Vampire Queen 8 - Bound by the Vampire Queen - Joey W Hill, page 29
Earlier, she’d told Jacob that something that happened a thousand years ago shouldn’t have such a hold on her now. Yet getting the answers she’d always lacked was more overwhelming than she’d expected. Tabor had paused, was studying her face.
Jacob’s mind touched her in warm reassurance as he picked up on her uncertain spiral of emotions.
“My apologies, Lady Lyssa. I did not adequately prepare you for the import of what I intended to tell you. I felt it was significant to meet you tonight, to tell you these things on the night of endings and beginnings. However, perhaps I set too much store by symbolism. We can wait until—”
“No.” Lyssa shook her head firmly. “There may not be another time, Your Majesty. I welcome anything you can say that might help me understand the confusion of my childhood.”
“No child should have to deal with what you and your mother faced. Fortunately, the vampire world resorted to the talents of a mortal sorcerer to stop the assassination attempts. Unfortunately, on this side of things, it was not over so quickly. I could no longer in good conscience support my brothers, so our world divided into factions. We suffered through on-and-off armed conflicts, no sense of cohesion, for centuries. When I kill ed both of my brothers in battle, Rhoswen’s mother, now Unseelie Queen, became my bitter enemy, and things became far worse. Until Rhoswen took her mother’s life and called for a truce.”
He looked back at the portal as a group of sinuous women, dressed in elaborate wrapped cloths, like Indian women in saris, proceeded toward it. One transformed while they watched, her brown skin becoming overlapped with scales, her eyes large and unblinking with the slitted pupils of a snake.
Flicking a long, forked tongue at the other women, she amused them as her legs disappeared and were replaced instead by a long snake’s tail that propel ed her even more quickly to the portal. They shifted to catch up, laughing as they did so.
Lamias, Jacob supplied. It’s said they trap faithless men in their coils with seduction and then strangle them to death.
Well, they seem in a cheerful mood for it. Lyssa closed her eyes. Hearing what Rhoswen had done to end the civil war in her country, she’d found a common link, an empathy she wasn’t sure she wanted.
“There’s much I do not know about the relationship between Rhoswen and her mother,” Tabor said, “or what made her decide to do it, after she’d stood behind her through so many battles. However, after the truce, Lady Rhoswen mourned in seclusion for five years, during which Keldwyn stood as her regent. When she came back, he stepped aside and became liaison for both courts.”
His mouth tightened. “Since, as you say, we may not have an opportunity like this again, I will say the most important thing. I owe a debt to your father.
Though Queen Rhoswen and I act as equals on most things, I have the power to overrule her court decisions. It is a power I try to use rarely, because I understand the danger of undermining her authority, given the beings that reside in her portion of our world. Do you understand?”
He held her gaze a long moment, until she nodded. “I do.”
“Good.” He shifted his attention back to the portal.
“She is a mixture of contradictions, the worst of her mother and the best of her father always warring within her. Her Fae respect her, but she won’t let them love her. Being barren does not help matters, for we have never had a barren Unseelie queen. Her mother cursed her with barrenness when Rhoswen kill ed her.”
Reghan has another daughter. A daughter with a child…
Some wounds couldn’t heal, even over a thousand years. Particularly when every day was a reminder of the past.
A troop of hobgoblins marched through the gate, naked, short and long-limbed, bearing an array of noisemakers that created a din that vibrated through the ground as they tested them out. Rhoswen managed an approving look, though Lyssa imagined she wanted to rub her temples to stave off the headache they were probably seeding. Though they didn’t need masks to be scary to human perception, many had purchased from the vendor Lyssa remembered anyway.
Masks. How many masks had she worn in her life? How many had Rhoswen worn? Maybe that was why masked costume events had never appealed to her.
The enticing trill of a lute brought her attention back to the next person in the elaborate parade.
She’d seen satyrs around the castle and in the village, but this one had the same look that Firewind had about him, as if he was a leader among his kind.
His bare upper body was broad and muscular, and though his lower half was like the haunches and cloven hooves of a goat, the legs were strong and reminiscent enough of a human male it wasn’t as off putting as she would expect. His long curling red hair and trimmed beard looked like touchable silk. A dozen female Fae trailed in his wake, dancing, laughing, wearing flowers and very little else, long hair flowing over bare skin and fluttering wings.
His absorbing blue eyes turned to her as if he felt her regard specifically. Lifting a lute to his firm lips, he trill ed her another provocative tune, as if he were inviting her to dance, or more. Despite the seriousness of her discussion with Tabor, she felt the sun break through those clouds, give her the desire to smile. Perhaps even to laugh, take his hands and join him in that dance. Unlike the dangerous lure of the sirens, in this instance his attraction felt almost compassionate, as if he was picking up on the weight of her heart as easily as Jacob did. On top of that, the way he gazed at her was intent, sexual and quite pleasurable. What intrigued her even more was he included Jacob in that frank assessment, making it clear the invitation was open to both.
Jacob’s wry chuckle whispered across her ear, making her shiver. “I’m going to guess that’s Robin Goodfellow, also known as Puck. He’s reputed to be the Jester of the Fae and loves to cause confusion among mortals and Faes alike. It’s said he sends travelers in the wrong direction, pinches lazy servants, and pul's chairs out from beneath people who are malicious gossips. Should I hold you tighter, my lady, to keep you from flying to his side?” She pressed her lips against a smile, laid her hand on his thigh. I was thinking I’d have him come over here and give my lazy servant a pinch.
Since he made you smile, I’m going to pretend to ignore that comment.
She looked toward Tabor then, steadier. “Why a rose bush?”
Tabor shook his head, his mouth hard. “Magwel recommended the method of his death. Your mother loved our roses. As you already know, Reghan gave her a plant, allowed her to take it into your world.
That was another crime, though creating a child with her was considered the worst. As you’ve no doubt realized, at that time we had stringent rules to keep our two species apart. It wasn’t long after that the portals were closed completely and the Separation Edict set into place, by mutual agreement. There is a great deal of wisdom to it I support, but not for the same reasons as Rhoswen. Many of the Edict’s principles hold today, except on a night like this. The Veil is thin, not just between our worlds, but between the here and now and the afterlife, and that must be honored, no matter our rules and laws.” As the last of her people passed through it, Rhoswen was positioning herself to take the Queen’s Guard through the gate. “On this night, the queen does all she can to keep the two worlds far apart, and we go to bless it. We hope that one day things will be different, whereas she fervently prays they never will . She is certain that inviting mortal congress will bring us to true destruction, not just self-imposed exile from the earth. And she could well be right. I cannot see the future. That’s not a gift given me. But there are certain ways I do not wish to live.”
He met Lyssa’s gaze. “The last day I saw your father, the proudest, noblest man I’ve ever known got on his knees with tears in his eyes. He pleaded with my brother to honor his promise, to spare you and your mother. However, I remember he had his gaze fixed on Rhoswen’s mother, because that was who he truly needed to convince. The hopelessness in his eyes said he already knew it would come to naught.
After I kill ed my brot
His expression intensified. “Which is why I have asked Rhoswen to consider sending you back to your world as a liaison between our two courts and the Vampire Council.”
It took Lyssa a moment to digest it, not sure at first she’d heard what she’d heard. She could sense Jacob’s similar reaction, and was glad again for the solid warmth of his body behind her. Up until now, he’d remained silent, an innocuous servant. Tabor had not once addressed him, but it was obvious the king was very aware of his presence, of the connection between them. His eyes had swept over the mark of Jacob’s fangs at her neck, along with the intimate rest of his hands on Lyssa’s hips, her leg over his calf, his thigh alongside her hip.
“The Vampire Council is as prejudiced against the Fae as your people are against them.” She kept her tone politely incredulous. “How do you propose to compel them to accept a liaison?”
“I am not without my spies in your world, Lady Lyssa.” Tabor gave her a tight smile. “Their ploy to take your child is an attempt to reclaim your advisory capabilities without according you status among them.” He quirked a brow. “And if you need more intel than that, I have overestimated your abilities as a queen.”
The amber eyes were suddenly far more regal, distant. “Our conversation has had a note of sentiment that could be misleading. I may seem far more accepting than my lady Rhoswen, but I am no less ruthless in the defense of our world. The boundaries between worlds grow thinner every year.
Our young Fae know there are other worlds, other dimensions, and they want to explore them. The tighter we rein them in, the more those reins chafe.
It’s taken me quite a few centuries, but I am beginning to think there are better ways than the Separation Edict. We grow weaker and fewer, not stronger. Rhoswen and I look at the same problem in a very different way.
Perhaps opening communication in a limited way between our worlds will help us all. At least I’m hoping to help her understand that.”
Good luck with that, Jacob thought. Lyssa was inclined to agree.
A rocket went off. They looked up to see a spiral of silver and gold color explode across the sky. As it fell toward the portal archway, it formed the Unseelie crest briefly before it disappeared into the darkness.
A cold blast of air shuddered past them, making Firewind lift his hooves off the ground. Jacob held on to him with mane and knees, cradling Lyssa against him as the horse came back to ground. “The Gaoth Shee are always the last to pass through,” Tabor noted. “They will catch up to Gwyn ap Nudd once they’ve had their fun terrifying the lone travelers this evening.”
The ebony woman and the two companions for the king were returning, the procession behind them shifting, ready to depart. Tabor held out his hand and Lyssa placed hers in it. He passed his gloved fingers over her pale, slim ones, studying them. “I would enjoy a less strategic conversation with you, Lady Lyssa. I could teach you juste, the Fae version of chess. Reghan used to play it with me, and I think you would excel at it. Perhaps we will have that opportunity sometime in the future. Until then, be thinking of what I said. You are welcome to ride close at our side, or drop back to visit with any in our procession. You'll find many are interested in meeting Reghan’s daughter.”
Moving his horse into a proud trot, he headed for the portal. Dahlia urged her mare into a canter to bring her back to her liege’s side, and the two personal guards followed. As Firewind pawed the ground, Lyssa murmured, “Let’s wait a moment.” Jacob understood and agreed. Because of all that Tabor had given her to think about, she wanted to sit here, still her mind and watch for a moment. Beneath a sky alight with more stars than they’d ever seen in the skies of the mortal world, that procession of stately figures headed for the portal. Dressed in silks and jewels, unearthly in their beauty, they were illuminated by orbs slowly oscillating around them or mounted on staffs. Some of the luminaries were fairies, perched on the shoulders of the human-sized Fae. The mounts were all combed out to glossy sheens and decorated with flowers, jewels and silks.
They saw Fae in carriages, and not just large ones drawn by eight outfitted horses. There were ones enchantingly smaller than shoeboxes, rolling along precariously beneath, but with just as much grandeur as their larger counterparts.
Though she’d seen banshees, dragons, hippogriffs and griffins go through with the Unseelie, this made her think of a royal procession from medieval times, only with an ethereal beauty and synchronized movement that suggested there was a higher level of communication between them than first apparent.
Glancing up at his face, Lyssa saw Jacob was as enraptured as she was. She wondered if even Tabor, who seemed far more sympathetic to their world, realized how it affected them. Did he know how many mortal childhoods had nursed dreams of magic and fantasy? In the stories they read, the creatures and beings they met there, so many children had just known, deep in their bones, that they had to be real somewhere. And it wasn’t a child’s whim, lost to adulthood. It still dwelled deep inside so many of them, the belief that the magic they saw hidden in all the natural things of their world
—the spider spinning a web jeweled with dew, a rainbow after a rainstorm, a field of wildflowers so diverse and unplanned in the richness of color— those things were proof that magic like this still existed. The imprint was still there, a bean-shaped baby waiting to be discovered in a flower bud one day.
Could the two worlds ever be brought together again, fulfilling the dreams and curiosities of both without irreparable harm? The young Fae liked the human world, because it was new and different, and they were amazed by the gizmos humans had learned to create in lieu of magic. Whereas, the humans were in awe of the things that came so naturally for the Fae. The ability to fly, to transform into a tree, to ride a waterhorse and discover the beast was more than a myth.
And that he likes sugar-coated apples.
She’d seen that in his mind, as well a lot of other very harrowing things when he’d reappeared. “Allright,” she said at last. “We’d better fall in toward the back.”
She realized then her voice was a bit strained.
Jacob’s arm was around her waist and she was gripping his forearm hard. Pressing a kiss to her temple, he gave Firewind a slight press with his knees. The horse, though used to going everywhere at the speed of a battlefield charge, reflected the tone of the procession. He stepped sedately into the flow. As he did, Lyssa saw a pair of Fae women lean out of the carriage parallel to them. The male Fae on top also leaned down to look at her, but not with unpleasant curiosity. They looked interested in talking, as Tabor had warned.
Or perhaps they were just enjoying the indecent cling of Jacob’s hose on his very fine, very tight ass and hoping to catch a frontal view, which she was keeping all to herself, that impressive package nested up against her buttock and hip.
He scored her ear with his fang, making her smile.
It helped loosen things up inside of her. Not bad things, but something… poignant, like a long ago loss that might still be found within range of the fingertips, if one knew which direction to reach.
Like toward a liaison ship that would bring the two worlds together.
THEY didn’t go to simply one destination.
Throughout the nighttime hours, the Fae procession phased in and out of the mist, appearing in various places. Corn fields in the rural Midwest, sugar cane in South America and rice fields in Cambodia. Thick forests, where local peoples still relied on hunting for food, not soulless sport. Some of the places through which they traveled were so untouched by the industrial world that Lyssa felt she’d seen the same tableau hundreds of years ago. Either because the magic portals allowed for time adjustments or because the time zones themselves aligned with the nighttime of the Fae world, all their destinations were quiet and dark, between t
Though the sorcerers had set them in different paths, there were a few times they did see evidence of the Haunt’s presence, at a distance. Sirens on mooring buoys in a river, calling to young men sitting on the docks drinking beer. Male fairies dancing among enchanted red and white mushroom circles, coaxing young women to join them. They passed through blasts of air from the Gaoth Shee, heard the baying of the hell hounds. She saw humans who had strayed from the populated areas, casting fearful looks into the darkness, sensing the Unseelie eyes watching them, calculating the mischief they would do to the loner. They didn’t see the opulent reassurance of the Fae procession, passing just outside the range of their vision. Tabor’s mouth would tighten, but he did not interfere, the two factions continuing their parallel courses.
For the most part, the Seelie entourage set a sedate pace. However, when they reached a wide-open pastureland for sheep, dotted with low fences underneath the glowing moon, there was a cry from a section of the procession. King Tabor grinned as Aidan and Leigh pointed out the white hart, lithely prancing on the field several slopes down, cutting coquettish circles. “Shall we have ourselves a little harmless sport?” he queried. “My lady, will you join us?”
She could feel Jacob’s eagerness, muscles quivering behind her back, amusingly reminding her of Bran being held back from a treat. She shook her head at the palfrey being led forward and instead, in a lithe move, helped by Jacob’s strength and her own, she shifted herself quickly around his body and adjusted her skirt so she straddled Firewind behind him, setting her hands securely around his waist.
“Let’s go,” she said.