Vampire Queen 8 - Bound by the Vampire Queen - Joey W Hill, page 42
Unnecessarily I might add.”
“You didn’t know about the sun any more than I did.”
Do I have to do all of my servant’s thinking for him? She caught his hand, breaking into a near-silent trot to take him where she intended to go.
A winding stairwel led to a narrow fissure, through which they squeezed into the upper gallery of the main hall. Using her cloaking abilities, Lyssa made sure they blended into the shadows at the rear of it.
She warned Jacob to absolute silence, knowing if Rhoswen’s attention strayed, they would be found out. After their conversation, Lyssa didn’t think the queen would censure them for curiosity, but that curiosity would remain unfulfilled if they were noted there.
Rhoswen had sat back down on the edge of the fountain and now she beckoned. “Come stand before me, Captain.”
Cayden complied, maintaining that stolid expression. Leaning forward, Rhoswen took hold of one gauntleted hand. She pul ed the heavy glove off, then did the same to the other. His eyes darkened, his mouth tightening as she unbelted his tunic, setting aside his dagger and it scabbard. When she pul ed the garment over his head, since he was taller, he had to help. The mail was heavy, so she stepped behind him, lifting it away from his sore back, tugging to tell him she wanted him to help her remove that as well. She dropped it to the floor with a heavy clink.
“Be still .” Now he was clothed in a thin undertunic and hose. Lyssa couldn’t deny Jacob the anger that flashed through him at the sight of the dried blood pasting the thin shirt to his back in several raw patches.
Unsheathing Cayden’s knife, Rhoswen cut the undershirt he wore, taking a strip from it. She wet it in the fountain then moved behind him again. He shuddered as she squeezed the moisture out of the cloth, dampening those stiff patches and loosening the fabric. His jaw flexed.
“My lady does not need to do that. I can—”
“Your queen will do as she wishes, and you will remain silent, unless I command you to speak. Kneel for me here, where I can sit on the fountain and attend to you.”
When he did, she sat back down behind him, her feet placed on either side of his calf. Gently disengaging the cloth from his skin, she removed it, so now he was bare except for his hose, for she cut the rest of the shirt off him, using additional pieces to clean out the wounds. An attendant came in, bearing a tray of salve, evidence that Rhoswen had some telepathic ability to communicate with her staff as Lyssa did. The queen bid the attendant leave the items and go, then began to apply them with her own hands on his broad back. In addition to the wicked scar on his face, Cayden had plenty other battle scars visible under the lashes. Several near fatal blows, making Lyssa remember Rhoswen’s reference to the conflicts in the Fae world.
Rhoswen didn’t speak as she cosseted her guard captain, but he became progressively more discomfited by this unprecedented behavior. His hands closed into loose fists. She’d set aside the balm, but was still rubbing it in slow circles over the hard muscles in his back. Now she leaned forward and placed her lips on the nape of his neck. She stayed there, her mouth not moving, just touching his flesh. She curled her hands over his substantial biceps, holding him in place. Though he couldn’t see her face, her tears had weight. Tiny diamonds of ice pattered against his skin, and hit the tile with a pling of noise.
“My lady,” he murmured, his voice broken.
“Sit on the fountain edge,” she said, easing her hold.
He did so, but when she slid off of it, going to her knees before him, he clasped her arms immediately, tried to bring her to a standing position. She resisted, moving so she was between his feet, her hands on his knees. He couldn’t rise from his seat on the fountain without pushing her away or falling into the fountain himself.
“Lady Lyssa was correct,” she said. “You have ever been loyal to me, and though I have punished your disobedience, your actions were driven by what was best for the Fae. Best for me.”
“I won’t tolerate you on your knees to me, my lady,” he said, struggling to rise. “This is—”
“An apology, Captain Cayden. A heartfelt apology.” He stopped, caught by the sincerity in her blue eyes. “Cayden, we have known one another for so very long. We’ve fought together, lost together. I know you love me well. Perhaps too well. If it has become too difficult to serve me, I will give you leave to serve anywhere else in the Seelie or Unseelie world, with nothing but the greatest of praise for you.
Tabor would welcome you. Your father was Seelie.
You have as much acceptance there as you do here.”
“And who would care for you, my lady? Watch over you?”
Cupping his face, she touched his mouth with her thumb. “Though I am quite capable of caring for myself, I’m sure you already have at least five men trained to take your position if ever you fell.” Her eyes lifted to his, an intriguing mixture of cool reproach and urgent heat at once. “If that ever happened, I would utterly destroy whoever dared take you from me. Then I would grieve deeply.” Withdrawing her hand, she sat back on her heels and then gracefully rose, stepping back from him.
Her face became that dispassionate mask, but one that still managed to convey the strong emotions moving behind it.
“I have abused your service, over and over. I release you from it, and give you the right to ask for retribution from your queen, for the injury she has done to you.”
Lyssa glanced at Jacob. From the formality of her tone, and Cayden’s stunned expression, it was an offer of unprecedented significance. She lifted her chin. “That means if you want me flogged as you were flogged—”
Surging up from the fountain then, he closed the distance between them in two steps. He didn’t touch her, but the effort not to do so was obviously overwhelming. “No one shall ever touch your fair skin, my lady. I would tear off the arm of the first man who lifted a whip.”
“But you accept my right to do it to you.” She trailed her fingers over his shoulder, touching the edge of an unhealed lash mark. The touch elicited a flicker in his gaze that wasn’t pain. “You should be less accepting, Captain Cayden.”
Now something trembled in her expression, something that made Jacob remember the armory, when Rhoswen had faced the unexplored but undeniable part of her.
“Perhaps I wasn’t thinking of having someone do it. Perhaps I was thinking of you. You are a very direct man, one who handles things personally. You might not even wish to use a whip. Perhaps you’d like to use your own hand.”
She’d recognized her captain’s nature in much the way she had hers. Jacob wondered how long she’d known, and if it had tormented her as he was sure the elusive glimpses of her own nature had tempted Cayden. Now the captain swallowed audibly. While it was hard to tell when the woman was playing a strategic game, Jacob thought Rhoswen might be more nervous than she was revealing.
She is, Jacob. She’s trembling. He’s close enough to feel it.
“My lady.” Cayden cupped her face now, drew her against his bare chest, wrapping an arm corded with battle-hardened muscle around her. “I will never leave your service. If you took away my rank and cast me out, I would sit at your castle gates, sleeping by the moat like a vagabond to be close to you.
Whenever you had need of my protection and strength, I would be there. I serve you, in all things.” Another Sir Vagabond. Lyssa was amused but touched as well, Jacob could tell.
Cayden lifted her chin, looked into her blue eyes.
There was strength in the grip, command, even as he spoke carefully. “However, if one of the things you need from your servant in private is to force your surrender, to give yourself permission to feel, to laugh, to cry… to heal and forget… then I am more than equal to that task.”
The soldier was now trembling as well, both daring far more than they’d ever dared. Lyssa looked at Jacob. We’ve eavesdropped long enough. He is safe from her wrath, for now. But I want exact details about what happened between you two that resulted in this.
How she connected it to Jacob, he didn’t know, but he’d long ago stopped underestimating his Mistress. Of course, he wasn’t sure if she was talking about his confrontation with Cayden or the night with Rhoswen. He hoped the former, though by even having the thought, her dangerous curiosity latched on to it like an arrow pointing where he didn’t want her to go. He winced. Having been a vampire for a millennium meant she’d picked right back up on how to use all the perks of being one. She could open his mind like a tuna can.
But that was his queen. He didn’t want her any other way.
She slept deeply. She needed more blood. Since she would only take so much from Jacob, and refused a human donor like Sellya, claiming she preferred to wait to seek more nourishment until she returned home, he sent a note to Keldwyn via Sellya, asking for a favor. Whether or not the enigmatic Fae Lord would accommodate him remained to be seen.
Close to dawn, he left Lyssa nested in the covers to sit in the window seat. He sensed it would be a while before they returned to the Fae world.
Surprisingly, Jacob found the idea bugged him. He remembered the dancing in the forest, the sirens and angels. The Hunt. He recalled when they’d chased the hart, being with Tabor and his comrades.
His lady’s arms around his waist as she pressed against him. Here the fairy tales and legends were real.
He understood Rhoswen’s fear of too much interaction between their worlds. The human world, except in its more remote corners, had been irrevocably altered with time, fields and deer tracks replaced by concrete and traffic. Even in its most remote corners, concert T-shirts and soda cans showed up. The Fae world drew on Nature and the elements as a vampire nourished himself on blood. It would not be altered by the wrong kind of change; the magic that was its heart could be destroyed by it.
Nevertheless, Rhoswen’s realization that there were unacceptable risks in stagnation had made her take a brave step, more indicative of the type of queen Keldwyn’s words and Cayden’s loyalty had suggested of her from the beginning.
Of course, Jacob expected Rhoswen’s response to that would be there was a fine line between a queen’s courage and her foolishness. His lips twitched. It was something his own lady might say, in her usual dry tone.
As dawn arrived, Lyssa began to stir. With her vampire blood holding sway, their impending leave-taking seemed to be aligning her to the dusk of their own world. When she was at her peak, she’d sleep lightly, and come out of sleep so alert, it was like she didn’t sleep at all. He knew that, not only because he’d seen it before, but because that had been his experience.
Moving to the mirror, he looked at himself, something he’d been unable to do as a vampire. No change of course. Even as a servant, with an average three-hundred-year lifespan, he wouldn’t age. When a servant reached the end of his days, the systems started shutting down, like an appliance that had reached the age beyond which it couldn’t operate, no matter how shiny it appeared on the outside.
Three hundred years wasn’t long enough with her.
No amount of time would be. But if she wanted to turn him in the future, he already knew he wouldn’t be willing to let her risk the loss of her powers again.
Beyond that, just as she’d felt that being more vampire than Fae was her true self, being her servant was his. Of course, he’d as much as said he was that, no matter his form.
Well, there would be a few centuries to think about that, God willing.
“I dreamed Kane was crying.”
Moving away from the mirror, he came to her side, slid a hip next to her. Her black hair was soft around her face, her green eyes half open. “If he’s crying, then it’s because Mason is telling him about women.
How falling in love with one makes you insane.” Sliding her arms around his neck, she drew him down to her. “I think he’s crying because Jessica is telling him he will turn into a pigheaded package of inevitable testosterone poisoning.”
“You’ve never mentioned having a problem with my testosterone, or its packaging.”
Her eyes sparkled as she caressed him through the hose beneath his tunic. “I didn’t say it was a problem. Just inevitable.” Then she sighed, and drew him down to lie next to her. When she put her head on his chest, he stroked her hair.
“I see the unicorns are out tonight.” Her lips curved against his skin. “It will be awhile before I'll be able to say something like that again, won’t I? Unless I ask a couple of them to come and live with us, gambol about the estate with the dogs. I wonder what Bran would make of them.”
“Are you sorry we’re leaving?” He pressed a kiss into her hair.
“Yes and no. I want to go home. I want to be with Kane. But before I can settle into that, there’s Council to deal with. That damn letter.” It had been on his mind as well. But when he would have offered comfort, she tilted her head back.
Suddenly, he wasn’t seeing the Lyssa who’d first read that letter in their Atlanta kitchen with uncertainty and resigned acceptance. He was looking at the vampire queen he’d met over a year ago, the one to whom he’d pledged his eternal life. The one who’d fought to get them both back through that desert portal.
“I’m done with running, hiding, prevaricating and diplomacy. Rhoswen can give us our letter to introduce the Fae end of things, but it’s time to remind the Council that the privilege of rule can be revoked. Before we left, I said I want something different for Kane. I’m going to make sure he has it.” Reaching up, she drew Jacob’s mouth to hers. In the heat of the kiss, which quickly moved from lazy seduction to outright demand, Jacob felt her core deep strength, something that had nothing to do with how much blood she needed or how pale she was.
His lips curved against her, and he surrendered to her passion, even as he made a mental note to send Keldwyn another missive. After all, his job was to anticipate his lady’s needs, and he knew of some things that might be useful, given the plans he saw tumbling in her mind.
She’d taken the time she needed and found herself again. Now she was ready to kick some ass.
Rhoswen’s scribes had drawn up the communication to Council, as the queen had promised. While she and Lyssa wrangled over the wording and shared tea on a verandah framed with flower blooms and overlooking the practice field, Jacob joined Cayden and his men to pass the time and stay in form.
Though the need for it had rankled him some, they’d slowed their pace enough to give him a good workout. He told himself they moved faster than a vampire, so it would have been necessary regardless. Plus, Cayden was interested in Jacob’s hand-to-hand techniques, enough to want to see them at the slower pace so he could adapt them into his men’s considerable arsenal.
When he took a sweaty breather, sitting on a bench next to the captain, Jacob heard Rhoswen’s voice rise, snapping. A moment later, Lyssa’s dark hair was replaced by clear icicles, sparkling in the sun. In retaliation, Lyssa turned Rhoswen’s hair into vines of devil’s tongue.
“Look at that.” Jacob chuckled. “They really are acting like sisters.”
Cayden snorted. “When you encounter sisters in this world, they’re usually powerful enchantresses, or witches who share one eye. Always trouble.” Jacob grinned. He’d noticed the guardsman was acting a bit easier, not only with him, but his own men. Since the other guards were involved in a vital discussion of how best to sharpen blades, he quirked his brow at Cayden. “So how does it feel to spank a queen? I’m just asking, because I’ve never had the pleasure.”
He was ready for the attack, laughing as Cayden surged up and went after him, quick retribution for the impertinence. But Jacob noticed the captain’s face was somewhat flushed, and the glint in his eyes might have been rueful amusement.
“I think you’re about to suffer the pleasure, former vampire. Only you'll get the flat of my blade.”
“What? I don’t get that big, strong manly hand? I’m disappointed.”
Jacob had to move fast to avoid the next swing.
Hopping nimbly over thei
He could hear Dev’s retort to that. You just wish you were my equal, bloody Mick. It made him grin anew, and that was good. It helped him stay away from the less positive side of it. Like the more limited lifespan of a servant, his diminished capacity to physically protect her. It was difficult for a warrior to reconcile the loss of such strength, no matter how short a time he’d had it at his disposal.
But he’d never have to make an annual kill , not for himself. Every vampire had to make at least one human kill a year to maintain strength and mental acuity. It had to be a healthy person, a good person, to ensure the potency and purity of the blood. He’d helped her do hers, the year they’d met, and the experience had torn something deep inside of him.
He was overdue for his own annual kill , something he’d kept putting off, and now he wouldn’t have to do it. Could he have done it, year after year? No. And she’d known it. Maybe that was why she’d let him get away with delaying it until it was inevitable.
He was an alpha, a warrior, but he wasn’t a predator. Whereas she’d been born one.
Strategically, he now had Cayden at a disadvantage, pushing him back. Then his lady’s voice came into his mind.
Would you like to spank your queen, Jacob?
Does the idea of me being over your knee, my pale bottom smarting from your hand, make you hard?
He missed his opening. Cayden knocked him square on his backside, so that he had to somersault back to avoid being stomped on a follow up kick. He made it to his feet, but Cayden stepped back, giving him the signal to desist. Following his gaze, Jacob saw the queens watching them.