Lothaire Read online

Page 33

Page 33


  "Dont hurt, vampire!" She brushed pale hair back from his forehead.

  What was wrong with him? What was wrong with her? She felt the need to take away his pain, and she didnt understand why.

  "Lizvetta?" he rasped, beginning to calm somewhat.

  She caressed his heartbreakingly beautiful face. "Im here. " More of his tension ebbed.

  The vampire might think he could do just fine without her; she wasnt so sure about his prospects. He could scorn her all he liked, but clearly he did need her.

  And realizing that affected her. As she continued to pet him, she again imagined what itd be like to be loved by Lothaire.

  If hed ever stop planning to kill her, she might be tempted to find out.

  Ellie shook her head hard. Best not be dreaming of things that will never be.

  Then she frowned down at her hand. Hed begun slowly disappearing. "Oh, no, no!" Hed said he could be killed if he traced in his sleep. "Wake up!"

  The survivor in Ellie thought, Send him off, girl. But some other part of her-one she didnt know too well-made her grab his shoulders and shake.

  No response. "Lothaire, dont go!" Ellie knew she should abandon him and save herself.

  She shook harder.

  Yet instead of bringing Lothaire back to her, all shed done was ensure she went into the unknown with him. Her last thought: Dear God, what is his nightmare about . . . ?

  Stay sane, Lothaire commanded himself as earth weighed down on him. How long since his father had buried him here in his eternal pit?

  How many centuries since hed been left to rot within a forest of bloodroot trees? His punishment for attempting to assassinate Stefanovich.

  The attempt that failed. Because I was betrayed. By the only friend hed ever known.

  Chains bound him here in the ground. He was unable to trace from them, too weak to break the links. Unable to die from sunlight or a swift beheading.

  He could tell another root had met his skin, had begun probing. Soon it would burrow through him, seeking any regenerating flesh, any drop of blood from the husk of his body.

  Roots threaded all his limbs; worms forever feasted.

  He burned to yell in agony and frustration, but he was trapped fast, couldnt move any part of his body. Not even to open his jaw or part whatever was left of his lips.

  How long since his father had punished him thus?

  One parent had buried him to save his life, the other to torment him-

  Movement from above?

  He could sense vibrations. Sometimes Stefanovich would slit a mortals throat over this grave, soaking the dirt with blood-so close Lothaire could smell it, but it never reached him.

  Always out of reach. Losing his sanity, surrendering it hour by unending hour. The surface always out of reach-

  Did he hear spades rending the earth above?

  No, no one is digging. How many times had he imagined just such a scenario?

  Who would dig for him, who the hell would care enough to? His friends, family? Lothaire had none he could count on.

  At every second, his torment reminded him that no one in this entire world gave a damn that he suffered.

  Yet then he felt some of the pressure above him ease. Could that be tension on the manacle around his neck?

  Like a shot, he was hauled upward, the roots violently ripped out of his body, stripping scabbed flesh from him.

  On the surface at last? Too bright, too bright! After darkness for so long, even the starry black night pained his sight. He tried to hiss, tried to cover his decayed eyes with what was left of his arm.

  "Ah, Lothaire!"

  Fyodor? My uncle?

  "I have been searching for you. "

  Saved. My uncle is come to save me. If Lothaire had possessed any blood to spare, tears would have tracked down his face. I did have someone out there, someone loyal to me.

  "Six centuries Ive searched. "

  Six hundred years! In the ground that long? I never imagined. . . .

  "And now, Nephew, Ill free you from your bonds. On two conditions. "

  Conditions? Lothaire wanted to rasp, "Anything! Will do anything!" but his lips and tongue had been eaten away. He would bargain for damnation-it could not be worse than his current plight.

  "Otherwise, I will plant you directly back into the ground, never to return. "

  Uncle, how can you say that to me? The betrayal . . .

  "My brother did you ill these centuries, Lothaire. But you should not have faced Stefanovich until you were stronger. I will help you heal from this, will teach you how to become powerful enough to defeat him. All I ask for in return is your fealty-and his head. I am Stefanovichs royal heir. The Horde will accept me because he has no legitimate son. I will find a way to leave you the throne if I die. "

  He frees me only to hunt his brother, loosing me from my cage like a creature from hell.

  Fyodor gave Lothaire blood to heal, pouring it into his crusted mouth, just enough that he could speak once more.

  "Do you vow your allegiance to me, your future king, until the day I die?" Fyodor said.

  Though Lothaire wanted to howl with fury, to tell his uncle to do his worst, he couldnt. "I-I vow it"-gasping, vomiting dirt and new blood-"t-to the Lore. " I will never forget this betrayal, Uncle, never.

  "Then welcome back to life, Lothaire, to a new beginning. "

  Against the blinding white starlight, Lothaire had squinted past Fyodor and seen the one hed once called friend, secretly watching from the woods. . . .

  Shaking off the remnants of the dream, Lothaire clawed at his bare chest, sinking to his knees within the Bloodroot Forest once more. As he bellowed to the night sky, moisture tracked from his eyes.

  I cant keep living like this. The abyss stared back. Finally, I topple over the edge.

  He knelt before the towering tree hed grown, gazing up in horror at the bark, the weeping blood.

  My blood. He fucking wanted to plunge into the abyss!

  Sanity wrought only pain. He gave a crazed laugh, relieved as he felt himself falling . . . falling-

  "L-Lothaire," he heard Elizabeth weakly call for him. Was he dreaming her memories?

  He scented her fear, shot to his feet.

  No, no, she cannot be here. This wasnt real.

  "P-please . . . " she cried.

  He whirled around but didnt believe his eyes. She was on her hands and knees in a snowdrift, crawling toward him.

  Elizabeth was here. Her lips were pale, her expression stricken. "T-too cold. "

  Madness must wait. "Lizvetta!" he yelled, tensing to trace-

  Enemies appeared beside her. A sword at her throat stopped him cold. Tymur the Allegiants sword.

  Tymurs gang of demons, Cerunnos, and vampires surrounded them.

  To take her from me. All bent on taking her from me.

  "Ah, Lothaire, I believe I have something of yours," Tymur said, his scraggly beard dangling all the way to his chest. "If you trace away or resist us, youll never see her again. "

  More of Tymurs henchmen closed in on Lothaire. Demons whaled blows to his head and his back, stabbing him with short swords. He could do nothing to protect himself-could do nothing to reach her.

  His vision clouded. Blood all around my feet? Mine? Black blood, from his black heart. Consciousness wavering, Lothaire fought to keep his gaze trained on Elizabeth.

  Tymur shoved her to her knees, twisting a length of her hair around his meaty fist.

  Her soft cries. Cant get to her. Her terrified gaze met Lothaires.

  Clarity struck; recognition sang within him, coursed through his every vein.

  It was her. His Bride.

  Dear gods, it was . . . Elizabeth. Youre going to realize what you had too late.

  Was it too late? His woman, captured by the deadliest beings in the Lore. I allied with them. Am worse than they are.

  "This is rich. " Tymurs eyes reddened with