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  • Home > Jacquelyn Frank > Shadowdwellers > Ecstasy (Page 38)     
    Ecstasy(Shadowdwellers #1) by Jacquelyn Frank

    “Forgive me,” she said in a small voice behind him. “I was only trying to help.”

    That made him stop and turn around to look back at her. He sighed when he saw the despondent little ball she had curled up into by drawing her knees to her chest and clinging to them.

    “Aiya,” he sighed, moving back to her and kneeling on the floor in front of her. “Karri, honey, I know you were. You are always trying to help me. It is the very definition of your role by my side. And if I do not say so enough, I am eternally grateful for it. You make my life and my job so very easy and I am proud to have you as my maiden.” He took a deep breath as she loosened her hold on herself a little and let him kiss her forehead in gentle affection. “But this is not like you. The seduction and the sensitivity. It tells me there is something else beneath all of this.”

    She shook her head mutely, trying to slide past him but only gaining his hand around her arm and an insistent little shake as he frowned sternly at her.

    “No, Magnus. It’s nothing,” she insisted, the telltale biting of her lip saying otherwise. “I was just overthinking, I guess. Really.”

    “K’yan,” he scolded gently, “you cannot fool me. You should not even try. Speak to me.”

    She sighed heavily, her doe’s eyes looking terribly caught, telling him she was having a struggle of conscience. “Very well,” she relented at last. “I had a conversation with the half-breed girl the other day about sex and the nature of a handmaiden’s and priest’s relationship, and I suppose I was thinking I could do more to make you happy than I had been. Like I said, I was overthinking. Anyway, I upset Ashla with my remarks somehow, and when I went to apologize, I found her room in the dormitories…umm…used.”

    “Used?” he echoed suspiciously.

    “Yes. I didn’t want to get anyone in any trouble, so I have been agonizing over it for two days. I guess between that conversation with Ashla and coming upon the scene of your son’s sexual congress, it made me obsess a little about sex. I’m sorry.”

    “My son?” The bellow of anger belted into the handmaiden and she winced.

    “Yes. It was Trace with Ashla, of course.”

    “In the women’s dormitories?” he demanded furiously. “He knows that is forbidden!”

    “Please don’t be so mad, M’jan,” she begged him.

    “Do not tell me what to feel,” he barked at her, releasing her sharply. “That is twice you have tried today. Do not let there be a third!”

    Magnus turned and began to dress so he could hunt down his son.

    “Ajai Trace!”

    Trace knew that displeased bellow anywhere. He had, after all, grown up with it. While Magnus tended to be even-tempered and mellow in speech, he had a voice of incredible power that he put to magnificent use whenever he was angry, formally lecturing, or calling out a Sinner.

    Trace knew instantly that he had been caught.

    It didn’t matter that the incident in Ashla’s rooms had taken place two days earlier. He still knew. Firstly, there was no other reason why Magnus would be that furious with him. Secondly, it was simple logic. Thirdly, he was his son and he just knew. He just knew.

    “Here, M’jan,” he called, sitting back at his desk.

    Magnus, like most male ’Dwellers, wore boots. The clipped and ominous approach almost had the power to make Trace feel fifteen years old again, despite that having been a very long time ago. Still, he was a man and had lived a man’s hard, convoluted life, so almost wasn’t enough. He did feel bad, however, for disrespecting his father’s house.

    Magnus rounded the doorway in full stride and impressive temper. It compelled Trace to his feet as he faced his foster father.

    “Damn you, boy, how dare you?” he demanded right off, the father knowing full well the son was aware of his own indiscretions. “I raised you better!” he bit out, his free hand pointing to Trace in emphasis. “You know I cannot let this slide! Penance for an adolescent’s trick, at your age!”

    “Yes, M’jan. I am sorry to disappoint you,” he said with quiet sincerity.

    “I just don’t understand. This isn’t like you. No one respects temple and Sanctuary like you do who is not priest or handmaiden. And what is worse, I had to hear it from my own handmaiden! It took the poor woman two days of distress before she finally relented and did what she had to do. How dare you put her in such a position of crossed loyalties?”

    “I had not realized that, M’jan,” Trace said with honest regret.

    “Whether it was Karri or a student or anyone else, their loyalties would have been torn. To pit yourself against me in the eyes of my students and those I call my colleagues—it is unconscionable!”

    “Yes, M’jan.” It was all Trace could say. Magnus was right. What was worse, until this moment he had not felt a moment of regret for his reckless acts. He had even laughed with Ashla for escaping unscathed. Magnus was right, it was beneath him. He quickly came around from behind his desk and supplicated to his father, lowering his head as he dropped to a knee. “M’jan, I know I deserve no consideration when I gave none to you and your house, but I beg you not to hold Ashla responsible. She doesn’t understand our ways, our religion, and certainly she will not understand penance.”

    More importantly, Trace thought, she would not be able to bear it.

    “She will quickly come to,” Magnus promised him with no small level of threat.

    For the first time in his life, Trace felt a surge of temper at his father’s unrelenting interpretation of the rules. He rose sharply to his feet, facing him squarely. “That is unfair. What of understanding? What of compassion? She is a babe among us. I will not allow you to punish her for my misguidance!”

    “You will not allow?” Magnus was absolutely and utterly flabbergasted. “You will not allow? Just how will you prevent me when you yourself will be on your knees in the penance chamber? If she lives in my house, she abides by my rules and my disciplines. You know that. You were all but born of that!”

    “Then she will no longer live in your house!” Trace shot back harshly. “She will live in mine. And here she will stay, under my compassion and my understanding.”

    “The future does not change the past,” Magnus hissed, disbelieving his son’s hard-line opposition against him. Magnus had never seen him do anything like this. Not against him. Trace was a formidable man, of that there was no doubt, and Magnus was quite proud, but he had also raised him to have ultimate respect for his father above all others. He was stunned to see him undermine that for the sake of the half-breed girl.

    And had Magnus not already been blindsided by the devastating realization that there was a viper within his carefully constructed nest, he might have slowed his temper and asked for clarification. He was a stickler for discipline, true, but he was also a priest and a man of great reasoning. However, his understanding that he was housing a devil that had been directly responsible for the near murder of his one and only son made him forget all of it as he took it out on the closest target presently pissing him off.

    “Father, don’t do this. Don’t make me square against you any more than I have. I alone have wronged, not Ashla. She has been through enough.”

    “Having a bitch for a mother doesn’t exclude or excuse her from the rules, Trace.”

    “What does, hmm?” Trace challenged him. “You say that as if there are exclusions and excuses, but there never have been with you. I understand, M’jan, that this is what makes Sanctuary the great institution that it is. I respect the scope of your accomplishment for our people, but you cannot be so absolute and unbending this time.”

    “What is wrong with you?” Magnus roared in sudden fury. “You say you respect, but you do not speak with respect!”

    “Neither do you!”

    “Let penance be done and that is the end to it!”

    “Over my dead, rotting, mutilated body!”

    “Ajai! M’jan!”

    Both men took several beats to stop glaring at each other before finally looking toward the Chancellor who commanded their attention. Malaya was heaving for breath, clearly having run fast and hard to arrive there, and probably from some distance, since she didn’t wind easily. She stood braced between the archway, Guin hard and ominous at her back as always, and beyond him a small crowd of palace personnel who had been drawn by the shouting.

    “What is the meaning of this?” Malaya demanded.

    “This is none of your affair, child,” Magnus said sharply. “This is between a father and his son.”

    “It is my affair when it shouts down the walls of my home!”

    “Or does respect stop at your door alone, M’jan?” Trace shot out at his father with a mean and accurate point.

    “Bituth amec!” Magnus reached for his sword in his anger, but despite his shock, Trace was there along with him, his hand catching the tsuba of his father’s weapon at the bottom of the hilt. He pushed the quarter-drawn blade back into its scabbard, using Magnus’s own grip on the sheath against him. Then he grabbed both and held them together, facing his father’s furious eyes.

    “If you draw a blade with intent to harm in the royal household, M’jan, you commit a high crime. To do it in the presence of the Chancellor marks your throat with a dotted line,” Trace hissed. “Think! What has gotten into you?”

    Magnus’s eyes went wide for a moment, but Trace’s words sank in quick and sharp. His son had just literally saved his neck. Had his blade cleared its wooden scabbard, it would have been enough to invoke the laws his own fosterling had created as vizier. He was in the act of doing the very disrespect he was accusing his son of.

    And now it was moments later and he had no idea why he had become so angry as to want to draw a blade on the one person he loved like he loved his gods and his duty.

    “I don’t…” Magnus shook his head.

    Trace’s hand snaked out on instinct to seize Magnus around his upper arm. He couldn’t ever have described the heart-stopping shock he felt to watch this invincible man stagger back on unsteady legs.

    “Guin! Septh apt mui!” Trace barked the order without thought, even as he grabbed for his collapsing parent. Guin was there in a heartbeat, as was Malaya, and all three of them guided Magnus down to the floor. “Drenna! I should have known! You would never be so unreasonable. Forgive me,” he whispered at last as he touched his forehead to his father’s chill, clammy one.

    “M’jan,” Malaya said with clear worry, “what is wrong?”

    “Drugs. Poison. Or both,” Trace answered for him, as Magnus tried to get a grip on himself.

    “Poison again,” Guin ground out. “And how convenient it is you, M’jan, after you begin investigating your house.”

    “It is affecting my mood,” Magnus realized slowly, although the others had already gleaned as much. “Worsened my temper. Enraged me.”

    “Some can do that, M’jan,” Malaya said tightly. She looked up at Trace and Guin with worried eyes. “What do we do? All the healers we have are in Sanctuary. We could end up laying him at the feet of a murderer.”

    “Not all,” Trace said softly.

    “No, Trace,” Magnus rebounded sharply, his wits coming quick this time. “Ashla is no guinea pig. The last time she was poisoned, it was only because she was half human that she survived healing you. The poison was a synthetic designed to destroy the blood of a Shadowdweller. A genetic tag, if you will. Only her mutation kept it from destroying her. If they are using such sophistication, you can only assume they aren’t going to let her ruin their plans twice. I could be a trap. You understand? A triple cocktail meant to snare me, a powerful young healer, and to shatter your spirit like glass, my son.”

    “M’jan, I won’t just sit here and let you die,” Trace argued in soft despair.

    “Maybe Karri’s herbs can help. Her gift for healing is miraculous, and surely you trust your own handmaiden,” Malaya said, her shaking fingertips clenching around Magnus’s hand.

    “Trust no one any longer,” Magnus warned her as his waning strength dropped him back prone on the floor. “None but this echelon among you. Trace, Rika, Xenia, and Guin. Only these.” Tristan, of course, went without saying.

    “And yourself, M’jan,” she reminded him, her tender touch continuing. Despair was in her eyes as she looked to Guin. The guard could see what she was thinking, how she was feeling her visions were coming to pass in the worst way.

    “Your katana is complete, the new tang a thing of great beauty,” Magnus said as he reached to grasp his son around his arm. “In my chambers. I meant to bring it, but my temper…”

    “You will bring it soon,” Trace said firmly. He pried Magnus’s grip away and surged to his feet. “Watch him. I will get Ashla. Keep him calm.”

    Trace was on his feet and running before Magnus could protest again. As much as he wanted to, Trace didn’t shadow-skip. It burned precious resources and energy, and if he was entering that den of danger he had once called home, he needed every trick at his disposal.

    Drenna, the distance was so great! It had never felt so before, but now the sloping streets and convoluted passages between the palace and Sanctuary seemed to take forever. But finally he was there, rushing into the vestibule, his booted feet sliding on the high polish of the marble floor as he came to a stop. Courtyard first, then rooms, he thought. Luckily, they were right next to each other. In his momentary panic he forgot all about the draw within him that would always lead him directly to her.