Authors: Tera Lynn Childs
Cathair followed, relieved to have soft, moss-covered stone beneath his feet instead of jagged forest underbrush. The moist earthiness soothed his tender
“Have a fun night watching your girlfriend?” Peter asked.
“She is not my—” Cathair caught himself. He should not say too much within earshot of other fae. He whispered, “Keep your tongue, friend, or I shall keep
it for you.”
Peter laughed. “Your secret is safe,” he promised, not cowed by Cathair’s threat. “Not many ventured out tonight. None from the Moraine.”
The sanctuary was a neutral territory, a safe haven shared by all the unseelie fae, guarded by a small but loyal force of neutral seers. The seelie fae had
their own secret sanctuary rumored to be in the forest far to the north, but dark fae from every unseelie clan passed their
here, in this
Though they might be enemies beyond the boundaries, the sanctuary was a sacred place of truce and safety. Any clan that brought bloodshed to the sanctuary
would be declaring war against all other unseelie clans. That was not a war any clan could survive.
They emerged into the valley, a broad expanse of green grass, shaded glades, and a creek-fed lake. If he could not be with
, then Cathair would
choose this place over any other. While human emotion fed his magic, nature fed his soul.
“Why did you head back here?” Peter asked as they walked to a small cabin where the seer guard kept provisions. “Isn’t the veil closer?”
Inside, the cabin was less than impressive. A single room that served basic functions. The front corner acted as a kitchen, with a pantry cupboard and a
counter with a shallow sink. A bed and dresser filled the far wall. In between sat a small wooden table surrounded by four chairs.
“The veil is closer,” Cathair agreed, crossing to the cupboard and taking out a jar of sweet meade. The difficult journey had left him parched. “But I
could not risk having to explain to my mother why I was not in the sanctuary when the magic fell.”
“She’s a tough one, your queen,” Peter agreed.
Cathair threw back a long draught of the honey-flavored liquid. “If I had been thinking clearly, I would have remembered it was Midsummer’s Eve.”
“Females have a way of muddying a man’s thoughts.”
Cathair raised his jar as a toast and then tossed back the rest of the contents.
He wished he knew why this human girl called to him so deeply. He had seen others, and none had affected him in this way. And he had no lack of fae
girls—from humblest maid to highest princess—seeking his affections. His clan might be weak and dying, but a dark prince was a dark prince, and a rare
thing at that.
“At least I won’t have to lie to your mum this month,” Peter said. “Can tell her true enough that you visited the sanctuary.”
Cathair rolled his eyes at his friend. “She knows when you lie.”
Peter’s eyes twinkled as he replied, “Maybe she only knows the lies I allow her to see.”
The cabin door flew open on a fierce wind that whipped through the small space, toppling one of the empty chairs and knocking Peter off balance. Cathair
knew the source before she spoke a word.
“Perhaps I only admit to seeing the ones I choose to expose.”
Cathair could have laughed at the way Peter’s eyes widened as he spun and knelt on the floor. Head bowed, muttering to himself about getting caught
“Rise fool,” Queen Eimear said. “I have greater concerns than your impertinence.”
Something about the heaviness in his mother’s voice turned his blood to ice.
“There is news,” the queen said, sweeping into the cabin with her diaphanous robes swirling around her in a translucent cloud of inky purple cloth.
Ultan crept in behind her. Adviser to the crown for as long as Cathair could remember, Ultan embodied the model image of a dark fae. Long dark hair that
fell in thick strings past his shoulders. Dark olive skin. Pale lavender eyes that glowed against his skin’s dark backdrop. His powers were great, and he
used dark magic as others used simple spells. He stood second in power only to the queen herself.
He made Cathair nervous.
As Ultan followed the queen inside and closed the door behind them, Cathair felt every hair on the back of his neck stand at attention. It was not a sign
of respect. It was caution. And perhaps a little fear.
Cathair looked to Peter, wondering if his friend felt the same sense of growing dread. From the downcast gaze and slumped shoulders, Cathair had to assume
the feeling was not in his imagination.
Which possibly explained why Peter was doing his best to blend in with the rough wood wall of the cabin.
The queen led Cathair to a chair at the small wooden table.
“The Deachair have agreed to the alliance,” she declared, sweeping around the table to face him across the scarred wood surface.
Cathair’s spine stiffened and he forced himself to relax.
The Deachair, a gray clan like the Moraine—one that refused to kill for power—were scarcely better off. Uniting the two would make each stronger. Strong
enough to hold off their rivals for a while longer.
“It is about time,” Cathair replied. “Has the date been set?”
The queen nodded.
The dread spread from his stomach into the rest of his body. He had known this day would come, had been the one to push for the alliance in the first
place. But that was before. Before the magic slept, before the woman in the window saw him as himself. Before he knew the taste of her lips.
He shoved those selfish thoughts aside. He could not even consider putting his own desires before the safety and future of his clan. He had been born and
bred to rule. He took his duty and responsibility seriously.
“When?” he asked.
“You are certain this is the course you wish to pursue?” Ultan did not meet Cathair’s gaze. “There are other options. Other alliances with clans stronger
than the Deachair. The Murdach princess is of age and—“
“The Murdach princess is a child,” Cathair spat. “And the Murdach abandoned the
“And they are stronger for it,” Ultan argued.
Every muscle in his body clenched as Cathair snarled, “We will not ally with a clan that kills humans for power. No matter how strong such an alliance
would make us.”
Ultan leaned forward. “My prince, I beg you—“
“No,” the queen said, “the prince is right. That is not a concession we are willing to make.”
Cathair pushed to his feet. “When is my wedding?”
Ultan bowed his head. “You are to be joined to the Deachair princess on the next new moon.”
“Then it shall be done,” Cathair said.
He felt all air leave his lungs, felt the burning sting of acid as he struggled to suck in oxygen. He had known this day would come, had known he was
destined for such a political match. All that stood between him and marriage to the Deachair princess—between him and the alliance that would buy his
people some much-needed time—were a pair of ceremonies. A signing ceremony later today. A wedding ceremony on the next full moon.
He only hoped it would be enough to save his clan.
Winnie couldn’t fall asleep for hours. Sleeping would mean dreaming, and for the first time since Gran died, she didn’t want to dream.
Instead, she lay awake for most of the night, staring at the ceiling. There were seven cracks in the plaster and a water stain in the corner. She should
tell Maureen to call a handyman.
Finally, when she couldn’t fight the exhaustion any more, she drifted away.
The dream began with a somber ceremony. Several high ranking fae were involved, including the prince, the council, and about a dozen other royal fae and
their attendants. None of them looked particularly happy, though the prince kept a forced smile in place. It ended with the formal signing of a very long
roll of parchment.
Winnie couldn’t tell what the ceremony had been about, and she didn’t really care, because after that, her dream followed the prince up a seemingly-endless
spiral of stairs and out onto the roof of the castle. He walked to the edge and stared out at the night.
He seemed so… lost.
Something in him called to her, and she felt herself reaching out into the dream. She was no longer fully dreaming, but not fully awake either. In this
nebulous state she could alter the dream.
in the dream.
That never happened before. For several long seconds she just stood there, knowing she was no longer just an observer but not wanting to prove the feeling
wrong. As if he sensed her presence, the prince turned.
When his golden eyes looked directly at her, it sent a jolt of electricity through her body. He could see her. He could
The realm around her—the stone beneath her feet, the starry sky above—faded from her mental image as the high prince walked over to her and lifted a hand
to her cheek.
“How are you here?” he asked.
She shook her head. She didn’t know and, honestly, didn’t care.
“What is your name?”
“Winnie.” How was this even possible? “Winnie Price.”
“I am Cathair—“
“O Cuana,” she finished. “I know.”
He frowned, looked like he wanted to ask another question.
Instead, his graze lowered. He traced his fingertips over her lips. When he moved closer, she stopped breathing. She leaned forward, her mouth parted
In an instant, she was awake, wide-eyed and staring at the ceiling again while her pulse throbbed in her ears. It had felt so close, so real. What if it
wasn’t a dream at all?
But that had to be crazy. Right? Spending so much time in her fantasy world must have finally gotten to her. She'd spent years wishing she could live in
that realm all the time, so maybe her mind decided to take pity on her and hallucinate it into reality. Why else would she even think it might be
that her dreams were real? Why else would she even consider believing that an owl turned into a boy?
Except that it
real. She swore she could still feel the heat of his breath on her lips. Did that make her more insane or less?
The prince, though. The prince in her window. She couldn’t have imagined that, couldn’t have made up what it felt like to grab his arms, to touch his
kiss his lips
. It just wasn’t possible. Her one awkward kiss—delivered, like a cliché, at her first homecoming dance on an even more
awkward first date—could not have prepared her for what it felt like to kiss the prince. It felt like… magic.
She turned to check the clock on her nightstand. Still more than an hour from sunrise. Though her body probably needed more sleep, she wasn’t the least bit
drowsy. She couldn’t drag herself out of bed, either. Her limbs protested even the slightest movement. So she lay there, awake and confused.
She was a fraud. As an aspiring writer, she had always felt like one. She
her novels. She heard tales of professional, published authors
dreaming their stories, but she doubted any of them dreamed the tales as literally as Winnie did. She didn’t have to do any brainstorming or research or
plotting. It was too easy. While other writers slaved over outlines and index cards, coming up with turning points and plot twists, she simply napped and
came up with the next scene in her story.
It was bad enough when she’d believed the dreams to be a product of her imagination. At least she had thought they were hers.
But now she knew otherwise.
“They aren’t made up at all,” she whispered to the room.
The noise woke Nessa from her position at Winnie’s feet. The gray puff stood, stretched one way and another, and then made her way up the bed. She climbed
onto Winnie’s chest and stared into her eyes, nose-to-nose.
was ready to face the day.
With a sigh, Winnie lifted the cat off her chest and sat up.
“Don’t worry, Nessa,” she said, climbing out of the bed with the cat cradled in her arms. “I won’t let you starve just because I’m having a personal
Nessa meowed, probably in approval. She didn’t care much for starving.
On autopilot, Winnie tiptoed to the kitchen to fill the kitty bowl and then put on her morning tea—even though it was barely morning. Aunt Maureen had come
in late from catering the wedding, and Winnie didn’t want to wake her up. As she listened for the whistle of steam, she thought about the dreams.
The first ones came after her Gran’s death. She’d been twelve. The summer after sixth grade. Her entire life until that point, she’d never had a dream.
Everyone said she just couldn’t remember them. They told her to keep a notebook by the bed to write them down as soon as she woke up.
Until the night of Gran’s funeral, it had never worked.
That night, she’d had terrifying dream. A man—a fae, she later realized—with a single white streak in his inky black hair, had been imprisoned. Chained to
the wall in a dark, dank cell. Then a pair of guards had come for him. Even though she couldn’t hear his screams, she felt his terror.
She’d woken up in a cold sweat, afraid and confused.
At the time, she attributed it to the trauma of her Gran’s death. Grief did strange things to the brain. But then she dreamed again the next night. And the
night after that, and all the nights since. Even as her grief waned, the dreams continued.
The kettle whistled. Winnie pulled herself out of memory and poured steaming water into her mug. Not even the aroma of steeping tea could clear her
confused thoughts this morning. But with Nessa happily crunching on kibble and Maureen snoring softly in her bedroom, Winnie did what she always did on
quiet mornings. She went upstairs and wrote.
Cathair roughed a towel over his wet hair, as if scrubbing hard enough would wipe his mind clean. He had hoped the hot bath would ease the tension in his
neck and shoulders. Instead, it only gave his thoughts leave to wander.