Bran burned to see what was in Macsen’s hand, gleaming yellow, calling to him with his own power. It was the dagger Bran had made for Noirine. The dagger that had been meant to kill the Red King, this smug vampire standing in front of him with a smile on his face.
The old mix of fury and guilt rose up and choked him. The heart of his rage, close to the surface after a day spent brooding, had been soothed by the promise of Macsen’s mouth and hands on his skin, had faded into the background confronted by something as inexplicable as this vampire presence and his own trust. Now instead of the pleasure those touches had promised, he was being goaded into a fight, and even knowing the reason didn’t relieve the sting of Macsen’s last comment.
“It won’t be so difficult—after all, you’re the one that forges these weapons, aren’t you? You should know how to use them.”
Bran was aware that as of yet, the one he intended to fight had done nothing to him to warrant such a violent response. He was aware that it was unfair to take out twenty years’ worth of pent up emotions on someone who had himself been hunted and harried for his existence alone.
The Milesians were fools, of course, to think they could influence or destroy the Red King and his court. Standing in Macsen’s presence, he could see that now. He couldn’t see what it was about Macsen that drove the Milesians to such extremes, seeking to destroy him, any more than he had ever been able to see what it was about himself that disgusted them so.
He was aware that men did not hold the wolf responsible for its kill, that the wildcat was not reviled for eating the flesh that sustained it. It was stupid to assume that men would have no predator, and completely idiotic to think that men could destroy such a predator if they found it.
It occurred to Bran that the Milesians had been badly misled by the ease with which their ancestors had banished the Irish sidhe, but that was a misconception that would only be corrected by future pain.
Bran looked up at Macsen, resolved to do what was necessary, and nodded once.
“All right. All right, I’ll do what you want—and hold you to your promise, Red King.”
Macsen smiled slowly. “Sidhe don’t break their word like men, Bran. What I say, I will do. Now, choose a weapon!”
Blacker than the night sky, Macsen’s aura flowed around Bran and buffeted him with power. Bran took a step to his left, his gaze fixed on Macsen, and reached behind him through the open door of the smithy. The staff was where he had left it, leaning against the wall just inside the threshold, and Bran grasped hold of it and squeezed it tightly. It hummed in his hands, drawing on the spark within him to further awaken the living gold in its bright, new spirals.
Bran faced his opponent and breathed deeply. He held the staff he had made poised across his body and saw Macsen stare at it, appraising. It was a gorgeous weapon, iron-hard oak capped and shod and inlaid with gleaming gold.
“Make a good show of it, Bran Fionnan!”
They rushed together and the lash of air that accompanied Macsen’s movements was a blow on its own. Bran’s thoughts overflowed in the wake of it. No wonder Noirine hadn’t succeeded. How could she? She had been fast, but not fast enough, strong, but not as strong as the Red King.
Bran came back to himself to find that while he’d been distracted, Macsen had gained a steady grip on his staff. He stared at Macsen’s hands, pale, smooth, the nails glinting like glass, then found himself flying over Macsen’s shoulder and down onto the ground. Macsen tossed the weapon away from them into the night, and Bran sucked in a deep breath and met violet eyes with his own gaze. He saw promise in them, promise and lust and amusement.
That last irritated him, and he wondered if he might be able to make an impression. He had no weapon, but so what? The power inside him was what was dangerous, wasn’t it?
Bran grinned and pushed himself onto his feet, crouched low to the ground and tracked Macsen’s approach. When the Red King laid hands on him, exercised a tithe of his strength and lifted him, Bran dangled in his long-fingered grasp like a doll for half a moment. Then he reached for power and felt heat flood his flesh. His skin glowed with gold light, but Macsen only laughed at him and squinted through the brightness.
“That won’t do a thing, Bran Fionnan. Not your power, not to me. Not even you and the gold you wake together can harm me. It’s just bad luck for you, none of your kin would have as much trouble. Weren’t you listening? There’s a bond between us, a bond neither of us can break. A bond of trust…and a bond against such dangers.”
Bran understood nothing but that he had failed, but he wasn’t too unhappy, just confused. He hadn’t really wanted to hurt Macsen, after all.
Macsen put him down, but his hands held Bran still, and Bran twisted in struggle. He didn’t know if he was struggling for show, or because of his own internal conflicts, and he didn’t know if what came next was an accident or not. Was it because he pressed too hard, moved just too far trying to get away? Was it just because Macsen wanted it, even as Bran himself did?