by Alexa Black
fantasy love story-- WIP ((Condensed parts one and two and added a little more.))
|The air was chill for late summer. The recent rains having made the lands bright and clean, and the sky dark and omenous, but the rains were likely passed for the time... Riorius Xerenth Kellsyean, Crown Prince of Varsella stormed the halls of his father's castle noting briefly the changes and the things that had stayed the same as he passed familiar, and not so familiar landmarks. It had been over twenty years since he'd last walked these halls. Twenty two to be exact. Ever since his father had realized the truth about his wife and the child they'd spawned... Twenty two years exiled to the southern coast for his mother's blood. He'd barely seen his father during his life. A few times when business brought him that far from the capitol and when his mother had finally given up on waiting for him to come around and left to rejoin her people. The old man hadn't even spoken to him that day he'd just prepared a close casket funeral and told the kingdom she was dead. Never a word, nothing... Until now... Now he had not choice.|
Pausing outside his Father's bedchamber, he let the gaurd's see the royal insignia embroided onto the lapel of his vest. They bowed solemnly and opened the enormous chamber doors before him. The room was cloaked in shadow with the cutrtains drawn closed and the multitude of hanging lamps extinguished. Candelabras provided the only light near the bed. The smell of death was already in the air, masked poorly by burning herbs in the massive hearth.
"That's you isn't it boy?" King Gelderoy croaked from the behind the gauzy bed curtains.
Solemnly, Riorius approached and fell to one knee in a respectful bow. It was eating him alive inside to show such respect to the man who had abandoned him to nannies and tutors, but he had no choice. Everything hinged on the next few moments.
"Haven't managed to kill yourself I see?" Gelderoy croaked.
"Small miracles, Father," he murmured, and resisted the urge to grind his teeth.
"Ha!" the old man scoffed, then broke off in a harsh, deep chested cough. When he recovered, he glared Riorius down. "Thought for sure you'd off yourself in some horse race or hunting expedition or whatever it was you did down there in Pavillion."
Riorius said nothing. Nothing needed to be said... It was well known through out the kingdom that Gelderoy's spoiled son spent his days on the southern coast gallivanting about with other young men of nobility. He even looked the part of a young rogue with his overly baggy shirt, loose trousers tucked into calf high boots, and open, oversized vest. He wore no tunic, tights or cravat, and generally dressed like a slob, similar to all the other dandies of the noble circles. He played cards and dice when it suited him, raced horses, fought duels and seduced women... All highly inappropriate actions for the crown prince of Varsella. Very few people actually knew the rumors of his "Wild temperament" were highly exaggerated, and there was no use explaining that to his father.
"I'm sure you're realized by now that I'm dying." Gelderoy began.
"I doubt you would have summoned me otherwise, Sir."
The king continued as if he hadn't spoken, "And seeing as you're the only heir I've got, and by the laws of Land and God the procession of inheritance goes to you. I must, therefor, regrettably, leave the Kingdom in you're hands."
Riorius nodded. That was all he needed to hear. He wasn't being denied his rights as Prince. At least the old man knew his responsibilities. Riorius stood to leave but the old King's hand shot out catching and holding his wrist with more strength than he would have expected. For an instant the warrior his mother had loved burned brightly in the King's eyes.
"If you destroy this land I will haunt you from my grave," Gelderoy vowed, "I will see you dead."
Riorius kept his face politely blank, "Do not concern yourself Father." was all he said.
Gelderoy opened his mouth to say something further, but succumb to another fit of coughing. The doctors approached, giving Riorius all the excuse he needed to leave. The old man would be dead before dawn. He could feel it. And if a tiny pang of sorrow struck his heart, he ignored it. It didn't really matter Riorius told himself. He had what he had come for. The King's word that he would inherit the throne...
Their medicines dispensed, Gelderoy dismissed his doctors with a savage gesture. What could those fools really do for him? He was dying, couldn't they see that, the quacks! The smallest wisp of a cool breeze brushed his forehead and Gelderoy knew he wasn't alone.
"You're here aren't you dearling?"
"Yes your Majesty." Her soft familiar voice, like a cool drink of water on a hot day, caressed him at the same instant her palm came to rest on his forehead. He never heard or saw her enter. He never did.
"When did you arrive?" Taking her hand in his he urged her around where he could see her.
"Just as his Lordship was leaving," she moved over and sat down next to him on the edge of the bed. "He doesn't seem to like you much. But I don't think he will take his revenge out on the land."
Gelderoy harrumphed, "I would not have left him my kingdom if it had been otherwise. He's a vile creature, but at least he's fair. Still, he'll need someone to balance him. Keep him in check."
She frowned, looking momentarily doubtful, "I don't know..."
The old king watched her for a moment, the way emotions flickered past her icy blue eyes, and vanished as if they'd never been. "So beautiful..." he murmured.
Her attention was pulled instantly from her thoughts to his face and she smiled slightly. "You're an incorrigible flirt, your Highness." she chastised lightly.
He chuckled, "If I were but thirty years younger..."
"You still would've had eyes only for Virratessa."
Gelderoy flinched at the mention of his wife, "Maybe not, if I'd known then what she was."
She frowned, her face again serious, "That's cruel, Gelderoy." she murmured, her voice chilling ten degrees, "There's little differance between she and I."
"You're not a monster." He argued.
She cocked up an eyebrow, but said nothing.
That chill he sometimes felt around her prickled up his spine but forcibly he shook it off. He knew her better than any other person on this world. Her dreams, her secrets... Another blasted coughing seizure hit him. The pain in his chest nearly unbearable. He would've screamed if he could've... This was it. This was the end of things. He wasn't going to recover from this one. When he could breath once more, his gasps were ragged and harsh. It felt like there just wasn't enough space in his lungs for air. It was getting harder and harder to breath. He turned back to her. She was gripping his hand forcibly, as if her strength alone could keep him from the dark abyss. Her eyes glassy, and her face pained. She knew he was slipping away...
"If only the boy had killed himself in some duel or other... You could've been my heir..."
"Don't say such things..."
"You've been like a daughter to me. More my child then that... spawn ever was."
"I won't let him throw you out. I'm counting on you too be my hand after death. Watch him..."
"Protect this country... from all it's enemies..."
"Foreign and domestic..." she murmured. "I swear it will be done..."
He nodded then a small smile playing at the corners of his mouth, "Thank you my dear one... Now... I can..."
Three days later Riorius stood hidden behind a small balcony curtain and watched the Lord Advisers to the King milling around below in the Great Hall. The table had been set for the meeting with various beverages, but no food to distract attention from the business that would be at hand.
"There's the small court matters, kingdom matters, political matters, social matters..." Riorius said, "I'll need names, families, connections.... Everything I've missed out on during the twenty two years I've been exiled from the court. I haven't lived in the capitol since I was six. I have alot to catch up on..."
Beside him, Hable, the court scribe was taking notes, jotting down the long list of instructions Riorius had just dictated to him. The King was just about to start a new list of instructions when a figure in blue skirts appeared at the corner of his vision. A woman had joined the group of advisers below. Tall and willowy with dark, chocolate brown hair and fair skin. She didn't walk, she glided, the hem of her gown just barely skimming the floor. Her gestures were graceful with no excess movement. An aura of stillness centered her, making her seem ethereal...At once there and yet apart from the other people in the room.
Inspite of himself, Riorius was fascinated. She didn't belong there... The meeting he had called was for advisors to the crown only. So why was she there? How had she gotten in?
"Who the hell is that?" he asked.
"Pardon, your lordship? Who? The girl?"
Riorius rolled his eyes, "No Hable, one of the twelve Lords milling around all wearing the colors of their province to show their identity- YES THE GIRL!!"
Hable flinched at the prince's sudden outburst, "E-elsbeth Tallula," the scribe stammered, "Your father's most trusted adviser during...well..."
Riorius gave Hable a look of pure horror, "You mean to tell me the old man's been running this country on the advise of a woman for the past six months of his illness!?"
Hable winced, "Actually, your father's been relying on her for almost three years now."
Hable shrugged apologetically, "The people love her, sire...She speaks for the peasants of the land. Settles disputes between land owners and serfs alike... She's instituted public education, a library-"
Riorius cut him off right there, "A charity worker," he surmised. "Spending all the crown's money no doubt... But a better question at this point would be how in the seven netherhells she got into such a position of power to begin with.
"I wouldn't know Sire."
"Hable I kept you on as the court scribe after my father's funeral because you know everything that's going on in this castle. Down to the last detail. That information is essential to me. Are you claiming I was mistaken?"
Hable worried his lower lip, "Well there were rumors sire.... but I really-"
"Speak scribe," Riorius ordered, "All that you know."
"Well...It's just that when she first arrived, there were a number of lords among the court that were dispatched rather suddenly. A few tried to claim Lady Elsbeth was the killer, but it didn't add up. The executions, were expert. Clean, efficiant, no poison... Nothing a woman would be capable of. But still a few wanted her whereabouts checked into during those slayings."
"She had an alibi?"
"It appeared she had spent each of those evenings in... well, shall we say "late night discussions of state" with the old King."
Disappointment lanced through him, "His mistress." Of course... His father wasn't blind and he'd hardly been senile before the coughing illness had taken him. What man, especially the king, wouldn't want to claim such beauty for himself? He had certainly planned to... Still it was depressing to learn she was nothing more that a well painted whore.
"That's one word Sire.The King of course, denied those rumors, and squashed any further tellings there of, but I'm afraid the damage to Lady Elsbeth was done. She's accepted in the house of Lords because the King demanded it. She's invited to all the best events because of her title. But socially she's been ostracized from the court. The other ladies refuse to be associated with her, and the lords wouldn't go near her for fear of rising the old king's jealousy."
"Seems like a lots going to change for her now..."
"I suspect so, Your Majesty."
Below in the great hall, Elsbeth, too, was contemplating the vast array of changes that were sure to occur in her life over the next few weeks. It was all she could do to maintain a calm facade before the Lords of the court. And calm she had to appear. These men were like sharks. Painted up sharks! All looking for a reason to destroy her. She could almost hear what they were thinking... Some, she was sure, were wondering how she could even have the gall to show her face at a meeting of advisers. Others, were wondering how quickly they could get her into their beds with the king no longer there to speak for her. All were, without a doubt, sure that this would be her last meeting with them having to treat her as an equal.
Fools... All of them! She'd worked damn hard to get to this position, did they really think she was going to be thrown out by Geleroy's son? No. She worked too hard, sacrificed too much! The people needed her and so did this court and kingdom! If the new King refused to see that, then she was just going to have to prove it to him!
And what if it doesn't work? A traitorous voice whispered in her mind.
Well there was always plan B... Convince King Riorius she could be useful to him the same way she had been to his father... The idea of going back to her former profession after having achieved so much more was repulsive, but one did what one must... She wouldn't be left homeless again...
Hable entered the hall, announcing to the Lords of the Kings arrival. Elsbeth felt every muscle in her body tense. Aside from a few glimpses before the funeral she'd never actually seen Riorius. During the funeral and coronation she'd been far too busy coordinating the innumerous stewards, housekeepers, and head chefs that she delegated authority to in preparations for the funeral itself, the wake, the corrination and the ball that was too follow. A queen's duty, but as neither Gelderoy nor Riorius had queens of their own, it fell to her. As did the vast number of other castle necessities. Everything from authorizing the orders of supplies, spices and items for the larder, to preparing menues for the kitchen, planning social occasions for the court... Surely King Riorius would require and appreciate those skills, at least until he had a wife of his own to take over the duties... Then Elsbeth might have a real problem.
He entered right behind the royal guard, moving with a lazy, fluid grace. His overly long hair was shaggy and a little spiky, and hung in his face, obscuring his left eye. He was attractive. Remarkably so. Elsbeth felt herself blushing, just looking at him. What in the netherhells was wrong with her? She'd never been even remotly attracted to Gelderoy... But admittedly Riorius didn't look much like his father. The old King's genes were there in the blue black of his hair and the strong angular jaw, but there the resemblance ceased. Hawk like features gave his face character and a masculine beauty Gelderoy had never possessed. His shoulders were broad and he appeared deep of chest, but it was hard to tell for sure. His clothing was rather loose, more in the style of the latest baggy trend the young men were wearing now a days, but not as extreme. He looked to the less observant like nothing more than a spoiled, insolent young man. But she knew better... Elsbeth had the immediate impression of a deadly predator when looking at the king. This man didn't need the guards at his side, they were just a cover...His clothes weren't trendy, they were relaxed for easy movement. His dark green eyes scanned the assembled Lords as he took his place at the head of the table and Elsbeth could see the cunning intelligence there in. She was suddenly reminded of the rumors and speculation that she had picked up when she first arrived. The son and wife exiled to the southern most Pavillion with no explanation to anyone else... Gelderoy's drunken ravings one night when he had sobbingly cursed his beautiful lying wife and the monster she had spawned... Elsbeth had assumed the King thought the Prince to be a spoiled malevolent tyrant. Seeing him now, she was reconsidering that image...
Once he was seated they all hurried to take their appointed places. Elsbeth took her seat, mouth dry, heart hammering, immediately to his left. Close up he was even more attractive and Elsbeth was appalled to realize she was mildly intimidated by that fact. Opposite her, General Urregar gave her a sympathetic look. She'd always liked the general...He had been peasant born and was a strong supporter of her work with the people.
The king turned towards her, crossing his arms on the table. His expression insolent and mocking, "My Lady, perhaps you would like to explain why you are present at a meeting of Lords?" he drawled, putting a subtle but deffinate emphasis on her gender.
Elsbeth set her back teeth for a moment, reminding herself that even Gelderoy could be a chauvinistic pig at times... "I am, of course, here to serve his majesty." she murmured politely, as if it were obvious.
The King gave the rest of the Lords a knowing look, "And as delightful as those services are, I'm afraid this really isn't the time or place, M'Lady." The majority of the Lords laughed out right, a few more nervously than out of humor. Those few were the ones that had on previous occasions suffered her wrath... But she paid little heed to her audience, too shocked by what he had just said. Her entire attention was on the King. He could not possibly have just said that to her. Here. In front of the entire Advisory council.
"Perhaps another time?" he asked with false politeness, gesturing towards the door.
Elsbeth worked very hard for a moment to close her mouth and clamp down on the white hot rage that washed through her. How dare he! He'd have been more subtle if he'd come right out and proclaimed her a whore in front of everyone! The monstrous bastard! She would not be thrown out of this council! She'd worked too damn hard!
Fighting back the venomous words that hovered at the back of her throat she forced her face back to its impassive calm and smiled politely, "I will of course, be happy to leave the council," she murmured politely, "But perhaps his Majesty would first care to know his social calendar for the next three months, the state of progress on the new irrigation systems being installed in the three closest farm lands, the docket of complaints and grievances for the next six weeks, the current wages of this castles servants, the larder and stock room inventory-"
He cut her off with an abrupt hand gesture and a mocking chuckle, "M'Lady, that's why I've assembled the Lords here today."
Elsbeth eyed the length of the table and the twelve fat aging Barrons, and Earls lined along it. Each one was looking nervously back and forth from her to the King. "Good luck with that." she muttered, more to herself than him. He, of course, heard her anyway.
"You can't possibly mean to tell me, you're the only one at this table who knows the state of the kingdom..." Riorious asked with a frown.
The Lords were looking distinctly nervous now... She blinked innocently, batting her eyelashes in imitation of the flirtatious ladies fo the court, "Goodness no! I would not dream of insulting our fair Lords so!" The men of the table looked visibly relieved.
"Very good," the King began, but rashly she cut him off, earning her a startled look.
"They certainly cannot be held responsible for the fact that they have far more important affairs to worry about than the conditions of their lands and people... "
As she expected, there was an uproar of defensive protests from the rest of the table. No one wanted to look bad before the new king and she'd as much as called them all lazy toads.
"Lady Elsbeth!" One of the Lords shot to his feet, outraged, "How dare you make such false claims!"
"Rightly so!" another pronounced, "Each man here knows his duty to this kingdom and fullfills it to the best of his abilities!"
"That's enough, gentlemen," Riorious said quietly, but his remark went unheard by the aggrevated council.
A third Lord got to his feet, "What would a woman know about such things anyway?!" he demanded, and other raised their voices in agreement and support. "You know nothing about our affairs in this-"
"Speaking of affairs, Lord Frodrick, how is Lady Jezza?" Elsbeth cut him off viciously. These men had mocked her, insulted her, laughed at her... Maybe she was just taking out her rage at the King on them, but dammit all, she was not going to be told to go needlework in the parlor! She needed to make them see she was important! That she deserved to be equal! "Has your wife realized yet that that emerald necklace you have on hold at the goldsmith's isn't hers?" A dozen eyes stared at her in shock. 'Know nothing about their affairs?' There, let them digest that little tidbit!
Frodrick's face turned positively purple with rage, "Why you painted up-"
"ENOUGH!" Riorius commanded. He'd barely raised his voice but the directive had the same effect as if he'd roared it from the rafters. Gone was the insolent young bully, replaced by the predator she'd sensed earlier. He leaned in close to her, his eyes searching. "Blackmail, M'Lady?" he murmured, cocking up one eyebrow in question. "You are indeed, a mistress of many talents..."
"More than you will ever realize, your Majesty," she pronounced.
The entire table froze. Even the stewards who had just entered to refill the decanters became statue still. No one breathed. No one dared! Elsbeth kept her face impassive, but inside she was kicking herself. What the hell was wrong with her? Surely she hadn't just said that out loud?!"
The corner of his mouth twisted in a terrifying parody of a smile. Her challenge was unmistakable. He had labled her whore, and she had proclaimed- in front of the twelve most influential men in the Kingdom, that she wouldn't lower herself to bed him. Gelderoy had had men executed for less insult. And If Riorius was half the monster Gelderoy insisted he was...
The king shook his head in disbelief and for a second the hair that had covered his left eye shifted and she got a good look at his face.
He had dichromid eyes she realized with an abrupt shock. The eye hidden by his hair wasn't dark green like the other. It was a pale green. Almost white. Folklore claimed two different colored eyes was a sign of possession or demon blood. She'd never given the fable much credit but these weren't two different, natural hues... They were the same color, but unnaturally different shades... How was that possible? What was he? Silently she cursed her dull senses...
He reached out and caught her chin in his fingertips. His strong calloused hand held her, but it was his eyes that chained her. A chill swept up her spine and she knew he sensed it. Do you really want to play this game with me? those eyes seemed to say. Elsbeth wasn't sure that she did...
Whispers of spellweave ebbed around her for a moment and Elsbeth automatically threw up her defenses. His eyes shifter instantly. He sensed it. Felt her fighting him. Then suddenly his smile cracked into a wide boyish grin and he threw back his head and laughed. "You, M'Lady, are going to end up with your head on a platter if you don't watch your tongue." he announced slapping her between the shoulder blades in a comradely fashion that almost knocked her off her chair. "Now! Gentlemen, and Lady," he added, "Down to affairs of state!"
She was trouble with a capital 'T'. Several hours later, Riorius sat in his personal library, ensconced comfortably in the bay window seat with a book in his lap. It was a disguise. As much as he liked to read, He'd already memorized Kimble's theories of relativity. This just gave him something to stare at while he worked through his thoughts. Thoughts that refused to stray too far from the Lady Elsbeth...
Who was she really? Not a real Lady he was sure. And where had she come from? Her family name wasn't on the royal registry of Nobility. How had she gained such a high position in the court? While he was still fairly sure she'd been his father's mistress, he was now no longer quite so sure she had slept her way into her position. His father was a bigoted, hateful bastard, but he wasn't a fool. And no woman was that good in bed. Elsbeth had proven herself an incredibly intelligent, focused young woman. She'd fought off the small spell he'd been using to intimidate her which meant she likely had myst in her blood somewhere... But how much? What kind? The idea of another mystborn tempted him in a way nothing else could... And if she was halfbreed? He shook off the thoughts, forcing himself back to a non biased examination. She apparently knew everything that was going on in the castle and kingdom. From gossip and hearsay to facts she had investigated and researched herself.
The knowledge she'd provided had been excellent. Her arguments thought out, her speeches well prepared... She'd had notes on every topic he'd thought to ask about a few he hadn't. In some cases she'd been able to produce copies of those notes for his leisured perusal. And while the rest of the Lords weren't by any means as useless as she'd insinuated, it was apparent she she took her position very seriously.
Beauty, work ethic, magic and brains... Who'd have thought?
She was a conundrum to him. A puzzle that the logical side of his brain itched to solve. He shouldn't be this interested, he told himself. After all she'd once belonged to his father. He could look a good deal higher than another man's leavings... But still he couldn't seem to help himself.
The door opened quietly, startling him out of his thoughts and he waited for the guard to announce who wished to speak to him, but no one came. Riorius frowned. Surely they weren't going to start the assassination attempts already. He'd only been here three days...
Silently he closed his book and got to his feet, the soft soles of his boots making no sound on the stone floor. The small dirk he kept up his sleeve slid easily into his palm with a practiced twist of his wrist. Without a sound he moved around the edge of a bookcase and walked right into the lady herself.
Elsbeth made a small cry and snatched the book, their collision had knock out of her hand, from the air before it hit the ground. "Sire! You startled me!" she accused, her expressive eyes puzzled.
Riorius almost smiled. Good god in heaven she was lovely... In the meeting today he'd seen that her eyes were blue. A pale ice blue ringed in navy and speckled with tiny flakes of cobalt. Like a night sky with the colors reversed. They were unique and as beautiful as she was. And she was very beautiful. Flawless skin with subtle cheekbones and a straight angled nose. She had a perfectly oval face, soft, full lips and eyes that tilted just slightly up at the corners like a cat's. The high stand up collar of her dress only served to emphasize the graceful line of her neck and shoulders. Her breasts were small, high and gently rounded, her waist slim and narrow, almost to the point of being too thin. Everything about her was delicate yet she still held her self with pride and an air of strength he found at once admirable and endearing. Maybe she was elfin?
It was just too bad she was nothing more than a ladybird. And one his father had used at that.. But what if she hadn't belonged to the old king? What if she belonged to him? Riorius felt his lower body tighten in response to that thought.
"I wasn't expecting to find you here." she was saying as she put the book away on a shelf. "I thought you'd be having port with the lords in the study or something..."
A likely story he thought, surreptitiously setting the dirk on a shelf behind them, out of sight. "And I thought this Library was for the royal family alone."
She shrugged, "Gerlderoy gave me permission to come here. I didn't think such a small largess would trouble you and saw no reason to surrender what has become a favored respite."
"Uh huh... I think it far more likely you saw an opportunity to get me alone where you could plead you case more...eloquently." he drawled.
She frowned, her eyes instantly cautious, "Plead my case? What case would that be, your Majesty?"
"As to why I shouldn't throw you out of this castle and onto your pretty little ass."
She blinked twice in quick succession, her eyes going wide. A trait he was beginning to recognize as shock on her part. "I should think the reasons would be obvious, Sire."
"Not to me." He was toying with her. He wasn't going to throw her out. It was cruel, he was sure, but it wasn't right that she looked so innocent standing there in his library. He wanted her to slip up. Expose herself for the gutter trash she was. Then maybe this fasination he had with her would go away. It wasn't likely, but a man could hope...
A spark of worry began to glint in her eyes, "The castle servants need someone to go to for authorization-"
"I could do that myself." he interjected.
"Are my responsibility now."
"The court events-"
"Well you have me there, but once I find a Queen, that won't be your responsibility any more."
That spark was more than worry now, it was panicked. She bit her lower lip, "The quarterly reports-" she tried again, but he cut her off once more.
"I'm not a hapless twit M'lady, I've been running Castle Pavilion for the past twelve years. I can manage."
Her shoulder's slumped, "Of course," she murmured then was silent for a long moment. He could see her internal struggle to rally herself for her next defense. This was it... He almost grinned in triumph. A woman with no other resorts to turn to, always went back to what skills she was best at...
"There is...of course... the services I provided to the late King..."
Now Riorius did smile in satisfaction, "There's what I was looking for."
Elsbeth looked up in confusion and caution, "How did you..?"
"You know I have to tell you Elsbeth... Five days ago I would never think of wanting something that belonged to that heartless old bastard, but with each passing minute I find it harder and harder to remind myself of that." Catching her by her hips he dragged her against him savoring the small gasp of shock that she uttered. "You really are an incredibly beautiful woman... To make a man forget something as intense as hatred..."
Her lips parted as if she was about to speak, but Riorius didn't let her. Claiming her mouth with his own he pushed her back against the bookshelf. Dear god, she tasted exquisite. Warm, and soft and completely feminine. The rich red wine served at dinner was sweet on her tongue, adding a heady spice. For a moment she braced her hands on his shoulders as if to push him away, but she didn't. Another moment's hesitation and her arms went around his neck, she moaned and he felt her soften against him. Perfect... Excitemnt hummed through him. She could be his, he could make her forget Gelderoy and any other man that had come before him. He could-
Elsbeth shoved hard against him, her sudden attack catching him off guard enough for her to gain a little breathing room, "GET OFF ME!" she screamed.
Riorius took a step back but didn't release her. What the hell was going on? A moment ago she was melting for him and now suddenly she spitting like a hell cat with it's tail in the fire. "Elsbeth-"
"LET ME GO YOU SADISTIC BASTARD!!" she shrieked, scratching at his arms and squirming to get free, "I WON'T LET YOU DO THIS TO ME!!"
Riorius felt his temper slipping. Savagely he grappled to control it. "What is your problem?!" he snarled, "You want me to let you stay in the palace?! Weren't you just offering yourself to me?!"
"I AM NO MAN'S WHORE! RELEASE ME NOW!!"
Another notch of his temper slipped it's leash. Grabbing her by the shoulders he shook her, "No man's whore? You really expect me to believe that? Stars above the entire court knows it!"
Her eyes darkened with hatred as she kicked out. Riorius snarled when she caught him in the shin, but didn't release her. Instead he spun her around and shoved her back several steps. The backs of her knees hit the window seat bench and she stumbled, falling and pulling him down with her. Her hair was tumbling out of the sweeping up-do she'd been wearing it in. Her skirts tangled around both their legs. Still she didn't stop struggling. It was as if she were a virgin hell bent on defending her virtue. It was pissing him off.
Riorius gritted his teeth against the call his blood was singing. If he didn't get it under control he was going to seriously hurt her. But first she needed to stop struggling! He managed to get one of her wrists restrained but the other had snaked around his neck to grab his hair and he needed his other hand to keep from crushing her."Now will you please stop struggling and-"
"LET ME GO!! I SWEAR TO GOD RIORIUS, I'LL KILL YOU FOR THIS!!"
"Really? You'll kill me? I'd love to see you try it." And really he would. His mother's blood was heating in his veins, tempted by the idea of mixing real violence with sex. His control was slipping... he could feel his scalp itching, and the tendons in his hands start to spasm.
He needed to get it under control. Savagely he reigned in his temper. "Come now Elsbeth which it is? Are you going to kill me or let me-" The sharp, cold steel on the back of his neck froze him on the spot. Cautiously he opened his other senses... The sharp point rested just at the base of his skull. A stiletto... Hidden up her sleeve? A fraction more pressure and the slim dagger would slice into his neck, severing his spinal cord. "Well... kill me it is then..." His insides went cold and he could feel the space between his shoulder blades itching. If she didn't want him, then he didn't want her... Devour her, his rage whispered.
She trembled slightly, "I don't wish to hurt you, Riorius, but if you do not let me go this instant I swear-"
He dropped her abruptly, not even caring that the blade sliced his neck. She slid off the bench and hit the floor before scrambling to her feet, crouched and ready to lunge, but Riorius paid no heed. He needed to get out of here right now. If he didn't the entire kingdom would find out that it was a 'what', not a 'who' that had taken the throne. Without a backwards glance he left the room, slamming the door behind him.
Only when he'd finally reach his chambers did he stop and take a deep breath. Almost. He'd almost lost it. How in the seven nether hells had she managed to rile him up so badly, so quickly?! The woman was a witch! That's all there was to it! Only a sorceress could possess him like that!
Riorius swore viciously and grabbed the nearest object, a chair, and hurled it through the open courtyard doors. It exploded in a shower of wooden splinters when it hit the stone pathway. He glanced down to see the claws had already begun to form from his fingertips. Close... too close...
Back in the library Elsbeth sat still on the floor, shivering. What had just happened? She wasn't sure. Oh she realized she'd very nearly been turned into the whore the court claimed her to be, that much was pretty obvious. What she was completely flummoxed by, was her reactions. And his as well!
She was no stranger to violence. This hadn't been the first man to try and force himself one her. But he had been the first to walk away from it. She hadn't killed him. Her mind was still grappling with that fact. She should've killed him. It would've taken her nothing to do so. She'd been taught how- the self defense move drilled into her from the earliest days of her existence. She'd done it before. But she hadn't this time.
Still trembling she held up her stiletto to the moonlight that poured through the window behind her. A few drops of deep red blood clung to the edge of the blade, but it was by no means soaked. She'd only nicked him. How? Why? What had stayed her hand?
It was the kiss, she realized. That had to be it. She really hadn't been expecting to find him in here, and had been more startled that he'd snuck up on her. Something he shouldn't have been able to do! This was her sanctuary. Kings didn't read in their leisure time! Then he'd threatened to throw her out of the palace. It had all added up.
She'd panicked. That's all there was to it. She'd succumb to human fear and panicked. No time, he'd given her no more time to prove her worth to the court. She was going to be homeless again... Her normally quick mind had stalled at that thought. What would she do? Each argument she'd practiced he shot down like a clay pigeon. Nothing. There was nothing for her to do... That left only her night skills.
She'd hesitantly offered and had been surprised again when he had claimed he'd been waiting for the suggestion. She'd blanked, taken aback that he'd known about- how could he have? Surely Gelderoy hadn't told him. Then he'd said something about wanting her- a comment that had nothing to do with what she'd been talking about- and before she could even wrap her head around it he was kissing her.
Elsbeth's heart had come to an abrupt stop that very instant. Stopped. Studdered. And began again in a new and completely different rhythm. This wasn't her first stolen kiss, but it felt like it. This was new. Different. Electric. His mouth had been hard on hers at first then persuasive. His scent, woodsy and masculine, had drugged her senses, his taste on her tongue his hands on her hips, holding her tight against him... Everything about that moment was seared into her brain like a branding. It had been impossible to fight. she couldn't even remember how. She'd relented. Surrendered to him... She was his... anything he wanted he need only ask... She'd kill for him. Die for him. Anything he desired... Miraculously her brain reactivated itself with that thought. What in the name of the seven nether hells was she doing? This man thought of her as nothing more than a painted up whore! And if given half the chance he'd use her just as badly as one. Then her defense skills had returned, but her limbs, drugged with a strange lethargy had refused to move properly.
He'd fought back, but he'd seemed as if he wasn't really interested in harming her. But he hadn't released her either. She'd fought harder and he seemed to restrain himself more. Finally she'd gotten her hand behind his head and the dagger from it's wrist harness. The instant before she jammed the blade into his brain stem she'd hesitated. Froze solid would be a better term. She couldn't do it. She belonged to him, how could she ever think of harming him? Real panic had begun to eat at her mind. Why couldn't she do it? He too had paused the struggle and something dark had flitted behind his eyes. Something hungry that was tired of being denied. For the first time in her life, Elsbeth felt a tremor of unease chill her spine. Something wasn't right. The whole situation was wrong!
Then he'd dropped her. Released her and stormed out of the room without another word. And Elsbeth had been left feeling as if she'd just had a very close brush with death...
Finally she got to her feet, and forced her self to calm down. She didn't have time for this nonsense! She needed to shake it off. Become herself once more. She had work to do.
To her left the book she'd originally come in for, what seemed forever ago, sat right where she'd last left it. One strong glare at it for the trouble it had gotten her into and she snatched it back off the shelf where's she'd hidden it. Swiftly she made for the door and nearly ran smack dab into The Prime Minister, Lord Melic.
She'd never liked Melic. He always seemed to be watching the old King too carefully. Like a snake just waiting for it's prey to make a mistake so he could catch it. He made no secret of his distaste for her either... and took every oppurtunity to mock or insult her in public. With Gederoy to protect her, those rare occasions had been like frozen spice wine for him. With the old king gone, she was likely to have to defend herself from him on a regular basis. She wasn't looking forward to it...
"Pardon me," she murmured, wanting only to be away from everyone.
"My god you do work fast don't you?" Melic sneered, "Gelderoy's not even cold in his grave and you're already letting the son plow your fields. You don't have a modicum of shame do you?"
Abruptly Elsbeth realized how she must look right now. Hair mussed, dress twisted and wrinkled, face flushed. No wonder the whole court thought her a whore. Well fine then! If every man in the god forsaken palace thought her to be painted up trash, then maybe acting innocent was pointless. Maybe it was time to stop biting her tongue. Time to stop taking the insults sitting down. Forcing up a haughty smile she stepped up to the Minister so close she was almost pressed against him, and bared her teeth, "Jealousy ill becomes thee." she snarled then turned on her heel, skirt snapping around her ankles, and strode away. Let the old bastard chew on that!
Elsbeth made it to her room without further contention and locked the door behind her. Gelderoy had presented her the Princess chambers after her first year of service. It had the most space, large and airy with high cathedral ceilings and huge windows. Everything was painted a soft white and accented in cobalt with tree motifs the strong focus. It was ethereal. Elven. Faye. It reminded her of home...
The ornate silver jewelry cabinet hung on the wall beside the gauze laden bed. The blue stained glass windows in the door providing just enough distortion to disguise the treasures inside. Opening it, Elsbeth eyed the various trinkets. Warding amulets shared shelves with poisons that had no name. A scrying mirror balanced out an assortment of crystal balls and pendulums. Objects carved by elven fingers, troll hands, and goblin machines.... She paused a moment in remembrance of those races long since past. Humans were such hating creatures. Gelderoy had been a perfect example. They hated what they didn't understand. What they couldn't see. What they feared....And they lashed out at those they could see. The ones they didn't fear...
The faye had gone first. Their delicate bodies succumbing quickly to the harsh environments when their trees and fields were burned. The Elves had gone next. Persecuted, and forced from their homes they fled into the mists at the end of the Black forest. The Trolls and Goblins had fought. A war that most of mankind had long forgotten about. A war that had shook the very foundation of the land. But in the end... mankind's greed and strength was too great...
One by one they'd all given up and returned to the mists to seek out new lands... The only ones who remained were the ones who could still hide what they were. Wrap their bodies in human glamors or half breeds who were more human than mystic. Any revolt or fight those left behind might've staged was pointless after all these years... most just tried to make a life for themselves and remain hidden. But a few... a rare few...
Elsbeth pulled off her jewelry... mostly gifts given to her by Gelderoy. They weighed her down... She eased the scrying mirror from the cabinet and held it up to her face. Letting herself become immersed in her own reflection, she watched her image change as she had so many times before. The color bled from her hair, dripping from the loose strands and leaving only moonlit silver in its place. It flowed into her pale skin, painting her a grayish blue. Her eyes inverted, shifted and darkened... Black became white, white became black. Pale blue was now navy, cobalt lightened to sky... The black bled out to rim her eyelids and mark cheeks that had become more sunken. Lips blued, ears pointed. Around her shadows stretched out from their darkened corners, reaching for her. Longing for her... They soaked into her rich blue skirts, staining them black.
Her senses opened to their full capacity. Blinders removed, the full spectrum of light, inconcievable to the human eye, opened to her with perfect clarity. Smells inundated her senses and left their tastes on her toungue. The night air coming from her courtyard, the laundry soap used in her sheets and clothes, her perfumes, sealed in bottles in the boudoir... even the scent of the maid who'd cleaned this morning still drifted in the air.
It was over in a matter of a few heartbeats. Her body transformed, Elsbeth called the shadows to her command, warping them until they hid the truth and the image she used during the day was again in place. She returned the scrying mirror to her cabinet and reached for the book she'd taken from the library. "Love Poems" the title read. She smiled at the small irony as she opened the cover and collected the parchment she'd asked Lady Jezza to store there. The damning evidence was laid out plainly for her to see. In his own hand and irrefutable. "Oh Lord Frodrick... You really are a fool..." She murmured and tucked the parchment into her dress.
Emerging from her chamber she had only walk the short distance down the hall to the King's chamber. Lucky for her. As a glamour, she could hold this face precious little time.
Smiling coyly at the guards and bowing her head just slightly she slipped past them in to the foyer. She could feel the new King on the other side of the doors before her. He was prowling restlessly, his anger palpable in the motion of his stride. The energy of his aura glowed a dark violet and pules in a rhythm similar to her own heartbeat. As if it was calling for her... A part of her longed to answer that call... The rest of her was glad she needed to go no further. Dropping the glamour she stepped into the shadow realm.
The shadow realm was known to be disconcerting to humans. The inverted colors, constantly shifting shadows and hues not normally visible in the spectrum made the familiar landscape of Varsella alien and haunting. But not for her... To Elsbeth, this was home.
It took only a few minutes for her to shift through the shadows... dancing from one to another as she made her way through the palace. Frodrick's province couldn't afford him the luxury of a private residence in the city, so instead he kept chambers in the palace. It wasn't uncommon... A lot of Lords kept a chamber here in case of emergencies, late parties or royal necessity.
Elsbeth glided through the door, it's lock no hindrance here, and paused inside to gain her bearings. Two auras glowed from the bedroom. She recognized the weak blue one as Frodrick's. He was climbing out of bed gesturing emphatically to the golden aura sitting at the vanity. A faye aura...
"I just don't understand how she found out about us!" he was saying, his voice muffled by the dimensional rift between the two worlds. It echoed and distorted like he was speaking under water.
"Who can tell?," Jezza murmured, "You know how gossip flows in this palace." She finished touching up her makeup and stood, gathering her things.
"I don't like it," Frodrick snarled, "What if she goes to my wife?"
Jezza rolled her eyes, "Oh yes because she going to ride a week south to tell you're wife you're having an affair? Something tells me little Elsbeth has far bigger concerns than the state of your marriage!"
Frodrick grinned viciously, "Indeed she does," he sneered, "You should have seen how angry he looked after the meeting today! I want to be there the day he throws her out of this castle. That obnoxious little slut has had run of this place for far too long!"
"Charming, dearling," Jezza cooed and went up on tip toes, brushing a kiss on his cheek, "Now I have to run. The ladies and I are going shopping tomorrow and I'll need my beauty sleep. Goodbye Lord Frodrick." And just like that, casual as could be, she left.
Elsbeth shook her head in amazement. Jezza knew what was going to happen. She'd known the moment she'd handed the first letter to Elsbeth three days ago. And yet she'd casually taken her leave without any prolonged farewell... Fairy really were heartless creatures... Humans were nothing more than toys for them.
Making her way into the study she scanned the desk. The papers that littered the top and were tucked in the drawers would all be basic, innocuous correspondence. She was looking for something hidden and here in the shadow realm, it couldn't hide for long. The energy left by strong emotions called to her. Fear, anticipation, excitement... All coming from a hollowed out pocket in the table top. Stepping out of the shadow realm, she slid away the desk's side trim to reveal the secret compartment. She had more than enough damning evidence already, but it always helped to leave something for the guards to find in the morning.
Stage set, Elsbeth carelessly tossed the panel back into place, making as much noise as possible. She even kicked the desk for good measure before pulling her glamor back into place. Not a second later Frodrick strode into the room, "Who's there? What are you doing in here you little whore? I'll call the guards!"
Elsbeth refused to rise to the bait, instead she pretended she was reading the letters, "You disappoint me Frodrick... I thought you were smarter than this." She shook her head sadly, "Conspiracy against the crown... That's an executable offense."
He sneered at her, "I'll be doing this kingdom a favor! He's a monster!"
Curiosity snapped through her, "What kind of monster?" she probed. When she'd arrived at the palace she'd gained the impression that everyone who knew anything about what had transpired within the royal family twenty two years ago had all had unfortunate accidents shortly there after...
Frodrick threw up his hands in frustration, "How the hell should I know what kind!? He's a monster pure and simple! The whole court knows it! Even Gelderoy let it be common knowledge! His own son!"
She screwed up her nose for a second in disappointment. Of course he didn't know. "Your personal oppinions aside, plotting to kill the King of Varsella is treason, Frodrick."
He paled, "What are you talking about? Y-you have no proof!" he stammered.
She tossed the papers to the table, "No, but you do. The royal guard is going to be very interested in these... But who's 'X'? The other person who's been responding to your correspondence?"
His fear was palpable. Even across the room she could smell it. "Let's not be too hasty here," he began, sweat beading along his hair line, "There's no reason we can't be on the same side, Elsbeth. I mean, you hate the King as much as the rest of us! Look at what he did to you today!"
Elsbeth blinked in surprise. He was talking about the tense words they'd exchanged at the meeting, of course, but still her hand went to her lips, as his words reminded her of her other encounter with the king that day. Forcibly she shook it off. "That's my concern, not yours."
"But I could help you!" Frodrick insisted, "Think about it! I know people. People who will gain much with Riorius out of the way. People who would be very grateful to a woman in a position to help! You'd have a real place in the palace! A place of power!"
She rolled her eyes, more likely she'd get a knife in her back, "Tempting," she said sarcastically, "But I'm afraid my oath wouldn't allow it."
"Oath?" he asked in confusion.
"I swore an oath. Not to the Kings of this land but to the kingdom itself. The Protection of these lands, and those who would defend them, from all threats foreign and domestic," she explained with a small shrug.
"But Riorius is a threat!" Frodrick insisted, "There's no reason for me to be arrested..."
"Oh, you're not going to be arrested, M'Lord." Elsbeth assured him quickly.
He frowned, again caught off guard by her strange answer, "You're not going to call the guards?"
She smiled, "Not at all. There's no need. They'll come looking for you soon enough..." With that Elsbeth dropped her glamour.
That first expression was always priceless. She never got enough of it. The shock. Awe. Terror... The realization that not all the things that went bump in the night had been driven away... Frodrick's mouth worked like a fish out of water. She let him have a good long look. Most humans would never see one of her kind in six life times...
"I-i-its you! N-Nightsky!!" he gasped, the color draining from his face and leaving it ashen gray. "You... What are you?!"
"Your death," she said simply.
Sleep had eluded him for a good portion of the night. Trying first to get himself under control then figure out what to do about his reluctant concubine had kept his mind at work, denying rest.
He should just throw her out. Banish her back to the stews where she came from, but a part of him rejected the idea. She was a brilliant adviser, he couldn't deny that. And she wasn't the first woman who simply wasn't interested in an affair... She was one of few, but not the first. Could he really punish her for that? He certainly wanted to... The cut on the back of his neck still stung.
At some point he must've drifted off because when he awoke again dawn was filtering though the windows of his chamber. He fought through the fog of sleep, looking for what had woke him and realized he wasn't alone... His eyes snapped open and he sat straight up tensed to strike.
Elsbeth was just seating herself in front of the mirror at his valet table. "Good, you're awake," she said casually-- as if they were in his office, not his bed chamber-- and tossed a slim folder of papers at him with a deft flick of her wrist. They landed on his lap, the papers fanning out from the folder.
Riorius frowned and snatched up several sheets of parchment. They looked like letters of correspondence... Between Lord Frodrick and a person who signed only as 'X'. Each one discussing various assassination plots against himself. Riorius's head snapped up, his eyes seeking her in the mirror. She was doing her hair, pulling it back in a loose bun.
"What is this?" he demanded.
"Exactly what it looks like," she replied,reaching into her purse and pulling out a stick of lip color. "General Urregar will likely be in here soon to give you the rest of them, but I didn't want you caught completely unaware."
Riorius blinked, a strange tightness gripping his chest. She was protecting him... After the way he'd treated her yesterday? "Thank you," he murmured, honestly touched. The last person who'd ever tried to protect him had been his mother when he'd been a wee-ling. To have anyone come to his defense was... unique... warming. " After I take care of this, I will see you properly rewarded." he added a bit gruffly.
She smiled, a cool dazzling smile, the first he'd ever seen on her, and slipped her lip color back into her purse. He shook it off. Objective, remember? he told himself, You need to be objective about her! She's nothing special! Riorious scanned her appearance. Mussy hair tied up in a loose bun that already had tendrils escaping. Fresh lip color, but no other make-up... The same dress she'd been wearing after dinner yesterday... It took him a moment to realize where he'd last seen a woman look like that. It had also been in his bedroom, but in Pavillion. Elsbeth looked as if she'd just spent the night in someone else's bed and had thrown herself together only well enough to make it back to her own room. She looked improper, casual, peasant... She looked sexy as all hell.
"You misunderstand me, your Highness," she was saying, "It's already been taken care of." Standing, she collected her purse, spun on her heel and strode proudly from the room.
Just as she reached the door, it swung inward and she had to take a nimble step back to avoid walking into General Urregar as he entered, "Elsbeth!" Urregar exclaimed with good cheer that was a little startled, "You're...uh...up early."
She smiled brightly at him, as if they were passing in the hallway after tea, not meeting in a man's bed chamber at dawn. "This kingdom doesn't run itself" she grinned, "His highness and I have much to do if we're going to get him up to speed on the current state of the land." Another sunny smile and she brushed past him and out the door.
Urregar watched her go for a moment longer, then gave Riorius a long hard look.
Riorius cocked up one eyebrow, "What?" It wasn't his fault she looked like a well bedded woman leaving his room this morning.
"Uh nothing," Urregar cleared his throat, "Nothing, your Majesty. I'm afraid I have some bad news. Or good news depending on your point of view. It appears that Nightsky is giving you his full support as king."
Riorius frowned, "What are you talking about?"
"Lord Frodrick was found beheaded in his study this morning with several of his organs missing." Urregar reported, "Numerous documents suggesting a conspiracy to harm your person were also found on his desk." He handed the King the parchment he'd brought with him. The signatures were identical to the ones Elspeth had delivered.
Riorius blinked in surprise, "He's dead?"
"Yes, your Majesty. The style is consistent with Nightsky's work. We estimate he was killed a little after midnight."
Urregar nodded, "The King's assassin, sire."
Riorius stared at him blankly, "I have a royal assassin?!"
"Serveral your highness," Urregar explained, "But Nightsky is apart from that group. We don't know who he is, where he comes from, or where he goes, but he appears to work only in the service of the king himself."
"Did my father know about him?"
"We assume so, sire. At least he never appeared surprised when one of his enemies was suddenly dispatched."
Riorius gritted his teeth. Apparently little Lady Elsbeth wasn't surprised either. Something was going on behind his back, he was sure, and he didn't like it! Throwing the blankets to the side he got out of bed, "Get my valet in here and tell them not to send breakfast up. I want this taken care of first thing this morning. I want to examine the body personally and I want all evidence of conspiracy brought to my study immediately."
"Yes Sire, right away." Urregar assured him hurriedly.
"And have someone keep an eye on Lady Elsbeth! I want to be able to find her when this is all through!"
Two hours later saw Elsbeth finishing her breakfast in the Queen's Solarium and reading the daily announcements. All the ladies of the court ate their morning meals here, and despite the uselessness of it, Elsbeth did too.
She'd been trying for over a year to make friends with the Ladies of the court, but to date she'd had little luck. Those that weren't intimidated by her and envious of her position on the council, were scandalized by the thought of conversing with the King's mistress... Aside from a few forced greetings at social events and her tenuous new association with Jezza due to their similar blood, they all politely ignored her. For a long while Gelderoy had been her only friend in the palace. Stodgy, bigoted, racist, and arrogant as he was, she missed his company now.
Sitting alone at a small table near the window she glanced up to where Lady Kimber was holding court, gossiping with the rest of her flock. Kimber was beautiful. Blond, and beautiful with widely flaring hips and breasts that had nearly every man in the palace stumbling over themselves for. She was young, cultured, intelligent and had a spotless reputation. It galled Elsbeth to say it, but there wasn't a hint of gossip about her. No clandestine meetings... No shades to her past... Nothing! The bulk of the court fully expected Riorius to marry her as soon as he'd settled into the throne. She'd been bred for the position of queen.
Elsbeth had just taken a long swig of hot coffee to fortify her self to walk past the painted peacocks when the flock went into a tizy. She looked up to see Riorius striding into the solarium. His face was polite and at ease, but his eyes were colder than steel. And they were looking straight at her.
Kimber stood along with her flock and curtsied prettily, "Good Morning your majesty." she cooed sweetly. The rest of the girls followed suit, speaking almost in unison.
Riorius paused as if just realizing they were there and smiled politely. "Good day ladies. Forgive me, I can't stay and chat. Affairs of state." Social necessity expended, the little flock of court birds was dismissed and his attention was again on Elsbeth.
She took a deep, steadying breath and folded her paper away as he bore down on her. A quick glance past him showed a dozen evil glares in her direction. Kimber's own expression was one of pure hatred.
Riorius caught her by the elbow and forcibly hauled her to her feet. "Lady Elsbeth, a word with you." His tone was pleasent, but clearly it wasn't a request. He dragged her past the angry ladies and out the door without another word. So much for making friends, Elsbeth thought.
He propelled her out the door and down the hall towards the royal library. When they were both inside, he turned on her. "What's going Elsbeth. Tell me everything! And so help me god if I find out you're lying it'll be your lifeless corpse they drag from this room, do you understand me?!"
"Frankly, no," Elsbeth said eyeing him wearily, "Tell you everything about what?"
Riorius gritted his teeth, calm... he had to remain calm. She would not rile him up like last night. "Frodrick and Nightsky," he snarled through a clenched jaw, "You knew! You knew everything this morning before Urregar had even found the body. Tell me what you know!" The scene in Frodricks chamber this morning had been out of a nightmare. Several of the guards had needed to excuse themselves from the sight. Blood had splattered everything in the Lord's study. His head had been placed on his desk, next to where Urregar had found the papers. Below on the floor the dead man's chest had been ripped open, sernum split open with ribs splayed out like the engulfing jaws of some beast. Heart, and liver had been removed completely.
The taint of violence had stirred his senses arousing his mother's blood... Making him edgy and hungry. It had taken a good bit of control to keep the bloodlust from showing to the soldiers around him. Even now its remnants were making it hard to focus. He reached into his inner vest pocket and pulled out the roll of parchments she'd given him. "Where did you get these? From who?"
"Lady Jezza," she replied calmly, "She discovered the plot and brought them to me. During the Gelderoy's illness, if there was a serious matter of state, all important documents came to me."
"Why you?" Riorious demanded.
"Because it was my job to handle such matters."
Her job? She couldn't be serious! No woman in this court held such power! And handled them how? He glared at her and slapped the papers onto a nearby writing desk, "Your job... It's your job to kill conspirators? You murdered him?" he was baiting her again. Dammit, what was it about her that made him want to ruffle her feathers so badly?
She didn't rise t the bait this time, "How could I have? Your personal guards saw me enter your room before midnight and leave after dawn. I was with you the whole time."
Riorious stared at her, thunderstruck. In his room? With him? All night? Rage washed through him. She was lying! If she'd spent the night she'd still be in his bed with him on top of her! Or under, or behind... His control slipped for a moment and he slammed her up against the bookshelf. She cried out, stunned by the unexpected assult. The shelves wobbled ominously and several books fell to the floor, "THE HELL YOU DID!!" he roared, "IF YOU HAD ENTERED THAT ROOM AT ANY POINT I WOULD HAVE NOTICED IMMEDIATELY!"
"Well the guards saw me enter and leave and everyone knows the King's courtyard is closed in and has not other exits-" she hurried to explain, her eyes searching. Behind them the Library door opened, but Riorious didn't care. His entire attention was fixed on the lying little whore in front of him.
"You were not in my room!! Dammit, Elsbeth, I swear to god if you don't start explaining yourself I'll have you thrown out of this palace so fast-"
"Actually, you can't do that Sire," Hable's timid voice broke in from where he stood, tension and fear visible in his entire posture.
Elsbeth and Riorious's attentions snapped to him, "What?" they demanded in unison.
"I've been...uh... finalizing your father's last wishes, Sire. Going over his last will and testament...?"
"Spit it out scribe!" Rioriuos snarled.
"Until you marry and produce and heir, Lady Elsbeth sits to inherit the throne should something unforeseen happen."
He dropped her, spinning around to snatch the parchment from Hable's fingers. There it was. In his father's own handwriting, stamped, signed, sealed and witnessed! Lady Elsbeth Tallula named crown princess of Varsella until such time that another of royal blood was born. The heartless bastard had made his whore the heir beyond himself.... Riorious felt his blood, already heated, come to a boil.
Behind him Elsbeth started giggling, and swiftly the giggle became a laugh. She was laughing at him. She thought this was funny?! He made one last desperate bid to grab his temper, but it was too late....
His mother's blood exploded through his veins. "THIS ISN'T FUNNY!" he roared.
Abruptly, she stopped laughing.
Horns. He had horns. For some inexplicable reason her mind latched onto them and wouldn't move. Never mind the clawed wings in deep navy with black membranesthat had appeared at his back. Forget the spiked, fork tipped tail swishing back and forth in irritation... The horns had her transfixed. They were blue. Dark indigo blue the color of the night sky. They sprouted just high of his hairline, were roughly scored like the bark of an old tree and tapered up in an 'S' curve.
She'd never seen a human, halfblood or otherwise with horns before and she longed to trail her fingertips along them and find out if they were manifestations or physical.
Riorius swore viciously and turned back towards Hable. The poor scribe had fallen to the floor in terror and sat frozen, his horrified gaze locked on Riorious. "BEGONE SCRIBE!" The king ordered, a slight hiss attaching itself to the 's', "And if you speak of this to anyone I'll personally have your guts for bootlaces!"
With a small cry of fear, Hable scrambled to his feet and bolted out the door. Riorius moved to follow and Elsbeth jumped up to stop him, but he only slammed the door shut and locked it.
"Well Princess," he hissed the word with distain, "You certainly have a way of getting under my skin! Now the whole bloody castle's about to find out what kind of monster is ruling them. Anything to say for yourself?"
"C- can I touch them?" the words were out of her mouth before she'd even realized she spoken them. Riorius stared at her, dumbstruck. As if she'd been the one to transform in the middle of his library. Before he could collect his thoughts, she pounced. Sliding her hands up his forehead, under his bangs, brushing his hair back to see how they attached as she worked her way up. They were smooth, but bumpy where the scores spiraled their length, almost like wooden railings that had been polished by hundreds of hands over decades... His mouth worked a few times as if he wanted to say something, but nothing came out. She smiled gleefully as his eyes finally rolled back and he submitted to her explorations. Elsbeth could almost hear him purr. It was fascinating! He was fascinating. What was he? Her mind worked through and rejected dozens of possibilities. From ogre to demon, sprite to spirit...
While it was probably a good fifteen minutes, it seemed so very little time before the horns became transparent like glass then faded all together. Elsbeth reluctantly lowered her hands and Riorius shook his head as if trying to clear too much wine.
"What are you?" she whispered, "Please tell me."
The rage was completely gone now.... ebbing away same as the manifestations it had brought forth. He looked into her eyes, and Elsbeth realized the pupil in his pale eye was slitted. Slowly it relaxed into a rounded shape, but she had her answer in that single look. There was only one creature with slitted eyes that could take human form, mate with one, and produce a half blood offspring.
"Draynor." he replied quietly.
"A dragon?" Elsbeth was shocked to her very core. A dragon halfbreed? Impossible! The Draynor hadn't walked these lands in nearly a millennium. They had left long before any of the other mystborns. Dissatisfied with human mentality and greed, they spurned any attempt to mix with them. For one to have chosen Gelderoy as a mate, spoke VERY highly of the old king.
The Draynor were kings among the mystborn, their power immense and nearly limitless. They were closer to the mists than any of the others and so could move freely between worlds. Mostly they lived comfortably there, emerging into the different lands only to hunt. So rare had their appearance become that they had morphed into legends, even to the other faye. They weren't dark creatures, but nor were they light.
Her face broke into a smile of pure wonder and delight. A living breathing legend... And he was a halfbreed, just like her.
They had been right. It pained her to admit it, but they had...
They were surrounding her, pushing her further and further away from her home.
"This isn't a place for you anymore" one said, "Begone halfbreed."
"We tolerated you and your mother for Brehon's sake, but he and Sadia are gone and it is time you followed." said another.
She was on the verge of tears, clutching the small bundle that contained her meager belongings., "But... But you can't!" she cried. "Where will I go?! There's no place out there for half breeds!"
"That's not our problem" they replied.
"I don't understand!" she sobbed, "I thought you were my neighbors- my friends! Why?!"
"You're blood is only half. You can't come with us should we choose to move. It is time you left...Leave now spriteling. And do not ever return..."
Elsbeth sat straight up. Around her the shadow realm ebbed and pulsed, the colors shifting slightly to warn her that dawn was nigh. Sighing, she wiped away the tears shed in sleep. An old dream... An old memory.
She stretched, working the kinks out of her neck. While protected from the elements in the shadow realm, the stone courtyard bench was regardless uncomfortable. She really didn't have to do this anymore. As heir to the throne her position within the palace was secure-- Hell if Riorius died she stood to loose nothing and gain everything- to include a crown! But something in her held to the oath she'd taken. She would protect the Kings of this land with her dying breath. It was the only thing that gave her father's blood a purpose in this world, afterall.
Standing to brush off her skirts, Elsbeth realized suddenly she was being watched. Turning towards the King's chamber she could clearly see Riorius's aura lounging in the doorway. He was staring right at her, arms crossed, waiting. She froze. Impossible! The draynor couldn't enter or interact with the shadow realm, she was sure. They weren't night creatures. But there he stood, staring straight at her.
Cautiously she stepped to the left- thinking of darting out over the wall, but paused when she noticed his eyes didn't follow. Two seconds... three, four, five... finally his gaze drifted over to where she stood.
He couldn't see her, but he could sense her.
"Who are you?" His voice reverberated through the shadow realm, powerful and compelling. "What are you doing here?" A wave of energy rolled out, buffeting her, commanding her to answer. Elsbeth shuddered, her human will just barely powerful enough to withstand the command. Fighting back she gave a good solid shove with her mind, just enough to distract him and leapt over the courtyard wall, landing gracefully on the roof. His eyes didn't follow but after a few seconds it was obvious he knew she had disappeared. He gave a final cursory glance around the courtyard and headed back inside.
Breathing a sigh of relief she hopped quickly over the various levels of roof top for the palace, landing finally in her own courtyard. With a tired sigh she slipped from the shadow realm and released her spirit self. All trace of shadow from within her dissipated instantly in the bright morning sun. She opened the door to her room and just barely dodged the seven barbs that shot through the air right at her chest. Instantly she was crouched, stilletto in her palm, but the bastard was already fleeing out the front door. Elsbeth sprinted after him but skidding to a halt outside her own door when she saw the hallway was empty. Her would-be attacked had vanished.
Furious she reached for the shadows. A scrying mirror allowed for a seemless transition, with no work on her part, but with enough power she could force the shadows to her will without the mirror. And Elsbeth had that power.
How dare a no name rodent attempt to dispatch Elsbeth Tallula Nightsky? She'd follow the vermin back to his lair and devour his heart!
"Lady Elsbeth! A word please about this budget account."
She froze at the sound of Riorious's voice. He was striding down the hall from his own chambers, a stack of parchment in his hand. For the barest second her two bloods warred. Her sprite blood insisting she continue after her attacker. Her human self panicked that she might be seen for what she really was. With no small amount of effort she forced herself to let go of the shadows, and faced the King.
He frowned at her. "What the hell is you're problem?"
She took a deep breath, "There was an intruder in my room! He tried to kill me, but ran away when the attempt missed."
For a split second his face went blank, and then he was in her room seeking proof of her words. She followed him back into the courtyard where the barbs stuck out of a small tree, smoking slightly. He pulled them out, examining the tips and the puncture wounds they'd made in the tree. "Toxic," he snarled and turned back to her, "You're okay? They didn't graze you?"
She shook her head, bewildered by his concern, "No, no. I'm fine. His aim was terrible."
"You're sure it was a him?"
She blinked, "Well I can't be sure, but..."
"Do you think it was Nightsky?"
Anger sparked up in her chest. How dare he assume she'd do such a sloppy job! If it had been herself, she wouldn't have missed. Savagely she checked the annoyance. "No. Nightsky uses a blade and decapitates his victims. He doesn't use poison. Besides, I'm no traitor!"
He eyed her, as if searching for something in her expression. "As my heir apparent, you easily could be. You stand to gain a lot from my death."
She snorted, "One could say the same to you! You haven't liked me since day one. As a contender to your throne it wouldn't be a stretch to see you ordering my assignation just to remove a possible threat." Her own words doubled back striking her. Could he have ordered the hit? Was that one of the royal black guard that had just attempted to take her life?
"Lady Elsbeth, if I want you dead I'll do it myself," he assured her. Then taking hold of her shoulders he pulled her tight against him, "But I don't."
He was going to kiss her again. She knew it as sure as she knew the sun had risen that morning and would set tonight. She could stop him. She should. She should fight him off like she did the last time in the library... But she wasn't going to. Something in her was changing and that drastic shift was making it harder to dislike him. So when he lower his mouth to hers, she didn't pull away. And this time she didn't fight.
He tasted the same as he had the last time. Earthy... male... and with the spicy tastes of clove and chili pepper that Elsbeth now recognized as dragon. Cautiously, feeling her way along instincts never before used, she wrapped her arms around his neck and held on for dear life. The movement pressed her even closer into the curve of his body, forcing her to arch her back to his bend. Riorious growled low in his throat, his hands roving to her hips and around to her rear. Her heart did it's odd skitter again and when it found its rhythm she realized it thudded in time with his own. Silent voices in her body cried out in a mixture of primal fear and elation. She was his. Now and forevermore her heart beat with his. Elsbeth knew this with the same instincts that taught her how to transform and walk the shadow world. The same instincts that were even now drawing the pale daylight shadows to her. Wrapping around them both and tying them together. She wanted to consume him. Wrap them both in darkness where no one could touch them and then sink into his blood until they were the same being. It was crazy! It was exhilarating! And she wanted more.
Riorious ripped his mouth away from hers, gasping air. The shadows painted a tribal pattern of hands and claws over his skin and clothes. Everywhere she wanted to touch him, the shadows clung. His pupils were both narrow slits in the sea of greens. His horns, wings and tail had again manifested and behind her she could feel the pinch of claws digging into her bottom. "Elsbeth..."he whispered, awed, "What are you doing to me?"
She could only shake her head in response, rendered mute by her own unleashed abilities. He groaned and reclaimed her mouth. His hands moved upwards, one dagger like claw slicing open the laces that closed her dress from the back. Loosened, the silky material slipped from her shoulders and fell to her hips. Elsbeth gasped, feeling the cool morning air on her bare skin. But instantly his hands where there to warm her, each claw delicately scratching over her skin and sending tremors up her spine. Elsbeth's own hands, moving without her conscious thought, sought out his horns, stroking gently. A heavy shudder raked through him and suddenly he had scooped her into his arms and in three strides, deposited her on the bed.
"Again!" he snarled, burying his face in her shoulder, his toungue swirling a path down her neck. Surprised by the response, Elsbeth again slid her hands along the smooth ivory. Riorious groaned and trailed his kisses lower. Over and along her collar bones and down her sternum. Everywhere he kissed her skin heated like it fire and chilled to ice just as quickly. The rapidly changing sensations leaving her dazed and bewildered. When his mouth closed over one sensitive nipple Elsbeth arched her back, with a startled gasp. He looked up at her, his mouth twisted into a sadistic grin, "Mine." he hissed, "You are all mine."
"Excuse me Lady Elsbeth but there's a few things I need to speak to you about in regards to the monthly budget- Creation above!" Hable, who had just entered through the door she'd left open to the hall, abruptly dropped his papers, his face slack in shock, "Your majesty! Forgive me! I'm sorry! Excuse me!" he sputtered and fled the room.
Riorious snarled, "Obnoxious dog! If he wasn't so damn useful I'd have thrown him out on his ass days ago!"
Eslbeth blinked. Slowly the haze of passion was lifting making her realize exactly what position she was in. Half naked, legs bent over the edge of the bed, with Riorious standing between them. What was she thinking!? Surely she hadn't been about to let him make love to her! Dammit, didn't she have any shame?! She was letting this bastard King make a whore out of her! Clearing her throat, Elsbeth attempted to sit up. "Well it's probably better he appeared. I have a lot of work to do this morning."
The King didn't move, "You can't mean that."
She glared at him, "But that's just it. I do. You've had your fun, now if you finished belittling my position in this court, maybe you'll be so kind as to let me up?" she gave his shoulders a quick shove, "I still need to change before breakfast and coax Hable back out of the broom closet where he's hiding, so we can talk about that budget."
"I wanted to talk to you about the budget too," he murmured dipping his head to nuzzle her breasts, "Why don't we stay here and talk..."
Elsbeth shuddered, "No," she replied as firmly as she could.
His head snapped up, eyes glowing coldly, "Dammit, Elsbeth! Why not?! Only seconds ago you were hot and ready for me!"
She set her chin, glaring back at him, "I won't be your mistress, Riorious!" There. She'd said it. "I will not be your mistress or your concubine or your lady bird or any other name you want to call it! I will not let you use me and throw me away when you don't need me anymore!"
She could hear his teeth grinding together, "But you'd let my father? You were so enamored with Gelderoy then?!" he hissed, "Did you actually love that doddering old fool?! Why, Elsbeth?! Tell me why! I had you! Your were mine! Why won't you just surrender to me?!"
"I've told you before, Riorious, I am no man's whore." Shoving hard on his shoulders she managed enough breathing room to slip from his arms. Dashing into her bathing room she slammed the door, locking it from the inside and falling back against the wood.
He didn't storm out. She never heard the door close. But after a few moments she knew she was alone.
Several hours later Riorious sat again in the bay window of his private library. This time paying very close attention to the book he was reading. It claimed to be an accurate encyclopedia of all of Varsalles's mystborn. So far the actual data was hit or miss, but as far as he could tell it did indeed list every single one.
He'd woken before dawn, and felt the creature outside in the courtyard. Instantly on the defensive, he'd waited for it to strike. But no attack ever came. It just stayed right where it was hidden within the shadow realm. He'd stood in his doorway watching it for a long time... It never moved. Eventually he was able to get a clear enough sense to tell it was sleeping on the bench. How long had it been there? What was it? Why was it there?
After about a half hour he sensed it move. It stood up and moved to the left, but stayed there until it was sure he spotted it again. He'd extended his will to it, demanding it tell him who it was. The creature had refused, shoving back his will and bolting from the courtyard. Neither of his bloods could enter the shadow realm, so tracking it was impossible. Disappointed he knew he was just going to have to wait for it to return. He'd finished getting dressed, and had just exited his room to find Elsbeth, only to see her standing in the middle of the hall. It took a moment before he'd noticed there was something wrong with her. She stood slightly braced and tense as a bow pulled taut. But the weird thing had been her eyes.
They were black.
Even at a distance the difference was startling. Then she'd relaxed and they'd snapped back to blue. The transition had been so quick, a person could easily think he'd imagined it. Then she'd told him she'd been attacked and all thought fled from him. Rage had washed up to take it's place. How dare someone try to touch her! To harm her... She was his dammit and he'd eviscerate anyone who laid a hand on her. The depth of the sudden possession had shocked him to the core. And yet it seemed only natural... With each passing hour it was like his unspoken claim on her was growing stronger. It was absurd really, but the draynor didn't question it. And after he'd ascertained she was okay, his mother's blood had turned to it's next prerogative. He needed her. Needed to reaffirm that she was still his.
As if sensing he needed this, she hadn't fought him. Her instant response had set his blood on fire. She filled him, her essence wrapping around his heart and flowing through his blood. And without realizing he was even doing so, he'd shifted partially out of his skin. It had been more than a little terrifying how swiftly each of his defenses had crumbled to her. But he couldn't stop. He needed to have her! He would've had her if-
Riorious shook his head swiftly to scatter his thoughts. He really didn't need to terrify Hable any further. The pathetic man practically pissed himself every time Riorious walked into the room as was... It floored him that anyone could be such a coward. Bringing his mind back to the task at hand, Riorius scanned thought the definition of a selkie. Seal-human shapeshifter, eats babie humans-- he doubted that part was true-- a water creature said to carry it's pelt with it while on land. Didn't fit the definition he was looking for. Scratch another off the list. So far he was two thirds of the way into the book, and nothing was really fitting what he saw or felt. An image of her as she was this morning popped back into his mind. A black eyed hunter, ready to pounce it's prey... He turned the next page. A shadow sprite... The darkest and most dangerous of the sprite family. They were carnivorous-- alot of sprite species were-- came out only at night, and had the ability to shadow walk. Riorious frowned. He might have just hit upon Nightsky's identity here. But Shadow sprites had blue eyes with gray skin and white hair. If Elsbeth were a shadow sprite, surely she would display one of those traits...