The Faerie's Bargain

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Summary

King Cormac of Dunnhawke is faced with an impossible choice. To lose everything. His crown. His wife. His unborn child. Or to make a bargain with the Fae. The choice he makes has effects all through his kingdom, and the far away land of Erilea, where Prince Cillian waits for a bride that will one day be his...

Genre:
Fantasy / Romance
Author:
Victoria Rose
Status:
Ongoing
Chapters:
16
Rating:
4.6 12 reviews
Age Rating:
18+

The War-Torn King

KING CORMAC

The land was dying.

From the narrow windows of Dunnhawke Castle, King Cormac could see the fields of wheat seem to wither before his eyes in their dry and dusty fields.

The crashing waves of the nearby sea mocked him with their constant pounding. So much water at his fingertips and yet it would not save him.

You’d never think we’d be so desperate for rain, not here.

The usual misty showers of spring had never come, nor had the heavy summer storms, so necessary to ripen the crops before harvest.

Even now the sun sank across a barren, cloudless sky.

A distant scream echoed down the stone corridor, and Cormac turned suddenly, his stomach wrenched with fear.

His wife, Queen Bronnagh, was in labor with their first child.

It had been a hard pregnancy, and the delivery was taking longer than expected.

The royal midwives were in attendance. He had seen them exiting Bronnagh’s bedchamber carrying bowls filled with bloody cloth.

The screams had persisted all day, until Cormac thought he would tear his own heart from his chest to make it cease.

He had fought many battles in the war to reclaim his kingdom. The screams of dying men still echoed through his dreams. But none would haunt him like the cries of his beautiful new wife. Never before had he felt so utterly helpless.

Cormac turned back towards the unpaned window. His kingdom, so newly won, was crumbling to pieces around him. How could he expect the people to support his rule when their livelihoods lay dying in the fields? In the one hundred days since his coronation, it had not rained a drop. All over the peasants were whispering.

They were displeased.

The people of the winds.

The Fae.

Cormac shook his head. He had ridden himself of such foolish fancies the moment he had been exiled at twelve years of age to the isle of Soorninoor.

His father, King Ronan, had fallen during the brutal coup, betrayed by his own younger brother who seized the throne for himself. Young Cormac and his mother had barely escaped with their lives.

Then had followed year after long, lonely year. Soorninoor was a desolate rock in the middle of the sea, constantly on the verge of being swept into oblivion by a severe winter storm. During this time Cormac had begun training with sword and shield and bow. With no great masters to teach him, he taught himself, using the old weapons left behind at their crumbling manor home.

Over time, he had grown broad and tall, a bear of a man with a barrel chest and a gingery-red beard. Support for his cause grew, as did his armies waiting on the mainland.

When he’d come of age at sixteen, Cormac had begun his war. Carrying an enormous two-sided axe, he led his forces against those of his Uncle Odhran. The violence had raged on both sides for more than four years. His armies depleted, his support waning, Cormac had thought his cause lost.

Deliverance had come to him in the strangest of places. A gleaming wooden carriage had arrived at his war camp on one afternoon more than a year ago. Out of this magnificent vessel had climbed a young woman with laughing blue eyes.

Princess Bronnagh had captured his heart from the moment Cormac had laid eyes on her. Tiny, bird-like in proportion, her chestnut-brown head barely reached his shoulder and yet he found himself utterly within her power.

She had been sent as an emissary from the King of Peralorne. If Cormac would unite their houses, they would fight alongside him. Of course, he had agreed without hesitation.

His armies joined together with the legions of Peralorne to crush Odhran’s forces in a great battle near the River Nuile. Its muddy brown waters had flown crimson with blood that day. But it had been on the battlefield, wading through the shit and mud, that Cormac had found his uncle.

Their final battle had gone for nearly twenty minutes before Cormac managed to land the death blow. He'd severed his uncle's head from his shoulders and presented it to Bronnagh upon his return. They'd been married a week later.

In the year that followed, Cormac had come to love his wife deeply, though his stoic reserve made it difficult for him to demonstrate his affection.

Another wrenching scream came from the open door of Queen Bronnagh’s bedchamber, making Cormac feel half-mad with worry and grief.

Maybe he was cursed. Stricken with bad luck by the Fae. People said they reveled in tormenting people, by pulling them down right as they stood on the brink of happiness.

He had never paid much mind to the old faith before, but desperation was high and tight in his chest.

“Your Grace?”

A voice from behind caused King Cormac to start, and he turned to see the plump midwife, her face bone white in the failing light of the sun.

She looked like an omen of death. A shudder ran up his back.

The woman shook her hand, “I’m afraid there’s nothing to be done, sire. The babe is turned in the womb, and the cord is wrapped about its wee little neck.”

Cormac Setterwind had not cried since the death of his father eight years ago, but now he felt a sob rising to his throat.

“And...and the queen?” he choked, dreading the answer.

Again the midwife shook her head, and now Cormac’s knees threatened to buckle. He raised one hand to steady himself against the stone wall of the castle.

“I understand,” was all he was able to reply.

His beautiful, young wife.

The babe in her womb.

His long fight to reclaim his rightful throne.

All of it lost.

Cormac slammed a futile fist against the wall, resting his head for a moment against the cool stones.

“Something must be done, my son.” His mother spoke, having crept up in that silent way that she had. She echoed his own thoughts, as she so often did.

Grainne Setterwind was a tiny, wizened woman with a face full of sagging wrinkles, but her posture was rigidly erect despite her great age.

She had been old since Cormac could remember, having borne him late in life after the deaths of her two elder sons, both of whom had died in battle before he was ever born.

“The Queen is near death, and the child with her,” Cormac said grimly, fighting to maintain control over his emotions.

I am frightened. He wanted to say, but a king must never betray any faintness of heart.

Even when he stood on the brink of ruin.

“There is always something to be done, if one knows who to ask,” his mother replied.

Cormac’s own blood chilled at the thought. “We cannot go to them. They are not trustworthy. Mother you know this.”

“I know that if you do not ask for help from the Fae, you will lose your kingdom within the fortnight, and all your long years of struggle will have been for nothing,” Grainne said in her measured voice.

Another scream from the birthing room. It was weaker, more like a whimper. She was running out of time.

“Be wary, my son. Make no bargain that you are unable to keep.”

Cormac didn’t respond. He knew the risk of what he meant to do this night.

But he had no choice.

He must go to the Fae.


CILLIAN

The barrier separating the mortal realm from the world of the Fae was simultaneously as vast as an ocean and as close as a lover’s breath.

On one side of this distance, King Cormac saddled his mighty black stallion and galloped into the woods.

On the other, Prince Cillian of the Fae observed the war-torn king. The Fae's military bearing was straight and erect, his slim shoulders belied not a shred of emotion.

Likewise, his youthful face was utterly impassive, every muscle schooled carefully into place.

But nothing could disguise the hungry gleam in the prince’s eyes.

His plan was finally coming to fruition.

The prophecy would be fulfilled.

The king was on his way.

His is the blood that was needed.

The blood of the Setterwind.

For years, Prince Cillian had watched.

Waited.

And now, it was finally the moment to strike. The child was about to be born.

Cillian watched through the misty barrier as King Cormac entered the thickest part of the forest. He’d been forced to bring his horse to a walk, and was now slowly picking his way through the tangled trees.

The trees had been planted as a warning to the mortal realm.

Go back. Stay away.

Beyond lies the realm of the Fae.

Still the hapless mortals insisted on treating them as gods. Sometimes they even sent offerings into the circle, to beg for favor.

The offerings were always taken gladly, but really the Fae interfered little in human life.

Until now.

Cillian waited, his eyes fixed on the barrier. Soon, the king would come. He must not err now. The future of Erilea depended on what happened this night.

His lips parted in a smile.

King Cormac had reached the edge of the fairy circle.

Cillian took a deep breath. Tonight, he would strike a bargain with the king


His new, full mouth parted in a triumphant smile.

Tonight, he would strike a bargain with the Setterwind king.

For the future of the Fae.


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