(Based on a flash fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig)
Lightening flashed outside, and Duchess Nienna Darksheild drew strength from the storm. With a final push she fell back against the pillows and the cry of a newborn pierced the night.
The Priestess of Thalia smiled as she cleaned the child and handed him to Caenner.
The babe quieted as Caenner stared into the red and wrinkled face. Eyes blue as a summer’s sky stared up and him, and the power of the storm thrummed through the child.
So his son would be a sky mage as his mother was.
The priestess swaddled the child in fresh linens and handed him to Caenner before tending to Nienna.
Caenner trailed a finger over the tips of his son’s pointed ears, and the child grabbed his finger.
A rare smile curved Caenner’s lips.
His son. Nienna’s son.
Caenner whispered as he sat beside his wife. “My darling, brave Nienna.”
Her eyes flickered open, and her ready smile lifted her lips as she looked into the face of her son. “He’s beautiful.”
“He takes after his mother.”
“May he have his father’s charm.” She stroked her son’s cheek. “I love you, Caenner.”
He caught her fingers and brought them to his lips. “You are my world, Nienna, and now you’ve given me a son. By the gods, you are truly amazing.”
She smiled as he laid their child in her arms. “Vaundryn, we’ll name him Vaundryn.”
“So be it,” Caenner said as he smoothed her golden locks. Love bloomed in his chest as he looked at his wife and son. She could ask him for the moon, and he’d try to get it for her.
“You must rest, Your Grace.” The priestess stroked a hand over Nienna’s eyes, and the golden glow of healing magic passed from the priestess into Nienna.
The duchess smiled as the warmth poured through her, and she held her son to her breast to suckle. Nienna’s warm smile remained as her eyes closed and she slept.
Sleep smoothed away the fatigue lining Nienna’s face.
“She’ll be fine, Your Grace. No easy task bringing a child into the world.”
The room wavered, and a man dressed in billowing black robes carrying a gnarled staff stepped from the shadows.
The priestess leapt between Nienna and the dark cloaked figure, conjuring forth the silver flame of Thalia. With a flick of his wrist, the priestess collapsed to the floor.
Caenner shielded his wife and newborn son with his own body. “You killed her.”
“I have no fondness for Thalia or her priestesses, but a prince of shadows is wise not to bring the Light to bear on himself.”
Caenner’s mouth dried as fear hollowed his stomach. “What do you want, Korthuul?”
“You betrayed the Dark Lord, and you ask me what I want?”
“I turned from the darkness two centuries ago. Purified and redeemed by Thalia’s holy flame.”
“Redemption does not mean forgiveness, and the Dark Lord has a long memory.” Korthuul glanced at the sleeping woman with the child at her breast. “And you finally have something to repay the blood oath.”
Caenner paled. “You want my son.”
“Or your wife. That is Uzakiel’s price.”
“A choice I won’t make.”
Korthuul only smiled. “Know thisas you choose. Your wife will bear you no more children. When you die, so will the Darkshield line. Your son will be a great mage, more powerful in sky magic than even his mother, and his death magic will rival your own.”
Caenner stroked his wife’s golden hair and trailed a finger over his son’s tiny closed fist. How could he ever be asked to choose between them? His life had been barren before Nienna, empty enough that he had turned to Uzakiel, and only her love had brought him back to the Light. He could not imagine living through a day without the light of her smile to chase back the darkness.
Nor could he take his son from her breast, end the life she struggled to bring into this world. His son, their son, the future duke and heir of House Darkshield.
“Choose,” Korthuul demanded.
Drawing on all his magic, Caenner hurled it toward Korthuul and stabbed at him with the burning cold of death magic.
Korthuul staggered under the onslaught, then drew on his own magic. He called the storm to him and threw its power against Caenner.
He froze the storm, dropping it at their feet as he unsheathed his dagger and charged Korthuul. Caenner buried the dagger into Korthuul’s chest as the archmage called on the power of the earth to shield him and force Caenner back.
“If only you had brought such passion to your service of the Dark Lord.”
“If I still followed Uzakiel, I wouldn’t have Nienna or my son.”
He couldn’t lose them. He would rather die than lose them.
Caenner drew hard on his death magic, and honing it to a deadly point, he arrowed it at Korthuul and pierced his shields long enough to stop his heart.
Korthuul negated the spell, and threw another at Caenner.
Their magic locked, and the cold of death sizzled through the air, freezing the sweat beading on their brows. Magic clashed and their power burned through the night. Caenner was flagging, his reserves tapped, but still he fought, emptying himself in the fight to save his wife and child.
Korthuul trembled as he called forth the depths of his power, and the force of the spell ripped through him as he engulfed Caenner in a fire spell. The spell burned through the cold of Caenner’s death magic shields and filled his belly, burning away the last of his magic.
Caenner collapsed, gasping for breath between clenched teeth.
“Take me. It was my choice to serve Uzakiel, my choice to turn to the Light.”
Korthuul arched a black brow. “He doesn’t want you.”
“He can’t have either of their souls. Even with your shadow magic, Mor will come for them.”
“My Lord does not wish their souls. He simply wishes revenge. Now choose.”
A single tear slid down his Caenner’s cheek as he laid his forehead against the cold stone. Pain raked his soul. While the end of House Darksheild saddened his heart, losing his one true love would break him. He’d find a way to explain to Nienna.
“My son, take my son.”
Still trembling from the battle, darkness cloaked Korthuul as he withdrew a razor edged dagger and stepped to the side of the bed. “As the Dark Lord bids, the Countess Nienna Darkshield’s blood in payment for your blood oath.”
“What? You said . . .” Caenner screamed as he dragged himself from the floor.
“You don’t think the Dark Lord would settle for second best, do you?” The dagger arced, and blood hot and red poured from the wound and bathed the child as it soaked the bed and dripped to the floor.
Father and son’s screams pierced the night as Nienna’s lifeless eyes stared at the ceiling.