My Other Father
The trip with Dagen to meet with my father was interesting. My most useful question. What don’t I know? Dagen’s response was to laugh at me. He began with the basics of our histories. I already knew most of what he relayed, but it was nice to hear the information repeated by an outside source.
My father sat waiting for me in his private quarters. A spacious room with a fireplace at one end and a massive set of glass doors leading out to a green hedge garden at the other. Five overstuffed black tapestry chairs sat by the empty fireplace around a low rock base table topped with thick clear glass. It was beyond the level of sophistication I expected from a man wearing jeans and a thermal shirt.
“Alerie, thank you for coming today. I don’t know what to expect or what to say. Please have a seat. We can talk.” I picked the chair closest to the massive fireplace. It was big enough for me to sit with my legs crossed.
“This is a nice room.”
Looking around, there were old parchment documents in thick frames attached to one wall. Stacks of old leather-bound books and wolf and eagle figurines lay on every flat surface. The man seated across from me was my biological father, but he looked no older than Henry.
“Thank you for accepting my invitation. Can I get you anything to drink or eat?”
I smiled and shook my head no. “Dagen brought me a continental breakfast. Your friend, the Keith Clan leader, helped me when I began to …”
“Evolve.” He interrupted. “Yes, it’s a difficult thing to endure. I’m glad my people were charitable when you needed help, but this is your home, your birthright.”
“Birthright? That’s an old concept you don’t hear anymore,” I chucked at the concept envisioning castles and draw bridges.
“I understand your Clan’s progressive. The soldier you chose is a half-breed?”
“Leo Kane, yes he is. Right to your point. I can’t say I dislike your approach. My father usually tries to make his ideas seem like my ideas. It’s sweet but exhausting.”
“The time gifted to your father, Max, was not afforded to me.”
“And why was that?” I pushed off the armrest of the heavy chair, unfolded my legs, and crossed the room to inspect a nearby table of objects.
“Your mother is not one who can be told what to do. She convinced a great many people to follow her after her husband and sons died.”
It was the story no one would talk about. I rubbed my neck and nodded. “Can you blame her?”
“Not at all. I returned to fight only to see five of my oldest friends slaughtered.” Rafferty rose from his chair and filled his glass with iced lemon water. “Injured, I remained in the white for weeks before returning to my home in the Grove.
“Years later, in the ninety’s, I returned to see how the clans were recovering. Your mother settled her family estate as the center for her new order. She was kind of to include me in their Clan blending. I think she wanted to tie my name to her cause, but I have no interest in politics. She gave her human to the Clan that night, as did many others.”
“The blending isn’t talked about in polite conversation,” I explained.
“It should be. So many things progressed, yet the most unexpected items reverted to the era of secrets and shadows. All of our traditions should be discussed openly among the members.”
“She looks much older than you do—my mother. She can be cold and dismissive, but there is a reason for everything she does. I can’t imagine she kept my lineage a secret for her benefit. This makes me wonder what it is about you that she was trying to shield me from.”
“They warned me you were hardened and dismissive.” Rafferty laughed and drank some of the water he was swirling in his glass. “A power play is simmering in the Grove. A hundred-year tug of war between the witch covens that created the realm and the wolf clans they trapped there.”
“Witch covens? The Grove didn’t just happen to be one day?”
“No, a thousand years ago, demon lords united and made a hard push for the human realm. We were created from a strong clan of men to protect the Yolk. The White was created to ease our entry into the realm, but witches couldn’t enter. They can watch the doorways but can’t walk beyond the White without an invitation from the chosen.
“The witches weren’t happy about this inequality, so they created the Grove. A realm beyond the Yolk where witches could tend the fallen wolves and gain time to outmaneuver the greater demons without interference from the Powers. But in the end, they were trapped by their creation and couldn’t leave.”
“The Grove trapped them?”
“All coven leaders joined forces. At the time, there were five major covens. They were too powerful. For every action taken against the natural order, there is a price to pay. The balance must be maintained.”
“My demon friend is always talking about balance.”
“Demons are not to be trusted, and your half-blood warrior is not a suitable fighter. You need a lineage clan member to stand beside you, Alerie.”
“This is why you called me here? And you claim you’re not political. I’m so stupid. I thought this was some heartfelt meeting where you would ask about my life and my goals. You are just as cold as my mother and twice as manipulative.
“Mindless, full-blood clan members. You forgot what it means to fight. Hidden away believing so completely in all your superstitious bullshit, you’re cowards. Run back to your Grove.”
“Alerie,” Rafferty stood staring blankly at a painting of a wolf chasing an eagle. “You can hate me, disagree with me, and think whatever you like. Don’t dismiss my experience. When you are knee-deep in your half-breed lover’s blood, watching a dark mass of carnage feed on his flesh, you will regret ignoring my direction.
“Only full blood can fully heal their body in the White dear daughter. Your humans risk a swift death every time they follow you into the Yolk. Did your demon friend tell you that? Has your witch waiting safely in the forest ever told you the price you will pay for your choice of armor?”
“The Powers told me Henry was one of them, but he fell taking out a horde of demons in a brilliant flash of Angel fire. He chose to incarnate here as a human so he could fight as a human. I’m not tempting the natural order here. I’m living in Henry’s story. I’m the bait, remember.”
“You are the bait because you are of my blood. You can take one hell of a beating. Your wolf and your human can’t. Do this one thing for me, Alerie. Take a full-blooded wolf and a second armor with you next time. The filth tasted the air you breathe. They listened to your friend’s thoughts. They will be coming for you all in greater force, and there are no rules inside the Yolk.”
Malou entered with a tray of cookies and dried fruits. My father looked weak. He rested in his overstuffed chair with a small fire burning beside him like an ancient old man. After a short break, we each took a cookie and walked out into the garden.
Rafferty talked about the Grove and the trees, the smell of the moss on the ground, the rabbits and deer he hunts by his favorite stream. I got the impression he only hunts in wolf form and rarely lives as a man.
“The Grove is your home, but why have a human body if you never live as a human?”
“We aren’t human, Sweetheart. We are wolves and men only, so we can live among humans. Men are who we protect. The Clans of old gave up the frailty of human life for the strength to shoulder the burden of the angels. It’s a privilege to be called to serve the Powers, but don’t confuse the Manor Lord’s polite praise for real love. Henry will return to the angels at any cost.”
“I brought my contract from Chris for you to look over.”
“Excellent, let’s look at this inside under the lights.” Rafferty read every word on the documents as I strolled around his room and looked at his possessions.
One piece caught my eye—a wood-carved block with a tribal circle with a wolf chasing an eagle. The two animals were running mouth to tail, but neither could quite sink their teeth into the other.
Rafferty walked up beside me and ran his finger around the edges of the carving. “The balance of the land creatures and the sky creatures, or maybe it’s the wolves and the angels or the White, Yolk, and Grove. No one knows.
“The witch who gives that brand can bring a dead wolf back to life long enough to fight for his body. Of course, there’s a price. Five years in the Grove for five days on the Earth.” Rafferty unbuttoned his shirt and showed me his right shoulder blade. The black circular tattoo showed like new.
“I’ve earned several days over the years, but I’ve only recently wanted to use them. I hope to be here when you enter the Slaughter. Should you fall, a trip to the edge of the Grove to pull you through is a short one for me.”
“The demons want me dead. I’ve killed nine of them so far. I expect I will see you in the Grove. Will your witch give me a tattoo if I agree to her terms?”
“She will.” Rafferty folded up my documents and handed them back to me. “The company expects you to live. Two visits to the White a year for twenty years. That’s why they are paying you the quarter share.”
“I’ll need to pull Henry out and put him back inside. His human family will expect to see him a few times a year. It’s not a huge ask.”
“Can I ask you for a favor?” I shrugged my shoulders. “My friend Dagen is a broken man. Don’t break him any further. I need him here to take care of my affairs while I’m in the Grove.”
“Don’t worry, your friends too old for me. He claims you gave him your firstborn daughter for his bride. That sounds incredibly creepy.”
Rafferty laughed. “It was a different time. Women were different. Men were different. It was a show of trust. I give you, my friend, my most precious possession and trust you to care for her. I assumed that girl would need a man, a warrior. That’s not the case now. Women don’t need anyone. You select the men or women in your lives based on different criteria now. We couldn’t see that change hundreds of years ago.”
“Makes sense. You trust Dagen to care for your family if you can’t. How can you stand to live in Grove all the time?”
“One set of ideas rules my life—wisdom, justice, courage, and moderation. Nothing is right, nothing is wrong— it simply is. All you can control is how you react to what life presents you with. Lamenting what you can’t change makes you suffer twice.”
“Make your lemons into lemonade.” I nodded.
“If you like lemonade. Realize you will get lemons. Decide what to do with them, and when they appear, do it.”