Vampire Queen 8 - Bound by the Vampire Queen - Joey W Hill, page 28
She always knew the right combination of words to compel him, but in truth the pounding of her blood, so close, already had his fangs lengthening. He covered her hand against his face gently with his own, an acknowledgment. Then he bent his head to that artery and sank his fangs into willing flesh.
Firewind shifted, alarming him a moment, remembering what Rhoswen had said about blood, but Lyssa’s mind touched them both.
He says you won’t stir his hunger with the smell of my blood, for I’m not human. He only drinks human blood. In copious amounts, and he has already fed this day.
Jacob decided that was a thought best not pursued. Conscious of the host they were approaching, he drank swiftly. As she reached behind her back, he closed his eyes when she found him, stroking his cock where it nestled against her hip and buttock, an idle pleasure that strained the hose further. As long as she kept herself pressed up against him like this, it would be disguised. As well as stay painfully hard.
The way I most like you, Sir Vagabond.
The blood nourished, while the knitting of his bones strengthened. As vitality returned to his limbs, they climbed the slope to a portal, a large black wooden frame shrouded in mist, reminding him of the stories that warned travelers to stay away from a fog, because it made it too easy to wander into the Fae world. The night sky had darkened further over it, stray bits of green lighting striking and reflecting off the glossy wood.
What else awaited them upon that hill made an equally absorbing impression. The Unseelie were the dark side of the Fae world, more malevolent in their intentions, whereas the Seelie, while quick to anger or exact retribution for insult, essentially had motives for good. He wasn’t entirely sure of that assessment, for all Fae tales warned against congress with them. However, he couldn’t deny sheer power came from the knot of royals at the head of the Seelie train, even more overwhelming than what Rhoswen had displayed thus far.
Keldwyn was part of that group. He sat upon a dappled gray stallion, relaxed and as dispassionate as ever. If Jacob ever needed money, he knew who he’d be taking to the poker tables in Vegas.
Having been in your mind, I’m too familiar with your moods. I would give them away with my poker face.
Anyone who ventured into Keldwyn’s mind might be forever lost there. I wouldn’t take the gamble.
True. He might eat their brains like a zombie, only from the inside out.
She cleared her throat over a chuckle. Jacob took the opportunity to press his mouth to the juncture of her throat and shoulder. Reaching up, she rubbed her thumb over his lips, cleaning the last of the blood away. In his current attire, he was tempted to paint some of it on his chest and come off as a wild Celt.
They seemed to expect nothing less of a vampire.
His attention returned to the Seelie entourage.
King Tabor was easy enough to pick out, since he was at the head of the triangular formation. His long gold hair was plaited with ropes of earth-colored gemstones down his back. Most Fae males had strong faces with remarkable, ageless beauty.
Cayden’s scar had been the exception. However, Tabor’s face had a lined rugged quality that suggested maturation, like the cycles of the earth itself. His eyes were leonine amber. The way he sat his steed showed a fit male who’d known battle. A glance at the male’s eyes told Jacob that Tabor might be the oldest of all of them, Rhoswen and Lyssa included. It might explain the lines on his face, but Jacob suspected there were other causal factors. He had a steady center that Rhoswen lacked, as if he’d faced his deepest self and accepted what he’d seen there.
Had Tabor and Rhoswen grown up together? It was an odd thought, considering both would be well over a millennium. He wondered at what age a Fae was no longer considered a juvenile. Vampires didn’t really consider one of their kind mature until they passed the first century mark, and then they were still the equivalent of a twenty something adult.
“King Tabor.” Rhoswen nodded. “May I present Lady Lyssa, daughter of Lord Reghan.” Her pause before giving Lyssa the title was audible, showing she didn’t particularly care for assigning the honorific. It wasn’t a surprise she felt that way, but it was telling that she did it now, before him.
Tabor’s gaze swept Lyssa from head to toe.
Unlike most males who appraised her, Tabor didn’t display the covetousness or lust, just an unexpected intensity. The Seelie king drank in her appearance as if seeking familiar landmarks, like old friends meeting after many years. Only Jacob realized it wasn’t Lyssa who was the old friend.
Rhoswen sat motionless. Perhaps because she had a different purpose tonight, she wasn’t emanating her usual frosty reaction, but Jacob thought he saw something more vulnerable lurking in her gaze. Cayden had unobtrusively moved his mount closer, so his leg brushed the flank of the horse Rhoswen rode.
Just as she’d done with Rhoswen, Lyssa inclined her head. The short courtesy that wasn’t an act of obeisance, but one royal acknowledging another.
“Thank you for accepting our invitation to join us, Lady Lyssa.” Tabor’s deep timbre was like quiet thunder rolling behind the hill's before a summer rain.
Rhoswen was powerful, no doubt, but this one… If he wanted everyone around them to burst into pixie dust, this male had the ability to do it. Jacob was pretty sure of it. It was disturbing and riveting at once, similar to the effect of the sirens on his senses, minus the lust, thank the gods.
The fingers that loosely held his steed’s reins were marked with intricate tattoos that circled the base of the fore and ring fingers, then banded his wrists and disappeared up the cuffs of his earth-and-gold-colored tunic. The gold circlet on his head had similar markings. “Your father was a particular friend.
It has been our pleasure to see his blood take precedence in you. We are glad to have the long overdue honor of welcoming another of his line back to our world.” He glanced at Rhoswen. “Though I see our dark queen has not yet decided it is an honor.”
“You may make your own determinations for your own interests, my lord Tabor,” Rhoswen said stiffly.
“My interests lie elsewhere tonight, if you give me leave to go pursue them. I look forward to our paths crossing later in the evening.”
Tabor bent from his saddle in gracious courtesy to his female counterpart, though his eyes held hers steadily. “You have our leave. Good hunting, beautiful queen. Embrace the pleasures of the Samhain hours.”
“Always.” She glanced at Lyssa. “Good riding.
May you know no fear of the night.”
As she turned away, Cayden gave them a nod and followed her. Tabor watched them return to the head of the Unseelie procession and begin to lead the macabre spectacle of the Haunt past the Seelie train, toward the portal.
“Each year, we play a game.” Tabor directed his words to Lyssa. “Much like your football games, we toss a coin to see which side enters the portal first.
She won this year, so we shall wait for her to go through with her people, if you do not mind the wait.
Our sorcerers configure a different entry point, because our quests are different, and do not mesh so well together. At least not until the end, when we come back together. Then we reach out to those who’ve passed out of our world, celebrate endings and beginnings, and hope that all our worlds benefit from abundance in the coming year. At least, that is what I hope.”
The king swept a glance over Jacob. While he suffered a moment of discomfiture, thinking his battered appearance might seem disrespectful to the Seelie king, Tabor didn’t display the dismissive edge of contempt he’d begun to expect from most Fae.
The Seelie king returned his attention to Lyssa.
“You’ve had an interesting first visit to our world thus far, I think.”
“Being part of the vampire world for centuries has been good preparation for the challenges of the Fae one, Your Majesty. We do not regret our visit.”
“Well spoken.” As he looked toward the portal, Jacob noticed tha
Like Rhoswen, the king appeared more than capable of protecting himself. But Jacob knew the guard for a capable leader was often there as a buffer, to give him time to rally if there was a surprise attack. His Aussie friend and fell ow servant, Dev, had said as much once about his Mistress, the Lady Daniela. If his skill gave her a few extra seconds to survive before he was taken off the grid, then he’d done his duty. Jacob didn’t disagree, and for that reason felt an affinity for those in the same role. Even when they treated him like a distasteful bug under a microscope, like Cayden or the ebony woman now.
Nearly a third of the Unseelie train had disappeared through the portal. As they passed, the green lightning crackled, and waves of magical energy wafted down the hill in heated winds. The slope on which they waited looked across at all four castles. Though Jacob had heard there’d be major light shows later in the evening, when the Hunt and Haunt returned, there were minor explosions of fireworks going on now, practice runs of aerial shows by different groups of the flighted Fae, everything from traditional fairies to dragons, griffins and others.
“It’s a display worth seeing,” Tabor commented.
“There is no night quite as special to us as Samhain.”
“I thought Beltane would be more significant,” Lyssa responded, with a slight smile. “The celebration of life and fertility. Growth.”
“Insightful. It’s perhaps like comparing Christmas to Easter in your world. One is for celebration; one is for remembrance. And though celebration is needed, remembrance is vital.” He gave her that intent scrutiny again.
“You have his eyes,” he said, his voice lowering.
“And I do not mean the color. There was something… fathomless in Lord Reghan’s eyes.
For a Fae, that is saying something. He was unique in our world, so it comes as no surprise that you are as well.”
Keldwyn shifted on his horse, ostensibly to look at the fireworks. Because of the play of dark and light, Jacob thought he saw sadness in the male’s eyes.
Then it was gone.
“Not so much to the untrained senses, but to the ancients, like myself, Seelie and Unseelie abilities are very distinct,” Tabor continued. “With one breath, I can tell if you are Seelie or Unseelie. Like him, you are both, a rare thing. But you are even more, because your Fae form suggests the Solitary folk, our Fae who are not of the high court. You bring all of them together, an unclassifiable and therefore unknown quantity.”
The ebony woman shifted closer to Tabor’s side, the way Cayden had done when Rhoswen had to introduce Lyssa as Reghan’s daughter. However, this time it was Tabor who offered reassurance in his glance, the nod of his head. Then he looked back at Lyssa, his attention sharpening upon her.
“Your power is strong, wild. Your years of discipline as a vampire queen have given you an instinctive rein on it, even without training, but the savage side of that blood will unleash it in defense of those you care about. He, too, had that quality.”
“So why did you sentence him to death?” Lyssa asked evenly.
The ebony woman’s face hardened. A percussion wave of energy pushed over them, an unpleasantly claustrophobic feeling.
“Dahlia, enough.” Tabor said. When Dahlia shifted irritably on her horse, the feeling eased back.
“Aidan, Leigh, leave us. All of you,” he added, looking pointedly at Dahlia. “I would speak to Lady Lyssa alone.”
There was a brief silence, a battle of will's. The king scowled at Dahlia. She jerked her horse’s head around, followed by the two males. Though high court Fae weren’t inclined to open mirth, Jacob noticed the men had something close to grins playing around their mouths, as if they would tease her about her overprotective nature.
The king sighed. “He was executed because our species is not exempt from being reactionary, particularly when our world is in an uncertain state.
Your father’s actions—cleaving to a vampire, getting her with child—came at a time when things were going badly between the Fae and human world.
Superstition was closing in. Many unpleasant incidents occurred…”
Tabor closed his eyes, shook his head.
“Unpleasant. The wrong word for so many horrific acts. Only the distance of centuries would permit it, to make those times sound even more distant, when we all know an act of barbarism is usually as close as the nearest fear, whatever that fear may be. It is not an excuse, because I was hardly more enlightened at that time, but I will tell you I was not king then. My brother was.”
Peripherally, Jacob was aware of the procession of Unseelie continuing to file through the portal, the murmur of conversation and movement along the Seelie train, but like his lady, his attention was captured by the king’s words, the import of them and his steady glance. “I can tell you that many of the years where we shut ourselves off from your world have been violent, terrible ones. For all of us. It is why I cannot always blame Rhoswen for the way she feels about things. Killing a brother is a terrible thing”—shadows crossed his visage—“but to kill a mother is to kill the root of your self. Though it has been several centuries since it occurred, it is a wound that perhaps never heals.”
He glanced at the ebony-skinned woman, whose horse stood apart from the others as she continued to stare fixedly at him, even from a distance. “As you can tell, Dahlia is my version of your vampire.
Though the other two are my men-at-arms, my personal guard, she is my true protection, an incomparable sorceress as well as a good friend.
She is, however, singular in her defense of me, brooking no disobedience or insolence from anyone.” He smiled faintly. “It’s perhaps good that I am king and not her, for your question was a fair one. You deserve an answer, after so many years.” He shrugged. “Each year we celebrate Samhain in this way. We go to places where there is still belief, where there is less technology and the agriculture practiced is still the way of the earth. And sometimes, in the reflection of those who catch a glimpse of us that night, I still see who and what we were when we were allies, human and Fae.” There was a squeal, a thunderous clatter. Firewind shifted restlessly, but as Jacob steadied him, he saw the Unseelie ranks part for a male in a chariot. His team of frothing, blood-colored horses barreled toward the portal. Thick mist followed in his wake, but then Jacob saw it wasn’t mist at all, but a cavalcade of twisting wraith spirits, with dark eyes and skeletal faces. The chariot wheels were pale flame, and rattled with a dragging train of human bones. He sincerely hoped it was an embellishment from the pavilions. The chariot plunged through the portal, its passage illuminated with a bill ow of white light and blood colored smoke, as well as an extra explosion of fireworks above it. Appreciative cries erupted at the display.
Tabor shook his head. “Gwyn ap Nudd, as the Welsh cal him. The king of the Underworld. He goes to collect the souls due to the afterlife this night. As frightening as it looks, it’s actually an honor to die on Samhain. The Veil is thin. It’s a good night to pass, with many helping hands to take a new soul through the gate. The ride in the chariot will take the souls through the seven levels of Heaven and many other remarkable places before the night is done.” A group of harpies flew through then. Not to be outdone by their flamboyant predecessor, they conducted an impressive midair choreography before the portal. It reminded Lyssa of a parade, with Rhoswen as the parade master. She stood by the portal entrance, evaluating each group’s ability to strike terror into human hearts.
Following her gaze, Tabor nodded. “To know about your father, you need to know about the women in his life. Rhoswen’s mother was young, opportunistic, spoiled and ultimately corrupt.
Because of her youth, and because there was in fact something quite unique about her—a shining gem, much like her daughter, though with much less heart
—she was able to turn his head for a short time.
Long enough to get with child, which of course does not take very long. But she couldn’t disguise her true nature, and he would not cleave to her. He did acknowledge the child, cared for her with a true fondness.”
“He loved her.” Lyssa stared at Tabor.
“Most decidedly. He was a very big part of Rhoswen’s life until…” Tabor shook his head. “It enraged Magwel that he would not give her the regard he gave the daughter she bore him, so she thwarted him from seeing Rhoswen. I suspect she poisoned Rhoswen’s mind against him as well, making her believe that he didn’t care for her, even though he continued to try and reach out to her. In later years, I was able to reveal this to Rhoswen, but by then, your mother had happened, and it became more complicated.”
Lyssa shifted against Jacob’s body, her eyes darkening as she remembered Rhoswen’s bitter words. Children are like acorns. Some are left to rot…
“When he fell in love with your mother, it was not a love we as Fae could understand. But I have eyes, and I knew it was true. Rhoswen’s mother was close to the Unseelie queen. It took time, but eventually the unthinkable was done. Your father, one of our strongest, was sentenced to death.
“He could have fought my brother and the others who spoke against him, and the loss of life would have been grievous, because the Fae courts were very divided on the issue. However, he agreed to accept the sentence if my brother agreed the Fae court would not seek retaliation against his vampire mate. The Seelie court abided by that. The Unseelie didn’t. I do not hold the Seelie court blameless, however, because my brother did nothing to stop the Unseelie court. He felt that our honoring the agreement was all that was required. Even though he was lovers with the woman who sent the assassins. Rhoswen’s mother.”