Ravens hand, p.15
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       Raven's Hand, p.15

           James Somers
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  Evelyn’s face grew a little harder at that point. “Then allow me to enlighten you,” she said.

  Radden swallowed against the gathering lump in his throat in expectation.

  “Your son, while displaying great courage against the Cindermen, also overstepped his bounds by attempting to run away with my son’s Bright Lady and bond,” Evelyn explained. “Before you attempt to persuade me that this was simply his way of taking the young woman out of harm’s way, I will inform you of the fact that my bodyguard, Kane, witnessed your son kissing Raven just prior to my guards seizing him on charges of sedition against House Rainier.”

  Radden stammered. If what Evelyn was telling him was true, there might be no saving his son from the block. How had this happened? Surely, Killian would not have dared to do such a thing. Still, he could not accuse the queen of lying about the matter, either. To do so would see his entire family, possibly even his extended family, beheaded along with Killian.

  “Majesty,” he said finally, “I know my son. There must be some logical explanation for all of this.”

  Evelyn flashed him a sly smile then. “Yes, I believe there is a very logical explanation. The boy became fascinated with a very beautiful young woman that he risked his life to rescue from the Cindermen. In the heat of the moment, perhaps, he lost his head and thought about what it might be like to be with such a creature. He further forgot himself and actually committed the brazen act, kissing the girl in the hope that she might fall in love with him, possibly even run away with him while they had the chance away from prying eyes.”

  Radden began to sweat as Mistress Evelyn continued. This was not going well, not at all. He had hoped to appeal to her sense of reason; to clear up a simple misunderstanding. Surely, Shalindra had not notified him of Killian’s arrest in vain. Surely, there was still some way to save his only son.

  Evelyn finally paused to allow her words and their weight to sink into Radden’s mind.

  Radden dropped his head. “My Queen, I beg your mercy for Killian. He is only a foolish boy. Is there nothing I can do to save him?”

  Evelyn stood then and turned herself to leave the dais by way of the private door behind the throne. Two royal guards waited for her there to attend to her. She paused as the door was opened by one of the soldiers, turning her head back to Radden. He had watched her go with mounting hopelessness.

  “You can pray to your dead god that my son’s bonding with the young Daughter of Eliam goes exactly as planned,” she said. “Only when my son is bonded and ready to assume the throne of his father will I find myself in a merciful mood. Until that time, you may remain as my guest, or go to your home and await my decision. For your faithful service to House Rainier, over the years, I will leave the choice up to you.”

  Evelyn proceeded through the door, one of her guards following after. The other soldier remained in the throne room, shutting the door after the queen and her escort. Radden stood, turning from the throne toward the doors he had entered by. He had to find Shalindra in order to know what Eliam expected of him. Surely, his God could stop this before it was too late. But how to find the priestess? He could not leave the palace while Killian’s fate remained undecided.

  A servant stood near the doors, waiting for him. He turned to look back at the door where Evelyn had just left by. No, he decided. He could not leave his son alone here. He might never see him again, if he did that.

  Turning back to the waiting servant, he said, “Might I be allowed to wait upon the queen’s decision regarding my son here at the palace?”

  “Yes, sir,” the younger woman said. “Come with me and we’ll see that you are made comfortable, until Mistress Evelyn sends again for you.”

  “Thank you,” Radden said with a slight bow of his head.

  The servant allowed him through the double doors and then closed them behind. She proceeded to lead him from the chamber vestibule toward another wing of the palace. Radden didn’t know what to expect, but he began his vigil of prayer silently even while walking toward the place where he would wait on the fate of his son.

  Twain Becomes One

  I woke hours before, when servants came to bathe me. At first, I had supposed that my cell had been completely cleaned after the battle between myself and Evelyn and her hired assassin, Kane. However, upon closer inspection, I came to realize that this was simply another chamber like that one.

  When the queen’s servants came to me, I roused from my soft bed, immediately seeking to escape. However, Kane was there also, standing just beyond the threshold. He and the Malkind spirit inhabiting his mortal body would be more than enough to keep me prisoner here, as the queen required.

  Though the servants whispered as much, when they were with me in my room, I already knew what was coming next. The purpose for my being here at all—the bonding—must have been completed as soon as possible. This is the reason that they had come to prepare me. This was the reason why Mistress Evelyn kept me alive now.

  When the servants came to dress me in the shimmering gown that would serve for the coming ceremony, Kane was there again. He waited beyond the door while I was made ready. I considered my options. How could I escape? How could I find my love within this palace and make him safe from Evelyn’s threats?

  “I’ve come to escort you to the temple,” he said. “We don’t want any performances like we had earlier, now do we?”

  I opened my mouth to protest.

  “After all,” he interrupted, “Killian is depending upon your cooperation in order to keep his head.”

  I closed my mouth again. The plans for escape formulating in my head evaporated on the instant. I stammered a moment before answering.

  “If anything happens to him—” I began.

  “Then it will be lethal and entirely your fault Bright Lady,” he interrupted. “Now, you will accompany me without incident to the temple. You will give your blood according to the ritual and become the bond slave of Prince Nathan.” He smiled brightly then. “All this you will do without reservation because you desire to keep that young man alive.”

  “Is that a guarantee that Killian will not be harmed, if I cooperate?”

  “It is my understanding that the queen intends him no harm, as long as the bonding is completed as planned,” he explained. “And that is entirely up to you.”

  I attempted to relax, allowing all of the pent up tension in my limbs to flow away. The mounting energy subsided within me. I was in control. There would be no outburst; not as long as Killian was safeguarded by my obedience to Evelyn’s demands.

  I loved him. I had loved Killian before I knew he was a real man, before I even knew his true name. He had always been more than a mere dream.

  He had only come into danger because of me, but now I could save his life. All I had to do was make myself willing to give him up and become the bond slave to the new king of the realm. My desires had to be sacrificed so that Killian could live.

  He would go on without me. My dreams of a life with him would be forfeit. As brief as it had been, we would never touch each other again. My hand would never again be held in his. Our lips had come together once, but nevermore.

  No doubt, he would one day forget all about me. He would move on with his life outside the walls of this palace. Another woman would capture his heart. He would love her and she would bare him children. It would be as it must be, but always he would be mine within my heart.

  Tears ran hot down my cheeks. I could not stop them and had no desire to. Kane grinned at this.

  “I will do as Mistress Evelyn commands,” I said.

  When we arrived at the temple, I was somewhat surprised to find how simple the chamber was. There was no costly array, only alabaster blocks creating a circular room no more than fifty feet across. It seemed to me that this room was completely out of place within the palace.

  At the center of this chamber a pedestal sat. However, upon closer inspection, I found that it was actually a laver of some sort. What appeared to
be glass reflected the lamp light cast from sconces that encircled us. Only when its surface shimmered did I realize the glass was actually an almost perfectly still pool of water.

  Evelyn and Prince Nathan awaited us inside. They stood beside the pedestal and its pool of dark water. Nathan was dressed in a robe of white linen with white breeches. He was a handsome young man, but I had no desire to look at him. Next to him, his mother waited with her silver Malkind wand in her right hand. Nathan held a bejeweled, golden goblet.

  Kane paused at the entrance to the temple, gesturing for me to approach the queen and the prince. I had the feeling that perhaps Kane was not welcome at this ceremony. Possibly, it was because he was not of royal blood. Surely, it could have nothing to do with the fact that he was possessed by a Malkind spirit. After all, this was a place where the Malkind were worshipped.

  “Come here, child,” Evelyn said to me.

  I approached as I was bidden. I was doing my very best to obey, knowing that Killian’s life depended upon how I behaved at this crucial time. Should Evelyn and her son be disappointed, my love would surely die by her command. With Kane nearby, I would be powerless to stop that from happening.

  I joined them at the pedestal, not knowing exactly what was meant happen now. The procedure for bonding had never actually been explained to us growing up at the abbey. We had been taught a somewhat romanticized version, but by the time girls reached the age nearing maturity, none of us believed it anymore. A slave was a slave, after all.

  “Your right arm,” she said to me.

  As I proffered my bare arm toward the pool, Prince Nathan dipped the bejeweled goblet into the water. He brought the cup out and set it beneath my arm on the lip of the pedestal. After hearing Kane’s admonition, I had already guessed what would now be added to that water.

  Evelyn lifted her wand, placing the tip of it on my wrist. This was almost certainly going to be painful. I noticed that Nathan was not offering his flesh in this ceremony, but then it was my power which he intended to take in, not vice versa.

  Instead, the prince removed a sword from a polished scabbard at his side. The blade was beautiful and even appeared to be slightly luminescent in the half light of this bare chamber. I recognized the weapon as being the same used by Killian to stop Kane’s attack in the alley. It had even rebounded the Malkind’s energies back at the assassin, knocking him from his horse. Like me, the blessed blade would constitute a binding between the Malkind worshippers and Eliam’s creation.

  I could not say that I understood why Eliam allowed the Malkind and their followers such liberty and power in this world. After all, he is the creator of all things. Why did he not simply destroy them all and allow his children to reign here instead?

  Evelyn began speaking in a tongue I was not familiar with. Nathan placed the sword into the pool. It stood out of the water with the pommel straight up.

  The queen closed her eyes, and the runes of her wand began to glow with power. She dragged the tip of her silver wand across my wrist, opening an incision there. The pain was blinding. This was not merely a bloodletting. It felt like something sucking the life from my very soul.

  Evelyn gripped my arm tighter as I feebly attempted to pull away. My blood flowed into the chalice, turning the water within a murky red. Evelyn pulled my arm further out over the pool itself. Nathan took the cup into his hands, as my blood continued to flow out of the wound Evelyn had made into the water of the pool. It swirled around the blade like a living thing.

  The sword glowed brighter now. It began to lift out of the pool, floating into the air, blade down toward the center of the pedestal, water cascading in rivulets down the steel. Somehow, my blood was a part of this, possibly even causing this to happen.

  Nathan smiled broadly at the result of the ritual while his mother continued her liturgy. My blood continued to flow. I felt faint and weak in my legs. The strength of Evelyn’s arm may have been the only thing holding me up now.

  Evelyn suddenly opened her eyes, looking at her son. “Drink her power into your body, my son!”

  The prince obeyed, eagerly tipping the chalice containing the sacred water and my blood to his lips. He gulped down the contents greedily, like some thirsting traveler crawling out of the Northern Desert. I saw Killian in my mind’s eye. He was beaten and bruised, lying upon the floor of a dungeon cell deep beneath us in the depths of the royal palace.

  I suspect that what happened next was completely unexpected by everyone in the room. The results of this ritual were not a triumph. It could not possibly have been called a success.

  The brilliantly luminescent sword came stabbing down through the water of the pool into the foundation stone of the pedestal itself. Nathan staggered backward, dropping the bejeweled chalice upon the flagstones. He was choking, clawing at his own throat, gasping in agony.

  Energy was thrown outward from the sword, shattering the pedestal. Evelyn barely managed to throw a shield up with her wand before pieces of rock hurled through the air at us. The shield forced the power of the explosion away from us just in time. Red hot fragments beat against the opposite wall, and a wave of hot wind blasted around the circular chamber, buffeting us like a whirlwind.

  Nathan was foaming at the mouth, lying on his back upon the floor. Evelyn lunged for her son with her wand, waving it over him. I sank down beside them, my strength spent. My wrist was still bleeding. I concentrated what little strength I had on stopping the flow from my arm.

  I barely managed to muster enough power to close the wound. Still, a purple bruise spread beneath the skin. The pain had diminished to nearly nothing by now.

  Kane swept into the chamber amid the smoke and debris. Many of the wall sconces had been extinguished by the blast of wind from the explosion. He stood over Evelyn and Nathan, but did not interfere.

  The queen barely took notice. She worked feverishly with her wand, attempting to draw out the poison from his body. That was what this looked like. He looked like someone who had ingested something deadly.

  Gradually, Nathan’s spasms began to subside. His labored breathing evened out. Evelyn lowered her wand and its luminescent runes diminished in brightness.

  Evelyn looked sternly at me and then up at Kane still standing over us all. The blessed sword had shattered the pedestal and its pool of water and now stood upright, buried halfway into the foundation stone. Nathan appeared to be unconscious, but he seemed better now.

  “What happened?” Evelyn asked her assassin. “Why did the ritual fail, and what has happened to my son?”

  Kane looked down at the sleeping prince and then to Evelyn and finally to me. “I suspect, Mistress, the girl cannot bond with Prince Nathan at the moment.”

  Evelyn looked at me and then at the assassin. “Why not?”

  Kane grinned in my direction. “Obviously, the girl is already bonded to someone else.”

  Fatal Truths

  My mind reeled at Kane’s statement. Already bonded to someone? I had only ever been at the abbey. I had not been bonded to anyone at any time. Dazed, I remained on the ground wondering at this possibility—only it couldn’t be a possibility! Could it?

  “What are you talking about?” Evelyn asked, standing abruptly to face her servant.

  She only stood to the height of Kane’s throat, but she did not show any hesitation. Somehow, Evelyn was not intimidated by the assassin. No doubt, he could have killed her on the spot. We all realized this, but Evelyn didn’t care.

  She was King Stephen’s wife, a queen, and she would not cower. Despite my feelings of contempt for the woman, I could not help but be impressed by her demeanor. She commanded respect by title and privilege and attitude alone.

  I had no such courage as this. I had no title or position of power. I was a Daughter of Eliam with great control over the energies present in the creation. Still, quite honestly, Kane scared me to death.

  “Mistress,” he said deferentially, “I have seen this before. Her blood is compromised.”

; “But how is that possible?” she said to him, turning to look at me disapprovingly. “Are you saying she performed the ritual with another?”

  “No, Mistress,” he said. “I believe, in this case, it may be as simple as a kiss.”

  “A kiss?” she said. “You mean the boy?”

  The assassin nodded once.

  “A bond made by her love for him and a physical connection,” he said. “The blessed blade appears to also be connected to him. He used it to stop my advance in the alley, when I came upon them together.”

  Evelyn stammered for a moment. “But how?” she said. “I don’t understand.”

  “Perhaps, Mistress,” Kane replied, “it is more important to believe that it has happened and come to terms with what must be done to undo it.”

  Evelyn turned back to him. “It can be undone?”

  Kane grinned in his devilish way again. “A bond can only be broken by death.”

  The realization of that statement suddenly hit me like a tidal wave. Could it really be true that Killian and I were bonded, as Kane had said? Immediately, I felt that I knew the answer to that question.

  I loved him and would die for him. I could feel him even now somewhere in the dungeon below, feel his pain and sorrow. We were one, despite the fact that I had no idea how a kiss could do such a thing. And, because that bond stood in her way, Evelyn would surely kill him in order to break it.

  “No!” I screamed, attempting to come to my feet.

  Evelyn’s hand came down hard, striking me across the face. “Silence!” she bellowed, her voice echoing off of the stone walls of the Malkind temple chamber.

  “Hold her here,” she said to Kane. She raised her wand. “I’ll deal with Radden’s son myself.”

  She started out of the chamber, her hair and her dress in a disheveled state. Kane remained behind, standing over me as I wiped blood from my mouth where Evelyn had struck me. The assassin smiled down at me.

  “No, please!” I pleaded, as she walked over the threshold of the room. “You promised he would come to no harm, if I cooperated.”

  Evelyn turned then, her wand held so that she could strike out at me if she desired. Yet, the runes remained dark.

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