Soulmates found one story at a time.





Fechin slouched on the Raven throne, hoping his growing boredom with the proceedings looked like neutrality to those watching him. The chair, formed out of onyx, jet, and obsidian carved into a black bird with wings extended and curved beak overhead, wasn’t exactly comfortable, either. 

Slouching, he could get away with. Squirming was definitely not kingly.

Selkies. Elves. Trow. Merrow. Puca. Kobolds.

They all blurred into bickering courtiers wearing brightly colored finery and sparkling shoes, in direct contrast to his all black attire and scuffed boots. Their delicate hands fluttered in the air as their soft bodies struck dramatic poses while they endlessly argued.  

He wanted nothing more than to draw the Sword of Light from over his shoulder and settle things in an efficient, and permanent, manner. 

If the courtiers insisted on these meetings, the least they could do was make them useful. Who cared if a border was one foot farther or nearer? Or if two houses wanted to wear the same shade of green? Or whether they held the ball on one day over another?

His fingers twitched on the arm of the throne. It wouldn’t take long to cleave them all in half, but even he might need two swings for some of the fatter ones who lived on the Raven Court’s hospitality. 

He let the idea drift away. With his luck, every time he cut one in two, he’d end up with twice as many.

Why couldn’t any of them see there were bigger problems  — like the magic of Inisfáil Fae tearing itself apart.

But only he felt it.

The only other, aside from the Morrigan herself, who might feel the magic shredding, was his brother, Vilkos. The title of King would go to one of them. Fechin held the throne at the moment only because he was older. To be crowned the true King of the Inisfáil Fae, he required an heir, and if his brother sired one first, being older wouldn’t keep Fechin on the throne.

His brother had abandoned the castle and all responsibilities two years ago, leaving Fechin as the lone target for all the politicians and hangers-on. It seemed only fair if Vilkos could become king, he should have to sit through half of these tedious proceedings.

Although, the ravens in the tower were muttering about Vilkos returning. 

That was another thing to worry about.

Vilkos had a chance to become king, but there was no chance he’d protect the Inisfáil Fae.

An especially high-pitched voice echoed through the room. Fechin winced. Maybe he should move the proceedings to a smaller space in the castle. One where the voices wouldn’t rebound so much. Hearing the petty squabbles three times from multiple angles did not improve his mood. 

Or, perhaps a darker room, where he could be in shadows. The throne room had a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows on one side that let in far too much sun, and left him on display atop the dais.

He’d already had all the decor and furniture taken away, hoping if there was nothing to look at, and no chairs or tables to use, that would hurry things along. 

No such luck. 

Now the courtiers milled around, arguing about where everyone was entitled to stand. And, free to move rather than stuck in a chair, their gestures and posturing were more elaborate — like they were actors in a play.

Fechin made a mental note to have the chairs returned — and bolted to the floor. Or maybe with one leg cut a little shorter than the rest so they all teetered.

Shouts and swords clashing in the corridor beyond the doors brought Fechin upright from his slouch, and shut the courtiers up as they turned to face the back of the hall. He half-rose, hand on the hilt of his sword, as the double doors burst open, and a centaur stormed into the throne room, tossing a sword aside. 

Had he been at court before? Centaurs rarely came to the castle. Fechin would remember someone like this.

Black-skinned and bearded, the centaur made an imposing figure. The broadsword strapped to his back, and the bow slung over his shoulder, plus the scars he bore on his human chest and horse flanks, all marked the man as a warrior, not a courtier.

Massive, even for one of his kind, the centaur’s ten-foot height towered over everyone else in the room. Flashing hooves scattered the Fae far more efficiently than anything Fechin had managed. He relaxed into his chair, happy to be entertained.

What did the centaurs have to complain about? They weren’t part of the Seelie or Unseelie Courts, and tended to handle their problems themselves — the way Fechin liked things dealt with. Maybe this was finally something important. 

The centaur came to a stop in front of the Raven throne, crossed his arms, and waited.

It was a power play to see who would speak first. Fechin resisted the urge to grin and gave in to his curiosity, but skipped the tedious, polite protocols. “What can the Seelie Court do for the centaurs?”

Tossing a look of distaste over his shoulder at the people he’d left in disarray, the centaur swished his tail. “Get out.”

He didn’t raise his voice, or even sound threatening, but the courtiers fled. 

Fechin made another mental note to have centaurs in court more often. As the doors closed, he rose and extended his hand. “I will hire you to do that every day, and pay you well.”

White teeth flashed from a bushy beard as the centaur clasped Fechin’s arm. “No, thanks. Places like this make my skin itch.”

Fechin could relate. “My guards in the hall?”

“I didn’t kill them.” Huge shoulders rolled in a shrug. “They mumbled something about appointments, so I made a few points I meant.”

Unexpected laughter escaped Fechin. “What should I call you?”

“Iphos. My father is Basileus of the centaurs in the forest.”

Making Iphos a prince. Up close, the signs of exhaustion were clear. Dried sweat on his flanks. Tangled hair. A dullness to his eyes. 

Fechin gestured to the doors. “Let’s walk.”

The throne room was the most magicked space in the castle. Every court had at least one listening spell in place to keep up on all the latest decisions and gossip. Fechin didn’t have them removed, and the courtiers didn’t try to listen in other places. Well, not very often. He’d made it known anyone caught magicking other areas of the castle would be banished from court — a fate worse than death for the self-important freeloaders growing fat courtesy of Raven Court hospitality. 

They entered the surprisingly empty hallway, aside from his unconscious guards, and Fechin led the way through double glass doors into the main garden. It was his favorite place. 

Acres full of the flowers and trees his mother favored — black and red roses, snapdragons, orchids, and dahlias. Weeping willow, cedar, and rowan trees. The magic in this place, and the fairies who lived here, kept all the flowers and trees in bloom, no matter the weather or time of year. 

Everyone knew about the Morrigan’s bloodthirsty side, but his mother loved as fiercely as she fought, and as a child he’d spent many happy days with her in the garden.  

Burbling fountains interspersed among the plants provided enough noise to make their conversation inaudible to outsiders. And, the magic twisted the paths, so no one could anticipate where he would be, or follow him as he walked. It was as private as they’d get. “What is so important that you’d risk a medical condition to come here today?”

Iphos tossed his head. “Satyrs.”

They’d come to Inisfáil Fae territory from Hellas Fae lands with the centaurs centuries ago, along with the dryads. The centaurs and the satyrs had never agreed on anything, or played well together. 

“What’s the problem?”

“They’re stirring up trouble again.”

Fechin slipped his hands into his pockets and lifted one shoulder. “When aren’t they?”

Iphos shook his head. “It’s different this time, or I wouldn’t be here. Six centaurs have disappeared while trying to handle the satyrs. We don’t think they’re working alone.”

Alliances were always being made and broken, but six centaurs disappearing was a problem serious enough to warrant the attention of the Raven Throne.

“Who do you think they’ve aligned with?”

“No idea.” Iphos shrugged. “There haven’t been any new arrivals, and the dryads wouldn’t drop a leaf to help a satyr.”

Seeing as the dryads were all women who couldn’t leave their trees, and the satyrs a band of roving rapists, the dislike seemed warranted. When the satyrs had sought asylum among the Inisfáil Fae, one term of their acceptance into the land was to stop the rapes and murders. 

As leader of the Inisfáil Fae, Fechin couldn’t act against the satyrs unless there was proof they’d broken the deal, no matter how repugnant he found the goat-men. 

Fechin blew out a breath. He had the army spread thin already, but if centaurs were going missing…

“I can send some ravens to scout the forest. I’ll also send one to the Dullahan and ask him to have a look around.” 

The Dullahan’s sight could see across the countryside on the darkest night, and even the satyrs knew better than to cross him. 

“We can send a message to your father as well. You’re exhausted. Eat and rest at the castle. I'll send the ravens tonight. You won't make it back before they arrive, even if you left right now.”

"Accept food and hospitality from a Fae?" Iphos snorted. It hadn’t taken the centaurs long to learn the rules about dealing with the Inisfáil Fae and incurring debts. 

"You’re free to run yourself to death if you like. But there are plenty of rooms here. It’s a trifling thing, not worthy of debt."

“In that case, I’ll stay one night.”

Fechin nodded and channeled magic into his voice. "Ink and paper."

Moments later, a trio of brownies appeared. The child-sized, brown-skinned sprites wore immaculately pressed black uniforms and polished boots that imitated Fechin’s typical attire, although where his hair was in neat braids, they kept theirs in shaggy mops. They worked around the castle, making sure the place was tidy and running errands for treats. 

Six hands shoved the supplies he'd asked for at him as they elbowed one another to get to him first.

“I brought them!”

“I was here before you!”

“Mine are better!”

Often Fae were cruel, treating the brownies as annoying pests, but his mother had a soft spot for them, and had earned their loyalty, which they had transferred to him as occupant of the throne. 

He accepted a quill from the first, ink from the second, and paper from the third so there wouldn’t be any arguments, and offered them to Iphos.

"Tha —"

Fechin cut him off with a sharp wave. “That’s no trouble.” The brownies were the least strict Fae on matters of protocol, but no point in letting even them see a debt incurred.

Iphos scratched out a note to his father and handed it to Fechin. 

He turned to the brownies. "The centaur requires three guides to his room. Any debt is mine and will be paid with honey from the kitchen. Agreed?"

The brownies nodded and scampered ahead. 

"Right this way, Sir Centaur.”

“We’ll show you!”

 “And make sure you don't get lost.”

Iphos shook his head and followed the chatterboxes, but not before he gave Fechin a skeptical glance.

The centaur would be safe enough with them. 

Chapter Two