Chapter 22: Family
Kieran felt like he spent a lot of time watching Celli pace lately. The young queen was pacing back in forth in front of the couch where he was sitting, her hands clutching her elbows and her face settled into a worried frown. She had started pacing almost as soon as Kieran arrived and told her that Edouard wanted Kieran to wait for him before talking about the hearing.
But Celli apparently couldn't wait. She tugged her long, dark hair over her shoulder nervously and then shoved it back, coming to a halt in front of him. "Can't you at least tell me if Machura is the one responsible?" she asked anxiously. "I just want to know that much!"
"I suppose there's no reason not to talk about that part," Kieran replied. He could understand Celli's anxiety. "Machura is the one who was making the wizard bone powder. He was using it himself."
Celli's worried expression sank into one of anger and unhappiness. "Did you find out why he would do such a thing?"
"I think we should wait for Edouard before discussing that, but I can tell you that Edouard decided to turn Machura over to the Wizards Hall."
"Really?" Celli blinked in surprise. "So he had developed wizard powers?"
"To a small degree, yes."
"Which would put him under the jurisdiction of the Hall as a rogue," Celli concluded, nodding to herself.
Kieran smiled. He loved how quick Celli's mind was. "That's right. Moretz is taking him over to Bright Isle right now."
"What about his rank and holdings? Did Edouard strip him of that?"
"No," Kieran shook his head. "Once it began a wizard matter, he placed the entire mess in Gavilan's hands." He grinned. "He said Gavilan could fine Lady Machura if he wanted to."
"I hope they do!" Celli said with complete seriousness. "He profited for years from the deaths of innocent wizards. They shouldn't be allowed to keep all that money." A soft wail from one of the babies drifted out of the nursery. Celli turned toward the sound, her face going soft. "I feel like I've been failing in my duties as mother and as queen lately."
"You almost died, Celli," Kieran replied gently. "No one expects you to simply bounce back from that."
"I know." She rubbed her hands up and down her upper arms, hugging herself. "But I sometimes wonder if I did the right thing by coming here and convincing Edouard to make me his queen. Maybe it was too soon. Maybe people aren't yet ready to let go of their hate for us. Maybe we should have waited a little longer."
"No," Kieran said firmly. He stood up and clasped her by the shoulders. "It's been eight hundred years. No matter how great your family's crimes might have been, you've more than repaid this kingdom for it. What you alone have done for the poor and indigent in White Shores has been tremendous. Life here is immeasurably better because of you." He cupped her cheek in his hand. "You are a queen without equal, Celli."
She looked up at him, her dark eyes growing moist. "Is that really what you think?" she asked in a small voice. He nodded. Celli bit her lip and smiled. "Then I will not doubt. I have trusted you from the moment we met, even though you are a wizard and I was raised to fear you, so I will trust your opinion now. Thank you."
The door opened and Edouard walked in with Clovis Ambrea on his heels. The older gentleman had an odd expression on his face; an uncertain mixture of hope, sadness and fear.
Celli spun toward them. "What happened? Kieran won't tell me anything."
Kieran couldn't help smiling at her characterization of their conversation.
"Many things came out at the hearing, but one thing in particular I think you should know," Edouard began.
Clovis immediately put a hand on his arm. "Please allow me, your majesty. This news should rightly come from a member of her maternal family." Edouard nodded in acquiescence.
Celli looked from one to the other in alarm. "What is it? What did you learn?"
Clovis rested his hands on her shoulders and looked directly into her eyes. "This secret would have come to you had you remained at home and become your mother's heir. But once we decided to make a play for the throne, we decided it was best that you not know. But the secret came out at Machura's hearing and may soon spread through all of White Shores." Clovis paused and drew a deep breath. "The rogue wizard Atarkan was born an Ambrea. He moved north with the family when they relocated centuries ago and turned against Bright Isle when they denied his application to train there. After the war, Lida Ambrea chose to hide the true relationship by spreading the rumor that we were collaborators. Sadly, she did her job too well and the belief became ingrained in society, fueled by a hate that grew out of the lost memory of who Atarkan was." He stared anxiously into Celli's face. "The burden of this knowledge has been held by only a few of us every generation, but we never forgot it."
"I see," Celli whispered. "Then we have no chance of escaping the past."
"But there is more," Clovis continued heavily. Dismay filled Celli's face, but she waited for him to go on. "Although Atarkan never fathered any children, the blood that made him still flows in our veins. Our family has always been prone to producing powerful wizards."
Celli's eyes opened wide. "But... We have never sent a single person to the Wizards Hall!"
"I know." Clovis nodded stiffly and for the first time, his eyes shifted to Kieran. "We have been diligent in ensuring that the wizards born into our family do not grow up amongst us. Lida Ambrea feared that if another powerful wizard with the name of Ambrea appeared, the knowledge that Atarkan himself was one of us would never be forgotten. So, for centuries, if a wizard child was born into the family, he or she was abandoned while still a baby and left with no identity."
Celli didn't make a sound. She stared at Clovis for barely a heartbeat and then turned to stare at Kieran. Clovis' eyes had never left him. Edouard was also staring at him and the look in his eyes stopped Kieran's heart. For a moment, he couldn't even breathe. He pressed a hand against his chest, certain that he would not feel any heartbeat. "Vincent looks like me because we're related," he whispered. He returned Clovis' unhappy, anxious gaze. "You abandoned me." Kieran heard the confusion in his own voice. All his life, he had believed his parents to be ordinary people overwhelmed by the prospect of raising another child. He had believed he would never find out who they were.
Clovis took a step toward him. "I'm so sorry!" he said. "It's been done so many times over the centuries. Every generation! I was crushed when I realized that I would have to sacrifice everything to keep our family's secret. It almost destroyed me the day I left you behind. It did destroy your mother."
Kieran felt light-headed. It was hard to comprehend what Clovis was saying to him. "You're my father?" he asked faintly.
"Yes." Clovis watched him absorb this news without moving any closer. There was a sort of hopeful resignation on his face, as if he was torn between hoping Kieran would accept him and fearing that he would not.
Oddly, Kieran found himself wondering what everyone else was thinking. He could feel Edouard's deep love for him through their bond, but he could not tell if the king was upset or not. It felt as if Edouard was withholding judgment until he saw Kieran's reaction. Kieran lowered his eyes, looking inside himself for the anger he thought should be there. But he wasn't angry. He did not regret the path his life had taken. In truth, he was in no position to judge the painful choices Clovis Ambrea had been forced to make by centuries of deceit. He raised his head and met his father's eyes. "I forgive you."
Clovis gasped with relief and tears sprang into his eyes. He closed the distance between them and embraced Kieran tightly. "I knew who you were the first time I saw you!" he exclaimed. "But I did not dare say anything!"
Kieran returned his embrace. "I understand."
Clovis held him until Celli and Edouard stepped up on either side of them, but he released Kieran quickly when Celli put her hand on his shoulder. "So it seems I have a cousin, Uncle."
"Yes!" Clovis fumbled a handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped his eyes.
"It explains so much," Celli said matter-of-factly. "But as queen, I hereby forbid the Ambrea family from practicing this custom anymore. You will send your magically gifted children to Bright Isle just like everyone else."
Clovis quickly bowed. "It shall be as you command, your majesty," he said gravely.
Celli clasped Kieran by the arm. "Cousin!" Her smile was warm and filled with deep affection. "It makes me happy to know that we are truly related."
Kieran smiled back. "It pleases me, too."
"We do have one other problem," Edouard said.
"Only one?" Celli chuckled.
"One of our sons is a wizard."
Celli blinked at him in surprise. "Which one?"
"We won't know until he manifests. But Lord Ambrea says we will be able to test them around one year." Edouard wrinkled his nose. "I won't be able to name my heir until then."
"You aren't going to tell anyone about this, are you?" Celli demanded immediately. "I don't want any of my children being treated differently growing up, even after we know. It will be bad enough with everyone wondering when the Ambreas will produce the next rogue like Atarkan."
"You already did," Edouard replied simply. He nodded at Kieran. "Your cousin carries the same blood as Atarkan and everybody already knows he is more powerful than Atarkan ever was. But Kieran is not a rogue and I have bound him and the family that produced him to the Crown. We will make sure that every wizard to come out of the Ambrea family is bound into service to the Crown from this point on." He looked at each of them in turn. "I promised Lord Ambrea that I will bring an end to your isolation and I mean to do it, because I will not allow people to start treating Kieran like a rogue again because he finally has recovered his surname."
"Thank you, Edouard," Celli said. "But I have one question. How did you learn all this?"
Edouard smirked. "Curdan Machura started killing wizards to enhance his powers of clairvoyance. He acquired the knowledge in visions."
"A clairvoyant?" Celli exclaimed. "Aren't they very rare? Such an ability could be useful."
"Useful, yes," Edouard agreed. "But not enough to kill for. Curdan Machura tainted his gift."
"Sadly, that's very true," Celli agreed. "How unfortunate he never saw that."
"Besides," Edouard added with a shrug, "Kieran sometimes has visions in dreams, so I never needed Machura's ability on the council, no matter how valuable he thought it made him."
"But Machura didn't know that," Kieran said. "Very few people know about my dreams."
Celli gave him a cross look. "You never told me!"
Kieran laughed. Her irritation lightened the mood for some reason. "It's actually rather ironic, because one of the first things Colwyn ever did after he decided to bring me back to Bright Isle was to have me invoke a vision, but it apparently never struck him as important. He certainly never mentioned it to Divwall. I think he was a little too focused on my recovery from a fatal wound." He smiled at Edouard and it was impossible to keep the love out of his expression. "That was the first time I saw Edouard and Colwyn said it meant our futures were connected."
Edouard smiled back, making no effort to hide his feelings. "Little did he know."
Celli rolled her eyes, but she was also smiling. "So are you going to issue a proclamation about Machura and the wizard-bone powder?"
"Yes." Edouard nodded. "But I think I'll reorganize the truth somewhat to suit my purposes."
"I think," Edouard said, lifting his eyebrows, "that I will give you the credit for uncovering and exposing his crimes, even though you knew it meant revealing your family's most closely guarded secret for the greater good of the kingdom."
Celli and Clovis stared. "But that's a lie!" Celli exclaimed.
Edouard shrugged. "Only a few of us would know that. I'm hoping that public gratitude for your selfless act will cause people to immediately forgive the past, particularly since no one can really blame you for hiding such a relationship."
"Edouard is an excellent judge of people," Kieran said. "He's probably right."
"But to lie..." Celli objected weakly.
Edouard patted her cheek. "We did discover it because of you, Celli. I'm only stretching the truth a little bit."
Clovis began to laugh. "It seems fair!" he said, waving a hand. "Our isolation began with a lie. Why shouldn't it end with one?"
Celli sighed with amused resignation and began to laugh, too. "Indeed, why not? But which of us is going to write to Mother about all this, Uncle Clovis?"
"You!" Clovis replied immediately, grinning broadly. "Didn't you just mandate, as queen, that our practice of abandoning wizard children must end? You'll have to send her the order, so you can tell her the rest at the same time. I should warn you, though," he leaned toward Celli and winked, "you should plan on receiving a visit from her within the week."
"And what about you?" Celli lifted her chin. "Were you planning to keep secret the fact that you have found your long lost son?"
Clovis' smile widened and he shook his head. "Absolutely not! I may trumpet the news from the rooftop." Then he turned to Kieran and his smile faltered. "Although I defer to Kieran in this, if he would rather no one knew his heritage."
"I grew up without parents," Kieran answered slowly. "It may take me awhile to get used to the idea of having them. Or having a second name," he added with a small laugh. "Some of the other students at the academy used to tease me because I only had one name, but once we got our robes, it ceased to be an issue. A lot of royal wizards stop using their second name because their oaths to Hall and Crown outweigh their allegiance to their families. Or their families aren't particularly happy about having a child become a wizard. But I've been just Kieran for so long, I don't know if I would ever use my family name."
"Whether you use the name or not doesn't change who you are," Celli said. She looped an arm through his and leaned against his shoulder. "And just because you're my cousin now doesn't mean you get to stop being a second father to my children. You and Edouard and I are still a family."
Edouard captured his other arm. "That's absolutely right, Kieran. Nothing else has changed."
Kieran shivered, even though he was bathed in the warmth of their affection. He touched his forehead against Edouard's and closed his eyes. "I am so fortunate," he whispered. "Sometimes I could almost burst for joy."
Edouard touched his lips against his ear. "That's how I feel every time I hold you in my arms."
Divwall sat in Gavilan's office rubbing her knees. It was still quite warm outside, but she could tell fall was on its way from the aching in her joints. "So what are we going to do with him?" She, Moretz and Gavilan had just returned from the dungeon, where Curdan Machura now languished in one of the cells. The nobleman had protested so much at being left in the hands of wizards that Moretz had put a silencing spell on him during the trip over from White Shores. He had lifted it only after the man was locked away and the echo of his cries had followed them all the way up the stairs to the main floor.
"We'll execute him," Gavilan stated flatly.
"As a murderer, he certainly deserves that," Divwall replied, "but there is bound to be an outcry from the nobility if we do it, rather than Edouard."
"There is justification," Moretz said. "The crimes were committed against us. Allowing us to exact retribution will seem fair on consideration."
"So why not just imprison him?" Divwall questioned, continuing to play devil's advocate. "He's been bound. Between that and the effects of the wizard bone powder that Tank discovered, he probably would not last more than a few years anyway."
"That's exactly why," Gavilan said. "The binding. I would rather it not become common knowledge that Kieran can bind another wizard by himself. If we execute him quickly, the subject may never come up."
Divwall leaned forward and pointed a finger at Gavilan. "Here is where I disagree with you. I cannot think of anything more useful than a wizard who can bind others unassisted. It is unlikely we will ever again see a wizard as capable as Kieran, so why not use him? He never acts unilaterally and Edouard has no reason to order him to go around binding wizards. But the knowledge that he can might keep potential rogues in line, wouldn't you think?"
Moretz nodded, a wry smile on his face. "You make a good point, my lady. I think I would have to agree with you." He faced Gavilan. "I see no reason to keep the fact that Machura is bound a secret, but I also agree that he should be executed. He showed no remorse at all for the killings. He claimed he was doing it for the good of the kingdom," Moretz added with a snort. "It was clear he thought the lives of those wizards he killed were of less value than whatever perceived good he thought would come out of it."
"Very well," Gavilan said. "I will order his execution for the day after tomorrow. Will that give you enough time to extract whatever else you want to know from him?"
"Yes, I think so," Moretz answered. "I mainly hope to learn whatever I can about his co-conspirators. I already sent Royal Guards to his estate to secure it for searching. We should send Jonas there with a team of wizards as soon as possible to turn the place upside down."
"I'll give Jonas orders for that right away."
"And we should fine Lady Machura," Moretz added. "Edouard suggested it and I think he's right. Her husband's crimes will quickly be forgotten if she doesn't suffer for it."
Gavilan's brow wrinkled. "I've never issued a fine before. How does Edouard decide what to collect?"
Moretz grinned. "He has them audited and sets the fine as a percentage. The worse the crime, the bigger the percentage. In this case, I think fifty percent is not too much. Ask Edouard for help with the audit. I'm sure he'll be glad to do it."
"I'll do that." Gavilan made notes in his judicial ledger and then closed it with a sigh. "This has been a dark period for the Wizards Hall. I'm relieved that it's finally over."
"So am I," Moretz agreed.
Divwall gripped her cane and pushed heavily to her feet. "Is it over?" she asked. She lifted her eyebrows at Moretz. "You said Machura claimed one of Edouard's sons is a wizard. A wizard prince is not going to go over well. In ten years, we may find ourselves faced with all new problems."
Gavilan frowned. "That's true. What do you think Edouard will do?"
"Nothing, for now," Moretz said, "and neither should we. We'll address the issue when and if one of the boys manifests. Until then, let's treat them all as normal children. Because," he continued after a pause, "although Machura's gift makes it possible he saw the true future, he is also suffering from the early stages of madness and he hates the Ambreas. So I say we give the boys the benefit of the doubt and wait."
"I won't argue with the recommendation of the Royal Wizard," Divwall said, "but we should not forget about the possibility. We cannot allow the separation between the Crown and the Hall to become blurred. We've already fought one war over that."
"I will keep an eye on the boys," Moretz said.
"Good." Divwall started for the door, her cane tapping loudly on the floor at each step. "Now it's time for me to take something for my knees. Tank has a nasty-smelling concoction that does wonders."
Outside the door, Amrisen was waiting. "What's the verdict?"
"I'm glad," Amrisen replied, but her voice was sad. "That man never equated his visions to wizard powers, even though the bones of wizards enhanced his ability. I don't believe he ever thought what he was doing was wrong. Wizards aren't people to him."
"Sadly, many people feel that way," Divwall responded. "But maybe that will change. Queen Celli wept for our dead. Perhaps her compassion will spread."
The two elderly women walked down the hall in silence, accepting the greetings of passing students, servants and guards with small nods. Outside the door to Tank's lab, Divwall rested her hand on Amrisen's arm. "Perhaps it's time for us to finally retire," she said. "I'm really starting to feel my age."
Amrisen's sad expression lifted into an amused smile. "I'll retire just as soon as you do, my lady."
"You doubt me!" Divwall chuckled.
Instead of answering, Amrisen knocked on the lab door.
"Come in!" Tank called from inside.
Amrisen pushed the door open. "I'll see you at dinner, Divwall."
Edouard found Kieran in the nursery, leaning on the edge of Lida's crib. The little girl was sound asleep on her back, her little arms flung out to either side. Vincent was lying on his back in his crib, quietly sucking on one of his toes. Antonio was asleep on his tummy, with his knees pulled up underneath him so his bottom stuck up in the air. Edouard knew Kieran was aware of him, but the young wizard didn't look up from his contemplation of the baby girl when Edouard stopped in the doorway. "How are they?"
"In good health," Kieran replied softly. He brushed Lida's hair away from her face. "She looks so much like Celli. She'll need a haircut soon."
Edouard walked to Antonio's crib. "They all will." Lida and Vincent had dark hair like Celli, but Antonio's had already lightened quite a bit, closer to Edouard's shade. Vincent made a cooing sound, so Edouard went to his crib. The baby stared up at him, his little face working through a variety of expressions. Edouard picked him up and Vincent grasped his nose. "Silly child!" Edouard purred. He shifted Vincent down so the baby could only reach his chin.
"Do you think it was wise to let Celli go to the execution?" Kieran asked. He stroked the side of Lida's face one last time before turning to look at Edouard. "It's not easy watching someone die."
"She wanted to go," Edouard said. "Of all of us, she suffered the most because of Machura. And someone from the royal family should be there. Anyway, I thought it was very respectful of Gavilan to come get her himself."
Kieran nodded. "She'll be safe enough, I suppose, on an island full of wizards."
"I should hope so!" Edouard chuckled. "Besides, Moretz is there and he will be accompanying her home."
Kieran nodded again. He came closer and held out a finger for Vincent to grasp. The baby clasped the proffered digit in his tiny hand and promptly shoved it in his mouth. Kieran smiled as the baby diligently gummed his finger. Edouard watched his face, captivated as always by the warmth on Kieran's countenance whenever he was with the children. It was obvious he loved the babies just as much as Edouard did.
"Did you speak to Kemian?" Kieran asked.
"Yes. I told him he could have a seat on the council if he agreed to marry whatever woman I proposed for him."
"Did he accept?"
"Of course." Edouard smiled at the memory. "He nearly wept with joy. He must have thanked me fifteen times for giving him the chance to redeem himself in my eyes. I don't think the love potion he was given has completely worn off yet."
Kieran grinned. "It will probably take a while." He looked into Edouard's eyes. "But I can't blame him. Serving you is the one thing I could never willingly give up." His voice grew softer as he spoke and his love glowed in his eyes.
Edouard returned his gaze without speaking. The love he felt for Kieran suddenly filled him to the point of overflowing and the only thing he could do was kiss him in response. So he leaned forward and pressed his lips to Kieran's. He lingered in the kiss until Vincent squealed and grabbed then both by the chin. He pulled back with a laugh. "What? Do you want a kiss, too?" He kissed Vincent soundly on the cheek. Vincent squealed again. The sound made both Lida and Antonio stir.
One of the nurses stuck her head in. "Is everything all right, sire?"
"We're fine," Edouard answered, "but it might be getting close to lunchtime for this lot."
The nurse came in and picked up Lida, who was now waving her arms and legs, her little face scrunched up in the beginnings of a hungry frown. "Are you ready to eat, precious girl?" she cooed.
The other two nurses came in and Edouard reluctantly handed Vincent over. He and Kieran left the nursery so the nurses could feed the babies. Back in the sitting room, Edouard sighed. "I wish my father could have seen them," he said. Talking about his father still saddened him, but it no longer hurt the way it once did. "He was so afraid our line would end with him. I think that upset him as much as the thought that he would lose me. But it all turned out so differently." He caught Kieran by the hand. "And it's all because you came into my life."
Kieran studied him for a moment and then pulled Edouard close, slipping his arms around his waist. "Do you know what my happiest memory is?"
"No." Edouard put his arms around Kieran's neck.
"It is the night you first told me you loved me." He kissed Edouard deeply and Edouard was immediately suffused with desire. He returned the kiss passionately.
When he finally pulled his lips away, he could feel the heat flushing his cheeks. "That night is also my happiest memory because it was the first time we made love." He stroked his fingers into Kieran's hair. "But even after all this time, every night with you still feels special."
Kieran's eyes burned with passion. "If you keep talking like that, I'm going to have to take you to bed."
"Perhaps I should mention that I'm free until dinner."
Kieran smiled. "You can be very shameless sometimes."
"Only with you."
Kieran kissed his cheek. "Let's go to our room." With his arm still around Edouard's waist, he escorted Edouard out of Celli's suite and down the hall to their own rooms. Once they were alone in the bedroom. Kieran embraced him again. "Now, then, you were saying that making love with me always feels special."
"Um hm." Edouard nuzzled his ear. "Let me show you." He had undressed Kieran more times than he could remember, but he still loved doing it. Stripping the young wizard and taking him to bed was always the best part of his day. Doing it in the middle of the afternoon was tantalizing erotic. Looking down into Kieran's face as they lay in bed together, Edouard once again couldn't believe how lucky he was. "Every joy I have known in life is because of you, Kieran," he said. "But this is the greatest joy of all."
-o- The End -o-
Once again, it feels like the end came so quickly, but this installment has been the longest one yet. I've really enjoyed writing this and I hope you enjoyed reading it. Rest assured that the story of Edouard and Kieran is not over! The next story, The Wizard Prince, will focus more on the children. I will mention it my profile when I start writing it. Thank you for reading!