Song of Winter(9)

By: May Sage


Oh shit. They were having the talk.

“Sir…”

“Don’t fret. I have no doubt Devira would cut your bollocks off herself and serve them to you in a stew should you do anything to deserve it. I am simply stating my observations and reading your reaction. You care for the child. Good. This conversation shall be fruitful.”

Valerius stilled, reading between the lines. He didn’t like the conclusion he came to.

“My mother sent me to you for aid. The city of night—”

“Is burning and the rest of your realm, lost. Yes, Byfram here”—the elf king glanced at his bird—“was so good as to bring me the news, along with a letter written in your mother’s hand.” Elden pulled a folded piece of paper from the inner pocket of his shirt and carried on talking, without much intonation or sentiment in his voice. “Soon, the foolish eastern fae who thought it wise to treaty with the enemy will also fall. We’re at the dawn of a new age where seelie and unseelie will be nothing more than slaves used for your master’s amusement.”

Well, that summed it up, all right.

Vale hadn’t failed to note that the king didn’t include himself or his people in his grim assessment.

“And you believe you’ll fare better?”

Elden laughed softly, a sweet and musical sound. “I know we will. Your enemy fears me and with good reasons. In my realm, I harbor as many scions as he does in the immortal city. A war with us may spell his doom. Besides, I have given him no cause to quarrel.”

Vale shook his head. “How do you know he isn’t seizing control of the rest of the Isle first? With the three other realms united against the elves, Aurelius’s next logical step would be to take his rival out.”

Elden’s eyes had cut to him the moment Vale had breathed his brother’s name. Now the king tilted his head. “And this would indeed have been strategic. However, it isn’t your practical brother you will face. It is the wicked one.”

Perplexed, Vale replied, “I don’t have another brother.”

“Alas, I fear this belief is at the root of all evils.” Elden flicked his hand, and as one, the gathering moved to leave the gardens.

Soon, Elden and Valerius were alone in the gardens, with the crow that watched him, unflinching and mistrustful.

The king gestured for Valerius to join him in a stroll through the fragrant bushes, some wild, others planted, and all thriving, making for a pretty picture in the snow and ice.

“What do you know of the first war of this age? Not the War of Realms, but the one that shaped the realms at the start.”

Why did everyone feel like giving him an ancient history lesson? He sighed. “Little more than what children learn at our academies.”

The king laughed. “So nothing, then.”

He feared that was only too true. “I’ve never been one to dwell on the past. My mother told me of the gods from another world who created our kind.”

“The enlightened,” Elden amended.

“Excuse me?”

“That is what they call themselves. It wouldn’t do to go by ‘gods.’ Rather pretentious, wouldn’t you say?” He didn’t let Vale attempt a response. “But I’m glad I can skip the basics. Shea might have spoken of the old times, but she’s a child of this age. She does not know the truth of the First War. It was brutal.”

Vale lifted a brow. “All wars are brutal. I’ve seen—”

“You’ve seen nothing, Valerius Blackthorn.” His words were sharp. Unyielding. Somehow threatening. “You came into this world during a time when blood flowed more abundantly than water down the River Reine in spring. Instead of songs celebrating the arrival of a prince, you heard screams. They put a sword in your hands as soon as you could walk. And they awoke something in you, something dark.”

How the ever-fucking hell did he know that?

Elden closed his eyes and opened them again. “Yet for all you’ve seen, you have no idea. The War of Realms was child’s play. I found it fun. No elf perished. We did not fight you. We made a point, to ensure that the next generations of fae would know better than to test our borders again, nothing more.”