Excerpt Monday: Danielle Ackley-McPhail
“Gort! Gort!” The High King of Faerie bellowed as he stormed through the bough-crafted corridors of Sidhe na Daire, his Underhill stronghold. His link to the trees carried the cry until the place echoed with it, sending lesser fae scattering. Gort would have heard, regardless; with ivy woven through the crown of every oak but those of Dair’s own bower, he could have whispered and still been heard by his druidic advisor. He was halfway to the corner of the realm where Gort had taken residence long ago when the fae in question appeared.
Slight for even one of the fae, Gort stood youthful, like a sapling, surrounded by the sculpted forest giants that ringed a wide clearing along the corridor’s path. He was as slender and long as one of his ivy vines, his hair and eyes the deep, dark green of those same leaves aged by many seasons. Dair snarled to see him standing there calmly—smugly?—as if he hadn’t betrayed trust; it bear noting that he stood well into the sunlight, beyond the reach of the oaks’ shadows. Yet, not far enough beyond, Dair thought. A sly smile played about the monarch’s lips. With an upward flick of his wrist he awakened the wide-spread roots of the ancient trees. A rumbling shook the earth as those shallow roots stirred, then thrashed, sending Gort to his knees as one long, pale root whipped up and lashed about him, trapping the druid in place.
Confusion and distress darkened Gort’s eyes. He did not struggle. He did not rage. He was too canny, surely, to behave so, caught in grips as he was. “Sire, is aught well?”
Dair merely stared, his gaze as hard as petrified wood. He circled the druid, watched him closely and read the signs of his body and the frantic wisps of almost-thought that escaped the druid’s control. He came forward and pinned Gort with a glance that did not waver: “There was a child,” he said, his voice the deep and disturbing murmur of oak boughs before a storm.
Gort paled and went very still. Something indefinable shifted deep within the trapped fae’s eyes.
“You did not tell us there was a child.”
“Pardon, sire, what child?” Gort asked on a sighing breath, pausing as the retaining root tightened on Dair’s command.
“Tonight, we felt a binding, druid,” the high king said, the words deceptively controlled and even. “Her band merging with another…bound by blood; now tell us of the child.”
“You said they were dead to you, the lines of blood forever severed; the dead bear no children. I was abiding by your will.”
“A child of the royal blood raised up by mortals and outcasts and you claim to abide by our will?” Dair’s voice dropped to a harsh whisper, “Who is the father?”
Silence. Stillness. Like the hard grip of fear.
Again a shifting in Gort’s eyes, emotion too deep and controlled for Dair to name it by sight, the lips smiled though, all compliant and eager. “I do not know, sire, but I will learn all I can, if you bid me….”
“If we bid you? You will bring us all knowledge on the matter before the sun sets again or we will bid you die!”
Dair had a doubt: Gort’s loyalty was now in question. He would be a fool to place faith in the druid. Instead he stirred the magic of his realm, imbued it with his will, and unleashed it. The root released with a whiplash, the tip opening a gash in the druid’s cheek, trailing beads of blood like glittering, amber-tinted sap, embedded in the wound was the smallest sliver of oak mingling unnoticed with ivy. Gort’s head nodded quickly, but not sufficient to hide the emerald flare of anger in his gaze.
“Sundown,” Dair reminded sharply as he turned and stalked away, already immersed in his own thoughts. His daughter-wife was dead, the ring passed on. Somewhere in the mortal world there was a child of his blood, Anaiphal’s child, some outcast’s get, no doubt. Perhaps a female of the royal line that would bind him further to the throne—as her mother should have—that none dare ever again question his rule. He glanced down at his finger at the band on the third finger of his right hand, a skillful crafting of white gold knotwork…a stag wreathed in oak leaves…but no matter how masterfully wrought by his own hand, it was lacking in one key matter. Goddess help him should a rival ever think to test its protections.
He pushed the thought from his mind and reached his senses toward the oaken splinter he had left in Gort’s wound, testing the link while Gort was still in his presence. His advisor’s breath transformed into a peculiar echo as it filtered in through both Dair’s ears and directly into his mind.
If you would like to learn more about The Halfling’s Court or my other works, please visit www.sidhenadaire.com or www.badassfaeries.com . I can also be found on Facebook under Danielle Ackley-McPhail or Live Journal under both DAMcPhail and badassfaeries.