Morrigan nodded. “Too well, unfortunately. He cursed my descendants, but that is a story for another time.” She tilted her head and intently stared. “How would you like to perform a little experiment, so to speak? We need to find out what the Fae is planning and why.”
“I can tell you what he told us. He said he wants to reunite the Seelie and Unseelie Courts and that if this does not happen, his people will disappear like all the other pantheons. Personally, I got the feeling he was more concerned with becoming the one in charge. He was quite adamantly against the Queen and King and told us the two couldn’t get along because of the humans on Midgard and their new religion, Christianity. It turned everyone against all ruling pantheons.”
“Well, he isn’t wrong there. That was the cause of our demise, and many other pantheons. We used to be so powerful, our magic unstoppable, and our cultures rich. Christianity undermined peoples’ belief in who we are and what we did for them. Every pantheon has suffered. Some weren’t able to sustain themselves and passed to their next lives.” Sadness filled her eyes as she stared out the window. “I’ve lost so many good friends.”
Hel understood the goddess’s pain firsthand. She, too, had lost her childhood friends who died during the last Ragnarök. Rubbing the sharp ache gripping her heart, she stepped toward Morrigan and laid a hand on her arm. “I will help—whatever you need me to do.”
Morrigan turned to her with a smile. “A true warrior. I know the Fae has your mate. I also know he was his first creation. Your mate has proven himself and his worth many times over, and I cannot allow him to be used or tortured once more for the Fae’s evil whims. I have made it my mission to defeat Fer-Diorich, no matter what or how long it takes.”
The goddess’s smile disappeared. “Your goal will be to gather information and discover as much as possible. Be wary of him, for he is a trickster. You will think him to be nice and caring, but he is conniving and murderous. He would kill his own mother if he thought it could advance his agenda.”
“Sounds like he and my father would make the perfect couple.”
“Yes, they would. Fer-Diorich is equally as malicious as Loki.” Morrigan glanced out the window. “You never answered my first question. Who was the man you were talking to in the Gods’ Glass?”
Hel exhaled. “My right hand, so to speak. His name is Baldr.” She stared at the goddess’s back with a knowing smirk. “You think he is handsome?”
Morrigan chuckled. “Who wouldn’t? His face is divine and his body, strong. I can hear the sound of affection for you in his voice. I can also read a person’s worth, and his is beyond any price.”
“I couldn’t agree with you more. Baldr is a rarity, although his sense of humor can get annoying. So, you want me to just sit here and wait for Fer-Diorich to come to me? Should I ask questions, or would that make him suspicious?”
“Ask some but not overly so. He trusts no one and has killed everyone whom he believed turned against him. My advice would be to listen. If he asks something from you, try to accommodate, but take your time. His flaw is his impatience. Always has been and always will be.”
“Can you tell me a little about him? Why is he so focused on uniting the Courts?”
“Because he believes if he has control over both, he can recover the only person he has ever loved, although it was a controlling, twisted love on his part. He was so furious Sadhbh had spurned him, he turned her into a deer. She lived that way for three years, wasting away and under constant threat of death by local hunters. I could not stand back and let this happen. You remind me of her in a way yet, where she was loving and tender, you are frosty and as hard as ice—but you both have a depth of love and compassion few others possess.”
“What happened to Sadhbh,” Hel asked, trying to imitate the goddess’s pronunciation, which sounded like sigh-ve.
“Through a servant of the evil Fae, I was able to tell Sadhb how to break the curse. She was successful and met her future husband. They were together for seven years when war called him back. Because she was heavy with child, she stayed behind. While he was gone, Fer-Diorich discovered where she was and tricked her by showing up, disguised as her husband. In her joy, she ran out to greet him and was changed back into a deer. This time, though, she was unable to change back.”
Morrigan turned back to the window, and the surrounding air grew heavy, as if everything positive had disappeared. “I stayed with her until she gave birth to her son. She seemed to hold on to hope for him, but when I visited her on Ossain’s seventh birthday, she gave her son to me to deliver to her beloved, then laid down and died. She was just so tired and trying to raise a human child while she was in deer form was too difficult for her.”
“How tragic.” Hel sympathized with the cursed woman. Doing what was best for a child was difficult enough, but when the best decision was to leave— heart wrenching just didn’t quite cover it. That would be one major regret in her life, not being able to raise Shalendra. Her biggest, by far, was not standing by Émilien’s side and supporting him.
Pressing her lips together, she exhaled through her nose. She should have paid more attention to what was happening to them on Midgard but watching him with their daughter was just too painful. She hadn’t learned about his curse until Shalendra was years older, and it had been a terrible shock.
“No one gets over failing as a mother. I should know.”
Morrigan shook her head, her sapphire gaze filled with sympathy. “No, Hel, you did not fail. You made one of the most difficult decisions a parent must make. It was selfless and made out of love. Your daughter is intelligent, strong, and sympathetic to others. If anything, you and your mate have done an excellent job. Think what could have happened had your father discovered her.”
“Loki would have ruined her, and he still could. No one is safe with my father. No one.”
Émilien strode across the room, turned, and walked back, continuing to pace as he had been doing since the Dark Fae had brought him here. His last words had been a promise to take him to Hel before getting started on his unwanted task. That had been five hours ago. He had never been patient as a man. Now, as a wolf, he was even less so.
Growling deep in his chest, he stomped to the window and rested his forehead against the top wrought iron brace, his nose touching the filthy glass between the bars as he tried to catch a glimpse of something outside. From the thick layer of dirt and grime covering the panes, it had not been cleaned in years. If he were in the Seelie Court, everything would be pristine, the glass shining like a clear diamond. Here, it was a smog-covered mess.
He squinted, making out a few creatures lying around a grassy area. He recognized the Dearg Due, or the Irish vampire, as she lay almost hidden in the branches of a great oak tree. A few feet away, hunched over and wearing a dark gray cloak, was a male Bocánach, a demon with a man’s body and a goat face. The creature had some human-like features, but the curved horns screamed inhuman. He was a bit surprised to find him this close to females of other species. Male Bocánachs generally were not accepted.
His gaze moved to the right, and he caught a quick glimpse of what looked like a black dog and cat, but they disappeared before he really saw them. Rubbing his eyes, he blinked several times, realizing just how tired he was.
He pressed the side of his head against the glass, ignoring the pain from the bars. In that direction were buildings, designed in the ancient Greco-Roman styles, some with the plainer Dorian columns gracing their fronts while others had the fancier Corinthian columns. Every one, however, could have used a good cleaning. Even the lawn areas were weed-filled and unkempt.
He thought maybe there was something to Fer-Diorich’s grumblings as his gaze moved along the bushes lining the sidewalks. The varying branch lengths had grown wild and crazy and were in desperate need of a good trim. In this court, why would anyone care about their homes if all hope had been stripped away?
Just as he turned away from the window to resume his pacing, he caught a glimpse of a troop of twenty to thirty soldiers running down the street. The creatures lazily turned to follow their progress for a mere moment before closing their eyes again, as if they didn’t have a care in the world.