|Home > Christine Feehan > Dark Series > Dark Blood (Chapter 55)|
|Dark Blood(Dark #26) by Christine Feehan|
“I’m sorry for your loss,” Mikhail said sincerely. “And I’m sorry we couldn’t get here faster with more men. Perhaps the losses would have been less.”
“Rolf had the choice to send everyone away,” Zev said, a little surprised at the bitter feeling welling up. “He chose to force his people to stay without even properly warning them or giving them the choice.” He turned his head, his gaze finding the council leader. “Excuse me, please, Mikhail. I need to talk to Rolf.”
“We’ll take your grandfather’s body to the cave of the warriors,” Gregori offered. “We’d like to do something to help.”
Zev inclined his head. He dropped to one knee beside Hemming and rested his palm on his grandfather’s forehead in a silent tribute. It was covered in blood and deep scars where the chains had been. “They would have sentenced him to death. The council. Do you realize that?” He looked up at Branislava. “They killed my grandmother. Not the mage, but her own pack. They would have done the same to Hemming had he not fled in the night with my mother.”
“They only knew the Sange rau,” Branislava reminded gently. “Not the Hän ku pesäk kaikak. They didn’t know there was a difference.”
Zev shook his head and stood, shoving both hands through his hair, looking more a wild wolf than ever. “They would have killed me, Branka. Knowing me, they would still have killed me. All those men.” He waved his hand toward his new pack members who followed Daciana out of the clearing. “There’s no compassion on the faces or in the hearts of the council members for them. Mikhail feels more and he’s a stranger to them. Caleb was right. So was Hemming. They will never be wholly welcomed by our people. I won’t, either. In time, you won’t. They saw what was done to Dimitri, but rather than condemn themselves for being so medieval, they wanted to talk and make excuses. They never really looked at him as a person.”
Branislava laid her hand gently on his arm. “Seeing your grandfather wrapped in chains, seeing what silver can do to a Lycan’s body has really upset you, Zev, as it should, but perhaps it would be much better to wait to speak with Rolf.”
“He didn’t even warn the other Lycans, Branka. He knew the danger and yet he said nothing to them. Had we held the ceremonial service immediately after Arno and Arnau were killed, Xaviero wouldn’t have had time to set up his trap. He would have been forced to hold his ritual somewhere else. I could have tracked him, but Rolf refused even that.”
She rubbed his arm. “I know.” What else could she say? He had argued with Rolf for hours, trying to get him to agree to send the slain council member and his son off the next rising without telling anyone where they would build the funeral pyre. There had been a stubborn set to Rolf’s jaw she’d never noticed in the few times she’d seen him. He had been dismissive, and almost rude to Zev.
Zev leaned into her unexpectedly, his arms pulling her close, just holding her while he breathed away his anger. She wrapped her arms tightly around him, giving him as much strength as she could. All of them were battle-scarred, but she knew this night had taken its toll on her wolf.
Zev brushed a kiss along Branislava’s mouth. “I love you,” he whispered. He didn’t say it often enough to her, he was certain, but he felt it with every breath he took.
“I know. I’ll be right here.”
He appreciated that she didn’t argue with him. He needed to do this tonight. He was a man who could stay in control—and he would—but he didn’t want to. He wanted the satisfaction of curling his fingers into a fist and punching Rolf in his pompous face.
He strode over to the small group of Lycans, the pack leaders with Rolf and Randall. Randall broke into a smile the moment he caught sight of Zev.
“As always, you pulled us through. I’ve never seen anything like that in my life.” He held out his hand.
Zev took it almost reluctantly. He couldn’t blame Randall for Rolf’s decision. “I’ll miss working with you, Randall,” he said quietly.
Instantly all conversation ceased and the pack leaders turned to face him, shock on their faces. Rolf scowled at him.
“I don’t understand,” Randall said. “Of course you’ll be working with us. You’re our enforcer. Our elite hunter. You’re invaluable. This wasn’t your fault. No one could have predicted such a thing. Hellhounds. An army of Sange rau. Poisonous frogs.” He shuddered. “And to think all this time Rannalufr was really this evil mage.”
“His plan was to bring about the downfall of the Lycans. His brother Xavier tried with the Carpathians, and Xayvion has nearly destroyed the Jaguar species. I think they came close to their goal. We nearly allowed a war between Lycan and Carpathian.”
“Have those remaining traitors, Xaviero’s Sange rau army, been taken into custody? I saw them leaving with Daciana and the others,” Rolf demanded.
Zev shook his head. “Xaviero took their free will from them. They fought against him, but he gave them the blood to become mixed bloods. He murdered their families and tortured them when they went against him. In the end, he took their will because it was the only way he could get them to cooperate. They are innocent.”
“That’s not your place to judge,” Rolf pointed out.
Zev smiled at him. “I’m resigning. I will no longer aid a council who do not serve all their people or have their best interests at heart. As for the twelve men who need support and won’t get it from their own people, they’ll have it here with me. If you wish to pass judgment on them, you’ll have to talk to their pack leader as is the way of all Lycans.”
“You can’t resign. We don’t accept your resignation,” Randall said.
“I’m sorry, Randall. You’re a good man. But I gave my counsel to Rolf and he refused to listen to me. He didn’t go to you and discuss it. He made an arbitrary decision to put his pack leaders and you in unnecessary jeopardy.”
Randall’s eyebrow shot up. “Is that true, Rolf? Why? That goes against everything the council stands for.”
“You would have sided with Zev and my vote is the tiebreaker. There were only two of us,” Rolf defended.
The other two council members who had come for Arno’s ceremony looked at one another with raised eyebrows.
Rolf waved his hands dismissively. “Why waste time arguing? Zev, think what you’re doing. If a mistake was made here, and I concede I may have been wrong, that doesn’t mean a resignation is in order.”
Zev spread his hands out in front of him. “The prejudice against mixed blood is so strong in Lycans, Rolf, that even you wouldn’t listen when I told you what would happen here.”
Rolf shook his head. That’s not true, Zev.
“It is true. In all the long years I’ve been the council’s leading elite hunter, every time I’ve given you advice based on my knowledge and my instincts, you’ve followed it. You didn’t this time. Arno was very conflicted about those of us who are mixed blood because of his belief in the sacred code, but at least he admitted it and struggled with what was the right thing to do. You didn’t listen this time because you found out I’m a mixed blood and you no longer trusted my judgment.”
Rolf shook his head but he didn’t deny it aloud.
“The thing is, I’ve always been a mixed blood. My mother was of Carpathian descent. All those centuries I served this council, you had a mixed blood giving you advice and fighting your battles for you. I protected all of you. Even knowing that, you would have sentenced me to death. Rolf, this could have been a slaughterhouse. We were fortunate that the four Carpathian women here with us today could defeat the mages. You should have listened to me. I hope you listen to whoever is chosen to take my place.”
Once again he touched Randall’s hand, lifted a hand in salute to the pack leaders and turned on his heel to walk away from them. He didn’t belong with them anymore. Not until they figured it out and changed their policies. He was mixed blood—both Lycan and Carpathian and he would never turn rogue or vampire. They had seen Dimitri, Fen and him fight for them and still, not one of them had given their condolences on his grandfather, or made a comment on how appalling it was that Xaviero had used silver to torture a man for years. It hadn’t occurred to them that he was a man. Or a Lycan. Or a Carpathian. Or all three. Hemming was simply Sange rau to them and that was all they saw.
He wrapped his arm around Branislava, not missing a step as he continued away from the battlefield toward the forest where they could shift in privacy and join Gregori and Mikhail in the cave of warriors. Fen and Tatijana, Dimitri and Skyler as well as Razvan and Ivory were already waiting for them.
He had no doubt they would give his grandfather the honors due him before laying him to rest. These were the people he chose to be with. He was Lycan in his heart and he always would be, but he was also Hän ku pesäk kaikak—guardian of all. Right now, the only thing in his mind was paying proper tribute to Hemming in a private and loving way.
Zev woke to the moon directly above him, the beams shining like a spotlight over him. The sky was clear with thousands of brilliant stars glittering like diamonds. He turned his head and Branislava smiled at him. His heart did that slow, melting somersault it often did when she gave him that particular smile.
“You opened the earth.”
“I wanted you to wake to the night. It’s so beautiful, Zev.”
The heat of her body warmed him, her skin, hot silk, gliding against his, making him feel alive. Her head rested on his arm, and she lay snuggled tight against him, his body curved protectively around hers. He knew she was trying to ease not only the pain of losing his grandfather, but the bitter reality that the two men he’d considered close friends for more years than most could count had turned on him. Certainly not openly and maybe they didn’t even realize it yet, but in their hearts, they thought differently of him because he was mixed blood.
“Zev,” she said softly, reading his thoughts. “They will come around. Rolf was ashamed and guilty. Randall didn’t realize the man in chains was your grandfather. Mikhail spoke with both of them and they’re devastated that you resigned. They’ll be the ones to persuade the Lycans to accept mixed bloods.”
He sighed and nuzzled the top of her head. Her hair, usually more red gold, was very red and all over the place, just the way he liked it. “Maybe you’re right.” He wanted her to be. He couldn’t help the affection he had for the two men he’d protected for a good portion of his life. The fact that they didn’t reciprocate was difficult to accept.
She brushed a kiss along his bicep. “They reciprocate. They don’t know how to backtrack, but they will. Give them time, Zev.”
“You were right to insist we come to our little crater,” he murmured against her wild hair, willing to let her make him feel differently. He was happy with her. He would always be happy with her, no matter what else was going on in his life. “I should always listen to you.”
He felt her smile against his bicep. Her small teeth nipped, sending a thrill vibrating through his body. “Of course you should. When it comes to you, Wolfie, I’m the woman who plans to see to every detail of your happiness and health.”
He heard that little bite in her voice. “I’m sorry I was such a fool last night. I should have allowed you to heal my wounds before we laid my grandfather properly to rest. I know you weren’t the least bit happy with me.”
Her mouth curved against his arm. He felt the warmth of her breath and then the brush of her lips. “So coming up to our special mountain was a little compensation.”
Of course she’d known. He knew she wasn’t happy with waiting, so when she suggested going to the mountain where they’d spend the day nestled in the crater high up in the dome, beneath the rich soil, surrounded by cooling mist and snowcaps, he’d agreed just to appease her.
“I like taking care of you, Zev. It matters to me.”
He heard the honesty in her voice and winced. Not only did it matter, but as his lifemate she was driven to care for not only his happiness, but his health.
“I know, Branka,” he admitted, and nuzzled the top of her head with his chin again, enjoying the way her hair caught in the shadow on his jaw. Silken strands, weaving them together in intimacy. He liked the image although it was far too corny to ever admit to her.
“You insisted on healing me,” she pointed out.
His smile came instantly at that little sulky note in her voice. He felt joy sweeping through him. He had gone to ground with the weight of the world on his shoulders, still upset—and hurt—over Randall’s and Rolf’s reactions to the death of his grandfather. He had woken to Branislava and his shaken world had righted itself.
“I did, didn’t I?” He couldn’t help the lazy satisfaction creeping into his tone. He tracked a shooting star before he turned his head to brush kisses along her temple. “I’m sorry.”
She frowned. “For what?”
“I promised you I wouldn’t make arbitrary decisions that affected both of us, but without consulting you or even thinking about consulting you, I committed us to taking on those twelve very lost men—the mixed bloods. They’re traumatized and it won’t always be easy. I should have asked you what you wanted to do.”
Branislava rolled to her side, propping herself up on one elbow to look into his eyes. “Silly wolf. Of course you had to take those men into your pack. If you hadn’t, I would have been disappointed in you. That’s the man I love, the man I know and respect. Aside from that, your grandfather practically gave you an order. He wanted those men taken care of.” She leaned in, drawing his attention to her swaying breasts. “My mouth is talking and it’s just a little higher up than where you’re looking.”