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|Gideon(Nightwalkers #2) by Jacquelyn Frank|
“Legna, be careful. You are speaking words of treason,” he teased her, tugging her hair once more, making her turn around to swat at his hand.
“I don’t know how you convinced the entire Council that you were mature enough to be King, Noah! You are such a child!” She twisted her body so he couldn’t grab at her hair again. “And I swear, if you pull my hair once more like some sort of schoolyard bully, I am going to put you to sleep and shave you bald!”
Noah immediately raised his hands in acquiescence, laughing as Legna flushed in exasperation. For all her grace and ladylike ways, Noah’s little sister was quite capable of making good on any threat she made.
“I mean really, Noah. You are just about seven hundred years old. One would think you could at least act like it.”
“Legna, these past months I have been doing nothing but act my age. You are the only one who relieves that for me. It is my belief that we should never completely give up that part of us which is childlike, fun loving, and mischievous. And,” he said, moving close enough to brush back a strand of hair that had become mussed by his abuse, his affection for her shining clearly in his eyes, “so long as you continue to keep me young at heart, I will never let you forget to stay that way as well, little sister.”
Legna smiled softly at him, reaching to kiss his cheek warmly in a return show of tenderness and support. She had been teasing him, but she suddenly regretted it, knowing he had been heavily burdened for a very long time with the crying needs of their race. She would let him tease every last hair from her head if it gave him some peace and happiness to balance out his stresses and duties.
“You tell me this and other things like it on a daily basis, my brother.” She paused long enough to take his hand from her face in order to wrap it between her own. “In fact, you have been most attentive for these past five months.”
“There is no harm in a brother showing his beloved sister the measure of his affection,” he countered, following her lead as she led him out of the misty greenhouse.
“True. And you have always been quite attentive to me over the years,” she agreed. “However, Noah, since the Summoning—”
Noah stopped short, pulling his hand free of hers abruptly.
“I do not wish to discuss it.” His voice dropped several dark octaves, a chill of rage lacing behind the low tones. “It is over. The monsters who dared to steal you from me are dead. You are safe and that is the end of the matter.”
“Who is it you are thinking to protect by refusing to discuss this?” Legna confronted him suddenly, finally feeling as if she had dodged the topic for long enough. “Me? As you say, I am safe now, so what does it matter? Do you still think to hide behind Isabella, the one who saved me from becoming Transformed? We must protect Isabella. Isabella is a precious commodity. Isabella, the Enforcer, and her special Druid/human hybrid powers! Oh, let us not reveal how she saved me, or it will give others false hope, possibly put our Bella in danger.” Legna’s tone had gone way past sarcasm at this point, her gray-green eyes flashing with her frustration. “Noah, no one is here but you and me. No one! I want you to turn and look at me and talk to me about why you are avoiding this discussion when there is no one here but me.”
“Legna.” Noah paused, holding his silence while some sort of internal struggle went on behind the green and gray eyes that matched hers in expressivities as well as color. “Words will never satisfactorily describe the profundity of the loss I felt that day you dissolved into nothingness right before my eyes. I swore in that moment that if by some miracle I had you safe in my reach once more, I would never allow anything to put your existence in jeopardy ever again. If I do not discuss these things with you it is because I cannot bear to relive the pain of that moment, nor can I entertain the fear of it happening again without it paralyzing me.” He finally looked up at her, meeting her wide eyes. “This family, as well as this kingdom, cannot function beneath a King paralyzed with fear and pain of such magnitude. I beg you to let this topic rest from now on, Magdelegna. If not for the safety of you and others involved, then for my peace of mind.”
Legna remained still for a moment, her natural senses picking up on Noah’s keen distress, her heart pounding in rhythm with the slightly panicked beating of his. His fear was palpable, and so alien. Noah was the bravest and most steadfast male she had ever known, and it shook her to sense the debilitating emotion from him. But what endangered her feelings more was the realization that he was keeping something from her.
In effect, it was like lying to her. Even if she had not been able to empathize with his feelings, the way his eyes dilated slightly, accompanied by the spike in his pulse and blood pressure, would have given him away. Add to it the fact that she very easily could feel a strong anxiety lying beneath his fear, and Legna was certain of her perception.
She took no offense that Noah was lying or hiding something in addition to the issues he had mentioned, because he had always felt that brotherly need to protect her no matter how old or how powerful she might become. He was well aware that she was more than strong enough to penetrate even his formidable attempts to shield his emotions from her. He was merely hoping that she would overlook this minor shadowing of the truth, out of her love for him. Or possibly out of his love for her.
“Noah,” she said softly, her beautiful voice designed to soothe the minds and emotions of those she used it on.
She reached out to touch her brother’s hair where it curled over his forehead, the contact helping her connect to the firing synapses of his brain where too many thoughts were crowding in his mind. She sent herself into him, her spirit and power coating him in a soothing sensation, toning down his fear for her safety, building up the stoic confidence in his ability to protect those he served that had been the norm five months ago.
Noah let her comfort invade him, let her soothe him. He had resisted her attempts to do so in the recent past, feeling far too guilty for the danger she had been exposed to, to be willing to allow himself to feel better. He had wanted to be ridden by his fear and his guilt, hoping that somehow it would drive him to find the solution to their vulnerability to Summonings, a search that had been in progress almost as long as the Earth had existed. But all it had managed to do was exhaust him and fray his temper. He was ready now to be soothed, to be forgiven. He was ready for Legna’s absolution.
“You are so much like Father,” she murmured softly, her voice threading through his soul like a powerful balm. “I was so young, but I never forgot how… how much larger than life he always seemed to me. So strong, so protective. I was never afraid when he was there. I know you say I was too little, but between both of our memories, I feel it with all of my soul.”
Noah was so overwhelmed by the emotion she drew to the surface that he reached for her, dragged her into a tight hug that broadcast his gratitude. It was the perfect thing for her to say to him, and even though he knew such things were part of her special talents as a Demon who had mastered the inner workings of the Mind, he was happy for it nonetheless.
“Legna,” he sighed feelingly, “how I wish Mother could see you, how beautiful you have become, how strong.”
Legna’s eyes misted over with emotion, her arms hugging Noah as tightly as he held her. She had been too young to remember much of either of her parents, but she had always recalled their father more powerfully than their mother, who was but a ghost in her mind. Noah had known her for centuries, long enough to be able to fill Legna with stories of her. He had done equal service to their father as he had raised her after their father had been Summoned within the following year of their mother’s death. The Enforcer had been forced to destroy him in his Transformed state, but Noah had never once held Jacob liable for that painful necessity. As with many things that cut him far too deeply, though, Noah would not discuss either of their parents’ deaths.
Demons were immortal, which mostly meant long lived. They were also quite difficult to kill, which added to an already extensive life span. So when Demons lost their siblings or parents or other family, it was usually to some great violence, and it left its mark on the sensitive souls of those left behind. Noah had always refused to tell Legna how her mother had died when Legna was little more than a toddler, and all other potential sources around her knew of his wishes and remained equally steadfast in their silence.
She did, however, remember quite well the day her father had been Summoned by an accursed human necromancer. She knew Noah remembered it, too. It was no doubt why the trauma of last Samhain had marked him so heavily. She did not need to read his emotional memories of having watched her body dissolve into nothingness to know how that moment must have scarred him. It had scarred her as well. She would never forget the pain and terror of that instant for as long as she lived.
But as she urged him to exchange memories of emotion using her empathic abilities—she of how she remembered their father, and carefully selecting and sharing what he held within him of their mother—they realized how very much like their parents they had become. It was comforting, healing, and uplifting to know.
“You were Father’s angel,” he told her.
“And you were Mother’s. I can feel in your heart how much she made you feel special.”
“She swore the day I was born I would be King. Father used to laugh at her. What mother does not have the grandest dreams for her child?” Noah moved his head back to look down into his sister’s pretty face. “But I think she truly knew. I also think she knew she would not live to raise you. She made me swear to protect you above all else. At least once a week she would tell me how I must keep that promise.”
“And you have,” Legna insisted. “I do not just say that to comfort you, so stop thinking it. It was you who saw the importance of Jacob’s connection to Isabella when she first arrived among us, even though she seemed nothing more than a human with only an honest wish to help us at the time. It was you who allowed her access to the library, skirting the outrage of the Council by doing so. Because of that access, she found the lost Demon prophecy. We discovered that Druid/human hybrids were in existence and were necessary for our survival as a species. Because of you, Jacob allowed himself to fall in love with her, to want to marry her.
“Because of you, beloved brother, generously offering to join them in the ceremony yourself, I had my hands on her the night of the full moon those five months ago when I was Summoned. If not for that connection, Isabella would never have been dragged with me into the prison of the pentagram, allowing her powers to dampen its effect and prevent my transformation into a monster that Jacob would have been forced to hunt down and destroy.”
“Do not,” he murmured, pulling her forehead to his lips, his desperation communicated through the hands that enfolded her head. “Do not speak of it. It shatters my soul to even think about it.”
It would have destroyed him.
Legna, his graceful, precious sister, caught in the dark, twisted magic of a pentagram that would have destroyed her beauty, her very soul, twisting her into a likeness of a demon humans would have expected to see. She would have become a monster who would have been hunted and destroyed in order to protect vulnerable humans and Demons alike. It would have been enough to embitter him for the rest of his life, and that was a frightening prospect for a man who ruled an entire species. He knew there was a huge difference between normal humans and the mortals from that species who dabbled in black arts and became necromancers, but if he had lost Magdelegna, he was not certain he would have been able to maintain the distinction.
“But all has turned out well,” Legna insisted to him, squeezing his hands in comfort. “You must stop thinking such dark things, Noah, and live in the comfort of the moment. I am well,” she reiterated, giving him another little squeeze to make him absorb the impact of her statement.
Noah nodded, smiling finally, his eyes lighting to a soft ash and jade color as he accepted her comfort.
“Yes. You are well. And healthy.” He took her hands in his, spreading her arms wide and perusing her. “I wonder sometimes why no one has come to my door demanding to make you his mate. Perhaps it is because, like Bella and Jacob, it is a Druid who must win your heart and soul. The chance of you being matched in an Imprinting has suddenly become a tangible thing. An amazing thing. You can see it now for yourself, just as I saw it when Mother and Father were alive. No one who has ever spent time in Bella and Jacob’s presence could possibly ignore the miracle such love can be, how rewarding that deeply spiritual connection is. Jacob is a changed man. I have never seen him so happy or content, and Bella is glowing with love as well as her pregnancy. I find myself envious.”
“I know.” Legna smiled softly at the mention of her new friend’s name and the good fortune Bella had found in her love for Jacob the Enforcer. “There has not been an Imprinting in our society in almost… well, frankly, I do not think I can remember when. I, for one, always used to think it was a fairy tale little girls were told. This was before I understood Mother and Father were Imprinted. I wish I had… I wish I could remember what you do. I wish I could remember the depths with which they loved one another. You make it sound so beautiful, and now that I watch Jacob and Isabella, how passionately they love, I wish it even more.”
“Well,” Noah chuckled, “little boys were told these fairy tales as well, but I think we tended to concentrate on the part about it being the most outstanding sexual experience known to exist in the world.”
“Noah!” Legna gave him a little shove as she scolded him. But she broke into giggles in spite of herself. “I think I might have thought about that once or twice myself. Take heart. Two Imprintings in a single week last October bodes well for you, my brother.”