England’s holy ground was not a place one might expect to come upon a meeting of the damned. Yet, beneath the unseeing stone eyes of saints and kings, an assembly of cursed Immortals gathered to air their grievances.
Lian Redmond was not among the eldest who arrived at the cathedral, though he already carried a scent of age and parchment in his blood. It was a trait shared by all elders of his species; just as they shared in the powers inherited from their Fae ancestors.
More than four hundred years into his gifted, second life, Lian had come into the power of his bloodline in full. His was the ability to read the innermost thoughts of those around him — an unwelcome intrusion at times — that came less often now with the centuries.
He was not so fortunate tonight.
Under the whispers and quiet laughter of those who were privileged to be members of a true, recognized House of the Aegeans, he could hear their more insidious thoughts, like snakes wending through tall grass.
Closing his eyes against them, he pressed a hand to his brow. He did not belong here among the established Houses that made up the Assembly of Elders. Nor did the other Free Immortals who had crowded into the pews. These meetings were meant to pacify the Free, more than to rectify their concerns.
“Gently, brother.” The quiet murmur from the man at his side was almost dry, despite his warning. Lian sensed the look that flicked his way. “Or you will bring the stained glass down upon their heads.”
“I would at least have more control over that,” Lian answered in a whisper. Reading thoughts was not the limit of the power of his mind.
He shifted where he stood to fold his hands neatly in front of him. Among mortals he was, for all intents and purposes, a noble. He and his brother dressed as they did: in fine satin doublets and short capes whose linings matched royal blue-and-burgundy palettes. To the English he was the Earl of Rosse and his brother, the Conte De Castile.
And yet, he was not a noble here.
Lian turned to glance at his brother; as dark in color as he was golden. Such was the nature of the stock born in Castile, long before Dorian’s second life. Theirs was a brotherhood counted not in mortal bonds but in the Immortal gift Lian had bestowed.
“Lian Redmond,” a voice droned, carrying down the stone walls to reach the place where the brothers stood. As if in an echo, the whisper of thoughts rose again to swirl through the Immortal’s head.
“Good luck,” Dorian offered. It was too flat to have been genuine.
Lian turned to walk down the aisle, chased by the reminder of what he was not from the stares and minds that regarded him.
Overseeing the proceedings from the front of the cathedral, the Royal Council observed the gathered numbers with apathy. Four of the Council members, Jaime, Adaeze, Synne, and Iona, were the surviving children and Heirs of the Immortal Mother — the Empress Mother — who had given the British Isles the gift of her curse so many centuries ago. Already ancient, despite the youthful beauty of their features, they sat as still as the stone saints around them in seats pulled before the altar. One brother, three sisters; the children who had survived a betrayal. Nested in the seat between them was the Sovereign of the Aegean Immortals, Silvanus; the son of the traitor.
Their brother’s blood, his father’s blood.
Behind them sat the heads of the Houses and their Councils, Elders who occupied the velvet-lined chairs of the recessed choir loft like the pigeons that flocked in the buttresses outside. The signet jewelry that marked their stations winked and glittered — blood-red stars in the candlelight. Their whispers were quiet; a flutter of birds’ wings echoing off stone walls and reverberating from the stained glass before coming to rest upon the altar and the ancients at the head of the nave.
“Your majesty. Your highnesses,” Lian began, respectfully as he must; still, he felt a faint pinch in his chest as he bowed before the altar.
“Redmond,” answered Jaime from his chair. He was olive-skinned and dark-haired, a Spaniard once, though the accent had long been chased from his voice.
Lian was no noble, no true Arch Lord, but he was not unknown. His family belonged to no House, but they had wealth and numbers to rival most established covens.
“I come before the Assembly of Elders and the Royal Council to address disturbances in the peace between the Free Immortals and the Aegean Houses,” the blond began, straightening. “My family takes care to respect the territories of the Houses and gives a wide berth to their boundaries. Yet time and again, fledglings of Aegean Houses cross from their territory into the hunting grounds of Free Immortals. My children have had meals stolen from them on their hunts, and altercations besides. In the most recent engagement, one of my queens was wounded — as was another in her defense.”
The queen’s blood matted her golden hair and stained her dress....
Lian’s fingers flexed with the memory, as they had that night.
She leaned into the support of her sister, bloodier than she, though the wounds had healed already.
“I only stood between them,” her sister had said, meeting Lian’s eyes. “I raised no hand to the man.”
She could not. Their family was not protected from the wrath of the Houses.
Lian again felt the rise of thoughts that were not his own, whispered as if through water, and he pushed down against them as he continued. “I do not bring a grievance or desire to name the House whose fledgling took advantage of their security in the pacts to wound my own. My only desire in standing before the Council is the hope that peace can be maintained. If the boundaries of the Houses are made clear both to their own offspring and the Free Immortals, I am hopeful further engagements can be avoided.”
“The boundaries are established at our will, Redmond.” The unusual, purple-eyed stare of the taller of the two blonde Heirs, Synne, rested on Lian, and he could sense the bored indifference accompanying her words. “They are limited by neither the needs nor wants of the Free.”
Synne’s bond and the second of the blonde Heirs stirred. Iona, with bright green eyes and a cherubic face, leaned forward and curled her fingers against the roundness of her cheek. “Do you suppose the lords and queens of our Houses are slaves or servants otherwise, Free one?”
A soft titter of amusement rustled the pigeons in their perch.
“Supposing is far above my station, my Lady Iona,” Lian answered evenly as he bowed. “Otherwise, I might have supposed clarity regarding the boundaries was not all that was lacking in the fledglings who seek continued engagements with my sons and daughters.”
“That is some cheek for a rogue, Redmond,” Jaime murmured. “You will lose your audience quickly for it.”
“It is the confidence of ignorance that speaks, we shall be kind enough to assume. It is not as if the rogue understands the way of things. He can be forgiven much for a pretty face and a deep pocket.” A ghost of amusement colored the smoky tones of Adaeze, the dusky-skinned, Moorish daughter of the Empress Mother. “You may be assured, should a House seek for more than a meal from the hands of your wildlings, there would be no lack of clarity about the matter.”
“Let him ask forgiveness from the Royal Council for his ignorance if he is to receive it,” offered Silvanus in a voice lined with frost. He alone was older in appearance, adorned in black robes with gold accents that seemed to weigh down his lean form. “Make your bid for it, Redmond. It will be the most sensible of the words you have spoken today.”
Lian’s gaze swept across the Royal Council in a slow study. He had known he had never had an audience here. Not truly. The Free, the rogues, had no voice here, but far better no voice than no heart.
His father’s blood.
The Immortal bowed his head. “I apologize for my words and any offense I may have caused the Council and the Assembly.”
Jaime straightened only briefly before waving a dismissive flutter of his hand. “The Council has noted your apology. Take your seat, Redmond.”
There was little else Lian Redmond could do but as the Lord bid.