Jaqueline sighed, then stood herself. “I apologize, Caden. I know this is a difficult situation, I understand it better than most. But know that no matter what happens I hope that we can, at the very least, remain friends.”
Cadent turned his head, his ice eyes looking at her from over his shoulder. “Let us hope,” he told her. “Let us hope.”
Armand sat in silence in a tall, cushioned armchair; his fist propped up by his elbow and pressed into the side of his head in thought. It was late now, and he was in a small guest bedroom that was hardly bigger than a pantry. The door was solid at least, and locked, but there were armed guards outside who would under no circumstances leave him.
A tall brass candle bathed the side of his face in light, and as he stared at his bed and the wooden wall panels besides it, he began to think of his daughter. Was he really going to lose her to a Sarkanian? True, they had been friends once… But now they were enemies, and part of him feared sending her away from home to warm the bed of the man he had tried to kill, and the man’s father who he had.
There was something strange about Caden now, something off-putting. He couldn’t, for the life of him, figure out how Caden had managed to survive Alaric’s blow and recover so quickly. The dagger had entered his chest and they had all seen it, and almost certainly his heart. But more than that were his eyes; white like snow, but also cold. As a child Caden had been gentle and warm, and rumours of him arguing with his father about war had spread from Kedora to the lands beyond the mountains.
Why then did he now feel so distant? So ruthless?
He pondered for a moment if the Sarkanians had a mage amongst them, but that must be nonsense. There were no mages in the southern realms, everyone knew this. Magic did not live in these lands. Besides, if such a person was to visit the Sarkanians he would have heard of it. His spies would have sent word.
Yet Caden was still alive, and the more he thought about it, the more magic was the only answer that made sense.
Armand closed his eyes and thought himself a fool for being so unnerved, so manipulated. He should never have offered his daughter; he should have delayed and thought of another way out of defeat. But he knew it was too late to go back on his word - he would simply have to work around it.
The King of Lavell opened his eyes again to see a wooden wall panel sliding, in complete silence, into a state of openness. A small and secret passage lay behind and from it stepped a man shrouded in a dark hood and cloak.
Immediately Armand raised a finger to his lips, bidding the figure to be quiet. The figure gave a nod and stayed in the shadow of the passage, his escape both quick and guaranteed should someone try to enter.
Armand stood then, taking a small enclosed letter from the underside of a wooden table and scraping the wax from it. He took the letter over to the figure and held it out in his hand. “You know who you must deliver this to?” Armand asked, his voice barely a whisper.
“I do, my king,” the figure said, taking hold of the letter with a hand but finding that Armand would not release it.
“It is imperative things proceed according to the plan outlined in this letter, do you understand?”
“Take it to my daughter first. Tell her that if we are to survive this, she must kindle a flame of desire and love. He must trust her utterly; he must be willing to die for her.”
“As you say.”
“Go then,” Armand whispered, releasing the letter and turning away. He walked back to his chair and turned around, sitting in it again and shifting to make himself comfortable. When he looked once more for the man and the passage, he saw only a wall.
Caden entered his room and closed the door behind him, the room in darkness except for moonlight that shone in through the window and bathed the floor and his bed in pale light. It had been a long day, and he was tired, and without a thought he kicked off his boots and undressed and left his clothing folded over the back of a nearby chair.
He got into bed then, pulling the light summer duvet over his body and lay there on his back in silence. His mind was awash with endless thoughts and considerations, and he found himself unable to calm himself, to empty his mind and find peace.
He had not slept properly for two weeks, not enjoyed a truly deep slumber since he woke with Ethelyn over his heart.
His heart… That she had saved, by sacrifice and magic. The red string that had connected their wounds had long gone, but the wounds themselves were identical. He carefully brought his hand to his own, running his fingers gently along the wound’s edge and wondering just how much of his heart was still his.
He sighed and closed his eyes. There was darkness behind them, and he peered deeper into it hoping to escape the waking realm. He wanted the day to be over, the morning to come, but he saw nothing but shifting shadows and shapes.
Then a mirror; distant and hazed. He became lost in it, watching as within a face began to form that glowed gold in the light of a fire or candle. It was feminine, and soft gold eyes began to investigate his own. He could feel hands brushing soft mahogany hair, and in the mirror he saw a woman do the same. Ethelyn?
He mumbled and shifted in his bed, watching how she lowered the brush onto a night table and then stood, his eyes peering out of her own, and the mirror disappearing as she turned. She approached a bed, then raised the covers and went under them, and soon he could feel the warmth of it. The warmth of her skin against the mattress, against the duvet. He could feel the tiredness sweeping over her, the magic that ran through her veins… Yet he could also feel that she was peering out from behind his own eyes, and feeling what he could feel.
“Ethelyn?” He thought.
There was no reply but somehow, he could feel that she was thinking about him. There was something faint, and primal there. Growing. He could feel her touch her own chest, her own wound… But then her surprisingly cold hands moved to her breasts, and Caden found himself wanting her.
She was thinking about him. And she knew he could feel it, feel her. And he knew that she could feel him, that they were distant, but somehow one. Caden gulped slightly and Ethelyn’s hands began to trail down along her body, only for his own to do the same. Her hand found warmth between her thighs, and she closed them around and released an unintentional gasp.
Then there was pleasure. It was sensual, and warm, and Caden felt belonging, and rhythm, and destiny, and he could feel her heart beating with his own. It grew faster, the pain of it pounding against their chests numbed only by the delectation they shared in an experience as intimate as it was remote.
Then there was crescendo, and breathing, and recovery, and Ethelyn’s soft moans of satisfaction as she drifted into truly exhausted slumber.
Caden’s fingers ran once more over his wound, but his own overwhelming desire for sleep was growing. Just as he began to feel the terror of what had been done to him, he followed her into a dreamless sleep.