Vampire Queen 8 - Bound by the Vampire Queen - Joey W Hill, page 24
The queen’s caustic tone elicited nothing but silence from Keldwyn, and she turned her ire to Lyssa. “I keep warning you, and you continue to treat him as an ally. Your servant claims I am not a better queen than you, but I think this illustrates differently.”
“From where I stand, Lord Keldwyn is not the one threatening me with a spear.”
“I never claimed to be your ally.”
Jacob’s tension was growing, but the sun was bright in the sky. Lyssa could feel the heat of it bearing down on her skin, because the tree cover was thin here. Even if he could emerge now, he was too far away to do anything for her. His frustration was tipping up his bloodlust. She hoped an innocent maid didn’t come through to fluff the bedding.
Jacob, I’m all right. Let me focus.
He reined himself back, with an abrupt effort that almost made her dizzy. But she steadied herself, met Rhoswen’s gaze.
“Fine, then. You say Samhain requires a blood sacrifice to honor the purity of the Fae blood. So here it is.” Lyssa spread her arms out wide, took a step back to better align herself with the line of that spear tip. “If you don’t think it will sully the wood to plunge it through my black heart, the blood sacrifice is yours. Do it, Your Majesty. Salve the bitterness in your heart, whatever its source. If hurling that spear will bring you satisfaction, do it. But if you miss”—
Lyssa bared her fangs—“You get your ice princess ass down off that horse and fight me, power against power, or hand to hand. It doesn’t matter to me. Let’s just put an end to this.”
“Lady Lyssa.” Keldwyn stepped forward, but Lyssa warded him off with a sharp slicing motion of her hand.
“Stay back. If you set this in motion, deal with the consequences.”
Lyssa stared at her rival, ice blue eyes to jade.
“I’ve met plenty of your kind in my life, Your Majesty.
Those who want to be powerful, but aren’t willing to accept the wisdom and humility to truly be powerful.
So, impale me on your very special, very pure spear, and see if that brings you the satisfaction—” Lyssa. Jacob’s roar of rage and helplessness cut through her mind as Keldwyn started forward.
Surprisingly, Cayden shouted Rhoswen’s name with the same urgency. He even put his heels to his horse, as if he would join the Fae lord in trying to head off the inevitable. But they were too late.
Rhoswen had hefted the spear and hurled it.
With metal and wood crafting the shaft, and metal at the substantial, sharp tip, it would kill vampire or servant, and of course she was both. As Fae, she wasn’t entirely sure what would kill her, but if the spear was designed to fight Fae, she expected it covered that as well. She refused to close her eyes, refused to move. Though her heart accelerated like a galloping horse, everything slowed down as that spear came toward her. She had a glimpse of Rhoswen’s eyes, torn between longing and hatred.
Old pain struggling beneath a mask.
The spear hit her square in the chest, the force making her stagger back. She’d been wounded often enough that she could track the damage as it punched through her body, tearing heart muscle, bringing nerves to screaming life. She blacked out for a whirling second, though she was still swaying on her feet. Then the spear passed all the way through, such was the force of Rhoswen’s throw. As it left her, she dropped to one knee. Vaguely, she heard a thunk of impact, a clatter of metal as it bounced off a tree. Her body had slowed its momentum, such that it couldn’t embed itself into the trunk. Or perhaps it didn’t embed itself in the tree for the same reason it passed all the way through her, leaving her in pain, gasping for breath… but very much alive and intact.
Keldwyn had his cloak wrapped over her, his large palm pressed to her chest, over her breast where the spear had entered. Her blood soaked his hand, but when he shifted his touch, Lyssa knew he saw the entry point closing, knitting before his eyes even as it pumped out more blood through the shrinking opening. “My lady,” he said, the words caught in his throat.
He was so astounded that when Lyssa struggled to get up, he forgot his courtier’s manners. Then he recovered and helped her to her feet. She had to lean on him for balance, the shock of the penetration and the swift blood loss making her a little shaky.
Still, she faced Rhoswen.
“My servant told me that the spear of Dagda would strike down any enemy of the Fae. Which, by deduction, means that a friend would not be harmed by it. At least not permanently.” She coughed, spat blood onto the ground between them. “Get down off that horse. I want to put my impure foot up your pure white backside.”
Rhoswen’s face was three shades paler than normal, making her ethereal beauty seem fragile.
One of Cayden’s men had retrieved the spear.
Giving Lyssa and Keldwyn a wide berth, he brought it back to the captain. Cayden took it, studying the tip. He used his own cloak to clean off Lyssa’s blood, then resecured the weapon in its wrappings, leaving it balanced on his pommel rather than returning it to the honor guard or his queen. Seeing Rhoswen still staring at Lyssa, he touched the rein on her horse, drawing her attention. “Your Majesty, the crowd waits at the village to see the Sacred Procession.”
He had to repeat it, touch her leg instead of the horse. When he did, she jerked, seeming to come out of a trance. Rhoswen looked at the blood on the cloak and Keldwyn’s hands. “Another time, Lady Lyssa,” she said at last, her voice strained. “After all, the deal only applied if I missed. And I didn’t.” She pressed her horse into a canter from a standstill, the steed prettily lifting his feet off the ground before he lunged forward, narrowly missing Lyssa. She refused to move, even though the fabric of the queen’s skirts lashed against her as she passed, grazing Keldwyn’s knuckles where they were curved on the outside of the cloak he had wrapped around her. Cayden gave Keldwyn a nod, then followed in her wake, the others falling into ranks. Lyssa didn’t turn to watch them go, though she was aware every one of the honor guard gave her a second look as they passed her. Once she heard the sound of their horses fade, she sank back to the ground in Keldwyn’s grasp. “What can I do?” he asked.
Come to me, Lyssa. I’m here.
“Get me back to the castle. I’m a third-marked… servant. Jacob’s blood will restore me. I’m alright.
It’s the pain and blood loss, not an injury.” And that pain was fierce on a couple levels. The spear hadn’t kill ed her, but her heart had been punctured by Rhoswen’s venom. Her half sister wanted her dead. Which was a ridiculous thing to care about, because they shared blood and nothing else. Sharing a father didn’t make them family.
“Get me to Jacob,” she repeated, realizing her voice was fainter, more breathy.
Keldwyn nodded, swung her up in his arms. The dragon’s approach was a darkness over the sunny sky, and then Keldwyn was settling her in the dip of the creature’s neck, directly before him.
“You bastard,” she murmured. “She was right, wasn’t she? You planned this.”
“I thought it might be good for the two of you to have a more private confrontation. I thought you might prove something to her. You did. Something vital.”
“Remind me to put my foot up your backside, when I feel more up to it.”
THE urgency Jacob felt was as potent as a dragon’s fire by the time Keldwyn reached their guestroom.
Lyssa had lost consciousness on the flight back, but she was alive.
He knew the lack of consciousness helped her conserve strength. The wound wasn’t mortal of course, but she was severely weakened, and that was never a good condition for a Fae or vampire, particularly when they were surrounded by few, if any, friends.
On that note, he barely managed to keep from snarling at Keldwyn like an enraged bear when he came into the chamber. As the Fae lord laid Lyssa on the bed, Jacob brushed him aside and slid his arm beneath her. He reached for his knife, but a blade appeared before him. Glancing up at Keldwyn, he nodded and averted his head, letting the Fae make
Instinct could be blessing or curse. Fortunately, this time it was a blessing. Her body knew what it needed, even passed out; she latched on and began to drink. As Jacob held her even closer, he spoke, not looking at the Fae lord. “I think it’s best if you leave. Because when she gets done, I won’t have the control to keep from tearing out your throat.” Keldwyn flipped the knife over deftly, shoving it back into his scabbard. It was an arrogant response, one he followed up with a short, impersonal bow. “I'll see you both at dusk. A servant will bring you appropriate riding attire.”
He stopped at the doorway. “Be warned. Earlier this morning, Queen Rhoswen informed me that she has divined your quest. You will be provided a special mount for tonight.”
As usual, the bastard didn’t give him anything useful. Just an ominous portent of more trouble to come. Of course, right now Jacob didn’t really give a Fae or rat’s ass about what the night would bring.
Stroking Lyssa’s hair, he worked to get his pulse to stop racing. A rapid bloodflow might choke her. He kept seeing that throw, the spear shooting through the air and thudding into her chest, knocking her slight body back.
His hands had added to the blood on her, because he’d torn his palms, the result of hitting the rough textured walls in frustration during those interminable moments. He’d had enough rational thought left to stay put, knowing he’d be no help to her if he burned himself to a crisp trying to rush to her side. Of course, if Rhoswen’s spear had taken her life, he would have done it without hesitation, hoping to at least make it to her side before sunlight turned him to ash. If it had, he’d will the wind to carry that ash to her, damn it.
Jacob’s binding to Lyssa had been willing from the beginning, so it hadn’t mattered to him one bit that Lord Brian wasn’t able to confirm the elements of Lyssa’s original third-marking were still upon him, beyond the serpentine mark. She’d had the ability to speak in his mind in the months before he found her in the mountains and gave her the third mark to protect her and their unborn child. However, he knew she wasn’t able to plumb his mind to the soul-deep level that Jacob could hers.
Brian hadn’t had the chance to examine them until after Jacob had marked her, and therefore couldn’t determine what residual elements of her third-marking existed under the shadow of his. A fledgling’s mark shouldn’t be able to conceal a much stronger vampire’s, but in this case, Lyssa was no longer a much stronger vampire—she’d given that strength to Jacob. As Lyssa herself had noted earlier, if Jacob was killed, she would likely die, the proof of his third-mark soul bond upon her. But they had no proof that was a two-way street. At the time, Brian had been willing to try further tests to confirm her original markings, but Jacob met with him privately while Lyssa was occupied with other matters and refused. In those days during her pregnancy, when she was coping with everything that had changed about herself, he’d rather have the uncertain possibility that the bond she’d given him was still there than confirm it was gone.
He knew—from both sides of the coin now—how vital that bond was, how much it meant to his queen, the emotional value of it. He didn’t care about science or the gods, not when it came to this.
Whether or not the lingering effects of her original third-marking on him would make his death inevitable from hers, his heart made it inevitable.
That was all that mattered.
His threat against Keldwyn wasn’t an idle one. The Fae Lord might wipe up the floor with Jacob. But if will alone would take the fight, it would be Keldwyn reduced to a pile of bones, the truncated wings perched pertly on top.
Shhh… It was her voice, her hands touching him, stroking his shoulders, as she recovered her energy.
It’s all right.
Palming her delicate skull, his fingers tight in her hair, he pressed her mouth closer to his throat, feeling that physical proof of life. “You took a huge risk, interpreting the lore that way. What if I’d embellished the story, merely to entertain you?”
“Then I would have been extremely miffed with you.” She dropped her head back, rubbing her lips together to take away the excess blood. Her color was better, and he could feel the strength in her grip on his arms. “You wouldn’t embellish, because you knew I was seeking facts from the stories you were telling me.”
“What if my mother, who told me that story, was embellishing?”
“Then we’d blame your mother.” Lyssa gave him a smile. “I’ve been told that’s what all children do, as long as she’s around to blame. If not, they go for the father.”
She trailed off then. “It’s likely as simple as all that, isn’t it? For Rhoswen. Though not in her behavior toward us, I see the elements of a fair, strong queen in the way her people react to her. They’ve shown a patience and loyalty that doesn’t happen if it’s not deserved. She obviously has her people’s devotion, though they’ve learned to be careful of her temper.”
“Not unlike someone else I know.” Jacob straightened to a sitting position on the bed, one foot on the floor as he shifted her into the cradle of his thighs. He wasn’t ready to let her go yet. “You’ve opened an old wound, one she’s been carrying around for a thousand years, a new personal record for how long a woman can hold a grudge. I’m guessing that when you were just a lowly vampire, she could justify hating you from afar, ignoring you.
But now that your Fae blood is developing, it’s reopened the wound. It was a slap in the face, hearing what your capabilities are, then seeing them up close and personal. He not only gave his love to a vampire; he also gave his blood and some of his abilities—actually, it’s starting to appear like quite a bit of his abilities—to the daughter she bore him.”
“There’s more to it as well.” She told him what Keldwyn had said about Rhoswen. “I’m still missing some pieces, but it does explain why, after all these years, it’s a sore point to her. As you said, an old wound that’s been reopened.”
“God save us from girls with daddy issues.” Jacob dodged her swat, catching her wrist and placing a kiss on her palm to mollify her, though he eased his grip as she pushed against it to stroke her hand through his hair, touch the side of his neck. “No wonder Cayden has been walking around with that permanent, ‘oh shit, what is she going to do next?’ expression.”
She sobered. “I don’t like Keldwyn’s veiled warning about your mount. She’s shifting her temper from me to you tonight.”
“Which is where I prefer it to be.” At her warning look, he sighed, gave her an admonishing squeeze.
“She knows it’s all the same, my lady. She’s trying to find the weakness that will bring us both down.” He knew Lyssa couldn’t argue that one, and so they sat silently for a moment. She played with the hair at his nape, then spoke. “I know you’re not disposed to think kindly of Keldwyn, but in some confused way, he may be trying to help her as well. I believe Cayden knows that, though he gets on the guard captain’s nerves almost as much as he does yours.”
“Good. Something else for the two of us to bond over.”
“Hmm. My mother never spoke of another child, or another woman who held my father’s heart.” Lyssa frowned. “I wouldn’t like to think of my father being deceitful in his love, either to my mother or another, but of course it’s possible. I never had the chance to know him, and it is easy for a child to romanticize a dead father.”
“Maybe it’s time to ask Keldwyn a direct question. And if you want me to pul off any of his appendages to get answers, just say the word.”
Riding clothes for Lyssa meant a beautiful high-waisted dress with embroidery at the block neck, and point sleeves that had a long drape at the elbows to match a flowing train. Rhoswen had sent attendants to help Lyssa once again, only this time it was waiflike Fae women with long thin arms and quiet, shadowlike movements. The one in charge had suggested, in a rasping voice, that Lyssa allow her to pul her ebony locks up en
When she asked who was supplying the clothing, she was told it was at the discretion of the queen.
Despite the fact Rhoswen had done her best to kill her this afternoon, she wanted Lyssa to be suitably dressed for the Hunt. Perhaps it had to do with her meeting the Seelie king, and not wanting to appear petty.
Jacob had donned Catriona’s stone pendant, and it complemented the short tunic, boots and hose that suited him so well. From the first moment she’d seen him at the Eldar, the spa where he’d come to
“audition” for the role of her servant, he’d reminded her of the knight he’d once been, long ago, the one with whom she’d spent one memorable night during the Crusades. He hadn’t remembered that right off, nor had she connected the two so intimately, but as their bond had deepened, she had become certain he and that knight were the same soul. As time passed, Fate had been kind, giving him the memory she had of that night in bits and pieces.
What he didn’t remember from that time, but learned from her in their present day relationship, was that she’d conceived a child that fateful night.
The babe had been still born. She vividly remembered that pale and fragile little daughter she’d buried alone. Her knight, the Jacob of that time period, had died three days after the night of conception. If the babe had lived, if Jacob had survived to return to her in his incarnation as the knight, she was sure that little girl would have been adored and cherished by her father all his life.
Girls with daddy issues. She wondered again at the nature of her father, what he’d thought of Rhoswen and her mother. It was a dull twinge, thinking he might have turned his back on them.