Radiance (Wraith Kings #1)(11) by Grace Draven

Brishen raised a hand to touch the older woman’s proud, lined features.  “My mother,” he whispered.

“What of your mother, Brishen?”

The voice was familiar.  Anhuset, his commander.  Brishen frowned.  No, not his commander.  He was her commander.  His cousin and lieutenant.  “My mother,” he said.  “Love her.  Her name is Tarawin.”

His commander spoke again.  “No, Brishen.  Your mother is Secmis, Queen of the Flatlands.  Shadow Queen of Bast-Haradis.”

Brishen frowned.  Another image replaced that of Tarawin, this one of a woman possessing the haughty beauty that had captured a king’s interest and hinted at the brittle soul beneath it.

“What is he saying?”

A different voice, this time speaking in the Common tongue with a Gauri’s lyrical accent.  The prince’s ugly wife with the frightening eyes.

Brishen shook his head.  “Lovely inside,” he argued with himself.  “Laughs easily.”

Anhuset answered the Gauri woman in Common.  “He’s confusing his mother Secmis with Talumey’s mother, Tarawin.  I don’t know Tarawin, but I do know Secmis.  She rarely laughs.”

He wanted to counter her comment, clarify that he’d spoken of Ildiko, not Tarawin, but his tongue felt glued to the top of his mouth.  He was hot, broiling—as if someone had staked him out beneath the sun and let it roast him alive.  “Water,” he rasped.

A cup pressed against his dry lips, and Brishen drained the water in gulps.  A hand caressed his brow, cool on his hot skin.  He opened his eyes and found Ildiko staring at him with those strange human eyes.  He instinctively jerked away and tried to sit up.  “Your Highness,” he murmured.  He was a lowly soldier and broke all protocol, lying down before a member of the royal house.

Ildiko.  She was Ildiko to him in private.  Two pairs of hands pressed him back to the pallet.  Brishen blinked at Anhuset who offered more water.  He turned his head away and sought Ildiko once more.

She stroked his arm, and her voice was soft, worried.  “Do you know me, Brishen?”

The constantly shifting patterns of combined memories clouded his vision, even with his eyes open, and his stomach roiled in protest.  Brishen closed his eyes.  “My wife,” he said.  “My Ildiko.”

“Yes, Brishen.  Your Ildiko.”  Like her touch, her voice soothed him.  “Anhuset and I will stay with you until the fever is over.”

He wanted to thank them for their vigilance—Ildiko, who’d never witnessed a mortem light’s possession of a light vessel and Anhuset who was still put out by having to eat the revolting potato thing at the wedding banquet.  An image of the steaming maggot on his plate overrode all the jumbled memories trying to cloud his mind.  Bile surged into his throat, and saliva flooded his mouth.

“I’m going to be sick,” he muttered.

The words had barely passed his lips before he was shoved to his side.  Hands held his head and lifted his hair as he emptied his stomach.  More memories surged through his mind—a week of illness when he was a child and clutched a carved wooden bowl to his chest as Tarawin crooned to him what a brave boy he was.  Another similar memory, only he huddled in a grand bed holding a silver basin while one of the royal nurses stood safely out of range and eyed him with disgust as he retched.

A cool cloth bathed his hot face, and he captured the wrist of the person wielding it.  Fragile bones in his grip.  Human bones.  Easily snapped if he exerted the smallest amount of pressure.  Brishen traced the spider network of tiny veins just beneath her skin with his thumb.  Though they were thinner than silk thread, he could feel the blood pulse through them in a steady rhythm.

He cracked his eyelids open just enough to find Ildiko holding the cloth.  Her other hand carded through his hair.  “Battle and vomit, wife.  Not what you should witness during your inaugural trip to Haradis.”  Nothing had gone quite as he planned since the moment they rode out of the Gauri capital city.  “Shall I take you home?”  He wouldn’t blame Ildiko if she said yes.

She flashed him a brief smile of her square teeth.  “You are taking me home, Brishen.  There’s nothing for me in Pricid.”

“What of your family?”

Her smile faded.  “Blood ties do not always make a family.  My family rests in a crypt overlooking the sea.  I need to make a new family now.”  She traced one of his eyebrows with her fingers.  “Can you take a little more water?  Rinse your mouth?”

Brishen nodded and this time accepted the cup Anhuset offered him.  He lay back, inhaling and exhaling slowly, willing his rebellious stomach to calm down, despite his and Talumey’s memories pitching his vision so hard, he felt like he’d spent a night emptying a wine barrel, only to have someone shove him into it, seal the lid and toss the thing into a stormy sea.  He refused to think of potatoes.

The sounds of cleaning and straightening filled his ears.  He wanted to apologize for the mess but didn’t dare open his mouth in case he ruined all their hard work.

Somehow he managed to drift into a restless sleep plagued with dreams and cluttered with two sets of memories.  He thrashed on the pallet and ripped the blanket off his body.  A surprised yelp filtered through his dreams, followed by two voices speaking in Common.

“Did he slash you?”

“Just my sleeve.  Bursin’s wings, you are fast!”

“Not fast enough.”

“It’s just my sleeve, Anhuset.”

“Lucky it wasn’t your face or your throat, Your Highness.  You shouldn’t be here.”

“This is exactly where I should be.”

“Then until he’s lucid, stay out of his way.  I might not be as quick as you need me to be a second time.”

Brishen struggled against the somnolent shackles that held him prisoner.  He’d kill whoever had tried to hurt his wife, split his skull the way he he’d done with the Beladine raider who attacked her.  She was ugly; she was beautiful, and she was his.  “My Ildiko,” he whispered.

She didn’t offer her soothing touch, but her voice calmed him.  “I’m here, Brishen.  I’m not going anywhere.”

He hoped not.

CHAPTER NINE

They were into the fourth day of their journey, and Ildiko was beginning to miss the sun.  She fiddled with her horse’s mane as she and their entourage rode ever closer to Haradis, capital of Bast-Haradis.  The moon had waned to a slivered crescent in the sky, and the night was so dark, she was virtually blind.  The black-armored Kai were no more than vague shapes with disembodied eyes that flitted like pairs of fireflies.

She relied on her mount’s sense of direction for home as well as its instinct to stay with a herd for protection.  Wagon wheels creaked behind her, accompanied by the distant howls of wolf packs and the voices of the Kai who spoke and bantered with each other.

For a moment Ildiko had the oddest sense of being set adrift alone on a vast sea in a small boat.  Her horse’s rolling gait was the tide that rocked her.  Beyond her senses lay a horizon she couldn’t see and land she couldn’t reach; the shadows of leviathans that swam the deep abyss and swallowed ships whole lurked beneath her.

The resolve she held to embrace this new life and call these people hers fractured a little.  She was an outlander with a strange face and strange habits.  Ildiko pushed back the sudden swell of terror and homesickness.  It would be difficult enough adjusting to a different household among foreign humans with their own peculiar customs.  But this was far more than culture shock.  The Kai weren’t even human.  An ancient, insular people who shunned the sun and swallowed the spirits of their dead, they were nothing like the Gauri or any other peoples Ildiko had ever encountered at court.  She would be as a babe just learning to walk as she navigated her way amongst the Kai and their royal court.  No doubt she’d make mistakes and embarrass herself—and Brishen—on more than one occasion.  That thought sent her stomach plummeting to her feet.

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