Rating: PG-13 for this section
Author's Note: This section is short because it really more goes action-wise with the last section. Had I not been in such a hurry to get an update out after the holiday break I'd have just waited to append this to that section.
In 1683 the first boat carrying fey landed in Virginia. Receiving ill welcome from the young American colonies, most of the passengers and the ones who followed after chose to go west, eventually establishing the new kingdom of Western Faerie in the Pacific Northwest. Distrust of Faerie persisted in the east and traveled outwards as the United States
and its ally, the Kingdom of Texas, spread west into the lands bordering those claimed by the fey.
Two years ago Kris Allen, lost to himself after a bitter three-year war, answered a newspaper ad and headed west to the chaotic borderland known as South California. He'd hoped, in a land with no loyalties, he could find respite from his own divided nature. What he found was something else.
Baraz sat behind a large desk in a surprisingly modern office. He rose at Kris’s entrance and inclined his head.
“Thank you for responding to my request so quickly,” he said, as if Kris had had any real choice in the matter. But then the Sidhe were infamous for their love of these little games of decorum.
“We must first deal with some unpleasantness,” Baraz said. He indicated the corner behind Kris with one sweep of his hand.
Kris turned around and saw a bruised and bleeding man bound to a chair with bright bands of magic. The man raised his head, eyes widening in panic when he saw Kris.
Kris couldn’t help but fall back a step. The man had been one of the group standing sentry three nights ago.
“You recognize him, I see,” Baraz said, coming up to stand beside Kris. “I did not expect Mikshva to be foolish enough to deceive me in this, but it is well to receive confirmation.”
“He was one of the ones who guarded the perimeter,” Kris said. The words stuck in his throat although there was no use in denying it. The man’s fate had been sealed the second he’d touched Adam. But even having seen that spell, even knowing what it did, Kris couldn’t look at the man and easily condemn him to the kind of fate he knew must be waiting for him.
The man struggled wildly against his bonds and shouted his protest against the gag in his mouth. Baraz waived at the two trolls standing guard.
“You may take him for questioning,” Baraz said. “You can tell Lanos he may have the honor of the interrogation—just remind him to clean up afterward. The servants do find straightening up after his little hobbies so distressing.”
The guards bowed and dragged the thrashing man from the room.
“What will you do with him?” Kris asked. It was a supremely stupid question and possibly a dangerous one. But having played his assigned role in this little drama Kris couldn’t just leave the man to his fate without knowing just what he was sending him to.
Baraz raised a cool eyebrow. “He is human, so he hardly warrants our worst punishments. If he tells us what we want to know he will earn himself a quick death. If not then Lanos will convince him of the error of that decision. I need not remind you that this is far better treatment than what he offered our prince.”
Kris jerked his head once. The man would of course fight—there would be no painless death here, as they all understood. But by fey standards it was a generous sentence for what he’d done.
Baraz gestured back at a seating area and Kris had no chance but to follow. He watched as Baraz took a small blue pod and dropped it into the steaming water in the waiting glass teapot. It unfurled into a gently waiving blue flower with a sparkling golden center as sweetly aromatic fumes filled the air.
“That will take a few moments to steep,” Baraz said, settling back into the couch. Apparently they were going to play at civilized. Kris supposed it was meant to put him at ease. The Sidhe raised hospitality to a near-religion. Kris was Adam’s named guest and once served refreshment should be safe from harm at least until the following dawn. He didn’t put his trust in it, though, not after what had been done to Adam and the others.
He tried to get a read on Baraz but could sense nothing. If Kris wasn’t looking at him he wouldn’t even know he was in the room. Unless attempting complete invisibility, the Sidhe ordinarily radiated shimmers of magic like miniature stars. Kris already knew this one was a power from the way he’d produced Mikshva’s hostage in the bare half-hour since he’d left Adam’s room, but to be able to disguise his magic apart from his physical self so completely was something else again.
Baraz returned his assessing look with one of his own. “You know I must ask how you came to the prince’s rescue.”
Kris did know that. He’d just been hoping they could wait until Adam rejoined them for this part of the program. Baraz had undoubtedly learned some part of the story by now. As little as he liked revealing any part of his life to Baraz, Kris was keenly aware he had little room for anything but strictest honesty, here.
“I had sought shelter in the Sanctuary’s garden on other business,” Kris said, choosing his words carefully. “She told me she had a friend in trouble and asked for my help.”
“The Sanctuary, yes,” Baraz said, eyes intent. “Fearghas’s avatar did return bearing her charm. She gave it to you, I suppose?”
Kris wiped his sweating palms against his jeans. “Yes. She, uh, she said it would protect me as long as it bloomed.”
“It is a rare gift and one never given to the unworthy,” Baraz said. Despite his words he looked, if anything, unhappier than before. “That sign of her blessing is quite frankly the only reason I am speaking to you, Mr. Allen. Without that you would be joining the other human in enjoying Lanos’s hospitality.”
Kris jumped up and took a step back, startled by the use of his name. It was stupid to be so surprised—it took only the most elementary of identification spells, spells even Kris could master.
“You—you were going to . . . all I did was help him.”
Baraz moved to the edge of the couch and Kris stumbled backwards, almost tripping over his own feet.
Baraz sighed, impatience flitting over his features. “You consider yourself ill used no doubt. Before you indulge yourself in too much indignation, allow me to ask just one question.”
Kris couldn’t help but look towards the door, even knowing as he did that it was perfectly useless. Even if he could get past Baraz the corridors beyond were filled with beings centuries older than him and infinitely more powerful.
“Let us suppose that a group of fey kidnapped your American president,” Baraz said, apparently taking Kris’s silence for assent, “and that they used the most terrible of your science to try to put him into a living hell from which there was no escape. If he showed up at the White House still bearing the marks of his own torture in the company of a fey—and here let us say that this fey was just a lowly hobgoblin or brownie and not one you humans find beautiful or powerful—do you really think the FBI would just pat them on the head and let them go?”
“They wouldn’t torture them,” Kris said.
“Really? You will tell me that—even after what happened in your Border War?”
During the war there had always been stories—talk of what happened to the fey scouts when captured behind the Alliance lines. Kris had always wanted to deny them even though he’d known the worst of them were probably true.
“What do you even want?” he asked.
“For the present, answers will suffice.”
Kris took a deep breath and then rejoined Baraz on the couch. He took the cup of tea Baraz offered, dimly pleased that his hands only shook a little.
Baraz peppered him with a series of questions, each more detailed then the last. Kris struggled to answer them as best he could although there were elements of that night that his brain refused to recall.
Baraz paused at last. Kris felt tired and achy, like he’d gone through a heavy round at the gym.
“Thank you,” Baraz said. “You have been most helpful. Now there remains only one problem.”
Kris slumped against the back of the couch. At this point he didn’t even care what Baraz’s game was, he just wanted this to be done. “And what would that be?”
“The bond between you and Ailill.”
Yes, that. “You can’t break it?”
“Not without considerable difficulty and not a little danger to Ailill.”
Kris had been basically expecting that. Baraz wouldn’t look so annoyed, else.
“The sensible thing would be for you to move to the palace and align your life with the prince’s schedule.”
Kris listened to this, a little amazed at how cavalierly his whole life was being rearranged.
“Sensible is however a word which has rarely if ever been applied to our prince.” The frustration in Baraz’s tone seemed natural to it—the unmistakable affection was something of a surprise though. “Knowing Ailill he will insist it is your life that is to be left alone. We will have to make arrangements for him to move to your little compound.”
Kris frowned. “Is that safe?”
Baraz tilted his head, giving Kris a considering look. “The palace may not be the best location for Ailill, all things considered. If we kept the knowledge of his true location under spelled secrecy your situation may serve very well.”
“There are other people involved, here.”
“If you are speaking of your friends, seeing to Aillil’s safety necessitates protecting the rest of you.”
Kris leaned forward over his knees and shoved a hand through his hair. He was beginning to see why Adam had been so apologetic about this whole binding thing. “If I see anything I don’t like, anything, I’m taking Adam away from my friends. They are not going to be targets.”
“If anything of that nature should occur,” Baraz said, dryly unimpressed, “we will be removing the prince to somewhere more secure ourselves.”
He sighed and looked towards the door. “I perhaps misspoke earlier, when I said we only had one more problem to deal with.”
Adam shoved his way through the door trailing both Allison and the dryad.
“Your Highness, please,” the dryad said, fluttering behind Adam. “Lord Baraz was just—“
“Disobeying my clearly expressed wishes,” Adam said.
He strode across the room and dropped to his knees before Kris. He was breathing slightly hard as if he’d run here and he still wasn’t wearing a shirt.
“Are you all right?” he asked, closing his hands around Kris’s wrists. Immediately the now-familiar feeling of his magic curled up Kris’s spine and into his head, dispelling the aching tightness behind his eyes.
“Yeah, we were just having a conversation.” It was strictly true and he was pretty certain making an enemy of Baraz at this point would be a distinctly bad idea.
Adam frowned and turned on Baraz. “What do you think you are doing?”
“As your new companion said—merely having a conversation and sharing some refreshment. Would you care for some tea?”
Adam’s frown deepened as he looked at the half-empty teapot and his back straightened as a sudden tension ran through it. “How long have you been here?”
Baraz exhaled slowly. “Perhaps an hour. Altering the time current was necessary if were to have sufficient time to complete our discussion without interruption.”
“Which tells me you knew that I’d forbid this the second I learned of it.”
“I know it is not in your nature, Ailill, but do try to be reasonable for once. After what happened--”
“I know what it cost us,” Adam said, hands tightening around Kris’s wrists. “I was there.”
Allison came up beside Adam and put a hand on his shoulder. He relaxed a little under her touch and lessened his grip on Kris’s arms.
“I know you were there. Reminding you of that horror was never my intention,” Baraz said softly. He surprised Kris by dropping to his knees beside Adam and putting his hand on Adam’s face. “But it is my place—as well as my dearest desire—to ensure that nothing like that ever touches you again. And for that security measures must be taken.”
“I know that,” Adam said. “I’m not entirely stupid, no matter what you think about me. But none of those security measures mean touching him.”
“I will go as far as duty sends me,” Baraz said.
Adam looked at him, expression unreadable. “Then I will make this clear. If anyone touches him for any reason or causes him to be harmed at all, they will be exiled from my presence. Forever. That means you, too, so don’t force me to go that far.”
Baraz bowed his head in a gesture that seemed to hold more than simple acquiescence. “As in all things, Highness, your pleasure is my own.”
“That is an interesting interpretation of our relationship,” Adam said, the corners of his mouth curling up a bit.
Baraz stood and offered Adam a hand up. “Well, perhaps not in all things.”
Adam just shook his head. “Allison, will you please take Kris back to my rooms? There are a few things Baraz and I should talk about.”
She rubbed his shoulder and then smiled at Kris. “Shall we go?”
Adam gripped his shoulder as he moved to leave. “I am sorry for this,” he said. “I will explain as best I can later.”
He accompanied them to the door and glared down the hall at the hovering faces which peered around doors and around corners.
“My guest is returning to my suite. He will not be interfered with by any of you. I hope I have made myself clear on this point by now.”
The waiting faces flinched and then disappeared entirely.
Allison took Kris’s arm and led him back to the suite. The echoing silence as they walked through the hallways held a hushed anticipation and Kris could feel a hundred eyes on his back although they saw no one.
No one did interrupt on the entire trip, however, and they were left alone until Adam appeared a few hours later and told him it was time to go home.