Vampire Queen 8 - Bound by the Vampire Queen - Joey W Hill, page 13
A second later, all hell broke loose.
ALL the pressure that had been building between two irreconcilable forces detonated. Lyssa snarled like a savage animal, and that net of white fire exploded in a bill ow of orange flame. Even dropped to one knee, holding the blade in his gut, his vision blurry from his shattered nose, Jacob had the satisfaction of seeing the blast impact pick Cayden up and fling him into a cluster of retainers, toppling them like dominoes. Barely in time, Rhoswen threw up an additional protection over herself, a ripple of ice. The flame roared over it, bill owed the few steps up to her throne and swallowed the white wood like a ravenous dragon.
The two guards close to Jacob had not been affected by the blast, evidence that Lyssa had enough control of her reaction to cast a protection on Jacob and his immediate surroundings. However, as they broke out of their shock to start toward her, the element of surprise was now in his camp. Pain didn’t stop a vampire. Hell, it had rarely stopped him as a human third-mark, because his lady had taught him to embrace and use it in myriad ways.
Now he used the adrenaline and his rage to yank the sword from his midriff. Swinging the bloodstained blade, he tripped one guard with it and then flipped it to hit the other hard in the face with the pommel. He wished he was returning the favor to Cayden, rather than one of his men, but the crunch of bone was still satisfying. He stomped on the midriff of the tripped one to keep him incapacitated, and then braced himself, sword at the ready, as Cayden charged out of the tangle of fallen court members like an enraged bull. There was no hesitation in his forward charge, despite the fact he’d drawn a short knife and Jacob had his long blade. Jacob felt the sweet anticipation that came right before engaging an opponent as crazy with bloodlust as himself.
“Enough.” Rhoswen’s voice reverberated through the room. The shockwave from it rippled across the waterfalls and vibrated through the floor. Jacob held his position, unmoving, as Cayden came to a skidding halt right before the lifted blade. The point pressed into his broad chest, his face flushed with anger above it. The defiant glare the captain of the guard threw his queen was one Jacob knew all too well from situations where his lady had held him back from needed ass-kickings. He would have spared Cayden some empathy if he hadn’t obliterated such tender feelings by driving his sword in Jacob’s gut. A quick glance showed that Lyssa hadn’t moved from the top of the sphere. She stood where the queen thought she’d trapped her, only now it was clear that remaining there had been Lyssa’s choice.
Of course, that could be a bluff. She might not have had enough control of the power to cal it until events provoked it from her, but as long as she acted like it had been her plan all along, she had the upper hand. At least for the moment.
His lady made a crooning noise through her fangs, a small hiss. Stretching her wings again, she descended to the floor in front of the sphere, her toes practically aligned with the magical barrier Cayden had said would incinerate her. Then she flicked out her talons in a roll of impressive movement and shimmered back into her human form. Though she was entirely naked except for the belt and small velvet pouch low on her hips, she showed no modesty about that, her hip-length hair simply enhancing the beauty of the curves and cream skin.
Her calm manner showed she knew exactly how good she looked, an ebony and jade mirror of the queen’s pale snow. A mutation, indeed.
The fallen retainers had gained their feet, but returned to that silence. All eyes were on the Fae queen, waiting on her next move. It seemed the two females were in a passive deadlock, nothing obvious from either expression. As a result, the sound of footsteps on the marble was loud. Jacob kept the sword raised and trained on Cayden, though the male had stepped back a grudging pace.
However, they both glanced toward Keldwyn as he moved away from the front line of the audience, toward Lyssa. As he did, he shrugged his cloak off his shoulders, the rust brown and dark black fabric gleaming from the flames crackling over Rhoswen’s throne. Lyssa didn’t acknowledge him, but he slid his hand to her nape, courteously gathering up the fall of dark hair to clear the cloak before he settled it on her shoulders. Then he stepped back, standing no more than a pace or two to her right, which put him at a right angle to the triangle he formed between the two queens. Interestingly, his position put him over that magical barrier, but he seemed unaffected by it.
Jacob wondered if it was spelled only for Lyssa and himself.
The queen stared at him, but spoke to Lyssa. “He is no friend to you, you know. That dryad was left trapped in your world by my decree. She was sentenced to the consequences of her actions for her fraternization with humans, her defiance when I told her to desist.”
“She was a will full child, experiencing her first infatuation.” Keldwyn’s voice was flat. Jacob wondered if Keldwyn had learned impassivity so well his softer emotions were permanently locked away somewhere, so deep he might have lost the key. Or maybe he’d never had such emotions to hide.
“She is a child no more, is she? So both our problems are solved. Or yours may be just beginning.” Rhoswen shifted her attention back to Lyssa. “The dryad is the child of a Fae he loved, a Fae murdered in your world. To watch over this impetuous child, the great Lord Keldwyn exiled himself from us, choosing to live in the dwindling old forests of the human world.”
“We all make choices, Your Majesty. You choose to imprison yourself in this world, trapped by your hatred of the humans and vampires. Everything that is not pure Fae.”
Rhoswen lashed out with those sparking fingertips again, too fast for Jacob to do anything more than tighten his grip on the sword hilt, but his lady was not the target. Slashes opened up across Keldwn’s face, though the queen made no obvious physical contact. Blood seeped from the wounds as Jacob noted the glitter of ice crystals in the wound. She glowered at Keldwyn. “I can imprison you in that same tree, Kel.”
The male had not moved from the blow, not even to flinch. “Yes, you can. It does not change truth. It never does.”
Obviously, there was something happening here, another chapter in an ongoing story. Unfortunately, from the way Rhoswen’s attention now lasered back in on Lyssa, Jacob suspected it was tangled with their presence here. The Fae queen lifted her opposite hand, only this time she was pointing toward her throne. A cold wind rose, swirled around the wood and vanquished the flames with frost.
Though blackened in places by the smoke, the throne had otherwise not been affected.
“Do not be deceived,” Rhoswen repeated.
“Keldwyn is no friend.”
Lyssa bared her canines in a sharp smile. “Friend does not mean what the storybooks say. It is simply someone whose needs align with your own for a certain period of time.”
“Too true.” Moving back to her throne, Rhoswen perched on the edge of it. Bringing one knee up, she curved her bare, bejeweled toes over the edge of the seat. In the glittering white outfit, the corset’s hold shifting on her breasts and the skirt splitting to show more leg, it was a provocative picture. “This display of power tell's me a few things, but raises far more questions. Is it the transfer of your vampire powers that initiated the expansion of your Fae ones? You still carry the blood of a vampire, but in terms of characteristics, you are perhaps now more Fae than the other species, no matter your classification among us.”
It was as if the violent confrontation had never occurred, and Jacob wasn’t holding a sword in an offensive position toward Cayden, his two men back on their feet and surrounding him. However, they stood at a cautious distance, waiting for direction from their captain or an indication from the queen.
That aside, Jacob knew the Fae queen wasn’t the only one who’d mulled the unanswerable questions.
Lyssa had sired a very small handful of vampires in her long life, but none had taken her powers from her as a result of the turning, the way it had happened with Jacob. Lord Brian had concluded that it might have been a combination of factors—the Delilah virus that was now wiped from h
“Fae blood does not mean you know what it is to be Fae,” Rhoswen said. “You have no history with us, no understanding of our world.”
“I know that my mother had to seek refuge with the Vampire Council to escape the Fae assassins sent to destroy her. As a result, for ten centuries, I’ve had no desire to be part of the Fae world. Until I showed myself capable of exercising Fae abilities, you were fine with that.”
“I did not invite you to be a part of this world,” Rhoswen said, her blue eyes chilling even further. “I summoned you to determine if I should destroy you, or if you have a value to this court.” Lyssa looked pointedly toward the throne, the blackened tile. “Which one have I proven?” Rhoswen’s lips curved, showing a grim appreciation of Lyssa’s caustic tone. “You’ve proven that you have enough Fae power that I cannot allow you to leave my court. Despite your tantrum, you and I both know I have the ability to bind you as a consort to a Fae Lord of my choosing. You are outnumbered here, you cannot leave the Fae world without me opening a gateway for you, and there are other, quite politic ways of burning your bridges behind you.” Rhoswen shifted to cross her legs. “Thanks to carefully placed bits of information, the Vampire Council already suspects you only have Fae powers.
That you are no longer a true vampire, according to their narrow standards. It matters not how powerful a Fae you are. Even if you could blow every one of their limited minds out of their skulls, they would not accept you.”
“I think you underestimate the nature of the Council’s narrow-mindedness, even with your adept spies,” Lyssa responded. “Power is irresistible currency, regardless of its form. I will take my chances with them before I will submit to a consort of your choosing. I have chosen my consort, and will never choose another, not in your world or mine.”
“A vampire.” When Rhoswen’s tone dripped with scorn, Lyssa responded with a harsh note of laughter.
“You style yourself so different from the vampires, Your Majesty, but in truth you share the same prejudices. Not too long ago, my world came apart and I faced my death. It was then I learned something very important, something I shall never forget, no matter what role I have to play in any intrigue concocted by you or the vampire world. When it comes to Jacob, I don’t give a damn what any of you think.”
Though emotion swelled in his chest as her declaration echoed off the walls, Jacob could tell things were taking a bad turn once more. It would be back to a physical contest of will's in no time. Queen Rhoswen vacillated so quickly between cold anger, outright violence and indifferent flippancy, it was impossible to form a stable impression of her at this point.
Cayden was another matter. Jacob had been keeping his attention on the male. His body language wasn’t merely responding to Jacob’s passive threat, but to his queen’s words, telegraphing the direction her moods might go.
Jacob cleared his throat, drawing the male’s gaze.
Unfortunately, since it was silent again, the sound shifted everyone’s attention to them. Regrettable, but he was committed now. Dropping the point of the blade, Jacob wiped the blood on it on his jeans’ leg, then extended the weapon, pommel first, to the guard captain. When Cayden took it, giving him a measured glance, Jacob offered a nod and a gesture, advance warning of his intention to move back to the side of his lady. Once there, he dropped to one knee, bowing his head. “My lady… Your Majesty… may I have leave to speak?” If I say no, will it matter?
Far more than if she denies me. He gave her a sense of what he intended in a flash of words and images. It surprised her, but she gave him tacit agreement in a spare nod.
“Speak, vampire,” the Fae queen agreed. “If I tire of your voice, I will silence you.”
Fair enough. Thanks to the considerable healing powers he’d inherited from Lyssa, his nose had already mended, the hole in his gut closed, but they were sore as hell. And damn it all, he’d need more of her blood to fortify him soon. But for now, he was holding.
“Your Majesty, my ancestors were from Hibernia, the wintry, green land. Ireland. You asked if my lady understood the Fae, knew their history. There is a story I beg your leave to share.” Averting his gaze, he dipped his head, a deferential motion, one well-practiced from his time on the Faire circuit. It was one that intrigued the female visitors, old and young alike. He was not intending flirtation, but he was an experienced storyteller, and he wasn’t opposed to using his full arsenal to intrigue the Fae queen.
Particularly if it avoided another life or death situation.
“A long time ago, when there was more congress between our two worlds, a human prince met up with a Fae one. By accident, the human prince kill ed a stag meant for the Fae prince. As recompense, the Fae prince said that they would change places for a year. He would appear as the human prince in the prince’s world, and the human prince would appear as the Fae one in the Fae world. The human prince was an honorable man, and so he agreed. The term was for a year and a day.
“While the human prince was not yet married, the Fae prince had a wife, a woman of great beauty, in spirit and physical form. She would be nigh irresistible to any man, as one would expect of Fae royalty.”
A cold smile touched Rhoswen’s lips, recognizing the charm. A similar flash of wry humor came from his Mistress, with a slight edge. Don’t tell your story too well, Sir Vagabond.
He pressed on, noting that Keldwyn was also listening. “Each night, when the human prince came to the Fae princess, he would lie in their bed and hold her, but he would not claim her, even though the Fae prince had not denied him this. During the course of that year, the Fae princess of course grew very sad, thinking her husband’s affections had left her. But after the year and a day was over, the two males traded places again.
“The human prince was surprised to find that the Fae prince had been a wise and generous ruler, and left his kingdom even more prosperous, taking no advantage of anything but the adventure of living as a human being. When the Fae prince came to his wife, and saw her great sadness, he revealed to her what had transpired. She told him how the human prince had honored her husband, and said that the Fae prince had indeed found a great and true friend.
They remained so for many years after that, until of course time took its toll and the human prince passed from his mortal coil.”
“A pretty tale, one I’ve heard,” Rhoswen said at length. “But what is your purpose in telling it, vampire?”
“I value this story for two reasons. First, it underscores the honor and loyalty a man owes a lady.” Jacob bowed toward both women. “It also reminds me of ancient times, when the Fae and human worlds were not so separate, and not always at odds.”
Rhoswen looked down her straight nose at him.
“The problem with ancient times is that memory romanticizes and fabricates. In truth, most of the stories were bard’s tales enhanced by drink and wishful, naive hearts. Whereas acts of human and vampire betrayal are shameful history documented among our kind.”
Jacob spread out his hands in a conciliatory motion. It brushed his fingertips over the cloak on his lady’s body, and he had to resist the desire to touch the bare knee just beneath its cover, making that precious contact. “Perhaps, Your Majesty, all of us have learned to judge our respective species by the actions of a few. As my lady pointed out, this appears to be the nature not only of humans and vampires, but Fae as well. I offer the humble opinion that it’s a weakness we all should overcome. If the Fae queen is the first to overcome it, that would underscore her superior wisdom, would it not?” Keldwyn cleared his throat. Cayden shifted, and Jacob made a concerted effort not to look toward him, going on faith that he wasn’t about to be skewered again. Rhoswen glanced at Lyssa. “I’m beginning to understand why you keep him around.”
“He has his uses,” Lyssa responded.
“I can see that.” In a graceful move, the queen
Well done, Sir Vagabond. As you said, the key to the queen is the consort. Or in this case, the captain. Mind that lesson yourself, with your poker face.
It was a wry joke, because she knew his expressions were far too transparent. As the queen strode up to him, Lyssa shifted in her direction, but Rhoswen merely laid her palm on the side of his face. Putting pressure on it, she made him avert his head so she could study his profile. It allowed him to rest his gaze on his lady, but Lyssa’s attention was on Rhoswen, a female bird of prey eyeing an interloper to her nest.
Rhoswen’s fingers were as cold as they appeared, and now that he saw them up close, he realized she had long black nails that didn’t appear to be painted. Impressions of frost on them looked like tiny snowflakes. As she drew him to his feet, the frost became snow in truth, dusting his skin, creating gooseflesh. She was even more stunningly beautiful at this proximity, her silken hair inviting touch as it swung forward, brushing the knuckles of the hands he had at his sides. If he glanced down, he would be gazing full on that marvelous expanse of breasts, possibly getting a view of the nipples the corset barely contained. Out of a healthy sense of self-preservation, he kept his gaze on his lady.