See first chapter for disclaimers/warnings/summaries. Link to TBDH Forum is in my profile. This chapter was NOT betaed by the wonderful brissygirl to provide a smoother reading experience, as she is currently under the weather. Send her all your get-well wishes. :) All remaining mistakes are my own. Today is the TWO YEAR ANNIVERSARY of TBDH, and so I am celebrating with a mega 20k chapter that covers two lovely events for Harry and Co.
RECAP:Harry and Co. accompany Bahn to meet Ilsa and her father, Thomas, the Chief of the Earth Clan. They meet Prince Raspen who sets things in motion for finding Harry's missing mentor and seeing about the removal of the Merrow spell. Princess Ebony appears and asks Charlie whether he has given any thought to her earlier offer of being his mentor. Jun/George/Regulus have now arrived in Nevarah with news of the Fabrine.
NEVARAH – FRIDAY AFTERNOON – ROYALS' QUARTERS
"…I offered to mentor him." Princess Ebony said, calmly. She looked between them all, briefly, but her main gaze was fixed on Charlie, obviously awaiting his answer.
Harry started visibly. His head jerked around to look between Charlie and Princess Ebony and his brilliant mind immediately went to work cataloguing the most likely time and place for where the offer must have been issued. Glittering green eyes narrowed almost at once as Harry recalled the pensive expression he'd seen on Charlie's face, after his whole transformation episode and then way he sat, frozen in his seat, when the Fire Royal Procession had entered the auditorium. Something must have happened with Charlie after he'd had his private moment with Theo before his second run-in with Alec, Harry mused.
He had hoped good things would continue to come their way while they were in Nevarah. Yes, things had certainly been quite confusing and complicated; to say the least, but with his usual track record, Harry thought they were managing quite well. So far, he'd been hugged and quite possibly unofficially adopted by at least a half-dozen people—at least, that's what it felt like. He'd learned about relatives he'd never known existed—and there were probably even more that he might be able to meet, if all went well—and his magic had come back, he had more of it than ever before and he seemed to have genuine friends who didn't care that he was the Boy-Who-Lived. Case-in-point being Bahn, who was torn between careful protectiveness and outright worry, in spite of his quirks, Harry knew that the elfin submissive did care for him.
"Charlie?" Harry nudged his Beta, patiently. Knowing what he did of Charlie, he could guess that perhaps the redhead had been waiting for a more appropriate time to mention it.
Charlie's expression was torn somewhere between uncertainty and reluctance. He'd wanted to tell his Bonded on his own, but it seemed that the same fate that had thrown him into Ebony's path was the very same one that had now brought them back to each other. He'd wanted time to think this over, to decide for sure, but now, he was the center of attention and her question hung in the air.
"Charlie," Theo said, when he didn't answer right away. He looked from Charlie's pleading blue eyes to Harry's worried gaze and then back at the expectant Princess Ebony. He could feel the turmoil between them through the bonds they shared. He would have to take charge and hopefully buy a few minutes of time so they could sort this out. Charlie looked as if he were caught between impossible choices with an improbable outcome and didn't know how to explain. Harry looked as if he ought to be defending Charlie. Theo had a fairly good idea that his protective instincts had come to the front, regardless of whether they were actually needed or not. "Perhaps we could sit down and sort this out?" He suggested. He nudged Harry back towards the settee where they'd been waiting earlier. "Please," he added, when it seemed as if no one was about to move.
Charlie twitched, faintly, but allowed Theo's gentle hands to herd him and Harry back to a sitting position. He knew, on an instinctive level, that his Bonded wouldn't really be upset with him, but the knee-jerk reaction had been anything but pleasant. In consideration for the current complications they'd weathered since arriving in Nevarah, Charlie was loathe to spring any sort of surprise on their little Circle. He'd wanted time to think about things and time to talk to Harry. "I meant to tell you," he began, as a note of desperation colored his voice. He had meant to mention it, but they hadn't exactly had much time to themselves for the day. "I wasn't trying to-"
Harry reached over and calmly covered his mouth, sitting close enough to Charlie for their knees to touch. He would have done a bit more than simply a hand over his Beta's mouth, but he was mindful of their audience and as comfortable as he was with his Bonded, he did not care for an audience for their more personal interactions. Keeping one hand on Charlie's mouth, to stop him from saying anything ridiculous, Harry turned to face the rest of the room. His gaze zeroed in on Princess Ebony and he offered her the best smile he could manage just then. This was a development he'd never considered nor expected in his wildest dreams of Nevarah adventures. "Would you mentor him?" He asked.
Princess Ebony had accepted Prince Raspen's hand and seated herself quite elegantly across from Harry's trio. She pleased to see the depth of the connection between them, even for such a young triad. She could tell that the Submissive's magic was strong and their Alpha was reliable. He was also quite adorable in his fussing and the princess hid a smile to herself, realizing that her intended student was very well cared for between his Bonded.
She made herself focus on the conversation and realized that the Submissive had asked her a question. "I would indeed." She said, simply. It hadn't been a difficult decision at all. The moment he'd run into her at the baths, something had clicked between him and she chose to acknowledge it for what it was. There were some mentored teacher-student pairs that shared bonds similar to a soulbond, but not for romantic love, but rather for true friendship and a quest for knowledge, a secure relationship where they could learn from each other while balancing their naturally volatile magic. Her own fire gift was quite destructive and she'd recognized his capabilities when her fire portal had washed over him as she left, for the proof had been in his lovely tri-colored hair. It was an unusual combination, just like her nearly black tresses and the most obvious warning to other fire dragels of just what kind of temperament they bore. "I had made my offer this morning, but was recalled before I could hear his answer." She half-smiled. "Our magics are compatible and there is much I could teach him." She hesitated. "And, I also feel—drawn to him."
Harry nodded. "Thank you." He said, simply. He turned to Charlie, his expression serious. He could read several emotions rolling off of the redhead and the biggest one was anxiety, followed by apprehension and neatly rounded out with worry for Harry. That made it much easier for him to grasp the situation and react accordingly. As far as he could make out, Charlie had been worried about his reaction above all and that was the very last thing on Harry's mind. He did not care about his own missing mentor in the face of Charlie's potential one. He would gladly suffer his own issues to see Charlie with a mentor of his own, he certainly deserved one, considering the circumstances in which he'd become a dragel. "You don't have a mentor yet, right? There wasn't one when we checked."
Charlie blinked in surprise and then gave a slow nod, careful not to dislodge Harry's hand.
"Did you register him for one, Theo?" Harry looked to Theo, who was frowning, slightly. He had very vague memories of their trip to the city council, he hadn't quite felt himself until they'd made it out of Quinn's clutches that day.
"I registered you." Theo admitted. "And filed the paperwork for your missing mentor as well. I skipped Charlie, because he hadn't made up his mind yet." He looked to Charlie, as if for verification that he had indeed done as wished. Charlie offered a faint smile in recognition. He'd declined, because he'd always been a quick study and figured that Harry was the greater priority between them.
"So he didn't have one like I did?" Harry's brows furrowed together in adorable confusion.
"He wouldn't have," Princess Ebony spoke up. She had a small smile on her face and her entire posture had relaxed at last. She could see from the equally blank looks on all three of their faces that they were confused and very much in tune with each other. It made her smile grow a bit wider. "He said he was from the Wizarding World and yet, his magic and his nature was and is new—as if it were just revealed." She held a handful of red-almost-black hair in her lap and stroked her fingers through the sleek strands. "He's old enough that he's past the age where they would be assigned. After a certain age passes and no formal claims have been filed or sought, the mentor is assigned to a new charge and that is it." She said, quietly. "I did check, by the way—and I still have yet to hear your answer, Charles."
Theo looked as if he were about to say something and then, he sighed and reached over, tugging Harry's hands back to his sides, so Charlie could speak. "Did she give you conditions?" He asked. He could not ask much more, not in their current company and knew that it would be best if Charlie did more of the speaking than Harry or himself. A mentor's proposal was not something to take lightly and usually, if they were a good mentor, they would have certain specifications or conditions attached to their proposal. He did not want to influence Charlie's choice, but he would not be able to remain quiet if it had been a standard proposal offered. Charlie deserved—no needed—something more and he would speak up if it was necessary.
Princess Ebony looked to be a bit too young to have mentored more than one student and Theo did not want to insult the Royal by daring to ask such a question in the presence of their current audience. Perhaps if there were no others present, he would have ventured to do so. Most mentors usually taught several young dragels, as not all individuals chose to keep the mentor-student bond after they had formed their Bonded Circle.
Charlie nodded, as if he didn't trust himself to speak just yet, but his blue eyes had a brighter sheen to them than they had several minutes ago. He was obviously silently thinking things through and drawing his own conclusions.
That was enough for Theo to give him the nudge he needed. "If they are acceptable, then the lady requires an answer." His eyes flickered to a lovely warm shade of honey-gold, a glimmer of something that looked like pride as he hugged Harry from behind, nestling his chin atop Harry's head, effectively keeping Harry from distracting Charlie, who seemed torn between pride and impatience for their Beta.
The furrow in Charlie's brow smoothed out at once as he read between the lines and understood just what his Bonded were hinting at. Yes, he really hadn't taken much time to puzzle through the reality of having a mentor, things had just been coming straight at them, one after the other since they'd arrived in Nevarah and he was almost afraid to take a breath for fear of what that simple, necessary action could bring. But now, as he watched, Theo's expression—though carefully closed—said that he was happy for Charlie and Harry's own expressive face bore unmistakable traces of hope and happiness, as if he were excited for Charlie to have found a mentor—even though his own had yet to turn up. Ebony's words from earlier were still quite clear in his head and if he had to be honest, then yes, he had felt a pull towards her as well.
Silence hung in the room for another minute and then Harry rolled his eyes, his head lolling to the side in an effort to dislodge Theo from using him as a resting post. "Char-lie!" The name was drawn out with a knowing look and as close of a whine as Harry would ever allow himself. "Please don't refuse her just because I don't have mine yet. We'll find mine—whatever happened to them, we'll know. It'll just take some time. It's alright—for you, it's alright." He tried to reassure.
Charlie swallowed, his eyes impossibly blue as he turned to face Ebony's bright orange gaze. He took a deep breath and then rose to his feet. "I accept." He said. "Is there—is there anything that I have to—do?" He faltered.
Ebony's eyes flared a bright, blazing orange and the temperature in the room leapt upwards by several degrees. "Do you, Charles Weasley of the Nott Circle, accept me as your mentor—to care for you, guide you and teach you, according to the sworn duty that is placed upon every worthy mentor?" She rose from the chair, every inch a fire witch and every stitch radiating well-earned pride and hard-won strength. She extended a hand to him, palm facing down.
Harry held his breath, feeling Theo's gentle squeeze from behind him, betraying his Alpha's own worry at the delicate dance of authority happening in front of them. This was something that only Charlie could do and as much as he wanted to simply reach out and make it happen, Harry understood that the best he could do was to offer his support from where he was. He watched as Charlie approached Ebony and then dropped to one knee, then the other, and gently took her proffered hand in his, touching it to his forehead in a gesture that spoke volumes.
The mentor-student ceremony required a binder—namely a mentor-student pair already matched—and three witnesses, one for honesty, one for clarity and one for legality.
Theo and Ilsa were immediately called out as the mentor-student pair to perform the binding service and Prince Raspen sent his aide to fetch a length of special scarlet ribbon. The coffee table was moved out from between the settees and a quick cleaning and cushioning charm cast in quick succession at the ornamental rug on the wooden floor.
They took up the traditional positions between them, Princess Ebony standing tall in the center of the rug and Charlie kneeling before her, their gazes locked. Her rich red-orange eyes glittering with the same strange fire that was now present in Charlie's blue ones.
Harry scratched at his arm, absently, feeling the prickle of too much heavy magic in the air. Bahn touched his side and Harry turned to smile at his fellow submissive. Bahn returned the smile, his soft grey eyes lightening as he watched Harry and then Charlie.
"They'll make a good match," he said, softly. "Their magic already knows it." He winced as a particularly strong wave of heat rippled through the room. "You can tell." He grimaced. "They'd better watch the temperature, I do not need to feel as if I am being baked alive in a sauna." He looked across the room, lips quirking into a pout that brought Takar directly to his side.
"Cooling charms, loveling," Takar said, with a chuckle. He rapped Bahn over the head with his wand and automatically did the same to Harry, catching himself a moment later, with an apologetic look. "Sorry, Harry, force of habit." He offered a smile.
Feeling a trickle of blessed coolness washing over him, Harry wasn't about to protest. "It's fine." He said, smiling at the worried Beta. Bahn's Bonded seemed determined to fuss over him whether he cared or not and he was starting to find that perhaps it wasn't as smothering as he'd expected—well, apart from the whole sneaking more food onto his plate bit, that was definitely smothering.
"I should have asked," Takar said, dryly, with a glance cast at Theo, who was watching them with half an eye from across the room. He stood with Ilsa, paying attention to what was required from them for the binding oath and allowed a stiff, begrudging nod at Takar's silent question in the tilt of his head.
"It's fine," Harry repeated. He hadn't thought to cast any charms of his own and he was a wary of testing his own magic, given the day's track record. Magic sensitivity seemed to be something he would have to learn more about quite soon.
"Air element," Takar said, softly, looping an arm around Bahn from behind, one hand reaching down to rest lightly on his Submissive's pregnant stomach. "Things like cooling charms and featherweight charms usually work better with air magic," he added, seeing Harry's look of surprise.
"Thanks," Harry offered, after a moment.
The ceremony was very simple, at least to Harry. He found himself watching in fascination and no small amount of longing as he watched Thomas and Bahn officiate as the resident submissives present. He could not join them, as Charlie was Bonded to him, but he could watch and that was enough.
Bahn recited the formal requirements between mentor and student and Thomas extracted their individual promises, before Ilsa and Theo took up their positions beside the new pair.
Princess Ebony and Charlie faced each other, while Ilsa and Theo were perpendicular to them, forming an odd sort of box, between them. Charlie held his prospective mentor's hand in both of his, kneeling before her. Ilsa's hand stretched out towards their clasped hands, her magic crackling at her fingers and Theo held his wand at them from the other side.
"And so we call you as witness," Thomas intoned. "Delani Deveraine, Prince Raspen, Alonso Gorgens." The three individuals named stood up and to the right of the mentor-student pairs. "Bear witness to this new joining of friendship and magic formed on mutual respect and the element shared between them."
"We see and bear witness." The three witnesses murmured in unison.
"If you would proceed, your highness?" Thomas prompted the fire princess.
She flashed a smile with a hint of fang. "I, Princess Ebony Caveral, hearby swear on my honor that I shall, at all times and places, in thought, word and deed, live up to the high ideals and dignity of my element, in my capacity as a capable mentor to Charles Weasley. I shall see myself as his mentor, a friend and a teacher, to guide him through the paths of knowledge known to our kind, recognizing all the while that I am no less a learner myself. I shall strive to empower him to actualize his individual potential to the maximum in a manner that will lead to personal and social transformations. I will endeavor to build his confidence and belief in his natural talents and whatever dreams may reside in his heart. I shall strive not to pass judgment without consideration, but will do my utmost to understand and appreciate his uniqueness. I will also hear his appeals and petitions, whatsoever he should ask of me." She paused for a breath.
Charlie's blue eyes were suspiciously bright, but he only swallowed hard and gripped her hands tighter in his own, understanding the weight of what was passing between them on a level that would never be measured.
"I shall care for him with the favor and partiality belonging to him as his mentor. I shall not hesitate to bring to his attention any failings or shortcomings that should be remedied for his betterment, so as long as it is within his best interests. Towards these ends, I shall invest myself and my magic to develop within him, love, kindness, patience, that which allows me to speak this oath in true honesty. I will remain forever aware of the power and authority I wield over him and treasure the vulnerability and innocence he trusts to me. I will neither abuse nor misuse these gifts and should I do so, may the wrath of Saurenth devour my soul to be scourged in the forever flame of hellfire. I will not permit considerations of elemental affiliation, nationality, prejudice or material advancement intervene in any way with my ability to be a steady, dependable mentor as decreed between our shared elements and the responsibilities to which I am beholden as a Royal on Nevarah's sacred soil."
A spark of blood red magic crackled down from her arms and circled around their wrists as Ilsa strode forward and began to loop the red ribbon around their clasped hands. Charlie wavered, once, and Princess Ebony offered him a smile that trembled faintly, before the temperature in the room rose even higher as their magic swirled around each other.
"Lastly, as his mentor, I swear to be his advocate in all matters of social nuance, shouldering the responsibility of his education in all areas of training. This bond I wish to forge between us, I call Saurenth as our officiator and I make this pledge in full heart, being of sound body and mind. May that which magic has decreed, never be torn apart." She squeezed Charlie's hands as her magic settled around his wrists, as if they were bracelets, then sank beneath his skin, hidden from view. Her smile was a near smirk now as she looked down at him. "Your turn."
A flicker of amusement shone through and Charlie squared his shoulders, staring confidently up at her red-orange eyes. "I, Charles Weasley, hearby swear on my magic and honor that I shall, at all times and places, in thought, word and deed, live up to the high ideals and dignity of my element, in my capacity as the mentored student of Princess Ebony Caveral. I accept her proposal and all that it entails, knowing fully well that I will defer to her as is her right, should it ever be asked of me. I will learn from her in whichever subjects she has sworn to instruct me, recognizing that we learn together. I reserve the right to appeal and petition, should I ever feel the need to do so. I will remain forever aware of the power and authority she wields over me and treasure the vulnerability and friendship entrusted to me as a result of that. I will neither abuse nor misuse the power within my grasp as and should I do so, may the wrath of Saurenth be my end. I, also, will not permit considerations of elemental affiliation, nationality, prejudice or material advancement intervene in any way with my role as her mentored student, as decreed between our shared elements and the responsibilities to which I am beholden."
A spark of glimmering gold-orange magic sparked to life at Charlie's shoulders and crackled down from his arms to circle around his new mentor's wrists, just as hers had done. The red ribbon knotted about their clasped hands vanished in a flicker of bright red flames and Charlie felt the final, accepting caress of their magic at peace with each other.
He spoke the final phrase of his oath with the same unwavering confidence in which he held her gaze. "Finally, as her mentored student, I swear to be her apprentice in all matters of social nuance, accepting that she bears the responsibility of my education in all necessary areas. This bond forged between us is witnessed by Saurenth. I make this pledge in full heart, being of sound body and mind. May that which magic has decreed, never be torn apart." He shivered as his magic settled around his wrists, , then sank beneath the skin, hidden from view.
"So it has been witnessed," Theo began.
"And so it has been decreed." Ilsa finished.
"Let me be so." They chorused together. A soft golden glow of magic—as per their earth element—washed over the newly pledged pair. The three witnesses approached them in turn, adding their own blessing to the clasped hands. With that, the temperature in the room finally cooled to a tolerable point.
Theo rubbed Harry's slender arms as carefully as he could without drawing attention to them as they watched Charlie and Ebony sealing the bond between them as mentor and mentored student. It stirred up old feelings of affection, warmth and hope in his chest and he looked up in time to catch Ilsa's gaze across the room.
Her golden gaze glittered at him for a moment, then her lips twisted into that half-quirk of a near-smile and he found himself smiling back, before looking down to bury his nose in the sweetly scented tufts of Harry's dark hair. He hadn't been able to curb the feelings of possessiveness when he'd seen Takar cast a simple cooling charm over his Submissive. Logically, he knew that an air elemental had a softer magical touch for that sort of spell, considering Harry's recent magical sensitivity, but instinctively, he didn't want another's magical signature on Harry, but his own.
The moment he'd been released from his duty as part of the ceremony, he'd made a beeline for Harry. Normally, he wouldn't really have his hands on Harry quite this openly, given their current company, but he could feel a few carefully contained pulses of confusion, pride and sadness through their shared bond and this was the best he could do right now.
As if knowing that, Harry leaned back into the embrace, ever so slightly, smiling when he felt Theo nuzzling into his hair. He reached up with one hand to grip the arms wrapped around his shoulders and torso. He watched as Charlie hugged Ebony around the middle, who had moved forward to embrace him in turn, her thick, red-black hair spilling over her shoulders and an entirely new look passed between them, the first of many, between mentee and mentor. He could see the glow of their new bond slowly faded away as the room finally eased back to a more normal temperature.
This was certainly an unexpected situation for their first day on the Hunt, but he found that he didn't mind in the least. Not in the least.
For several minutes, no one spoke.
Then Prince Raspen moved forward and touched Princess Ebony's shoulder, careful to stay within her line of sight and not approaching her from behind. Her instincts would be riding close to the surface and he did not want to tempt them, even if he knew that she did not consider him to be a threat with the years of friendship they had between them. The new bond between mentor and mentee would take some time to settle in. "Congratulations on acquiring a mentored student," he said, formally. He looked to Charlie. "Don't ever let her appearance fool you, she's stronger than she looks, twice as powerful and forever loyal." He broke into a wide grin. Even if he hadn't said as much, the oath that Ebony had sworn was quite serious. He was happy for them both. "Congratulations to you as well." He clapped Charlie on the shoulder.
Soon, everyone moved forward, taking turns at congratulating Charlie and then Princess Ebony, who graciously allowed Theo and Harry the use of her name without her royal title. By the time they'd settled down again, Prince Raspen's aide had returned, waving him aside to whisper about the errand he'd sent her off on.
He sighed and nodded, sending her off with another request, before returning to the circle where they all sat. "Lord Cunningham is a bit indisposed at the moment, due to an inner-Circle matter, but he will come as soon as he is able, which does hint that it should be some time before dinner."
Ebony shook her head with a faint wince, that of someone knowing something that perhaps they should not. "I really shouldn't say," she began. "But I can almost promise you I know what happened. He might not make it here before dinner."
"Then let us say you told me and I listened," Prince Raspen said, smoothly. "You need not break his confidence. I am sure he will come as quickly as he is able, the moment he is free. Besides, his hunters are the best and you know it." He smiled in remembered appreciation, for all Gheyos of the shadow element taught by the famed Lord Cunningham were wild, powerful and completely merciless.
"Indeed I do," Ebony allowed. She frowned. "How exactly did you plan on removing the spell?" She gestured towards Harry. They had shared his plight with her and she'd immediately become quite concerned as Charlie was now her mentored student and Harry was Charlie's submissive.
"With bribes and perhaps a small dose of groveling," Prince Raspen said, with a chuckle. "How else? You know as well as I do how fickle he can be, but if he has even the slightest inclination to help, he will help."
"That may require more groveling that you're in the mood for," Ebony shot back. "I cannot see his royal grumpiness agreeing to any of the usual options for removing Merrow spellwork and forgive me for saying so, but he's alive, isn't that enough?"
"Alive?" Harry frowned at her. "What do you mean?"
Ebony hesitated, ignoring Prince Raspen's sharp look. "Merrows usually don't bother with the hassle of spelling landwalkers. They kill them. The fact that you're alive—sorry, Charlie, but this is the truth—that is saying quite a bit. Wouldn't you agree, Ras?"
Grudgingly, Prince Raspen gave a curt nod, seeing Charlie's look of disbelief. "Still. I am sure that we can resolve this peacefully."
Ebony shivered. "You were always the most optimistic out of us." She bit her lip. "I don't mean to scare you—any of you, my apologies if I have. It is only that what I know of Merrow spellwork is rather devilish. I wouldn't tamper with it if my life depended on it. Not on my own, anyway and even with help, I'm not sure I would trust a Merrow to remove it. If it didn't hurt to cast it, it most certainly will to remove it. They can never do anything simply."
"Speaking from experience?" Charlie had to know. He wondered if she would 'tamper' with it, if his life were in danger and then decided that she would, considering the oaths they had just sworn.
Ebony gave him a wry smile. "I have had more than my share of magical accidents and I have been both witness and referee to more than my fair share of enchantments in a handful of years. Sometimes there is help and hope. Other times, it is best to leave well enough alone. I could sense that it wasn't particularly dangerous, but even so, I don't trust my own reading."
Princess Dawne entered the room, her own personal aide walking beside her. "…Please do let me know when they are ready and I will come." She smiled at the young woman. "Thank you. Go and see to it." She turned to see the full room and her eyebrows arched upwards in clear surprise. "Good afternoon," she inclined her head. "I was unaware that you were entertaining, Ras."
"I wasn't really," Prince Raspen chuckled. He rose to greet and escort her back to their little group. "Thomas merely had a quick request and I am trying to help, though perhaps I am not doing quite as good a job as I had hoped."
"Oh?" Princess Dawne kissed his cheek and then took his arm, allowing him to guide her over to where they were all seated. "Eby!" She exclaimed, her gaze falling on the fire princess. "You look wonderful. I hardly had a moment to say two words to you on stage." The two royals embraced as two sisters meeting after a long time. "I loved your entrance, darling. It was fantastic."
"And you were also equally stunning." Ebony said, immediately. She looked her childhood friend over from head to toe, with a smile of admiration. They only saw each other during official events, corresponding through occasional letters or during breaks when an elemental council was held and required royal supervision. The Hunt was just as much fun for them as it was for the other Nevareans. "I loved that touch with the wind though, I didn't know you'd mastered wind-walking quite that well. Impressive. You've been holding out on us."
"Practice," Princess Dawne said, theatrically with a hand to her forehead. "Weeks upon weeks of practice." She smiled. "Believe me, it was quite boring, but very necessary. I think now I might be able to take a few breaths on my own—you know, without being watched every single second of the day?" The princesses laughed. "You do look well though, considering what I've heard of your courts." Princess Dawne reached over and squeezed Ebony's hand in support. "I wish I could do something to help, but I don't want to be in the way."
"They will work themselves out and I am doing quite well, thanks." Ebony said. Her realm was beneath the earth, where the shadows fled at the sight of the fire that burned within the heart of Nevarah. The mountains were hers, including all that came with the volcanic region that breathed lava and flame. Her courts could be as volatile as her element, but she had enough control to weather through obvious obstacles. "Never mind those though. Tis' my own headache to deal with. While you've been practicing though, I have been busy. Found myself a mentored student and all that."
Princess Dawne lit up at once, a sparkle lending itself to her pale hair and features. "Oh Eby, you didn't!" She cried, delighted. "That is wonderful! I am so happy for you!" She all but twirled her friend around in a circle, her gift allowing her to swing the slightly taller girl around as if it were nothing. A breath of fresh air seemed to blow through the room as she impulsively hugged the fire princess once more and bounced forward on her tip-toes.
Eventually, after the next set of introductions were out of the way, it was determined that Princess Dawne was the most neutral of all the royals and therefore able to request an audience with King Alcandor or his current advisor, Lord Kieran. She had been equally disturbed upon hearing Harry's tale and immediately agreed to help, voicing that for politics' sake, she would do so on behalf of the Deveraine Circle.
Harry did not quite mind being on the sidelines of things, even though it seemed that with his luck, he would soon be the sole focus of everyone, a position that he had never relished. It bothered him to have to keep up the slightly formal air that their present company required, but he reminded himself that he was lucky to have the opportunity at all. He couldn't follow their talk of courts and entertainment arrangements for the Hunt, but he was already gaining a steady supply of knowledge on the finer points of his empathy gift.
Nearly all the royals were painstakingly easy to read. When he wasn't focusing on Prince Raspen's charming dimples, the earth prince fairly radiated strength both inside and out. Harry's empathy had taken to it at once, akin to a satisfied cat purring on the lap of its owner. The refreshing aura had eased the tension out of their little group and Harry was able to relax enough to try and follow some of the confusing conversations. He wondered if it was because of the earth affinity that Theo teased him of having or if whether it was simply the fact that he could respect and admire the prince for what the title and responsibility meant.
Princess Ebony or just Ebony—it would take some time for Harry to adjust to that—was pure mischief and cheerful vividness. Her aura had Theo and Charlie relaxing, which in turn eased a nice little burden off of Harry's weighted shoulders and set their group at ease. She had plenty of amusing vignettes which she shared in between of the official royal talk. She was careful to include them all in the conversations and surprisingly good at keeping a steady stream of entertainment flowing.
As for Princess Dawne, she was an entirely different individual compared to her fellow royals. Her aura was so faint, Harry could barely manage to read it, even when he instinctively tried to ferret it out. He could only sense that she was kind and generous, two distinguishable traits that was easy to see in the graceful way she carried herself and the soft grey eyes that spoke volumes.
Harry tucked all of knowledge away for future reference—and hopefully use—while focusing on the subtext of the conversation from earlier. He remembered the roundabout way that Prince Raspen had taken to ask the pale-haired princess whether she would be agreeable to asking after the Merrow king. From the poorly concealed scowl on Ebony's side, he wondered if their elemental rivalry was more dangerous behind closed doors than it had been during the introductions. He hoped no one would be caught unawares in the midst of it all. That would be very disturbing.
Princess Dawne left to see about their request with little fanfare, merely excusing herself and stepping outside into the hall. When she returned, there was an expression of mild confusion on her face and she accepted a cup of tea from Prince Raspen, allowing Ebony to usher her into a seat. She did not speak just yet and after a moment, Ebony was the one to prompt her.
"Did he bite your head off? Sorry, you are still in possession of it. I meant, did he perhaps-"
"Lady Baronsworth seems to be in a fit of—pique." Princess Dawne said, delicately. "I excused myself before she started throwing things."
"Throwing things? Lady Baronsworth?" Ebony stared at her in confusion. Lady Baronsworth, the Gheyo wife of Lord Baronsworth, an esteemed Beta, was a prominent council man in the Nevarean High Court and in spite of their shared bond, both dragels held a seat on the council. "What sorts of things?"
"Sharp things, Eby. Very sharp things." Princess Dawne suppressed a shudder. "What do you think she would throw?" But she shook her head, not expecting an answer. "Apparently her youngest son had some sort of an issue and showed up unannounced—while I was there."
"The quake from the dome?" Ebony frowned. "No one expected that and I would think that being a Gheyo, she's weathered through more surprises than most councilwomen."
Princess Dawne gave a rather unladylike shrug. "I cannot say exactly. He was there and apparently he brought his entire Circle with him, small as it was. Lady Baronsworth did not know that he had Bonded."
"Oh." Ebony blinked. "Oh." She winced. "Very sharp things you said?"
Princess Dawne did not answer, instead she sipped at the light-colored tea and held out an arm that showed her pretty gauzy gown to be slashed through several of the delicate ruffles. A flicker of magic repaired the damage and she diverted the attention from herself by throwing smile in Harry's direction, opting to redirect the conversation away from the task that she had been set and the family matters of one of her court. "For the sake of privacy, I did ask for the wards around the room to be strengthened and soundproofed." She smiled at Bahn next, picking on a thread of conversation that no one had touched on just yet. "And congratulations, Lord Deveraine. I did mean to say so earlier." Her gaze flicked to his pregnant belly and then back to her teacup, a polite hint.
A flicker of surprise passed over Bahn's face, but he smiled back easily enough, looking equal parts pleased and embarrassed that his elemental royal had taken notice of him. "Thank you kindly, princess." A pretty pink blush dusted his cheeks and he held his head up, quite proudly, one hand resting on the swell of his stomach. Takar hid a smile of his own and snuggled Bahn a little deeper to his side.
"Has your Alpha returned?" Princess Dawne asked. The famed Ithycar Deveraine was a very charming fellow who had, on occasion, graced the dinner tables of various high nobles, building friendships and alliances for future use. He had not been in the royal courts for some time though, suggesting that he had been quite busy with whatever had last taken his fancy. She had hoped to see him for the Hunting season though, especially with this last instance of the Fabrine attack. The man had connections and she would gladly make use of them if she could.
"He should be on his way." Bahn fiddled with the cup and saucer on his lap. His brow furrowed as he seemed to be thinking through something. "Was there something that you needed from him? Our house has functioned in his absence, I am sure we could-"
"Ah, no. I was merely curious." Princess Dawne settled back, her golden waves spilling over her shoulders and framing her face quite nicely. "I would have him over for dinner, sometime, when he returns. Please let him know. You and yours are of course, welcome as well. You need only send a missive when you have an afternoon free and I shall let you know whether I am available."
"Of course. Thank you, your highness."
The Air princess smiled again, in her soft way. "By the way, Alcandor will be here shortly. Please try not to antagonize him, Eby."
"It took you long enough to mention it," Ebony snorted. "I was beginning to think he'd refused. What did he make you do in exchange for his dreadful attendance? No, wait—what did he charge you for requesting his presence? Your first-born child?"
Princess Dawne muffled a choking sound, then swallowed, mirth dancing in her eyes. "First and second-born, actually." She teased, with a shake of her head. "You're not helping things, you know. It's that sort of thinking that leads to animosity in all the wrong places. He was quite nice about it and said he would come straightaway. He didn't even ask what I wanted."
"And exactly which places would be the right ones?" Ebony groused. She could easily recall the slight during the introductions and while it was expected, that did not mean that she had to like it. "I don't have to look for it. It's usually right there and he ever only is nice to you because he likes you."
"He likes Ras too and Lord Cunningham and Lady Bianca. It's only you that-"
"Yes, well the feeling is mutual. Have you even seen half of what he-" Ebony began.
"Really, Ebony." Prince Raspen reproved. "What exactly did he do, apart from snubbing you in the entrance ceremony? Which, I might add, he has always done?" He perked a brow. It was not just the opening ceremony but any instance where the fire and water element had met under the public view. He was sure that half of it was politics and his own personal observations of the two led him to believe it was more like a cat and dog sort of thing, they would hiss and bark at each other, but if they had to work together, they could. He had seen proof of it before, anyway. "You know how he is and he only baits you because you let him. Honestly. If you didn't answer everything he threw your way, I highly doubt that you would find him so disagreeable."
Ebony didn't answer, but the grumpy expression on her face evened out somewhat. "I don't need a lecture, Ras. I have known him just as long the rest of you. I'm only trying to determine whether he is in a helpful mood or otherwise predispositioned to declare Harry's spell as something that is out of his hands. I won't have that. It's not fair to Harry, at least. This is his first Hunt, he should be able to court and be courted without worrying about a spell and you know as well as I do that magical connections during the Hunt is half of the compatibility process, a lingering magical signature could be devastating. Besides, you know Alcandor's been on edge. You cannot tell me you did not notice."
"We all noticed," Prince Raspen said, quietly. "But perhaps we were not so quick to discuss it, hm?" He did not add that whatever was borrowing the Merrow king was likely something quite significant and therefore worthy of their notice. Merrows could be quite carefree, but if something caught their attention, then it was wise to take a closer look on principle. He could discuss this later, but not in their present company. As much as he trusted Thomas Gorgens, there were royal matters that would always be royal matters and this was one of them.
Ebony gave a wan smile at that. "I worry, Ras and you know how I am when I worry." At those words, the other two royals exchanged a look and let it be, sharing a smile between them. Scarcely a moment later, Ebony winced and leaned forward, handing off her cup to Charlie, who took it after a moment and set it on the edge of the table.
"Eby?" Princess Dawne looked at her.
"He's here." The fire-princess muttered. She winced. "Oh believe me, he's here and he's in a terrible mood. What did you tell him, Dawne? I thought you said he didn't mind."
"He didn't mind, at least, he didn't when I spoke to him…" Princess Dawne's voice trailed off.
"You can sense him?" Charlie heard himself saying. He looked between the royals and then to his new mentor.
"He's a royal," Ebony said, stiffly. "We always sense each other, but we can temper it to some degree and he's not very—tempered right now. Sit here." She tapped the side of the settee where she was perched, motioning to the floor. "It would probably be best if you weren't anywhere near Harry if we want his help. He might be fickle enough to refuse simply because you're bonded."
"Would he really?" Theo spoke up, frowning. He did not like that detail at all and he certainly would not stand by while Charlie was discriminated against. Harry mirrored his frown, lips pressed together as if to keep from saying something that he shouldn't.
"He might," Ebony allowed. "And he might not." She added, at Prince Raspen's look. "One never knows with the Merrow."
"Won't he be able to tell anyway?" Charlie asked. But he did move forward, seating himself easily on the floor atop the soft rug near her feet. He would gladly stay out of sight if it helped their situation so Harry's spell could be removed. While he was sure he would at least try to hold his own, he did not want Theo to be involved, which was sure to be the case if complications started on his own. Not to mention that as fascinating as the Merrow's entrance had been, along with the fierce, otherworldly beauty of the Merrow king himself, Charlie was in no hurry to be the single recipient of that blue-eyed stare. He shot an apologetic look to Harry, having vacated his seat beside his submissive.
Harry offered an impish smile and directed his attention towards the main door, waiting to see who would appear next. He would be fine. Theo was still beside him anyway and Charlie was well within reach if needed. Not to mention both the Deveraines and the Gorgens were happily smothering him in a nice, warm blanket of overprotectiveness. He couldn't quite say that he minded.
"Did you?" Ebony prompted. "Speak to him?"
"I actually didn't speak to him at all, I spoke to Lord Baronsw-" Princess Dawne trailed off as loud voices could be heard from the hallway—muffled—but still present.
"…and that's final, Kieran!" King Alcandor stormed into the room with a glower that would send a dementor scurrying for its mother. "Do I look as if I care whether such an insipid miscreant lives to see tomorrow morning? Hang him for all I care. Shackle him to the cliffs—by his crippled claws. Better yet, beach him. Scrub him with black sand. Burn him!" He whirled around, fiercely, to face the dour Advisor that followed him sedately, his hands tucked into his sleeves. "Fillet the dimwit and spare me the agony of wasted brain cells over trying to resolve his hopeless situation!" Blue-scaled hands were thrown up in the air, to make his point, before King Alcandor folded his arms over his chest.
Lord Kieran merely sighed. "And you are sure of his, my king?"
A muffled sound that might have been a growl, exploded from the Merrow's mouth. "If I am sure. If I am sure, he says. As if I haven't been assuring you of that very thing for the past—Kesmar's bloody reefs, Kieran, yes I'm sure! Perhaps I ought to skin and salt you!"
"If it would help, your majesty," Lord Kieran said, calmly. "Though I cannot see how it would possibly resolve anything."
"He is ruining my courts and I am not running some poorly-trained theater troupe!" King Alcandor snapped. "Holding court is no joking matter. There are lives at stake and power! An enormous quantity of lives and power. Anyone failing to comprehend such does not deserve to have his head resting firmly upon his shoulders. I want him dead! I want his Clan crippled. I want everything he holds dear burned. I won't have them breathing the same air as I do—spear his familiar, if you must. It was a rather pretty little thing, but I don't care about the rest of it. I don't care about him. I want him begging to die."
"Killing him will only solve half of the problem," Lord Kieran said. "What will you do about the change in the-"
"I'll appoint the second chancellor's son to her ladyship's right hand and I will demote her cousin to the rank of court feeder. I have actually given this some thought, Kieran. Which, if you had actually read the report I sent to you last night, you should be quite familiar with my methods and the way in which I intend to see this little act of rebellion ripped from the blunted fangs that snatched it."
"I did see it and I did read it." Lord Kieran said. "Indeed. I am very surprised. You do occasionally use your brilliance for the right purpose. I suppose you will, of course, be the one to inform Lord Shalimar that you have—er—removed his son from the running?"
"Of course not. That's your job." King Alcandor smiled, tightly. "It's why I can't fillet you, even though I dearly wish to." There was a faint tick at his left forehead. "However, though I can't fillet you, I could always salt you and watch it burn through your pretty little scales and that would make me feel so much better."
For a long moment, both Merrows glowered at each other, neither of them giving an inch and both looking as if they were liable to engage in some sort of fisticuffs, if it weren't beneath the arrogant dignity they both clung to. After a very long breath of silence, King Alcandor's arms slowly unfolded and fell to his sides. "Kesmar, Kieran," he muttered, sounding more weary than angry. "What would you have me do? You know very well what he is doing and all that we've worked so hard for will be ruined because he is a child in a man's body, who has not yet grasped the true impact of his decisions, be they excellent or abhorrent."
"…perhaps I could seek an alternative solution." Lord Kieran suggested, delicately. Temper had apparently ran its course and now they could converse somewhat coherently.
"You have already provided me with several useless alternatives which do absolutely nothing. Your duty is to provide me with options, that is what you do. I think we can both agree that neither of those will solve this." King Alcandor reached up to pinch the bridge of his nose. He took a noisy breath and then feathered a hand through his thick, navy blue tresses. They fell silkily back to his shoulders, gleaming in the pale light of the room's wall sconces.
"Perhaps, but I have only had but a handful of hours to think of something." Lord Kieran returned. "You will only receive what you have asked for."
"Are you asking me for more time, Kieran?" There was a dangerous tone of voice as the Merrow king eyed him with something bordering on extreme distaste.
"I would never dream of it, sire." Came the quick, subservient reply.
"…wise." He snorted. "You have twenty-four hours." King Alcandor said, abruptly. "If you have not devised a suitable solution to our problem, then I expect you to bring me his head on a pike." He lifted his chin, every inch the king that he was. "Shrunken and salted, so that I might spare yours."
"As you wish it."
"I wish it. Dismissed." King Alcandor snapped. "And Kesmar help you if I see you before those hours are through. I want something workable so that even a child could follow those directions, understood? Send your secretary to replace you. I have other matters to attend to, much as it pains me to admit. They are, however, marginally more pleasant than discussing your demise, so I shall take it for the reprieve that it is." He waved a hand, irritably. "Away with you."
"Of course." Lord Kieran bowed deeply at the waist, his hands still folded in the voluminous sleeves of his official robes. He turned to leave and then hovered in the doorway, his bright blue-eyed gaze darted to the side and took in the sight of the other three royals and their guests. His posture stiffened even more. "Forgive me for asking, but will you tell them?" His tone was faintly accusing.
King Alcandor blinked in surprise, then followed his Advisor's gaze over to the rest of the room's occupants and his mask slid into place almost at once as if he'd flipped a switch of some sort. All traces of frustration, annoyance and anger melted away to a look that was perfectly polite, if not somewhat bland and vaguely reminiscent of the expression he'd worn during the introduction ceremony. "We have already had that discussion," he smiled, with a touch of gleaming fangs. "And you already know what I will say. My answer has not and will not change. They have a right to know. Do not make me bring you around to my way of thinking. It will be highly unpleasant for the both of us."
The older Merrow growled, audibly and left in a snap and whirl of his fancy robes, taking some of the tension with him. King Alcandor stood where he was, listening, it seemed until he deemed the footsteps far enough. The moment he turned back to face them, Princess Dawne was already crossing the room to meet him. They embraced briefly and he kissed her cheek, allowing her to return the favor to his own blue-scaled self.
"Did something happen?" She asked, reaching up to rub away the furrow between his brows.
"Politics," King Alcandor said, simply. He sighed as if terribly pained by her attention, but did not protest even as a faint shimmer of amusement reflected in his deep blue eyes. She affected a pout in turn and tapped his delicately sloped nose in retaliation, before turning around. He curved an arm around her waist and drew her to his side, starting forward towards the seated group. "A crown is a heavy burden, my dearest."
"Save your sweet tongue for them then," she teased. "You need not convince me of your innocence."
"Do I look that guilty?"
"You were shouting about salt and heads and pikes." She gave him a look, tempered by the somewhat teasing smile on her face. "Surely you understand how misleading that can be."
"I am but a bloodthirsty villain who desires nothing more than to bathe in the blood of those foolish enough to annoy me." He didn't so much as twitch when Princess Dawne deliberately poked his bare side. "My apologies. I shall curb my darker urges for the sake of your delicate ears." He sidestepped, neatly, to avoid her follow-up jab.
"My delicate ears? I'll show you delicacy if you've a mind to see it." She shook her head, leaning into his one-armed embrace. She knew what a strain it could be to deal with rambunctious courts and did not envy him the higher duties and responsibilities as a crowned royal, as opposed to her own status. "I do hope I didn't disturb you. I sent the message through one of your court, because they said you were not to be disturbed. I would have asked in person."
"Tis no fault of your own. I left explicit instructions with the guards. Besides, you were elected to—fetch me—I'm sure," he said, simply. He appreciated her kind gesture, and welcoming attitude. It helped to soothe some of his irritation and for that, he resolved to see if he could help her with whatever had been important enough to require his presence. "Exactly how may I be of assistance?"
"Al!" Prince Raspen stood to greet them, gesturing for the two royals to enter the seating area. "I was beginning to think you'd floated out with the tide. Everything alright?"
"Everything is always alright."
Prince Raspen gave him a look, but did not pry.
King Alcandor managed a slight smile at that. "No worse than expected, anyway." He looked the other prince over with a critical eye. "You look well, considering the past few minutes. Was there much damage?" He asked, referring to the fabrine attack. It had been quite unexpected for all of them.
Prince Raspen chuckled. "We actually had the very slightest of warnings. We were lucky. It could have been worse. How are yours taking it?"
"We are Merrow. We don't take that sort of thing." King Alcandor said, haughtily. "We were all below the surface when it hit. I was gathering the Intendeds for a private audience and as such, had recalled my court with me." He frowned. "But that is not what I am here to discuss. At least I hope not."
"It is not." Prince Raspen agreed. "It is actually something a bit more unique to your abilities."
What is it you want, Ras? Speak plainly or hold your tongue. Only you would go to such lengths to have Dawne ask me over for a private audience." Dark blue eyes gleamed. "I sincerely hope you are not about to make some foolish request, because I have already suffered through one half of this wretched day and I would prefer to spend the remainder of it below the surface and away from obvious displays of stupidity."
"Of course you would," Prince Raspen said. His lips twitched as if he would like to laugh, but instead, he remained standing and gestured towards Harry and his Circle to stand as well. "My Clan Chief had an unusual request on behalf of his daughter, concerning the Submissive of her mentored student."
"Oh? And this concerns me, how?"
"Well," Prince Raspen began, delicately. "It was about the removal of recently acquired Merrow spell."
King Alcandor frowned. "By recently acquired, exactly what time frame are we speaking of?"
King Alcandor blinked, looking adorably confused and far from terrifying as his navy brows knitted themselves together in a look of complete incomprehension. "Pardon?" He asked, hesitantly.
Prince Raspen turned his half-chuckle into a cough. "The spell was cast last night and it has been active this entire day. Can you kindly remove it? We would be quite indebted to you."
There was a dismissive noise from the Merrow king, but he released the arm he'd draped around Princess Dawne and now folded them over his chest once more as if to make his displeasure more obvious. He was not wearing his fancy cloak, but a loose, silken shirt of bright blue with no buttons, tucked into the front of his trousers. The imprint of nipple rings was visible as the fabric of his shirt pulled tight over them and his dusky lips twisted into a scowl. "That is absolutely impossible."
Golden eyes blinked in surprise. "Impossible?" Prince Raspen repeated, somewhat shocked by the sudden vehemence. "Actually, it isn't. I've tried to remove it myself and it's rather stubborn. I've never worked with something like this before."
"Ask one of them, then." King Alcandor nodded towards Ebony and Princess Dawne. "I'm sure the three of you could figure something out that did not require tearing me away from important matters of-"
"It is a Merrow spell." Prince Raspen said, patiently. "That is more than obvious. Take a look for yourself if you do not believe me." He motioned for Harry to come to his side and did not object when Theo followed Harry.
"I will do no such thing. It is impossible because there were no Merrows present last night who could have cast any spell at all." King Alcandor said, matter-of-factly. "No Merrow has been released to the surface even since the introductions. They still await my approval. They were presented, yes, but I did not grant them permission to mingle and as such, they have been under heavy guard—beneath the surface. No one has slipped out." He gave a faint shake of his head. "If they had, I would have known. You cannot have a Merrow spell on you, because there is no way you could have acquired one. Someone is playing an elaborate game of some sorts—perhaps a courting prank—but I cannot remove it because there is nothing to remove."
Ebony snorted. That sounded just like the pompous Merrow to be spouting off nonsense before actually looking at the facts. She itched to hex him, if only for his idiocy, but doing so would set a bad example for Charlie and she wasn't about to start out their mentorship with losing her temper, no matter how necessary it might be. Besides, she had better self-control than that and now was a good time to start making use of it. There were few things that really managed to slip under her skin and this particular Merrow was one of them.
Princess Dawne shot a look at her fellow royal, then tugged gently on the King's arm, attempting to uncross them. "Couldn't you try anyway, Al? It's tricky spellwork." She said, hopefully. Out of all of them, Alcandor had always been the best at spell-weaving and crafting, a natural talent from his birth mother, one of the few secrets he had shared with her. They were closer than the other royals, if only because their elements were complimentary and as such, they spent time between the Storm element that was sponsored by them. "I'm sure you would love to unravel it."
"I would not." He said, stiffly. But even as he spoke, he wavered, for it was Dawne asking and within reason, there was little he would ever refuse her.
"That would be a first," Ebony muttered. She had a hand resting lightly atop Charlie's shoulder, pressing just hard enough to keep him where he was when the Merrow king had calmly refused. Charlie shifted beneath her touch, but remained where he was. He didn't look any happier than she did about the direction the conversation had changed.
Prince Raspen sent her a look and then tried again. "Al, even if it isn't Merrow, this his first Hunt, he really shouldn't be worrying about spells upon his person. Won't you please take a look?"
"You could at least try!" Harry snapped, before he could check the words that tumbled out of his mouth. "I wasn't looking to be spelled or cursed or anything. I was trying to help a dlkfp and if this is a courting game then I think that someone ought to-!"
Theo clapped a hand over Harry's mouth, his golden eyes halfway-hazel. He tapped Harry's cheek, gently, a silent warning. Ticking off their royal audience would not earn them any favors, no matter how unfair the situation might seem and something told him that this was a one-shot chance. He wouldn't have minded a chance to say a few choice words of his own, but this was far too delicate a situation for his Slytherin temper to unveil itself. If all he had to do was hold his temper until it was over with, by Arielle and Merlin, he would. "Enough, Harry." He said, softly, tempering his words with a hidden pat to Harry's side.
Harry swallowed, feeling the familiar warm flush along his neck and ears that meant he was blushing a very obvious shade of red. He waited the few seconds it took for Theo's hand to drop so he could speak again. "I only meant," he said, softly. "That I was trying to save a surlkg from-"
"What did you say?" King Alcandor's head had snapped up at once to fix on Harry the moment the first garbled word had left his mouth. He gently caught Princess Dawne by the shoulders, shuffling her out of his way to move forward and look at Harry. Dark-blue eyes fixed on Harry's face with surprisingly intensity. "Say that again."
Harry blinked. "What part?" He mentally scrambled to backtrack, trying to see what he'd said that had triggered such a response. "I didn't really, I was only-"
"Not that. Say something else." King Alcandor waved a hand again, in a now familiar dismissive gesture. "The last part. The one where you said that you were saving an idiot named what?"
The flush on his cheeks grew warmer and Harry wished his hair was long enough to hide his eyes. He had not said 'idiot' but it was what he had meant when he'd thought of Alec and tried to say as much. "I was trying to save a-" he licked his lips. "A crkgld-"
Dark-blue eyes grew round and wide as the Merrow king simply stared.
An awkward silence began to settle and Charlie shifted restlessly on the floor. Ebony immediately reached down and patted his head this time, instead of his shoulder, her orange-eyed gaze fixed on her fellow royals. Something had just changed and she couldn't put her flames on it just yet.
"Al?" Prince Raspen tried.
"Hush." A blue scaled hand flapped at him. Another beat of silence passed, before he spoke again. "You met a Merrow." King Alcandor said, faintly accusing as he stared at Harry. "You actually met one?" He seemed to question rather than declare the statement.
Harry barely resisted the urge to roll his eyes. "Yes! I did! That's what everyone has been trying to-"
"How did you meet one when they were under strict orders to remain below the surface upon pain of death? I'll have their head for it. Did you try to summon one? They swore oaths that they would not surface until I gave them leave. Please understand what you are saying. This is quite serious."
"Summon a—no!" Harry sputtered. "Why would I even have—that's not." He gave a faint shake of his head. "I know what I saw. You're not listening to anything that anyone here is trying to tell you. I didn't do anything. I was just there and-!"
"Of course I'm listening, but listening does not afford me the answers I desire." King Alcandor scowled at him. "Do you even realize what this means?"
"No, but I'm sure you'll tell me," Harry snarked. He could feel his temper beginning to flare and simmer once more. It seemed that Merrows were destined to bring that out in him.
"Indeed. If you had half a mind to comprehend it." The king snapped. "Would you swear on your magic that you had nothing to do with summoning one of my people?"
"What? But I didn't." Harry exclaimed. "Yes. Fine. I would. Why would I lie? I have no reason to-"
"True. No one in their right mind would agree to swear such on their magic, unless they were telling the truth." Dusky lips curved into a smile that was more shiny white fangs than anything else.
Instinctively, Harry felt himself easing backwards, grateful for Theo's steadying, calming presence behind him. His entire focus had shifted to focus solely on the Merrow king and he definitely was not thinking of the others in the room any more. "Whatever you're trying to say, just say it." He said, bravely. Theo pinched him from behind and Harry twitched, faintly at the reprimand, but didn't see any reason to be respectful of an authority figure that didn't seem to be worthy of the respect required.
As if sensing his train of thought, the Merrow king's smile turned into a smirk. "Very well then. Do you hate him?"
Harry blinked, completely baffled. "…what?"
King Alcandor sniffed. "That was as plainly spoken as I could manage. Be you deaf? There are customs surrounding you that you do not even understand. Try to keep up. I asked, do you hate him? The Merrow who spelled you. Please answer carefully. His head may hang in the balance of my good temper and your honest answer."
"Good temper?" Harry couldn't stop himself from saying. He scowled. It was no joke to make light of people's lives and he despised those in power who did so. Yes, sometimes sacrifices had to be made, but he was fairly certain this was no one of those times. He scrambled for something else to say, when those dark blue eyes narrowed.
"Cursed is more like it," Ebony muttered, biting her tongue to keep from adding more. She acknowledged Charlie's not-so-subtle elbow to the side and threw him an apologetic glance. He was behaving quite nicely, so far, it would not do to let her own temper run away on them.
"That is not the question I asked. Do you hate him?"
"Hate him?" Harry repeated, uncertainly. His eyes narrowed, before he remembered that the King could not have known it was Alec, but rather was reacting to the knowledge that no female Merrows ever surfaced. "I'm not sure I understand," he said, slowly. "Why would I have to hate—I don't like him," he said, at last, searching for a safe middle ground. "I mean, I don't even know him. I just—I didn't need this. It wasn't—it's. I just want this spell off. Can you take it off? Please?" He added, hurriedly.
"I am only asking, because you're hardly worth the trouble of spelling—or cursing—and as you are a landwalker, it is much easier to simply kill you." He rubbed his chin with one hand, looking quite puzzled for the moment.
Harry felt his cheeks growing warm again. "Kill me?" He tried to keep the anger from his voice. Why did every single topic manage to circle around to death where Merrows were concerned? Were they really that bloodthirsty? He clenched his hands tightly to keep from asking outright, because that would most definitely be rude and even if his earlier outbursts could be excused, he wasn't about to deliberately commit a social faux pas without any chance of some reward in sight. But, then again, he'd championed the cause of lesser, weaker individuals before and he realized that he would not be able to keep his mouth shut any more than he could stop breathing. "Why is it that the solution to any kind of Merrow and 'landwalking' problem is to kill without dis-"
"He must really like you," the Merrow king mused, completely ignoring Harry's starting rant. "Or he must want to court you. Either way, I am curious as to why. That is the only logical reason a Merrow go to such lengths. He couldn't have actually known you for anything apart from a few minutes or maybe an hour, which is hardly enough time to fall into attraction or lust with each other." He sighed. "If it worries you though, what he did cast on you is not a harmful spell, in fact, it is really quite harmless."
Harmless? Harry nearly snapped. He would beg to differ that the spell had been anything but harmless. It had landed him with yet another bothersome headache since arriving in Nevarah and he wanted it off, thank you very much. "I still want it off." He said, tightly. "Please?"
But King Alcandor was still talking as if he hadn't heard him at all. "It was meant to keep you protected from—something, I cannot tell what—and would have only affected your hunting in very subtle ways. In fact, I am almost certain it would wear off by tomorrow." An almost-smile touched his lips as if he had finally figured something out. "Most likely set to trigger after I have given my permission to surface and hunt."
"Subtle ways?" Harry burst out, unable to help himself yet again. He was mildly gratified to note that this time, Theo did not try to stop him from speaking. "Affect me in subtle ways? Like turning in—into a Silverwing right before the Introductions? Spouting out gibberish every time I try to explain to my Bonded that I almost drowned? That's not very subtle!"
"There really is no need to raise your voice," The Merrow king said, calmly. He inspected his black-lacquered fingernails with an air of disinterest. Whatever good humors were his to call, had apparently somewhat returned to him.
Harry tried to not to notice that those fingernails were pointed. Very obviously pointed. They could do serious damage, if the need arose. "I didn't raise my voice!" He snapped, managing to keep the outrage from his voice, but only just barely as his empathic powers began to rise up a few notches. He couldn't read the Merrow king, but he could read almost everyone else in the room and they were caught in a mixed array of surprise, righteous anger and frustration. They were on his side and that was just the boost he needed to speak his mind.
King Alcandor merely perked a brow. "Of course, if you say so." He sighed. "And you are sure you want it off?"
"Excuse me?" Ilsa burst out. "Begging your majesty's pardon, of course he's sure he wants it off! Would we even be here if he didn't? And what kind of ridiculous protection spell requires a timer? Of all the stupid-" she broke off with a squeak of pain, turning her fierce glare on the innocent Greta beside her, who had not-too-subtly tread on her foot. "I'm only stating the facts," she grumbled, a bit quieter. "It seems like a lot of trouble to me and I know you Merrow prefer to avoid complications like the plague."
"Only when they are complicated." King Alcandor said, smoothly. "Most complications are quite amusing. However, if you wish for it to be removed, then I shall remove it. Far be it from me that I would subject you to the horrors of a protection spell when you could be waltzing about without one." There was a distinct note of sarcasm and he gave his nails one final look before allowing his arms to fall back to his sides. "That said, could you please keep talking?" He looked at Harry, expectantly. "I need to know exactly what spell was placed on you."
"What do you want me to say?" Harry shot back.
"Something that uses the spell, I need to hear what you're saying."
"He's been speaking perfect-" Princess Dawne began.
"Merrowspeak, I know." King Alcandor frowned. "Changing his dialect every third syllable. That's quite a lovely spell." He frowned. "I honestly do not see the problem with it, but you landwalkers have always been strange. Say something else? I need to know just how many dialects are present and how they are incorporated. The words you are using are placeholders and that does not narrow anything down. There are quite literally hundreds of variations, but I only need to hear a specific strain, if you could?" He was almost polite in his demand, now, but it was a demand, just the same. The bored look from his face had shifted to a polite mask once more.
After a moment, a rather self-conscious Harry began to speak, deliberately focusing on the nighttime adventure and the confusion that had come with it. His voice faded in and out at time, each garbled word gaining him either a nod or a slight shake from the Merrow king who listen, enraptured almost, as the very best kind of audience.
"…and so I told Theo and Charlie that herlph-"
"That! That right there." King Alcandor stopped him with a raised hand. "I was right." He murmured. "There are only a handful of Merrow that speak that particular dialect. They reside in the Shadow Waters, literally by Kesmar's Reefs." He sighed, reaching up to tuck his navy hair behind his pale, blue fluted ears. He fingered the little golden earrings there, then pursed his lips. "That narrows down the possibilities quite significantly, though I must ask you a few questions before I draw my final conclusion." A truly terrifying smirk settled on his face. "Answer me this, did he tell you his name?"
Harry blinked. As a matter of fact—Alec had, but he didn't quite understand the significance, not that he could really say the name anyway. Then again... "He did."
"And was his name Alec?"
Harry's jaw dropped.
The Merrow king snorted. He turned to look over his shoulder. "Fetch me Lord Kieran's ward," he barked. "And be quick about it. I do not care if you drag him all the way here." His lips twisted into a smirk. "In fact, I would enjoy it."
There was a murmur from an invisible being and then three wisps of shadow seemed to blur out of the room.
Harry squinted and blinked, resisting the urge to rub his eyes. He could have sworn, that for a whole ten seconds, he'd seen three fierce Merrow guards standing at attention, before rushing off to see to their King's bidding and then there was nothing. It made some inkling of sense that the Merrow king would have invisible guards, but it was another thing to actually see them.
A quick glance around him showed that no one else even seemed to have noticed them. Harry swallowed, feeling the sudden surge of adrenaline beginning to fade from his earlier outburst. He reached back, half-heartedly to lean against Theo, who immediately inched closer and braced him yet again without complaint.
"Al?" Princess Dawne ventured, carefully. "Is there any…?"
"Actually, there is." He tossed his head, lightly, navy blue hair swishing around him. "I need to have a word with all of you, Lord Cunningham and Lady Bianca as well. I trust you can spare a few minutes from your burdened schedules?"
"Depends on how many minutes," Ebony rose, her scowl in place, but somewhat tempered, now that at least, it seemed Alcandor was willing to help them for the time being. "Whatever is wrong this time?"
"I will send for Lady Bianca," Prince Raspen said.
"I already did." King Alcandor offered the faintest touch of a smile. "I called her on my way here. It is simply a matter of whether they shall appear before my guards return or after."
As if on cue, Prince Raspen's aide appeared at the doorway, clearing her throat politely for their attention. "Yes?" Prince Raspen turned to her expectantly.
"Lord Cunningham and Lady Bianca to see your royal highnesses."
"Please see them in," Prince Raspen said, smoothly. He cast a quick glance around the room at the Deveraines and the Gorgens. "Al, is this official?"
"Very official," the Merrow king said, grimly. "If you could lend us your inner chambers for at least a moment?"
Prince Raspen grimaced. "But of course," he said, stiffly. "If you would excuse us?" He looked to Thomas. The Clan Chief merely nodded and reseated himself. The Prince smiled, relieved that the shift in authority had been so easily accepted. They might have been family, all connected to each other in some way or another, but he wanted Thomas left in charge in his official capacity. As good as it was to have Lady Ilsa back among them, he was sure that her return brought ripples and waves that were still yet to be weathered and personally, he would prefer that his sitting room remained intact. Next to Dawne's quarters, his was the only neutral meeting ground that could be offered to everyone. "This way?" He gestured towards the door at the opposite end of the room, where he'd originally entered from. "If you could let us know when…?" His voice trailed off and he nodded towards Alcandor.
His aide bobbed her head and curtsy in tandem. "I will alert you straightaway," she said, smoothly. She returned to the doorway and ushered in the distinguished Lord Cunningham and Lady Bianca. Lord Cunningham had arrived, accompanied by his paid Gheyo and blood title for the shadow ranks, the famed Lord Hadrian Maruk. True to form, Hadrian still wore his trademark mask of metallic coal black with the two colored plumes of scarlet and violet, clad in black from head to toe, his swords nowhere on his immediate person. That was a notable detail, because it meant that instead of regulating himself to a single weapon upon his person, he was open to the use of summoning whatever would work best in whichever situation befell him and his current employer.
At a gesture from Lord Cunningham, Hadrian bowed slightly and moved off to the side where the others were. The royals disappeared into Raspen's private rooms, with Lord Cunningham and Lady Bianca trailing after them.
Harry found himself staring at the newcomer—Hadrian, was it?—as he approached their group and nodded respectfully to Thomas and Greta, before he looked over to Ilsa. For a moment, Harry tried to squelch the sad feeling that he hadn't been 'greeted' as the others, when he realized that Hadrian had angled his course to come to a stop near the two Gheyos.
Ah, so it was a Gheyo thing. Harry mused. He found himself wondering how exactly he was to acquire a Gheyo and what was required of him before hunting about for one. Maybe he could ask Ilsa. As terrifying as the woman was, she was infinitely more approachable than say, Greta or Merlin, forbid, Dahlia. He had the vaguest hint of a feeling that perhaps he could have pursued Wikhn in a different way and that perhaps that would have changed the outcome. Dahlia had seemed somewhat disapproving when she'd seen Wikhn's attentions to him and he wondered whether he'd stumbled onto something that he shouldn't have.
He twitched faintly, banishing that train of thought. He had clearly seen the look of adoration on the dark fae's face when he'd been sandwiched between Quinn's sister, Dyshoka and his Ace, Dahlia. That was not the expression of someone with a mere crush, but rather the look of willing and devoted lover. Harry frowned, shaking the thought off for later, if he felt like it. Personally, he wished that there were more obvious cues for when someone was taken.
Not that the shared kiss had been regretted in any way, but Harry did wish that perhaps he had known that rejection was hovering somewhere in the wings before he'd given said kiss away. In his mind's eye, he could still see Wikhn's pale face and the memory of the faint silvery scars along his features made him frown. There was something about Wikhn that he could not put his finger on and it bothered him.
"Blood Wraith," Hadrian greeted, softly.
Ilsa looked him over, her earlier annoyance easily replaced with curiosity and interest at the prospect of a decent conversation with a fellow Gheyo and Ace. "Blood Raven," she returned the formal greeting. "Excellent introduction. I did not expect to see you there today, at least, not your title. You have not been in Nevarah for the past few—years?" She tried, thinking back. She had been gone for some time, after all.
"My heart was elsewhere," Hadrian said, simply. He looked about the room, his dark-eyed gaze finally sweeping over Harry and his Bonded, the faintest hint of a smile on his full lips. "Forgive me if I am interrupting anything."
"No interruptions at all," Greta was the one to speak next, she started forward, angling for one of the empty settees. The others had begun to shuffle back to their seats, in the absence of the Royals. "I'm here on Ilsa's behalf."
"Who was here to ask a favor of my father," Ilsa tipped her head towards Thomas. "On account of that lovely little bit, there." She smirked in Harry's direction. He pulled at face at her, but did not contradict the words.
Hadrian followed her prompt and turned his own gentle smile, full-force on Harry. "Nothing too serious, I hope." He said, smoothly. "Is everything alright?"
"It's fine, actually. Or it will be quite soon." Ilsa started faintly when Bahn escaped from Delani's clutches to come over and deposit himself in her lap. Her smirk softened and she nuzzled along his cheek, accurately reading the near pout on his face for an inkling of jealousy in regards to Hadrian. The male Gheyo was definitely quite delightful to look at and Bahn had seen her appreciative gaze. "Feeling better?" She asked.
Bahn sniffed. He didn't answer, but he did study Hadrian for a moment, before effectively turning his back to him with a huff, pillowing his head on Ilsa's shoulder. The Gheyo chuckled and rubbed a hand up and down his back. "You're heavy," she remarked, after a moment. "Which means you're tired, aren't you?" Usually, he would alter his weight with magic to keep said magic from building up throughout the day. Dragel pregnancies often left the Carrier with an excess of magic up to ten times their natural stores to protect them from harm and coax the magical spark to life within their unborn offspring. Pregnant submissives were expected to expend a certain amount of that magical energy per day, to keep from being overwhelmed. "You can take a catnap, if you like. I'll wake you before the fun starts."
"Had a nap at lunch," Bahn yawned into her neck, relaxing as she didn't stop petting him. It felt nice. He drew slightly on his elemental gift to alter his weight, because while he might be vaguely annoyed at his darling Ilsa, he did want a cuddle and this small concession meant he would have it and perhaps a little more. "Long day. Maybe." His heavy-lidded gaze flickered over to Harry. He nudged Ilsa ever so slightly, the movement hidden from view.
Ilsa twitched, faintly, then turned back to Hadrian, who had remained quiet throughout the exchange. She could read in a glance that Harry was curious, if not interested and that Hadrian was not the type to speak first and pry into stranger's business. Perhaps he would speak up if they were no longer strangers though. That would be quite fun, she supposed, if there was a mutual spark between them, it would take some coaxing. She tugged lightly on the bond between her and Greta, waiting.
"I haven't seen you in the cages for weeks—years even, Hadrian." Greta said. She settled down on the floor, seemingly more comfortable there than sitting on the furniture. She leaned back to brace against Ilsa's leg, angling herself towards Hadrian, a deceptive position, but a natural one, considering that her pregnant Submissive was currently lounging in the lap of her Ace. While Hadrian would not outright attack them unprovoked, she would remain close by just in case something did happen. Ilsa's first priority would be to protect Bahn and so hers would be to protect Ilsa. "Last I heard, you were running." She said, causally. It was a subtle barb and she would judge him on how well he handled it.
Ilsa perked a brow. Running? She certainly hadn't heard that bit of news for the famed shadow Lord, then again, she hadn't been around to hear it. That was certainly something to look into at some point. She nudged Greta with her foot, conveying her surprise and receiving a light pat for her efforts. She looked to him for confirmation.
"Drifting more so than running," Hadrian said. "I drifted to the end where shadows meet shades. Lord Cunningham was kind enough to offer a paid contract. Said it wasn't right for one with our element to be without roots. The pay is good and I am occasionally allowed to be as messy as I like." He half-smiled, knowing both women would understand what he meant. He had left Nevarah searching for something to ease his troubled soul and had returned home at his employer's orders. "I have not seen you for some years as well, my lady." He remembered sparring with her a few times before the restlessness had overtaken him. "How fares you and yours?" The formality of his speech was softened with the newly relaxed posture as he settled back on the settee, finally at ease.
"Quite well, thank you." Greta chuckled. She had remembered him before his little disappearance and he seemed much better for the time spent away from the public view. He had handled her question well and that was what she'd hoped. She'd known him a bit before Ilsa had and was relieved to see that his rough edges had been well-sanded off, leaving behind a tempered maturity that held an unmistakable allure. She hoped his contract included provisions for free sparring slots. It would be electrifying to test her mettle against his. Unlike their parental elements of Fire and Water, Shadow and Storm managed to coexist quite nicely. She remembered the reason for his presence though and decided to ask outright. "Are you the only hunter free? I was under the impression there would be more of you."
Hadrian gave that odd half-smile again and he opened his mouth to speak when the door to Prince Raspen's quarters banged open and Ebony came stalking through.
Charlie flinched in his seat, a confused burble slipping through his lips at the very obvious feedback he received through his mentored bond. He didn't have to look at Ebony's scowling face to understand that something new had come up and it was disturbing her on more than one level. Theo immediately looked to him in concern and Charlie managed a half-smile, to show he was alright. It would take him some time to sort through having a mentored bond in additional to his Circle bonds.
Harry's attention shifted at once to the royals as they streamed out of Prince Raspen's private room, all of them in various states of barely concealed anger, with the exception of the Merrow king. He wondered what they had spoken of and realized that perhaps he would never know.
"…I don't bloody care!" The fire princess snarled. "Count your only blessing as the fact that you chose to tell us," she hissed. "If you had dared keep such information to yourself, I would have-"
"Ebony!" Prince Raspen's voice was fierce and commanding, demanding the respect that he did not outright ask for. It had the desired effect and the fire princess fell silent at once, though her glower of displeasure did not abate. "That is quite enough. Alcandor chose to tell us and we should be-"
"Grateful?" Princess Dawne picked up, her own voice laced with fury. "How do you think I feel having heard that there is a-"
"Thank you for informing us," Lady Bianca said, serenely, interrupting whatever the air princess had been about to say. "I truly appreciate what it must have cost you to share such information. If you would not mind, I wish to speak to my Circle about this. They ought to be informed." She bowed, formally and headed for the exit.
The two Princesses quieted at her departure and then they looked to Lord Cunningham, who was stroking his scruffy beard, lips pursed in thought. "I do not agree with it," he said, at last. "But I do understand it. I might have done the same, in your position." His dark eyes glittered. "And I echo, Lady Bianca's sentiments. Thank you for the warning, I will also inform my Circle at the earliest opportunity."
King Alcandor stepped into the room and back into view, looking every inch his haughty Merrow self. "Consider it a courtesy between Royals and ruling powers," he said, stiffly. "My Courts would not have me speak of it, but I thought you deserved to know." He huffed out a short breath and perked up almost at once, as Prince Raspen's aide signaled for the royal's attention.
"There is a young Merrow in the hall-" she began, gesturing towards the doorway.
"Send them in." King Alcandor said, cheerfully, his good humors apparently easily restored at the prospect of an outlet for his temper. "And do let us have this over and done with as quickly as possible?"
"Have what?" Lord Cunningham wanted to know. He followed them over to where the others were sitting and came to stand directly behind the settee where Hadrian was seated. He touched the Gheyo's shoulder gently and the two communicated silently for a moment, before Hadrian half-shrugged.
"Removal of a Merrow spell," Ebony said. "Imagine that."
King Alcandor growled faintly, but waited while four Merrow guards appeared, guiding between them a sullen Alec. He looked over at the little group and crooked two fingers at Harry. While he waited for Harry to come over, he turned his attention to Alec, a faintly vindictive gleam in his dark blue eyes. "I have a very simple question for you, Alec." He said, calmly. "Do you recognize him?" He nodded to Harry, who had come to stand before him, with Theo beside him, as before.
Harry had started faintly the moment the other Merrows had entered the room and he was surprised to see they had found Alec, at least, he was fairly certain it was Alec, because of the sulky pout and the familiar wetsuit. That was good. At least this could be over with soon and he could return to hunting things—whatever those things might be. Favors…the thought trickled through his head and Harry straightened. That was right. He had favors to sort through when he was through for the day, so the sooner this Merrow spell was over with—and piercing blue eyes seemed to suck all the breath from his body as Harry found himself staring straight up at the Merrow king.
It was harder to fight the natural curiosity within when the Merrow stood so close to him. He was, unable to help the new fascination with the king who was all arrogance, rich blue scales and fierce beauty. The tilt of his head made his crown cant to the side, his ear jewelry tinkling with the movement and his navy blue hair slipping over one shoulder. Compared to Alec, the Merrow king was a whole different species altogether, Harry was sure.
"I have never seen him before in my life," Alec said, bluntly. He stood off to the left, his arms crossed over his chest, his scowl more noticeable up close, surrounded by the four guards.
Harry barely held back a gasp. The nerve! He was almost certain that this was indeed the same Alec, but he'd never thought in a million years that the Merrow would deny it. Then again…he mentally scrambled, hoping there was some way he could prove his story, at least so the spell would be removed.
King Alcandor nodded, absently, still gazing down at Harry. "And do you recognize him?" He asked Harry, with a tilt of his head towards Alec.
Harry made himself focus on the important question asked and mentally dredged up the encounter from the previous night. "I think so," he said, brows furrowed. That was the best he could offer. "I mean, I haven't seen many Merrows. But he was wearing a wetsuit and his hair was—is—brighter than yours." He blushed, realizing that he'd been comparing blue hair colors between Merrows. That was something he could never have predicted.
King Alcandor merely nodded, turning back to Alec. "You deny seeing him before?" Alec glared in answer, but did not verbalize the affirmative once more. The king did not push him, instead, he asked a different question. "How about cursing him?"
"I have cursed no one." Alec snapped, shoulders hunching forward. "How could I curse someone I never saw?"
"Of course," King Alcandor said, blithely. "Imagine that. It would be quite a feat and I would be most interested in knowing how you managed it." He sighed. "However, that is beside the point. I suppose you would not know how your magical signature ended up all over this—Harry, then, yes?"
Alec blinked once, twice, a mulish expression settling on his sharp features. "I have been everywhere with Goonter and he has been liberally covered in my magic since the day we first met. Perhaps there is residual magical present."
"Ah. Of course. That must be it." There was a hint of sarcasm from the Merrow king and he sniffed, delicately. "Where were you, yesterday afternoon?"
"…training Goonter, your highness."
"Mmmhm." King Alcandor murmured. "And in this training you were near the surface?"
"You issued specific instructions for no one to breach the surface until your arrival." Alec said, stiffly. He still refused to even glance in Harry's direction, opting to pretend that there were no others present in the room.
"That is not answering the question. Were you or were you not?"
Alec huffed. "I may have been close to it," he admitted, reluctantly. "Goonter is very large. We need a great deal of space to practice our maneuvers for the entertainment display. You are well aware of this, my king." He all but spat out the title, his glower darkening even more.
King Alcandor sighed, turning away from Harry at last to fully face the other Merrow. "You know, Alec, I honestly thought Kieran taught you to lie better than that."
A faint lilac flush of color rippled over Alec's pale blue cheeks and then he looked away, swiftly. "I have no need of lying, your highness." He said, calmly. "I am only telling the truth."
"Of course you are," King Alcandor said. "Which is why you cannot actually say it to my face, now can you? I suppose next you will say there is certainly no reason to even think of lying to save your neck." His lower lip curled. "Scrawny as it is." He paused. "If I ask Goonter what happened last night, will your reports match up?"
Alec froze. "If you mean to imply that a Harron's dragon is-"
"I sincerely hope you are not about to insult the intelligence of my familiar." King Alcandor said, amused. "Because that would most certainly be in very poor taste."
Harry was caught somewhere between surprise, shock and anger that Alec would outright lie and then a mixture of surprise that he was digging himself a deeper hole with every single word he spoke. From the earlier conversation he'd heard between the king and his advisor, he had a feeling that a mere slap on the wrist would not be a potential remedy for the current situation. He wondered what King Alcandor would do now and whether Alec's word as a Merrow would count for more than his own. Then again, they had spoken of magical signatures and Harry knew that those were unique to their respective casters. He swallowed hard.
"By all means then, ask him!" Alec threw back.
There was a deliberate pause and then King Alcandor sighed. "So your final word is that you are absolutely blameless from this entire—situation?"
Alec lifted his chin. "Indeed."
"Curious." King Alcandor said. He turned to face Harry, softening ever so slightly at the look of worry on the young dragel's face. "For the record, Alec. If I were to kill you, Kieran would be terribly upset. He might mope for days—weeks, even—and that would distinctly disturb my court on more than one level. Since I have neither the time nor the patience to deal with a mopey advisor, consider yourself lucky that you are his ward." His head snapped around, a fierce glare visible on his sharp features. "And that is as lucky as you will ever be, you may find that death would have been a much easier option." He snapped his fingers together, with a slight wave of dismissal. "Take him to my chambers and leave him there. Chain him to the bedposts if he fights. I will deal with him as I see fit when I no longer feel the urge to kill him." Blue eyes seemed to burn with a dark fire. "Do you have any idea what your little stunt is costing me? Of course not, you pathetic little eel!" A low, angry growl rumbled in his throat.
The first inkling of uncertainty filtered through to Alec's face and he shrank back, even as the guards caught him by the arms and began to pull him away from the group. He seemed to catch himself a moment later and fought viciously as the guards manhandled him out of sight, as per their king's orders.
Harry opened his mouth to protest and shut it with a click when King Alcandor's head snapped back around to look at him, the eerie fire still flickering in his dark eyes. He swallowed again. He did not blame Alec's reaction in the face of that intense gaze.
"Allow me to—apologize—on behalf of my advisor's ward. Alec is a special case. One that does not always seem to be in proper possession of the mental faculties that ought to reside within the folds of the nonexistent brain in his empty-skulled head." The insult and apology was delivered flawlessly. "I will remove the spell, with your express permission, if that is what you wish."
"It is." Harry found his voice quite quickly. After all of this fuss, he definitely wanted the spell off. "What will I have to do?"
"Do? Absolutely nothing. Stand still and breathe." The Merrow king scowled. "Definitely breathe and definitely do not move." He screwed up his face in an expression of distaste. "Believe me when I say that I will take absolutely no pleasure in this whatsosever."
"What will you do to him?" Ebony spoke up, at once, already on her feet and halfway over to Harry, with Charlie trailing after her. They stood behind him, presenting a united front as Ilsa came to stand with them, having handed off Bahn to Greta.
"I will do absolutely nothing, but that which has been requested of me." King Alcandor said, stiffly. "You do wish for me to remove the spell, yes?"
"We do," Theo said, quietly. His burrow furrowed just enough to show that he followed their conversation, but was not yet certain that he liked the way certain events were panning out.
"Al?" Prince Raspen tried. "Is there anything that you would prefer to-"
"You can all help by standing still and not interfering. It will be absolutely painless and he will be perfectly fine."
Thomas now joined their little gaggle and he reached out to squeeze Harry's shoulder reassuringly. "You will be fine, Harry." He said, warmly. "We are all here with you." He threw a sharp look at the Merrow king who seemed more bored and annoyed with each passing second.
When no more protests were voiced, King Alcandor clasped his hands behind his back and leaned forward and down, slanting his lips directly over Harry's to the sound of everyone's surprised gasps.
There was a muffled squeak of surprise from Harry and then he discovered that he actually couldn't move at all, not that he actually wanted to, after the initial shock had passed. This was quite a singular experience that was turning out to be quite wonderful, at least, as far as the unexpected went. Breathing was still possible and Harry could breathe, but any movement beyond that was pointless as it seemed he could not move a single muscle.
The lips over his own were cool, smooth and just the right shape, it seemed as they teased and caressed him. It took Harry a moment to understand the fact that the Merrow king tasted like pineapple, tart and sweet at the same time. He was vaguely aware of strands of navy blue hair brushing softly against his cheek as King Alcandor took control of the kiss and nibbled gently along his lower lip, silently asking for entrance.
A moment of resistance was exactly that. A single moment. Harry gasped into the cool mouth as the kiss deepened and he felt his entire body quivering and trembling in spite of his immobile state. If kissing Charlie was like being burnt alive, then kissing the Merrow king was like drowning without water and in that instance, Harry didn't care if he drowned—it would be a good death.
Sensual, seductive and oh-so-gentle, Harry gave up on figuring out the how's and why's and simply let it happen. He quivered inside as those talented lips held him fast in a dance as old as time that definitely lasted longer than anything he could quite recall. Then he felt it, an icy strand of energy worming its way out from the tips of his toes, slithering back up his body.
He tried to protest, a sound, a warning, anything—because he didn't think he could bear this wild feeling that wrestled through him with a mind of its own and then—then a tentative tongue poked through his lips and tangled teasingly with his own, playful and encouraging in the same moment. Harry's eyes slid shut and he focused on the sensations, allowing his mouth to be quite effectively plundered by a dominating kiss that one-hundred percent pure skill. He had never been kissed like this before.
He felt hot, then cold and then dizzy all at the same time, before the entire cycle repeated itself and he was gasping into that wonderful mouth, wishing he could move and cling to the source of clarity, the focal point, the Merrow King Alcandor.
The icy feeling worked its way up through his stomach and then lurched up to his shoulders, before slowly, slowly, oh-so-slowly, crawling up his throat and into his mouth, stopping just where they were joined at the lips. Harry trembled, feeling the icy feeling building up inside of him, seeking an outlet, somewhere to manifest and not finding what it desired.
Somehow, his hands were moving and he scrabbled against cool, scaled skin, a brush of metal and then a handful of something silky. He grabbed that and held on in hopes of conveying his desperation. The second before the ice would have been utterly unbearable, the kiss ended.
Harry gasped as he felt those cool lips—warm now, in comparison to the unnatural coolness that had been moving around inside of him—begin to withdraw. He couldn't stop the whine that bubbled out from his throat and he pulled, reflexively on the softness in his hands, wishing the moment wasn't over yet.
As if to console him, the lips returned, kissing him softly, carefully and then finally pulling away for good.
Harry's eyes popped open as he opened his mouth to protest and found himself staring into deep, dark blue eyes. A single navy blue eyebrow arched upwards in an unspoken question and Harry blushed bright red. He looked down, only to find that he had grabbed handfuls of the Merrow king's thick hair and immediately released it, feeling his ears burn with the sheer intensity of the blush.
When he dared to look up, King Alcandor had taken a few steps back and looked rather bored as he opened his mouth and reached inside with two fingers. A disgusting slurping sound filled the room and then a shimmering white band of energy was held in his hand, having been pulled from his throat. It hung limply, like a used dishrag and sparked faintly when Harry stared at it, repulsed.
"I take it that is the spell?" Princess Dawne asked, faintly.
King Alcandor threw the glittering strand of magic up into the air and snapped his fingers. It exploded into a puff of blue sparkles that vanished before they ever reached the floor. He grimaced and then accepted an empty teacup from Lord Cunningham, before coughing and spitting into it. He handed the cup back and wiped his lips with a grimace. "Congratulations," he said, sarcastically. "I would wish you happy hunting, but it is not quite in my nature to do so. That said. Have a perfectly dreadful evening. Now if the rest of you could excuse me, unlike yourselves, I do have royal duties to attend to."
With a practiced flip of his hair, he strode from the room, flanked by six guards who shimmered into existence the moment he was two paces away from their little group.
There was a moment of silence and then Harry leaned back, welcoming Charlie's strong warm arms that wrapped around him from behind. He let himself be led to the settee and sat down yet again, unable to keep one hand from reaching up and touching his still tingling lips.
AUGUSTA LONGBOTTOM'S ANCESTRAL MANOR
"How soon can we leave?" Molly braced herself in the comfy armchair by the fireplace, eating her breakfast from the tray seated atop her lap. She looked weak and exhausted, but there was a flush of color in her cheeks that had finally surfaced since they'd all turned up at Longbottom Manor. "Not that your hospitality is lacking in any way, Auggie, but it is not safe here."
"As if I didn't know that myself," Augusta huffed. "Eat your soup and stop fussing. We'll discuss things as soon as my lie-abed grandson and his girlfriend can show their faces."
Molly perked a brow at that and dutifully took another spoonful of soup. "Don't be too hard on the boy," she said, softly. "Dryads can be just as persuasive as succubae."
Augusta scowled. "Believe me, I know." She squinted at the doorway. "She's up and she's fine, the lot of you don't need to hang about there. Either come in or stay out."
A sheepish Seamus and a worried Ginny came streaking in from the doorway, a more sedate Dean shuffling in after them. They looked between the two witches, before Ginny was on her knees by her mother's side, searching that familiar face for any sign of distress.
"I'm fine, Ginny-girl," Molly made herself smile for her. The only child she currently had left. The one thing that Arthur had left her or rather, the one thing that Arthur hadn't been able to take.
"Oh Mum, I was so worried." Ginny clasped the proffered hand to her, feeling the calloused fingers and noting how cool they were. It made her frown, because her mother was seated right in front of the fire, eating hot soup—she could still see the steam from it—and yet, she looked as if not a wisp of that warmth had even registered.
"She'll be fine," Augusta said. She waved the two standing young men to a settee on the other side. "And we can leave as soon as you finish that soup."
Molly smiled, weakly.
"Where are we headed?" Dean folded his arms over his chest. He craved a place where he could have some privacy with Seamus and safety for the rest of their little group.
"You've heard of Nevarah?" Molly set her spoon down and gently reclaimed her hand from Ginny. She pushed the tray away from herself with a regretful smile. "It's lovely, Auggie, but I'm afraid—I need—I need to be home right now. I can't—you know what I need."
"Home is gone," Ginny said, slowly.
"Heard of it," Seamus said. "Always thought it was something of a legend though."
"Real legends are the things you don't hear about," Lavender stood in the doorway, finger-combing her pale brown strands. She looked content and sated, wearing clean robes—courtesy of the Longbottom house elves—and rather alive, compared to her earlier appearance. "Nevy, love, they're in here. Everyone's here."
Dean nearly choked at the endearment spoken in such a sweet tone of voice. Seamus elbowed him, even though a laugh threatened to escape as well. Ginny wrinkled her nose at the nickname and shifted her attention from her mother to the new pair.
Neville came striding through the door, two steaming cups of hot chocolate in hand, evidenced by the mountain of whipped topping floating on the surface and the chocolatey smell that filled the room. He passed one of the cups to Lavender and crossed the room to greet his Gran with a murmur, a kiss and a whisper of a message from one of the house elves.
Augusta accepted the greeting, shaking her head to his answered question and then waving them to a seat of their own. "Molly was about to announce our new destination." She eyed her friend for a moment, then called a house elf to take away the food tray. "Nevarah, as you children should have heard or learned at some point or another, due to your creature heritage, is a nevermore realm where many creature kind and hybrid creatures, magical and otherwise, live in harmony."
Lavender waited until Neville had seated himself on the floor beside his Gran, then moved over to sit, bracing against him for support. He smiled indulgently at her, a half-sad smile on his face, as he shifted his cup to the other hand and let his newly freed hand rest on her shoulder. She made no acknowledgement of it, but she didn't brush him away either.
"When you say other creatures, what exactly do you mean?" Ginny asked, tentatively. "I mean, until—recently—I didn't know that I was—that I could be, I mean, I didn't." She couldn't look at her mother. Things had been a mess since that day at the Burrow and she didn't know if they would ever be the same again, much less if she would ever see her father or her siblings in the future.
Augusta gave her a pitying look, settling back in her chair, her hands picking at the knitted blanket thrown over her lap. "When I say other creatures, I mean everything, child. Everything from were-creatures, vampires, Succubae, Dryads, Elves, Fae of all kinds, the very hounds of hell, spirits from every plane and dragons." A flicker of fire showed in her soft brown eyes. "Definitely dragons. I will leave the explanation of dragel and what you are, to your mother, I would never take that from her," she directed the last phrase to Molly, who gave a weak smile of understanding. "Suffice it to say that dragels are elemental dragons. They are part creature and part magic. They require an open mind and a tremendous amount of respect, I expect you all to retain as much." She turned just as a house elf popped up at her elbow. "Is it ready?"
"Whenever youse is ready, Madam Augusta." The house elf bobbed his head.
"We will be there, directly." Augusta began to fold the blanket on her lap. The house elf popped away. "You are all smart enough to know why we are heading there, so I won't insult you by explaining it."
"It's Dumbledore, isn't it?" Ginny said. There was a glint in her hazel eyes. She was not happy at the way things had fallen apart and she was even more upset to see the way it was affecting her mother.
Augusta regarded her silently for a moment, then gave a single nod. "Yes. That blathering old fool has dug his own grave." She rose from the chair with an audible groan and a pained grimace. "My roots are stirring, come. We must leave quickly. You came in search of a sanctuary I can best offer elsewhere. The sooner we are out of this world, the safer we all will be and perhaps there will be more time to explain."
"What is Nevarah like?" Lavender yawned, allowing Neville to help her to her feet. "I mean, I've heard of it, and Mum's spoken of—places—but, is there anything—what will we do when we're there? I don't know anyone and I—well," she stopped, looking at Neville, seriously. "I suppose that's not quite a problem anymore, now is it?"
"Indeed, young lady," Augusta said. "Indeed. Come along." She moved to help Molly stand, with Ginny's help. They each supported the witch with an arm around the waist, holding her up as best as they could. "We will talk more when we've reached or rather, while we travel. Just not here."
"Thanks for taking us with you," Seamus piped up.
August half-smiled. "I could no more leave you than leave my Neville," she said, softly. "Come now. Quickly." She led them out in the back gardens and towards a giant, clear blue pool that shimmered and glittered in the sunlight. They walked until they reached the water's edge and then she stretched one skinny leg to the watery surface.
The ground shook as she left Molly to be supported by Ginny and Neville, standing knee-deep in the pristine pond. The same creaking groan that had left her lips upon rising from her chair, now seemed to be coming from the very earth itself. The water rippled and shook as Augusta lost some of her age and gained a bit more life in her eyes. "When the pool begins to swirl, you must turn around and back into the water. Keep your eyes on me." She warned. "Do not look anywhere else, lest you find yourself in a place where I am not welcome, I am your key and this is the lock." The water began to churn, steadily growing swifter into an active whirlpool. "It will not hurt you. You will be safe."
"Let me be first," Molly volunteered. Waterways were her least favorite method of transportation, considering her fire element, but she had no choice in the matter and she knew she could not stay in the wizarding world much longer. Her magic, her nameless talent of family magic, had been heavily tied to her precious family and now, without her boys, without Arthur, it was crumbling. She needed the next best anchor, a member of her dragel family. "I have traveled this way before and I can help them as they arrive."
"Mum, you're not-!" Ginny started to say, a flicker of fear in her eyes. This was all too new and too confusing and for the first time, the reality of a war, Voldemort and pain, was becoming a bit too clear to her.
"Shh." Molly soothed. "I will not disappear. I will be waiting for you." She lifted her gaze to encompass all of the young men and women. "All of you. Listen to Lady Longbottom and hold your breath before you walk under." As if to demonstrate, she sucked in a deep breath and waded out into the water, heading for the whirlpool.
A/N: HAPPY TWO YEAR ANNIVERSARY OF TBDH! I really appreciate all the wonderful reviews, comments, suggestions and support for this monster of a fic for the past two years. Thank you SO much! This is another monster chapter of 20k, so read slowly or go back and reread it to make sure you follow everything. There's Charlie and Ebony's mentor ceremony and then the whole Harry's Merrow Spell removal, as far as the important points go. Next chapter should have the dispatch of Hunters to find Harry's missing mentor, maybe a glimse at either the WW or Hermione and more Harry. Stay tuned for courting fun and a touch of romance. ~Scion
REVIEW RESPONSES are in the FORUM for Ch 87 will probably be done by tomorrow night, if I don't finish them after dinner today. Copy and paste to get there, click on the appropriate chapter number and scroll down to find your review and my reply. Replace the (heresadot) with actual dots as FF eats all urls. Live link is on my profile.
STATE OF CHARACTERS:
Theo-(with Charlie, Harry and Deveraines)
Charlie-(with Theo, Harry and Deveraines)
Harry-(with Theo, Charlie and Deveraines)
Deveraine Circle members-(Bahn, Delani, Ilsa and Greta-with Harry and Co. All others are off doing their own thing.)