Nectan stood by the fence, the night settling around him in small whispers of sounds: the low breath of the horses in the paddock in front of him, a roosting chicken muttering in the trees.
The settlement was shut tight against the night, against the wolves and the bears and the spirits that wandered, unmoored by darkness.
Against the Sidhe. A smile touched his face at the thought. His own kind, unseen and hidden among the humans. The Fey were among them, part of their families. It was too late to shut them out.
He took a deep breath, wanting the peace of the night to fill him, trying to shake off the unease that the dream had given him. But it was no use. His jaw clenched, remembering the figure he had seen: a Fey, shining with power, with the shadow of destruction clinging to him like a shroud. And over all, the sense of his own helplessness, the feeling that he would not be good enough to prevail.
Beside him, Eru shook her wings out and squawked softly. Nectan soothed her with a quick stroke, her feathers silky under his hand. She hopped closer to him, settling her wings in place once more. Her eyes reflected the starlight, black orbs like the bowl of the sky above.
The falcon sensed his discomfort, sensitive as always to his moods. With an effort he shook off his foreboding, willing himself to consider what this dream might mean. It was the second time he had dreamed it in as many weeks. A sign, to be sure.
A soft footfall from behind, accompanied by the tingling sense of one of his own, disturbed his meditation. He turned, and saw the glimmering form of his Speaker, and cousin, approaching. “Domech,” he said, in greeting.
“My lord King,” his cousin replied, his head dipping in a brief nod. He stopped beside him, his eyes searching Nectan’s. “All is well?”
Nectan could not help the wry smile that tipped one side of his mouth up. His cousin and he were closer than brothers, and their Speaking Gift made them more so. “Ye know it’s not.”
“Aye,” Domech acknowledged, a smile ghosting over his face, and fading. “I know it.”
Nectan looked up at the stars above, wheeling in their courses. “Does God give us our dreams, d’ye think?”
Domech snorted. “The dreams of a Fey are our own.”
Nectan looked back at him. “Indeed. But have you no thought, a time or two, that God directs the ways of the Fey as He does the humans?”
Domech half shrugged, discomfort flashing over his face.
Nectan understood his unease. It was a dangerous topic, and one he would not broach except that this night held them in its cocoon, their secrets safe within it.
“God directs all, or so the monks say,” his cousin replied.
“Ah. The monks.”
Silence fell between them, pregnant with words they dare not say.
Finally Domech sighed. “Tell me your dream then, if confession is what ye seek, for there’s no priest to hear it, and none that would understand if he did.”
Nectan understood the faint disdain that coloured the other Fey’s words. It was the disdain all the Fey felt for the humans, their ancient enemies with whom they shared an uneasy peace.
Who, truth be told, would kill them if they had half the chance, and with God’s blessing, besides.
He took a breath, dismissing all thoughts of God and the humans. It was a reflection for another time, another night. “A Fey, strong in power, and it filling him up like water fills a bowl. Such a Fey as I havna seen but a few times in my life. But for all his power, he was uncertain—afraid, I think.” Nectan paused, steeling himself to tell the rest. “It wasna just the power, or the fear that marked him. I looked at him and saw destruction, the fate of us all hanging in the balance. A foreboding as strong as I have ever had.”
He kept to himself the feeling of inadequacy that had coloured the dream. That burden only he would bear. A King must be strong in the eyes of his people.
Domech sucked in a breath. “Who was it?”
Nectan shook his head. “I couldna see. His face was darkened, shadowed. I just saw him walking, the mist clinging to him, purpose in every step. He was alone.”
“But do ye know him, d’ye think?”
Nectan considered the question. He hadn’t thought of that. Did he know him? He closed his eyes, forcing himself to recall the dream, pushing through the hollow feeling in the pit of his stomach that the memory brought.
His eyes snapped open. “Aye. I did. I saw him, and I knew him. In the dream, he was familiar.”
“In the dream,” Domech echoed. “But not now.”
Nectan shook his head. “Nay.”
Domech straightened his shoulders, his eyes resolute. “Then he is coming,” he said. “We have time, yet, to prepare.”
Nectan saw his cousin’s resolve, and clapped him on the shoulder, suddenly light at heart. Eu flapped her wings, squawking again. “Aye, indeed. A warning, to be heeded.” He thought for a moment. “We must watch, Domech. Put out the word. Any unknown Fey that the Seelies are aware of, I must know, right away.”
Domech nodded. “And if he comes to the Unseelies, first?”
Nectan frowned, considering. “Well, then, we will do what we must. Perhaps Raegenold has been given the same dream.”
The mention of their half-cousin, the Unseelie King of the North, caused Domech’s mouth to thin. “Perhaps, my lord King. I will use what ears I have in that Court.”
Nectan nodded, and they turned and walked back to the settlement, the small houses huddling close together under the indifferent stars.