“Why did you fight with her?”Ava asked from her chair in the small sitting room that connected her and Damien’s bedrooms. They’d been put into a cottage with two rooms, a small kitchen, and a bathroom they’d have to share, all situated away from the main house. She’d slept in worse.
“Because she needed a fight.” He stepped out of the bathroom, holding a towel to his hair. “And I give my mate what she needs.”
He was dressed in jeans and a short-sleeved T-shirt, despite the cold. Ava had noticed in the car that Damien seemed to run hot. She’d never noticed in Istanbul, but walking around in long sleeves to cover his extensive talesm must have been irritating. The tattoos reached from his collar to his wrists, with some spells even crawling down onto the backs of his hands. She knew he had them on his legs, too, though she’d never seen them. The scribe was very powerful, yet Sari had beaten him to his knees. And even though Ava knew he’d been holding back, it hadn’t been by much.
There was a fire already burning in the grate when they’d arrived. Damien insisted that Ava get cleaned up first, then took his own shower to get rid of the caked-on mud. It was only five o’clock, but the sun was starting to disappear, sinking behind the mountains that surrounded the narrow valley.
He took a seat by the fire. “We’re in the Nordfjord. Sari’s family has had this property for hundreds of years. It used to be just a small cottage they used for holidays. Very private. Her family was always very private. They liked their own space and never took well to living in retreats. After the Rending, after we lost… so many, she left me and came here. I knew she’d gathered other Irina but didn’t know how many.”
“This is your first time here?”
“Since the Rending, yes. I came here before. When we were first mated.” He looked out the window at the lake in the base of the valley. “We spent time here together. I’m one of the few Irin scribes who even knows this place exists. We’re safe here; I’m sure of it.”
“When was the last time you saw her?” Ava asked as Damien bent his head, holding his shoulder-length hair near the fire.
“It’s been years. We used to try to meet in other places.” He frowned. “But it was too… It’s complicated, Ava.”
She nodded, still not really understanding. She could sense how painful the topic was, despite his natural stoicism.
“Does she really hate you so much?”
He looked up, his elbows propped on his knees, and his eyes burned with pride. “She hates me as she loves me. Wholly and completely. Sari never does anything by halves.”
“Are they all angry? Are all the Irina angry like Sari?”
“No. Maybe.” He took a deep breath and sat back. “There’s not a simple answer. And there are so few Irina in most places. I am… not the best person to explain.”
“Try. I need to understand.”
He absently rubbed his cheek where his mate had struck him. The wound had already healed, but a faint shadow remained.
“You can see how powerful they are. The Irina, I mean. An Irina singer at the height of her power, trained by her elders, can wield frightening magic. With a word, they can change the course of the wind. Render a strong man weak or a weak man strong—”
“Break a stick in half and then mend it?”
He nodded. “All Irina have different powers. Seers. Healers. Elemental magic. Some of that is natural and some depends on how they train. In the past, they used their magic for mostly creative endeavors. Healing. Building. Teaching the young. Scientific discovery. These were always their greatest strengths. The more… martial magics… were not valued.” He smiled. “Many of the older Irina derided offensive spells. ‘Male’s work,’ my grandmother would sneer at my father and me. All Irina knew some protective spells, of course. And many to help themselves blend in with the human world, but it was the Irin scribes’ job to protect them. And for our part, we didn’t encourage our mates to learn offensive magic. Why would they need it? They had us. And we…” His voice grew hoarse. “We would never leave them unprotected.”
A low anger began to smolder in her gut. “Except you did.”
“We did.” He braved her eyes. “And we learned how desperately wrong we were only after we lost everything.”
“Not everything,” she said, trying not to taste the bitterness on her tongue. “You and Sari still have each other. Lots of people—most of the Irin—lost their mates.”
“I’m one of the lucky ones.” A sad smile lifted the corner of his mouth. “We aren’t exactly a peaceable pair, but then, we never have been.”
“Will she ever forgive you?”
“I don’t know.” Then his eyes gleamed and his smile spread. “But I’m tired of being patient. And as I give Sari what she needs, so she will give me what I need. If meeting you has taught me anything, it’s that change is possible. And there are powers at work that we may never understand. We lost half our race during the Rending. Then we—Irin and Irina—allowed this wound to fester. We’re dying from within, and it must stop. Change is no longer only possible, it’s necessary for survival.”
“Do you think they’re ready for it?”
“I don’t know. But look at you, Ava.” He leaned forward, bracing his elbows on his knees. “Everything in our writings, in our history, tells us you shouldn’t exist. And yet, you do! Though your mother is human, you hear the voices of the soul. Your words hold power. You mated with a warrior in my house. You are an Irina.” Damien turned and stared out the window toward the large house that dominated the valley. “Change has already come. They just don’t know it yet.”