes and willing himself to breathe against the weight.

Mora turned back to him, reaching up and placing her hands around his fist. She shushed him gently and he opened his arms and gathered up the goddess into his embrace, but did not relax, finding himself taunt as he stretched up on his toes. He worked her cræft in his hands, against a new scar that signified peace and a returning home, resurrecting the man he had watched die. The anxious soul settled and Ophion slumped forward.

His Lady held him up, strength in her body that was not from muscle, and when he looked up to meet her eyes she smiled, kissed him, and vanished.  

Ophion took a deep breath. He stood up, licking his own blood from his lips, straightening his jacket and pulling on his gloves. It had been quite a time since Mora had been so intimate with him, having moved her affections to Pierre in recent years, but it was not unusual. She loved her suitors and they her. 

“Eglė sends her love,” he said. Feeling bold, he added, “and as do I.”

A cool wind brushed his cheek.

Young King (Lanceophor)

She sat on her throne, alone in the chamber that was her power, and might well soon be her grave. The revolution had invaded and was now in her royal city. Her husband had been slain two days past and with His Majesty’s demise there came a weakening of the already weary troops. With her death the usurping would be complete.

She had sent away her ladies-in-waiting, not wishing their blood on her hands. Perhaps they would be able to flee, or would be spared. And so there was no one to comfort her and she let her tears flow. Who would dare call it weakness at this time even if there were witnesses?

They were trying to break into the room. A large bang hit against the great barred doors and made everything shake. She swallowed, took a deep breath, and smoothed her skirts. Her hands shook. As calm as she tried to appear, she was still the queen, it was all false. Her heart hammered in her chest and if she did not focus on breathing she would pass out.

She was going to die. She and—

The doors burst open. A swarm of bloody soldiers filled the room and she saw the bodies of her guards on the floor behind them. They seemed to expect more here and for a moment looked around before all turned to her. She raised her chin and stayed seated on her throne. The man in command began to walk to her, but did not sheathe his weapon. She could not stand it and cast her eyes down to her lap—she knew his face, he had been one of her guards a year ago before civil unrest turned into civil war.

“Stop!”

At the voice all in the room obeyed. The queen looked up to see a boy standing in the broken doorway, his hand was outstretched and commanding the men, even the captain. He was young, fourteen if a day, the queen thought, and yet there was blood on his clothes. Had he held a dying friend or caused a spraying wound in another?

“Father has fallen,” he announced, and with that the queen knew who he was. The young lord, son of the rebelling baron, she had thought him too young to have come with his father and their men to this last stand.

In reply the men turned and bowed to him, many falling to bent knee including the captain. The boy seemed surprised but quickly shook himself of the feeling, nodding as if he knew what was expected of him.

“You will end this immediately. Any more death after this moment will be considered murder. We have won. Go spread the word, now.” Weapons were sheathed, or dropped, and the group of men that would have killed her left without giving her another glance.

He saw her then. His eyes widened again in surprise, but he tried to school his emotions after a moment. The time he would have been learning about politics and decorum was instead dominated by harsh war.

He swallowed and stood up straight, beginning to walk through to the room. He stopped before her throne and bowed to her from the waist. “My Lady Korë.”

“Lord Aidoneus,” she replied.

He straightened, wincing, and for the first time she wondered if the blood on his clothes was his own.

“For the sake of our kingdom,” the boy said, “my father began this war against the king. We have slain kith and kin. But now he and His Majesty are both beyond this world. We no longer need shed blood or sow hate. I will be crowned in the upcoming weeks. To ease this transactions and help our people would you do- do me the honour of being my wife?”

She blinked at the boy. She was more than twice his age. In another life he could have been her son.

“Of-of course,” he continued, stammering but not pausing, even as he blushed, “you will need time to grieve—” And you time to grow, she thought, “—nothing shall be asked or forced upon you.”

“I accept.”

She finally stood and stepped down from the dais. The relief was apparent on his face and even a small smile touched his lips. He made to speak, but instead swayed dangerously, and more of his clothes began to stain as blood continued to seep from an unseen wound. She rushed to catch him.

Mothers (Clandestina)

It was a dying wish. The Duchesse of Piques was over seventy years old, having outlived her husband by several years, but she seemed even older in her weakened state. She had never recovered from losing her child in her youth, the young heir snatched by the fée while out in the woods on the day of Springfinding about fifty years past. She had never lost hope either, though along with that she gained anger, grief, and fear that she carried for the rest of her days.

So, in these last of those days, a plea had been given and the order spread: Find Félicien by any means. 

In reply Elwin made his way into The Duc’s Forest. Many entries into Faery opened in these wood, and it was where the young Félicien had been taken from. Usually private land, those caught on it without permission lost almost a year’s wages, it was with Her Grace’s blessing that he set foot in one of the best wood in the realm. What he did not appreciate was that the wood was private for the safety of those who would venture in and not for noble’s greed. 

He left his dogs behind with the chief huntsman, who had not wanted to let Elwin off work, but as it was the duchesses’ desire there had been no choice. The huntsman had managed to claim that the dogs were Elwin’s to train, but not to take, and so he would have to make due on his own, perhaps thinking it would deter him. It did no such thing. In a pack Elwin carried traps and a spare set of clothes, some twine, flint, and a couple of knives, enough that he could survive in the woods by himself for a few weeks. Even if it would have been easier with a hound, the late spring would mean there was much to choose from in both flora and fauna. 

Finding the heir would a great boon and mark to his name, he would be able to do whatever job or task he pleased for coin and not be under the watch of others, but he thought that unlikely given all the time that had passed. This was more a vacation of pleasure and adventure.

He hiked deep into the woods until late afternoon, enjoying the day and the forest until he found a spot to set up camp near a river. He would have enough time to catch some fish for dinner and turn in for an early night before beginning again on the early morrow. The trees were thick and in some places it was hard to see the sky or even work out where the sun shone from. He could follow the river for a time and he would make sure to find a clear patch of sky for tomorrow night to check the stars.

A cool wind sent a shudder up his spine as he brought out his fishing equipment. He felt as if eyes were watching him, and so along with the net and rod he brought his favorite knife to the edge of the riverbank- a gift from his father, made more for a fight than for utility. The feeling did not lessen, it only intensified, and he left his net and rod out but returned to his chosen spot to build a fire and begin building a crude shelter. It should not be a cold night, but that wind’s chill has sunk into his bones.

By the time he was finished it was close to dusk. He returned to the river but froze when he saw someone sitting in his place. A boy, Elwin’s fishing rod in his hand and several dead fish on the grass beside him. 

“There was a fish on the hook, I took it off and then you caught another one. Or, well, I did. But I’m not hungry and you’ve been walking all day, so you can have it.” The boy spoke without turning around.

“Oh, thank you,” Elwin replied. Had this boy been the eyes he had felt? A curious child had put him on edge. With a laugh Elwin sat down beside him. He was young, a dozen years at most, wearing clothes that were a bit too pristine for where they were in the woods, and a little too fine as well. But their value did not seem to matter as the boy’s feet were already in the water, the ends of his trousers soaked. 

“I have not checked the net,” the boy continued. “But the fish are usually too smart for nets here. Maybe you’ll catch some overnight though.” He pulled at the rod and another fish joined the rest on the grass, trying to throw itself back into the water but being too far away.

“Why are you out here all by yourself?”

“My mother is around,” the boy replied. “We live nearby. And even if she were not, I am old enough to be by myself.”

Perhaps he had not wandered straight into the heart of the woods but was near a village? If the Duc’s Forest was open perhaps he was not the only one who ventured in.

“And how old are you?” Elwin asked. Should the boy be even thirteen he would not think it very wise to let him wander far.

“I don’t know, exactly,” the boy replied with a shrug. 

“You don’t know?” Elwin repeated.

“I have been here for quite a time, you see, years and years and look, I’m still quite small!”

The chill returned. Had he walked into Faery without even realizing it? And this boy, if he lived nearby, then he was fée.

“I would like a small favor for helping you fish,” the boy said after a moment. 

“I do not have much I can give you. Though with the amount of fish you are catching we can certainly share dinner.”

“No, thank you, I am not hungry.”

Elwin shrugged, standing up to go and start putting the fish in a bag. The latest one was already dead. He would have to cook them quickly, the older ones had been laying out for quite a bit.

“What do you wish?”

“I want to keep what is in my pocket.” 

Elwin paused in putting the fish in a bag. His net was still tied to shore and the rod in the boy’s hand. 

“Well it is in your pocket. Surely it is already yours?” he asked carefully.

“Wonderful!”

The boy placed aside the rod and stood up, brushing his pants before pulling out Elwin’s favorite knife.  

“How… no, return that to me!” He had thought perhaps that boy had taken the hook or some of the wire, but his knife was precious. 

The boy laughed and danced away from him. “A deal is a deal, your words hold meaning among these leaves.” 

He had found his way into Faery. He counted his blessing that he had been fairly careful.

“A deal is a deal,” Elwin repeated. “And words hold meaning. I never said the knife was yours, merely implied that something in your pocket would likely be yours, not that it was for certain. Return my knife.”

The boy’s grin faded and he thought about what Elwin has said exactly. Finding nothing he could exploit he stomped his foot and swore.

“Fine!” He held out the blade, handle first, and with a huff added. “But I want your name. I wish to know who tricked me.”

It was habit that made him speak his whole name.“Elwin Pierrick.”

The boy laughed and his good cheer returned as quickly as it had left. “Well, Elwin Pierrick, you should know better than to give me your full name. I shall not be as hasty. But I know my manners and so my name—” he paused here to give his full attention and half a bow. “—is Félicien.”

It was the heir! He had found him. Elwin almost jumped in excitement, the transgression forgotten. It did not matter that the physical body the boy had made no sense, whenever had Faery made sense in the first place?

“Félicien, then, a pleasure! Come with me then. I wish you no harm, but your mother is dying and wishes to see you. She—”

Félicien’s grin and color faded at that and a seriousness that gave way to his true age filled him.

“What do you mean she is dying? Tell me this instant, Elwin Pierrick!” 

A magic that he had never felt before wrapped around him, forcing his tongue to move and words he had meant to hold back spill forth.

“The duchess of Piques, your mother, who lost you when you were a child. She is quite elderly now, dying. Your father is already dead. She wishes more than anything to see you before she passes. She has sent an order for you to be found and brought to her. I wish to do this.”

The look of relief was not what Elwin expected.

“Oh,” Félicien said, leaning against a tree. “Oh, good.”

“Good! Your mother—”

“My mother is not this duchesse. Perhaps she bore me, but I do not remember her face or name. I will not leave my real mother to see this false one.”

“Who is your real mother?” 

“Her name is not an honor you have been deemed worthy of.”

“Oh, I dare say, Félicien, he bested you with a turn of phrase, I do believe I may be kind enough to share part of my name with him.”

A woman stepped from the trees. She was tall, her dark eyes meeting Elwin’s without having to look up. Light blonde hair that caught all the colors of the forest was tied back in a tail, and her gown was a spotless white with trim of gold. A sword at her left and dagger at her right were her only decorations. They, unlike her clothes, were worn and well used.

“You were watching,” Félicien muttered under his breath and the woman nodded, eyes never leaving Elwin. The chill was suddenly replaced with a warmth and he found himself more terrified and drawn to her.

“You may call me Rhianu. I heard you speaking with my son. He has watched you for most of the day and says you are interesting. You say his human mother still lives and wishes him?”

“Yes, oui, mademoiselle Rhianu. She is the Duchesse of Piques. He was lost almost half a century ago. There has been a task sent, to find him and bring him to her side before her death. I came, more for the forest than the boy, I thought it almost impossible to find him.”

“And yet you are here, not a day into this adventure, and already your prize is before you. Are others coming?”

“Yes. It is quite the talk among those who wish fame or adventure.”

“I found him almost fifty years ago,” Rhianu said. She finally turned to her son and walked over to him, wrapping an arm around his shoulders. “He was lost, wet, having fallen into the river and sprained his ankle. He was crying and cold. Barely more than a babe, he knew his name and could tell me little more. I took him and nursed him, intending to return him, but as days went by I loved him. I decided he was mine to keep if Faery brought him to me. That said, I am certain his parents loved him too. That after all this time she waits and wishes still, I must admire it.”

She looked down at Félicien. “Do you wish to see her?”

“I do not know. Perhaps? I did not know she still lived. I have not thought of those who bore me in many years.”

“At Midsummer, then,” she replied. “So that I do not lose you just yet, little fay. You will decide then and go, but return quickly.” She had forbade him leave until his majority, feeling in her heart that on that day he would leave her for possibly forever, but this would be allowed.

“And you, dear Elwin Pierrick,” she continued, looking up to him. “Shall come with us after dinner.”

“Come with you?”

“Oui. You will stay with us until your Summerfinding, our Midsummer, as a guest. Then after you escort Pierre to and from seeing his birth-mother you may go and do as you please. You say others are coming to take him, then defend your prize.”

There was no magic to make this a command. There was no physical force. He could easily say no and then try and leave, but it was only a little over a month. He had enough supplies that he could live for that amount by himself, why not stay in a home with some comforts while having already finished his job.

 Elwin nodded and a then offered a bow.

“If I may invite you to dinner?”

He held out an arm and Rhianu took hold of it. 

The First Suitor (Clandestina)

When doctors and healers began to converge in the realm of Clandestina, learning of its natural healing magic, its blancræft, the daimons of violent illness and death were forced out. The fée, who respected violence and death as they were volatile in their own way, returned to their plane of Faery. Everything that bound and tames the spirits of death was suddenly gone.

The magic of a realm was innate. While other realms survived without these chains, Clandestina began to crumble.

Plagues descended upon realm. They infected man, beast, and vegetation, bringing famine along with it. Wars sprung up as people tried to hoard the few resources that were left. In trying to keep sickness at bay Death began to thrive.

One last daimon remained, a ker by the name of Mora. As much as she delighted in this, she knew that if it was left unchecked then everything would die, and there would be nothing left. She was the last Keeper of Death, and thus it made her a Protector of Life as well.

A kingdom had formed during this time of war, the four main factions finally brought together under one ruler. This new king, who took the title of Roi, promised to bind together all of the people of Clandestina– the humans, the fée, and even the keres.

He was without a wife. Mora showed herself to him, told him the secrets of the realm, that it not only held magic of healing, but also of violence, and death. She showed him noircræft as well as blancræft, and even nekrocræft, weaving the three together so he could do anything from heal minor injuries to return the dead to life.

The realm began to heal. A second guardian kept much at bay, but when Mora wished to show her magic to more people, to begin to fix more, the roi became possessive.

“You are mine,” he said. “You chose me, out of all men. You will not show anything to anyone else. Make me yours and we will rule together.”

She complied. She continued to teach him until there was only one last test. As she was a Lady of Death, after this, he would be a Lord.

“Take your own life,” she told him. “Kill yourself, come, enter my land and learn what it truly means to be a ker.”

That night they went to bed together. He ingested poison chosen by her own hand and taken with his own, and as they made love he experienced both little and true death.

Mists surrounded him. He was in Akhlys, the place of judgement before ones afterlife. Before him was a throne of limbs and bone, vines growing from the flesh and binding the seat together. Mora sat on the throne in her true form– great black wings like a bat unfurled behind her, her robes stained a many colors of red, her eyes the same crimson.

“And here are you mine,” she said. “Kneel, accept me as your queen, and you too will gain all of my powers.”

And here the roi shook his head, stepping back from her. “No. I am your king. I will not kneel before you.”

Before she could protest, say anything else, he used the cræft she had taught him to return his own soul to his body and left her.

He was alone in bed that morning. Quickly he took from his drawer a small knife and cut into a finger– his blood ran black, like it had ever since he began to learn magic from Mora. So he could still perform the deeds that made him great.

Time passed. Mora did not return to him, but as he had completed her last test, it did not matter. He was a lord of death, capable of even returning himself to life after death! He continued to rule. He finally married. He could not seem to impregnate his wife, but it did not matter as he continued to live on. He aged, true, but far slower than most men, bringing rumors that he had fée blood in him.

Then rumors began to circulate that there were men and women who were beginning to cure ills that should not be curable even with blancræft. A few more even said they could return the dead to life. The roi, now older than any other living being, found himself furious that Mora had betrayed him. He called this ‘necrocræft’ vile, and unnatural, and anyone learning or practicing such magic would be put to death.

They were killed. They had not passed her last test and remained dead.

Plagues sprung up again. Illness took root.

Mora still did not return to him.

It did not take long for the roi to be overthrown, by his own great-great-grandnephew at that. He was accused of practicing the same magic he outlawed, and when his blood ran black it was confirmed. He was sentenced to death.

The day of the hanging he felt his neck snap, but he then hung there, eyes wide, unable to feel or move or breath, yet undying.

He was buried amid silent internal cries that he had not died! He was still alive! But after they shut his eyes by force he could not even open them again.

Mora finally came to him. She appeared in his coffin, pressed up against him, wrapping her arms around him. He felt her breathing, felt her skin moving against his. She stroked his cheek and for the first time in days he could intake some breath. It was ecstasy. His flexed his fingers and slowly moved his arms so that he could hold her in return.

“Please.”

“You are not mine,” she replied into his ear. “And so you shall never enter my domain, never again see my throne, or have your life judged. You chose to return to this and so you may keep it.”

He was alone again. His breath was stuck in his throat, his arms no longer feeling. His eyes were half-open, staring into darkness. He lived. He could not die.

Mora never gave her heart in the same way. She continued to teach in secret, both men and women, her cræft. If rumors amid the people gave false information she let it be. And when her last test came she continued to offer her magic at a price. She hurt when they returned their own lives, but allowed it, still being with them and letting them help her. One day one would take up her offer, but it was not to be for a very long time.

Slave (Scorpiurus)

Even after years away from his service it was ingrained in her. She stepped back with her foot even before he was in the room, hands clasping behind her, and she sank to the floor in one fluid motion. Balanced on one knee she crossed her other leg over the first and bowed, turning her head only just above the stone, exposing her pulse, and waited with closed eyes. She was perfectly still in the strained position—this slave’s dip. Moments passed until he entered the room and walked towards her, his steps the only sound announcing his presence, and then there was silence as he stood before her to judge her and decide her worth. Finally, the tips of his fingers brushed her hair and he placed his hand in hers to pull her up. She unwound, knowing that if he desired, with a twist of his wrist her arm would be broken, but with his gentle leading she would rise like a dance.

For the first time in years she saw her king. Golden eyes stared at her, matched by his jewelry and circlet-crown. His black hair was tied up in a horse’s tail and the end rested over his shoulder. He wore no shirt, the heat that radiated off of him speaking of a day spent out in the desert sun, and she saw the scars from many battles across his chest. Some were new, and a few even fresh.

“What do you desire of me?” she whispered.

Another woman entered the room before her king could reply. She was clothed in purple robes and jewelry herself, and Tivela again made a move to curtsy, but Asar’s hand cupped her chin and forced her to remain standing.

“Tivela, my dear, you are free by my command. Bow to me if you desire it, but to no one else.”

A woman came to stand by his side, and she glared at the former slave, but said nothing. Her king finally let her go and wrapped that arm around the woman.

“Tivela, this is my betrothed,” he said. “She is the daughter of a rival, and I wish her to be taught my ways. You know me better than any other living soul. Teach her, and you will be rewarded.”

She knew better than to protest, though she wished to do just that. It was unheard of for a slave, even a former slave, to teach the queen anything.

“I am yours to command,” she said instead.

Feral (Noctua)

“These are your wolves?” their king asked. His drógi nodded from the shadows, Dante’s pale face a beacon in the darkness. It was midnight and Mother Moon was hiding herself tonight, and so save for the glow of their skin it was dark.

Volos stepped down from the dais, looking from one boy to the other as he made his way to the one on his left. They were identical in face, angular cheeks with harsh eyes glaring at him in mistrust. Their skin was as his own, an opaque moonlight, but their hair was the color of flame. They were children of the sun. Illegitimate in their world.

But they trusted Dante, at least enough to stand here before him, a stranger, at Dante’s asking, frozen not in fear but in readiness to spring. And he himself of course trusted his second and dear.

Taking off his glove slowly, so they would understand what he intended to do, he reached out a bare hand to touch one of the boys on the cheek. Before skin touched skin there was a growl, and the king paused. The brother had not moved, but the warning was clear.

“Instinct,” Volos whispered not turning his head. “You have been raised as pups from a young age, not knowing any civilized life until your first years were behind you. So I shall put this in terms you understand.” And he growled back, his head turning into a black wolf’s head on his human body, his hair becoming fur with as much haste as a shadow-puppet changed shape. When his form was again entirely man he turned to look at the boy.

“I am your king because outside of the forests we need civilization. Dante is my trusted friend, my raven, my fox. You are his. I will command you as I please and you will obey. But you must trust me. Let me earn this trust.”

With that he finally touched the cheek of the boy in front of him. A shock went through his hand, a chill up his spine. A moment later neither of them were solid in form and as heavy mist they rose into the air and melded together. When Volos pulled away they reformed as men, their clothes returning from the shadows, and they floated to the ground.

He proceeded to do the same with the second brother, this ascension letting him know their minds and hearts in a way that was infallible. It too allowed them to know him.

“Dante,” he said as he stepped back from the boys, Lyrian and Leith. “They are feral, but loyal, as good wolves are. They are accepted into the court under your hand.”

“Thank you.”