tagSci-Fi & FantasyThe Blood Pact Ch. 36

The Blood Pact Ch. 36


Lord Ruvano was quick to exert his influence over the stunned royal court. They were soon jumping to his orders as if he were the king. Under his instruction, I was quickly removed to one of the king's chambers and given opportunity to clean and make myself more presentable.

I still felt cold and had blankets pulled around my shoulders as I hunkered down in a lushly upholstered wingchair. Death was not something I'd ever grown accustomed to, even after having been exposed to it so frequently since becoming Stephanie. To see the King die like that, his cock inside me, I had all but felt the life drain from his body. He did not deserve anything less, but I seemed unable to shake the dread image of his last moment.

Lord Ruvano came to me shortly with an assortment of officials to question me about what had happened and even a clerk to record my statement. I told them the true sequence of events, save for any details regarding the Dark God, my intentional summoning of the queen, or my actual reasons for going to the king in the first place.

The Queen, currently locked away in a cell at Lord Ruvano's command had all but confessed to the murder already, so there seemed little I could have said which would have implicated me. Once satisfied that that was indeed the case, most of them left, save for Lord Ruvano himself. Food and drink were summoned for me and I tore into the platter that was set before me even before the servants who'd delivered it had a chance to leave the room.

In brooding silence, Lord Ruvano stood with his back to me. Was he upset by my actions? He'd been planning to dispose of the King sooner or later himself, but this could certainly not have been part of his master plan. Not that I cared what he thought of me or my deed. He was the one who'd killed Nikelle, as surely as if he'd been the one holding the axe. If there had been a blade at hand, I would have stabbed him then and there. However, even had there been one, I doubted my shaking limbs would have been able to hold it effectively.

"I must admit, you continue to surprise, Stephanie," he said at last. "I never would have expected something like this from you."

"Something like what?"

He turned toward me, his knowing smile far too sure of himself. "Come now, don't play dumb with me. This was about revenge, plain and simple. The queen may have stabbed the king, but it was your knife. You hated the man, but yet you risked your life sneaking into his chambers and threw yourself at him. I also know that Blood Dagger woman was your friend when you were still just a servant. I saw your reaction at her execution -- I would have spared her if I'd been able, but you know how the king was."

I glared at him over the morsel of cold chicken held in my fingers. So he was going to pretend he was innocent in Nikkele's death? I, however, knew the truth and none of his lies, no matter how artfully delivered, would be enough to save him from his fate.

"So what if I did orchestrate the king's death?" I said. "Will I be the next one on the chopping block?"

Lord Ruvano smiled. "Those various ministers aren't imaginative enough to think along these lines. They'll never figure it out. Besides, at the moment, they're far more concerned about what to do next. Was the Queen within her rights to attack the king? Will she be allowed to lead the kingdom in his stead?"

I sat back and wiped my hands on a towel. If she did, I surely wouldn't survive very long afterward.

"Don't worry," Lord Ruvano said, obviously reading my concern. "I've already set things in motion to ensure she is never allowed to take the throne. Now come along, we haven't got much time. Things are moving more quickly than I would have liked. Your actions have forced me to alter my plans somewhat, but my goals haven't changed in the least."

I fell in beside him as we returned to the throne room. My limbs felt more sure now, but looking about for a weapon as we made our way, I could see nothing I might be able to use. The king's body had been removed but the black puddle that had once been the altar, swirled red with his blood, still filled the far end of the room, and was given a wide berth by everyone there.

The moment we stepped into the passageway beyond, a gaggle of Lord Ruvano's personal guard fell in around us. Even if I were able to find a weapon now, they'd likely cut me down before I could make any use of it. We'd only gone a short distance when a panicked seneschal came running down the corridor.

"Lord Ruvano!" he exclaimed, stopping before the guards who'd all reached for their swords at his approach. "It's the queen! She's...she's dead, hanged herself with a cord from her dress."

Lord Ruvano's only reaction was a curious lifting of the eyebrow. "I suppose she couldn't live with what she'd done. Not surprising really. We should have placed her under guard."

"Oh, this is indeed a dark day!" the seneschal said, shaking his head gravely.

"Make the appropriate arrangements," Lord Ruvano said. "She'll be buried next to her husband with all the honors befitting her rank."

"Yes, Lord Ruvano!" the man said with a bow as our group got underway again.

"Well," Lord Ruvano said to me askance, "that takes care of one problem for us."

I gazed at him in startled disbelief. He couldn't have actually arranged her death, could he? Was that the thing he'd set in motion to ensure she wouldn't be allowed to take the throne?

When we reached the passage that connected the royal wing to the noble's wing, I caught sight of a man dressed in soiled tatters being lead by a group of guards toward the front gates. At first a stranger to my eyes, I quailed with recognition when I saw the long scar bisecting his face.

"Bakoro! What's he doing out of shackles?"

"I had use of him," Lord Ruvano said. "In exchange for one final job, I've given him his freedom."

My step faltered as my mind filled with images of Bakoro's cell conveniently being left unlocked; a cord of silk from the queen's own dress tied around her neck; her terrified screams cut off with a sickly gurgle before they were even heard; her limp, lifeless body strung up by the rafters to make it look like she'd been overcome with grief and hanged herself.

Bakoro looked in my direction as he passed, our eyes meeting for but a brief moment. In that fleeting glance, I could see he had a desire to tie a cord around my neck as well.

"He's being exiled, but at least he'll keep his life," Lord Ruvano said. "It's more than he deserves, really."

"But I thought only the king could exile a man..."

"I told you before, this hasn't changed my plans, only accelerated them. Within a few hours, my decree WILL be the king's."

"You mean you're going to take the throne for yourself? But you're only a Count. Won't there be opposition?"

Lord Ruvano stopped, causing his men to scrabble for a moment as they rearranged their formation to accommodate the sudden motion. He turned on me and pointed so fiercely that I jerked back. "No one is ever born to the title of 'king,' it is a position that is either given to the timid or taken by the strong. Anyone can rule a kingdom -- from a duke, to a count, to a lowly common soldier -- provided they are in the right place at the right time. And I have worked for a very hard for a very long time to ensure that I would be here, now.

"As for opposition, I have the support of Rosenthal's men. They respect the fact I was once a solider down in the mud who fought alongside them and they will follow me more readily than any of those posturing nobles in the royal court. None of those blue-blooded sycophants are even in a position to stop me. By the time anyone in the outlying regions receives word of what's happened here, I will have already solidified my powerbase. Everyone will pledge their allegiance to me as if I was their rightful king by birth, and you'll be there at my side to see it all."

I had a hollow dread in the pit of my stomach as we again started moving. "What do you mean, 'at your side'?"

"It's only fitting. After all, I couldn't have done this without you. You're one of the best investments I've ever made. But don't go getting any ideas. Not as my queen, or even my mistress. I have no interest in marrying anyone this early in the game, least of all a baroness who came up from the peasantry."

He sounded as if such a thing were unimaginably vile to even consider -- never mind the fact, he himself had once been a common soldier. No doubt he'd put off marriage until he found the perfect noblewoman who he could use to further his plans. After serving her purpose, she'd likely be discarded like everyone else in his life. As nothing more than his whore, how long could I hope to last?

"But you will need a place in the coronation ceremony," he said. "Anywhere on my arm would send the wrong message, but I think I've found the perfect role for you to play."

He was already planning his coronation? His footing must have been quite tentative, indeed, if he had to be moving this quickly to cement his claims.

At his chambers, he threw back the doors with a flourish. Hanging from a stand in the very center of the room was a multi-layered gown of creamy white, flanked on either side by a row of female temple acolytes attired in similar colors. I recognized the costume instantly from King Rosenthal's coronation as the one worn by the Virgin Priestess who traditionally blessed the crown before it was placed upon the new king's head. If being at Lord Ruvano's side would send the wrong message, I had no idea what sort this would send instead.

I turned to him with a look of utter condemnation. "You must be joking."

His laughter certainly made it seem so, but he shook his head vehemently from side to side.

"I'll soon be king and the temple knows it. They can either do as I say now, or suffer my wrath when I claim the throne without their help. If I tell them you're a virgin with all the training necessary to be a priestess, they have little choice but to take my word for it."

Several of the gathered acolytes shifted their feet or clutched at their sleeves, but not one of them lifted their eyes from where they were fixed respectfully on the floor.

"But the blessing of the Virgin is supposed to ensure a long and fruitful reign," I said, drawing that little tidbit from Delphina's lessons.

"A lot of good it did Rosenthal," Lord Ruvano said. "A virgin is nothing but a waste of a fresh pussy. The temple knows better than anyone that all their talk of pleasing the gods is nothing but rubbish. We make our own fates by seizing those opportunities that come our way."

Then, with a mischievous smile, he took my chin in his hand. "But the people want the illusion of a proper ceremony with all the roles filled, so that's what I'm going to give them. When I have a choice between sharing the stage with you, or one of these homely crones from the nunnery, I'll take you every time."

Again several of the acolytes seemed a hairsbreadth from speaking out. Lord Ruvano paid them no heed, but the thin smile on his lips did almost make him seem like he was enjoying their reaction. Scowling, I shook myself free of his grip. I'd never had much use for religion myself, but even I saw no to reason to torment these women like that.

Lord Ruvano merely chuckled. As I looked back at the gowns, however, something else caught my eye. Sitting on one of the small tables flanking the couch, a bundle of tattered brown fabric looked quite out of place. Lifting the top flap revealed a risqué set of garments in red and black: Nikelle's Blood Dagger uniform. And laying atop the rest was the bladeless hilt of her weapon.

Before I even thought to grab it up, Lord Ruvano did so himself.

"We found the uniform in your friend's things," he said. "Obviously, there is no doubt about who she was."

He gave the dagger hilt a quick look before wincing and drawing back. I knew to expect a single drop of blood running down his finger even before I saw it. With a frown, he handed it off to one of the guards, being careful to avoid getting pricked by the barb in the hilt once again. I eyed it keenly but it was already out of my reach. I shouldn't have let it out of my grasp like that. None of them would have excepted me to be able to wield it. I could have cut down Lord Ruvano before they even knew what was happening.

"Not very impressive without one of those assassins to use it though," Lord Ruvano said. "Still, I think I'll put it away for safekeeping. No sense in leaving something of dark magic laying about, is there? You can have the uniform as a souvenir if you like."

A fucking souvenir of the woman I was trying to avenge? I nearly went after Lord Ruvano with my finger nails.

"Now get dressed," he said. "The ceremony starts in an hour and you are going to be there whether you like it or not."

I stood there fuming as Lord Ruvano and his men left the room. Either by interference or indecision, I was foiled at every opportunity to do away with that man. Maybe I would have a chance in his bed tonight, but it sickened me to think of sharing a bed with that lying, murderous bastard even once more -- almost as much as it sickened me to think of how I'd thrown away my freedom by coming back to the palace.

The transformation wand was destroyed, Nikelle was still unavenged, and I was going to end up in the thrall of the man who killed her for the rest of my days. Not only that, but I would have to live with the knowledge that I was the one who put him on the throne by arranging the King's death. He even expected me to provide the blessing for his ascension!

Several of white-garbed women approached in silence, intent to help me into the ceremonial robes.

"Out! All of you, out! I can dress own damn self!"

The acolytes flittered out of the room like a flock of startled butterflies. I wasn't going to have any of them see me in this state, beaten down to the very end, lost on all fronts. At least I hadn't broken down into a fit of tears. My rage was burning so brightly that it prevented any tears from falling at all. I'd changed a lot since those early days. Unfortunately, it seemed as if I was still no better able to take care of myself.

I kicked over one of the end tables which shattered a priceless Tropen vase into a million pieces. A swipe of my arm dumped Lord Ruvano's desktop onto the floor. Screaming to the rafters, I tore the sheets off his bed, toppled the chests, and knocked down all his assorted curios. I scattered flowers, papers, and pillows on the floor. I smashed everything that was breakable and upended everything I could move that was not.

The last thing in the room left untouched was Nikelle's uniform, still laying neatly folded on one of the small end tables. I hesitated before it for a moment. It was all I had left of her, my last memento of a woman who claimed to have loved me and who I had occasionally loved myself.

But she was the one who'd gotten me involved in all this. She'd turned me into a assassin, ruined my plans for escape, and then brought me back to this place with her death. If not for her Blood Dart, I could have been done with all of this after that first night spent with Lord Ruvano -- with a tidy profit to boot! Everything since had been her fault!

I picked up the entire table and threw it with a howl against the far wall, putting a long tear in the centuries-old landscape painting hanging there. The table went clattering across the floor and the uniform fell with a flop in front of the sideboard.

Glaring at nothing at all, I stood surrounded by the carnage I'd made of the room as my stooped shoulders rose and fell with each breath I took. This wasn't fair! Why did I, of all people, have to be the one who'd ended up in this situation? I thumped my fists against the sides of my head and groaned in despair. I almost wished I were dead.

Suddenly, as if seeing it for the first time, my eyes locked onto Nikelle's uniform laying there on the floor. With newfound passion, I rushed across the room and fell to my knees, sliding to the edge of the sideboard. I thrust my hand underneath and at first found nothing but clods of dust. The cleaning maids couldn't have found it, could they?

It was with a sense of vengeance that my hand fell upon the cold, hard handle of a dagger, a tiny barb in the grip pricking my finger as I clutched it. A predatory smile spread across my face as I looked at the multi-layered gown of the Virgin Priestess which I'd toppled onto the floor.

Lord Ruvano wasn't king yet. If I had anything to say about it, he never would sit upon the throne.

To Be Continued...

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