Dristan made a point to sit as far from me as possible at the council meeting. He sat at the head of the table, while I sat on the other end. Andromeda sat to my right, beside Torryn, and Warrick sat beside Dristan. The seat beside me, where Ronan would’ve been, was vacant.
A fire crackled softly to the far left wall, while the candle lit chandelier above cast a soft glow among the room. With night upon us, and no light coming from the windows, the mood was rather dark and ominous as we all stared at each other in silence.
“There are several reasons why we are here tonight.” Dristan said sternly, disturbing the silence at last. “But I feel as though we should cover the most obvious topic first.”
His eyes slid to mine and I felt my throat bob. “As you all know, when Brenya came into her Fae form tonight, our mating bond snapped into place.”
I glanced around the table, my chin high, as I watched my comrades faces shift into uneasiness.
Warrick spoke first. “At first, I thought you two might have made it up as a way to get Brenya out of her engagement...”
My eyes widened. “Why did you think I wanted out?” I whispered breathlessly.
Warrick turned his gaze to me, his expression amused. “Brenya... I do have eyes, you know. Every time Ronan touches you, you flinch away. You obviously did not want the union to happen.”
I blushed, but held his stare. “I was doing what I had to do.”
He rose his eyebrows and smiled before turning back to Dristan.
“As I said... That is what I thought at first. But when you reacted to me the way you did... When you couldn’t control your anger... I knew you were serious.”
Dristan nodded, his mouth a grim line. “Yes.”
“But how is this possible?” Andromeda cut in. “I have never heard of a Dragon and a Fae sharing a mate bond...”
The others muttered their agreement.
Dristan lowered his eyes and shook his head slowly. “I do not know the answer to that. I have been asking myself the same question since it happened.”
An idea occurred to me. “The mate bond acts on destiny... Correct?” I asked no one in particular.
“In a way, yes.” Torryn answered, his deep blue eyes settling on my face. “The ancient magic of the mate bond is believed to be decided by the Gods. When two people are mated, it means that they are a perfect pair. But it so rare... To find the one person, out of the millions among our world, who is your perfect counterpart... The odds of finding that person is unlikely. That is why it is so sacred. Most people believe that when two people are lucky enough to find their mate, it is because the Gods have higher plans for them. Or, a destiny, as you put it.”
I nodded once. “Well, then I believe that it is a sign from the Gods. Dristan, and all of you, have been working so hard to bring all of the races together... To take back the land from the King. Dristan has played a monumental part in all of it... And I am meant to do my fair share of it, as well. It seems to me that the Gods want us to be together... Despite our differences in race... To lead the people into a new era. I believe that it is our destiny to rule, side by side, and bring an end to the war.”
No one made a sound. My steady gaze alternated between all four of them, waiting for one of them to speak. Warrick rose his brows and poked out his lower lip. Torryn’s face remained in it’s usual, stony state, though his eyes were twinkling with some hidden emotion. Andromeda was smiling softly at me.
And Dristan... When my eyes met with his, I could feel the profound amount of love pouring out of him as he stared into me. It wasn’t because of his face... In fact, his expression was quite unreadable, as he lounged lazily in his chair.
It was the bond.
The pull between us intensified as I continued to gaze at him. I could feel his emotions, I could feel his love for me stretching down the bond between our souls. It felt as if his emotions were intertwined with my own, intensifying my own love for him. It consumed me, that love.
“I think you’re right, my mate.” Dristan finally said, his voice smooth and warm, like bourbon.
I felt the corner of my lip quirk upward.
“Here, here.” Said Torryn, wrapping his arm around Andi.
She giggled in response and kissed his cheek. “I think it’s wonderful. It’s just what the people need to see, to truly believe in a unified future.” She said sweetly.
“I agree.” Warrick chimed in, his eyes crinkling at the corners as he grinned at me.
I gave them all my warmest, most genuine smile. My heart felt full, hopeful for the first time in so long. After everything that had happened... Things were finally beginning to look up.
“Good... Now, onto the next subject.” Dristan said, settling his hands on the table in front of him. “Ronan...” His hands balled into fists and his face looked as if the name left a bad taste in his mouth.
“Yes... What are we going to do with him?” Warrick said, leaning back in his chair.
A felt a small stab of guilt as I pictured Ronan, sitting alone in a dark dungeon cell. He shouldn’t have challenged Dristan, but did he really deserve to be imprisoned? He hadn’t done anything wrong. He hadn’t hurt anyone, or broken any laws.
“What is Ronan’s crime?” I asked suddenly.
Dristan’s eyes snapped to me. “What?”
I lowered my gaze. “He didn’t do anything to deserve being imprisoned.”
A growl escaped my mate’s lips. “Are you defending him?”
I straightened in my chair. “I am asking what his crime is, aside from pissing you off.”
“He challenged me. He challenged my authority.”
“He didn’t understand what was happening. It all transpired so quickly, Dristan... I don’t think he deserves to be imprisoned.” I answered flatly.
He bared his teeth. “He tried to use his magic to harm me.”
“Yes, but only after you struck him.” I countered.
His jaw flexed. “Because he challenged me.”
I squared my shoulders. “I think he deserves a second chance. Ronan is a member of the High Council. The best course of action would be for you to talk to him, Dristan. You need to explain the mate bond to him and tell him that the binding rune is void. After that, if he challenges you again, then I won’t object to his imprisonment.”
“Wait...” Warrick inturrupted, holding up a hand. “What binding rune?”
I pressed my lips together.
Dristan sighed and gave me an annoyed glance. “Ronan marked her with a binding rune on her wrist, ensuring her promise to marry him would not fail.”
Andromeda gasped and turned to me, her brows furrowed. “Brenya! If Ronan forced a binding rune on you, that is definitely considered a crime!”
I cleared my throat. “Well... He didn’t force me. I agreed to it.”
“Why the hell would you agree to that?” Torryn interjected, his voice rising a fraction.
“She did it for me.” Dristan said grimly, his eyes sorrowful.
The others glanced between us in confusion.
“I don’t understand. What did it have to do with you?” Warrick asked.
Dristan let out an exasperated sigh and leaned back in his chair. He ran a hand through his messy hair. I steeled myself for what he would say next.
“Before we returned to the Aviary, I gave Brenya a scrying mirror that I bought at the Bakru village. She was worried about her human father, and I wanted to ease her mind. When we arrived here, she was watching him in the mirror. She was experimenting with the mirror and watched Warrick and I when we were in the dungeon with Marrok and Sylvie, discussing what to do with them. After that... She decided to see what Andromeda was doing.”
I felt my cheeks heating as Andi turned her head toward me, her face screwed up in confusion.
Dristan continued. “What she wasn’t expecting to see was Andromeda fucking someone in a broom closet.”
Andi gasped and threw a hand over her mouth. I lowered my eyes to the table, unable to meet her, or Torryn’s, gaze.
“You spied on me?” Andi said, her voice shaking.
“I-I didn’t mean to... I was just...”
She dropped her hand from her mouth as realization settled over her features. Her mouth opened and formed a round O shape as she lifted her brows.
“You lied to me, before... About you and Dristan. You had feelings for him, all along, didn’t you? You were spying on me out of jealously.”
I ground my teeth and lifted my eyes to hers as my blood began to boil.
“You have a lot of nerve, calling me a liar.” I said smoothly.
A flash of shock crossed her face. “That was different...”
I let out a small laugh. “Different? You lied to everyone, for years. You were seeing your mate behind your betrothed’s back for over a century. I was drawn to Dristan and I lied to you about it, yes... But that does not make what I did different from what you did. The only difference is that you knew Torryn was your mate.”
A faint touch of pink colored her cheeks before she lowered her eyes. She gave no response, and I settled my eyes back onto my mate. He scanned my face before his body language finally relaxed a fraction. I nodded at him to continue.
“As I was saying...” He mumbled, throwing Andi a poisonous glance. “After Brenya realized that Andromeda was seeing someone behind my back, she told me immediately. The problem was that she wasn’t able to see the male’s face, therefor did not know who she was cheating with. I told her that I had no way of being able to dismiss the bethrothment without proof of infedility. That was when Brenya, despite my efforts to stop her, asked Ronan to make a locator rune in the form of an engagement ring.”
Dristan paused, letting out a long sigh. Andi sat as still as a statue, with her eyes closed. Torryn was as still as death at her side as he eye’d the side of Dristan’s face. Warrick stared at the table.
“Ronan agreed to make the ring in exchange for Brenya’s hand in marrige. She agreed, but he was not content with taking her at her word. His condition was that she bind herself to her promise to marry him with a binding rune. She accepted his offer, got the ring, and I proposed to Andromeda with it shortly afterwards. We were then able to check the scrying mirror for Andi’s whereabouts and catch her in the act of cheating.”
Dristan finished, his eyes shifting between his comrades slowly. No one moved, or spoke, for quite some time.
“Well... I have to hand it to you, Princess, you are very resourceful.” Torryn said, breaking the long silence. When I met his eyes he gave me a small smile. Relief washed through me as I realized he wasn’t angry with me.
“Yes, quite.” Andi added sarcastically, her eyes still on the table in front of her.
It seemed Torryn’s mate did not share his forgiving nature.
I glared at her. “I couldn’t have known-”
“You could’ve talked to me, Brenya!” She interrupted, her watery eyes snapping to mine. “Do you know how humiliated I was when all those people walked into that room?!”
My patience was running thin. Her anger was understandable, but she wasn’t seeing the bigger picture. I clenched my teeth in frustration as my blood heated further and further...
Andromeda wiped at her tears. “I wish you would’ve just-”
I rose to my feet, my chair scraping noisily on the floor behind me.
“Enough!” My voice rang out, strong and authoritative. “Do you think that I do not feel guilt for what happened? I didn’t know who to trust! I did what I did, and what happened, happened, end of story! Your own choices led you to that embarrassing situation, and I understand why you hid it for so long, Andromeda, but you do not get to blame me for your mistakes! If anything, I did you a favor. I exposed the truth for what it was, which you were unable to do yourself. I freed you from an engagement that you, nor Dristan, ever desired. Dristan was compassionate enough to forgive both of you, and keep you on the High Council. I made a sacrifice to help Dristan, and I had to pay for what I did. I watched as you got your happy ending, while I was left with an unwanted engagement as payment. You of all people should know how that feels!”
She winced, shrinking into her chair, as I held my ground and glared into her eyes.
Silence settled across the room again. Warrick gazed at me with wide eyes and raised brows. Torryn gripped Andromeda’s hand firmly, remaining as calm and unyielding to emotion as always. Dristan stared at me with surprise, as well as thinly veiled amusement.
“You are right...” Andromeda whispered as a tear rolled down her cheek. “I am sorry.”
I slowly lowered back into my chair, my eyes still on her. I couldn’t bring myself to answer her, as my blood was still filled with animosity. I took a deep, steadying breath as the energy in the room calmed down again.
Warrick clapped his hands, rubbing them together. “Well... now that we’re all up to par...”
“I don’t know if I can speak to Ronan without losing control of my anger.” Dristan said, running a hand through his hair.
“You must try.” I said softly. “Ronan plays an important role here. And if the people see that you can remain friendly with him, despite what’s happened, that will only further prove our ability to achieve peace among our kind.”
“She has a point.” Torryn said, tilting his head toward the Dragon Lord.
Dristan’s body was taught with tension. “Fine. But he is not to step within one hundred feet of you for the next several weeks. Not until the initial bond has simmered down. If I see him near you, I will not be able to stop myself from killing him.”
I sighed in relief. “Fair enough.”
Dristan grunted, his teeth flashing briefly in the dim lighting, as he slumped further back in his chair. “Next subject... Brenya will need to begin training with her power immediately.”
“That’s my specialty.” Warrick chimed. He grinned widely at me and I couldn’t help but smile back. His joyful nature had always been infectious.
“The issue...” Dristan continued. “Is that she is the last Elemental Fae. We have no idea what she is capable of. There is no one left to train her with her new power. We will need to use extreme caution so that she, and no one else, is harmed. She is likely more powerful than we know.”
Warrick laughed, leaning back and tucking his hands behind his head. “You worry too much.”
“The other issue...” Dristan added, his voice more aggitated. “Is that the only Rune Fae among us is Ronan. He’s the only one capable of training her with Runes... And I will not allow him near her anytime soon.”
I let out a huff of breath in frustration. He was right. How was I ever going to learn anything with such limited resources?
“Don’t worry, Princess. We’ll start with the basics. We’ll figure the rest out as we go.” Warrick said, sending me a warm smile of encouragement.
“Thank you, Warrick.” I said.
He reached out, as if he were going to touch my hand. But a loud snarl from Dristan’s lips stopped him. “Don’t... Touch... Her...”
He withdrew his hand, his smile still in place, as he turned to Dristan. “Moody... Have you not consummated the bond yet?”
My face was stained scarlet as Torryn let out a sudden, barked laugh. He tried to mask his amused outburst with a cough, but no one was fooled.
Dristan growled again, in warning.
Warrick raised his hands in surrender. “I guess not... Sorry.”
“This would all be much easier, had her parents left her a Book of Shadows.” Torryn said, his lips still holding the remnants of a smile.
I furrowed my brows. “Book of Shadows?”
He nodded. “Yes. Many Fae bloodlines pass down a Book of Shadows through the generations. They contain spells and techniques for their bloodline’s specific kind of magic.”
I scoffed. “Well, we have to find it!”
Dristan shook his head. “It’s not that simple. You are the last Elemental... The book’s whereabouts died with your parents. It could be anywhere in the world... It would be nearly impossible to find.”
My heart sank. “Well... There has to be a Book of Shadows, at least for the Rune bloodline, since there are still some of us left.” I said hopefully.
“Ronan has it.” Andi said glumly.
I rose my brows at Dristan. “Yet another reason that we need him alive.”
Dristan grunted and ran a hand through his hair. “We shall see about the Rune bloodline’s Book of Shadows, later... Now, on to the next topic. The key.” He pulled the bejeweled key from his pocket and set it onto the table in front of him.
“Brenya, do you have any idea what the key could be for?” Warrick asked.
I pursed my lips. “None come to mind... But whatever it’s for, it has to be important. The ring was meant only for me... My parents wanted to make sure I ended up with the key... I just don’t know why.”
“Yet another question without an answer.” Warrick sighed.
“Until we can figure out what it’s for, Brenya, keep it somewhere safe.” Dristan said, sliding the key to me. I gripped it tightly in my fist and gave him a curt nod.
“We’ll start your training tomorrow.” He added.
I nodded again. “Okay.”
“Warrick, meet us in the training rooms at first light. Bring Sylvie and Marrok.” Dristan said authoritatively. “Andi and Torryn, speak to Ronan about the whereabouts of the Rune bloodline’s Book of Shadows. Explain what we discussed in this meeting with him if you must... Tell him I’ll talk with him sometime soon. Until then, he’ll stay in the dungeon. Meeting adjourned.” Dristan said, standing to his feet.
I sat in my rooms, drinking what I’d hoped to be a comforting mug of hot, lavender tea. I nibbled at a raspberry tart, but couldn’t seem to find my appetite. I was too nervous.
I’d returned to my rooms after the meeting, and after Dristan told me that he had to speak to Warrick privately for awhile... I had given Warrick an apologetic smile, knowing full well what Dristan was going to talk to him about. He was worried about my training, worried about other males touching me or being close to me.
Rutting, overprotective iguana...
I empathized with him, though. The thought of a female touching him, even looking at him, made me grind my teeth as my blood simmered with rage. I couldn’t imagine how much worse it must be for him. Male’s were much more protective in nature, driven by testosterone and instinct. I couldn’t really blame Dristan for his feelings. He couldn’t help it. He only wanted to talk to Warrick about it to prevent himself from harming him, or any other male.
My mate... So tough and calloused on the outside, while his heart was warm and soft. Though, I knew he’d never admit to it.
The tea did little to settle my nerves, as I’d hoped it would. My anxiety, added to the intense magnification of all of my senses, made it difficult to eat or drink anything. The only thing I could compare the horrible feeling to was a horrible hangover... Lights were too bright, sounds were too loud, smells were too strong... I wondered if I’d ever get used to it. If anything would ever feel normal again...
I wasn’t exactly sure why I was so nervous. I knew Dristan would come to my chambers when he was finished speaking to Warrick... And it made me anxious. I knew it was absurd of me to feel that way, but I felt it all the same. We were mates now... And I knew that we wouldn’t be able to be near each other without consummating the bond.
But why did that make me feel so tense? I’d wanted this for a long time... I’d been intimate with Dristan several times now. I wanted him, in every way that I could possibly have him. And now that I was Fae, now that we were mates, the thought of having sex with him made me blush. What was wrong with me?!
The more I sat and thought about it, the more the butterflies in my stomach intensified. Desperate for some form of comfort, I rose from the couch and padded into the bedroom in search of my scrying mirror. I needed to see my father’s face... I needed to see that he was safe. Perhaps then, I would feel more at ease.
I scooped the scrying mirror off of my bedside table and returned to the couch, wrapping a soft blanket around myself as I did. Setting down the mug of tea, I lifted the mirror to my face and closed my eyes. I concentrated on the memory of my father’s face.
I pictured the roughness of his hands, the deep lines of age in his leathery cheeks... The salt and pepper color of his short hair, the gruffness of his laugh.
A sudden whooshing sound startled me.
I snapped my eyes open and whipped my head toward the balcony door. Dristan strode through the archway, his hair ruffled from flight. He looked quite stressed, but as soon as his eyes found mine, he visibly relaxed.
I smirked. “You do know that you don’t have to fly here anymore, right? We are mates. We don’t have to hide our relationship. You can use the front door.”
The corner of his lip quirked upward as he strode closer to me. “Old habits die hard, I suppose.”
“Indeed...” I said, my eyes running up and down his body. He was dressed in a long sleeved, white shirt and black sleep pants. He looked positively edible, and I tried to suppress the urge to lick my lips at the sight of him.
He paused a few feet away from me. “What have you got there?” He asked softly, motioning toward my hands.
“Oh...” I murmured, remembering what I’d been doing only a moment ago. He was so damned distracting. “I was feeling a bit anxious, so I was checking in on my father. Seeing him makes me feel more relaxed...”
“How is he?” He asked, taking a small step closer to me.
“I don’t know, I haven’t looked yet. You showed up right as I was about to....” My voice trailed off as I lowered my gaze to the mirror.
My veins chilled as goosebumps broke out all over my arms, causing the hair on the back of my neck to stand up in pure terror. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t comprehend what I was seeing.
My father was running through the forest, the thick blanket of night looming all around him, as he tripped over upturned roots and jagged rocks. Angry shouting could be heard in the distance and I could see several, small sources of torch light behind him through the trees. He was running from some sort of angry mob.
“Dristan...” I whispered as a tear escaped my unblinking eyes.
He was at my side immediately, his left wing curling around me as he sat on the couch to my right. The warmth of his presence did little to warm my frozen blood.
“What the hell?” He hissed, staring into the glass with furrowed brows.
We watched a while longer as my father delved deeper into the dark woods, the dull shouting and light of the torches fading further and further behind him. He was losing them...
But he was running toward even greater danger. The forest held horrible, vile creatures. Ones that were guaranteed to kill him. I held a hand over my mouth as a choked sob fell out of me.
My father stopped, leaning against the trunk of a massive tree, as he tried to catch his breath. There was blood on his face, coming from his nose and a deep gash above his right eyebrow.
“He’s hurt! Dristan, we have to do something!” I cried, my voice strained with fear and hysteria.
His wing curled more tightly around me, tucking me into his side. “I know, love... It’s going to be okay... We’ll leave immedi-”
He paused. “Wait... What is that?” He said, his eyes narrowing as he studied the image.
I studied the glass closer, straining to see...
My father pulled something from a satchel that was hooked around his chest. It was difficult to see through the darkness... But as the object fully emerged, the image became clear.
It was glowing with a bright, luminous light. Almost exactly like the light that came from the Fae ring, now a key. He held the object to his chest as he huffed in and out, and I realized what the object was...
“Oh my Gods...” I whispered in amazed horror.
It was a book.
Not just any book... It was covered with glittering, glowing, multi colored jewels. And near the center, atop a ruby colored strap, there was a keyhole.
“Brenya... Where are you, Brenya?...” My father gasped, tucking the book back into the satchel. He set off again, delving deeper into the forest, and the mirror went dark once more.
I slowly lifted my eyes to Dristan, who was staring at me with parted lips and wide eyes.
My throat bobbed. “It’s my Book of Shadows.”