Series: The Arda Exodus
Series Order: 1
Author: Keira Marcos
Fandom: Harry Potter/The Hobbit
Relationship: Razel Fireborn/Tyr Warhide, Ragnok Windrider/Lenore Feyborn
Genre: Fantasy, Romance, Fusion
Warnings: Canon-typical racism, canon-typical violence, politics, explicit language, explicit sex, discussion-sexual assault, Grammarly Beta
Word Count: 65,942
Author Note: See the series page for notes.
Summary: Razel Fireborn, the only son of Chieftain Ragnok Windrider, has never taken a serious interest in courting a mate. Politics and social mores demand a certain standard of behavior from him, and the choices he makes have the potential to impact his people far into the future. In the midst of the most important magical endeavor his people have ever undertaken, he meets a dverger that catches his interest, which is annoying because he doesn’t have time for that kind of thing.
* * * *
Great Britain, Gringotts – October 1, 1975
Razel left his bed nearly thirty minutes before his alarm charm was set to go off, nerves shaking him loose from much-needed sleep. He cleaned his teeth as he considered what he’d wear, as he’d rather not get a lecture from his mother regarding his lack of care with his appearance on such an important day. She’d put several new suits in his closet over the last few weeks, giving him both her preference and a bit of a choice. It was more than she ever gave his father. Ragnok Windrider hadn’t picked out his own clothes in several hundred years and didn’t bother to pretend otherwise.
He entered the shower, activated the necessary runes, and stowed his wand as water streamed down on him.
“Razel! Are you decent?”
Razel paused as he reached for the shampoo he’d gotten recently from France. It was supposed to have a delicate calming effect. He wondered if it would do anything to settle his nerves. “I’m in the shower, Elspeth!” He glanced over his shoulder and found the slim form of his sister with her back to the shower area of his bathing chamber. She had a shoulder pressed firmly against the door frame. “Nice braids.”
She flicked several over her shoulder. “Thanks, I spent hours on them last night since I can’t do charms for love or money on my hair. Amad sent me to collect you. I told her you wouldn’t be up yet, and I had no interest in rousting your naked arse from the bed again.”
Razel grinned. “Sleeping in clothes is ridiculous.”
“Are you nervous?” Elspeth asked. “Because I’d be a fucking wreck.”
“I am a complete fucking wreck,” he assured as he worked shampoo into his hair for the second time. It smelled pleasant enough, but it wasn’t doing a damn thing to loosen the knots in his stomach. “I don’t think I’m ready, but…it feels like it can’t wait.”
She huffed. “Well, everyone can wait as long as you need, Razel. This is an unfair burden.”
“I’ve always known the day would come,” Razel said. “Well, they told me shortly after I turned ten years old.”
Of course, being told he was the first dverger born in over a thousand years with the potential to achieve the full elemental state and the magical ability to create permanent dimensional portals through rune craft had been daunting as fuck. Moreso for the fact that his mother had told him it was his destiny to carve a path to their home world so their kind could retreat from Earth.
“That’s ghastly!” Her tone was more amused than offended because the information wasn’t new. “Still, I’m worried that this is just too much, too soon. Many in our own clan are upset that your potential was hidden for so long—like they have any right to any sort of offense regarding such a bloody thing!”
“Come now,” Razel said gently as he activated the cleansing rune and turned to rinse his hair. “We all have our role in the Horde, sister, and this is mine. I’m not unprepared for it. Our parents have been training me for this since before you were adopted.”
His parents had adopted her when she was barely a year old due to the death of her parents in a ritual accident. He’d been almost twenty-six and had welcomed a sibling far more easily than his parents expected him to. Elspeth was just fifty and had only recently chosen a career path. An adult in magic and physical maturity, but a minor as it concerned legal and financial matters. A considered protection for the young adults of their kind against being used by others for their own gain. Despite her prophetic gifts, she’d chosen the field of enchantment to study. He was glad that she hadn’t allowed anyone to pressure her to cultivate a magical gift that left her genuinely distressed more often than not. The wizards were on the cusp of war, and dverger, like his sister, were already suffering horrific visions because of it.
“Did you have a disturbing vision?”
She huffed. “All of my visions are disturbing. Amad says I’ll learn to shape my magic so I can seek the information I want instead of all just piling on top of me.”
Razel drew his wand, cast a drying charm, conjured a robe to wear, and went to stand in front of the mirror. “I’m decent now.”
She turned immediately, arms crossed. “Listen, I am prepared to throw an extinction-level tantrum and derail everyone for weeks if you need it.”
Razel grinned at her and cast a charm to trim up his beard. “You’ve never been more adorable.” He vanished the beard trimmings and considered his hair. “Should I cut it?”
“No, certainly not,” Elspeth said and shook her head. “You look like a child with short hair, and that’s the last impression you want to make today.”
“Me, a child?” He scoffed and grinned when she laughed. “I’m an old dwarf, now. Ask anyone.”
“Seventy-five going on a thousand to hear anyone tell it, and they don’t know the half of it,” Elspeth teased. “Adad tells everyone you’re an old soul, and no one believes him.”
“Everyone knows he’s a romantic,” Razel said. “Fortunately, Amad is around to keep him in line. Don’t worry so much. Everything will be fine.”
She huffed and pointed one slim finger at him. “If you were the one dreaming about worldwide destruction every damn night, you’d be worried sick.”
Razel caught her hand and held it even as tears welled in her eyes. “Listen, dear sister, I will carve a path through space and time to Arda, where our people can thrive and be safe from this world and the wretched creatures that seek to tear it asunder. It is my purpose. It is perhaps the reason I was born at all when it was accepted, before their marriage, that our parents would have no natural children of their own.”
Her mouth trembled, and tears spilled down her cheeks unchecked. “I see that, too, Razel. But I fear for you and the price it will extract. What is it worth? What if you cannot survive the awakening? What if no one is ever meant to be a full elemental? There is not a single recorded instance of it—not amongst our kind nor those selfish wizards who ignore magic and fate until it slaps them in the face.”
“What is it worth?” Razel questioned. “What price wouldn’t I pay, love, for our people to be safe? There is no room on this world for us, and it has nothing to do with the land that humans hoard, fight over, and abuse for temporary gain. Perhaps their lack of foresight boils down to their incredibly short lifespans, or maybe they’re just inherently greedy and blind to consequences.”
Elspeth took a deep breath and nodded. “It’ll be fine.”
“Yes, it will be,” Razel said. “Amad has faith in us both, you know.”
“Well, she must,” Elspeth said and waved both hands as she walked away from him. “Mothers are supposed to be foolishly optimistic about their children’s potential!”
Razel laughed as she left him and called out, “I’ll be out for breakfast in a half hour!”
In his closet, he flicked through the new suits and chose a dark grey one with a matching mid-thigh coat. He liked the short, round collar that allowed for no sort of cravat because he just wasn’t in the mood for that much effort. The day was going to be long and tedious, so he put on the most comfortable pair of boots he owned that fit with the suit.
He picked cuff links, a watch, and beads for his hair carefully. Razel knew that his every moment would be measured and weighed as if he was on the cusp of stepping into his father’s role as chieftain. He didn’t have room for such concerns, but the judgment followed him everywhere and had since his first maturation when he’d been presented formally to the clan, but not the Horde, as Fireborn. Elementals weren’t rare amongst the dverger. Both his parents were elementals, but even then, there had been some hidden expectation of him that he couldn’t rightly explain. It had always seemed like most of the people in clan knew there was something other about him that they didn’t know.
Razel was braiding his hair at the temples when the outer door of his chambers opened. It wasn’t all that surprising when his mother called out to him. He finished his second braid, worked the bead into place to close it off, and walked to the entrance of his bedroom. His mother was standing by the fireplace.
“I told Elspeth I’d just be thirty minutes.”
Lenore hummed under her breath as she glanced him over. She nodded and inclined her head. “Your father is worried.”
“You aren’t?” Razel questioned.
“I’ve worried for you since your conception,” she said shortly. “Ragnok has specific worries. There’s been a petition.”
“What sort of petition.”
“The Longbeards want you to join them permanently. My uncle has accused us of coddling you and leaving you unprepared to meet your magical potential,” she said stiffly. “There is to be a hearing before the general meeting. Your explicit honesty will be insisted upon and probably tested.”
“Knorr wouldn’t get the answer he expects,” Razel muttered. “He’s always been…overtly interested in mentoring me, and I thought this was settled when I refused his offer of an apprenticeship. He’s never even bothered to come here to meet me in all the seventy-five years that I’ve lived. His ambitions are off-putting, to say the least.”
“Knorr believes himself superior to most, sought to control me well into adulthood and disdained my marriage to Ragnok. My uncle was especially vexed by the fact that his sister had married a dverger with more power than he had, so he couldn’t overrule my father and take charge of me. Had he known I would birth a child of your power, he’d have fought my marriage outside of the Longbeards tooth and nail. He is, at his heart, an empire builder.”
“He’s an arsehole,” Razel muttered. “And I can’t stand him, and I’m not going to breed to suit him or his desire to increase the power of his clan, Amad. I’d not take a knee for that corrupt old fuck for love or money.”
Lenore’s mouth quirked gently. “And you may say so at your leisure, child of my magic.”
“Is Adad furious?”
“He is incandescent with rage,” Lenore said. “I am surprised he hasn’t burst into flame. Elspeth is serving him tea and offering to make war on the whole of the Longbeard clan on his behalf. She’s recruited Fyre Blackaxe to her campaign already.”
Razel laughed. “She’s barely left me for fifteen minutes.”
“I assume she came from the womb ready to pick a fight,” Lenore said and smiled when he continued to laugh. “Come have a meal. The day will progress as it will.”
Razel went to his armory cabinet and opened the doors. He took off the simple leather wand holster and replaced it with the dimensional cuff he’d received on his birthday just three days before, tucking it under his sleeve with ease. Then summoned his wand from where he’d left it on the bathroom counter. The ten-inch redwood wand sailed into the room and slapped gently in his hand. He stored it, picked up the copper stave that he’d had for nearly twenty-five years, and willed it into the dimensional cuff as well.
He plucked his favorite athame from a pocket on the door and hesitated only briefly before picking up his sword as well. He stored both even as his mother laughed.
“It’d do well for some of these people to remember that I am as much my father’s son as I am yours,” Razel said shortly and flushed when she grinned at him. “What’s for breakfast?”
“Whatever you’d like, love,” Lenore said. “It’s the least we can do considering the events ahead of us.”
By the time he was seated with coffee and a plate full of fluffy scrambled eggs with bacon, his sister and her best friend had wandered away to gather a strike force. Razel was on the fence about it because he was sure Elspeth was entirely serious and Fyre was a world-class enabler when it came to those kinds of shenanigans. He found himself amused at the idea of a pack of dams showing up at the hearing dressed to do battle on his behalf. And relieved because he’d have his fierce little sister at his back any day.
“It’ll be fine, Adad.”
Ragnok set aside his tea, fingers tapping gently on the table. “Legally, your uncle has no recourse. Your mother and I were within our rights to shelter you magically during your conservatorship. Circumstances like yours are the exact reason that such a thing even exists. Generations ago, the apprentice system was rife with power struggles and sometimes outright abuse.” He frowned. “Knorr protested my marriage to your mother every single day leading up to the ceremony. He actually told her parents that she since had no breeding potential, that she should be given over to the service of the clan’s temple and allowed no marriage at all.”
His mother had grown into maturity with an infertility condition that couldn’t be managed or cured by magic. Razel wasn’t privy to her exact medical state as it was his mother’s private business. His father had been cursed by his own brother. Most had considered their marriage to each other a good thing—a way for two people to find solace in their unfortunate circumstances. It was considered a tragedy amongst their kind to never have children, and the opportunity to adopt was rare.
Elspeth’s birth parents had specifically gifted their only child to Lenore Feyborn in the event of their untimely deaths over many blood relations. It had been a shocking event, and Razel would never forget the look on his mother’s face as Elspeth was placed in her arms for the first time. He’d rarely seen either of his parents so undone as they were that day.
“What are you thinking about?” Lenore questioned.
“The day that Elspeth came to us,” Razel murmured. “Knorr has eight children and at least twenty grandchildren—yet he does not truly understand what it means to be family.”
“No, he never has,” Lenore admitted. “My grandmother hated her own son near the end of her life and refused to see him on her death bed. She said his ambition had made him intolerable and struggled to even speak his name.”
Razel nodded, and the door leading out of the family section opened. Fyre stuck her head in.
“Razel, you have your sword, correct?”
“Of course,” Razel said in amusement.
“Great,” she declared cheerfully, and the door thudded shut.
“Putting her in charge of the lobby security might have been a mistake,” Ragnok said roughly. “She’s taken it to mean that she’s in charge of security everywhere. I caught her lecturing Rhys Sharprock last week about the lax warding in his office.”
Razel shook his head. “Oh, don’t think him a victim. He considers it part of her training. He’d put her in charge of your army should you ever need to form one for his own damn amusement.” He leaned forward to say more, but the door opened, and his aunt entered.
“Ah, Omis,” Ragnok said. “Word reached you.”
Omis glared at him. “Are you really going to allow that motherfucker to question your judgment regarding the education of your own son?”
“He’s skirted the law on the petition,” Ragnok said. “But I can’t ignore it. I’m more than willing to toss him back in Rome’s direction in the most painful fashion possible, but the Horde must hear his complaint before it can be dismissed outright.”
Omis scoffed and focused on Razel. “How are you, lad?”
“I’m fine,” Razel said. “Knorr is nothing but a nuisance and a distraction. I don’t know what his real agenda is, but I’m sure it’ll be revealed soon enough. He’s not particularly deep, Omis.”
She made a face and nodded. “I need to get my sword.” She turned and marched right back out of the room. “Elspeth is making a war room out of the library.”
Lenore sighed. “Oh, for the love of Mahal.” She stood and left the table.
“Where are you going?” Ragnok questioned.
“To get my sword and my staff and maybe a few daggers. As if I’d let my daughter go into battle without me,” she said tartly and flicked a series of thick red braids over her shoulder as she left the room.
“Should we do something about that?” Razel questioned.
“Eh.” Ragnok picked up his coffee.
“You know, with Elspeth’s social position, she could actually start a civil war,” Razel said in exasperation. “Especially with Amad’s support.”
“Well, they’d have only brought that shite on themselves,” his father said and shrugged when Razel groaned. “Don’t worry, lad, it isn’t like anyone would stand a chance against them. I’d wrestle a dragon before I’d get on the wrong end of your mother’s sword.”
* * * *
Tyr Warhide settled into a chair beside his father and put a hand on the copy of the petition they’d been given. He’d never been more relieved by his parent’s migration to France when he’d been an infant. And was glad to have very little association with the Longbeards beyond a few very distant cousins on his mother’s side. His father was a Firebeard by birth, and Tyr was considered a Firebeard because his mother migrated to that clan in France and claimed the Firebeards as her own when his father had been asked to return home.
Such migration was common and had been since the Horde had spread out over the world in response to the spread of magical humans. While the Blacklocks had stayed in Britain, the other six clans had established banking systems as needed in various countries. Each clan had a bank director, but they all answered to the Chieftain of the Horde, Ragnok Windrider. It was a system of government that had served them well for thousands of years.
“This is….” Brol took a deep breath, and Tyr wondered if his father was going to lose his temper in public for the first time in decades. His father had been called Brol Wildheart before he even got close to his fiftieth birthday because of his adventurous spirit and penchant for brawling at the least provocation. “Obscene.”
“Yes,” Tyr murmured and no longer wondered why his father had brought him to Britain when he was the youngest child and not in the line of succession when it came to the directorship of the banking system his father had managed for seventy-five years. He’d taken over when Tyr was ten. “I wondered why you left Cain at home.”
“His temper is worse than mine,” Brol said dryly. “And as well as he does with the management of the bank, he knows next to nothing about international law. Your shiny new mastery is just what I need today.”
“Mahal help us all the day that Cain Fury decides he’s ready to be the director,” Tyr said in amusement and shifted in his seat when the large doors in the back of the Hall of Mages opened, and Ragnok Windrider entered with his family at his back.
Everyone stood. Tyr watched Ragnok escort his wife to a private, secure box near the main table, and several dams joined her there with a series of dark, clearly hostile looks aimed at Knorr Stonehelm.
“He’s going to get himself killed,” Brol muttered. “I wouldn’t want to put that look on Lenore’s face for all the gold in the world.”
Tyr couldn’t help but agree, but already his attention had been caught by someone he’d never seen before. He watched Ragnok lead a young dverger male close to his own age to the central table, and they sat. Everyone in the room sat shortly thereafter.
Razel Fireborn. It had to be, as no other dverger would dare to sit equal to the chieftain in the Hall of Mages.
Even his naming had been done in private, and no one outside of the Blacklock clan had seen Ragnok’s son until now. It wasn’t uncommon. Ragnok himself hadn’t been introduced to the Horde until he was nearly a hundred years old. Tyr took a deep breath, and his father snorted indelicately beside him.
“One would expect with such attractive parents that he would be easy on the eyes,” Brol murmured.
Easy on the eyes, Tyr thought wildly. Razel Fireborn was easily the most attractive person he’d ever set eyes on in his life. Magic shimmered on Razel’s skin as Ragnok leaned close and said something. In response, Razel shifted forward and pushed several braids back from his face revealing delicately pointed ears that had more than one person in the room gasping in shock. The chieftain’s son ignored the noise entirely as he focused on the parchment in front of him.
Fireborn, Tyr thought and wondered why Razel had chosen that over the distinction of carrying the use name of Feyborn like his mother. He certainly could’ve based on his appearance alone.
“As my son doesn’t know most of you on sight, please introduce yourselves,” Ragnok said. “We’ll start with the Paris branch.”
Tyr stood when his father did, swallowed hard, and wished he’d already poured himself some water. He glanced toward the pitcher on their table, uncomfortable with the scrutiny that probably wouldn’t let up for hours. It felt strangely personal, and that wasn’t an experience he’d ever had. There were nearly a thousand dverger in the audience boxes as the day had been reserved for the quarterly report.
“Brol Wildheart of the clan Firebeard and my son, Tyr Warhide,” Brol said. “It is our great pleasure and honor to meet you, Master Razel Fireborn.”
Razel focused on them individually, in turn, gaze assessing and knowing in a way that reminded Tyr of Lenore, whom he’d seen on numerous occasions but had never been allowed to speak to. He realized then that absolutely no one, not even the dwarf’s own great uncle, was really prepared for Razel.
Razel’s gaze drifted back to him, and Tyr forced himself to stand perfectly still. “It’s an honor.” He paused. “I watched the pensieve memory of you earning your use name, Master Warhide. May we all perform so well in circumstances that dire. It was awe-inspiring.”
“Thank you, Master Fireborn,” Tyr said quietly for the lack of any other response, face heating beyond his ability to control. His father coughed into his hand, and Tyr wondered if he could accidentally lose him during the portkey trip home.
He didn’t speak of that event often but knew the memory had been shared with Ragnok. There really hadn’t been much of a choice since Tyr had killed a dragon with a ritual knife in defense of his mother. It had been a costly incident for the Horde. The investigation into who had lost control of the Hungarian Horntail had been extensive. In the end, his own participation had been minimal, but it had shaped him far more than anyone expected because it had led to his interest in law and how it intertwined with the governing of the Horde.
“New York,” Ragnok said with an incline of his head.
Tyr gratefully sat and poured the water despite the way it may be perceived. He figured he was entitled to be a little bloody rattled.
“Tanik Grimm of the Broadbeam clan and my daughter Elis Silvertongue. We are honored, Chieftain and Master Fireborn, to be here today.”
Tyr watched Razel stare at Director Grimm for several seconds, recognizing the judgment and the curiosity. It wasn’t often one of their kind was so explicit in their acknowledgment regarding the practice of necromancy. Elis Silvertongue deflated just a bit when Razel merely nodded in greeting and refocused his attention on his father. She was a beautiful dwarrowdam and probably wasn’t used to polite interest rather than overt pursuit.
“Braigo Craftborn of the clan Stonefoot and heir, Kal Ironwill.”
Ragnok made a note in the ledger in front of him. “My congratulations, Master Braigo, on the claiming of an heir. May he ease the burdens of leadership.”
Tyr had only met a handful of Craftborn dverger in his life, and neither had been part of his clan. He assumed there to be more of their kind who preferred their own company and their craft but admitting such a thing came with challenges. Societal and familial expectations were a burden that could not be easily cast aside. He admired anyone who could speak to their nature in such an honest way. It was the goal of any dverger to know their own self as intimately as possible.
“Thank you, Chieftain,” Braigo said. “I’m loathed to admit it, but you were right.”
Ragnok grinned. “If it makes you feel any better at all, my wife wrote that letter and made me sign it.”
Braigo nodded. “Yes, it does.” He sat down without another word, and his heir followed suit with a curious look in Razel’s direction.
“Theda Storm of the clan Ironfist and my heiress, Mya Stargazer.” Theda was one of just two female directors, and Tyr had interacted with her several times over the years as she favored his opinion on legal matters regarding the excavation of magical sites in Egypt and elsewhere.
“Mim Dragonslayer of the clan Stiffbeard and my oldest son and heir, Therin Augur.”
An elemental, Tyr thought. The first to be introduced, and he noted that Razel gave the dverger just as much attention as he’d given the others, save himself. What was it, Tyr wondered, that had made Razel speak to him? He knew he’d be asked, and he hadn’t really a clue. He glanced around the room, and his gaze landed on Lenore, who stared at him with sparkling green eyes, and she inclined her head in acknowledgment. Beside him, his father shifted slightly in shock.
It was more about his mother than himself, and Tyr was only mildly disappointed. Of course, Razel Fireborn would see honor and valor in a dwarf defending his own mother. It was easy to see the connections, both familial and magical, between Lenore and her only son.
“Rome,” Ragnok said and focused for the first time on Knorr Stonehelm.
“It’s a shame that I have to introduce myself to my own seventy-five-year-old grandnephew,” Knorr said.
“It’s not my fault nor his that you’re an arsehole,” Ragnok said evenly, and Tyr barely managed to keep his mouth shut.
He huffed a little when his father nudged him with an elbow. His father really enjoyed a good brawl, even at nearly 300 years old. So, keeping him in check was added to Tyr’s list of duties for the trip. He considered sending a demand for backup to his brothers.
Knorr glared at Ragnok. “Knorr Stonehelm of the clan Longbeard, and my heir Brom Truthsayer.” His gaze settled on Razel, and it looked so much like a dismissal of the chieftain that Tyr very nearly stood in his shocked outrage. “Razel, in keeping you secluded and coddled, your parents have done you a deep disservice. You can’t possibly have been educated properly to meet the burdens of your magical potential.”
“Master Fireborn,” Razel corrected and lounged back in his seat. His fingers tapped gently on a table in an act reminiscent of his own father, and Tyr wondered if the dwarf even realized he had done it. “I hold masteries in several disciplines—ritual magic, rune craft, and enchantment, to be specific, so I’ve more than earned the courtesy, and despite our familial connection, you have not been given permission to be so familiar with me.” He raised when dark red brow when Knorr scoffed. “Though I fail to see why I should give your opinion any weight on such topics when you have a single mastery in a non-magical subject. Finance is a perfectly acceptable career for the less magical of us, and it is an honorable role to be undertaken on behalf of the Horde. But in no single way has that work experience prepared you to have an opinion about my magical potential or the path I’ve been set upon by Mahal.”
“You’re an Immaculate Elemental,” Knorr hissed. “And your parents kept it a secret!”
Razel’s gaze narrowed, and flames danced under his fingertips as he tapped against the table. Tyr picked up a quill and wrote a note on a piece of parchment, which he slid into place in front of his father. Brol read it quickly and stood.
“Point of order,” Brol called, and the attention in the room shifted in their direction.
“You may speak, Master Brol,” Ragnok said.
“Your son only recently went through his second magical maturation, correct?”
“Two days ago—just one day after his seventy-fifth birthday,” Ragnok confirmed.
Brol nodded and turned to Knorr. “You need to mind your own fucking business.”
Razel laughed sharp and brief. He held up a hand in apology when Ragnok turned to stare at him.
“We had a right to know, to prepare!” Knorr shouted. “Instead, we’ve had this proposal thrown our heads without even a chance to research it ourselves!”
“It doesn’t matter,” Brol snapped as he stood. “You will not set a precedent here today that could damage the conservatorship system! It protects our children, and I’ll be goddamned if I’ll support any action that undermines it. The time between our first and second maturation is delicate, and our magic is fragile. Our laws protect us in those years—prevent abuse in mentorship, and provide oversight in all legal and educational matters to protect the future of our people. I don’t bloody care if he’s the reborn Durin the bloody Deathless.…” He trailed off and turned to face Razel. “Oh, hell.”
Tyr took in a ragged breath, heart thundering in his chest, and was relieved to realize he wasn’t the only one in the room suddenly overwhelmed. More than one person was staring at Razel with their mouth hanging open.
Razel focused on Tyr, and a quick smile drifted over his mouth before he quirked an eyebrow, then he slouched back in his seat with a little shrug.
Some would say that Durin the Deathless was blessed by magic, but that was fundamentally untrue. Razel wouldn’t say it was a curse either, though he knew previous versions of himself did feel as though it were. Razel’s circumstances marked him in a variety of ways and set him apart from his kind in ways that could be deeply disheartening. There was one truth of Durin’s circumstances that followed him throughout each life—he could not deny who he was if questioned, and no one else could either.
The moment the words had left Brol Wildheart’s mouth, every single person in the Hall of Mages had known them to be true on a profound magical level. After a protracted silence, all hell had broken loose in the audience, which had required security intervention to calm down. His father had nearly taken him completely from the room, but Razel understood that he could not be seen to run from his own people.
It took almost an hour for everyone to calm down and get back in their proper seats. Razel spent most of that time staring unabashedly at Tyr Warhide, who was honestly the prettiest bastard he’d ever seen in his life. The one pensieve memory he’d seen of the dwarf had been when Tyr was a tween of barely twenty-five. He hadn’t even had a beard, so Razel had found the boy to be extraordinary, and the dwarf that Tyr had become was compelling beyond the telling of it.
His father sat back down at the table, and Razel gave him his full attention.
“Master Stonehelm,” Ragnok said dryly. “We can continue if you must.”
Knorr stared for a moment and cleared his throat. “I have never been more certain that you have betrayed us, Ragnok. How dare you keep such a secret from the Longbeards! The line of Durin is our legacy! You had no right to keep him from us. He should’ve been given to our clan the moment his birthmark was discovered.”
“I’ve got a goddamned name!” Razel snapped, and even his father started in surprise. “And I’m not a piece of bloody land! And for you to sit there you arrogant prick, and declare that my mother should’ve given up the only child she expected to have at birth is the most disgusting thing I’ve ever had to personally witness. Who the fuck do you think you are?”
Knorr reared back in shock. “You….” He took a deep breath, rage burning in his aura in an overt display. The loss of control in a dwarf Knorr’s age was kind of stunning. “I do not believe you to be property, Master Fireborn. But it is the duty of the Longbeards to shelter and provide for Durin’s spirit. We have been denied this because of your father’s selfishness.”
“When you filed this petition, you were furious because you’d been denied my magical power, so do be careful how you brandish a word like selfishness around,” Razel said evenly. He wadded the parchment up and tossed it away. “I do not need anything from the Longbeards. You personally disdained my mother’s very existence. You saw her as worthless and actually insisted to her parents that she not be allowed to marry. You’d have cast her at the temple and left her there, because her wishes did not matter to you at all. Just like my wishes and desires are inconsequential to you.”
“You speak of events that took place a hundred years before your birth,” Knorr protested. “There is nothing wrong with serving the temple. Our sisters are honored and valuable members of our society.”
“And their voluntary service is to be respected,” Razel said shortly and sat with his hand trembling against the table, fire sparking off it despite his best intentions. “I am finished with this dragonshite because I don’t answer to you, and I never will.”
“We have a right to know everything that has been done with your magical and spiritual legacy!” Knorr shouted. “It’s our right! Our duty!”
“And what of my free will?” Razel demanded, and scales started to flick out of his skin; he felt them settle across his cheekbones and hands. His father’s hand clamped down on his forearm. “Would you strip your own child of their rights in such a way? Would I be nothing more than a tool to you if I’d been your grandson? Is there any bloody limit on your fucking entitlement?”
“You owe the Longbeards your loyalty and power,” Knorr said, eyes dark with fury. “If you are to be king, again, it will be with the Longbeards at your back as it has been for thousands of years! We will accept no other circumstance.”
Razel stared, disgusted by Knorr’s greed and overt disrespect. He had no specific memories, yet, of being Durin and had no real intention of seeking such. They’d always known that there would be power games over his reincarnation, but it had paled, in his own mind, when compared to his magical potential and the thought that he could achieve full elemental status.
“It’s dverger like you, Knorr Stonehelm, that have been breaking my heart since I first drew a breath all of those thousands of years ago,” Razel said quietly, and Ragnok took in a ragged breath. “I have no desire to be a king, and I wouldn’t trust you with my back for any single reason. As it stands, you have no say and no right to demand anything from me in any goddamned circumstance.”
The silence actually hurt, and Razel glanced only briefly at Tyr Warhide, who looked appalled, before dropping his gaze to the table. He pressed against his magic and made his scales recede. He hadn’t had an accidental transformation of any percentage in decades, and it was embarrassing to have lost even partial control of his animagus form.
“Point of order,” Brol interjected.
Ragnok exhaled noisily. “I’m not sure I want you to speak again for the next year, Master Wildheart.” He waved a hand. “But, please continue the ruination of our day.”
Brol grinned, and Razel almost laughed because it was kind of charming to see that Tyr had his father’s smile.
Brol cleared his throat and picked up a piece of parchment. “On behalf of the clan Firebeard, I hereby petition the board to evaluate Master Knorr Stonehelm’s fitness to function as director of the Rome branch of Gringotts and formally question his ability to lead the Longbeards due to his obvious diminished capacity.”
Knorr drew his wand, which was an illegal act in the Hall of Mages outside of special circumstances, and pointed it at Brol. Before security could respond, Tyr Warhide apparated out of his seat and appeared in front of Rome’s box, sword drawn. He shoved the tip of the blade up under Knorr’s chin.
“You needn’t think your age will keep you safe from me,” he said sternly in the oppressive silence that followed, and Knorr took a ragged breath. “Brom, take your grandfather’s wand. He’s obviously in no state to be allowed it.”
Brom Truthsayer stood and took the wand from his grandfather’s trembling hand. Then pulled a wand holster from the older dverger’s wrist as well. He stored both away with a flick of his wrist and put a hand on the flat of Tyr’s sword.
“With respect, Master Warhide, he cannot harm anyone unharmed as he is. He can’t even apparate without a magical focus.”
Tyr stared at him for a moment. “Per the Horde Accord of 1347, I would be well within my rights to kill you both.” He lowered his sword, and it disappeared in a flash of magic. “And there is no statute of limitations on the level of disrespect your clan leader has delivered upon mine in this place on this day. I could hunt you down and kill you a hundred years from now for this legally. Understood?”
“Understood,” Brom said quickly.
Razel realized then that Brol was of the warrior class and that his magic was likely small. He’d have no defense against Knorr. Magical ability wasn’t often overtly evident, and such things weren’t often announced or even well-known unless the dwarf in question had a mastery in a high magical art.
Razel took a deep breath and murmured, “Adad.”
Ragnok stood. “Clan Firebeard’s petition is accepted. Knorr Stonehelm will submit to an evaluation.” He focused on his sister. “Omis Stoneheart, please escort the Longbeard delegation to your healing halls and take as much time as you need to complete a thorough exam. If he is deemed competent, then the Longbeards will be sanctioned for his egregious breach of protocol and disrespect for the clan Firebeard.”
* * * *
“This really chaps my arse!” Fyre exclaimed, and Razel barely refrained from laughing.
Knorr turning his attention on Brol Wildheart had changed the whole dynamic in the meeting, and none of his sister’s strike force had been allowed to interfere. They all looked kind of put out over it, but none more than Fyre Blackaxe. Elspeth merely looked to be plotting something new as she was wont to do when thwarted.
“Tyr Warhide is gorgeous,” his sister said suddenly.
“And thirty-five years older than you,” Omis said tartly.
“Oh, that doesn’t matter because he wasn’t looking at me like I make the world go round,” Elspeth said slyly and twirled her finger in the air as she laughed. “Master Warhide only had eyes for Razel the whole time.”
“I noticed,” Lenore said. “He’d be quite a catch, darling.”
Razel huffed because they were both right, and he didn’t have time to indulge in any sort of courtship situation.
“His silent apparition and immediate defense of his father was compelling to watch,” Ragnok murmured. “He has mastered all of the law masteries available to him and is even licensed to practice in the Muggle world should the need arise. There are only five dverger alive who have bothered with such in current times.”
“He does appear to be competent and very magical despite what his academic pursuits would indicate,” Omis said. “Which is attractive, I suppose. You could certainly do worse.”
Razel stood and abandoned his tea. “I have a year of intensive work ahead of me and don’t have time to indulge in any sort of….” He trailed off because he knew, already, it wouldn’t be some sort of affair.
“Life is meant to be lived, not endured,” Lenore said, and Razel focused on his mother.
“Amad,” he said. “Can you say with certainty that Tyr Warhide would be any different than the ones that came before him? The last time I tried to have a relationship, it was a big, stressful mess.”
His mother stared for a moment, magic sparking in her eyes the way it always did when she was using her gifts. Then she smiled sweetly. “I believe you would find him a delightful surprise, darling. And it must be said that no dverger who has ever attempted to have a relationship with you understood the full measure of your duty. That is not a circumstance you’ll ever have to endure again. Your secrets have all been laid bare.” She paused. “At least the ones that matter to the world at large.”
It was a galling truth. Razel nodded and left the family’s social space in favor of his own suite of rooms but didn’t make it past the guards stationed at the entrance of the family quarters.
“Master Razel, you have a letter.”
He walked to the pair of guards that protected the chieftain’s private quarters and accepted the folded and sealed piece of parchment. “Thank you, Helg.” He took a deep breath as he took note of the sender. “Any gossip to share?”
She rocked her head back and forth. “Master Warhide has impressed, but he apparently always does. I’ve heard from a cousin that he has received dozens of courting gestures over the last five years but hasn’t accepted a single one. I’ve never heard any sort of complaints regarding his private behavior. And, despite his family’s penchant for enjoying a good brawl, the only fight he seems to have overtly taken on for himself was one with a dragon, which he won. He also has an excellent physical and magical training background.” Helg paused. “What I’m saying, sir, is that he’s prime and worthy of pursuit.”
“Oh, I know exactly what you’re saying,” Razel said dryly. “There are far too many dwarrowdams in my life telling me the exact same thing.”
“We’re smart; you should listen to us,” Helg said with a grin.
Razel tucked the letter in an interior pocket in his jacket and went off to find someone reasonable to talk to instead of going to hide in his own chambers. Shortly, he entered the administrative area of the bank and headed toward Rhys Sharprock’s office. He trusted Rhys a great deal and had since they’d met. Some were surprised by the fast and fierce friendship considering the fact that Rhys was 211 years older than Razel. There had even been some rumors about a bit of a romance between them, but that speculation had faded quickly because it was very clear that Rhys preferred females exclusively for sex.
“You look irritated,” Rhys said the moment Razel stopped just short of the archway leading into the director’s office. “Fair, considering.”
Razel sighed. “This is the worst day.” He walked into the room and dropped into the visitor’s chair with a groan. “Any word on the eval?”
“None, but a delegation from Rome arrived thirty minutes ago, and I expect Knorr will be replaced very hastily. Your overt disappointment in him as a leader and as a person has made his continued leadership of the Longbeards problematic, to say the least. It’s not every damn day that a dwarf is told his behavior is breaking the reborn Durin the Deathless’ heart.”
Razel huffed. “Don’t call me that.”
“I know you hate it,” Rhys said gently. “I’d say you’ve probably hated it for several lifetimes. But acceptance is your only healthy option, Raz. Any other response is a fight every single day, and we fucking live too long for that shite.”
“True,” Razel murmured.
“So, Tyr Warhide.”
Razel huffed. “Not you, too.”
“You’re the one that stared at him for the better part of an hour.”
“Well, he was, frankly, the only pleasant place to look during that fucking meeting,” Razel said hotly and blushed when Rhys raised an eyebrow. “Shut up.”
“You’re allowed to want things for yourself, you know,” Rhys said.
Razel didn’t want to have that conversation again but found himself leaning forward in irritation. “How am I to prepare myself for the ritual opening of my abilities, continue to build the founding portal, and undertake a courtship?”
“Like that, is it?” Rhys asked.
“Well, he’s hardly the sort I could have an affair with,” Razel muttered even if such a thing was something he’d do. “I know myself well enough to know that I could…fall in love, and I’m not ready for it.”
“No one is ever ready for it,” Rhys said. “Trust me on this.”
Razel nodded because he did trust Rhys on every subject and had since they’d met. “Do you ever regret migrating? Do you wish you were still in Australia?”
“No, I regret nothing when it comes to that,” Rhys said roughly. “My children and I are happier here, and their mother…doesn’t care to see them because her own shame overwhelms her. It hurts them. But, they’re all adults and could communicate with her if they wished. My ex-wife is struggling with the stigma of adultery and hasn’t had a kind word to say to me in a decade, but that’s not my problem.”
“She slept with your brother,” Razel muttered. “Honestly, Rhys, you handled the situation better than most would’ve. Her circumstances would be worse if you’d stayed there and forced her to face the loss of her marriage and family on a daily basis. She’s lucky you chose migration and petitioned to join us.”
“Gal would’ve preferred that I ignore the cheating and never say a word to either of them about it,” Rhys said, then held up a hand as he focused on the entrance of his office to pause the conversation.
Razel turned in time to see Cyrus, Rhys’ youngest son, come to stand in the archway.
“Come,” Rhys said and beckoned Cyrus forward. “Is there a problem?”
“No, sir,” Cyrus said easily. “I was looking for Razel. I was handed an assignment down this morning from the guild master. I always touch base with a client before beginning a commission.” He focused on Razel with flushed cheeks, clearly more excited than anything else. “I didn’t mean to interrupt a personal conversation.”
“You didn’t,” Razel said. “Did you get the athame or the quills?”
“The quills,” Cyrus said and pulled a rolled piece of parchment from the small satchel strapped across his body. “I was surprised by the commission as your work in the forge is always superior.”
“I would normally do such a small task myself,” Razel said. “But my plate is full, and I need the construction to be perfect. Do you have any concerns?”
“No, none. I have several examples regarding style and shape if you’d like to come to my forge and review them.”
Razel checked his watch. “I can, yes.” He stood.
“Maybe you can start thinking about a courting gift while you’re down there,” Rhys said dryly.
Razel made a face at him, and Cyrus laughed.
“Keep laughing, and I’ll get in your business,” Rhys warned.
Cryus’ mouth firmed up. “I don’t have any personal business.”
“You have too much impersonal business,” Rhys said and gave his son a look.
Cyrus grinned. “Relax, Adad; I’ll settle down when I meet the right person. Who knows, maybe it’ll happen at the next craft expo. Two months from now, I could be mooning over some dverger just like Razel did this morning, in a very public and embarrassing fashion.”
“I hate you both,” Razel muttered but motioned a laughing Cyrus out ahead of him. “Age before beauty.”
“I am a year older than you,” Cyrus exclaimed. “And your soul is ancient, apparently!”
Razel laughed as they entered the lift. He leaned on the wall as Cyrus chose their destination.
“Why did you commission a new athame?” Cyrus questioned.
“I need a virgin blade,” Razel explained. “All of my ritual knives are family heirlooms, which in most ritual circumstances I appreciate. The experience they offer is often to the benefit of any task I’m undertaking. But creating the founding portal for a permanent dimensional space requires a purity of craft that can be marred by an experienced blade. Do you know who was assigned for that commission?”
“Only one assignment went out this morning; Master Brightgem might have kept it for herself,” Cyrus said. “A genuinely innocent blade would be an endeavor all its own. All of the materials will have to be purified.”
“Yes,” Razel agreed. “The quills will be used exclusively for rune carving. I’ve commissioned the marble from Greece and the granite from Brazil. There will be a series of cleansing rituals. I’ll be forming a conclave for all of that work. Will you be available for it?”
“Of course,” Cyrus said as they exited the lift and made their way down into the forges that housed both the blacksmith and the jewelsmith guilds. “I’ve already sourced the platinum; it’s certified, but I’ll purify it just in case.”
Razel nodded and stayed in the customer area of the forge as Cyrus retrieved the examples he wanted to show. Razel had a private forge beside his father’s that wasn’t part of the guild structure as he didn’t have and had never considered a mastery in the art. Crafting in the forge was a personal endeavor, and he enjoyed the artistry of it. Though he assumed that to be more a product of his reincarnation than anything else.
Cyrus put a log of rolled velvet on the counter and opened it. “You’ll be spending a lot of time with these instruments, so it’s best to have an exact fit. I’ll cast some measuring spells while you’re holding one of these.”
“Is a bespoke quill a sign of being coddled?”
Cyrus snorted. “That motherfucker doesn’t know a thing about you, and everyone in our clan knows that you’ve worked and studied your arse off for decades. You’ve earned all of your masteries—above and beyond. Dwarrow like Knorr don’t understand the kind of dedication it takes to educate themselves for the betterment of others. He thinks only of his own gain and always has.”
Razel nodded, reviewed the choices, and picked up one that looked like a fountain pen. “This one.”
“Two platinum and two iron,” Cyrus said as he drew a copper diagnostic wand and performed a series of spells as Razel held the quill as he would use it.
“Yes, and I might need additional ones depending on how the construction goes. Plus, there could be maintenance or sharpening that needs to be done because spelling them won’t be possible due to the construction requirements.”
“I’ll let Master Brightgem know. She’s already told us we can expect changes to our schedule based on your needs when it comes time to start construction on the foundation.”
“Have you heard anyone speak about the…news?” Razel questioned.
“Many always assumed there was something more going on with you than the elemental magic,” Cyrus said easily. “I’ve heard nothing negative regarding the matter of Durin walking amongst us once more. I don’t believe you’ll find disapproval amongst the Blacklocks for keeping it a secret for as long as you have. Hell, I don’t know anyone who would’ve wanted to reveal it about themselves, either. It is an immense burden.”
Razel nodded. “Thank you for the time you’ll give to this project.”
“Thanks for the gold,” Cyrus said with a laugh.
Razel put the example down, shook his head, and left the forge with a nod. He returned to his quarters, and only when he was throwing himself on his sofa in front of the fireplace did he remember he had a letter. With a sigh, he sat up and pulled the letter from his pocket, then unbuttoned his coat before throwing his feet up on the stone coffee table that his mother had made and given to him as a birthday gift the year before.
I hope the altercation this morning was not so off-putting that this note is unwelcome. Despite the reputation of my family, I pride myself on having a history of civilized behavior. I believe that my actions were appropriate, though certainly not the sort of display I would’ve preferred the first time you and I shared the same space.
I won’t presume to be allowed much of your time, but it would be a pleasure to have tea with you when it is most convenient.
Razel exhaled slowly as he considered the very short note. Over the years, he’d often been approached in such a manner, and the letters were normally full of ridiculous promises and entire paragraphs describing his physical beauty as if he’d never seen a mirror in his life. He appreciated the short and to-the-point greeting, though it was amusing that Warhide might think him so delicate to have been offended by the drawing of a sword in a business meeting. It was also kind of charming, and he couldn’t really blame the dwarf.
The Horde, at large, knew extraordinarily little about him as his whole clan had done everything they could to shelter him from others since he was a small child, and that was before they all knew he was reincarnated. That he’d managed to keep that a family secret as long as he had was something of a miracle. A cursory check of his watch told him that he had as much as an hour to make a decision and write a response.
The quarterly report would have to be done before the end of business day, no matter the state of Knorr Stonehelm’s faculties.
* * * *
Brom Truthsayer was seated in Rome’s box alone. Tyr didn’t consider it a good thing and was already writing a complaint in his head. Brom Truthsayer had to know exactly how far gone his grandfather was, and he’d done nothing. One of the guards, a female with a wicked grin, paused briefly at their box and passed him a sealed letter. He took it with steady fingers despite the thrill of nerves that skated along his bones.
He tucked the letter into the interior pocket of his jacket and ignored the inquisitive noise from his father. Brol was a die-hard meddler and matchmaker.
“I can handle my own business, Adad,” Tyr murmured.
“If you say,” Brol said in amusement.
“Rome.” Ragnok’s voice rang out through the Hall of Mages. “Speak.”
Brom stood. “Brom Truthsayer, temporarily representing the clan Longbeard.” He took a moment to smooth his waistcoat down. “My grandfather has been diagnosed with a rare form of dementia—Mistress Omis believes it the result of a distant human ancestor. He has been, in secret, managing his condition with spells and potions. Upon my return to Rome, a clan meeting will be called, and a new leader will be chosen to represent us and act as director of the Rome banking system.”
Ragnok nodded. “Your new leader will be required to come here for an extensive interview within the month. Would you like to address the migration petition filed for my son?”
“No, Chieftain, I officially withdraw the petition.” Brom’s cheeks darkened. “I…spent many hours trying to talk him out of it. My grandfather has always been irrational about High Priestess Lenore Feyborn’s abilities and power leaving our clan—he believed she shouldn’t have had a choice. When she successfully birthed a child, he grew even more incensed. That anger has not abated at all in the decades since, and his illness has made it all the worse. I’m ashamed to say that the petition was just the beginning of his campaign on this particular matter. He will be confined for treatment for his own good.”
Tyr shared a look with his father because he knew that in the years to come that there would be many who would seek to control and shape the destiny of Razel Fireborn.
“Master Wildheart,” Ragnok began, “do you wish to pursue charges for the breach of protocol on behalf of clan Longbeard?”
Tyr stood when his father did and pressed his lips together in a firm line as he didn’t agree with his father’s choice at all, and keeping his words behind his teeth was an immense burden.
“Due to his illness, I am willing to accept a formal apology from their next official leader and an appropriate wergild to be discussed in private,” Brol said easily. “I like a fight, Chieftain, but I see no point in picking one with someone mentally infirm. His clan need not pay for his crimes.”
Ragnok raised an eyebrow, then inclined his head. “You like a fight?”
Several people laughed, and Tyr huffed under his breath.
“I adore a fight,” Brol corrected. “But my wife would rather I not indulge in such things at my age. The sofa in my office doesn’t make for a good night’s rest.”
Ragnok grinned. “Very well, this subject can be revisited if your private negotiations with clan Longbeard do not meet with your approval.”
Tyr slid back into his seat several moments after his father and pulled his journal so he could make notes regarding the quarterly report. It was mostly for his brother as their father couldn’t be bothered with such a thing and sometimes threw hours-long pensieve memories at people rather than compile any sort of report. The financial data was boring to him, but he recorded everything dutifully while his father tried, in vain, not to look bored.
“The final item on the agenda is my son’s plan to create a dimensional portal so that we may carve a path back to Arda.” Ragnok paused at the wave of noise that rose in the crowd and waited for them to grow quiet. “The first step on that path is to wake and conquer all of his elemental abilities. There will be a series of rituals over the next year to undertake. The Blacklock clan will shoulder the entire expense, but Razel will be inducting a personal conclave. He will choose one dwarf from each clan to join him in that endeavor.
“I have no say in these choices, and neither do the other leaders. You may present your most magically gifted males for the selection process. My son does not and will not leave my domain, so you needn’t invite him to do so. Razel would also like it to be known that he is not interested in marriage contract offers, and any courting gestures to be made will be his own. No overt pursuit will be tolerated. Should his position on this matter change, it will be announced.”
Tyr considered the letter in his pocket and tried to keep the disappointment off his face. He hoped his note wasn’t met with offense and considered options regarding an appropriate apology that wouldn’t make the situation worse. His father’s hand settled on his arm and squeezed gently, then lifted away.
“Regarding the conclave, he’s made two his choices for Blacklock and Firebeard,” Ragnok continued. “No announcements will be made on those choices at this time. Questions.”
“Point of order,” Mim Dragonslayer said, leaning forward in her seat.
“Speak your piece, Master Dragonslayer.” Ragnok focused on her.
“Will there be a coven formed? If so, who will lead it?”
Razel closed the journal in front of him, and Tyr wondered what had been written in it as it hadn’t appeared to be financial notes of any sort. “To ensure magical compatibility, my mother will establish and lead a coven in creating the protective magic that will shield the space where we build the portal. Most of the ritual work I’ll do won’t require more than my conclave.
“When it comes time to create the founding portal, both the conclave and the coven will expand by a factor of ten.” He paused at the startled sounds many made. “All of the elements will need to be represented. My biggest concern is the fifth element—aether. I need at least one female.” He looked around the room. “It is a rare gift, and not one many would admit to having due to the psychological toll it takes on the individual to shoulder such an element.”
“You needn’t look far, Master Fireborn,” Mim said evenly. “I am an Aether Elemental, and it would be my great honor to stand in your mother’s coven whenever she requires.” She paused. “And when it comes time for you to master it—I am available to you as an individual should you require it. Opening up your mind and magic to the universe is no small thing.”
Razel nodded. “My thanks, Master Dragonslayer. You honor me.”
* * * *
Tyr put the letter on the desk in front of him. The guest quarters in Britain were nice—nicer than any he’d stayed in with other clans, even if he was sharing with his father. The Blacklocks had a lot of personal wealth due to their willingness to interact with and work for humans. Ragnok was pragmatic, and those that came before him were much the same. The British branch of Gringotts did the most business in curse breaking, warding, and jewelry sales to magical humans as a result.
He focused on the letter, irritated that he’d let his mind wander in such a ridiculous direction to avoid reading the rejection he’d been sent. Tyr sat down and broke the wax seal on the letter with steady hands. He couldn’t begin to explain why it mattered so much to him; he didn’t even know Razel Fireborn. It’d been years since he’d allowed himself to get so wrapped up in an attraction. Frustrated, he unfolded the letter and focused on it.
My tea time has been formally claimed by my sister for the last decade. She’ll not accept any other arrangement. I live in hope she’ll get distracted by some romantic crush sometime soon, and I will be set free from the tea ritual that normally involves less tea and more chaos than I would like.
I am, however, free for dinner and would welcome your company. I take my last meal of the day at 7pm. You can pass your response to the security guard on the entrance to the guest quarters, and it will be brought directly to me. Due to my father’s militant personality, you will require a security escort to my door. I hope that won’t be offensive as it is not personal.
Tyr exhaled slowly and slouched back in his seat.
“Not the bad news you expected then,” Brol said, and Tyr looked up to where his father was lingering in the doorway of the small office.
“I’ve been invited to dinner,” Tyr said quietly.
“With the family?” Brol questioned.
“No, it seems to be just him.” Tyr cleared his throat. “I….”
His father laughed. “I’ve not seen you in such a state since you were a tween.”
He felt his face heat. “You’re my least favorite parent.”’
“And you are my least favorite son,” Brol said with a broad grin. “Come now, lad, this is very good news.”
“Perhaps,” Tyr said. “Maybe he only means to invite me into his conclave.”
“Oh, certainly that, but he needn’t have dinner with you to accomplish that,” Brol said dryly. “Your magical gifts are well known, and I’m often berated for allowing you to throw yourself into law as you have.”
“And those same people would be appalled if someone told them how to educate their own children,” Tyr muttered. “And honestly, fuck them. I can handle my magical business just fine.”
“Well, your silent apparition in the Hall of Mages more than proved that point,” Brol said dryly. “Precious few people are capable of such a thing due to the heaviness of the security wards on the hall.”
Tyr flushed. “I’d have cut off his head if not….”
“Razel Fireborn has a dragon animagus form, son,” Brol said dryly. “Don’t treat him like he’s made of glass.”
Tyr’s own form was a dragon, so he appreciated what his father was saying. “I just don’t want to look like an uncivilized…barbarian.” He hazarded a glance at Brol and found his father grinning. “Like you and all four of my brothers.”
“Ah, now, you came out of the womb ready to bring order to the world.” Brol leaned on the door frame. “You hardly even cried, though your mother and I could’ve done without the profound looks of judgment and disappointment we received when we couldn’t read your wee little mind.”
“Do you know the breed of his animagus form?”
“No, it’s not been said,” Brol said. “At least not within my hearing. Perhaps you can ask him yourself.” He paused. “If you manage to get a response to him before it’s time for dinner, that is.”
Tyr huffed and sat back down at the desk. He pushed back his hair with both hands and grabbed a fresh piece of parchment. “Adad, with all due respect, please go away so I can concentrate on not looking like a complete idiot.”
“Four masteries in law, twenty-five years of dedicated study, and you’re a trembling mess over accepting an invitation to dinner. I’m fucking charmed,” Brol decided and walked away laughing.
Razel glanced over the table, the contents of which had been transferred magically into his quarters from the main kitchens. He’d unpacked everything from the delivery box, which he’d put in his own small kitchen, which he normally only used for snacks and tea. He didn’t enjoy cooking, but he knew the basics. The clan’s community kitchen was staffed at all times, and food was easy to order—he saw no reason to waste that resource or his own time.
He opened the bottle of wine that had been sent along with the meal so it could breathe and hoped that chef had made the right choices for his guest. Razel would eat whatever was put in front of him, but he knew he was kind of rare for his kind and just in general. People just got really picky about their food. He put the bottle down when the chime sounded, security’s way of announcing an outside guest, and walked to the front of his quarters to answer the door.
Razel hesitated just a little and touched his hair which he’d pulled up out of his way with a clip early in the evening. It was too late to fix it, he supposed, and let his hand drop. He knew he didn’t look terrible as he’d taken care to change into a pair of casual slacks and a dark blue jumper that his mother assured him was perfect on him. He trusted her on that subject more than himself. He opened the door.
Tyr smiled, and the guard grunted before walking away. “Cheerful fellow.”
“I’ve never heard him say a single word,” Razel confided, and Tyr laughed. “But I’ve been assured he has an extensive vocabulary at his disposal in two different languages to use when he has something to say. Come in, please.”
“Thank you for the invitation,” Tyr murmured. “I was worried that I might have misstepped.”
Razel hesitated briefly and hummed under his breath. “My father’s announcement?”
“Yes,” Tyr said and shed his jacket when Razel motioned toward a coat rack. “He left no room for discussion on the subject.”
“I had five contract offers between the morning and afternoon meetings,” Razel said. “It was infuriating because not a single one of them had ever spoken to me.”
“My last offer came from a dverger who’d never been on the same continent with me. They were unaware of my gender, were only interested in my educational background to the benefit of their family line, and admitted all of that in the letter attached to the contract,” Tyr admitted and flushed when Razel laughed. “Also, there was a dowery requirement.”
“That’s stunningly old-fashioned,” Razel said. “I had dinner sent from the kitchen, so I take no credit at all for the food being presented—for good or bad.”
“I’ve had several excellent meals since arriving last night,” Tyr said. “I expect it will be good.” He paused. “I received a message from the kitchen requesting my preferences for dinner.”
Razel laughed. “They know I’ll eat whatever they send me. Please, sit.” The table wasn’t meant for more than two since he rarely socialized in his private space, and when he did, it was for intimate matters. “Wine?”
“Yes,” Tyr agreed as he sat. “I picked it, too.” He just grinned when Razel sat. “This place is full of meddlers, you know.”
“Certainly,” Razel said. “That’s practically our bread and butter around here.” He lifted the cloche covering his plate, and Tyr followed suit. He stared for a moment because the kitchens had never sent him anything so fancy to his rooms. “Beef Wellington is my mother’s favorite meal.”
“I was told that her and the chieftain were having it tonight, so it would be easy to add our meal to that,” Tyr said. “No need to make more work.”
“Agreed,” Razel murmured and smiled. Often guests didn’t take such care with their staff and expected to be treated like royalty when they were in the chieftain’s domain. “I…stared at you a lot this morning.”
“I could pretend I didn’t notice,” Tyr said. “But I’d be the only one willing to allow you that boon.”
“You’re magically compelling,” Razel admitted and picked up his wine glass. He took a sip and took a moment to gather his thoughts. “You have been since the first time I saw you—in the pensieve memory of your fight against the dragon. I watched it a few months after it happened.”
Tyr frowned. “You’re ten years younger than me.”
“I’d have not wanted any fifteen-year-old watching such a thing,” Tyr said roughly. “I’d curse your father out if he were anyone else.”
“My mother handled that for you decades ago,” Razel assured, and Tyr laughed briefly. “He had a purpose for it. I was already struggling under the weight of my role in the clan and in the Horde as a whole. Only my parents and aunt knew about my reincarnation at first, as my mother insisted on a private birth with just Omis and my father. At the time, they were worried that someone might interfere with the birth and cause my death. Eventually, my sister was told as well.”
Tyr frowned. “Is that related to the paternal uncle and his crimes against your father?”
“Yes,” Razel said. “He had confederates who didn’t want my father to be chieftain, but none of them were brave enough to challenge him outright. Since my birth, all of them have left our clan in some fashion or another. Security remains a concern, of course. It’ll be…an issue throughout my life.”
Tyr nodded. “It must be hard to make genuine friends.” He took a sip of wine and shifted his water glass around a little before picking up his knife and fork. “When my father was chosen to lead the Firebeards over his two older brothers, there was a brawl, and the matter was settled.”
Razel grinned. “A brawl? Truly? They had a fistfight, and that just settled the whole thing?”
“Yes, of course. When I was younger, whenever my brothers and I disagreed, the first question my father would ask would be if we tried to fight about it to see if that solved the problem. I hate to admit it, but due to the nature of my brothers, punching one of them in the face often does solve the problem. Though the last time they tried to involve me in their ridiculous behavior, I threatened to sue all four of them.” He flushed when Razel laughed. “I had grounds, I assure you.”
“Oh, I’m sure,” Razel said. “It would’ve been the talk of the entire Horde. Though it seems you are often the talk of the Horde in some fashion or another.”
“With little merit,” Tyr said, tone slightly sour. “Most don’t care to look beyond the surface or the value I could bring to their family because of my education or magical power. My maternal line does tend to produce elementals. All of my siblings are gifted.”
“Your magic speaks to fire,” Razel said. “I see it in your aura.” He cleared his throat when Tyr raised an eyebrow. “As I said, you are magically compelling. You’re beautiful, of course, so staring at you was no hardship.”
“Thank you.” Tyr smiled. “Can I ask you a personal question?”
“Of course.” Razel picked up his own fork and hoped that the other dwarf wasn’t going to go in a direction that he couldn’t tolerate.
“Why not Feyborn?”
“Oh,” Razel said and paused before cutting into his entrée. “I thought that I would be Feyborn all through my childhood. Then I went through my first maturation, and I realized the depth of my elemental abilities. I knew I had to claim one, and fire came easily to me because of my animagus training.
“I was struggling, as I said earlier, and my father sought to show me a different perspective whenever possible. Which is why I was shown the memory of you defending your mother’s life—he wanted me to see someone embracing their magic to the fullest measure of it. He told me that you hadn’t completed your animagus training and couldn’t transform, yet you were still able to tap into the strength of your dragon to win that battle. It was a stunning thing to see and formative.”
“Accepting such a magical burden would be difficult for anyone, no matter their age,” Tyr said. “The idea of claiming aether is frankly a nightmare.”
“Well, we all claim a bit of it every single time we conjure something,” Razel pointed out.
“In a temporary fashion,” Tyr said. “But you could conjure permanent items.”
“That’s the road to our return to Arda,” Razel said. “I’ve dreamt of our home since my first maturation, though I would say without any sort of caveat that I do not have prophetic dreams. It started to feel like destiny.”
“Or brainwashing,” Tyr said dryly. “Are you worried at all?”
“No,” Razel said with a small smile. “Not at all, and you’re not the first person to be concerned about manipulation. I’ve had many medical examinations due to the dreams, which aren’t any form of sight. My mother believes they are break-through memories as Durin lived thousands of years on Arda across many lifetimes before our dimensional retreat to this world.”
“Do you worry about what our ancestors ran from?” Tyr questioned.
“No, I feel…as if Arda lays all but empty of sapient life,” Razel said. “It’s a feral world now; magic fled, and those that left behind could not live without it. We will bring magic back to Arda, and perhaps some of the others will return as well.”
“So, we weren’t the only ones to leave?”
“No, the elves, a high elf species as we’d know them, began to leave first. Eventually, they left the world entirely. Then there was a little species of people—smaller than us but gentle and bound up in green magic. They left as well, retrieved by their patron goddess, to be protected. In my dreams, only humans remained then, and that’s what they wanted. They believed they didn’t need any magical species to thrive, but Arda wouldn’t tolerate them and mourned the loss of magic. So, their populations dwindled down to nothing over time.”
“It’s hard to fathom,” Tyr admitted. “But I’m eager to learn more.”
“Good, that’s…very good,” Razel cleared his throat. “On that subject, I would invite you to join my conclave. It would require that you live here in Britain for at least the next year. It could take longer depending on the construction of the portal.”
“I would be honored,” Tyr assured. “I’ll need to return to Paris for a bit to speak with my mother and pack…if that’s okay?”
“It’s fine. I have several selections to make, and the first ritual is more than a month off,” Razel said. “You’ll be given private quarters deep in the bank near here. They’ll be nicer than the guest suites. I know those rooms are a bit crowded. Mother frets about expanding the guest space at least once a year, but my father talks her out of it.”
“If I may be frank, the guest quarters in Britain are the best I’ve ever stayed in,” Tyr said. “In Rome, I regularly sleep in barracks no matter the business I’m conducting there.”
“That’s….” Razel sighed. “Perhaps I am coddled.”
“Don’t let that old bastard question the way your parents have provided for you,” Tyr said shortly. “He shouldn’t have even been allowed to speak to you at all.” He cleared his throat, and his cheeks flushed as Razel stared. “On that note, while I realize I have no business giving you advice, I would caution you against including Brom Truthsayer in any of your plans. I plan to formally protest, at length, if he’s made the permanent leader of the Longbeards. He had to know his grandfather was dangerously unhinged, and he did nothing about it. He didn’t even try to stop him.”
“I took note,” Razel said. “I won’t consider him for my conclave. I know I can’t trust him. I don’t trust any of the dverger from my maternal line, specifically. I’ve sent each clan specific power requirements regarding conclave selections, and I disallowed Brom by name. He’s furious and deeply insulted, but I don’t care. He told my father that it wasn’t fair that he would be punished for his grandfather’s actions. As if he had no role in the situation at all. He doesn’t have the right mindset for leadership, and I hope his clan sees that.”
“You said you didn’t want to be king,” Tyr murmured and smiled sadly. “You know you have no choice in it, right? It is a magical accord that the last reincarnation of you agreed to. Though I suppose when they wrote it, they didn’t expect to wait over six hundred years for Durin to be born again. On the occasion of your 100th year, you will be made King Under the Mountain, and it will be your duty to establish the royal line once more.” He paused. “Whether we have a bloody mountain or not.”
Razel nodded. “I understand my duty, and I accepted it long ago. But I have no desire for it, and I won’t allow anyone to use me for their own gain. Dverger like Knorr aren’t the only ones that would seek to control my throne.” He sighed. “And you can let your father know that I’ll forgive him for revealing it within the month at the very least.”
Tyr laughed. “Funnily enough, he says it all the time.”
“The whole ‘I don’t care if he’s the Durin the Deathless reborn’ thing. He’s especially fond of saying it to my mother whenever she interjects herself into an argument between him and one of my brothers. She’s the softhearted sort, and Adad was often forced into the role of disciplinarian, which he hates.” Tyr shrugged when Razel shook his head. “It could be decades before he can say it again, which is amusing all on its own. You’ll probably get some sort of gift as an apology, picked out by my mother, as he has terrible taste and knows it.”
“Will they protest your move here?” Razel questioned and flushed when Tyr leaned forward slightly.
“Migration would probably be off-putting to them unless I did it for deeply personal reasons,” he said easily. “My parents are a love match, much like yours, and they want such circumstances for all six of their children.”
“Five boys and a girl,” Razel murmured. “Your sister must be spoiled rotten.”
“Suza wants for nothing,” Tyr agreed. “She’s the youngest and is just forty-five years old. An amazing surprise to both of my parents, who believed they were finished having children naturally. We were all nervous wrecks through the whole thing. At one point, Amad threw us all out of the family quarters. He wasn’t kidding about how uncomfortable that sofa is.”
“Do you still stay with your family, or do you have your own space now?” Razel questioned. “I only ask because living alone here will be a big adjustment for you if you still live with family. It was weird having my own space at first.”
“I received my own flat the year I turned sixty-five. I needed the space to study, honestly, and I was driving everyone crazy with my demands for peace and quiet.” Tyr shrugged a little when Razel quirked an eyebrow. “They’re a noisy bunch of people, honestly. And run around like a herd of trolls.”
“Trolls don’t travel in herds,” Razel said with a laugh.
“Those trolls do,” Tyr muttered. “You’ll certainly meet them all if I’m to stay here for a year. I rarely get to stay anywhere for a month or more without one of them showing up to make a pest of themselves.”
Razel found that amusing and relieving. Tyr’s ease with the idea of staying in Britain for an extended period of time made him feel better about the burgeoning, borderline-juvenile crush he was developing.
“I envy you your brothers,” Razel said. “I was lonely growing up, and Elspeth’s adoption didn’t happen until I was almost twenty-six. It was easily one of the best days of my life when my parents told me she was coming. I was sorry to hear that her birth parents were dead, but to be told that our family had been chosen by her parents even over their own blood relations…it was amazing.”
“It is rarely done,” Tyr said. “And then only if there are no blood relations at all. I remember the day the news came to us—people were stunned. I can’t say some weren’t offended by the idea that actual family had been dismissed as options by the birth parents, but maybe they knew something all along that everyone else didn’t.”
“She is a very gifted seer,” Razel admitted. “And had powerful visions starting as early as two years old that left her inconsolable. I think, in many ways, my mother was as much a solace to Elspeth as she was to the whole of us. She brought something special to our family that I cannot quantify to this day.”
“She’s fierce,” Tyr said. “Beautiful. When she announces her interest in being courted, the offers will be endless.”
“I am prepared to build a wall,” Razel muttered and flushed when Tyr laughed. “A giant one with spikes on top and vicious war wards attached that dismember offenders.”
“I doubt she’ll need you to defend her,” Try said. “My sister recently told a suitor that if he wanted to court her, he’d have to fight and defeat every single one of her brothers. So, he should start training, and perhaps by the time they were both of age—he’d be ready. He, of course, withdrew his courting gesture and practically ran back to Australia. Clearly, he wasn’t all that interested in her.”
“Sure,” Razel said in amusement. “Not wanting to have a fistfight with a dwarf who killed a dragon with a knife and his bare hands…what a coward.”
“They’re both far too young for gestures at any rate. I think he just wanted to get a boot in the door before formal courting could begin.” Tyr shrugged and took a sip of wine. “What’s your form, specifically?”
Tyr hummed under his breath. “Wow.” He inclined his head and stared for a moment. “I suppose that makes sense—why wouldn’t you be the most beautiful dragon to ever exist?”
Razel cleared his throat as his face heated to an uncomfortable degree. “You?”
“That’s…not even a surprise,” Razel admitted and shook his head. “Warhide, indeed. Why didn’t you claim your element at your naming?”
“I’d been called Warhide for years before I turned fifty. No other claim on my part would’ve really stuck,” Tyr explained. “Killing that dragon was a defining moment in my life, and there was no need to fight it. Perhaps, I didn’t want to fight it. I was desperately afraid for both of us—no help would’ve reached us in time if anyone knew what was wrong. There was no expectation of us finding a feral dragon in the depths of the bank.”
Razel realized that he’d never bothered to learn the details of the event, as he’d focused entirely on Tyr’s role in it. “Where did the dragon come from?”
“A dragonkeeper for the clan lost track of a juvenile decades before—covered it up and declared that the kit had died being trampled by her mother. It wasn’t uncommon for a horntail female. No one questioned him, and the kid managed to hide for decades. Based on her physical condition and magical state, it’s believed she lived almost entirely on rodents and….” Tyr took a deep breath. “There were several disappearances over the years—mostly vault guards but also house elves who came to the bank on behalf of their owners. No evidence was left behind, and investigations didn’t reveal anything.
“At any rate, my mother was mapping a new area to build vaults, and I was trailing along behind her as I often did at the time. We disturbed the dragon’s nest, and…well, I had nightmares about it for years.”
Razel grimaced. “Sometimes, I have dreams about…dragons—huge ones. I think Arda had a giant sort of dragon species. There isn’t much information to be had on the subject in the vault.”
“What was that like?”
“Entering Durin’s vault?” Razel questioned.
“Validating,” Razel admitted. “But, also infuriating because while I believed myself to be Durin and I’d long accepted my birthmark for what it is—opening that vault proved it beyond any doubt in my mind.” He pushed aside his plate. “Dessert?”
“No, but thank you.”
“Let’s sit by the fire then,” Razel suggested and plucked up the bottle of wine. Tyr followed with a smile and his own glass. Quickly, they settled on a rug by the fire, and he refilled both of their glasses. “Tell me something no one knows about you.”
Tyr raised an eyebrow and took a sip of wine.
“Most assume I’ve had…a lot of lovers,” Tyr said. “There’s only been two—both male.”
“Why?” Razel questioned.
“The assumption or the truth?”
“Oh, I understand the assumption,” Razel said. “Your looks, accomplishments, and magical power would make filling your bed easy. Most think you do it on the regular because they would in your place.”
“The first was an affair of the heart,” Tyr said. “Reckless and inappropriate on the whole—we were both too young, and our emotions were volatile. In the end, it was too much for either of us to handle, and we parted ways with a lot of bitter feelings. He hasn’t spoken to me in decades. The second was…. I thought I’d marry him. We were good together, had similar interests and careers.”
Razel nodded, and from the look on Tyr’s face, he knew that the second relationship hadn’t ended well, either. “It’s what we want, right? Someone who understands our personal and professional struggles.”
“Yeah,” Tyr said. “Confidentially, he didn’t want kids and has no intention of ever marrying. It took him nearly four years to confess this to me. I ended the relationship immediately, but he hasn’t accepted it even now. I haven’t spoken with him privately in roughly five years. Fhane still expects me to return to him and resume our relationship at some point. I received a letter from him recently, actually, where he asked me how many more suitors I’m going to turn down before I just come back to him.”
“So, he thinks you’re pining after him,” Razel said and lifted an eyebrow. “Are you?”
Tyr shook his head. “No, not at all.” He shifted around, so they were face to face and picked up his glass. “Tell me something about you, then. I’m sorry that your biggest secret has been cast far and wide.”
Razel considered it for a moment because he’d known he’d have to return the favor, and Tyr had shared something very personal with him. He wanted to respond in kind, to build intimacy outside of whatever physical attraction they had moving between them.
“My abilities in the forge border on gifted,” Razel said. “I’ve never had any formal training at all.” He watched Tyr’s eyes widen with shock. “I’ve been observed by several masters, each of whom assumed I’d already earned a mastery in the craft. I’ve refused to pursue it because it’s not something I earned on my own.”
“It’s Durin’s craft.”
“Yes, some version of him at some point was an extremely gifted blacksmith,” Razel agreed. “There have been no breakthrough memories to speak of. The dreams about Arda aren’t personal to Durin. I’ve read a few journals of versions of Durin—several written before our retreat to Earth.” He paused at the wide-eyed look that earned him. “I didn’t realize I was reading a language that hadn’t been spoken in tens of thousands of years until my mother picked up a journal and tried to read it. She was very disappointed. Translation spells don’t work on any of the materials in Durin’s vault.”
“It must be difficult to feel ownership over your work in the forge,” Tyr said. “Do you enjoy the work?”
“I love being in the forge; it feels like a home to me,” Razel said. “And it was a struggle at first to feel as if my work is my own, but I realized that no matter how I came to have the abilities—that the work I do is a product of my own thoughts and desires. I’ve never shared my craft with anyone—so everything I’ve made still belongs to me.”
Tyr raised an eyebrow. “Not even gifts for your family?”
“Last year, I created dimensional stores for my close family, but I bought the bracelets from Cyrus Gildhard. You’ll meet him when you return from Paris—he’s my choice for the conclave for the Blacklocks. I did the rune work and the enchantment for the bracelets.”
“Do you think you could part with a forged object?” Tyr questioned.
“I could, yes, I’ve just never had the desire to do so,” Razel said simply and shrugged when Tyr laughed.
“Can I see something you’ve made?”
Razel pushed back the sleeve of his jumper and loosened the leather bracelet he was wearing. It had two half-inch long beads on it. He rubbed his thumb against one bead briefly, then offered it to Tyr.
Tyr took it and turned the beads gently as he studied it. “You’re using Durin’s maker mark.”
“I…” Razel considered that as no one in his family had ever called him on it, and they were the only ones who’d ever seen his work from the forge. “How did you know that?”
“The athame I used to defend my mother was made by Durin—it’s about 2000 years old,” Tyr said and, with a shift of his wrist, presented a ritual knife from his dimensional store. “I’m very familiar with the mark as a result. I doubt many are these days, considering how long it’s been since an incarnation.”
Razel took it and exhaled slowly. “How long have you had this blade?”
“It’s been passed down through my family; the day the dragon attacked my mother, she was carrying it. I picked it up….” Tyr trailed off. “Well, you know the results.”
“Certainly, I’m relieved it was there for you when you needed it most,” Razel murmured. “It’s beautiful.” He turned it over in his hand and brushed this thumb against his maker’s mark. “It feels like my mark. I should probably claim it in the system.”
Tyr laughed. “I’m sure whoever is managing the maker’s system currently has already updated the records.” He focused on the beads. “Fire and air.”
“Yeah,” Razel admitted.
“Have you made beads for the other three?”
“No, it feels like I shouldn’t make them until I earn them,” Razel admitted.
“Makes sense,” Tyr said and shifted forward a bit. He wrapped the bracelet around Razel’s wrist and fastened it. “Your work is perfect, but you already know that. You must frustrate the hell out of people who’ve worked the better part of their lives to achieve that kind of competence in the forge.”
“Yeah,” Razel agreed. “I don’t work in the guild, as a result. I’ve been invited repeatedly, but I…don’t feel that I’ve earned it. I have a personal forge next to my father’s who hasn’t worked in the guild proper since he became chieftain.”
“Some would say that you’ve been earning your place in their guild for thousands of years,” Tyr said and took the knife when Razel offered it. He stored it and smiled. “And were it me, I would be honored to work alongside you. The same could be said for the chieftain. Why did he retreat?”
“Security was the issue at the time,” Razel said. “Now, it’s either habit, or he just chooses to keep his forge next to mine.” He wet his lips. “In fact, when I’m in the forge, I often find him working in his own.” With a sigh, he picked up his wine and took a sip. “I should tell him that he can return to the guild if he wishes.”
“My brothers, Cain and Jas, share a forge. Well, they share a room but have separate areas. Maybe that would be a better arrangement for the two of you at some point. It would demonstrate your comfort with the guild but also keep the two of you somewhat separate as your position requires.”
“Does your father have any concerns about you spending time with me?” Razel questioned because he wanted to know if he needed to pull out the stops for Brol Wildheart.
“He is…amused by my predicament,” Tyr admitted and flushed. “The most entertaining year of his life was the year my brother, Cain, courted his wife. Granted, he was a giant bag of drama, and there was no end in sight. Any time she so much as frowned at him, he went completely off the rails, and unfortunately, Jania caught onto that fact. She proceeded to frown at him at least once a week in an overt fashion. By the end of their courtship, he’d bought an entirely new wardrobe, replaced all the furniture in his flat, and was considering a mind healer to deal with what he assumed was some fundamental flaw in his personality.”
Razel burst out laughing. “I love this dwarrowdam.”
“She’s my favorite sister-in-law,” Tyr agreed, then shrugged. “She’s also my only sister-in-law.”
“Is Cain the only one to marry so far?”
“Cain and Kern are married. Jas had two courtships that didn’t make the cut. Suza is just forty-five, so hasn’t had any formal relationships.”
“And Luc?” Razel questioned.
“His use name is Pathfinder,” Tyr said by way of explanation. “He doesn’t tolerate distractions—not even romantic ones. I don’t think Luc will rest until he steps foot onto the land he’s meant to explore. He’s traveled the world searching for it.”
Razel took a deep breath as his magic stirred against his breastbone. “I would ask you…would you give him something for me?”
Tyr raised an eyebrow. “Certainly.”
“Come,” Razel said and stood. He offered Tyr a hand and smiled quickly when it was taken with no hesitation.
Razel kept holding his hand because he wanted to, and it was clear Tyr didn’t mind. He led him into his office and released him as they approached the desk. “One of the things I’ve been working on is picking out our place.”
“Where?” Tyr questioned.
“On Arda,” Razel said. He pulled a large book from a stack and opened it. “This is an atlas of our home, Tyr.”
Tyr walked around the desk and joined him. “I…I didn’t know such a thing even existed. You can’t mean to part with this.”
“Oh, no, I couldn’t. It’s entailed to Durin’s estate. But I can duplicate it.” He pulled his wand and performed the spell. An exact copy appeared on top of the open book. “It’ll last about a year. I think…I need a pathfinder, and I hadn’t even considered it until you said it.”
“Would you prefer Luc for the conclave?” Tyr questioned.
“No.” Razel picked up the duplicate and offered it to Tyr. “Only you will do.” He flushed when Tyr accepted the book, and it disappeared with a shimmer of magic. “But he will be invited to the larger conclave that you and I will build together.”
“You’re my second in the conclave; I thought that was clear.” Razel bit down on his lip. “You’re the only fire elemental that I will invite into my private circle.”
“Why?” Tyr questioned.
“It’s my affinity element—the first I ever claimed, and I have a deep attachment to it. Your fire will mix with mine in ritual circumstances. It will be intimate for us both. It’s a lot to ask, and I can’t see myself asking multiple people to do it.”
“What if you can’t tolerate my fire?” Tyr questioned lowly.
Razel offered his hand, and Tyr took it. Flames leaped between them as they laced their fingers together. It was intoxicating, and Razel couldn’t help but lean into the experience, moving closer without any real decision to do so.
“I want to kiss you,” Tyr confessed.
“Please do,” Razel encouraged and shuddered as the heat of their shared fire slid up his arm.
Tyr shifted them until Razel was resting against the desk and pressed a soft kiss to his mouth. Razel immediately pushed his free hand into Tyr’s hair and groaned as they came together fully. He instantly wanted more and pulled just a little. Tyr groaned into his mouth and deepened the kiss with a stroke of his tongue. Their fire swirled around them, hurting nothing but heating the air until it bordered on too warm.
Tyr pulled back and took in a ragged breath. “I’ll be gone two days at the most, but when I return, I hope…to have more of your time.”
Razel nodded. “Yes, that’s…what I want as well.” He took a deep breath as Tyr stepped away from him and released his hand. He pushed his fire down deep to regain some composure. “You’re going to be a terrible distraction.”
“I would be content to simply work in the same space you’re working in,” Tyr murmured. “I’m not an insecure lad who requires anyone’s undivided attention.”
It was a relieving thing to know and not something he’d ever heard before. “You’re a little too good to be true.”
“Well, I have to be amazing to make up for my family. Even my sister is prone to fist fighting for fun and profit,” Tyr said dryly, and Razel laughed. “Walk me to your door before I ask for something I shouldn’t.”
“I’ve never….” Razel flushed. “I’ve never taken a lover at all.”
Tyr blinked in clear surprise. “Oh.”
“Is that a problem?” Razel questioned. “I just….”
Tyr’s fingers glanced over his lips gently. “No, of course, it isn’t a problem. Are you waiting for marriage, or are you merely uninterested in sex? Either situation is fine.”
“No, it’s nothing like that. I just have to make considered choices, and I’ve not allowed anyone to formally court me. There have been some romantic relationships, but the pressure of being with me quickly destroyed any potential that was there. Of course, I was also had to keep my birthmark a secret as my father didn’t want me to exposed as Durin’s reincarnation until I was fully mature magically, which is why I wasn’t introduced to the entire Horde at fifty as many expected.”
They walked together to the small foyer in the front of his suite, hands catching together in a light hold, and Razel stilled the urge to try to keep Tyr longer as they came to stand in front of the door. As if his want was written all over his face, Tyr leaned in and pressed a soft kiss to his mouth.
“My portkey is set for about six hours from now,” he said and took a deep breath. “My father never likes to linger anywhere as he doesn’t rest well separately from my mother.”
“That’s a lovely thing to know about him,” Razel said. “Maybe I’ll forgive him sooner rather than later for his drama.”
Tyr laughed. “He’ll be gratified to hear it.” He squeezed Razel’s hand gently. “No more than two days.”
“Two days,” Razel murmured in agreement and stayed still as Tyr slipped out of the door. The wards shifted, telling him that security had been alerted to his opening door and would meet his guest to escort them out. He let his head rest on the door as he closed it. “I’m in trouble.”
A gentle thud of a fist against the door startled him.
“Me, too,” Tyr said with a laugh.
Razel listened to the footfalls intently, then lifted away from the door with a small laugh of his own. Two days seemed like forever and nothing all at the same time.
“It pains me, truly, that I have no allies in my campaign of harassment. You trot off to Britain and catch the eye of the future king. What an occasion this is!”
Tyr glanced up from his journal and raised an eyebrow at his brother. Luc had been recalled by their father, but his other brothers were flung about the planet working on various jobs for the bank. Suza had been around briefly to tease him but had quickly grown bored with him and returned to her studies, which she found more interesting than anyone or anything at present.
“Razel expects to forgive Adad within the month,” Tyr said. “How was your trip?”
“The same as always,” Luc admitted. “If I could pass for an average-sized human, I’d take myself off to America and finagle my way into the fucking space exploration thing they’re doing. Because maybe that’s what I’m missing, the moon looks interesting. I wonder if they’re going back anytime soon. I guess I could try a glamour….”
“No,” Brol said firmly from his chair by the fire. “And I mean it.”
Luc sighed and focused on Tyr. “Adad’s note said you had something to discuss with me.”
Tyr nodded. “For now, it should be kept in confidence because I was…distracted by the circumstances and didn’t ask any clarifying questions.” He flushed when both of his parents turned to stare at him in clear shock. “Razel is fascinating, and being in his private space was a revelation. I didn’t expect arrogance or entitlement, despite the rumors regarding his isolated upbringing.”
“I can’t fault Ragnok or Lenore for their position on that,” Brol said roughly. “His magical potential alone made him vulnerable to manipulation by others. Plus, dealing with the reincarnation business would’ve put me around the twist decades ago.”
“So, he’s not arrogant?” Luc questioned as he shed his cloak and draped it across the back of a chair. He joined Tyr at the table where the family took tea together regularly.
“He’s aware of his worth, but not obscenely so,” Tyr said. “He has put duty and education first for most of his life, and even as young as fifteen, he was forced to accept and recognize circumstances that would’ve brought me low.” He drew the atlas from his dimensional store, and both of his parents stood then crossed the room.
“What is that?” Luc questioned.
Tyr opened it, and it fell flat as the original did, displaying a large map. “This is Arda.”
“Arda?” Sig questioned. “How did you get this?”
“This is a gift and an offer to Luc from Razel Fireborn,” Tyr explained.
“I don’t understand,” Luc admitted. “And I certainly can’t accept it—you want him, and I’m not about to accept such a rare and expensive gift from someone you’re enamored with, Tyr. Why did you even bring it home?”
Tyr laughed. “It’s not that kind of offer, Luc. I’m sure you’ve heard that Razel will undertake the full elemental path and his goal is to build us a road home to Arda.”
“I watched the second meeting via mirror. I think most of the Horde did.” He reached out and pulled the book to him.
Tyr watched his older brother use trembling fingers to trace over a mountain range on the map. “As with most first dates, I spent a not insignificant portion of my time making excuses for the uncivilized family I’ve sprung from.”
Brol laughed, and Tyr noted that even his mother looked more amused than contrite.
“Regardless,” Tyr continued, “I told him about my brothers, and when we spoke of you—he was intrigued by your journey. Razel thinks he needs a pathfinder, Luc, and that maybe you can’t find your place of exploration because it’s not here on this world at all.”
“It’s Arda,” Luc murmured, voice hoarse. “Yes, I think…I….” He took in a ragged breath. Tyr reached out and took his hand. “Where did he get this?”
Tyr squeezed his brother’s hand gently. “It’s from Durin’s vault.”
Luc snatched the hand that was touching the book back in horror. “What? How did…he cannot give such a thing away!”
“This is a duplicate,” Tyr said wryly. “He regrets that it will only last a year.” He released Luc’s hand as his brother’s mouth dropped open. “He’ll probably apologize to you at some point for it as well. He seems that sort.”
“I have a year to duplicate this by hand,” Luc said and pulled out a chair absently so he could sit down in front of the atlas. “And by then, he’ll be ready to build the dimensional portal.”
“He certainly hopes to,” Tyr murmured. “I browsed it last night. There are detailed maps of each region, notes from Durin IV and another—a dwarrow king named Thorin Oakenshield. He was the last to add to the book, as far as I can tell. He added some amusing notes about trolls and rock giants. Also, he apparently loathed high elves, and his own personal map is full of sarcastic comments about their lands and how useless they are. His work is written in Khuzdul, which you’ll have no problems with, but the rest is written in Certhas Daeron. Razel can read it, so we can sit down with him and get translations for your own copy at some point. Though we might be better served with creating a guide for a translation since spells don’t work.”
“Can I come to Britain with you?” Luc questioned. “I realize you won’t have time for me—since you’re clearly about to have a torrid affair. The two of you could barely stop staring at each other long enough to participate in that meeting.”
Tyr flushed. “Yes, of course, you can come to Britain. I’ll be given a suite of rooms. I can request two bedrooms, I’m sure. I wouldn’t mind the company as well. I can’t expect to take all of his personal time, and while the Blacklocks appear to be very friendly, it’ll be an adjustment to outright live with another clan. I’ll send a note to Director Sharprock, who will know who to pass the request onto. You should pack.”
“Yes, I will,” Luc promised but returned his attention to the atlas. “I’ve never seen anything like this, Raz. A map of our homeworld…created by the hands of kings. Do you suppose the Oakenshield fellow you spoke of was a reincarnation of Durin as well?”
“It’s not mentioned in that book, but that doesn’t mean anything in the scheme of things,” Tyr said. “We can ask Razel what he knows. There are journals in the vault. He doesn’t have any personal memories of being Durin yet, but he’s having dreams of the Arda that exists right now. He said the land is feral and that she misses magic. He believes we will be welcomed with open arms.”
“Yes,” Luc murmured as he spread his hands out over the main map. “I agree—Arda wants us to come home. Will he be willing to discuss his dreams with me? I’ll want to build theoretical models and draw predictive maps on the expected geographical changes—erosion, tectonic plate shifts, and the like will have changed the land since these maps were drawn. Whole forests could have been destroyed by fire or grown in the place where we would expect open fields.” He took a deep breath. “He chose you for his personal conclave, right?”
“Yes, but if Razel finds you agreeable, he would certainly offer you a place in the larger conclave that will work around his circle for the building and ritual opening of the portal.” Tyr squeezed his brother’s shoulder gently. “Go pack. My portkey for Britain will activate at 8am sharp in the morning if I have a single thing to say about it. I already have several meetings set up in Britain, and I’ve been promised an administrative assistant as well.”
“So Ragnok’s putting you to work,” Brol said. “Good, I wouldn’t want your time wasted.”
“I did leave a letter for him regarding office space and a list of court appearances I have on the docket for the World Court of Magic. Plus, I have three hearings with the ICW in the next quarter. I expect to receive more attention in that manner when it’s confirmed that I’m living in Britain. The Death Eater threat is largely being ignored by the Ministry, and the ICW is vexed. I’ve heard rumors they want to send the Protectorate in with a hit list. Maybe I’ll help them along on finding the legal means to do so.” He waved a hand. “A few less bigots in the world is only to the good.”
Sig frowned. “I would prefer that you not go into the bank proper or leave the bank itself in favor of Diagon Alley or Muggle London. I know you’ll be curious, but…it’s not safe for our kind.”
“I know, Amad,” Tyr said. “I won’t take risks with myself like that and will travel via portkey from one magical space to another without fail. I suspect, and honestly hope, that I will spend a great deal of time with Razel, and the security around him is intense. There are three levels of wards and four sets of guards between the front of the bank and the clan space. Then another three sets of guards between the clan halls and the family wing where he has a flat, in the very back behind Ragnok’s own quarters.”
Brol nodded. “It’s only fitting. If the humans knew we had a reborn king amongst our kind, they would be livid. His ascension to the throne will force them to renegotiate every single treaty we have with the ICW and individual governments across the globe.” He paused. “But he doesn’t expect to be here by the time he’s crowned, does he? He wants a full retreat.”
“All it will take is one violent transgression against us,” Tyr said. “And we would be legally allowed to leave this world without a backward glance. All of our treaties would default, and there would be nothing to stop us magically. Arranging an altercation would be the work of nothing in Britain because the place is full of racist arseholes who don’t even think we’re sentient, much less sapient.”
“And Razel Fireborn is banking on that,” Brol murmured. “He’s a very clever lad.”
“And pretty,” Luc said. “You two could make some gorgeous babies if you were inclined to settle down.”
Tyr blushed at the teasing and stood. “I’m going to go finish my packing.” He tapped the book gently. “Don’t share this with anyone, Luc. If you want to gather a team to study and prepare—we’ll have to ask Razel first.”
“Of course,” Luc said. “I’m not interested in sharing at all right now, but I suspect a second or third pathfinder might be helpful later.”
“Study the map carefully—I know already he’s going to ask you to pick our destination because he hasn’t been able to make a choice.”
Luc cleared his throat. “No pressure, huh?”
Tyr shrugged. “You can handle it.”
“Contrary to popular opinion, little brother, you’re the only one of us to actually punch a dragon in the face,” Luc muttered.
* * * *
Razel pulled his hair up, tied it off, and picked up a quill as he considered the meeting ahead of him. Mim Dragonslayer had left after the meeting with her son then returned from Japan shortly after Tyr and his father had left. The leaving hadn’t been a surprise as most of the leaders had left immediately to deal with the fallout of the situation. But her quick return was curious.
“Master Dragonslayer and Master Augur are here for their appointment, sir.”
Razel looked up. “Thank you, Glou. Go ahead and send them in.”
The guard hesitated. “Should we not wait until the chieftain can attend?”
Razel raised an eyebrow. “I can take a meeting on my own.” He watched Glou flush. “And the security wards won’t allow them to draw even a wand without you knowing.”
“I know, but they aren’t clan,” Glou said roughly.
“I’ll have guests all year that aren’t clan,” Razel said. “Best get used to it.”
Glou nodded and left. Shortly Mim Dragonslayer and her son came through the archway and into Razel’s warded space. He noted that they both paused but did not seem to be specifically bothered by the wards. Since his mother had embedded a series of stringent intent wards into the space, that was a relief.
“Your mother remains very protective,” Master Dragonslayer said. “Not that I blame her.”
“She’s calmed down a lot,” Razel admitted and grinned when Therin Augur raised an eyebrow. “Seriously. I had so much personal warding as a child that I had a hard time walking, which led to a trip to the healer and a lecture about their craziness from my Aunt Omis.”
Mim laughed as she sat. “You’ve set the whole Horde on their asses, as you must know. Plus, we all practically drowned in your immediate and immense crush on Tyr Warhide.”
Razel flushed. “I can see already you’re going to be a mean one.” He cleared his throat. “I was surprised to be told you didn’t bring a selection of candidates back as requested.”
“I wanted to discuss it with you personally before I opened up the selection to the entire clan. You mentioned, specifically, that you were worried about aether representation in the process.”
“I was relieved by your confession, Master Dragonslayer,” Razel said. “And surprised. I wouldn’t have requested a public declaration. Aethers are rare and obscenely sought after.”
“I know,” she said dryly. “And call me Mim, please.”
“Razel then.” He held up a hand when she frowned. “I insist. If I’m to take instruction from you—then I need you to see me as a regular student. Your position grants you familiarity on this front that I hope you will use in public as well. It helps to…make me less of an icon and more of a person, you see.”
She nodded. “Very well. Have you considered the structure of your personal circle in this endeavor?”
“As I’ve already stated in the requirements you were sent, they must all be elementals. I have earth and two fire, so far. I’ll want two water to balance out the fire elements, then one air and one aether if at all possible. The last member can be any of the elements.” His gaze flicked to Therin briefly.
“My son has mastered two elements,” Mim said easily. “Earth and aether. He’s only ever publicly revealed earth as his element as it is also his affinity element.”
Razel sat back in his seat and let his mage sight surface as he stared at Therin Augur. Precious few people would claim to be any sort of omen in their use name, and it was a curious choice. The dwarf’s magical aura was rich with power, void of any sort of dark magic, and only the earth element was evident.
“I rarely question someone’s use name,” Razel said and took a deep breath. “But why Augur?”
“I was, at birth, declared a good omen,” Therin said. “And a promise of a very prosperous future for the clan. My paternal grandmother, who was a genuine prophet, told my parents that I would be part of the greatest endeavor our kind has undertaken in many thousands of years. I couldn’t imagine what that could be until I read the announcement of your intentions. I didn’t want to leave at all after the meeting because I believe that I have a place in your circle. That being said, I returned to Japan with my mother so we could review potential elementals for inclusion in your circle if you find I’m not the choice you want to make.”
“It’s never been my inclination to ignore such things as fate and omens,” Razel admitted. “And I would be a fool to say no to an aether elemental in these circumstances. I’d go so far as to say I need you in my circle. I want nothing to stand in our way on the way to Arda.” He nodded. “So, welcome Master Augur to my conclave. Please feel free to call me Razel in private. We’ll have an induction ceremony when everyone is gathered. Concerns?”
“Therin, please,” the other dwarf said easily. “As to concerns, none as long as you don’t intend on making Brom Truthsayer a choice due to political pressures. I don’t trust him, magically.”
“He’s already been told no,” Razel said. “And you aren’t the first to express concern—though Master Warhide’s concerns were political in nature, mostly. Also, he’d like to file some sort of criminal charge against him. What’s your concern?”
“He’s claimed a use name he has no right to,” Therin said roughly. “And I don’t know why. It’s a shameful circumstance and off-putting as hell. He was knowingly deceptive regarding his grandfather’s condition, and while I have no proof, I think he let a very ill old dwarf do his dirty work. He has plans for you.”
“Certainly,” Mim said. “And I hope you’re on your guard going forward with him and the rest of your maternal line. They feel collectively cheated by these circumstances and did when only your magical power was an issue.”
“Then they might wish to consider why Durin did not return to them but instead waited until one of the line married out and away from their clan,” Razel said dryly, and Mim hummed gently under her breath. “I don’t know the exact details, but I do know the last version of Durin to be crowned grew to deeply resent his own family. It was so profound that it followed him into his next life, and I feel the echo of it. I can’t hardly stand to look at my mother’s kin. Even my own grandparents, who have been nothing but kind to me my whole life, quickly realized that they weren’t welcome to touch me when I was a child.”
“That speaks to a profound betrayal,” Therin said. “Did he leave nothing in writing behind?”
“Nothing at all that I’ve found in the vault,” Razel said. “Over the last fifty years or so, the Longbeards have petitioned four different times to have Durin’s vault moved to Rome, and all were denied without discussion. The last time Durin lived, he decreed that his vault would stay exactly where it was—next to Merlin’s under this bank. Why they thought my father would ignore that, I don’t know.”
“Sounds desperate,” Mim said. “Considering the way they clung to your mother and demanded you be turned over like property…I have to think they suspected that Durin was on the cusp of returning through her direct line in some fashion or another.”
“They’ve never liked it when the Feyborn leave their clan.” Razel cleared his throat. “I’ll contact Master Sharprock about living quarters for you, Therin. You will be housed with our clan but will have all the privacy you desire. Do you wish to bring your own staff?”
“I’m fine on my own,” Therin assured. “As long as I can order meals.”
Razel grinned. “Yes, certainly. The community kitchen is staffed twenty-four hours a day since we run three shifts in crafting areas. Do you have a craft? Make sure to let Sharprock know, and he’ll get with the appropriate guild master to allot you space.”
“I’m…surprised by that,” Therin admitted. “I lean toward the arts and enjoy tapestry work, but my only mastery is in transfiguration. I was too eager to get out into the world to sit still for further instruction.”
“You’re going to be with us for a year at least, and I’m going to require a lot from you magically. I want you to be comfortable and as at home as you can be in the circumstances.” Razel felt the wards shift slightly, letting him know he had an incoming guest. He just stared pointedly when his father appeared in the archway of his office.
Ragnok grinned, glanced over his guests, then walked away after both had half-turned in their chairs to see him.
“Does that get frustrating?” Therin questioned.
“No, I respect their concern,” Razel said easily. “It’d be hard not to, considering the fact that three different reincarnations of Durin were eventually assassinated.” He checked his watch. “My morning is full, Therin, but I’d like to show you the workspace that has been set up for the conclave this afternoon. I’ll send you a memo with a meeting time if you’d like to go get settled?”
“Sounds good,” Therin stood and offered his mother a hand, which she took with a sour look in his direction as she stood. “Don’t fuss, Amad; you raised a gentledwarf.”
“I’m hardly even 400,” she said tartly. “And don’t need to be treated like an old dwarrowdam.”
Since he kept up with the details of all the clan leaders, Razel knew for a fact that Mim Dragonslayer was 406. He just grinned when mother and son looked in his direction. “Thank you for your time this morning.”
“Yes, thank you as well,” Mim said. “I would welcome correspondence from you regarding your journey in claiming the elements going forward. You’ll find that aether will…include itself in all aspects of your magic.”
Razel considered that. “My conjured items already last as much as a year, depending on the object.”
She nodded. “From the start, my conjurations lasted much longer than I expected and confounded my instructors until they realized that I was an elemental. My parents put them under unbreakable vows to protect me. I didn’t reveal it to anyone outside of my family until after I married. You don’t have that luxury, obviously, and it isn’t the most compelling reason anyone would seek you.”
Razel shifted under her scrutiny.
“Tyr Warhide is a very good dwarf,” Therin said.
“Yes,” Mim agreed. “And most don’t know this, but he insisted upon rendering the dragon he killed personally so that he could honor it as much as possible. He regretted what he was forced to do to defend his mother and doesn’t foster a hatred for the creatures when no one would’ve blamed him.”
Razel hadn’t known that but found it an intriguing facet of the dwarf he already found compelling beyond the telling of it. “He’ll be returning soon.”
Mim laughed. “Yes, I expect he will.”
* * * *
“You look frustrated,” Rhys said. “Problem?”
Razel shrugged. “Tyr’s kind of perfect. It has to be a problem.”
“Well, don’t put the dwarf on a pedestal. It would be profoundly unfair and, in some circumstances, even cruel. No one is truly perfect, and expecting it will just cause hurt and hostility.”
“I know, but also, he’s just amazing,” Razel said and stood. He paced around Rhys’ office. “I’ve had a letter from Yawl. He’s in South America right now leading a dig on a magical site—a commission from the humans.”
“Yawl Stormchaser hasn’t set foot in Britain since your relationship ended, correct?”
“He exited my life and Britain on the same day, yes,” Razel said. “And I can’t say it didn’t hurt, but it’s been three years, Rhys, and I’ve moved on completely.” He waved a hand. “It’s frustrating that he’s reached out now.”
“What does the letter say?”
“I haven’t even read it,” Razel muttered. “What could he possibly have to say that would make up for what he said when he left? He threw a complete fit because I wouldn’t go to New Zealand with him and said that I lived like a child. Yawl criticized my parents, derided my educational goals, and outright disdained my personal loyalty to my family.”
Razel waved a hand and slouched back down in the visitor chair. “I realize that he was hurt and frustrated. He certainly said things he didn’t mean, but I can’t have someone in my life with that kind of shite emotional control. It’s not healthy, and Adad made it clear he wouldn’t tolerate even a friendship with Yawl going forward.”
“You and I both know you could talk both of your parents around on that subject if you truly wanted him back.” Rhys paused. “Do you?”
“Not even a little?” Rhys questioned.
Razel flushed. “Tyr kissed me.” He cleared his throat. “I’ve never…it was amazing, and nothing like I’ve ever had before. Honestly, Yawl left me cold in comparison, and maybe that’s to do with magical compatibility and the fact that Tyr is a fire elemental. But the difference was night and day.”
Rhys nodded. “Well, you need to get ahead of whatever Yawl might be thinking or planning. If he’s returning to Britain for a conversation or an attempt to rekindle the relationship—you need to make it clear to that will not be happening. No need for there to be any confusion. And it might put Tyr off if a former lover is hanging around trying to intrude on your time and space.”
Razel grimaced and stood. He didn’t correct Rhys’ assumption. He wasn’t ashamed of his lack of experience, but Razel didn’t want to explain how he got to be seventy-five years old without engaging in any sort of sex with another person when the age of consent amongst their kind was fifty. “Yeah, I’ll go read his dumb letter and respond. Maybe he just decided to berate me for keeping secrets from him for the two years we were together as romantic partners.”
He left Rhys’ office more frustrated than when he arrived, which wasn’t the norm. The older dwarf was normally a source of calm and reason. He had been reasonable, of course, but Razel was beyond frustrated with the situation. The morning had been great, and he’d gotten confirmation that Tyr would be back in Britain within the next twenty hours. Razel was pleased and relieved by his quick return. He’d also been told that Tyr’s brother, Luc Pathfinder, was coming as well, and his residency had been approved through official channels.
Shortly, he threw himself on his own sofa and pulled out Yawl’s letter. He really wanted to just toss it in the fireplace and ignore the situation altogether, but that wasn’t wise, and he tried not to do stupid things.
I hope this letter finds you well. I was surprised at your inclusion in the quarterly meeting, and I admit to being worried about the direction your life has taken since we parted ways. Your parents continue to use your potential for their own gain, and now that your genuine legacy has been revealed to the Horde—I can’t see how it won’t get worse. They no longer have to hide the fact that they’ve been keeping our future king from us. I can’t imagine how you’ve suffered bearing the secrets they forced on you as long as you have.
You looked so tired and worn in the meeting. It was difficult to watch.
My love, I think of you often, and I regret that I did not stay in Britain to fight for our future. Let me help you now—you deserve freedom and choice. By the time this letter is delivered, I will be on my way home to you. I hope we can meet soon in private to discuss our relationship.
Flames licked along his fingers, and he dropped the letter to keep from setting it on fire as his fury bloomed fully in his chest. Yawl’s presumption was galling, but the accusations that he continued to pile on his parents was infuriating. He pressed a hand against his chest, but his fire spread until he didn’t feel comfortable sitting on the sofa. Under normal circumstances, his control over his fire was perfect, and he hadn’t burned anything or anyone by accident since he was a tween.
He closed his eyes and rocked a little, but he was so offended and fucking hurt that he didn’t know how to contain it.
“Easy, lad.” Hands settled on his shoulders, and he was abruptly pulled into his father’s embrace.
“I might hurt you,” Razel said hoarsely, startled to realize that he must have set off his own security wards.
“You’ve never hurt me,” Ragnok murmured and cupped the back of his head. “What has upset you so?”
He shook his head and buried his face against his father’s neck.
“It seems that Yawl Stormchaser has gracelessly re-entered our son’s life,” Lenore said, and Razel lifted his head to see that his mother had the letter in hand. He couldn’t even protest the invasion of his privacy. He was just beyond it all, emotionally, and that made him feel profoundly immature. “Did he always think our isolation of you was abusive?”
“It was what our last argument was about,” Razel said and swallowed hard.
“Here,” Omis interjected tersely and thrust a potion in his face.
Razel took the vial and huffed a little. “What? Elspeth too busy to come running as well?”
“Elspeth is having dinner with several friends on the opposite side of the complex. She has no idea you very nearly shattered your security wards,” Ragnok said gently as he held his son firmly in place. “You’ve not had an outburst like this in quite some time, lad.”
“I’m sorry,” Razel said. “I just didn’t expect the letter to be that infuriating. I’d hoped he’d never come back to Britain. I assumed he’d migrate to Australia officially, considering how furious he was with me when I refused to travel with him. Even without security issues, the trip was deeply unappealing, and I had studies of my own. He just expected me to set aside my own interests in favor of his all the damn time. And in the end, every single time I didn’t, he blamed you and Amad. As if the only reason I would have interests that weren’t his were because you’d ordered me to.” He downed the potion when he hazarded a glance at his aunt and found her glaring at him. “I’m fine.”
“It’s just pain relief,” she said shortly and took the vial back. She cleansed it with a spell then stored her wand and the empty vial. “You’re going to have a vicious headache as a result of that breach of your control.” She walked across the room and held out a hand for the letter.
Razel sighed when his mother gamely passed it Omis’ way. “I can handle this on my own.”
“You don’t have to,” Ragnok said. “I can throw his arse out of my domain easily enough, and he can’t do a fucking thing about it but complain. He has no power here, Razel, and the only favor he has ever had is what you gave him. I never thought he deserved it, but it was your relationship to have.”
Razel flushed. Yawl was physically very attractive. Not as beautiful as Tyr Warhide, but not many were. “I let myself be drawn in by his looks and familiarity. He seemed to understand how difficult it was to be me, and I never had to pretend to be something I wasn’t with him. We basically grew up together—attended classes together, and learned to fight together. There was a time when I would’ve called him my best friend, and he destroyed it.” He paused. “Maybe we destroyed it. But I don’t want him here now, despite the fact that he’s clan and has every legal right to be.”
“It will be difficult to have a courtship with your former lover lurking around being an arsehole,” Omis muttered and tossed aside the letter.
“He isn’t that,” Razel blurted out in frustration, and all three of them turned to stare at him in shock. “I’ve never.” He blushed when his father’s mouth dropped open. He put a hand on his shoulder where the mark of Durin had appeared shortly after his birth briefly.
“I gave you a specific glamour spell to cover your mark,” Omis said neutrally. “Not even mage sight penetrated it—we made sure.”
Razel averted his gaze and shook his head.
“Come, Omis, I believe this conversation is best between father and son,” Lenore murmured and took her sister-in-law’s hand.
“Yes, of course,” Omis said. “Razel, please don’t think I’m judging you on this subject. How could I, being what I am?”
Stoneheart, Razel thought. “I don’t think that at all, I promise. And…there’s nothing wrong with the choices you made to protect yourself. You know that, and I do as well.”
She nodded and let Lenore take her from the room.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Razel admitted.
“You don’t have to,” Ragnok said. “I believe you would’ve told us already if you were craftborn. Because that wouldn’t have mattered to me at all, Razel. I love you just as you are, and I have since your conception. We didn’t care about anything beyond your good health. There were no gender scans done, no checks regarding magical power. All we wanted was a healthy baby.”
Razel nodded and picked up the letter where his aunt had left it on a small table by the sofa. “I know.”
“How do you want to handle the Yawl situation?” Ragnok asked.
“I’ll meet with him,” Razel said and took a deep breath when his father made a face. “Adad, it’s my personal business.”
“Except for the part where he accused your mother and me of abusing and misusing you since you were born,” Ragnok snapped and held up a hand when Razel opened his mouth to speak. “Neither of us can control what he thinks, and he certainly won’t be alone in his disgusting assumptions. I know that, but it’s pissing me off that you didn’t tell me this.”
“Yawl made a habit of blaming you whenever I told him no or just didn’t want to do what he was doing,” Razel said wearily. “I think it’s because, ultimately, he would’ve liked to control my entire life and assumed you were much the same as he is.” He waved the letter. “This is just his response to my embarrassing inability to do anything but stare at Tyr Warhide during that meeting that most of the Horde watched via mirror.”
Ragnok shrugged. “Well, he is very easy on the eyes.”
“Yeah,” Razel said with a huff. “He certainly is. The sex thing….”
“Is entirely your business,” Ragnok said. “Neither your mother nor Omis will bring it up to you, and it certainly won’t be discussed amongst us or with others. I told you years ago that how and with whom you share your body was your choice.” He paused. “Unless…. Are there health concerns at play here that you haven’t reported?”
Razel laughed. “No, Adad. I promise. Everything is functioning just as it should.” He slouched down on the couch. “Hiding the mark of Durin would’ve been a profound deception, you know. How could I have an honest relationship with a lover with that in play?”
Ragnok sighed. “I see.”
“It was as much my decision as yours to keep it within the family as long as we could,” Razel reminded. “And I don’t regret the peace I was granted due to the secrecy of it. I can’t imagine how people would’ve reacted when I was underage. The Longbeard’s entitlement is unbelievable. You’d have probably faced challenge over me. Risking your safety was never…an option.”
“As the parent, it’s my job to protect you.”
“Well, I’m a grown dwarf, and I’m never going to feel differently about that subject,” Razel said tartly.
“Do you want me to run interference between Warhide and this little arsehole who thinks he’s coming here to rescue you?”
Razel laughed. “No, I can handle it.” He looked down at the letter. “I thought—he was just hurt because I couldn’t put him before my duty and that most of what he said that day he didn’t even mean. He always chafed under the security measures, but that’s to be expected. He wasn’t ever restricted by his parents when it came to his comings and goings after his first maturation. But he meant every single bit of it, and it makes me doubt the friendship we formed all those years ago.”
“And that’s worse than the loss of his romantic companionship,” Ragnok surmised.
“By leaps and bounds,” Razel admitted. “I was never really all that tempted to take him to bed if I’m honest. I found comfort, of a sort, in his intimate interest. He wasn’t pushy on the subject as I’d told him many years ago, when we were tweens, that I wouldn’t have any sort of sexual affair outside of courtship. Yawl respected that. Or at least he pretended to because now I find myself doubting everything he ever said to me.”
“He never tried to court you,” Ragnok said. “None of your relationships have had in that direction.”
“Well, he’d watched me reject one formal suitor after another over the years,” Razel said. “Yawl told me that when I was ready for it, then I could make the gesture. I was pleased by his patience. As to others, I cut them off on that front from the start because I feel like the process should start with me. I don’t know why.” He frowned and took a deep breath. “He’s going to come away from this meeting very disappointed.”
“Have you considered how things will go with Tyr Warhide?” Ragnok asked curiously.
“He’s all I’ve thought about since I set eyes on him in person,” Razel muttered, and it wasn’t exactly a complaint. “And yes, I know exactly what I intend to offer in gesture. I just need to make it.”
“You’re going into the forge for him?” Ragnok questioned. “When you won’t make your mother so much as a pair of earrings?”
Razel flushed. “She’s never asked.”
“None of us would,” Ragnok said in amusement. “It’s been clear since the start that your work in the forge is profoundly personal. Durin has carried the love of it all of his days. I was relieved to see it finally come to you, and none of us begrudge what you don’t share. Still, it’s pretty amusing that the person you favor above all others has nothing from your forge, and yet a dwarf you barely know has inspired you to create for him.”
“I feel like I’ve always known him,” Razel admitted and averted his gaze when his father failed to keep the shock off his face.
“I know what that sounds like, and I’m not saying that. In fact, Durin never speaks of his mates or spouses in his journals, so I have no comparisons to make. It’s been said that only Durin reincarnates, but I’m not sure if that is true. Regardless, it could just be my response to his magic or integrity or his impossibly attractive face.”
“I am pleased for you,” Ragnok murmured. “Truly.”
“Thank you,” Razel said and took a deep breath. “I didn’t expect my second maturation to play havoc with my emotional and magical control.”
“Elementals can have issues such as that well into their eighties,” Ragnok said. “You’ll get a handle on it with time. Your magical power has increased, and that will require you to work on your core balance.”
“I’ll make time for it,” Razel said.
Yawl looked good; he was annoyed to even notice. Razel sat back with his coffee as his former friend and partner took off his coat and draped it over the back of the visitor chair, then sat. He looked confident and like he was in control of the situation. The wards were shifting with irritation, but no real warnings. Razel figured his mother’s personality was surfacing in her warding, which was amusing enough to keep him from being all that irritated with Yawl’s display.
“When did you start using an office?” Yawl questioned with an amused smile that was edging toward condescending.
“I’ve had this office for a decade, Yawl,” Razel said quietly. “You never bothered to ask questions about my work or how I spent my time when you were off digging amongst dead human’s things.” He set his coffee aside when anger briefly flickered across Yawl’s face. “You seem to be suffering under some sort of delusion, and I want to make myself perfectly clear. I kept my heritage and magical abilities a secret of my own accord. I don’t need or want to be saved from my, frankly, resplendent circumstances. I want for nothing in my professional or personal life.”
Yawl scoffed. “You’re living in a gilded cage, Razel. How can you stand it? You’ve never left this fucking bank.”
Razel stared for a moment and laughed. “Are you serious? Is that what you think? My parents have owned a private, unplottable island in international waters for decades. I’ve been visiting it at least twice a year since I was a tween.”
“You never invited me—we were partnered for years and friends since we were little more than children,” Yawl said incredulously.
“It’s a family retreat, and you’ve never been my family. At one time, I did count you amongst my closest friends, but even then, you couldn’t have been invited to the island. That’s why I’ve never felt the need to speak of it to you. You’ve always been weirdly jealous regarding my family and the time I spent with them—even when we were just friends.
“Honestly, that’s all we ever should’ve been because it’s clear, in retrospect, that you require a level of submissiveness and helplessness in your partners that I could never meet. You’ve been projecting on me for a while—seeing whatever you needed to see to make your physical attraction to me work for you on a mental level.” Razel waved a hand. “It is what it is, and knowledge is difficult to accept. We ruined a decades-long friendship by trying to have something that wasn’t meant to be.”
“We’re perfect for each other,” Yawl said evenly. “Your parents interfered and prevented us from creating the kind of relationship we deserved, Razel. We could have that now. We don’t have to stay here. They are oppressing you, using so-called security concerns to hold you hostage.”
Razel frowned. “At least three different versions of Durin were assassinated after they were crowned, Yawl. And you know the history of my father’s family well enough to know that more than one person didn’t want me to exist at all. None of this matters, really, because your biased and weird opinions about my life mean absolutely nothing to me. I can tell you all day long that I’m not a hostage, but you’re going to believe what you want to believe. I can’t change that, and I’m not going to argue with you over any subject. You aren’t welcome in my life, at all, in any single way.”
“Razel, you don’t mean that. You love me.”
Razel considered that and sighed. “I don’t want to hurt you with this, but I have no romantic feelings left for you, Yawl. You aren’t the dwarf to stand with me in the years to come because you resent my duty and always have. I’m not like you, and you never accepted that.”
“You don’t have to fucking accept it either!” Yawl snapped and stood. “Don’t you see? You can leave! You can be anything you want to be!”
Razel watched him start to pace and was surprised by how calm the wards were. “What if I told you I’m exactly what I want to be?”
Yawl turned to stare at him in shock. “What?”
“I am exactly who I want to be—I’ve achieved my third mastery since you left Britain, and I’m considering a fourth. As you must know, I’ve announced to the Horde that I’m going to build a portal so we can return to Arda. I’m serious in that endeavor and see it as my destiny.”
“That’s…impossible,” Yawl said roughly. “Yes, I read the essay you published and distributed, but Razel, you aren’t going to claim all of the elements. No one ever has—it’s obscene that your parents are even indulging such a fantasy. People rarely even claim two, much less all five.”
“I’m precariously close to claiming a third,” Razel said evenly. “I will claim—no, I will conquer all of the elements, and we will return to Arda. In the end, Yawl, you could have never been my choice.”
“Why?” Yawl demanded.
“You’re too selfish to be the Consort Under the Mountain,” Razel said simply. “I need a partner who will work with me and stand at my side as I provide the best possible future for our people. You are so invested in your own wants that you think I should just abandon every single responsibility I have like a child.”
Yawl’s gaze narrowed. “You think Tyr Warhide will be the one?” He laughed. “Razel, it is only out of love that I say this; you have no hope of keeping his interest. He is worldly, sophisticated, and sought ardently by many. He could have his pick of hundreds of dwarrow. That reincarnation shite aside, why would a dwarf like him choose to live the small life you want? Your looks may attract him, but that won’t be enough to keep him especially considering your issues with physical intimacy. He needs more than a scholar, who prefers books to people.” He waved a hand. “Warhide won’t have decades of friendship to build on like I do. He’ll never love you like I do.”
Razel stared for a moment and took a deep breath. “I hope not.”
“What?” Yawl questioned.
“I hope no one ever loves me like you claim to ever again,” Razel said evenly. “Because I don’t want that kind of toxic love in my life—you’re selfish and cruel, Yawl. And in the last five minutes, you have completely destroyed what little there was left of our friendship.” He stood. “You are to never speak to me again.” He pressed his thumb against a rune, and Glou Warhammer came into the room. “Glou, get this bastard out my face immediately. And let Master Broadsword and Master Blackaxe know that he is not allowed to have contact with me again for any reason. His access to the clan complex is restricted to the general populace areas and his own family rooms. He is not welcome in any guild space, the Hall of Mages, or the private offices of my family. These restrictions are permanent.”
Glou appeared startled for the barest of moments, then shrugged. “Come on, arsehole, time to go.”
Yawl stared in shock. “Razel, you can’t mean this….”
“Get your coat,” Glou ordered. “Now.”
Yawl picked up his coat with trembling hands, face pale with shock. Glou grabbed his arm and dragged him from the room.
Razel sat down and picked up his coffee. Since he’d agreed that his father could listen to his meeting, he just waited for the older dwarf to arrive as he tried to put his thoughts together and rein in his temper. His father appeared in the archway, frowned deeply at him, and Razel rolled his eyes because he’d reached his limit.
“Has he always been that way with you?”
“No, things changed in the last six months of our partnership—when he realized that I wasn’t going to follow him around the world. He started to build this story in his head about how I wasn’t free to be with him, and it wasn’t my fault. Mostly, he couldn’t fathom how I would choose to stay here rather than go with him and live his dream.” Razel frowned. “He never took my goals seriously, and I guess I didn’t notice. We just sort of meandered into an intimate relationship because of our friendship. He’s a dreamer, you know.”
“What do you mean?”
“Yawl wants adventure and larger-than-life experiences, but he doesn’t do the work to get them. He sees duty as a burden and can’t fathom how anyone would want it.”
Ragnok stared for a moment. “Do you?”
“What?” Razel questioned.
“I’m ashamed of it, but I’ve just realized I’ve never asked you…do you want this, Razel?” Ragnok asked, eyes dark.
“I don’t want to be king, as you know,” Razel said carefully. “I don’t think anyone who wants it should do it. I know, fundamentally, that I need to hold the regency of our people in a place separate from myself. I accept it and understand it to be my duty. But, Adad, I don’t think Durin has wanted to be king in many generations because he let it consume him time and time again until he felt like he was nothing but the crown.”
“If I could take it for you if I would,” Ragnok said roughly. “It’s not enough, I know.”
“It’s everything,” Razel corrected. “And I mean that.” He frowned then and pushed his empty coffee cup around. “What if he’s right about Tyr?
“Dwarrow like Tyr Warhide are often talked about more than they’re talked to,” Ragnok said. “He strikes me as an honest and thoughtful person. He’s certainly dedicated decades of his life to his education, just as you have.”
“He told me that he would be content to work in the same space as I and that he didn’t require my undivided attention,” Razel murmured. “That’s not something I’ve allowed myself to expect from anyone outside of the family. Even then, you’ve been known to get frustrated with me when I was too involved in research when you wanted something from me.”
Ragnok flushed. “Yes, well, that’s true enough.” He shrugged. “No one’s perfect.”
With a laugh, Razel shook his head and stood. “I need more coffee. I wanted to introduce Therin Augur to the workspace we’ve set aside.”
“I could do it for you,” Ragnok offered.
“No,” Razel said roughly. “I already postponed it once because I got so bent over Yawl’s bullshite letter. I have a duty to all the members of my conclave, and that process has begun.”
“In that case, you might wish to show Tyr Warhide the space at the same time—he and his brother arrived just an hour ago. I had them put in the guest quarters you selected. They appeared to be pleased with it based on Fyre’s report.”
“You let Fyre escort them?” Razel questioned, aghast. “Adad! There’s no telling what she bloody said to them.”
“Since she’s currently in your sister’s salon, waxing poetic about Luc Pathfinder, I suspect she was on her very best behavior,” Ragnok said dryly. “Her father will be pleased by her interest. She’s yet to pursue a single partner since reaching her majority.”
“Brol Wildheart’s sons are quite the catch, regardless of their penchant for fist fighting,” Ragnok said. “Luc is two years older than Tyr and has never sat still long enough for courting. I suspect I’ll get a lot of visitation requests over the next year, where he is concerned. I should probably call him into my office and ask him about his love life—both for my own amusement and to help me decide whether or not I should let my bank become a free-for-all.”
“Ask his father instead,” Razel suggested with a laugh. “Might as well get the most fun possible out of it.”
* * * *
The guest quarters for conclave members outside of the clan weren’t far from the kitchens or the great hall, as that had made the most sense. So, he went to the suite assigned to the sons of Brol first because he couldn’t help himself and hadn’t been all that interested in trying.
Tyr opened the door. Razel watched surprise flicker across his face before he received a soft, sweet smile.
“I was going to send you a note letting you know I was here,” Tyr murmured and stepped back. “Luc is unpacking like he’s never done it before.”
“I haven’t! I’ve lived out of my trunk since I left home! It’s been decades!”
Razel grinned and inclined his head toward Glou as they stepped into the main chamber of the suite. “This is Master Glou Warhammer; he’s been my bodyguard since I turned fifty.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Master Warhammer,” Tyr said and focused on Razel when he got a nod. “Does this one not speak either?”
Razel grinned. “He’ll talk your ear off.” He turned to Glou. “He met Bel Silvertongue.”
Glou shrugged. “Everyone must at some point in their lives.” He stepped back out of the entrance. “I’ll be out here if you have a need.” Then pulled the door shut behind him.
“The guard that you’ve never heard speak has the of use name of Silvertongue?” Tyr questioned. “Are you having me on?”
“Who knows what he was like 200 years ago?” Razel questioned and shrugged. “Therin Augur of the Stiffbeards has accepted my conclave offer and is in residence already.”
Tyr raised an eyebrow. “Seriously? I’ve never known him to leave his mother’s side.”
“He didn’t appear to be uncomfortable,” Razel said and wondered if he should ask Therin more questions because he’d volunteered but might already regret it.
“Oh, it’s more for her than him. He worries about her,” Tyr explained. “Her husband died fifty years ago, and all of her children stay close. I believe, at the start, they feared she’d fade in her grief. Therin is an earth elemental.”
“Yes, and aether,” Razel explained. “So, that’s the best possible outcome I could’ve gotten from the Stiffbeards.” He looked up as a dwarf left one of the bedrooms and grimaced. “Does your whole family look like this?”
“Yes,” Luc said cheerfully. “Luc Pathfinder at your service, Master Fireborn.”
“Well met, Master Pathfinder,” Razel said and shook his head. “I shouldn’t tell you this, but my father is currently on the floo with your father having a discussion as to whether or not he should allow an entire herd of dwarrow to visit Britain on the off chance they’d get to meet you. Apparently, you normally can’t sit still for love or money.”
Luc frowned sadly and turned to Tyr. “You’ve brought me so low, brother.”
“You’re the one that asked to come,” Tyr retorted and turned to Razel. “Does the chieftain wish to see us?”
“Not at present, but I suspect you’ll both be expected for dinner at some point in the next month. I have an appointment with Therin to show him the conclave’s workspace. I figured you might wish to see it as well.”
“Yes, that’d be great,” Tyr turned to Luc. “I have my mirror if you need me.”
“The last time I mirror called you for help, you refused to get out of bed and made me wait in a jail cell in Singapore for twelve hours,” Luc said sourly.
“You’re the one that managed to get arrested by Muggles wearing the face of a wanted felon.”
“How was I supposed to know that’s what those pictures were for? His face looked fine. I just needed an average-looking Muggle face for the region for my glamour, and I didn’t speak the language.” Luc huffed. “And I couldn’t carry a wand out in public, as you know. You lectured me for days on end the last time you caught me leaving our established territory with a magical focus. So, I was stuck because I’m pants at apparition without a wand.”
“It’s a treaty violation,” Tyr said in exasperation.
“It’s bullshite and racism,” Luc retorted. “And bigotry and elitism and wizard nonsense all at once.”
Razel nodded because he agreed.
“Do not encourage him,” Tyr said darkly. “Please.”
“For the love of Mahal, you’re gorgeous,” Luc said and huffed when Tyr elbowed him hard in the gut. “I thought you said violence was untoward, little brother?”
“I’ve been known to make aggressively pointed exceptions,” Tyr muttered.
“I can see how this is going to go,” Razel said and motioned toward the door. “Let’s not keep Therin waiting. I put him off yesterday because I got a stupid letter and lost my temper.” He waved a hand when Tyr raised an eyebrow. “We can talk about it later if you like.”
“Sure,” Tyr said. “After you, then.”
Razel paused just a bit so Tyr could shut the door behind them and walk with him down the hall toward the quarters that Therin Augur was housed in. “Did your mother have any issues with your residency here?”
“None. I’ve done a long-term residency in the past. I spent almost eighteen months in Rome finishing my mastery in international law because the World Court of Magic was seated there at the time,” Tyr explained. “I didn’t see Master Warhammer before.”
“Whenever I leave the family area, he’s with me. Often disillusioned as that is his preference,” Razel explained. “So, he was within two meters of me the entire time I was in the Hall of Mages. When I tucked away at home, he does whatever he would like. Some would say it’s the worst job in this place.”
“Having my king’s back is no hardship at all,” Glou said from behind them. “At least you stopped trying to hide from me.”
Razel shrugged when Tyr looked his way. “I’ve gotten that lecture a few times already. I had a rebellious phase.” He grinned when Glou grunted from behind them. “Glou is trained to handle a variety of things, though. I had no hope of getting past a dwarf whose main educational focus was espionage and assassination.”
Tyr shot him a wide-eyed look and glanced briefly over his shoulder. Razel could just imagine the smug grin on Glou’s face. “Did he always know?”
“About the magical potential, yes,” Razel said. “He had a right to know exactly what he was protecting. He appears to have taken the other news in stride. In some ways, before my last magical maturation—protecting my magic was more important than protecting me physically.” He stopped in front of a door and brushed his fingers over the rune that would notify the occupants of a visitor, and shortly Therin Augur opened the door.
Therin smiled. “Ah, Tyr, my mother owes me ten galleons. She assumed you’d be in Paris several days, Tyr. You barely made it thirty hours.”
Tyr shrugged. “Luc’s here, too. I’m sure he’ll be available for chess at your leisure.”
“Great,” Therin said and frowned. “Remind me not to bet him money. He’s a monster of a player.” He shrugged on the robe that he had in hand. “I’ve set up my office in here, but I’m looking forward to seeing the ritual space.”
“Come then,” Razel said. “We rearranged this whole area for the conclave and our work. Cyrus Gildhard, of the Blacklocks, is the only member not housed here currently. He’s considering a temporary move out of his family’s quarters to be closer to the rest of you and the workspace.”
“You won’t join us?” Therin questioned.
“It wouldn’t be safe for you if I did,” Razel said easily as he turned down a short hallway and pushed open a pair of double doors. “My threat profile has always been significant, and it’s only increased since Brol Wildheart ruined my life.” He grinned when Tyr laughed. “We’re at about twenty-five percent on forgiveness if you’re keeping track. Regardless, it would take a significant amount of security work and rearrangement for me to sleep outside of my own rooms. And I’d rather not put any of you between an enemy and me.”
He glanced around the room. “It’s warded for ritual work. My mother set the wards personally, and my father prepared the floor for ritual work on that side of the room.” He gestured to the left. “We’ll set up a potion lab and some work tables. I’m having some built, but they’ll have to be warded for security purposes.”
“Who will be handling our potion work?” Tyr questioned. “I’m passable, but certainly no master.”
“No, I couldn’t do it either,” Razel admitted and watched Therin cross the room to walk around the ritual space marked off for the building of a ritual circle. “If none of the choices for the conclave can do that work—I’ll put someone under oath for it.”
“Dawl Windspeaker of the Ironfists earned his mastery in potions with distinction,” Therin reported. “And is an air elemental. Unmarried, pleasant in personality, even-tempered, and magically powerful. He’ll certainly be amongst the choices offered to you from that clan.”
Razel nodded and walked across the room even as Glou pulled the double doors shut, leaving them alone. He took off his boots and socks, which he tucked to the side, and stepped onto the raw ritual space. He curled his toes against the slab of granite that had been embedded in the floor and felt only the briefest of remnants of his father’s magic.
“Feels good,” Tyr murmured. “Very powerful.”
Razel looked and found that both dwarrow had joined him and were barefoot on the granite. “Yes, my father’s work on such matters has always been superior. Cyrus is currently making the quills I’ll use in the construction of the circle. I won’t set the final configuration until all of the members are gathered, and we’ve created our seal.”
“Are you prepared for the kind of brotherhood that will emerge from such a joining?” Therin questioned, and Razel focused on him.
“A conclave is a singular magical undertaking,” Tyr said when Therin glanced his way. “It’ll create profound bonds between the dwarrow that you’ve gathered. Fast, life-long relationships will form due to the oaths and bonds that create the conclave structure itself. You are, for all intents and purposes, creating a fellowship. One that will be intensely loyal to you because of a conclave’s innate structure.”
“Put like that it sounds….” Razel sighed. “When I first realized I needed a conclave, it was my inclination to choose only amongst my own clan. But my mother cautioned me against that—she said I should pick one dwarf from each clan to stand with me because it was important. But I don’t want it to look like I’m cultivating assets in other clans. Politics are awful as is.”
“Do you see yourself as the future king of the Blacklocks or the future king of the Horde itself?” Therin questioned.
“The whole of the Horde…you’re all my people,” Razel said simply and focused on the floor. He brushed his toes over a small dull place on the stone and frowned. “Adad missed a spot. Now I’m left to wonder if he did it on purpose or just got distracted by my temper tantrum.”
“What temper tantrum?” Therin questioned.
“Oh.” Razel grimaced. “I received an unfortunately worded letter from…someone I know personally, and I had a bit of a breakthrough fire as a result. My maturation has been hell on my control. I feared I was going to set my sofa on fire, and I haven’t had that kind of episode in decades.”
“I had a hellish time myself,” Therin reported. “My mother feared I’d tear down the bank. You might have a more difficult time due to the claiming of all of the elements, so regular meditation would be to the good.”
Razel nodded and focused on the flaw.
“I’ve never built a ritual circle,” Tyr admitted. “I’ve cast personal circles that don’t require specialized space…how does a flaw like this get repaired?”
“It’ll need cleansing to remove any impurities that might be lingering, then we’ll seal it.” Razel squatted and used his finger to draw a circle around the uneven spellwork with his fire and created an ash circle. “He’ll want to see it personally and handle the correction.”
“Does he often test you in such a fashion? So long after achieving your mastery in ritual magic?” Therin questioned. “It was your first, yes?”
“Yes, I was just fifty-two when I tested for it,” Razel said. “And also, yes, he tests me often. Ragnok Windrider does not believe you should ever stop learning and growing. He expects me to improve myself and my craft every single day. It is how he taught me to work and live as a magical person.”
He stood and started to inspect the space more thoroughly. After a half hour, he’d only marked the one spot he’d found originally but had developed a good sense of what the circle would look like in the future. Razel looked up from his work and found that Therin Augur was gone. Tyr was a few feet away from the ritual space, on the floor, with his back against the wall.
“Therin left us in favor of food,” Tyr said. “And Luc’s company.”
“Is it like that?” Razel questioned.
“No, Therin prefers females, and Luc doesn’t appear to prefer anyone long-term,” Tyr admitted. “But they’ve been friends of a sort for a few years. Luc studied the art of cartography from Mim Dragonslayer about five years ago. He stayed in Japan for a year.”
“Is he craftborn?” Razel asked curiously.
“No, he appears to desire sexual companionship on occasion and makes jokes about commitment and falling in love equally.” Tyr stood from the floor as Razel put on his socks and slipped on his boots. “But doesn’t let himself get attached. Maybe he doesn’t want the pressure.”
Razel considered that as he laced his boots. “Then I suppose they’ve made dinner plans?”
“I was informed my company was not expected or even desired. They are old friends and will enjoy time to catch up,” Tyr said. “Dinner?”
“Dinner sounds great,” Razel agreed and shook his trouser leg down to cover his boot, then checked the other. “Sorry about ignoring you.”
“I didn’t feel ignored,” Tyr murmured. “But, I’m willing to tolerate several hours of your attention now.”
“Sure, sounds like a perfectly reasonable trade-off.” Razel stretched his back. “I’ll show you a shortcut of sorts to my rooms from here. It’s warded, so if you enter it, both Glou and I will be notified—you’re welcome to use it unrestricted.” He flushed when Tyr smiled. “I’ve already added you to the list of people who can use it. Cyrus Gildhard has access as well—his family quarters aren’t far from my family’s.”
“Is he related?”
“No, but he’s the son of Rhys Sharprock, who has sat as the public face of Britain’s branch for the last decade. Adad stopped giving humans direct access to himself at that point. There was an issue…that we couldn’t prove, but it revealed a security problem that we’ve yet to be able to rectify.” He pressed his hand against a runic panel next to a door ten feet from the work room, and the door swung open. “Glou, we’ll be going to my quarters. I won’t leave again tonight.”
Glou looked between them and nodded. “Of course, sir.”
The walk was quick, and in just three minutes, Razel found himself alone with Tyr in his front room. He shed his jacket and cracked his neck. “I have no clue what they’re serving for dinner. But sandwiches are always a possibility.” He crossed the room and picked up a slim book that self-updated every six hours with a menu of available food items. “Hmmm, I think the master chef is flirting with you.”
“What?” Tyr questioned with a laugh.
“Half the bloody menu is full of French food,” Razel said. “He never serves French food unless my mother specifically asks in advance. Duck confit?”
“Absolutely, unless you’re opposed,” Tyr said and unbuttoned his jacket. “Soup options?
“Onion or a stew—cassoulet, to be specific.”
“The onion for me,” Tyr said. “And if they’ve put an apple tart of any sort on that menu, I may go down there and take a knee.”
“Ah, fortunately for me, he’s failed to seduce you. It’s chocolate souffle.”
“I’ll take it, but he didn’t seal the deal,” Tyr said in amusement and shrugged out of his jacket, which he took to the coat rack.
The food was delivered shortly after he put the menu back where it belonged. A bottle of Pinot Noir was also popped onto the table, which was a relief as he had no idea what to order when it came to wine. He’d been drinking what he was given for as long as he could remember. Their physiology didn’t allow them to get intoxicated by drinking fermented grapes, so wine was liberally served with lunch and dinner. He liked it, of course. He just didn’t care to figure out what was served best with whatever food he was being presented with.
He unpacked everything and set the box aside to be used to return the dishes.
“I was told by a member of the kitchen staff that you don’t care what food ends up on your plate,” Tyr murmured as he came to stand beside him. “True?”
“Very true,” Razel admitted and shrugged. “Amad said I was a very easy baby to feed as a result. I am starving, though. I skipped lunch out of irritation.”
“Yesterday’s temper lingered through the night and morning?” Tyr questioned as he opened the wine. “Do you wish to speak of it?”
Razel grimaced. “Not really, but I suppose I should in case he gets in your face.”
“I beg your pardon?” Tyr raised an eyebrow as he poured the wine.
“It’s honestly an embarrassing mess waiting to happen,” Razel admitted unhappily and sat as Tyr did. “I loathe this kind of drama.”
Tyr set the bottle of wine aside and set aside the cloche keeping his food warm. “I find it best to get unpleasant things out of the way as quickly as possible.”
Razel picked up his wine, took a sip, and frowned briefly at it. “My ex-partner, Yawl Stormchaser, sent me a letter then swanned into Britain to rescue me from my terrible circumstances. He’s convinced himself that my parents are holding me hostage and that I really just want to run away with him to parts unknown and forget all of my duty in favor of following his dreams.”
Tyr cleared his throat, a smile playing on his mouth as he shook his head. “I….” He laughed.
“It’s not funny.”
“It’s funny as fuck,” Tyr assured. “It’s like he doesn’t even know you. Which is strange since you grew up with him, right?”
Razel huffed and thumped the cloche covering his own plate in ire, then lifted it off and set it aside. “I’d show you the letter, but I’ve already burned it. He told me I looked tired and worn the day of the quarterly report. I guess he watched it via mirror. Apparently, I looked so miserable that he decided I needed to be saved from myself.”
“Not to be crass, but you looked good enough to eat that day,” Tyr said and shrugged when Razel gaped at him. “Does he often insult you as a method of controlling your emotional state?”
“I….” Razel stabbed a roasted potato with his fork, relieved by the simple vegetable compared to the duck, which he knew would be rich. “He likes to frame his insults as honesty done out of love. It’s toxic as hell, and once I realized that it was hard to see it for anything else. He had this fantasy, I suppose, where I would make all of these sacrifices to be with him out of my desire to be at his side. In the end, he was furious to realize that I had no intention of ever turning my back on my role in the Horde. At the time, he saw me only as my father’s successor—a future chieftain. He figured that Elspeth could do it just as well as I. He’s not wrong about that, of course, she could’ve easily stood as chieftain.”
“How did your ex react to the news that you’re Durin reincarnated?”
“Dismissive,” Razel murmured. “We met yesterday when he returned to Britain. He’s genuinely perplexed by my continued rejection and told me…. Well, he made it clear that he thought you were out of my league.” Tyr’s mouth dropped open briefly, and Razel shrugged. “He didn’t use those words exactly, but he said that you’d need more than an unsophisticated scholar, and I’d bore you silly.”
Tyr set aside his wine with a frown. “I can’t promise not to indulge in the family hobby if he gets in my face.” He leaned forward a bit. “I’ve met Yawl Stormchaser exactly once, and he tried to take me to bed. I rejected him with no discussion as that is how I’ve always treated such overt sexual interest. He barely bothered to get my name during that conversation. I was just a body he wanted the use of.”
“What a terrible way to put it,” Razel said quietly. “He never overtly pressured me for sex, you know.”
“Well, he’d have been stupid to do so considering the intent wards in these rooms. The wards would rip an unwanted sexual aggressor to pieces. Your mother is clearly invested in ensuring your explicit consent when it comes to intimate matters.” He waved a hand. “And I don’t blame her at all; that kind of emotional trauma can damage our magic. I prosecuted a person in New York for sexual assault last summer and lobbied hard for her execution after she was proven guilty. It was granted.”
“I read about the case,” Razel said. “Did it really render her former partner mute?”
“The victim, a dwarrowdam of just fifty, hasn’t spoken since her parents found her,” Tyr said roughly. “The perpetrator tried to say that since there was no penetration that no assault occurred, and that she had the right to attempt to reconcile with the dwarrowdam she wished to marry. I’ve rarely been so disgusted in my life. When I last spoke with the victim’s parents, they were considering memory charming her to remove the event from her mind. It may be the only thing to help her mentally, but her magic is damaged beyond repair. She was, at one time, as magical as you and I. Now, her magic couldn’t even be classified as small. The betrayal cut too deep.”
“It must have been a difficult case to work. I’m sorry you were assigned it.”
“Oh, darling, I wasn’t assigned that case. I’m rarely assigned a case. I volunteered,” Tyr said. “I’d have taken her head myself if the judge had offered me the opportunity. Justice is vital, Razel, to our society, and I will seek it my whole life. Had I not been forced to pick a fight with a dragon at a very early age, I suppose I might have picked Arbiter for my use name over claiming my element.”
“It would suit you,” Razel said. “Is it the worst case you worked?”
“No, unfortunately, but let’s not discuss such things over dinner. You said you were starving, and it might turn you from your food further.”
Razel nodded. “Yawl wants to renew our relationship, but I’m done with that. He doesn’t believe it, so there’s really no telling what he might say to you if given a chance. I’ve banned him from my presence entirely. Glou will enforce it, so you should be prepared for that as well. I suspect his brother will lodge a complaint with mine within the week when I don’t calm down and rescind my orders.”
“Did you often capitulate to his wishes in the past?” Tyr questioned.
“No, if I had, I’d probably be dead. He doesn’t believe that I need security and that my parents are basically holding me hostage here due to their over-attachment, which is unhealthy in his mind.” Razel poked the duck leg on his plate, dissatisfied with the food in a way he never had been before. “I’m embarrassed, actually.”
“By his behavior?” Tyr questioned as he stood. He walked to the sideboard and picked up the menu. “You clearly don’t want to eat that.” He brought it back to the table and set it down. “Send it back—it’ll go into the dragon feed.”
Razel flushed because he’d never sent food back, but it was just too much at the moment. He put the cloche back on it and let Tyr take it from the table.
“I feel as if there is some sort of weakness in me that I allowed him to be so presumptuous in the past,” Razel admitted. He ordered a sandwich to go with the stew he still had, and it was delivered to the table wrapped in crisp, cream parchment paper. “I think people take for granted the very complicated magics that make our lives so easy.”
“Agreed,” Tyr said quietly. “So, listen, it’s hard to see ugly behavior in a situation when it’s happening unless it comes out of nowhere and it shocks you loose from your preconceptions. You were friends with Yawl for years, and that friendship allowed him freedoms you’d give no other in your life. He abused that trust because he believed he could shape you into exactly what he wanted. It’s selfish on his part and nothing you should be ashamed of.”
Razel nodded. “It’s hard to accept on an emotional level. I don’t consider the relationship abusive, and I’ve thought about it a lot. He was, near the end, disrespectful. I kicked him out of my rooms several times leading up to the final fight.”
“If he couldn’t offer you basic respect as an intimate partner, you can count on the fact that he’ll never take a knee in a genuine way for you as king,” Tyr said. “He’s not worthy of your trust going forward.”
“I know,” Razel said. “I can’t take it for granted that one day he’ll wake up and realize everyone else around him is allowed to have their own desires and dreams. It’s just…infuriating that I didn’t notice how selfish he is.” He huffed. “I wish he was like your ex—pining from an arrogant but respectful distance.”
Tyr snorted. “I could do without the lengthy love letters, though.” He cleared his throat. “But speaking of such things, Luc’s half in love with you. We should tell whoever tries to court him that giving him an atlas of an unknown world is the key to his heart.”
Razel grinned. “He’s easy on the eyes, too.”
“He did try to refuse it,” Tyr admitted. “On the grounds that he couldn’t take such an expensive and rare present from someone I want.”
“That’s sweet,” Razel said. “Maybe he is the son of Brol we should all pursue.”
“He’d run into some deep jungle and not come back out until you sent him a portkey to a spot directly in front of the portal,” Tyr said with a laugh. “Eat your sandwich before your aunt hears you’ve barely eaten today and comes for you. I’ve heard enough about Omis Stoneheart to have no desire to be near ground zero at such an event.”
Razel unwrapped it and pulled his stew close. “She’s a force of nature, to be certain.”
* * * *
Tyr shrugged out of his coat and hung it up as he closed the door on his rooms and made a face at the sight of both Therin and Luc sprawled on the sofa. They were moodily staring at the fire.
“What’s wrong with you two?”
“Nothing,” Luc said quickly.
“Everything,” Therin muttered at the same time, and they glared at each other.
Tyr walked across the room and sat down in a chair in front of them to take off his boots.
“You looked less mussed up than a dwarf should after spending hours in the company of Razel Fireborn,” Therin said.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Tyr questioned and resisted the urge to lick his lips. He was sure they’d still taste like Razel as they had exchanged several kisses before parting for the night.
“He’s pretty, and you’re known for your sexual escapades,” Luc supplied. “I considered chaperoning. I should ask Adad.”
“You should mind your own business,” Tyr said without correcting his brother’s assumption. It was a reputation he couldn’t realistically fix, and he’d stopped trying years before. “And it’s not like that.”
“What’s it like?” Therin questioned.
“I want…I think….” Tyr took a deep breath. “He’s important.”
“Ah,” Therin said and stood. “I should go check the odds on an abrupt and hastily planned marriage.”
Tyr flushed. “Shut up. I can’t believe I was relieved to hear of your recruitment. Stop betting on my love life with your mother.”
“There are two choices with my mother,” Therin said. “You either bet with her, or you bet against her. But you never get to sit on the fence.” He tugged on one of Tyr’s braids as he passed him. “I’d think you’d understand her mentality, dragonslayer.”
Tyr frowned, but the nodded. His worldview was rather black and white. He hoped that wouldn’t be a problem for Razel. “Sleep well. He wants us in meetings tomorrow for the rest of the selections to ensure magical compatibility. I’m sure you have a note already waiting for you on your desk.”
Luc stayed quiet until Therin was gone and sat up. “You really want to marry him? All teasing aside, are you sure? He’s got…a lot going on, Tyr. Marrying a king is not for the faint of heart.”
“Then I suppose I’m lucky enough to already know exactly what I’m made of,” Tyr said and raised an eyebrow when Luc gaped at him. “And yes, I want to marry him. I’m pretty sure it was love at first sight, and if I believed in such things, I’d be telling the whole damn world that he’s my one.”
* * * *
Razel clipped the last of his hair up and out of the way as he stared at the mithril ore he’d retrieved from his private stores. He didn’t say anything as his father entered the forge. He picked up the biggest piece of ore and held it in his hands as he pictured the choice he’d already made.
“If this were not a courting gesture, I’d suggest you open your forge to observation,” Ragnok said. “Working with mithril is nearly a lost art for our kind. The last to do it was…well, the last Durin, and he shared that craft with no one during his lifetime.”
“He was tired,” Razel murmured. “Soul weary—I think that’s why the memories are largely subdued for me. I’m a clean slate of sorts. Perhaps Hekate cleansed my soul and left me anew, or maybe it’s some kind of punishment in someone’s mind. I don’t feel like I’m…suffering for it, though.”
“Durin has worked hard for our people repeatedly throughout each of his lives,” Ragnok said. “He’s the one who petitioned Mahal and sought refuge from our enemies on Arda who sought our extinction. He led us here, Razel, and now the time is right for you to lead us home.”
“I agree,” Razel murmured. “I had dinner with Tyr tonight—we were in the workspace for a while. There’s a flaw on the ritual floor. I marked it for you.”
“My apologies…you pitched a fit when I was in the middle of that,” Ragnok said roughly. “I returned to it later, but clearly, my mind was elsewhere.”
Razel nodded. “I could’ve fixed it, but I think it’s best if all of the cleansing comes from your hand until we claim it as a conclave. It will keep the space neutral if my only true magical interactions are in concert with the other members of the conclave.” He put the ore down and pulled his journal out. “I need your help with something, so I’m glad you’re here.” He opened the book to reveal the fire stave he’d designed as his courting gift for Tyr.
“It’s beautiful,” Ragnok murmured and pulled the journal close to him when Razel lifted his hand away. “Fire opals?”
“Just one—I’ve set aside an hour tomorrow to search through Durin’s vault. There are several chests of gems in there, and I remember seeing an opal I think will be perfect. I drew that with it in mind. I hope it’s magically stable, as I didn’t check it before.”
Ragnok hummed. “Then…what are these…smaller jewels around the top of the staff?”’
“They’re not jewels,” Razel said. “They’re my scales.”
“Oh.” Ragnok blew out a long breath in clear shock. “You want me to harvest scales from your animagus form?”
“It’s you or Amad, and she’d hate to do it,” Razel said. “She’s never liked hurting me, even when it was necessary. She cried the last time she had to add a rune to my body because she had to carve it with a ritual knife.”
Ragnok nodded and pulled an athame from his dimensional store. “Let me cleanse this with a few spells, and we’ll get started. How many do you want?”
“Let’s go with twenty, so I have plenty to work with.”