Vampire Queen 8 - Bound by the Vampire Queen - Joey W Hill, page 22
His lips curved, the smile not reaching those dark eyes. “While I am older than you, Lady Lyssa, you are not the type of woman to elicit paternal feelings from any male. Unless he is your father in truth.”
“So Hell it is.”
Lyssa knew Jacob had a great deal of distrust of the Fae lord, but her feelings were more mixed. In the beginning, Keldwyn had been nothing but indifferent to Lyssa, but unlike other forest Fae, he’d not gone out of his way to be unkind to her when she’d been on the run from the Vampire Council.
During the weeks they stayed in his territory, sometimes he’d even visit their campsite at night.
He’d take a lithe cross-legged seat on the ground and whittle new arrows for his bow, or idly carve some pine knot he’d found on the forest floor. He spoke little, neither encouraging nor responding to attempts to draw him into their conversations.
Despite both of their sharpened senses, he always slipped away unnoticed. If he’d been carving, he’d leave behind whatever he’d created. A squirrel, a bear, a bat.
One night he carved a pixie, probably inspired by watching the creatures who liked to follow Lyssa around. When she was in her Fae form, they perched on her like tiny foraging birds on a gazelle in a National Geographic photo shoot. Of course, as soon as they discovered Keldwyn’s creation in Jacob’s pack, they took it. For the next few days they carried it about, twittering and excited. Dressing it up in various garments of leaves and flowers, they posed beside their likeness, giggling. When it finally disappeared, she expected they’d accidentally tossed it into a bear’s mouth.
Lyssa kept the carved animals, though, tucking them away for their then unborn child. She still had them, intending to give them to Kane when he was old enough that he wouldn’t turn them into gnawed corncobs. Jacob had suggested burning them instead.
The thought gave her a tight smile. Reaching out to touch her servant mentally, she was pleased to find he’d fallen into sleep at last. So now she turned her full attention to the Fae lord. “Did you know him?
My father? You brought me the rose, but you’ve never said how well you knew one another, whether you were friends.”
“No, I didn’t.”
“No, you didn’t know him, or no, you never said, and you don’t intend to do so?”
He shifted to study the decorations the Fae girls had put up, lingering on a cluster of nuts and berries twined with dark ribbons. Amused, Lyssa saw a small male Fae pluck one of the berries for a snack, only to be instantly pursued from all corners by the Fae girls. It looked like a flock of mockingbirds chasing a winged interloper on their nesting grounds. “You know,” Keldwyn said, “the men in your world purportedly hunger for clever women, probably because there are so few of them. I, on the other hand, appreciate a world populated by female simpletons. Ones who do not try to dissect every word I say.”
“Perhaps if you were less evasive, a clever woman wouldn’t have to keep her radar so well honed around you. She could afford to be a little less clever.”
“As you yourself have found, Lady Lyssa, the price of being less evasive is often too high a price to pay.
May I offer to escort you around the grounds? Queen Rhoswen will not make an appearance for a while.
She is holding court this morning, and then will have a full afternoon until the gathering tonight.” Lyssa rose, slid her fingers into the crook of his offered elbow. “What kind of court matters does she arbitrate?”
“Many. She of course has a Council that handles a great deal of them, but any Fae may appeal to speak his case before her if he is not satisfied.
However, she is known to be far less lenient in her decision making, so it’s best to be certain the principle is very important. For instance, if you’d been up earlier this morning, you would have seen a stampede of squirrels over the drawbridge. Every part of the forest has an earth Fae who cares for and rules over it, in a guardian capacity of sorts.
Sometimes they misperceive their role and believe themselves a minor monarch with delusions of conquest. One of the area goblins had been infringing on the territory of another, taking his squirrels. So, to set him back on his heels, Queen Rhoswen told him he not only had to give back the squirrels he’d taken, but also all his own as well, for the next month and a day. Until then, he must pick up and store the autumn nuts himself as the squirrels would have done.”
“Did he bring the squirrels with him?” Lyssa imagined the freed squirrels scampering across the drawbridge, headed back to their rightful territory.
“No. The decision gavel releases the magic to enact the queen’s decree. The squirrels in question were summoned instantly for the beneficiary. He led them out of the castle, a chaotic sort of Pied Piper procession.”
Lyssa noted other Fae glancing at them curiously as they passed, but they didn’t engage the two as they headed for the open drawbridge. A constant flow of Fae and equine traffic came and went, as well as other creatures. Centaurs, clopping along in twos and threes; a grumpy-looking griffin perched on top of a carriage driven by an ogre. Long lines of gnomes like ants, obviously bringing further foodstuffs for tonight’s celebration.
Keldwyn guided her off to the side to keep her from getting tangled in the procession, a courteous hand placed at her lower back. Sometime in the night, the unobtrusive castle staff had left her a simple gown with high waist and square neck. The linen was a fine, pleasing cloth that molded her curves and flowed with the movement of her body.
There was embroidery at the neckline and a lacing at the back to snug it in to her body, something Jacob had been more than happy to help her do.
“If you stay long enough, you might enjoy sitting in on the midnight court. It’s arbitrated by Lady Gwyneth, a Fae sorceress who specializes in the sensual arts. The midnight court allows sexually dissatisfied wives to come and complain about the shortcomings of their husbands.”
Lyssa slanted him a glance. “Have you ever been brought to task before them, my lord?”
“I have never been mated,” he responded. His dark eyes flickered. “But, if I had a bride, I am fairly certain that would not be at the top of my list of shortcomings. Many others would take precedence.”
“I can vouch for that,” she agreed. “What did you mean by Haunt? So while the Seelie bless the crops and farmers, the Unseelie go out and… ?”
“Give your humans Halloween stories to remember. The blast of cold air for no reason, the spirits at the corners of their eyes. In the days before motorized transport, when a man was riding alone through the woods at night, the Lady in White could appear on the back of his horse. She’d wrap her cold arms around him and give him the fear of his own mortality as he tried to gallop away from her, outrunning his fear of death.” Keldwyn lifted a shoulder. “It’s a little more complicated now, given that fewer men are riding horses through the forest.
But she finds she likes Harley Davidsons fairly well.”
“So the headless horseman, covens of witches sacrificing a baby in the wood… all of it is Unseelie Fae practicing scare tactics?”
“Most of it,” he agreed. “It’s actually quite fun for them. Each year, they put even more effort into it.
Many of them dress up in costume, much like the humans. They also compete to bring unique things back that Queen Rhoswen might allow past the portal. Something that intrigues or pleases her enough.” He leaned in, spoke in a conspiratorial whisper. “Last year, she permitted a few birdhouses, because they made such enchanting houses for the smaller Fae.”
“You are either feeding me a line of rotted mushrooms, or trying to disarm me with charm.
Either way, my guard is still not relaxed, Lord Keldwyn.”
“I doubt your guard has relaxed since you were a child and lost your samurai. If it has, I'll warrant it’s only when you are alone in his company, restored to you twice now.”
Before she could respond to that unexpected statement, a soldier reined up. Glancing at her, he nodded to Keldwyn, a half bow. “My
You’re welcome to my Fineas if you have need of him.”
“No, Lygar, though you do me honor. I am purposefully strolling with the Lady Lyssa this morning, showing her the Samhain festivities. You need not worry for us.”
With a touch to his forelock and murmured, “My lord,” the guard continued on.
“They respect you. No matter Queen Rhoswen’s contempt.”
They’d reached the other end of the drawbridge, and he directed her past a fork in the two roads leading out from the castle, choosing the one she knew, from their bedroom window, rolled gently down to a vill-age.
“Of all the treasures Queen Rhoswen has, the greatest one—and therefore the one she values the least—is her captain of the guard. Despite his reticence, Cayden understands many things. About his queen, about me, about this world and yours.
And much like your servant, he serves them all far beyond what they deserve, far beyond the range of even his great heart. A leader influences his men, and as such, she has a Queen’s Guard that any queen would envy. Their integrity, courage and courtesy, as well as their skill , are beyond reproach.
And if ever they fall short, he’s as uncompromising in that as he is fair about other things. A guard might trip up and get the sharp edge of the queen’s tongue. However, if he fails in his duty, he fears Cayden’s cold fury far more.”
“Hmm.” She returned to the words he’d spoken before Lygar intercepted them. “How long have you followed my life, Keldwyn? A clever woman would deduce my father meant a great deal to you, the way you’ve kept track of his daughter all these years.”
“Perhaps I, like others, have merely been trying to unravel the mystery all these centuries. Why one of our most powerful Fae Lords defied every law of our world to cleave to a vampire woman, get her with child, and gave up his life for her.”
“I don’t think it’s a mystery to you at all. To others, maybe. But you were willing to risk much the same for a child not your own. You may have given the appearance of throwing us to the wolves, but Rhoswen always knew you were behind it.” Keldwyn took her elbow, drawing her around a pile of manure left by one of the passing horses. “Her Majesty has never brought back anything from your world during the Haunt. However, for many years, before she became queen, I always brought her back some chocolate. I’d leave it where she could find it, but not know who brought it. I still do it. Last year it was Rolos. She likes them.”
Rhoswen mentioning chocolate. Like Jacob, she wasn’t entirely sure what was real or fantasy when it came to her half sister.
While their familial connection was a striking fact in itself, it remained to be seen whether it would be a biological fact only, or something more significant to the two of them. She already knew it was inordinately significant to Rhoswen.
“What has changed for her, Lord Keldwyn?” she asked. “My Fae abilities might be the trigger that brought me here, but why am I such an issue for her?
You say she is a good queen, but so far all I have seen is irrational anger, driven by pain that seems far too fresh to be connected to our father’s death a thousand years ago.”
Keldwyn showed no surprise that she’d figured out the blood link between them. “Rhoswen had to fight something very similar to your Territory Wars here.
She became queen about three hundred years ago, after many battles between the four castles that had to do with centuries of poison seeded by her mother and descendants of King Dagda. Like your own Council, there were very different ideas of the role of the mortal world. Suffice it to say, in the end, Rhoswen sat on the Unseelie throne. Tabor, descendant of Dagda, now sits on the Seelie one, thank all the gods, and that poison has been eliminated. But in order to make that happen, Rhoswen had to take her mother’s life. Tabor kill ed two of his brothers.”
As Lyssa’s brow creased, he nodded. “It resulted in years of instability, fear and quick, brutal justice for any uprisings supporting the old factions. That was when Rhoswen completely shut down the doors to the mortal world. Human crossings have been rare, exceptional circumstances only these past few decades. It was not only to protect the Fae. After the wars, our numbers had dwindled. Fae were stealing children, bringing them here. Once the children ate or drank in our world, they could never be returned, parents left bereft with no knowledge of what had happened to their offspring.”
Lyssa could imagine something like that only too well. It must have reflected on her face, because Keldwyn’s expression for once showed genuine emotion, a deep chagrin.
“As I said, it was a horrific time. But the Fae numbers still haven’t recovered, because our birthrate has slowed to an alarming rate. Some believe it is because we have cut ourselves off from the lifeblood of the mortal world, that there is an essential lifeline between our worlds that helps feed balance, fertility. Rhoswen herself may even have begun to believe that, but she will be cautious, because she’s seen the abuses that happen on both sides.”
Lyssa considered that. “Allright. But that still doesn’t explain why she wants to hate me so much.”
“Because your father was high on the list to be chosen for the Unseelie throne.” Keldwyn turned to face her, coming to a halt. “When he was executed by virtue of Tabor’s brother and Rhoswen’s mother, that cloud of suspicion and anger hung over Rhoswen’s head for many centuries. But now, it is well past time to name a successor. She has discretion to choose, but it must be sanctioned by her Council and the Fae themselves. And thanks to court gossip, not from me”—he gave her a straight, stern look that said it was the truth—“the rumor has spread that there is another daughter of Reghan, one with a child.”
“Kane is a vampire.” Lyssa’s gaze snapped to Keldwyn’s face.
“Yes. One with Fae blood. Not just yours, but that of your father. My lady, you came from vampire and Fae royal lines. Your servant has reincarnated three times to be at your side, and was turned into a vampire of inexplicable power by accident. I think it’s safe to say that your son will be far more than a mere vampire.”
The music coming from the village was getting louder, an irresistible melody that called the feet to dance. While Lyssa tried to quell her reaction to his words, Keldwyn took her arm, resumed walking.
“And that is all I will be saying today, Lady Lyssa.
You are intelligent enough to figure out the rest, when Fate chooses to unfold the other pieces before you.” She knew not to waste effort persuading him otherwise, but she wasn’t going to let him off the hook that easily. “Have you seen Catriona yet? Is she well ?”
It was the most personal question she’d ever asked him. Though she looked for some change in his face, she saw none. However, she noted that he paused before he answered.
“When a Fae is freed after such a long time, there is a period of adjustment. She is here, in our world, but she has gone to ground, to heal. I am respecting that, for now.”
She thought there was more to it than that, but she left it alone. The music was swirling around her in earnest, demanding that she notice the sun touching her hair and warming her dress, the fact that they were coming into a vill age filled with laughter, excited cries and wonderful food smells. “Where are you taking me?”
“This is the merchant pavilion area for the Samhain celebration. I assume all women like to shop.”
“I have no currency here.”
“I’m sure I can cover any purchases you wish to make.”
Lyssa’s first thought was she wished Jacob could see it, because it was a snapshot from a Tolkien novel. Pennants and pavilions in multiple colors stretched out through the streets of the village, filling every corner. The crowds checking out the wares were an astonishing array. She saw small gnomes stumping out of the way of lumbering giants. A woman passed them with a small pet dragon on her shoulder, the tail curled around her upper arm. As she moved, she phased in and out of the colors of the pavilions, a rainbo
The air was full of flying Fae of various sizes, cutting above the crowd in aerial acrobatics, and amusing themselves by occasionally tossing out small projectiles. They would explode in the air, raining everything from glitter dust, flower petals or the occasional shower of acorns or pebbles on the shoulders and heads of the earth-bound, resulting in laughter or good-natured threats.
In this world, all these mysterious, remarkable creatures were not remarkable to one another at all.
They hawked and bargained, flirted and scowled.
They sat down to scratch their backs against a tent pole, or drank a tankard, legs stretched out, relaxing as they appraised those who passed.
“Care for a mask to scare the mortals?” Keldwyn inquired, stopping at one stall and lifting it for her inspection. It appeared to be a scrap of bark with eyeholes, but when he lifted it up to his face and let it go, it hovered there. Now he had a monstrous visage that enhanced his natural features, the eyes large, dark pits of hell fire, mouth stretched with sharp teeth, pointed ears swept downward and back for a more menacing, animal-like form of aggression.
“Impressive,” Lyssa said, reaching up to touch it. It still felt like the bark, though her fingers phased through the magical energy.
“From what I hear, she already scares the kiddies with her looks.” That remark came from a crone sitting in the booth, working another scrap in her hands with a knife and what looked like a scraper for skinning. “But if you want to make yourself even more frightening, miss, you can have that for a bargain.”