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The Court of Five Thrones

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Augus

*

The An-Fnwy estate was just as grand and imposing as Augus Each Uisge had imagined when he was an underfae teenager, living in a lake nearby. But things were different now. He was no longer underfae status, but instead representing the Inner Court of King Gwyn ap Nudd’s Unseelie Kingdom. He wasn’t stealing food from the orchards, he was now a consummate predator, able to hunt humans as necessary, grow his own fruit and vegetables in his own holdings.

And, he had to admit, the shine had rather gone off the place, now that he knew that Crielle ferch Fnwy and Lludd Llaw Eraint were not the perfect bastions of Seelie fae conduct.

Augus passed the fence – a cream limestone wall with sharp iron points set into the top. The iron was used especially to deter the lesser statuses of fae who could not generally abide it. He sat in a compartment, in a carriage drawn by horses not nearly as well-trained as they should be. Well, the Unseelie Court couldn’t afford better, and they would have to do. He inspected his clothing from within the privacy of the compartment, flexing the black leather of his gloves, clicking his buckled boots against the floor. He straightened a smart, green shirt and fixed the collar, looking at his appearance briefly in a small round mirror he’d pilfered from prey he’d killed in the human world. He met his own green eyes and raised arched eyebrows at himself, then smirked.

The mirror was a cheap, tacky thing. He dropped it once he was satisfied with his appearance. It clattered and rolled under the seat.

The water that wept from his mane formed droplets that never penetrated the wicking material of his shirt. Waterweed sprouted from his scalp and fell healthily through his black hair. He was in remarkably good condition, given that he was supposed to have been executed, that he was underfae status less than a year ago, that he was still regularly fielding assassination attempts.

No one particularly liked him. He’d made a mockery of the Unseelie Court during his own reign as King. Bankrupted the Kingdom, destroyed land, became not only a villain found in human fairytales, but a villain to the fae.

Can’t be helped, really.

The front of the multi-storeyed An-Fnwy manor was made of the same ketton stone as the fence. It was separated into two distinct wings by an imposing portico and verandah, complete with columns curlicued with vines of rare yellow and gold wisteria. A large fountain at the front depicted a man holding a longbow staring imperially into the distance. His other arm was outstretched, water flowing from an open palm into the musical water below. Augus’ eyes widened when he realised it was the deceased Lludd Llaw Eraint.

Please,’ Augus muttered to himself. ‘You didn’t even get to demigod status, no matter what the humans say.’

The huge double stone doors set in the entrance opened easily. Slabs of stone that large shouldn’t open smoothly for anyone, so it was enchanted to respond to an owner’s or staff member’s touch.

The coachman came – a well-kept moth fae with fringed antennae pricking and twirling in new surroundings – and opened the door to his compartment, stood back respectfully. Given that Gwyn had needed to imprison two of their common fae servants for attempting an attack on Augus’ life, Augus thought anything approximating respectful from their own staff was a step up. Though nothing really compared with the dedicated indifference of the Unseelie trows, whose competence and privacy Augus appreciated more than he could say.

He was surprised when, not a moment after a butler had stood beside one of the open doors, gloved hands folded, Crielle herself came to the landing. She pinned Augus with a sharp gaze, couched behind a warm smile and a fae glamour so strong that Augus could feel it pulsing around him even from such a distance, coaxing him to feel welcomed, safe, comforted.

Augus allowed a more genuine smile to grace his face, but something darker twisted inside of him. He’d seen Crielle attack her own son with that glamour before. He respected her, she would have done well in the Unseelie Kingdom with her hidden cruelties. He even admired her. But he knew he was lucky to be partially immune to the glamour.

His boots crunched across white gravel and he resettled the rapier at his side, his long, calf-length coat fluttering as he strode towards her. He slipped off his gloves and tucked them into his belt, offering her an inclination of the head. As he moved up arched, stone steps, he looked around, surveying his surroundings as a predator might; though he only showed an expression of appreciative curiosity.

He was a higher status than her, he didn’t have to bow before her, regardless of how respected she was in the fae world. But she took his lack of formal bow as a slight. He could see it in her eyes.

‘So!’ Crielle said, with no preamble. ‘It has come to this, has it? My dear son, the King, sending his Advisor to me, instead of visiting himself? Does he have no love for me in his heart?’

Augus smiled graciously.

‘My darling, he doesn’t even know I am here. And shall you entertain me outside, where it is grand and so lovely for this time of year? Or might you invite me inside, so that I may see the splendour of the An-Fnwy estate for myself?’

‘Ah, that’s right, you’re baseborn, aren’t you? Enter, you may as well see if it meets your low-bred expectations,’ Crielle said, laughing. She waved Augus ahead, his skin prickled unpleasantly as he walked.

‘Come, let me have someone serve you some tea,’ Crielle said, signalling to housekeep waiting in impeccable dress nearby as she escorted Augus through a giant, vaulted marble-floored entrance-way, complete with dual marble staircases, underneath a crystal chandelier lit with pale yellow werelight. They walked into a smaller, carpeted room designed for receiving important guests.

No one had offered to take his coat. This wasn’t to be a meeting with standard fae etiquette.

He sat down in an impeccably kept old chair – likely kept clean with magic – and crossed his legs, leaning back and looking at Crielle for any signs of strain. But no, house arrest didn’t seem to be affecting her negatively at all. She was well-coiffed, her golden hair up with not a single hair out of place, pearl beads decorating it. Her face gave her the appearance of a woman in her mid to late thirties, despite the fact that she was tens of thousands of years old. She wore make up, just enough to accentuate her deep blue eyes and the perfect curve of her lips.

She was, Augus marvelled, an exquisitely rendered woman. The kind of beauty that the old King of the Unseelie Court – the Raven Prince – would have much admired.

‘You look marvellous given your lack of freedom,’ Augus said, meaning it.

‘Kind of you,’ Crielle said. ‘But if you must know, I am under terrible strain. But let us not turn to such maudlin contemplations. Is it true, my dear, that you are my son’s lover? Oh, don’t tell me, I know. What he risked for you, when you were a prisoner in the Seelie Court! With everyone wanting you dead! How reprieved you must feel. Not only free, but his right hand man? And he does not know you are here? Fascinating.’

Augus picked up the tea presented, scented it carefully for poisons. He was Inner Court status, couldn’t be killed by any poison, but he’d prefer not to be laid out for a week or two in agony either. He detected none and sipped carefully. He lowered the cup back to its fluted saucer and realised how relentless Crielle’s glamour was. It appeared as though she was doing nothing more than watching him patiently, but he could feel the power of her dra’ocht battering at him. If he didn’t have his own partial immunity, he’d be under her complete thrall by now.

‘No wonder he never killed you,’ Crielle said, leaning forwards conspiratorially. ‘We all could never understand why. When did you start plotting your escape? Before or after he defeated his own Kingdom? It was a nice feather in his cap, wasn’t it? That Unseelie monster, doing oh...so much for the Seelie fae – defeating you and your pathetic reign, putting the Nightingale back in the underworlds where he belongs.’

‘Ah, no pretence of politeness, then?’ Augus said, sighing. ‘You don’t truly believe the rumours everyone else does, do you? That he masterminded his way to the top of the Unseelie Kingdom after three thousand years of being brainwashed by you and his father? A man cannot be expected to live a Seelie life for so long, and be the criminal genius everyone thinks he is.’

‘So it’s true,’ Crielle said, a vindictive streak lighting across her expression. ‘What a rumour machine the Unseelie Court has become. Then, I suppose you all deal in lies and deceit now, don’t you?’

Come join us then, Lady. I think you’ll find you fit right in.

‘Let’s not forget the ones who started this, however. If you hadn’t felt so crushed by birthing an Unseelie beast after your whole family birthed true for as long as the records showed, we’d not be in this situation now, would we? You wouldn’t be under house arrest for lying to the Seelie Court for...what’s that ridiculous Seelie name for it? Ah yes, crimes of lignancy. Gwyn ap Nudd wouldn’t be King of the Unseelie Court. He’d be dead. And now you’ve got yourself a son that’s almost impossible to kill. What were you both thinking, when you didn’t kill him in his crib?’

‘Darling, why are you here?’ Crielle said, and Augus’ spine stiffened.

All fae possessed glamour as a form of communication, but primarily to protect themselves from discovery or capture in the human world; most couldn’t use it as a weapon. Not like this. He had to focus. He’d come here to...

...I doubt it was to have polite conversation and reveal all your secrets to her. You’d better act quick, or that glamour will leave you ripe for the taking.

‘I made a promise,’ Augus said softly. He picked up the cup and sipped again. ‘But more than that, I wanted to meet you. I can’t help but admire what you did to him. How you tormented him. Let’s not prevaricate shall we? You know what I am, you know what my life has been. I appreciate sadism in all its forms.’

That was true.

‘Mm,’ Crielle said, laughing softly. ‘Everyone knows what you are. Taming those that need to be tamed. How tawdry. You’re nothing more than a horse that breaks in horses more unruly than you.’

Augus nodded carefully, let the insult simmer where he wouldn’t be distracted by it.

‘And Gwyn?’ Crielle whispered. ‘Did you tame him? Don’t tell me it was any difficulty.’

‘Oh no. My dear, you did a fine job of breaking him yourself. I merely showed him a new direction to follow.’

Crielle smiled at him, but it didn’t reach her eyes.

He set the cup down, felt his teeth lengthen in his mouth. His blood pulsed in thick currents beneath his skin. It heated until it was an itchy need to move. She would sense it soon enough, if she hadn’t already.

‘Oh, my darling, if you think you can-’

He launched, leaping across the coffee table and burying his fingers through her ribs, into her lungs, staring at her. The wave of glamour that hit him made him choke, terror turning his stomach so sour he gagged above her, even as her blood turned his skin hot.

‘My dear,’ Augus said, using a massive burst of power to thrust his arm deeper into her body, reaching for her spine. Her eyes widened, but she still looked in control of the situation, and Augus snarled. ‘My dear, all this time you’ve been blaming him for Efnisien’s death. That golden nephew of yours. Quite a resemblance he bore to you as well. I would place bets that you wished he was yours. And how uncouth of Gwyn to simply kill him and not even let you see a body afterwards.’

Augus hissed as she slashed with manicured fingernails. She couldn’t get through his coat, and he was grateful then that no one had offered to take it. But she sliced through his shirt, his chest flaring from the pain of deep, messy cuts.

‘The reason you never got to see a body, is that I didn’t leave enough of one to be presented. All this time, labouring under false illusions. Gwyn is not the type to kill his own family. You made sure of that. Torturing him. You think the Unseelie are monsters, but we don’t go for our own.

Crielle’s eyes had widened.

‘You...’

Me. You underhanded bitch. I know you tortured him his whole life. Oh, my darling, don’t mistake me, I do admire you. I do.’

Augus’ breathing sped up, he curled his fingers around her spine and laughed at the terror she invoked within. She didn’t understand. None of them understood. No artificially created fear could transcend the despair or misery the Nightingale had evoked in him, once upon a time.

She looked alarmed at his laughter, then defiant. Her mouth opened, blood poured from it.

‘Don’t speak,’ Augus crooned. ‘Now, where was I?’

He was fast losing his ability to think. The scent of blood in the air, the iron tangle of it reminded him of Gwyn’s blood spilling over his skin, brought saliva to his mouth. You taste like her, sweetness, won’t you be pleased to know? His teeth were almost so sharp he couldn’t speak properly. He felt like he wanted to split the seams of his own skin, shift into waterhorse form and tear her apart properly.

But no, he needed this measure of control.

‘I wanted to take my time with you, pay you back some of what you’ve bestowed upon him, but you’re too dangerous, and I’ve taken too long already.’

He threw power into the twist and snap of his arm, breaking her spine with a sound that made him hungry.

Crielle was Court status, she held on for another minute, two, despite the brutal damage to her ribcage, her lungs, the mortal damage to her spine. He looked into her blue eyes, even now staring a venomous promise of revenge at him, and then – impossibly – she smiled. She looked content, pleased even, as though she weren’t swimming in pain, as though he hadn’t just ended her life.

He snarled at the bloody teeth bared at him, even as the darker animal inside of him twisted and writhed.

It wasn’t a conscious decision to rip into her viscera. He couldn’t feed, she wasn’t human, but he could tear and destroy. His fingers wormed through organs, clawed at them, instinctively leaving the liver alone, even now. He kept going long after the knowing light had disappeared from her eyes and her lungs had stopped trembling for breath. He slashed claws he’d sharpened just for this occasion across her neck, her wrists, and started to tear into the muscle of her thighs when he saw it. The scar.

He hadn’t noticed it before, lost in bloodlust, and he could hardly see it now through the haze of red in his vision and the gouts of blood covering it.

Gwyn’s light, damaging everything in its wake from the moment he’d been born, including Crielle.

‘You should’ve killed him,’ Augus whispered, running a careful thumb over her forehead. ‘You should have killed him. If only your heartsong would have let you. Appearance isn’t everything, darling.’

He looked up at the servant who had been paralysed by the threshold of the door, he’d been about to run.

‘Oh, you fragile, frightened thing,’ Augus said, getting up slowly and stripping off his coat. The slashed material of his water-wicking shirt caused him to shed blood in round droplets. But it was stuck in his perpetually damp mane, to his face, his fingers and forearms, everywhere it could make an impression. ‘Did she torture you too? Tell me.’

‘Y-yes,’ the fae said, helpless to hold back an answer once Augus infused his voice with compulsion. Augus grinned at him. The fae’s eyes sheened over with tears, he shook visibly.

‘Someone should really put you out of your misery then, shouldn’t they?’

The fae’s eyes widened.

Augus struck, claws out, laughing.

*

Two hours later and Augus was hardly recognisable in a mirror. Blood had clotted and stuck to his skin, he needed a shower. The house had been well-populated with staff, and he’d decimated all of them. The cook had put up quite a fight for someone who was only Capital class, and he’d ended up with a nasty gut wound thanks to a meat cleaver. He leaned over a bathroom bench and pressed his fingers to his own bleeding skin.

He needed to feed, but he couldn’t eat anyone in the fae world. Their meat was not something his body would recognise, even though the taste of the blood was familiar enough that he had to struggle to stop the beast inside of him growling. He took several deep breaths. It was just a stab wound, it was painful, inconvenient, disgusting, but he’d dealt with enough of Gulvi’s violence to know how to weather this out.

He ran the shower, removed his boots and stepped into cold water – unaffected by frigid temperatures. He didn’t bother undressing. His constantly wet hair had gotten him used to a lifetime of clothing feeling damp or having water droplets clinging to it.

Fifteen minutes later he shut off the water and walked bloodied, watery footprints into Crielle’s bedroom – impeccably furnished, of course, in white, cream and gold. He opened pale oak dressers and cabinets. Yanked drawers from their fixtures and rummaged through clothing.

He tore the room apart, growling at the pain flaring in his own gut. There – behind a bedside cabinet, behind perfectly restored wallpaper – he found a slim hole in the wall. He tore into it, yanked out several folders worth of documents.

He flicked water and blood off his fingers, then wiped them off on the brocaded bedspread.

Because he knew Crielle had plans for her son.

The first few sheets were simply illicit accounts; crimes that could get Crielle imprisoned simply for not being an honest and true Seelie fae.

He sat heavily when he reached the second folder. Everything laid out clearly, and a plan none of them were aware of. Yet money had exchanged hands, barter had occurred.

This looked like a plan that had been put into place.

Not torturers in the traditional sense, not murderers or assassins or mercenaries; Crielle had brought shapeshifters. Put them into training, given them sheets of information on Lludd, Augus, Ash, Gwyn, Mafydd.

He rifled through the sheets trying to find a location of the shapeshifters, but found nothing at all. And the actual details – when it was supposed to happen, where, how...

He jerked up. A rustle nearby. A young woman, dressed neatly in garb that was a step above and apart from what the other housekeep were wearing. He couldn’t pick the species of fae she was, she could pass completely for human, except for an odd violet glint to her eyes. She wrung her hands nervously. He hadn’t sensed her, which meant that whatever she was, she was skilled enough to hide her scent, her presence, from high status predators.

‘Who are you?’ he snapped.

‘I-I’m Lady ferch Fnwy’s personal assistant, All’eth, Sir Each Uisge.’

By the name he thought she might have been a fire elemental, but he couldn’t tell. It hardly mattered.

‘So you know about this?’ He held up the folders, and All’eth nodded, brown ringlets bouncing by her chin.

‘Yes, Sir.’

‘Was this actioned?’ Augus said.

All’eth nodded once, her throat worked on a gag, though she suppressed her fear with an uncommon amount of strength. She probably needed it, he reasoned, spending her time in personal service to Crielle.

‘Where are the shapeshifters?’

‘S-Sir, I don’t know. Crielle did all of this almost completely on her own. When they visited, we were instructed to leave the room or even the wing. They were very secretive. True shapeshifters, Sir. P-please, I have- I have a family. Children.’

‘Appealing to an Unseelie’s sense of mercy?’ Augus said, raising his eyebrows in delight. He licked the taste of blood off his lips and stood up slowly, approaching her and grinning as she backed away. ‘Stop moving.’

She froze.

‘Everyone knows you care about the Traitor King, that he...that he tamed you,’ All’eth risked, a flare of fire entering her eyes and turning them muddy red.

Augus laughed, even as a familiar wrench went through him. He was partly responsible for those rumours, but he hated them. Tamed, indeed. He stood and ignored the pain in his gut from that stab wound. He was healing, and that was all that mattered. He shoved older, panicked, underfae instincts away. He wasn’t underfae anymore.

‘You helped Crielle with this plan, didn’t you?’

‘Y-yes.’ Tears spilled, and he smiled beatifically as he reached her violently trembling form. He trailed a claw across the fine cloth covering her shoulder.

‘Oh, my darling, don’t look so scared. We all get what’s coming to us in the end. Some of us a little more than others. Now, hold still, and try not to think about your children. Do they, by any chance, live on the property?’

She wasn’t through her first sob when the sound claws ripping through skin filled the room.

*

Augus felt the unmistakeable shriek of heavy magic against his skin, and knew that someone had alerted the Seelie military. He grabbed two of the folders and sprinted through the Manor until he could look out of one of the windows, peeking through embroidered curtains, the smell of lavender tickling his nose.

The moth coachman lay twisted, dead, on the white gravel; arm askew. The horses toed nervously nearby. There was an eerie silence. A breeze ruffled bluebells, rosebushes, the manes of the horses. He could see no activity.

Augus’ fist closed harder on the folders and he turned around slowly, skin turning to gooseflesh. He wanted to call upon his invisibility, but it had been getting harder and harder to maintain in the past month.

He had no choice though, when he scented them coming closer. Silent and stealthy, even possibly trained by Gwyn himself – given that he had been the Seelie War General, and King, for centuries before the Seelie Court demoted him. Augus swallowed down curses and called the invisibility to him, looking back out of the window.

Damn these vaulted ceilings making this building so much higher and this so much harder.

He needed to teleport away. No point taking a carriage now, and he needed water. Fast.

He tried to slide open the window, but it wouldn’t budge in his hands. He tried to smash it with his fist, using the heavy material of the curtains to protect his knuckles. The glass wouldn’t give, and he hissed when he felt a bone fracture. It would heal. It would. But it would be slow going, with the stab wound as well.

His heart beat faster, he sunk deeper into the invisibility, masking his scent, the scent of the blood around him.

Perhaps I should have thought this part through. It was this kind of thing that got you defeated and demoted and thrown in a cell in the first place, remember?

Augus slunk through the room, peered out and saw soldiers moving carefully down the hall. They should have looked more out of place, given their large frames and armour, but they were well-funded Seelie soldiers, they wore bright armour, new fabrics, and they looked like imposing martial sculptures come to life. Besides, this was a military family; armour, weapons, illustrations of battle scenes were everywhere.

Augus ducked out behind them and crept slowly past blood spatters he couldn’t remember leaving on wooden floorboards. He moved past bloody footprints and viscera that he couldn’t pinpoint to specific victims, at that point he’d become truly consumed with bloodlust.

Even now it pulsed through him, demanded he feed, that he finish with something heavy and satisfying in his belly.

He moved down the marble steps, realised he’d left his boots upstairs, decided it hardly mattered. He flared his nostrils for fresh water and smelled something earthy, almost like lake water but not quite. Too much stone.

A well.

It would do in a pinch. He only hoped it wasn’t protected by some Seelie guardian wight. That was the last thing he needed.

He moved into the housekeep quarters, along narrower, low-ceilinged corridors designed for people who were meant to be out of sight and out of mind on a regular basis. He moved over bodies that he had left behind, picked his way through pools of blood.

He found the well just off the kitchens and sensed no life within it at all. No guardian wight to worry about. He dropped the invisibility and dove, fully clothed, into the darkness. He gritted his teeth as the knife wound in his side pulled, his hand throbbed. He twisted water around him, spiralled into bubbles and ripples, becoming nothing more than the currents and water around him.

Time to go home.

*

The folders were useless. The ink wasn’t water-fast, and he dropped the sodden papers on the chair by the door as he entered the guest-room that he had come to think of as the room that belonged to he and Gwyn.

Gwyn still hadn’t changed the blasted Court design since becoming King. He’d had a month, and he wasn’t responding to discussion, appeals, torment, even threats of torture. Augus was starting to think that Gwyn was intimidated by the whole responsibility of using the sacred magic that welled within the Court to dare change it. But Augus needed it to happen; he was sick of seeing the Court he’d made, sick of the memories that lurked in shadows.

Gwyn, himself, was dozing. He rarely let himself sleep properly, and even seeing him taking a nap during the afternoon was uncommon. But Augus could smell sweat and metal in the room, and as he stripped off his bloodied coat, wincing at the stab wound, he knew he’d been forcing himself to train through the nerve damage and muscle damage in his shoulder; as he’d been doing almost every day and night for weeks.

Augus stalked around the bed, gazing at him. In a short time, he’d put on more muscle definition, gained back weight, his ribs were no longer as visible. A combination of the Unseelie trows leaving food for him to graze on in almost every room he visited, alongside the training, meant that Gwyn was slowly starting to build back his old, formidable strength.

The strength he’d lost when the Seelie Kingdom had discovered Gwyn had been pretending at being a Seelie fae. Though they’d voted him in, though his parents had forced him to maintain the lie, the betrayal of Gwyn pretending to be Seelie was too great. Gwyn had been imprisoned, demoted to underfae, hunted in the forest, injured doing deals with gods.

Less than three months prior, Augus was sure he’d never see him alive again.

Gwyn led the kind of life that Storykeepers dreamed about telling over campfires. But knowing him, living with him, caring for him soured the experience. Besides, Augus had enough of his own stories. He didn’t need more.

Still, he managed to look innocent enough. His pale white-blond lashes resting lightly on strong cheekbones. Curled hair, finally at a decent length and in fine condition, resting cherubic on his forehead and the pillow behind him. He may have been built for war – muscular, tall, astoundingly powerful – but in sleep he looked more like the boy he once was. His lips were in a perpetual pout – uninjured arm flung out to Augus’ side of the bed.

Augus refused to feel anything about that. Only noticed the way his injured shoulder was tucked in close to his body.

He remembered blood in his mouth and nostrils. Gwyn’s, Efnisien’s...now Crielle’s. He smiled and pulled his shirt off with one hand, not caring about the buttons he broke – the shirt was useless anyway. He ran fingers over the nail marks Crielle had given him, they were rapidly healing. He touched claw-tips to the stab wound still oozing blood that held a green, oily sheen to it. He refused to touch the black and phosphorescent blue of the Soulbond etched into his chest. Instead, he unbuckled his belt, slid off his rapier and let it all clatter to the floor.

Gwyn woke with a start.

‘Hush,’ Augus said quietly. ‘And before you panic-’

‘What happened to you?’ Gwyn said, blinking himself awake, pale blue eyes focusing on the wounds at his side. He pushed himself onto his elbows even as Augus crawled up the bed on all fours, staring down at him.

Before you panic, there was another assassination attempt. I am fine.’

‘Augus, you-’

‘Sweetness,’ Augus sighed, bending his head and scraping teeth that were back to their human shape over his skin. Gwyn inhaled sharply, shakily. He sounded oddly disoriented for a nap, and Augus wondered if his body had been forcing him into a sleep cycle. Gwyn found it harder to keep proper, healthy sleep at bay, since being underfae.

Augus bit down into Gwyn’s good shoulder, remembered biting into the flesh of Seelie fae not that long ago, and his jaws snapped down. Blood pooled around his teeth and he moaned thickly, even as Gwyn shifted beneath him, grunted a complaint.

‘Was there more than one assailant?’ Gwyn said, his voice deeper. ‘I can smell different- Augus, who? There’s something familiar about-’

Augus grimaced as he let go of Gwyn’s shoulder and painted Gwyn’s mouth with his own blood, licking it across his lips.

‘You think too much,’ Augus said, nosing at his cheek, running hands over his torso. He was covered with far less blood than before, and it disturbed him how quickly Gwyn could pick that there was more than one person present. He hadn’t considered that Gwyn might be able to scent his mother’s blood. He wasn’t quite ready for Gwyn to know what he’d done.

Timing is everything.

‘Roll onto your belly for me,’ Augus said, and Gwyn shuddered, hesitated.

‘Now that I’m awake, I really should be getting b-’

Augus had been letting that go for a while. Gwyn really was busy, so was Augus, but if Gwyn tried to leave now, Augus thought he might actually end up drawing a significant amount of blood to get him to stay. Then again, Gwyn might like that.

‘Did it sound like a suggestion?’ Augus said, his voice becoming even quieter. He pressed his thumb to the wound in Gwyn’s good shoulder, smearing blood. ‘Roll over.’

‘Augus, we shouldn’t-’

A flash of poisonous green behind his eyelids, instincts flaring hard and sharp inside of him. He lashed out, struck at Gwyn’s sore shoulder, pulled him into position even as Gwyn stiffened beneath him. His own hand shrieked at him, he must have been shifting the fractured bone. It only made him angrier.

‘Your listening skills have gotten worse. You will listen to me and roll over, or I will send you off to your meetings with so many wounds you won’t heal in time to make a good impression.’

Gwyn’s eyes – the same shade as the blue in icebergs – went frosty for several seconds, and Augus expected serious resistance. But then, whether because of tiredness, or because they both knew that Gwyn needed this and had been avoiding it for far too long, his eyelids hooded and he winced, trying to roll his sore shoulder out of Augus’ grip even as he turned over.

Augus was impatient. A scene that focused Gwyn’s benefit could come later, but right now he needed to burn out his bloodlust or he’d be dazed and unable to function. It wasn’t as though Gwyn wouldn’t respond, regardless, but Augus needed, and he didn’t want to hunt a human and wipe himself out of Court business by needing to digest his food for a week at the bottom of his lake.

He straddled Gwyn’s hips, twisted his wrists up behind his back, riding out his struggles. He sent out waterweed through his wrists and coiled the rubbery stuff around Gwyn’s, a convenient bondage when he didn’t want to move from his position. Looking down at the gnarled, angry scar tissue from that foolish debt Gwyn made with a fire god, he bared his teeth.

He was seething. The mess of his life had grown exponentially since encountering the wreckage of Gwyn’s. He had to work harder than ever at jobs that he didn’t like. He was wedged into a position of responsibility, and caring about the person who had levered him there made it difficult to walk away. There were two people in the world who held privileged positions in his mind, and he was starting to feel that one of them took him for granted.

He was the Each Uisge, he wasn’t taken for granted.

It was hard not to see that he was more of a prisoner here – imprisoned by reputation, obligation – than he was when Gwyn let him have almost free reign of the Seelie palace while he was still, technically, a prisoner.

He didn’t realise he was growling until Gwyn shifted, discomfited, beneath him.

‘Augus, what’s wr-’

Stop talking,’ Augus said, throwing compulsion into his voice without thinking. It didn’t matter. Gwyn was resistant to them. But Gwyn said nothing else, even as Augus reached over to the bedside cabinet and drew a vial of lubricant from a drawer.

He pressed his hand into Gwyn’s hair, dragging fingers through it, massaging at his scalp. It was all the reassurance he could offer. He could still taste blood in his mouth, and Gwyn smelled like prey. Augus swallowed down saliva and ran possessive hands down Gwyn’s sides, watching as Gwyn’s arms shifted in the bindings and then stopped.

Gwyn made a sound of pained frustration. Augus knew the restraints at his wrists forced his arms into a position that put undue strain on his bad shoulder. But he wanted Gwyn to be distracted. If Gwyn was thinking too much, he’d start to ask more insightful questions.

‘Good,’ Augus said, as he grabbed a handful of Gwyn’s ass in each hand and squeezed hard enough that Gwyn squirmed beneath him. ‘No more talking. It’s been rather too long, hasn’t it? I actually have two outfitted rooms now, complete with saltire crosses, benches, beds, a whole accoutrement of toys, and I haven’t been able to get you into either one. It’s remiss of both of us, given you need to unwind more.’

Gwyn’s breath hitched like he wanted to respond, then hitched for an entirely different reason when Augus forced his knees between Gwyn’s legs. He slid a hand into that warm space, ran fingertips over his balls. He licked his lips when Gwyn swallowed down a sound as he squeezed them. He scraped claw-tips over the insides of his thighs, reached further between them – Gwyn’s hips lifting helpfully – pulsed his hand over Gwyn’s half-hard cock. He kept up the pressure until Gwyn’s shoulders strained at the waterweed. He choked, tried to twist away from his own struggles. He’d wrenched himself.

‘Careful there,’ Augus said, squeezing one more time and dragging a hoarse gasp from Gwyn’s throat. ‘Wouldn’t want to hurt yourself.’

He covered his fingers with lubricant, warmed it up in his hands before wrapping fingers around his own cock. He arched back, ran his thumb up over his foreskin and then down, stroking the straight, black pelt of his own pubic hair with slick fingers. He shifted between Gwyn’s legs, letting go of himself and pressing his thumb down hard into the base of Gwyn’s spine, turning his wrist and trailing fingers down between the seam of his ass.

Gwyn twisted his upper body, Augus realised he was trying to look over his shoulder.

Not distracted enough, then.

Careful of his claw-tips, he pressed both his index and middle fingers into Gwyn, opening his mouth at the stretch of Gwyn around him. Gwyn hissed, his legs tightened around Augus’ legs.

‘Relax,’ Augus said, then smirked. ‘Or don’t. It’s really all the same to me.’

He took his time, withdrawing and pushing back, rocking fingers forwards until his knuckles were flush with Gwyn’s ass. He curled them and Gwyn made a muffled sound behind closed lips. Augus was moving too fast. He needed to quell a rising wave within him. He bent forwards and roughly scissored his fingers in Gwyn, even as he bit the fleshy part of Gwyn’s exposed palm.

Gwyn’s wrists yanked in the waterweed bonds, and then he shivered to a halt.

‘Mind your shoulder,’ Augus said, and Gwyn growled, pressed his face back into the sheets. ‘Thank the gods for those healing abilities you have now that you’re King, hm?’

‘Augus...’

The threatening, apprehensive tone in Gwyn’s voice sent a thrill through him. He quickly withdrew his fingers, scratched at the tickle on his thigh only to realise it was wet. He looked down and saw blood painted over himself. His own. He gritted his teeth at it. The stab wound had been brutal. That cook had a wicked ability with a cleaver. He didn’t like to be in pain. Not like this.

He moved quickly. Fisting his freshly blooded fingers over his cock and then pushing against Gwyn’s entrance, even as he slid his other arm forwards and slipped his sore hand over Gwyn’s cheek, caressing the line of his jaw.

He bucked forwards, opening his mouth at the sensation of tightness. It was bordering on uncomfortable, and it was just the sort of sensation he needed to distract himself from the pain throbbing through the scratches that Crielle had given him, the stab wound, the fracture, the myriad other bruises that he’d gained on his rampage through the An-Fnwy estate. Gwyn’s back had bowed, then arched in a convex, a cry forced out of him.

‘Hush,’ Augus said.

He slid the hand at Gwyn’s jaw down to his throat, and wrapped his fingers around that broad neck, squeezing as he sank deeper.

Gwyn made a sound close to a shriek and his shoulders jerked so hard at the waterweed that he snapped it. He shouted again from the pain in his shoulder.

‘Stop, stop, stop, stop, stop, stop, stop,’ Gwyn said, panicked.

Augus froze, eyes wide, shocked away from his own discomfort. Gwyn was a masochist, he liked pain.

Augus loosened his hand around Gwyn’s throat, then withdrew it. He shifted, started to pull out of Gwyn, disturbed at the breathless pleas pouring almost silent from Gwyn’s throat. But the motion of removing his hand from Gwyn’s throat changed everything. He slumped back into the bed, shoulders heaving from a fear that was starting to leak through his own dra’ocht. A sign of how distressed he was.

This isn’t normal.

But as he pulled his cock free, Gwyn made a faint noise of protest, shifting his hips as though to discourage him.

Augus hesitated.

‘Touching your throat wasn’t a problem before,’ Augus said, speculatively, sliding his hand back towards Gwyn’s face and watching him flinch away. He bucked his hips forwards again and Gwyn moaned in despair. A moment later – in a move that Augus couldn’t tell was stupid or deeply arousing – Gwyn slid his free, reddened wrists into a voluntary cross behind his back.

Augus licked his lips and obliged, wrapping waterweed around them again. It was easy to forget that Gwyn had the strength to break most bondage.

But his throat...it really hadn’t been a problem before. Not like that. Gwyn was still close to hyperventilating.

Augus felt hardly coherent enough to put the puzzle together, but as he withdrew and slid back in – deeper this time – riding Gwyn’s fractious shifts, a sense memory flashed unpleasantly.

Gwyn ap Nudd, then-King of the Seelie Court, standing before him, forcing his defeat. A hand around his own throat as Gwyn announced Augus’ demotion from King of the Unseelie, to the lowest of all fae classes – underfae. The feeling of his power leaving him, the pain of it...

But Augus had been lucky enough, at least, to be born underfae. He knew how far he was falling.

Gwyn had no idea what to expect when his own demotion was visited upon him by Albion, current King of the Seelie fae, the one who had ripped Gwyn’s life – such as it was then – away from him.

A twinge in Augus’ chest, an ache he didn’t want to think about. He shifted his hand away from Gwyn’s face and dragged it through Gwyn’s hair instead. Once, twice, enough that Gwyn finally started settling beneath him. His breathing eased – just enough that Augus thought he might be coming away from the edge of fear. It was still laboured, Augus was still taking him with not nearly enough preparation.

But then, Gwyn was a masochist.

‘I’d ask you to hold onto those sheets of yours, as you usually do, but you’re a little tied up right now.’

Augus smiled at the tension in Gwyn’s hands and then grasped his hips hard, yanking Gwyn back, bottoming out in a single thrust. Before Gwyn finished crying out, Augus withdrew, undulated his hips as he pushed back in, opening his mouth at the warmth of it. The heat in his blood increased, felt as though he circulated sluggish lava.

Gwyn pressed his mouth into the bed, each sound partly muffled, still wonderful to hear. Augus let his body fill with pleasure, arousal, then consciously dispersed it through his body until it was more distant, easier to handle. For the first time in a while, not just in the past few hours, he felt like he could truly focus.

Gwyn kept denying himself, kept overworking, and Augus wasn’t taking on clients anymore. He belatedly realised with an unwelcome clarity, that he needed more than what Gwyn was offering.

It wasn’t as though Augus needed much, but he certainly needed more than what he was getting.

His lips thinned, he spread Gwyn’s legs with his own and used his weight to thrust harder, to take what Gwyn had been withholding for weeks. Gwyn’s fingers splayed, shook, clenched, the noises he made leaned more towards pain than pleasure. Augus closed his eyes and drank it down, knowing that this wasn’t the way he normally did things, but then...the mass murder of fae that he couldn’t eat wasn’t really his style either.

He was branching out.

Augus laughed softly, Gwyn sobbed beneath him. Augus made a crooning noise, more condescension than care, and smirked, grabbing Gwyn’s hair roughly and dragging his head to the side. Gwyn resisted, but Augus’ grip was unrelenting and Gwyn blinked at nothing for several seconds, then closed his eyes, pressed his lips together. Augus slowed his pace, concentrated.

‘It’s not enough for you, is it? You need a proper scene, and I need time to break into you. Why do you keep putting it off?’

Gwyn said nothing. It was telling that he didn’t try to defend himself. All the excuses about being busy, the Kingdom, commitments, the Unseelie Court – they all sounded perfectly valid, but Augus knew something else was going on. But now wasn’t the time to get to the bottom of it, he only wanted Gwyn to know that he knew.

Augus leaned on his hand so that Gwyn’s head was pinned in place, then moved quickly, pistoning back and forth, letting his own pleasure fall back into his lower spine, throb down in his cock, his balls. He thought of blood on his hands, the sound of bones breaking, indulged. It was far messier than his usual thoughts, more than he often allowed himself to have because he valued self-mastery so much. If he was honest with himself, the days leading up to the execution of his plan had left him agitated.

Augus’ gut ached, and from more than pleasure. He made a thin, pained sound. He couldn’t afford to hold his release off for much longer, the clench and release of his abdominal muscles was aggravating the stab wound. Augus could tolerate pain if he had to, he didn’t want to prolong it now.

He was surprised Gwyn hadn’t come yet, but then...Augus hadn’t exactly been paying attention to what he wanted. His brow furrowed, he shook away an agitation that had grown familiar under his skin, and slowed his movements, concentrated once more.

Gwyn moaned thickly at the change of pace. Augus ran his teeth over his bottom lip.

‘Sweetness,’ Augus said, breathless. He shifted his grip in Gwyn’s hair until he could massage fingers over his scalp, sticking to the slower rhythm he’d set. Gwyn’s head didn’t tilt back into the touch, but his neck tensed like he wanted to.

Once, when his heartsong was dominance, he would have been able to predict the exact moment that Gwyn would come. Now he was taken aback when Gwyn clenched hard around him, head jerking in Augus’ hand as he tried to turn back into the sheets. Augus tightened his fingers, and Gwyn opened his mouth on a silent cry, hiding so much of himself and able to get away with it because Augus hadn’t been able to take his time, break him down properly.

Damn it.

Augus closed his eyes, found the well of arousal inside of him and focused on it, amplified it with heat and the taste of Gwyn’s blood in his mouth.

His release, when it came, was less satisfying than he’d hoped. It felt good, but it didn’t sate the hunger he’d unleashed. Halfway through he laughed breathlessly at himself. He’d handled six months in a cell in the Seelie Court better than this.

As soon as he was finished, he withdrew, cutting through waterweed with his claws and absently making sure that Gwyn didn’t move his arms too quickly. The nerve damage in his bad shoulder was brutal, and Gwyn had a habit of punishing himself simply for being injured by deliberately wrenching it. Augus eased Gwyn’s arms forwards, noting the spasms in his breathing as his right shoulder was gently guided forward. He left both of his arms crooked, hands curled into loose fists by his head.

He pressed his hand to his belly, then wadded up some of the sheet and held it in place, staunching the bleeding.

Gwyn pushed himself up, holding an arm across his chest, a sign of how much pain his shoulder was in. Later Augus would have to release the nerves again. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d done it. Two, three days ago? Maybe longer? He’d meant to do it every day that he wasn’t hunting but...it just hadn’t worked out that way.

Gwyn pulled on his pants, a shirt. He was so used to being interrupted by staff or Gulvi, that he was in the habit of getting dressed even before he showered. He sniffed the air.

‘You’re bleeding,’ Gwyn said. Augus stared at him.

‘Your powers of observation leave me, as always, spellbound. I did say there had been an assassination attempt. But in truth, I have a surprise for you.’

Gwyn’s brow furrowed. He was losing the sleepy, debauched look already. His facial expressions these days fell too often towards cold, aloof, or some form of unhappy or suspicious.

He was managing to find at least two of them now.

‘A surprise,’ Gwyn said, flat.

‘Mm. Something worth celebrating, perhaps,’ Augus said, sliding off the bed and finding this moment to be far more satisfying than the release he’d just had.

Gwyn’s expression had landed on suspicion, and seemed to be staying there.

No time like the present.

‘Congratulations,’ Augus said. ‘You’re an orphan.’

Gwyn’s eyebrows drew together, then his eyes widened, his mouth went slack. Confusion passed into a stricken expression that took the peak off of Augus’ excitement.

‘Mama?’ Gwyn mouthed, looking down and then to the side.

Augus went cold, something hardening inside of him.

‘I keep my promises,’ Augus said. ‘I did warn you.’

He felt uneasy. That Gwyn would refer to his mother in such a way, after always calling her Crielle or mother.

‘I feel we need to have a meeting to discuss something that you have been trying to avoid discussing for weeks – she has actioned plans against you, I had evidence but teleporting back waterlogged it and it wasn’t written in waterfast ink. I-’

‘It wasn’t an assassination attempt,’ Gwyn said, and Augus rolled his eyes.

‘It was, it was just a successful one, and it was mine.’

Gwyn’s chest rose and fell rapidly. But his expression shuttered into a blank, awful mask. A coldness that Augus was familiar with. He opened his mouth to retort, to remind Gwyn that Crielle had made Gwyn’s life a misery, but there was a sharp knock on the door. A familiar rap.

‘You’re not joking,’ Gwyn said, after his nostrils had flared, picking up the scents in the room. ‘You...’

‘I’ll get the door then, shall I?’ Augus said. Gwyn’s reactions hadn’t been exactly what he’d expected, and he was still too lost in bloodlust to think straight. He walked over, naked, a sheet held to the wound on his abdomen, yanked the door open.

Gulvi, Unseelie swan-maiden, an integral part of Gwyn’s Inner Court. She gave Augus a desultory look, then her black bird eyes moved past him and her wings flared quickly in agitation when she saw Gwyn. She had one hand resting on the hilt of a dagger, shifted her feet.

‘Darlings, you should know that a messenger has come from the Seelie Court at the behest of our dear Seelie King Albion himself, asking that you come immediately to answer charges of matricide of a respected Seelie Court member through the vehicle of your Advisor, as well as the slaughter of twenty two other Seelie fae, and the somewhat lesser charge of trespassing.’

‘They think I ordered this?’ Gwyn said, and Augus raised his own eyebrows. He really hadn’t thought that part through.

Gwyn and Gulvi were right, this side of politics was definitely not his strength. Not that he particularly cared. He mostly just needed Crielle ferch Fnwy to be eliminated for his own peace of mind. He’d known she wasn’t done with Gwyn, and it hadn’t felt fantastic to be proven right.

‘They think I ordered...’

Gwyn’s voice quavered once. Gulvi glared at Augus, and Augus returned the gaze, nonchalant.

‘They can wait while I shower,’ Gwyn snapped, and Augus turned to him, surprised at the change in tone. He was surprised to see that pale blue gaze directed at him, a formidable focused glare.

‘I did you a favour,’ Augus said.

‘Did you?’ Gwyn said, jaw clenching.

He’ll come around. She was, by far, one of the worst influences in his life. And all the other ones are already dead. Except perhaps Albion. We can work up to him.

‘I’ll deal with you after I’ve been to the Seelie Court.’

‘You’re going?’ Augus said, and Gwyn barked out a laugh.

‘I have to go, they think I ordered the slaughter of my own mother. If I don’t go, I as good as admit that this was something you and I masterminded. Which is something I’ll likely have to do, regardless, to protect the rumours we’re fostering. And no, Augus, this is not something that works to the credit of the Unseelie Kingdom. She is a respected, powerful individual with so many contacts on both sides of the river that her death will be read as an affront. I-’

‘-It’s not worth it,’ Gulvi said abruptly. ‘He’s high on bloodlust.’

Gwyn’s eyes narrowed, he shook his head. The gesture was so resigned, so despairing, that Augus felt teeth lengthening inside his own mouth.

‘Get out,’ Gwyn said quietly. ‘Get out. Do whatever you want, since that’s evidently what you’re going to do anyway.’

Augus’ lips thinned, he dropped the sheet, exposing the worst of his wound. His cock was still slick with lubricant and he didn’t care if Gulvi saw it. He picked up the sodden folders he’d dropped on the chair, shook them at him.

‘You should know she was planning something, and that the plan has been executed. I’m not sure what you can salvage from these, but there’s documentation in here, and there will be more at the An-Fnwy estate.’

He walked out, not caring who saw him. Perhaps he needed some time in the lake. He certainly needed a shower. He’d wanted to ask if Gwyn was asking him to leave, or ordering him as King, and realised he didn’t want to know the answer.

Change the location, still a prisoner. I believe that is what Ash would call: ‘Same shit, different day.’