Another excerpt from this year's NaNo Novel, Goblin Fires.
Finn and I were an oddity of sorts, at least when it came to being Knights. There weren't actually that many of us—the Morrigan was a warrior goddess, after all, not a patron saint of hearth or home or fertility—and those of us there were did not often coincide closely in age. Finn and I might have been the only two to share our early childhoods, being siblings raised together for the first five years of his life until I was taken into the Autumn Court. We'd always shared a unique closeness, even after both taking up our roles to our respective houses. Finn was like me: he was of empathic demeanor, affected by and reflecting the nature of his company and, being a servant in the House of Spring, he'd come into a generally pleasant, playful and bright sort of character. Being an elf, he was prone to a strong sense of self-confidence; being Finn, that self-confidence could edge into a cocksure impertinence as often as not. Luckily for him, he was good at backing it up. He was also bloody gorgeous, as I've said, all lithe muscle and agile grace, and to top it off the beautiful, blazing smile of a man of chivalry and devotion. And it was all genuine, unadulterated Finn. A natural Knight, through and through and through.
It was downright disgusting. But only because he did it so very well.
Finn was better than I at managing the velocity of Unbridled nature. He embraced the empathic adaptability of our emotions where I generally just strove to manage them. He was forever encouraging me to take that same leap of faith, headlong into my carefree passions.
Today, evidently, was going to be no different.
"How is Ceri?" he asked pleasantly as we ordered our drinks. Finn was the only soul on Earth to whom I could confide my feelings for Ceridwen. He understood the situation with uncanny sympathy.
Unfortunately, his advice was never very helpful on the matter.
"She is well," I answered, trying to affect his same breezy manner. "You will love the ballad she is constructing for Queen Gloriana. As always, she has made it a true work of art.
"Excellent," he replied with a nod. "And how about you, then?"
"How about me?" I rebounded, cryptic as I toyed with a thin cardstock coaster.
"A fellow can't help but notice," he rumbled. "You're looking a bit tousled today. A little extra jaunt in your step, a coy bit of smugness… rather Winter, if you ask me. Alas, when you gaze at the fair Ceridwen, there's yet that wistful, unrequited longing. As usual."
I rolled my eyes at him. Our drinks came and I made it a point to give our waitress a covert but definitely appreciative look. Channeling Talaith again, or perhaps this time it was a little bit of Erin. Either way, I let Finn see it, then turned my eyes on him.
"I'm doing just fine, little brother."
"Uh-huh," he replied. He took a quick sip of his drink, pretending for just a second that he might actually drop the subject. Of course, he didn't.
"So that wasn't your typical gaze of hopeless affection I saw when Ceri and my Ladies parted ways with us, then?" he mused. "Funny… it seemed so much more heartfelt and true than that silly ogling you just gave the serving girl."
I frowned at him, dropping the cool act, and sighed.
"Is this really why you wanted me to come out for a drink with you?" I asked. "So you could play the wise counselor and help me to admit what you already know to be true and furthermore to be senseless?"
"Someone's got to," he said. "Might as well be me."
"No, it mightn't," I warned. "Finn, we've had this conversation."
"Aye, so we have," he replied, raising his glass to me in a mock salute. "But a man should say something when he sees his baby sister's hurting, shouldn't he?"
"I'm not," I insisted. "And I'm not your baby sister. I'm older than you. I've been doing this longer."
"Reg," he murmured kindly. "You poor silly bint. I just want you to be happy."
"I am happy," I murmured, and took a long sip of my drink. It wasn't untrue, either.
"I am perfectly content with my role and the status of things as they are in my House."
"Och, right," he muttered. "An' that's why you reek of Winter magic this morning, and last time it was the kisses of a poor Summer Dryad. I can't stand to see you trying to ease your yearning heart all among faeries that don't truly make you happy, and all the while pining for the one Sidhe lady you've convinced yourself you cannot have."
"Why won't you just tell Ceri how you feel?" he asked. "How you've felt since the day you met her? You've told me often enough. Do you think she wouldn't love you the same, you, who've been her friend, companion and guardian nearly all your lives?"
"Finn!" I hissed. "We've gone over this. I'm her Knight. I can't be anything more to her than that."
"Sure you can," he said softly.
I tried not to hate him in that moment. I tried not to be ridiculously jealous, childishly jealous and bitter over the courage he had that I didn't, the joy he'd found that I could not. It wasn't Finn's fault I had never revealed my heart's desire to Ceridwen. But why did he have to make my own pain so much sharper, so much more poignant, by not just once but twice proving he was not as constrained as I?
I didn't answer him, but sat back into the cool, dark leather of the booth, sulking over my drink.
"Ceridwen—Lady Ceridwen—is my Princess, and my charge," I said evenly. It was, by now, less an argument against Finn and more a mantra held to keep my own feelings in check. "I am her Knight. There is to be nothing more between us than that."
"Nine and Neri are my princess," he countered softly. "And it has never stood in our way."
"Because you are a great big bolloxing idiot," I snapped. "And you know you cannot ever really be together. One day they will be called to choose between you and the demands of the crown, and you know they will not be free to fraternize with a half-breed servant when there are Sidhe expectations pressing in on their every side. Would you ask them to be humiliated in the eyes of their Court, for taking an Unbridled barbarian into their bower?"
My words were probably much harsher than necessary. Finn, though, as usual, didn't seem to let it get to him. He smiled, a little sadly for my sake, and took another sip of his beer.
"Reagan," he said, in a tone of voice that said he was surrendering. "I only want to see you happy. That is all."
"I know, Finn," I said quietly.
It's just not as easy for me as it is for you.
I rubbed at my temple. Sometimes I wanted to ask him how he did it: how he could so easily put aside the constraints of his duty and the expectations of the Courts, let his guard down, let himself be so at ease with Nineva and Nerissa, his wards. How could he let himself love them so freely, and accept their love so easily in return?
The twins don't like tiger lilies…
They like the whole tiger.
Of course, Erin's remark earlier hadn't come close to encompassing the whole truth. There was far more to it than that. At the moment, though, it was not a subject I wished to plumb deeper. Finn meant well in hoping to nudge me in what, to him, was the obvious course of action… but I was not the same as him. Ceri was not the same as the Ladies of the Springtime Court. I was not as brave. She was not as blithe.
And the whole matter just made me very tired.
"Another subject, if you will?" I asked, trying not to sound too terse. He was my brother, after all, and I loved him. "Have you seen our Mother lately?"
He gave a little nod. "She was a guest at the Queen's celebration of the thaw. She was as she ever is."
Which was to say the Morrigan had been charming and polite, but conspicuously alien among the Sidhe of the Courts. Our mother remained staunchly proactive in defending her independence from the Four Courts, even though it served an effective reminder to the Sidhe Lords that the warrior goddess maintained no allegiance to any of them nor their laws. Sometimes I wondered if keeping up such a defensive presence among them served to help or hinder her standing. Then again, she had maintained the same staunch neutrality for centuries before I had been born and likely would continue for centuries to come. It was what she wanted.
"I danced with her," Finn said with a fond smile. "I expect she will be in attendance at the upcoming equinox, as well."
I nodded. One could almost be sure of that. Sometimes, though, I wished—and maybe it was at those times I was especially engrossed in mortal company, those raucous, beautiful, complicated creatures—that I might have occasion to visit my own mother outside the auspices of the court, some afternoon to simply be all hers again.
But that was only more depressing reflection. What was making me so morose today? I tried to brush it away and let Finn's brighter, more easygoing demeanor wash over mine.
We chatted about things which had little consequences: mortal dealings, the flight he and his Ladies had taken, his last trip to the fae realms and Gloriana's meadowland pavilions. He asked about Seattle and the recent thunderstorms—probably the work of Oberon's personal harlequin, the Puck, who had been recently in our area causing Winter mischief. Finally, when I thought it was safe, I asked him about Nine and Neri again, and asked how they had enjoyed the Caribbean, where they had recently enjoyed a brief journey just that week on business of their Court.
Finn smiled at me, his expression full of buoyant cheer. "It was beautiful. And it suited my Ladies quite nicely. We were there for a meeting with the merfolk of Titania's realms. Nine discovered a new drink to her liking, and Neri found she does not care much for the taste of conch."
I laughed a little at the image of quiet Neri screwing up her elfin nose as the stark bland flavor of conch.
Soon enough, it seemed our hour was over, and it was time to return to our Ladies. Just as I was dropping the cash for our drinks onto the little tray for the bill, Finn's phone chirped at him and he glanced down at it before sharing the screen with me. The message was from Erin: the Ladies want to take a walk through CP. Meet you there.
"Naturally," I said with a nod. I slid out of the booth and folded my jacket over my arm as Finn flashed a final, winning grin at the waitress, who blushed and waved a little goodbye.
"That," my brother told me, putting his arm around my shoulder again, "is how you flirt with a serving girl, Reagan my lass."
I shook my head with a sigh.