Bagadata of Shiraz—known commonly as King Brandan Horan of the Sídhe—had lived through countless wars. He’d watched borders and allegiances change. He’d watched in silence as Persia became Iran, and as the remaining fae in the land ceded their territory foot by foot to avoid the encroaching human threat.
All over the world, the fae lived in secret—watching mankind from afar. They avoided getting their hands dirty, although that was what they had evolved to do. They’d evolved to aid.
But no one did anymore.
Tending mankind was too much of boondoggle, they’d thought, so the fae had stopped. They’d set themselves apart—as better-than.
The truth was, they couldn’t even care for themselves.
As always, he remained quiet and unmoving on his throne like some sort of crown-wearing statue. The scene changed, but his actions never did. After fifteen hundred years of life, making himself care was hard.
He was a reluctant king. A reluctant husband.
He’d married Rhiannon to merge the fairy group in Europe with the one in western Asia. For the temptress Rhiannon, the marriage had been a political coup. Her currency was energy, and every fairy in her domain lent power to her magic. For Brandan, the union had come out of him having no better option.
He could have had any woman. Kings, and especially kings with his amount of magic, had no trouble acquiring warm bodies for their beds, should they want them.
He hadn’t wanted them.
Hadn’t wanted Rhiannon.
Hadn’t wanted anyone. He courted solitude, not romance, but he’d had to fulfill the prophecy—had to undo some of the mess the Sídhe had made.
His children were the keys. His son Heath. His daughter Siobhan.
He’d endured nine hundred years with his wife before she’d conceived.
Nine hundred humiliating, anxiety-laced years.
Everyone thought he was cruel—loathsome, because he never reacted to anything. He didn’t rein in his wife. He didn’t stop her from being terrible and abusing their subjects.
He didn’t do anything.
Not even for his children.
His closed his eyes, tipped his crown back, and let out ragged exhalation.
If he concentrated, he could tune out the yelling. He could keep his heart rate down and his body from coiling as if he actually would spring up from his throne.
If it hadn’t been for the prophecy, he wouldn’t have had children. He’d been more surprised than anyone that his instincts as a father worked just fine, even if he didn’t act on them. No one had been more shocked than he that he loved his children.
Heath for his intelligence and tenacity.
Siobhan for her big heart and spirit of generosity.
They were reflections of him who looked back with their mother’s blue eyes.
They were hard for Brandan to look at because he couldn’t stop himself from remembering how much he’d failed them in two centuries—how much he’d had to fail them.
He forced his eyes open and made himself to look—to watch his wife terrorize them yet again.
Weapons were drawn. Not a magical fight, but those were rare anyway. Their magic was too destructive, and they wouldn’t bring down their own home, even if for the children it had never felt like much of one.
Rhiannon had the point of her sword at Siobhan’s throat and Heath had blade against his mother’s neck in warning. Heath would never allow Rhiannon to harm his sister, but she was the easier target between the two children. Siobhan didn’t have her brother’s reflexes.
Brandan could stop the fight with just a breath. Send them all crumbling to the floor along with their weapons. Steal the life from them for an hour or two.
But he couldn’t—not without showing the cards he held. He had to watch it all play out without interfering or he’d risk unraveling the potential future the Fates had arranged.
All he could until the time came do was sit impotently on the throne he didn’t want and remain married to the wife who wasn’t truly his mate.
No one knew when that time would be. The oracle was gone. The receiver of the prophecy was dead. Few people even knew of its existence, and all of them took the surname Mithradatha now—the name he didn’t give his children because he hadn’t wanted his wife to have it, too. Besides, the god Mithra had turned his back on his fae subjects long ago just as so many as the other gods had to their kind.
When the fae had stopped aiding man, the gods had rescinded their favor from the fae.
“Are you just going to sit there?” Siobhan shouted at him.
Her pretty face was pulled into a mask of anger and confusion, but she stood defiant, even as a narrow stream of blood tracked down her neck and sullied the pure white of her modern T-shirt.
“What do you expect him to do, child?” Rhiannon asked her. “After all these years, you would try to pit us against each other? You really are daft.”
“I expect him to act like my father.”
“He’s giving you exactly what you need.”
Rhiannon’s tone grated, but in a way, she was right. Siobhan and Heath had to act without him. He couldn’t interfere in matters concerning them—not now. All signs pointed to the suggestions that they were past the ages when it would have been safe for him to do so. Brandan had run out of time to be their father.
“I would have fewer problems if I’d disposed of you at birth,” Rhiannon spat. “One child was enough.”
And that one, she’d never let live long enough to take the throne, if she had her way.
Heath had to have been thinking it, too.
Brandan could always tell when his son was at his limit. Heath may have been silent and patient, his sword level and still, but Brandan recognized his own magic in his son, even if his wife didn’t.
And at that moment, that destructive magic was welling up in Heath. He’d do something he’d regret. He would kill his mother to save his sister, and because he had a heart, he’d be ruined by it. Rhiannon may have killed her own parents to seize the throne and suffered no guilt for it, but Heath was a Mithradatha. He’d give her more chances than she deserved.
“We’re leaving,” he said quietly after pulling in a long breath. “We’ll do our jobs and collect your fugitives as we’ve been tasked to.”
“You don’t get to pick and choose who you bring back, Heath. That’s what this argument is about.”
“So it is, Mum. Put down the sword. Siobhan was only speaking the truth as she knows it. I hardly see that as a killing offense.”
“I’m warning you, Heath,” she said in a low, ominous tone. “I don’t care if you think I’m being harsh or overly rigid. Everyone knows the rules. No one leaves this realm without my blessing. If you encounter fae in the human lands, you bring them back. Whatever you’re doing on the side—suppressing trolls and gnomes or whatever other bloody thing you’re doing in the US right now—make sure you’re doing it on your own time. Find my fugitives and bring them back.”
“I want to hear her say it.” She tipped her chin toward ever-defiant Siobhan.
Just say it, Bonnie. Say it and go, Princess.
Rhiannon would all but forget the altercation the moment the children left. She always forgot how terrible she was and climbed into Brandan’s bed every night with a sweet smile on her lips and a purr on her voice as if she hadn’t been terrorizing his children. She thought he didn’t care, but he did.
Siobhan peeled her lips back from her clenched teeth and spat, “We’ll bring back your fucking fugitives.”
Rhiannon canted her head and dug her sword’s tip a bit deeper into Siobhan’s flesh. “Excuse me?”
It was a risk, but Heath yanked his sister back and notched his sword against his mother’s. “Just stop, okay? We’re leaving. Fuck both of you.”
And they left, both tossing glares over their shoulders toward the throne as they stormed to the throne room’s tall, heavy doors, and Siobhan holding a hand against her bleeding neck.
Rhiannon sighed, let her sword clatter onto the floor, and then wiped her hands on her voluminous skirt. “Hawke!” she shouted.
A servant appeared from the shadows and bowed low to her.
She pointed to the sword. “Have someone clean that, would you? And have someone bring me another before the next group comes in to beg of my favor.”
“Of course, Queen.” He picked the sword up gingerly, and held it reverently with two hands. He scurried away with it.
Rhiannon’s red lips stretched into a smile as she climbed the steps to her throne.
She looked at Brandan with enticement and lust, and the best he could do was to not show any emotion at all. A difficult task for fairies his age—tamping down their passion became harder with each passing century—but Brandon did it because he had no choice.
He’d be that statue—that useless, uncaring figurehead his children thought he was—until the time came.
Rhiannon danced her fingertips up his arm and chuckled low. “I’m going to have so much fun with you tonight, my dear. I’ve been thinking about nightfall all day.”
As he’d been dreading it.
“Tonight, then.” He closed his eyes and wished for some solitude.
And more than that, he wished the time would come.
He hoped he’d keep himself breathing long enough to see it.