Page 2

“’Tis my latest fashion statement.” The former court jester performed a slightly wobbly pirouette. “I call it ‘Don’t worry, be happy.’”

Several of the men coughed suddenly, and just as quickly fell silent as their captain gave them a decidedly murderous glance.

Harlech gritted his teeth. “Rainer, where is Beaumaris?”

The big man shrugged. “Not here. Where he is now, I cannot say.”

“He bid you lie for him?”

Rainer looked puzzled. “Never would Beau ask that of me. He thinks I am too simple to remember such things as falsehoods.”

Harlech sighed. “Very well. You—”

“Beau has only ever asked me not to throw knives when I am blindfolded again. Although I assured him the last time was a mistake. In truth I had not aimed for his ribs intentionally, you know.” Rain cocked his head. “I wonder, Harlech, if I were to practice in secret until I am much improved with my tossing blades, might Beaumaris be persuaded to change his opinion?”

“I cannot say.” Questioning Rain was akin to herding a butterfly, Harlech thought, and just as heartless. “It is best that you have no head for secrets, lad. You may step back in line.”

“I can keep a secret, surely.” Rain glanced over his shoulder before he added in a whisper, “I told no one that your lady wife and I were the last survivors of Sherwood jardin. Well, not counting Nottingham, but he broke my arm six times and then everyone thought him dead. But he never dies, you know, not even after his seneschal near beheaded him. Very unsporting of the villain, I thought.”

Harlech shook his head. “Rain, I care not—”

“Oh, neither do I,” the fool assured him. “I never warmed to him even when his mother kept him in the dungeons at Sherwood.” He frowned. “Why can no one kill him, do you think?”

“Luck, lad. His good, and ours bad.”

“There.” He swept forth one hand. “There is another secret I have kept, Harlech. ’Twas told to me that Nottingham went to war with mortals to die, but after being blown up and made changeling, still he lived.” He frowned and scratched the back of his untidy blond mane. “Or perhaps he became a changeling before he exploded. I cannot recall the particular order of it. Either way, you must agree, a messy business and yet—”

“Rainer.” Harlech could listen to anything but the jester’s babble; another moment of it would drive him mad. “Best you keep the remainder of your secrets to yourself.” He glanced pointedly at the main hall. “Ere our lady comes.”

“Oh. Yes. Right you are, Captain.” Grinning, Rain lumbered toward his place in the back ranks, hesitated, and then went to occupy Beau’s spot.

The sound of descending footsteps, one pair light and the other heavy, drifted from the main hall to thump in Harlech’s ears. He faced the garrison and barked, “Close ranks.”

Rainer occupied Beaumaris’s position, which shortened the back line by one man. Quickly Harlech ordered the second and fourth ranks to shift three paces to the left before he turned and stood at attention.

Lady Jayr mac Byrne crossed the courtyard, her form a slender column of bronze leather and moonlight. Sheathed copper daggers rode the sides of her hips; black pearls gleamed from the thick plait of her dark hair. In her left hand she carried a scroll of parchment, but her right remained entwined with one three times its size until she reached the garrison.

Her companion released her hand with visible reluctance, his black cloak swirling around his tree-trunk legs. Even as a mortal Aedan mac Byrne had been a giant among men, as fierce as the savage blue tattoos spiraling over his features, as terrifying as the rare condition from which he suffered. Any act of life-threatening violence caused the big man to temporarily lose his mind and his self-control. The resulting madness that came over Byrne in battle transformed him into a berserker, a machine of death that would kill anyone and anything in his path.

Rising to walk the night as Darkyn had not altered Byrne’s monstrous mortal affliction; immortality had simply made him all the more dangerous. Harlech had once seen his former suzerain descend into the killing madness after being stabbed in the back during an assassination attempt by his bastard brother. The Scotsman had not only survived; he had cut down more than a dozen men in a few seconds before using his battle-ax to split his treacherous brother in half.

“Good evening, Captain.” Jayr smiled at his respectful bow. “All is well with the garrison?”

Once Harlech tracked down his missing swordsman, and clouted some sense back into his head, it would be. “Aye, my lady.”

The shrewd eyes of Jayr’s towering companion scanned the ranks. “You’ve changed the formation.”

“Clever,” Jayr said before Harlech could reply. “With the lines staggered I can see all of the men’s faces. I need not walk the ranks.” She lifted a hand to shade her eyes against the glare from the floods. “I cannot say I care for these new lights, however. Who ordered them installed?”

“Accounting, my lady,” Harlech said. “They are called ‘energy-efficient,’ and as such should reduce our power tithes by a fourth.”

“Power bills,” Jayr corrected, and turned to Byrne. “What do you think, Aedan?”

Byrne turned and squinted at the lights. “Smash the bloody things before our eyeballs commence to sizzle.”

Harlech squared his shoulders. “It shall be as you say, Seneschal, but…” He paused as he glanced past Jayr’s shoulder to see Rainer float up into the air over the heads of the garrison. Since only Beaumaris had the ability to move anything living in such a manner, it seemed his missing warrior had at last reported for duty. “…Ah, we might remove them instead and bid the maintenance crew to install them inside, where the humans work.” As Rain floated back down to his proper place in the back ranks, Harlech gestured toward the administrative offices. “’Twould save the cost of the bulbs, much shattered glass, and doubtless mollify accounting.”

When Harlech turned back to the garrison, Beaumaris stood between Ponsworth and Lowell as if he’d never moved from the spot, his eyes fixed on some point beyond their lady and her seneschal.

“A wise thought. See to it, then, Captain.” Jayr stepped forward and gave the garrison her attention. “Good evening, lads. Now that the winter tournament is over, we have two weeks left to finish the renovations before the staff returns from holiday. The council is sending some prospects to me in hopes of filling our need for a tresora to the jardin, so I shall be occupied with these mortals. You’ve done well preparing the keep and the grounds for the spring tourist season. When you have completed your nightly tasks this fortnight next, your time is your own.” As the men cheered, she held up the scroll she carried. “Before you hatch plans to search every acre from here to Valdosta, I would first read you this.”

Harlech frowned as Jayr unrolled the parchment and read the summons from Richard Tremayne. It was the second in as many months from the high lord of the Darkyn, but the message this time contained only disappointment. The treasure hunt Tremayne had announced in October had been called off; the gems he had set the Kyn to find had been destroyed during a battle with a rogue Kyn in South Florida. Rule of Ireland, the prize that the high lord had offered, would be decided by other means.

“I am sorry about the lost opportunity, lads. I would have been proud to see any one of you made lord paramount.” Jayr finished reading and rolled up the summons, handing it to Harlech. “If you would, Captain, please post this in the commons so the men who are off duty may read it at their leisure.”

“Aye, my lady.” He tucked it into his tunic.

Jayr smiled at the men. “Beaumaris, I would have a word, please. The rest of you are dismissed.”

As the other men dispersed and Beau approached, Harlech quickly inspected his errant warrior. Beau’s clothing did not appear disordered, and he did not detect the scent of a mortal female on him. The pale cast of his skin suggested he had not yet fed, and he displayed no visible wounds. Only his brown hair, which still sported the golden sun streaks he’d acquired as a mortal, looked slightly tangled. Harlech met Beau’s gaze, and saw nothing but fixed boredom.

Harlech had been Beau’s foster brother when they had been human boys; he knew what that indifferent flatness meant. Something troubling has happened.

“You did not have to hurry back so quickly,” Jayr was saying to Beau. She glanced at Harlech and explained, “I summoned Beau to my office before sunset. Tremayne called for him.”

Harlech barely managed to keep the shock from his face. “The high lord wished to speak to Beau directly? Why?”

“He wouldnae say. But he was no his usual snaky self about it. ‘Bring Beaumaris of York to the phone at once,’ Byrne said. Then he bid us go so they might speak alone.” Byrne regarded Beau. “I never knew you to be one of Richard’s creatures, Beau.”

He’d been a fool to report for duty, Beaumaris decided, just as he’d been an idiot earlier to answer the call from the high lord. Now, with three of the Kyn he most respected staring at him as if he’d sprouted a second skull, he could think of a dozen ways he might have prevented this.

All useless to him now. “I gave my oath to you, my lord, and then my lady,” Beau said, unable to keep the irony out of his tone. “If I am anyone’s creature, it is yours.”

“I do not question your loyalty, Beau,” Jayr said firmly. “Nor should we leap to any conclusions when Richard is involved. Did the high lord give you leave to tell us what he wanted with you?”

Richard Tremayne had instructed him as to exactly what to tell the others. “It seems there is a secret clutch of traitors in our midst. The high lord believes them to be renegade tresori who have been turned against us. Already they have attempted to murder several Kyn lords and sentinels, and frame a member of the council for the crimes. Our lord thinks them here now, in our territory, searching for the gems.” He glanced at Jayr. “The emeralds were not destroyed by the skirmish in the south, as the high lord would have everyone think. They remain hidden, somewhere in our territory.”

Copyright © novelfull All Rights Reserved.