Authors: Jennifer Armintrout
Tags: #American Light Romantic Fiction, #Romance - Paranormal, #Fantasy - General, #American Science Fiction And Fantasy, #Fantasy, #Fantasy fiction, #Fairies, #Contemporary, #Fiction - Fantasy, #General, #Romance, #Science Fiction, #Occult fiction, #Fiction, #Love stories, #Fantasy - Contemporary, #Paranormal
CHILD OF DARKNESS
A LIGHTWORLD/DARKWORLD NOVEL
O n the night she was born, the Palace rejoiced.
But her mother did not.
Lying in her bed, the infant tucked closely to her side, Ayla despaired. Protect her, the Goddess had said. It had been so easy when the child had been a part of her. Now, she was a part of the world, a world that was more cruel and difficult than one of her race should have to face. Protecting her would not be as simple now.
The child was perfect, though more Human in appearance than even her mother. Faery babes were born pale, tinged with green, and spindly like the roots of a plant. This child was plump and pink, with a shock of flame-orange hair sprouting in tufts from her head. Two feathered, black wings were tucked against her small back, and they stirred as she slept, as though she dreamed of a day when she could use them.
The door to the Queene’s chambers opened to admit the child’s father. Malachi, once divine, now mortal. He approached carefully, as though afraid to see what lay beside Ayla in the bed.
“She is…whole?” He had voiced his fears to Ayla only once, late at night, when he’d recounted for her the sights of the pitiful children he’d had to escort to Aether, the domain of the Angels on Earth. He had been afraid that the child would be malformed, as a punishment for his fall.
It relieved Ayla that she was able to show him how foolish that fear had been. “She is whole.” She hesitated. “But her wings…they are the same as yours. Everyone will know she is not Garret’s child.”
Emboldened by the news that his child was not deformed as a consequence of his actions, he came forward to see her. “I am glad they will know. I would not care if that traitor’s name was never uttered in the Palace again.”
Ayla stroked the downy skin between her daughter’s wings. “No. No one must ever know. To keep her safe.”
“It would be safer for her to be thought of as a bastard,” he argued, and Ayla could not be surprised. She’d thought of it, herself.
“It would be. She would never be Queene, and so, she would never be a target for an Assassin’s blade. As heir to my throne, she will be,” Ayla mused aloud, as if thinking of it for the first time. “But if she were revealed to be a bastard, her inheritance of my throne might be compromised.”
“Your throne,” Malachi repeated. The words sounded like poison he needed to spit from his mouth.
Ayla did not bristle, as she used to. Over the months since her coronation, it had become clearer and clearer to her that while Malachi loved her and would stay at her side in the Lightworld, he hated the Faery Court. She’d feared, for a time, that it was her he hated, that he stayed in the Lightworld simply because he had nowhere else to go. But she had resolved to tolerate it, because she’d caused him to lose his immortality, and the kind Human who’d saved his life had died because of her.
It had only been when Cedric, her closest advisor, had politely suggested the real reason for Malachi’s hatred of her position—that it kept her from him, in all but the physical sense—
that it had become clear. And now, she felt foolish at the mere memory of those fears.
“I do not worry for myself. Or, perhaps I do. If the child is known to not be Garret’s, those who wished to remove me from the Court could use it against me. If I were officially declared a traitor, think of what might happen to her.” Speaking of death aloud, in this room where Queene Mabb had fallen under Garret’s hand, sent a ripple of apprehension through her, as if her own death brushed over her on its way to the future. “No, it would be safer for her to be thought of as the heir to the throne, and endangered in that way, than to be cast on the mercy of the Court and be subject to their machinations.”
She pulled the blanket over the child—her daughter, how strange to think those words!—so that her form was obscured. “Bring Cedric. I need his counsel.”
Malachi’s fists clenched at his sides. She knew his feelings for her advisor. Malachi wished to be the closest to her, in every way. And he was, in most ways, though he would not believe it no matter how many times she reassured him. But Cedric knew the Lightworld as no one else did, not even Flidais or the other members of the council, and Ayla called on him when a problem seemed too large or complicated to solve on her own. It was impossible to convince Malachi that she did not view his inexperience with Lightworld politics as a lack of ability. He did not argue and, with a last, longing look at his child, turned and left. He returned with Cedric quickly; no doubt both men had waited in the antechamber beyond for the child’s arrival.
When the door was shut, Ayla pulled back the covers to reveal the tiny babe at her side. She studied Cedric’s expression carefully, but he gave nothing away.
“She is perfect, Your Majesty. You both should be very proud that your union resulted in such a beautiful child.” His tone was schooled through years of politics; he never missed a step by disclosing something too soon. “Have you a name for her?”
“Cerridwen,” Ayla answered, though she had not thought of it until now. “After that face of the Goddess.”
“It is a strong name,” Cedric said with a Courtly bow. “The Royal Heir, Cerridwen.”
“It is a mockery of the true God,” Malachi put in, but without malice. He often made such pronouncements, without feeling, betraying that he had once been a creature without emotion or will, completely subservient to the One God of the Humans.
Ayla ignored him, choosing instead to press on with her advisor. “And what of her appearance. Do you not see anything odd, Cedric?”
As if freed of some invisible bond, Cedric spoke in earnest now. “She appears to be Human. That is explained away easily enough, as you are half Human yourself. Plus, most Fae have little experience with young of their own species to tell the difference readily, especially from a distance. But her wings, Your Majesty. There are already rumors that you will make Malachi your Royal Consort. If she is seen to have such a similar feature as him, especially one that is so unlike anything born to the Fae…No doubt you’ve thought of this already.”
“She has,” Malachi said, coming to sit on the bed beside Ayla, as if he could no longer stand the separation. “And we have decided that it is in the best interest of the child that no one discover her true parentage.” He leveled his gaze at Ayla, and the sudden sorrow in his eyes jolted her. “Not even the child should know, lest she let the information loose by mistake.”
“That is wise, Malachi,” Cedric acknowledged with a nod of his head. “However, it is not practical to keep the girl locked away forever. The Court will question her absence at royal functions. Her existence might even be called into question. Even if hiding her was possible, she will have to be attended by servants, and servants do talk.”
Ayla waved a hand to stop him. She was tired, and wished to be alone with her child on this first night of its life, without the nagging fear that so much was left to do. “I agree with you. We cannot hide her away. As for the servants, I will leave that to your discretion. You know which servants in the Palace can be trusted, not only to keep her secret, but to care for her as she deserves.” She tapped one finger on her lips, as if considering, though her mind was already made up on the next matter. “I believe I shall enact a new law. All Faeries at Court shall bind and cover their wings. In homage to Mabb, of course, who always hid her own. The anniversary of her death is only a few weeks away. Surely we can keep Cerridwen hidden until then?”
Cedric did not respond immediately, and he looked as though he worked over the problem of what to say to her in his mind. “I do not believe Your Majesty has thought of all the implications such a declaration will entail. There will be those who resist.”
“And they shall be turned away from Court until they comply with my wishes. This is not unheard of. Mabb often used such tactics,” Ayla answered quickly.
“With respect to Mabb—” and Cedric did not need to assure her of his genuineness in this respect “—do you truly wish to be seen as her equal in the eyes of your subjects?”
“My subjects clamor to be Human, though they don’t admit it.” She thought of the words of the Goddess, who’d delivered her from death, who’d revealed Ayla’s purpose to her in the barren in-between of the healing Astral plane. Nearly struck down by Garret’s ax, she had been spared to rescue the Fae from their obsession with Humanity, an obsession that the Goddess had blamed for destroying the Veil. An obsession that the exiled Fae races did not even see. Was such a proclamation, to dress in such a way as to appear more Human, a violation of the charge given to her by the Goddess?
No, it was for the greater good of her race. It was buying time for her tiny daughter. She continued, “This will allow them to indulge their sick fantasy of mortality. I do not believe there will be so many protesters as you imagine.”
Cedric did not argue, though whether he was in agreement or simply did not wish to pursue it further, Ayla could not tell. “I will make a pronouncement on the anniversary of Mabb’s assassination. In that time, you may keep the child’s wings disguised easily, and perhaps the Court will not link her birth as the cause for the new law.”
“They will. And they will think she is deformed,” Malachi said bitterly. “But if it is to protect the life of my child, I will bear it.”
“You would bear it, no matter the cause,” Ayla snapped, and she knew then that she was too tired, from the birth and from the meeting that had followed, to be reasonable any longer.
“Thank you, Cedric. You may go and announce the birth of the Royal Heir, noting, of course, that she will be presented to all in a few weeks, when she’s of an appropriate age.”
“It would be my greatest honor, Your Majesty,” he said, bowing low before exiting her chambers.
Malachi stayed at her side, looking longingly at his daughter. As though Ayla were not there to hear it, as though it were meant for no one but himself and the child, “It is for the best,” he said quietly.
Her heart tore for him, but Ayla knew he was correct. Though it would pain him every day, disclosing the truth about her parentage would only harm Cerridwen. The babe stirred, rustling her black feathered wings. A small, angry sound issued from her lips, but hushed as she drifted into sleep once more.
As they watched, awed by the mere presence of their daughter, Ayla found she was not as tired as she had thought. In fact, she felt she could study her child endlessly.
I t was easy to slip from the Palace unnoticed, when you knew exactly what to do. A mistake could get you returned to precisely where you did not wish to be—confinement, boredom, the duties of a Royal Heir—but she’d learned from her mistakes in the past. Now, it was nothing at all to duck her governess and gain her freedom.
It was especially easy on this night, when so many Faeries poured in through the Palace gates that the guards would not concern themselves with the ones going out. And this was why Cerridwen did not object to yet another royal party. She’d complained on the surface, just enough so that her compliance would not arouse suspicion. And her governess had dressed her hair and helped her into her gown, all the while ignoring the expected grumbling and protesting that she had become so used to over the past twenty years. Twenty years. Really. Who still had a nursemaid at twenty years old? Not even the Humans kept their children as children for that long!
Twenty years, this night, and a party to celebrate it. A party to celebrate one more year that the Royal Heir was not dead. What importance was an heir, really, in a race that did not die, or, at least, did not die naturally? There would be another party like it, and another, and another, always with the same Faeries, always in the same, boring pattern. A feast, then dancing, and conversation with the few faeries she was allowed to know, all of her mother’s friends and advisors. How many evenings of her life had already been wasted in awkward chatter with Cedric, her mother’s faithful lapdog, who never said or did anything interesting, lest he offend Her Majesty? Or Malachi, who glowered and stared in the most uncomfortable way, who, it was rumored, was not even a quarter Fae, but was kept because of some bizarre devotion to her mother?