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 plane 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 plane, 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.

Return (Clandestina)

Lord Dorian, Steward of Piques, sat across from Duc Felicien, who had been his childhood friend so very long ago. They had been playing in a creek in the woods when the younger boy disappeared at Springfinding. Dorian himself could barely remember it, but the after-effects had been grand. The duc and duchesse had held out hope for several years, every great change in season bringing with it a wish that their only son would return, but the hope faded as time went by. The steward at the time, his father, took over more and more duties as the grieving couple found themselves unable to. With their deaths came an end to the noble line of Piques. Until now.

It seemed as if only a fraction of the time had passed for Félicien, though. He was still young, a boy, and Dorian’s own children could now be his peers.

“How long were you there?”

“Ten years. Or maybe a hundred,” Félicien replied with a shrug. That those two measurements were vastly different did not seem to bother him. “Time flows, but rarely at a steady pace. How long has it been in this plane?”

“Sixty years. Exactly. You disappeared at Springfinding and today is—”
“The first day of our Midspring, yes,” the young man interrupted. “The celebrations began last night. We escorted those out who would help prepare this plane for Spring, and I went along because I reached my majority.” He smiled and his grin broadened as he added, “I came to cause some mischief, but it seems I have brought much of it with me.”

“It is less you,” the steward said, “and more your return, that has us all..”

“In a tizzy?”

“..Yes.”

The boy was enjoying this far too much. But he was, after all, still a boy. He was too young to be an adult in Piques, but a fée’s majority was at the start of puberty. So he was fourteen or fifteen. That he considered himself fée was also disturbing.

“Well then,” Félicien said, spreading his arms and leaning back in his chair, balancing on the hind legs in a way that should not be possible. “I can always put things to right by just going back—”

“You cannot. You are the rightful Duc of Piques, you have duties.”

“I, duties?” His chair slammed down and Félicien laughed. A dangerous glint entered his eye. “You say this land is mine to do with as I desire?”

“In a way.” Dorian tried to chose his words carefully. “I have been handling the affairs since your parents deaths, but there has been no duc for many years. You have been returned to us, please, perhaps you may take some time to be here. Do this for me.”

“You? And who are you to me?”

“Dorian Louis, your steward. And a friend, from when we were young. It was on an adventure together that you were lost.”

“Dorian Louis,” Félicien repeated softly. A chill went down the steward’s back as he realized he had told someone of Faery his whole true name.

“Very well, then.” Félicien inclined his head. “On our friendship, I shall stay a time. Perhaps there is a reason I have returned after all.”

“Thank you.” Tension eased from his shoulders and Dorian leaned back in his own chair. This would be difficult. He was tempted to let the heir go back, make Ophion continue his duties as planned, but it would be wrong to deny the land its proper ruler. A steward was all well and good, but they were not the duc.

A soft knock had both looking over to the door. Dorian bade them enter and a young girl in rich clothes came in. His daughter, Ophélie.

Out of the corner of his eye Dorian saw Félicien stand and bow to her (more than he himself had gotten).

His daughter curtsied in kind, and then gave her attention to him. “Papa, forgive the interruption, but I was told to come give you aid? Brother has already left.”

“Ah, yes, well- my dear, this is His Grace, Félicien, the rightful Duc of Piques. If you would be so kind as to show him around his home.”

She turned now-curious eyes to Félicien and smiled. “Of course. Your Grace, if you would like to follow me.”

“Thank you, mademoiselle. And thank you, Dorian.”

“I am not the duc yet, am I?” Félicien asked as they left the room. “Surely there must be some sort of ceremony.”

“Well, yes, but as both of your parents are deceased, it is your title already. Though you do not seem of age, so perhaps the actual duties shall not fall to you for a while yet.”

“I am sixty-four,” the boy said proudly. “At least, I was born sixty-four years ago. But I feel not a day over fifty.” When she looked back to him, unsure of how to take his words, he laughed once more.

“And how old are you?” Félicien asked, walking beside her, focused more on her than the path they were walking.

“Fourteen years and a month,” she said. “The month is important.”

“Of course it is.”

“Now, I will show you around the domain and tell you what I know. Brother shall help you after, he knows more than I as he is Papa’s heir, but is not home right now.”

“Oui, mademoiselle, as you say!” Félicien stepped out in front of her, walking backwards while facing her. She tried to ignore him, looking over his shoulder, but it was difficult.

“Your name, my dear?” he asked, having studied her from head to foot. She was pretty, with chestnut hair that was pinned up, and almost-violet eyes.

“Ophélie, though you may continue to call me Mademoiselle.”

Félicien grinned. “Ah, but if I understand this, I am your duc. I may call you as I please.”

“And I am your guide for the day. Without me you shall be lost and confused and the cause of much trouble.”

“I like being trouble.”

She stopped at this and he continued for a few paces before hitting a stand that held a decorative vase.

“Like that?” she asked, as he whirled around to make sure it did not fall.

He turned back around a bit sheepishly. “Yes, just like that.”

“Well then, if you shall follow me?”

He returned to her side, taking her arm and gesturing with his free hand that she should lead the way.

“And your name?”

“Félicien Faunus.”

“Is that your true name?”

“Of course not.”

Excerpt from Delphinium (Happy Valentine’s!)

“So what did you do this last year?” she asked as they began to walk around the clearing. They heard water and made towards the stream.

“Surgery work,” he replied. “We had corpses to practice on, to be able to know what went where, and why, and how.”

“How did you receive corpses?”

“Several people and families generously allowed us to use their loved one’s bodies after death.”

“I can not imagine that is popular. Did you share each.. Body?”
Pierre grimaced. He had not wished to inform Lizzy of this specifically. “Truthfully most were criminals whose deaths were not deemed important enough to give full funerals. At least this way they would be… of use.”

She took this in stride, nodding her head slowly though shuddering.

“A grim year, then.”

“Quite. Though it was not all gloom and horror.”

“Do tell?” While they had walked their hands had linked and she leaned against him as they found the river.

“We were students after all. Pranks were pulled, curfew ignored, alcohol drunk in excess. I was among the oldest so I mainly watched over the younger men.”

“And when you were younger?” Lizzy probed, reading into what Pierre had not said. He did not meet her eyes, staring up at the trees quite pointedly.

“Your brother and I had our fun at times.”

She laughed. They had gotten into enough trouble as children to guess the level of possible mischief Pierre and Piers could do when alone and bored.

“Anything illegal?”

I killed a man, he thought immediately. Several in fact, but one stood out to him in that moment. A prisoner taken straight from his hanging to his slab, so the students could see what was as close to a living body as possible. He had been not quite as dead as they had thought. After seeing the blood flowing and hearing the man let out a moan, even opening his eyes, many of the students turned away and one ran to alert a professor. Pierre had made it seem that he checked for a pulse, but he squeezed the very damaged windpipe. By the time someone with more authority was in the room the man was well and truly dead. It was deemed a delayed hanging. Pierre remained to finish the lesson even though he had been offered a pass at seeing a man die right before his eyes.

“No,” he told her.

“A pity. I hear from Piers that the best moments are those that might get you a night in jail for your troubles.”

“Oh, did he? What tales did he tell his dear little sister?”

“I believe there was a time when the boys in your dorm snuck in strong wine, or went out on the town. Perhaps those were actually in chronological order, it would explain much.”

“I never did such things.”

“Of course not. Though I now shall have to find myself another companion,” she said with a smile and glance to him. “I would like a partner with experience in such things so I have some guidance when I deem to try.”

Before he could answer she dashed ahead to where the stream was in view. He gave chase. At the edge of the bank she did not stop, pulling up her skirts and jumping to a rock that jetted out in the middle. She made it, arms waving to keep her balance and getting one shoe wet, but staying on the rock. With a laugh she turned and curtsied to him.

“And you think yourself safe there, Lizzy dear?” he called.

He took even less care of his attire, jumping straight into the water, mud, and stones. She gasped, looking around for another place to go, but the far side of the bank was, as named, too far.
He reached her then, grabbing her and swinging her in his arms as she shrieked.

“Pierre!”

“Hush or I shall drop you!”

“You would not!”

He pretended to, getting another shriek from her that had him laughing as he carried her back to shore.

“No, my dear, I would not,” he agreed, finally, placing her down in the grass. Not after she had been ill. Another day, perhaps.

They were the same height at the moment and he kissed her before getting out himself and looking down at his ruined clothes. His shoes were wet and the feeling was quite uncomfortable out of the water. He knelt down and began to untie the laces.

Lizzy bit her tongue to keep from asking naughtily if he would also take off his trousers, seeing as they were wet up to the knee.

When barefoot Pierre hopped back into the stream with the shoes in his hands.

“What are you doing?”

“Leaving my shoes,” he called over his shoulder, going back to the rock. He made sure they would not fall into the water before again returning. “They are quite nice shoes, but hardly my only pair. I am sure there are fée around, perhaps the gift would be appreciated. We cannot spare much food or drink.”

Her one shoe was hardly as wet as his had been but she sat and began to undo her laces as well. Without a word he bent down to help her.

“I shall buy you an even lovelier pair when we reach Piques,” he promised as he turned back to place her shoes next to his.

“Oh, you do not—”

“I insist.”


Not exactly a Scene as it’s from Delphinium and not a stand-alone, but I thought it fitting for Valentine’s. You’ll recognize Pierre’s thoughts from the Scene ‘Hanging.’

Hanging (Clandestina)

The professor was not in the classroom as the students walked in to Anatomy. There were instructions written on the board in large letters (each student was to pair up with two others, choose one of the corpses laid out, and disassemble as much as possible, labeling each organ and its function. For extra credit they could find out the cause of death) but that was all. They had done this, or similar, exercises several times before under the watchful eye of their teacher, but today it seemed to be a test of how well they could work on their own.

Pierre Salvador stood by himself while most of the group paired with friends. Piers had finished his studies already, leaving for home a few weeks before, not needing the extra time in surgical schooling. The princeling therefor found himself alone more often than not now that his only true friend here was gone. It did not bother him much, he preferred working alone, but it was not pleasant. Possibly his status was scaring others away, or perhaps something about him radiated with Mora’s cræft? He had never looked into the problem.

At the end there weren’t enough students for an even number of triads and Pierre stayed alone. He noted that one group had four students, and he should have at least been paired with one of them, but it let it go. There were also not enough bodies either so another group would be useless. He could make a fuss, or join one of the groups to observe, but he had better things to do. This was something he knew well already, and Mora has asked he kill a man for her.

He made to leave, minding to tell the professor later that he was feeling ill and to either get the assignment dropped or allowed time to remake it, but the door opened as he was walking towards it.

Two men in guard uniforms entered,  a covered tray between them. They saw Pierre, apart from the others and the eldest, and addressed him.

“Monsieur! We are here to bring a body for the students. He was just hanged and sent here immediately for their observation.”

“Merci,” Pierre said, taking the wheeled slab and flipping over the white sheet. Beside the angry blue bruises around his throat he seemed asleep. His skin was still warm.
The prison guards said something and left a moment later after receiving no reply, the princeling having stopped paying attention to them. The corpse took his whole attention. The man was still in tattered rags.

He did not feel like a corpse, not in the same way the others had, but he had not spent extensive time with very many bodies. Perhaps they felt different based on their type of death?

Most of the others had abandoned their chosen body to come observe him now. A fresh corpse was rare, and never this fresh. Those unlucky enough to get the last body often had to deal with the stench of decay.

Pierre held out a hand and someone obliged him by handing a scalpel over. He cut into the torso only for blood to spurt onto his hands and clothes.

“Merde!”

“He’s still alive!”

If the bright lively blood had not confirmed it, a moan from the man and his eyes opening did. One of the youngest boys fainted. A few turned to help him, even more turned away entirely, but Pierre continued to watch in silence. He had seen men die before but every experience was new. Had he been dead and come back through a miracle, or had the doctor on staff at the prison merely not done his job?

Someone finally yelled out that they would run and get a professor and the door slammed on his way out. Pierre bent over the body and touched his pulse. The neck was bruised and swollen, presumably by the hanging that hadn’t managed to snap the spine, but it throbbed a slow heartbeat. He wrapped a the rest of his hand around the windpipe. No one was looking at him, no one dared looked up to see the eyes of a man who had been pronounced dead. He squeezed, and there was a gargling noise before the heartbeat stopped.

The door burst open and their professor had returned.

“Away, away,” the surgeon called, shooing his way near the body opposite Pierre.

“Your Graceful Highness,” he addressed Pierre respectfully. “What seems to have happened?”

“Monsieur, he still seemed alive when I started to cut. His blood flowed and his eyes snapped open. He made a noise as well.”

The professor was nodding, placing a stereoscope to the man’s chest, then neck. After a minute though he shook his head.

“Well he is not alive now. Do not worry, it is nothing you did, merely a dead man hanging on to life as tightly as he could until no more. See, he is malnourished, dehydrated, and was through a trauma. Let us merely call it a delayed hanging and leave it at that.”

Done with the analysis he nodded to himself again, wrapped the stethoscope around his neck and looked to the student.

“Well?” the professor prompted. “Back to your stations, there is still an hour and a half left in the course.”

Students shuffled back to their chosen bodies, one group’s left alone as the two boys who were paired with the one who fainted helped him to the side.

“I will go check on Raoul,” the professor said to Pierre. “You may continue with this body but I understand if you wish to skip this class.”

“Non, merci professor, I will be fine.”

He lined the slab up in the back of the room with the others, on the leftmost side with his back to everyone else. He finished taking off the man’s clothes.

“He would have lived.”

The voice in his ear was female, and Mora suddenly stood by him wearing what only could be called a women’s uniform in the style of his own, though the students were all male at this University. Her hair was tied back in a deep crimson ribbon, and his wings were furled close to her back, but still there.

“With medical attention,” Pierre agreed. Attention a class full of students could have begun to provide until someone with more knowledge arrived. But the man was a prisoner sent to death. He would have only been executed once more. This was in a way kinder.

Mora looked to him and made to say something, but stopped instead. She smiled and then disappeared, off to greet the dead man’s soul in her plane.

Pierre had the feeling she had been about to inform him of the man’s innocence, a mistake in the roi’s judgement (for the roi was the duc in this land as well). But even if that were true it would no change the sentence. The roi had spoken. Pierre merely complied.

 

Eglė (Clandestina)

I’d like to mention before you read on that this is a graphic piece involving gore and death.

——-

Ophion stopped to set up camp. After tending his horse and starting a small fire amid a circle of stones he walked around the clearing to stretch his legs. He had been riding for three days with little sleep and both he and his horse were exhausted. Today would be an early night and tomorrow likely a late morning, but they needed to rest. It would do no good to his patients if he could not take care of them.

Mora, The Lady of Death, had been visiting him ever since this plague began. She spoke to him of power he could gain, power she would give, to turn the tide against the illness that ravished the land now for months. The spirits were angry, she told him, restless and in need of discipline. There was only so much she on her own could do, but if he helped her…
A hiss broke through his thoughts. Looking down he saw a small garden snake amid the dead branches. It was late winter, almost spring, but perhaps he had woken the animal from its rest, or it wanted to move closer to his fire. He stepped aside to let the serpent pass, but it only stared at him.

He could kill the snake.

Not that he had anything against it, he was fond of snakes in fact. But to begin practicing necrocræft one chose, killed, and resurrected a creature to become their Familiar. Mora had told him before he left the last town that he was ready if he desired.

The last few weeks have been difficult. He had lost more patients than he saved, and it was no guarantee the stable patients would stay that way after he left to yet another town, another tragedy. It was a dark magic, this necrocræft, one punishable by death in the kingdom of Triumphe. But there was already so much death here. If there was any way to prevent some of it, even if at the end it cost him his own life, would he not do it?

Mind made up he went to rummage through his bags. No point in delaying this. He would sleep after, letting himself rest after the journey and the magic he was about to try and perform.

He wanted to kill the animal with as little suffering as possible. He had medical tools in his bag, but they were either small knives or a large saw, and trying to cut the head off a serpent with something used to cut through bone was overly harsh. Finally he settled on a cooking knife. He would have preferred something a bit larger, but it was the closest thing he could find that would do minimal damage.

The snake had only moved a few inches during this time, crawling over towards the fire. It did not seem to mind him, and did not even turn its head when he knelt down on the cold ground beside it. His horse, several feet away, was not paying him any attention, probably already sleeping while standing.

Ophion took a deep breath. It was just a small garden snake, barely as long as his arm. It could bite him and slither away if he was not careful, maybe spook his horse if she woke, but it was not much of a threat. He put his left hand before the snake’s head and waited. Still no alarm from the creature. He moved his hand closer, then touched the top of the head. Its tail flicked but nothing more.

He raised the knife and placed it close to where his thumb rested over the snake, just above touching the neck. At least at this angle he was not looking the animal in the eye, and maybe the snake did not see the blade. Would it matter? Did snakes have any concept of knives or how they could kill?

Another deep breath. He pulled his hand back and then slowly let it descend so that it would be in the same place. He did this two more times, making sure his aim lined up. The forth time he chopped through the animal.

Blood. The tail seemed to jump away, twisting and writhing while what seemed like a never-ending stream of blood poured from it. The head just sat there under his hand. He backed away, falling into a sitting position in the grass. The blood quickly flowed up to him and began to stain his clothes. He was used to blood, especially during this plague, but this was too much. This was the amount you would find in a person, though perhaps someone young..

The body of the snake stopped moving only to begin growing. Scales became skin, the tail split in two. The head changed as well, growing larger and with hair so soaked in crimson that you could not tell what color it was supposed to be.

A child. The snake that he had beheaded had transformed into a young girl right before his eyes. She lay in a pool of her own blood, eyes open and staring straight at him.

“Oh, God.”

Mora appeared, already kneeling in the blood. The Lady of Death looked kindly to the child and took off a large shawl to cover her body.

“Ah, dear Ophion,” The Lady said softly. She took the head onto her lap, stroking back the girl’s hair. She made no move to close her eyes.

“I killed a child,” he whispered. Shock had frozen him to his spot and he watched the display like it was a performance. If he allowed himself to grasp the reality he would go mad.

“A fay child,” Mora corrected. “Living in these lands outside of Triumphe, but still within Clandestina. There is wild magic in the air here. She is not fée, but perhaps her parents are.”

“What do I do?”

At this the Lady looked up at him, puzzled. “You bring her back, of course.”

The Lady placed down the girl’s head and moved her body so she cradled the child. Her dark clothes were stained even darker, and the blood shone on her pale skin. Taking the severed head she placed it back on to the neck. With a finger she drew a circle around the girl’s throat, where the severing had taken place, drawing in the blood.

Once she pulled her hand away there was still a corpse, but at least it was in one piece.

“Here,” she said, laying out the child.

Though it was said as a suggestion he obeyed as if it were a command. He crawled through the blood and looked over the girl. The shawl covered her from collar down. She was ten, eleven years old at most. It was hardly the first time he had seen a dead body, but never had he caused it. Even losing a patient after doing all he could was nothing to compare to this.

But he hadn’t known. It was a snake, just a snake. Some other realms had shifters of form, but not this one!

Wild magic, Mora had said. Untamed spirits that probably leaked from Faery into these lands.

“How?” he asked, as if he could harm her further. She was dead, what else could he do to her? But he did not want to hurt her any more. God, oh, God, why had he done this.

“Take your own blood,” Mora said. “Have her consume it.”

“But, but you said I needed an animal, My Lady. This is a child!”

“So you will leave her like this?”

He turned around to pick up the knife he had used to kill the child. The child. He did not even know her name. He did not even know her hair color, so stained was her body. He needed to wash the blood out of her hair. He needed to clean her up, give her some clothes. He needed to return her to life and never again do anything this sinful.

The kitchen knife was covered in blood, none of it his own. He found a clean patch on his attire and tried to wipe it away.

His own blood. Blood for blood. If he slit his own throat would that be enough? What did he have to give to bring this child back from the dead when he had been the one to put her there?

“A severe injury,” Mora said in reply. Had he spoken aloud or was the Lady more knowing than he thought. “One that may, without proper care, risk your life.”

He raised the blade to his throat, but changed his mind and lowered it again. If he did not live long enough to even try the cræft it would be useless. Instead he moved the knife to his wrist. He was not a surgeon, but he understood the body. If he cut deep enough this might kill him, but it would take some time.

He cut again. More blood. He put his wrist above the girl and blood dripped around and into her lips.

Before he could ask what next he felt her. It was like his body housed a second soul, filling his chest and making him light and dizzy. A heartbeat that should not exist began to thump in his ears. He reached out, with both his mind and his hand, and through the planes of existence found the girl’s soul in the land of the dead. She waited for him, smiling, and so very curious about the magic he was doing. Without hesitation she placed her hand in his and suddenly reality was around them again.

The soft thump of her heartbeat still filled his body as his own began to slow. He was still bleeding from the wrist, adding even more red to this clearing that looked as if a massacre had taken place. Before he lost consciousness he saw the girl open her eyes and smile.

 

Fée Child (Clandestina)

He had been told to leave the birthing room when the bleeding had increased. His pleas and demands to remain were ignored despite his rank, and the common sense that he would not interfere. He just wanted to stay with her. She had been pale and already so weak, her grip on his hand less strong than when they danced (when just a few days ago they had jested she might break his fingers during the worst pains). She could not hold on as he was removed by his own servants and shoved through the door. Her last words echoed in his head on repeat, “My love, Félicien..!”

Now she was dead. The doctor apologized as if that made any difference to him. He had not been beside her when she passed, had not comforted, or held, or praised her for giving him his children, being his beloved wife, and the very reason he was even here. Anger cut through grief and he vowed to punish those that had separated them.

A nurse finally came into the hall holding a small bundle. He tried not to stare at the blood-soaked clothes as he reached out and took his newborn child into his arms.

So small, Félicien thought, unwrapping the baby just enough to see it was a girl-child. Smaller than his son had been at birth. And born almost on the same day—tomorrow would be Pierre’s birthday. But they had been conceived at different times of the year, and it was too early for her. Ophélie should have still carried her for three more months. It was not until late afternoon that they realized her pains were not false, and her brother, a doctor, was too far away to make it in time. A local doctor was called instead. They had hoped it would not matter, their daughter had been conceived in Faery and time was an unsure thing in that plane, and they would just meet their new child earlier than thought.
But no. She was too small in his arms and would have fit snugly in one palm. And why were they handing her to him? Shouldn’t the doctor be doing something, it could not be good for a child to be born this early.

“Your Grace, she has a few hours…” Whatever strength he had retained left him, and he sank into a chair that was nearby before he fell.

She would not live to see tomorrow. This was their feeble apology— to let him hold her as she drew her only breaths.

Halfway through the doctor speaking, when he was sure his legs would hold him, the duc stood and walked out of the room with his little girl held close. His beloved was dead and his daughter would soon follow, there was not time for such nonsense. A part of him thought to perhaps call his son along, but Pierre was still too young and needed not know of death so intimately. They would speak tonight and grieve together then.

He wandered out into the gardens that were let grow wild since he became duc. They were an extension of the forest now, yet still tended and having been shaped by human hands. He preferred it like this, and his wife did—had—too.

He hadn’t seen Ophélie before he left. He couldn’t see her. If he saw her dead he would begin to weep and never stop, and his children needed him. Pierre was still a child and this little girl… she was still here for now.

“Morgaine,” he whispered into the girl’s ear. “Morgaine Ophélie.” He had not know what name his wife had wishes to give their daughter, one name was given by each parent in this realm, but perhaps it was better this way. No one would know her true second name and no one could take power over her in that way. A superstition in this plane, but very true in Faery. He had learned quickly to give a false second name or be a slave while living there. The baby gurgled, making a happy noise for the first time, and seemed to accept being named in part after her mother.

Félicien walked with no destination in mind, wishing only to wander the natural land until Morgaine passed. The forest of early spring, trees full with new leaves and flowers that seemed to offer condolences with their stretched-out branches, was comforting. The day’s sunlight flickered between the leaves, painting the forest and his child. Her eyes, a deep blue, seemed tinged with violet in the shade.

He began to hum and rock her as tears spilled down his cheeks. He would smile for her, surround her with beauty, and give her as much as he could until she…

Morgaine watched the sky, the leaves, reaching to touch flowers that bent down as if to brush her cheeks. Every so often she would wiggle or laugh. They walked until twilight, until she lay peaceful and asleep, but still breathing. He held her so that when she breathed out he felt it on his neck.

It would not be safe to walk once full dark came over the land. Maybe she could still pull through, the doctor had after all not thought she would live this long. And she seemed to be gaining strength not losing it. He turned around to return home.

The trees no longer held flowers, the branches heavy with the growth of a season. The sun shone from the opposing side it had been on before, bringing the dawn, not leaving for the evening. He must have walked through the planes without realizing it and now stood in Faery.

“I must go back,” he called. But even as he said this he was not very sure of it. He was the duc, yes, but he rarely did much in the way of ruling his land. His steward did that. He had not grown up there, and even living in that plane for almost a decade had not truly endeared him to humanity (beside his wife and her family). He was always the outsider, even as the blood heir of Piques, because he had been spirited away to this magical land as a child.

Now he had no reason to stay.

Pierre. His son, who would be seven years old tomorrow, was not here. But would the boy like living here? He was more his mother’s son, interested in the politics Félicien himself ignored, and always wanting to know more about the medicine his uncle knew. He would not find the same whimsy here. Another feeling crept up his neck, a truth that if he tried to return to get Pierre he would not be able to find his way back. His daughter would die and he would be in exile from his true home.

Walking the same path back, wrestling with feelings that he was not sure were magic or pain, it was not his manor in Clandestina that he stepped out into. A village of the fée greeted him instead, making it certain that he was in another plane of existence.
His daughter began again to squirm in his arms almost wriggling out of his grasp. He adjusted her, feeling she suddenly weighted more. His arms must be tired from holding her so long. But her cheeks, which had been pale before, were now rosy in this new place. She reached for him and grabbed at his clothes with a strength she hadn’t earlier. Her eyes were now entirely violet.

His child could survive here. Faery, where a day could mean a year, and a lifetime could be lived without aging. She was already looking better, stronger, as if she had been born at the right time even. And his grief, while still heavy on his heart, seemed somewhat lighter than before. This was coming home, returning to the land he had lived in for half a century and yet only a decade. He began to cry once more, only now with joy.

Ophion would be at the manor by morning. He would take care of Pierre, perhaps take him in as his own. He would be alright.

“Je suis désolé, Pierre, I am so sorry.”

Félicien began to walk towards the village.