Excerpt: Chapter 6
Clive couldn’t understand why he felt no triumph. The choice was made and Oberon was waiting. “We need to go,” he said.
She nodded, but made no move to get closer to him.
“Lydia?” Clive took a step toward her. She lifted her face and something cold and hard in her expression stopped him.
“Is it true?” Her voice was weary, stripped of emotion.
“Is what true?” he asked, as gently as he could.
“My parents. Oberon. Everything.”
“You will find your answers at court,” Clive said, hoping he was not making yet another promise impossible to fulfill. “Are you ready?”
“Wait. What does trueborn mean?”
“We have no time for the history of Fae politics and society. Oberon is not a patient man.”
“Make time,” she said.
He read anger in the slight narrowing of her eyes and the set of her shoulders. She was as immovable as stone. If she chose to fight him, he would never get her across to Faerie. He glared at her, muscles tensing at his jaw line, and forced himself to relax. “All right,” he said. “You are trueborn because both of your parents were Fae. Furthermore, your mother was from Bright court, your father from Shadow. It’s rare.” She would find out soon just how rare. “If Shadow court had claimed you, it would have shifted the balance of power in Faerie toward Titania. With you at Bright, Oberon consolidates his rule.” And his control over the future of the Fae bloodlines.
“This is crazy,” Lydia said. “First I fall into A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Now it’s like something out of Romeo and Juliet. Don’t tell me. They were star-crossed lovers, right?”
“This is neither a story, Lydia, nor a joke.” Urgency was making Clive irritable. In Faerie, plots and plans took decades to unfold. Here, it felt as if time was sweeping over him. How did the Mortals stand it? They had so little of it as it was. “The Fae are not like Mortals. Our families are nothing of the kind you grew up in.” His own mother could not have been more different than Lydia’s. “It certainly was not love that brought your parents together.”
“Then what was it?”
“A chance at power.” There was little else that motivated the Fae. At least since the courts split.
“Whatever Oberon thinks, I’m nothing special,” Lydia said.
Clive met her eyes with his. “No, you are trueborn Fae and you are needed.” There was more to it than that, more than what Oberon had said. But he didn’t know exactly what. Only that Lydia was more than anyone had bargained for.
“Right. After you abandon me for seventeen years.” She paused, considering him. “What’s so important about a trueborn, anyway?”
Her accusation, he could not answer. As to why the courts would be fighting over her now, that was simple. “The Fae are dying out. We cannot create children together anymore.”
“Big deal. Half the kids I know were probably born in a test tube or a petri dish or something. So Oberon needs a fertility specialist.”
An intoxicating rush of anger sent heat pulsing through his body. “You cannot understand how pointless this is.” He was Oberon’s errand boy, plain and simple, and it was past time to deliver his charge.
“Then explain it to me. So I can understand.”
“What do explanations matter? You have made your choice.” Though perhaps this had been decided long before Lydia had been born. Certainly, he had never had the luxury of choices. “The more you struggle against the King, the more difficult it will be for you.” He would do her no kindness by giving her a false sense of life in Faerie, but the confusion and hurt in her expression pained him and he relented. “You were the last trueborn babe in Faerie. Your parents were powerful Fae, subordinate only to Oberon and Titania. Why you were hidden here, I cannot know, but now that you are found there will never be peace in Faerie as long as you remain unclaimed by either court.”
“Wait. What about Aileen? What about you?” she asked.
“Me? Trueborn?” Clive laughed and there was no humor in it, only pain. “That honor is not mine. My mother refuses to name my own father, but he is certainly from the Mortal world.” There was no shame in that, only expediency. But that wasn’t what galled, what kept him from rising higher at Bright. It was no secret that most of the upper echelon at Bright did not trust him and his easy comfort with the Mortal realm. Why would they? Crossing out of Faerie would bleed them of power to spin their precious glamours or twist their way to status at court. The only reason any one of them would set foot beyond the barrier was if Oberon granted them leave to take a lover. Then they would flee back to Faerie as quickly as they could. “Lydia, the only reason the Fae haven’t faded entirely from the world is that we breed true.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means that any child of a Mortal and a Fae will produce a Fae child. It means that Oberon chooses which bloodlines may thrive. If he wishes to favor one of his court, he allows that Fae access to the doors between worlds. Access to a Mortal lover. Access to create a child. A child who will be one of us.”
Her face blanched. “What if the baby is born here to a Mortal mother?”
“It is taken.”
“And what about the mother?”
“A seeming is made. The mother has a baby for a short time and then it dies.”
“You have no right.” A slow fire glowed in her eyes.
“We have no choice.” He forced himself to lower his voice. “The court that holds the doors between the worlds controls all. Right now, the balance favors Oberon. Bright court thrives while Shadow is in decline. Do you understand now why Titania sought you out?”
Lydia frowned and shook her head. “Whatever or whoever you think I am, you’re wrong.”
“You are a trueborn Fae. Through your children, our blood lines will be strengthened.” No longer would they be dependent on Mortal lovers. And with Lydia at Oberon’s court, Bright magic would rule over Shadow.
“You’ve got to be kidding. Oberon wants to use me as some kind of Faerie brood mare?” Her eyes flashed with anger. “I’m done.” Lydia turned away. “I’m going home.”
Clive’s breath caught in his throat. “You cannot,” he said.
She whirled back to face him. The air between them stirred the playground grit. He had to hold himself from stepping away.
“You made a thrice witnessed oath. You are Fae and thus bound.”
“You tricked me,” she said, red spots blooming on her cheeks.
“No. I have given you only truth. The Bright court seeks to honor you, to protect you.”
Lydia crossed her arms over her chest. “And if I don’t want your honor or your protection?” She made the words sound like curses.
“This is not about what you want. You have a duty to your people.” Bringing Lydia back to court would justify Oberon’s trust. He didn’t know what he had been thinking. Of course, she had to return to Faerie. There was no other path for either of them. But Clive was not looking forward to presenting her to the Fae. She was something Oberon could not have planned for and it had been a long time since something or someone had surprised his King. “Lydia . . . ”
She looked him directly in the eye and he faltered. Where the sun touched her hair, it brought out gold highlights in the warm brown. Her features seemed sculpted, the bones of her face more angular, her eyes larger, the pupils ringed with fire. Even without Oberon’s intervention, the last of the glamour was falling away. Magic thrummed around her, power that would be obvious to all but the least talented of the Fae. Oberon couldn’t fail to see it.
Something in his expression must have alarmed her. Her gaze darted all around the playground. “What is it?”
Clive swallowed past the lump in his throat. “Do not trust him.”
Lydia folded her arms across her chest.
“Do not trust any of us,” Clive said. There was so much more he wanted to tell her, but there was no time.
“You said the Fae don’t lie,” she said.
“It is complicated.” He pushed his hair away from his forehead. “Not lying is not the same thing as being trustworthy.” He glanced across the playground to a thicket of trees. It was past time to go.
“What about you?”
He felt his face heat up and stared at the ground. “I am an instrument of Oberon’s will. Bound to his word.”
She touched him lightly on the arm she had injured. The healing cut tingled. “You made a promise to me. Will you keep it?”
He looked up into a face that was familiar and alien at the same time. His stomach knotted. “Yes.”
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