14.5 Ordeal

by Matt P.

The pressure stopped battering at Walter’s soul, and he had the distinct feeling that he had surprised a God. He saw his fellow police officers and his daughters standing up, but no one spoke for long moments—they just stared at him. The Faeries were equally incredulous. Even Tennyson rolled over from where he was laying in pain to stare in horror.

“What?” Oberon asked, stunned. And then after a moment his whole frame began to quake. He looked at Walter for a moment, and then he changed—the same way that Walter had seen Morgan change before. What Walter increasingly had to admit was magic flowed off the man, until he stood in front of Walter eye to eye. He was broad-shouldered, with dark red hair in a functional pony-tail and a matching goatee. He had blue-green eyes whose shape reminded him distinctly of Aoife and Niamh and the visions he had seen. “You would challenge a god—the High King of the Faerie, carrying with him the power of another close to his own strength and that of the Summer Queen—to single combat?” His voice was as amused as it was incredulous, neither emotion edging out the other or wiping the smirk off his face.

Walter nodded. He turned his back on the man, which from the grumble he heard come from behind him was not something one normally did to a High King, and retrieved the bowie-style knife he had whipped Ninja Grandpa thoroughly with. He turned back to Oberon, and nodded. “Yep. And I plan on beating the tar out of him too, before I go home.”

Morgan looked up from where she sat with sad eyes to Walter, shaking her head. “There are easier ways to commit suicide, Walter.” He watched the determination rebuild itself in her eyes, as she geared herself up to try the same thing that he had already committed himself to. He stepped over and put a hand on her shoulder. “It isn’t your burden to bear, it’s mine.” She started to set Tania aside, but Walter tightened his hand on her shoulder. “Walter…the only way we could kill him was with a goidte dubh. I lost one in Nightmare, and Tania’s blood ruins the other one. The only blood a black knife can taste is the person it is tied to, or it’s useless. You’ll be ground up like beef, but I—”

“Am sitting this one out,” Walter answered simply. “I made the challenge, and I’m not much of a Knight but those aren’t things you normally back away from. So you tell me what, big red and evil, you want to throw down or not?”

Oberon’s chortle was low and ominous, a bass note played from the core of the world. It rumbled through Walter’s bones, and made him seriously doubt whatever idiotic plan he thought he had. But he was committed now, and he hardened his eyes in the face of it. “You do not lack for courage, warrior. You will earn glory in your passing, foolish as it is.” His dark green eyes flickered to his own warriors. “If any try to interfere, kill them. This will be between the mortal and I.”

Almost instinctively, Walter and Oberon both stepped away from the crowds. Walter flipped the knife around to a more defensive reverse grip, holding it out between himself and the Faerie king. “How many of your people have gotten killed because what..you’re pissed you don’t get to go home? Join the club, lot’s of people don’t go home again.”

Oberon sneered, not even bothering to draw a weapon as he moved to begin circling his opponent. “I was their King, and they demanded I give up my authority. You were a soldier, Walter Richards, though even my sources found a record drenched in the black ink of secrecy. Did you step down for your soldier’s whims, or did you lead them?”

Walter first nodded, then shook his head. “I never asked them to do anything illegal. You weren’t made a King, you were appointed—Morgan told me that. You’re a General, not a King, and what we call it when a General doesn’t lay down his arms is a coup.”

“I was a King, and I am a King, and a King I shall be again,” Oberon stated flatly, fire burning behind the emerald of his eyes. “I was appointed in a crucible of fire and death to finally destroy the Fomor, and I did. Then they tried to take away what was mine by right.”

Walter sneered. “A coup. You were a Roman dictator, appointed to solve a crisis—and you had the same choice every Dictator ever did. To give it up a hero, or to seize on it and hold it for as long as you could. You could have been a Faerie Cincinnatus, but you chose to be a tyrant instead.”

Oberon shook his head in bemusement. “Speak to me of the ancient times, pup? I knew Cincinnatus, and I was once awarded coronae by the Roman legions when I spent time as a man among them. They should not have made a king if they did not want to be ruled,” he continued, his voice growing harsh, “and Mab and Titania would never have stood against me if my treacherous twins had not spoken poison in their ears.”

“Your daughters,” Walter said softly, “are both twice the ruler and person you have ever been.”

“Fortunately,” Oberon responded, “You are not.” And with that he blinked out of existence.

Walter’s world exploded in to pain, and he was sent sprawling to the ground gasping. He could feel the imprint of a fist on his chest where Oberon had punched him, and he was reasonably certain that one punch had broken several ribs. He was also certain Oberon had not punched him that hard at all. When Walter looked up, the red-haired king was standing over him with that arrogant sneer on his lips, reaching down for Walter’s throat.

“If you had not been insolent, I would have made this fast,” he spoke, before he flung Walter across the courtyard, skipping over the ground like a skipping stone on a perfect lake.