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CHAPTER TWENTY NINE

RAKYN



Shevyn awoke, not gently climbing her way from sleep, but all at once in a heart-pounding rush, as if torn from slumber by a nightmare only to discover the real horror upon waking. She blinked in the dimly lit room and tried to move. Pain shot through her body from a variety of places and she remembered that Reed had tied her securely. Her hands were completely numb and the slight movement she had made felt like a heated blade traveling up her arms and into her shoulders. She froze and the pain retreated back into numbness. A figure lay next to her on the bed. Reed. She shuddered and then cringed when the slight movement awakened him.

He raised his head and sleepily smiled at her. Another woman might have found him handsome, but Shevyn would sooner lie with a nest of vipers.

“Good morning, my dear,” he said pleasantly. “Did you sleep well? It’s a pity my duties kept me so late. I can hardly wait to introduce you to our marital pleasures. There is not much sense in waiting until the actual wedding, now is there?” His hand reached out to caress her stomach. “If you birthed a child a few weeks early, no one would be the wiser. It happens.” The motion of his hand grew more ardent, moving upward to cup one of her breasts. Shevyn wanted to vomit, but she forced herself to remain still, made easier every movement she made caused shooting pains in her arms and legs.

Reed pulled back, disappointment evident on his features.

“What, is your spirit broken already? I had expected more from you.” Her eyes narrowed in disgust. The bastard obviously wanted her to fight him every step of the way, therefore it would behoove her to lie still and placid. Too bad she could barely tolerate the touch of his hands. She felt his fingers upon her bare ankle, slowly moving up to her knee. This time she did pull away, unable to stop herself. A new cramp bloomed near her hip. She twisted and opened her mouth to scream, but no sound emerged.

Through half-lidded eyes, she watched Reed stare at her, perplexed. He checked her bonds; she was quite sure her hands were blue.

“If your bonds hurt why do you say nothing?” Reed snarled. He pulled a slender dagger from a sheath that sat on the bedside table. He fingered it thoughtfully for a moment, gazing at her.

“I should make you beg me to free you,” he continued and then sneered. “But likely you would rather suffer nobly and will yourself into death. Well, you shall not escape me that easily, Princess. I have plans for you.”

He walked around the bed and severed her bonds, drawing blood on one of her wrists. She curled into a fetal position, overcome by the exquisite pain of returning circulation. For a moment, she felt she might pass out and longed for even that momentary escape from Reed.

She dimly heard him across the room as he poured water from the pitcher into a basin. A knock sounded on the outer door and he said, “That will be our morning repast.” She heard him open the intervening doors before admitting the servant, who either handed him a tray or set it on a nearby table. A moment later the doors closed again. Shevyn watched through the corner of her eye as Reed returned to the bedchamber and placed the covered silver tray upon the table.

Shevyn thought her hands and feet would feel less tormented if she had placed them in buckets full of bees. She lay as still as possible as every slight movement increased the intensity of the sensation.

Reed returned to the basin and she heard the sound of a sharp blade applied to a strop. She closed her eyes as he lathered his chin, praying heartily that he would slip while shaving and cut his own throat.

Such did not occur, however, and by the time he finished Shevyn was able to move her hands once more. The feeling of pins and needles slowly dissipated. Reed shrugged out of his shirt and chose another from the wardrobe. He had placed only one arm into the sleeve when Shevyn bolted.

She sprang from the bed and into the antechamber where she wrenched open the doors. As expected, no guards were in evidence. Why post guards when Reed was there to watch her? She ran for the staircase, wishing suddenly that she could scream; loud, hysterical screams that would bring the entire castle running. Not that anyone would help her, unless she could find Kerryn.

Her foot had barely touched the first step of the marble staircase when she felt Reed’s hand snag in her hair.

Panicked, she twisted away, only realizing her danger at the last instant. She felt a wrenching pain as her hair was torn out by Reed’s grip. She flailed for a moment and reached for the railing that was just out of reach as she tilted. She heard Reed swear loudly as she fell.

Sharp pain jolted her shoulder as she went end over end down the stairs. Her head cracked sharply upon one marble step and merciful blackness took her from Reed at last.

~~ O ~~

Reed stalked down the stairs, seething with rage, his eyes fixed on Shevyn’s twisted body at the base of the steps. The bitch had caused him no end of trouble. If she still lived, he was going to kill her. He grinned viciously at the thought. He would take her slender white throat in his hands and squeeze.

He reached her still form and knelt beside her. Blood soaked into the fine carpet beneath her head and he supposed she would bleed to death soon enough. He felt her neck for a pulse and sighed. Naturally, she was still alive. His hand tightened upon her throat until an ear-piercing scream caught him by surprise.

A maid was staring at them in horror, hands pressed to her cheeks. A pile of dropped bedding lay at her feet.

Reed nearly reached out and ripped the girl’s mind in half. Only the approaching sound of booted feet stayed him. He ground his teeth in annoyance, but wisdom began to calm him. He knew most of the castle staff disapproved of his rule, though they had accepted his regency docilely enough. If their precious princess should happen to die under questionable circumstances, it might easily send the quailing fools into revolt, something Reed did not need with the accursed Gauntlet Knights due back from Bodor any day.

No, he would have to pretend to be the frantic bridegroom and nurse the stupid twit back to health. In fact, her injury would give him the perfect excuse to keep her laden with pain-easing drugs, should she happen to awaken. That way, she would be a nice, docile bride for the wedding ceremony. Reed nearly laughed aloud. She would be so disappointed to know that she had played right into Reed’s hands.

“Fetch help!” he barked at the girl. “The princess has fallen! Get a Healer!”

To the men approaching, he ordered, “Take her to her bedchamber. Hurry!”

They rushed to do his bidding and Reed held Shevyn’s hand and crooned to her until she lay safely in her own bed. Reed stood aside and let them tend her, wringing his hands in apparent worry. One of his men approached.

“My lord, I found this upon the stairs,” he said in a low voice.

Reed took the parchment and read Shevyn’s note pleading for help. He crushed it in his fist and carried it to the fireplace to kindle a fire. His man watched in amusement. When the fire burned brightly, Reed turned to the black-clad man.

“Thank you, Rolf. You have been helpful. You will find a substantial bonus in your next pay.”

“Thank you, sir,” Rolf said and departed.

Reed smiled as he watched the note turn to ash and then he turned his attention to the girl on the bed and the frantic people tending to her. He had to admire her cleverness. She would make a fine queen, short though her reign would be.

~~ O ~~

The first thing that convinced him he was alive was the pain. Waves of it pounded into him and cascaded through every part of his being. His entire body screamed with it. The second thing that convinced him was the face he saw looming over him as soon as he opened his eyes.

“I wondered if you would to decide to live,” a voice said. Brydon struggled to focus both his sight and his mind. His vision was blurred, unwilling to focus, and his mind was preoccupied with pain. When he finally succeeded in clearing his vision, he saw a strikingly handsome man with brown eyes and neatly trimmed dark brown hair.

“You are alive, are you not?” the man asked. Brydon glanced around, very slowly, to take in his surroundings. The slight movement induced a new throbbing to his head.

“It... seems that way. Where am I?” Speaking was an effort. They were inside of what looked to be a cave, but Brydon lay upon a soft bed. Oil burning lamps adorned nearby tables carved in ornate designs.

“You are under the mountain, not far from where you fell,” the man said. “You are lucky this cave is here. I am not sure you would have survived being carried much farther.” He stood up and walked to a crystal wine decanter on the nearest table. He was dressed in a cream-colored shirt and breeches with a sash and cloak of cerulean blue. The cloak was clasped with a golden chain and a large onyx brooch in the shape of a panther’s head. He poured a goblet of wine and brought it to Brydon.

“Drink slowly,” he ordered. “You were sorely injured and need food to regain your strength.” Brydon drank, grateful that the pillows kept him slightly elevated. Only a trickle or two spilled down his chin and he returned the goblet. It was then that he noticed the bandage wrapped tightly around his ribs and left shoulder. His head was also bandaged, as well as his right leg. His whole body throbbed with pain and his vision swam in and out of focus.

“What happened to me?” he asked.

“You fell from the cliff,” the man said.

“After that,” Brydon said, frowning at the fuzzy memory of his fight with Reed.

“You must have tried to stop your fall. Your left arm was completely out of its joint. Some of your ribs are broken and your torso is lacerated by a very deep wound. Your leg was impaled by a branch and torn quite badly. Your head was bleeding, so I assume you knocked it on something. Aside from your other cuts and bruises, that is all. We brought you here and, luckily, Nykar is a skilled field surgeon. He put your arm back into the shoulder and tended you.”

“Nykar!” Brydon exclaimed fuzzily. “Then...”

“Yes. I am Rakyn, Prince of Darkynhold and the Black City. Sleep now. I will bring food when you awaken.”

Brydon felt himself unable to protest and sank back into oblivion.

Later he felt the touch of cool hands on his temple and words murmured like rote. Then the hands and the voice withdrew. He was alone. He slept.

When he awakened fully the next time, both Rakyn and Nykar were present. They allowed him no questions, but fed him thick broth rich with meat and greens. Brydon could eat but little, though it was delicious.

“You lost a lot of blood,” Nykar informed him. “The branch tore a major artery in your leg. You need to eat to build your blood strength.”

“You are quite pale,” the prince added. Brydon ate as much as he could stomach and set it aside.

“How long have I been here?” Nykar looked at the Prince before replying. “Thirteen days.”

Brydon sat up in alarm, only to fall back as blackness assailed him. He fought to stay conscious and succeeded, drenched with sweat and shaking from the effort.

“Thirteen days? What about Shevyn? Toryn? Where is Toryn? And Alyn and the G—”

Rakyn held up a staying hand. “Shevyn was taken by Reed, most likely to Ven-Kerrick. Parmittans, with the Gauntlet, took your Redolian friend. The Akarskan girl is in the palace of my brother, Keev,” he said softly.

“You know about the Gauntlet?”

Rakyn nodded.

“Why didn’t you stop them?” Brydon cried. His head throbbed. Rakyn shrugged.

“I was not here. Nykar witnessed your battle with the Parmittans. If he had made his presence known, he would have been killed or captured, as well. He waited until all had departed and then searched for you. He brought you here, tended your wounds, and made haste to find me. Since then we have improved your accommodations in hope that you would survive. I have sent my men to discover the fate of your friends. I would rather have the Gauntlet in Parmitta than in the hands of my brothers.”

“The Gauntlet is safe from your brothers, but what of Alyn, the Akarskan girl?”

Rakyn smiled wryly. “Do not fear for her. People here have a superstitious awe of Akarskans and Keev is no different. She will most likely be safe and well.”

“Most likely,” Brydon snarled, far from comforted.

“You wish to save them all single-handedly? You cannot even stand. Go, if you must. If not, you may stay here and learn.” Brydon was not sure if he liked the quiet, sober prince. He scowled.

“Learn what?” he asked.

“Learn how to control that talented mind of yours,” Rakyn stated.

Brydon stared. “What do you mean?” he asked cautiously. Rakyn sighed.

This is what I mean, the prince said in his mind. Brydon looked at him in amazement.

“You are Vai,” he said.

Rakyn shook his head. “Half Vai. There are few of us, but we do exist. Your gift needs to be trained, and soon. When you were in the Black City, I could hear you screaming for your friend Toryn. Everyone within a league and a half could pinpoint your exact location without half trying, if they had the ability.”

“What do you know of these powers? Who are the Vai?” Brydon asked eagerly. Rakyn shrugged.

“The Vai are a mysterious race. There were more of them at one time, but they were all but exterminated in superstitious battles of the past. The Vai disappeared from history for a long while, but I suspect it was more a matter of them hiding their talent, or ignoring it, in order to avoid persecution. At any rate, yours must be tempered if you are going to meet with Reed again. He is a master.” Rakyn’s words were as bland as a bad storyteller’s and Brydon, even in his weakness, sensed the prince had given him a watered-down version of the truth, if not an outright lie.

“Why do you want to help me?” Brydon asked.

“I have a use for you, of course. Like all Silveran princes, I do nothing without a motive. I do not want Reed to have a hand in what is to come. He is clumsy and greedy and it is not in my best interest for him to succeed,” Rakyn explained. His words confused Brydon even more.

“’In what is to come’?”

Rakyn nodded. “You shall be the one to deal with that, also. But first, Reed,” he said. “If you fail with Reed, then the other will not matter, for you would also have failed with that.”

“Can you see the future?” Brydon asked, suspecting he would get no straight answers from the prince. Rakyn smiled for the first time.

“No. But I make it my business to know everything that goes on, not only in Darkynhold and Silver, but everywhere. I have contacts that can sometimes see possible futures. I like to cover all potential outcomes.”

“You can teach me how to use this gift until I’m strong enough to leave?” Brydon asked.

“I can teach you until you are strong enough to want to learn more. We begin tomorrow. Sleep now.” Once again, Brydon felt his strength slip away and slumber claimed him.

He dreamed of Shevyn and Reed, and of Toryn in the hands of the Parmittan warriors and wondered desperately what he should do.

CHAPTER THIRTY

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