The Gauntlet Thrown - Chapter Twenty Six





When they materialized inside the royal bedchamber in Ven Kerrick, Shevyn shoved herself out of Reed’s arms. She sprawled ungracefully on the floor, unable to keep her balance from vertigo caused by the teleportation. Reed collapsed in a nearby chair, looking pale and exhausted. Shevyn glared at him through the thick curtain of her hair. Hopefully the exertion of transporting the two of them had been too much for him. She hoped the strain would kill him.

She looked around and recognized her surroundings with a startled pang. They were in her father’s room. A brief flare of memory came to her of her father standing before the fireplace. Here, when she was small, he would lift Shevyn and toss her high into the air until she was dizzy and laughing. The recollection brought a spasm of pain. Her parents were gone, she knew, even though she had forgotten exactly how. That memory began to surface, sluggishly, and she locked it away once more in a panic. She would not allow herself to feel that loss, not now, not on top of Brydon’s death.

The shock of it returned to her with renewed strength. The scene played again in her mind; Brydon’s fall, Reed’s dark laughter, her own silent scream of denial and her rush to the cliff face. She had seen nothing below but a sheer wall of rock, thick trees, and darkness. No one could have survived such a fall. Shevyn might have thrown herself after him had not Reed snatched her arm and dragged her pitilessly back down the mountain. He had returned the Gauntlet to the redheaded bitch and magically transported Shevyn to Ven Kerrick.

She pulled herself to the nearby bed and buried her face in the soft covers. Tears streamed silently down her face; she longed to scream out her despair and fury.

“There, there, Princess,” Reed’s hateful voice came to her. “You should be glad the Falaran is gone. He would have broken your heart, you know. He was promised to another.” Shevyn tried to shut out the sound, but Reed went on remorselessly. “It is true. He would have taken the Gauntlet and hurried back to his eager princess in Falara. He would never have given up the Falaran throne, not even for such a beautiful flower as you. Were he not Falaran, he was still a Knight-Priest and they know their duty.”

Reed laughed and the sound was like a knife cutting across her soul. She clapped her hands over her ears, unwilling to hear more. Perhaps it was true, but now she would never know.

Reed left, a fact she barely noticed. A short time later, a man entered the room to lay a fire. Shevyn was not surprised that she did not recognize him. No doubt he was one of Reed’s loyal soldiers. He stoked the fire without acknowledging her presence and departed.

When the door closed behind the man, Shevyn shot to her feet and raced to the wall. She yanked at one of the thick tapestries and felt her way to the hidden door, the one that led to the Great Hall. She had played in the secret corridors a thousand times as a child. The door did not give way, so she threw her weight against it, assuming it to be stuck. It did not move and she cringed when her questing fingers found a newly installed latch fastened with a thick lock.

She pounded a fist against the door, giving vent to her frustration. She pushed her way out from under the tapestry to find Reed seated in the chair he had previously vacated. He watched her with a sardonic smile.

“I took the liberty of putting a lock on that door after your beloved Falaran escaped me,” Reed informed her. She tossed her head and refused to acknowledge him. He gestured to the bed. “I brought you a change of clothes. You must get out of that wet dress before you catch a chill.” He chuckled. “We cannot have you ill at our wedding.”

Her gaze shot to him, spitting hellfire. He chuckled again.

“Ah, something touches you at last,” he said approvingly. “Good. I shall leave you to your preparations and return with supper. We will dine together, the first of many such meals.” He rose and walked forward, grasping her clenched fist and raising it to his lips. She shoved her arm forward suddenly, ramming her knuckles into his lower lip. He drew back with an oath and twisted her arm sharply, causing a spasm of pain to shoot from wrist to shoulder. She gasped and fought back tears as he gripped her wrist more and more tightly, bruising it and grinding the bones together.

He released her with a sharp movement; she stumbled backward and sat down hard. Her teeth clicked together painfully. She glared up at him and rubbed her wounded wrist.

“Tread lightly, Princess. I am only civilized when I choose to be,” Reed warned. He spun on a heel and went out. Shevyn stayed where she was for a moment, despairing. There was no way out, she knew. None of the chambers had windows. She shivered, realizing she was cold.

She stood up and snatched the gown from the bed, not surprised to see it was one of her own. The thought of Reed ransacking her chambers gave her a momentary sensation of disgust, but that violation was trivial compared to all else he had done to her. The bastard had much to atone for. As for marrying him—ha! She would put a dagger into her own heart first.

She stepped behind the mahogany dressing screen—in case the demon should return—and peeled off her wet gown. She replaced it with the burgundy velvet. It was rather too formal, but at least it was warm. She laughed silently for a moment without humor. Too formal for imprisonment? She tied off the lacing of the gown—a tasseled golden cord that matched the girdle. She was rather surprised that the gown laced up the front—most of her dresses laced or fastened in the back and required the help of a maid to don. She supposed Reed knew she would remain in wet clothing for eternity rather than ask for his assistance.

She entered the sitting room and seated herself before a mirrored dressing table, then began to brush her wet hair with her mother’s silver hairbrush. She chose not to think of her mother at all and instead concentrated on each downward stroke of the brush.

Presently, her thoughts turned to her predicament. How could she let Kerryn know she was here? She set the brush down and walked to the doors. She flung them open and was not the least bit surprised to see two large guards stationed there. Two flat pairs of eyes fastened on her. For a moment, she debated making a dash for it, but one of the guards blocked her way with a halberd. The malice in his expression dissuaded her more than the weapon. She would not put it past Reed to have given them orders to kill her, should she try to escape. His bid to marry her was to secure the throne legitimately—if she were dead, the point would be moot. There were no other Kerricks to oppose his claim. Marrying her would simply be the simplest way of bypassing months of legal wrangling with the Council.

She stepped back inside and shut the door tightly. She returned to the bedchamber and her eyes lit upon her father’s desk. A stack of fine parchment rested there and multicolored quills stood waiting for the chance to shed ink upon it. Perhaps she could pass a note to Kerryn through one of the servants. Shevyn quickly drafted a note. She sanded the parchment to dry the ink and shook off the excess before folding it and tucking it into her bodice. She sighed, knowing that her chance of encountering a loyal servant was slim. She wondered if she could pick the lock on the secret door—or perhaps break it. She gazed about for potential tools. There were no daggers in the room, which seemed odd to her. Reed could not have known he would be bringing her back with him. Perhaps he was so confident in his mental powers that he did not feel the need to keep excess steel about.

She left the bedchamber and entered another adjoining room—her mother’s sewing room. Shevyn gazed around as if seeing the place for the first time. A velvet-covered settee sat against the far wall before a large tapestry of a country meadow. Several chairs graced the room and tables and oak caskets were scattered throughout. One such chest was open and Shevyn sat down on the chair nearest it. She looked at the colorful yarns within and pensively picked up an aqua scarf—started by her mother, never to be finished. She held the soft wool up to her cheek for a moment, thinking how the color would have matched Brydon’s eyes. Grief threatened to overwhelm her for a moment.

Her sadness was suddenly deflected when she caught sight of the knitting needles revealed beneath the scarf. She dropped the wool as she snatched up the thin rods of steel. Perhaps she could pick the lock with them. If not, they were potential weapons.

She stood up, needles in hand, and froze when she heard the sound of the outer doors opening. She quickly tucked the needles down the side of her skirt beneath the girdle, stabbing their sharp points through the thick material. She winced when the point of one scratched the flesh of her leg. She hurriedly crossed the room and stood before the harp where she rested her head against the polished wood and plucked the strings idly.

“Here you are,” Reed said from the doorway. “I had feared you fled, after all.” She ignored him. “The harp? Do you play?” She turned to him and shook her head, receiving a brief flash of satisfaction at being able to lie to him without even speaking.

He sighed. “Pity. I have brought food. Come and dine with me.”

She shrugged and walked past him into the bedchamber. A large covered tray sat upon the table. She seated herself quickly, not allowing him the chance to pretend chivalry. He sat across from her and uncovered the tray. Two plates rested thereon, heaped with meats and pasties, bread, cheeses and spreads. He took the two pewter goblets from the tray and filled them with red wine. Shevyn took her plate and began to eat mechanically. Reed sampled a pasty and licked his lips appreciatively.

“Fine cooks you have here in Ven-Kerrick,” he commented.

She threw him an acid glare and returned her attention to her plate.

“You look lovely,” he said after a moment. “That color suits you.”

She gave no heed whatsoever to that remark. If he thought he could charm her after killing her family and Brydon, he was more than a fool—he was mad. She took a sip of the wine, wishing for hot tea. She did not want her wits dulled. Mercifully, he allowed her to finish her meal in silence. She had no appetite, but knew she must maintain her strength in order to escape.

“Tell me about your Falaran,” Reed said later. He stood before the fire and leaned on the mantle with one arm. “How did you know to flee to him when you escaped me? Why was he as foolish as to return you to Ven-Kerrick—to confront me here? Did he think his power equal to mine?”

Shevyn closed her eyes tightly, wishing she could shut out the sound of his voice as easily. She did not want to think of Brydon. The loathing she felt for his killer was compounded by his every utterance. Reed turned back to her.

“Does it pain you to speak of him?” he goaded. “Do you think to keep his secrets in loving memory?”

She did not look at him until he stalked forward and yanked her forcibly out of the chair, further bruising her injured wrist. He pulled her roughly into an embrace, crushing her body against his. He released her arm only to caress her face with his left hand. She clenched her jaw, glaring at him. With her freed hand, she fumbled for the knitting needles.

“Your silence distresses me, Shevyn,” he said and his caress turned into a grip as he held her chin and lowered his mouth to kiss her lips. She shoved him away and stabbed at him with one of the needles, but he was quick as lightning. Even so, the steel rod cut a nasty furrow beneath his eye, fully three inches long. He touched the bleeding wound for a moment in shock, and then struck like a poisonous snake, striking her hand and sending the makeshift weapon spinning across the room.

“Filthy bitch!” he cried and backhanded her across the cheek in the same motion. The force of it knocked her to the ground, although Reed did not leave her there. He grabbed the shoulder of her dress and dragged her to her feet. The material tore. His hands were suddenly all over her, ripping at her bodice and skirt. She thought he meant to assault her, until she heard him snarl, “Where is the other one?”

He found it and tore it from her, leaving a gaping tear in the needle’s wake. He shoved her away and she stumbled, barely managing to keep her feet. She held her torn dress together and straightened. Reed recovered the first knitting needle and clicked the pair of them together. Blood trickled from his cheek to his chin and dripped onto his white shirt. He glanced down at the growing spot of red.

“I tried to treat you as befits your station,” he informed her in a controlled voice. “But if you prefer to behave as a hoyden, so shall it be.”

He strode forward and she hurried to put the table between them, but he continued past her and into the next room. A moment later, she heard the outer doors open and close. She sank down into a chair, relieved.

Her respite was short-lived. Reed returned bearing several lengths of rope. She shot to her feet and put the table between them once more. The maneuver did not deter Reed—her merely yanked out a chair and used it to step up onto the table. He leaped down at her and she fled into the sewing room, looking for something to throw at him. The oil lamp was nearest and she rushed for it, but he caught her about the legs and brought her crashing to the floor short of her goal.

She kicked and scratched at him, but he picked her up in his arms and carried her back into the bedchamber, seeming oblivious to her struggles. He threw her forcibly upon the bed and caught her left arm before she could roll away. He knotted a rope about her wrist and tied it to the bedpost, though he earned himself a bloody scratch on the forearm from her nails.

Reed cursed and grabbed her free hand, climbing on top of her to fasten her arm to the opposite bedpost. He did not pause, but tied each of her legs as well, barely avoiding a kick in the chin. When she was spread-eagled and helpless, he sighed in satisfaction and sat next to her. She tugged at her bonds angrily, trying to ignore her growing terror. She should not have attacked him until she was more certain of success. She stared at him coldly. The lower portion of his face was a mask of blood and his shirt was heavily spotted from droplets.

He patted her belly familiarly. “That should hold you for a time, my dear, and hopefully prevent any more nasty surprises. I must attend to my affairs now, but I shall return. Give us a kiss.” She turned her head away quickly, but he grasped her chin and forced her to face him. He squeezed her jaw—giving her no chance to bite him—and kissed her lingeringly, letting his tongue caress her lips for a moment. She spat at him when he released her and he smiled at her in a tolerant fashion. He put a hand on her chest and rubbed gently for a moment before letting his hand slide into her torn bodice to caress one of her breasts. She held her breath for a moment, realizing her note to Kerryn was still there, although it had slid down in their struggles and rested along her rib cage a hairsbreadth from Reed’s fingers. He squeezed—not quite painfully—and sighed.

“Perhaps my business will not take long. After all, why should we wait for the wedding to sample the pleasures of marriage?”

He pinched her nipple and she gasped, jerking away from him. He removed his hand and laughed.

“Ah, Shevyn, you tempt me, but duty calls.” He got to his feet, checked her bonds once more and went out, leaving her in darkness and despair. 


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