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The Fire Lord's Lover
The link between the world of man and Elfhame had
sundered long ago, the elven people and their magic fading to
legend. Tall beings of extraordinary beauty, the fae preferred
a world of peace. But seven elves—considered mad by their
own people—longed for power and war. They stole sacred
magical scepters, created their dragon-steeds, and opened the
gate to the realm of man again and flew through.
Each elf carved a sovereign land within England, replacing
the baronies that had so recently been formed by William the
Conqueror. They acquired willing and unwilling slaves to
serve in their palaces and till their lands. And fight their
wars. Like mythical gods they set armies of humans against
each other, battling for the right to win the king, who’d
become nothing more than a trophy. They bred with their
human slaves, producing children to become champions of
their war games.
The elven lords maintained a unified pact, using the
scepters in a united will to place a barrier around England,
with only a few guarded borders open to commerce. Elven
magic provided unique goods and the world turned a blind
eye to the plight of the people, persuaded by greed to leave
England to its own, as long as the elven did not seek to
expand their rule into neighboring lands.
But many of the English people formed a secret rebellion
to fight their oppressors. Some of the elven’s children
considered themselves human despite their foreign blood and
joined the cause. And over the centuries these half-breeds
became their only hope.

London, England, 1724

The people lining the streets of London cheered
while General Dominic Raikes rode to his doom.
Not that they had any idea what awaited him at
Firehame Palace, and if they did, he doubted they
would care. He resembled the elven lord too much
for that. Yet he had won the final battle and they
hailed him as their champion despite his elven
white hair and pointed ears.
Young women threw flowers from upper-story
windows, the petals flickering through the air like
snow and coating the dusty streets with color.
Gray skies covered the sun and in some places the
buildings nearly met above the streets, further shadowing
the rider’s passage with gloom. The glassfronted
shops had been locked up as their owners
joined the throng in the streets: painted harlots,
street urchins, costermongers, servants, and the
occasional prosperous Cit, distinguishable by his
white wig. The fishy smell of the Thames overlaid
the stench of the streets as his troops approached
Westminster Bridge.
Over the murky waters the flaming turrets of
Firehame Palace beckoned Dominic onward.
He shook back his war braids and straightened his
spine and glanced back at his men. They had cleaned
their red woolen coats as best they could, and lacking
wigs, had powdered their hair to resemble the elven
silver-white. They had polished their boots and
buttons, brushed their cocked hats. Despite their stern
faces, Dominic could see the glitter of pride in their
eyes and nodded his approval at them. They returned
his gesture with wary respect.
Dominic turned and sighed. They were brave, good
men, every one. Some he owed his victory and life to.
He would like to oversee their promotions himself
but it would be too dangerous. He didn’t know the
personal life of a single man, nor did they know of his.
Dominic had grown used to his solitary existence, yet
sometimes he regretted the necessity of it.
The hooves of his horse met the road at the end
of the bridge with a crunch of pebbles. The noise
of the crowd faded as they neared the open gates of
Firehame Palace. Red flame jutted from the top of the
stone pillars flanking the entrance, danced along the
outlying curtain walls. Dominic halted his mount for
the span of a breath, studying his home with the unfamiliar
gaze of one after a long absence. Elven magic
had tinted the stone walls a glossy, brilliant red. Warm
yellow flame slithered up the stone, whorled over the
buttresses, making the entire structure shimmer in
his sight. The towers soared above the three-storied
palace and Dominic’s black eyes quickly sought out
the tallest, looking for a flicker of wing, a jet of red
fire. But he could see no sign of the dragon and so
flicked his reins, urging his horse into the courtyard.
Dominic wanted nothing more than a bath and
then the quiet of his garden or the sanctuary of the
dragon’s tower. He knew he wouldn’t manage any of
his comforts until he’d been tested in fire.
He thrust away the memory of pain and dismounted,
feeling his face turn to stone, his body conform
to rigid military posture as he crossed the paved
courtyard and ascended the steps into the opulence
of Firehame Palace. Several of his officers followed,
although many decided to forgo the privilege of
coming to the attention of the Imperial Lord of the
sovereignty of Firehame.
The back hallways they marched through displayed
the magic and wealth of the elven lord. Delicate
tapestries that rewove their pictures every few minutes
covered the walls, and thick rugs of rippling ponds
and bottomless chasms carpeted the floors. Dominic
breathed in the scent of candle wax, perfume, and
elfweed, ignoring the portraits framed in gold with
their moving eyes that followed his passage. At the
end of summer the air in the corridor still felt chill
against his cheeks. His ears rang from the silence.
Then Dominic opened the door leading to the
great room and the thunder of applause broke that
brief moment of quiet. He paused, waiting for his
men to compose themselves, then started down the
middle of the enormous room through the crowd of
gentry that awaited them.
Fluted columns lined the sides of the hall, capped
with ornately carved capitals that supported archways
even more ornately carved with golems, gremlins,
and gargoyles. Courtiers milled between the stone
supports, a riot of colorful silk skirts and gold-trimmed
coats. Full court wigs of powdered white sparkled
with the addition of the ground stone the nobles used
to imitate the silver luster of elven hair. Buckled shoes
flashed with diamonds; ceremonial swords sparkled
with ruby and jet.
The smell of perfume became overwhelming, and
Dominic suppressed the urge to sneeze. He kept his
gaze fixed on his goal, the dais of gold where the
elven lord Mor’ded waited, but he caught the faces
of the courtiers from the corners of his eyes. The
lustful gazes of women—and more than a few men—
followed his every movement. Despite their fear of
the elven, humans could not resist their beauty, and
Dominic had inherited more elven allure than his half
blood warranted.
When he reached the Imperial Lord’s throne,
Dominic stared at Mor’ded for longer than he
intended. Silvery white hair cascaded past broad
shoulders in a river broken only by the tips of the
elven lord’s pointed ears. Black, fathomless eyes stared
coldly into Dominic’s own, the expression robbing
them of their almost crystalline brilliance. Smooth,
pale skin glistened like the finest porcelain over high
cheekbones and strong chin. A full mouth, straight
nose, high brow.
When Dominic looked at the Imperial Lord, he
might as well have been gazing into a mirror of his
future, for although his father must be over seven
hundred years old, he did not look a day over five and
thirty. And despite the thickness of his elven blood,
Dominic aged at a normal human pace. In ten years,
Dominic would look like the man before him.
Dominic dropped to one knee and bowed his
head, war braids dangling beside his cheeks and eyes
fixed on the marble floor. A wave of silence rolled
across the room until he could hear nothing but the
breathing of his men and the rustle of the ladies’ silk
skirts. “I have won the king, my lord.”
At his words, the room erupted in applause again
and Dominic stood, gazing at his father, hoping to see
a glimmer of pride in those cold black eyes. He had
fought for years to achieve such acknowledgment.
Imperial Lord Mor’ded smiled, revealing even
white teeth, and cut his hand through the air,
signaling the court to silence. He stood with a grace
no human could possess and stepped down from the
dais, one hand wrapped around the black scepter that
enhanced his magic. Dominic’s eyes flicked to the
rod, the runes carved on it swirling momentarily in
his sight before he quickly looked away.
As a child he’d been constantly hungry. He’d been
stealing food off the sideboard in the grand dining
room when his father and court had entered. He’d
hidden under the table and his father had sat, the
triangular-shaped head of the scepter jutting beneath
the crisp white linen. Dominic didn’t know what made
him reach out and stroke the forbidden talisman, for
everyone knew only one of true elven blood could
hold it without being flamed to ash. But he hadn’t
tried to wield it, had only touched it, and since then
he couldn’t look at it without feeling strange. As if
the thing possessed a conscious awareness of him. It
bothered him that he had such a fanciful thought.
Mor’ded reached his side and placed his other hand
on Dominic’s shoulder. The chill of his long fingers
penetrated the heavy wool of Dominic’s coat. “After
a hundred years the king will finally be returned to
his rightful place. Thanks to my son, the champion of
all Firehame.”
Applause thundered again. The elven lord’s words
echoed in Dominic’s ears. His father had publicly
acknowledged him as his son. Fierce pleasure rose
in Dominic’s chest and he had to force himself to
concentrate on Mor’ded’s next words.
“General Raikes has defeated Imperial Lord
Breden’s forces, and we have won the ultimate
trophy—King George and his royal court. London
will again be the center of taste and fashion. The
sovereignty of Firehame will house the man who
decides what color breeches you wear.”
A ripple of excited pleasure ran through the courtiers,
and Dominic stared coldly at the assemblage. Did
they not hear the disdain in his father’s voice? Did
they not understand the mockery toward the king
who should be their rightful ruler?
Mor’ded’s fingers tightened on Dominic’s shoulder,
and the elven lord’s magic shivered through his spine.
Dominic forced himself to relax under the painful
grip. It did not matter if the ton understood or not.
They could do nothing about it, anyway.
“Tonight we will feast in my son’s honor.”
His fingers gave Dominic one last painful squeeze
before he released his grip and climbed back up on his
dais. With a flourish of his scepter, Mor’ded filled the
long great room with sparkling white fire, the flames
harmlessly bouncing off the wigs of the men and the
silk skirts of the ladies. The courtiers laughed and
wove their bodies through the magic, and Dominic
watched them with hooded eyes until his father grew
tired of amusing his playthings.
When Mor’ded swept the skirts of his red silk
coat through the door behind the throne, Dominic
followed, resisting the sudden urge to draw his sword
and run it through his father’s back.
He’d tried it once. It had cost him the life of his
best friend.
His father lit their way through the gloomy passage
with white fire that slithered on the ceiling above
them. Dominic knew most of the passageways behind
the walls of the palace. He’d spent hours as a youth
exploring them. This particular one led from the
throne to Mor’ded’s private chambers and branched off
only once by means of a tunnel that his father told him
twisted far beneath the palace, finally opening onto an
entrance to the fabled land of Elfhame. Of course, only
a chosen one could pass into that land, and Dominic
had still failed to prove worthy. They both ignored
the heavily warded door blocking the tunnel as they
continued on to the end of the passage.
Mor’ded opened the door to his chamber, and
Dominic followed him into the room and suppressed
a shudder. Very few people were allowed into the
Imperial Lord’s private chamber, and he didn’t count
himself lucky to be one of them. The walls glowed
with iridescent color, a copy, Mor’ded had once
told him, of the truly living walls of his old rooms in
his homeland of fabled Elfhame. Plants grew in the
corners of the room, pale pink pods that occasionally
liked to dine on warm meat through some corrosive
process Dominic didn’t want to understand. A striated
crystal sat next to the double doors that led out onto a
balcony broad enough for a dragon to land. The stone
picked up the color of the gray skies and threw it into
the room. Large enough for a table, and yet shaped
like a cone, the crystal held a hole in the top of it that
Mor’ded often slipped his scepter into.
Chairs that resembled flower petals, a bed that
could be some sort of deformed swan, and a desk
that snapped closed like the jaws of some great beast
completed the room.
Dominic always felt displaced here, as if a part of
his mind rejected the surroundings. But then again,
he’d become quite skilled at projecting his mind out
of his body. It was the only way he’d survived the
trials with his sanity intact.
Mor’ded slid into one of his petal-chairs, the
scepter carelessly laid across his lap. He liked to play
with Dominic a bit before he began, taunting him to
display any human weakness.
“You used magic to gain your victory.”
Dominic clasped his hands behind his back and
widened his stance. No use in denying it. He’d seen
the shadow of the dragon hovering over the battlefield,
his father atop the great beast, enjoying the sight of the
games. “I used it to save the lives of my men.”
That handsome mouth crooked, so like Dominic’s
own. “It looked to be quite a firestorm.”
Dominic shrugged.
Mor’ded shifted, the swish of his silk coats loud
in the silent room. “Breden is furious, of course. He
says we should not allow any of our bastards to play
in the games. Indeed, that we should cull any of those
possessing the slightest degree of power.”
Dominic kept his face impassive. He did not doubt
that the elven lords would destroy all their offspring
on a whim, for he knew of their madness better than
anyone. “One of Breden’s bastards tried to quench my
fire with a wave of water from the Bristol Channel.”
“Which I pointed out to Breden,” replied Mor’ded.
He waved a graceful hand. “It matters not what he
says. His pride has been injured by the loss of the king.
He had become complacent, and we elven must never
succumb to that human weakness, eh, Dominic?”
“Never, my lord.”
“Aah, but it makes me wonder. Have I allowed
myself to become complacent?” Mor’ded leaned
forward, his glittering eyes intent on his son’s face,
baiting him with the agony of anticipation.
Dominic clenched his teeth.
Mor’ded collapsed back in his chair, the petal
swaying with his laughter, a ringing song emanating
from the depths of the flower. “You were one of my
greatest mistakes, and yet a most amusing one. We
elven procreate with you animals so rarely, and yet
a brief rut with a common kitchen maid produced a
bastard with enough of my blood to bear a marked
resemblance to me. And sometimes I swear your heart
is all elven.” He shook his head, pale locks winking
with silver. “Still, who knew that when I saw you
fighting with the other kitchen boys and threw you
into the game, you would rise to claim the king one
day? Not I.”
“You’ve taught me well, Father.”
“Indeed. And now we must again test your worthiness.
You know what has to come, do you not?”
Dominic lifted his chin.
His father stood, the scepter held before him
with both hands, calling on the additional power
the talisman gave him. “There is no other way to be
sure of your power. Defend yourself, boy.” And he
unleashed the black flame.
It engulfed Dominic with a hiss and a scream,
licking at his feet, shivering down his arms. His
clothes appeared unaffected by the flame, and yet he
felt them melting into his flesh, fusing into him. His
skin still looked whole, and yet he felt it searing into
ash. The black flame only burned in the mind, but
ah, even the worse for that. He gritted his teeth and
vowed that this time he would not fall. His own little
game he always played against his father.
Dominic held up his hands, his own magic instinctively
responding to the assault. White, blue, gray—he
could call the entire spectrum of fire magic except for
the black, but only the red fire did any damage, and
his father easily squelched the blaze before it could
sizzle the tiny fibrous hairs off his monstrous plants.
“Come on, lad. You can do better than that,” said
Mor’ded. And increased the magic twofold.
Dominic gasped for breath. The blackness slid down
his throat and into his lungs, charring them until he
could not breathe. The pain he could withstand, but
the suffocation always defeated him. He dropped to
one knee. His magic flared again, and he imagined he
felt the power of the black fire within him, the flame
that burned only in the mind. Dominic tried to call it
forth, but as always, nothing happened.
He always forgot how bad the pain could be. How
could he forget?
Dominic had been wounded in battle many times.
His men whispered that his elven blood made him
impervious to pain. They did not know his mind
had been tempered in fire, that the cut of a sword or
sting of a bullet seemed a minor ache compared to the
agony of his father’s magic.
And Dominic knew he couldn’t possess the power
of black fire, as much as he wished for it. The gift
would have been revealed when he reached puberty,
when any elven powers first appeared, and he would
have been sent to Elfhame with the rest of the chosen
children. Only those with small magics stayed in the
human world.
Yet his father continued to test him again and again,
as if he suspected his son held stronger power as well.
Or perhaps Mor’ded just enjoyed torturing him.
Dominic’s lungs began to falter, his breath reduced
to no more than a strangled wheeze of agony. His
other knee collapsed and he fell to all fours, cursing
his weakness. Cursing his father.
And suddenly the burning fire ceased.
Blessedly cool air caressed his cheeks and he sucked
in a deep breath. Dominic resisted the urge to run
his hands over his face, his hair—to reassure himself
that he stood unharmed as he’d done the first time
he’d endured one of his father’s trials. Mor’ded had
laughed at him, and Dominic had vowed never to
give the man the satisfaction of that pleasure again.
Dominic rose with elven grace.
Mor’ded studied him with narrowed eyes. “No elf
could withstand such pain and not instinctively call
forth his own magic in defense. Again you’ve proven
how truly weak you are… and yet…”
Dominic let out a tired sigh. He did not bother
using the blue healing fire. His body might be whole,
but it always took some time for his mind to heal
from the memory of the pain. And he rarely used so
much of his power; he felt tired unto death. “Either
destroy me completely or allow me to leave. I’m half human,
you know.”
“Indeed, indeed.” Mor’ded chuckled, lifted his
scepter, and the door of his chamber flew open with
a breath of fire. “You look so elven I forget you’re
half animal. Go lick your wounds, then. I want
you rested for the feast tonight, and of course, your
marriage tomorrow.”
Dominic halted in midstep. He had forgotten the
date. Easy to do, since he’d almost forgotten what his
intended looked like. He’d met Lady Cassandra only
a few times and could only recall a plain wisp of a girl
with brownish hair and eyes. “Is it tomorrow, then? I
suppose it’s best to get it over with.”
Mor’ded rolled the scepter between his palms, his
black eyes glittering. “It will make the humans happy,
seeing my son wed to one of their finest aristocrats.
And who knows? Perhaps you will breed true and
produce another champion.”
Dominic sighed. Fatigue shrouded him and it took
all his will to pick up his feet and put one before the
other again. He had realized years ago that it would
be pointless to fight the destiny his father had forced
upon him. If Mor’ded wanted him to take a wife and
breed champions, so be it.
It mattered only that Dominic never allowed them
to be used against him.
When he left Mor’ded’s room his feet took him to
the tower stairs and not his own chambers. Halfway
up the curving staircase a wave of nausea overtook
him, and he allowed himself a brief moment of
weakness. In the dark, where none could see. He felt
again the searing of his flesh and the constriction of
his lungs. Sweat broke out on his forehead while his
body trembled in wave upon wave of remembered
pain. But he gritted his teeth against the sobs that
threatened to rise from his chest, and for a brief
moment pictured his father’s slim neck between his
battle-hardened hands.
He thrust the futile image away and began to climb
again. The elven lord could level London if he so chose.
Dominic’s strength would never be a match against
Mor’ded’s, and he’d been forced to accept that.
But he had won a victory today. He’d made his
father proud enough to call him son before the
entire court. Dominic would grasp that slender
victory, as he’d grasped even smaller accomplishments
over the years.
He shoved open the wooden door and stepped out
onto the flat roof of the tower. Humid air caressed
his skin; a light breeze swept his silver hair against his
cheeks. The metallic smell of the dragon teased his nose,
and he glanced across the rooftop at the huge beast.
Ador raised his black-scaled head and blinked at
Dominic, his red eyes glowing even in the overcast
day. Strange eyes with elongated pupils with black
lines radiating from them, separating the red color
like pieces of a pie. The dragon’s leatherlike wings lay
tucked against his sides, appearing deceptively small
against his long, sinuous body.
Dominic removed his woolen coat and spread it
out in his usual place at the base of a merlon and sat,
his back against the stone. He leaned his head against
the hard surface and closed his eyes with a sigh of
utter weariness.
The dragon shifted. Dominic heard it in the slide
of scale on stone, felt it in the tremble of the floor
beneath his feet. It had once frightened him, the sheer
size of the beast. But no more. He’d gotten used to
the beast and Ador… well, the dragon had finally
managed to tolerate him.
“Do you remember the first time I came up here,
Ador?” Dominic didn’t wait for the dragon to answer.
He rarely received a response to his musings. But
for Dominic it was enough that someone listened.
“Father had tested my magic by burning Mongrel to
ashes. He was a good dog and a loyal friend. I didn’t
think I’d ever forgive myself for not having enough
magic to protect him.”
The pungent smell of the Thames swept across
the tower, even at this height, and for a moment,
Dominic thought he could hear the muffled sounds
of the city below them.
“It was the first time I realized I could no longer
allow myself to care for anyone. Man nor beast. For
Father would always use them to test my magic.”
Dominic blocked the images of those who had
suffered because of him. He’d found it much easier to
bear the pain himself. “But my human weakness for
companionship made me think of you. All alone, atop
your tower. And then I realized Father would never
harm his dragon-steed. That I could care for you,
at least. Even if you couldn’t return the sentiment.”
Dominic cracked a hopeful eye. But Ador appeared to
have fallen back to sleep, his lungs like a great bellows
pumping beneath those black, shiny scales.
Dominic sighed and allowed the solitude of their
high perch to settle over him. The world seemed very
far away up here. The wars, the court, his father—all
dwindled to minute specks of matter. One final small
tremor shook him, dispelling the last memory of pain.
And when he spoke again his voice held the coldly
rigid control it always did.
“I have done well, in most respects, to be like my
father. Remote and untouchable, concerned only
with my own pleasure. But you know the truth of
me, don’t you, Ador? Whether you willed it or not,
you’ve been forced to hear my true thoughts over
the years.” Dominic scrubbed a weary hand across his
brow. “This elven face of mine is deceiving, for I’ve
been cursed with an all-too-human heart.”
Ador snorted and his wing twitched, his only
reaction to Dominic’s damning statement. Ah well.
Dominic should consider that a remarkable response.
Usually the dragon resembled nothing more than a
still lump of shiny black coal.
Dominic rose and arched his back, wincing at a
stab of pain. Just an ordinary pain, though, from an
old bullet wound in battle. He smiled with relief that
it held none of the taint of black fire magic. “Are you
aware I’m to be married on the morrow? A dangerous
proposition for one such as I. I almost feel sorry
for the girl… but the aristocracy are used to being
breeding stock, are they not?”
He picked up his coat and slung it over his back.
His mind felt settled again, the memory of the
burning fading to a manageable degree. Dominic
couldn’t be sure if the dragon’s quiet presence
soothed him or if the release of his thoughts brought
him peace. He knew only that he always healed faster
atop the tower.
He’d taken a few steps toward the door when the
dragon’s rumbling words stopped him.
“I smell a change in the wind.”
Dominic turned and stared into those red eyes.
“What do you mean?”
Ador, of course, did not answer. He closed his
eyes again and huffed a small stream of smoke
through his nostrils.
Dominic considered the implications of the dragon’s
words. Ador had once told him his father was mad.
An obvious statement, it seemed, and yet those words
had allowed Dominic to deal with his father time
and again. So he did not think the dragon referred to
something as simple as the coming of the king. Yet
no matter how he twisted the statement around in his
head, he could not fathom it.
Ah well. How could Dominic know the turnings
of a dragon’s mind? It would become clear in time…
or until Ador chose to make it clear.