Alone in her apartments, Kyrie found it hard to sleep. She had learned three important things from this stranger called Proteus.
One: the name of her people. Ouri
. The Golden Ones.
Two: the fact that her talent wouldn’t work on her own kind. It had been a shock to feel nothing, to see nothing
when she had put her hand to his chest.
Three: that he had truly been searching for her
. He wasn’t crazy, as she had alluded to Galen. Confused, somehow, to equate twenty years with twenty hours, but he had been lucid in all else.
Or maybe his search for her had driven
him crazy, and he really believed that he had been here for twenty hours when he had indeed been here for twenty years. No, that couldn’t be right—he was no more than thirty years old himself—that would have made him about ten when his search began.
She bit her lip.
She needed to speak with him further.
If Galen didn’t kill him first.
* * * *
“Please, Mistress, no—”
Kyrie leaned back in her chair, exhausted, as the guardsmen dragged yet another prisoner away to his fate.
“A perfect record,” Galen said with a certain satisfaction next to her.
She looked at him with an uncomprehending stare.
“Guilty,” he explained. “Every single one today. And how many cases did we hear? Twenty? Amazing. But what is it, my dear? You don’t look amused.”
“Amused?” she repeated, incredulous. “Do you think this is a game we play, day after day, condemning and absolving? We are killing
people here, Galen.”
“Only the guilty ones,” he pointed out.
She closed her eyes, unable to think of an adequate response to that.
He patted her arm. “Don’t trouble yourself, my dear. Consider this: you are single-handedly the biggest deterrent to crime on this planet. Your contribution to Sirene is enormous.”
was the only thing which kept her going, Kyrie admitted. She desperately wanted to ask Galen about Proteus but knew better than to show any interest where the prisoner was concerned. Biding her time would be the smarter move. She was confident that Proteus would survive whatever Galen’s men might do to him. He was strong, and his resolve had been firm that he would tell them nothing
, although anything they might force from him would already be twenty years out of date. No matter. When Galen was convinced that Proteus was no threat to him, that’s when she would make her move.
But it wouldn’t hurt to plant a seed now.
“I don’t know how much longer I can do this, Galen.” She closed her eyes and sighed. ”I’m so tired.”
“There, there, my dear,” he said, misunderstanding her. “We can recess for today.”
* * * *
Galen Adjanti de Lespinus Andronicus paced the length of his private chamber, hands clasped thoughtfully behind his back. His regal blue velvet robe swirled around his ankles. The ornate furnishing of the chamber bespoke his high station. From time to time he looked up, seeing the magnificent stained-glass windows which threw soft, colored light into the room, and which depicted, in various panes, his great triumph in conquering Sirene.
Twenty years ago, when Kyrie’s people had abandoned all hope of holding authority here and fled, he had seized his opportunity to rush into the power vacuum and eventually claimed the throne, er, leadership
of a lawless planet.
But perhaps his greatest stroke of genius had been coming across a small child in a shallow cave and recognizing her potential. Her power. He had ruled Sirene through brute force while he had groomed Kyrie to be exactly what he needed to hold on to his leadership.
At age fifteen, he had declared her his Mistress of Justice and made his people bow down before her. Respect her. Fear
With her all-seeing eyes. And her all-knowing hands.
He could not have ruled here without her.
So now that he was faced with losing her—and there was no doubt of it, for he had seen with his own eyes her subtle deterioration—he found himself confronted with two equally unappealing choices: do nothing and let her die, or give her this Ourian for a mate.
Which might mean Galen would lose her either way—either by death, or by allowing the Ouri to once more gain a foothold on Sirene.
And he couldn’t allow that.
Mating would produce children. And children would eventually multiply. Even though at this moment Sirene was overrun with his kind, they could die, or be culled by nature, or accident, and some even by Kyrie’s judgments.
He paused in his pacing.
On the other hand, if he gave the Ourian male to Kyrie, it would allow Galen to keep a constant eye on him. It infuriated him that his guards hadn’t been able to find out what the man had been up to on the castle grounds. And he knew it wasn’t idle curiosity
. There was danger here. But if Proteus were with Kyrie, he couldn’t be plotting, could he? Or if he did, Galen would certainly be aware of it.
He sighed. It would be so much simpler if the Ourian were indeed crazy, as Kyrie had hinted. Driven insane by living twenty years alone in a forest. But Galen had seen only a sharp intelligence in the man’s eyes when they’d dragged him from his chamber.
But—now that he thought about it—if the prisoner were indeed sane, there was
one thing he might be able to do about that other little problem.
* * * *
Proteus Valerian Fehr spat out blood. But that’s all he spat out. No information of any kind.
His persecutors had been at him for three days already. He wondered how long or how far they would go before they realized he would never talk.
Or, rather, that he would never tell them what they wanted to hear.
He spoke of Sirene in the time of the Ouri; he talked of the Sanjendo forest, which, thank the gods, he knew well; he sometimes babbled incoherently just to throw his torturers off guard.
But never, ever, did he mention his search for a five-year-old child.
Still, the wrenching pain sometimes got the better of him, and he shut himself down completely, concentrating on the golden-skinned face of a woman. Her green eyes, so like his own, haunted his nights. Her skin, too pale when he had seen it in the full light of Galen’s chamber, was a temptation he wanted to explore with his fingertips. Her naive concern for him while visiting in this filthy place made him desperate to find out how she had come to be here.
And to be worshipped by these people.
He groaned despite himself as the rack was stretched ever tauter. One more inch and his arms would be pulled from their sockets.
Don’t think of the pain…
He gritted his teeth.
A loud banging on the door of his torture chamber mercifully distracted his guards from their work. But his relief was short-lived. The wooden door swung inward to reveal the Lord and Master of Sirene, Galen Andronicus himself.
Proteus knew it was not a good sign.
He watched as Galen crossed the room and came to stand beside him, looking him over. Proteus saw himself reflected in Galen’s eyes: his bruised body, his bloodied face, his sweat-stained, ragged clothes.
“Has he spoken?” Galen asked with feigned indifference.
,” offered one of the guards, “but he doesn’t actually say anything. Nothing of any importance.”
“Do you think he’s insane?” Galen’s tone was still all smooth, silky nonchalance.
“Insane? Well—” one guard hesitated.
babble,” the other admitted.
Proteus tried to grasp that. The woman had told Galen he was insane? In the hope perhaps that it might protect him from further torment?
Interesting. It hadn’t worked, but it had been a clever idea.
He was finding more and more to admire about her.
Although, for one fleeting moment during their brief meeting, he had thought she
might be the crazy one, what with her insistence that she was the female he was searching for.
“Give me a knife,” Galen said.
One of the guards hurried to hand him a short, sharp blade, and the breath caught in Proteus’s throat. May the gods have mercy on me.
He swallowed hard and closed his eyes.
, you will look at me when in my presence!”
Proteus’s eyes snapped reluctantly open. He saw the rage on Galen’s face settle into something else. A cold purpose.
Galen looked him up and down for a long moment and then ran a slow hand across Proteus’s naked chest. Proteus tensed, but he couldn’t even struggle against it. He was completely helpless, stretched as he was on the rack, tauter than a bowstring.
And he knew better than to open his mouth.
Galen’s knife found the waistband of Proteus’s ragged trousers, and he cut the material away until Proteus was completely naked before him. Exposed. Vulnerable.
Every inch on display.
And Galen looked his fill.
He transferred the knife to his left hand and cupped Proteus’s balls in his right, as if weighing them, measuring them.
It took everything Proteus could muster to obey Galen’s order not to look away from him. But thank the gods that Galen couldn’t read what was on his mind.
“Are you particularly attached to these, my friend?” Galen asked, squeezing hard.
Proteus gritted his teeth. This
man was clearly the one who was insane. Still, he held his tongue.
Galen brought the knife to slide between Proteus’s legs, much too close for comfort.
“Well,” Galen murmured, “if you wish to keep these intact, then I suggest you do exactly as I say.”
* * * *
There was no court session today.
Since Kyrie had become Mistress of Justice, what had started out as a full-time occupation had become a two-day or three-day routine. Galen was right—she had become a powerful deterrent to crime on Sirene. It was something of which she should be proud. And she was, but she was more proud of the fact that no one was unjustly convicted by her.
No innocent person need fear come before her.
Except one. But that one hadn’t feared her.
The image of a sixteen-year-old boy passed before her eyes.
“I will honor you, Gervais. I will honor your sacrifice today.”
She took one last look at herself in the mirror, smoothed her gown, and called for her Praetorian. “Charon!”
The guardsman came at her call. “Yes, Mistress?” He fell to one knee, hand over his heart.
Kyrie paused, watching him. The familiar action was meant to be one of obeisance, but, ironically, she was always tempted to interpret it as a sly insult. By going down on one knee and bowing his head, Charon averted his eyes from hers; by placing his hand over his heart, he was preventing her from reading it. This was not the first time she wondered if Galen had come up with this formal ritual to subtly mock her.
“I wish to go riding,” she said now. “Will you accompany me?”
“Yes, Mistress. Let me call for the horses and prepare.”
, she knew he meant sending a message to Galen to inform him she was going out.
An hour later, they were riding through the castle gates and into the village that surrounded it. Kyrie turned her horse’s head to the east, and in a few minutes they pulled up in front of a whitewashed cottage on the edge of town. Careful questioning had brought her to this house. She reined in her horse and nodded to her guardsman. He immediately dismounted and pounded on the door.
Several moments passed before a rotund, middle-aged woman pulled it open. She took one look at the Praetorian, then at the horses dressed in their royal livery of purple and gold, and then up at Kyrie. Her eyes widened in shock.
“Fear not,” Kyrie assured her, putting up a hand. “I seek a boy named Gaudius.”
“My—my Gaudius?” the woman choked out.
Kyrie dismounted and approached the door. The Praetorian took a step back to allow her some privacy. “Fear not,” she said again, giving the woman a reassuring smile.
From behind the woman’s wide body, Kyrie caught the fleeting image of a young boy. Soon his curiosity was too great, and he peeked out from behind his mother.
Kyrie smiled at him. “Gaudius?”
The boy nodded uncertainly.
Kyrie took a breath. “I came to say that I knew your brother, Gervais.” The mother inhaled sharply at Kyrie’s use of the past tense, but Kyrie’s eyes never left the boy’s. “And to tell you that he loved you very much.”
She reached out and touched his cheek, then turned and made her way back to her horse, which Charon helped her quickly mount.
Gaudius’s mother broke into sobs, and Kyrie was sorry for that, but she’d felt she had to come, to let Gervais’s family know what he had done. To acknowledge the sacrifice he’d made.
Kyrie waved a quick good-bye and spurred her mount past the edge of town and into the surrounding countryside. With some surprise, she realized they were quite near the Sanjendo Wood, and she had a sudden urge to see for herself the place where Proteus said he had hidden himself for the last twenty years. She guided her horse in that direction.
A few minutes later, she pulled up at the edge of the forest.
How did one live in a forest, she wondered? A house in the trees? Lunch of twigs and berries?
“Do you know this place?” she asked Charon.
The guard nodded. “The Sanjendo Wood. They say it is haunted, Mistress,” he answered. “All children are taught to stay away from here, lest they be kidnapped and never seen again.”
“A good place to hide, then, if you don’t want to be found.”
Her Praetorian looked at her quizzically. “Mistress?”
“Never mind,” she said. “How big is it, do you know?”
“A hundred thousand acres, maybe more. Have you never been here?”
It was a presumptuous question. It was not a Praetorian’s place to question his Mistress. But Charon had been with her for a year now. There was a certain comfort level between them. And who could blame him for his simple curiosity? “No,” she admitted. “Galen, he—sheltered
me when I was young.”
Obviously Charon realized he had overstepped his bounds, and an awkward silence fell between them.
“Well,” she said. “Perhaps we should be getting back to the castle.”
“Yes,” he agreed, and they spurred their horses.
* * * *
,” Galen urged.
The guardsman made one final adjustment, then climbed down from his ladder. “It is done, sire.”
“Both of them?” Galen asked, looking up into the corners of the ceiling.
“Can we test them now?”
“Certainly, sire. We have already set up the controller in your room, as you requested.”
“Good. Then go.” Galen waved a hand at the Praetorian, who took the ladder and hurried from the room. Galen squinted up at the little black devices, no bigger than large buttons, which had been mounted in opposite corners on Kyrie’s bedroom ceiling. Were they as inconspicuous as possible? Should he have painted them white? No time.
She would be back from her ride at any moment.
And he had already been waiting more than a day for her to be gone long enough to give him the opportunity to put this little plan into motion.
He stood back and let his eyes follow the direct line from the cameras to her bed.
It should work.