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|Gideon(Nightwalkers #2) by Jacquelyn Frank|
They were failings that the two of them had dryly referred to as their more “human” aspects.
“And as to your earlier question, Damien, it is unknown exactly how many necromancers we are contending with this time. However, recent experiences and interrogations with them indicate to me that their ranks have been growing quietly for some time now. It is their recent activities that have only just made them visible to us.”
“Have there been Summonings?” Damien asked edgily. The act of Summoning, when a necromancer stole a Demon and held it captive, was the most horrible fate known to Demonkind. Once captured in such a way, a Demon, no matter how intelligent, how refined, powerful, and controlled, would, after being bombarded by the vile, blackest arts that had captured him, transform into a hideous, practically mindless monster—into the very image of a Demon that was more widely accepted by the human race. No doubt it was this effect witnessed by necromancers over the centuries that had imprinted the image in human legend in the first place. In all myth, there was sometimes more than a grain of fact.
The Nightwalker races were living proof of that.
“Several,” Gideon continued grimly. “I cannot even begin to explain the ramifications this has caused within my race.”
“You do not need to explain. Necromancers rarely stick to the Demon race, as you know. No doubt we will begin finding the ashes of my kind staked out in the sun soon enough, not to mention the gory remains of Lycanthropes and the other Nightwalkers.”
“The only consolation I can give you at the moment is that since the kidnapping and retrieval of our King’s sister, there have been no other instances of Summoning,” Gideon said. “The necromancers have been silent.”
“Silence can be as threatening as action,” Damien mused, his ringed hand sounding the rim of the crystal glass he held like a high-pitched instrument.
“I agree. They are an arrogant species, these human, dark-magic users. They do not remain quiet for long. Only long enough to regroup. That is why I am here giving you fair warning, Damien. I know they will be returning, and we must all be prepared.”
“It is appreciated. I will be certain to alert my people.”
“Siddah! Siddah Legna!”
Magdelegna turned when the high-pitched voice called to her, barely able to glance over her shoulder in time to see a young body hurtling into her legs from behind, nearly knocking her to her knees. She laughed as she twisted around to see the little creature clinging for his life to her gossamer skirts.
“Daniel! You are pulling your aunt’s hair,” she scolded him, gently extricating the softly curled tresses out from under his grasp on her knees. She gathered the coffee-colored mass in her hands and then pulled it over her shoulder to further protect it from her nephew’s enthusiastic greeting.
“Mummy is awful mad at me. Please don’t let her spank me!”
Legna sighed with her exasperation, prying her nephew off her legs so she could lower her impressive height down to his significantly smaller perspective.
“Your mum is my sister, dearest heart, but that does not give me the right to gainsay her punishment of you when you have been naughty. In truth, when I was a young girl, since your mother is my eldest sister, she used to punish me when I was naughty.” Legna tried to suppress her smile when the young boy’s face took on a horrified and hopeless expression. Her heart went out to him as she remembered all too well how strict her sister could be. “Anyway, I seem to recall you begging for asylum not two days ago. Are you in so much trouble again so soon?”
“But, Aunt Legna, you are my Siddah. You can tell her not to spank me.”
“Daniel, it is because I am your Siddah that I should encourage your mum to discipline you. When it comes time for your Siddah to foster you, she will be very strict with you. I promise you, dearest heart, that I will be a very stern teacher. And my first lesson to you is that you must face up to the ramifications of your mistakes. All good men do.”
“But I am not a man. I am a little boy. I am only six years old.”
“True,” Legna acquiesced with a nod, “you are just a boy. But how often have you told me that you wish to be a man as brave and strong as your uncle? You claim that one day you will be King of all Demons, like your uncle Noah. Correct?” She waited for his reluctant nod. “Now, what kind of King would you be if you cowered away from your own wrongdoings?”
“I don’t suppose I would be a very good one,” Daniel said, lowering his huge blue eyes to the floor so his aunt could not see the tears in them that matched the quaver of his voice. “But I did not mean to be a naughty child on purpose.”
Legna sighed once more, taking pity on her precocious nephew.
“I know that. I truly believe that you wish to be a good child in your heart.”
“One can only hope that my son will learn to follow his heart one day,” came a dry observation from the entrance of the arboretum.
Legna stood up to her full height, smiling at her sister Hannah as the other woman moved into the room to scoop her errant youngster from the floor, setting him high on her shoulder.
“For now, though, as long as he insists on giving in to mischievous impulses, such as hiding under the Great Council table during session, he must take his punishment.”
“Oh, Daniel, you didn’t.” Legna tsked at the child, making his chubby cheeks turn a brilliant scarlet color.
“I didn’t mean to. I was just playing hide and seek with Uncle Noah.”
“Yes, well, next time perhaps you ought to begin the game by actually informing your uncle he is part of it instead of having him find out the hard way, eh? For now, it is home and to bed with you, where you will think about your behavior until your father returns. Then you will discuss the matter with him, because it is clear that my discussions with you have no effect.” Hannah set her child onto his feet and gave him a light whack on the bottom to propel him in the right direction. “Off with you. Find your li-li-ni and travel home.” Hannah reached out with her powerful senses for a moment, searching for the location of the child’s nanny. “She is in the nursery with your sisters. Perhaps if you are in bed and quiet by the time I come home, I will rethink telling your father how naughty you have been.”
“Yes, Mummy,” Daniel promised, his head and voice as low and contrite as a young boy could possibly manage. He shuffled out of the arboretum, casting his aunt one last pleading look before he meandered across the Great Hall, clearly hoping to put off his confinement for as long as possible.
“Daniel, I have seen snails move faster,” Hannah scolded, having not even turned around and still knowing what her progeny was attempting to do.
Hannah’s mothering instincts were a marvel to Legna. Her sister’s seemingly unending patience was even more of a miracle considering Daniel was the second youngest of six siblings. Hannah and Legna waited until Daniel had gone up the main stairs to their brother’s castle, well on his way to finding his li-li-ni, before exchanging amused looks.
“He is quite a handful, my sister,” Legna remarked, laughing softly as she turned back to the small bonsai tree she had been pruning so patiently. “I hope you plan to wait some time before adding to your brood as you repeatedly insist on doing. I do not think I could be Siddah to any more of your children.”
“I would never do such a thing, sister.” Hannah laughed in return. “I fear that Daniel and Eve will be quite enough for you to manage in the coming century. Take solace in the fact that they are a good seven years apart in age. Also, Noah is Siddah as well to them both. You will not be alone in their training. No one is.”
“That will make it easier, provided I am still under our brother’s roof when the time comes for you to foster them to us.”
That got Hannah’s attention, and the tall woman, her black sheet of hair with its red highlights so much like their brother’s, went to touch her sister’s shoulder.
“Legna, are you trying to tell me you are considering leaving our brother’s household? Are you unhappy here?”
“Unhappy? Noah is King, most revered of all Demons, as well as one of the most powerful Fire Demons in all our history. You know well enough that in spite of the volatility of his root element, he is most loving and attentive, his power and responsibility making him incredibly sensitive to the needs of those around him. I am busy here, as both his chatelaine and an invaluable diplomat of his court. I could never be unhappy under my brother’s roof.”
“Very well, not unhappy, then. But perhaps… wanting?” Hannah queried, touching her sister under the chin to encourage her to look into her eyes. “Legna, I may not be a Demon of the Mind and a great empath, as you are, but I know my sister well enough to know when her emotions are troubled.”
“Truly, you are mistaken, Hannah,” Legna insisted, leaving her sister’s touch to concentrate once more on the plant she kept studying but had yet to prune since the conversation with her sibling had begun. “I lack for nothing here, and I have no tremendous desire to leave. But it will be five years, give or take, before Eve reaches the age of Fostering, and longer still before it is Daniel’s turn. A great deal can occur even in that short span of time. I was only musing aloud. It is nothing for you to make a fuss over.”
The indelicate sound Hannah made broadcast the likelihood of her believing her little sister’s claims, but at that moment Noah entered the arboretum.
“Hannah, I swear to you if you do not take that little scoundrel of yours in hand, I will do it myself.”
“Noah, please, you know Daniel does not mean any harm. He is just a boy,” the mother argued for her child, waving off the matter as if it meant nothing to any of them, quickly forgetting that she had been just as perturbed with him.
“Hannah… ” Noah warned, his tone as close to scolding as he dared, knowing his sister, as a female Demon of Fire, had the temper to match his own.
Legna turned to glance from one sibling to the other, as usual wondering which of the two Demons who boasted connection with so hot-blooded an element would be the first to lose their temper, as they often did when they came head to head with one another. Luckily, Fire Demons were rare. Unluckily, it was quite volatile to have two in the same family.
It often fell to Legna, the empath and consummate diplomat, to discern who was getting hot under the proverbial and literal collar quickly enough to defuse the situation. Hannah and Noah dearly loved one another, but often the love was strongest when they were not too close to each other and definitely stronger when they were not arguing opposite sides in a contest of wills.
“Hannah, the boy may have heard things that will disturb him,” Noah said, his tactic changing to a gentle warning that appealed to Hannah’s strongest instinct, that of a mother.
“What is it, Noah?” Hannah asked quickly, her hand lifting to her throat, where she nervously tugged on the lovely ruby choker her husband had given her on their wedding night. She was not one to get rattled easily, but the habitual fingering of the jeweled choker was a dead giveaway that she was disturbed.
Each of the three Demons standing in the flourishing arboretum was well aware of the recent troubles that had begun to plague the Nightwalker races. Legna herself had become a victim of these happenings when she had been Summoned by four necromancers intent on stealing her powers and those of her fellow Demons for their own ends and uses. If not for Providence’s divine intervention and the newly birthed skills of a befriended Druid, Legna would be dead. Or worse. Hannah’s fear was well founded under these circumstances.
“There is no new news for you to feel threatened by at this time, Hannah, so do not fret overmuch. However,” Noah continued, “we were discussing methods of dealing with necromancers should we encounter them in the future. I do not need to tell you that listening to the Enforcers and warriors debate the best tactics to rid us of this threat was not the thing for six-year-old ears.”
“Yes, you are right, my brother. I am sorry. I will go to Daniel at once.”
“Hannah.” Noah took his sister’s arm as she went to hurry past him, turning her gently to him so he could brush a fond finger down her cheek and kiss her forehead warmly. “I love my nephew, you know that. I am worried for him. I do not mean to be harsh.”
“You are King, Noah. It is your duty to worry for us all. And I know that, at this time, it is a heavy burden. I will see to Daniel.”
“And in the future, I will look under the Council table before we begin our meetings,” Noah added, winking at her with humor so that she laughed. Hannah kissed her brother’s cheek and then, with a sudden blurring of the lines of her statuesque figure, spun herself in a collection of smoke that promptly funneled out of the castle via an open space in one of the high stained glass windows of the Great Hall.
Noah turned to face his younger sister, arching one brow to a fairly smug height. Legna lifted a brow back at him, giving him a delicate smattering of applause.
“And I was afraid you would never learn the art of diplomacy,” she remarked, her lips twitching with her humor. “It merely took you the entire two and a half centuries of my life. Longer, actually. You had a few centuries’ head start.”
“Funny how you seem to recall the fact that I am far older than you only when it suits your arguments, my sister,” he taunted her, reaching to tug on her hair as he had been doing since her childhood.
“Well, I can say with all honesty that this is the first time I have ever seen you forgo a good argument with Hannah, opting for peace instead. I was beginning to wonder if you were my brother at all. Perhaps some imposter… ”