Yoncey Fosch was a cunning man. A fee – or a Dhiultadh – a half one, since his mother had been a notorious earth witch. He was a man of many qualities, excellent attributes. He was ridiculously rich, having had centuries upon centuries of accumulated wealth bestowed upon him by his grandfather, his father, and his late mother. He was ridiculously handsome, having inherited both the charms of his pure-blooded father and his beautiful gypsy mother. He had dark hair that brushed soft waves about his shoulders, dark eyes surrounded by thick lashes that gave him a dreamy, romantic look, a poet’s nose, and a sculpted mouth. He was tall, broad, sharp. He was an undefeatable sword master; remarkably accurate with a crossbow; the clan’s champion with an arc and arrow, having won fifty archery competitions in the past two decades. He was a master in martial arts, being the head sensei for the scions in his clan. He was even handy with the more modern weapons, though he had no taste for guns.
From his earth witch mother, he had inherited the ability to power runes, sigils, glyphs. He learned to control them, to imbue them on living and dead things, to keep them hidden from clever eyes, though this tidbit was never shared with a soul but his mother. From his father he learned to hunt, to shift, to fly, to rule. His wisdom came both from his parents and the long life he had led. All in all, Yoncey Fosch not only was a blessed being and a production of good genes, but a power to be reckoned with.
He had a younger sister no one remembered, and whose circumstance had kept him away from, a half brother and a half sister from his father’s side, along with a stepsister – from his father’s third marriage – and a half aunt from his mother’s side, though this particular juicy detail wasn’t common knowledge.
He was clan leader of the Unseelie Dhiultadh, where he ruled with an iron fist and a warm heart. He was loved by everyone and everything, including the trees and animals. One of the latter even had willingly bound himself to him, giving his master his loyal devotion, and at the end, his life.
He was a man of few words and many wisdoms, a charming charisma. But on that spring of 1822, Yoncey Fosch was anything but smart. On the contrary, he was a desperate man, a grieving man.
He moved briskly through the forbidden land, the Sidhe land, a man with an urgent agenda, a heavy heart and a frantic need. The trees, giant billowing things, rustled and whispered words he didn’t listen, didn’t care to hear. He had a purpose, a goal, a fool’s errand. Yes, he was aware of the horrendous mistake he was about to commit. But he had no other choice. Were his mother alive, he would never need such an atrocious favor.
The animals of this land knew him, recognized a native, though this was no longer his world. Two-headed creatures watched his progress curiously, rabbit-like hoppers moved along with him, their tales long, reptilian things that helped them jump to the high branches and move through the canopies with ease. His familiar, a young shadow he had fed a traitor once upon a time, stirred uneasily, unseen in his higher dimension. Fosch sensed it, wanted to reassure his long-time companion, but he too felt uneasy, sick to his stomach, even if he was determined to carry this mission through. A bird of disproportional size sang a surprisingly melodious song high above the green, quickly joined by other birds. Fosch barely paid attention, his eyes fixed on the clearing he could make up ahead. It was a secret meeting, a condition both parties had agreed upon. Already he could make out the silhouette of the man, standing in the middle of the clearing watching some unseen bird, or just the beautiful sky. The clearing, a place for peace counseling, was warded against dimensional hops, as safe as the Seelie castle itself from intruders or direct attacks.
Fosch emerged into the clearing with a sure step; a warrior leader confident of his place, aware that none of the anxiety and turmoil he felt showed through. The sky was a vivid blue bowl, like nothing he had seen anywhere in any of the worlds. Had it not been for the grim moment and the high fee royalty, standing with arms crossed a few feet away, Fosch would have stopped to admire the beauty of the sky and land.
He had come unarmed, also a condition, one he met with honor. He didn’t consider Gongo – his familiar – a weapon, but a friend, one he knew Oberon was aware of.
Fosch paused four feet away from the Seelie consort. Anything closer would be construed as an insult and Fosch hadn’t asked for this meeting to quarrel.
Oberon raised his arrogant chin at Fosch in acknowledgement. “Fosch.”
Fosch returned the chin raising. “Oberon.” Though the fee royalty looked like an ordinary man of medium size and average stature, Oberon was anything but. A truth that could be gleaned by the straight posture, the agile way he moved, the cunning in his deep brown eyes, if one cared to look. Or by the sword, for Oberon’s swordsmanship was beyond excellent. He was a champion among the best. Fosch had once sparred with him in a duel for the best swordsman, and hours later they had to call it off because both men had duties to attend.
“Let us walk.” Oberon motioned to the other end of the clearing before he turned and began moving toward the tree line, hands clasped behind his back like a tutoring teacher. Without a word, Fosch stepped beside him, shortening his steps to accommodate Oberon’s shorter ones. Both men strolled silently, their faces calm expressions. They looked like two colleagues taking a companionable walk through the woods.
They entered the woods once again, moved more than a mile through the peaceful, green twilight before emerging atop a gently, lazily sloping hill where the trees ended. Both men regarded the land like the finest of arts.
The grass under their feet was crisp and green, crunching underneath their weight. A lonely cloud hung up above, white and heavy, while the sun shone brightly, softly cooled by a fragrant breeze.
“Rosalinda passed away last night.” Fosch finally spoke, words of grief in a land of beauty and serenity. It almost felt like blasphemy, to mar the air with such words of sadness.
No doubt catching on the note of grief, Oberon tilted his head to the side, focused at a point far in the horizon. “A clan subject?” he asked. “Merely not just so.” He added in a speculative tone.
Rosalinda wasn’t just a member of the clan, she was the half aunt nobody could know, so Fosch merely shrugged, saying nothing. His mission would reveal more than he was comfortable revealing anyway.
A darting two-headed animal passed by them, close enough for Oberon to touch. Oberon followed the animal’s progress down the hill with his eyes, giving Fosch time to compose his request.
He was shorter than Fosch by at least a foot, leaner by at least fifty pounds, but lacked none of the presence and charisma.
“The plague?” Oberon prompted. Had it been any other Dhiultadh, Oberon would have walked away, considered his precious time not worth the Dhiultadh’s comfort. But Fosch was a man of his words, loyal and honest to a fault, considerate and yet a fearsome ruler; qualities not easily found. One or two, perhaps, but not all of them in one, as Oberon had witnessed many rulers who had once been loyal and fair becoming corrupt by their position of power. But Fosch had been a leader for many centuries now, and his good qualities remained. Had he not been a Dhiultadh, Oberon would have admired him. Furthermore, he was an excellent opponent, one Oberon enjoyed. If it weren’t for Fosch’s heritage, Oberon could have called him a friend. But he was a Dhiultadh, rejected from the Sidhe land, once half Seelie, half Unseelie. Or a quarter of each, since one half of him was an earth witch. Oberon had grieved over Fosch’s mother, Odra, and her tragic death, felt the loss of a good spirit pass by. He had offered his condolences, and his queen’s, in person to Fosch.
Fosch grunted his response to Oberon’s simple question. “Ay, the plague.” It was a mysterious disease, appearing so gradually that one didn’t even notice the symptoms until it was too late. A shiver, a scratch, a choking cough that cut off as abruptly as it started. A half hour of extra sleep, an extra glass of water. Then there was the rage. First just snappish remarks, then arguments that made no sense. Then the killing spree no one could calm without cutting the throat or – with his beloved Aunt Rosalinda’s case – the entire head.
So far, he had lost eleven members.
“Ah.” Oberon said, understanding all he needed from that single word. “You are sure?” he asked, glancing at Fosch for the first time to gauge his response.
“He slept in yesterday. Snapped mad when I asked about it.”
“Ah.” Oberon’s single word carried a world of understanding. Gerome Archer, Fosch’s half-brother.
Both men returned their gazes to the blue sky, contemplating what their few words meant in a bigger scheme.
“What is it you want?”
“The binding stones.”
Now Oberon turned to face him, his friendly brown eyes searching. “You wish to banish the plague?”
Fosch shrugged a shoulder. He was reaching, but he assumed he had to do something, and his year of research had brought forth no fruit. “The plague is a force, an external one. My mother has taught me enough to give me a rudimentary understanding of the binding stones.” A lie, a simple one, but Oberon didn’t need to know how much Fosch had been taught about the court’s ritualistic ways. “I will use it in reverse, bind his inner strength to him, banish whatever is left.”
Oberon was thoughtful for a few moments. Fosch let him be, knowing he’d have to convince him one way or the other. He’d give anything for a chance to save his younger brother, anything at all. Torture, a limb, servitude. He’d give his own life for any of his brothers, particularly Gerome, but his life was something he’d give to a number of people.
“The binding stones may or may not work.” Oberon finally cautioned.
Fosch let out a relieved sigh, though he was in no way in position of the stones yet. “It is the only choice I have at the moment. I welcome any suggestions.”
“I have none. My people suffer no mortal disease.” It was a condescending rebuke, one given without mockery or derision. Oberon studied Fosch’s face a moment, the strong set of his jaws, the clear, steady gaze, saw no uncertainty in his eyes, hadn’t expected any. “There will be a price, Yoncey Fosch, son of Dhiultadh Bran Fosch. Are you willing to pay?”
Though his stomach jumped in agitated anxiety, Fosch nodded once. It went against his better judgment, all he was, to bargain with a royal fee, with Queen Titania’s consort no less.
“Then, Dhiultadh Yoncey Fosch, we will meet again in the stone circle – when the sun touches the horizon with gold and red hues.” Both men glanced up at the sky, the sun already making a slow descent to the other side. Fosch calculated a few hours at best.
Without a word, both men turned in different directions. Now, Fosch had to go pour over his mother’s journals and find the right sigils and glyphs to use. Perhaps a few runes to ground the work. Even if he already had an idea of the ritual he was going to perform, the herbs he would need, the roots he would pick, he would go read his mother’s vast journals once more, make sure he wouldn’t be missing a step, or adding an unnecessary one.
By god, he vowed to himself, he would do this right, no matter what it cost him.