“You don’t have to go through with this, Sariss. You have the right to refuse.”
Sitting at a dressing table, Sariss paused in brushing her long, auburn hair to look at her older sister. “You and I both know that this ‘right of refusal’ is a sham, Thylla. I can no more refuse him than you could refuse to breathe. We may technically be able to do so, but won’t last long afterwards.” She looked back to her reflection and resumed brushing her hair. “There are worse things than being married to Peter Jorsan.”
“He’s just using you,” Thylla warned. “He doesn’t love you.”
“No,” Sariss conceded, “nor do I love him. But he is kind enough to me, he has wealth and status amongst the humans, and as his wife I would essentially be queen of our people.” She gave her sister a smile through the mirror. “I’ll be quite comfortable.”
“You’ll be queen until you bear his daughter. Once Alanu is born, she will supplant you.” Thylla sighed. “But you are right – if you refuse him, he will bring some form of retribution on our family. I just wish he’d chosen someone else besides you.”
Sariss laughed. “Who? There are few full-blooded families left who are not too closely related as to dilute our power. Jessin was his first choice, but she ran off with that human.” She eyed Thylla. “I think he would have selected you over me, actually, but you were already bonded to Hart. While Peter may not have any compunction over dissolving a union for his own gain, he’s not about to anger our fiercest warrior.”
Thylla made a face at her sister’s words, but dutifully helped her finish preparing for her wedding.
◊ ◊ ◊
“Peter? What is happening?” Thylla had been pacing the floor when Jorsan stumbled down the stairs from the surface and bolted the door behind him. “Peter?”
Peter Jorsan shook his head, pushing her aside when she drew too close in her eagerness for answers. He crossed the room and sunk into a chair. “We’ve lost. Guardians had followed a thrall and attacked before we could begin the ceremony. Sariss was right – they have lochfa.”
A wave of dread crashed over Thylla and she grew very still. “Peter… where is Sariss? Where is Alanu?”
Jorsan fixed his gaze on Thylla and she could see pain and fury in his eyes. “Sariss is dead. The lochfa attacked her before she could secure Alanu. There were two of them – she did not have much chance. They took Alanu with them.”
Thylla’s shoulders slumped at the news and she bowed her head. “Hart?” she asked softly without looking up.
“Your husband was the last to fall and took many of the guardians with him.” Peter replied more gently that she’d ever heard him speak before. “He was the greatest of us. I am sorry, Thylla.”
◊ ◊ ◊
Thylla glared defiantly at Lord Jorsan as he tightened the straps holding her to the table.
“Just what did you hope to accomplish, Thylla?” His voice was cold as he walked around her. “Even if you were able to sway others to agree with you, what purpose would it serve? No others are fit to lead. The Alfath need me.”
“You could have stopped the lochfa,” Thylla snarled in return. “You could have saved Sariss and kept them from getting Alanu. Hart didn’t have to die trying to defend you! You are a coward, Peter, and your cowardice makes you weak.”
“You were not there,” Jorsan replied calmly. “You do not know what transpired. If I could have saved your sister and my daughter, Thylla, I would have.” He sighed as he picked up a small knife. “Your distress over the loss of your sister and husband is understandable. Unfortunately, I cannot let your defiance go unanswered.” He drew the blade across her arm. Blood welled up in the cut – blood she knew he would use to power the spells he would use on her. “Soon you will remember just why I am your lord.”
◊ ◊ ◊
The thralls guarding Jorsan’s Delphina mansion met her at the door and immediately escorted her inside to Jorsan’s study. Thylla waited for the door to close behind her before speaking. “You wished to speak with me, my lord?” She kept her tone and expression neutral. It had been years since he’d disciplined her, but she still feared angering him.
Peter Jorsan was seated on a leather couch, a crystal tumbler in his hands. He looked up from studying the dark amber liquid in his glass and motioned to a plush armchair across from him. “Have a seat, Thylla.” He sounded serious, resigned – but not threatening. “It has been 20 years since the guardian raid at the Court,” he said once she had settled. “There has been no sign of Alanu. We must consider raising a new queen.”
Thylla fought to keep a calm demeanor. “Peter, you can’t be serious…”
Jorsan flashed a slight, mirthless smile. “I’m afraid I am. The two of us are the best choices for creating a new Alanu. You may want that now.” He nodded towards a small table next to her chair where another tumbler of Alexandrian scotch was waiting for her. “I’m well aware that your feelings about me have not changed in all this time, Thylla. You never liked nor respected me.” He took a sip of his scotch. “I don’t need your respect. I only need your obedience.” He fixed his gaze on her. She saw no animosity or ire – just a resolute adherence to duty. “If it is any consolation, I take no joy in the prospect of our coupling either. It is something we must do for the sake of our people.”
◊ ◊ ◊
“Stillborn?” Peter Jorsan’s voice cracked as he repeated the word.
Thylla nodded, tears in her eyes. “I’m sorry, Peter. They tried to save him but there was little they could do.”
“Him. A boy?” Peter slumped into a chair next to Thylla’s hospital bed. “Then we had failed our purpose anyway.” He hung his head, shaking it slightly. “My son…” he whispered brokenly.
“The lochfa would not have slain Alanu when they took her.” Thylla reached out her hand to him, hardly believing that she was trying to comfort him. “It is not their way. She still lives. Perhaps we should turn our focus on recovering her instead of waiting for another chance.”
“You are right.” He wiped a hand across his eyes and straightened his posture. “Thank you, Thylla. I know this has been a particularly unpleasant experience for you. I will ensure you are well compensated.” He took her hand in his, giving it a gentle, reassuring squeeze.
Thylla returned the gentle squeeze and assured him she would be all right. She wiped away her own tears as he left her room. Once she was certain he was gone, she pulled her vidphone from a bedside drawer. Turning it on, she smiled at the message she read there – confirmation that her son and his nurse had arrived at the safe house.