I walked behind Ronan through the dark, dreary hallways, wondering where he was taking me. He’d shown up at my door shortly after I’d finished getting ready, and to my displeasure, told me that he had a surprise for me. I detested surprises. I never understood what people found so appealing about them.
I hoped I’d dressed appropriately for whatever it was he had planned. My hair was braided over the sides of my head, leaving the rest to fall down my back in thick, dark waves. The dress I’d found in my closet was lovely, but nothing too extravagant. I didn’t want to overdress. It was a simple, strapless, floor length black gown with matching, black heels.
The only jewelry I wore was a pair of pearl earrings, a matching pearl necklace and the Fae ring, which had become a permanent part of my attire seeing as it was impossible to remove.
I grew more and more curious as we entered a spiral stairwell and descended. We seemed to walk down the stairs for an eternity and my feet were beginning to hurt. Why had I worn these ridiculous shoes?
“Ronan, where are you taking me? This is ridiculous.” I whined as we exited the bottom of the stairwell and made our way to another one.
He grinned at me over his broad shoulder. “Don’t worry, it will be worth it.” He promised.
I eyed his back distastefully as he began walking down the next set of stairs, his posture perfectly relaxed, his breaths even and calm. I was practically heaving, exhaustion catching up with me. I silently cursed the gods for not giving me my Fae abilities yet. If I was Fae, like Ronan, these stairs wouldn’t even phase me.
Ronan was dressed formally, which did not help my nerves. He wore a black suit, perfectly pressed, and it was even complete with a tie.
When I felt that I couldn’t possibly walk down another step, we finally emerged at the bottom. My legs felt like jello beneath me and I sighed in relief as we walked out into a large, open room.
I gazed around and then above me, and I realized that the empty room had an open ceiling. The night sky was visible through the opening in the roof and I could almost feel the fresh breeze on my face.
“Where are we?” I asked, blinking up at the stars.
“You’ll see.” Ronan said softly.
He reached out and gently took my hand in his own. I glanced down at our joined hands, and then settled my gaze on his face. He smiled softly at me and then began to lead me toward the single, open doorway of the room.
He led me through the dark hallway briefly before we emerged on the other side. I gasped as I looked around and found that we were outside of the Aviary. We were near the base, not completely on the ground, but on a grassy extension of the lower part of the structure.
My eyes swept the small, outdoor area. There was a lone tree near the edge of the drop off, and from it, hung several, softly glowing lanterns. There was a small table near the tree, covered by a clean, white tablecloth, with several candles and two wine glasses.
There was a small camp fire nearby, which crackled and popped quietly. The noises of the forest could be heard from this low level. My rooms were up so high, I could never hear them. I nearly sighed at the familiar, comforting sounds. Birds sung soft lullabys to each other, while bugs and frogs chirped, welcoming the night.
I looked to my right and found Ronan studying me, his face glowing subtly under the orange light of the lanterns. He looked nervous, though a small smile was adorning his full lips.
“Do you like it?” He asked quietly.
I gazed around again, studying the trees in the distance, which seemed so much closer to the volcano they they did from the view of my rooms. I wanted to kick off my heels and feel the grass beneath my bare feet, but I didn’t want to break the formality of our date, so I resisted the urge.
“It’s beautiful.” I said, my eyes settling on the table. There was a metal ice bucket nearby, which was chilling the bottle of wine that sat inside of it.
“Come, sit down.” He said, gesturing toward one of the chairs. I hesitantly moved toward it and sat down while he joined beside me.
“I hope you brought your appetite.” He said, picking up the bottle and filling our glasses.
I glanced at the table in confusion and then back at him.
“There’s no food.” I pointed out as he handed me my glass. I took a sip and nearly moaned in pleasure at the sweet, acidic flavor. It was a white wine, crisp and delicious.
“Not yet, but there will be.” He grinned, sipping his own glass.
I set my glass down and nearly jumped out of my skin when a loud popping sound echoed around us. A small bowl appeared before each of us, both filled with leafy greens, sliced strawberries, shredded beets, diced onion, and candied pecans. The salads were tossed with a sweet smelling vinaigrette of some kind.
He chuckled softly at my startled reaction as I held a hand to my chest.
“I thought you be used to these things by now.” He teased, picking up his fork.
I raised my brows briefly in agreement, but shook my head “One would think...”
We each took a few bites of the salad, the silence around us nearly deafening. I stared at my wine glass, cringing inwardly at the awkwardness that had settled around us. I had no idea what I was going to say to him, or how I was going to bring any of it up.
“You’re awfully quiet.” Ronan said suddenly.
I swallowed the bite I’d taken and swiftly washed it down with more wine. He poured me some more, as I’d already drained the entire glass. I could already feel the effect of the alcohol, and I was grateful for the numbing effect it had on my anxiety.
“Just nervous.” I said softly, giving him a weak smile.
“If you’re nervous, it must mean that you fancy me. At least a little bit.” He said, flashing me a white smile.
I huffed a small laugh. If only he knew how wrong he was.
“Perhaps. ” I said, idly pushing the salad around with my fork.
“Something is on your mind.” He said, pushing his bowl away.
I didn’t respond. I pursed my lips, unsure of what to say.
He turned to face me slightly. “You said you wanted to talk with me about something.”
I sighed and turned to look at him. His powder blue eyes were serious as he studied my face, his brows slightly furrowed.
“I’m afraid of how you’ll react to what I have to say.” I said honestly, pushing my own salad away. Our bowls disappeared suddenly and I pulled my hand back, startled.
“I want you to be able to speak freely with me, Princess.” He amended, giving me a subtle nod of his head.
“I want that, too. It’s just... I know that what I have to say is a touchy subject for you.” I spoke slowly, choosing each word carefully.
He tilted his head. “Hmm.”
Our next course appeared in front of us, momentarily distracting me. Two plates appeared, both piled high with steamed fish, fresh assortments of seasoned vegetables, and a steaming bread roll with garlic butter sauce.
The mouthwatering scent filled my nose, yet I didn’t feel very hungry. I eyed the food, hyper aware of Ronan’s eyes on the side of my face. I sipped more wine as I waited for him to say something.
“I guess you didn’t bring your appetite after all...” He said, his head motioning toward my plate.
“If I promise not to react poorly... Will you please tell me what you’re thinking about?” He finally asked, picking up his fork and popping a piece of broccoli into his mouth.
He eyed me as he chewed and swallowed.
“That would make me feel a little better, I suppose.” I said, nodding slowly.
He set his fork down and slid his hand over mine, which was resting on the tablecloth. I turned to meet his gaze, my gut roiling at the feel of his skin on mine. It felt wrong...
“Then I promise you, Princess... I will hear you out and I will not react poorly to whatever it is that you are afraid to say.” He said sincerely, his silver eyes alternating between mine.
My throat bobbed as he removed his hand. “I need to ask for your help with something... Something important.” I whispered.
His eyes narrowed. “Why would you be afraid to ask me for help? You know that I will gladly assist you with anything you need.”
I sighed. “It’s not me that needs assistance...”
He raised a brow. “Then who needs it?”
I stared into his eyes a moment longer, anxiety and fear bubbling up my throat. I turned away and grabbed my wine, throwing the rest of it back.
He calmly poured me more as he watched me with suspicious eyes.
I took a shaky breath... And then I dove into a detailed explanation of what I’d seen Andromeda doing in the scrying mirror.
I explained that she was cheating on Dristan and completely disrespecting her right to the crown. I explained that I’d told Dristan what I’d seen. I half lied, and told him that Dristan was heartbroken, that he couldn’t believe she would do such a thing to him.
I told him that I wanted to try to help Dristan catch her in the act so that he could break off their engagement and find a more suitable wife, but that we would need proof of her actions, and we had no idea how to get it. And finally, I explained Dristan’s idea about the locator rune on the ring he would use to propose to her.
When I’d finally finished, our food had grown cold, and neither of us had touched much of it. My glass had been drained again, along with his, and the bottle was bone dry.
Ronan stared at the tree before us, the glow of the lanterns twinkling softly in the reflection of his irises. He didn’t look angry, which I took as a good sign, but he hadn’t spoken the entire time I’d explained everything to him... Nor had he spoken since I’d finished, nearly ten minutes ago.
Finally, he turned to face me, his mouth a grim line. He sighed before a look of disapproval settled over his face.
“Princess... I don’t think you know very much about Dristan and I’s history, do you?”
I blinked at him and slowly shook my head. His eyes grew colder as his jaw flexed.
“My family, and his family, have been enemies for a very long time.” He said quietly, his voice like the edge of a blade. “I cannot lie to you, Brenya... I detest him.”
“But, why? Why are you enemies?” I asked, my voice hardly a whisper.
He sighed through his nose, his nostrils flaring slightly. He leaned back in his chair, his arm draped casually over the back of mine. “It’s a long story.”
“I want to know. I want to understand.” I pressed.
He drummed his fingers slowly on the table as he pursed his lips and stared vacantly at the tree.
“Many years ago, his grandfather came to the Fae lands with several other dragons. Back then, they were terrorists. They were constantly plundering our lands, killing our people, stealing anything of value that they could get their rutting paws on.”
I nodded, my brows pulling together in sorrow. “Yes. Dristan told me about the way things used to be... He and his father tried to change that. He is still trying to amend for it.”
The muscles of his jaw flexed beneath his skin as he continued to stare at the tree.
“It will not change the past. He cannot amend for what his family did.” He snarled. I winced and he sighed, closing his eyes as he tried to calm himself.
When he spoke again, his voice was even and relaxed once more. “I was still a child when his grandfather came to our palace. I was out in the gardens with my mother, helping her carry baskets of corn home, for dinner. I had never seen a dragon before... But when my mother screamed, and I looked up into the sky... I knew then what true terror was.”
He leaned forward and picked up the empty bottle of wine. I watched in stunned amazement as he waved his hand over the outside and the liquid inside replenished itself somehow. He pulled the cork off and filled both of our glasses once more.
He brought his glass to his lips as he continued. “Our family was one of the wealthiest in our lands. The dragon’s targeted our home and came to take our riches... But my father... He wouldn’t allow it. He stood up to the beasts, while my mother and I hid inside. I remember hiding beneath the dining room table, holding my toy, wooden sword...”
I felt my eyes burning as he paused and closed his eyes. I could almost feel the pain radiating from him. His aura was dark blue, the color of sorrow. His sadness was palpable, and I couldn’t help my urge to reach out and touch his arm.
His eyes opened when I laid my hand on his forearm and slid to meet mine. The clouded emotion in them seemed to fade a bit as he studied me, a brief smile flashing across his face. But it did not last long.
His eyes clouded over in distant anguish once more as he continued his story. “My father’s power, along with the few others at our palace that day, was not enough to keep the dragons at bay. My mother knew he would lose... So she told me to stay where I was and she went to help him. I’ll never forget the look on her face before she left me there... I never saw her alive again. Or my father. They were killed by Dristan’s grandfather that day.”
We sat in silence for awhile after that, both sipping our wine. Both staring at nothing. Now I understood why Ronan hated Dristan so much...
“Dristan is not his grandfather, Ronan. He didn’t do those awful things. He is trying to make peace with the Fae. Can you not forgive him?” I asked.
He turned to me slowly, his eyes ablaze with anger. “Did you not hear a word that I just said? His family killed my parents. I was orphaned because of them.”
I bit my lower lip. “I understand, but... It wasn’t him... Can’t you forgive him?”
“It is unforgivable!” He bellowed loudly. He shot to his feet, his chair falling over backward behind him. The force of his anger shot outward in a wave of energy, knocking over everything on the table, and causing the lanterns that hung from the trees to sway erratically.
I gaped up at him, stunned, as he stared down at me with wide, furious eyes. He blinked several times before he straightened himself and cleared his throat.
“I apologize.” He breathed, picking his chair back up and sitting down.
He waved his hand and I glanced between him and the table as the fallen objects began to magically levitate into the air, righting themselves to their previous position on the table.
“Uhm.. I-It’s fine...” I stuttered, watching the display of magic, still taken aback by his outburst.
“I’m sorry, Princess... But I will not help him.” He grumbled, smoothing out his shirt.
I sighed, closing my eyes. “Ronan... Please...”
When I opened them again he was studying me with narrows eyes.
“Why do you care so much? What does it matter to you if he marries this whore?”
This was the question I’d hoped he wouldn’t ask.
“I-I care because he’s my friend... He saved me from the king, he slaughtered a dozen soldiers to keep me safe. I owe him my life... He taught me everything I know of this magical world... He’s my friend and I cannot sit by and let him enter an unhappy union.” I lied.
He continued to study me.
“Please... I owe this to him. You’re the only one who can help me.” I begged.
He stared at me a few moments longer.
“No.” He said, turning away.
Our dinner disappeared, this time replaced by two small plates, each occupied with a slice of decadent, chocolate cake. I wrinkled my nose at the food as my heart sank.
He wouldn’t budge. I had no choice... My only option was to bribe him.
“What if I give you something in return?” I proposed, trying to sound casual.
He turned to me with a raised brow. “Such as?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know... What do you want?”
Though I already knew the answer....
He smirked. “What are you willing to give? Locator runes aren’t easy to create, you know...”
I rolled my eyes. “Just tell me what you want, Ronan.”
He scratched at the stubble on his chin. “Hmm...”
I glared at him frostily as his smile grew. I picked up my wine and drank deeply, preparing myself for his answer.
“Marry me.” He said with a deadly grin.
I stared at him. This was the moment that I knew was coming. I just hadn’t realized how real and horrible it would feel when it actually happened.
“What?” I whispered, pretending to be shocked, and yet feeling my veins turn to ice. Perhaps I wasn’t pretending at all...
“Marry me...” He repeated, the grin falling from his lips as his face grew more serious.
I blinked at him. “There must be something else...”
He shook his head slowly. “That is what I want. If you want me to help you... This is the asking price.”
We stared at each other in silence.
Wide, multi colored eyes against unwavering, icy blue.
“You will make me the ring... with the rune... and you won’t tell a soul about any of this?” I whispered, my eyes burning.
“Fine.” I breathed, my heart fissuring.
He stilled. “You’re agreeing? This means that much to you?”
I nodded slowly, my eyes building with moisture.
He narrowed his eyes. “How do I know you will not take it back once I make the ring?”
“I wouldn’t do that.” I scoffed defensively.
“Would you allow me to bind you to you word, then?” He asked, his eyes darkening.
I furrowed my brows. “What does that mean?”
“A binding rune... I will mark you with it.” He explained with a wave of his hand, as if it were the most nonchalant statement he’d ever said.
I widened my eyes at him. “A rune tattoo? Like the one on my leg?”
He nodded, his face unreadable.
If I really did this, there was no way out of it. I would be bound to him, forced to marry him. There would be no escaping it.
I lowered my eyes, my mind muddy from the wine, my emotions battling inside of me like an angry hoard of beasts. Claws and teeth and wails of pain went off inside of my mind as my emotions waged war.
I tried to remind myself that Ronan was the best of my other two options. I thought of how happy I would be when Dristan used the ring to catch Andromeda and wouldn’t have to marry her.
He’d be angry with me... He’d hate me for doing this.
But it mattered little compared to how much I would hate seeing him end up with her...
He would be free, able to choose his own wife, someday... Even if she wasn’t me... He’d be happier, this way. Even if neither of us ended up with who we truly wanted.
I lifted my eyes back to him as a tear slipped over my cheek.
“I’ll do it.”
Ronan’s lips curled up into a slow, cruel smile. He flicked his wrist in the air and a puff of black smoke wrapped around his hand before a strange, feathered pen appeared in it. The tip was sharp, like a needle.
“Give me your hand.” He ordered quietly, extending his hand toward me.
I hesitantly lifted my hand before he grabbed me by the wrist and pulled me forward. I winced slightly, moving to the edge of my chair to ease the strain.
He flipped my hand so that my wrist was facing upward and lowered the tip of the strange, needle-like pen, to my skin.
his eyes flicked up to mine. “You are certain?”
I licked my lips, tasting the salt of my tears, and nodded.
He took his time, tattooing the rune into my skin. It hurt, but I absorbed the pain, grateful for the stinging distraction. It was a physical pain, one that was currently distracting me from the searing, burning ache inside of my heart. It was a better pain to endure...
When he was finished, I peered down at my wrist. The marking was small, no bigger than a few inches in width and length. The pen disappeared from his hand and he leaned forward.
He placed his hand over the tattoo and stared into my eyes. I stared back and gasped as his eyes began to glow, bright red.
“Rydych chi wedi fy rhwymo.” He said, his voice taking on a strange, deep tone that rose goosebumps on my skin.
“W-what was that?” I stuttered as his eyes slowly faded back to normal.
He removed his hand and I gaped at the marking, which was also subtly glowing with a red hue. It faded eventually, turning a flat, black color.
“It is the ancient language.” He said, pulling away and leaning back in his chair.
“What does it mean?” I asked, rubbing my wrist.
“It means... You are bound to me.” He said, gazing into my eyes.
I felt my throat bob as he picked up his glass of wine and sipped it casually.
“We will announce the engagement tomorrow. I will throw a dinner party.” He said, his eyes twinkling at me over the brim of his glass.
“Andromeda and Torryn will be back tomorrow. Will you have the ring done by then?” I asked, feeling completely numb. My voice was void of emotion. Dead.
“Of course. It will be in your hands by sunrise.”
I closed my eyes in defeat. It was done.
There was no going back...
“And Brenya?” He added.
I opened my eyes.
“This was the best date I have ever had. Thank you.” He grinned at me, his fangs glistening beneath the glowing lanterns.
I felt more tears slipping over my cheeks as I stared at him, my face blank, much like my soul.