I’faith I was not the least bit surprised that Prince Itet had made me to wait in the reception room adjoining his suites. My “demand” had not been an imperative for the Dark Prince, but I knew that it would be taken as such by those who would relay it to him as one. I could always count on Itet to be himself, and Itet’s ego was nothing if not consistent with who he was. Prince Itet and I had never met face to face, but indeed my spies, I was certain, were as good as his own. Surely they reported to him of my comings and goings with Nuada. None of this, I was certain was about Seelie versus Unseelie or Fae versus Human, but about one thing only. That one thing was power.
No one ever wants less power. It is in the nature of all creatures, both great and small, to desire more power. Power is what tips the scales of fortune for good or ill. Power is at the very centre of everything, and all of us who were Sidhe understood it.
Be assured, that when I speak of Power, there are those, most in fact, who fancy that they know about that of which I speak. Yet the true nature of power, and its laws allude them. These, we all knew would be sacrificed upon the altar of ignorance. Such is the way of things. This would be especially true if Itet’s rise to power was unchecked. Those who did not wish to participate in the dance of life, the very dance of power itself, would not and could not be excused from it. Whether humans or Fae liked it or not, they would all dance upon the puppet strings in the power dance. But would they even know who the puppet master was in the end?
All around me, in every Seelie, Unseelie and even human court, those who crave power openly are viewed with suspicion. One cannot openly lust for power, lest they be ostracised as a schemer and one who cannot be trusted. Indeed, the cultivation of power depends upon duplicity and skill. Itet was quickly becoming the master of those skills and his air of unpredictability incited either fanatical loyalty among his followers or held them in a state of suspended terror. And yet, by all accounts he was always able to appear to be decent and congenial, the epitome of what a good courtier is. He was a dutiful prince. He kept Unseelie interests ever-safe, and Queen Annwynn had no complaint, and so she seeped ever further into her debauched state of endless lovers, blood and intoxicating drink.
For all to see, Itet’s virtues had appeared to be possessed in good, if not equal, measure, and there were those who openly urged Annwynn to make her choice toward an heir to the Unseelie throne. To them Prince Itet was the logical choice. But if you did not know that even the smile took your attention away from the poisoned stiletto that was concealed behind his back, you could almost be assured to count yourself among the unfortunate dead. He was ever careful not to fawn or compliment his mother and Queen overmuch. Those who did so, did so unwisely. No decent ruler ever trusted a toadying boot licker, and Annwynn did not suffer those who were lightly. The last courtier who had tried to had ended up being skinned alive in front of the entire Unseelie Court by Annwynn herself. When she was finished hacking him to bits before the assembly, she then washed the walls in his blood as a warning never again to treat her as a fool. No one ever dared to imagine to do anything so foolish after that. But Itet had won the favour of his mother with consummate skill. Itet was in the game of Power and he was playing that game to win. This sentiment of Itet’s I understood and shared with him. For Power was my lifelong fascination, even though I refused to let my human side be a slave to it. No doubt he knew that I had overthrown the former High Lady of the Fortunate Isle, Morgienne, myself nearly four centuries earlier. My rise to the throne of the Fortunate Isle was not one of inheritance, but of opportunity. I saw my opportunity and I took it ruthlessly. Whether cursed by others as a traitor or proclaimed as a liberator, I was as certain that Itet knew this. I knew this as much as I was certain that my eyes would be watching for the slightest opening or weakness in him.
We were both creatures of the Court, Itet and I. But unlike either of us, was Nuada. King Nuada raised the expectation of life at the Seelie Court to be one of assuredness and pride. It was not a false pride, but one born of true nobility. It was this that I saw when I spent time with the Red King, and this which I bore in mind as I waited to meet with Itet, even though any feelings of partiality toward one side or the other would need to be concealed to avoid detection by the Dark Prince.
In the lush chamber I hid my smile behind a mask of calm. The wards in this room had been made weak for a purpose. Surely Itet wanted to test to see if I would try to breach them. It would not be against protocol, but he would expect me to at least try. I chose not to for that very reason. I already knew by the lax security that Itet felt he had nothing to fear from me. This was good. Perhaps he would be lax enough to let slip at least one clue that would allow me to discern what Nuada wished to know of his daughter. If she was being held against her will, there would likely be something small enough for Itet to have overlooked and I would discern. At least, this was my hope.
At last the door to Itet’s chamber swung wide and I was escorted by two tall Dark Fae Attendants, both with skin as black as night and hair to match. Neither spoke aloud but it was clear that at last I would be allowed into the sanctum of the Dark Prince Itet.
The light within the chamber was dim, yet bright enough that it was not uncomfortable. Itet wore a princely silken undershirt with a black embroidered doublet, along with leather trousers and black pointed boots. On his brow he wore a circlet of silver, a simple knot design woven into it, which signified his rank as a lesser prince of the Unseelie Court e even if his entourage told an entirely different story. There was no doubt in my mind that Itet’s attire was intended to placate me.
Princess Kalypso, daughter of Nuada, was dressed every inch a Sidhe warrior princess. Together Kalypso and Itet shared a peach. They were behaving naught other than a pair of lovers with lips sweet and wet from the flesh of the fruit. Kalypso cast down her eyes and Itet daubed her chin and then his with a white napkin.
“Ah, Lady Faelyn e at last.”Itet smiled, I’m so sorry my guards kept you waiting. It was very inconsiderate. A glass of wine?” Before I could answer either way, Itet added as if sensing my thoughts, “Oh, and Mother, Queen Annwynn sends you her greetings.”
That to my ears sounded all too, neat. But it would be in keeping with protocol, even though I suspected Annwynn had most probably done nothing of the sort.
Prince Itet passed Kalypso a goblet of wine and caressed her face. She in turn smiled at him.
“It’s all right, Lady Faelyn, you may speak in front of Princess Kalypso, “Itet coaxed, “She is privy to all my councils. So my Lady – what is it that you wish of me? How is it that we can benefit each other in these hard times?”
“Mutual benefit of course is desirable, “I said, “but I wonder if War cannot also be avoided, Highness. The conflict has gone down such a road that no one really remembers who drew first blood.”
I knew that to accuse the Prince of any wrong doing or cast any suspicion in his direction could and would be taken as nothing less than an insult. I had to dance upon the precipice of pretended neutrality, even though I was certain that Itet and I both would never trust one another in the negotiations. Never mind that the Fae glamour in the room was so thick that it hung like a miasma.
I barely gave Princess Kalypso a glance as I took the glass of wine that was offered. To do so would have tipped my hand to Itet that indeed I had allied with Nuada, and had already made my choice. The demeanour between the two did in fact seem as if Prince Itet and Princess Kalypso were not only lovers but in love. I could sense nothing of manipulation. If there were Bronwyn’s Tears, certainly the effect of lust would have been so pronounced that even Itet and his magic could not control it. There was a hint, of something, the most innocuous love potion that even adolescent human girls interested in Faeries had tried, but it provided little more than the slightest of intoxications for the intended target. Itet was far too powerful to resort to something like that unless it was a lovers game between he and Kalypso.
“So…”Itet began, his fingertips barely left the base of the goblet, “ I am aware that you have already spoken with King Nuada. Tell me, what did he offer you so that the Fortunate Isle would ally with him in this unfortunate affair?”
“King Nuada has offered me nothing, Your Highness,” I said with an almost imperceptible smile, “save my lands and my life. Why do you ask, Sire? Are you prepared to offer more?”
The question was in keeping with what I knew that Itet would know of me. If I could rely on nothing else, at least I could rely upon my reputation as being the only High Lady of the Fortunate Isle who had taken her position by force. I had done this by overthrowing my own foster-mother, Morgienne. Many knew of what I had done and blamed the temerity of this act upon my Unseelie blood. Maybe that is true. Morgienne was weak, and if I had not done what I did, the Island would have fallen much sooner to other weaker and far less ambitious foes than Itet.
“I cannot give you more than what you already have, my Lady,” Itet smiled a death’s head smile and returned to Princess Kalypso’s side and he caressed her cheek. Kalypso curled closer and languished against him with the sensuousness of a cat.
“I am more concerned with keeping what I have, Highness,” I said tasting the wine at last,”but let us hope that the roads that lead to diplomacy are not yet impassable.”
Itet nodded solemnly,”Indeed, indeed…that is of course a pious hope, Lady. So much is lost on conflicts of this kind. But as you can see, Princess Kalypso and I have formed our own alliance, so there is really nothing for Nuada to quibble over. I have no interest in conquering your lands, but if Nuada were to become troublesome to you, I could always use blood kin as surely you are, on my own side.”
Itet’s stress upon my Unseelie distant kinship to himself was not quite a compliment and just barley less than an insult. He would test whether I jumped upon the scrap that he had tossed down to me from his table and I would have to make a careful dance to not betray my position.
“Is this would-be alliance you would make why your forces have tried repeatedly to bring down Our Own wards so that the Fortunate Isle will be exposed and in the open?” I asked.
“Really? It is not something I ordered, I assure you, Lady. If I find out whom has breeched the trust and tried to breach your wards, they shall most certainly pay the consequences.” Itet gave me a look of feigned horror. “But surely even if I have renegades among my forces, you have armies of your own in that quadrant, and could easily take out any of my patrols who dared to be so bold, Lady.”
“What Our Kingdom has and does not have is not common knowledge, Highness,” I countered, “It is a strange dealing to be sure, but then there are also certain discourses to be heard everywhere about the Unseelie Court eyeing the Fortunate Isle and staging further conquest from there.”
“Really, Lady,”Itet drained his cup and motioned for a nymph serving girl to refill it,” you must not believe everything you hear. It is bad for diplomacy. If I were a lesser man, rather than a Sidhe prince, I would be rather insulted at your inference. ”
“My sincere apologies, “ I inclined my head in deference to Itet, “as I said, Your Highness; are you prepared to ensure equally what Nuada has given to me as his word?” I asked., “Can I not also count upon my Unseelie kinfolk for support in these most difficult times?”
“Of course you may, Lady Faelyn,” Itet pressed his hand to his chest with as much sincerity as I was convinced he could muster, “You have my word as an Unseelie Prince that I will do all that I may in order to ensure that the Fortunate Isle shall not fall. The sage counsel of the Priestesses of that place bridges the gap between Human and Fae. Would that the rest of humanity would adhere to the ancient ways as you and your ladies do? We would do ourselves no favours by losing you and your Kingdom.”
“Then I shall be content and advise the Council accordingly,”I said, “I am certain that all of this to date was simply a misunderstanding.”
I let my mouth curl into a smile of pretensed satisfaction, all the while knowing full well that Itet did not believe me anymore than I believed him. It is a Fae trait to be able to speak a truth so thin that it is just a hairsbreadth from being a lie. Itet knew this skill well, I thought as he stood and brushed his lips to my fingertips. I turned to Kalypso who was still seated upon the couch, looking at Itet with adoring eyes. Nothing told me that she was here against her will. I bowed to her, and smiled.
“Your Father the King will be pleased to learn that you are well, Princess,”I said.
Princess Kalypso did not speak but nodded her acknowlegement. I could not help but think it a little odd, but again, it was not noteworthy enough to make me think it suspicious.
“It was a pleasure meeting you, Lady Faelyn, Nic Gan Ceanach,” Itet said using my formal Unseelie title. He smiled at me and said, “Allow me to personally escort you, Lady Faelyn, and I look forward to our further negotiations.”
Itet did not leave my side as he escorted me through the doors and the antechamber. I could feel my pulse in the side of my neck quiver as surely as I felt his eyes rove over my form with as much familiarity as he dared, without technically causing anything that could be construed as an insult. I was certain that he wanted me to believe that his interest was something more than curiosity or trying to unnerve me. No doubt he was counting on my human blood to win out over that which was Fae.
As I was left in the hallway with my own guards who had been staked outside of Itet’s chamber, I watched him retreat back inside. Corwwyn, the chief of my guard helped me into my cloak and we quickly made our way back into the Berlin night. Now I faced the task of reporting back to Nuada, and telling him all that I had seen and observed.
I knew that what I would have to offer to him would not be at all pleasing.