I never break an oath. I can't break an oath, not one made to the Sidhe. A Knight cannot lie, cannot betray, and cannot go foul of a promise made.
Except one. One promise alone are we ever allowed to recant. One contract we can reject...but I never had cause to reject it.
Until we found ourselves—all of us, all the fae of the Four Courts—pulled into a war.
Until the last option I had left, to save the woman I loved, was to break the oath I made to protect her...
The warm aroma of blended spices—nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, and a hint of black pepper—curled up in tendrils of steam from the simple blue mug on the table before me. I closed my palms around it, relishing the effusive heat like a nice hot bath, and inhaled the scent of Talaith's favorite chai tea with a soft sound of approval.
"Careful, sweetie," Tala whispered in my ear. She had a very eloquent, very refined accent, and she leaned over my shoulder to sprinkle a pinch of cocoa powder into my cup. "Don't want to burn your tongue now, do you? Not while I still have plans for it..."
"Flirt," I accused her with a smile. I lifted the cup to my lips and blew gently over the tea, then shut my eyes and savored a long, leisurely drink. I never mind Tala's habit of teasing. It's a welcome, cozy bit of humor, pleasing even in its childishness. She always makes me tea after one of our delicious liaisons. Our familiar ritual, her means of keeping me a little while longer in a gesture of intimate yet innocent domesticity. She is ever the gracious host.
As I put the cup down, I admired her elegance in the dim light dancing from the fire in the hearth. She is all-over royal, Talaith, though you wouldn't know her to be an honest princess simply by looking. Her apartment, though astoundingly large for one woman, is furnished with baggy, comfortable objects, things you might find in a local bookstore. Everything in shades of maple and mahogany, draped with an assortment of mismatched hand-knitted afghans and Tala's discarded scarves. Her nest says more bohemian than blue-blood, but it is very her.
She caught me smiling, and I took her chin in my hand to pull her in for a kiss. Tala tasted like raspberries and honeysuckle, and her hair—a pale shade of copper—whispered soft as silk as I ran my fingers through it. I could still smell the light hint of perfume she liked to tousle through it when she styled it in the mornings.
Tala might have been the daughter of the High Noble Sidhe, but she'd been the fourth daughter, and therefore removed enough from the line of succession she had no call to worry about the weight of her crown. So, she didn't. She found comfort in her freedom and she relished it. Still, the noble bearing shone, once you watched her long enough, and it only added to her powerful attraction.
She smiled at me as our kiss broke. I pulled her down into my lap and gave her a second. Her eyes were a wild and exceptional tint of blue, positively glowing in the smoldering light.
"Sugar?" she murmured.
"Not in my tea, thanks," I replied, stroking her cheek. I never took sugar in my tea. She knew it by now, of course, but she put on a mock pout as she dropped two lumps into her own cup, as though I'd offended her.
"Honestly," she muttered. "What sort of fae doesn't like sugar?"
"One too somber for her station." I said, indulging her. I let my hand trail down her cheek to her throat, caressing the backs of my knuckles gently along the curve of her breast, currently covered by a gauzy little robe, a pretty negligee of hunter green and deep emerald satin. As she finished adding the sugar to her own tea, I kissed her again, this time deeper, pressing my lips to the warm, soft sweetness of hers. "Besides... I only said not in my tea."
"Mm, will tonight be the night you remain with me in my bower, sweet Reagan? It's been a very, very long time since I got to keep you until morning."
"Perhaps not all the way 'til morning," I told her. "But I may be convinced to stay a few hours more. Perhaps...to share a bath..."
She wrapped her arms around my neck. "Mm... s Sounds lovely."
"And you could read to me, out of your book of dark tales... Annabelle Lee," I continued, pressing slow, tender kisses from her cheek to her temple, and then to her sweet-smelling hair. "I love to listen to you reading out loud, as I rub those beautiful, elegant shoulders..."
"Mm, you are so full of promises tonight, Reagan," she whispered. "But what if I told you I wanted you more than a few hours, hm? What if I desire the Lady Knight all to myself, until the day grows long?"
"You are aware I cannot do so, Tala," I whispered, nuzzling her ear.
"You Daughters of Morrigan," she huffed. "So stiff and rigid. A great big buzzkill, the lot of you."
I laughed, even though she sounded so put out. She leaned into my embrace, pressing her full and shapely figure to mine, kissing me in ardent, petulant reproof. Only Tala could kiss a girl like that.
"I so desire you, my little one, my Reagan," she murmured. "I could make you very happy, were you mine... and I would like it so very, very much..."
"I am sworn," I breathed between kisses.
"Yes, yes, sworn," she muttered. "Oath-sworn, forlorn, and lovelorn. You drift among your many ladies. You steal so many hearts and yet are so selfish with your own. I see how you look at her."
"Tell me I'm mistaken, Lady Knight," she challenged. "Tell me the Autumn Lady is not the reason you are so quick to leave me before dawn."
I leaned my forehead against hers.
"Even if she weren't," I whispered, "it would make no difference. Please, Talaith... don't be angry with me. The evening has been so pleasant... and I'd like for us to take so much more pleasure from it yet."
The Sidhe noblewoman regarded me a moment more with somber, scorching eyes.
"Perhaps I should trick you into staying," she mocked. "It worked so well for me last time."
I gave her a sheepish smirk. It had indeed.
Finally, though—as I'd expected she would—she relented with another long, slow kiss.
"I could give you all you ever wanted," she breathed as our lips parted. "If you were but mine, Knight."
"You could," I said, and left it there.
"Mac soith!" she swore. "You soldiers! I cannot fathom."
"I know," I whispered. She gave up, relaxing against me, embracing me in return. We made up in a gentle flurry of soft, silent necking, adoring petting. Of course, it soon gave way to hungrier motions, tongues meeting and flirting in eager exploration. Her arms tightened around me as I slid my palm slowly up her perfect, pale white thigh.
"You were saying—" she huffed between kisses, "—something about a bath, Lady Knight?"
"Yes," I murmured. I trailed my lips down her neck, planting sweet smooches as I continued. "I would very much like to have you naked... and wet... glistening with soap in my arms..."
"Ooh, you're making good progress, at least," she said with amusement.
I slid my arms underneath her, lifting her up as I stood to whisk her into the apartment's large master bathroom. A single candle already lit the room in soft romantic light, something she did to keep the mood. It worked.
"Excellent," I murmured as I carried her. "Then I intend to take a good, long time bringing you to ecstasy, My Lady. Perhaps more than once."
Tala let out a soft, good-natured ripple of laughter.
"Oh, sweet Reagan," she whispered in my ear. "Even for a Knight...you really are so very, very complicated."
Talaith wasn't wrong. As a Knight—the half-Sidhe daughter of The Morrigan—I'd been consigned by birthright to serve the royal household of my fae roots. In my case, it is the Court of the Tylwyth Teg, Lords of the burning autumn and the darkening days. I am sworn in service to High King Herne of the Goblin Sidhe. I am Tylwyth on my father's side. My mother, the warrior spirit Morrigan, belongs to no House or Court, and pays allegiance to no fae Lord or Queen.
Those like me, born of The Morrigan by one of her faerie consorts, are both of the House of our fathers and not of it. I'm not like Talaith: I can't claim noble rank or heredity, regardless the rank my father holds. He is, incidentally, a High Goblin Lord. I, however, am half-Sidhe. Like my mother, I could have chosen no allegiance at all and been one of the Unbridled Kin, a wandering agent to do as I liked. I chose to pledge my allegiance to the Tylwyth, though, and their King. I wanted to serve.
Perhaps I can't claim any noble blood or rank from my father, but it doesn't mean he can't acknowledge me by other means. He spoke for me before the High King, and bought me assignment to the Royal House. I took my oath to become the personal liege woman and bodyguard to Herne's daughter, Ceridwen, Sidhe princess of the Tylwyth Court.
When Talaith called me complicated, she said so mostly because of Ceridwen. She is a princess. She is Tylwyth. And she is mine.
Better to say, I suppose, I am hers. Which means, as her attendant, I am often a traveler among the other Houses and Courts, accompanying Ceri. Most fae are governed by the strong, sometimes unbreakable connection to the balance and sway of their season, but since I inherit no true birthright from my goblin side, I don't naturally align to their nature. My own fae bearing is of the Unbridled Ones, making it less predictable, less defined. Like my mother. So my own nature can deviate, becoming more attuned to the ways of the other Courts as we pass through their influence.
It might not be so noticeable if I weren't the liege woman to the crown princess of the Tylwyth. If I served a lesser Fae Lord, one whose House never traversed the borders, then I would have been raised in the stability of Tylwythian company, and become ingrained by their effect. If I had been born to a nobleman among the Seelie or Unseelie Courts—more rigid, insulated Houses—I would have been kept primarily to the territory of my people, and not sent out into other circles. As it turned out, though, I'd been bound to the high noble daughter of the Eastern House. I served a dignitary and ambassador from the Court of cycles, seasons, change, reaping.
The Seelie and Unseelie are largely stubborn and unyielding. They are also called the Southern House—the Summer Court, the Shining Throng—and the Northern House—the Winter Fae, the Cold Ones. They are forever at odds with one another, facing off across the compass face, unwilling to budge on any matter if it means giving territory to the other. In contrast, the Tylwyth and our Western cousins, the Aos Sí—the fae of autumn and spring, respectively—are patient and adaptive, the change-makers. So Ceri is called upon to move through the circles more often than most. For her, it isn't complex. She is of the Tylwyth proper, by full measure of blood, through and through. As I provide her escort and protection, though, I am subjected to change. I adopt elements of the fae we have encountered. When we are in Summer's Houses, I am prone to be more lighthearted, even extroverted; when in the halls of Winter, I am more pensive, broody, and somber.
The seasons change. So, apparently, do I. It isn't a common thing among the fae, to be one who changes.
It is, as Talaith put it, complicated.
Talaith is a Winter Fae, one of the Unseelie Sidhe. Her eldest sister is the Crown Princess Sebille, first daughter of Oberon.
Which, of course, makes Tala herself one of Oberon's daughters. She doesn't fit the mold, though. Sebille is a cold beauty, distant and dispassionate; middle sisters Ista and Audra are elusive, mysterious. Tala—so far removed from the burden of rank or crown—is more expressively mischievous, prankish, and playful.
And passionate. Mac soith, is she passionate. She moves with subtle intention and powerful persuasion: I could watch her for hours, engaged in the little trivialities of her day, and wrap those moments around me like one of her afghans. On winter nights, we recline on her leather sofa, snug in each other's arms, stroking one another with all the gentle affection of snuggling cats. She is perhaps the dearest of my lovers – so dear, I almost did think better of things and agree to stay the night, so I could wake up to the sweet scent of her beside me, and bury my face in the soft curtain of her hair. I imagined kissing her cheeks, her nose, and her eyelids, limned in the glowing gray light of morning streaking in her window. However, Tala is, at her very core, one of the sly and troublesome dark faeries. The last time I'd agreed to remain with her longer than I ought to have, she fooled me into promising I'd remain until I'd fully slaked her every thirst. She then kept me there for hours refusing to release me from my promise, until I had done exactly what I said. I spent hour after hour trying to please her and satisfy her—and frankly, judging by her urgent, writhing responses and the long-lasting afterglow, I had managed that part quite nicely. I hadn't realized, though, she'd taken me at my literal word. Faeries. They are impossible sometimes.
It turned out to be simply a matter of going to her lavish kitchen and fetching her a drink, and then she'd let me go free. I don't think she'd been really so spoiled...she'd simply guessed I wouldn't catch the trick in her little game and be forced to make love to her until I did. I have a feeling if I hadn't already seen what Talaith craved after a long night of lustful sexual conquest—a mimosa, naturally—I'd have spent another hour or more bringing her glass after glass of assorted juices, mineral waters and who knew what else before she declared her thirst finally slaked and saw fit to release me. I couldn't simply walk out when I caught on to her prank, either: I am not bound by all the laws of the Sidhe Courts, but I am a Knight, and therefore bound by my word when it is freely given to one of the fae. I'd been four hours missed by my Lady Ceridwen. I am more cautious with Tala now.
She was right, though. If I were to swear my oath as her Knight, she could give me anything. She could—and would—lavish any number of luxuries upon me, expensive gifts, exotic vacations full of hot, agonizingly good sex... anything I wanted. The phrase "Daddy's Money" doesn't even begin to describe the wealth of assets Princess Talaith of the Unseelie Fae has at her command. Prankishness aside, I'd always been deeply fond of her. Fond the way a real, mortal human is fond, not in the precocious, childlike way one of the fae feels when they've discovered a mortal pet. And, prankishness aside, I believed Tala might also be genuinely, deep-down fond of me. I would make an excellent Knight for the Court of Oberon. I would be Talaith's lover, sharing her bed nightly and discovering pleasure after pleasure at her skilled hands, and mouth, and more. Her father could ask for it, my oath, if he so wished. He could request of Lord Herne I be released of my oath as Ceri's Knight, given over to the Unseelie Court in exchange for two or three lesser vassals, oath-sworn in return to the Tylwyth. Herne and Oberon were not enemies. Such an arrangement could be made. Though I had never been one for exclusivity in my romantic pursuits, Talaith had never been a covetous or resentful lover, and in fact proved rather adventurous herself.
There would always be one thing, however, which the Court of the Winter King could not have for me. One thing I would not ever find in Talaith's bower.
Ceri. My beautiful, wonderful, beloved Ceri.