Sebek's welcome party quickly turned into a raucous affair. His human dancers twirled and undulated to the musicians' frantic beat. Just when the drummers could seemingly play no faster, they picked up the pace. Skirts tossed. Skin shook and grew slick with sweat. Combined with the blood cocktails being passed around, the throbbing tempo of the action proved too much for Rosalyn. She excused herself.
On the terrace, a salty breeze swept over the limestone coast and up the hill through the orchard, clearing her senses. Eric kept one eye trained on her from where he lay reclined in the parlor. He reached past the coined waist of the belly dancer gyrating in his face to wag a finger at Rosalyn, warning her to stay within his sightline. She leaned against the railing and let out a heavy sigh.
Cyprus was beautiful. The fronds of the estate's date palms rustled softly, filling the grounds with a papery music. Beyond the tree-line, the bay was calm. Sailboats bobbed and winked their bow-lights along the lazy swells. It would be perfect - were Rosalyn not caught in a storm.
Flashbacks from Athens whipped at red angles behind her eyes. The violence crashed against her like the rushing of the surf, repulsing her backwards, then drowning her with its greedy undertow. The grim rainmaker in the midst of the bloodshed was unrecognizable. He showered body parts in every direction. A flick of the wrist, a twist of the hip - the very dance routine he wanted her to learn.
Godric's dark world was not hers. Her sensibilities were not vampiric, even if her impulses were, and she did not know what to do with these immense feelings. The more she tried to make sense of them, the more her bloodlust surged with its sole demand. She needed to feed - and fast.
"Are you not enjoying yourself?" Sebek asked, startling her. He had materialized silently beside her.
"I am," she replied hastily. "There's just…a bit too much flesh inside."
"Perhaps you would prefer a more private setting. Shall I send Niobe to entertain you in your room?"
"That would be…um…wow." Rosalyn covered her mouth to hide her aching fangs. The human's scent was alluring, and tangled though it was in the breeze, it promised the warmth of incense, sourdough, and some jammy, over-ripened fruit.
Her obvious interest pleased the ancient, and he let out a low, rolling chuckle. "Is that a 'yes', little dove?"
She glanced nervously back into the parlor. "I share," she blurted out. "With Eric." Sometimes. Only when she got carried away. Was she trying to get carried away?
Sebek ran an amused tongue over his teeth. "Such a peculiar family you are."
"Not unlike my own," he grinned, sounding conspiratorial. He joined her at the railing and offered nothing more on the subject. The breeze caught his robes, and with the inlaid stone jewelry he wore, looked as though he could have been standing there for thousands of years. Maybe he had.
They stood in companionable silence, soaking in the tranquility of the dark sea. "The humans here…" she began, unsure how to broach the subject of his harem.
"They are not slaves, if that is your concern. They play a role, nothing more."
Rosalyn nodded, trying to understand. "You've modernized."
"One tries to adapt."
"And…before?" she said, knowing such prodding might be unwelcome.
"Our kind has trafficked in every breed of flesh, including our own. But I think you knew that."
"Oh," she said awkwardly.
"I hope you do not judge me too harshly for keeping donors. As I recall, you yourself have quite the tasty morsel waiting for you back in Shreveport. Michael, I believe he's called?" Saliva flooded Rosalyn's palate and her body ached in need. Sebek directed her gaze inside toward Niobe. She weaved through an obstacle course of guests and dancers, then lifted her carafe at them, offering to top-up their drinks. "I imagine you've never tasted the delicacies of Ethiopia," he reflected. Rosalyn shook her head, not trusting herself to speak. "Niobe is exceptional. I'll send her your way, yes?"
Rosalyn wanted her. Urgently. Anything to silence the noise in her head. She turned to him, eyes pleading. "I can't feed without supervision. Not tonight. Can you make a little exception to your rules?"
He laughed. "The Northman is no 'little' exception."
He was right. The Viking was huge. The thought of Eric's broad hands and his hot words clouded her judgement. She wanted to see Niobe's neck trapped in Eric's powerful mouth while her sleek thighs were clapped around her ears. She wanted to feast on the sensual heat of the woman with Eric; to have nothing but that nectar thudding wet between them. "You are a big man yourself, Sebek," she said, unthinking. "With so much to give. You've been more than generous with me. I'm sure we can come to an understanding." She stroked his bare forearm playfully, and Sebek flinched hard at the sudden contact on his skin.
"Sorry!" she gasped, jerking away. She grabbed the balcony railing. "Oh my god, I am so sorry. That was totally rude of me."
He raised an eyebrow. "That was very forward of you, young mistress - and not for the first time. Shall I reciprocate?" He reached over and covered her hand with his. The gems on his heavy rings shone as he curled his fingers around hers. The terrifying power in his palm made Rosalyn want to shrink into her shoes. "Do not think I would say no – were that an invitation." His voice poured slow and thick like honey around the implication.
Rosalyn was too shocked to even swallow. Sebek could dominate her in an instant. He already had. Some primal, animal part of her screamed to submit, to let the Egyptian do as he pleased. She considered how he might ravish her alongside Niobe. She considered screaming for Eric at the top of her lungs. The blood and sex and violence of the night had scrambled her brain entirely. "I didn't mean -"
He laughed heartily. "My dear, you must do much better at hiding your talents. Whatever you just did when you touched me? I felt it."
"Shit," Rosalyn exhaled, mortified. She must have accidentally pushed a compulsion at him.
He released her hand, but not before letting his fingertips slowly caress the tops of hers. "That is a very dangerous skill. Your wandering hands could send all sorts of mixed messages."
Before she could reply, she shivered in a maker's call. Sebek smiled wolfishly. "Run along, my sweet. You will find your master at the end of the north hall." She offered another embarrassed apology and he waved it off. "If he asks, I'll say only that you erred as all newborns do. Nothing more."
She gave a grateful curtsey and slipped through the bustling parlor. Eric sprang up to follow her. He grabbed her arm when they were out of earshot. "Did that old bastard just make a move on you?"
"I kind of - " she began, unsure how to explain her error. She was still confused herself. "He thought… I might have…flirted?" She grimaced.
"Rosalyn!" He stopped dead in his tracks.
"It wasn't…I was just trying to get Sebek to let me share Niobe with you. He was making a point. I made a mistake."
"We are in his nest," he hissed. "We can't afford for you to get horny and confused!"
"I wasn't. I'm not," she said defensively.
"You had better hope to Hela that Maker agrees." He marched her toward the bathhouse, muttering to himself. "Share the Vizier's chief concubine with me. Are you trying to get me castrated? Surtur's fire and the Nine Realms." He left her at the bathhouse door.
"You aren't coming?" she asked.
"Hell no. You deal with Godric yourself, newborn." He turned sharply on his heel.
"Eric - " she tried. He had already stormed halfway down the hall.
Steam stretched and curled across the bathhouse, pillowing the air with an earthy fragrance. In the middle of the tiled room, Arun stood unchained and stripped down. He held his arms wide for a human servant, who doused him with long pours of a saffron-infused olive oil from a pitcher. She rubbed the oil into the dried blood and dirt on his skin, working the matted grime loose. The foul slurry dripped and pooled around his feet.
Godric sat on a short stool, only half-coated. "I can't reach my back."
Rosalyn exhaled unconsciously, relieved he had only called her for help with this strange bathing ritual. The woman who had led him here was nowhere to be found. He had undoubtedly scared her off. Rosalyn scavenged around for a sink and found several behind a privacy wall. She did not dare lay hands on him until she had washed off Sebek's scent.
Rolling up her sleeves, she set about slathering him with the fragrant bath oil. When he was thoroughly greased, he handed her a long, curved stick. It resembled a bent shoehorn. "For the excess oil," he explained. She imitated the servant, carving the scraper over the planes of his body until he gleamed.
Arun stared openly at her while she worked - a probing, inquisitive look that stopped just short of being a leer. She glared back, fed up with elders and their hierarchies and inspections. Who was he to judge her? He had eaten his own god damn sister before her very eyes. The creep still had Calla's heart-blood crusted in his beard. Shivers sang across her skin at the memory.
The trail of horror Arun had left in Thea's courtyard suggested that he was nothing like the reserved scholar that Amleth and Eric had proclaimed him to be. Rosalyn figured it must have been their grief talking. At the slightest mention of his name, the boys got all soft-voiced and reverent and called him their superior without a trace of sarcasm. Clearly they had embellished the dead man's character and exaggerated his deeds. Eric was never so complimentary of the living. The very-much-still-undead vampire before Rosalyn was not some enlightened, principled elder. Arun was a wily, secretive killer. A betrayer and deceiver. A loner. She distrusted him entirely, and considering the misery he had caused, she was resolved to keep him as far away from her family as possible.
That was, if Godric would stop acting so strangely toward him. He stood briskly, pushing her aside, and invited Arun into the bathing pool. They waded in together and bobbed around, shoulder to shoulder, like two deadly piranhas, rinsing and speaking in a near-silent exchange. Rosalyn could not follow their conversation; she doubted she would recognize the language they used even if she could. The mere sight of them paddling around chummily was disturbing, and she suddenly understood Eric's fury with perfect clarity.
The servant brought her a fresh towel for Godric. "How long have you been in your master's service?" she asked.
"Oh, um. Not long. You?"
"I've served Master Sebek almost eight years now." She looked disapprovingly at Rosalyn's muddied pants and raggedy braid. "You should try to clean yourself up. They don't like it when our hygiene is bad or we look old."
The woman had no idea she was vampire. "What happens here when Sebek isn't happy?" Rosalyn asked.
The woman was scandalized by the question. "Master rotates us out. Can you imagine working for a poor vampire? After this lifestyle? No way."
"You wouldn't want a regular job?"
"Go back to the normie world?" she scoffed. "Would you?"
The woman had a point. The door did not revolve. It had never felt more firmly shut.
Rosalyn was so distracted by their conversation that she never heard Godric leave the water. "Do not turn your back on your elders," he hissed suddenly, poking her spine with a finger. "It is dangerous - and disrespectful."
She was stunned by his disapproving tone and turned in time to witness Arun emerge from the steaming pool like a South Asian demi-god. Steam poured away from his clean skin, revealing the raw, ancient power that gilded his lines. It limned the elegant slopes of his shoulders and the strong, lean architecture of his bones. He bent sideways and shook out his long, gleaming hair.
"Good Christ," Rosalyn sputtered, averting her eyes. She certainly did not know any scholars built like that.
"I keep telling you that vampire appearances can be deceiving. Pay attention."
"Yes, Maker," she replied automatically, dismayed to be reprimanded for a second time. She wrapped him in the thick white towel and began drying him off, galled by the way he was treating her.
From the corner of her eye, Arun raised a shapely foot and shifted an elbow to accommodate the servant's work. His aura cast shadows at the edge of Rosalyn's vision, as though she were a dull, wayward moon and he the total eclipse. His comportment was uncannily like Amleth's - all gliding, refined motion. The unearthly glow radiating from his skin, however, for some reason reminded her distinctly of Eric.
Godric smirked. "My old friend is firstborn in his maker's blood. You can tell, I think, yes?" She nodded, eyes downcast. "The stamp of concentrated power leaves a mark. We call it the glaem."
"Eric has that," she supplied quietly.
"Aye, he does."
"Pam too," she noted.
"Are you going to break the news to her or should I?" Arun mused.
"You hush," Godric told him.
Rosalyn suddenly felt extremely self-conscious, as perhaps she should have all along. She was second-born. An unexpected addition - and an awfully inconvenient one at that. Arun's startling gaze was leveled directly at her and it burned with a fierce intelligence that betrayed his serene exterior. Surely he must be wondering why Godric had bothered. Who was she next to the great Eric Northman? Or compared to any of Godric's ancient and gifted friends? She was so unremarkable that the human in the room assumed she was alive.
She ducked behind Godric to escape Arun's watchful eye. "You two have known each other a long time."
Godric hummed in consideration. "Two thousand three hundred thirty-two years and…seven months," he said, taking a moment to calculate it.
The number stunned her, as did his unexpected precision. It made her even more anxious. She let her hands drop to his waist, and she stroked her thumbs nervously over the muscled ridges of his pelvis. Arun and Amleth shared a certain broad-chested, tight-hipped build. So did Godric, for that matter. She fixated on Godric's figure and her discomfort and said exactly the wrong thing. "Tarquin certainly had a type, didn't he."
Arun let out a small, shocked laugh through his nose. A toothy smile flashed white beneath the thick curve of his mustachioed beard. Godric took the towel from her, clearly annoyed. "Let me dress and introduce you two properly."
"I think we're well past formalities, no?" She gestured at Arun's tiny undershorts and made a weak joke about the murder and near-nudity of the evening.
"Our friend keeps to the Old World etiquette, Ros, like our host. He wouldn't dare slink around with another bloodline's consort without first securing a formal introduction to her. We are conservative like that." He tugged her messy braid and her cheeks burned in cold shame. Of course he had scented Sebek on her.
Arun dressed in borrowed clothes. Godric's stretchy yoga pants fell short on his long shins. Once he had finished twisting his dark hair into a messy topknot, Godric pulled Rosalyn to his side. He gave her name and titles – a list that seemed to grow nightly - and introduced her to the rightful heir of the Tarquinii. Arun of Takshashila, he called him, and Aruna Apauruseya too - He Who Was Not Made by Man. Vedic Master, Venerated One, Lord of the Five Waters.
Arun pressed his hands together humbly and bowed. "Namaskaram, Lady Rosalyn. I am honored to know you. May you and your husband be protected and nourished by the light of your eternal love."
"Thank you. That's very kind. It's…an unexpected pleasure to meet you," she replied.
He deepened his bow. "My sword and shield are yours, as my sire's served House Goðrík before me."
Rosalyn exhaled between her teeth. "Arun, the Tarquinii celebrated my turning by blowing me up. You'll forgive me if I'm a little unclear on where you and your sword's allegiances lie. You have a lot to prove before I can accept your offer."
Arun's expression morphed rapidly from benevolence to astonishment. He looked to Godric. "You've turned another warrior."
She objected. "I'm not - "
"A reformer?" he supplied. "Not every warrior wields a sword, madam. Your radical ideas are as sharp as any blade."
The accusation curdled the blood in Rosalyn's ears. "I'm not some extremist. You're the one who won't even talk to a woman without her husband's permission."
"Shhhut-tut-tut," he chastised. "Extremism is always a matter of perspective, young one. You have drawn a lot of attention to yourself in your war against the old ways. The newspapers -"
"You don't even pretend to deny it, do you? You're in league with Amleth and Thea!"
"Absolutely not," he said flatly. He took a measured step backwards, allowing her space. Rosalyn recognized the move instantly; Godric regularly diminished himself to appear less threatening to others. It was a smokescreen. Arun clasped his wrists piously behind his back and spoke gently. "Your mission is a noble one and needs defending – very obviously. I do not offer my sword and shield lightly. Your mission is mine, if you will have me."
"You are getting way ahead of yourself. We haven't even figured out where the hell you've been hiding all these years."
Godric set a hand on her shoulder. "We will have plenty of time to talk, Ros. And he will talk, this I promise you. In the meantime, he has made a pledge to support you. Will you not accept it, even provisionally?"
She turned, incredulous. "Why on earth should I? Amleth swore to me. Constantine and Eva swore. Where did that get me? I don't understand why you are giving AWOL here a second chance when his shithead brother robbed us blind and nearly murdered me!"
Arun frowned and Godric tightened his grip on her. "I suggest you consider how your hot-headed brother is influencing your mouth right now before you speak again. That sort of talk does not bring honor to your House or Maker."
Rosalyn started to protest, then felt the tips of Godric's fingers dig into her muscles. His displeasure and the sharp pain in her shoulder gave her pause. She realized that Eric was indeed seething mad through his end of the bond and goading her own anger. "Arun is your elder," Godric reminded her. "After his maker, he is my second oldest friend in undeath. Twenty-three hundred years, Rosalyn. I will not toss that aside so hastily. Not until we have more information."
She scowled in disbelief. Either he was making a massive mistake, or he had some suspicion. Maybe this was one of his sneaky tests to trick a traitor into admitting his guilt. It didn't mean she had to like it, and she had to dig pretty deep to find the right words as consort, or as his progeny, or whatever role it was that Godric wanted her to play. She stepped toward Arun, inspecting him up close and appreciating the details of his slightly hooked nose and the faint scars he bore. "Forgive me. There are a lot of hard feelings between our families right now. Amleth...well. Your brother taught me that beginnings are important, and this is ours. I've only heard wonderful things about you. For your sake, I hope that they are true."
Arun bowed again over his palms. "Bless you, Lady Rosalyn, Most Noble Consort of the Goðríkii. Please accept my apology as well. I only meant to say that the newspapers did not do you justice. The journalists said you were 'passionate' about your cause. But they mistook the source of your flame entirely." His molten gaze connected with hers. "The fire of Godric's blood becomes you in every way."
Arun's flattery left her speechless, exactly as he intended. She was reminded of Amleth, with his suave words and the cruel lies that lay behind them; Amleth, with that eloquence and spellbind and the scorching dark beauty which had promised her love and had blown up in her face.
Godric waited for her to reply - waited for her to move as his chess piece in whatever crooked charade he was now playing. It infuriated her. Everything he had done since the bombing had been part of some misdirection. Rosalyn had no idea which man before her was the bigger liar, but she did know who was the bigger killer, and she wanted no part in any of it. Her mouth tightened. "Devapatnl," she told Arun.
"What?" he said, blinking in surprise.
"The press only saw me as a garden vegetable – a devapatnl. But you ought to know the sweet potato's secret." Godric stared at her in astonishment. He knew nothing of the Sanskrit title Amleth had given her.
Arun narrowed his eyes. "Indeed. She is the wife of a god," he said cautiously.
She shot a dirty look at Godric and her features hardened. "It turns out that god is a savage boy called Death."
"Hey!" Godric said defensively. Rosalyn snatched up the used towels and filthy clothes left forgotten on the floor and went to help the servant.
"Oh Gohdiji," Arun laughed, delighted. "Gods alive, you have outdone yourself. She's a thousand times feistier than Eric! Were I old enough, I would heartily approve her turning."
"She has that effect on people," Godric replied drily, ignoring his wife seething resentment at him from across the room.
"Who has blessed her with their guardianship?" Arun asked. "I must congratulate them."
"Our host," Godric told him. He produced a set of heavy handcuffs from his pocket and clicked one of its thick bracelets around Arun's wrist. He yanked hard on the cuff. "I'd keep that in mind, were I you."
Arun searched Godric with a stunned half-smile. "Feed me to the crocodile and let him read my blood. Better yet, take mine yourself once more. I have nothing to hide from you, old friend."
"We shall see," Godric said, and roughly secured the other handcuff to his own wrist.
Rosalyn bumped past the dancers and avoided making eye contact with the leggy Egyptian on the couch. Niobe was curled around him, whispering into his ear.
"Your baths take me back," Godric told him. "Thank you."
Sebek withdrew his arm from Niobe's shoulders and motioned for her to leave him. "Please, join us. Have a drink. Have several." He grinned mischievously at Rosalyn, whose gaze had followed his concubine.
"You have to try one, grandsire," Pamela chortled enthusiastically from another couch. "His selection is extraordinary!" She and Eric were slurping belly shots off Wiktor and another dancer.
"I am well acquainted with Sebek's vintages, Pamela," Godric assured her. "Our host is a skilled herbalist."
"Is that what we're calling it these days?" Sebek laughed. He invited him to the tray of cocktails set out on a leather pouffe. Godric plucked one at random. He savoured it momentarily, then identified it as belonging to the woman playing the flute. He handed the remainder to Rosalyn, who downed it in two gulps.
"Try the one in the green goblet," Sebek suggested to her.
"My wife has had a long night," Godric answered.
"But of course," Sebek acquiesced. "A newborn wife is a fine excuse to turn in early."
Godric uncuffed himself and passed the prisoner and the keys over to Sebek. The Egyptian patted the cushion beside him, but Arun chose to fold himself on the silk rug at Sebek's feet. He eyed the drinks tray, but absent an invitation, did not reach for one. Godric expressed his thanks once more and excused himself and Rosalyn. "Let's have something spicy, yes?" they heard Sebek asking Arun as they left. Sebek called for another tray to be brought out.
In the guest room, Godric quickly searched the undersides of the tables and the insides of the furniture's drawers. He clicked the lamps on and off and on again, making sure none of the electrical equipment was more than it seemed. The estate's simple antique décor concealed a variety of state-of-the-art conveniences. Satisfied that the room was free of spyware, he collapsed backwards onto the room's generous canopy bed and flipped on the television. "Gods, what a night," he sighed happily.
Every international news station played the same shaky cellphone video of a massive fireball mushrooming into the Athens sky. He flipped repeatedly between channels. Rosalyn kicked off her combat boots by the door. "Satisfied with your work?" she asked. His only reply was to switch from the BBC to NHK. She waited for him to explain himself - to say anything about why he was acting like such a pill.
"What did Arun mean about taking his blood again?" she finally asked.
"Is it not obvious?" he shrugged.
"You told me I didn't need to worry about competition from any of your old flames. What exactly am I dealing with here?"
He shifted enough to cast her a sidelong glance. "You don't have to be lovers to bloodshare."
"A bond is intimate, regardless," she pointed out.
"It can be. Or it can be brutal and invasive."
She frowned. "That's not an answer."
"Perhaps not. I don't have to give you one."
"You had better."
He studied her up and down and licked his lips. "How about I give you what you need," he threatened.
Rosalyn was so not in the mood. She called Eric. It took him a moment to materialize. He was hesitant to leave Pamela alone in an unfamiliar nest, especially one so full of forbidden fruits, and he was clearly unused to having his duties split between his progeny and his bonded.
"What's up?" he asked when Rosalyn cracked the door. She widened it slightly and jerked her head at their maker. Godric was humming to himself watching tv. "I see," he said, and slipped inside.
Godric muted the television and set the remote aside, his back turned to them. "If you two think for one second that you are going to gang up on me, you are gravely mistaken."
"We need to talk about the plan for Arun," she said. "He's…a complication."
"No," Godric said patiently. "He is an unexpected blessing in the disaster that has been the last six months."
"Thanks a lot," she retorted, offended that he was lumping her turning and their marriage into the mess.
"You know what I mean." He rose and meandered the other side of the bed, straightening the coverlet he had rumpled as he went. "Learn to recognize a gain among the wash of setbacks and losses we've suffered. Whether Arun is implicated in the attack on our House or he truly went underground for his safety, it is a chance for me to get the answers I need."
Rosalyn ran a hand across her face. If he spoke patronizingly to her one more time she was going to lose it. "It's so obvious that you want him to be innocent. You're practically vibrating with giddiness. I hate to say it, but please be your usual distrusting self."
"Who says I'm not?"
She looked up at Eric for support. "Do you see what I'm dealing with?"
"Oh I see, baby girl." He raised an eyebrow at Godric. The silent exchange that passed between him and his maker was rapid and grew heated. "I have rights as her bonded," Eric finally shouted out loud.
"This is maker's business," Godric retorted. "Test me and see what happens."
Eric raked his fingers through his hair, found a chair, and gestured for Rosalyn to do the same. She refused. "Eric, you've been furious since the moment you laid eyes on Arun. If you had seen how Godric treated him just now, you'd -"
"Stop," Eric told her. "You're in a new nest, surrounded by strange predators. Your territorial instincts are in overdrive."
"Godric didn't hesitate to lock Amleth up and throw away the key without a shred of evidence against him. But he was right to distrust him in the end. How do you figure it's okay that Arun is suddenly alive and Maker is letting him hang out with Sebek to do shots off a dancer's ass?"
"It's certainly where I would be, if you hadn't called me into this," Eric quipped. Godric snickered.
"Oh, you think this is funny?" she asked him.
Godric shrugged again, rocking on his heels. "The only reason Arun is cuffed to Sebek and not me is because your guardian volunteered to watch him. There isn't a secure jail cell here. Perhaps you are just angry that Sebek is not free to further entertain you?"
"How dare you!" Rosalyn barked.
In a flash, he was in her face. "I. Do. Dare."
"Ros!" Eric shouted, jumping halfway out of his seat to intervene. "We're all feeling territorial. Godric's not immune to it. Stop."
"Did you know he used to be blood bonded to Arun?"
"Yes, but -"
"The audacity!" Rosalyn snarled, turning back to her husband. "Why is it so important to you that I make a good impression on him, hm? Who is Arun to you really?" Godric said nothing. She shook her head in disgust. "You have this family running all over god damned creation for every vampire with a drop of Lucius fucking Tarquinius' blood. You're trying to run his bloodline like it's your own. Claim them, punish them, play in a freaking kiddy pool with them - his children are not your responsibility!"
"Apologize. Immediately!" Eric ordered. "You do not swear at him."
"No," she retorted.
Godric blinked lazily, unmoved. "And here I wanted to celebrate our victory over Calla." He drew a suggestive finger down her arm. Rosalyn jerked away. He caught her elbow with a dangerous glint in his eye.
"Ros," Eric growled in warning.
"Fuck you, Eric!"
Godric whipped her in a half-circle, and caught her mouth in an iron hand. His ferocious stare made her sink down to her knees. He towered over her, a finger jammed in her face. "Craven, unstable, rude newborn," he accused. He snapped at Eric. "You sit," he ordered. Rosalyn realized that Eric was right where she had been standing. He had launched himself at her in defense of Godric.
"Neither of you berserkers move until I return," Godric commanded. The door slammed behind him as he left.
"Back so soon?" Sebek chimed in amusement. One of the dancers was on her knees servicing him with both hands and all the throat she could muster. Godric casually dropped down on the far end of the couch.
Arun sat cross-legged on the floor between them. He held up his goblet in offering and Godric declined. "You sure?" he pressed.
"My feast is elsewhere," he said, sounding tired.
Arun laughed quietly and shook his head. "Life never ceases to amaze."
"It can be extraordinary, if you remember to look." Godric reached down and squeezed the familiar round of Arun's shoulder. Arun gazed up at him, and they let the silence fill what words could not. "Don't talk," Godric had advised him earlier. "Not yet. Not tonight." He did not want to sully this fleeting joy with the inevitable truths and bloody falsehoods and extracted confessions that he knew would follow.
"Where's Pamela?" Godric asked him.
"Eric sent her to bed when he left." Godric nodded, glad that she had not been left unsupervised.
Sebek straightened his kaftan and shooed the woman away. "Your young mistress does not understand much about our world," he told Godric.
Godric bristled. He was not about to be drawn into a debate about his approach to raising newborns, not even with her guardian. Raising her in the middle of a blood feud and surviving it was enough work as it was. "Should I be concerned about something particular?" he asked instead.
"I recommend having her spend time with some of the more unremarkable specimens of our kind. An hour with that baboon Compton ought to be instructional," Sebek chuckled. "She cannot pretend to be something she is not if she does not know what she is imitating. And I cannot pretend that my protection will shelter her if she isn't more discrete with her gifts."
"I'll take it under advisement."
"Do." Sebek said, meaningfully eyeing the hand Godric still had on Arun's shoulder.
Godric withdrew it, realizing he might not be as secretive about his own powers as he imagined. His touch was entirely appropriate, however, and confined to the material of Arun's shirt - one of Godric's own, lent from the stack of cotton tees in his suitcase. He wasn't running around stroking his scent into other vampires' bare skin like a bloodlusted, unclaimed slut. He could still smell the suggestive mark Rosalyn had left up the length of Sebek's arm and his blood boiled. She had reached out to the Vizier exactly as she had to him the night they met. Her touch had meant everything to him. It had changed his life forever. Did she not realize how much her actions tonight hurt him?
In another life, he would have toyed around with Arun to play on Rosalyn's insecurities about him in order to send her a powerful, painful message. But pettiness was beneath him these days, and his long lost friend had suffered enough indignities at his hands. Well, almost. Arun might have to endure one or two more before this fight was through. In any event, Godric had an altogether different sort of punishment for Rosalyn in mind.
Sebek waved a hand, reflecting further. "Rosalyn has no conception of the concentrated power you've given her."
Arun looked up. "She's extraordinary. I've never seen a second child with a glaem before. Why haven't told her she has one?"
"She won't care about it like others do," Godric explained. "It won't matter to her even when she realizes."
Sebek hummed. "I am reminded of why we used to prevent ancients like you from creating children like yours."
Mandatory procreation was a favorite punishment among certain overzealous magistrates. Through a combination of grit and luck, Godric had escaped the fate of most troublemakers who were forced to weaken themselves with unwanted progeny. And while there were plenty of ancients like Sebek who had outlived some or all of their children, it was almost unheard of to reach Godric's age with so much unshared power. "What can I say, Vizier. I've always been an outlaw," Godric drawled. "You could always join me in late-life fatherhood. It is quite rewarding."
Sebek rolled his eyes. "Did you need something?"
"Yes. I want Niobe," he told him flatly.
The air was suddenly sucked from the room. Sebek held up a hand and signaled for his musicians and dancers to vacate the space immediately. They abandoned their drums and lyres and fled. After a tense beat, no one had spoken and Arun squirmed, aware that being chained to one ancient potentially about to disagree with another left him in an extremely precarious position. He was liable to get ripped to shreds.
"Why would I grant such a thing to you?" Sebek demanded.
"You saw how Rosalyn thirsts for Niobe," Godric replied, "and I know we are both old men who like spoiling her."
"And yet it is you who ask for my favorite. Why does she not ask me herself?"
"Because Rosalyn doesn't know how to desire for herself, Sebek. I haven't shown her how. Help me help her. She is too worried about me to consider being selfish, but she won't betray my confidence to tell you why."
Sebek made a croaking sound in agreement. "You have my attention."
Godric suppressed a smile. The ancient had taken the bait. "I've not fed live since I turned her," he admitted.
Sebek straightened in alarm. "Not once?"
"How have you…Nevermind." Sebek shook his head. He did not want to know. He drummed his jeweled fingers in thought. "Your mistress is under the impression that my courtesans are no different than common American blood whores, with their contracts and pocket money and filthy scabs."
"I'll instruct her about the honors of dutiful court life," Godric promised.
"Arun, how do I appear to you youths?" Sebek asked. "Do I seem no better than a pathetic John who pays to be loved?"
Arun dipped his head. "No, my Lord. You most certainly do not."
Sebek made a noise in annoyance. "The true ancients will not bend so easily to Mistress Rosalyn's blustering. We will not be shamed by a newborn in our own houses. Her screeching curdles men's hearts into coward's milk and makes them resist her cause, even when they secretly desire it. You must teach her to be a whisper on a shifting breeze. Have you ever once heard Her Highness Neith of Egypt demand of anyone? No! Her will is known and it is done, Ma'at guide us."
Arun was frozen stiff with fear at the ancient's tone, and Godric leaned past his shoulder and lightly patted it again as he took a drink from the tray. "Praise the gods, Great Vizier, for her majesty knows the ways of the Lord of Truth and treads lightly in the Halls of Eternity."
"A matter a million times true," Sebek replied automatically, completing the sacred invocation.
Godric took a long, contemplative sip from his drink, glad he still remembered some of the finer points of the Book of the Dead. Not all of his time in Egypt had been wasted. "I pray my progeny has not given offense," he said, truly hoping she had not.
Sebek made another croaking sound and waved it off. "She is a delight. I only wish she would graciously accept the tribute she is due."
"Ah. You already offered her Neith then?" he guessed.
Sebek quirked an eyebrow at the Celt. "Yes."
Godric laughed. "But she would not accept her alone."
"Great Lord, you are not the first, nor the last, to be confused by Ros' modesty. Eric can fill your evenings with unbelievable tales of all the gifts she has refused from him. She once posted a box of his own money to him. A rather exorbitant sum, apparently. Didn't even bother to register the parcel."
"This story I must hear!" Sebek cackled and slapped his knee, accidentally jerking Arun's arm and nearly dislocating it out of the socket. "Ah, apologies, apologies, young one."
"I'm fine," Arun said through clenched teeth. He secreted a glance at Godric, desperate to be freed from the ancient. Godric ignored him, instead running a sharp fingernail down the back of his neck, raising a long, angry welt. "Sebek, I'm ravenous," he lied. "If I don't feed, I'm going to take it out on our prisoner tomorrow and it won't end well."
Sebek drummed his fingers again in agitation. "You should have informed me of the situation before we began this mission."
"I'm informing you now." He leaned forward, as if to confide further in the Vizier. Instead, he crooked an arm down around Arun's neck and with a violent twist, snapped it. Arun slumped over. Sebek glanced down, unconcerned, and said nothing. Godric looked around the room in consideration."I hadn't realized how this place would affect me. I've not been inside a pleasure palace in ages. You understand."
Sebek nodded. "I imagine they do not bring back pleasant memories."
"No, they don't." Godric's nostrils flared. "I imagine you don't care to recall my memories either."
A cold smile of appreciation slithered over Sebek's features. "So this is blackmail, then, is it, my boy?"
"I'm not your boy," Godric retorted. "And Rosalyn never need be told that you tried to buy me."
Sebek shook his head in disagreement. "To save you -"
"But you didn't, did you?" Godric hissed dangerously. "And we both know your intentions weren't so pure. I accept your friendship, but you owe me this one, old man. Admit it, and give me Niobe."
Sebek leaned back and calmly folded his hands in his lap. After a long, protracted moment, he agreed. "Then have Niobe, and we shall clear our debts and only remember that once we shared an Ethiopian of exceptional beauty."
The limp hand attached to Sebek's wrist twitched. A groan came from the floor. "Ugh. What happened?" the voice slurred.
"I happened," Godric informed him. He got up and bowed shallowly. "Thank you, Lord Sebek."
"I have one condition," Sebek said. Godric clenched his jaw. The First Ones always had some unpleasant request. "You must explain to Rosalyn why I'll need a new chief concubine and housekeeper. And why she will be the one to procure her for me."
"By my count, that's two conditions."
Sebek grinned, all teeth. "My Painted Child, you could have simply complimented me on my good taste in Niobe and told me you desired her. I would have given her to you freely and no one would have ever spoken of the ugly past. Instead you chose to use a knife on my ego when you could have used a feather."
Godric did not care for Sebek's tone, and he sucked at his teeth, ready to bolt in case this turned into a proper fight. "And you want to know why?"
"I am sure you think that you are testing me to understand how I negotiate and to feel around my pressure points to discover what I'll do when cornered. You tell yourself that you'll use this in the event that I become an enemy.
"No, young Godric. I know why you want to twist the knife on me. The question is, do you know why you are so incapable of choosing the feather?" Godric frowned. Sebek smiled fondly at him, and a little sadly too. "It is why I have asked Her Highness Princess Iset to join us tomorrow for the questioning. You are right to think you cannot be trusted with Arun. You are a man who lives a half-life in the shadow of his own history. Do yourself a favor and tell your wife I said so. She'll know what to do, far better than you."
The dressing down left Godric confused and alarmed, and not knowing what else to do, he bowed again, this time deeply. "I'll see to it that Rosalyn understands your terms."
"Very well. Enjoy despoiling what was mine. Niobe?" Sebek called, pulling a disoriented Arun to his feet. Sebek kissed Niobe sweetly when she came to him and he thanked her and told her to have fun with Lord Godric and Lady Rosalyn.
"Why does it sound like you are saying goodbye, Master?" she asked.
"Because I am. Don't worry. You won't remember to miss me," Sebek told her.
And just like that, she didn't.
A/N: Hi everyone! So so sorry to keep you waiting on this one. It's been a rollercoaster few months. I've got the next chapter mostly written and (spoiler!) it starts off very steamy. Hoping to hear you're still following along and that you want to know about what happens to Rosalyn, Godric, Eric, and the gang. Thoughts about how Maker-Daddy Godric 'punishes' his naughty progeny? Theories about Amleth and Arun? Questions about why Tarquin has such hot-ass children? I'd love to hear from you! Sending you all good health and high spirits. xx, M