Welcome to Lulai's 'E' story. Not much to say here. Oh, I remember. I received an e-mail that I'm not actually allowed to respond to viewers at the beginning of chapters like I usually do. So, if you really want a review, just log in or leave your e-mail, and I will personally respond until this whole matter is cleared up. I don't really want to cause a huge ruckus.
Oh, and another thing. I have actually added a land across the sea. (Whoa!) You might guess that they are vaguely based off of a certain culture, just as Protantia is vaguely based off of England. Vague is the key word here. Please don't write me telling me that I have their culture all wrong, I'm making half of it up as I go along.
alba - love
pyati - pirate
(In Jenn's magical made up language! Wee!)
Chapter One: Blackmail
Was it possible for one to be burning up and freezing at the exact same time?
Prince Xavier Fer Drewery lay in the filth and grime that used to be the beautiful Plains of Tarthan, and pondered the thought. His skin was hot, burning as if he had been dipped in oil and lit on fire, but his insides…
His insides were ice.
His head rolled to the side, and he looked around at the field, littered with the dead and the dying. Their blood had mixed with the churned up plains, turning the once deep brown soil a muddy pink. Perhaps in a few years, the blood would fertilize the soil and beautiful things would grow, but for now, all he could see were the eyes that would never blink, boys that would never grow up, men that would never see their children again.
A single tear leaked out his eye, tracing a path through the dirt and the dried blood from a gash in his forehead, falling into the hair at his temple.
They had won the war, kept Equilian back from their border, but at what price? His father was dead, clipped by a stray arrow. He would have laughed bitterly at the thought if he had the strength. There were no stray arrows in war. All were aimed to kill, no matter who the target was originally supposed to be.
His father hadn't even died instantly, but lay in the bed back at the castle, hanging on to life for five nerve-wracking days. He hadn't even had the strength to open his eyes, although his wife, children, and parents were with him night and day.
His father's death was the first piece of the war that actually hit home for the nobles. Even now, a year later, the lords and ladies liked to pretend that the war didn't pertain to them, that they were safe in their cities and townships. That there weren't people dying just a few days ride east of Barrish.
Xavier was tired of fighting. He was tired of wading through the ranks, knowing that the men he killed were only there on orders from their king, as were his own people. He was tired of holding men's hands as they died, telling them of the Faerie Court that awaited everyone who fought bravely for their country.
Faerie Court. That was a cruel irony now. Still, he repeated the speech almost daily, until it was ingrained in his head so deeply, it recited itself to him in his dreams.
He was burning. He was cold. He had no more feeling in his legs.
He could hear the distant sounds of men cheering, and he knew the rest of his regiment was chasing the last of the retreating Equilian army back into their lands.
It was pure fluke really that he wasn't there with them. His horse had been hit with a spear, falling and trapping his lower body underneath. He had lain in the dirt and the death for what felt like days, although it was probably mere hours.
He should have been happy, he knew. He should have been proud of the fact he had kept their land safe. He had fought for them, to keep the peace for his sisters, his mother, his grandparents, and everyone else.
But all he could think of was how much he just wanted to sleep. Close his eyes to the death and decay. Close out all the pain and fear. Just sleep…
"Oh my God, it's his Highness," a man exclaimed. Xavier vaguely felt his helm being pulled off, and the cool wind stirring the sweat soaked black locks. Cool fingers touched his forehead, touched his throat right above his breastplate.
"He's still alive! And burning up," the voice continued. "You there fellows. Help me here!"
There was a great deal of grunting and swearing, and somewhere in his fever-ridden mind, Xavier realised that they were moving his dead horse off of him. Blood rushed back into his lower limbs, and with it came pain. Excruciating pain that finally caused the prince to black out entirely.
"Look at his leg!" a soldier cried. The first man swallowed the bile that rose up in his throat. The prince's right leg was twisted at an unnatural angle, obviously broken through the thigh.
"Let's get him to the healers," the first man said, and motioned for the others to help him. He took a flag and the spear out of the horse's chest and fashioned a sort of makeshift stretcher.
"That's gonna hurt 'im like hell," the soldier said, motioning to the prince's leg.
"It's the best we can do until the healers straighten it. Now, ready? One, two, three, lift!" They lifted the prince's unconscious form onto the stretcher and began to take it back to where their tents were safely positioned, by the river, close to Barrish in case they needed to make a stand at the castle.
The leader sent messengers along ahead to make sure that there was room for the prince, and that they were going to be ready for him.
"Everyone out," the medic there said. The nurses were already gathering materials needed to try and straighten the bone in Xavier's thigh.
"Wait," Xavier said weakly. The man who had first seen him started. He hadn't realised that the prince had regained consciousness.
"You," the prince said, looking at him with muddled brown eyes. "Name?"
"Devon," the man said with a slight bow. "Devon of Delainë."
"Thank you, Devon of Delainë." The prince's eyes glazed over as the healer put a sort of potion under his nose.
…Two months later
As Xavier limped down the long hallway of a house in the slightly seedier part of Drewery, he went over in his mind everything he knew about Duke Eric Fer Delainë. His cane thumped softly in the carpet, made all the more ominous by the fact there seemed to be no servants about. Surely, the self-reputed King of the Sea would have a least a couple servants. But other than the butler that met him at the front door, Xavier had not seen another soul.
It was enough to make him more than a little wary.
Little was really known about Delainë's past. He suddenly appeared when his father died twenty years prior to assume the title. He made periodic stops in his coastal town, in order to check up on his holdings, but it was more than obvious the man had seawater as opposed to blood in his veins.
Unfortunately, his dealings were usually less than savoury. It was even rumoured that the man was a pirate. He held sway over most of the black market in the land, and didn't mind flaunting his power if anyone started to get out of line.
The man did have some redeeming qualities, however. He fought bravely on the Protantian side of the war, mostly sacking Equilian ships up and down the coast, preventing supplies from reaching their destinations. Expectedly, this only added fuel to the fires of the rumours of past piracy.
The Devil Duke, Xavier thought wryly, remembering the nickname murmured behind Delainë's back throughout the court.
Of course, there were the occasional jibes that the Devil Duke actually was a demon escaped from hell on account of the man's mere size. And the harsh scars that graced his features were a testament to the brutal battle the man had fought to climb out of the fiery chasm.
Nevertheless, Xavier had never given credibility to the rumours- until now.
Having receiving a summons a mere two hours earlier (although summons was a broad way of putting it, it having been a threat more than anything else), Xavier admitted to himself that his interest was piqued. So that's why, with only a muttered word about going out, he had left the castle and was limping down the long dark corridor towards the room at the end.
He reached the massive oak door, and without a proceeding word, turned the knob and entered.
Delainë was sitting at his desk, his boots propped up on the shiny surface, examining a small, shiny object that looked rather like a fork. He noticed Xavier's presence and took his feet down, rising to his full height out of the chair.
To his credit (or discredit as the case may be), Delainë did not look at all as though he was trying to dispel the constant gossip that surrounded him like a cloud. His dress was almost mockingly casual, leather boots that looked as though they had seen better days, brown pants, and a rough-spun shirt that wasn't quite white anymore. He was also a head taller than Xavier, which was not common at all, considering Xavier was a good inch over six feet when he wasn't leaning on his cane.
His black hair had not been combed, and he wore a goatee type moustache. Both were touched with grey, his hair at the temples, and his beard right below the corners of his mouth. But it was his eyes that made Xavier pause.
Looking out over a large hooked nose, his eyes were the lightest blue he had ever seen, and ringed around the outside with a darker shade. They looked as though they could flay a man to his soul, leaving him naked and bare.
All he needed was a couple horns and a ring of fire, and the picture would be complete.
"Drewery," he said, his voice as rough as his clothing. "I'm glad to see you've made it."
"As the note was so urgent, I couldn't help but hurry," Xavier commented dryly.
"Ah, yes, of course." He walked over to where there was a small mahogany bureau, and poured himself a glass of spirit.
"Port?" he offered, tilting the crystal towards him. Xavier declined with a wave of his hand.
Delainë took his drink back to his desk and sat back down in his chair. "Won't you sit?" he asked, motioning to a chair.
"I prefer to stand," Xavier replied, his voice cool.
Delainë shrugged and picked the fork-like object up in his hand, twirling it almost unconsciously. "Apparently, it's a hair piece," he murmured.
Xavier was starting to get annoyed. He had better things to do with his time than discuss abstract fashion paraphernalia with a man who's soul was rumoured to be sold to the devil in return for ridiculous long life. "Pardon?"
"My wife told me that it's a hair piece, not a fork," he said condescendingly, as if Xavier were a child."What does that have to do-"
"I've called you here to discuss a matter of utmost importance to me," Delainë interrupted. "For you see, it has come to my attention that recently, you have helped a poor girl out of a desperate situation. Financially." His uncanny blue eyes flickered up to Xavier's face. "As you know, that could be called… a loan."
Xavier's temper flared. "Are you accusing me of helping someone?" he asked incredulously. His leg ached horribly from standing so long, but he wasn't about to show weakness in front of the Devil Duke.
"Perhaps I am." He gave the fork/hairpiece a spin around his first finger. "I will, however, be willing to hold my silence, and thus keep you out of jail, if you would do but one favour for me."
"And what if I don't? It will be your word pitted against mine?" Xavier asked belligerently.
"My word," Delainë responded calmly, "the word of the girl herself, and the five other men at the club where you offered to buy her off. I can assure you that I will present a very claimable case. And you will have no choice but to either flee the country, which will paint you in a very bad light, especially after everyone regales you as a hero after your return from the war, or be incarcerated in the jail of your choice. Or, you could simply do me this little thing and I will be willing to pay the right people to conveniently forget, and you can live on your life in peace."
"I can assure you that your attempts at blackmail will be taken quite seriously," Xavier warned.
Delainë leaned forward, his blue eyes glittering dangerously. "No, boy, I can assure you that you have no idea who you are dealing with. I could kill you with no more effort than squashing an ant. It would never be traced, never be solved, and I would be able to do it without a moment's hesitation." He settled back into his chair, and looked quite tranquil again. "But, I like you, Drewery. And your family has actually been quite kind to mine. Besides, you don't even know what the payment is. You might like it."
A black eyebrow shot upward, indicating that Xavier was listening, although not out of any sort of responsibility to Delainë.
"It's fairly common knowledge that I left home at the tender age of thirteen," Delainë started, throwing his boots back up on the desk. "My father was a vile, stupid man, determined to turn me into a younger version of himself. I decided to forgo that route and took to the sea. I would have been quite content to stay far, far away if not for the unfortunate demise of my estranged father."
"You can spare me the life story," Xavier interjected sarcastically, "and just get to the main point."
Delainë looked more amused at Xavier's outburst than anything, and pointed the hairpiece at him accusingly. "I was getting around to it, boy, so shut up and listen." Xavier scowled, not sure whether he was more insulted at being told to shut up or being called boy. But he let Delainë continue.
"As I was saying, even at the age of twenty, I would have been quite content to let the dukedom fall into crumbling ruin, but then I learned that my father had recently had a reactivation of his maternal drive." Delainë stroked his beard thoughtfully, a flash of white teeth in the black as he gave a rueful grin. "I imagine he had finally given up on me, and hearing Death knocking at the door, felt he might try to secure some sort of heir. My mother, a weak sort of woman, died giving birth to his hopeful protégé. Imagine his horror when his heir turned out to be of the wrong sex."
He leaned forward, dropping his feet, his intense eyes boring into Xavier's. "Juliette was the most beautiful baby I had ever seen, and has grown into an equally attractive woman. I tried to keep her out of harm's way, and now I believe I may have done her a disservice. At nineteen, she's bursting at my fences around her, wanting to see everything, and do everything, but is alarmingly, although refreshingly, naïve. I've agreed to let her and her guardians to come here and see the sights of the capital. That's where you-" he pointed the fork at him again- "come in. I want you to escort her."
"Me?" Xavier exclaimed. "But I can't suddenly start squiring around a girl I don't even know."
"You can, and you will," Delainë stated seriously. "Believe me when I tell you that I've loved very few things in my life. Juliette is one of my most precious treasures and I'm entrusting her to your care. Only for one month, then she will go home and you'll be free. As I already stated, Juliette is an innocent. I do not want her taken among the vultures of the nobility to be snubbed merely because of her relation to me." He raised a sardonic brow. "My reputation has served me quite well, but I'm afraid it might cause Juliette harm. I figure the support of a prince would be able to nullify any lingering effects."
His eyes narrowed and he clasped his hands together in front of him, the hairpiece lying on his desk. "She will be arriving in two days time. I seem to recall you are having a birthday celebration on that day for the princess Victoria. I will procure invitations for Juliette and her guardians. I fully expect you to introduce yourself and declare that you are at her disposal."
"And what am I exactly supposed to do with her?" Xavier asked dryly. "Dance?"
"Show her around," Delainë explained, throwing a hand in the air grandly. "Entertain her. Introduce her to some friends, if you so desire. I want my Julie to leave in a month with a smile on her face, and I charge you with that task."
"Anything else I can do for you?" Xavier asked, his voice edged with sarcasm.
"That will be all," Delainë said with a wave of his hand. "Go and do whatever it is that you royalty do in your time."
Xavier's jaw clenched and his hand tightened around his cane, but he managed to bite back the retort that sprang to his lips. He spun around on his good leg and exited the room without another word, an exit only marred by his pronounced limp.
As soon as the door latch clicked closed, a shadow detached itself from the rest of the darkness in the corner of the room and walked over to Delainë.
"You mock him, alba," the woman said simply in a heavily accented voice.
"Ah, my beloved Dhatri. You do me a great injustice." He motioned for his wife to come closer. Dhatri moved willingly, the gold embroidery on the black scarves around her twinkling in the sun.
"Is he the one then?" she asked, sitting in his lap. A circle of gold shimmered in her nose, and he traced her cheek with his finger, her skin the colour of coffee with cream. Her hair shone a shimmering blue black under the embroidered veil that she wore over it. But it was her hazel eyes, shining with intelligence that he loved most of all.
"Yes, I think he is."
"Then I will not be doubting you, alba," the woman said loyally. "Although I cannot say the same will be not doubting for Juliette. She has much of you, and will not be taking what is offered simply because it is offered."
"Unfortunately, I have to agree with you." He sighed and laid a hand on his wife's stomach. "If our little one has half your wisdom, we will be more than lucky."
She smiled, her teeth sparkling white and her gums a healthy pink against the deep tan of her skin. "And if he or she is having half the tenderness of your heart…" she teased.
"Tender? You know, I've run men through for less," he said, laughing.
"Ah, my ruthless pyati," she sighed, and giggled when his lips found hers.