Chapter 23 begins with Merry overhearing that others, including Holly and Ash, had collapsed as well. Like Merry gives any shits about the others.
“What is wrong with them? With all of them?” I asked.
“I’m not sure,” Rhys said, “but his pulse is fading.”
I looked at him over Frost’s still form. I knew my face showed the shock.
“They didn’t have the dogs,” Galen said. “They didn’t have anything to hold on to when you created more faerie land.”
So THAT’S what Merry did. She created some faerie land at Maeve Reed’s estate. This wasn’t AT ALL made clear in the last chapter, so I’m glad Galen actually said this. I’d have had no idea otherwise.
Doyle walks toward Frost, and with him comes one of his black hounds. As he nears, the hound starts changing color, from black to green. It had become one of the Cu Sith, to help guard the new bit of faerie Merry created.
The Cu Sith is walking through all the fallen men, occasionally stopping to lick one of them. Once licked, the fallen man wakes up. He walks past Onilwyn, who had fallen, but does not lick him awake. He comes to Holly and Ash, but again doesn’t wake them.
So Doyle starts speaking in some ancient tongue, and another of his black hounds begins transforming. It turns black and white, which Rhys remarks is a “Gally-trot”. It moves to Holly and Ash and wakes them. Merry begins to stress that neither the Cu Sith or the Gally-trot are bothering with Frost.
I stared down at Frost, and saw a gleam of blue at his neck. His tie had already been loosened by someone. I snapped off buttons in my haste to see, and found blue glowing on his skin.
Rhys and Galen put him on his back, and helped me tear his shirt open. There was a tattoo on his chest that glowed blue. It was a stag head with a crown in its antlers. It was a mark of kingship, but it was also a mark of the sacrificial king. The white stag was what he had made with his touch that night in the winter dark. The white stag is a thing to be hunted and to lead the hero to his destiny.
I stared at Rhys’s face because he looked as horrified as I felt.
“What does it mean?” Galen asked.
“Once all new creation came with a sacrifice,” Doyle’s voice intoned, but it wasn’t his voice.
Merry begins screaming “No” and stands up. She marches over to Doyle to confront what or whoever is in his body, but she just stands there. Her two dogs, Minnie and Mungo, appear next to her, and the ring Merry wears begins pulsing. The ring that helps identify love matches or potential parents. She looks at her dog Minne and sees a bunch of “phanton puppies” playing around her. Merry knows that this means Minnie is pregnant, and is amazed because no faerie dogs had been born in hundreds of years.
Minnie nudges Merry’s hand, and Merry then sees two phantom babies near her. Then, as she continues to marvel at the babies, she sees a faint third, knowing that there could possibly be more to come.
I realized as soon as I thought it that the ring had other powers. I wanted to know who the father was, and I could know here with the ring, inside faerie. I turned and looked at Doyle, and found the answer I most wanted. The ring pulsed, and the scene of roses rode the air.
I turned toward Frost. A child sat beside him, quiet, and too solemn. No, Goddess, no, not like this. Even the wonder of a child, of twins, could not make Frost’s loss a fair trade. I did not know these phantom children yet. I had not held them. I did not know their smiles. I did not know how soft their hair was, or how sweet their skin smelled. They were not real yet. Frost was real. Frost was mine, and we had made a child.
“Goddess, please,” I whispered.
Rhys moved toward the edge of vision, and the child reached up for him. It passed a phantom hand through his. He reacted to it, trying to see what had touched him. That wasn’t right. I held two children inside me, not three. I was one father over the line.
Oh, you thought she was done at three magical fathers?
Galen caught me in his arms, and the ring pulsed hard enough to make me stagger. Four fathers for two babies. It made no sense. I hadn’t had intercourse with Galen for more than a month, because we all agreed he’d make a bad king. He and Kitto had been the only ones who had let me indulge my penchant for oral sex to my heart’s content. But you couldn’t get pregnant from that.
The scent of roses was stronger. That usually meant a yes. Not possible, I thought.
So Galen is ALSO a father, but from SWALLOWING HIS BABY BATTER. Hahahaha WhAT
Merry begins praying to the Goddess, asking her to please not take Frost from her, not before he gets to meet his child. As she’s praying, she notices that the stag tattoo on Frost’s chest begins pulsing brighter and brighter.
The glow was so bright I could no longer see his body. I could feel the smooth muscles of his chest, but I could not see anything but the blue of the flames.
I felt fur under my hand. Fur? Then I was not touching Frost. Something else was inside that blue glow. Something with fur and not man-shaped.
The shape stood, and moved high enough that I could not touch it. Doyle was behind me, folding me in his arms, picking me up off the ground. The blue fire died down, and a huge white stag stood in front of us. It looked at me with gray and silver eyes.
And the chapter ends with Frost the stag running out of the room, not even bothering to give Merry any sign that he recognizes her at all.