Fireborn – 2/2

Title: Fireborn
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.

* * * *

Chapter 6

Cyrus had taken the introductions of Tyr and Therin in stride, but Razel wasn’t surprised as the dwarf was hard to rattle, much like his father. The most irritating part of his morning was the fact that all of the remaining clans had returned at the same time and had brought many candidates. He’d specifically asked for at least five but hadn’t expected to have to put a maximum on it.

“Most of these could be political,” Tyr murmured, and Cyrus grunted his agreement.

“They’ve also played favorites in some cases,” Therin agreed. “Several of the dwarrow in this room shouldn’t be anywhere near any sort of ritual craft. They don’t have the knowledge or the bones for it. They’re probably all here because they’ve heard you already recruited three of us, and they want to get their representative into the process as quickly as possible to avoid favoritism.”

“Too late for that,” Cyrus said and raised an eyebrow.

Therin hummed his agreement.

“Should I be concerned about that perception?” Razel questioned.

“No, I’m amazing and worthy of your favor,” Tyr said dryly and leaned on the table as he pulled a knife and started to clean his nails.

It was a purposeful display, Razel realized and nodded. Therin had dropped down in a chair and thrown his feet up on the corner of the table. Cyrus shrugged and slid up onto the table to sit.

Rhys Sharprock crossed the Hall of Mages at that point, glanced over the three of them, and shook his head before focusing on Razel. “Your father has chosen not to appear today. Is that problem?”

“No, it’s my preference. Is he observing?”

“Of course,” Sharprock said. “Fyre made them all pass through intent wards, and no one triggered anything specific on that front. She did note that one or two of them are barely magical enough for a wand and expressed confusion about their inclusion in this. I’ll give her some lessons on politics and nepotism soon.”

Razel grinned. “She works hard. One day she’s going to realize there are some seriously lazy people in the world, and she’s probably going to try to declare war on them.”

“As well she should,” Cyrus muttered.

Razel frowned as he focused on the four groups that had formed on the other side of the hall. “It’s disheartening.”

“What?” Tyr questioned.

“To see how we separate ourselves—as if we’re in a constant state of near civil war.” He cleared his throat and focused on Rhys. “Why is Brom Truthsayer here? Did they make him clan leader?”

“No, his role is still temporary,” Rhys assured. “They’ve formed a council and are searching for a new leadership family. It appears that Knorr’s line is going to be punished officially for Durin having been reborn outside of the Longbeards. They believe it is an indication that Durin no longer trusts them, and they’ve lost favor with Mahal.”

“Good,” Razel muttered and ignored the looks that earned him. “Let’s get the Longbeards out of the way, and if they didn’t bring a single elemental with them—I’m going to be fucking furious.”

Rhys laughed. “All of the candidates are elementals. I wouldn’t have let them in the room otherwise. It would be inappropriate to allow them to waste your time.” He inclined his head. “Glou, make yourself visible, and don’t let any of these people touch him.”

Glou appeared with a shimmer of magic just a few meters from Razel’s left, and there was a murmur of conversation amongst the groups waiting to meet with him. “Why don’t you sit behind the table? Warhide can move his pretty arse elsewhere.” He paused. “If he’s done making his point.”

“I can continue to make my point anywhere,” Tyr said casually and smiled when Glou laughed.

Razel caught his hand when Tyr started to move toward Therin and Cyrus. “With me, then.”

“Of course,” Tyr said and put his knife away.

The others adjusted around them, and Razel took the seat normally reserved for his father. Tyr sat down beside him and pulled out the same journal he’d used during the quarterly report. He noted the change in demeanor and wasn’t put off by it. Whatever point Tyr had made, Razel wanted to drive it home. He figured his overt support would do that.

Tyr shifted in his seat and leaned toward him, so Razel met him halfway. He asked in a low tone, “what did you want from me in this?”

Razel activated the privacy protocol on the table by brushing a rune with his fingers. “Just do that thing you did during the quarterly meeting—look at everyone like they’re criminals.”

Tyr grinned. “Well, every single person in this room is guilty of a least one crime in progress—you included.”

Razel’s gaped in shock. “What?”

“The thing about the dverger legal code, darling, is that we like to make laws, but we don’t often bother to remove them from the books. For instance, that braid you’re wearing on the left, with the bead placed against the shell of your lovely ear, is considered an obscenity per the Sexual Misconduct Law of 1232.”

He couldn’t help but grin. “Seriously?”

“It’s not prosecutable due to laws that came after it, but it’s never been obsoleted.” Tyr shrugged. “To one of our fussy old ancestors, you’d be advertising your desire for a very specific sex act.”

Razel slouched back in his seat with a laugh. He ended the privacy charm and focused on his cousin despite his desire to ignore him outright.

“Master Truthsayer,” Razel said. “Present the candidates for clan Longbeard—first names only.”

Brom Truthsayer hesitated but motioned the dwarrow he’d brought forward with him. “You don’t wish to know their educational background or element?”

“I have mage sight,” Razel said. “I don’t need you to speak of anything I can clearly see and measure on my own. Moreover, I’d rather keep my perceptions clear of personal bias.”

Brom frowned but nodded. “Thal, Hyr, Oriki, Beruk, Kéb and Gledo.”

Tyr wrote for several moments, and Razel figured that he was making a list of complete names and whatever he might know about them. The time he’d spent in Rome would certainly work to Razel’s advantage. He needed to know how much of the Longbeard clan was a problem for him going forward. As far as power levels went, the dwarrow were above average, but one was shining like a star. There was no need to pretend otherwise.

He focused on the one named Thal. The dwarf remained still under his inspection, eyes clear, facial expression relaxed. “Air.”

“Yes, sir,” Thal said.

“You favor enchantment,” Razel said as he stared, and the dwarf nodded. “And you’re precariously close to claiming a second element.”

“Yes, sir, water feels within my grasp,” Thal confirmed. “As a natural progression, it’s years in the making, but I would be willing to pursue it in ritual should it be important to your work.”

He let his gaze drift over the others, but their magic didn’t speak to him the way that Thal’s did. “Your full name?”

“Thal Airwalker, son of Kerr.” Thal paused. “We are second cousins, Master Fireborn, through your mother’s paternal line.”

“Welcome to my conclave, Thal Airwalker,” Razel said and inclined his head toward the audience box where Therin and Cyrus had decided to sit. “I need an hour of your time after this meeting. After that, you may return home to gather whatever you must to be comfortable during your residency in Britain.”

Thal nodded and left his clan after a glance at Brom.

“Thank you for your time, Master Truthsayer,” Razel said.

Brom nodded, dismissed the dwarrow he’d brought with him with a hand gesture, and walked across the room to sit at the Longbeard’s clan table. Razel stared for a moment, irritated by the presumption and wondering if the older dwarf expected to take part in the meeting of conclave members after the selections were made.

“Master Craftborn,” Razel said and focused on the oldest director in the room. He waved his hands a bit. “Care to explain your entourage?”

Braigo Craftborn grinned. “We had a quandary, Master Fireborn, and decided to allow you the best range of choice possible. The most powerful dwarf we have to offer is a fire elemental. I’ve been told by my advisor on ritual magic that if fire is your personal affinity, and we assumed it is based on your use name, you’d be unwilling to have another fire elemental in your circle.” His gaze flicked toward Tyr. “Except for your obvious exception.”

Razel inclined his head by way of agreement.

“But you asked us to gather the most powerful dwarrow our clan had to offer, which includes four fire elementals that you won’t choose. I felt compelled to bring them based on instructions. I’m probably not the only leader to face this problem.”

“Thank you for your consideration on the subject, and I should’ve been more specific regarding that because your advisor is right.” He paused when dwarrow from the remaining groups separated themselves, and quickly his choices thinned out. “Please continue with introductions.”

Braigo Craftborn rattled off a series of first names, but Razel found himself focused on a dwarf he’d already been introduced to. He knew that Kal Ironwill had been adopted in ritual by Braigo Craftborn so he could have an heir for the leadership of the Stonefoots due to his asexuality and singular dedication to his craft. Razel wondered if he’d ever wanted children of his own and if the intense traditions around the building of families had put him off even that. He didn’t know what the adoption meant for sharing a workload, but he was certainly the most compelling magically.

“Master Ironwill, your element is water.”

“Yes,” Ironwill said and inclined his head. “Magically, I’m the most obvious choice for you. It’s why I was also the most obvious choice of heirs for Master Craftborn. I’m more than willing to undertake the task, but I do have a wife and three children under the age of thirty that I could not leave for a year.”

“Are you willing to bring them all to Britain for your term of service in the conclave, and what sort of burden would that place on the leadership of your clan?”

“I’m the heir but have not assumed any duties in administration at this point. My family is willing to come with me,” Ironwill said. “Master Craftborn needed the adoption to increase his magical comfort, not due to a physical concern.” He glanced toward his adopted father. “And I think he wanted some grandkids.”

Braigo shrugged. “They’re the best part of the whole thing.”

Adult adoption wasn’t necessarily common, but it did solve issues with inheritance and the continuation of lines and family magic. Razel understood and respected it. He studied each of the dwarrow that stood with Kal Ironwill, but none of them were more interesting magically than Kal, and they all seemed to know it. They’d probably already faced some version of a selection in the past when Braigo had been seeking an heir.

“Welcome to my conclave, Master Kal Ironwill.”

Braigo nodded and motioned his people out. “Well met, Master Fireborn. I wish you the very best of luck in your magical endeavors, and if my clan can offer any other form of support going forward, please don’t hesitate to ask.”

“Thank you, Master Craftborn,” Razel said and watched the Stonefoots leave as Kal Ironwill joined Cyrus and the others.

The departure further highlighted Brom Truthsayer’s arrogance. Razel glanced toward Rhys, who gave him a look that told him he was just as irritated by Brom’s behavior as he was. Frustrated but unwilling to cause a scene, he focused on the leader of the Ironfists.

“Master Theda Storm,” Razel said, and the dwarrowdam stepped forward.

“Kors, Imot, Dawl, Khufer, and Ganu,” she said. “Due to the magical legacies of our most powerful families, I’m afraid I have no variety to offer.”

Razel grinned when she made a face like it was a problem. “It’s not unheard of, and your clan is quite well known for the way you embrace the powers of the wind. Air is life, is it not?”

She nodded. “Yes, it is a profound belief amongst Ironfists that we are the stewards of the air element. The dwarrow I’ve brought with me are very similar in magical power levels. Your choices speak to requirements that exceed the elements.”

“A road doesn’t build itself,” Razel said, and she smiled. “And what we build must be able to withstand a full migration of every dverger on this world—physically and magically. Arda calls me. I believe the closer we get to opening the portal, it will start to call to others.”

“My daughter has already started to have dreams,” Theda said. “A feral land, unchecked magic, and so much potential for our kind that it is staggering.”

“I would welcome correspondence from her on this subject,” Razel said. “I’ve already chosen a Pathfinder and will seek others in the future as we prepare for the final ritual. The more information I can provide that team regarding Arda’s condition, the better.”

“I would be willing to send her here as long as she was taken under the direct care of your mother for the duration of her visit,” Theda said.

“I would never speak for my mother, but please ask her,” Razel said. “My sister is a Stargazer as well—perhaps the companionship would serve them both.”

“Yes, I agree,” Theda said and stepped back from the process as she motioned to her people. “Feel free to judge them harshly; they’re used to it.” She smiled at the looks that earned her.

He reviewed each in turn and found that Theda’s opinion of the dwarrow she’d brought was spot on. They were all magically gifted and profoundly invested in the air element. Therin’s recommendation was standing front and center of the group, and his aura was calm in a way that was very soothing.

“Master Dawl Windspeaker, your work as a potions master proceeds you,” Razel said. “And it is a craft that the conclave lacks at a mastery level. I believe you’d work well with Master Airwalker.”

“We have in the past,” Dawl said. “And suffered no issues or conflicts magically when manipulating the air element in the same place at the same time. It can be a stumbling block of air elementals.”

“I have already mastered air,” Razel said. “I don’t feel as if we’d have conflict either.”

“No, I agree,” Dawl said. “And conclave oaths would smooth out any rough edges in regard to usage.”

“Very well. Welcome to my conclave,” Razel said simply.

Theda Storm nodded her agreement and left without another word. He liked that about her—mission done, moving on. He wished Brom would move the fuck on. Razel barely refrained from glaring at the older dwarf.

“Master Tanik Grimm,” Razel said. “Only two of your group are water elementals, and that is the element I require for balance in the circle.”

Tanik nodded. “I’ve been keeping track, Master Fireborn. Davor and Manwa are your choices at this point. I can have several more water elementals retrieved, but their magical power levels won’t compare. Elemental compatibility might be more important at this stage, so the choice is yours, of course.”

“I agree,” Razel said but focused on Davor, a dwarf he knew by reputation.

The dwarf’s aura was a little on the wild side, which wasn’t a surprise considering Davor’s magical gifts. Genuine beastspeakers were rare and were considered a boon to any clan where they were born. He had a very good reputation in the Horde due to his career as a dragonkeeper.

“Are you prepared to part with your dragons for a whole year, Master Davor Beastspeaker?”

Davor nodded. “I’ve already passed all of my duties onto another, Master Fireborn. I’ve been having dreams for a few months and knew that I should come to Britain sooner rather than later.”

“Dreams about Arda?”

“No, sir, dreams about you. Though I didn’t know who you were, specifically, until the quarterly meeting,” Davor said. “I’ve prophetic dreams.”

Razel stared for a moment, then nodded. The dwarf’s aura was practically vibrating with honesty. He’d rarely seen anyone like him before. Most people at least lied to themselves on the regular.

“Welcome to Britain, Master Beastspeaker.” He cleared his throat and turned to Tyr. “Would you take them back to the workspace? We’ll need to reconfigure quarters for Master Ironwill’s family.”

“Of course,” Tyr said easily and stored his journal. He reached out and tucked Razel’s left heavily beaded braid behind his ear with a smile. “There now, just barely legal.”

“Barely?” Razel questioned with a laugh as Tyr stood.

“Can’t do much about the way you look,” Tyr said dryly, and it caused a startled bit of laughter amongst the conclave members who’d left the audience box. “So, arguments could be made about it.”

He sighed and shook his head as Tyr left the table and headed for the exit with the others.

Razel focused on Tanik Grimm. “Thank you, Master Grimm.”

“Good luck,” Grimm said roughly. “Let me know if you want to have a conversation with a previous version of yourself. I excel at that shit.”

Razel grinned. “Well met, sir.”

He stayed where he was as Sharprock leaned on the table, and Glou just turned to glare at Brom Truthsayer. Brom stayed seated long enough for Razel to assume he’d expected them to come to him before he stood with an aggravated huff and stalked across the hall.

“I’m the leader of the Longbeards,” he said evenly. “And currently, you’re just your father’s heir. I don’t appreciate the disrespect.”

“He is the future king of the Horde, and you’re the temporary leader of the Longbeards,” Rhys said. “Watch your mouth before I beat you like the criminal I think you are.” He paused. “Or, we can ask Warhide to come back in here and do what he’s legally allowed to do because you did nothing when Knorr Stonehelm lost his damn mind.”

Brom glared at him. “I need to speak with Razel privately.”

Master Fireborn will never speak to you or any other of your line privately,” Glou interjected.

Brom crossed his arms and stood still in front of the table as he appeared to weigh his words and options. Razel was curious but also already done with the conversation that Brom thought he was entitled to.

“The only way you become king is to return to Durin’s rightful clan,” Brom said. “We’re prepared to launch a legal complaint regarding the magical accord. It was created when Durin was a Longbeard, and it will not be considered valid by our clan if you are no longer one of us.”

Razel stared for a moment. “Then, when I open the portal and return to Arda with my people, your clan can stay here.” He stood when even Rhys’ mouth dropped briefly open. “I will never be anything but a Blacklock for the rest of my lives, and there is nothing any of you can do about it. You probably think that if I returned to Rome with you that it would prevent the displacement of your line, magically, from the leadership. You could be right about that, but I don’t care what happens to you or my mother’s maternal line. I barely even tolerate my own mother’s parents through no actual fault of their own.”

“We’ve done nothing to deserve this!” Brom shouted, and Glou shifted on his feet.

“They murdered me!” Razel shouted, and the memory of it, the first he’d ever outright gained from Durin, bloomed in his mind. He staggered away from the table in the wake of it and shuddered in shock. “Oh…fuck.”

Flames leaped on his skin, and he distantly recognized Rhys, the brave dwarf that he was, trying to touch him.

“Don’t.” Razel waved him off and tried to catch his breath. The heat rolling off of him was nauseating as the truth of why Durin hadn’t been allowed to come back to the Longbeards was revealed to him. “They murdered me…over and over again.”

“Razel.” Hands caught him firmly, and he realized with a start that it was Tyr. His fire engulfed them both, and he heard shouting, a warning perhaps, and his own father demanding that Brom get the fuck out of Britain.

“They murdered me, Tyr,” Razel said hoarsely, and his magic clenched inside of him.

Tyr caught Razel when he fell unconscious but didn’t get to hold him long as Ragnok was there to take his son before he could even speak. He let go because he had no choice, and that was infuriating.

Ragnok apparated without a word, taking Razel away from the situation. Tyr focused on Brom Truthsayer with a glare. The older dwarf jerked in surprise and tried to walk away, but Glou Warhammer snatched him before he could go far.

“Where the fuck are you going?” Glou asked.

“The chieftain ordered me to leave,” Brom said and tried to jerk free.

“You’re not going anywhere,” Tyr said evenly. “As the temporary leader of your clan, Brom Truthsayer, you are required to explain the accusations against the Longbeards.”

“He’s delusional,” Brom snapped. “Durin’s been slowly going insane for generations; there’s no telling what—”

Tyr punched him, then did it again because it felt fucking amazing. Brom dropped to his knees and fell flat on his face as Glou let go of his arm.

Rhys raised an eyebrow at him, and Glou waved both hands in silent demand of an explanation.

“At the end of the day, Master Warhammer, I am my father’s son,” Tyr said.

The bodyguard grinned. “Call me Glou.”

“Tyr then,” he said and exhaled before focusing on Rhys. “Such an accusation can’t be ignored. We need to interrogate every single member of the maternal family line old enough for it. A Triumvirate must be formed to investigate the matter—they’ll need a team of investigators and solicitors.”

Rhys Sharprock nodded. “Who do we contact to create this and handle the investigation? I can’t start anything, right?”

“No, it would be a conflict of interest. We should see if Master Theda Storm is still in the bank. She has a mastery in law and could take the lead on the whole thing. Neither your clan nor mine can oversee the process due to the nature of the complaint and my burgeoning relationship with Razel. It wouldn’t set the appropriate tone and could create a precedent that would be intolerable.”

Rhys nodded. “Fyre!” A dwarrowdam appeared with a shimmer of magic by the door. “Find Theda Storm.”

On the floor, Brom groaned and tried to roll over as Fyre Blackaxe left the hall.

Tyr shoved his iron-soled boot against the other dwarf’s shoulder. “I’ll break every bone in your goddamned body if you try to get up.”

Glou stepped forward, pulled a pair of magic suppression cuffs, and put them on Brom. “I got him. You probably won’t be allowed in the healing halls, but once I get this arsehole in a cell…I’ll check in and get a report for you.”

Tyr lifted his boot off Brom, and Glou hauled him up then entirely from the room.

“Why did you return to the hall?” Rhys Sharprock asked.

“It felt wrong to leave, magically, so I asked Cyrus to take the others to the workspace, and I came back. I’d just walked in the door when he accused…when he said they’d murdered him.” He took a deep breath. “You realize it would’ve had to have happened near birth if it was done repeatedly and not a single rumor ever surfaced. The Triumvirate will have to investigate every infant death for the last 600 years in that clan.”

“They were trying to prevent the return of the regency,” Rhys surmised. “This is going to be a fucking nightmare.”

“And it’s the last thing Razel needs,” Tyr said. His hand tightened into a fist, and blue flames flickered around his fingers.

The doors opened, and Theda Storm entered with the dwarrow she’d brought with her for the selection at her back. “Master Blackaxe pulled me from portkey departure.” She raised an eyebrow. “I require an explanation.”

Tyr waved a hand and took a deep breath as Rhys Sharprock explained the situation. He watched horror, then unmitigated fury settled on her face. Child murder was considered the gravest of crimes amongst their kind, and it was so taboo a discussion that they’d worked for generations to perfect contraception spells and potions to prevent an unwanted pregnancy. Termination was legal, of course, but it was fundamentally against their nature, which encouraged them to build families and further their species through blood and magic.

“This is why they tried to keep Lenore Feyborn,” Theda said. “Why they’ve tried to get control of Durin’s vault for years. They don’t know what is in it but couldn’t be sure there wouldn’t be some sort of proof being documented in Durin’s grimoire.”

“I don’t know that Razel has ever picked up Durin’s grimoire,” Rhys said roughly. “He’s vehemently opposed to having any bit of education or skill given to him.”

“No, even as a child, he disdained training spells of any sort, but Durin’s grimoire was destroyed many hundreds of years ago and was never replaced,” a voice said, and Tyr turned to find Lenore Feyborn standing behind them. Her eyes were dark with fury, and magic was drifting on her skin. “Theda Storm.”

“High Priestess,” Theda said and placed a hand over her heart as she offered a short bow. “My sister in magic, how may I serve?”

Lenore’s mouth pressed together. “Seat a Triumvirate, root out this conspiracy, and punish everyone involved. No matter their level of knowledge, each and every one of them is guilty of child murder. I want to know the name of every parent this was done to and how these bastards got away with it. As far as I’m concerned, until you find a single dverger to stand with me, I am the mother of every single child they killed.”

Tyr blanched at the consequences of such a claim and lowered his gaze as he tried to push his own temper into a proper place. It was the makings of a blood feud.

“Master Warhide.”

He met her gaze. “High Priestess.”

“Come with me. Razel has demanded to see you—he is worried.”

“Worried?” Tyr questioned.

“Years ago, we learned the hard way that only his father can lay hands on him without injury when he’s furious due to his deep investment in elemental fire,” Lenora said, and her gaze dropped to his hands, which he knew to be fine. “He’s is quite worked up. So come, now.”

“Of course.”

He followed her from the Hall of Mages and through a series of doors that hadn’t appeared until she touched them. He’d been given, at least temporarily, deeper access to the bank than he’d had before. Tyr stilled the urge to fill her silence with chatter as he didn’t want to misstep with her. The magical bonds between mother and child were nothing to trifle with—he had to think that Lenore Feyborn would be even more protective of her only son going forward.

The healing halls for the complex had heavy security wards, as he’d expected, but they seemed to press down on him as she led him into the area and through an archway that had a shimmering ward over it. They’d put Razel in isolation, and he’d only seen that happen in cases of extreme injury or contagion.

“He’s fine,” Lenore murmured as if she’d read his mind, and he knew she couldn’t have. His personal warding wouldn’t allow such a thing. “Omis isolates him for several reasons, any time he is here. First and foremost, he doesn’t enjoy any sort of fawning attention, and the other healers are quick to coddle him if given the opportunity.” She paused in front of a door and stared at him. “Second, his privacy regarding the mark has always been a concern. Even now, despite the fact that everyone knows about it—he doesn’t want many to see it at all. Due to his magical exhaustion, the glamour he would normally have in place over it is gone.”

“I understand.”

She inclined her head. “Have you ever seen the mark of Durin?”

“Yes, the artist renderings—a hammer,” Tyr murmured. “It is the maker’s mark of Mahal.”

“It covered almost his entire back when he was born,” Lenore said. “Now it rests on his shoulder, and as he has matured, it has started to glow with power. As if Mahal is touching it at all times.”

Tyr’s mouth dropped open.

“Good, get your shock out of the way,” Lenore said with a frown. “He’s worried about you enough already.”

“You don’t approve?” Tyr questioned, horrified at the thought.

“You mistake me,” Lenore said evenly and opened the door. “I’ve encouraged his pursuit of you.”

Tyr blinked in surprise as she strolled away. He pressed his lips together and followed, pulling the door shut behind him just in case it wasn’t charmed to close on its own. The moment he rounded a tall partition halving the room, he encountered Razel sitting up on a bed dressed only in a pair of thin cotton trousers. Elspeth Stargazer was perched on the edge of the bed, holding one of his hands while gesturing wildly with the other.

And! I’m going to send every single person we’re related to in Rome a foul letter,” she declared. “Whether they knew or not!”

Razel laughed.

“I’ll get my sword and go there! And every single one of them will regret ever crossing you!”

“You and your sword will stay here,” Lenore said sternly. “Come, your brother has a visitor.”

Elspeth released Razel’s hand even as her brother’s gaze settled on him. Tyr resisted the urge to fidget under the intense scrutiny. Lenore pulled Elspeth from the area with a laugh even as her daughter muttered about war and feuds, and carnage.

“She has the heart of a dragon,” Razel said, and Tyr nodded as he walked across the space and took her place on the edge of the cot. “You’re okay?”

“I’m not injured,” Tyr assured. “Didn’t even singe my favorite coat.”

Razel’s shoulders relaxed. “I…I always knew whatever was keeping my memories locked away was terrible. What am I do about this?”

“Nothing,” Tyr said and caught Razel’s hand in a gentle grip when the other dwarf glared. “It is not your place, Razel. There is a process already in motion to deal with the circumstances. Theda Storm is creating a Triumvirate that will investigate, prosecute, and execute every single adult who participated or had knowledge of the plot to keep Durin from reestablishing the regency. My only regret for what is about to happen is that my personal relationship with you prevents my participation.”

Razel took a deep breath and relaxed. “Durin made a Blacklock chieftain because he was going to die without issue. He chose Ragnorak because he was true-minded, fair, and strong. It’s good to see that has stayed true through his family line all the way to my father.”

“Do you know why Durin refused to be crowned king so many times after that? The role of chieftain was supposed to be temporary.”

“He was tired,” Razel said pensively. “And he only agreed to the Regency Accord so they would leave him alone in that lifetime. It’s all very vague. Knorr Stonehelm killed him when he was ten years old, I think about 300 years ago. His parents had hidden his reincarnation that time around as well. Someone should tell Theda Storm that.”

“She’ll want to speak to you,” Tyr said. “Ask for time to gather your thoughts so you can provide a comprehensive testimony about what you know to be true and what you feel to be possible. She will expect and honor both.”

“Mahal told Durin he would live just six times—he’d be born in times when our people needed him most. But he’s lived to adulthood twice that many times now, and I don’t know why.” He looked down at their hands. “I’m glad I didn’t hurt you. I burned Amad terribly when I was fifteen. It was…so horrifying that I very nearly fractured my core out of shame and guilt.”

“I suppose Warhide is an apt name after all,” Omis Stoneheart said as she entered the area with Ragnok close at heels. “Now that you’ve seen him, you’ll take all the potions you’ve been avoiding.”

Razel grimaced. “I need to meet with my conclave, and that restorative is going to knock me unconscious.”

“You don’t have enough magic to maintain a glamour right now,” Omis said. “You’ll be carrying your light show around the bloody bank, which you’ve made clear you don’t want to do.”

“I can wear a coat with some charms on it,” Razel said with a frown. “And then retire my rooms immediately after the meeting and take those potions.”

Omis glared at him.

“Are you trying to keep me because you need to or because you want to?” Razel questioned, and Omis exhaled slowly like she mentally counting in order to control her temper.

Tyr considered getting completely out of the way, and he hadn’t ever run from a fight.

“You’re exhausted physically, magically spent, and utterly fucking defenseless right now!” Omis shouted.

Tyr released Razel’s hand with a raised eyebrow, stood, and walked around the bed to stand with the chieftain. There was nothing wrong with an aptly timed retreat.

“Good call,” Ragnok muttered.

Iridescent scales flicked out across Razel’s cheekbones, displaying the coloring that had given his dragon form its name. The gentle magical glow emanating off his back brightened. “I am never fucking defenseless!”

“If you transform right now, you’ll be stuck that way for days,” Omis said. “Dragons can’t take restorative potions.”

“I’ll take the pepper up now,” Razel said. “And the rest when I retire to my rooms tonight.”

“Your father can handle that meeting.”

“No, he can’t.” Razel held out a hand. “Omis, I mean this with love and respect, but you are exceeding your authority. You wouldn’t even keep Elspeth in these conditions. I am conscious and coherent.”

“This is your second outburst in a week.”

“Yes, well, magical maturation and arseholes apparently don’t mix,” Razel said. “For fuck’s sake, you read that dragonshite Yawl sent me! You’d have murdered him in my place.”

“Granted,” she said and passed him the potions. “If you faint in public like some silly witch wearing her corset too tight…it’ll be your own damn fault.” She stalked off.

“You’re going to pay for that,” Ragnok muttered. “And I’m not even going to run interference for you.”

Tyr laughed as the older dwarf walked off, even as Razel sent him a wounded look. “Adad, that’s just cruel, and you know I’m right.”

“Being wrong has never kept my sister from avenging herself,” Ragnok muttered and walked away.

Tyr cleared his throat. “I’ll wait on the other side of the partition for you to dress?”

“Yes, thanks,” Razel said and motioned toward of pile of clothes. “Could you take my coat and spell it to hide the light show?”

“Sure,” Tyr murmured, pleased with the trust he was being given. He picked up the mid-thigh, dragonhide-lined coat and took it with him.

He placed the coat on a table near the door and opened it to check the runes and spellwork that had already been done on it. It was all fairly standard since dragonhide was spell resistant and puncture-proof naturally. The charms were on the lining, which was heavy dark red silk. He had a coat similar in design.

“You’re not hiding an injury, right?” Ragnok asked quietly. “I understand why you might think it’s a good idea.”

“No, I’m not,” Tyr assured. “He wasn’t even hot to the touch.” He hazarded a glance at the chieftain and found him looking startled. “I have a profound affinity with fire. I’ve been known to take a bath in it. Even before I fully embraced my element, fire has never hurt me.” He pulled his wand and cast a series of masking charms on the garment that wouldn’t last more than a day. It was certainly more than Razel would need. “Do you know who destroyed Durin’s grimoire?” Tyr questioned.

“Not for certain,” Ragnok said.

“I did,” Razel said as he emerged from the back of the room and joined them. “I mean, Durin did about 800 years ago. He did it out of grief near the end of his life and deeply regretted it. But he didn’t have the will to make another. The one that came after him had no real ability to create such a thing as his magic was small, and he didn’t live long comparatively.”

Tyr offered the coat. “Are you sure about this meeting? It could be postponed. At this point, they all would’ve heard what happened. They’ll understand waiting until the morning.”

“When we spoke with Therin Augur about the conclave, you said it would be a fellowship and that I would create deep bonds of friendship and loyalty with these dwarrow.”

“Yes.” Tyr nodded.

“Then letting them see me as I am right now should only deepen their understanding of me.”

Tyr smiled. “If you insist.”

“I do,” Razel assured and put the coat on.

 

 

Chapter 7

Razel paused in the entry of the workroom, and Tyr joined him. He was utterly exhausted and wished that he’d just gone back to his quarters to sleep. Cyrus looked up, raised an eyebrow in question, and cleared his throat.

“Shouldn’t you be in bed?” Cyrus questioned plainly and frowned at Tyr. “Why did you bring him here?”

“It’s funny that you think I had any say in this decision,” Tyr muttered.

Luc Pathfinder stood from his place at the table. “I’ll go—I need to get some sleep since I’m due to have a conversation with the master of the scribe’s guild first thing in the morning.”

Razel raised an eyebrow. “You’re a scribe?”

Luc nodded. “I hold three masteries-cartography, geography, and finally, one in technical writing. I write and speak six languages.”

Razel considered that and found himself more pleased that Tyr had brought his brother with him to Britain. “Good. Have you been offered workspace in the guild, or are you going to be asking for it?”

“I was offered space yesterday, but I need a conversation with you about what you gave me…before I can accept that offer in full. I can wait, though.”

“Stay and sit,” Razel said. “I’ll answer your questions now; that way you can make the most of your meeting in the morning.” Tyr prodded him gently toward a chair, and Razel sat despite his misgivings about it. He felt he should probably stand for at least part of the conversation.

“Stop being stubborn,” Tyr murmured. “If Glou has to carry you to your rooms, you’ll never live it down.”

Razel huffed because that was a deep truth. He rubbed his face with both hands and cleared his throat. “Right.”

“Coffee?” Tyr questioned. “Have you eaten in the last few hours?”

“No, I’d planned to eat after the selection and before this meeting.” He sat back in his chair. “This table is spelled for food delivery. The menu should be somewhere on the bench over there.” He motioned toward the back wall.

Cyrus stood to retrieve it. “Anyone have allergies or extreme dislikes?”

Razel watched them all shake their heads. “No coffee for me—I’ve taken an extremely potent pepper-up potion. Nothing complicated and sparkling water to drink for me.”

“How about soup, sandwiches, and apple tart? Why do we have apple tart on the menu? We never get tarts without an immense amount of begging or an order from the chieftain.”

Razel shrugged as he was not going to admit to putting in a request for it because Tyr had mentioned it. “That all sounds fine.”

Food was delivered and sorted quickly. Razel knew he needed to eat, but exhaustion was making it difficult to concentrate on any one thing.

“I assigned quarters for everyone,” Cyrus said. “And rearranged a bit to allow for Kal’s family. Thal and Dawl ended up sharing to make that process easier, and everything is settled. We made sure to include a kitchen set up for Sela.”

“Sela?” Razel questioned.

“My wife,” Kal said. “She’s a chef by trade and prefers to do all of her own cooking.”

Razel nodded. “Of course, if she needs anything else, please let me know. We’re asking a lot of her and your children.”

“It’s fine. She was so convinced I’d be chosen she started packing before I left to come here,” Kal said. “If I may be so blunt, you look unwell and should be resting.”

“I’m magically exhausted,” Razel admitted. “Heartsore.” He took a sip of water and wished he’d ordered wine. He’d no more thought it than a glass of red wine was slid into place next to his plate.

“It seemed to help settle your stomach before,” Tyr said by way of explanation.

“Do you remember any specific events around the crimes?” Thal Airwalker’s eyes were dark with fury. “Was it just your mother’s maternal line?”

“Are you asking me if you have child murderers lingering in your own line?” Razel questioned. “Because I don’t know the answer to that, Thal. I remember one specific instance, and it involved Knorr Stonehelm. Durin was ten years old. I have feelings around several births, and there is some kind of trauma attached to it that I associate with a coming of Durin a very long time ago—perhaps on Arda—where he died in his sleep a few days after his birth.” He picked up the wine and drank some as he collected his thoughts. “Mostly, I feel betrayed and grateful that my mother escaped them. I wouldn’t want your whole clan punished for the crimes of a few.”

“Just a few?” Dawl Windspeaker asked.

“It would have to be a very select few,” Tyr said. “Else, they’d have never been able to keep it a secret. It’s certainly generational, perhaps as many as three. I imagine Knorr’s father was part of it and maybe his father before him. The lust for power and gold in that family is profound, and maybe it always has been.”

Thal nodded his agreement. “Yes, very much so. It’s off-putting to associate with any of them. Do you wish to withdraw the offer for me to join your conclave, Master Fireborn?”

“No,” Razel said. “I trust my own magic more than I trust most people.” He focused on Davor. “I made all the choices you expected me to make?”

“Yes.” Davor nodded. “It went exactly as I expected to as far as selections went.” He picked up his sandwich. “So I brought all of my stuff with me and won’t need to go home to pack.”

Razel laughed. “Good to know.”

“My wife will come to me with our daughters tomorrow afternoon,” Kal said roughly. “I’ve been informed that I am unnecessary to their packing and would only be in the way.”

“I’ll have to go home for a few hours,” Thal said reluctantly. “And I don’t look forward to it. I expect I’ll be interrogated by someone regarding my interactions with you, which means I’ll be cursing at least one person out, maybe more. I wasn’t the expected or even preferred choice, but Knorr couldn’t ignore my magical power the way he wanted. It would’ve caused a political nightmare for him. Of course, what he’s facing now is even worse.”

“I’m willing to go with you,” Tyr said. “It could be that they’ll all be too busy trying to manage Theda Storm. Knowing her as I do, she already has Mim Dragonslayer, and Braigo Craftborn notified and en route to her for the investigation. They are the obvious choices since the directors for the Firebeards and Blacklocks were disqualified due to a conflict of interest. Tanik Grimm would do it, but he’s a necromancer, and he puts Theda off.”

Razel nearly protested because he wanted to keep Tyr close and also because he felt like someone in Rome had the ability to ruin his whole goddamned life.

“She’s profoundly opposed to the art,” Dawl Windspeaker agreed. “If you don’t want to bring a dragon to a curse fight, I can go.”

Thal laughed. “Sometimes only a dragon will do.”

Razel picked up half of his sandwich and forced himself to at least appear relaxed. He focused on Therin Augur, who was seated at the other end of the table. “Thoughts, Therin?”

“I think Theda Storm will have everyone involved locked down before Thal can get a portkey home. She’ll not be denied, and with my mother on hand, we’ll be lucky if the Rome clan seat physically survives the investigation. It won’t help that she probably did pick Braigo Craftborn as the third because he has a notorious temper and will have no issues acting as executioner on the spot.” Therin shook his head. “It’s going to be a brutal investigation.”

“The high priestess claimed all of the children,” Tyr said, and Razel turned to stare at him in horror. “She said she would stand as the mother of every single child they killed trying to prevent Durin’s return, and Theda accepted the claim.”

Razel set down his wine with a trembling hand. “I….” He exhaled and shook his head. “I’d never wish her to take on such an emotional burden.”

“She loves you,” Cyrus said simply. “With her whole heart—if pressed before this day, she’d have probably claimed all the other versions of you regardless of who birthed them, where, or even when they lived. I suppose nourishing the soul of Durin takes a special sort and your mother is certainly special.”

Razel grimaced and picked up his wine. “Stop being eloquent, Cyrus; you’ll put me off for days.”

Cyrus shrugged. “Okay, stay out of your amad’s business before you piss her off.” He waved a hand. “Based on your condition, you’ve probably already infuriated Omis, and that’s enough fight for any dwarf.” He paused. “And then some.”

“The quickest way to lose Omis’ respect is to let her run all over you in circumstances when you shouldn’t,” Razel said. “It’s not her nature to forgive that kind of weakness.” He focused on Luc. “Your concerns?”

“If I work in the scribe’s hall, I’ll be given a public workstation. I’ve had those in the past at various branches around the world, though this will be my first clan seat experience outside of our own. I get a lot of attention due to my reputation and family connections. If I bring the atlas into that hall, it’ll be known Horde-wide within the week.”

Razel considered that. “Consequences?”

“Hundreds of requests that you go through Durin’s vault and provide various scholars throughout the Horde with conjured copies of various materials, journals, and the atlas itself,” Tyr said when his brother hesitated. “Durin’s legacy would be tempting to many, and it would be an immense headache for you to field all of those requests one way or another.”

“I have a lot of different tasks, and not all of them have anything to do with the atlas,” Luc said. “So I can have public work and private work with no one the wiser.”

“That’s probably for the best at the moment,” Razel said and motioned toward an empty corner of the room. “Make that your space—let the guild master know that I’ve asked you to set up a workstation in the conclave’s workspace, and he’ll see that you’re properly supplied.” He waved a hand. “Anyone else being pressured into working here?”

“The vault security officer has asked me to have conversations with all of the dragon guards,” Davor said. “Something I expected and have no issues with. I have masteries in dragonkeeping and transfiguration, so I’ve already volunteered to help with injuries or illnesses on an emergency rotation.”

“I’ve been sent a memo about potions work,” Dawl said and motioned toward the work bench where there were a bunch of pieces of parchment. “We’ve had a lot of correspondence in the last hour. The offer of an actual job for me was probably because you specifically mentioned knowledge of me in that field during the selection. I declined because I expect the needs of the conclave will be quite extensive. There will come a point when we’ll need to consume potions only from my lab to keep our bodies on the same magical wavelength. This will be especially important when you start working on cleansing rituals to prepare for element introduction. It’s just two so far?”

“Yes, but I feel that aether is close. My conjurations are already lasting a year or more depending on the construction, complexity, and chemical structure.” Razel focused on Therin and raised an eyebrow.

“I have fully embraced aether,” Therin said. “But I expect I’m a decade or more away from permanent conjuration. It took my mother nearly twenty years, so I’m on course for that timeline. It took me five years to get where you are. I’m trying not to be jealous.”

Razel grinned. “I think…in the end, the elements will blend together for me.”

“You’re confident that you can do it, then,” Thal said. “No doubts?”

“None. I dream of standing on Arda.”

“Yes,” Davor murmured and flushed when they all focused on him. “I’ve dreamt of it, but not often. I had no frame of reference really and didn’t want to share that knowledge in public.” He leaned back in his chair and took a sip of wine. “Giant eagles, trees that can speak but no longer have access to magic to do so, land that aches with the loss of the fey influence it once basked in, and a vast empty world. The past has seeped into everything left behind, and it feels like…she’s just waiting on us.”

Razel nodded. “Yes, that’s exactly how it feels. Expectant and lonely.” He focused on his wine.

“I’ll take Dawl with me to Rome,” Thal said. “My mother wishes to meet him as I told her horrible stories about his behavior from our trip to Brazil.” He glanced at Tyr. “But stand by because we might need legal representation at some point. I don’t have half of your restraint.”

Tyr grinned. “I punched Knorr Stonehelm in the face. Twice.”

“He deserved it,” Glou said roughly, and Razel looked over his shoulder to where his bodyguard was leaning against the wall by the door.

“You could come eat, you know. We can order for you.” Razel frowned at Glou and got an unimpressed look in return.

Glou shook his head. “You’re going to retire to your rooms soon, and I’ve got a date. I was promised steak.” He paused. “And cheesecake.”

“I love cheesecake,” Kal muttered. “Is that on the kitchen menu?”

“No, just apple tart and toffee pudding,” Cyrus said. “Who are you getting cheesecake from? I’m mad with jealousy.”

“None of your business,” Glou said and crossed his arms. “Maybe you should work on getting a partner of your own, Cryus. Plenty of dverger cook.”

Cyrus huffed and slouched back in his seat. “I don’t have time for that sort of stuff. People get expectations and want more than sex, then the next thing I know, they want to move into my quarters and act like I’m the problem when I’m not interested and never pretended otherwise.”

Kal snorted then started laughing, which set most everyone else off. Razel looked at Tyr and found him shaking his head. It was clear that he didn’t share Cyrus’ frustration with romantic expectations.

Razel pointed at Cyrus with his spoon. “Maybe you just haven’t met the right person. I should send you around a bit, make you meet new people, and expand your horizons.”

“No.”

“I’ve got a sister….” Davor started and grinned when Cyrus groaned dramatically. “And a brother.”

“I have two single brothers,” Tyr input. “My parents would love to be quit of either of them.” He shot Luc a pointed look.

“I’m allergic to commitment,” Luc announced.

“Then you can come to my quarters anytime you’d like,” Cyrus said dryly, and Luc grinned.

Razel could see exactly where that was going to go and shook his head. He was glad that was one thing Tyr didn’t share with his brothers since apparently fist fighting was definitely in his wheelhouse.

He really didn’t want Tyr anywhere near Rome, but he knew he had no right to ask such a thing. They weren’t courting officially, and even if they were, it wouldn’t equal any sort of ownership. Still, the idea of Tyr being anywhere near the dwarrow that had sought to destroy him was nothing short of agonizing.

A hand settled on his arm, and he realized that flames were flickering around his fingertips. It wasn’t much of anything because his core was so depleted that it actually ached from overuse. He cleared his throat and dropped his own hand on top of Tyr’s as he pushed the fire down.

“I believe it’s time for me to take all the potions Omis pressed on me,” Razel said and stood. “I’ll probably sleep most of tomorrow. Cyrus, please tell your father that I’ll need a conversation with him when I wake up. Tyr, if you would keep track of everyone and make sure that no one needs to be extracted from some ridiculous circumstance, I’d appreciate it.” He paused. “And when Thal and Dawl return from Rome, scan them for potions and behavioral modification magic.”

“Of course,” Tyr murmured and started to stand.

“Stay,” Razel said. “Finish your dinner. Glou will take care of me.”

Tyr forced himself to stay seated as Razel left and took a deep breath as the door to the workspace shut behind him.

“He really doesn’t want you to go to Rome,” Cyrus said flatly. “So, if we need to send a security team with these two to keep things civilized, then we should.”

“I’ll go, as well,” Therin said. “He’s right to be worried about interference at this point, and I agree, Tyr, he doesn’t want you anywhere near Rome.”

“I realized that the moment I said it,” Tyr murmured and refilled his wine. “I just didn’t want to call him on it because he clearly wasn’t going to express it. He feels betrayed by them, and I don’t expect that will change for generations to come.”

Kal sighed. “Hell, lads, remembering your own fucking murder has to be one of the worst things I can imagine.” He rubbed his face and pushed aside his empty plate. “I want to go kill some people over it.”

“Lenore Feyborn’s grief was like another living and breathing person standing beside her,” Tyr said. “It was like she was every single parent they’d…abused and destroyed with their disgusting greed and ambition. Maybe in some way, she is.”

“So,” Luc said and focused on Tyr. “Have you thought about your courting gift?”

He had considered several but hadn’t been certain. A courting gesture, which opened the process, had to be a special endeavor. His own gift, per tradition, should speak to his intimate knowledge of Razel, and he wasn’t sure they were there yet. Still, there had been a wistful tone in Razel’s voice as he’d discussed the long-destroyed grimoire of Durin the Deathless that had given Tyr a new direction to think on.

It couldn’t be replaced in a way anyone would like. But, it could be made anew. The making of a grimoire was no small undertaking magically, but Tyr knew he could do it. Maybe Razel would like a fresh start, a chance to shape the legacy of Durin in his own way. It felt right, which was a relief.

“I have, yes,” he finally said when he realized they were all waiting on the answer to his brother’s cheeky question. “It’s no small thing.”

“No, I think the courting gesture is the easier one,” Kal said. “My wife has her mastery in the culinary arts. I spent four months in the forge—making her a kitchen from the stove up. It knew it would serve because her parents hadn’t supported her the way she wanted in her education. They thought she could do more with her life. The expectations are different, of course, but Razel Fireborn is under a great deal of pressure to perform. A courting gesture made by a future king isn’t…the makings of a trifle.”

“No,” Tyr agreed. “And, I hate that. He should be allowed some measure of privacy, and I think those days are largely gone for him.” He stood. “I’m going to write Cain a letter, Luc. If you wish to send anything to Paris, have it ready before breakfast.”

“I promised Amad that I would write after we got settled—she likes to know where I’m sleeping and the lot. She had a lot to stay about the six months I spent in a tent in the Amazon rainforest.”

“You had to be treated for malaria three different times,” Tyr said pointedly. “Fortunately for you, we can cure it, or you’d be in a world of hurt.”

“Pest control charms are hard to maintain on a tent in a damp environment,” Luc said in his defense. “And it was a nice tent.”

“A nice tent would’ve had a ward stone and a pest control matrix,” Dawl retorted, and Luc pouted like he was wounded.

Tyr shook his head. “Let’s get some sleep, so we’ll be prepared for whatever the day brings us. I’d rather Razel not wake up to another wretched situation, but we have precious little control over that. He’s not even two weeks out of his final maturation, and the stress has been fucking ridiculous.”

* * * *

Tyr couldn’t say he was surprised when he was told that his brother, Cain, had arrived. He’d sent his letter through the floo delivery system used to handle internal Horde correspondence despite the personal nature of it. That was certainly a perk of living and working in a clan seat versus a simple branch of the network of underground complexes that housed the Horde.

“Master Warhide.”

Tyr turned and found the chieftain standing just short of the entryway to portkey arrivals. He’d been required to get his brother so he could escort him to the area in the clan complex where he was living with Luc since it wasn’t in the guest area.

“Good morning, sir.” He crossed the foyer. “Is something wrong?”

Ragnok raised an eyebrow. “I’m here to ask you that very same question. It’s not often that the heir of another clan comes into my domain without a formal notification or invitation. Is Cain Fury here for you or for business?”

Tyr flushed. “My apologies, I didn’t…consider that.” He felt flat-footed and bizarrely underprepared to have a conversation with Razel’s father. “I’m the youngest son, so my brothers sort of gravitate around me when I’m not at home. I can expect to see them all regularly over the next year. The only sibling I have that is restricted on the travel front is my sister because she’s a minor. She’ll have to be escorted by Cain when she visits.”

“So personal,” Ragnok said in amusement.

Oh, gods, he’d rambled in the chieftain’s face.

“Yes, it’s a personal visit,” Tyr agreed. “How is Razel this morning?”

“Still sleeping. If he doesn’t wake by the afternoon, I’ll check on him physically, but his wards haven’t notified me of a problem,” Ragnok said easily. “Will your brother be spending the night?”

“He rarely sleeps away from his wife, so no,” Tyr said. “He’s been married for twenty years and is still deeply enamored.”

“A love match often goes exactly that way,” Ragnok murmured. “Very well. Let Rhys Sharprock know if his plans change or if you need anything specific for the conclave in Razel’s absence.”

“Razel gave us instructions for the day,” Tyr said. “And Cyrus Gildhard is handling the basic management of the area. We’ve settled Kal Ironwill’s family in already this morning. His daughters expressed interest in taking instruction in several fields of study, so the family is in the guild halls negotiating that for the rest of the afternoon.”

Ragnok nodded and stared at him for several long, agonizing seconds, then he grinned. “Am I making you nervous, Master Warhide?”

“Yes,” Tyr blurted out and exhaled noisily when the older dwarf burst out laughing. “Your kindness is noted.”

“Well, I’m not exactly known for that kind of thing,” Ragnok said wryly. “I forwarded several requests from the ICW to the Judiciary Guild, and one was sent back to me with the suggestion that I ask you to handle it.”

“I haven’t set up my own desk in the hall,” Tyr admitted. “But I did tell the guild master that I would be willing to handle international law matters as that is the work area where they’re light. I expected, at the time, that the need would increase gradually as Razel moved toward the portal ritual. Things escalated quickly.”

“Yes,” Ragnok said quietly. “They did. We can expect it to get much worse as the investigation takes place. Thank you for starting that process. I realize it was your legal obligation, but I was in no position to consider the ramifications of what Razel had revealed. My only concern was my son at that moment. In keeping control of Brom Truthsayer, you prevented him from trying to cover up the crimes he’d personally committed. He revealed, in interrogation already, that he’d have killed several dwarrow in his own family to prevent the truth from getting out. His own mother was included in that list.”

“I….” Tyr took a deep breath. “Why am I surprised by that? They murdered children.”

“You have personal limits,” Ragnok said. “And a stringent ethical code by which you live your life. Brom Truthsayer appears to have none of that.”

“Therin Augur said that he didn’t trust Brom because of his deception regarding his use name,” Tyr said. “I wonder what it would be genuinely? Is there a choice that even fits?”

“Nothing that isn’t profane,” Ragnok said roughly, then inclined his head toward the doorway he’d be watching.

Tyr turned and found Cain standing a few feet away. “Cain.” He motioned him forward, and his oldest brother hitched the pack he had in hand over one shoulder as he joined them. “Cain Fury meet Chieftain Ragnok Windrider.”

Cain pressed a fist against his chest. “Sir, it’s an honor.”

“Well met, Master Fury,” Ragnok said. “With three of you here, I’m afraid a brawl is getting more likely by the moment.”

Cain grinned. “Tyr keeps us in line. That’s what baby brothers are for.”

“Your baby brother punched the leader of another clan in the face twice yesterday,” Ragnok said dryly, and Cain’s mouth dropped open. Razel was surprised that information hadn’t made it to Paris already. “Not that Brom Truthsayer didn’t have it coming, but still. The dwarf was and actually still is the leader of the Longbeards.”

Tyr hadn’t considered that, but he didn’t care. “He’s a child murderer. I’d like to go to Rome and beat him to death.”

Cain looped an arm around his shoulders. “I’d be glad to help.” He smacked a loud kiss against Tyr’s temple. “Anyone that would move this one to violence isn’t fit to walk the earth.”

“Agreed,” Ragnok said. “I’ll leave you two to your visit. I’ll have that legal brief delivered to your quarters, Master Warhide.”

“Thank you, sir.” Tyr watched the chieftain walk away then focused on Cain. “You didn’t have to bring it personally.”

“Well, of course I did,” Cain said with a smile. “Show me where you’re staying. Where is Luc?”

“If I had to hazard a guess, he’s sleeping off a fuckfest,” Tyr said and rolled his eyes when Cain laughed. “He came back to our rooms for breakfast, then went to bed. We can wake him if you like. His sleeping around is no excuse not to be a proper brother.”

“Nah, I’ve seen enough of him lately, and practically none of you. Plus, I want to hear all about this.” He handed Tyr the pack. “Adad is beside himself with curiosity. Amad barely kept him at home.”

“Let’s discuss this in private,” Tyr said and prodded his brother toward the exit. “Our rooms are not far from here—the conclave’s living space and work area are situated between the private clan space and the guest areas of the complex. It gives us unfettered access to the guild halls, kitchens, and other public areas that the clan has for social and work gatherings.”

“It’s a good arrangement,” Cain declared. “How’s security?”

“Better than ours, so you should talk to Rhys Sharprock about it at some point,” Tyr said. “And get the updated ward schemes. They actually have wards specifically designed to keep humans out—they’re genetically keyed. There is a member of the Horde, a half-human/half-dverger, who had to be specifically given permission to enter. Davor Beastspeaker is fascinated by the whole setup, so he was asking a lot of questions in the great hall this morning. I think a lot of it evolved from their desire to keep Razel as far from magical humans as possible.”

“And they should,” Cain said roughly. “They have no need to ever meet him as far as I’m concerned. I can’t think that any reasonable dwarrow would think otherwise. Our king is not for them and none of their fucking business.

Tyr nodded. He paused at the double doors leading into the conclave space. “We work here, but the ritual floor is raw, so I can’t show you.”

“It’s fine,” Cain said. “It’s good to know he’s serious about the project. To already have space created and a ritual floor built is stunning. The floor itself would’ve taken months to create.”

“The chieftain built it personally,” Razel said and nodded at Cain’s startled look. “I know—it’s kind of daunting to be around it in its raw state. I think people forget how magical he is because his line hasn’t produced much beyond small magic in generations. But he…is a lot.”

“And his son?” Cain questioned as Tyr opened the door to his quarters. As expected, the living area was empty, and Luc’s bedroom door was shut.

“Enthralling,” Tyr admitted. “I can’t hardly stand to look anywhere but him when we’re in the same room together.” He put the pack down on the coffee table and sat down on the sofa. “He’s…going to offer me a gesture.”

Cain exhaled slowly. “That’s…more than I expected, despite the teasing I’m sure you’ve endured. Adad spoke of the damn near magnetic attraction between the two of you, but I assumed I was going to spend the next year hearing about your affair with our future king.”

Tyr pressed his lips together. “Is that what everyone thinks?”

“At home?” Cain questioned and winced when Tyr nodded. “Well, yes. I think our parents are hopeful for more. But you’ve said nothing about wanting a permanent relationship in years. I thought if you were inclined toward marriage any time soon that it would’ve been Fhane Wisemind. It seemed like you were deeply in love with him at one point. He certainly expects you to come back to him. He was complaining about your newest infatuation yesterday and how you’d let your head get turned by a pretty face.”

Tyr made a face. “Why is Fhane in Paris?”

“For you, obviously. He told me that he was startled by how overt Razel Fireborn’s interest was in you during the quarterly report. Out of all the introductions, he only spoke directly to you. Our king said that you were you awe-inspiring in front of the whole damn Horde,” Cain said. “I agree, of course. What you did that day forever changed how I saw you. Your injuries were immense, and there were moments in the hours afterward when we weren’t certain you’d survive. Yet, you did, and here you sit so competent and at peace with yourself.

“I hate that day, you know. For a lot of reasons, of course, but mostly because it stole what little of your childhood you had left to explore. No one treated you the same afterward, and I guess it would’ve been impossible.” Cain sighed and glanced toward the bag. “Why did you have me bring it?”

Tyr reached for the bag and opened it. He pulled the preserved dragon skin out, a very rare commodity amongst their people as they didn’t kill dragons for food or any other reason beyond self-defense anymore, and they were long-lived. All commercial dragonhide sold by the bank was made of shed skin reinforced with magic to make it durable and useful. It had been nearly a hundred years since they’d sold even live-harvested dragon heartstrings to the wizards for wands. The preserves that the wizards ran had stringent rules placed on them regarding harvesting materials from living dragons, determined by the ICW. But Tyr thought they could be a little more strict about it.

“Durin’s grimoire was destroyed hundreds of years ago.” He focused on Cain’s face. “So I’m going to make one for Razel as my gift so he can rebuild that legacy.”

Cain stared for a moment. “Tyr. That’s a singular ritual endeavor—your magic won’t allow you to cast the spells more than once in this lifetime.”

“I know,” he said gently.

“Of course you do,” Cain said. “It’s just…are you sure? You barely know him.”

“I…feel as if I’ve always known him,” Tyr admitted and averted his gaze when Cain stared in shock. “I can’t really offer an explanation.”

Cain laughed softly. “Oh, you needn’t.” He leaned on the back of the sofa and smiled as Tyr focused on him. “The moment I saw Jania, I thought—I’m going to marry that dwarrowdam. It was this instant and complete knowing. I can’t imagine there is a thing I wouldn’t have done to have her. When she accepted my gesture and immediately offered her own gift in return—it was overwhelming because I wasn’t even sure she’d say yes. Yet, she was right there with me the whole time.”

“Well, she put us all out of our misery that day,” Tyr said wryly, and Cain grinned. “I don’t know exactly where his head is and what he has planned, but it’s…just clear to me that we’re of the same mind on this subject.”

Cain reached out and plucked the dragon skin from Tyr’s hands. “This is the last of her, right?”

Tyr nodded as he’d sold most of the dragon he’d killed in some fashion or another, but he’d kept the skin intact and in reserve since he’d done the rendering. “I have the claws as well in the trunk I asked you to bring.”

“It’s fitting, and the trunk is in the satchel,” Cain murmured. “You have enough skin for the cover and at least a thousand parchment pages. The magic of the grimoire spell will duplicate those pages as needed in the future. You’ll want to be careful with the expansion and compression charms to keep its size reasonable. It’ll be a highly magical artifact, even without the grimoire spells.” He put the skin down. “I’ve never seen or heard of a grimoire made with dragon skin. It is an indulgent gift by anyone’s measure, but one certainly fit for a king.”

“I thought to use the claws for accents and the closure,” Tyr said and ran his hand over the surface of the black scales. “He doesn’t wear a lot of jewelry, and I can’t imagine purchasing him anything that he couldn’t get for himself. He has an excellent wardrobe, but I don’t think he buys a single bit of himself.”

Cain laughed. “Trying to talk yourself out of it?”

“No, the moment I made the decision, it felt exactly right,” Tyr admitted. “I’d like to keep this between us for now, Cain. Luc will certainly realize what I’m doing at some point, but I don’t want to have to explain myself to everyone else.”’

“Ah, now, little brother, it’ll be clear enough to everyone else soon enough.” Cain patted his cheek. “It’s written all over your face. I’m so pleased for you.”

“You could cut the unresolved sexual tension between them with a fucking knife. Plus, they are so mutually besotted that it’s honestly kind of hard to look at,” Luc muttered as he entered the room, stretching. He pulled a shirt over his head as he walked toward them. “Were you going to come and go without saying a word to me?”

“I heard you had a fuckfest and needed your rest,” Cain said in amusement.

Luc sucked air through his teeth and threw himself in the chair across from them, then stretched like a cat. “Cyrus Gildhard is probably the best sex I’ve ever had in my life. We must have stared at each other in stupefied silence for nearly five minutes after the first round before we went again.” He wet his lips. “Then again.”

“Really?” Tyr questioned. “He’s so reserved.”

“He’s a genuine beast,” Luc assured. “And I’m sitting on that dick every chance I get for the next year.”

Cain laughed. “At least Britain will keep you both equally entertained.”

 

 

Chapter 8

Razel pressed his toes briefly against the rune controlling the heat of the water in the bath and groaned against the flash of heat that moved through the water. It was probably twenty degrees hotter than most of his kind could comfortably tolerate. He wondered if Tyr liked an extremely hot bath and if it was dragon or element related. His aunt had sent him a potion additive for the bath and suggested he take a long soak when he woke up, and he’d been immediately all in on it. That there were bubbles was neither here nor there.

“Razel!”

He let his head drop back on the cushioned edge of the tub and sighed. “In the bath, Elspeth.”

His sister practically bounced into the open doorway, back to him. “Cain Fury came and went from the bank while you were having a beauty rest.”’

Razel frowned and wondered if something was happening with Tyr’s family. He’d have liked to meet the oldest of his brothers and was disappointed that the whole thing had happened while he was asleep.

“Do you know anything?”

“Just that he brought a bag and left it behind,” Elspeth said. “No info on the contents, and Adad met him. He said the visit was personal.” She shrugged and moved around a bit, making her skirts swish around her legs. “Very attractive from all reports. The whole family is beautiful, which is ridiculous.”

“Says the dwarrowdam regarded as one of the most attractive members of our whole clan,” Razel said with a laugh, and she waved her hands like that wasn’t anything she could disagree with. “Any other news?”

“All of the conclave members that left have returned, and there weren’t any problems as far as I can tell. Rome has shut down entirely at this point, and there will be no further arrivals or departures during the investigation. They’re even diverting human traffic, though I don’t know what reason was given to the ICW. They probably cited some security danger. Theda Storm unseated Brom Truthsayer as clan leader officially and decreed that the Longbeards could not elect another through committee until the crimes against you have been addressed in full. She said that no one involved in the conspiracy should have a voice in the future of their clan leadership. I think that’s fair.”

“Very fair,” Razel murmured. “It’s a savvy decision. It’ll make it easier for the other clans to accept the leadership going forward.”

“And you.”

“I don’t…know that anything will make it easier for me to accept the Longbeards as a whole. It’s probably going to be on an individual basis for at least my current lifetime.”

“Have you ever remembered anything else? Something nice?”

“Durin’s never had a lot of nice, Elspeth,” Razel said quietly and added some more heat to the water. “But, yes, I’ve remembered some things that aren’t terrible. Mostly about Arda, which is par for my course. I’m certainly being led down a very specific path.”

“Last night, I had a dream—I think about Arda.”

“What happened?”

“Nothing specific. There was a large battle. Our people were fighting these beastly creatures. The language was difficult to understand, but I think the beasts were called orcs. There were elves and humans fighting as well. It seemed like…an immense and hopeless battle. I woke up so sad.” Elspeth tucked her hands behind her back, fingers clenching in her dress, a habit that didn’t currently serve her. She often hid her hands when she was distressed.

“If it helps, I think…they won that battle,” Razel said. “It felt like a victory listening to you speak of it.”

“It helps,” she said quietly. “I wonder what happened to the creatures.”

“I think…that only corrupted magic kept them alive,” Razel said. “So they’re gone now and won’t return. When magic fled, they’d have died off quickly and would’ve left little behind in the way of bodies due to their origin.”

“What’s their origin?”

“They grew in the tainted ground—life sprung from dark magic,” Razel said. “It’s important that we leave such magic behind entirely when we leave this world. It mustn’t ever gain purchase on Arda again.”

“Oh, I’m going to go write an essay about the battle and the orc—you can write one about dark magic as a companion piece. It’ll be important for everyone to read.”

He started to agree, but she just trotted away with a little wave.

“Razel! You have a guest!” Elspeth laughed, and there was a soft bang of the main door of his quarters shutting.

With a soft curse, he checked the time and realized he’d managed to laze in the bath a good forty-five minutes more than he intended to, and Tyr was precisely on time for the dinner date he’d invited him to. He used a bit of magic to prod the door gently shut and stood from the tub. A little frustrated with himself, he dried off with a few spells and put his hair up in a clip because he couldn’t be bothered with it. Then dressed in the tunic and loose cotton trousers he’d picked up for comfort over appearance.

He carried his socks out of the bathroom and found Tyr at the dining table, unpacking the food. Razel smiled, relieved to have the matter taken out of his hands.

“Hey.”

Tyr looked up from his work and stared for a long moment, and took a deep breath. “You look rested. I ordered the roasted chicken.”

“I’m sorry to have missed your brother’s visit,” Razel said as he sat down in a chair and rolled his socks onto his feet. “I would’ve liked to have met him. I hope he doesn’t think I was rude.”

“He’ll come around again,” Tyr assured. “And no, he doesn’t think you’re rude at all. Cain isn’t the sort to expect anyone’s time or attention. Plus, the visit wasn’t official.”

“Rumor has it he brought you something,” Razel said and raised an eyebrow when Tyr’s cheeks flushed.

“Yes, I needed a few things from my vault that I didn’t think to collect when I was there. I thought he’d just send it to me through floo delivery, but he used my oversight as a chance to come here.” Tyr opened the wine and set the bottle down on the table. “How do you feel?”

“Pretty good. Omis sent me a restorative to use in the bath. I wallowed in it much longer than I should’ve,” Razel admitted. “I didn’t expect my last maturation to have this kind of impact on my magic and emotional control.”

“There are adjustments to be made in your core,” Tyr said. “I was a little off-kilter for nearly a year following mine and had emotional issues as well. I don’t think either of your…situations were out of line. You’re allowed your emotions, and they’re valid. I’m sure you’ve been told that before.”

“In some fashion or another, yes, but it was normally couched with a reminder that nothing I do happens in a vacuum. Elspeth told me everyone is back, and nothing terrible happened.”

Tyr grimaced. “Well, they’re back, but there were a few issues that we’ll need to discuss as a group, and you can expect Theda Storm sooner rather than later when it comes to being interviewed.”

Razel shifted in his seat as Tyr sat down. “What kind of issues?”

“Thal’s maternal grandfather didn’t want him to return and be a part of the conclave. Thal said of his family has always been of the opinion that being associated with the line of Durin is nothing but a hardship despite the fact that their family roots are so deep in the Longbeards they don’t have a single ancestor from a different clan. Most of your mother’s maternal line comes from the Ironfists but were of the same line. There was a shift in the clans on Arda several hundred years before the mass migration here. But all we have is ancestral data and family trees. You might find out more in the journals if Durin documented it.”

“King Fíli the Golden died without issue as a very elderly dwarf,” Razel murmured. “He’d claimed his brother’s son as his heir, but the boy was half-high elf, and no one wanted him on the throne. I don’t know what happened to him, but the grandson of Dain Ironfoot eventually became king, and he fathered the reincarnation of Durin that petitioned Mahal for the migration, and the mass retreat from Arda began shortly after his 200th birthday. He was, in fact, supposed to be the last reincarnation of Durin.”

Tyr nodded and poured them both some wine. “I asked for a rosé. I hope that’s okay.”

“It’s fine,” Razel assured and decided not to admit he’d never really been able to discern the difference between a rosé and a dry white wine other than their appearance. The distinction being lost on him didn’t make it less pleasant to drink, so he just picked up his glass and set aside the cloche covering his plate. “Thal did return?”

“Yes, of course. He told his grandfather to kiss his arse,” Tyr said and shrugged. “Which is where the problem may surface. It’s entirely likely that he’ll lodge some kind of formal complaint.”

“Would a letter from me telling him to mind his own business hinder or help?” Razel questioned.

Tyr grinned. “I think Wilk Stonecliff would be appalled to have earned your individual attention. Dwarrow, like him, exist in a very narrow sort of world where their wants and desires are first and foremost their concern. In the end, he tried to keep Thal in Rome because they want him to be the next clan leader, and with him here, that’s unlikely to happen.”

“Does Thal want that?” Razel questioned.

“Not on a bet.” Tyr set aside his own cloche and unfolded his napkin. “No one is going to want it because it’s a hundred or more years of rehabilitation work in the making. There’s no telling what kind of financial damage will be done by the end of this because they will owe you reparations. You’ll say you don’t need the gold, but you must accept it. Refusing a wergild in these circumstances would set a disgusting precedent for the future.”

“Right,” Razel said. “I don’t want to bankrupt their clan for the actions of a few.”

“You won’t, but you’ll receive the material assets of every single adult involved in the conspiracy. Theda will insist on it, and they won’t need it—since they’ll be executed for their crimes.” Tyr shrugged a little when Razel grimaced. “Justice requires it. We can’t let child murderers remain amongst us, Razel. It’s dangerous and awful. No one in their clan deserves to have those monsters in their faces on a regular basis, and we haven’t used confinement for punishment in hundreds of years. If you commit a crime—you pay a fine, or you get executed. Sometimes, both.”

Razel grinned. “I shouldn’t find you amusing when you talk like this.”

“I’m entertaining,” Tyr assured. “Some people just don’t have the perspective to enjoy it.” He sat back with his wine. “I saw cheesecake on the menu, so I ordered slices for us both.”

Razel flushed. “I just put a note on my personal menu about it. It wasn’t an official request or anything. They all seemed to want some.”

“I think you realize they’re going to do their best to make any food you make a note of,” Tyr said. “Thanks for the apple tart, by the way. It was perfect. I sent the chef team a note expressing such.” He grinned. “They offered to cook me a special meal should I have an occasion for it.”

“They mean well,” Razel said. “Most of the time.”

“Your whole clan seems to adore you,” Tyr said. “It’s lovely.”

“There are a few here and there that can’t stand the sight of me,” Razel said dryly. “But they don’t stay in Britain, as a rule. I don’t expect that to change no matter what I do.”

“Yawl’s still here, by the way,” Tyr said. “I had to go to legal to work a bit this afternoon on a brief for the ICW, and he came in to speak with the guild master.”

“They’re brothers,” Razel said. “Though they don’t get along at all. Did he speak to you?”

“No, but he gave me a few dirty looks,” Tyr said in amusement. “I was told that he considers me an interloper and wholly disapproves of me and my residency.” He cut into his chicken and seemed to consider his words. “And my own ex-partner is having a self-pity party in Paris right now. He’s told anyone that will listen, apparently, that he’s deeply concerned by my new infatuation.”

Razel grinned. “Are you infatuated?”

“I’m enchanted,” Tyr returned. “And I couldn’t be happier for it. You have certainly turned my head.”

He huffed a little, and Tyr laughed.

“I guess we can be fortunate you don’t have as many past lovers as most assume to come trotting out to complain about our excessively public situation.” Razel set aside his wine and focused on his food. “I’d like to give the conclave time to settle and perform the inductions in two days. I’ve set aside time in my schedule to work in the forge for a few hours every day this week. I think I need the time to adjust emotionally to my maturation and to the memories that are surfacing. Working in the forge always calms me.”

“I have to appear in front of the World Court of Magic on Friday,” Tyr said. “I provided your father’s office with a list of dates that I cannot change or fail to attend. The WCOM will meet in Oslo for the next year, so I won’t be going anywhere near Rome for the foreseeable future.” He paused. “Unless Theda Storm requests me. I don’t think she will due to the conflict of interest. My involvement with you and the insult Knorr Stonehelm delivered on my clan…well, it’s all difficult to ignore. I blame Brom equally, and she knows that.”’

Razel nodded. “With good reason. I can’t see how he would’ve missed his grandfather’s overt mental defect. And he was clearly prepared to do a lot of things to cover up the crimes of those in his family that came before him.”

“Yes, I agree,” Tyr said. “And Theda Storm won’t leave that stone unturned. She is one of the most thorough dverger I’ve ever encountered in my life. Additionally, Mim Dragonslayer is there, and she’s so bloodthirsty that she’d welcome war with human magicals.”

“I can’t say I don’t feel the same,” Razel admitted. “Their oppression of us chafes a little more every single fucking day. My father has always sought to maintain peace with them, and I understand that, truly. Most humans, magical or not, are little more than sheep being led around by the rich and powerful. That’s always been the case, I suppose. The ones with the most power and resources rule the rest.”

“Jaded,” Tyr said with a shake of his head. “But accurate. In order to fully retreat from this world, we’ll have to force them to violate all of our treaties—to break the magical bindings that ensure we all adhere to the contracts that are in place.”

“It would be the work of nothing to accomplish such a thing,” Razel said. “And you know it. Wizards are stupidly easy to manipulate, and they’ll act out at the least provocation. With their current situation brewing, an altercation with a single Death Eater in the bank would be enough to destroy every agreement ever made between humans and us. Then, we can leave this shite world and their disgusting bigotry behind.”

Tyr nodded. “Yes, my father agrees, by the way. Many will expect exactly that scenario. In what condition will we leave the banks in?”

“It would be my preference to leave vault access so they can do what they will with their own things and raze our complexes as we leave. We should be able to do it and keep the vaults and upper bank intact,” Razel said. “We certainly can’t leave them any access to our magic, guilds, or the portal itself. We’ll close it on the other side once everyone is through.”

“What if some want to stay?” Tyr questioned.

Razel shrugged. “They can stay, I suppose. But I need the magic from the complexes to keep the portal stable, so they’ll have to make other living arrangements. It’ll all be harvested, which is why the structures should be destroyed. But, who would want to stay?”

“A new world is daunting, and you haven’t spared anyone the truth of what we’ll face,” Tyr said. “Still, with a careful campaign, we can make most if not all look forward to the challenge of bringing magic back to Arda. Your sister seems to be leading that endeavor. She’s been publishing essays for the last year about the humans and the potential for war and strife for years to come.”

“Her visions are often terrible,” Razel said. “So much so that she barely gets enough sleep without potions, which Omis is careful with. I hope that our retreat will bring her peace.”

“She isn’t the only one painting a wretched picture of the future,” Tyr said. “Seers from all the clans are talking about multiple blood wars with the wizards, and their current dark lord is just another Grindelwald in the making. They don’t keep themselves in check, in any fashion, and they’re going to expose us all to Muggles, which will lead to extinction for many species.” He paused. “Should we take any of them with us?”

“I’d thought maybe I would petition Zirnitra,” Razel said quietly. “And ask him to use the portal I’m building to migrate all the magical creatures. The humans won’t protect them properly and never have. They misuse anyone and anything different from them. Arda is vast; it could be a home to us all. We’d have to be careful with more dangerous species. Perhaps they’d have to stay behind because Arda’s magic will be fragile.”

“A pride of nundu would be more trouble than anything else,” Tyr muttered into his wine and took a deep drink. “I want to say it wouldn’t be fair to pick and choose and that the nundu have a place in our ecosystem, but…they don’t. Their natural prey is humans, so they wouldn’t exist as some form of pest or population control.” He shrugged. “Unless we count the humans as pests.”

“In some cases, we should,” Razel said and grinned when Tyr laughed. “I mean, those Death Eaters are definitely pests. We’ve proven over the last hundred years that we can work with dragons and exist in harmony when we treat them with the respect they are due. The merfolk would find vast oceans to explore, teaming with food and the kind of danger they find exciting. The giants could make homes in the deeper reaches of the world and have the safety they’ve long been denied.”

“You haven’t shared this idea with anyone,” Tyr surmised.

“No, not yet. It’s Elspeth’s idea, really. Well, she made me have it because one night almost a year ago, she came to me in tears and told me that she had a dream about the wizards killing magical creatures all over the world to keep themselves from discovery by Muggles. I think…well.” He sighed and took a sip of wine. “The wizards won’t be able to hold the enclave matrix without us long-term. Within fifty years of our departure, they would stop being relieved and start realizing they don’t have the collective magic to keep themselves hidden. It makes sense that killing off magical creatures to keep their secrets would be their go-to solution.”

“We should definitely leave the nundu behind and maybe put some protective magic on them so they can’t be killed easily. More protective magic—make them hardy as fuck,” Tyr muttered, and Razel laughed. “What about the house elves? They are magically bound in service. I realize why, of course, but they don’t deserve the conditions many of them live in just so they can keep their magic stable and stay sane.’

“If Zirnitra can free them and provide them a method of survival that doesn’t involve them being magical leeches, then I would welcome them on Arda,” Razel said simply. “I don’t resent them for their circumstances, but there is no need to duplicate it amongst our own kind in Arda.”

“I can’t disagree, but I wouldn’t want to leave the sweet little things behind to be further abused,” Tyr admitted. “It only ruins them in the end, no matter the intent of the magical humans they are bound to. Some live rich, full lives filled with family and love…but then their bonded master dies, and it breaks their hearts. Then it happens again and again until they can’t take it anymore. Eventually, they wither in their grief and die. The fact that it takes hundreds of years to happen may seem inconsequential to some, but I find it even worse.” He sat forward and cleared his throat. “Sorry, that’s a bit of a soapbox for me. The ICW refuses to even consider it a problem, you know. Even abuse cases against house elves are considered a non-issue as long as their Statute of Secrecy is kept intact.”

“Well, that’s the whole reason that house elves are bound, right?” Razel questioned. “To keep the little things from going insane and turning into gremlins. Magicals at the time threw an easy solution at the problem and considered it done. Now they don’t want to revisit because the free labor benefits them too much, and house elves may be magical leeches of a sort, but they aren’t outright taking magic from their bonded master’s core. They just sop up the magical waste that accumulates around magical humans because they don’t know to maintain their own fucking core.”

“So you’ll ask for them as well?” Tyr questioned with a grin.

“There’s certainly no reason to leave a sapient magical creature behind if we can help it. I guess we can take the fucking garden gnomes, too,” Razel muttered, and Tyr laughed.

“Well, I don’t know a single dwarrow who can garden, so I think we really should. And maybe allowing them to return to their natural purpose would be for the best. They must be going stir-crazy as they are.” Tyr lifted the cloche on their deserts. “And if he says no?”

“Then we will leave them all behind, even the dragons, as much as that honestly hurts to consider. Because in the end, we must protect ourselves and our own magic from this world. It was a safe haven once, and now it’s a prison,” Razel said. “We deserve better.” He wet his lips nervously as he considered what he wanted to say versus what he felt like he should say. Finally, he blurted out, “I want my children to be free.”

“Children.” Tyr smiled, eyes bright with pleasure. “How many do you think?”

Razel shrugged. “As many as I can safely carry.” He flushed when Tyr’s eyes widened in shock. “Is that a problem?”

“No, of course not,” Tyr said. “I just…didn’t expect you’d be interested in carrying considering the duty that stretches out in front of you.”

“I have a deep desire to carry,” Razel admitted and cleared his throat. “It’s not something I’ve shared with anyone before now.”

“Not even Yawl?” Tyr questioned. “You were together for two years and never broached the future of your relationship? Of how you’d build a family?”

“I don’t need to be told how silly that is,” Razel said, and Tyr laughed. “And we never discussed it because he just assumed I would carry. He even talked about it once—how he looked forward to me giving him children.”

“Fhane avoided the discussion of children until he couldn’t, then confessed to hating the idea of fatherhood. It’s a rare thing for our kind, as you know, and it was startling. I just never expected to have to ask such a question of another dverger.”

“Well, that’s a human thing,” Razel said easily. “And Fhane Wisemind has two human ancestors.” He flushed as he hadn’t been all that ready to discuss how interested he was in Tyr’s former partner. There hadn’t been much to be found in the Horde annals about the dwarf beyond his family tree and general education. “Right?”

Tyr raised an eyebrow and nodded. “Yes, it’s not something he’s proud to speak of. Though I wouldn’t say that he’s ashamed either, as both witches are well regarded in their family and haven’t ever been denied as far as I can tell. One was his maternal grandmother, and he spoke very well of her. He certainly mourned her loss. What do you want to know about him?”

Razel shrugged and took the last bite of his cheesecake. “I don’t know. You wanted to marry him, so I’m curious.”

“Fhane is brilliant, easily the most intelligent dverger of our generation,” Tyr said. “We have the same beliefs regarding the law and justice. From the start, our relationship was intense and passionate. We fell in love hard and without a single hesitation from either of us. I don’t regret it. I wish I’d asked him more questions, obviously. He’s a good dwarf with a strong moral code. I find Fhane to be one of the best people I’ve ever known. He has a blind spot about our relationship and the future, which I’ve talked to him about more than once.”

“You’re the love of his life,” Razel said quietly.

“Yes,” Tyr admitted and sighed. “And I hate that for him, but I’m not tempted to go back to that partnership in any fashion. Despite his overtures, I haven’t even had sex with him since I ended things.”

Razel nodded. “It must have hurt a lot.”

“I….” Tyr sighed. “Yes, it did, and most people don’t even acknowledge that because I was the one that ended it. Many in our clan were shocked by my actions, but I’ve never shared the reason why. It’s his personal business, and he wouldn’t want it known Horde-wide that he kind of honestly hates kids.”

Razel’s mouth dropped open. “Oh.” The idea was both mind-boggling and kind of horrifying. “Seriously?”

“I only tell you this so that you understand how serious I am about the end of that relationship. I can’t…imagine trying to have a life with someone who not only never wants his own children but outright loathes to be in the same room with anyone under the age of thirty. He’d greatly prefer the company of fully mature magical adults only. I think he hated children when he was a child.”

“I won’t tell anyone,” Razel said. “It is his personal business, and as long as his hatred doesn’t turn into inappropriate actions, then…it is what it is. It’s awful, of course. Has he had mind healing?”

Tyr grinned. “I suggested it when he told me, and he acted like I was the insane one.” He pushed aside his empty plate. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to talk about anything else but my ex-partner.”

“Of course, I didn’t…mean to intrude,” Razel said.

“You didn’t.” Tyr stood and offered Razel his hand. “Come, show me the favorite thing you own.”

Razel took his hand with a laugh and shortly led Tyr into his library. There was a large lounger in the back of the room near an enchanted window. The window was currently set to show a snowy landscape with a mountain looming in the distance. “I received it for my tenth birthday. At that point, I’d never left my father’s domain and didn’t expect to ever be allowed to do so. My parents created it together, and it took more than a year.”

“I’ve rarely seen one so well done,” Tyr admitted. “They’re quite common across the world in our complexes, but this looks real.” He reached out and touched the glass as soon as they were both settled on the lounger, then huffed. “It’s actually cold to the touch.”

“I could open it and collect snow from the seal,” Razel said and flushed when Tyr turned to look at him in shock. “Yawl says I live in a gilded cage.”

“You live in the embrace of two protective and indulgent parents,” Tyr said. “And I can’t blame them for any of it. First, because they never expected to have children at all, and second, because you’re…amazing.”

Razel flushed and focused on the window. “The tropical version smells like the ocean when I open it. I was startled by the smell because I’d never seen an ocean outside of books. Shortly after I turned twenty, my parents purchased and warded a private island in international waters. We go there at least once a year as a family. They could barely keep me inside for meals the first time we went. I loved it all—the smells, the sand between my toes. I realized my profound privilege in that moment.”

“I don’t understand,” Tyr admitted as he slipped off his boots and slid up onto the lounger to lay beside him.

“Some of our people have never had the real sun on their face, Tyr,” Razel said. “They’ve never felt real sand between their toes or climbed an actual fucking tree. Sure, our kind is meant to live in mountains, but what we’ve been driven to on this world is disgusting. The falseness of our environments grates on me, and it stirs war in my heart.

“I adore this window because my parents gave it to me with so much love, but also, I resent it for what it teases me with.” He reached out and touched a series of runes on the side until the image changed, and they were staring at the Eiffel Tower. “I’ve never been to Paris—I never will go there. The magical humans isolated themselves out of fear, and I can’t say they were wrong to do that, but look what it has reduced the dverger to.”

“I’ve never seen it in reality either,” Tyr admitted. “My father doesn’t want me in the Muggle world at all, and I’ve always done as he wishes. Luc meanders about the planet without a care because it’s his calling, and my father knows he can’t deny him that it would…be life-ruining. But he hates it.”

“How did you get him out of jail in Singapore?” Razel asked in an amused tone.

“I had to request a war mage from the ICW extract him,” Tyr said huffily. “Even if I could’ve gone personally, we can’t carry a magical focus outside of our own land without violating a host of racist treaties. To my shame, Hiro Ito retrieved him personally.” He paused. “Then Luc had a month-long affair with him.”

“Luc had an affair with Hiro Ito?” Razel questioned and then laughed. “Seriously?”

“Luc assured me that Hiro Ito, being several thousand years old, was more than mature enough to engage in a sexual affair,” Tyr said wryly. “Though recently he told me that Cyrus was the best sex he’s ever had in his whole life.”

Razel flushed. “I didn’t need to know that about my best friend’s son.”

“Rhys Sharprock,” Tyr said. “I’ve been assured by two different dwarrow that I needn’t be concerned about that friendship as he is monosexual and prefers females exclusively. One of them was Cyrus.”

“Yes,” Razel said. “He had to state it firmly in public several years ago because there were rumors, and a paternal cousin of mine complained to my father about the sordid relationship I was having with a dwarf more than twice my age.” He shook his head and ran his fingers over Tyr’s. “There’s no one but you.”

Tyr laced their fingers together, and dark blue flames flickered against his skin. His own fire was red, so it was curious to see a different color on his skin. He’d been so swept up in the kiss they’d shared that he hadn’t noticed much of anything else beyond the way the whole experience made him feel. He focused on Tyr’s face and found the dwarf staring intently at him.

Waiting, Razel thought and, for a moment, was confused. Then realized that Tyr was waiting on him to make a move. He pulled gently, and Tyr took the invitation easily, sliding into his space and letting go of his hand so he could press their bodies together before seeking a soft, sweet kiss. The heat of another’s body against his own caused a few memories to flash across his mind, and he shuddered.

“Okay?” Tyr questioned.

“Yeah, I just had…a little memory bleed through,” Razel admitted and sank his hands into Tyr’s hair.

“Was it sexy?”

Razel blushed. “Very. I’ve had a few; it’s been weird.”

“How?” Tyr questioned. “Stressful?”

“No, just…outside of my actual experience when it comes to relationships. I really didn’t know what I was missing.”

“And now you do,” Tyr murmured and grinned. “I’m glad they’re good memories.”

“Me, too,” Razel said. “Durin doesn’t appear to have a lot of those.” He clenched one hand into a fist and tugged gently on Tyr’s hair. “But I only want to think about you—so come here and make that happen.”

“Best task I’ve been offered in ages,” Tyr murmured and took his mouth.

The kisses started off soft and sweet. Razel let himself get lost in the heat and weight of Tyr to such a degree that when fire started to burn between them, he barely noticed. He pulled Tyr closer, spread his legs, and urged the dwarf on top of him. Tyr groaned into his mouth and cupped Razel’s hip with one hand as he settled between his thighs.

“Razel,” he murmured and let his weight settle.

“Yeah,” Razel agreed with a low groan as Tyr’s hard cock pressed against his own.

It was a relatively new experience as Razel had never allowed any potential suitor on top of his body. It had seemed like a step too far in the past, but now it was such a welcome thing that his body was heating with an altogether different warmth that he had no physical experience with but remembered fondly.

“Let’s go to bed,” Razel suggested against Tyr’s cheek.

Tyr trembled against him and brushed their mouths together in a soft open-mouthed kiss. “I…yes.”

“If you’re not ready, I understand,” Razel said quickly when Tyr eased off of him and then off the lounger.

“Come,” Tyr murmured and offered his hand.

Razel took the hand he was offered and let himself be led from the room. His bedroom door was open and just across the hall, so he didn’t have to give any sort of direction. He did shut the door as soon as they were inside and activated the runic lock with a brush of his fingers.

“Elspeth comes and goes like she owns the place.”

Tyr laughed and pulled him close. “I’m very familiar with such behavior from my siblings.”

Razel let his hands fall to Tyr’s waist. “I’ve not said it explicitly, and I don’t know why. I’m probably going to get this all wrong. I’m preparing my gesture—so that we can begin a courting period. The moment I set eyes on you, it was like I’d known you forever—since time began. I want to fall in love with you all over again, and it feels like I’ve done it many times. I want…I would very much like to step foot on Arda with you at my side.” He wet his lips. “As my husband.”

Tyr exhaled slowly and cupped Razel’s face with a shaking hand. “Yes, that’s what I want as well. It’s borderline primitive to say this, but I feel like you’re my one.” He pressed an urgent kiss to Razel’s mouth, and Tyr rested his forehead against his. “And you got it exactly right.”

Razel relaxed. “Yeah?”

“Yeah,” Tyr murmured with a laugh. “I need about a month on my own gift—I’ve gathered what I need, but the work is a little labor intensive. I would like to exchange offerings at the same time, so there is no…question as to my intentions.”

“I’ll probably need that much time as well,” Razel said and wet his lips. “Bed?”

“Yes, gods, please,” Tyr said hoarsely.

Razel pulled him toward the large bed he’d never allowed anyone else in, and nothing about it felt strange or uncomfortable. “Thank you for not…asking me if I’m sure.”

“You know your own mind and don’t need a partner that would second guess such a personal choice,” Tyr said and pulled the jade green jumper he was wearing over his head. “I have…some scarring.”

Razel paused in the removal of his own tunic, then tossed the material aside. He put a hand on Tyr’s linen-covered chest just once before withdrawing. “Of course you do. I watched the entire memory, Tyr. That dragon nearly tore you asunder. I take it one of your partners didn’t respond well.”

“He assumed, wrongly, that magic healed everything and that I would be unmarred physically by the experience.” He pulled the long-sleeved shirt over his head and took a deep breath.

Razel knew ignoring the scarring would be the wrong choice, so he touched the largest one with steady fingers. It started at the bottom of Tyr’s sternum and curved under his pectoral muscle before curling around his body. Clearly, the mark of a dragon’s claw as there were two thinner scars running parallel to it. The muscles appeared unaffected by the damage done so many decades before.

“A feral dragon’s claws wouldn’t have been spelled and cleansed regularly,” Razel said. “So these might as well be curse scars.”

“It’s all superficial at this point—I lost my spleen, a portion of my liver, and the appendix I was born with due to human ancestry. But I recovered completely and suffer no pain from the injuries.” Tyr caught Razel’s hand and held it against his heart. “I can glamour them if they are a turn-off.”

“No.” Razel barely refrained from glaring at him. “You needn’t ever do such a thing for me.” He let his free hand fall to Tyr’s belt and unbuckled it.

“Understood,” Tyr said and prodded him toward the bed with gentle hands. “Take the rest off.” He pulled the belt from his trousers as Razel took a step back and loosened the strings holding his own bottoms in place, and the garment slid to the floor. “Are you always beautiful like this, or did you just get lucky this lifetime?”

Razel grinned. “Durin’s well known for his good looks, right?” He slid onto the bed and tossed his socks aside before leaning back on his hands. “Going to give me a show, Master Warhide?”

Tyr shook back his hair and unbuttoned his slacks. “Anything you’d like, my king.”

Razel’s gut tightened because he’d never thought that would be attractive at all coming out of someone’s mouth. He watched intently as Tyr undressed, throwing expensive slacks and dark blue boxers aside with little to no care. The dwarf was stunning, no matter the scarring. There were several more on his left thigh, but Razel could hardly pay attention to that because Tyr was hard—his cock was long, thick, and already wet at the tip.

Words died in his mouth as Tyr came to bed and crawled on top of him. He accepted his lover’s weight with a pleased groan and took a ragged breath against Tyr’s lips.

“Tell me what you want,” Tyr said.

“You inside me,” Razel murmured and braced his feet on the mattress as Tyr moved with a long, slow grind against him. The feel of a hard cock pressed against the crease of his thigh was both new and deliciously familiar at the same time.

Tyr shifted slightly, slid a hand underneath them, and cupped Razel’s arse with a pleased groan. Razel was grateful not to be questioned, once again, regarding his wants. He didn’t need or want to be treated like an untried lad. A soft murmur of Khuzdul against his skin was all the warning he got before thick, slick fingers slid into his arsehole. The stretch was a startling comfort, and he rocked down into it even as Tyr kissed him again.

Razel let his hands leave Tyr’s hair and trail down his back as the other dwarf moved against him, fingers and magic working his hole open. “Gods, you’re good at this.”

Tyr laughed softly against his jaw and murmured another charm in the language of their ancestors. He’d rarely heard anyone cast much of anything in Khuzdul. It was also more erotic than it had any right to be. Razel stretched out underneath Tyr and fisted his hands into the blanket under them as Tyr pulled his fingers free and very slowly pushed his cock inside.

“Fuck,” Razel said and arched up off the bed with a startled groan.

“Darling,” Tyr murmured hoarsely against Razel’s bearded jaw. “I….” He shuddered as he flexed his hips, then Razel’s fire surfaced on his skin and enveloped them both. “Yes, give me everything.”

Razel wrapped his legs around Tyr’s waist as his lover’s dark blue flames started to twist and burn with his own. It was overwhelming—the pleasure of the physical union and the communion of their magic blended together until he lost track of everything but Tyr. He fisted his hand’s in the other dwarf’s hair, which Tyr appeared to utterly adore, and met each movement of his lover’s body with his own.

He’d learned over the years that his prostate needed a lot of direct attention to achieve orgasm, so when Tyr changed the angle of his penetration just so…Razel’s fire darkened around them, and he shuddered against the purposeful stimulation.

“Too much?” Tyr asked.

“No,” Razel answered hoarsely. “More, please.”

Tyr took his hands, pressed against the mattress, and leveraged above him as he started to work his cock into Razel’s body. The air heated around them, and elemental fire spread out over the mattress.

“It’s fireproof,” Razel assured, and Tyr grinned.

He dropped his legs from Tyr’s waist and braced his feet on the bed so he could get some leverage. Razel lifted into every single thrust until their union bordered on violent. It was so damned good that they could’ve ended up in a pile of ashes for all he cared.

Tyr’s startled laughter told Razel that he’d actually said that aloud. “Yeah, but then you’d have to explain to someone that you burned down your own bed getting laid.”

Tyr slowed their pace, let his weight rest on Razel, and sought a kiss. They were both slick with sweat, and the shimmer of flames between them was so pleasurable that Razel wondered how he’d lived without it as long as he had. The slow, fierce grind of Tyr’s cock into his arsehole built up until all rational thought left, and he came with a blinding blur of pleasure, spilling messily on his own stomach.

“That’s it, darling,” Tyr murmured and held him tight as pleasure rolled over him in heady, intense waves. He came between one gasping breath and another, groaning hard against Razel’s neck. “Fuck.”

Razel practically melted into the bed as their fire diminished and flickered away. Tyr pulled free of his body and rolled over onto the mattress beside him.

“Is it always like that?”

Tyr hummed under his breath. “I’ve never been with another elemental. We should ask Thal and Dawl.”

“Are they?”

“Yeah, on and off for decades,” Tyr said in amusement. “Maybe being in the same place for so long will seal the deal for them. I’m sure their mothers would be thrilled.” He rolled to his side. “I should probably go back to my rooms.”

“Do you want to stay?” Razel questioned as Tyr let his chin rest on his shoulder. It felt intimate and sweet to have him close.

“Yes.”

“Then stay,” Razel said and slid from the bed. “It isn’t like anyone’s going to be surprised.”

“There will be talk,” Tyr cautioned.

“Gossiping about each other’s love life is the main hobby of every dverger in my clan,” Razel said. “Come take a shower with me, then we’ll clean up the bed and get some sleep.”

“Deal,” Tyr said easily and scooted out of bed to join him.

 

 

Chapter 9

Tyr paused at the entrance of Cyrus Gildhard’s forge. Visiting another guild hall could be tricky in a clan complex not his own, but the Blacklocks had treated him very well from the start. He knew that Razel’s overt personal interest was the reason, as no matter how welcome he’d been in other banks, none had given him the kind of access he had in Britain without an escort.

“So, you spent the night,” Cyrus said and used his forearm to wipe sweat from his brow. He banked the fire he’d been using to melt a chunk of iron ore.

Tyr knew precious little about working in the forge despite the craft work in his family, so he skirted the edge of the workspace to avoid disturbing any safety spells the dwarf might have in place. He’d always preferred his books to more physical pursuits. Though, his father had never let him slack when it came to physical training. “Does the whole clan know?”

“Oh, yeah,” Cyrus said wryly. “Yawl Stormchaser threw a genuine goddamned fit in the great hall this morning. He’s probably going to end up in the chieftain’s office over it.”

Tyr winced. “Razel was worried that situation would take an embarrassing turn.”

“It was bound to,” Cyrus said. “Yawl’s always been dramatic and…proprietary with Razel, even before they tried a romantic relationship. He guarded their friendship zealously and didn’t like it when Razel sought out the company of others. Yawl hates my father, as a result, because they were fast friends. I think, out of everyone, Adad just really understands Razel. They’re both old souls, so to speak. Razel is more so than most. How can I help you?”

“I need a pair of shears,” Tyr said.

“I don’t have much to choose from since I lean toward other tools to keep in stock, and the soft works guilds tend to do special orders for such things as a rule,” Cyrus said. “I can refer you if there is nothing that will suit.” He walked across the room to a trunk. “I can’t take a private commission right now because I’m making Razel’s quills for the ritual circle work. What do you need them for?”

Tyr went to the counter that was clearly a sales area and waited. “I have to cut dragon skin with them.”

“Oh.” Cyrus shook his head. “I have nothing like that. You….you’re either going to have commission abroad or ask the chieftain.”

Tyr flushed. “I…fuck me.”

“I’d love to, but Razel’s obviously on the road to having your babies, so…no.” Cyrus grinned when Tyr sighed. “I’m very curious about your project, though.”

Tyr pulled the skin from his dimensional store and rolled a bit of it out to show Cyrus. He placed it on the counter, and the other dwarf quickly joined him. “It’s from the dragon I killed. I’ve kept it preserved. I have the claws as well. Everything else has long been sold.”

Cyrus studied it. “I won’t ask what you’re doing with it, but I assume it’s for your gift. If it weren’t for him, I’d suggest Razel, who certainly has the…generational memories to create a tool to treat the material properly, but it’s clearly for him, and I’ve never known him to share his craft with others. It’s not something I’d outright ask of him. So your best bet for a local craftsman is Ragnok Windrider, bar none. You need shears made from magically treated steel, fey steel.”

“And the High Priestess…does that for the chieftain.”

“Whenever he asks,” Cyrus confirmed. “Razel can do it all being feyborn himself. It’s one of the many things that makes him so talented in the forge.” He focused on the skin. “Pity you had to kill him—he was a gorgeous beast.”

“She.”

“Ah, hell.” Cyrus grimaced. “I’m so fucking sorry, Tyr. That must have broken your heart.”

“I did what I could to honor her,” Tyr said. “And I insisted that my brothers go back and rescue her eggs. She had ten tucked away in her nest—all perfect in every way. We found an older female to nurture them, and all of them hatched. Though I couldn’t stand to look at them, so they were eventually sold to other clans. If there’s one in this bank, I’d rather not know.’

Cyrus nodded. “I’ll make it known to the Vault Keeper. If she knows, she might be waiting for an opportunity to invite you down to visit.”

Tyr barely refrained from shuddering at the thought. “I can’t stand to look at her children. I don’t blame myself for it because I had no choice, but I still killed their mother.” He took a deep breath. “Great, now I have to go request a meeting with his father, and frankly, I’m not sure he likes me.”

Cyrus hummed under his breath. “If either of his parents had a problem with you, you’d know it, and honestly, because he values their opinion so much—you’d have already been dismissed as a serious option.” He paused. “They tolerated Yawl, but I think if Razel ever got close to a gesture, that situation would’ve imploded a lot sooner.”

“What was the content of Yawl’s tantrum this morning?” Tyr asked warily.

Cyrus exhaled. “Well, I suppose you have the right to know, but I would ask you a question first. Do you have time to hunt him down and beat him like a criminal? Because you’re going to want to.”

“I can maintain my own temper,” Tyr assured.

“Basically, he’s decided that you’ve used Razel’s seclusion and naivety to seduce him.” Cyrus rolled his eyes. “Like Razel hasn’t overtly pursued you since he set eyes on you. Have you issued a single invitation?”

“Just the first, which was done before the chieftain’s announcement. Even then, I only asked to meet for tea. He said no to tea and offered me dinner instead. So from the start, he’s decided when and how we spend time together.” Tyr took a deep breath. “Did he go so far as to imply that I’m a predator? Because if he did, I’m going to ruin his life.”

Cyrus grinned. “Not in public; he’s a selfish bastard and is also very politically minded. Yawl’s just jealous of you—across the board. You’re everything he isn’t, and Razel looks at you like you’re the whole damn world. He’s never looked at anyone like that. No one else could possibly compete, not even a dwarf that has known Razel for decades.”

Tyr nodded. “If you’d keep my request to yourself?”

“Of course, I’d never ruin such a pleasant surprise for Razel.” He cleared his throat. “Whatever you make with it will be worthy of a king.”

Tyr gathered the dragon skin and stored it. “My thanks.”

* * * *

Razel checked his watch as his door chime went off for the second time. He wasn’t expecting a guest and everyone knew he intended to spend several hours in his forge before a lunch meeting with the conclave members. He opened the door and encountered Tyr. For a brief moment, he was pleased and started to step back to allow him entry, but his magic recoiled inside of him, and he focused on the dwarf in front of him.

“I hope this isn’t a bad time, love,” the dwarf said with Tyr’s smile and Razel’s stomach clenched in horror.

He threw out a hand and pushed the intruder violently across the hall with magic. The guards from the end of the hall shouted as they started running toward him.

“Sir?” Helg Brightriver asked in shock as she stared at the unconscious dwarf on the floor in front of Razel. “Has something happened? Master Warhide is on your approved visitor list. You said he no longer needed an escort.”

“This is not Tyr Warhide,” Razel said tightly. “Bel, find Master Warhammer and Master Blackaxe—I need them both. Helg, take this…person into custody and deliver them to Omis.”

“Your father?” Helg questioned as Bel Silvertongue turned on his heel and left.

“Honestly, Helg, do you think I just used defensive magic in this bank without catching my father’s notice.” His gaze dropped to land on the unconscious dwarf wearing Tyr’s face, and he let his mage sight bloom. “It’s a glamour—sophisticated enchantment. It’s even mimicking Tyr’s magical signature.”

“It has to be a member of our clan or one of the residency guests,” Helg said roughly as she rolled the dwarf over and put magical suppression cuffs on him. “I’m going to apparate them to the healing hall and have them isolated.”

The front doors of his family’s residential space were thrown open, and his father appeared, followed closely by Rhys Sharprock.

“It’s not Tyr,” Razel said shortly when both dwarrow stared at the scene before them in shock. “It’s a multi-layered glamour. Helg’s going to take him to Omis. I need to find Tyr.”

“Master Warhide is in the Judiciary Hall,” Blackaxe said as she joined them. She closed a communication mirror and tucked it away. “Bel briefed me. I just verified with the guild master.” She squinted as she stared at the imposter. “Take him, Helg. We’ll need someone to review the criminal code to determine what crimes this person is guilty of.”

“He’s currently impersonating an officer of the Horde Judiciary System,” Rhys said. “And the son of a clan leader who has political ties and limited immunities within the legal system. Both roles are considered special circumstance individuals within the legal code, and each comes with an immense fine.” He glanced toward Razel. “Did he lay hands on you?”

“He tried to come into my rooms,” Razel said roughly. “I knew pretty much instantly that he wasn’t Tyr.”

“I see nothing that would make me question his identity,” Ragnok admitted. “Even his magical power is being simulated.”

Razel shrugged. “I just knew. Maybe it was his body posture or…his facial expression. He just looked false.” Helg popped away after he spoke, and he took a deep breath, then focused on Fyre. “Send word to Tyr that we need him to meet us in the healing hall and contact the second master of the Judiciary Guild to handle this.”

“Why the second?” Fyre asked in clear confusion.

“Because the guild master is Yawl Stormchaser’s brother. If that wasn’t my arsehole ex, I’ll be very fucking surprised.”

Though he hated to be managed, Razel basically surrendered to the whole thing and let his father take over. After about thirty minutes, his father let him go to the healing halls where Omis would deal with whatever injury he had caused and force the glamour down. Tyr was standing in the waiting area with his brother, Luc, and another dwarrow that was not a Blacklock. Several beads in the dwarf’s hair indicated he was from an ancient line of the Firebeard clan.

Tyr offered a hand as soon as Razel drew close, and he took it. “Master Razel Fireborn, this is Master Fhane Wisemind. He’s here on behalf of the Paris Judiciary Guild.”

‘Well met, Master Wisemind,” Razel said quietly and focused on Tyr. “Have they removed the glamour yet?”

“No, Omis requested a guild member from Paris to come to be part of the process for record keeping. Impersonating an officer of the Judiciary is a severe crime. That he used my face to get access to you adds another layer of criminal behavior,” Tyr explained. “The Regency Accord and dozens of other clan treaties that have been signed over the generations give special status and consideration to the reincarnation of Durin the Deathless.” He squeezed his hand gently as he spoke. “You’re….” He winced and trailed off.

“What Tyr is trying to say, Master Fireborn,” Master Wisemind began stiffly, “is that there is an entire section of legal code dedicated to your protection, and this dwarf, whoever they are, has violated dozens of laws by attempting to gain intimate access to you under false pretenses.”

“Would that apply if he had previous access to my private space?” Razel questioned and focused on Tyr because Wisemind’s gaze was intense and full of judgment.

“You think it’s Yawl?” Tyr questioned. “It makes sense—he apparently threw a fit in public this morning.”

Razel grimaced. “Yes, one of the kitchen staff told a friend that you ordered dinner last night and breakfast this morning in my rooms. I had him reprimanded for it. You can expect a written apology for it, but that’s just gossip, and dwarrow thrive on it.”

“Yes, we do,” Wisemind agreed. “It’s not a crime…unless the person he told turns out to be the same dwarf currently in custody, then it could be the makings of a conspiracy. The fact that Tyr spent the night in your quarters implies he enjoys expanded access to the complex and specifically to the family sector where you are housed.”

“Well, he does,” Razel admitted. “That’s important to know, as well, I suppose.”

“It’ll be investigated,” Tyr said and shared a look with his brother before pulling Razel away from the crowd for some privacy. Luc just nodded and walked away to stand near the back of the room. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” Razel assured. “He didn’t actually get into my rooms. I banished him against the wall, so any injuries in this situation were his to take.”

Tyr took a deep breath. “He’s done a very stupid thing, Razel. I don’t know how you feel about him…as far as the ability to recover your friendship in the future is concerned, but this could lead to his execution as it could be considered an act of sedition against the crown.”

“I’m not crowned.”

“Darling, you must realize that is merely an academic circumstance. Dwarrow all over this world already see you as their king, and while you’re required to accept the crown upon your 100th year, you could do it today. It’s a circumstance that had to be allowed in the Regency Accord. You were born our king.” Tyr cleared his throat, and Razel realized he hadn’t done a very good job of keeping the horror off his face. “I know it’s a lot. Even if his motives are purely personal, he sought to deceive you by taking your lover’s place, at least temporarily. If he’d managed any sort of sexual contact—it would be considered assault or even rape depending on the act, under our laws.”

Razel shuddered. “It would’ve never gotten that far. No matter how good that glamour is, he couldn’t have faked being a fire elemental.”

“True,” Tyr said.

“He’s healed,” Omis announced, and Razel turned to find his aunt standing in front of the door leading to the isolation suite. She stared pointedly. “You broke thirty-six bones.” Omis shook her head when he shrugged, then focused on Fhane Wisemind. “We’re ready for your legal evaluation. After you’re finished, we can wake him. I’ve located the device anchoring the glamour and can remove it easily.” She paused. “It’s going to hurt like a motherfucker, though. If that matters.”

It really didn’t as far as Razel was concerned. He shared a look with his father as they all followed Omis into the room. Tyr made a soft shocked sound at the sight of the imposter.

“He’s projecting your magical signature, Master Warhide,” Omis said. “But he wouldn’t have been able to mask his own if he’d actually cast any magic while wearing the glamour.” She focused on Razel. “How did you know he was an imposter? This is a mastery-level glamour, Razel. He could’ve gained vault access with it. I want to have a really long talk with the enchanter who did it.”

Razel took a deep breath. “If it’s who I think it is—I made the glamour device.” Tyr’s hand clenched in his. “The mastery mark on the bracelet will be Cyrus Gildhard’s.”

“Yes,” Omis agreed. “But I didn’t detect your magic on it.”

“No, you wouldn’t,” Razel said. “I had Adad cleanse it before I gave it to Yawl Stormchaser as a birthday gift about a decade ago. He was traveling a lot and needed to work in public areas where Muggles might see him. I did not include the ability to mimic other’s magical signatures, but that could be added by a person savvy in rune craft.”

“Which he is,” Ragnok muttered. “Not as gifted as Razel, but they studied together for years, and he earned his own mastery in the art with high praise. It’s why he’s so coveted an asset when it comes to tomb management for magical humans.”

“I don’t see…a difference at all,” Luc admitted. “And he’s my brother. If you’d asked me even yesterday, I would have said that no one could get past me with a glamour of any member of my close family.”

“I agree,” Fhane said. “It’s…disconcerting. There isn’t even a glimmer with my mage sight activated.”

Razel frowned and pressed his lips together as Fhane Wisemind and Syd Arbiter, a solicitor from their own clan, took notes and did the tests. More than ten minutes passed before Master Wisemind focused on him.

“Master Fireborn, did this imposter lay hands on you at any point while wearing this glamour?”

“No.”

“Did he gain access to your private residence?”

“No.”

Fhane Wisemind stared for a long moment. “How did you know? There isn’t a single weak point in this glamour to be seen. He would’ve projected the right amount of magical power to you if you have mage sight; he would’ve sounded the same, smelled the same…they are at this moment identical in every single way.”

Razel averted his gaze.

“I realize this is uncomfortable for more than one reason,” Wisemind said. “But I was the only one available to come here immediately from Paris as Theda Storm has been culling legal scholars left and right and putting them under oaths to prevent bias. I was disallowed because of my previous association with Tyr. Thus, I am here, and it is my duty in this situation to advocate for you to the Horde Judiciary, Master Fireborn. This dwarf has committed a crime against you—there could be more than one.”

“I just knew on a profound magical level that it wasn’t Tyr,” Razel said. “I can offer no rational explanation.”

“Tyr?” Fhane asked. “Do you have a rational explanation to offer?”

Tyr glanced only briefly at the imposter and shook his head. “In the end, does it matter how he knew? He could’ve had a response to the glamour device because he made it.”

“True,” Fhane said. “And no, it doesn’t matter how—just that he did and his actions were justified. It’s just a curiosity.” He turned to Omis. “Master Stoneheart, if you’d wake the prisoner?”

Razel leaned back on the wall as Tyr released his hand and drew his wand. He crossed his arms over his chest and just frowned as his father joined him and leaned on the wall beside him. It was a situation outside of their control, and that wasn’t a normal circumstance for his father.

Yawl groaned and hissed in shock when Fhane Wisemind grabbed two fistfuls of his coat and hauled him up into a seated position. He tried to push him off, but Syd Arbiter shoved his wand into his face.

“You can end the glamour, or we can have Master Stoneheart rip it off you,” Fhane said lowly. “We haven’t removed your wand because we can’t reach it—but don’t think that gives you permission to draw your wand in the chieftain’s presence. Am I understood?”

“I understand,” Yawl said roughly. “I need one hand free from the cuffs.”

Fhane stared at him. “If you act against us, I will kill you.”

“I know when I’m outnumbered,” Yawl said coldly, and Razel hated the way he looked, wearing Tyr’s body like it was his own.

Fhane loosened one side of the cuffs, and Yawl wrapped his whole hand around the bracelet on his right wrist. The glamour bled away with no overt show of magic.

“I must say, Master Razel, your enchantment work is nothing short of perfect,” Fhane said, and he pulled the bracelet from Yawl’s arm, which he passed to Omis. “Yawl Stormchaser, you are under arrest for the impersonation of an officer of the Horde Judiciary System, the impersonation of a first-degree relative of a clan leader, and the purposeful breach of security that protects the chieftain’s family residence in the Great Britain clan seat.” He paused. “Other charges are pending.” He put the suppression cuff back into place and activated a series of runes. “Per the Horde code of conduct, you must answer any question asked of you by myself or Master Syd Arbiter as we investigate your overt criminal activity.”

Yawl rolled his eyes. “Razel, are you really going to let him do this to me?”

Razel averted his gaze and exhaled slowly as he shook his head.

“Master Fireborn nearly killed you for outrageous transgressions,” Fhane said evenly. “Financial ruin is of little consequence compared, and I’m sure he couldn’t care less about how much gold you have left in your vault after this conversation.”

“Why did you impersonate Master Tyr Warhide, son of Brol?” Syd Arbiter demanded.

Yawl pressed his lips together and inhaled harshly. “I wanted to prove to Razel that his attraction to him was superficial and shallow. Since I’d heard he’d allowed Warhide to spend the night in his private rooms, I realized that the arsehole had extensive permissions to come and go from the chieftain’s family residence. I configured my glamour to do the job and went to visit.” He shrugged. “It’s not a big deal.”

Razel’s stomach tightened, and he was left feeling disgusted by the dwarf’s overt arrogance and selfishness.

“How did you intend to prove your theory?” Fhane asked neutrally.

“Warhide seduced him easily enough. I was just going to demonstrate how shallow and easy it would be to repeat it.”

“So you intended on having sexual contact with Razel Fireborn while wearing the glamoured appearance of his current lover?” Fhane questioned. “Is that what you’re telling me, Yawl Stormchaser?”

Yawl shrugged. “What difference would it have made? What more could their relationship possibly be at this point but physical?”

“Conspiracy to commit rape is punished no differently than rape itself,” Fhane said harshly. “That’s the fucking difference!”

“Razel doesn’t know him!” Yawl shouted. “Warhide’s no more than a face and a body! I wanted to prove it!”

“Then you were wrong,” Syd Arbiter said. “Because you didn’t fool him for a single moment. He took one look at the perfect glamour you were projecting and realized immediately that you were not who you appeared to be.” He cleared his throat. “We’ll have to have the trial in a neutral clan complex.”

“We’ll take him to New York,” Fhane said shortly. “Master Braigo Craftborn will seat the trial when he’s available to do so. I will prosecute, and you will represent clan Blacklock, Master Arbiter.”

“It is my duty,” Syd Arbiter agreed.

“There’s no need for a fucking trial,” Yawl snapped. “Razel, you need to make this go away!”

“No one is above the law, Yawl, not even me,” Razel said carefully. “I am disgusted to be in the same room with you. I….” He took in a ragged breath, and fire drifted on his skin. “You are a wretched fucking monster. When we were partnered, I barely allowed you to hold my fucking hand, and you think it doesn’t make a difference that you tried to take Tyr’s place in my life?”

Yawl glared.

“With all due respect, Master Fireborn, are you saying that you never had any sort of sexual contact with Yawl Stormchaser?” Fhane questioned.

“Does it matter?” Razel asked quietly.

“It certainly speaks to his motivations regarding what he attempted,” Syd Arbiter said. “I’m sorry, sir, but we really must know.”

“I’ve only taken one dwarf to bed my whole goddamned life, and it wasn’t Yawl fucking Stormchaser,” Razel hissed, and because he couldn’t take another moment of the situation, he started for the door. “I never want to see that piece of shite again as long as I live.”

Tyr stilled the urge to follow and was relieved when Omis Stoneheart backhanded Yawl across the face before leaving.

Yawl huffed in shock and tried to touch his face with his bound hands. He glared at Tyr. “What’s so fucking special about you? What can he possibly see in you?”

Tyr just stared because Yawl didn’t deserve any sort of answer to his questions.

“He loves me!” Yawl shouted.

“No, he doesn’t,” Ragnok said quietly. “He didn’t even trust you enough to tell you that he was Durin reborn. Even your friendship was superficial and shallow, and that couldn’t be more clear as we stand here.”

“That’s your fault! You never let him live his life as he wanted; you never let him want anything or anyone for himself!” Yawl shouted. “All of Razel’s life, you have been manipulating him into doing exactly what you want, and he’ll never truly be king while you live! He’ll be your fucking puppet. He doesn’t want it, and you don’t even care.”

Ragnok turned to Syd Arbiter, who looked a little wild-eyed with building fury. “I solemnly swear on my life and magic that I have never and never would attempt to manipulate or control my son’s life or destiny. His burdens break my heart, but the truth of it is—he’s never just been my son. The moment he was born, he became my king, and I have honored that to the best of my ability since he first drew a breath. So mote it be.”

Yawl Stormchaser’s eyes darkened, and his shoulders slumped. “I don’t want to stand trial.”

“Are you pleading guilty to two counts of impersonation and conspiracy to commit rape?” Syd Arbiter questioned.

“Yes,” Yawl snapped. “Just fine me so I can leave this fucking country.”

“We need you to say it explicitly,” Fhane said, and Tyr’s stomach clenched. “And understand that under the legal code, conspiracy to commit rape is punished no differently than rape or attempted rape.”

Yawl glared at him. “I plead guilty to two counts of impersonation and the conspiracy to commit rape. There, I said it. Now what? Who do I pay the fines to? Does Warhide get all of my assets and the love of my life, too?”

“Wait,” Tyr said quietly when Fhane started to speak. “He doesn’t understand what he just pled guilty to, Fhane.”

“I see it,” Fhane said and turned to Syd Arbiter. “Legally, we owe him nothing. Ignorance of the law excuses no one.”

“Are we not fair of mind and officers of justice?” Arbiter questioned as he shook his head. “The system would not fault us, but it could come back to haunt us on a personal level.”

Fhane focused on Yawl. “Rape, attempted rape, and conspiracy to commit rape are capital offenses in our code, Yawl Stormchaser. You’ve just pled guilty to a death penalty crime.” He held up a hand when Yawl started to speak. “No trial process can save you from this—you’ll be put under oath and forced to explicitly detail every single thought and action regarding Razel Fireborn since you decided you had the right to interfere in his affair with Master Warhide. The only outcome is your death for your obscene desire to subjugate and control your former partner through deception and conspiracy.

“You can be transported to New York for trial, shame your family with the public omission that you set out to rape our king and be executed. Or you can die in this room, and the matter will be sealed and never discussed again,” Fhane said. “This is Horde justice, and there is no escaping it.”

“Do you wish to withdraw your plea, Yawl Stormchaser?” Syd Arbiter questioned.

Tyr took a deep breath as Yawl’s eyes filled with unexpected tears. “Does Razel know this? Does he know I’m going to die for this?”

“Of course he does,” Ragnok said roughly. “As if I’d leave my own son ignorant of the fucking law.” He shook his head and walked to the door. “Master Warhide, it would be a favor to me if you’d observe this situation on my behalf.”

“Of course, sir,” Tyr said and swallowed hard when the chieftain left the room.

Yawl glared at Tyr as the door shut. “This is all your fucking fault. You should’ve never come here!”

“It’s no fault of his that you are morally bankrupt,” Fhane said harshly. “Answer Master Arbiter’s question!”

Yawl lowered his head. “I love him.”

Tyr believed that, but he also thought it was a very toxic sort of love that led only to obsessional behavior that always went abusive and dangerous.

“He’s all I ever wanted,” Yawl said hoarsely. “Why doesn’t he love me back?”

“You can’t make someone love you or force them to live your dreams,” Fhane said shortly.

Yawl shuddered, and his fists clenched. “My family doesn’t deserve to be shamed by a trial. I do not wish to withdraw my plea.”

Syd Arbiter drew his wand and put a piercing curse straight through Yawl’s heart without any sort of hesitation. “Master Warhide, you will be awarded one-third of Yawl Stormchaser’s assets in wergild, and the rest will be given to Master Fireborn.”

Tyr nodded and looked at his brother, who was standing across the room, pale but dry-eyed. “Come, Luc, our business here is done.”

Luc took a deep breath. “Yeah, okay.”

Tyr cupped his brother’s elbow as the left the room and walked across the waiting area. He knew that his brother had never seen anything like what he’d just witnessed.

“Is that how it always goes?” Luc questioned. “Just…so quick?”

“Justice within the code is black and white when a confession is given freely,” Tyr said. “Our system of laws can be complicated, but his crimes were overt and easy to identify.”

“Yeah, Razel must be…really upset.” Luc took a deep breath. “The only one, huh?”

“Please do not speak of that to anyone for any reason ever,” Tyr said firmly. “It’s not fodder for teasing, Luc. I mean it.”

“Of course not,” Luc said. “I’m not that kind of arsehole, little brother.”

“Tyr, wait.”

Tyr turned and found Fhane walking toward them. He took a deep breath and turned to Luc. “We’re supposed to meet the conclave members for a meal, but I’m unsure of what Razel will want. Shortly, you’re going to feel a magical seal form around your knowledge of Yawl Stormchaser’s crimes. It will prevent you from speaking of the details with anyone, who doesn’t already know, without permission from the Horde Judiciary.”

Luc nodded, gave Fhane a nod, and walked away.

“Can we speak privately?” Fhane questioned and glanced around. “You have quarters?”

“I share with my brother,” Tyr said.

“You can use my office, Master Warhide,” Omis said as she came to stand in the entryway of the waiting room and jerked her thumb over her shoulder. “I’ll be helping Syd Arbiter clean up his mess. I’ve notified Yawl Stormchaser’s brother that he can make funeral arrangements.”

“Master Arbiter will speak with the family regarding the crimes that were committed, Master Stoneheart,” Fhane said. “And thank you for your time and attention this morning.”

She hummed under her breath and smiled. “It was a pleasure to have you here, Master Wisemind.”

Tyr swallowed back a laugh and prodded Fhane toward the office space they’d been offered. He cleared his throat as Fhane closed the door.

“Thank you for coming to take care of this,” Tyr said. “I appreciate your professionalism in speaking to Razel.”

Fhane leaned on the desk and took a deep breath. “I’ve missed you.”

Razel looked down at his boot and frowned. “Fhane.”

“I can’t pretend that I’m not still in love with you. I miss you like a limb, Tyr. Don’t…you want what we had, again?”

Tyr took a deep breath. “I still have feelings for you, Fhane. I always will, but there is no future for us. I cannot see any path that brings us back together as anything more than friends. I want a family—children of my own.” Fhane grimaced. “Gods, you can’t even pretend that’s not a problem. How could we ever work?”

“We don’t have to share a home,” Fhane said. “I’m willing to father children for you, Tyr. I just can’t have a hand in raising them.”

“I already told you that…I don’t want that kind of life,” Tyr said quietly. “I want a husband, not someone who warms my bed on occasion and can’t stand his own kids.”

“And you think our future king is the one to give you that?” Fhane questioned. “I hope you aren’t getting overly invested, Tyr. His burdens are immense, and I can’t see him being a true partner to anyone in his lifetime. It’s not anything he can control—what king has ever been capable of such a thing? Any spouse he takes will bear the weight of making and nurturing their family. I’m not finding fault with him, believe that. I’m just worried that you aren’t prepared to be the spouse of a king. What experience do any of us even have with it?”

Tyr found that he wasn’t worried about that part at all. He already felt like he and Razel were a team. He’d found a true partner, and the blossoming love between them felt so sweet and true.

“I was going to send you a letter soon because I wanted you to hear this from me and not through rumors and gossip,” Tyr said quietly. “Razel is going to make a courting gesture, and I’ve already started creating my acceptance gift.” Fhane’s cheeks paled, and his eyes dampened.

“You barely know him,” Fhane said hoarsely. “How can you be…so certain?”

“I feel as if I’ve always known him,” Tyr said. “The moment I set eyes on him, I knew I was going to do everything I possibly could to win his love.” He exhaled slowly when tears spilled down Fhane’s cheeks. “I’m so sorry, Fhane.”

“I don’t know how you got over me when I think about you every single day,” Fhane said and wiped hastily at his cheeks. “I wish I’d never told you the truth.”

“I didn’t get over you,” Razel said. “I just moved on from our relationship because it was the healthiest choice I could make for us both. You can’t possibly want to live a lie your whole life. It’s the exact opposite of your very nature.”

“I’m…broken, inside. I know it,” Fhane murmured and turned his head. “What dwarrow alive hates children the way I do?”

“There are plenty of dwarrow who never have children for one reason or another—either because they are craftborn and avoid relationships in every form out of self-preservation or because of fertility issues that magic can’t fix, or merely because they don’t believe they have the gold to raise children properly. But we have no way of knowing how many others out there just don’t want children at all. I don’t really think you’re unique in this, Fhane, no matter how taboo it feels to you. You’re not broken.”

“It feels like a profound flaw, and it cost me the only dwarf I’ve ever loved,” Fhane said roughly. “Razel Fireborn seems like a good person.”

“He is, and he’ll be an amazing king,” Tyr said. “Our people have been given a boon when it comes to Razel. He’s going to lead us home, Fhane. Please take this next year to put your disappointment regarding our past in a proper place and stop ignoring every single opportunity for love that comes your way. There’s someone out there for you, and having them at your side when we step foot on Arda would be such a good thing for you.”

Fhane cleared his throat. “You should go—that dwarf of yours is probably mourning the death of that arsehole, and he doesn’t deserve to wallow in that kind of emotional trauma. You’re distraction enough for anyone.”

Tyr laughed briefly despite the way his own heart was aching. “I hate that I’ve caused you pain.”

“You never pretended that there was a chance you’d come back to me,” Fhane said. “I put myself in this position, and everyone around me…enabled it because they believed you’d change your mind as well. They wouldn’t have ever thought that if I were honest with them about why you left. I haven’t even told my parents the truth because I’m afraid they’ll be disgusted with me.” He cleared his throat. “And your own family thinks it, too, because you never told them the truth. Most of our clan thinks you fuck around on the regular because we fought and broke up—but Razel’s the first since me, right?”

“Yeah,” Tyr said. “I don’t care what anyone thinks about my sex life. Don’t worry about it.” He reached out and caught Fhane’s arm in a gentle grip and pulled his former partner into a tight hug. “I regret nothing about loving you, and I’m sorry I can’t be the dwarf you need.”

Fhane took a ragged breath against Tyr’s hair, and his fingers curled into fists against his back as he hugged back. “You have nothing to be sorry for. I’m the one…it’s me who couldn’t be what you needed, and your honesty kept our love from going to an ugly place. We’ve seen the evidence of how that could’ve gone today. One day, I’m going to be grateful for your strength.” He released Tyr and took a step back. “Go away, please.”

Tyr left the office and closed the door behind him. At the end of the short hall, Omis Stoneheart lingered. He wondered what the dwarrowdam was thinking and didn’t believe he’d have to be in the dark long. Tyr came to stand beside her. “Thank you for that.”

“I know what a breaking heart looks like,” Omis said. “I’ll make sure he’s squared away before he takes a portkey anywhere.”

“Thank you.” Tyr closed his eyes briefly. “I don’t know how to fix it.”

“Hell, lad, you can’t fix such a thing,” Omis said. “He has to do that work. I’ll refer him to a mind healer. He’s the smartest dwarf in the fucking Horde. He already knows he needs it.” She shook her head. “Go pat Razel. He’s probably a mess over Yawl’s justified death. My nephew has a very tender heart.” She waved a hand. “I can’t fix that shite either.”

“I like you a lot,” Tyr confessed. “I’ll probably even like you if you toss me down a mine shift.”

She scoffed. “I haven’t done that in decades.”

He laughed as she stalked off.

* * * *

Razel changed the picture window until it settled on a view of the family’s private island. He hadn’t been there in a while and didn’t think he would have time over the next year to go despite his parent’s desires. His mother came to stand in the doorway of the library, and he focused on her.

“Tyr’s here. He confirmed that Yawl was executed for his crimes rather than have a public trial.”

Razel swallowed hard and pushed open the window. A warm tropical breeze brushed over his face. “He can come in. I still want to have the conclave meeting and do the basic opening of the ritual circle.”

“I’ll send a note to Cyrus,” Lenore said. “And they’ll be waiting when you’re ready.”

Razel wanted to protest that as he didn’t think anyone should wait around for his attention. “Thank you, Amad.”

Several long moments passed then Tyr came into the library, taking off his jacket. Razel watched him put the jacket on the back of a chair near the desk that took up a lot of floor space in the room. He kneed up onto the lounge and laid down beside Razel in silence.

“Your ex is gorgeous,” Razel murmured. “And I feel like just looking at me hurt his feelings. So, I’m sorry for that.”

Tyr grabbed a pillow and hugged it to his chest. “I can’t say it didn’t. Over the years, I’ve tried really hard to make Fhane understand that I wouldn’t come back. I think, after today, he believes it, and it hurt him a lot to acknowledge that. There’s no way for me to make it better for him without making a profound personal sacrifice that would make me resent the fuck out of him eventually.”

Razel nodded. “What happened with Yawl?”

“He pled guilty to three offenses to avoid trial,” Tyr said. “Master Syd Arbiter handed down the sentence—his job since he was standing in the place of the master of clan Blacklock’s Judiciary Guild. In truth, a trial would’ve probably revealed additional crimes, and he didn’t want to shame his family due to his obsession with you.”

Razel looked out the window. “I…I can’t figure out where I went wrong with him.”

“You didn’t do anything to cause his behavior, Razel. Yawl Stormchaser couldn’t fathom you didn’t want exactly what he wanted. He built up this entire fantasy in his head that had no basis in reality, and there was no shaking him loose from it. Even in the end, he insisted that you were in love with him. He didn’t consider anything he did a genuine crime because what he wanted was the most important factor in every single decision he made. None of that is on you.”

Razel nodded. “I’m upset that he’s dead, but not in a personal way—like in a distant, one of my people did something terrible and got himself executed kind of way. He destroyed our friendship by degrees, so I have nothing left to reflect on with fondness. I won’t miss him, and that makes me feel like I’m a bad person.” He cleared his throat. “Is Fhane going to move on, you think?”

“I think he’s finally accepted that I’m not coming back to him. I’m not sure that equals moving on, but I can’t let myself feel responsible for his feelings. All I would ask of you on the subject of Fhane Wisemind is that you treat him kindly unless he gives you reason not to. I know you will, of course. But that’s literally my only expectation. I won’t ask you to seek his friendship or council. If Fhane doesn’t have a place in the larger conclave, then that is fine as well.”

“Considering the overt intimacy of our magical communion, I think it would be abusive to include him as a participant in the secondary conclave. Every single dwarf in our brotherhood will know exactly how we feel about each other after that ritual is done.”

Tyr nodded. “Ritual magic is very intimate. He won’t be insulted not to be included. Did you still want to have a meal with the conclave?”

“Yes, I want to seal the circle as well. Cyrus finished my first quill.”

“Okay,” Tyr agreed.

“But first,” Razel said. “Come here and kiss me.”

Tyr grinned and tossed aside the pillow in favor of pulling Razel into his arms. “With pleasure.”

 

 

Chapter 10

Tyr pulled the front door shut on Razel’s quarters, hand lingering on the door handle just briefly before he released it. It had been a very difficult day, and they still had a meal to get through with the conclave. He didn’t know what they’d heard, and the judiciary seals had landed on them heavily, which had certainly ruined the mood. Razel had withdrew a bit, but not in a way that Tyr found offensive. It was clear that he was grieving in a very personal way despite what he’d said. Maybe, Razel didn’t even realize how deep the betrayal had cut and maybe wouldn’t for weeks.

“Master Warhide, the chieftain would like to speak with you.”

Tyr looked and found Helg Brightgem standing a few feet from him. “His mood?”

Helg shrugged. “No longer outright furious. Things could’ve been very different. We just didn’t expect Master Fireborn’s own magic to be used against our security. We’ve investigated the glamour device, and despite the cleansing done on the device after creation, the wards in the family sector recognized it as his work.”

“It’s a corner case,” Tyr said. “And not something likely to be repeated in the same manner. I’d have said that precious few dwarrow alive would be stupid enough to impersonate an officer of the Judiciary—it’s complete fiscal ruin to do so as the fines impact both present financial concerns and the ability to earn gold in the future.”

Helg nodded. “The chieftain is in his private residence. I’ll escort you to avoid any issues with the warding. We’re updating and evaluating, of course.”

“Of course,” Tyr said.

An entrance appeared as they walked, and Helg led him down the hall that was presented. There were more guards in the area than he’d seen since his arrival. He figured the entire security force had to be on edge by the intrusion that had made it all the way to Razel, who was housed in the very back of the chieftain’s family space. He knew that the responsibility of keeping their king safe was a daunting task.

They reached a set of wide double doors, and she brushed her fingers over a series of runes. The door opened, and Rhys Sharprock gave Helg a nod and motioned him inside.

“Stress is high. Lenore…is very upset,” Rhys reported. “We’re fortunate that Yawl’s intentions were what they were, and I know that’s awful to say.”

“It highlights how easily an assassin could’ve gotten to him,” Tyr said. “I understand. Do you have the glamour?”

“The chieftain has it—it’ll be deconstructed for research purposes so we can figure out what the wards recognized of Razel in the runic construction. Cyrus’ magic lingered on it because of the forge work, but he doesn’t have unfettered access to the chieftain’s family sector of the complex.” He rubbed the back of his neck in clear frustration. “Drink?”

“No, I don’t consume anything that would intoxicate me as a rule,” Tyr said easily and looked over as Ragnok entered the formal receiving room he’d been taken to. “Sir.”

“I’ll take a whole damn glass of dragonfire whiskey,” Ragnok said roughly, and Rhys nodded. He rubbed his face and sat down in a chair. “Sit, Master Warhide.”

“Please call me Tyr, sir,” he said.

Ragnok nodded. “Chances of you using my given name?”

“In the negative, sir,” Tyr admitted. “At least, currently.” He smiled when the older dwarf laughed. “How can I be of assistance?”

“I’ve investigated the glamour enough to know that there is nothing you could’ve done to prevent his use of your likeness and magical signature.” Ragnok accepted the glass Rhys offered. “He didn’t use any biological materials to accomplish it.”

“I have runes that prevent the harvesting of useful biological materials from my body,” Tyr explained. “It’s a judiciary requirement since I have access to very sensitive materials in the Horde archives.” Ragnok nodded. “I hate that he used my face, and I’m glad there is no trauma attached to that part because it could’ve…ruined…us.” He cleared his throat.

“Yes, it could’ve, and maybe that was a secondary goal,” Ragnok said roughly. “My son has always been reserved physically, and only recently did I come to realize why and to what degree. I feel like an idiot for it.”

“He’s a very private individual,” Tyr said. “Maybe that’s the product of Durin’s experiences throughout the years. A king is often subject to an unreasonable amount of scrutiny.”

“His spouse would suffer a similar circumstance,” Rhys said.

“I see no suffering to be had in any part of a relationship with Razel,” Tyr said and shrugged when both dwarrow sent him amused looks. “I mean it.”

“Oh, we know,” Ragnok said wryly. “Cyrus mentioned, in passing, that you had a need of me in the forge.”

Tyr nodded. “The events of the day sort of pushed it completely out of my mind. I need a pair of fey steel shears. I’m told that you’re the only blacksmith locally that could provide me with that kind of instrument.”

“The project would be months in the making,” Ragnok cautioned. “I don’t have enough treated steel, and even smelting the steel for Lenore to purify would take weeks due to human containments in the ore.”

Tyr winced and shook his head. “Then I’ll have to go abroad to see if I can find a pair already made. I can use my athame for part of the project, but I want the shears for the precision work.”

“Just shears?” Ragnok questioned. “I take it you’re working with a material that normal shears wouldn’t cut. If you’re using the athame you carry—that’s fey steel, correct?”

“Yes, it’s a family heirloom.” Tyr removed the ritual knife from his storage and offered it to the chieftain.

Ragnok set aside his drink and took the ritual knife with a thoughtful hum. “Lovely work, but I’d expect nothing less from Durin. It’s several thousand years old. Has Razel seen this?”

“Yes, the first time we met privately, in fact,” Tyr said. “I recognized that he used Durin’s maker mark on his bracelet. I knew the mark on sight because of the athame, which I inherited the day I killed a dragon.”

Ragnok nodded as he studied the knife. “Your father showed me an extended memory of that event—far beyond what was shown during the Judiciary hearing regarding the loss of a nesting dragon. You were lucky to survive it.”

“Yes, sir,” Tyr agreed. “I did all that I could to honor her after the killing.”

“No one has ever said otherwise within my hearing,” Ragnok said by way of agreement. “That kind of trauma could mark a dwarf for life.”

Tyr flushed. “I have scars if that’s your meaning. Razel wasn’t put off by them….though I’m not sure how I feel about exposing them in ritual circumstances. It’s not something I’ve ever done.”

Ragnok focused on him, eyes widening with shock. “No, lad, that’s not what I meant at all. I believe most would be surprised if you didn’t have scars, considering the fact that you were mauled by a feral dragon. Their claw wounds are more cursed than not. And my son is not so shallow as to care about such a thing, as you’ve certainly discovered.” He frowned. “But, you’ve had it happen.”

“Yes, both in an intimate circumstance and it just…a normal situation where I was required to partially undress due to a mess magic couldn’t clean up. I was young for both instances—barely fifty for the first and the other shortly after my fiftieth-fifth birthday. Some people have expectations regarding my physical appearance that can’t be met due to the injuries I suffered that day.” He nodded when Ragnok indicated to Rhys with the knife.

Rhys Sharprock took the knife. “If you’re using shears, then it stands to reason you might need a needle.” He raised an eyebrow.

“I have a set of needles, two of which are fey steel,” Tyr admitted. “I inherited them from my maternal grandmother, who was a gifted sewist and was known for her fine needlework. That’s how she met her husband, who was a scribe and bookmaker by trade. My personal journal is one of the last projects they did together before he passed. We lost her a year later; they were together for 326 years.”

“It’s a lovely legacy,” Rhys said and offered the knife, hilt first.

Tyr took it and stored it with a little flick. “Yes, each of their grandchildren was given a journal made by their own hands upon their majority. I took up leather work and various other crafts associated to honor their memories. It’s helped with accepting their loss.” He hesitated briefly, then pulled the dragon skin from his dimensional store. “This is the skin of Persefoni—the dragon mother I was forced to kill.”

Rhys’ mouth dropped open briefly, and his teeth snapped together audibly as he huffed. Tyr wasn’t surprised when Ragnok held out a hand for it. He gave it to the chieftain silently.

“Lovely,” Ragnok murmured and rolled out some of the skin with steady hands onto the stone coffee table between them. “You put the knife through the top of her skull.”

“Yes, I was able to render a near-perfect skin as a result. Because she was feral, she had no spells of any sort on her hide for harvesting shed skin. It’s the purest hide to be harvested in probably a hundred years as a result. It’s known no magic but hers and mine.”

“Easily,” Ragnok agreed. “Maybe as much as 500 years, considering how the humans managed dragons in the past and how they do it now is not much better. Most of the dragon skin I’ve seen has come from their preserves, and the methods of killing weren’t…honorable. The skin is magically tainted, and the humans either don’t recognize it or don’t care. Even the shed skin they sell today is often forced off the dragon’s bodies based on market demand rather than what serves the dragon best.”

Tyr hadn’t considered that. His stomach clenched. Hadn’t felt anything like that from the skin or from the dragon’s body during the rendering, but he’d done it as a very young dwarf and had only recently handled the skin again. “Is the skin tainted?”

“No, not at all,” Ragnok murmured. “She accepted defeat at your hands.” He ran a hand over the hide. “And died well as far as her instincts were concerned. A feral dragon wouldn’t have resented the circumstances of such a death as she was doing what nature demanded from her, and so were you. It is a covenant of sorts, Tyr, between parent and child.” He looked toward the door. “Ah, wife, can you not rest?”

Lenore made a face. “I don’t wish to nap like a child who had an upset, Ragnok.” She said sourly and walked fully into the room. She held a piece of rolled leather out to Tyr. “I took little to nothing when I left Rome to marry Ragnok. A few trinkets from my parents, my clothes, and this.”

Tyr hesitated long enough to embarrass himself before he accepted what she offered. He untied it and carefully opened the tool roll revealing a full leather working kit—twelve pieces in total, including a shining set of shears. “I…. It’s a beautiful set.”

“A courting gift to my paternal grandfather from my grandmother, who was one of the most gifted blacksmiths of her generation. I took it when I left Rome because it was always meant to be mine. Several of my relatives felt I should be denied it because I had no talent for leather working. Two different cousins have sued me over it in the last hundred years. The entire set is fey steel.” She glanced at it only briefly, then smiled. “And now it’s yours, Master Warhide.”

“I….”

Her gaze narrowed.

“I am honored, High Priestess,” he said quickly. “Truly. I will take the best possible care of it.”

She hummed thoughtfully and turned to leave. “I’m sure Razel will be very pleased with whatever you make for his gift. The materials you offer to the project are lovely and appropriate to his worth and station.”

Tyr rolled the tool kit closed and tied it as he avoided looking at Ragnok as the High Priestess left. “I don’t…want to talk about the actual project. It feels like something he should know before you, in case I’ve made the wrong choice.”

Ragnok offered him the dragon skin with a smile, which he took and stored. “You’ve got great instincts, Tyr. It took me a decade to recognize that particular look on her face and what it would mean if I argued with her.”

“I know…a ‘don’t fuck with me’ look when I see one,” Tyr muttered. “I took a whole course on it when I was studying for my international mastery—Advocacy, Ethics, and Legal Discourse in the Arena as it Pertains to Vehement Disagreements.”

Rhys laughed. “The only course where forgetting your sword at home will be considered a breach of conduct.” He sat forward a bit, grave-faced. “We have a question—it’s personal, intrusive, and utterly out of bounds. But considering the events of the day, we feel we have no choice.”

“About Fhane Wisemind,” Tyr surmised.

“Yes,” Rhys said. “I hope you understand.”

“I do,” Tyr admitted. “And so would he, considering the intensity of the relationship I had with him and the clan-wide belief that we would marry. I admit that I thought the same at one time. We were amazing together and worked well as a team, both intellectually and magically. I wanted for nothing during the course of our relationship until I found out…something that made a future with him impossible.” He paused at the questioning look that crossed Ragnok’s face. “It’s a personal matter to him that is not unethical or illegal, but many would judge him harshly for it. I’ve only ever told Razel the whole of it, and that’s because I didn’t want there to be any confusion regarding how permanently over I considered that relationship to be.”

“Is he dangerous to my son?” Ragnok asked bluntly.

“I say, with no doubts, that Fhane Wisemind would die in defense of his king,” Razel said evenly. “He is not only brilliant but loyal and steadfast in his dedication to justice.”

“You still love Fhane,” Rhys said. “Does Razel know that, as well?”

“I’ve been honest with him,” Tyr assured. “And he’s not uncomfortable with the situation at all as far as I can tell. I do love Fhane, but the tone has changed in the years since our separation. Because I know I could never marry or build a family with him…I had to let go. I did so as quickly as I could to avoid torturing us both. He clung for a while, hoping I’d change my mind. I believe he’s realized, finally, that I won’t.”

“He was professional today,” Rhys said. “It was a relief because I admit to being concerned when your father told me that they were sending him via emergency portkey. I understand why he was available and the quickest person to get here to manage the situation.”

“Fhane is second in the Judiciary Guild for Paris,” Tyr said. “And no one there would’ve sent him here if they’d thought for a moment he’d a problem. My father appears easygoing, but he doesn’t allow the Firebeards to be a source of problems for any of the other clans. Those who have failed to meet his expectations in the past paid heavily for it.”

He looked down at the tool kit he still held and rolled it gently in his hands until he could study the maker mark, then smiled.

“What?” Rhys asked curiously.

“I have several legal texts that bear this maker mark. Each is a work of art and was given as gifts—limited editions. I received the first from my parents when I told them I wanted to pursue law professionally. The first in generations in my family to want such a thing. Until I picked up my grandparent’s craft, I didn’t believe I had any sort of physical craft to offer. It was a relief, but perhaps it was more a product of allowing myself to relax once I’d taken all the masteries I felt I could in law. I felt heavily pushed to pursue the international law mastery.”

“Why?” Rhys questioned.

“I’ve never had much of an explanation beyond an instinctual push, telling me I need it. But, it is the only mastery available to our kind that gives me legal standing in the World Court of Magic, and currently, only six dverger have one that is recognized by both the World Court and the ICW. We have another in training, but she’s five years away since the mastery requires Muggle law in at least two countries as well.” Tyr checked his watch. “If I may be excused, I told Razel I would arrange the meal for the conclave.”

“Make room for his sister,” Ragnok said wryly. “He’s skipped tea with her repeatedly through no fault of his own, and she’s decided to attend his evening meal no matter where it takes place or who else is invited.”

Tyr smiled. “Well, of course. It should be interesting seeing how the conclave members react to her.”

* * * *

Razel stared pointedly at his sister as he entered the conclave workspace. He’d found out through security that she’d decided to attend his dinner whether he liked it or not. She was already tucked at the table with a glass of wine in hand, giving Davor Beastspeaker her most beguiling smile. He shook his head and kissed the top of her head before sitting.

“You can stay for the meal but not the induction ritual.”

She pursed her lips.

“We’re going to take off all of our clothes for cleansing,” Razel said and grinned when she made a face. “So if you intend to keep your promise to yourself to never see me naked again, you’ll make yourself scarce.”

“Who walks around outside the bathroom naked?” Elspeth demanded huffily and waved her free hand. “My brother, that’s who!”

He accepted the wine that Tyr poured him as the others laughed. “How’s your day been?”

“Oh, I wanted to attend the thing, but Amad was so upset that I wasn’t allowed,” Elspeth said. “And Fyre received a courting gesture that she immediately rejected due to the fact that she heard the dwarrowdam in question is a lousy shag. It’s an ugly situation because her father was pleased with the gesture and said that Fyre’s practically an old maid in his estimation and shouldn’t be so picky.”

“Some people can be taught,” Therin interjected in amusement. “But I wouldn’t accept a gesture from a lousy shag either. Mostly because it’s honestly a selfish and lazy matter. If you can’t be bothered to satisfy your partners, then…you don’t deserve partners.”

Razel just shared a look with Tyr as the others agreed with Therin’s assessment.

“That’s exactly what Fyre said,” Elspeth said and wiggled excitedly in her chair as she lifted her cloche and was rewarded with a plate full of rice and chicken. “This looks great. Who ordered?”

“I did,” Tyr confessed. “I put in a special request because I figured we deserved something comforting after the day. I think…everyone’s eating it, so I hope no one’s put out. Arroz Con Pollo—it’s Spanish. I had it last year and loved it. There’s hot chocolate and churros for dessert. The chef’s choice in that case.”

Razel lifted his own cloche, and shortly a stack of them was taken from the table. “I’ve never had this.”

Tyr grinned at him. “Would you even really remember?”

“Eh, probably not,” Razel admitted. “But it doesn’t sound familiar at all. The kitchens favor British and French cuisine as a rule.”

“I sent them a cookbook I picked up in Korea last year,” Luc said. “And offered to send off for some others. I have a few food-minded friends that have really opened my horizons to different cultural options when it comes to food. Honestly, we should go all in on that front if we’re going to be shot of this world sooner rather than later, then we should take the best part with us—and that’s food.”

Tyr laughed. “I wouldn’t say it’s the best part, but the food is definitely in the top ten.”

“I think music,” Elspeth decided. “And books…we should take all the books—everything ever printed in our world and the Muggle one. We could have a central library for the whole Horde.”

“Should we?” Razel questioned. “Won’t it remind us of…the ugly we’re leaving behind?”

“Ah, well certainly, but also the beautiful,” she said. “And we have thousands of years of history here that shouldn’t be forgotten. Arda is our home, but Earth has been our sanctuary for generations. It’s worthy of remembrance.”

Razel considered that and nodded. “Very well, little sister, consider that project yours.”

“Really?” She started to get up, but he put a hand on her arm with a laugh.

“Eat first—conquer the literary world tomorrow. You’ll want to organize yourself and start contacting the other clans to build a team…one that reflects us all.” He glanced around the table as he spoke. “That matters.”

She nodded and picked up her fork. “I see. I’ll talk with Mya about it. She’s going to arrive tomorrow to begin her apprenticeship with Amad. She’ll have better…connections across the clans. I think I’ll just take dwarrowdams…it’ll be representative and a mirror of sorts of your conclave. That’s good, right?”

Razel considered that and focused on Tyr, who rocked his head back and forth a little as he appeared to consider it.

“You’ll want to cross disciplines as much as possible because you really don’t want every single book ever created—some texts have no value at all, and you wouldn’t know without an expert in that field. At least one dwarrowdam from each clan would be representative, but you need not limit yourself to just seven members. Build a consortium; it’ll be a project many would rally around,” Tyr said. “It will also create excitement for the exodus and give the clans something they can do to help that process as a whole. Other archival projects will emerge as time goes on.”

She nodded. “It sounds…big.” Elspeth took a deep breath. “But also inspiring, so I think that’s the deciding factor.”

“Your parents will be cautious regarding your contacts with the Longbeards,” Thal Airwalker said. “I can contact my mother, and she can put together a list of dverger that she trusts regardless of gender expression.”

“Thank you, Master Airwalker; that would be a relief because it’s important to include them and to make it clear that our family doesn’t blame the whole clan for the actions of a few,” Elspeth said and turned to Razel. “Right?”

“Right,” Razel agreed, though it caused a distinct ache in his magic. “Don’t let my bitterness taint you, Elspeth. I’ll carry it all of my life because of things I don’t remember but feel deeply.”

Elspeth leaned toward him and patted his cheek. “You’re going to spend so much time with a mind healer.” And shook her head like she pitied him.

He huffed when everyone else started laughing. Even Tyr laughed, and he figured that at least he should be on his side.

After an hour, he sent Elspeth and Luc on their way, and neither seemed all that fussed about being dismissed. Razel took off his boots and socks, which he set on the bench, and went to the work table where Cyrus had left his quill wrapped in a leather sheath. He untied the sheath and pulled it out. The quill glowed brightly for several seconds as he pushed magic into it. Once it accepted his magic, he put it in his dimensional store and walked across the space. There were cisterns embedded on the floor on either side of the ritual floor next to the wall. One for each of them, which was important for the work they were going the work they would do.

“If you would choose a cistern and claim the wards for your specific use going forward,” Razel said.

Razel picked his own, the last on the right in a corner. Tyr chose the one next to his without discussion, and the others quietly went about their business. The wards on the cistern activated and adjusted to his magical signature with a brush of fingers along the runic array carved into the wall. Cleansing magic swirled around him, and the air dampened as he undressed and tucked his clothes into the cabinet embedded into the stone wall and withdrew his ritual robe from his dimensional store. He’d only ever shown it to his immediate family, but it was the only one he felt he could use for the ritual work ahead of him.

“Is that mithril?” Tyr asked incredulously.

Razel huffed because he figured none of the others would’ve asked. “Yes.” He shot his lover a look, who had most of his robe closed but was staring at him in shock. “It’s from the vault.”

Tyr reached out and plucked gently at the sleeve. “It’s from Arda.”

“Yes,” Razel admitted. “I think Durin wore it when he petitioned Mahal for safe passage to a new world.” He stepped out of the cistern and found the others standing just outside the area he’d already marked for the circle on the ritual platform. “Thorin Oakenshield, King Under the Mountain, made it in the last decade of his life—it was the only thing he worked on in the forge during that time, and upon his death, he left it to the next incarnation of Durin.”

“His nephew took the throne in his place. Why? Did he die without children?”

“No, Oakenshield had five children. A rare number amongst our kind at the time since their magic hadn’t advanced so far to allow for ritual conception or even fertility potions. His Consort, a fey of some sort, nourished their children in a garden.” He paused. “Or maybe that was a metaphor. I’m not sure. At any rate, all five children were female, and the throne of Erebor was passed down through the male line exclusively.”

“Is he your ancestor?” Therin questioned.

“Not directly. There are no records of what happened to his children after the exodus to Earth. My mother’s line descends directly from a dwarf named Gimli, Lord of the Glittering Caves. He mated with a fey as well, a High Elf specifically. They had two children. In the end, only Gimli’s children came to Earth with Durin during the retreat. I don’t know why—perhaps the rest were already dead because of the war with humans. I think Oakenshield’s children went elsewhere with their other parent’s kind. The records don’t speak of his species, as if the ones that recorded the birth records didn’t want anyone to know they were half-dverger.”

Razel used his magic to find the center of the circle and remained still until his core settled. The dormant power his father had left behind in the circle woke, making the entire platform glow with pure magical energy. Once it evened out and everything felt just as it should be, he knelt and retrieved his quill and carved the rune that represented them.

“I have chosen ᚱ-raidō as it represents our journey as a people across dimensional space—it marked our exodus from Arda and will carve our path home.” The rune expanded with magic as he finished it and doubled again in size until it filled the very center of the circle. “Our return has been determined by Fate and blessed by Mahal,” Razel murmured as he stood and watched the rune sparkle with magic. “Join me now in the rites as we create the most sacred of our magical endeavors—the conclave. Fire first.”

Razel’s fire drifted off his body and filled the entire ritual circle, carving out the exact space that was theirs to practice ritual in.

He felt Tyr step foot into the circle. “I, Tyr Warhide, son of Brol, step into this ritual circle of my own free will and bind myself to the laws of the sacred conclave under the aegis of Razel Fireborn, son of Ragnok.” The flames flicking over his feet heated briefly.

“Now water,” he murmured.

“I, Kal Ironwill, son of Braigo, step into this ritual circle of my own free will and bind myself to the laws of the sacred conclave under the aegis of Razel Fireborn, son of Ragnok.”

“I, Davor Beastspeaker, son of Alea, step into this ritual circle of my own free will and bind myself to the laws of the sacred conclave under the aegis of Razel Fireborn, son of Ragnok.”

“Now earth,” Razel said.

“I, Cyrus Gildhard, son of Rhys, step into this ritual circle of my own free will and bind myself to the laws of the sacred conclave under the aegis of Razel Fireborn, son of Ragnok.”

“Now air.”

“I, Thal Airwalker, son of Talon, step into this ritual circle of my own free will and bind myself to the laws of the sacred conclave under the aegis of Razel Fireborn, son of Ragnok.”

“I, Dawl Windspeaker, son of Nyght, step into this ritual circle of my own free will and bind myself to the laws of the sacred conclave under the aegis of Razel Fireborn, son of Ragnok.”

“Now aether,” Razel said and turned to focus on Therin.

“I, Therin Augur, son of Mim, step into this ritual circle of my own free will and bind myself to the laws of the sacred conclave under the aegis of Razel Fireborn, son of Ragnok.”

His fire touched and tested each dwarf that entered his circle, and Razel found truth in the purpose of each. Each vow had felt like a promise and a homage to their singular endeavor.

“Mahal, father of our people, bless us and our ritual craft from this day forward as we seek only the best possible future for our kind. So mote it be,” Razel said, and all of the elements stirred around him—wind, fire, air, earth, water, and aether until he felt as if not a single cell of his body was left untouched by them.

When the circle went quiet, he exhaled slowly.

“Hell, lad, you pack a hell of a punch,” Kal Ironwill said wryly.

Razel shot him a grin. “Thanks.” He focused on each member in turn. “Anyone hurt? Burned?” No one spoke. “Singed? Desperately wishing for protective magical pants?”

Cyrus huffed, then almost tumbled out of the now still circle as he started to laugh.

“What?” Tyr questioned, glancing between them.

“The first time I drew a personal circle and performed a ritual, my fire burned off every single hair on my entire body,” Razel said wryly. “Only by the grace of Omis was I saved the horror of walking around bald for weeks.”

“Everywhere?” Dawl questioned.

Everywhere,” Razel assured.

Thal Airwalker stepped out of the circle stroking his beard. “That was information I could’ve used an hour ago.”

“Relax, love, your face looks fine,” Dawl said and shook his head. “Your over-trimmed beard included.”

“At least I don’t look like an unkempt camel,” Thal muttered, and Dawl just grinned.

Razel watched as each stepped out of the circle as the magic of the ritual space dismissed them. “Thank you for your time this evening. Tomorrow we’ll start preparing for the first ritual. I will be doing a final evaluation on my core to determine which element I will seek in ritual over the next week. I believe it will be aether.”

“Not to be intrusive,” Therin said as he gathered his clothes from the cabinet over his cistern. “But the very best way to seal this circle and perform the first cleansing would be for you to come.” He quirked an eyebrow when Tyr laughed. “Exactly where you are. But you know that, considering your education.” He grinned when Razel merely raised an eyebrow.

Razel shared a look with Tyr, who just nodded his agreement. “Then lock the door behind you. I’d hate for my sister to come back and see that because she’s never going to learn to knock at this rate.”

Tyr stayed in his place in the circle until the door shut and swelled briefly with locking and privacy charms. Razel held out a hand when Tyr walked across the ritual space and took it. “Have you ever done ritual work in a group?”

“Yes,” Razel said and pulled slowly on the first tie of Tyr’s robe. “This isn’t the first time that Cyrus has been part of a ritual endeavor with me. It made picking him the easiest choice of all, and I did it months ago. I’ve done advanced ritual work in the bank for decades—ritual warding and security mostly.”

“Is that why the cisterns are warded for privacy?” Tyr questioned.

“My mother did that ward work and the cistern creation. Her personal craft is stone masonry. The cisterns are as they are because we had no intention of revealing that I was Durin reincarnated until…shortly before it was required per the accord.” He shrugged when Tyr winced. “It’s fine. I didn’t think I’d be able to hide it even as long as I did.” He pulled another tie loose, and his lover shifted closer.

“I’ve led rituals with my father and various other dwarrow in circles of three, but never a full conclave, so I hope it didn’t show.”

“Not at all,” Tyr murmured. “Your ritual craft is beautiful, and while I’m certainly biased, I’ve rarely felt so safe and cared for a ritual circle in my life. Not even my father’s magical space felt that way in the past.” He reached out and carefully unhooked the clasp on Razel’s shoulder that held the mithril ritual robe in place.

The glittering material slid away, and the robe fell open, so Razel shrugged out of it and let it drop to the floor.

Tyr huffed a little. “That’s several million galleons of mithril on the floor.”

Razel just grinned and used his foot to brush the material away from the seal still shining under their feet. “It’s indestructible.” He opened the last of the ties on Tyr’s robe and wet his lips. “You didn’t think I put the privacy spells on the cistern for you, right? To hide your scars.”

Tyr flushed. “I…probably need to talk to a mind healer about that shit.”

“I want to believe that Fhane didn’t cause this in you,” Razel said quietly as Tyr discarded his robe. “And it was that first, ridiculous lad who didn’t understand the world or magic at all.”

“It was, yes. Fhane was so furiously offended the first time he realized I was glamouring the scars for his benefit that he kicked me out of his flat,” Tyr admitted and grinned when Razel laughed. “I guess the experience was formative, and I’ve never dealt with it. I learned an entire class of glamours just to hide them when I was with my first lover because he was so disgusted. Though they were pretty fresh and angry at the time.”

“You know that’s no excuse,” Razel murmured. “Come here,” he urged and sank to his knees, pulling Tyr with him.

Tyr laced his fingers through Razel’s hair and kissed him with a soft brushing of lips. “I was going to suggest some comfort charms, but this ritual floor is…starting to feel like a bed.”

“The charm work in the platform is responding to my wishes—the first thing I ever learned in ritual magic was to make sure every single altar and platform I built was charmed for comfort because chances are I’m going to eventually fuck on it.”

Tyr grinned and took a deep breath as Razel wrapped a hand around his cock. “Accurate and very forward thinking.” He let his forehead rest against Razel’s and took a deep breath.

Razel slid his hand down the length of Tyr’s cock and brushed his thumb over the wet head. “How do you want to do this?”

“Whatever we do will be perfect,” Tyr confessed, and his cheeks darkened with a blush. “Normally, I’d suggest a communion spell, but we’ve achieved that state easily without even trying. Even our first kiss was a magical sharing of sorts. I’ve never known anything like that before.” He paused. “That I remember.”

“Lay down on your back,” Razel murmured and flushed a little when Tyr grinned. He slid astride the other dwarf’s hips the moment he could and braced himself on Tyr’s chest. “Comfortable?”

“I think this damn thing gave me a magic pillow,” Tyr muttered and rubbed Razel’s thighs. “You can fuck me if you want.”

“And if I never want?” Razel questioned, stomach tightening a little at the thought. “Because I’m not…sure that I do. I’m willing to try it, but it’s not….”

Tyr sat up and cupped his hips. “Hey, relax, it’ll be fine.” He kissed Razel gently. “I’d never want you to do something that you don’t want or find uncomfortable.”

“I’ve just never had any sort of fantasy or thoughts about sex that way,” Razel admitted with a shrug of his shoulders.

“What do you think about?” Tyr asked as he ran his fingers up the crack of Razel’s arse.

Razel shuddered as Tyr’s murmured a spell and slick fingers pressed against his hole. “I usually plug when I self-pleasure.” He lifted up and wrapped both arms around Tyr’s shoulders for balance.

“Good?” Tyr questioned as he pressed two fingers into Razel’s arsehole and a flush of magic made Razel shudder. The prep charm was so well done that it felt like his body was opening naturally due to arousal.

“I’m going create a runic array for prep,” Razel said as he moved on Tyr’s fingers. “You’re going to carve it in my body—so every single time I activate them, it feels just like this.”

Tyr groaned against Razel’s throat as fire started to burn between them. “Come on, darling, take what you want.” He pulled his fingers free and laid back on the stone floor.

Razel shuddered as Tyr cupped his hips, adjusted their position just enough, and filled him. Feet braced on the floor, Tyr started to roll his hips upward to meet his own movements, and Razel let his fire go. Their flames swished around, merged, and filled the ritual space as their magic merged. Magical communion was intimate and not done casually, so Tyr was the only dwarf he’d ever shared his magic with.

The pleasure was intense—sexual and magical at the same time in a way he couldn’t separate. Razel kept moving, letting Tyr guide his movements so that he could get exactly what he wanted.

“You’re beautiful,” Tyr said and tightened his grip on one hip even as he let another trail down the center of Razel’s chest over the muscles of his stomach. “Gods, I never want to know another day without you.” Razel shuddered as Tyr wrapped a hand around his cock and started to stroke him. “Come for me.”

Razel clenched down on Tyr’s cock and shuddered through an intense orgasm. Their fire swelled around them, and he felt the wards around the room flex, but they held and absorbed the power they were both throwing off. He let his head fall forward and took a deep breath as Tyr held him tight and came with a low groan.

“I’m going to have to add additional warding to my bed,” he admitted hoarsely, and Tyr laughed a little as he ran his hands over Razel’s thighs.

They separated, and Razel sprawled across Tyr’s chest. He felt new and so very old at the same time that it was difficult to comprehend. Razel moved so that he was laying mostly on the stone floor, hand resting on Tyr’s heart, which was racing. He pressed a kiss to his lover’s shoulder and exhaled slowly as their fire retreated.

“I recognized you,” Razel murmured.

“What?” Tyr questioned.

“The first time was in the memory my father showed me, and I tried to ignore the implications of it because I was so young and, admittedly, stupidly impressed with your heroics.” He paused when Tyr laughed a little. “But, last week, the first time I saw you in person—I saw you. I told you before that I felt like I’d known you forever. I meant it on a soul level, not like some romantic fantasy come to life. The near-instant I saw that bastard wearing your face, he felt wrong on a level so profound I’m not sure I can even fully explain myself.”

“Why didn’t you say that when you were asked?” Tyr asked, his tone more curious than accusatory, so Razel relaxed.

“For two reasons, first, I felt like it might make Fhane Wisemind uncomfortable to be told such a thing. I can’t explain why I feel that way. It just seemed like it would be hurtful. Second, I wouldn’t want anyone to ever presume to think that I’m reliving some past relationship that Durin had through you. Everyone just accepts that Durin is the only one amongst us to reincarnate, and I’m not sure that’s remotely accurate. Maybe it was on Arda, but something happened during the retreat that changed our people.”

“What do you think it was?” Tyr questioned.

“I think Mahal gave us over to Zirnitra for safekeeping and the Black Dragon changed us so we could survive and defend ourselves against the magicals that already existed on this world,” Razel admitted and flushed when Tyr focused on him with wide, shocked eyes. “I’ve only ever discussed that theory with my immediate family. Elspeth agrees, by the way. Her dreams of our people before the retreat speaks to the theory as well.”

“Thank you for taking care with Fhane. He wouldn’t be thrilled, certainly, because he’d rather get punched in the face than not be allowed to have all the information available.” He pulled Razel close and pressed a soft kiss to his mouth. “And I don’t feel like a replacement, or whatever some might assume. I understand what you mean because I feel the same, and I don’t have any memories to call on to make sense of the feelings. It’s just a deep, magical knowing that has no beginning and no end.”

“Despite all of my plans and the preparation that has already gone into it, I was nervous about announcing my intention to return to Arda. It felt like an immense and impossible undertaking…but now you’re here, and it feels like nothing can stop me.” He sat up on his elbow to stare at Tyr’s face. “Sorry, that’s a lot of pressure.”

“No, not at all,” Tyr murmured. “Let’s close the circle and go get some rest. Our journey starts in earnest tomorrow.”

Razel smiled. “Yeah, let’s.”

The End

RETURN TO SERIES PAGE

Keira Marcos

In my spare time, I write fanfiction and lead a cult of cock worshippers on the Internet. It's not the usual kind of hobby for a 40ish "domestic engineer" but we live in a modern world and I like fucking with people's expectations.

40 Comments:

  1. What an amazing story! Thank you ❤️❤️

  2. Lovely. Thanks for sharing your wonderful vision.

  3. I squealed and flailed when I saw this! It’s so, so good, and deeply satisfying to read!

  4. This was awesome and so are you. Thank you!

  5. Awesome! I soooo looking forward to seeing where this goes, when you get time to post it of course. I squealed like a 12 year old girl when I received notice of your post.

  6. Amazing Story. Thank you for sharing

  7. Magnificent story, beautifully done.

    A question I’ve been meaning to ask re this amazing world you’ve created: I assume that Tyr is pronounced something like “tier” but is Razel “ray-zel” or “rah-zel”? Or did I miss something that would have told me?

  8. There’s something just wonderfully satisfying on each and every reread.

  9. I adore this; I love reading your dverger fic and this might be my new fave!

  10. Your version of the Dverger is fantastic! I have read every single one of your stories and will definitely be rereading them as long as they are available. Thank you so much for your stories.

  11. This is absolutely lovely!

  12. Thank you for sharing the story with us. It’s a brilliant one and i really enjoyed re-reading it. I can’t really explain the jubilation i get every time the dvergers talk about leaving for Arda. They deserve so much better than they’ve been dealt with. I have this picture in my head of all the dvergers walking backward through the portal while giving the wizards the middle finger.

  13. If I was able, I would’ve done a back flip of joy when I saw this posted. It’s so very lovely. Thank you for sharing.

  14. Amazing! Thanks for writing this 🙂

  15. Thank you for this story, M’Lady. I have loved it from when you first posted your rough draft. The worlds you build are totally believable because of the detail and depth you put into them, but it is the characters you populate those worlds with that make them live. You are a great storyteller. Hugs, Hxx

  16. This is a truly magnificent story and I can’t wait for more. I love this universe.

  17. This is absolutely amazing, and has only grown through multiple reads. Thank you for this gift.

  18. Thank you so much for this amazing vision of the dverger. I adore this world you’ve created and populated with such diverse, rich characters. The scenes with Lenore blew me away.
    Thank you

  19. This is really lovely. I love both of their families.

  20. Thanks for this story. So many interesting characters.

    • I just adore your stories. I was disappointed in myself for being to lazy to catch this on Rough Trade before it was gone, so I was very pleased when I got the message you had posted it to your sight. It is very a enchanting story and gives me so much to look forward to as you continue the series. Thank you for sharing your wonderful imagination and writing.

  21. Thank you. I was so excited to see it uploaded when I woke up yesterday.

  22. This story is genuinely so amazing! Your characters are so interesting and the way you write is so compelling that I couldn’t stop reading!

  23. I enjoyed reading this again here. I love the care they have for each other. This version is exciting to explore with you. It makes me happy that your Thorin lived, married Bilbo, and had lots of girls in the past. Thank you for sharing!

  24. Thank you for this story. I love this world that you have created.

  25. Your world-building is sublime. It’s so complex and has such a depth to it that it’s genuinely enrapturing.

    Your ability to craft original characters in such a way that they’re indistinguishable from a real person is to be applauded. They have strengths and weaknesses and even the despicable ones are written in such a way where I can understand why they made the choices they did, even if I can’t sympathize because I would never do the same.

    I’m particularly impressed with how you’ve managed to create an entire culture for the dverger with laws, governance, courtship customs, lands and titles, etc. It’s very thorough.

    Reading one of your stories is like watching a film play out in my head. It’s an absolute delight.

    Thank you very much for sharing the fruits of your imagination. It’s lovely.

  26. This was such a lovely read. Your rich imagery and plot allow me to immerse myself in the story. I love everything about it.

    This story is taking an exciting new path and I greatly appreciate that you have chosen to share it with us.

  27. I become so invested in your characters that every ending is bittersweet. ❤

  28. It was good to read this again. I found I didn’t remember it as well as I thought. You posted it on ‘Rough Trade’ the first time, didn’t you? I forget any way doesn’t matter I really enjoyed seeing it again.

  29. I love your stories! The world you create is amazing.

    I just love Tyr and Razel. Plus the rest of their society.

    I can see Zir going “yes, save all the sentient beings and creatures. But my wife will only allow this if you also take these human wizard children and raise them in the clans as your own by adopting them into the clans.” Handing over a long list of just born and to be born mundane borns and half bloods, along with a list of rules and laws that apply to those children. He would want to protect the innocent of his wife ‘s chosen it would also save her from death.

  30. Very good story. I enjoyed reading ti

  31. You continually and without fail, amaze me, and take my breath away. Love this muchly!

  32. I love this SO MUCH. I’m already looking forward to the next step in their journey. (That’s not pressuring you for output — I know that it’ll be a while.)

  33. I adore this so much. This was such a wonderful read. Thank you for sharing this.

  34. I am in love with this story and the world you have built. As a long-time lover of Tolkein’s world and of the Harry Potter world having them so brilliantly twined together in this story is something that speaks to my geeky, book-loving soul.

    I also love the way you have written two different past relationships for Tyr and Razel showing two types of past loves, one being healthy, if a bit bittersweet, and one on the opposite end as toxic and abusive. It really hit me the way you wrote Razel not realising just how unhealthy his relationship had been until he was out of it.

    • And I know that I’ve just reviewed this story and I hope I’m not crossing any boundaries but I was just listening to favourite song after reading this and honestly it’s struck me as a song that matches this story so well. It’s Mother Scotland from the production Lady M. I can picture the conclave in this story as the artists singing this song so well. https://www.toysoldierproductions.com/productions-ladym

  35. This is so beautiful! Your works are always so… so huge, so.. I’m sorry, I can’t find the words to describe the depths of emotion and life your words evoke.

    I’ll just say thank you for sharing your talents with us.

  36. Having just re-read this for at least the 3rd or 4th time–I swear it just gets better and better. The word count always startles me because you’ve managed to craft a story that feels huge here–in an honestly true to middle earth kind of way, the entire narrative feels soaked in the dverger’s history and culture and its fucking gorgeous. Also, I freaking love Tyr and Razels love so goddamn much; it’s swoon worthy and I’ll fight anyone who says differently, haha.

    As always, thank you for sharing your writing with us. I so look forward to anything you do with this series in the future!

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