Vampire Queen 8 - Bound by the Vampire Queen - Joey W Hill, page 11
However, other times he let it be what it was, enjoying that tranquility.
Now he held her tighter, rocked her a little, because the hummed lullaby put them in the same place, reaching out to Kane with the shared memory of their evening ritual. It also helped soothe her, though he could tell from her mind she was already calm. Exceptionally so, but he knew this side of her, as he knew the matching side in himself. Calm and steady might not mean prepared, because it was difficult to prepare for the unknown, but it was the best way to meet it.
As her voice drifted off, he took up the song.
Looking up, he saw a small group of Fae about the size of the irritated mother, as well as another handful of insect Fae, had lighted on a branch above them, listening. These insect Fae were like crickets, bearing fiddles. Delightfully, they began to accompany his lullaby in chirping notes. Thinking of the music he’d heard when they crossed the portal, Jacob recalled the Fae loved few things as much as music and dancing. Higher up, he saw other eyes.
Birds here and there, roosting for the night. A long limbed mocha-skinned Fae who might be some form of goblin, clad in little more than a loincloth.
He’d stretched out on a branch, the curves of his body molded to it like it was a hammock. He appeared to be listening to the lullaby as well, his lips split back from yellow sharp teeth in a disconcerting yet sleepy grin. Just above him, Jacob caught the quick movement of a squirrel, fluffing her tail and curling it around her nest of three squirrel pups.
Having so recently touched the dryad, Jacob also sensed the spirit of the tree tuning in to their energy, to all the life resting within and upon it. Remembering the young female’s face, the tears that rolled down her cheeks, he wished her well, hoping no more ill befell her. He also wished they knew her name.
The dryad’s situation, Lyssa’s story about her mother, and the stories he knew were laced with as much danger as delightful enchantment. This wasn’t Disney, no matter what it felt like. They wouldn’t be coming to the queen’s court to sing “Kumbaya” together.
Still, he’d learned never to waste the pleasure of holding his sleeping lady in his arms. Singing to her, knowing she trusted him enough to lose herself in dreams—that was enough for this moment.
When he woke her at noon, he noted the debilitating lethargy he typically experienced from the sun at its peak was absent. The Fae world might have a more energizing impact on him than expected, an uplifting thought.
Mindful of his need to stay sharp, he made himself shut his eyes and fall into a restorative slumber while the sun made its afternoon sojourn. Despite his faith in Lyssa’s capabilities, his instincts didn’t sleep.
Which was why just past dusk, he surged up out of the shelter, pushing Lyssa away from the blade swinging toward them. Ducking the arc of the sword, he hit its wielder mid-body, rolling them away from his lady. Unfortunately, before he could scramble off their attacker, he was pul ed off and flipped over, a boot planted in his chest. It held him against the fallen Fae, as another blade pointed at his throat.
He blinked up at a man with wide shoulders, and the unmistakable demeanor of a veteran soldier.
While Jacob expected all high-court Fae to be specimens of physical perfection, like vampires, this one had a wide, jagged scar down the side of his face. A breath closer and it would have taken his eye. The Fae had steady steel gray eyes, a rugged, lined countenance. Silver strands shot through the long dark hair parted over the pointed ears. The tunic over his silver mail bore a white dragon on a blue field.
“Noric was intending to swat you awake with the flat of the blade, vampire, not cut you in half. But good reflexes for a parasite. Noric, you should have anticipated.”
Shoving the blade away, Jacob rolled to his feet.
“Where I come from, a simple good evening and a cup of coffee to wake me would have sufficed.” Lyssa stood with regal dignity at the opening to their shelter, studying the new arrivals with her usual inscrutable expression. Now the male addressed her as if Jacob had not spoken at all.
“I am Cayden, captain of the Queen’s Guard. We are here to escort you to Her Majesty the Lady Rhoswen’s court.”
Three more Fae with matching tunics were a few paces away. Their mounts looked like the muscular Lipizann horses of Earth, except the white coats had an ethereal, hazy gleam, and their large eyes were violet blue, enhanced by purple flowers braided into their manes. Runelike symbols were painted on their coats. As he watched, Noric sprang to his feet and rejoined the others.
Jacob. Come stand behind me.
Though it took an effort, he schooled his face to bland acceptance, and stepped behind her. The captain followed his movements, waiting a beat before sheathing the sword with the practiced ease of familiar use.
“Your escort is appreciated, Captain.” Lyssa nodded. “Do we walk or double your mounts?”
“I'll carry you in front of me. The vampire can wait here. None of our horses will tolerate his kind.” I don’t need a horse to keep up, my lady. I’ll follow.
“I’m surprised he came with you,” Cayden added.
“He serves me. Where I go, he goes.”
The captain shrugged. “That may be, but he'll likely lose his life here.”
Jacob flashed fangs, shifting a step closer so his chest brushed his lady’s back, her loose fall of hair.
“Then I guess today will be a good day to die, right?” The Fae’s eyes flickered over him. Though his expression gave away nothing, Jacob got the impression he’d said something of interest to the male. Whether that was a good or bad thing remained to be seen. Cayden jerked his head toward the castle hill's. “If you fall behind, we’re headed for Caislean Uisce.”
The Castle of Water. The Fae had picked up some Gaelic in their history. Lyssa gave him a nod, then moved forward at Cayden’s brusque gesture, directing her to his mount. His white horse stood apart from the other four, no need for the reins to be held, the equine a well -trained soldier himself. The saddle was a cinched blanket, no stirrups. Cayden moved to the horse’s head to steady him, but otherwise didn’t offer her a hand up. Lyssa gave him a sidelong glance. “Courtesy to a lady does not exist in the Fae world?”
The cool jade stare was capable of making most men squirm. Cayden was no exception. However, though Jacob saw him shift uncomfortably, he didn’t budge, which suggested he had higher orders not to treat the Lady Lyssa as an honored guest.
Jacob knew she was capable of swinging lithely onto an untacked horse of nearly any size, having been a capable rider for more than nine hundred years, but her dress had a long skirt. With a disgusted look at the captain he didn’t bother to disguise, he stepped forward and lifted her.
She’d barely gotten her seat when the horse’s head swung around, the stallion’s ears laid back.
Jacob slipped back quickly, but the creature still came away with a piece of T-shirt and an ill-tempered look, shifting under the captain’s soothing hand on his muscular shoulder.
“As I said,” he repeated evenly, his expression like stone. “They don’t tolerate your kind.” Jacob ignored him. “My lady. I'll be right behind you.”
She nodded as the captain came around the horse’s head. Cayden gave him a warning look he answered with a blank stare. Lyssa said he sometimes channeled Gideon. However, while his brother had a penchant for scathing repartee during the times it was most likely to get him killed, Jacob had enough restraint to limit his response now to the garden variety eat-shit-and-die look.
Cayden swung up behind her. A soldier would not allow an unknown passenger to ride at his unprotected back, but it was obvious, as he gathered up the reins, that he found the more intimate body contact between them distasteful. It rankled Jacob to see anyone behave disrespectfully to his lady, but it also worried him. If this was the welcoming committee, it made the reception they would find at the castle far more uncertain.
One thing at a time, Jacob. He smells like… ice cream, oddly enough.
A couple miles later, when they broke out of the shelter of the wood, Cayden urged them to a canter.
The horses were swift, but no swifter than those in their world, so with a vampire’s speed Jacob had no problem keeping up. As the castle approached, however, he couldn’t help slowing to get a better look.
The waterfalls covering the castle walls fell down into catch tracks shaped to move the water in multiple curved spirals. In contrast, straight, glittering sheets of water fell over window openings in place of glass. More than a year ago, he’d gone to a mall with his lady where she’d taken him into a large, decorative fountain, sliding behind a small waterfall into an alcove just big enough for two people to take their pleasure of each other. She took more than that, feeding from him and giving him the second mark. The rush of the water, the glittering, translucent curtain, had given them the sense of a private haven away from the world.
Would it feel like that, staying in one of those rooms curtained by a waterfall? As they approached the outer moat, which rivaled a Caribbean sea for blue color, tiny cat’s paws of foam lapped up from its surface, touched by the playful breeze.
“I’d like to get down, Captain.”
As the captain stopped to oblige her, relief evident in his features, Lyssa slid off the mount, bracing herself on his thigh as she did so. He didn’t flinch, but it was a near thing, despite the fact it was purely functional, not the teasing caress Jacob knew she’d enjoy using if she was really trying to unsettle a male.
However, he was satisfied to see the captain had unbent enough to support her elbow as she dropped to her feet. Jacob came to her side, drawing her attention upward. On the highest tower, a large white and silver creature crouched, eyeing them with blue eyes. A moment later, it emitted a loud roar, the wings spreading out in magnificent, intimidating display. Along with the roar came a spout of flame.
“A dragon,” Jacob said, with deep satisfaction. “A real fucking dragon. God, I wish Gideon were here.” Lyssa couldn’t help but enjoy his reaction and entwine it with her own. Dragons perching on castle turrets, fairies putting their babies to bed in flower blooms and gnomes braiding ribbons into the beards of goats… Even surly Cayden, in his mail and gauntlets, hair rippling over his back as he rode his white charger. All of them were images captured in fantasy literature and art time and again by a world longing for the reality of their existence. And she and Jacob were here among them.
“We can’t tarry,” the impressive but irritable captain said. “Follow me now.”
Lyssa sedately proceeded across the drawbridge, Jacob a pace behind. The mist from the myriad falls settled like tiny kisses on her face and hands. The two water channels that ran on either side of the drawbridge down into the moat sounded like chuckling laughter. She saw a school of rainbow colored fish swim beneath the bridge, joined by a pair of mermaids, one with golden hair and one with brown, the strands caressing their bare shoulders like silken seaweed. They swam hand in hand. As the mermaids registered the passing soldiers, they came to the top, their heads breaking the surface.
They spoke in a language Lyssa didn’t know, but it was obvious from the smiles exchanged that fielding the undines’ flirtatious comments was a normal routine for the guard.
Cayden gave it a measured moment, then spoke a sharp word. The soldiers straightened, faced forward, and the mermaids dove back under the water, continuing their swim beneath the open drawbridge. Lyssa saw more than one soldier steal a glimpse as they came out the other side, the sweet curves of breast and hip, the pale white arms as the girls rolled and twined together, all playful, sensual innocence.
Cayden wasn’t one of those soldiers, his scrutiny remaining on Jacob and Lyssa with occasional sweeps over the guards patrolling the walkways that passed in front of and behind the waterfalls. They were armed with bows, swords and spears. “Are you expecting some danger, Captain?” she asked.
Cayden glanced at her, then forward again. “A wise man always does.”
He hadn’t addressed her by an honorific or even her name, Jacob noticed, though Cayden obviously knew who she was. Whether it was the same disrespect he’d been commanded to display, or the fact that Fae rarely used names when addressing one another, Jacob didn’t know. Cayden didn’t give him much time to ponder it as he led them under the open portcullis is and into the quadrangle. He dismissed his men there, dismounted. Out of habit, Jacob noted entrances and exits, and the makeup of the castle population.
Most seemed to be the staff one would expect in the household of medieval aristocracy— housekeeping, cooks, animal husbandry—as well as the armed guards to defend it. While the guards seemed to be of the same stamp as Cayden and his three, the staff were a variety of Fae species.
Everything from tiny, airborn Fae like the mother they’d seen, to large, knobby-kneed trolls, lumbering across the main bailey carrying bundles of goods in cloth bags or pulling wagons with the help of shaggy ponies.
As they prepared to pass through the archway into the castle hal itself, Cayden came to an abrupt halt, necessary because Lyssa did. She’d tilted her gaze upward. Due to the variety of waterfalls along the exposed walls, rainbows had occurred, some combination of magic or scientific phenomenon resulting in a crisscrossing of three of them before the archway. When Lyssa extended her palms, molecules of color patterned them. From where Jacob stood, a few steps back, it was like the three rainbows sought to plunge into the reputed pot of gold. Beyond the archway was a large fountain with a bronze statue of a racing pair of gazelles. The fountain caught the rainbow’s colors and sparkled with them, giving the gazelles’ hooves a sense of flashing movement.
Lyssa rocked from one foot to the other experimentally, shifting between the bands of color, letting them turn her skin red, yellow, blue and green as she moved. Looking back at Jacob, she smiled, pure and sweet.
Kane would love this, Jacob.
Cayden looked as if he’d suddenly found himself saddled with a creature of questionable sanity. It almost made Jacob grin, watching the guard try to figure out how to deal with her. Lyssa lowered her hands, her haughty expression flipping back in place like a well -oiled drawbridge. “We may proceed now, Captain. Thank you for indulging me.” If they had penny nails here, the captain would have looked like he’d swallowed a fistful. She’d neatly projected the idea that he was her escort, not a guard detail, and there was no way to correct the impression that wouldn’t make him look foolish. A dangerous game, but his lady rarely played it safe.
Cayden chose to resume their course without further comment. As they moved farther into the workings of the castle, Jacob noted a change in class. Clothes became more ornate, aristocratic trappings more distinct. These were all high court Fae, human in appearance except for their pointed ears and slender, elongated forms blessed with good looks. Rather than seeming entirely indifferent to their presence, the court Fae stared at Jacob and Lyssa, openly curious. The calculation he detected in some expressions suggested that more than the queen had known of Lyssa’s coming.
Whenever those same gazes fell on him, the reaction varied from mildly distasteful surprise to outright scorn. Big surprise there. The vampire rabble is loose in the castle. Better call the exterminator.
They reached a tall pair of doors, outlined in silver.
The white dragon logo was stamped over the archway. Cayden nodded to Lyssa. “There appears to be a full court in session, in attendance on the queen. When you are so bid, approach her throne and stop within the circle marked
“I am here at your queen’s request, Captain,” Lyssa said. “We have no plans to attack her. In fact, our hope, though I suspect it is a slim one, is to be back in our world in time for dinner.”
“You have no desire to stay in your father’s world?” Lyssa turned her gaze fully upon him. Though Cayden’s remained impassive, Jacob had the distinct impression the guard captain hadn’t intended to ask such an intriguingly personal question.
“This is not my world. It never has been, and it never will be. Does that relieve or concern you, Captain?”
In answer, he pushed open the door, gesturing her and Jacob to precede him into the large chamber.
Based on what Cayden had said, Lyssa expected noise, some chatter among retainers when the door opened—at least the queen conversing with an advisor or supplicant while the others attentively listened. Instead, the door opened into a completely silent hall, as if everyone inside had been listening to their conversation.
There were perhaps two hundred Fae in the room, lined up on either wall, leaving an aisle to walk up the center toward the queen’s throne. That aisle looked like a sheet of moving water. At sporadic points, tiny fingers of current licked outside the aisle’s boundaries at the ice blue marble floor, making small ripples of sound, the only noise. The high walls of the hal were likewise covered by sheets of silently falling water that disappeared into a low rolling cushion of mist. It drifted across the floor, bill owing around the feet of those in attendance on the queen.
Every eye had turned to Lyssa. The skill of viewing a crowd without making eye contact, while appearing confident and unconcerned by their regard, was second nature to her. While vampire beauty was consistently dangerous, earthy, blood-driven, she noted the beauty of high court Fae was like sculpted glass, all slim, flowing lines and cool expressions. Their fine clothing was inspired by their natural world. Leaflike shapes of fabric molded to the elongated bodies and they wore jewelry of uncut gems. Flower blooms and petals, forever preserved with magic, adorned hair, necklines, hems.