Chapter 1: Prologue
She looked down at the crumpled figure on the floor. He lay completely still on his back, slightly curled up towards his right side, his eyes closed. He might have been asleep but although they were married, she had never seen him like this before. They had their separate quarters. She would not have wanted it any other way in spite of the fact that he was different to what she had expected. He was mostly kind to her and theirs was a rather successful working partnership if nothing else. It was certainly easier sharing the rule of a kingdom with someone, especially if you had little training and no experience. However, she couldn’t say that she trusted him any more than he trusted her.
She felt the smooth, beautifully shaped hilt of her long, thin dagger in her hand and wasn’t sure whether she had slipped it out of its thigh sheath when the winged boy appeared or only just now. It felt comfortable in her hand and it would be so easy to put it against his throat and end it all. Rule by herself. Be rid of his Nephilim lovers she resented. She knew she would be capable of it. But then again… She did not have many friends here and she had almost begun to consider him one.
Those metallic-looking artificial legs were spread out on the floor. She had long wanted to have a closer look at them as she had never seen anything like it before. How could he bear it if they were actually made of metal? The Queen bent down and gingerly touched one of the protheses with her fingertips. It didn’t hurt her and it felt strangely warm, quite unlike the cold metal her father had made her touch as a child. The agony had imprinted itself on her memory; it was what her father had intended, so she would know to avoid it in the future. Her look grazed up over his body. His long, usually darker hair had gone completely white which made him look different, somehow softer. The blemished left side of his face was exposed and she bent forwards to study his ear which was lacking its distinct fey shape. Moreover, it appeared somewhat sullied although, on closer inspection, it was all the little blood vessels that were blackened and spidered out towards his eye and cheek. His left hand had a similar appearance although the blackening of the veins was less pronounced and the spidery lines made his skin look more like cracked porcelain than anything else. His shirt had ripped in the fight with the angel boy and exposed part of his shoulder. Rather than touch him, she used the knife to pull the shirt further down because she was curious to see how far those black veins spread up his arm.
Chapter 2: So it begins
“You tamed a rat!” Mark was fascinated. The animal was looking at him suspiciously but held still in his grip before he let it jump back onto his brother’s shoulder where it turned around and looked at him almost triumphantly. Or at least that was how it seemed to Mark.
“They are very intelligent animals,” Ty replied whilst the rat let him stroke its back. It was brown with a white belly and almost looked pretty. Mark did not mind rats and he supposed Ty was old enough now to be able to keep a tamed animal. Animals had always been attracted by Ty’s patience and he obviously understood their language in a way that he still found difficult and at times even impossible with humans.
Mark looked around the Scholomance’s massive library where he could always find his younger brother. Mark tried to call in on Ty at the Scholomance as often as he could. As the oldest brother and with Julian gone, he felt it was his responsibility to make sure Ty was ok – although he wasn’t quite sure how to do it or what that actually meant. Nothing would ever be quite ok again. Maybe Mark, the least able of the Blackthorn siblings to hide emotions, and Ty, the least able to make sense of his emotions, understood that better than the others and that was a sort of comfort in itself.
“Where’s Kit?” Mark asked. Kit Herondale had accompanied Ty to the Scholomance after Livvy’s death and although he was not and did not intend on becoming a scholar or a Centurion, the Clave had allowed him to stay and undertake as much training as he wanted. Mark was intensely grateful for Kit being with his little brother. In the meantime, the Scholomance had been purged of the known followers of the Cohort but their ideology and beliefs were not going to be eradicated overnight. The Blackthorn family and its involvement with Faerie and some of the darker events of the last few years was still viewed with suspicion. Even without his status as a Blackthorn, Ty would not have fitted in easily. Mark knew that and he knew what it was like to be different. He had known and suffered for it all his life. Kit, on the other hand, was what mundanes called streetwise. He was quite able to defend himself and he was very protective of Ty.
“Probably training,” was Ty’s rather indifferent answer to Mark’s question which made his brother frown. The rat had disappeared into Ty’s jumper. “You know,” Ty now continued, animated by a puzzle to solve, “I’m almost surprised that the Riders seem to have laid off him since the battle with the Cohort. Even if they knew about his powers, he wouldn’t be a match for them.”
More than a year ago now in human terms, the Cohort had taken Julian’s bait and sought an ill-fated confrontation with Faerie. Most of Downworld as well as the rest of the Clave had sided with the faeries and there had only been a short-lived but brutal fight which quickly forced the Cohort to admit defeat. As Julian had knocked him out and hauled him away in hot pursuit of Kieran and the Black Volume of the Dead, Mark had not been there to see it. According to Magnus, the Riders of Mannan had used the fight as cover to attempt to snatch and probably kill Kit. They had been loyal to the former Unseelie King and to their mandate to kill all descendants of the First Heir. Now that Kieran had killed his father and his half-brother, Leor, had taken the Unseelie crown, it was unclear who the Riders answered to, however, they had all but disappeared since the assault on Kit. It appeared as if Kit had been able to fend of the Riders’ attack with a sudden outburst of magic which Magnus had been quick to cover up and claim as his own. In the heat of battle, hardly anyone else had noticed and there were only a handful of people who were aware of Kit’s evident faerie heritage and power. Tessa and Jem were very worried for him and Kit had stayed with them on a few occasions. However, everybody agreed that Kit was likely to be safest in the Scholomance.
“I know both Kieran and Leor are concerned about the Riders and what their plans are,” Mark replied. “Ty…Kit is not some puzzle to solve. He is your…friend.” Partner? Lover? Mark was not sure what the right description was but friend certainly qualified. He was aware that the boys’ relationship had changed since that day – whatever their relationship had been before. The brothers didn’t discuss romantic issues. In his clumsy way, Mark had tried to offer Kit some help or at least someone to talk to but it just ended in awkwardness and with both of them silently agreeing not to speak of the matter again.
Nevertheless, Mark always checked in on Kit as well and he was looking for him now before he planned to return to the Seelie Court and Kieran. Eventually, he found Kit where he was rarely to be found – in his own room. Kit had just showered after what had clearly been an intense training session. It struck Mark how the boy slowly turned into a younger version of Jace Herondale, not only physically but with the same attitude that hid a more vulnerable core. His movements were uncharacteristically sharp and angry today.
“How are you?”
Kit didn’t reply at first and just continued to towel his hair and almost punch his arms into a dark hoodie. Then he glared at the man leaning in the door frame.
“You mean apart from being treated like a bloody experiment by my boy-friend?”
Mark was taken aback – both by Kit’s anger as well as his reference to Ty. Kit appeared to check himself immediately and turned away, drawing the hood over his head.
“What do you mean?” Mark asked carefully.
Kit did not turn around. Eventually, he sighed. He spoke as if to himself. “Maybe I was only ever imagining it. Maybe Ty doesn’t really care about me that way at all. In any case, he is most interested now in how this magic or whatever it is works. And how I can control it – or rather not control it. How being part faerie affects me.” He suddenly faced Mark: “I don’t feel any bloody different at all! I’m still getting my head around being part of this Shadowhunter cult thing. It’s been almost two fucking years!”
Mark flinched. “What happened?”
“What the hell does NOT happen?! I think he would quite happily dissect me if he could do it without fucking killing me. And I would almost let him do it if it just meant that he… that we… He IS bloody killing me!”
After having hoped that Kit would open up to him a bit more, Mark was completely lost for words now that it happened in this violent outburst. Kit just stood in the middle of the room, lonely and miserable. His voice was quiet when he spoke again:
“Sorry. It’s just been so fucking hard. I’ll go and stay with Tess and Jem for a while.”
Mark started to protest when he heard his brother call his name. Ty’s voice, hardly ever showing much inflection, chilled Mark to the bone. In an instant, he as well as Kit had bolted out of the door and were running down the corridor. They found Ty as well as the Head Scholar and director of the Scholomance and a number of Centurions in the main entrance hall of the school. They were tense and agitated. Mark grabbed hold of Ty who had gone entirely rigid.
“It’s one of them,” he spoke through gritted teeth. “Eochaid, I think.” He flicked his head towards the door.
Through the heavy doors which were now being opened by two Centurions for the Head to step through, Mark could see the unmistakable figure of one of the Seven Riders of Mannan, a big male faerie all bronze from head to toe. The reason why the door was being opened, was that the Rider had lowered himself onto one knee and bowed his head respectfully, his arms spread out to show that he was carrying no arms. He now slowly stood up straight to face the Head Scholar who bowed his head to return the greeting.
“I greet you, Eochaid. It is unusual not only to see a legendary Rider of the Seven on his own but also to see him at our doors. This is a place of peace and learning.” Mark had to admire the scholar for sounding firm as well as humble at the same time.
“I come on my own,” boomed the voice of Eochaid, “to show that I have no desire to disturb the peace of your esteemed house of learning. Nor do we mean any harm to its residents. I wish only to speak with one of them who goes by the name of Herondale.”
Chapter 3: The Morning Star
“Get away from him!” the sharp female voice made the Queen jerk around violently. She found herself face to face with Cristina who had a glowing blade in her hand. Seraphine yelled for the guard whilst the Shadowhunter shouted at her. An instant later, the King’s personal bodyguard as well as Nene, Mark’s aunt, had appeared in the chamber. They were all staring at each other, trying to read the situation. The guard was familiar with Cristina and didn’t attack her and before Seraphine could cry for reinforcements, the Shadowhunter had the blade at her throat and hissed: “Stop! Do you want the whole court to see the King like this? What’s going on here?”
The two women had what Cristina often thought of as an uneasy truce. Kieran’s marriage with Seraphine had been engineered by her father, Kieran’s half-brother, Leor. Whilst Leor had taken the Unseelie throne, his daughter by the late Seelie Queen had a legitimate claim to the Seelie throne. Nevertheless, Kieran was better known and more acceptable to the Seelie because he had killed his brutal and much feared father and avenged their Queen. So, it had been a rather ingenious move by Leor to arrange a marriage and thus practically unite Seelie and Unseelie faeries as well as make peace with the Clave. However, it had been clear from the start that there was not much love lost between the new husband and wife.
To Cristina, Seraphine was the quintessential faerie - blindingly lovely and enchantingly attractive like a deadly flame was to a moth at night time, yet at the same time she was cold and inscrutable. She made Cristina very uncomfortable, maybe even more so as Kieran apparently didn’t mind her and was unaffected by her looks and charms. There was an understanding through kinship between the two faeries which reminded Cristina that she was in a relationship with a being from another world. Moreover, it was clear that Seraphine resented Mark and Cristina and she found it hard to tolerate the fact that her husband’s lovers came and went as they pleased thanks to their respective new roles as Faerie and Shadowhunter representatives and with the help of the infinity stone.
There had been talk of the young queen having a liaison with one of Leor’s maids although Cristina had seen no evidence of it and Kieran hadn’t mentioned it again. Even so, Seraphine had no interest in Kieran, whose beauty was somewhat marred by injuries incurred in the fight with his father and Julian. But although she seemed prepared to accept Kieran’s relationship with another man, she clearly hated Cristina’s existence. Over the last year or so, the two women had pushed their boundaries as far as they dared and then they had begrudgingly gotten used to each other and even exchanged one or the other pleasantry. Nonetheless, Cristina continued to be wary of the beautiful faerie.
Cristina’s eyes had drifted nervously to Nene. The woman was crouching at Kieran’s side who remained motionless on the floor. Nene had become the King’s personal healer and Cristina trusted her as she knew that the older faerie had grown rather fond of Kieran and vice versa through their shared love of Mark.
“His heartbeat is strong,” said Nene in English and Cristina could feel the relief rush through her until she met Seraphine’s gaze. She had let her go and the faerie had sheathed her knife but she looked daggers at virtually everyone in the room.
“You better explain yourself!” Cristina demanded harshly of the Queen but it was the wrong thing to say and the faerie regarded her contemptuously.
“How dare you confront me in my own realm! I will not speak with you. Alvan…” she addressed the bodyguard but she did not get any further before more guards poured into the chamber, dragging an only barely resisting figure with them. They stopped dead at the scene in front of them.
“Ash!” Cristina exhaled at the same time as Seraphine cried: “That’s the intruder!” The slender boy with the pale white hair and bright green eyes turned first towards the Queen and then Cristina.
“What have you done to Kieran?” Cristina breathed, fighting against the rising panic inside her chest. When Jaime had hidden the infinity stone in Dru’s room, Mark’s sister seemed to have established some kind of contact with Ash which, according to Helen, was still ongoing. Mark had been furious when they had found out who Ash was. He was intent on confronting the boy but they hadn’t been able to find him again after an accidental encounter. All they had found out was that the Riders of Mannan were after him but that the Riders had grown rather cautious because of Ash’s unusual powers which only intensified Mark’s fears for his little sister.
The boy’s cold stare seemed to soften to something akin regret as he said in a quiet but firm voice: “I did not mean to harm the King.”
Chapter 4: The Child
They had taken Ash aside, leaving Nene and a couple of guards with the King, whilst Cristina, Seraphine and Alvan were questioning the boy who was now bound in shackles but still standing defiantly in front of them. Cristina sensed that he remained bound as a sign of goodwill to her, not because any shackles or number of guards in the entire court were ever going to be enough to contain him if he didn’t want them to. She had seen some of his abilities and she had no doubt that his actual power was by now far greater than that of his parents. His slightly sheepish look came as a surprise.
“I…didn’t do anything. At least I didn’t intend to.” The fact that he spoke in the Unseelie tongue was another surprise. Cristina didn’t know whether it was for her benefit. Maybe he was unsure of the human tongues and assumed that she would understand the Unseelie better than the Seelie because of Kieran which was, in fact, not true. However, he spoke slowly and purposely as if willing her to understand. Seraphine could barely conceal her anger and butted in: “Yours is dark magic and has no place at this Court! Why are you here? How did you get into the King’s private quarters?”
The boy smirked and still responded in Unseelie in spite of his obvious understanding and ability to speak Seelie. Cristina got the feeling that he despised the language of his mother. Maybe that was also true for the human language of his father, although the two had never met.
“The King has been aware of my presence at the Court for a long time.” The women couldn’t help but exchange a surprised glance. “I am indebted to the King,” Ash continued, “as by freeing himself from his father, he also freed me and allowed me to return to the court of our mother, the Seelie Queen.” He lazily eyed Seraphine for a reaction which she was clearly fighting to suppress. Apparently, she had not known of Ash’s existence at all.
“The King has allowed me to stay here with the lady who raised me, a lady to the late Queen.” Ash’s demeanour changed and he suddenly looked the young boy that he was in spite of his grown-up appearance. “I came to talk to Kieran about an urgent matter but I did not…handle it very well. The Queen arrived and startled me.” He stared at the floor like a child who has done something wrong and is made to apologise. “I am sorry I…lashed out. I believe the King was trying to protect his Queen and grabbed me. I…” He suddenly looked Cristina straight in the eye: “I don’t know what happened. I could feel magic. I don’t know whether it was his or mine but his spirit suddenly retreated.”
“What…” Cristina could feel her heart beating hard in her ribcage. “What do you mean?”
“I believe it’s something humans call a ‘coma’,” Seraphine commented impatiently before addressing Ash again: “Who are you? What do you want?”
Ash was squirming a little, so Seraphine continued reproachfully but also with an element of glee towards Cristina: “The King was defending me because of recent reports of threats to our lives. I can only assume you are indeed involved.”
Ash had returned his attention to Cristina. “I came to talk to Kieran of a delicate matter. There are indeed threats to the Court and I wanted to warn him.” Cristina could suddenly see his agitation underneath all the bravado. There was something Ash didn’t really want them to know and it had upset him. Cristina’s heart had grown cold. Slowly turning towards the Queen, she dropped her eyes and lowered her head in a respectful gesture. “My Queen,” she said, “the boy is called Ash and he is the son of your mother, the late Seelie Queen. His father was Sebastian Morgenstern. It is true that the late Unseelie King, your grandfather, had kidnapped and was holding Ash at the time when Kieran fought and killed his father. I was not aware that they…were in touch.”
She could not think of a better way of phrasing it. Cristina paused and cautiously glanced at the Queen before turning her attention back to Ash and said as gently as she could: “Ash, we have Kieran’s confidence. You can tell us what you know and we will help you.”
Cristina would have preferred to speak to Ash alone but she had no means of sending Seraphine away. The Queen stared at them with barely disguised irritation, however, she did take the hint and led them to her private quarters where they were fairly sure not to have any prying eyes and ears whilst Alvan was guarding the door.
The three of them sized each other up for a while before Ash finally spoke. He sounded defiant but he had now switched to the royal Seelie language Cristina was more familiar with: “I did not mean Kieran harm!”
Cristina nodded and gave the boy a reassuring smile.
“There is a child. The King is unaware of this but I have been hiding and protecting it since my mother’s death.” His mouth was a thin line now and he swallowed hard. “The child has been taken. I fear that the Riders are responsible.”
“A child?” Cristina felt she might faint. “How…?”
“It is my half-sister. My mother survived the attack by the Shadowhunters long enough for the child to see the light of day. I believe the Riders want to install her as the heir to both Courts and thus gain control.”
Cristina could but stare at Ash. “But…why…?”
“The child has a claim to both thrones. She’s Kieran’s daughter.”
Chapter 5: Seraphine
The room turned in on itself and it was as if all sound, smell and sight was momentarily lost. Cristina scarcely managed to catch herself on the wall to avoid her legs giving out under her. She could virtually taste the nausea in her mouth and fought hard not to be sick right there and then in front of the boy whose eyes she felt scrutinising her. Ash must have noticed the effect his words had on her and she could only hope that he would put it down to empathy over a child’s fate which is what she wanted it to be.
“The Seelie Queen and Kieran had a child?” she muttered, struggling to control her voice. Cristina had known that Kieran had briefly allied with the Seelie Queen and become her Consort after he had left them for Faerie, seeking revenge for Adaon’s death. However, in her mind, it had always been nothing but a strategic alliance that suited both parties. She had never imagined that it could have resulted in this. She suddenly felt terribly naïve.
“Yes. I let the world believe that she had died in the Shadowhunters’ attack on her Court.” Ash looked down. The Shadowhunters in question had been Julian and Emma after their parabatai powers had spiralled out of control and Julian’s descent into madness had begun. Nevertheless, the boy’s voice was surprisingly neutral at their mention. “She was badly hurt and I think she made a conscious decision between her own life and that of the child. It might have been the first selfless deed of her life.” He smirked but his eyes betrayed real sadness. Whatever Ash’s feelings for his mother, grief at her loss was part of it. Cristina had recovered enough to realise that she was not the only one fighting her emotions. Whilst Ash was lost in his own memories, even Seraphine seemed to be in a state of shock and had gone very quiet, clasping her hands so hard that her knuckles had turned white.
A knock on the door made the three of them wince and whirl towards Nene who slowly entered the room. She gave a little bow towards Seraphine before addressing Cristina: “Do you think we could call that warlock friend of yours? Although Kieran seems unhurt, he cannot be woken.”
“Magnus? Yes,” Cristina tried to focus and Nene’s question gave her another idea. She turned to Ash and, on an impulse, lay a hand on his shoulder: “Ash, please go with Alvan and wait for us. Magnus will have advice.” Ash looked sceptical and Cristina glanced towards Seraphine for support. The Queen shook herself out of her stupor and nodded towards Alvan. “Please take the boy to the King’s chambers and wait for us.”
After Cristina had sent a fire message to Magnus, she meant to make her excuses to try to contact Mark. Kieran had had some special faerie rings made for the three of them which allowed them to communicate telepathically like Clary had been able to do with Simon when she had stolen the Seelie Queen’s rings years before. Though they did not work everywhere, including the remote and heavily warded Scholomance, and Cristina had not had much contact with Mark for several days.
However, when she looked up, Seraphine had turned away from her. There was something about her posture that made Cristina stop. Finally, the Queen began to talk in a quiet but controlled voice:
“I knew this day would come. But I thought it would be your child rather than my own mother’s that would lay bare the failure of my liaison with the King for everyone to see. Here we stand, strangely united in our shock albeit for different reasons, I suspect.” She half turned to face Cristina and her face was open and almost compassionate in a way that it had never been before. “I feel that we understand each other’s emotions; emotions I have long suppressed and never shared.”
To say that Cristina was surprised, would be a cosmic understatement. The young faerie looked vulnerable and pleading in a way that almost made Cristina take her hand. “My lady…”
But Seraphine shook her head ever so slightly to stop Cristina. “Please. Our situation is impossible yet you have been nothing but respectful to me. I know I have tested you on many occasions which is…which is why I feel I can trust you.” She took Cristina’s hand in both of hers and it struck Cristina how light and soft her touch was. “Let me tell you my story and you may share yours if you wish.” She paused. “I spent my early childhood in the Seelie Court of my mother but she grew tired and wary of me when a courtier foolishly commented how beautiful I was one day going to be. Thereafter, she wanted rid of me and I am not quite sure how my father convinced her to release me to him. I was distraught at first, however, Leor did not live in the Unseelie Court then and I fell in love with his beautiful mansion in our enchanted lands. He allowed me to grow up happy and carefree.” The Queen’s wistful smile faded slowly. “That is until one of his close bodyguards took a fancy to me. I did not invite or welcome it…” There was another pause. “Let’s just say that I became ill and did not understand why. My father understood before me and had the guard killed. However, it was too late.” Cristina could feel the bitterness in the room which had grown very cold and made her shiver. “My father could not allow a bastard child interfere with his plans for me and he had the healers,” Seraphine nearly snorted at that, “’heal’ me. I hardly survived.” The young, achingly beautiful woman looked Cristina straight in the eye: “I will never bear children.”
Chapter 6: Cristina
The Seelie Court’s underground tunnels could be claustrophobic and stifling and since spending a considerable amount of time in the Court, Cristina had begun to empathise with Kieran’s feelings towards Shadowhunter Institutes. Neither him nor Mark were very fond of the Court’s largely underground location either and preferred the open sky above them. More than once, Cristina had empathised with the need to get outside – never more so than today. She had felt she was not going to be able to bear it a minute longer when Magnus finally arrived. She was only too happy to let him take charge of the situation. However, faerie magic was different from a warlock’s powers and their best hope was for Magnus to guide Ash to reverse whatever he had inflicted on the King.
Although she felt guilty and Seraphine had looked at her inquiringly, Cristina had left the Queen and Magnus at Kieran’s side. You tell him, she had said to Seraphine. The words still rang in Cristina’s ears. She was a coward. Neither had she been able to muster the concentration needed to communicate telepathically with Mark. It took her what felt like an hour before she could reach him and give him the short version of events without mentioning the child.
Her mind kept wandering. She was sure she knew when it had happened. The three of them had not been able to be together as often as they had hoped. The meetings with the Shadowhunter-Downworlder Alliance became a welcome opportunity to see each other, whether it be at an Institute or when either of the Faerie Courts hosted the meeting. There always seemed to be a moment when Cristina caught a glimpse of Mark or Kieran absorbed in the discussions and a little spark went through her at the thought of sharing the night with them. On one such occasion, she found herself alone with Kieran in one of the New York Institute’s rooms whilst Mark was exchanging news with his sister Helen who also often attended the meetings.
Cristina’s relationship with Kieran was different to that with Mark. Maybe unsurprisingly, it always seemed to take a moment for them to reconnect – he was, after all, a King. Moreover, Mark and her spent a lot of time together at her family’s private home in Mexico although he was still avoiding the Institute where Emma was now staying with Cristina and her family. To everybody but Cristina’s surprise, the two never enquired about each other; the memory of Julian was still too painful. Finally, she did not have the shared history with Kieran that allowed the boys to pick up wherever they had left off every time they saw each other.
She remembered the way Kieran had looked at her that time. It was almost as if she could see the wheels in his head turning as he was mulling over the meeting, however, he slowly began to truly see her and the intimidating stare of his bi-coloured eyes softened. His mask lifted and left little but loneliness and longing. Her heart ached for him and she moved to embrace him. He made a little noise like he was surprised once more that she should still want him. He gently took her face in his hands and studied her eyes for a long moment before kissing her ever so gently.
The three of them brought different things to their relationship as much as to their lovemaking. Kieran was usually the one who brought wildness and passion, Mark added playfulness and Cristina tenderness. However, that night had been different; a little like the first night they had shared. He was quiet and vulnerable and let Cristina take control. These moments had become increasingly rare since Kieran had become king and he would hardly ever allow it when the three of them were together. So, it was special to explore and undress each other slowly. Eventually, she pushed him towards the bed until they fetched up against it and he lowered himself onto it, pulling Cristina on top of him. However, she held his arms down over his head as she straddled him and slowly began to roll her hips, drawing a low moan from deep within his body.
In the middle of their intimate embrace, Mark had entered the room. However, instead of saying anything, he just smiled and sat down on the window seat next to the bed, watching them. None of them said a word, instead just looking at each other intently. After a moment, all Mark did was remove his shirt in one languid movement, never taking his eyes of the lovers. Cristina became intensely aware of Kieran inside of her and she gave in to the magic that seemed to roll off him in waves. She felt lifted out of her body and for a moment everything went bright white before she was aware of her surroundings once again. Whether she had been momentarily unconscious, whether she had screamed or even levitated through the air she could not tell but she felt the remnants of faerie magic throughout her whole body. The memory still made her body tingle now. She tried to push the thought away.
It probably took an hour or two before Mark arrived at Court but Cristina found herself unable or unwilling to face him. Somebody else could fill in the details for him. She toyed with the idea of leaving unnoticed but she needed to know that Kieran was going to be alright. So, she did her best to hide in the Queen’s chambers where a displeased Seraphine eventually found her. Magnus and Ash had succeeded in reviving the King who had woken up, thinking that he was still in the middle of a deadly fight and tried to strangle Ash. It explained why Kieran and Mark were on their own when Cristina re-entered the King’s private chambers.
Mark could not look her in the eye and she was rather glad when he left under some pretence to speak to Magnus. Kieran sat on the edge of the bed with a shell-shocked look about him. Cristina didn’t blame him. He seemed barely aware of her presence when he suddenly got up and started pacing the room anxiously. His breathing had become fast and shallow and he looked like he was going to throw up. Eventually, he stopped and put both hands against the wall, bowing his head between his outstretched arms and trying to steady himself. Cristina hesitantly moved to his side and put a hand between his shoulder blades, rubbing gently.
“What’s going on?” Mark demanded, having reappeared in the doorway.
“I don’t know,” Cristina responded, somewhat impassively. “Do faeries get panic attacks? He keeps saying how he is the death of everyone.”
“His mother died in childbirth.” It was a conversation they’d had a long time ago, somewhere lying in the grass, talking about their families. It had just popped into Mark’s mind as in a word-association test. Then he realised what he’d just said and he shot Cristina a quick glance but she had closed herself off like a flower in the rain, all the while she kept rubbing Kieran’s back mechanically.
“Breathe,” she said with the calm but removed tone of a nurse and Kieran seemed to make a conscious effort to obey the order. After a while, he slumped to the floor, leaning his back against the wall whilst his arms rested tensely on his raised knees. He let his head fall back against the wall. His eyes were closed and Mark and Cristina were just standing next to him, looking down at their partner uneasily, lost in their own thoughts.
“I never wanted children! Never wanted another child to have to…” He broke off. “Now knowing that I have a daughter…and I can’t protect her… This is worse than any torture I have ever endured.”
Mark searched Cristina’s face but she avoided his gaze. Then, she suddenly turned on her heels without another word and almost ran out of the room. Kieran looked up, puzzled. He turned to Mark.
“I have the uncomfortable feeling that I have done Cristina a great wrong. But I don’t know what it is.” He sounded exhausted, his tone more mild curiosity than grave concern.
“What – other than fathering a child with another woman?” Mark couldn’t help the sarcastic remark although he felt the sting himself when Kieran flinched. As he turned away and raked his hands through his hair, Kieran watched him suspiciously. The gesture was all too familiar.
“Tell me,” he demanded quietly. Mark let his hands fall down but wouldn’t look at him.
“It’s for her to tell you really…but I guess she won’t. Not now anyway.”
“Tell me what?” Kieran rose awkwardly to his feet, his posture reflecting a feeling of dread.
“She lost your child.”
Chapter 7: Kieran
“Lost my child…what do you mean?” Kieran asked faintly. He looked utterly perplexed but if he had looked pale before, his face had now turned ashen.
Mark sighed heavily. How did you explain this to anyone? “Cristina’s parents had to take her to the Silent Brothers a few weeks ago because she was very ill and they didn’t know what was going on. The Brothers told her… They told her that she was pregnant with a faerie child and the magic was killing her. They had to…” The details were neither clear to Mark nor did he want them to be any clearer but now that he had to put the sorry facts into words, he did not know how. “You know…to save her.”
There was no reaction. Then Kieran sank back down to the floor where he sat, silent and still.
“Magic?” he enquired eventually.
“Well, the Brothers said it was magic associated with the royal faerie. So…it must have been yours.” Mark was still unsure how he felt about that part of it. They’d never discussed children, mainly because they didn’t feel they had to. Too much had happened and they were still working out their relationship. Moreover, Cristina was using the rune, wasn’t she? It just transpired that nobody knew whether it worked on anybody but Shadowhunters. It appeared not. But then, he was only half-Shadowhunter himself, wasn’t he?!
“They killed my child?” Kieran whispered almost inaudibly but there was a hint of suspicious anger in his voice.
“Did you hear what I said? They said Cristina would have died before the child would have been able to survive.” It was a shock when Mark had been told by Cristina’s mother – the thought of suddenly losing Cristina as much as the thought of what she must have gone through. However, another source of pain raised its ugly head again. He was jealous - in spite of the fact that he had never given having children much of a thought at all. Maybe it was because he had a big family and having been one of the eldest. There had always been children to look after and it had been difficult and then, when he was taken by the Wild Hunt, he had felt the loss and guilt and it had eaten away at him. And then there had been Kieran, of course, where the thought of children seemed redundant. When Kieran got married, Mark had occasionally wondered whether he would sleep with Seraphine just to produce an heir. They were a royal couple after all, albeit young and near immortal; so maybe there was less pressure than in the human world. Somehow none of that could touch Mark’s relationship with Cristina or Kieran. But then, when he learnt that Cristina had been pregnant - although she hadn’t known herself… Mark had felt excluded. Then he felt ashamed about his selfishness.
“I need to…” Kieran had suddenly sprung to his feet and was running after Cristina before Mark could hold him back.
. . .
She held the infinity stone in her hand but she had been too upset to visualise where she was going.
“Cristina,” Kieran approached her slowly and she knew from his expression that Mark had told him. She tried to turn away but Kieran had reached her and seized her hands. His gaze was anguished and he was clearly still reeling from the double-blow he had just been dealt. He had no idea what to say.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
She looked at him. Hadn’t Mark explained?!
“I didn’t know.”
“I wish I could have been there.”
“It all happened so fast.”
“Maybe I could have done something.”
“What would you have done?”
“I don’t know. Maybe there would have been something. Maybe I could have saved…” He didn’t finish the sentence.
“You are no healer or Silent Brother. I was dying, Kieran. I doubt you could have done anything.”
“I should have been consulted,” he said stubbornly.
She looked at him incredulously and a deep-rooted anger rose up inside her. “It sounds like you think the Brothers made the wrong decision,” the sarcasm in her words made him flinch but her own pain clouded her sensitivity. The wrong decision to save her life, she thought. A nasty little voice inside of her concluded that he would have rather had her die to try and save what belonged to him. The truth was that she felt robbed, too – robbed not only of a child but also of the decision whether her own life or that of her child was more important. How would she have decided? She didn’t know. However, she didn’t need Kieran strengthening that feeling of doubt and inadequacy. She didn’t know what was worse: the fact that he didn’t deny her statement or that he didn’t say anything at all. He suddenly seemed impenetrable and cruel to her. She yanked her hands out of his and walked away.
. . .
“Ah, the King,” Magnus smiled a crooked smile when Kieran returned only a short while later. Mark recognised the look on Kieran’s face as he stopped and stared. It almost seemed as if he had forgotten that Magnus and Ash were still around. Mark knew when the need to get outside and rage against the world had gotten so intense that Kieran would have fled from the underground tunnels of the Court instantly if at all possible. However, even the King could not just walk out of this situation and away from the boy who had nearly killed him and the man who had come to save him. Consequently, Kieran looked like he was about to explode. Magnus watched him curiously.
“Ok, let me cut to the chase,” Magnus said measuredly. “Today confirmed what I have been thinking for some time. There are suddenly a number of you young people with an increasing, yet untrained ability to use magic. Normally, kings and queens of Faerie grow into their roles and their magical abilities. The late Unseelie King and Seelie Queen had been around for such a long time, of course, that we can’t be entirely sure what their training would have been like but they certainly knew what their powers – and their limitations – were and how to use them. Yet, for obvious reason, all this knowledge got lost with them.” Magnus glanced at Ash before turning back towards Kieran: “I hope you don’t mind me saying that neither you, nor your wife or even your brother, the new Unseelie King, have much experience in these matters. Plus, here’s Ash and…,” Magnus stopped himself before mentioning Kit’s name in front of Ash, “…and it is, frankly, dangerous! Not only for all of you but…for the rest of us, too!”
Magnus and Kieran were studying each other for some time but it was Ash who finally spoke in an urgent tone: “If I can use these so-called abilities to get my sister back, I will do so. We need to…”
Kieran cut him off with an impatient gesture although his eyes were still fixed on Magnus. “You’re right, Magnus. I will reach out to the others but…” Kieran tried in vain to contain his tension and dropped his eyes. “I’m sorry, Magnus. I can’t do this right now.”
He turned to leave, grabbing two heavy wooden lances from the wall and growled towards Mark: “Let’s get out of here!” as he stormed from his chambers.
Chapter 8: Mark
It was a new side to Kieran - one he had not needed to deal with in the Wild Hunt as there was never a shortage of fighting and exhaustion...and outdoor space. It appeared as if Kieran was severely lacking that physical release of stress since coming to the Seelie Court. For all his kingly qualities, Mark had begun to wonder whether the formidable rider of the Wild Hunt was made for this life of a King of the Seelie. At times, Kieran’s temper was so foul that they ended up in full-on fights. At first, Mark thought Kieran had tired of him because the violent outbursts were almost exclusively directed at him. Then he realised that Kieran was goading him until Mark would fight with him. It was more deliberate than in the Hunt but the result was usually the same – angry sex. They seemed to have fallen back into a familiar, unhealthy cycle. It was Cristina who suggested that it sounded like a form of self-harm.
Following Cristina’s remark, Mark had suggested to find a secluded spot outside the Court where Kieran and him could engage in sparring matches. In the beginning, he had vaguely hoped that Kieran would enlist some of the guards but none of them dared hit back hard enough at the King and Kieran himself did not want to hurt anyone. It came down to Mark whom he knew and trusted to not inflict or incur severe wounds.
When they reached the clearing, Kieran wasted no time to turn and swing the lance at Mark. They knew each other’s moves and strengths and it soon turned into something of a violent dance with only the blow of wood on wood disturbing the peace. But Kieran was not in control of himself today and Mark was getting concerned about his erratic fighting – both for himself as well as his sparring partner. Suddenly, Kieran raised the lance with both hands and brought it down so hard that it could have split his head if Mark hadn’t managed to hold up his weapon above him and parry the blow. It briefly forced both of them to the ground. Fearing that one of them would end up with serious injuries, Mark gripped his lance whilst Kieran was readjusting his stance and swung it sideways with the force of his full body weight, deliberately slamming it into Kieran’s bad left arm. Kieran let out a howl of pain and let go of the weapon to cradle his arm. For a moment, Mark was afraid that he had done some actual damage as the King dropped to his knees and slowly curled in on himself until his head was close to touching the ground in front of him. He slowly began to rock back and forwards as if in agony.
Mark grabbed both weapons and flung them aside before he let himself drop to the ground next to Kieran.
“Are you done?!” he demanded. He was out of breath and trembling from the intensity of the fighting.
The rocking stopped. Mark noticed the unevenness of the faerie’s breathing and he was surprised at the array of colour chasing through Kieran’s long hair. There was a choked noise and Mark suddenly realised with a start that the faerie was quietly sobbing. In all these years, he had never seen his lover cry. Kieran didn’t cry. Whatever had happened, whatever they had witnessed or endured, there would have been no more than a glint of unshed tears and forcibly controlled emotion. Mark had never heard this disconsolate, wrecked weeping. Grief was all too recognisable to Mark but he didn’t know how to handle it, not for himself and even less when faced with the grief of others.
“I didn’t know it was even possible…” Kieran muttered eventually.
It took Mark a moment but he then assumed that Kieran was talking about Cristina. “Well, apparently the contraception rune doesn’t work for…”
“No,” Kieran interrupted, “that’s not what I mean. I thought…” Kieran straightened up enough to look into Mark’s uncomprehending eyes through a curtain of tangled hair. He gave a juddering sigh. “There are things about royal faerie magic you don’t know. It will probably sound ridiculous to you.” He shook his head slowly.
“I was led to believe that the royal fey have control over their lineage.”
Mark still looked none the wiser whilst Kieran stared past him, his eyes shining like a dark lake at moonlight. Mark could feel Kieran shivering but gestures of consolation didn’t come easy to him these days. Kieran slowly released his left arm and sat back heavily. His unfocused stare went to his shaking hands, looking at them as if they weren’t a part of his body.
“We are meant to be able to control when and with whom we plant the seed of a child.” Kieran swallowed hard. “Something that has obviously utterly failed me. The Seelie Queen somehow managed to have my child. And Cristina…I hadn’t intended…I knew my control over magic was lacking around both of you but I didn’t think…I wouldn’t have…”
The full extent of Kieran’s misery slowly dawned on Mark. The faerie felt abused by the Seelie Queen in the most shameful way only to then unwittingly have somehow done to Cristina what the Queen had done to him, only worse. He had almost killed the only woman he had ever loved and then caused her to suffer the loss of a child she didn’t even know she was expecting. But that was not all.
“You didn’t!” Mark was disgusted when Kieran told him about his exchange with Cristina earlier. “You basically told her, you’d rather she died!”
“That’s not true!”
“That’s how it would have sounded to her. Sometimes you are the singularly most selfish and thoughtless person I know.”
Kieran looked stricken and angry at the same time. “You don’t have any children. You don’t understand.”
“Until today, neither did you for all you knew. Nor did you ever want them. You said so yourself.”
“I suddenly had two children only to instantly lose both of them…Why is it that mothers have a right to suffer but…? This…” He bit his lip to keep it still. “I feel so helpless!”
“Then say so instead of going on a rampage!”
It was hard to stay angry when Kieran looked so dejected, straggly hair half-covering his face. His hair had grown very long in the last year and reached over his shoulders onto his back. It would have been dangerous to wear hair that long in the Wild Hunt but it now gave Kieran an even more otherworldly, regal look. Mark found himself staring at it often. He started to smooth the tangled, silky mane but Kieran turned his head away when he tried to clear it away from his face.
“How do you not hate me?”
“For sleeping with the Seelie Queen, for…”
“We were broken up then. And I know you never gave her your heart.”
“I didn’t. Regardless, she took something much more valuable than my heart. If not for that, you ought to hate me for nearly killing your beloved.”
“Cristina is your beloved as much as mine. Kieran, you are part of this relationship whether you are married, whether you are King, whether we live together or not! We love each other. If anything, I’m angry about Ash.”
“You knew I was looking for him and that I was worried about my sister. You knew exactly where he was, yet you said nothing.”
“I had given Ash my word to help him long before I knew you were looking for him.” Mark understood the strength of faerie promises and why this would settle the matter for Kieran. Even if he didn’t like it, there was nothing he could say.
They sat in silent companionship for a while. It was turning dark and so they finally returned to the Court and were glad to find Kieran’s rooms empty. Kieran started to change out of his dirty and bloodied clothes; at least he tried to but his left hand was numb and uncertain. Mark watched him for some time before stepping closer. He could feel the warmth and tension in the other's body as he gently undid the buttons and helped Kieran out of his shirt. The King stood entirely still and watched Mark’s hands undoing his clothes. Eventually, Mark’s movements halted and the two young men stood opposite each other, merely a few inches apart. They could hear and feel each other’s breath. It was Mark who reached out to slide his hands around Kieran’s neck and let them glide down over his shoulders and naked chest. He could feel Kieran inhale and shiver under his touch.
“How is your arm?” Mark inquired in a low voice.
Kieran seemed lost in the feeling of Mark’s caress but, at last, he mumbled: “It will be fine.”
Tenderly, Mark smoothed Kieran’s tangled hair back over his shoulder and the faerie slowly leaned into the touch but Mark had to put a finger under his chin and lift his head for Kieran to look at him.
“You keep forgetting that we both love you,” he said softly.
Kieran’s eyes were glistening and Mark could see the self-doubt reflected in them. It amazed him every time - Kieran, the King, was the most self-assured person imaginable, yet there was this vulnerable soul hiding underneath. Mark slipped his fingers into the silky blue-black hair whilst slightly tipping his head to brush his lips against Kieran’s. It was the softest, quietest kiss they had probably ever shared and, for once, Kieran stayed still and pliable against him. This was new, too - a Kieran who needed Mark, who let himself be touched with a gentleness that was usually Cristina’s domain. For so long, he had thought that he was the one who depended on Kieran in every way and that the other would have been just fine without him. It felt good to be needed like this.
Their kiss grew deeper as they pushed closer to each other. One hand still buried in dark hair, Mark wrapped his other arm around Kieran to pull him closer. Kieran was clutching his hips and Mark could feel the heat rising in his body and the want becoming stronger. The faerie’s lips were trembling as every painfully tense muscle in his body was gradually beginning to relax under Mark’s touch.
“It’s going to be ok,” he whispered, “we will find the child.”
The kissing stopped for a moment before Kieran breathed a barely audible: “Thank you. Your lie is a comfort.”