Lothaire Read online

Page 50

Page 50


  With his quiet intensity, Trehan said, "We vowed allegiance to a king and a queen. "

  Viktor added, "We swore to protect Queen Elizavetta-"

  In a flash, Lothaire lunged out of his chair, tracing forward to slam Viktors head against the table. "I told you never to mention that name to me!"

  Viktor freed his sword and launched a strike, but Lothaire caught the blade, squeezing it. "If youre not with me, youre against me. " His blood gushed over Viktors disbelieving face. "Youve erred for ill. " Lothaire gave a brutal yank, hurling the weapon from him.

  When the others drew their own, Lothaire swept through the room with a speed they couldnt comprehend. Claws bared, he disabled his opponents-rending a tendon in a dominant arm, slashing a hamstring. . . .

  Back to Viktor. He palmed his cousins head. "Now," he grated as he began crushing Viktors skull. "Do we all concede that we do not fuck with Lothaire? That I might be your relative, but I will always be the Enemy of Old?"

  Stunned, reluctant nods all around.

  "Above all things, I am your king. " He stared each one of them down as they fought to catch their breath or stanch a bleeding wound. "You obey me. Your undivided allegiance is to me. Vow this. "

  Unlike Elizabeth, theyd be bound to him. But Id wanted her loyalty more than anyones, more than anything.

  Once each royal had made his vow, he released Viktor, who crumpled to the floor. "Lothaire endeth the lesson. "

  They dragged Viktor away, then traced from the room, all but Stelian, who clamped a gushing arm. "Youve earned a lifelong enemy in Viktor. "

  "Ive earned respect!"

  "Viktors too much like you to take the lesson you set out to teach him. "

  Lothaire absently licked the gash in his hand. "Then hell soon perish under my rule. "

  Stelian shook his head. "Now that political ambitions have been neutralized among us, your cousins are a good and true lot. They could unite as a family once more, if you would but lead them. "

  "Youve missed the point, Stelian. They might be good and true. " Lothaire bared his fangs. "But I am not. "

  Hag strode in then, clad in conservative Dacian garb-stained with hot-pink and neon-green potions. "We need to talk, Lothaire. " Shed told him shed address him as sire as soon as he called her Balery.

  Or when hell froze over.

  "What is it, Hag?"

  "I dont know what, exactly when, or how-but the first threat to your kingdom looms . . . soon. "

  Chapter 56

  Where am I gonna go?" Ellie asked Nix as she scratched at her new bandage. She and the Valkyrie, who seemed lucid today, stood on the front porch of Val Hall, waiting for the sun to set.

  Though most of the coven had wanted Ellie to stay, Cara had put it simply: "She lingers; she dies. "

  Despite being penniless, with only a single change of clothes, a hoodie, and a quart of blood packed in a grocery bag, she would heed Caras decree.

  "It was never supposed to go like this," Ellie told the soothsayer. "How will I feed myself or protect myself from the sun? How do I make a living?"

  Nixs palms flew to her cheeks. "I meant to teach you how to join the typing pool!"

  "Im serious, Valkyrie! I cant exactly use my degree to get a job. I dont even have an identity I can use. Hey, maybe I can go to New Orleans, get a job in a Lore shop somewhere?"

  "I suppose this would be a bad time to tell you that many beings will kill you on sight just for being a vampire. Werewolves, Furies, berserkers, and witches would try to do you in before they ever got around to figuring out who you are and why they should fear you. Ive been sending out memos, but these things take time. "

  "Why would Lothaire cast me off like this? Rot in hell? What was that?"

  "I know, right! Over one near decapitation? Unfortunately, hes still stewing-could stew for decades. Time doesnt mean the same thing to the very old. Think of it this way: Lothaire has lived so long that three weeks would feel like scant hours. His internal clock is telling him hes been away from you for an afternoon. "

  "So I should just wait for him to see reason? After that package, why would I want to be with the unbalanced undead?"

  "Well, dont forget that he came to me for help to save you. Considering that he loathes me-thinks I betrayed him-this was huge. "

  "Did you betray him?"

  "Yes. Often. " She shrugged. "Sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind. "

  "I dont follow-"

  Nix shoved her into the front yard, into the light of a blazing afternoon sun. "Flap your wings, little butterfly!"

  Ellie traced back in; the wraiths tossed her back out. She hunched and hissed, but her skin . . . wasnt burning.

  "What is this, Valkyrie?" She stared at her unmarked arms. "How is this possible?"

  "Did you hear Lothaire when he made his wish to turn you?"

  Ellie shook her head slowly.

  "Hes exceedingly bright. Surely he would have phrased his wish to, say, make Elizabeth a vampire with all their strengths and none of their weaknesses. "

  Lothaire had told her he had a surprise for her. He had listened to her when shed told him how much she would miss the sun.

  And hed given her a gift no other man could.

  All the sunrises for eternity.

  Unfortunately, shed all but beheaded him before he could present his offering to her.

  She raised her face to the light, still in disbelief. Im truly free.

  After years of captivity, of answering to others, she could go wherever she liked, do whatever she pleased. She could travel the world-without fear of burning.

  But Lothaires selfless gift-after all, he could never enjoy it with her-only reminded Ellie that there had been a chance between them. When tears welled, she dashed them away, embarrassed for Nix to see.

  Needing her family, if only just to watch them from a distance for a spell, Ellie collected her bag and hastily waved good-bye to Val Hall, to the wraiths, to Nix.

  "Adieu, Queen Ellie!" the Valkyrie called.

  "Thank you for everything, Nix. " Ellie shrugged into her hoodie, pulling it over her head, just in case someone happened to spot her. Then she traced to the woods near her mothers trailer.

  The forest blanketing the mountain was old growth, the pines and hardwoods so dense that sunlight barely reached the moist ground-not that she

  had to worry about that any longer. As she strolled along familiar paths,

  she gazed up, watching the taller treetops rake a steady ridgeline breeze.

  Her senses were so acute now. Here, she could smell the very earth. The sound of the cicadas was like a roar in her ears.

  Every time she stepped on green pine needles, their crisp scent erupted. A bite of evergreen.

  Like Lothaires scent.

  Dont think about him, Ellie! Look forward, never dwell.

  From the edge of the woods, she spied her old trailer, finding it dingier than ever in the daylight. The aroma of cooking food carried from within. Though no longer appealing to her appetite, it smelled like home.

  How would she ever be able to leave this mountain again? She knew she couldnt stay, but where could she go?

  Ellie briefly considered living in one of the exotic locales Lothaire had taken her to. And how exactly would I get blood from Bora-Borans-

  Oh, there was Josh! He played with some of his cousins on a broken-down, rusted swing set.

  Look how much hes grown! His dark hair had more of an auburn tint than hers did, but their eyes shared the same color.

  How shed missed her baby brother! As she watched him, she got lost in memories of him as a chubby toddler, recalling how hed barreled around the trailer like a Weeble, always leading with his stubborn chin.

  Those tears of hers gathered and spilled-

  "Hands where I can see em, or Ill blow your head off!"

  Uncle Ephraim. In the woods behind her.

  She froze. Oh, my God! So much for not