Home > Iron and Magic (The Iron Covenant #1)(13)

Iron and Magic (The Iron Covenant #1)(13)
Author: Ilona Andrews

He smiled. He was clearly enjoying every second of this. “Anything for my betrothed.”

She almost punched him.

D’Ambray nodded to Garcia. The man pulled a small knife out of the sheath on his belt. A woman broke ranks and ran up to him. Together they knelt by the fallen undead.

“What are they doing?”

“Harvesting the blood. It stays viable for quite a while when properly stored. I’ll see those barracks now.”

“This way.” Elara turned and led him inside the castle.

“About this marriage,” he said.

“I meant what I said.”

“Good, because I liked the blond that brought us tea.”

The nerve. “My people aren’t slaves, Preceptor. If Caitlyn wants to let you climb on top of her, that’s her business.”

“Excellent. Am I going to get a bedroom, or should we come up with a rotation schedule?”

He was baiting her. He had to be.

“You’re getting your own bedroom, Preceptor.”

“Splendid.”

She couldn’t kill him. She needed his troops. But she really wanted to.

“One last thing. Does the castle have a name?”

“Baile.” She pronounced it the right way, in Irish Gaelic, Balyeh.

Hugh smiled. “Home. I think I’m going to like it here.”

“We’ll do our best to make you feel welcome, Preceptor.”

4

The void had finally caught him. Hugh stood at the window while it pierced him with needle teeth and shredded him, skinning one thin layer at a time. He’d known pain before. He’d been shot, cut, burned, broken, tortured, but this was different. This was the same pain he felt when Roland had sent him into exile.

He was on the fifth floor of the keep. It was midafternoon, three or four, he wasn’t sure. The sky was blue, without a shred of a cloud. The wind cooled his skin. The sunshine played on the stone walls. Below him a sheer drop promised a speedy trip to the stone bailey. If he jumped now, even if he lived for a few seconds and reached for his magic in desperation, it wouldn’t save him. Besides, the tech was up. His ability to heal was barely there.

It would solve all his problems. A brief flash of pain, almost an afterthought compared to what he felt now, and everything would be over.

If Hugh turned, opened the reinforced wood and steel door and strode down the long hallway, he would arrive at his bride’s bedroom. She was in there, getting ready. They were going to be married today. Neither of them had wanted to delay. They’d been at each other’s throats for the past week, but one thing they both agreed on: they had to marry fast and it had to be a real wedding, with a cake, flowers, gowns, and a reception afterward. They hired a wedding photographer and a videographer, because they planned to plaster the pictures everywhere they could. Which was why the wedding had to take place today, while tech held. The marriage had to appear real, because without it their alliance wasn’t worth the forty some pieces of paper they had signed once their advisers finished bargaining with each other over the exact terms of it.

Hugh leaned on the windowsill. He never expected to get married. The thought hadn’t occurred to him. The need for marriage came when a man realized he was getting older and wanted to start a family or when he wanted to prove a commitment to a woman or get one from her. During his decades as a Warlord, Roland’s magic had sustained him. He didn’t age. Back then, Hugh had centuries ahead of him. Hugh would stay at his peak, and if he wanted a woman, he got one. There had been a few that had resisted at first, but he had patience and experience, he knew how to listen and what to say, when he chose to do it, and power was one hell of an aphrodisiac. He was Roland’s Warlord, the Preceptor of the Iron Dogs. Eventually, he won them over and they ended up in his bed.

He’d thought sex would get old, but it never did. A new day, a new interesting woman. Eventually, he ran out of new things to try and realized that the difference between good sex and great sex was passion. Great sex was less frequent, but he had no problem settling for good sex.

Marriage wasn’t even in his vocabulary.

Still, if Hugh ever got married, he would’ve expected the woman to be eager. Excited even.

The harpy at the other end of the hallway acted as if he were some revolting creature that crawled out from under a damp rock. The woman drove him nuts. Hugh alternated between wanting to strangle her and trying not to laugh as she fought off his verbal jabs. Making her snarl in frustration was the only thing that made the situation tolerable.

He was mortal now. Eventually he would age. He would die. The thought turned Hugh’s blood to ice. He couldn’t even remember how old he was. He would die, and soon. His magic would keep him alive for a while, but he wouldn’t last much more than another eighty years. Maybe a hundred.

Voron’s ghost congealed from his memories. When Hugh was a child, Voron was larger than life. Tall, powerful, unstoppable. A different man looked at him now, old, gray, somehow less, as if age leached the color from his hair and skin. The ghost raised his sword.

Go away, old man.

Hugh pushed the memory aside. This hay ride had a definite end. He no longer had forever.

The stones of the bailey turned even more inviting. Instead of thinking about what do to with his meager lifespan, he could just stop both, his life and his thinking.

“Mmm,” came a low feminine noise from the bed.

He turned. Caitlyn from the kitchen was too worried about what “the White Lady” would think, so he’d moved on to Vanessa. A brunette, with big boobs, long legs, a small butt, and lots of enthusiasm, she worked in the castle as a paralegal. She was also low maintenance.

Vanessa turned on her side and rested her head on her bent elbow, popping her chest to offer him a better view. He’d set the ground rules from the start, although he doubted she would stick to them. She was an opportunist.

She measured him with her gaze, pausing on his bare crotch. “Are we gonna keep doing this after you’re married?”

“Scared of Elara?”

She shook her head. “If the Lady didn’t want me here, she would tell me. The Lady knows everything. She knows what I’m saying right now.”

Interesting. Hugh leaned against the windowsill, studying her. “How?”

Vanessa waved her fingers at him. “Magic.”

“The tech is up.”

“It doesn’t matter. She knows.”

“Why do you call her the Lady?”

Vanessa shrugged one shoulder. “That’s just what she is. She isn’t like the rest of us.”

“What makes her special?”

“If you wait long enough, she’ll show you.”

“That’s not an answer.”

“She protects us,” Vanessa said.

“From whom?”

“From everyone. The undead. The Remaining.”

He leaned forward. “Who are the Remaining?”

“We started out together, then we split,” Vanessa said. “We call those who stayed behind the Remaining. They call us the Departed.”

“Why did you split?”

Vanessa yawned. “It’s long and complicated.”

“You are afraid of Elara.”

“No, I’m just not stupid.”

Hugh moved toward the bed, leaned over her, and fixed her with his stare. She shrank back. Alarm flared in her eyes.

He glanced at the door, then back at her. She slid off the bed, grabbed her clothes, yanked her dress on, and hurried out, almost at a run, her underwear in her hands.

She would be back. He had her.

Vanessa was a born flunky. She feared Elara but she also felt some contempt for his future bride, or she wouldn’t have climbed into his bed to test her leash. Elara must’ve been kind to her. That was a mistake.

He’d seen Vanessa’s type enough over the years to recognize it instantly. Her kind of people understood strength and overt shows of power. They loudly proclaimed their support for the overzealous cops, local tyrants, and anyone willing to show brute strength. Vanessa respected authority that made her fear. As long as he terrified her, she would obey him and try to please, but she could never be trusted. If Elara scared her enough, Vanessa would spill his secrets. If she ever got a taste of real power, she would be petty and cruel.

   
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