I could feel Nuada’s gazed upon me as he seemed to ruminate for a few moments.
“Lady of the Fortunate Isle I do accept your allegiance,” he said to me at last.
The Red King rose from his seat and stepped forward me and reached out a hand. I placed my own small fingers within his grip. It was his warm undamaged hand that he had offered me, not the one fashioned of silver so many generations of man ago.
His flesh was warm, strong, yet yielding. I’faith, it was a singular mark of favour that he had shewn to me in that moment. His hands held mine and they seemed immense, powerful and he helped me up from my prostrate position to my feet. I nearly caught the hem of my gown under my foot, but his hand held fast to steady me.
“Come with me and let us drink coffee, he said, “I have become quite addicted to the stuff though many would call it ‘mud’ I think it a rich and complex brew, one worthy of all the effort mortals have put into it. It’s harder these days to get, thanks to this infernal war.”
Nuada led the way to a table laid out with fine china and a large glass pot of coffee. The table was set before a large picture glass window that afforded a view of still bustling Berlin.
He offered me to taste what must have been his favourite beverage. This coffee I had heard much of, and it was a staple among humans. He played the perfect Seelie host and poured the aromatic brew into fine bone china cups. I followed his lead and held the cup letting the scent permeate my senses. I glanced out the large picture window that our table sat in front of, Nuada watched my reaction to the view. His eyes taking in my every move with what almost appeared to be amusement, and yet something more.
When at last I took a sip of the coffee, I realized it did not taste as it smelled. I tried hard to not make a face, but I failed miserably. Nuada laughed softly.
“This should help,” he said passing the small pitcher of cream and then the sugar, “at least till you get used to it.”
I poured a little of each into the cup and indeed, the taste of the bitter drink was improved and it made my mind more alert.
Nuada spoke animatedly of the wonders of man. He showed me what he called a ‘cell phone’ and indicated a series of human numbers arranged in a specific order that would allow him to speak with Prince Itet. I admit, this puzzled me. Why not just use this wondrous human technology and negotiate that way? Of course, I knew as well as Nuada and of certainly as well as Itet, that Seelie politics were never quite that simple. Even the most restrictive of human etiquette was nothing in comparison to those of the Fae. A single glance at the wrong time, a word, a nuance could bring about bloodshed. I listened to Nuada speak and nodded, taking in all that he said. In those moments I knew that I was not wrong in coming. I knew in those moments of our meeting that my choice of allying my self and the Fortunate Isle to King Nuada had been the right choice.
Again Nuada waved towards the streets below them even as he mopped the perspiration from his brow.
“People still work, love, play, and grow old in these streets. Such places grow rare indeed. There are humans who will have nothing to do with the Sidhe for they view us all like such as Itet. It makes our cause weaker when even the humans cannot find common cause. But then is that so different from ourselves? We started this cause together, Dark and Light alike, and look at us now. So Lady, who can you bring to the field of battle? Tell me of numbers and tell me of weapons.”
I looked down at my cup that was by now nearly empty of the sweetened liquid. I took a deep breath and looked into Nuada’s face.
“The Fortunate Isle and the lands of it’s influence can provide approximately, 500,000 troops. These would be both Fae and Demi-Fae.
Nuada nodded, “That is a start.”
“I have been in contact with Jareth, the Goblin King,”I continued, “I would like to say that I have won him over to our side, but I cannot be certain. He would make no strong commitment to the Light Fae, even though he knows full well that the population of the Underground is dependent upon humans to feed into his own population.”
“What do you think it would take to bring him around?”Nuada asked pouring more coffee from the carafe into my cup and adding the proper amount of cream and sugar to it himself.
“I think he is holding out for a better bargaining position,” I said, “whether you offer it to him, or Itet does, I don’t know that he cares at this point. The war has not affected the Underground the same way yet, but he knows – as we do, that things are going to get worse, and soon.
Nuada regarded my words carefully. He appeared thoughtful for a moment and then asked a question of me that I did not expect.
“And what would you hold out for, Faelyn?” he asked, “What is it that you want?”
“For us to be able to survive the war, ” I said, “and I am willing to do whatever it takes to insure that we do.”
Nuada sat in companionable silence for a few minutes with me. He watched my face as I sipped my coffee and I watched him with equal interest. He knew that I would still meet with Prince Itet no matter what pledges I had made to him here. It was a matter of protocol at the very least and there was, he would have perhaps imagined, the slightest possibility that I would rescind or make a deal with Itet behind his back. The numbers of troops I had promised by any estimation was a goodly sum though ‘troops’ was probably a relative term as many of the denizens of the Fortunate Isle were not always fair limbed Sidhe – quite far from it. However 20 thousand Each Uisage* would send terror into the hearts of most foes – even the Dark Sidhe. Kobolds, though small, could harry a force with great effect. There was no faery race without its skills in battle or its own brand of magical arts.
When this war had begun it was only the Sidhe that had taken up arms; dark and light. The other races had declined to think it was anything more than the usual squabble between the Lords of Light and Dark. Yes, the Sidhe were the technical overlords of the Seelie and Unseelie Court by the right of their bloodlines – but the Fae were notorious independent and it took a great deal to rouse them to a common cause and certainly just presenting your Sidhe calling card would not do it. But Prince Itet, the mongrel creature that he was, had changed all that. He was not, nominally, the Lord of the Unseelie Court, but he had managed since the beginning of the war to usurp the traditional powers and style himself as The Dark Prince and his agenda was fanatical and those that cleaved to him followed him with fervor. He commanded the same kind of loyalty and passion that particular historical human leaders had inspired – such as Alexander the Great or even Hitler. His vision was just as dark as the aforementioned Hitler. He wanted to cleanse the world of the stain of humanity.
Nuada pressed fingers to his temple as if trying to abate the throbbing there.
“Lady Faelyn, I crave a favor of you. When you go to Prince Itet…” I started to protest, if not explain myself, but Nuada raised his hand to caution me to silence.
“Yes, I know you are going to meet with him.,”the Red King said, “do not deny what is obvious. You must go or he would take it as an insult. You and I both know the protocols well, Faelyn. I will have to trust you to know that whatever he offers you is madness and that if you go with him instead of honouring the pledge that you made here to me tonight you and all your kind will die.”
“Your Majesty – I will honour my pledge – and if it is in my power I will surely grant you a favour,” I said.
“My daughter has fallen in with the Unseelie. I had believed her kidnapped but I have received reports that she is there of her own free will and that she has become concubine to Prince Itet. Please bring back your observations of the situation, Lady. A father’s heart is breaking.”
I’faith, my heart was moved by Nuada’s words. I looked into the Red King’s eyes for a long time, neither of us spoke for several moments. I cannot recall a single moment when I ever met a man so strong as to confess such to me, let alone that man being a King.
“In the Seven Realms of Existence,”I said raising gentle fingertips to his jawline, “there is no greater love than the love that a parent has for their child. Your request is but what I would have already done, you had no need to ask it of me.”
Nuada gave a slight smile to me. I could tell that words gave at least some small comfort to him, and we continued to talk well into the evening. There was much to discuss. The logistics of my meeting with Itet, even with my wards and Nuada’s put into place, I was certainly aware that we were always being watched. By now there were those who would report back to Itet that I had come and met with Nuada first. By protocols, I would have anyway, because as a King, he outranked Prince Itet. One did not call upon a lesser before a greater, this much was understood. Though I was certain Itet could use it as a point of contention to try to test my neutrality and that of the Fortunate Isle. For all intents and purposes, Prince Itet must not know that my decision had already been made. He must make his case for his cause to me, for that, too, was part of the protocol.
I would do as Nuada bid me to do. It would be difficult to maneuver past the wards that Prince Itet and those loyal to him would have put up around himself and Princess Kalypso. If the Dark Prince had become as powerful as had been alluded to, this would be very difficult, indeed.
The hour was well past Midnight when both Nuada and I became painfully aware that in either of our positions, we could not tarry any longer. Tongues would wag, those on watch would know of how long I had met with Nuada, and assuredly report it back to Prince Itet. It was not appropriate for me to stay within the same hotel either. I would certainly find some place to go, but I would put up enough wards of my own to not be found so easily by either the minions of Itet or the idly curious.
“I will find out what I can about Princess Kalypso,” I said slipping my fingers into Nuada’s hand of flesh,”and I will return as soon as I can.”
I would be denying the truth if I were to claim that my meeting with Nuada had no effect upon me. The absolute and stark truth was that Nuada had left an impression upon me. He was handsome, and wore his kingship on himself like a mantle of greatness. I had wanted to offer my blood in pledge to his cause, but now it would be far too dangerous. Itet would sense my impartiality and that of the Fortunate Isle was now gone; and all of what was to be wrought at the table amongst the factions would be for naught. I was not ready to show my hand to Prince Itet.
No. Not yet.
Now as I prepared to go meet with the Dark Prince, I felt my stomach tie itself in knots. This was not because of any nervousness on my part but because he was nothing but a minuscule representation of what his Unseelie predecessor, Queen Annwynn, the rightful Ruler of Air and Darkness, Sovereign of the Unseelie Fae was. It was never clear to me how Prince Itet could represent the Fae whose blood coursed through my own veins, and it was never clear how Itet could claim to represent Annwynn’s cause. She would never have openly declared war upon Nuada, nor would she have done so against humanity. Annwynn was far too subtle for that. Annnwynn knew as I did, and as Nuada did, that eradication of Humanity would spell doom for the Fae, no matter how much humans vexed us, or how little we understood them, or how little that they understood us. ‘Where was she now?’ I wondered as my servant, Iras plaited my hair and made final adjustments to my robes. These were many questions that needed to be asked and I intended to ask them on behalf of the peace of the World as well as as representative of the Fortunate Isle.
Iras offered me a mirror and I checked myself within the glass. “Your Grace is pleased?” she asked, her head bowed.
“Yes,” I nodded and allowed two of the lesser handmaidens to help me into my cloak. Itet would know, as Nuada did, that I was every inch a ruler as he was. It would not matter if there was the stain of human blood in my veins. I would go to the Hyatt this night, and pay my respects to Itet, but hopefully without giving the true game away.
I turned to my footman, “Inform Prince Itet that the High Lady of the Fortunate Isle will meet with him immediately.”