(previously published as "The Oak King")
"The Oak King and the Holly King doth rule the forest green,
One bright and fair as a summer's morn, one dark as a winter's e'en.
Twice in each year the two must meet to do battle for the throne,
And one shall remain in the goddess's arms, while the other shall rule alone."
Set in 19th century Ireland, this is the story of Fionn O'Dair, The Oak King, his relationship with The Holly King, Kieran Mac Cuilenn and with Aine Murphy, the mortal woman who loves them both.
The air shimmered around Fionn as he willed himself through the veil. His body ached as he straightened slowly to stand on unsteady feet.
The woman kneeling on the ground in front of him gasped in surprise.
"Gods save me," she said, breaking off her song to stare at him. "Who-who are you? Where did you come from?"
Fionn didn't answer right away. It took him a moment to find his voice. It wasn't just that her beauty stole his breath; he was also dazed and disoriented, momentarily depleted of power. Who knew it would take so much effort to work such magic? Well, Kieran, probably. Fionn had long suspected there were many things that the Holly King knew but had not bothered to share with him. But, that was neither here nor there. If there was anything Fionn would not be wasting time on, in the next six months--or ever again, if he were lucky--it was Kieran Mac Cuilenn. Until the Winter Solstice Fionn intended to live as a human. Maybe he wouldn't go back at all. Perhaps, if he were truly lucky, the winds would not search for him on this side of the veil. Perhaps, in his absence, his Lord and Lady would find someone else to take his place, someone better suited to the task than he.
"Answer me." The woman--Aine--demanded. Despite the hint of steel in her voice, her eyes were huge and her breath was shallow and far too fast.
She's frightened. The realization struck at Fionn's heart and didn't help him find his words any more quickly. She'd always seemed so supremely confident each time he'd seen her, like a goddess in the flesh. It had not occurred to him that his appearance would cause her to become anything more than momentarily startled. He hadn't thought of...well, entirely too much, obviously. Damn him for a fool. As usual, he'd acted on impulse, thinking only of his own needs...
But that thought only strengthened his resolve. It was one more reason why he'd been right to take this step and leave the throne behind. If he could not live up to even his own expectations of how the Oak King should behave, why not try and carve out a life for himself here, where no one had any expectations of him at all?