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A Fate So Cruel

PSA: This is the unedited chapter 1 title promised for reaching 100 preorders. Enjoy!

Chapter 1

The steady, loud drumming of a woodpecker stirred Rion from a dreamless sleep. Gooseflesh rose on his arms and the brisk air in the small cabin room stung his cheeks. His nose was already numb.

He curled in on himself, hiding beneath the warmth of piled blankets that smelled of cedarwood and lavender.

Finches sang outside the window and he heard their little feet scrape against wood as they leapt between branches and onto the feeder his mother had put out last night. A cardinal called from above. Another answered in the distance.

Rion shifted the blanket so his ear poked out despite the cold. His mother had taught him to listen. To identify the birds and plants and all the animals that roamed the forest. From the tiniest insect to the great mountain cats. He liked to make her proud. 

Rion finally cracked one eye open and found that she’d drapped another blanket over his thick comforter. It smelled like her.

He listened beyond the bird’s excited chatter and shifted his attention inside.

Pay attention, his mother always said. Listen. Know what’s in a room before you ever set foot in it. Sometimes Rion felt those lessons were more important than his schooling. She always praised him when he got things right.

Rion listened now. He pulled his head out from beneath the covers and rested it on the soft down pillow. His breath clouded slightly in the air before him, but Rion closed his eyes again, concentrating on the living room just beyond his door.

A fire crackled in the large hearth and a slight clink of a glass told Rion his mother was awake. Hers was the only heartbeat in the house. Which meant the others had left without him. Again.

His father always said Rion was too young to accompany their morning training sessions. Rion had begged Saoirse to try and change their father’s mind, but she always gave him a playful smile. He knew what that smile meant. Their father’s mind was a fortress that couldn’t be changed by anyone save for their mother.

Rion rubbed the sleep from his eyes and sat up. The cool air hit his back and he shivered again. The sun had barely risen and still hadn’t quite crested the treeline.

Another clink of glass from the living room told Rion his mother knew he was awake, and that she was pouring a steaming cup of her favorite tea just for him.

She always knew. He pursed his lips. He’d never succeeded in sneaking up on any of them. Maybe he’d be able to once he got his magic. Maybe then they wouldn’t treat him like such a little kid.

Rion slid from the bed with the blanket still tucked around his shoulders and hissed at the cold floor beneath his feet. His mother had told him to bring his slippers in last night and he hadn’t listened. He was regretting it, just like she said he would.

The door creaked as he opened it and his mother turned at the sound. Her bright smile greeted him, as it did every morning.

She set the steaming mug back on the counter and bent with open arms. Rion ran into them and she scooped him up as if he were as light as a feather.

He was seven now. Too old, his father said, to be coddled the way she did. But his mother didn’t listen to their father. She was probably the only Fae in all of Brónach who got away without listening to the High Lord.

His mother just held him and stared out the large window that overlooked the snow covered land. Rion tilted his head to look with her. A fox played in the distance and after a few minutes, he watched another join it. Not Fae, but animals enjoying the winter snow before spring came to melt it all away.

His mother said this would likely be the last bit of snow they’d see for the year. He didn’t mind. He didn’t hate the snow, but winter prevented him from swimming in the nearby lake. He couldn’t wait for summer.

Rion buried his head back into her shoulder and listened to her steady heartbeat. Her hair tickled his nose. Red, just like his. And beautiful. It flowed past her waist. At home, she always had it tied up around her head, but out here, while they visited the vacation house, she let it hang down in soft waves.

His father liked it too. Rion often caught the male running his fingers through it. It was only with their mother that Rion ever saw a gentle side to his father. Not that the High Lord was ever mean to any of his children. Their mother wouldn't allow that. He was just … scary. Stern. He didn’t smile easy and his mother always told Rion that he had his reasons.

Maybe Rion didn’t want to join his father, Saoirse, and Alec for training after all.

Holding him with one arm, Rion’s mother grabbed the tea tray with her other hand. She didn’t even shake. Not like some of the half-breeds did when they tried to carry heavy things.

Half-breeds weren’t allowed here.

His mother ampled toward the fire and set the tray down on a small wooden table stained with rings. She rewrapped the blanket around his body then seated herself in the rocking chair closest to the fire.

Between the flames and his mother’s warmth, Rion stopped shivering.

She rocked back and forth in silence, rubbing one hand up and down his back in slow, methodical strokes. This was his favorite part of the morning and he never wanted to be too old for it. He wanted his mother to hold him forever.

But whenever he said as much, she’d just laugh and a sad smile would cross her face. He’d pestered her endlessly about what that meant, but she’d never told him.

A small laugh rumbled through her now. “You’re just like your father. Thinking too much before the sun’s even come up.”

Rion didn’t sit up. He hated being told he was anything like his father. He didn’t want to grow up cold and stern. Rion wanted to be more like his mother. A kind Fae the citizens nearly worshiped.

“Why don’t you ever go out with them?” he asked. Never once had she left him in the cabin alone.

She held him a little tighter. “Because I want to be here with you.”

“But didn’t you used to go. Before me?”

She chuckled again. “I did.”

“Do you miss it?”

She leaned her head against his. “I’ll miss this more. One day you’ll be all big and strong and I won’t have my little Rion to snuggle.”

He pursed his lips at that. “I don’t want to grow up then.” Another laugh. “Will you go when I’m older?”

She brushed a hand through his hair. “I’d miss my tea. Your father wakes up far too early for my taste.”

“Then I’ll stay here too.”

“I thought you wanted to join them?” He had but-

“I don’t want you to be here by yourself. That doesn’t sound like fun.”

She shifted and he sat up to stare into her green eyes. The same eyes that looked back at him through the mirror whenever he brushed his teeth. “Tell you what,” she said. “When we come here, I’ll make sure you’re allowed to stay with me every morning.”

A smile spread over his face. “You promise?”


His brows scrunched. “Won’t father be mad?”

She poked his side and Rion doubled over, trying not to laugh. “You let me worry about your father.”

He pushed her hand away. “It’s a promise then. Forever.”

Her face shifted at that and something like pain crossed her features.

Rion pushed. “You’ll always be here, right?”

She pulled him back into her shoulder and squeezed tight. “I can’t always see the future, little one.”

Rion didn’t like the acrid scent coming off her. He’d learned to recognize it for what it was. “Liar.”

She chuckled again. “Just remember, the future isn’t set in stone. It can always change.”

He sat up again. “What do you see in my future?”

“Great things.”

“Like what?”

She flicked the tip of his nose and he swatted her hand away. “If I told you everything, it’d ruin the journey.”

He pouted. “You tell dad things.”

His mother studied him then lowered her voice to a near whisper. She glanced around as if someone could be hiding in the shadows. “I don’t tell him everything.”

Rion leaned closer and lowered his voice as well. “Really?”

She smiled again and it reminded Rion of the sun rays now streaming through the window behind her. “Really. Like today for instance.”

Rion waited, then bounced in her lap. “What happens today?”

She gave him a mischievous grin. “Would you like to find out?” Rion nodded his head vigoriously, his heart racing with excitement. “Then go get dressed and I’ll show you.”

Tea and the cold forgotten, Rion leapt from his mother’s lap and ran for his room. He threw on the first pair of clothes he could find and was back out in the living area before his mother had even emerged from her room.

Rion pulled on two pairs of socks, threw his coat around his shoulders, and pulled on the hat he hated to wear. But he’d do it without argument today. When she finally emerged, he was standing by the door, thoroughly bundled. He’d even grabbed his gloves.

She shook her head. “I should tell you secrets more often.”

Rion bounced on his toes. “Come on, come on, come on.”

She pulled on her own coat, hat, and gloves, but bent down to his level before she opened the door. “We have to be very quiet for it to work. Once we enter the trees, you can’t talk or they’ll hear you. Do you think you can do that?”

Rion nodded his head again. He was more excited now than he’d been to get his presents on winter solstice.

“Take a breath,” she commanded. “Slow your heart and remember to listen. You can tap and point and I'll do the same.”

He did as commanded and willed his body to relax. Then his mother turned and Rion climbed up onto her back. She exited the warm cabin and though she left prints in the snow, Rion could hardly hear her footfalls.

He clung to her, listening as she’d instructed him. The wind bit into his cheeks and he shivered suddenly glad he’d opted to wear his hat.

His mother often claimed the wind could be a valuable weapon on the battlefield. If one were mindful enough, they could use it to hide their scents while trying to sneak up on their enemies. She hadn’t exactly told him what they were doing out here, but Rion suspected they were sneaking up on Saoirse and the others. He wondered if their father would hear them though. Nothing ever surprised him.

His mother stopped, scanned the trees with a careful eye, then moved further north before entering the forest. Her hands kept his legs in place. Strong hands that would never let him fall.

They crept through the trees in silence, Rion watching every move his mother made. He scented her magic as it sprung from the ground at her feet. Leaves unfurled from the cold snow and flowers trailed behind her wherever she stepped. He could scent them, but realized the wind was blowing back toward the house. Which meant if Saoirse, Alec, and their father were ahead, then the sweet aroma wouldn’t give them away. He wondered if his mother did it on purpose or if her magic was so great that she couldn’t contain it.

Rion also wondered if his magic would be like that. He wasn’t sure he wanted flowers trailing him wherever he went.

The birds stopped calling overhead, a sign of a predator in their midst. A survival instinct that told Rion to be on guard. Then again, maybe his mother was the predator  they feared.

His mother backed up a step and pressed her body against the bark of the wide oak tree at their left. Alarm flared through him, but his mother’s smirking face set his fears at ease. They waited like that for several minutes. She drew his attention then set him on the ground. Rion was careful of his footing. He didn’t want to step on anything that might alert the others.

His mother peered around the tree, pressed a finger to her lips, then pointed.

There was Saoirse, moving through the treeline, hunched over as she searched around the trunks and through the barren branches above. Rion was certain she was looking for Alec or their father. They were training afterall.

Another moment passed, then faster than his young eyes could see, a blur of color. The sharp ringing of metal filled the air. Rion clutched his mother's sleeve as he watched Alec and Saoirse exchange blows. Their magic flew up around them, ripping the ground and snow up in a flurry of quick movements he couldn’t follow.

His mother didn’t move and her smile didn’t wane despite the violence in her two eldest children. If anything she looked … proud.

Rion’s chest swelled at that. He wanted his mother to look at him with those eyes too. Maybe he would join his siblings after all. Once they let him, of course. They were all strong. He wanted to be strong too.

Another shift of rapid movement and their father appeared, vines and trees all seamlessly following in his wake.

His mother ducked behind the tree then urged Rion to climb onto her back. He did, then she was off, sprinting at breakneck speeds.

The High Lady of Brónach was as fast and swift as a deer. Faster. Rion swore her feet barely met the forest floor as she darted between the trees. His weight didn’t hinder her movements or magic in the slightest.

His father’s head whipped toward them, but his mother’s magic was already moving, rising in a tide of living plants that blocked the others from view. Then his mother was on the other side of that wave, giving Rion a clear view of his father’s shocked face. Roots and trees rose to defend The High Lord and collided with the surge of his mother’s magic.

Bark exploded and the crushing sound of the impact had Rion wanting to cover his ears, but he didn’t dare let go of his mother’s shirt for fear of falling.

Another cascading  wave of roots and branches, then his father’s surprised face turned to one of smirking challenge. Alec was next to strike out against the magic surging for him and his sister. Then Saoirse joined in, moving around the branches that reached out like clawed fingers.

A vine tied down Alec’s leg then another caught one of Saoirse’s arms, rooting both siblings to the ground. They ripped free and snarled, a fierce sound that might have had Rion cowering were it not for the person he clung to.

No. He could be brave for this. He wanted to join them on their training exercises. A thrill of excitement went through him. He was here. Watching. Participating. For the first time, he wasn’t told he was too little. His mother was allowing it, going against his father’s wishes.

A broad smile spread across Rion’s face as Saoirse launched her own sea of greenery toward them. His mother didn’t cower away. She stood her ground and without even moving, the world came alive at her feet. Trees shot out to block Saoirse’s magic, blooming as if they couldn’t help themselves despite the unfolding chaos.

Another wave formed, this one thicker and stronger somehow. Alec.

It only managed to make it halfway before everything fell as if his mother had commanded it with her mind.

Alec snarled then their father’s rare boisterous laugh echoed through the trees. His mother patted Rion’s leg and she emerged from the torn branches and brambles that now coated the once soft forest floor. She easily leapt over a large trunk and Rion’s two older siblings relaxed their pensive stances.

“Enjoying yourself, Eimear?”

She let Rion slide down from her back, then took his hand. “I can’t always let you have all the fun with our children.”

“You knew I wouldn’t see you coming.”

“Naturally, though Rion played a large factor in that. There were about a dozen ways he could have given us away.”

His father scented the air, studied his youngest child, then stepped forward and ruffled Rion’s hair. “You did well.” Rion had never felt more proud than in that moment.

“He wanted to join you all, so I brought him along.”

“He could have gotten hurt,” Saoirse said, her breath still ragged.

“Not with your mother guarding him,” their father replied. He stared at his mate fondly, eyes swimming with emotion. “Shall we call it early today and head back for breakfast?”

“Yes,” Eimear said without hesitation. “I’d like to enjoy our last few days. The snow will melt tomorrow.”

Eimear met Rion’s gaze and offered him a sweet smile that she extended to her other children. She held her free hand out to their father and the male interlaced his fingers with his mate’s. Saoirse joined at Rion’s other side, smiling down at her little brother while Alec followed at their father’s far side.

Rion took Saoirse’s hand and the two female’s lifted him over the chaos they’d created in the forest. But even as they walked away, the trees were righting themselves, rising up to new heights. Fresh flowers bloomed and vines took over the places where branches were scattered and torn. Within moments it looked as if the landscape had never been disturbed.

His mother’s magic. A magic full of life. A magic he couldn’t wait to explore for himself.

Rion looked at his mother again and his smile widened when he saw the floral path that opened before them.

It hadn't been a coincidence. She’d already known they’d head back this way as a family and she’d carved a beautiful path to lead them home.

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