Cathair laughed as the two men he was sparring with crashed into the crowd of onlookers, causing them to fall like dominos. “You need to watch where you’re going,” he yelled. “That’s not the way to tackle a Battle Lord. I can take a dozen of you on at once and it’d make no difference. I’d still be standing. You have to strategize.” He tapped his head as his disgruntled friends stood up. “Ninety percent of winning is done in here.”
“Yeah,” Valouf muttered, “it has nothing to do with big hands and arms the size of tree trunks.”
“Or the fact you have eyes in the back of your head,” Tansin agreed as he dusted himself off. “Who were you showing off for this time? I thought Lansden was sharing your bed and he ain’t here. Tired of him already?”
“I wasn’t showing off; I was just trying to give you guys some pointers. Something you can’t get through your thick heads. Come on, I’ll buy you both a drink,” Cathair dropped his voice. He hated the gossip that came with his position. “I won’t talk about it here,” he cast a scowl at a few avid onlookers; many of whom were giving him flirty looks.
“Problem in paradise?” Valouf grinned as he came up beside him. “I thought Lansden was ‘the one’.”
Cathair slapped his friend’s air quotes down and kept walking, Tansin flanking his other side. “My mate isn’t elf; the seers have already told me that much. Lansden was…was….”
“A sexy fuck? A great cocksucker? The light of your soul?”
“He was nice.”
“Ouch,” Tansin rubbed his chest. “That’s all you can say about a man who kept your bed warm for longer than a week?”
“You’re no better,” Cathair snapped. “You barely remember the names of anyone who falls into your bed. How many has it been this week? Three? Four?”
“What day is it?” Resting his finger on his chin Tansin gave the impression of thinking before he laughed. “Look, I get it. You’re a big guy with a position to uphold. You have to be careful who you pick up. But Lansden, fuck. He’s a junior minister, comes from one of the wealthiest families. You could do a lot worse for a consort.”
Cathair sighed. “I’m aware of that. He told me so, repeatedly; usually, while I had my cock in his ass. What does it tell you about my sexual prowess or our attraction if the guy is planning wedding invitations while he’s on my dick?”
“He was using his body to tempt you with his wicked plan of eternal matrimony?” Valouf’s hand on his shoulder barely registered. “I bet you feel used. You poor, poor battle lord.”
“It’s not a laughing matter,” Cathair felt his anger rise as he remembered his last confrontation with the pretty bed warmer. “He wanted a promotion and was using me to get it. That’s the fourth one in the last two years. I swear, if it wasn’t for the seer’s prophecy, I’d go mad.”
“Is this about Jorge?” Valouf seemed depressed on his behalf and Cathair hated that his friends knew so much about his biggest mistake.
“Yes. No. Damn, I don’t know. Are you telling me you can’t see the similarities?”
“Jorge was a junior minister, just like Lansden,” Tansin ticked off his fingers. “Both men were small and cute and thought their shit didn’t stink.”
“And both men tried to trap me into marriage just to further their own career. Jorge damn near succeeded. We had suits. I had two beautiful rings specially crafted. The invitations went out. If the seers hadn’t warned my father about him cheating on me, I’d still be married to the power-hungry slut. I didn’t know anything about his cheating nature. I fucking loved him and look where that got me. Lord knows, I’m not going through that heartache again.” Cathair walked faster. He needed that drink more than ever. Two hundred years and his heart still ached when he thought of Jorge.
“You don’t plan on marrying at all?” Tansin scurried to catch up. “You plan to wait for your mate? Cat, you’re mad. Do you know how long that could take?”
Tansin’s concern seemed genuine and that’s the only reason Cathair considered his words before he spoke. The three men had been friends for a dozen lifetimes and he wasn’t about to change that. “I’m aware that most elves don’t meet their mates until they are well into their thousands. I know I’ve got a way to go. Just because I might be alone another five hundred years, there’s no reason to marry now. Face it, with my lack of judgment, it’s probably for the best.” He knew he sounded bitter, but Lansden’s overtly ambitious moves on him had blindsided him as much as Jorge’s had; bringing back painful memories of the humiliation and the grief he felt watching his plans for a happy loving life destroyed. Cathair was sick of it. Sick of being treated like nothing but a pawn in somebody else’s game.
“You have every reason to marry now,” Valouf said quickly. “If you don’t do it soon, then your window for having children and raising them before you find your mate will be gone. You know that’s how we work in our society. There’s an expectation that the strongest ones among us will breed before we find our mate. I don’t understand why you’re fighting so hard against tradition.”
“I’m hardly likely to have children with someone like Lansden or any other junior minister who sees me as a stepping stone to his success.” He didn’t mention that Lansden brought up the issue himself; claiming it would give him further kudos in their political system if they adopted soon after their marriage. “I’m not the one who’d stay home with them and Lansden had enough trouble getting himself ready for work in the morning, not to mention all he can think about is his career. Who’d look after the kids? Besides, why should I marry just to further someone else’s career ambitions? Surely, there has to be more to a marriage of convenience than that.”
Cathair pulled open the heavy doors of the Officer’s Club. Striding over to the bar, he was aware of the muttered whispers and the suggestive looks sent his way. “You’re so clearly available it’s as though you’re wearing a freaking sign around your neck. You’d stop a lot of this nonsense if you simply choose someone and got on with it,” Tansin whispered as he joined Cathair at the bar. “Everyone knows you’re the strongest of us all; the longer you wait, the more attention you’ll keep getting. I’m surprised the Elders haven’t ordered you to marry someone.”
“I’ve been busy off world for months. I barely have time to hook up before I’m sent off again. Besides, the Elders know better than to issue me with ultimatums.” Grabbing the pitcher of beer left for him, Cathair ignored the barman’s wink and led his friends to a table at the back of the club. The room could easily have been taken from some historical television drama. The wood paneling, low ceilings, and muted lighting were all earth inspired. While Cathair preferred trees and open air, the Officer’s Club served the best beer on the realm.
“Valouf and I are both married. You don’t see us complaining about it, do you? Shit, Theresa is planning a party for when I do find my mate,” Tansin laughed. “Now the kids are grown I think she can’t wait to get rid of me.”
“I never understood that,” Cathair pondered his next words. Tansin and Valouf were his closest friends but he’d been shocked when they married within a year of each other more than thirty years before. He’d never said anything then or as the years passed, but that specific aspect of the elven way of life bothered him. “You know your wives aren’t who you’re fated for. Your relationships will end in divorce if not now, then one day. Admittedly, the Elders make ending a marriage easy. But I just don’t understand the callous way our people take up with a person one day, get a wing twitch a few years down the track and walk away from the person they made a life with already. How can you do that and yet claim you love that person?”
“Because that’s what we’ve always done as a people. Cathair,” Valouf laid his hand on his arm. “We’re long lived; virtually immortal. There’s a good chance my mate will be male, but why shouldn’t I take the opportunity to raise children with another of my kind while I wait for him to turn up? You know how the Elders frown on half-breeds. It’s why they encourage marriages to happen before matings. I’m proud of my boys. I was thrilled when Anna told me she was carrying twins. Sure, we don’t share a bed anymore and the boys left home five years ago, but the marriage we have was always based on the understanding it’s temporary. When Anna does find her mate, I’ll be overjoyed for her as Tansin will be when Theresa finds hers. You can love someone and not be in love with them.”
“Have the seers said they will have elven mates or others?” When an elf reached the age of a hundred and twenty-five they were summoned before the seers and given messages relating to the work they would do and who their mate would be. Of course, no seer could predict when their mate would turn up, but it was always assumed a person would be closer to two thousand years old before that happened. Which is why so many of his kind married and had families before that eventuality could happen. Most elves didn’t leave the realm unless it was part of their work so those with non-elf mates felt safe in marrying and raising children first.
“They are fated to mate with other Elves,” Valouf said and Tansin nodded in agreement. “It was worrying when the children were small,” Valouf continued, “but they were both willing and wanted strong children; hence choosing soldiers.” He slapped Tansin on the arm. “The time has come though. I think Anna plans on taking Theresa with her on a trip after Solstice in the hopes of finding their mates elsewhere in the realm.”
“And when they do find them, they’ll jump on the family merry go-round with another set of children because of their pure blood status,” Cathair took a long drink. He just didn’t get it. He never had. He wanted love or he’d rather be alone. Not that he was going to say that. “I understand, I really do. My dad explained the facts of life to me the first time he caught me with…fuck, I can’t remember his name, it was so long ago. But when the seers told me my mate would be off world, and they told me I would spend my life serving this nation as a soldier, the thought of having children with someone, other than my mate…I just couldn’t do it. I can’t do it, no matter how much the Elders or anyone else expects this of me. I’ve struggled to be with women as it is, and while the thought of having someone to hold close at the end of the day is something I dream of more than I should…I can’t give my vows to one person knowing eventually I’ll end up with another.”
“Who knew our infamous battle lord was such a romantic,” Tansin smiled. “But yeah, it wasn’t easy and I can’t blame you for thinking the way you do. My mate will be male too and as much as I care for Theresa, we both knew it was a marriage of convenience. I’m not complaining. She’s a good friend and I will miss her counsel when she’s found her true love. I’ll never regret having the kids; I’m proud of the adults they’ve become. It won’t be easy moving on from family life.”
“You have to wonder why the seers do it,” Valouf waved his glass around and Cathair noticed the pitcher was almost empty. “Why tell us about our mate when we’re barely over a hundred, when we know we have to live this long before there’s any chance of finding them? One thousand and forty years we’ve been alive. I spent the first thousand of them fucking anything that moved and then the last thirty of them married because the big wigs frown on you marrying earlier unless you win the lottery and find your mate at a young age. But then they frown on you if you’re unmarried after you’ve been around a thousand years. None of it makes sense.”
“And if you ask about it, the Elders will simply tell you this is the way things have always been done,” Cathair said gently, pulling the glass out of his friend’s hand. “I think you’ve had enough. Anna will have my guts if I take you home drunk. Tansin, are you expected home or shall we….” He stopped as he noticed Tansin pointing behind him. Turning, Cathair saw one of the Elders’ messengers. The bright purple smock with the gold crest of the Elders house emblazoned on the front made them instantly recognizable.
“Were you looking for me?”
“The High Elder requests your presence immediately, Battle Lord.” The young elf’s eyes widened as Cathair stood up. He must be new.
“See to it our friend gets home safely, would you Tansin? Rain check for dinner?”
Tansin nodded and Cathair followed the messenger who was having trouble staying on his feet as he kept looking back at him. Cathair wasn’t averse to enjoying the scenery himself. The elf had well-defined legs and a perky ass although his timid expression was off-putting. He’s too young for me anyway, he thought with a sigh; instead wondering where the Elder was sending him this time.
Because of his hard-won position, Cathair often got sent to other realms, even earth on occasion. It was usually to hunt down elves who caused issues with other paranormals, but occasionally he was asked to do something more constructive, like quell an uprising or solve a feud between species. Elves were different to other paranormals. They were more like the watchdogs of the paranormal world and the accuracy of their seers had never once been disputed in their thousands of years of existence. Operating on the idea prevention was better than cure, often times places Cathair went to didn’t even know they had a problem before he was there solving it.
Hopefully, I’m going off world. It might stop people gossiping about my unmarried state for a while.