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Sword of Angels
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Varl looked troubled. “Now that surprises me. What will you tell Thorin? He expects—”
A call from across the yard cut off Varl’s words. He and Jazana twisted to see a horseman riding quickly toward them. Jazana’s heart leapt at the sight, so beautiful in the orange glow. Moonlight dappled Thorin as his rode, playing off his armored arm, glistening with unholy blackness. He had come alone, without a single bodyguard. His smile beamed at Jazana, then shrank when he noticed Rodrik Varl. Varl put his pipe back in his teeth and bit down hard as Thorin rode up, jerking back his horse and staring at Jazana. She gazed up at him, and for a moment could not speak. He simply looked magnificent, much younger, with a confident vigor that hadn’t been in him a month ago. His eyes dazzled her, mesmerizing her with their magic, and for the briefest moment the Diamond Queen felt afraid, for she knew it was Jadori sorcery that animated her lover, born of his strange armor. But then, when he spoke, her fear fled.
“Jazana,” he sighed. “My love.”
She stepped up to him, leaving Varl behind, staring into his strong face. Her hand reached out to touch him, and when he lowered his own hand she grabbed it, putting it to her face.
“My love,” she echoed. Overwhelmed, she tried not to weep, closing her eyes against the flood of emotion. From atop his snorting horse, he bent to stroke her cheek.
“Great Fate, how I have longed for you,” he whispered. “So beautiful...you have haunted my dreams, Jazana!”
“Come down,” she urged, pulling his hand. “Come inside with me now.”
Thorin glanced around the courtyard. His eyes came to rest on Rodrik Varl. He grimaced, then shook his head. “No. I want to be alone with you.”
Jazana laughed, confused. “We are alone, Thorin! At last we are together! Come down and greet me properly...”
Her lover grinned, and at first Jazana did not recognize the strange look in his eyes. He pulled her powerfully toward him, lifting her from her feet then using his other arm to scoop her body up. Jazana cried in alarm, then found herself looking up into Thorin’s shadowed face. And then she knew what it was in his eyes—strapping, unbridled lust. Unable to stop herself, she felt her body yield to him, wilting in the cradle of his grasp. Her arms wrapped around his neck as his head bowed to kiss her. The world fell away as their lips met.
He held her like that for a long moment. Jazana trembled in his arms. She saw Rodrik Varl watching her in shock, the pipe slack in his mouth.
“Where are you taking me?” she asked Thorin.
“Away,” was all he would answer. He lowered her to the saddle, allowing her to sit in front of him on the beast. She leaned back to nest against his chest. She didn’t even bother waving to Rodrik Varl as Thorin sped off, spiriting out of the courtyard toward the dark gardens. At once blackness blanketed her eyes. She strained to see in the feeble moonlight, catching glimpses of tangled vines and misshapen trees as they bounded down a narrow lane. Thorin moved with ease, unencumbered by the darkness. Confident that he would not harm her, Jazana allowed herself to relax. The cool night air struck her face and made her hair blow back against Thorin. He stuck his nose into it and took a deep breath, smelling her lilac scent and growling.
“Thorin, tell me now,” she goaded. “Where are we going?”
Thorin laughed, “You are dressed for riding, my lady! I am taking you for a ride!”
“I have ridden all day,” she cried. “I want to rest. I want to see you, Thorin!”
“Wait, my dear,” he crooned in her ear. “We shall see all of each other soon.”
She knew what he meant and it thrilled her. The sweet air made her pulse race. The horse continued deeper into the gardens, letting Lionkeep fall far into the distance. Up ahead, Jazana spied long lines of apple trees as they neared an orchard, spread out like a huge, rolling blanket. The perfectly spaced trees let the moonlight seep between them, lighting the loamy earth. At last Thorin drew back the reins to stop his horse. And all fell silent.
Jazana waited, hardly breathing, spying their bare surroundings. Even in the darkness the orchard was beautiful, overgrown now but still like a sliver of heaven. She could feel Thorin’s heart pounding against her back. His hand—the one of flesh—touched her neck.
He kissed her neck, nearly biting her tender skin. His hard breathing reached her ear, full of thirst.
“We should get down from the horse, at least,” she joked, her own appetites quickly rising. Thorin tossed himself down from the steed’s back, then reached up and took her by the waist as she slid into his arms. He led her away from the horse, near the stand of trees. The damp earth glistened. Thorin tore the cape from his shoulders and laid it over the grass, then pulled her down onto it.
His armored hand worked her buttons, snapping the threads as he pulled open her riding shirt. His face thrust itself against her, searching for her breasts. Jazana’s fingers clawed his back. She became lost in him, smothered by his strong body. The cool air braced her naked skin as he peeled free her clothing. His own shirt came off in a grunt of lust. Tossing it over his shoulder, once again he fell on her.
For a month now Jazana had craved this moment. Her body opened to it like a flower.
Exhausted, Jazana opened her eyes.
For a moment she had been dreaming of drowning in cold water. But it was only the rain, which had begun again to fall in cool drops. She felt warm in Thorin’s embrace, wrapped in his cape and sheltering arms. He was already awake and turned his eyes on her. His smile spoke of his satisfaction, but he did not say a word. The orchard remained dark. Jazana Carr did not know how long they had slept or how many times they had made love. Her hair drooped over her wet face, matted with rain water and bits of grass. Shreds of her shirt covered her shoulders, and her riding trousers were soaked, laying an embarrassing distance away. The apple tree they lay under shielded some of the rain. Jazana thought she should be cold, but wasn’t. Thorin’s body warmed her like a hearth.
“It will be morning soon,” she whispered. Then she puzzled. “I think.”
Thorin put her head down on his chest. Wiry hairs tickled her cheek. “We can watch the sunrise.”
It seemed an absurd notion, so romantic and unlike him. Jazana barely stirred. Part of her wanted to return to Lionkeep, to get dry or take a hot bath. More powerfully, though, she wanted to lie with him forever. At last they were alone, completely, without spies or bodyguards to bother them. They could be silly and whisper like children to each other.
“Thorin, I’m happy,” she said softly. She kept her head on his warm chest, her hand tucked beneath him. “I want it to be like this forever.”
“It will be, my love.” Thorin bent to kiss her hair. “Now that you’re here, everything is perfect.”
Jazana hesitated. She had planned to speak with him at Lionkeep, perhaps over supper, but she would never have a better time, with no one around and Thorin already in a fine mood.
“I can’t stay,” she said.
Thorin stopped breathing for a moment, then lifted himself off the ground a little. She looked at him, resting her chin on his shoulder.
“You can’t?” he asked. “Why not?”
“There’s no good time to tell you this, but Norvor needs me, Thorin. There’s trouble back home and I need to be there.”
“What trouble? Rebellion?” Thorin laughed, trying to ease her worry. “I have heard these stories already, my love. It is as I have told you—these skirmishes happen always. Men are ambitious.”
Jazana sat up to confront him, pulling the wet cape over her bosom. “No, Thorin, it’s worse than you think. I get reports from Andola every week. They say that in Carlion men are following Elgan now. My own capital! They wait for Lorn to return. They say I am not their queen. I need to return, Thorin. My people need to see me.”
“But I need you here, Jazana,” Thorin said, putting his hand to her face. His long fingers brushed her skin. “You make me strong, and I need to be strong for the work ahead.”
“Will you listen to me, my love? Elgan has a movement now. The loyalists to Lorn are growing everyday. They say I have abandoned them. They call me the Whore-Queen.”
Thorin’s eyes flashed. “They should die for the things they say about you. And they will, my love, all in time. But for now we have Liiria to secure. Let Lord Gondoir and the others deal with Elgan. He is nothing but a gnat and I am sure your men can deal with him.”
“They have tried, Thorin,” said Jazana hopelessly. “Gondoir tells me he has Carlion in control, but Elgan hides in the mountains around the city, waiting for Lorn to return and—”
“Lorn will never return, Jazana. He has gone to Jador.”
Jazana nodded, though the story hardly comforted her. It had taken time for Thorin to confess this to her, because he knew the news would trouble her. King Lorn the Wicked had indeed escaped her death-trap in Norvor, and had gone to Jador seeking magic to save his infirm daughter. He had even spent time in the library before its fall. Thorin himself had never encountered Lorn, but he had learned about him from Breck and the other defenders at the library, Thorin’s own son Aric among them. Jazana wondered if Thorin was thinking of Aric now.
“Lorn still has power,” lamented Jazana. Now she grew chilled and nestled closer to her lover. “They know he’s alive. He was a tyrant and a butcher and yet they want him back, and they see me here in Liiria. My people think I have abandoned them, Thorin.”
“With all your wealth, all you have bought them...” Thorin shook his head, exasperated. “If they want Lorn back then they do not deserve you, my love.”
“They are my people, Thorin. And I must keep my promise to them.”
“But you have!” said Thorin, sitting up suddenly. “You have given everything to Norvor. You freed them from Lorn, ended the famine and the war. And they repay you with treason?”
“No, not all of them,” Jazana corrected. “Just some. Just Elgan and a few others.”
“And who is this Elgan to challenge you? Nothing! A minor noble.”
“A friend to Lorn, and as loyal as the day is long,” said Jazana miserably. “I’ve tried to convince him, but he won’t have a woman govern him.”
“Then he’ll die,” Thorin growled. “When I am through here I will ride to Carlion myself and smoke him out of whatever hole he’s hiding in. And then I will cut out his heart and eat it.”
Jazana leaned back against the tree, the wet bark scratching her naked back. It was true that Elgan was only a gnat now, but insects like him had a way of chewing up entire houses. And in truth, Jazana longed to return home. She missed Norvor, and hated what her pride had led her into. It was pride that made her launch the war on Liiria, all to draw her beloved Thorin out of hiding.
“I don’t want to ignore this problem, Thorin. I’m not asking you to come with me, but I must return to Norvor myself.”
“No, not yet,” said Thorin.
They looked at each other. Thorin’s features grew troubled. “Not too soon, Jazana. I need you with me. Do you hear? I need you.”
She inched closer, putting her arm around his neck and pulling him near. “Because you feel alone? Because you’re thinking of your son?”
“No.” Thorin let her kiss his forehead. “I do not think about Aric. He is with the traitors now, or dead.”
“It is all right to be thinking of him, Thorin, and I can always tell when you’re lying. You’re troubled. Do you miss him?”
“Of course I miss him,” Thorin admitted. “He’s my son. I thought we were finally together again.” For a moment, the dark mask that covered his face evaporated, and Jazana glimpsed the old, sweet man he had been. “I call him a traitor, but I should not. He’s young. He just doesn’t understand.” Thorin smiled. “Only you understand, Jazana. You’re the one who gives me strength. I need strength now, because my enemies are everywhere.”
“On the border, near Reec. King Raxor has men stationed on the Kryss. There aren’t many of them yet but they grow in numbers. At first I thought they meant to spy on us, but I know better now. They mean to invade, Jazana, to topple us, you and me both.”
Jazana grimaced at the news. “You’re sure of this? They could be defending themselves, Thorin. In their eyes we’re the invaders.”
Thorin shook his head. “Raxor is cunning. I know him from years ago, and he’s a man that holds a grudge. He was never as peace-minded as his brother, and when Akeela made the treaty with Karis, Raxor was against it.”
“As were you,” Jazana reminded him.
“True, because I didn’t trust the Reecians then and I do not trust them now. They mean to destroy us, Jazana, and I will not let that happen. I need troops to defeat them, troops and money.”
He paused, looking at her straight. Jazana got his meaning.
“Troops and money from Norvor, you mean.”
Thorin smiled crookedly. “We cannot spread our forces too thinly, my love. Gondoir is doing well in Carlion. He and Manjek and the other lords can deal with Norvor while you are gone. Elgan is hardly a threat, after all. But the rest of our men must remain here in Koth. The city needs protection, and Raxor must know that we are strong. You see that, don’t you, Jazana?”
The queen gave a grudging nod. “I do,” she admitted. “But we cannot forget Norvor, Thorin. I must have your promise that you will deal with Elgan soon.”
“Soon, yes,” Thorin agreed. “When this business with Reec is done and Liiria is secure, I will ride with you to Norvor and deal with Elgan myself.” He took her hand and kissed it. “But you will stay with me, won’t you?”
Feeling torn between the two things she loved the most, it took a moment for Jazana to reply. She loved Norvor; she had fought for it for years, and now that it was hers she could not let it slip away. Somehow, though, she convinced herself that Thorin was right. Elgan was a minor noble, and she had enough forces in place to deal with him.
“Promise me that Norvor will not slip away,” she begged. “Promise me that Lorn will never return. If you promise those things, I will stay.”
Baron Glass, naked in the darkness, lay before her confident and unashamed. Squeezing her hand, he said, “I promise it, my lady. Norvor is yours, and no one shall take it from you. Not even Lorn the Wicked, wherever he is hiding.”
Relieved, Jazana leaned back again against the tree. His words comforted her, as did his very presence, so solid she knew it would never break. She spoke a soft thank you to Thorin, then watched as the eastern horizon began to glow with the first inklings of morning.