Fantasy storytime. With a conflicted mc, a terrible prince, and a lot of rain. I've had A LOT of fun with these characters. I will be visiting with them again. :)
The Copper King
Outside the door, despite the deluge of rain making the mud suck harder at our boots, mine sturdier than his, I stopped him.
“You shouldn’t be doing this.”
“You have stated such. Several times. I grow weary of your inability to shut up.”
“Beg forgiveness, your highness.”
I ignored his glare at the title. The one time I’d tried to use his name on this ridiculous venture he’d lectured me in the middle of the street. Which, I could not point out, was a bit more of a giveaway than his title. The door opened and the stink of unwashed bodies spilled out into the storm and into our waiting nostrils.
Unused to such humanity, the prince buried his lower face into a handkerchief of dubious masculinity. Not that he made great strides to conform to the kingdom’s occasionally narrow view on gender roles. Only, I’d encourage him to be a bit more…not himself. At least for tonight.
I would like to think I succeeded, but we wouldn’t know until we were inside. I grabbed the door before it could swing closed and held it so he might enter first. Once inside, I squeezed around him and a not-as-bored-as-he-seemed bouncer and began the trek to the corner. The man we sought would be there.
No one gave me more than a second look. The prince, well, he didn’t quite go as unnoticed. Used to being gawked at, he didn’t know to get these particular subjects to not stare. These particulars should be discouraged so when I noticed a few approaching I grabbed the prince by the arm and jerked him the last few feet. No doubt I would be yelled at later.
“Riona. I thought the rain would keep you away.”
The darkness around him was not entirely manufactured naturally. Dramatics I did not need tonight, but he was as much a creature of habit as the prince. I pulled out a chair for the prince, the sound lost in the general din of the tavern. A glare from him before he brushed off the chair with a different handkerchief than the lace he clutched to his nose. Still.
“Not my first rainstorm.”
“No, but you never liked them.”
“Can we get down to business?” How petulant he sounded. More so, compared to Copper’s deep, rumbling voice.
I’d considered killing him more often in the last few hours than I had in the last twenty years. Gods, twenty years babysitting the pampered idiots in the castle. Sometimes I did wish that rainstorm Copper remembered had been my last.
It had not, so we were down to business.
“Copper, the- gentleman here has a proposition.”
“Well, he’s not my type.” Copper pretended not to recognize the prince. “I’ve some men of my own who would be happy to give him a rough night.”
“How dare you!”
Before he might erupt with royal fury, I slapped a hand over his mouth. Now I was sure I would pay later for all my transgressions this evening. I should have hit him harder. At least then it would have been worth it.
“What he is saying,” I said slowly as I removed my hand, “is he does not need entertainment of his own. What he seeks is something more delicate.”
Even with shadows wrapped around him, I felt Copper’s eyes on mine. I had not wanted to come here, but had not been swift enough to lie when the prince made his demand. Every time I saw him, I thought about my decision to stay after the war. We could have- Well, fifteen years was a long time to clutch regrets, but one finds their fingers only hold tighter with each passing year.
“I do not think we should discuss this here.”
The prince was absolutely right. Not that it would do him any good. Copper only met here.
“We will not be bothered. Nor will we be overheard. Tell me the job.” He ignored me now, focused on the potential client. My muscles relaxed despite that meaning my charge was in more danger.
At least, now, I could study my former lover without seeing mockery in his eyes. He looked little different than the last time we’d met years ago. His red hair looked a shade lighter, but it could have been the spluttering torches breaking into his shadow. It wasn’t only lust being in Copper’s presence raised. I missed him in so many ways.
As the prince hemmed and hawed and spluttered as much as the torches, Copper’s eyes slid to me. Their blue was clouded by some emotion I could no longer read in his expression. I met his gaze as steadily as I could, knowing he’d already discovered how different I looked. Some of us could not keep back the years from our features.
“If I can deduce your meaning in your meandering,” Copper said once the prince had drifted into silence, “you wish me to seduce your sister so she will make a poor judgment and be pulled from the line of succession.”
The mockery in his tone was bare to even the prince’s lower intelligence. He huffed, and puffed his chest out, but in the end, he nodded. Because, it was exactly what he wanted.
Which was why I’d instantly thought of Copper. Because he could do it, would have no qualms about doing it, and would make the princess enjoy her ruin.
I’d certainly enjoyed mine.
“I am not sure what your associate-”
“Said about me.” Copper leaned forward and the table groaned under the force of his arms. He did it on purpose. “I am not in the habit of committing treason. We’ll all forget you came here.”
“You have not heard my offer.”
“And I don’t need to. You have nothing I want. Good evening, your highness.”
The prince was not happy to be addressed as such. Well, not entirely. He stood swiftly, the chair kicking back a few inches. As he stared down at Copper he said nothing. Copper only leaned back and returned the stare. The prince lasted exactly 34 seconds.
“Come along, Riona.”
I sat, hand on my sword, trapped between the two men. Copper did not command I stay, did not ask, but I hated to leave him. Unfortunately, I had no choice. We stared at each other, the table no impediment to all of our regrets, until I was on my feet.
“Always a pleasure, Riona.”
The words were said to my back and I could not turn to see him one more time. If I had, I might not have left. Treason indeed.
“You said he would do as I wished.”
An hour later, exhausted and soaked through, I stood in the prince’s bedroom as he sipped mulled wine and was bundled in a fine robe and slippers. I, of course, had not been given time to change despite his time in the bath. He was making a point.
“I said, if any man could do as you desired, it would be Copper.”
“The same thing.”
“No, your highness. Not the same thing.”
“I will force him to do as I command.”
I snorted, unable to stop myself.
“Riona, your attitude begins to bore me.”
I froze, the rain shivers fleeing as a more immediate terror filled my thoughts. I must have looked suitably frightened because he relaxed and sipped his wine. Which did not mean I was safe.
“I apologize, your highness.” Such sincerity now. Not quite groveling because it was not in me, but it was close. Let the gods convince him it was good enough!
“There are ways to convince a man to heel.” The prince glanced down at the small puddle formed under me on his fine carpet. “Go, stop yourself from ruining a carpet worth more than you. Return in less than half an hour. You will tell me all you know of this Copper.”
Thank the gods! I might not be out of danger, but I could dry off and cease feeling the endless crawl of rain on my body. I hurried from his chamber and down to my own room two levels down.
Which was where Copper sat. He showed not a drop of water on his frame. I was thankful, rather than jealous, because he sat on my bed.
“Your oath ended when his uncle died,” he said as the door swung shut.
“So you say.” I tugged off my boots and tossed them into the corner. Wet socks squelched as I crossed the floor and I peeled them off in front of my chest. With my back to him, I stripped quickly down to nothing before pulling on a clean uniform.
“I would not make you work in the rain.” He stood behind me. The instinct to turn, to defend myself, lost to the feel of his hands on my shoulders. “I would not make you work, Riona. Not here, not wherever you might wish to escape to.”
“I swore an oath,” I stuttered.
His thumb caressed my neck, finding the proper spot to leave my knees weak and my breath caught in anticipation.
I could fight this. I should. I would have, but his words stopped me.
“It was not easy, beloved, to avoid every drop of rain between myself and you. But I did.” A small application of pressure sent my head to one side. “For you.”
He had no breath to caress my skin. Only the feel of his lips before his tongue traced the vein he desired gave me warning. A chance to say no. Copper had always given me that chance. Now, as before, I turned it down and relaxed into what was to come. I would be late, legs too weak even though he never took too much, returning to the prince.
Fangs slid into my skin and I closed my eyes, breath held, determined to experience every moment. Copper fed slowly, drawing blood and whatever else he needed from my spirit, in a manner meant to remind me of every other time. A clap of thunder did what even his teeth could not.
I whimpered in fear and his arms slid around my waist immediately. I leaned against the sturdy, steady feel of his body as he finished. His tongue traced the bite mark as his hands held me close against him. Which was all lovely. Except I was late.
“Domenico.” My whisper was an entreaty, but I think neither of us knew exactly what I sought. It was a name I’d not even thought in too long. The syllables drew memories up from the darkness I’d consigned them to and he held me as I shook.
“You remember your oath,” he whispered in reply as he turned me to face him. “I remember it, Riona.” Fingers combed my short, dark curls off my face. The rain had left them a frizzled mess. “Do you wish me to remember my own oath now? Because I have waited a long time for that to be your desire.”
My answer came in the hurried tread of my steps as I fled my past.
The next morning, exhausted from lack of sleep, I stumbled around town.
In the rain.
On a series of increasingly odd and demanding errands from the princess.
The prince had kept me up until almost dawn. I had evaded most of his questions about Copper, but hoped I’d done so in a way to leave him satisfied. No one arrested me so I thought I’d done well enough. Because he had been up late, he’d slept in, and I’d been taken by the princess for her own tasks.
Fetching packages, ordering fripperies, and slogging through the mud did not ease my worries. A fight between the prince and Copper would not end well. For anyone. At the very least, I would be dead. As the sky opened up again and made sure every inch of me was drowning, I waved to the street kid following me. Maybe she would be allowed in from the weather if I showed her I’d known she was there. A little slow, I hadn’t noticed until my second trip into the town outside the moat. An embarrassing admittance, but I was tired and the rain did not improve my mood.
She, I thought, grinned and waved back. So much for that. Well, I hoped whomever paid her was paying her well. I tore the door to the perfumery open and tried not to sneeze as the conflagration of scents attacked my nose. The princess had insisted I remain as her scent was mixed. So, I sniffled and dripped and watched the man mix up the concoction soon to grace her highness.
Behind the clouds, I thought it past noon. Perhaps I would be allowed a break now. I could dry off, however briefly, and take a nap. Food would be good, but I would take sleep over food any day. Doing without sleep only made my brain slow and I needed my wits.
At the very least, I was thankful for the cobbled streets well maintained. I had no treks to muddy back alleys today. I would have been more thankful for a secession of rain clouds and their thunder friends. Rain had never been beloved by me, but that night-
“Riona, there you are. Have you my scent?” The princess in all her coiffed glory stood in the great hall. Servants swirled around her like accessories to her jewel-toned gown. As she stood by the fire, I saw no reason to slow my steps. Her aide took the package and made a moue of disappointment at the damp paper wrapper.
“Thank you so much, Riona.”
Before I might speak, I heard movement behind me. Footsteps, heavy and weighed down by armor, flanked me. I was no fool and did not reach for my sword.
The princess stepped close to me once I’d been relieved of my obvious weapons. A more thorough checking would occur once in the dungeons. For now, she felt secure enough to slap my face.
“This is how you show loyalty?” she demanded.
Not quite what she meant, I did not reply.
“I’ll have the truth out of you.”
Ah, it was to be torture. Well, if they avoided the watery ones I would endure. If they were smarter than I imagined, I would break swiftly.
As it turned out, they were geniuses. Because they laid not a finger on me through the afternoon. Instead, I was left with an ankle chained to the wall and all but my undershirt and pants taken from me. Even in the earth’s embrace I heard the thunderstorm. Water leaked from the stone here and there. Which only left me with visions of drowning, chained in a cell, and caused me to whimper.
Quietly. I whimpered quietly. Because I had some self-respect left. Very little as visions of a watery death bore down on me the way stone walls could not.
I was very nearly thankful when the tread of feet warned me of my approaching torturer. Two guards stood with the seneschal. The same dour faced man who’d served the castle since before I was born looked uninterested as he spoke.
“The all holy gods have witnessed an accusation of treason against Riona of TwelfthBridge. It is confirmed by witnesses the accused conspired to remove her royal highness, the princess Leoma Bachendaelle Seridar from her rulership of her rightful kingdom.”
The lock clicked open and I stepped back.
“You will come with us.”
“Can’t you just kill me here?”
“Undo her chain. Bring her to the small council chamber.”
The seneschal did not wait to be obeyed. He would be. Everyone knew better than to deny his word. Even the royal family, it was said.
Although not by her. The words sounded too much like treason. Which was my charge now. Perhaps the gods judged me on my thoughts and not simply my deeds. Well, if so that was unfair. I would tell them so soon enough. I would have all manner of words for them once I was dead.
Cold stone completed my chill and I was shivering halfway to where we went. No one had bothered to give me boots. Or even simple socks. I made a tentative mention of such to the guards, but they ignored me. Well, I was not likely to catch my death of a chill. Not with the noose awaiting me.
The doors to my doom loomed close and I considered escape. I could manage to get out of the castle, but then what? The royal magery would find me before I left the city. Likely it would only make my death more painful. I had never considered myself cowardly, but a slow death at the hands of a cruel wizard did not seem worth a brief freedom.
The door had swung open before we were quite to it. Well, they were in a hurry to kill me. Interesting she had not mentioned her brother’s name. So, I was the sacrificial goat, I was too old and tough to be any lamb, to preserve the illusion of family unity.
Inside the room, seated before the roaring fire I craved, were the prince and his sister. They did not look at each other. The seneschal stood behind them, quiet, as I walked closer. Again, I toyed with escape. If there were no guards I could clear the room, commit treason in truth, and run.
Although, I still had nowhere to go.
The door opened behind me and three sets of eyes watched a fifth figure enter the room. I dared not look, no matter the death stalking closer. Because, what else could it be, but the person here to carry out the charge?
“Thank you,” he rumbled and my surprise nearly cost me my feet.
The princess simpered, rose to her feet, and stopped at a look from Copper.
In his chair, the prince did nothing but stare sullenly ahead.
As he walked by me, Copper brushed my bare arm with the tips of his fingers. Enough to draw my attention away from everyone else in the room.
“It is us who should be thanking you,” the princess said. She darted closer to him, but he froze her before she might touch him. Rather than speak to her, he addressed the seneschal.
“We had a deal, Latimer.”
“I have done what I can. I did not know. Could not have known.”
The princess drifted to her brother. Two pretty head combined and whispered. I watched them with less interest than the other conversation. Copper was mad. He held himself too still to be at ease. I expected the anger to hit me for dragging him into this mess. My own fool mouth unable to keep a mess from covering him.
“Enough,” Copper roared. He turned away from the three by the fire and strode to me in easy steps. “Riona.” He took my ice feeling hands in his own cool touch. “Beloved. Have you not punished me enough? My oath-” But his question drove me to interrupt.
“I don’t do this to punish you. Never. My own oaths-”
“Have bound you here long enough.”
“Domenico.” The seneschal’s words turned all our heads. The prince and princess stood together now.
“Who do you call by that name?” he demanded for them both.
“There is no Domenico,” she insisted.
And we all turned to Copper.
“Aw, fuck,” the rightful ruler of this mess said into the quiet.
I slid away from him and hurried to lock the door. Once the main door was secure I set to closing off the two other doors to the room. An insane number of doors for a small conference room. The prince and princess babbled as the seneschal stood silent.
From a sofa tucked into the corner I grabbed a blanket and wrapped it around my shoulders. It did not help my feet, but I might not freeze. When I approached our little tableau again I stopped between the parties. By rights, I should stand beside the royals. I was their protector.
It was not where I wanted to stand. All this talk of oaths. I stayed away from everyone. Copper’s grin as he saw my place almost made me smile.
“I demand to know what is going on.”
To everyone’s surprise, I spoke in reply.
“Here stands His Royal Highness, the Rightful and Just King of Dharlag. King Domenico the Silent, blessed by the gods of shadows and revered by the mistress of the moon.” And damn all the gods and their mistress.
“Riona.” He sounded almost embarrassed. I almost smiled again.
He took my hands in his and lifted my fingers to his lips. As if I were a lady and not the street brat turned soldier he’d fallen in love with during our disastrous war with those who ruled us now. Those gods’ blessed idiots.
“You swore an oath, Riona of TwelfthBridge.”
“I remember, Copper.” I hesitated, but it was a lost cause. Maybe the years had stretched taut enough to snap my reason. “You swore an oath, Domenico the Silent of Dharlag.”
Only I saw the way his blue eyes lit up at my words.
Only me, because he swooped me into his arms for an embrace that lead to a kiss.
He looked over my shoulder at the seneschal. “I trust you have things under control.”
“Of course, sire.”
I don’t know what he did, nor what control he exerted, because we were gone from the castle before I might blink. Not to his seedy tavern, as it turned out, but a nice, quiet home surrounded by tradesmen and others who worked honestly for a living. A fire burned and I would have pulled from his embrace to reach it had he not carried me there.
“Not a drop of rain,” he said as he pulled the blanket from my shivering body.
“Which was quite difficult,” I teased as he tugged me onto a sofa just big enough for two.
“Anywhere in the world, beloved.”
“Anywhere?” I asked as he pulled me closer and bent his head to my neck.
“Yes. Only, not tonight.”
Well, it was not as if I wanted to travel in the rain.