Stupid stupid stupid!
I’d hardly been pledged to the king for five minutes and already I was failing. I should have known better than to dress like the warrior I had been trained to be. I should have foreseen the advantages – just as he’d stated – of using my youthful appearance to my benefit.
I shouldn’t have needed my charge to point out what I should have thought of in the first place.
How many of the Royal Fae Guard had I bested over the years, with each and every one of them underestimating me, even knowing of my lifelong training?
All of them.
And yet I hadn’t given nary a thought as to how I would be perceived here in this world.
Great-grandfather would be so disappointed in me if he knew.
Or perhaps he did and that was why he’d left without a word?
There wasn’t much that could be done about it now. I would just have to strive to do better and was grateful it was only Master and his child who had witnessed my failure. But that too had been unexpected.
Failing so quickly and in front of so few.
But our appearance this evening hadn’t seemed to garner much fanfare. Great-grandfather had assured me we would be expected and for the entirety of my life, I had been preparing for this night. The night I would fulfill my family’s obligation and give myself over to the one who had saved my great-grandfather’s life so long ago.
This night – and its purpose – had been on the minds of everyone back home. The celebration surely taking place at this very moment would be nothing short of spectacular.
But here – in this world – there was no fanfare. No elaborate party to rejoice over an eight hundred year old debt finally being resolved. No show of respect to my great-grandfather for selflessly adhering to a pledge made centuries ago.
I wasn’t sure what I had been expecting, but it certainly wasn’t this.
Instead of being put on display as the king’s deadly new defender – or perhaps having to prove my worth by battling the elite among his guards – I was relegated to sitting quietly in the back of the room, while my Master spoke to the scrawny little man with rigidly styled hair.
And why was he entertaining him by granting him an audience anyway?
From the snippets my mind automatically gathered of their conversation, the pathetic human didn’t think highly of our king. In fact, he seemed to be a bit unstable, going back and forth from praising his majesty one moment to lambasting him as a monster the next.
Odder still, Master didn’t appear to be offended by being referred to as a fanged devil, but he did seem confused seeing me draw my sword.
But I would not stand for any attack on my new king.
Verbal or physical.
So while the wretched little man continued to insult my king, I made not a sound. His only warning of my much closer presence was when the blade of my sword pressed against his throat.
In my peripheral I could see Master eying me warily – if not a little amusedly – as he asked, “Did you have something to add, Susannah?”
But now that I was face to face with the contemptible little human, I could see he was no longer speaking.
And yet I could hear him talking just the same.
Well, more like screaming.
“Master?” I whispered, in a voice so low only a supernatural would’ve been able to hear me.
No longer sure who was the unstable one in this pairing, I couldn’t see anything but the non-moving lips of the human before me, although a part of me still registered his majesty’s presence drawing closer. My grip loosened enough for him to take the sword from my hand and my feet moved forward when he guided me to sit in the chair next to the nasty little man.
But it wasn’t until he took over the man’s mind with glamour, erasing me completely from his memories, that I began to suspect what was going on.
For as long as I could remember I’d had an innate gift. An extra sense that allowed me to feel the presence of others. But having grown up in the Fae realm, I had only ever been exposed to fairies and they only registered as a pulsing warmth in my brain.
The closer they were in relation to me, the warmer they felt.
I hadn’t even known I was the only one to have the gift. It wasn’t discovered until I was seven when, during one of my training sessions, I had been blindfolded, with attackers coming at me from all sides. The purpose was so I would learn how to react to an assault, using nothing more than scent, sound, and instinct. But I had been able to sense my attackers coming. Known from which direction they came and I had used it to my advantage.
Having always had it, I didn’t think about it at all. It was just a part of me. And despite my vow to myself when coming through the portal, a very large part of me had mourned when great-grandfather’s beacon of warmth flickered out of my consciousness when he left this world.
His presence had always been the warmest of all.
Upon arriving here, I had noticed the differences between my kin and vampires right away, but their empty voids – while not warm at all – weren’t a distraction, so I thought nothing of it.
But with this man – this human – I couldn’t help but wonder if my gift would work on all of them in the same way. Being able to read their minds, while cumbersome, would be a great advantage for the king.
“Wait!” I called out, now realizing the man – still under the effects of glamour – was being led by his majesty on his way out of the door.
Without waiting for a response, I quickly moved towards them and ripped the man’s shirt open, exposing the secret button camera I had known was there.
Apparently, from his thoughts.
“How did…” Master began, while I searched the man’s pocket for the smartphone the images were being recorded to.
Finding and handing it over, I interrupted him and explained, “His failsafe. He didn’t trust he wouldn’t be glamoured and fed from.”
And as our eyes finally met, I could see the questions brewing behind them.
Thankfully, I couldn’t hear them.
Having called his child to come and take care of the human, he led me to the long couch along the far wall. Taking a seat on one end, he sat on the other and stared at me for a long moment before breaking the silence by crossing one of his long legs over the other and opening with, “I apologize, Susannah.”
“For?” I questioned, having no idea what he could possibly be apologizing for.
“For underestimating you,” he replied. “Of course there would have been no need to glamour Newlin if it weren’t for your questionably timed sword intervention, so his video footage would have shown nothing out of the ordinary. But that doesn’t mean I take any kind of subterfuge lightly.”
I wasn’t quite sure how to respond. Being praised and scolded at the same time, while familiar, only served to make me defiant. But with him – to him – I could do no such thing, so I took the most prudent course of action by staying quiet lest I tell him off.
I had been scrutinized my whole life. Every move and decision I made was questioned. Normally I took it in stride, but here – now – it was so easy to feel adrift. I was so worried about failing my kin – my kind – my charge – that my own thoughts were surely only making things that much worse. What I really needed was to take my fear and aggression out with my sword.
I never felt more centered than when I had its hilt gripped firmly in my hand. In battle, I was unstoppable.
On this couch, I was a mess.
But that was only on the inside, so we played the blinking game for several long minutes on the outside – he won them all – when he switched things up by saying, “I think now would be a good time for you have my blood. And then I have some questions for you.”
While great-grandfather had insisted I was under no obligation to share blood, and despite my assurances to him, I knew enough about their kind to know what would happen when drinking directly from the source.
He would be able to feel my emotions. Sense my location. Know if I was being truthful.
He didn’t trust me.
I couldn’t really blame him.
But considering I would be his constant shadow until it was my time to enter the Summerlands, trust between us was paramount. The only objection I had to speeding up the process was knowing he would feel my self-doubt.
If I was questioning my ability to fulfill my role here, how could he possibly have any faith I would keep him safe?
“You are hesitant,” he mused aloud.
“You are perceptive,” I replied, infusing my answer with a small smile.
Hoping I could put off the inevitable – hoping I would prove to him my worth with my skill with a sword before he could feel my uncertainty over everything else – I attempted to deflect by admitting, “I was hoping we could spar first. I would rather our first fight be on even footing and you would have the upper hand being able to sense my emotions.”
A truth and a lie all rolled into one.
“Our first fight?” he asked with a small smile of his own. “Do you expect we will be having many?”
My smile grew as I replied, “Only if you’re lucky.”
Standing from the couch, he walked over and retrieved my swords. Handing them to me, he waited until our eyes met when he said, “I was born lucky.”
“I was born for you.”
I hadn’t meant to say the five little words out loud. Nor did I mean for them to have any other meaning than their face value.
I had literally been born for him.
But it was the way he stood stock still – nary a blink on the horizon above his nose – that made it feel like maybe there had been more to those words that was left unspoken.
“Like I said,” he let out in a hoarse whisper. “I’m lucky.”
While he was undeniably handsome, so was every other male in the Fae realm. But there was something about him that called to me in a way no other had up until now. Maybe it was the forbidden fruit he represented.
A vampire and a fairy? Even a part-fairy?
I felt my face flame red at just the thought, made worse by his knowing chuckle, but I pretended to not be bothered and stroked the grip of my sword to calm my nerves as I asked, “Shall we fight here or is there somewhere else you had in mind?”
His office, while large, would be destroyed if we remained there, so I was relieved when he offered, “I have a suitable room in the same wing containing my private chambers.”
There were still so many things to take care of. So many things we needed to go over concerning his personal security, so we would both be of the same mindset.
I should meet his other guards and ascertain their skill level and their weaknesses.
I should go over the layout of the palace to look for vulnerabilities that had perhaps been overlooked.
I should memorize his schedule and go over any plans he had for events he would be attending outside of the palace grounds.
I should meet each and every one of his servants to get a feel over who could be a possible threat to him.
Oh…and I should tell him I was possibly telepathic with humans.
But instead I was itching to knock him on his royal ass, so he would see how great a prize he’d been given by my great-grandfather.
As if he could read my mind, while I followed him up a private staircase from his office, he offered, “I will admit, I’m not quite sure what to do with you. When the deal was struck with your great-grandfather, I had barely passed my second century. Times were much harder then and having someone I could trust to guard over me during the daytime would have been a great boon. But now I have a loyal staff of hundreds spread out across my territory. Wards protect my innermost chambers and the technological advances made by mankind pick up the slack, so I don’t know where you will fit best.”
His words kind of trailed off after that and I had none to fill the void.
Because for twenty-one years I had been training, with only one purpose in mind. To protect the man in front of me, who now didn’t seem to think I had very much to offer.
And feeling the surge of anger welling inside of me, it would seem a little bit of Sookie had come through the portal as well.
But I remained silent, following him as we walked into a room not unlike the dojo I had back home and watched as he walked to the far wall. Studying the swords hanging there and keeping his back to me, he said, “To be honest, I was prepared to cancel out Brigant’s debt and release you from his pledge to me.” His shoulders shook slightly when he added with a chuckle, “If you hadn’t piqued my interest by speaking Old Norse, I probably would have.”
Cancel out the debt.
Release me from my pledge.
Alluding he’d only accepted my vows because being fluent in a dead language amused him.
Like a pet.
In two sentences he had simultaneously sucked the meaning out of my entire reason for being and disrespected the Royal House of the Sky Fae with his disregard for my great-grandfather’s sacrifice.
I couldn’t be sure if he said anything after that. It was impossible to hear anything other than the blood rushing through my veins.
But the one thing that could be heard beyond that was the sound of steel hitting steel as I rushed forward and attacked.