The silence sat heavy on Tyr’s shoulders as he was ushered away from the camping performers. When the shadows of the rocky terrain finally swallowed them, the procession of hooded figures melted into the night. Tyr squinted, head swiveling as he was left alone with Raghnal.
“What is this?” he asked as firmly as he could manage while his stomach churned with an acidic suspicion.
“I assumed there was no way to reach you without a bit of… histrionics. A well-placed illusion can really drive a point in, and you have truly taken to low-brow theatre,” Raghnal’s fiery gold eyes took Tyr in for a moment, sliding up from his boots to the crown of his head, before finally dropping to look him in the eyes. “You’ve been called back to Magh Meall.”
A choked laugh erupted out of Tyr’s throat, and he raked his hands roughly through his sandy hair, taking it in handfuls and tugging. “No.” He dropped his hands to his sides, leaving his head looking like a hay pile.
“What—no? What do you mean ‘no?’” Raghnal closed the short distance between them, even as Tyr jerked a few steps backward, and seized him by the collar. “This is no request.”
Swallowing hard, Tyr gripped at the Fae’s wrist, and hissed as the heat of his skin scalded his fingers. The front of his shirt began to smoke where Raghnal held him. Tyr stood half a head taller than the other, but the strength of the Fae held him fast. As his shirt smoldered and Raghnal appeared to glow a little brighter, he grinned up at Tyr, and finally released him.
Drawing a shaky breath, Tyr patted the singed fabric until the embers went out.
“I know you balk at our interference in your life, Tyr, but this is more important than whatever oaths we’ve taken.”
“Convenient that you’re able to decide when the oaths don’t matter,” Tyr said, fingering the burnt holes in his shirt. “The last time I left Magh Meall, you granted me sovereignty over my own destiny, didn’t you?”
Raghnal breathed a quiet laugh. “I suppose so, if you believe in that sort of thing.”
“Destiny?” He met his eyes finally, brow furrowed.
“Sovereignty,” the Fae answered flatly, any hint of that laugh dissolved instantly. “You’ve wrapped yourself up in the affairs of humanity, and now you’ve lost your insight into the more complex obstacles the world faces. It’s a shame.”
Tyr laughed. He didn’t know why, but Raghnal’s words pulled deep, rolling laughter out of him until he thought he might be utterly mad. He snorted as he fought to pull himself together and wiped a tear from his eye. The Fae was staring at him, expressionless.
“I’m glad this is funny to you.”
“It isn’t,” he replied on the last of his hysterical laughter. “I’ve been choking to death on your disdain for humanity for most of my life, Raghnal, and I don’t have the energy to try to swallow it anymore. I should have known you wouldn’t uphold your end of the bargain, and I’d be dragged back into Magh Meall, eventually.”
Raghnal stood with his back straight as an arrow and looked Tyr up and down for a moment. He drew a deep breath, the light that tipped every inch of him flaring like a swarm of fireflies.
“The Unseelie have made a deal with a young lord. Typically, it doesn’t much matter what they do. Everything eventually falls back into balance, and life marches on.” He paused for effect but tried to hide his disappointment when Tyr didn’t rise to the bait. “What that means is the Unseelie have found a way to upset that balance with this bargain. I need you to handle it.”
The pull of the Fae had been dragging Tyr around his whole life. There was never any semblance of permanence and he had begun to settle into roles he knew could be upended at any moment. If he could expect his life to capsize, he theorized that it might not hurt so much whenever it did. He wasn’t necessarily wrong, but he also wasn’t sure how much of that was his own desensitization toward who he was. How much of it was a callus he’d grown against the friction of life as a Fae-touched?
He sighed, his shoulder sagging faintly. “What do I have to do?”
Raghnal’s stupid grin, those awful pointed teeth peeking out, made Tyr’s stomach dip. “You do your duty. Killing him won’t work, unfortunately, so you’ll have to get creative. I have no further advice than that.”
“Are you joking?” Tyr scoffed, trying to force his posture straight again. It was hard to look at this man and see anything, but the source of his own gods be damned madness.
“Alas,” was all that Raghnal said, holding Tyr’s gaze with deliberate intensity. Finally, he sucked in a breath and smiled. “Well, off we go, then.” With a flourish of his hand, the Fae’s index finger drew a smoldering line of flame vertically in the air. The space between the pair of them and the glowing yellow-hot line seemed to empty of color in that moment, and the line itself burned a rectangular hole in the air, like a candle flame through parchment.
No matter how many times Tyr had seen this particular marvel, it never failed to make his stomach dip. Beyond the hole, its edges smoldering with a reddish glow, a clearing in a birch wood rolled with discarded red and gold leaves. There was such a vibrance that lay beyond, he felt like every color that surrounded them here was flat and lifeless.
“I’d rather find the arch—”
“I don’t have time for you to traverse half this gloom-sodden continent to find a viable arch. Just step through. It performs the same function, and you don’t have to wait for permission to enter.” Raghnal gestured pointedly at the burnt tear in the fabric of the human world, willing his charge to go through.
Hissing a curse between his teeth, Tyr felt his heart flutter. He had fully lost control of this situation the second he had agreed to go with Raghnal. He narrowed his eyes at the Fae and squared his shoulders, keeping eye contact with him as he stepped through the doorway. In a flash, he caught only a sneer from the other before the world around him went into a spin, and the air was sucked from his lungs in a violent rush. Before he had time to panic, he hit the ground on his hands and knees and retched.
“You have Fae blood in your veins. Pull yourself together,” Raghnal spat, nudging the side of Tyr’s leg with his toe.
It was a good thing he hadn’t eaten much for dinner, or he might have emptied his stomach when he fell. Fae never reacted well to bodily functions, and he wasn’t in the mood for his host’s disgust over his humanity. He pushed himself back on his heels and rose unsteadily, gripping a birch trunk for dear life.
“Welcome home, then.”
Relief flooded him like cool water, and Tyr closed his eyes to set his head right. Welcome home. He wasn’t a guest. Still…
“Thank you for inviting me.” The words were so bitter in his mouth, he thought he might gag again.
“The rules of hospitality are… paused, at the moment. For now, you’re home.” Raghnal crossed the clearing, kicking debris out of the way as he moved toward a dais filled with tables, each one looking to be grown there, rather than built.
Now that Tyr’s head was clearing, he was seeing that most of the debris wasn’t detritus from the autumn foliage. Instead, the remnants of what must have been a raucous party lay strewn all over the clearing. Shining jeweled masks were hung up in the trees. Cups of clay and crystal littered the tables and lay overturned on the floor of the dais. Articles of clothing peeked out from the leaves on the ground. The closer they drew to the back of the dais, the more apparent the barrels tucked behind the intricate woven birch branches that served as a lattice of shelving became.
And the saccharine scent of honey wine.
“Why the celebration?” he asked, blandly, lifting a crystal goblet and setting it upright on a table.
“Ariadon thought we should have a feast. Her will is celebration enough when the wine is flowing, don’t you think?”
“Naturally,” Tyr sighed and scooted a chair from where it had fallen under a table, setting it on its legs and plopping onto the seat. “Was it Ariadon who sent you to find me?”
Raghnal paused in pouring a glass of wine into the cleanest cup he could find. “No. She knows the situation, but I was sent by someone else. And I wasn’t sent to find you. I was sent to find someone to deal with the situation. I chose you.”
“Lucky me,” Tyr scrubbed his face with his palms and looked around again. Ariadon had certainly lived up to her reputation, throwing balls and feasts and any social function that might lead to uproarious behavior.
“No. Thank you.” To accept an offering of food or drink from the Fae was unwise at best, and catastrophic at worst. He didn’t have any desire to be linked to Raghnal for any purpose, and if that meant starving until he was finally released, he’d weather it.
“You’re a bore, Tyr. You always have been. But, to business, I suppose.” Raghnal settled in the chair opposite him and swirled the golden, radiant liquid in his cup until he nearly mesmerized himself with it. The silence stretched long enough, that Tyr was about to open his mouth when the Fae drew a deep breath. “The Unseelie have taken to making deals higher up the mortal food chain that we’re comfortable with. It turns out the son of a floundering viscount has found that his father’s station may not be as solid as he had always assumed.”
“And he made a bargain for, what? Power? It’s always power,” Tyr muttered.
“Power,” Raghnal actually laughed, the fiery glow of his cheeks flaring white. “I wish it were that simple. We’re used to dealing with what men think power really is and giving them a proper taste of chaos for their trouble. This young man has wished for the power of Faerie.” He spoke the last few words with pointed emphasis. When Tyr only frowned at him, Raghnal heaved an exasperated sigh. “He has as much power as I do, for lack of a better comparison. More, if they’ve also given him the wisdom and awareness of that power. I’m not sure if it’s worse that he knows how to use it or that he doesn’t.”
Tensing slightly, Tyr worked the panic back down his throat before he said something he would regret. Carefully measuring his response, he swallowed hard before offering it.
“What, exactly, would they stand to gain from bestowing that sort of… responsibility on a mortal man?”
“Your voice is shaking. Well it should, really.” The Fae tipped the wine against his lips, and, after a moment’s consideration, thought better of the sip and downed the whole cup. “I don’t imagine they gave him any sort of responsibility or even a hint of a lecture. They gave him what he asked for—Power. For the time being, there have been no catastrophes, but I need you to go monitor him. Watch him and report back what you find.”
“Just go take it away from him! If this is the nightmare you’re implying, Raghnal, go take it from him and let me go home.” Home. Was it that? For something they had to pick up and drag along with them every time a festival ended, it was hard for him to think of leaving it. And yet, here he was.
Raghnal shook his head just slightly, and thunked the glass on the tabletop, rim down. “It would be an affront to the Unseelie. If things take a turn for the worst, we can step in, but I’d rather not risk open war if it can be avoided.”
“Open war?” Tyr raked his fingers through his hair, still grappling with that frenzy spinning up in his guts. “If Magh Meall goes to war with itself, where does that leave the mortal world? Where does it leave the man who wished for power?”
“It leaves them both beyond my concern,” he said tightly, gritting his teeth. “If it worries you so much, then do as you’re told.”
His brow creasing in a deep frown, Tyr stamped down the protest that rose in his throat. There was a balance that needed to be kept. There was order that, when maintained, kept the Fae out of human affairs—more or less. The fight to live his life without ties to the Fae was like trying not to drown in an ocean made of pudding. During a storm. The Fae did not abide children who would not fall in line.
But he wasn’t a child, and his Fae father had ever been a mystery.
He heaved a sigh through his nose and rubbed at his forehead with the tips of his fingers, thumb braced on his cheek bone.
“I’ll check on him.”
Raghnal’s eyes brightened, the flaming yellow at the highpoints of his face burning white for just a moment.
“But I’ll not act as a nursemaid to a grown man who can’t recognize a blessing from a death knell.”
“Ever the reluctant adventurer.”
“It’s not reluctance! If I find I’m written into any ridiculous poems or songs as some taciturn hero the next time I come to Magh Meall, I will show you the meaning of villainy, do you understand?” Tyr didn’t know where he had found his courage, but he blinked at the finger he held pointed in Raghnal’s face.
The Fae was positively beaming.
“Not a hero, but a villain? Such a heartwarming tale it would make, don’t you think?” He lifted his upturned wine glass and tapped the rim on the tabletop, narrowing his eyes at the thought that brewed behind them. Still, not a single crease formed on his smooth, flame-like face. “After declaring vengeance on the Fae for stealing his childhood and demanding work of him on occasion, our villain is sent on a mission to a far-off land to secure the safety of the world. In doing so, sees the error in his lifelong pursuit of revenge—”
“Please stop,” Tyr sighed. “I said I’ll go. That’s punishment enough for the ‘error of my lifelong pursuit of revenge,’ isn’t it? And I never swore revenge. You just make me tired with these kidnappings.” He stood and dusted himself off. “This far-off land… is it some place I can communicate with others? I need to be able to speak the language, otherwise I can’t do much.”
Raghnal seemed satisfied with the path their discussion had taken, Tyr figured, since he didn’t bother to look up at him as he poured another drink. He just swirled it like glimmering honey in his glass after corking the bottle.
“It isn’t as far-off as you might expect. His father’s estates are in Angharad, and, as I understand it, your languages remain fairly similar.” Raghnal waved it off, as if the problem never crossed his mind. Tyr knew he was well aware that Fielle had split from Angharad nearly three hundred years ago. All that really separated them now was a little bad blood and a heavy accent, but nothing that he thought might hinder him.
A long pause stretched between them, and Tyr gritted his teeth. “Are you going to tell me which viscount? Which province? Anything?”
Raghnal scoffed. “Why? I’m going to bring you there. Are you sure you won’t have some wine?” He wobbled his glass at him, sloshing the golden liquid about.
“I thought this was urgent,” Tyr asked flatly, his shoulders tensing.
“And I thought you said you’d come back to Magh Meall over your dead body. Yet, here you are, breathing and everything,” Raghnal smiled. “You know it truly is urgent. If I could lie to you, I’d have done it years ago. It appears to make human interactions so much easier.” That smile flashed into a grin. “Yet also more complicated. A lot of fun, I think. But yes, it is urgent.” He plopped the glass down, resigning himself to letting his quarry back out into the world.
As the Fae stepped through the disarray left by a party long over, Tyr fell into step behind him, resigning himself to another trip through Ariadon’s doorway. If he could ride fast enough, maybe… But the convenience of the Fae ability to just pop in and out of wherever they pleased in the human world did make it easy. A bitter taste flooded his mouth and he grimaced, forcing as much of that metallic flavor back down his throat in a rough swallow. The magic of the doorway pulled at him, but it was so much stronger than the magic he was used to handling.
“All right, then. Deep breath,” Raghnal warned, but, instead of stepping through with him, launched Tyr into the abyss with a jarring shove.
The rush of the fluid-like magic between their worlds rushed through him and over him, roaring in his ears and burning his nostrils. He tumbled head over heels, and his vision flickered, and went dark.