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“I’d been told I’d die, after the elfshot. But hours turned into days turned into months… Mother was concerned about me, I’m sure. But she seemed more concerned that I would die and there would be no one left to carry on the Mulvaney line. Our House might have fallen into disgrace, but even among society it was assumed that after the third generation, the Crown would be petitioned and Mulvaney would rise again. And I was the fourth generation from Alonso.”
Bella murmured quietly, “I’m going to hang that portrait of him.”
I squeezed her gently and kept talking. I only wanted to do this once. “Dionaea y Eudicott is from a dying family line. She was very proud of her heritage, and that she was the last of her line. I’m not sure what she promised Mother… You know about the Fae, and conception, yes?”
Bella looked up at me, her eyes wide. The room had been growing darker as the lamp someone had lit was dying slowly, but I didn’t get up to relight it. All I could see was the pale oval of her face and the bright whites of her eyes. “Pixies, fairies – and the only difference between us is name, and custom, if you hadn’t already picked up on that – we don’t have a child unless it’s by mutual arrangement. Accidental pregnancy is unheard of, Underhill.”
“I’d known the population was much lower here, than above. But I haven’t had time to consider it, and that’s a delicate subject. No one talked to me about it. But Lom, how?”
Our hands were still interlinked on her stomach. “We both wanted. Maybe not consciously, at that moment, but we did.”
I couldn’t see her blush in the gathering dark. Her skin, darker than mine, made a nice contrast where our hands were twined together.
“Why did you and Dionaea never have children? Especially since that’s what your mother wanted?” Bella asked.
“Never had a chance.” I laughed harshly, remembering the pain and confusion of a much younger man. I hadn’t unpacked these memories in a long time. “You have to have sex to have babies.”
“When I married her, I was too sick to care. I don’t remember much of the wedding, other than being in excruciating pain, nearly blind with a headache. After… not sure when, it was probably at what mother had gotten up for a reception, I vomited. All over Dionaea, because they were making me dance. I passed out, and woke up about a day later.”
“Not an auspicious beginning.” Bella said.
“Dionaea was unhappy from the beginning, even without that public humiliation. I would not live at Elleria. It made me ill to be in it. We didn’t know then that any level of magic use poisoned me slowly, and when I’m there, something triggers me to shield. Always has, I suspect. One day maybe I’ll go spend enough time to find out what.”
“That’s why it was shut up.” Bella filled in a gap in her knowledge. I shrugged.
“That, and the family couldn’t afford to keep it open. Another bitter pill for Dionaea. She had a dowry, but it wasn’t enough to maintain that monstrous expense.”
“And you didn’t want to be Duke.”
I kissed my bride on the forehead. She was a smart cookie. “Not then, not now.”
“But why?” Bella started to sit up and I held on.
“Stay there… because I wanted you. And I thought I was dying. Seemed the decent thing to do, to take care of you and greedy me, have you too.”
Bella subsided. “So she wound up here, with you?”
“This house was built for us. Proceeds of one of my first jobs. She hated it. The only thing she got that she wanted was incorporating Ellie’s tree into it. Dionaea assumed that by having the tree in the house, Ellie would be bound to her.” I chuckled, bitter still after all these years. “Ellie was a servant of the House Eudicott, as wood elves everywhere were servants. But Dionaea forgot that servant doesn’t mean mindless drone.”
“Ellie stayed with you. Not because of the tree…”
“Not because of the tree. Because when Dion discovered that it was Ellie providing the mental shield spells for me, she almost killed her with a beating. Then she came for me, while I was sick from protecting my mind with magic, and I almost killed her.” I shrugged again, feeling a chill like a worm crawling up my spine. “She’s irrational, and she’s dropped out of sight for a century. Fae are patient, Bella-mine, and Dion is…”
“Mad. Oh, Lom…”She shifted around so she could hug me. “This is why you’re so cool with your mother.”
“Is she still…?” Bella sounded concerned. I knew she liked Lucia.
“No, she’s mellowed. Still likes to be in charge, but after a century she knows better than to try and push me around.” I kissed her soft lips. “You’re the only one who gets to push me around.”
“Mmm-hhmmm…” she couldn’t make words, but I got the meaning of that approving noise. And a minute later she had the clearance to say, “I’m pushing us to bed, mister.”
Which I understood perfectly even if it didn’t make sense, and was perfectly willing to obey my queen. We both needed what she wanted. Death makes life that much sweeter.