Fechin left the garden and climbed a winding stone staircase leading to the top of the tower the ravens liked to use. Windows were always open on all sides of the tower so the birds could come and go as they pleased.
There were always ravens here, and he felt more at home among the birds than anywhere else. They roosted on perches and in nests they’d built in the rafters to store their pilfered treasures.
He approached the largest female as he tied a string around the first note. "I need a message taken to the Dullahan."
Mischief fluffed her feathers and cawed laughter. She loved tormenting the man who struck fear into everyone, and took off as soon as Fechin hung the message around her neck. The Dullahan wouldn’t thank Fechin for sending her.
The thought made him smile.
Holding up the other rolled paper, Fechin moved to the next raven — a male called Frolic. "This must go to the king of the centaurs. No sightseeing. Straight there."
Frolic squawked, bobbed his head to accept the message, and soared out the nearest window.
Fechin stopped in front of Tricks, the most mischievous raven, which was really saying something compared to the other troublemakers.
The raven perched on one foot as he sharpened the talons of the other with his beak. “And I need a spy. Someone clever and sneaky who can find out secrets and report back.”
Tricks continued his manicure and pretended not to be interested in Fechin.
“You’re probably right. It’s perilous and not a job for you." Fechin turned his back on Tricks. "There's something dangerous in the forest. Centaurs disappearing. Satyrs on —"
Fechin chuckled at the swish of air on his neck as silent wings took off.
Feeling a bit more light-hearted after spending time with the ravens, Fechin left them to their antics and descended the stairs, but his mood plummeted to the dungeons when he caught sight of the witch as he exited into the corridor leading to the kitchens.
Shisti swayed toward him, a look of determination on her face. She had a slight blue glowing tinge to her skin. Gray eyes set off with kohl, platinum hair elaborately styled, a silver and blue gown low cut and tight to display her body — she attracted all eyes.
Courtiers and servants gave her a wide berth as she strode down the hallway. The daughter of the Queen of Winter was as an effective deterrent to courtiers as the centaur — unfortunately, Fechin counted himself among the deterred when it came to her.
Fechin sighed. She thought if she gave him an heir, the competition to become king would be over, and she would become Queen of the Inisfáil Fae, giving her family a power base in three realms.
There was no way he'd make her his queen. They couldn't stand one another. Marriage for him was a once-in-lifetine event, and he had no intention of marrying someone who made him miserable.
It had been a week since she'd tried to snare him in her web of sex and fertility spells.
His luck had run out.
"Your Majesty." Her voice slid over him like an ice bath.
"Walk with me?"
"I'm busy." He didn't slow as he passed her.
She was not dissuaded, and turned to walk beside him without missing a step. He didn’t touch her. There was enough magic on her to make him shiver from three feet away.
He didn’t care who she gave her body to. If he had any luck at all, one of those unfortunate men would get her pregnant. The one woman he’d bedded since Shisti’s arrival had died under mysterious circumstances. Well, only a mystery in how to prove what he knew she’d done.
Another mysterious death occurred when he’d refused to bed her and threatened to banish her.
And she’d spoken of her visions — how she would be the one to make him king.
Fechin didn’t want to believe her — how could he when his mind and body recoiled in disgust at the thought of touching her? The raven inside him retreated behind walls deep within him whenever the witch approached.
He couldn't imagine how he'd ever create life within her.
But he knew better than to dismiss the visions of a witch. His mother was the Goddess of Fate, after all. If there was something to what Shisti saw, he needed her at court.
So, Fechin had struck a bargain with the witch that, as Inisfáil Fae, he was beholden to keep. She would not kill anyone else, and he would try to breed her, spilling his seed only into her.
Resigned to another unwanted obligation today, he opened the nearest door to one of the many unused rooms in the castle. She always wanted to get into his suite — his bed — but he'd never allow her in his rooms. He'd have to be paranoid about what she'd left behind. Nor was there any way he’d willingly enter her bedroom. This room was a random choice, so she’d not have been able to prepare any traps for him.