Ok, usual warnings apply: this is rough draft, so there will be errors. Feel free to point them out in comments! Hope you enjoy, and I still haven’t gotten this out to beta readers, I have been so busy with school.
To begin at the beginning, look here: Snippet Round-Up.
“What?” Bella straightened with alarm.
“Shh… “ Ellie put her hands out and Bella placed hers into them. The wood elf’s hands were out of size to the rest of her, calloused from kitchen duty, but warm. “You know that he has struggled with the elfshot for many years.”
“He swore that if he ever came to a place where he was unable to care for himself any longer, he would die. I have done what I could…” Ellie shrugged, “But I know his pride. Without magic, he will give up.”
“I see.” Bella took a deep breath. “You said I couldn’t tell him, and then that I must tell him, why?”
“I have a devious plan.” Ellie’s eyes twinkled. “I mean to give him something to live for.”
Bella knew her face must show her confusion. “What?”
“You. He will fight, for you.” Ellie squeezed her hands, and then let go of them. “But you must come back.”
Bella smiled. “Of course. Shall I tell him now?”
Ellie cocked her head. “Someone is coming.”
Bella went to look, and saw two men outside the door. She hurried to let them in.
“Joe! I’m sorry I didn’t stay to talk…” the words died on her lips as she saw who the heavily cloaked man was, behind him. “Come in,” she finished woodenly. The last person she wanted to see had just landed on her doorstep.
Joe proclaimed loudly “We are here to visit Lom, my friend Tim and I.”
Bella looked at him in astonishment. Then it dawned on her that their might be watchers, or listeners, outside here where the house did not dampen other magic. She stepped back to allow them in and pull the heavy door closed on those intruders.
“We need to talk.” King Trytion did not pull back his cowl. Under it the shadows made his face look threatening.
“Haven’t you done enough?” Bella couldn’t stop her sharp words.
“Not nearly so. And you don’t know enough yet.”
She nodded. “Come into the kitchen, it has no windows.”
They followed her in, and she found that Ellie had vanished, leaving a tray full of tea and cookies ready on the table for them.
“Please sit.” Bella tried for hospitable, at least.
Joe positioned himself facing out the door, but the king reached for a sand tart.
“I have done you a great injustice,” he began. Bella poured tea. “You don’t know how power flows in the court, and you can’t thus see and be prepared for the undercurrents. You were caught in the riptide today, I am afraid. I can’t alter that, but I can assist you with your mission.”
Bella took a deep breath. “I do feel like I am over my head, sir.”
King Trytion pulled back his cowl, and she could see his expression. He looked sad, and tired. “The Council is very strong right now. The last consort was… easily led. Usually, historically… we provide a balance, the king and queen against the council. In practice, it results in very little getting done, but this is not a bad thing.”
Bella felt her lips twitch. It sounded like he was describing the US congress. “So today was not your idea?”
He nodded. “You are very perceptive. The Council… well, some are the parents of princesses you displaced. Others resent your being so very different, and outside their control.”
“So I am unwelcome, and this was a way to eliminate me.”
He winced a little. Bella picked up her teacup and sipped, buying some time to gather her thoughts. She set it down again carefully, feeling as fragile as the thin porcelain. “I am not going to decline the mission. But I could certainly use some help.”
He nodded. “I am going to have Melcar come here to watch over Lom. And for you, I cannot do much, with Buckingham’s restrictions, but I can send some of Lom’s contacts to you. I don’t know who, above, to recommend to you. He was close-mouthed about his sources, for good reason.”
Bella nodded, much making sense to her now. Lom liked and trusted his king, but with the Council’s power over him, giving him too much information would have been bad, and Trytion obviously understood this as well. She decided not to mention her family to him.
“But you know of some, Underhill. Thank you.” She contemplated asking about Alger and Mark, then decided she had better not push the issue.
“Bella,” he began, obviously a little awkward with the informality. “I would not have us at odds. I hope to create a partnership, if you will, that will last a long time. You seem to be what my kingdom needs, a strong, sensible woman.”
“I am…” she took a breath, and went on more slowly. “I am willing to try, sir, but it will need to be a mutual trust and honestly, I don’t know you well enough yet. I’m not sure if I am supposed to treat you like my boss, a colleague, or my husband. The word “consort” has a different meaning, above.”
He winced again. “You are Lom’s lady, I could see that as soon as I met you. There is a… bond between you that he has never had before.”
“With his first wife?” He stopped, the look on her face registering. “You didn’t know.”
She shook her head, not trusting her voice. She had suspected, but… Well, when had they had time to talk about this sort of thing? “It’s been a fast development, Lom and I. I didn’t… I don’t like to pry, sir.”
“Oh, er…” She could tell he was trying to make a decision. The steely-eyed king off balance struck her funny bone.
“Don’t worry about it. I am sure in time I will learn from Lom, himself.”
He drew a relieved breath and his face relaxed. “As for our relationship, I would like it to be more… informal. You have much to learn, but I do not want to make you feel lesser than I. Otherwise, I would suggest you think of me as more… a professor.”
Bella suddenly understood much. This was not a man who had had choices in his life. Bounded by duty and honor, he was tied to the throne, despite what he may have wanted in his younger years. She reached across the table, and he accepted her handshake. “That I can do. I must learn, I can see, to do the job properly. And in time, who knows?”
“May I see Lom?” His change of subject surprised her, but she understood their conversation to be at an end, for now.
“Of course, sir. He was asking for me, as well, shall we go up together?”
He offered her his arm at the foot of the staircase and his eyes twinkled when she took it. “Joe, could you send that message, and come along, if you don’t think it will tire Lom excessively, m’dear?”
Joe smiled very slightly, and made the flicking gesture of a released message spell.
“I think he is much stronger, Joe, you are always welcome, you are his friend.”
Joe followed them up the stairs. Lucia came out when they could be heard from the room, and Bella could see her composure rattled for the second time that day. She dipped a little curtsey.
Trytion waved her off gently. “Lucia, we must speak soon, but I have little time before my minders will miss me. Is he awake?”
She nodded. “Anxious about Bella and grumpy, I will warn you.”
Bella broke in, “perhaps I had better warm him up and warn him.”
She slipped through the door.
I knew something was going on. First of all, Ellie and mother both had been stalling, and looking nervous, when I asked for Bella. Secondly, that was a male voice in the hall, and Alger had left me a note that he would be away a few days and was taking Mark.
So when Bella came in I was lying on my side trying to figure out how much it would hurt to sit up. She was a sight for sore eyes, magnificent in a gown I hadn’t seen before. She rustled as she walked, and the dress was long enough she seemed to glide across the room to me. She bent to kiss me.
This I could get used to, the gentle warmth of her touches. But now I was alarmed. She should not be dressed as though she had gone to High Court, and she should not look worried.
“Help me up. Who is out there?”
She put her arm behind my back and gave me leverage to get up on a few pillows. “The king, and Joe.”
“Lom…” she started to say something, but I put a finger to her lips.
“Will we have time to talk after?”
“Then let them in and let’s get this over with.”
She retreated to the door and swung it open. The king, incongruously clad in a flowing cloak that was more suited to Alger’s robe affectation, and Joe, looking stiffer than usual. I’d been right, I wasn’t going to like this at all.
“How are you feeling?” The king spoke first. All right, this was a courtesy call then. I’d seen Bella’s warning glance at him.
“I’ve been better. You look oddly not-yourself, today.”
He chuckled hollowly. “I am playing hooky.”
“To see Bella, or me?”
“To see you. I officially saw Bella earlier today.”
Well, that explained why Bella was dressed for Court, she had been there. I looked at her, and could see her distress. She had said we would talk. I stopped trying to pump the king for information.
“I appreciate your concern, sir.”
“You’re on the mend, I can tell. The prickles are back, and at full array.” He stepped closer and patted my shoulder gently. “Lom…”
“Forget it, sire. This could have been any mission, any given day.”
He looked stricken, and then put on his Court mask. Oh, damn, what had he done?
I looked at Joe, who was imperturbable as always. “Take care of him, will you?”
He nodded once, and they left, the king having gotten my unsubtle hint.
“Bella, what the hell?” I tried to stop myself, gasping for breath. Damn, I was weak.
“Lom…” she came and sat on the bed next to me. “I will be fine. I’m not going to go charging into this. You taught me how strong I am, now let me test myself.”
I could feel all the blood drain out of my face, and from the look on hers, she no doubt thought I was going to keel over on her.
“You’re the Consort-elect. There’s no way…” I had to gasp, and she broke in.
“The council insists that as I am your partner, it is my duty to take this mission on, and it cannot wait until you are recovered. Lom, my dear man, I want to do this.”
She laid her head gently on my chest and I wrapped an arm around her. Movement was easier, today.
“There are humans, above, in my world, in danger. I have the power to help, and you know what my training is. Now, I’m a magical first responder. Can you accept that?”
Yeah, I had to. It wasn’t like I could get out of this bed and stop her. I tightened my arm around her. “What can I do to help?”
She looked up at me. “Advice on how to hide magic above?”
I could do that. And I needed to get better, fast, so she wasn’t alone for long. I might not have any magic, but at least I could shoot straight. “I have so much I need to teach you.”
She smiled impishly, “and there is so much I want to learn.”
She surprised me with that look, and hidden meaning. “Woman, you want to kill me?” I smiled, and it felt good. I wasn’t happy about the situation, but having her in my arms was intoxicating.
“How much time do we have?”
“Not nearly enough,” she sighed and tried to pull away to sit up, but I held on. She could have escaped me, in the state I was in, but she followed my lead, and I kissed her.
I hadn’t really had the chance to do this like I would have liked, to take my time and be the lead dancer in an embrace with her, and I didn’t want to let her go without taking my time to remind her how I felt. Words simply weren’t enough in this case. Well, one would do. I released her lips and whispered, “mine.”
She shivered with pleasure, and I let her sit up. I didn’t have the strength to finish that thought, just yet.
“Lom,” she started and I hushed her again.
“Bella, call Raven. And…”
Just to see if I could, I tried to summon a spell message. The pain was instant, and blinding. I thrashed on the bed, trying to make it stop. Bella made a short squeak of alarm, and then went into medic mode. Pulling the pillows away, she got me onto my side and far enough off the bed that the vomit hit her, and the floor, but not the sheets.
“Ellie!” She shouted. “Lucia!”
I couldn’t stop twitching. Every muscle was on fire, and it wasn’t stopping. All I had wanted… the world faded to black.