A Matter of Blood Pt. 03

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Ass

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CHAPTER SEVEN

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Now

“Really? You’re going to throw your only weapon away? I taught you better than that.”

It was another voice. A little higher pitched. Throaty. Feminine. Commanding. I recognized her too, of course. I even got an erection because my cock didn’t really care how much trouble the rest of me was in.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” I said softly, “this is entirely unfair.”

I relaxed my stance. This person, at least, I really didn’t want to kill.

With fluid ease she dismounted her horse. She unsheathed her sword and handed it to Kyrza on her way past. I decided to do the same. I let go of Caliban and she remained there, floating. It was a neat trick that I mostly used to look mysterious and impress people. I met her about twenty paces away, roughly halfway between my spear and her soldiers.

She removed her helm. I sighed, in sorrow, nostalgia, and anticipation. Adewyn was just as beautiful as I remembered. Perhaps more so as she had grown into her body. She wore her pure white hair short, and it was sweaty and unruly from being in her helm. She was tall for a woman, but not quite as tall as I. Her fine armor could not cover her shapely form, at least not entirely. I knew that beneath it she was toned muscle but also soft slopes. She had athletically curved hips and fine breasts, not large but pert and with deep red nipples. Her skin appeared tan and was naturally slightly darker than mine. I wondered if she still trimmed her sex. All this I remembered easily.

Adewyn had her full brother’s aristocratic features and proud nose. I did not wish to be reminded of Tyr just now and her allegiance to him, so I pressed down my rage for the moment.

“Why are we not fighting?” I asked.

“Because I didn’t come here to fight. And because you don’t want to die.”

I laughed. It was bitter, but honest.

“Times have changed. I don’t want to fight you because I don’t want to kill you. If you hadn’t spoken up I’d be full of regret by now.”

She raised one eyebrow skeptically.

“It doesn’t matter. I’m here to find you but not to kill you. Or capture you. I’m…I’m not here on father’s behalf, or Tyr’s. Not really.”

“Then who?”

“Mine. Yours. The kingdom.”

“You’re going to have to be a bit more specific than that.”

It was her turn to sigh. I noticed that throughout our little conversation she had difficulty meeting my eyes. It was a shame as hers were the dark blue of the sea during a storm. I couldn’t tell if her reticence was due to deceit or guilt.

“I can be. I want to be. But do we have to do this? I mean, can we make camp and sit in a tent and speak…like we used to? Before…before…” she stopped and rubbed the back of her head the way she did when frustrated or unsure.

“All right. We’ll talk. I don’t think it will be like old times though.”

“Why not?”

I smiled like the wolf I had become but did not answer.

We pitched camp next to a small stand of pines and a spring of clear water that probably froze every night. I had no tent but at Adewyn’s insistence I put my bedroll and pack inside of hers. I didn’t bother unrolling it. When we were done, she gave some orders to Kyrza, and she waved me into her tent. I went in cautiously. I left Caliban embedded in the soft earth next to a pine tree. She would warn me if anything untoward happened outside or someone was foolish enough to touch her.

After we sat down Adewyn offered me some wine and stale bread. We ate and drank in silence for a few minutes. Finally, she spoke.

“I need you.”

“I don’t need you.”

“Are you sure?”

“I haven’t truly needed anyone for five years. Why do you need me?”

“I…fuck. Look, can we clear something up first?”

I nodded and waited for her to speak.

“I didn’t know that Tyr planned to kill you. I didn’t even know any details for over a year. And by that time…I thought that it was too late to do anything about it. He told me that he had heard that you were going to try and usurp him and father, so he confronted you and you attacked him. In the struggle you were stabbed and thrown out of the window. It bothered me. Even considering how much you cared for Merwyd it didn’t make much sense to me. Finally I cornered him and demanded the truth. He admitted that he struck first but he still insisted that you had been plotting against him.”

“And you believed him after the first lie?”

“Yes. I’m stupid. And I loved him. You know I did.”

“Once you told me that you loved me. But I’m sure you fucked my would-be killer and slept soundly in his arms afterwards. For a year, at least, probably much more.”

She reacted as though I had slapped her in the face. She always had a soft, or perhaps I should say wet, spot for Tyr.

“I…I know. I still believed him. I did. I thought that you had truly revolted, or planned some kind of coup. For love. It seemed like something that you might canlı bahis şirketleri do. We all knew that you were still sleeping with Merwyd and smitten with her. Probably more than she was with you. So it wasn’t that big of a stretch to think that you might try something desperate.”

I started to move towards the tent to leave.

“I’ve heard enough. You sit in my presence and defend him still. I owe you nothing. Don’t seek me again.”

She reached out and grabbed my arm as I reached for my pack. I tensed and looked at her. She tentatively released me.

“Please. Just listen. I’m not…not defending him. I’m not even defending myself. I’m just explaining. Even after I knew that he struck first, I still loved him. Would you have had me kill one brother to avenge another? Who might have been a traitor?”

“Yes.”

“Things aren’t that simple and you know it.”

“I think that you’ll find that outside of Marche Grodayn things are much simpler. There are your friends and there are your enemies. Kill one and save the other. You made your choice. Why are you here now? How can you expect me to help you?”

“Something is wrong. The kingdom is falling apart. Rebellion has spread south and the lesser houses are taking notice of the opportunity to strike out on their own. Tyr isn’t acting normally and I can’t find father, although I know he is somewhere in the North. Possibly in Jorvik. And Uncle Bayrd has been left in charge at Marche Grodayn but he was prohibited from taking any action.”

I had my suspicions at this point, based on what Raisa had told me. I had no proof, however, so I kept them to myself.

“What would you have me do?”

“Help me to help Tyr. Or come with me and speak to Bayrd. Or help me find father. Or just reassure the people and the army that someone is in charge. After all the strange things that I have seen I believe that you were not treated fairly. That you were loyal. If we can’t find father so that he can help Tyr to recover…then I’ll support your claim to the throne.”

“Why does Tyr need help? Is he sick?”

She looked away from me, at the ground. I had never seen her display such…shame? I tried not to let it show but it bothered me. Despite what I had said, I knew her to be ethical, and once sworn she would be loyal. I was prodding her, yes, but to see what her responses would be. She would be loyal to Tyr because he had claimed her a few months before I had been attacked. And she had loved him and probably even me at one point. The fact that she was conflicted at all was, to me, strange.

“He…I…I can’t talk about it.”

Adewyn brought her arms up and hugged herself. She still hadn’t looked at me. I was concerned for her now, although I didn’t want her to know it. She was a defiant woman, strong, who loathed to show any fear or weakness. Both her mother and father had similar habits, and they seemed to only intensify in her. Of all of my relatives the army respected her the most. She was the second oldest sibling, and used to being obeyed or at least respected. Her posture now was not that of a commander of armies but more like that of a lost child.

“What if I agreed to look for father with you first? But nothing else. I cannot even truly promise that I won’t kill him if I see him, if he was behind or supported my assassination.”

“I can accept that. As long as you agree to claim the throne if we can’t find him.”

I raised my eyebrows in shock.

“Claim the throne? Even if Tyr is alive?”

She bit her lip, but nodded.

Adewyn’s response surprised me a bit. While I was distracted with the implications of it, she moved her hand to my leg, which startled me. When she had my attention she looked at me with her deep blue eyes and smiled. In the confines of the tent I became suddenly aware of her smell, sweaty and musky. My cock responded.

I realized that I had much more desire for Adewyn than trust or love. I frowned and shook my head. She drew her hand back as if I had burned her, and I could see the hurt in her eyes.

I wish I could say that this didn’t affect me. That I had grown cold and used to being alone. I wanted to be free of old bonds, free to avenge myself properly.

But part of me still wanted to hold Adewyn, to make love to her. Sleep came with some difficulty that night.

So started the long path back home. I look back now and question how I could ever have thought it would be as simple and straight-forward as vengeance.

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CHAPTER EIGHT

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Jorvik was busy, even for the late harvest season. The port was bustling and the forges were hot. The people, however, were even more sullen and suspicious than normal. I was used to the “courtesy” of the North, and I knew something was wrong.

Rebellion was so thick in the air you could almost smell it. Everywhere you could hear commoners speculate on the King, Duke Eorvane, and even the Guilds of the City. Each was suspected of canlı kaçak iddaa conspiring against at least one of the others. The only solid bet I would take is that the Duke was readying his army to march towards the best opportunity, whether that was independence, defense, or even for the crown.

When we arrived we went straight to the Ducal Palace, a hulk of grey stone and barred windows that squatted on the hill at the center of the city. Adewyn and I had decided to let Kyrza speak for us until we’d reached Eorvane. We weren’t sure what kind of reception we’d get or if the Duke was involved in father’s disappearance. Eorvane was generally honorable, as these things go, but I suspected all nobles of being as loyal as their opportunities.

When we arrived, the majority of the troops were made to wait outside in the courtyard, but as Kyrza’s “lieutenants” we were allowed to wait with her in a well-appointed room with fur rugs, plush chairs, and a roaring fire.

I took my gloves off and held them before the hearth, although I left my helm on. This was the first time that I’d felt warm in weeks and I was happily taking advantage of it. Adewyn had unmasked and raised her eyebrow but said nothing. Her disapproval became palpable when the Duke and his entourage entered the room and I did not rise.

The Duke was a bear of a man: tall, burly, and hairy. His beard sprawled over his face like black ivy, and his thinning hair was braided down his back. He was at least fifty, but had the energy and capacity for drink of a much younger man.

“Kyrza. Good to see you. We’ve been waiting for news from Marche Grodayn for some time and…well.”

He did a good job of concealing his surprise when he saw Adewyn. He knew her of course, and she would stand out anywhere with her bright white hair. He ignored me, which was what I wanted.

“Duke Eorvane, you have my respects and those of my family,” Adewyn said, always the dutiful girl. The Duke wasn’t feeling quite as diplomatic.

“Adewyn. Your family has an odd way to show respect. We ask for assistance in putting down my rather disobedient neighbors. Beg for it, almost. And what news do I hear? That the King, your own father, was marching here to put Jorvik to the sword! I ought to have you in chains for this. Perhaps he’d listen to me if his dear daughter was in my hands, eh?”

Adewyn was surprised, and took her time responding. She was holding back her anger, but just barely. I decided to help. I laughed rather loudly. Eorvane looked in my direction, his eyes blazing.

“You dare! I might arrest her but she would be treated well. I assure you that you will spend some time in chains…”

“If you want to arrest either of us,” I said, slowly standing and removing my helm, “then you’ll need a few dozen more men. Good ones too, not your usual drunken northerners. And maybe a capable chamberlain to remind you of what happens to those that detain princes of Pure Blood”

I looked different. My hair was shorn fairly short, and I had a beard. I had ceased dying it a few weeks back and the natural white was starting to show through. He took a moment and examined me.

“Finn?” he said finally, with a little bit of shock, “By the gods it is you! You damned lout! I thought you were dead! Everyone did!”

Just like that the tension was gone. If it was ever there. Adewyn looked very annoyed with me, which was a nice side benefit.

“Even I did, but it turns out I was just in Troyes.”

“In the South that bull about you being a rebel might have flown, but up here we knew you wouldn’t try to take the throne. You’re too damn smart to want any actual power getting in the way of your womanizing.”

I laughed.

“Do you think we could talk with you? In private? We need your help.”

“Yes. Of course!” He looked over at Adewyn, rather sheepishly, “I would never have had you arrested…it was a strategy to get you talking, nothing more. Come. Lets get you some food and drink and then we can get to business.”

We were led to a small but opulent meeting room, where we ate cold meat and cheese and drank fine wine. No one spoke of anything important, and we joked as if were all old friends. Even Adewyn told a bawdy tale about a milk maid and three knights. It was nice. But all nice things must end. The food was cleared and we were left alone.

“So,” the Duke said, “things must be serious if a prince and a princess are here to see me. Especially when one is dead and the other is married to the heir.”

“I’m not,” Adewyn said suddenly, “Married to the heir. Not any more.”

Eorvane’s and I both looked over at her in surprise. That wasn’t something that happened to Pureblood women. Almost ever. She blushed and neither I nor the Duke was going to press her on it. It would have been asking her specifically how her humiliation took place.

“Well,” she went on, capitalizing on our silence, “Father is missing. He’s supposed to be somewhere in the North. Maybe even here. And things at home are…well, they aren’t normal. We’re trying to canlı kaçak bahis reach him to tell him what is going on and persuade him to come back. Has he been here?”

Duke Eorvane sat back in his chair. It was obvious to both myself and Adewyn that his surprise was not acting. After a long moment of silent consideration, he spoke.

“I can swear to you that I’ve not seen your father in two years. And even then it was back in Marche Grodayn, to speak to him about the troubles up here. He assured me that Tyr would be coming north with an army and all would be well, but that never happened. Tyr and your Uncle did come, but there was no army. He wished to undertake the Journey as soon as possible. When he was done, he went home. He barely spoke two words to me the entire time he was here. You two are the first of the royal line that I’ve seen since then.”

Adewyn looked at me, her face devoid of expression. She didn’t know about the Journey. Only men were told. And then only royalty and the heads of noble houses. I would get her caught up later though.

“Did he pass?” I asked, simply.

“He certainly survived to return home. I learned later from the Keeper that your uncle also took the Journey. I know that isn’t the way things are done, generally. Unless you have something to tell me?”

“I don’t. Neither of us do. All of this is…strange. Will you help us? To find father? And to deal with my brother and uncle, if it comes to that.”

“Finn,” he said, stroking his beard thoughtfully, “I think you know that up here in the North those of us who are loyal to your family would prefer to see you in charge over Tyr or god help us, your uncle. Especially along side Adewyn.”

Adewyn looked flattered by that. The army loved her, so the North loved her too. She was always seen in the field, never hiding in a castle or dressed for a ball. She would be ideal at dealing with people like Eorvane. He went on.

“But I can’t support Finn the Usurper. Even if I don’t think the tales are true.”

He finished. I rather assumed that was that, but Adewyn didn’t.

“What version of Finn could you support?” she asked, craftily.

He smiled at her.

“A good question. Well, now that it comes to it, I could support Finn the Rightful Heir. I could even support Finn the King. But for that, he’d have to take the Journey, wouldn’t he? And survive without out going mad, of course.”

“Of course,” I agreed, wryly, “It would be a shame if I died. All right. I’ll take the Journey, and Adewyn will be my Guard. When I return from that, we can speak to the Comdail of the North, and I can make some concessions and threats, and see who falls in line and who doesn’t.”

The Duke nodded and smiled widely. He would be happy, after all. If he backed me and I ended up on the throne he would end up being my main supporter in the North, and I’d have to be his very best friend. Well, I had no intention of taking the throne, but he wasn’t the worst person to be friends with, not by a long shot.

“Go and get some rest, both of you. I’ll get you some rooms. Tomorrow the Keeper will take you down to the caverns,” Eorvane said, pausing for a moment as if he had thought of something, “On the bright side, if you go mad, no one will be able to tell.”

Then he laughed a long time at his own joke. So did Adewyn, to my dismay.

* * *

When we arrived at our rooms, which were quite well appointed, the storm that was brewing between myself and Adewyn broke in earnest. For my part, I will say that I did nothing to stop it, which isn’t my proudest moment.

Kyrza and her men, sensing trouble, disappeared pretty quickly. I wished that I could join them. I didn’t want to deal with this right now.

“What the fuck is this Journey? Why didn’t you tell me about it?” Adewyn demanded. Well, at least she wasn’t shouting.

“It’s the last requirement of kingship. Technically it happens after being crowned, but it could happen before. It’s not generally shared with, uh, women. Even royal ones.”

“Why the fuck not?”

Why the fuck not, indeed. I could see no good reason for that, but several bad ones. I was, however, not in any mood to be a peacemaker.

“Because it isn’t any of your business. Not that you’d understand that, being who you are. The short version is that it reveals great wisdom but can kill you or leave you insane if you fail to rise to it. Perhaps they were afraid that women like you would see this as an opportunity to expand their power or select someone they preferred to survive.”

“What do you mean, ‘like me’?” she said, softly and dangerously.

This is where, had I been thinking, I would have said something truthful but not incendiary. Or even just hugged her. I did not do either of those things.

“I suppose I mean plotters and liars.”

“What?”

“You heard me. Were you going to tell me that Tyr had discarded you like an overly tumbled tavern wench?”

Looking back, if she had stabbed me at this point I would have had a hard time blaming her.

“How dare you say that to me! I found you! I…I believed you!”

“Sure. A few years too late, but who’s counting. And did you believe me? Or did you just need someone to go force your beloved Tyr to take you back and then perhaps conveniently die?”

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