Brennus sighed as they walked through the golden halls of the Queen’s Palace.
“Not the same as back home is it?” Doran asked.
“No, it’s not. I find it too clean and the minimal elegance looks gaudy to me.”
Eamon snorted. “It’s the palace of the fae queen, of course it’s elegant.”
Brennus grunted his agreement. Of the three of them you would think he was the oldest. He tended to be a bit more critical and responsible, traits that should have fallen to his elder brother Eamon. He eyed his brother who had his fingers laced behind his head and was whistling as they walked to present themselves for the first time to their queen. “Can you try to act like the Head of House Eirlea, just for a day?”
Doran laughed. “It’s just his way Brennus.”
“Mother would be appalled.”
Eamon dropped his hands and clasped them behind his back before turning to them, a mock scowl on his face. “Do I look more serious now?”
“Now, you look like Brennus,” Doran teased.
Eamon relaxed and walked with his hands in his pockets. “I’ll do my best to represent House Eirlea well, we do not want to disappoint mother.” He shook his head. “I do not know how Celyn does it. He has been playing politics all this time.”
Brennus and Doran nodded. After their father’s death, his mother had stayed behind at the human settlement where they had been raised. They had gone from tribe to tribe to avoid appearing as gods, but it was hard to blend in with blond hair amongst the dark-eyed and dark-haired tribesmen. He’d miss life amongst the tribes. They valued the important things in life, their families.
Brennus thought of their youngest brother and marveled again at the way he came to be born. It was a rare instance where an aura shone bright for a second time. To him, it was as if Fate knew his father would be dying soon and gave him another chance to have a child. Annella Vi’ Ailean had been a soft spoken, kind woman who had loved both his mother and father. The three of them had been deliriously happy before his father died in the war.
Annella’s strength waned and she faded within the first year after their father’s death. Their brother Celyn was sent to his mother’s brother to be raised in Éire Danu. They hadn’t seen the child since. But, despite the distance they had been apart, Celyn wrote to them constantly, so much so, they never felt anything but brotherly love for their youngest sibling.
“Do you think mother is happy?” Doran asked softly, bringing him back to the present.
Brennus swallowed hard. They knew when they left that they would not see her again. She had sent them away to avoid a long goodbye. He had never met another who had such a kind and giving heart. “We knew we only had borrowed time with her after father died. She does not want us to watch her fade and die with her human mate. She knows the pain we all experienced losing Anne, she did not want that for us again.”
“He is not her mate,” Eamon growled.
“Husband then. Mother has found a semblance of peace with him, and I don’t care what you call it, it will allow her to fade gently as his life slowly winds to a close.”
“Why could she have not found a ‘husband’ amongst the fae?” Doran demanded.
Brennus looked between his brothers and once again felt as if he wore the mantle of the eldest. One was on the verge of tears the other radiating anger, neither the best mindset to meet their queen.
“Do you think any fae would appeal to her after father?” Brennus asked softly. “We should be thankful for the thousands of years she endured to raise us after losing him. We should not be begrudging her, her choice on how to meet him and Anne again,” he chided firmly, yet gently.
Doran made a quick pass at his eyes to wipe them. “I will miss her.”
“Of course you will, but we carry the best of her with us. Do not despair Doran, we have a decade or two left before she finally joins father and Anne. The choice to send us to Éire Danu was her way to help us, not her, along this path.”
“You’re right. Of course you’re right,” Eamon said, taking deep breaths. “We got spoiled didn’t we?”
Brennus nodded. “Now, it is our turn to spoil her. We will live our lives in such a way that her heart will fill with joy when she reads letters from us. So, throw away your sorrow and anger and try to see this as the exciting venture it is.”
Eamon walked over and poked Brennus in the shoulder. “Despite the gaudy decor?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Yes, damn you, despite the ungodly amount of gold,” Brennus shoved Eamon’s finger away.
Doran wrapped his arms around both of their shoulders. “Shall we show the court of Éire Danu what they have been missing by having the Eirlea men living amongst humans?”
Both Brennus and Eamon answered with wicked grins.
“Lets,” Eamon said, nodding.
Laughing the three continued the long walk down the expansive hallway toward the queen’s throne room.
“Who are they again?” Cord asked.
“House Eirlea, they have never before stepped foot in Éire Danu. After the Great War, they stayed behind to help the humans rebuild, to minimize the long term effects the war had on their lands,” Aleksandra explained.
Cord blinked. “How noble.”
“I always thought so.” She sighed and sat back. “I received a letter from their mother, she has chosen to stay behind and fade along with her human consort.”
Cord sucked in his breath. “It is nothing short of a miracle that she lasted this long without her mate.”
Aleksandra smiled. “From what I remember about Tara Vi’Eirlea, she has a will made of steel. She promised both Nikias and Anne that she would see the boys raised before she joined them and she has done just that.”
“What an amazing woman. I hope that resiliency breeds true amongst her boys,” Cord said, pouring her a cup of tea. “Should they not be here already? The portal opened nearly an hour ago.”
Aleksandra shrugged. “They may have stopped off to visit their brother. They have not seen him since he was an infant.”
Cord smiled and set the teapot down. “Celyn is a credit to his line. I hear that he wants to pursue politics like his uncle.”
Aleks sipped her tea. “It would not surprise me in the least to see him as an Elder in the future.”
Cord shook his head. “When babies become Elders.”
She reached up and patted his arm. “I know. Makes one feel their years does it not?”
“You have more than I do,” Cord pointed out.
“And I do feel them, every one of them,” she sighed.
“Aleks…” Cord started, using her name as he placed a hand on her shoulder. “Are you well?”
She placed her hand over his. “I am just feeling a bit blue today. All my days seem to run together lately, it makes me wonder why am I even still here.”
Cord’s hand tightened. “Because you are our queen.”
“Mother?” Darian asked.
She looked over and saw that her youngest son, as usual zeroed in on her emotions. He was such a sensitive boy. Glancing over to where Oron stood, she found him scowling worriedly. “I am fine boys.”
They looked dubious, but resumed their stance on either side of her along the walkway to the throne.
She forced a smile and turned to face Cord. “And someday Darian will be your king. If I have learned anything in my long years, it is time marches forward regardless of what we want.”
“What can I do?” Cord asked. “How can I help?”
“Just keep doing what you have been doing. You have always ensured my day to day needs are met and that I want for nothing.”
Trumpets blared by the door.
“Lords Eamon, Brennus and Doran of House Eirlea to see the queen!”
Around them the voices of her court began to buzz. Aleksandra smiled. At least this would help break up the monotony of her day.
“The palace of Éire Danu warmly welcomes the sons of House Eirlea, home at last,” she announced in a ringing voice.
Cord gave her shoulder a final squeeze then stepped back to stand just behind her.
Maybe the shroud of apathy would retreat for a while as she welcomed House Eirlea home.
Brennus winced at the blare of the trumpets.
“Was that really necessary?” Doran whispered.
Brennus kicked backwards and was rewarded with a muffled curse as his foot connected with Doran’s shin.
“Together, now,” Eamon ordered.
As one they walked shoulder to shoulder, not single file into the throne room. Whispers started almost immediately. They were showing the entire court that they each stood equal to one another despite their birth order.
Brennus took in the faces of the two guards on either side of the queen and nodded. They looked competent and their lack of hostility or censure earned them points in his book. They nodded in return and he swung his gaze to their queen.
He fought the urge to shield his eyes, she shone that brightly to him. He squinted, then noticed that the light in her chest had a shadow across it.
He glared at her two personal guards. How had they allowed such a beautiful creature such as she to know sorrow? He stopped a few feet behind his brothers and stared. Slowly, her light began to shimmer and pulsate. A burst of rainbow colors erupted around her core.
He glanced up to meet her gaze, she looked as shocked as he felt.
Not wanting to waste a single second he strode forward past his brothers and took her wrist. He pulled her to stand before him, then captured her lips with his own. He could almost feel the centuries of want, need and loneliness pour from her.
Behind him he heard swords clash.
When he stepped back from his dazed looking mate he looked behind him. Both of the queens guards had drawn their swords and his brothers had stepped between them to keep them at bay.
“Eamon, Doran!” he shouted.
“Oron, Darian!” his mate called out.
All four men turned and slowly sheathed their swords. Around them the court had erupted in chaos.
“Boys, I have the distinct pleasure of introducing my mate…” The queen frowned. “Which Eirlea are you?”
He smiled. “The blessed one.”
Eamon beaming, clapped the scowling guard on the shoulder. “That would be my brother Brennus. I am eldest, Eamon and this is our younger brother Doran.”
Doran and the younger looking guard exchanged shocked expressions.
The guard next to Eamon still had his hand on his sword.
“Oron, you do not fight with family,” the queen admonished. The one standing next to Eamon relaxed a fraction.
Brennus joined his brothers in laughter. “Actually, my love, I love fighting my brothers the most.”
She blinked up at him. “Truly?”
He nodded. “It is very satisfying.” He paused. “Family?”
She smiled. “These are my sons, Oron Vi’Eirson and Darian Vi’Alina,” she said pointing to the two he thought were her guards. “And the wonderful man behind me is my squire Cord Danual.”
Eamon hooted. “You’re a father!”
Brennus clutched at his chest. “I have sons,” he whispered.
“At least you do not have to change diapers,” Doran pointed out.
Oron’s hand finally left his sword hilt and he wrapped an arm around Eamon’s shoulders. “Darian, we have old uncles to train with now,” he announced, cheerfully.
Eamon balked. “Old?”
Darian was staring at where his mother’s body was tucked next to his. “Mother?”
“I am beyond ecstatic. I thought Fate had abandoned me,” she whispered, leaning against Brennus.
He pulled her closer and kissed the top of her head, then stepped back to place his fist over his heart. “I will spend the rest of my life dedicated to ensuring your happiness. I swear that I will put you first in all things and place your needs above my own.”
“So, do we swear,” his brothers echoed behind him.
He turned to them scowling. “I will be the one to guard her happiness.”
Eamon shrugged lazily. “And we will help. Do not be so greedy Brennus, allow us to spoil our new sister.”
Brennus made a shooing motion. “Go aggravate Celyn whilst I get to know my mate.”
“Cord, can you redirect Brennus’ belongings to my personal quarters?” His mate asked glancing behind them.
Smiling Brennus leaned down to her neck. “Want me close to you that much,” he teased.
When her eyes met his, the blatant hunger nearly had him throwing her over his shoulder and heading toward the closest semblance of privacy.
“I never want to be without you again,” she admitted.
Cord clapped his hands. “Court is adjourned for the rest of the month.” Immediately the throne room quickly emptied. Nearly everyone was smiling at seeing their queen’s happiness.
Cord continued. “Boys, show your new uncles to the recently renovated House Eirlea. It should take about…” he looked at their queen and cleared his throat. “It should take a few weeks to get your uncles acclimated to living in Éire Danu, I expect for the two of you to stay with them while they learn the way of the city.” Blushing he turned to him and his queen. “I will, of course, make sure there that there are plenty of foods prepared for you to try…over the next few weeks.”
Eamon and Doran guffawed as they maneuvered the distressed looking princes away from their mother. “Come along lads, you do not want to be around them freshly mated,” Eamon said sensibly.
Both Oron and Darian were blushing furiously as Eamon and Doran steered them from the throne room.
Cord smiled at them, a sheen to his eyes. “Your majesty, I will leave trays of food by the door of your personal quarters. Please, please allow Portia and I to look after the palace, whilst you take a long overdue vacation.”
“Cord, I think that is a wonderful idea. I will call for you later,” she exhaled as she stared up at Brennus. “Much later.”
“Very good,” Cord said quickly, then practically sprinted from the room. The door closing behind him boomed and echoed loudly in the now empty throne room.
Brennus gathered his mate’s hands behind her and pinned them to her spine. “Tell me my mate, have you ever made love on your throne?”
Her eyes widened and her pupils dilated at his implied suggestion. “Never,” she answered in a breathy voice.
Brennus knew she was the queen of their people, but before that she would always be his mate. And he wanted her to know from the beginning he was in charge of her pleasure. In this one aspect of her life, he would dominate her.
“It is a good place to start,” he murmured, then nipped at her neck.
“Start?” she asked.
“Start. I have many plans for my mate. We may need more than the few weeks Cord has arranged for us for me to see your complete surrender, but I look forward to every second of learning your heart and body.”
“As you wish, my love.”
“Good girl,” he praised.
Her long shudder of relief knew he had made the right choice.
“Let us get started.”