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The Elder Blood Chronicles Book Two Blood, Honor, and Dreams

Special  Sample Chapter from Book Two

Prologue

Gaelyn

The taste of copper filled her mouth, harsh and metallic. Her eyes trailed down to the remains of the woman cooling before her. Her stomach growled at the sight of so much meat but she fought back the instinct to feed. She had scanned the woman’s mind while in the womb, and no matter how broken the woman had been, she had loved the child growing inside her. In the scattered thoughts the woman had thought her a child formed of love with a man by the name of Hawk. The dead woman had even picked names for the child inside her, Emily if it was a girl and Jonathan if a boy. The woman had refused to believe a monster grew inside her, in her mind she had pictured a pink squirming little baby. She shifted uncomfortably at the thought, she didn’t want to consider herself a monster, and yet she was no baby as the woman had imagined. Just the few shreds of meat she had consumed had helped her grow considerably, by human standards her body was the size of one of their toddlers. Her mind however was far advanced beyond that. She knew what the woman had known, she had spent long hours in that broken mind sorting through the knowledge. Reaching hesitantly she ran a finger across the dead woman’s cheek brushing back the strands of brown hair matted with blood. Her talon scored a narrow groove in the dead flesh and she hastily pulled her small hand back. She hadn’t meant to kill the woman anymore than she had meant to damage the dead flesh with her talon, it was pure instinct that demanded she tear herself free of the prison of flesh.

Settling back on her heels she stared down at the corpse unsure what to do. She knew the others watched her, she could feel their eyes on her back. They wondered why she didn’t feed. If she didn’t feed soon it was possible they would claim the meat, it was also possible they would consider her defective. Moving slowly she edged to the other side of the corpse, placing her back against the thick stone wall. The others shifted and watched her, eyes glimmering like dark jewels in the faint light of the room. With hunger and disgust warring inside her she reached a taloned hand down to the corpse and cut a strip of flesh from the arm. Gingerly she took the first bite, chewing slowly and trying to think of it as only meat and not as the dead woman that had considered herself mother.

With each strip of meat she ate she felt her body pushing against its current size. Muscles developed, bones grew, senses became more acute. Closing her eyes she cut strip after strip from the corpse, relishing in the taste of the blood and hating herself for enjoying it. It took all of her will to keep the predatory instincts down, she could feel the growl deep in her chest. The gaze of the others upon her hadn’t lessoned and her primal side told her to warn them away. If they came closer she would defend herself, by talon and tooth as needed. It wasn’t a fight she would win, there were seven of them in the room. Not all of them would walk away though, she would insure that.

By the time her hunger was sated she was red to the elbows in sticky drying blood. Careful to keep her eyes from the once beautiful face of the dead woman she moved down the wall and away from what remained. The others would feed on the remaining meat and she had no desire to see that. Never taking her gaze from the others she followed the wall until it ended in a rough wooden door. With her back to the door she slipped out and into the dark hallway. She sniffed the air testing it for other scents and focused the innate sense of her brethren to see how many lurked in the shadows beyond. There were more to the left than right.

Pushing the door shut behind her silently she paced down the hall to the right. The dead woman had no knowledge of the lay out of this place, only a name for it, Eldagar. By what the woman had known of Eldagar and her current surroundings she guessed herself to be somewhere below the fortress in the labyrinth of storage rooms. With senses alert she moved swiftly and quietly through turn after turn always choosing the path with the fewest Blights.

She didn’t want to associate with the things. She may be one of them, but that didn’t mean she was happy about it. In the dead woman’s mind pushed back to the furthest corners there had been memories of the Blights and what they had done to the villages of Gaelyn. Further back than that had been the memories of what they had done to Hawk, the man that should have been her father. To kill was a necessity for any predator, to torment and torture during the kill was corruption of the hunt. Torture was the only word for the way Hawk had died. With a frown she focused on her surroundings and left the memories for when she was in a secure location. It wouldn’t take long for the Blights to realize she was not like them. What they did from there was beyond her field of guessing.

Her pace slowed as the air began to change. The thick dank smell of the undergrounds was fading. If there was a slant or rise to the floor she couldn’t tell, but the air seemed fresher. She was nearing the surface. The dead woman’s memories had contained memories of the surface, many memories. If she could make it to the wild lands her dead mother’s memories would guide her away from this place. She tested the air again before moving on, there was something there, some scent that seemed out of place in this hive. Cautiously she moved forward silently. Something shifted in the halls beyond, the shadows themselves seemed to shift. It was a strange and yet familiar scent in the air, prey, human. It didn’t make sense for the scent of prey to be so near the main hive without the scent of fear or blood thick in it. She tested the air again searching for any signs of blood. She froze again as a form moved from the shadows.

“Charm.” She whispered as the dead woman’s memories identified the ragged blond man before her. She hadn’t meant to speak. Clamping one small hand over her mouth she held her breath as the rogue scanned the room with a frantic gaze.

“Who’s there?” He whispered his voice harsh with disuse. One slender hand had dropped to the pommel of his dagger and his muscles were tense. His gaze flickered to the window behind him and she could tell he was on the verge of flight.

Biting her tongue she remained silent watching him with curiosity. The dead woman had liked this man, and he was heading for his death if he continued down this hall. All she would have to do is speak again and he would likely bolt. She could practically feel his paranoia. His eyes had a wild look in them, not fear exactly, but close. A tickle at the back of her senses pulled her focus from the rogue. She could feel a group of her fellow blights approaching behind her. If they found him here he was dead, and the dead woman had liked him.

“Run, they are coming.” She hissed in a voice barely above a whisper. His reaction was immediate. He didn’t question where the words had come from he simply fled. He was out the window and moving rapidly through the shadows. Glancing back over her shoulder once more she snarled and followed him through the window. The memories she had of the rogue were of a good man, and a good man wouldn’t survive in a hell like Eldagar without help. She would watch him, and guard him, perhaps that would make amends to the dead woman. She hadn’t meant to kill the mother…perhaps if she kept this man alive, the mother’s spirit would rest easier.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 1

Sanctuary

 

 

The clash of steel came with a rapidity that gave it a sort of music. Jala shifted in the grass and rested her head more comfortably against Marrow’s side. From her vantage she had a perfect view of the sparring match between Finn and Valor. Her eyes were locked on Finn watching his every move. His bronzed skin was gleaming with sweat despite the chill of the day. She felt a smile creep onto her lips as she watched him. The graceful dodges and then a series of quick jabs that kept Valor on guard for most of the matches.. Finn was living art in her mind, a beauty to behold, and he was hers. The smile grew wider, her hand absently traced the tattoo on her arm. It signified their marriage, even from this distance Finn’s matching tattoo stood out against his skin like a beacon. Her mind began to drift with thoughts of those arms wrapped around her, the remembered scent of him, his breath hot on her neck. He fingers buried thick in his tawny hair. A flutter drifted through her and she felt her pulse increase slightly. A muffled curse from the sparring yard brought her sharply back to the present to watch as Finn stepped back from Valor with blood dripping down his bare chest.

“What was that?” Valor demanded lowering his own blade. His own silver hair was plastered to his head with sweat and he was breathing quickly. He glowered at Finn his blue eyes filled with irritation.

“Nothing.” Finn snapped his gaze locked on the wound that stretched from shoulder to his side. The sides of the wound were already mending together. Finn healed with such a speed that most of the time he didn’t even notice the smaller wounds. That one had to be deep to get him to step away from a fight.

“Bloody hell it was nothing, I know you could have parried that.” Valor pressed but Finn waved him off and moved in for another attack before Valor could protest further.

“Care to return your attention to studies before you get him killed?” Jail asked. He was sitting a few feet from her with a look of pure amusement on his face. A large book lay open in his lap though he hadn’t looked at its pages at all from what Jala had seen.

“Leave her alone, she is in love. I think it’s sweet.” Wisp cut in with a sigh. The Fae sprawled in the grass not far away with a map spread in front of her. She had one elbow propping her off the ground with her dainty chin resting in the palm of her hand. A long tendril of black curls fell down over one side of her face giving her a tousled look. “I’m seeing a lot we could do to improve things here, but I’m not sure how we can do it without anyone knowing who is doing it.” Wisp added and Jala wasn’t sure if she was talking to her or to Neph who was propped up beside her looking half asleep.

“Wait no, this has merit. If she gets him killed the damn ringing of metal will surely stop.” Neph grumbled and leaned forward to look at Wisp’s map.

“It will be replaced with wails of sorrow which is infinitely louder Neph.” Jail pointed out mildly.

“True.” Neph agreed half heartedly and turned his attention fully to the map. “It’s the Merro district Wisp. Anything we do will be an improvement there. That’s one of the worst parts of the city.”

“It won’t be if we can figure out how to silently repair it.” Wisp countered.

“I say we just announce who she is and bugger them all. This secrecy shit is getting old.” Neph grumbled leaning back once more to rest his weight on his arms.

“It’s been two weeks since we agreed to keep the secret. Are you truly out of patience already?” Jail asked shaking his head at Neph in what might have been disgust.

“You are losing her attention again, I can see the gaze drifting back to pretty boy.” Neph motioned towards Jala and she blushed.

“Sorry.” Jala mumbled and sat up rubbing her face. Marrow shifted behind her and stretched. “It’s just, I’m sorry I don’t know what exactly it is. I’m just having trouble concentrating.” She gave Jail a weak smile and shrugged.

“You are in love that’s what it is. Everything else is secondary.” Wisp chirped happily and beamed a smile at Jala.

“A goofy smile most of the time, difficulty focusing….which I might add you already had a terrible time with, and daydreaming. Yes you are most definitely afflicted.” Neph said in a tone that suggested he thought it might be contagious. Jala watched him half expecting him to scoot further away from her.

“Love is not an affliction.” Wisp snapped and kicked Neph lightly.

With a loud clearing of his throat Jail once again captured her attention and she grinned at him. “Please ask again, I promise I will pay attention. I am fully focused now.” Jala said with a bit of chagrin.

“Who in Sanctuary holds the most power? I mean the world, not the city.” Jail repeated and leaned back giving her time to think.

Crossing her legs under her Jala folded her hands in her lap and considered the question. It was a loaded question she knew. There were so many ways to answer it. Since they had returned to the city two weeks ago these sessions had become a routine in the mornings. On every free day Jail would sit and help her catch up on her classes and ask her random questions, and she was beginning to figure out how to best answer him. It wasn’t one simple answer Jail was looking for, he wanted her to consider the question more than anything else.

“It’s the goblins, little do we know, they are about to take over the world.” Neph said dryly.

“And you shall be the king of them.” Wisp rose and bowed mockingly in Neph’s direction. “Hail, the Goblin King.” She called loudly as she dropped back to her prone position in the grass.

“You mock now, just wait little girl.” Neph warned with a smirk.

Jala tried to fight back a smile and forced herself to ignore their banter. With a deep sigh she locked her gaze with Jail’s. “I want to say the High Houses, but that’s too obvious and it’s the cheap answer that anyone would give.. You aren’t looking for the common answer here, you are looking for my answer.”

With a slight nod Jail motioned for her to continue. “And your answer is?”

“My answer is, that it changes too quickly to judge accurately. It isn’t simply the houses that hold power in Sanctuary. The mercenaries hold power, the Fionaveir hold a sort of power, and the merchants hold power. It shifts by the hour depending on countless things. Something as simply as a rumor can shift power in Sanctuary.” She paused frowning and gave another shrug. “If I absolutely had to say one thing that holds power above all others all of the time, I’ll say the commons. They outnumber us and they provide our food. While they are not strong magically, without them we would suffer.” She said finally not even pausing for a breath as she spoke.

Jail seemed to consider her words and gave her a weak shrug. “We can make food with magic, though it does have side effects if eaten too long. And while they do outnumber us, most High Lords could kill an entire country with little effort. The only thing that stops them is the fear of other High Lords taking advantage of their temporary weakness from using that sort of power.” He countered.

“True, and that is what gives the commons power. If we had to do everything they do with magic we would all be drained and at risk.” She replied with as much confidence as she could muster, in truth she was beginning to doubt her own theory.

“Well considering how bloody many commons there are, most of the food they supply, they eat. In Delvay we don’t have many commons. They are generally too weak to survive in the mountains.” Neph added.

“I would say it’s the Aspects personally.” Wisp said looking up from her map.

“The Aspects have power with the commons but when it comes to the High Houses they are just another challenge, most High Lords don’t revere them. They are here for the commons.” Jail objected mildly.

“It’s me, I have the most power in all of Sanctuary. Tremble before me.”

Jala looked up sharply to see Finn grinning down at her. She hadn’t noticed the swords had stopped ringing or even heard him approach. Grinning up at him she shook her head. “I have to disagree.” She said with a raised eyebrow.

“Well then, you will be the first that I smite.” Finn returned with a grin and dropped into the grass beside her. Leaning over he gave her a quick kiss and then sat back wiping sweat from his face. “You don’t want me to close right now I don’t think. Ode to swordplay isn’t a pleasant smell.”

“I don’t mind at all.” She replied leaning over against him. Grinning up at him she rested her head against his shoulder.

“And that’s it, no more coherent thoughts from her today.” Neph broke in and stood quickly with a frown to Finn he shook his head. “Thank you Finn, your presence kills brain cells….but then I was saying that long before you met Jala.”

“But they are so happy when they die.” Finn replied with a grin.

“Happily dying brain cells.” Neph said dryly shaking his head again. “I’m leaving, I have no desire to witness the cooing and cuddling. Come see me this evening without your cretin Jala and we will work on magic.” Turning Neph headed out of the garden striding quickly for their hall.

“Completely asexual…” Valor said quietly drawing the words out as he watched Neph leave. Turning back to Jala he smiled. “We are going by Arovan’s holdings today before we head to Merro. I have a surprise for you.” He said happily and then sniffed the air lightly. “But first, I’m going to bathe and change, I think I might possibly smell worse than Finn.” With a slight bow of his head Valor turned to leave as well and Finn rose to follow.

“Have to excuse me for a bit, having Valor say I stink is the last straw. I’m going to bathe too, I’ll be back shortly. Jail keep her company for me would ya.” Finn said brushing grass off of himself quickly. “Val, wait up.” He called over his shoulder and jogged off after the knight.

Jala smiled watching Finn playfully smack Valor in the shoulder as he caught up and then looked back at Jail. “I’m going to revise my answer.” She said with a faint smile.

Raising an eyebrow Jail nodded. “To what?” He asked.

“To me Finn really does hold the most power. His opinion, his mood, his desires, they all mean more to me than anyone else’s, therefore he has the most power over me. It falls back on priority I suppose. To an Avanti, a banker likely has the most power, To Valor it’s his father. To a common its their ruling High Lord, Power is judged by the individual looking for it, and every answer will be different.”

“Do you really think Finn holds power over you?” Jail asked.

Smiling she shook her head slightly. “Not in the sense you are implying, I am not existing on his whim, but in a sense yes he does. It is a mutual power though, my feelings hold as much sway over him I think.” She answered and sighed. “I’m not sure if I’m explaining myself well.” She admitted.

“No you are, I understand you. What you are saying is there are different degrees of power and motivation, and the power you answer to is Love.” Wisp said sitting back up and turning to face them. “Valor answers to his father for the same reason, love. Where as the Avanti look to the banker out of greed and most commons look up to their High Lords out of fear or respect. You are saying emotions are connected with who we see as powerful.”

Nodding slowly Jail smiled. “That is an answer with thought behind it, much better than a simple High Lords answer.” He said with approval. “No necessarily the correct answer but the questions I ask generally don’t have a correct answer. Here is your next question, you can have all afternoon to think up an answer.” He paused until she met his gaze. “Why did the Guardians make Sanctuary the way they did?” He asked.

“Bugger, glad you play the question game with him rather than me, I’d strangle him.” Wisp said shaking her head slightly. “I think the first step we should do for Merro is find healers to work there, by the way. If you like I could do some checking around while you are off with Val and Finn.”

“Thank you so much Wisp, I’d truly appreciate that. From what I hear healers are desperately needed there. I’m afraid I haven’t had the chance to look around in that district at all. I’m not really sure what to expect.” Jala said and sighed.

“Think of the worst possible slums and the most poverty and sickness you can imagine….and you should be braced well enough when you see how bad it really is.” Jail said quietly. “The last winter was really hard on that district, as well as the Greenwild district. Plague hit with a vengeance and starvation hit not long after. Shade did a bit to improve it, but it wasn’t enough.”

“Maybe Sovann moving his warehouse there will help a bit. At least people will have a chance to make some money that way.” Wisp offered.

Jala nodded not wanting to speak. These were her people they were talking about, the ones Symphony and the rest of the Fionaveir expected her to lead. How much hate must they have built up for the High Lords by now after living in filth for so long. From what she had learned at the Academy her Bloodline had been a cruel one. Frowning she wondered what reaction her people would have when they learned the Merrodin Bloodline wasn’t truly dead.

 

“So are you going to give me any hint as to why we are going to see your family?” Jala asked.

Valor cast a glance back at her and smiled shaking his head. He was walking a few feet ahead of them and seemed in a much bigger hurry than Finn who paced beside her idly twisting branches from the garden plants as they walked towards the stables.

“I take it you don’t get along with his family?” Jala asked looking over at Finn with a raised eyebrow.

He looked up sharply from a lily he was dismembering and grinned. “No I get along with Honor fine almost as well as I do Valor. That’s not at all what I was thinking about.” Shrugging he left off with the plants and tossed the mutilated stalk aside. “I’ve heard some rumors the last week or so and it’s got me wondering.”

“What kind of rumors?” She asked.

“High Lord Blackwolf is summoning people from Sanctuary to help in defense of Glis, High Lord Delvayon is calling his swords. It just doesn’t seem to be a very good time to be a small fish. I’m trying to figure out how to build your power quick.” He replied letting out a sigh.

“Our power.” She corrected.

He shook his head and smiled at her. “Your power, I want nothing to do with politics. I’ll help you with what ever I can but I don’t want the power at all.”

“They aren’t just rumors Finn.” Valor cut in turning to walk backwards as he spoke. “That’s why we have to get this done now, it wont be long before Arovan is pulling people back home as well. My brother hinted that father might recall me the last time we spoke. Things are bad in Glis.”

“What’s going on there?” Jala asked looking between the two of them.

“From what I understand no one really knows. Some say Kali has created a new threat, others blame Rivasa or Nerathane.” Valor said with a shrug and paused in step for them to catch up. “I hear that most of Gaelyn’s commons are dead and people are disappearing from Glis now.” He said in a near whisper as he fell into step beside them.

“I heard the same. I don’t think its Rivasa or Nerathane.” Finn replied.

“Who is Kali?” Jala broke in confusion clear in her voice.

“Kali the mad, Kali the cruel, Kali the wicked.” Valor chimed giving the words a musical quality.

“She is a geneticist that is a bit off in the head.” Finn replied and swept his gaze around the garden as if he expected her to appear.

“That’s putting it mildly. She is what the stories would call a mad scientist. She abducts people for spare body parts. She creates monsters to try to kill us off.” Valor said his tone low and ominous. He motioned towards Marrow and spoke even quieter. “She created the Bendazzi, the only predators on Sanctuary that the people of Glis cannot find affinity for. She created the Serpents and most of the countries lost their naval forces not long after.”

“She is the boogie man for immortals.” Finn cut in and rolled his eyes at Valor. “Really for those kind of stories we should be sitting around a campfire. Kali is mostly reputation, people tell their children scary stories about her and the fear of her grows from that. I sincerely doubt if she is as bad as the stories make her sound.”

“Why are all of those people by the stable?” Jala asked pausing in her steps. Both Finn and Valor turned their attention to the stables at her words the matter of Kali completely forgotten. There were perhaps twenty in all and laughter rippled through the crowd. She couldn’t see what their attention was on from where they stood nor did she know anyone there.

“That’s Wesler and Tombrey closest to us, both Avanti lordlings, this is not something we want to approach.” Valor said after a moments consideration.

“I see Nigel standing on the left, I can ask him what’s going on quietly.” Finn offered motioning towards a dark haired man standing amidst three or four brightly dressed women.

“I’m telling you we don’t want to approach this, it’s bait.” Valor repeated his tone filled with warning.

“Bait?” Jala asked raising an eyebrow.

“There is gossip going around that Shade left Cassia for you, and then you refused him so he left Sanctuary completely. Cassia is in an outrage over it, she doesn’t play well with those she considers rivals.” Valor explained.

“I’m hardly a rival of hers, besides I’m married to Finn now that should prove I’m not a rival.” Jala objected shaking her head.

“Are you really expecting her to use logic?” Finn asked with a chuckle. “No sorry that’s just not Cassia’s way of doing things.” Taking her arm gently he pulled her off of the path to approach the stables from the back. “Val is right though, better to avoid this.”

“Nothing good at all when Cassia is involved she is a vindictive bitch even when there is no reason to be vindictive.” Valor agreed.

Casting another look towards the crowd Jala nodded slightly and followed Finn. More laughter rippled through the crowd but she noticed not everyone was laughing. A few looked disgusted. Fighting back her curiosity she focused her attention on the ground and made herself keep pace with Finn.

“I don’t know where he is.” A familiar voice wailed from inside the circle.

“Finn that was Madren.” Jala said freezing in place.

Nodding slightly Finn tugged on her arm again. He turned to look at her with a frown as she held her ground. “And it’s not our business, I don’t even like Madren, Jala.” He said with a hint of pleading in his voice.

“I personally despise the little worm.” Valor said calmly.

More laughter erupted from the crowd and Jala pulled her arm free of Finn. “He helped me in the Tolanteer.” She reminded him.

“And we didn’t truly need the help. Have you already forgotten his drugged candy, his midnight serenades, him watching you sleep?” Finn asked with a heavy sigh.

“No I haven’t forgotten, but regardless I will not just ignore Cassia tormenting someone who has tried to help me, even if it is Madren.” She said returning his frown.

“Please don’t do this.” Finn said quietly.

“Finn has it right here Jala, it’s not our business.” Valor said taking her other arm and attempting to help Finn move her.

“Aren’t you a knight Valor?” She asked turning her frown to him instead of Finn.

“I am, and your point is?”

“Aren’t you supposed to defend the weak?” She asked.

“Weak yes, weak obnoxious perverts no, it’s a flexible code really.” Valor replied and glanced over to Finn who was no longer attempting to prod her along. He wore a look of resignation instead.

“Fine if you two won’t do anything I will.” She said glaring at both of them. “I’m not afraid of Cassia.” She added turning to head towards the crowd.

“It’s not that we are afraid.” Valor began sounding rather indignant.

“Don’t bother, lets just get this over with.” Finn said cutting him off. She heard him fall into step behind her, through their link she could feel his irritation and her frown deepened.

As they approached the dark haired man turned to regard them and quickly stepped back from the crowd making his way to Finn. He was dressed finely in black and gold and had the look of nobility about him, though Jala didn’t know of any houses that held those colors as their own. She barely spared him a second glance as Marrow cleared her a path to the center. She tried to not smile as people scrambled out of the Bendazzi‘s way. It was rather satisfying to see their discomfort though.

“Don’t feel bad about wanting to smile, I’m having to fight down the urge to snarl just to see them run for shelter. I think it would be much simpler for both of us if I just eat Cassia.” Marrow said his amusement clear in his tone.

“Just tell me where he is Madren, stop lying I know you know where he went.” Cassia’s voice cut through the crowds murmur like a whip.

“I don’t though.” Madren said in a whimper.

Stepping around the last few people Jala saw Madren hanging limp between two men she didn’t know. They held him firmly by the arms preventing him from fleeing. Madren’s face was a ruin, his eyes blackened and lips broken and bleeding. From the looks of him they had been at this sport for a while. A third man stood by Cassia with a smile stretched across his handsome face. He had the same delicate bone structure as Cassia and hair that was a deep gold. The sleeves to his red shirt were rolled up to the elbows and the skin on his knuckles was torn.

“You must truly be a masochist.” The man drawled pulling his arm back for another swing at the helpless Madren.

“I thought brawling in Sanctuary held penalty of death.” Jala called loudly before the man could strike again.

All attention turned to regard her most of the gazes were cold but a few held curiosity.

“Is this the peasant whore who has been causing you such trouble sister?” The man asked looking her over as if she were a horse up for sale. He stepped towards her and smiled coldly. “Not a bad package.” He said in low tones.

“Release Madren this is ridiculous, its like beating a child Cassia.” Jala said ignoring the man.

“Shall we question you instead peasant girl? I have to say that would be infinitely more entertaining for me.” Cassia purred. As usual she was dressed impeccably and her every move drew attention to her beauty.

“Num, num, dead bitch, full Bendazzi, there is no down side here.” Marrow said as he moved forward to stand between her and Cassia’s far too attentive brother.

“I think you will find me much harder to subdue than Madren, he doesn’t fight back.” Jala warned. She felt Marrow tense beside her and knew if this went violent someone would die, the Bendazzi would see to that.

“Oh and she is feisty too.” The blond man said with a grin and started to move towards her again, though he was keeping a respectful eye on Marrow as he did so.

“One more step Nate and I’ll send you back to daddy in pieces.” Finn’s voice came from behind her and he quickly stepped up beside Marrow who was now crouching waiting the moment to pounce.

“And I’ll cover up the mess nicely so the Justicars never hear of it.” Valor said cheerfully stepping up to stand on her other side. Jala contained her sigh of relief and smiled pleasantly at Cassia. “Please release Madren, he doesn’t know what you want him to tell you.” She tried again keeping her voice calm.

“Finn dear I really don’t think you want to be involved in this. Try to retain some of your reputation please. When I offered you money to befriend the little whore I really didn’t think you would take it this far, I just wanted her away from Shade.” Cassia said her voice dripping with contempt. A few whispers and muffled laughter filtered through the crowd and Cassia smiled with satisfaction.

“My wife is not a whore and I take great offense in you calling her that.” He paused as a louder ripple of chatter ran through the crowd at his words. “If you really want to talk about whores though, we can Cassia.” He said once the noise died down again.

Cassia smiled at him and shook a delicate finger at him as if scolding a child. “Be careful Finn.” She warned and then broke into merry laughter. “Oh I’m sorry I just can’t believe you married the peasant, how quaint, an exile and a peasant. Your children will be true gutter rats.” She said her voice still choked with giggles.

“Better a peasant than a High born slut.” Valor said bringing the laughter to an abrupt end and silence to the crowd.

“This has absolutely nothing to do with you Valor.” Cassia snarled coldly.

“No it doesn’t Val, I’ll have to agree with her there. This has to do with Cassia and her unhealthy obsession with my wife.” Finn said with a sigh. Turning his attention to Valor he smiled wistfully. “In for a copper in for a gold eh.” He said and drew a cigarette from the pocket of his coat.

“Oh shit.” Valor mumbled as Finn lit the cigarette and turned back to Cassia.

“What?” Jala asked watching Finn and glancing at Valor.

“Does she still take new customers even though you married her Finn? She really isn’t a bad looking piece of ass and if she is a peasant whore its bound to be worth the money.” Nate cut in with a smirk. More laughter ran through the crowds.

Finn gave a dramatic sigh and nodded watching Nate. “My wife isn’t a whore, and if you are looking for the bargain discount I’d suggest your sister. She hasn’t quite figured out she can charge for it yet so you might want to take advantage of that.” Tapping his finger lightly on his chin he glanced at Cassia and then back to Nate. “Although….I feel obliged to warn you that after I slept with her it took three weeks and two visits to the priest before it stopped burning when I pissed.”

“You lying bastard, the only reason I slept with you was because I was drunk. If you hadn’t gotten me drunk first I never would have slummed it with the likes of you.” Cassia snarled moving quickly to stand by her brother.

“Oh bloody bloody hell.” Valor mumbled again.

“Oh Fortune what is he doing?” Jala whispered her jaw dropped slightly.

“Really? It was the stable boy that told me you were easy, well and the kitchen boy and two guards but it was the stable boy first.” Finn said a note of disbelief in his voice. “I really never considered myself lower than a stable boy but oh well.” He added with a shrug and took a long drag from his cigarette.

“You are lying!” Cassia screeched. The crowd had fallen silent around them intent on the newest gossip.

Chuckling Finn shook his head at Cassia. “No I’m not, and everyone here knows how brutally honest I am. Sorry Cassia but when it comes to honesty my reputation is secure.” He said with another shrug.

“The stable boy?” Nate said in disbelief looking back at his sister. “Which one, the twelve year old or the older one with the limp?” He asked his expression filled with disgust.

“Limpy, the twelve year old is scared of her.” Finn said supplying the answer with a charming smile.

“Is the fact that you were drunk the reason you called me daddy Cassia? That could explain why he was so irate when he walked in on us, I mean if he was expecting a good ride and I had his pony he would have of course been pissed. I’ve always wondered about that. And truly I feel inclined to point out that it was you that brought the bottle of wine to the training yards and I was the virgin in that particular arrangement.” Finn said his voice trailing off in thought, looking back up at her he smiled ruefully. “You know given my first experience it’s a wonder I didn’t become celibate after that.”

“What?” Nate demanded his voice cracking as he stared at his sister.

“He is lying!” She wailed and spun on Finn. “You will pay for this Finn!” She screamed tears beginning to fill her blue eyes.

“Shouldn’t start things if you can’t win them Cassia.” Finn said mildly. He raised an eyebrow at her and smiled. “Drop a coin on me Cass, I’ll be happy to kill another Rivasan for you.” He urged his, smile taking on a wicked edge.

Barely containing herself she threw a black coin to land at his feet. “Pick it up Finn.” She dared him her expression caught between horror and satisfaction.

Calmly Finn bent and picked up the coin tossing it in the air and catching it and looked at Cassia with a smile. “A few more marks than the typical Rivasan on this coin, might actually be worth going to the arena for. Two days from now in the evening, I’m busy until then. I’ll be happy to kill your champion then though. Drop Madren for now, you beating morons offends Jala.” He motioned idly towards the limp form and Cassia turned to look with a bit of shock on her face. It was apparent she had forgotten all about her former entertainment.

“Let him go.” She snapped to the two men holding Madren up. Wordlessly the dropped him and he fell limply to the ground. Spinning on her heels she pushed her way through the circle and stormed off towards the school her brother close behind her and apparently full of questions she didn’t want to answer.

Finn glanced at Jala and then Valor and watched the crowd disperse. His gaze fell on Nigel who was lingering with a doubtful look on his handsome face. Silently Finn moved off to stand by Nigel and they began to talk too quiet for Jala to overhear.

“What was that?” Jala asked Valor quietly.

“That was him provoking a duel, though I don’t know why.” Valor replied with a shrug. “You always have to worry when he lights a cigarette, he only smokes when he thinks he is about to fight. It’s some Firym custom or something.” Shaking his head he shrugged. “I think they actually take a breath of flames, not sure. I’m not exactly up to date on Firym customs.” He frowned and looked down at Madren. “I think he is going to need healing.” He said after a moments examination.

Moving closer Jala knelt down beside the fallen man and surveyed his wounds. Resting a hand gently on his chest she summoned a healing spell and watched Madren’s wounds begin to recede.

His eyes flickered open and after a moment focused on her. “Thank you.” He mumbled.

“Why didn’t you leave with Shade?” She asked quietly.

“I couldn’t, I haven’t learned what I need to know yet.” He mumbled and tried to sit up.

“What is so important for you to learn that its worth this Madren.” Jala asked leaning back on her heels to watch him. She didn’t think he was fully healed yet but he seemed to be well enough to sit up.

“How to lift the curse on my land.” He whispered.

“Goswin?” Jala asked and then remembered he had known his way to the Tolanteer because he was from Goswin. “I’ll help you with that Madren, I need the curse gone there too.” She offered trying to reassure him.

With a gasp Madren wrapped his arms around her and buried his face in her chest. “Oh Jala I knew you cared.” He said his voice heavily muffled by the fact that he was burrowing his face between her breasts. Frantically she pushed him back trying to dislodge him and glanced up quickly at a snarl behind her. Marrow stood near by glowering and Finn was quickly approaching with an expression of fury. She wasn’t exactly sure which of them the snarl had come from.

“Valor stop him while I get Madren off of me.” She pleaded motioning at Finn.

“Mmm no.” Valor replied with a smile and stepped back to allow Finn to storm past and wrench Madren to his feet.

“That is my wife you little bastard and you will not touch her, if it were up to me Cassia’s thugs would still be beating you to a bloody pulp.” He shook Madren roughly as he spoke and then held him up to force him to meet his eyes. Madren let out a whimper and Jala stood slowly her eyes locked on Finn silently warning him that she was not happy. “I’m going to let you go now and you are going to quickly get out of my sight, if I blink and you are still here I’m going to make Cassia’s attentions seem pleasant. Are we clear?”

“Clear, very clear.” Madren squeaked and Finn dropped him with a look of disgust. His feet had no sooner touched the ground then he was running.

“So horribly pathetic, do you think he was always that weak?” Valor asked his voice thick with disgust.

“From what I hear it’s the only reason he survived the fall of Goswin.” Finn replied and glanced at Jala.

She bent slowly and brushed the grass from the front of her gown. “He doesn’t mean anything by it Finn, he is like a child with no manners. There was no need to threaten him like that, he is terrified of you.”

“He should be terrified. I’d be happy to teach him some manners more effectively than Shade did.” Finn grumbled.

Meeting his eyes she raised an eyebrow. “Speaking of manners….Care to explain why you forced a duel out of Cassia?” She asked with no trace of anger just simple curiosity. Saving Madren was one thing, getting in a fight with Finn over him was quite another. She would defend him if needed, but she wouldn’t push the topic where Finn was concerned. It was far better to simply turn the topic.

“My wife didn’t leave me much choice in that. Had she listened and simply walked on by, it wouldn’t have been necessary, but no she had to help the pervert.” Finn replied with a smirk.

“How does me helping Madren mean you have to duel?” She asked incredulous.

“Because my reputation was close to ruined before you interfered if I would have simply sat back and done nothing it would have been gone completely. The only choice I had was to humiliate her and then win the duel that resulted. No one is going to hire a duelist that wont even defend his own wife.” Finn explained patiently.

“What?” Jala asked her expression dumbfounded.

“I depend on the people in that crowd for work, those are the sort of people that hire duelists. Jala do you expect to rebuild with no money? If I have no reputation than I’m not working, if I’m not working we are poor.” Finn clarified.

“I thought we would just use magic to do it.” She admitted meekly.

“Magic can be dispelled Jala it has to be done with coins and true labor.” Finn explained and gave her another smile. Glancing over his shoulder he watched Nigel approach and nodded to the man with respect.

Nigel stopped a few feet away from them and looked her over from head to toe and then nodded slowly at Finn. “I agree to your terms, I will spread the word for you. I look forward to this fight it should prove very interesting.” He said and bowed his head slightly to Jala and then Valor. “Good day Milady… Valor.” His voice held a thick accent that she didn’t recognize and she remained silent watching him leave and then looked back to Finn.

“What was that?” She asked motioning towards Nigel.

“What?” Finn asked innocently and turned to look in the direction she pointed. “Ahh that was Nigel, he is a decent friend of mine. A merchant here in Sanctuary actually, very wealthy.” He explained.

“I think she meant, what did he mean by I accept your terms?” Valor corrected with a smirk.

“Oh that, just a little matter of a bet we made. He seems to think I’ll lose the duel.” Finn said with a shrug as if in dismissal.

Valor raised and eyebrow and exchanged glances with Jala. “Why would he think that Finn, Nigel usually bets on you and you are considered the best sword in the city.” Valor prompted.

Rubbing his jaw Finn pursed his lips and let out a breath. “Remember when Nigel stopped me at the edge of the crowd?” He asked. They both nodded and Finn nodded once. “Well he was wanting to warn me to stay out of it, apparently Cassia spent a good deal of money to hire a new duelist.” He explained.

“Who did she hire?” Valor asked cautiously.

“Kithkanon.” Finn replied with a smile.

“What?” Valor demanded his voice raising to a near yell. He stared at Finn in horror and began shaking his head slightly. “Why would you do that? Why would you provoke that fight? Have you gone fucking insane Finn?”

“Who is Kithkanon?” Jala asked cutting into Valor’s tirade.

“Just like that Val, I want you to throw a fit just like that later tonight at the bar. Let everyone believe you think I’m going to lose.” Finn said happily pointing a finger at Valor who’s face was rapidly draining of color.

“I do think you are going to lose Finn, Kithkanon is a seven hundred year old mercenary, they don’t live that long because they can’t use a sword.” Valor cried and threw his hands up still shaking his head.

“You are going to fight a seven hundred year old mercenary?” Jala gasped staring at Finn in disbelief.

Finn glanced between the two of them and flashed a charming smile. “And we are going to bet my life savings on the fight.” He said.

“What?” Jala and Valor spoke at the same time both freezing to stare at Finn in disbelief.

“I will win, I always win. You both know that. We are going to spend the next two days making everyone believe I’m going to lose though and then we are going to bet everything on the fight.” He explained. He watched them both smiling happily until the silence stretched uncomfortably. The smile slowly faded and he frowned slightly. “It will work.” He assured them.

“Do you know why we are going to see my brother Finn?” Valor asked finally in a voice filled with resignation.

“Not a clue Val you said it was a surprise.” Finn replied unbothered by the change of topic.

“I reached majority last year but I never collected the funds. I’m about to ask my brother for what I’m due in the form of lumber, food and supplies to repair Merro.” Valor explained with a sigh.

“Well, I hope we have both learned a valuable lesson about surprises. Had I known that I probably wouldn’t have chose the path I did. Too late for regrets though.” Finn said dryly.

“I’m regretting this entire day, it’s not too late.” Jala said weakly her gaze fixed on Finn. If she had listened to him and not interfered he wouldn’t be in the position he now was. If he died during the duel there would be no one to blame but herself. She watched him and felt a lump of dread settle into her stomach.

Valor stared up at the passing clouds for a moment and then gave a long weary sigh. Reaching across to Finn he plucked the flask from his pocket and took a healthy swallow. Returning his gaze at last at Finn he raised a slender silver eyebrow. “So she called you daddy?” He asked sounding faintly amused.

Finn shook his head slowly and reclaimed his flask. “No I lied about everything but her sleeping with me and her father catching us. That’s the benefit to having a reputation for telling the truth…when you do lie, everyone believes you.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright © 2011, 2012 Melissa Myers
All rights reserved, photos are the property of Melissa Myers