Saturday, November 21, 2009

Veriel's Tales: Losing Regana by Brenna Lyons

Early Winter, 1107


Jörg stood in the midst of the Christian hell. He’d thought nothing could touch his cold heart save Regana’s soul reborn, but this chilled even that organ.

The small village had been attacked like the others had, savaged nearly beyond recognition, the structures burning...and the crops, the populace decimated. The dead included not only able men and boys, but also women, the elderly, and babes. No one had been spared...knowingly.

The boy was small, even for his age, and Jörg guessed him to be about eight. He was shivering in Evul’s arms, though he was wrapped in a fur and seated as close as possible to the fire. Jörg suspected he shivered more from fear than from the night air that heralded the coming winter.

“These men,” he began in a soothing voice he’d thought he’d lost a century or more before. “Did they make demands of the people of your village?”

The child’s voice was tremulous and ragged, most likely from crying, though he was certain not to admit such a thing. “No demands, master.” He’d already learned that Jörg’s men called him master; he was an intelligent boy.

“Did they ask anything?” An attack like this was meant to do something. While Jörg rarely concerned himself with human wars, this one had his attention. It defied all reason.

The hair rose at the back of his neck, a warning that Jörg was missing something basic, something dangerous.

“Nothing. They simply came into the marketplace and started cutting down anyone they saw.” He bit back a sob, and Evul held him closer to his big chest.

Jörg’s man had once had a son. Perhaps the boy would be as good for Evul as the former farmer would be for the orphaned child.

“Did they say anything?” he demanded, certain that the child had been spared to give some clue. What gave him that certainty when nothing else in life was sure, he could not say.

“They were looking for someone,” the boy offered.

That was more like it. “Who?”

“I know not. A woman, they said.”

“What description did they give? Did you hear it?” His heart sped, and again he could not state why it did.

“I was close. They gave no description.”

“Then how did they hope to find her?” he asked, exasperated.

“They said...” He paused, looking to Evul as if seeking counsel.

“Answer the master, boy,” he was instructed, though kindly so.

The child nodded. “They said this woman would find them, if they encountered her...lair.”

Jörg’s heart stuttered. “Regana,” he breathed. Surely, no woman but Regana would seek out confrontation with such men.

“Master Jörg?” Evul asked.

“We follow, Evul. As fast as we can.”

“And the child?” his man asked.

“If he slows your pace, leave him in the care of a few who will protect him well. They can travel at their own pace.” If it was Regana, he owed this child more than he could name. He considered what would likely come next. “That might be wise, Evul. And the men should dress for battle at all times.”

Jörg left the fire, waiting to dematerialize until he was well away. No one asked what he intended, though no one knew why he would follow immediately in brigands’ wake.



* * * *



Ilona stared down the length of her sword, hating the man she faced with every muscle and tendon, every bone and organ she possessed. It wasn’t enough to single out hating him with all of her heart. This went deeper, taking all of her.

Cessius had killed her family, everyone from her warm old grandmother to her sister’s youngest, a babe no more than a few weeks into this life. He’d done it while she was far afield, and it had been over before she’d had time to respond to the fires he’d set to destroy the rest. The men had been slaughtered in the outlying buildings, probably before the beast had descended upon the few women and children, though he might have taken them in unison, splitting his troops to accomplish the task.

No. That was unlikely. Cessius was a man who seemed to enjoy his slaughter a little too much for that. He would have wanted to see every life stolen personally.

His smile widened. “You cannot be serious, girl.”

She noted the rough men closing slowly in nothing more than the same cold detachment. “You need your men to fight one armed woman?” she challenged.

“I have need of no one.”

Ilona would have said the same until that day. She did need others, but now her others had been destroyed. Even the crops would be gone, if an unexpected rain showed no kindness to her.

She almost snorted in disbelief at that thought. When had anything or anyone but her family showed her kindness? Never that she could recall.

Cessius spoke again, perhaps believing that she had no intentions of speaking now that her challenge had been issued. “You and I, then,” he decided.

She nodded slowly, retaining her calm.

He drew his sword, gazing down its length with a fondness that was unseemly and unsettling. Then he came at her.

Ilona was no babe with a sword, but she found that even she was pressed to match him. Not that she intended to fail in that regard. Though his men would surely kill her for it, she would make sure Cessius preceded her to death.

Beads of sweat ran down her back beneath the fur tunic that shielded her from the wind that spoke of coming winter. In moments, her muscles burned and her lungs labored.

Then she saw it...the opening she needed. Cessius saw the blow coming, but not early enough to avoid it completely. Blood coursed down his face from the cut she’d drawn from the bridge of his nose to the line of his jaw. Even if he survived, he’d be scarred, marked for life.

Cessius reeled in surprise and she vaulted toward him, her sword coming up for the tender flesh of his stomach.

She never connected. Hands and bodies swarmed over her, pulling her back and down. Ilona fought them, screaming out her fury. Of course, he’d broken his word. Cessius was nothing short of a scheming carrion eater, and she’d known that at the outset of their battle.

Her sword hand was pummeled, her sword wrenched from her weakened grip. Her knees and elbows bit into one body part after another, prompting grunts and shouts of complaint. A fist found a solid shot at her stomach, and Ilona half-curled against the hold on her, swallowing down a scream of pain.

It was all the opening they needed. The moment of her incapacitation ended with her pulling her legs against restraining hands. Then she was spread out on the ground, her extremities pinned down beneath the formidable bulk of Cessius’s fighters.

She looked to their leader, taking pride in her mark, the blood shimmering in the fires’ glow in the dying light. Though it was unlikely his men would dare tell others how he came by such a wound, there would be tales, speculations that it had been she. Every time they came to Cessius, he would remember how close he came to death at her hands.

Ilona shook in a sudden chill, her body aching. The time passed slowly, and the death blow didn’t come. She supposed that Cessius meant to take it himself.

He turned, and the slow perusal and knowing smile made his true intention more than clear. Ilona set her jaw, determined not to give him the satisfaction of a reaction. She’d lain with men before, so there would be no terrible pain a maiden suffered. Anything else, she could bear in silence.

At Cessius’s nod, the men at her legs reached for the ties on the trews she wore beneath the tunic. Ilona threw her hips up, trying to evade them though she knew it was hopeless.

“I believe she is anxious for you, Cessius,” one of his men taunted. He laughed and others followed, a mocking sound that called her a fool for moving against them.

Fury burned in her. She laid there, her muscles coiled in preparation for an attack she knew she’d never gain the opening for. Her trews were unlaced and eased away, baring her to the frigid air around her.

In a moment of clarity, she knew it was going to hurt. Though her barrier was no more, neither was she aroused. Her body was dry and would remain so, and Cessius would delight in forcing himself into her in that manner. Ilona fisted her hands, willing herself to be silent, no matter the cost to her.

Cessius unlaced his trews, baring himself. As she’d expected, the miserable excuse for a man was aroused, ready to best her in the only way he felt mattered now that she’d bested him at sword.

She spat at him, the only weapon left that accurately reflected her disdain.

His eyes hardened, and he dropped to one knee beside her, reaching for her hair.

It was a move he never finished. One moment he was leaning over her. The next, he was screaming in pain, four blades protruding from his chest, unbelievably where she knew his ribs to be.

Blood soaked his tunic, and Ilona stared at it, struck by giddy disbelief. Had the gods answered her prayers? They’d never done so before, but she supposed it was possible that they had.

Cessius’s men moved. Some scrambled from her, only to be cut down by soldiers dressed in strange black clothing that blended into the shadows of buildings backlit by the roaring fires. Others rushed toward the unseen force behind Cessius.

In an instant, Cessius had been tossed far from sight and the true carnage begun. Whatever it was, man or beast, it moved faster than any man should, a veritable blur to her eyes. One by one, they were cut down. Blood sprayed her uncovered body, cooling fast in the night air.

One last man stayed his place, still holding to her arm. Ilona didn’t note his presence until she tried to move. Her surprise seemed matched by his own. He grabbed for her, no doubt hoping to use her as a shield or kill her before he died himself. She struck him across the face with the bottom edge of her fisted hand, trying for a kick before he could right his senses, but her legs were still tangled in the trews they’d half-removed.

His face swung back toward her, and his dagger was unsheathed before she’d recovered from her misstep. He never had a chance to use the weapon; his head swiveled half the distance around his body with a sickening snap. Ilona recoiled from the slap of his unwashed hair, half-swallowing a cry of alarm.

His body jerked to the side, and she was left staring at a fitted pair of boots unlike any she’d seen before. The ankles parted, the legs pivoting out as the man in those boots crouched. She looked up past hide trews, then a dark tunic to the harsh lines of a man’s angry face.

Her breathing went ragged at the sight of red eyes. Ilona grasped at the hope that it was simply the firelight reflecting off, but what man had eyes the color that would cause such an eerie glow?

The certainty that he was a demon sent her heart skittering in her chest. Realization that she lay out before him, uncovered as if a sacrifice, coated in blood a demon would find an invitation, did strange things to her, things it had no right doing. She’d heard it said that demons had insatiable hungers for flesh...both of appetite and sexual longing. Still, the idea of him slaking them on her was wildly appealing. She blushed in the knowledge that she was dampening in invitation, scenting for him.

He leaned over her, and reached for her trews. Ilona gasped, closing her eyes, anticipating his touch.



* * * *



Jörg could hardly control his emotions. Fury that they’d dared try to rape her warred with the ache of needing her. She was laid out, open to him, her sex preparing for him, even now. He could send his men away and end this madness.

She is my descendent! How foul a creature am I?

She is of Regana’s line.

I don’t know that for certain...which means, she may not be of my blood, at all. How would I trace it after so many years?

Even if she were, she was dozens of generations removed from him. If any of Jörg’s blood still ran in her veins, it was so diluted as to be hardly worth notice. She wasn’t a sister or even a close cousin. People much more closely related married every day.

Her soul is Regana’s soul. She is already mine, my mate!

But not in this time and place. Not in this incarnation. She had to choose him again to be his.

The look of invitation in her pale blue eyes told him she would choose him if he asked, but it would be dishonorable to take a choice given in these circumstances.

Instead, he grasped the trews, watching her eyes close on a gasp, and eased them up her legs. She tipped her hips up, at the surface a move that helped him dress her, but her open mind spoke the truth of it. His hands were close to her center, and she wanted his touch. She wanted—

Jörg closed his mind to her abruptly, aware that his fangs had descended and his eyes were glowing a hot red. His cock throbbed, a maddening insistence on fulfilling the scenes in her mind.

The trews at her waist again, he grasped at the ties. Her head rocked back in a look of ecstasy. Her hips rose to him again, as if she were unaware that he’d covered the straw-colored curls dotted in blood and the fragrant slit beneath.

He couldn’t do it. Jörg couldn’t tie them shut with his hands shaking as they were.

“Master Jörg?” Evul intoned, doubtless confused by his indecision.

Jörg motioned him for silence, leaning over the woman until he was nearly nose to nose with her. He cupped the base of her skull in his hand, raising her head from behind. “Look at me, woman.”

Her eyes opened, pleading...and he knew very well for what without opening himself to her mind again.

“What is your name?” He had to know. He had to know everything about her. It was his madness, his curse, his damnation.

“Ilona,” she breathed.

He nodded. “Your protection is my only concern, Ilona,” he lied. He wanted much more than her protection, but that was the only choice he would ask her to make this night. “Do you believe that?”

“Yes.” Her breath was sweet with arousal, hot and fast against his face.

“Ask for my protection, and you will have it.” He hadn’t asked that question in all the years he’d been a beast, but he was asking it now. Enough Warrior remained in him to want to protect his mate. Though he could not give her an amulet and dared not speak the entire ceremony aloud, he knew what he was promising.

She seemed confused by that.

What will I do, if she refuses me? He knew he couldn’t trust himself to accept it gracefully.

“I want you,” she whispered.

“You want my protection?” he qualified. I will ask no more than that tonight.

“Yes. Only you.”

Jörg nodded in understanding. Something of Regana remained in this woman, something that knew him on sight.

He let his hand relax beneath her head, and she dropped it back again, baring her throat to him. The voices within—the ones telling him that he was wrong to consider this—were drowned out by the pounding of her pulse.

Her skin was hot against his lips. Salt and musk played on his tongue. Jörg bit down, masking her pain in pleasure, his head spinning at the taste of her.

He drank slowly but long, seeking out the information he needed to protect her well. Her family was dead, killed only this day by the one who’d thought to rape her. This band was part of a larger, headed by Cessius’s brother. When it was learned they were dead, there would be retaliation.

Ilona rose against him. Her hands fisted in his tunic, her scent sublime. Her panting breaths became moans, then a sharp cry of climax. She pleaded with him to give her more.

Information he sought about her family came next, faces and names, none of them a husband, thank the gods, though she’d known men before. Fury rose up at that piece of knowledge. That was one thing he could not allow her; he would be insane in jealousy if another touched her.

Jörg sent an order for her to sleep, then closed his feeding site, lingering over her, cleaning the small amount of spilled blood from her pale skin. Gods, but he would taste all of her.

“Master Jörg?” Evul called. “Are you well?”

Well? He could fly in this form, if called upon. Jörg brushed the tangled hair from around her face, fisting it to imprint its feel on hands starved for her.

“Master?”

“We travel to my home, Evul,” he managed. “No man touches Lady Ilona but myself, save for her protection.”

There was shocked silence.

“Am I understood, Evul?” he inquired in a warning tone.

“Of course, Master. But if I may be so blunt... Who is this woman?”

His fangs extended, and his fury burned. “She is mine. She has my full and uncompromising protection. That is all you need know.”

“Should I—?”

“No.” Jörg grasped at Evul’s wrist, halting his reach toward Ilona. “I will take her as far as I can.” The less another man handled her, the safer they all would be.

His man eased his hand away, looking at it in confusion. “As you wish.”

Jörg stood, cradling Ilona to his chest, waiting only long enough for his men to mount their horses before he sped off, keeping pace with them toward his home.