Dark Hunger

Page 48

If pleasure were an abyss, it didn’t have a bottom. Not with Matthias. Jessa tumbled through the dark heat and dancing light, lost to herself, found again in his arms.

Matthias kept at her, fucking her through the climax as she rode it out, and then through the tremors to the building of the next. She writhed, trying to free her hands so she could touch him, but he had her wrists pinned and held her there, at the mercy of his relentless cock. Jessa wrapped her legs around his hips and thrust back at him, rubbing as much of her body against him as she could.

The second time she came, she tightened around him, forcing him to feel every ripple, and, before he could resist, taking him with her into that beautiful darkness.

Into the shadowlight.

Chapter 20

Matthias knew the greatest pleasure of his life in Jessa’s arms. Her body accepted his, although at first it took some coaxing, and permitted him to worship her with all the passion he felt. As soon as he spilled his seed into her, he felt the glow of life beginning. This day, this very first time together, he had given her his son.

He opened his eyes to look upon her face, and instead saw the wilderness around him. Immense old trees, their bare, blackened limbs made glassy with ice, stood as sentries and witnesses to what a few months ago had been a field of grain. Snow drifted down, gently shrouding dozens of bodies where they had fallen. Barbarians cut to pieces by blows from expert hands wielding the finest blades in the world. Romans impaled on sharpened stakes and pierced by hundreds of hastily made arrows.

Matthias didn’t have to count the dead. He knew the name of every Roman whose body littered the ancient battlefield. But he could not be here. The gods would not be so cruel as to tear him from his lover’s arms and send him to this place. He did not believe his eyes, not until he saw the lone, hunched figure of one of the fallen rise, stumbling over the bodies as he went from man to man, reaching for the throat of every Roman.

Looking for life in the kingdom of the dead.

Tanicus peered at him from across the field, but Matthias knew he didn’t see him. Still he tried to call out to him, to warn him before the arrows began to fly out of the forest. But Tanicus kept moving, performing his grim task, his breath leaving white clouds in the still air, the blood from his side wound streaming down to paint his legs with thin red streaks.

Once more Matthias stood frozen in time, unable to move or do more than watch as the arrows came and struck the Roman. Then came the barbarians from the trees, slinking out of their hiding places, and one who stood taller and strode with a different pace.

The courier from Judea, the one who had been a centurion, now dressed in the furs and wools of Rome’s enemy.

The courier went to Tanicus, who had been driven to his knees. He lifted his fur-wrapped sandal and kicked the Roman over.

“You should have remained in camp, Prefect.” He gestured, and his creatures surrounded the Roman, stripping him of his cuirass and braces while the courier drew his sword. “Have no fear. I will give you a proper burning, and send you with your men to Elysium.”

Matthias roared in silent rage as the traitor braced his foot against the strong neck of the fallen Roman and drove his sword into Tanicus’s chest. Then he saw what the dying soldier could not: a border patrol charging toward the battlefield from the south. The traitor looked up, his face twisting with fear, and tried to pull his sword from the Roman’s body.

With the last of his strength, Tanicus reached up, grasping the blade with both hands, holding it in place.

Out of time, the traitor barked orders to his men, and they fled back into the trees. Only when they had gone did Tanicus release the blade, his gashed hands falling on either side of his body, the bloody palms open to the sun.

Matthias tried to close his eyes, but something would not permit it. The patrol went into the woods after the barbarians, and the field became still and lifeless again. The sun raced across the sky, following them as twilight settled over the battlefield. Then two hands twitched, curled, and reached up to grasp the traitor’s blade a second time.

Tanicus wrenched the sword out of his chest, using it as a brace to push himself up. He tore at his under tunic, and watched with wide eyes as the wound in the center of his chest stopped bleeding and began to seal itself. Still holding the blade, the Roman staggered to his feet.

Tanicus knelt by the body of one large Roman, rested his hand on the man’s chest, and murmured a prayer, and then carefully removed the cloak tangled under his body. He did the same to other men, wrapping himself in their cloaks before he used a saddle blanket that had fallen to the ground to wrap up the sword. He had to take it with him, for it was the only real proof he had that the courier from Judea was betraying his people to their enemy.

Tanicus turned around and changed direction, trudging toward the trail leading up into the mountains. Matthias knew, as the Roman did, that the border patrol’s camp lay on the other side of the ridge, and the high pass through the mountains was the quickest route to it.

Snow began to fall as Tanicus walked up the trail. He pulled the cloaks tighter around himself and covered his head, but the storm came fast, as they often did in the high places. Soon the Roman was battling his way through roaring wind and pelting ice, his head down, his arm clamped around the bundle that held the sword.

He never heard the snow above him break loose, and stopped only as the first edge of it engulfed his legs. The massive drift knocked him off his feet and pushed him into the boulders on the opposite side of the pass, where he disappeared under tons of ice and rock.

Time passed. The pass remained buried in snow, which never completely melted away. Romans marched through the pass, and then barbarians came from the other direction, leading their army. The sky brightened and darkened, the light coming and going faster and faster. Blurs of bodies moved through the pass. Sometimes Matthias could catch glimpses of them and their strange dress, while the snow sloping on both sides of the pass gradually grew steeper.

The second avalanche came, pouring through the pass and scouring it clean. On a slope beyond, a group of young people huddled to one side, watching with fearful eyes as the tumbling ice streamed past them, leaving behind the still form of a man. The snow took with it the remnants of ancient woolen clothing, which had long ago rotted away from his body.

They babbled in their strange tongues as they hurried over to the man and pulled him from the snow. He opened his eyes and looked upon the faces of these children, whose speech he could not understand, and whose clothing and gear were unlike anything he had ever known. One of the young men offered him a hand and an encouraging smile.

Tanicus, the Roman who had been betrayed, who died twice, first at the hand of the traitor, and then on the whim of the gods, lifted his arm and took his hand.

You were the Roman buried in the snow.

Matthias looked at the woman standing beside him, watching the rescue. It was Jessa, and it was she, not the gods, who had brought him here.

Yes. I am Gaius Maelius Tanicus.

Jessa came out of the shadowlight into the sunlight, her body wrapped around Matthias’s. She didn’t know how she had taken him with her into the vision of what had been, but he had been there with her and watched everything that had happened to him in the distant past. Fate had brought the man she loved to her through time.

“I’m sorry.” And she was, for putting him through that. “I didn’t mean to take you there with me.”

He was watching her, his eyes dark with the shadows of that past. “I wish that I had told you first. I knew you would not believe me.”

“Some things have to be seen to be believed.” She stroked his face with wondering fingertips. “You were buried for so long. It must have terrified you to wake up in our world.”

“I thought at first I was in some other place. Elysium, perhaps.” He smiled a little. “The children who found me were so young and kind. But they had so many strange things, and their language—I could not fathom more than a few words. From there they took me down to the village and I saw the land beyond the strange dwellings and roads. Land does not change so much over time. I knew when I saw the ridge behind me that I stood where the border patrol’s camp had once been. But it was gone. Everything I knew had vanished.”

Matthias told her how he had kept silent and accepted the help of the people who had taken him in, although it had been most difficult when the doctor had come to examine him, and he got his first look at modern medical instruments.

“The wounds in my chest and on my hands and side were no longer there, and had left no scars. It was as if they had never happened,” he said. “I had grown thin, and my limbs were weak, but after the people gave me a meal I felt strong again. I borrowed some clothing and ropes and went back up on the mountain. I found the traitor’s sword in the snow, and what was left of the purse I had carried. I came down and gave the young men some coins in return for their kindness. Then I left and followed the road south, to Rome.”

Jessa learned it had taken him several weeks to make the journey, and along the way he picked up enough of the modern version of Italian to make himself understood. He found an antiquities dealer and traded one more of his coins for the odd paper money everyone used, and traded that for food, rooms, and better clothing.

“I knew what had happened to me only when I came to the city,” Matthias said. “The Rome I knew no longer existed. What buildings I remembered had become crumbling ruins. The ancient statues of the city bore the likeness of many of the noblemen I had known and served. The first numbers I learned were to tell the year: 1998. I had slept on the mountain, in the ice, dreaming of rain for almost two thousand years.”

“Why did you dream of rain?”

“I cannot say. But that is all I remember from my sleep.” His gaze grew distant. “Endless dreams of rain.”

“You must have known on some level that you were buried alive,” Jessa said. “Perhaps you simply wanted the snow to melt away, so that you could be free again.” She propped herself on one elbow. “You were Kyndred before the avalanche. That must be what allowed you to survive all those centuries buried in the snow.”

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