It took Fosch a few months and about a dozen other rituals before he had purged the clan entirely from that cursed plague. It had come to be known that those who escaped the plague awoke in the morning exhausted and with three strange scars – which was true – or swore that an angel with huge feathery wings came at night to their windows and stared at them until they had been cured – which Fosch knew was not.
Only three members had died, and only because they had been too stubborn, or afraid to report the symptoms, making it too late to save them. Still, Fosch had tried, had to perform the mercy kills himself.
Those three he grieved for, but such was the way of life. There were those that lived too far for him to reach in time, even skipping dimensions – messages had to cross the ocean by ships, and when a message reached him, it was already too late.
There was also the outbreak in Siberia where the plague had killed eight members of the clan that Fosch had only heard about a few months later. He had grieved for those too. The Belochkin family had been a close acquaintance, but their deaths happened even before he had acquired the binding stones.
The clan was too big and too far out spread, he had often told the high council. They needed to split, form sub clans that responded to the head clan leader. He had, however, always been outvoted. It was only now whenever he performed the mercy kills that he hated he had been the one to suggest they vote for each major change.
Fosch kept the stones for an entire year after he’d done the last ritual before returning them to Oberon. Though he had no doubt the plague was over, if any of the members exhibited any signs of the plague, Oberon would return the binding stones to Fosch without any further demands.
“What does completion of the bargain entail?” Fosch asked Oberon, standing on the same spot where he had met him once two years past. The sky was still that vivid blue, the trees still lush and full, whispering rustling breezes behind them like the soothing caress of a beloved. The ground was as green as it could possibly be, full of crawling insects and unseen miniature life.
Oberon jiggled the pouch contemplatively, making the stones emit a surprisingly appealing sound. He took his time replying, though he had had two years to contemplate his asking price. It made the knots in Fosch’s stomach grow tighter, though his face remained passive. He had already taken steps to ensure the safety of the clan by renouncing his leadership, then made sure word travelled and reached far into the Sidhe land.
“Completion of the bargain . . . perhaps an offspring would be a fitting price.” Oberon mused, and Fosch’s stomach contents curdled. “A Dhiultadh, one strong enough to power the binding stones and still live to tell. It makes me wonder, what an offspring of yours and a Seelie would create.”
He hadn’t expected such a request, therefore, he hadn’t considered or rehearsed a convincing argument against it. A mistake, he realized now, since he was well aware of the difficulties the Sidhe faced to produce an offspring. His offspring would already have some fee blood, and a couple – maybe three generations later, that scion would be pure blooded enough to mate and produce one or two Seelie before infertility kicked in. A matter of fifty years, perhaps, and a few new Sidhe pure bloods would be created. And Fosch would be helping his enemy’s army grow. His clan would never forgive him, he thought now.
So he tried the truth, knowing Oberon had already made up his mind and there was nothing he could do about it.
“No Seelie would accept a coupling with a Dhiultadh, much less an Unseelie Dhiultadh.” Fosch pointed out reasonably.
“Nay, we would not.” Oberon agreed equably. “For that, you will produce an offspring that will be raised according to our rules and traditions, here in the Seelie land.”
Fosch’s jaws tightened, his hands wanted to fist.
“It is increasingly hard to produce an offspring. Surely, your highness, you know this.” For the Unseelie Dhiultadh, although blessed once with fertility, now faced difficulties to reproduce as well.
Oberon grunted. “You Dhiultadh are increasingly stubborn. Your better peers have not had such difficulties, for they are flexible creatures.”
Once, a long time ago, Verenastra, Titania’s daughter, met Madoc, the leader of the Unseelie court at that time, and produced with him an offspring, a daughter she named Oonagh.
Fosch’s clan were descendants of Oonagh, who had mated with no other than Finvarra, queen Maeve’s – now leader of the Unseelie – bastard child. When Madoc tried to kill Verenastra, she fled the Sidhe land and mated Tristan, the leader of the Tristan star. They bred and started a different line altogether, now called the Seelie Dhiultadh, or the Unseelie Dhiultadh’s ‘better kin’.
“Their blood is diluted.” Fosch argued without any heat. He had never been one to consider his cousin clan weaklings the way all the elders from his clan suggested, and once – during his father’s rein – he had dared to voice his opinion and almost gotten himself ostracized for it. After that particular incident had been straightened, Fosch stopped voicing his opinion, even when a debate arose – and they often did – and some of the elders aimed daring looks at him.
Yes, his mother had not been a Dhiultadh, but his parent’s marriage had been an unconventional arrangement, a way to strengthen the clan during a time of war, and even that hadn’t worked well. Fosch, the firstborn, was supposed to be a scion of the earth witch coven, but his father, the clan leader at that time had circumvented the agreement by declaring Fosch the next clan leader, which would subject Fosch’s first century to a rigorous life in training, making Fosch by default unfit for the earth witch clan.
A long, bloody feud had followed his father’s declaration, until his mother had produced another scion, Cora; a sister Fosch met only a handful of times and who now ruled over the dwindling coven. His parents were the only ‘permitted’ interspecies marriage, and not a single member of the clan protested when his ancestors, arrogant, backward leaders of the clan had decided that any interspecies marital relations would dilute their blood and decreed such thing a blasphemy. Of course, at the time of this decree, breeding hadn’t been an issue, but had in fact, been a blessing. A lot of his ancestors had more than half a dozen siblings; some even more than a dozen.
His cousin clan, the Seelie Dhiultadh on the other hand, bred more easily because of their flexibility and willingness to explore interspecies relationship, and even with this truth facing them like a bright star, the clan still refused to expand.
Fosch suspected that one day the clan would see reason – or be forced to see reason – when the Unseelie Dhiultadh number begin to dwindle into extinction.
Oberon waved a hand dismissively before placing his hands behind his back. “We talk not of the Tristan clan. An offspring is my bargaining price, Yoncey Fosch, son of Dhiultadh Bran Fosch.”
Fosch inclined his head in agreement, though his insides screamed in denial.
“But I will ease the choice for you. I want a half human scion, to breed four royals for my queen.”
Astonished, Fosch turned to him. “For you? An offspring of mine and a human for you?”
Oberon tilted his head upward, his brown eyes scrutinizing Fosch sharply. “It offends you.”
Fosch shrugged. Fulfilling his side of the bargain didn’t mean he had to like it.
Unperturbed, Oberon returned his gaze to the land before he spoke again. Though both his stance and Fosch’s were relaxed, tense energy began crackling around them. “To answer your question, not for me, nay. But I will let you know the third generation of this offspring will be Seelie enough for my queen.”
Ah, Fosch thought. A human hybrid, easy enough to produce. It, the human hybrid, would already be part fee. And it would produce four offspring’s. Each would mate and produce as many as they were able, increasing the Sidhe genes. And those would produce as many as they could. And once Queen Titania deemed them Seelie enough, she would choose the ones that showed promise, pair them with her best.
And the Seelie army would grow, Fosch thought, god knew by how many.
“For how long?” Fosch asked.
“The scion will be born and raised at court. You are allowed to visit and be presented as the sire, if you so wish. Once the four offsprings are produced, the scion can leave with you, or return to the mortal realm.”
Fosch was quiet for a long time, contemplating the asking price for his brother’s life, along with a dozen others. He found that he didn’t regret his deed, the bargain, even the asking price. No, what stuck in his craw was the human part.
He didn’t like humans, never made it a secret. Could even be why Oberon specified the human hybrid, Fosch mused.
He’d have no trouble handing over the scion, wouldn’t want to present himself as the sire.
A human hybrid. Nothing but an abomination. Easy enough to hand over, Fosch repeated to himself. To reproduce four times, it would have to be female, so any male offspring would be disregarded.
Oh, it was true that the difficulties of the Dhiultadh’s to breed extended as far as their avoidance to mate outside the clan, like their cousin clan had done long ago. Not that his cousin clan endured human hybrids, no, not at all. Even they didn’t stoop so low as to breed with a human. Yes, human hybrids were very easy to come by. In fact, it would be more troublesome to procure a worthy human to carry on his seed.
“I will need to find a suitable vessel for my seed.” Fosch finally said.
Oberon inclined his head and started moving away. Business concluded. He hoped his first offspring was female so he wouldn’t need to produce more than one, and that this female would produce four male offsprings so that Oberon wouldn’t be able to breed an army out of them.
In any case, Fosch thought gloomily, what was he supposed to do with a human hybrid after that? The clan would have no use for it, would in fact, make that scion’s life a misery of ridicule and humiliation.
Fosch paused in the forest, his head cocked to the side as if listening to some inner thought. Gongo appeared by his side, his faithful companion, still the size of a child even if he was already three hundred and fifty-six years old.
Fosch met the understanding in the shell shaped eyes of his familiar. We never agreed upon a date, he thought to his familiar, who crouched beside him.
“No, master,” it hissed in a deep, barrel tone.
Fosch laughed then, a long, booming sound that echoed around and spooked the exotic birds into flight.
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