Vampire Queen 8 - Bound by the Vampire Queen - Joey W Hill, page 12
Sparkling gems sewn into the fabrics reflected motes off the wall of water around them.
She saw the occasional ornamental dagger, but for the most part they were not visibly armed.
Cayden had not checked either of them for weapons, an unusual thing for a captain of the guard, unless he was exceptionally careless or weapons had no power to harm his queen. Lyssa didn’t think he was careless.
Agreed, my lady.
She pressed her lips into a tight smile. Of course Jacob had noted the same thing.
As she walked along that aisle of water, intrigued by how the water flowed over her slippers but did not wet them or the trailing hem of her dress, she was aware that the scrutiny of all those retainers was intensifying. Curiosity was the primary emotion she sensed, the kind that was unpleasant, tinged with resentful anger. There was impatience, a bitter half bark of laughter swallowed back too swiftly to know from whence it came, not that she sought the source.
She moved down the center aisle at a steady pace, not faltering or hurrying, her head up.
Centuries of birthright and her own blood carried her, conveying the message she intended.
Yes, I am here to respect your authority, but I have authority in my own right. I’m not here to cringe before you.
There was no welcome here, but like Cayden’s refusal to help her on the horse, she had to discern whether it was genuine or manufactured, a carefully prepared backdrop for whatever the queen wished to accomplish.
What Cayden had called a circle was a sphere rising out of the floor, forming a dome like the hill on which the castle sat. The water flowed upward, guiding her up the incline. When she put her foot on the edge, it shifted, a moving walkway, until she was standing on the top of the sphere. From this view, it looked like a glistening round stone, forever turning with the water’s flow even as the person standing on it remained stationary.
Up until now, the end of the hal had been shrouded with mist. But now it parted as if blown away by the breath of a Goddess. As she lifted her gaze, she sensed the magical barrier humming ahead of her position, as Cayden had warned.
However, when she saw Queen Rhoswen, she wondered why it was needed. She certainly understood why crude weapons were not a concern.
Ice blue eyes stared at Lyssa out of porcelain features and a frame of snow-colored silk hair that waved around her face and fell below her waist.
Rhoswen’s crown was an antlered headpiece, the antlers pressing close to either side of her skull, the points coming together at the back. Strands of diamonds draped from the antlers to twine in her hair. A white corset pul ed in to show the nip of the waist and rise of generous breasts for her slender frame. While a silver velvet cloak covered her bare shoulders, the diamond choker enhanced the slim grace of her swan’s throat. Her skirt was diaphanous silver, shot with blue threads and seeded with more diamonds. The skirt was slashed into strips that parted and gave glimpses of long, shapely legs. A silver anklet with beaded chains that hooked over her toes was her only footwear.
While the queen riveted primary attention, her throne came in a close second. It sat on the crest of a waterfall that split into four parts and splashed down onto an array of crystals in a pool below it. A narrow set of short steps that would require exceptional grace and balance to traverse was the only path of descent.
As Lyssa met the gaze of the potentate, she expected to feel the touch of strong magic and she did, like the prick of a hundred icicles along her skin.
From their reception thus far, she hadn’t expected the Fae queen to be overly friendly. However, whereas those gathered here radiated vapid curiosity for her and a more intense version of Cayden’s practiced disdain for herself and Jacob, what came from the queen was different. It was real, not manufactured or commanded at all, which made it all the more dangerous.
It was pure, undiluted hostility.
Though the beautiful features were expressionless, Lyssa knew she wasn’t wrong.
She’d been a queen too long herself not to be able to read another one. Whatever the cause, it meant things were not likely to go well. And coming here had been a mistake, no matter how little choice they’d had.
This isn’t a complaint, mind you, because she looks like a Victoria’s Secret pinup, but why do powerful queens insist on wearing uncomfortable clothes? If I was queen, I’d wear jeans all the time.
T-shirts with my favorite logo. Something like:
“Fairies Rule, Vampires Drool.”
Jacob’s impertinent reminder of his presence at her back steadied her, much as it annoyed her to know she’d needed it. Goddess, had the past two years really robbed her of so much confidence?
You’d look better in that corset than your ratty T-shirt, she retorted.
You’d look edible in either one. Though black is your best color. You’re more badass than angel, my lady.
That was why she loved the insolent, noble idiot.
Sending him a quelling thought, she didn’t even flinch when the double doors closed with a thud. Cayden placed himself ahead of and to the right of Lyssa.
Despite the obvious impregnable barrier the magical protection provided, apparently Cayden preferred to reinforce that with more manual means if needed.
Queen Rhoswen’s ice blue gaze shifted toward a new arrival that stepped through the wall of water on her left. Cayden’s mouth tightened as if he disapproved of the unorthodox entry, but the queen’s sharp eyes merely narrowed. Following her gaze, Lyssa saw Keldwn there.
The first time she’d seen Keldwyn, they’d been deep in ancient forest, and the Fae lord had not bothered to disguise himself. Most Fae were associated with one of the elements, and Keldwyn’s was Earth. His cloak had been an unfamiliar fabric that reminded her of layered brown, gold and red leaves that drifted to the ground in autumn, the edges curled and colors muted. On the inside of the cloak was a delicate inner web of gold thread, like leaf veins. If he’d spread it out with his arms, a fanciful hiker might have thought the cloak was wings, their gaze confused and caught in that enchanted web. In truth, the cloak was wings, when it suited Keldwyn to have them. He’d worn glinting gold mail under his plain brown tunic.
At Mason’s estate, he’d exercised his ability to pass as human—technically. He’d dressed in simple dark clothes, and his pointed ears lay flat against the sides of his head, almost lost in the tangle of a loose black mane. Tall and lean, the broad shoulders notwithstanding, his face elegant and chiseled, he’d actually reminded her somewhat of Mason and his patrician air, a comparison she was sure Mason would not have appreciated, but Jacob would.
However, pointed ears visible or not, he’d emanated
Otherworld even then.
In these surroundings, it was obvious that this was Keldwyn’s world.
He was back in his Fae raiment, only here, the magic with which it was infused was even more apparent, the mail gleaming, the pommel of his sword a deep bronze hue.
“Why, Lord Keldwyn. How nice of you to grace us with your presence after your self-imposed… retreat.” The frost in Rhoswen’s cultured voice resonated through the hal like the rush of the water. It actually lowered the temperature in the room, a power she herself possessed, one of the first Fae skill's she’d used in her role as a vampire monarch. It was a subtle ability that could easily be disguised as an emotional reaction to intimidation.
“I don’t need to ask why we are so honored.” Rhoswen’s attention sliced back to Lyssa. “What did he tell you about freeing Catriona? Did he explain how she came to be trapped there?”
Just like that. No greeting, no preamble. So Lyssa responded in kind. “He said the girl had been trapped there by a cruel, capricious witch. One jealous of the warmth of the dryad’s heart, her capacity to love.”
His lady didn’t wait for a fight to start. If she deemed it inevitable and politically advantageous, she’d draw first blood. Still, the lie startled Jacob.
While Lyssa remained locked in her straight posture, Ja
The queen held Lyssa’s gaze an extra beat, a response as unsettling as Keldwyn’s reaction. “As you may know, Fae do not lie, but we are not beholden to give truth to mortals, or half-blood Fae.
We are masters at straddling the line between.
Some of us more than others.” The queen’s chilling gaze swept over Keldwyn. The diamond trails in her hair sparkled, the wave of white hair framing her breathtaking face. “I have heard that since your ill ness passed and you lost your vampire abilities, your Fae blood is rising in you so strongly, it may be eclipsing the taint of the vampire. Let us see, shall we?”
How she’d known the debilitating result of Lyssa turning him, Jacob didn’t know, for they hadn’t told Keldwyn, either. Perhaps the Fae spies were better than the vampire ones. It was a point to ponder later, because before Lyssa could respond to the queen, Rhoswen had risen from her throne.
She extended her arm. It was a graceful movement, the sinuous shift of her body a distraction to any male with a pulse, but Jacob interpreted it for the attack it was. He was already in motion, but unfortunately Cayden anticipated him as well. Two more of his guard materialized out of the wall of water at his back, lunging forward to restrain him.
Their speed was greater than his own, his attempts to twist free and land blows met with brutal force.
They slammed him to his chest in the aisle, where he discovered there was indeed unyielding marble beneath the thin magic of that moving water. His nose and jaw bounced off it, blood exploding in his mouth as his fang pierced his lip. He struggled against them, snarling, but the stone shifted to mud beneath him, oozing over his forearms and calves and just as abruptly becoming solid, unbreakable stone again, holding him fast.
He jerked his head up to find the white, crackling energy that had leaped from Rhoswen’s hand was a magical net. It had spun through the air and landed over Lyssa. At first glance, it seemed inert. Lyssa was still standing fast on the sphere, seemingly unaffected. Then her mind exploded in his with a sharp crack of sound, and she cried out. He felt a tearing in his chest, his limbs, as if he was being ripped apart. Though he’d never experienced it in such a direct way, he knew what was happening.
“Goddamn it,” he spat. Cayden barely glanced at him. Like everyone else, his attention was fixed on what was unfolding before them. Lyssa dropped to the sphere’s surface, convulsing. When done willingly, her Fae transition was a smooth, elegant process. Forced, it was this agonized contortion, as if his lady was becoming a monster. Long, backward-jointed legs emerged from beneath the skirt. Her arms, which bore a sharp curved hook at the elbow joint, the joining point for her wings, tore out of her dress. Her torso was attenuated like a sleek greyhound, the curve of rib cage, each individual bone, visible under the tattered remains of her dress.
She looked like a sensuous, dangerous gargoyle, poised over the stone archway of an ancient Goddess’s temple. Silver gray skin, long pointed ears, a barbed tail, lethal talons for fingers. Long fangs curved out over her chin, accenting the slim neck. Her leanly muscled form, the body of an ascetic hunter, had small breasts. With her clothing torn mostly off, her bare sex was readily apparent, the petals of the labia that same smooth silver gray.
His lady was not immodest, but this was different.
This was forced exposure, and it increased his rage, seeing how the Fae stared at the graphic display with fascinated revulsion.
“Just as I’d heard. It’s nothing like we’ve ever seen before.” Rhoswen spoke thoughtfully. Lyssa had struggled to her feet, her large dark eyes snapping with wild temper. Her wings snagged in the net, creating sparks. With a negligent flick of her hand, the queen expanded it into a wider holding area, so Lyssa could straighten them fully, fold them along her back. “You are ugly and revolting enough to be one of the lowest ranks of Unseelie, those who delight in frightening human children.”
Titters passed among the assembled, some unkind chuckles. When the stone shifted and freed Jacob, Cayden pul ed him up by the collar, giving him a warning look and holding him firmly with his men flanking him. He would be allowed to stand but not to interfere. Jacob didn’t know if that was worse than being irrevocably bound, but apparently the queen didn’t want him to miss a single detail. She wanted to humiliate Lyssa in front of her vampire servant as well. Jacob bared his fangs at the males but held his ground, his eyes sparking blue fire.
Rhoswen continued speaking. “Of course, because of your special… circumstances, some of the inexplicable bits of power you’ve displayed, it might suit us to keep you close while we determine what you will become. We may assign you to a consort of my choosing.”
“I can promise you that will not happen.” Her voice might rasp in this form, her vocal cords affected by the change, but the cool resolve he knew so well was in full force. In his peripheral vision, Jacob saw members of the court aping the way Lyssa spoke, using fingers to mock the fangs over her lips, or hunching over to imitate her back legs.
Those backward facing knees made her a powerful predator, allowing her to launch from hiding in the trees and pounce on wild prey.
His lady acknowledged none of it. When he extended a tendril into her mind, he found a solid ice center to her thoughts, capable of competing with Rhoswen’s frost. He didn’t pry into it, not right now.
That wasn’t what she needed from him.
Rhoswen raised a brow at Lyssa’s quiet declaration. “That net will keep you as I wish. You cannot change back into your humanoid form until I permit you to do so. I could touch your eye lids with one tiny drop of enchanted honey, and the first person I put before you would become your obsession, your heart’s desire for all eternity. Arrdol, for instance.”
She nodded toward a Fae at the front line of her retainers. He stepped forward, a tall, broad male dressed in black and silver. He possessed a fox like countenance and glittering dark eyes. “He has a taste for the unusual. I could assign your vampire lover as a slave to Arrdol’s household, and though he might be weeping and heartbroken right before you, you’d never again have a thought of him. Unless you needed your breakfast, or your chamber pot emptied. You would spread yourself for Arrdol whenever he deigned look your way, even if he openly despised you. And he would, because though he is intrigued by your uniqueness, he would spurn the heart of an aberration like you. Every member of my court would.”
A dry, harsh chuckle echoed through the chamber.
Lyssa spread out her taloned hands. She raked them across the net, sending out sparks. “If you are trying to frighten me, impress me with your cruelty, you might remember I’ve lived in the vampire world for more than a thousand years. In their version of your scenario, they wouldn’t use enchanted honey.
They’d want me to feel the weight of my captivity, my helplessness, and the tearing agony of watching my true love suffer. Perhaps it speaks well of you, that you’re not as practiced in the sadistic arts. I believe you summoned me for a reason, and that reason isn’t simply to humiliate me in front of your subjects.
A queen of your stature has far more pressing duties than that. Or at least she should, if she is a queen of worth.”
Rhoswen stared at her. The dense, high pressure that swept the chamber suggested to Jacob they might be on the cusp of annihilation, about to be frozen behind the watery walls as Rhoswen’s personal trophies. He saw it in the tightening of the muscles between Cayden’s wide shoulders. Then Rhoswen’s expression became that thoughtful façade again. She directed her words to the assembled group.
“It’s distracting, like hearing a pet talk. I keep expecting her to wag her tail and beg for a treat.” Though the assembled Fae laughed, there was a forced sound to it. Lyssa squatted on her haunches.
Spreading her wings, she shook them out with a flutter of motion, and curved her tail up around her ankles. Jacob thought it was like watching
That ominous pressure shuddered through the room again, touched with ice as Rhoswen’s expression changed, her lip curling. “You may have Fae blood, but you are a mutation, a mistake. You cannot pretend Fae kinship. The fact you come here with a vampire beast as a lover merely confirms it.”
“Though I do not choose his people as my own, I honor my father,” Lyssa responded. Though he expected it was carefully calculated, Jacob had no doubt that what he heard in her voice was true anger.
“He was a high-court Fae, and he chose a vampire lover. Perhaps he did not find what he sought among the females here.”
“A petty insult doesn’t disguise the fact he chose poorly.” Rhoswen looked toward Jacob. He noted her sharp nails were moving in a pensive ripple along her thigh, teasing at the fabric of her skirt. “The pregnant vampire female fled, leaving him to meet his fate alone. Like this one would, if I did as I said and made him Arrdol’s slave. Right, vampire? If I gave her mind and soul to Arrdol, you’d flee this world as soon as I gave you leave.”
Jacob wiped the blood off his mouth with the back of his hand, then spat on the floor to get rid of the taste of it, close to Cayden’s boots. “I think my Mistress is right. You don’t know what love is. And though I don’t have your powers, Your Majesty, a vampire’s sense of smell is keen. You’re afraid of something you don’t understand.”
The strike from Cayden was expected, but the magical power added behind it was not. When he hit him in the face with the hilt of his sword, Jacob heard the sickening crunch of his nose and cheekbone, an explosion of pain that blinded him. As he staggered back in reaction, Cayden followed. Jacob forced his eyes back open just as Cayden lunged forward and drove his blade into his unprotected abdomen.