Vampire queen 8 bound.., p.30

Vampire Queen 8 - Bound by the Vampire Queen - Joey W Hill, page 30

 

Vampire Queen 8 - Bound by the Vampire Queen - Joey W Hill
 



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“Well done,” Aidan praised her, giving her a handsome smile. “She’s mine this year, mates.”

  “Not if I get there first,” Tabor laughed, flashing white teeth. Though Dahlia stopped just short of rolling her eyes at Lyssa in female commiseration, it was a near thing.

  “I have the help of Lord Firewind and the favor of my lady,” Jacob pointed out. “You might as well give up now. Ha!”

  They tossed back a wealth of deprecating comments, but in the next breath, they’d all taken off.

  Firewind had a forward charge like an airplane taking off. It took him a length ahead, a competitive snort from his velvety nostrils resulting in a short spout of flame wafting by Lyssa.

  She couldn’t see the hart, but she didn’t have to do so. This was what she’d dreamed about. Jacob hadn’t had to tell her what to do. She molded herself to his back, her legs close along the outside of his hips so she felt every flex of his thighs and wonderful backside, the ripple of strength along his back, under her cheek as he and Firewind truly became one. The horse had accepted him as worthy for the moment, but when Jacob truly demonstrated his natural skill , she thought the kelpie felt almost as she did. They were meshed as one, no conflict between them, blood, bone and organs all synchronized together. Jacob’s heart thundered so she felt its reverberation even where her hands clasped his waist.

  First fence, my lady. Just stay in my mind.

  They soared, there was no other word for it. She moved with Jacob’s body as he leaned forward to take the fence, and Firewind came down on the opposite side with a joyous, bloodcurdling whinny, sparks flying off his hooves. Exultation moved through her, a rare, wonderful experience, feeling the strength and grace of man and horse together, the power of the incomparable male to whom she’d given her heart.

  Firewind dodged as they came close to Tabor’s mount. Two other Seelie Fae were on their right as they took the next fence, all close together, the pursuers shouting, encouraging and insulting in the way that men did. She caught a glimpse of Dahlia, who she expected had joined to stay close to the king, but even the ebony woman looked as if she were enjoying herself. She was also a tremendous horsewoman.

  The horses veered as one, and she saw the hart cut back, a lovely ghostlike creature with luminous eyes and gleaming horns. The tail was a taunting flag as the magical beast bounded up the next hill , cut right and soared over the bank of a wide creek the sheep probably used for water.

  Firewind cut on the same path, and she saw quite a few Fae rein back, realizing the jump was more than they or their mounts could handle. Tabor was still with them, however, as well as his companions and one or two others. While the others shortened their strides, Jacob leaned forward more, and Firewind responded, lengthening his gait.

  Lyssa closed her eyes on a smile, tightening her arms on Jacob as the horse gathered and leaped over the creek, his fiery hooves hitting the far bank with an explosion of flame and a foot to spare. The wind streamed through Lyssa’s hair, her skirt rippling over Firewind’s haunches.

  Then she heard Tabor’s laughter, his friendly curse, and Firewind was slowing. Jacob eased him down, despite the horse’s snort and shuddering response that suggested he wanted to continue to chase. Lifting her head, she saw the hart bounding away into the thick wood on the edge of the pastureland.

  “She’s not ours tonight, lads,” Tabor said. “But she gave us a merry chase for sure.”

  “The best ones always do,” Leigh offered with a chuckle. His brown eyes glinted and he gave Lyssa a half bow before he turned back to his king. “One of these days I'll catch her, you wait.”

  “Aye, and one of these days, you'll be prettier,” Aidan teased.

  Tabor nodded to Jacob. “You are a fine rider. You do your lady credit. Lord Firewind agrees, I think. It is hard to win his approval.”

  The kelpie snorted, but Lyssa noted he bowed the great head briefly, shaking his mane in deference to the king, a willing gesture he’d not given Rhoswen.

  “My lady inspires me to great things,” Jacob returned. “Her favor makes me capable of anything.”

  “Also something the best ones do,” Tabor agreed.

  He lifted his voice. “It grows late. We must rejoin the Hunt, and meet back with the Haunt.” He glanced toward the forest, and out over the pastureland, a trace of regret in his eyes. “It is time to leave this world for another year.”

  Though their travails had been from midnight to the three a.m. hours, they’d covered far more ground than those mortal hours would normally have permitted, thanks to the influence of the magical night and Fae time. And it wasn’t over yet. When they returned to the Fae world, Samhain night would go on even longer. “The sun doesn’t rise until the Ending Ritual,” the Fae ladies riding in the carriage told them gaily. “We'll feast, dance, sing and celebrate until then.”

  Lyssa had returned to her sidesaddle seat in front of Jacob. He stroked back her windblown hair, helping her put it back in presentable fashion, that handsome curve to his lips as he replaced combs and ribbons. She touched his mouth with her fingers while he did, and when their eyes met, she saw the excitement he’d enjoyed in the Hunt still lingering, and wondered if it reflected her pleasure in it as well.

  Since he kissed those fingers, giving her a tiny, secret touch of his tongue to tease her on the pads, she suspected it did.

  I love you, my lady. My heart is bursting with it.

  If they weren’t in formal procession, she knew she would have slid both arms around him, put her head back on his chest, felt him dip his head over hers as he did in that position, his own arms strong around her. But since she had to appear as a queen now— albeit a windblown one—she settled for stretching up and pressing a kiss on that beloved mouth, cupping her hands around the back of his skull to draw his head down and kiss each eye, the bridge of his nose.

  I find you mildly tolerable, Sir Knight.

  He grinned at her. Then his glance shifted and she followed it, since the procession was filing to a halt.

  Or rather, fanning out in a crescent to form a half ring around what appeared to be a human cemetery.

  It was on the outskirts of a lonely swamp, the night air filled with the eerie calls of frogs. Jacob moved Firewind up closer to the king when he silently gestured for Lyssa to approach. The watchful Dahlia and two guardsmen gave him room to take up a position next to the king, where Lyssa could now see who else was in the cemetery.

  Despite the graveyard hour—ironic, considering— a man was here. Elderly and wizened, bent by perhaps eighty or more years, he was nevertheless kneeling before a tombstone. Dozens of flowers of myriad varieties had made a carpet over the grave.

  His hands were still stained by the juices of the stems.

  Though he thought himself alone, the man’s sobbing was silent, but fierce, wracking the thin frame. When he shifted, Lyssa saw the name Rose Lanyon on the stone. It was a wide marker, intended for two. The name etched next to Rose’s, Arthur Lanyon, had no year of death yet.

  “Arthur means bear in Celtic. She used to cal him her bear, because his hair was brown, like his eyes.

  And he was rounder, many years ago.”

  Lyssa glanced left and found Rhoswen there, sitting on her horse. In the shifting darkness on the other side of the cemetery, as the mist cleared, now she saw the outline of the guard and many of the Unseelie procession, arranged in a facing crescent to the Seelie host. The queen looked toward Tabor.

  She nodded, and he acknowledged the gesture, a decision made together. She swung down from her horse.

  As Cayden began to follow her, she shook her head, touching his booted calf with a light hand. She gave him a rare smile, one that didn’t hold malice or deception. It was simply a sad, sweet gesture that managed to tug Lyssa’s heart as the Fae queen moved across the graveyard toward the sobbing man. She’d shed the chains she’d worn earlier.

  When Tabor and Rhoswen had said the two groups would rendezvous, Lyssa assumed it would be back in the Fae world, n
ot here. It was clear this moment had importance to both, for all were watching, a motionless silence. Though he was circled by hundreds of Fae, the man didn’t appear to see any of them.

  When Rhoswen reached him, she sat down on a cracked and weathered stone bench, one he’d probably placed there years ago. According to the stone, Rose had died thirty years before, perhaps from cancer or some accident that could take a loved one far too young.

  Reaching out, the queen laid her hand on his shoulder. His head rose and he stared up into her face. Then his gaze drifted right. Now he saw all the Fae, fanned out in an array of multicolored lights and glittering youth. A crooked smile bent his tear-laced countenance, then it crumpled again as he buried his face in Rhoswen’s lap. She cupped her palm over his skull, stroking and murmuring.

  As she comforted him, Robin Goodfellow moved out of the entourage to stand behind her. Instead of the pipe, he bore a harp in his hand. As all of the assembled still ed further, he began to strum the strings.

  “Dagda’s harp,” Jacob murmured in Lyssa’s ear.

  “Capable of taking a man to utter despair, or offering him comfort in his darkest moment.”

  In this case, it was the latter. As the music unfurled, poignant, sweet, it took the sorrow and turned it into bearable memory, hope and something indefinable, something that gripped all of them. It made Lyssa twine her fingers with Jacob’s.

  In her mind, Jacob saw she was in Kane’s nursery, pulling the covers up around his little shoulders. She looked around the room at the things they’d bought to delight his eye, as well as things she’d placed there from her extensive travels. He was there as well, coming into the nursery to slip his arms around her waist as they gazed down at their son. The night of this particular memory, she’d lain down on the soft carpet and he’d made love to her there. They’d slept beneath that crib, listening to the sound of Kane’s dreams, the innocent baby noises, as they spooned on the floor near him, too content where they were to contemplate leaving him.

  “There have always been special stories about Samhain night. That those who are torn apart by grief, or regret, or the need for forgiveness, might go to a sacred place, like a burial site. There they might be found by the queen of the Fae. As she holds their heads in her lap, she gives them forgiveness, comfort… release.”

  This came from Tabor in a reverent, rumbling murmur, though his eyes did not leave the sight before them. They did not look away, either.

  Witnessing was quite obviously an important part of the ritual. As the man’s sobs eased, that combined focus brought something else. A sense of expectancy. A gathering energy began to grow among the ranks of the Fae, magic spreading out over the cemetery. Firewind’s skin heated, and Jacob held Lyssa closer. The wind stilled, then slowly began to build again, a quiet, mournful voice accompanying the harp. It was a song of loss, of endings and beginnings, a reflection of Samhain night. Jacob felt it in the heart and soul, the lowest well of the belly , a yearning and utter still ness at once, and every face he saw, including his lady’s, reflected the same feeling.

  The man rose then. He swayed, staring at the Fae queen, his face wreathed with all those emotions and more. Then he collapsed at her feet. Jacob started to dismount to help, but Tabor made a quelling noise in his throat. Dahlia put up a hand, shaking her head, her blue eyes fastened on the scene.

  Lyssa swallowed. The man rose from a body that had simply crumpled into the dried leaves, becoming decay and ash. He was a young man, as young and fresh as any of the Fae faces around them, yet with the same wisdom of age in his eyes.

  Rhoswen turned his attention toward another figure, coming across the cemetery.

  A young woman, her hands outstretched, those same years of wisdom and loss in her eyes. Past regrets and hurts gone, because now they were pure spirit, everything open to one another. The desire for such soul deep honesty, the effort toward it in their mortal lives, had won them the reward of sharing the gift of it in an immortal one.

  Lyssa shifted her gaze to Rhoswen. The queen was watching them, tears on her cheeks. As she rose, all that power coalesced around her, and the music became a concentrated hum, all organic energy focusing in on her slim white form. Lifting her hands, she appeared to be gathering it in both palms, kneading it, spinning it out from the powerful anchoring energy of that couple. Lyssa remembered the wheel in the upper chamber. As the queen’s hands moved, the sense of expectancy grew. The two groups of Fae had shifted forward, a solid wall around the cemetery, touching elbow to elbow.

  Shadows started to shift over the cemetery as the wind picked up.

  Jacob?

  I don’t know. Maybe—

  Lyssa dug her nails into his palm as the world exploded, like a giant god throwing open a portal. It blinded them all, so that she turned her face instinctively into Jacob’s chest. He covered her eyes with his hand, bending his head over hers. But then she sensed an ebbing, a dispersal of that light, and her gaze lifted again.

  Throughout the cemetery and beyond, floating free of the swamp, coming from the trees, she saw spirits. The Veil is thin, not just between our worlds, but between the here and now and the afterlife…

  She remembered Tabor’s words as she recognized most of the spirits were Fae, reflecting the many species that traveled with the Unseelie and Seelie processions. Within the sacred space that Rhoswen had spun, the Fae of the living world now moved forward, reaching out so the corporeal and incorporeal touched. Lyssa saw one of the young Fae who’d been allowed to come in the carriage, reach out toward the spirit of what was obviously a father and mother she’d lost. Their expressions of joy and grief were so closely mingled, Lyssa couldn’t hold back the tears that spill ed from her eyes, already gathered and waiting there from watching Rose and Arthur reunited. She looked to King Tabor, and he nodded. He’d wanted her to see, because they all shared this. Mortals and immortals both understood the loss of loved ones.

  “Lyssa.” Jacob’s whisper pul ed her attention away, as did the shock that filled him to the depth of his soul, overflowing to her. When she followed his gaze, more tears ached in her throat, a sob and a cry tangling there.

  Three people stood at the side of the cemetery, watching them. As Jacob slid off Firewind, he held up his arms to bring her down, but neither one of them tore their gazes from those three, as if they might disappear if they looked away. When they moved toward the spirits, they held on to each other, not queen or servant in this moment, but two lovers needing the reassurance and support of the other.

  The man and woman stepped forward first. In their faces, Lyssa saw separate and shared elements of Jacob’s physical appearance and character. When the man reached out and touched Jacob, a blue light flared at the contact. Jacob’s knees gave out. The man and woman caught him together. They held him the way they would have held him as a child, instead of the much larger man he was now. The woman reached out to Lyssa to bring her to them as well, her touch cool and reassuring at once. She was glad Lyssa had brought him to them, that the path of his life had led to this. Lyssa didn’t know if Jacob’s mother knew the other things this path had brought him, but that didn’t matter, did it? She let herself be drawn into that circle, a part of that family.

  We love you, we love you, we love you… tell Gideon.

  It was simple, short, forever, all at once. No other words needed, just that essential touch, that contact between worlds. Feelings were all that mattered in the afterlife.

  Perhaps a breath passed, perhaps an hour. Either way, the magic knew when it needed to end. As they faded, Jacob’s mother left a last whispering kiss on his mouth, her eyes so full of love. We’re happy, we’re safe. We watch over and love you both… tell Gideon.

  When they disappeared, Jacob was still on his knees. Lyssa knelt beside him, her hand on his shoulder, her lips pressed to it as her tears wet his bare skin. As he kept his head bowed, a new hand came to rest upon it, a tactile blessing. “Turns out that you were far more appropriate for her than ever I imag
ined.”

  Lyssa looked up to see the familiar, dear spectacled face of her former servant. In a heartbeat, she was on her feet and had jumped on him, as driven by emotion as a young girl. Her arms locked around his shoulders, holding Thomas in the tightest grip possible, no thought of queenly reserve in her mind. More tears spill ed forth to wet his monk’s cassock while his always surprisingly strong arms closed around her.

  I’ve missed you, my lady. Has this young miscreant been treating you properly?

  Had he known how it would feel, to have his beloved voice in her mind once more? That it would make it almost impossible for her to speak either way for a few moments?

  “Not at all,” she whispered at last. “He’s impossibly insolent and disobedient. I think it has to do with his teacher.”

  Thomas pressed his face into her hair, his mouth against her temple, as much a blessing as his hand on Jacob’s head had been. “You may be right.” When he let her feet touch, she still kept a close hold on him, staring up at his face. “I’m so very sorry.”

  “There are no sorries to be said. Not in this place.” His eyes were swimming, and it was an amazing thing, to think there were tears where he dwelled, but these were tears of joy and love mixed with the regret. “You are speaking to my soul, just as Jacob was speaking to his parents’ souls. A lingering part of our unconscious, because of course in the years that have passed, they have transitioned to other lives, other roles. But the soul is eternal, multifaceted, capable of reaching out through time and dimensions separate from where our physical bodies are now, from the lives we’re leading now.

  “One day, when we are all together again, these memories, these moments, will return to the forefront of the soul, and we will remember. The past and present will come back together. Right now, it will enrich our unconscious selves, wherever they are, offering an unmistakable sense of comfort and joy.” He met Lyssa’s gaze. “There are those who have much atonement to do, so much that they could not be here tonight. But he thinks of you, my lady, and he weeps.”

 
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