I could see Mak now, from where I was heading up the hallway. He had a few younger females near him. Watching him. I rolled my eyes to myself. I know we Dardaptoans almost always… More
Theo came to me a week later. He had news that he knew I had been waiting to hear. Halfway through my final two weeks with him.
“The threat to you has left Dardanos. It won’t be returning anytime soon.”
I was elated; I impulsively hugged him—even though I was still furious with him. “Thank you!”
“So life can go back to normal for you soon.” He looked at me like he was trying to read my soul. Theo was mostly blind; he didn’t always see that well depending on whether he’s had any recent visions. His gift of prognostication is the best in all of the tribes, after all. “Your destiny will begin shortly, Jume. I…will miss you once you quit working here, but it is the path you are meant to take.”
I didn’t know what to say. He had never “seen” anything involving me before. “I…I wish you and Mickey well, Theo.”
I really did. He was my cousin, we weren’t close, and I am still angry with him over what he had done to little Mickey, but I still care for him, greatly. We’re family.
But my mind is made up. I just couldn’t work for the judicial department for the city any longer. I can’t do it anymore. I’ve spoken with my sisters about it, and they understand.
It’s a matter of principle. It…the darkness of our people’s worst was draining me far too much, and for far too long. I can’t do it any longer.
Not and stay emotionally whole.
I have to do this; and I have to do it now. Or I never will.
I’m going to focus on building up my pottery business. In the meantime, I’m going to work for Alaun as her publication/personal assistant again.
Landrey, her current assistant, is going to resign for a while. She wants to focus on the twins she’s going to have in about three months. She grew up in foster care, so she doesn’t have a lot of family. She and her sister are both expecting twins now, are newly mated to very wealthy Dardaptoans, and are settling into their new homes clear across the city from where we live. They want to focus on their families now.
I can understand wanting to be with family.
Now that I know how to use the computer and do the necessary research Alaun will need, I think I’ll do just fine.
Alaun will pay me for my part-time work.
That will give me so much time to work on my pots.
Now that I don’t have the threat of a hired killer hanging over my head, I can devote the time to finding the best clay in Dardanos. And making my own paints and glazes.
I’m actually looking forward to it.
Except for one thing.
Mak. I’m losing Mak. I haven’t really let myself process that yet.
I don’t need a guard anymore.
He has no reason to stay. None at all.
Kellis won. I am not going anywhere. She said that it was just as likely that the threat would just follow me wherever I went—and I’d be alone. Not worth it, she said.
Usually, I can outwait and out silent Kellis when we argue. Not this time.
The two of us tend to argue quite a bit. So do Kellis and Ambrea. And Riv and Kellis. Well, I think you can see the pattern. But I understand why Kellis is a little bit bossy, even at our advanced ages.
Kellis is afraid of just about everything. That comes out by her trying to control us.
She thinks I don’t know, that none of us do—but I can feel her fear sometimes, when I get close enough to her.
She wasn’t always this way; it started when we lost Mama and Daddy. That’s when everything changed for all of us.
For one thing, our parents’ creditors showed up the very next day, demanding their share of our parents’ estate. We hadn’t even realized they were in debt. Theo intervened for me after I begged him for help, buying us a two-month window to get everything together.
Kellis had her own place in town near the police station then, too. She moved in with Ambrea and the rest of us a week later. Alleah was such a sickly little babe; it took all six of us to keep watch over her. Day and night. We were consumed with paying off the debts and keeping Alleah alive.
Those were some of the darkest days of my life.
We almost lost her. I adore that little girl so much.
I hadn’t exactly liked the idea of going off alone somewhere, anyway.
Mak told us that he was staying the night with us. There is a small guest room near the rear of our home. It was next to the smaller room that served as Alaun’s office. There is one of those fold up Murphy beds in the guest room. I needed a few moments to myself, so I took over the task of making up the bed for him. It took a few minutes. We tend to use the room as a type of home office in general.
He caught me in the hallway when I was done. Everyone else was starting to come in from their jobs. They were full of questions—it was hard to miss the jagged, baseball-sized hole in our front door.
Kellis caught them in the living room; I could hear them out there. Could hear the questions.
I just stared at Mak, unsure what to say right now.
One large male hand rose; he cupped my cheek. “I will find them, Jume. You have my promise.”
“I…for how long? How long can I live afraid?”
He shook his head as his hand fell away. Then those hard arms were around me like they had been when we danced. He pulled me close.
I rested my cheek over his heart.
“I don’t know. All I know is that I am here. Now. And I will always protect you; as long as I am able.”
I just nodded. “Thank you.”
“It’ll be ok, Jume. It’ll be ok.”
I just wish I could believe him.
“Well, someone should have found something by now. You’ve had two weeks now.” Kellis was beyond angry. No surprise. She always had been extremely protective of all of us. “Get it in gear!”
Kierce leaned back on the couch. He had answered Mak’s call after Mak had scooped me up off the ground and hurried me inside the house. He’d put me in the hallway. It had taken me a moment to realize it was because of the lack of windows.
I just sat there shivering like an idiot.
Someone had just tried to kill me again. And I don’t know what I have ever done to anyone to deserve this. I never hurt anyone. I never share secrets. I try to help those less fortunate. I work hard—at home in the garden, and with my pots, and at work with Theo. I never say anything bad about anyone.
What have I done to deserve this? I just sat there, shaking like an idiot as I tried to process what was happening around me.
“It’s not that easy, and you damned well know it,” Kierce said. He wrapped a hand around her wrist and pulled her to sit next to him.
Even though I was extremely upset, I didn’t miss that touch. He’d never touched her in front of me before, I don’t think. Yet there was an intimacy about it that was unmistakable.
I was going to ask her about that later. Right now…I need to get my thoughts straight.
“Maybe I…I need to go away for a while?” I asked. “Hide?”
Kellis stopped at looked at me. She shook her head emphatically. “Absolutely not. You’re not going anywhere.”
Mak took me home. I didn’t have much to say to him; I’m too unsettled for that.
The Taniss Four—what a ridiculous name—have changed everything around here. So many people are angry that four innocent females didn’t die.
Because of archaic laws of vengeance that don’t make sense to anyone who stops to think about them for more than five minutes.
“You’re quieter than usual tonight,” he said as he drove us back to the home I shared with my sisters on the outskirts of the city. Woalds have been farmers for as long as there had been Woalds. You rarely found us inside city limits.
“I…a lot of things are changing for me lately. I n-need to think about them for a bit.” Maybe that was a cop-out, but I couldn’t think of anything else.
Whatever had been in that courtyard had unsettled me.
Something had definitely been watching me. I could just feel it. Me and Mickey.
And it had felt malevolent.
I shivered again. I just couldn’t help it.
“I can understand that.” He pulled into the winding driveway I’d helped my father gravel more than fifteen years ago. It needed more gravel again. But the money for that long of a driveway was something Riv—who handled the family finances—hadn’t approved. Other things—like food, clothing, shelter, utilities, and blood—were far more important than gravel.
Then there was our house. Our beautiful, sprawling farmhouse that my father had lovingly built with his own two hands, with help from his brothers and nephews and his daughters. The house my mother had designed.
It was their dream home.
Perfect for the seven of us. “I…thank you for the ride, and for guarding me.”
“No invitation to dinner tonight? I take it you haven’t forgiven me yet?” He sent a sly look at me. One that was both attractive—and irritating from my head to my toes.
Adrastos males were arrogant creatures, after all.
“I…I…what has happened to those young females…it isn’t right.”
“Now that I have met them, I have to agree. Even at over five hundred, I apparently still have something to learn. Thank you for that, by the way.”
He held my hand as we walked up the porch together. No one else was home yet, so I pulled my key free from my bag.
Just as something hard slammed into me, knocking me to the dirt surrounding the front porch of my home. I heard something strike the house above where we lay.
I stayed there under Mak, shaking, until he told me it was safe to move.
I finally turned, enough to look at the door of my home.
Imbedded in the thick oak door my father had hand carved almost two centuries ago was a twelve-inch dagger.
If it had struck me, I would no doubt have bled to death before Mak could have gotten me back the eighteen minutes to town to the Healers’ Hall.
I would have died.
Mak had saved me in the nick of time.
I stared up at him as what had happened sank in.
There was something in the goddess’s courtyard that was watching us. I could feel it, and I sensed the young female with me could as well. But being a former human, I don’t think she was aware of what it was she was feeling. We all know humans just aren’t as attuned to feelings like we are.
I’m just not certain if she was the target, or if I was. It was hard to tell.
Oh, it’s so hard to put into words what it felt like! I’m not the writer in the family, after all. Not like Alaun.
Whatever it was, I felt it.
Mak didn’t. Only when I mentioned it did he step closer. His warm hand covered my back. I could feel his heat through the thin, cheap cloth of my gray uniform. I wanted to cuddle close for a minute.
But I’m a Woald.
I can stand on my own two feet.
I gave Mickey a quick tour and filled her in on the legends associated with the goddess and the Dardaptoan creation stories. She was so nervous. Frightened. But very much like a young sponge, listening and learning as much as she possibly could.
I felt for her; I truly did. I wanted to put her at ease, so I told her some of the stories my father had told me, that his father and his father and his father had passed down.
Stories that even Mak, at five hundred fourteen, didn’t know.
I’m not sure how that is possible. I mean…it’s a part of Dardaptoan history, right? Oral tradition? Especially the story of Aerim. That has always been my particular favorite.
Probably because of how much my sisters and I resemble that long-ago ancestress. My mother was a gifted artist and seer; she had painted portraits of Aerim long before I was even born. Or even Ambrea.
It is from Aerim that we get the curls, my mother said.
We walked around the courtyard for several more moments, until Theo found us there.
As I watched him lead Mickey away, I both envied her for having her male and hurt for her how it had happened.
No female deserved to find her male in that way.
I must have sighed. Mak’s hand went around my waist, and he pulled me closer. I wanted to cuddle against his broad chest. “They will find their way. It is the will of the goddess, after all.”
“Perhaps.” The will of the goddess.
Was it the will of the goddess that I am fated to die before finding a male of my own?
At times, I find it difficult not to curse the goddess.
I’m fated to die. Early. How can a female ever get over that?
Most likely, whoever wants me killed has targeted me because of something I saw or read at work. That’s the going theory right now. Kellis has made it her personal mission—no surprise—to find the one responsible.
I still can’t figure out what it is, but I’ve been trying.
Of course, everything is in chaos after what happened with the Taniss Four, as they are now being called.
Like they are fated creatures with magical powers who will change our entire way of existence, or something.
To me, they just look like young females who are terrified and hurting, held captive—and let’s be honest, that’s exactly what it is—by what to them are monsters in a world they do not, cannot, understand.
Theo should be ashamed of himself. There had to be another way for him to claim his mate.
He was called into a meeting with the Jaxiskulus Equa shortly after introducing me to Mickey, his Taniss female.
I stayed with her to keep her company. I couldn’t not. She reminds me a great deal of Julea. I know she’s plotting to escape him as soon as she can. I could feel it when I got close enough to her.
I wanted to whisper to her about the rear exit behind our offices that led to the parking garage.
I didn’t. Interfering between Rajnis is a major crime, after all. I do not want a ten-year prison sentence!
Instead, I offered her something to drink and some of the cookies the bakery sends up to the offices every three days. She took a cookie and thanked me. She’s rather shy, but I could see the curiosity in her eyes. She’s as curious about me as I am her, this new little cousin of mine.
I’m not exactly not shy, myself.
Making small-talk is not something I will ever enjoy doing. What am I supposed to say to the granddaughter of the human who had probably killed my second-cousin thirty years ago? No one knew what had happened to him.
He just disappeared into the Colorado countryside. All we know is that he was near Leo Taniss at the time. And Ambrea said she just felt it. She’s a reasonably gifted seer, my sister.
This poor young female is no doubt wondering where her sister is today. The other two females captured—no other word for it, Theo! no matter what you say to justify what you did, you old jerk!—were this one’s cousins. “H-have you seen the second courtyard yet?”
The girl shook her head. “I don’t think so. I was out in the gardens yesterday, though.”
A strange look went through her eyes. I knew what she was thinking. How did Theo think he was just going to keep her prisoner here in the resort?
I could feel her pain and confusion. And her anger. She was very angry at her male right now.
Theo had no doubt underestimated his Mickey. “Th-then I’ll show you. It’s beautiful. Only those of the ruling families and a few servants are even allowed out there. It’s where the few statues of the goddess are kept.”
More skepticism went through the green eyes. “What is this goddess’s name?”
“Kennera. It means ‘bright sun’ and ‘bringer of life.’ There are a few other versions in our language.” I locked my office and put a note on the desk in large enough print for Theo to read, telling him where I was taking his female.
He had practically abandoned his Rajni to a stranger, after all. Did he just expect her to sit in the waiting room and wait for him all those hours until he was ready to deal with her again?
She wasn’t a bauble to be put on a shelf.
Mak was sitting in the hall outside my office, reading a textbook. He had taken up that position instead of inside my office yesterday after I’d told him what I thought about the need for petty vengeance against the innocent.
Apparently, he was either holding a grudge—or giving me my space. I haven’t figured out which yet.
Why do they have to be so complicated?
I’m still angry at Mak. And at Theo. The idea that innocent young females should pay for the sins of someone else—sins that occurred before they were even born—disgusts me.
I met Theo’s female today. Theo was escorting her around the hotel, giving her a tour. I suspected the young female with the strawberry-blond hair—a similar shade to Julea’s—and the bright-green eyes was just going along with Theo because she is afraid not to.
Giving him what he wants so that he doesn’t hurt her.
Why wouldn’t that disgust a female to see?
I’ve long thought females of our Kind have gotten a raw deal in a lot of ways. Yes, we are significantly smaller and weaker than the males; yes, we are far more susceptible to infections and blood loss and the cold.
But we aren’t stupid. And we should have rights to our own future. No matter how Theo and the other lawmakers give lip service, saying we females have just as much power in our society as the males, I’m not so certain that I believe it. Not any longer.
I’ve seen too much to contradict that over the last fifty years.
Of course, most of the males in Dardanos that I come into contact with through my position with Theo are ancient.
Just because I’m a female doesn’t mean I automatically need a big strong warrior to protect me. At least, not all the time.
I’m almost seventy—not seventeen. My sisters and I have functioned just fine without a warrior to protect us for years now, after all.
Our father was more farmer than fighter. He could fight, if needed, and I’ve seen him do that once when Lupoiux came too close to our farm when I was in my twenties and Ambrea was around my age. They wanted her. Well, they wanted her, Alaun, Kellis, me, and Riv. But they’d followed Ambrea home.
My father protected us. With help from some of our neighbors and our cousin Uruses.
And, I have to admit, having a few warriors to help protect me when someone has hired Olietus Black to kill me isn’t something I’ll turn down.
But how long can that seriously last?
Mak and Jesix—the warrior who guards at night—can’t be assigned to follow me around forever. They are warriors. With important tasks.
Far more important than watching every move I make.
I’m ready to go back to being invisible now.
I know that this is a private blog—and it will remain that way. Thank goodness. I think I need this space to vent, to get what I am feeling out there. Even if no one ever reads it but me.
The hotel/resort/ruling hall—why do I never know how to refer to this place I’ve spent my days for the last fifty years?—is in a total uproar. Everyone is talking about what happened.
What Theo, and the dhar, and Aodhan, and Cormac Jareth have done.
They were supposed to go killfour innocent humans last night because the humans were the grandchildren of that monster Leo Taniss.
I know most in the city don’t know. But Leo Taniss is an evil human doctor who has done massive experimentations on our Kind over the last forty years. Aodhan and Cormac have just figured out who was responsible in the last three weeks or so.
That’s what the arguments yesterday were about. The council of elders wanted the entire Taniss family—even the children, some of whom are only a few years older than Alleah!—slaughtered.
I don’t think that is right at all. And I stand by my words yesterday.
I wouldn’t want Alleah to have to pay for my sins. How is that ever right?
Anyway, apparently, they found four young females when they hunted last night.
Instead of killing them, they brought them back here and somehow made them Dardaptoan. Thank goodness; I worried and feared for the females I saw in those photographs. I am glad they still live! No matter how angry it makes the council.
Yes. I’m not crazy. They converted these females from human to Dardaptoan last night.
Even more, they are their mates! It is hard to believe that four Rajnis of the highest royalty were found in one night. It almost screams of the Fates.
Maybe that’s who are at work here?
Dahr Rydere has a mate. Finally; some feared he never would.
So do Cormac and Aodhan.
I know this is true; I saw them with my own two eyes. I was taking my lunch break in the private garden, speaking with my cousin, the head gardener, Uruses, when two redheaded females with bright-green eyes passed me on my way back to my office.
I almost stopped and told them where the secret exit to the garden was, but as it was the dahr’s business, I wasn’t going to be stupid.
I didn’t want to go to jail for ten years for interfering between the Equa Rajnis.
Even though I really, really wanted to help them. One of them, I think she’s the elder sister, was trying to shield the other one, even as they searched the garden. Protecting her sister, like I would my own sisters if someone yanked us from our life.
There was blood on them. They were terrified.
The elder sister was around thirty, I think. Not that much older than my Julea. Bloodied and afraid because of something their grandfather had done. The younger sister is Julea’s age. Babes, both of them.
I’m so angry with Theo and the others right now I could kill them!
How are these young females supposed to just be happy to have found mates they never knew existed in the first place? To be mated to what to them have to be monsters?
Theo and the others have destroyed their worlds.
And I heard the council arguing. None of them are too happy with how things have happened either.
I can’t wait to get home to talk to my sisters about what has happened. See what they think.
If they even know at all. But I’m sure the rumors will get around like wildfire. Nothing ever stays a secret around here for long…
AUTHOR’S NOTE FROM CJ: Jume references events that take place in Dardanos books 1-4. If you’ve not read them, check them out now!
Something big is happening. Theo was in meetings all day yesterday after several hours in the great justice hall. It’s located in the wing of the resort on the first basement level. I have a small office nearby. Theo’s much larger office and conference room are to my left.
I was kept busy, fetching drinks and making copies of things. Background checks.
Of a dozen or more people. Humans.
I’m not supposed to say what it is that I saw. But the photographs are stuck in my head. It’s a family. They are all human. With bright green eyes.
I think some of them have been doing bad things. Theo has been exceptionally solemn lately. No laughing or joking. Aodhan Adrastos—yes, the Adrastos in charge of all security for the entire town and county—had Mak helping me make copies. We were both sworn to secrecy.
The Equa Council met. There was a lot of arguing. A lot.
I had to go help take notes for Theo. I hate being in the justice hall. There is always so much palpable emotion in there.
Emotions so strong I can practically feel them. Drown in them.
Today was horrible!
The head healer, Kindara, is vehemently opposed to what is going to happen. And since it mostly involved the crimes that were done to her, I think the council should have listened to her more.
Some of them are just self-righteous, stuck-up jerks at times. They think they are better than everyone else because they are royalty. Many of the ones I’ve met through the years are just asses. No one I’d be all that proud to be associated with, honestly.
Not that anyone would have wanted my opinion. I’m a tenth of some of their ages, after all.
Still, what has been planned makes me angry and sad. I hurt for the family involved. If someone were to come and do that to some of my family…
It isn’t right. It just isn’t.
I told Theo that. That I couldn’t bear to be associated with anything so horrific. It grew in me, the knowledge that what was about to happen was wrong. Until I couldn’t stand it. I had to make a choice.
Today, I gave my two-week notice.
He can find someone else to work in my place.
I’ve worked for him for almost fifty years now. This is the worst thing I have ever seen my cousin do.
Even though it will shake things up in my family for a little bit, I will tell what I’ve seen, learned. They will agree with me.
Sometimes, you have to stand up on principle. Harming innocent humans who are less than thirty years old can never be right. Humans are so defenseless compared with warriors of our Kind. We all know that.
It is why the ancient laws exist—laws Theo once vowed to uphold. For fifty years, I’ve admired him for doing just that. But this?
How can anyone think this is right?
I have some savings kept back. It’ll help until I can find something elsewhere.
Or I’ll start throwing more pots. They are starting to sell well enough. I made three hundred dollars last month. Just off of four pots. If I have time to throw more pots, shouldn’t that mean more money?
To top it off, Mak and I argued. He was in favor of what Theo and the others were planning to do tonight.
I can’t understand it. The females in those photos were younger than Julea.
Young enough to be my granddaughters, if you want to get technical about this.
How can this ever be right?
He’s kissed me four more times in two weeks. Soft, sweet, very kind. I think he’s being gentle with me. Slow.
It’s rather frustrating. I have never felt this attracted to a male before. I’m trying not to be obnoxious about it. I mean, I know he’s not my mate. And I am not his.
He has one out there. And at his age, it’s probably not unlikely that he is past the point of affairs and is waiting for his female.
That’s not unusual, right?
It could be that Mak is trying to distract me from what is going on. They can’t find Olietus Black anywhere. The little turd has disappeared. Some think he took off to the Texas tribe. It’s a coastal village. Apparently, he has brothers there.
I overheard Mak and Kellis talking about them. They are just as horrible as Olietus.
I hope a shark eats him. That would fix things, right?
Ok, so time to be serious.
No one knows where he is or why someone wants him to kill me. No one knows how long I’m going to have my warrior babysitters, either.
I am beyond thrilled at having Mak around. He’s started sitting next to me in class, too. Everyone seems to think we’re together. At least, temporarily anyway.
I’m not sure how long affairs are supposed to last. Alaun says, from her research, they tend to last a month or two before the longing for one’s mate takes over and dulls the relationship with your lover.
Kellis, that rat, just hummed when I asked her.
It can be seriously hard to get an answer out of that sister of mine. When I asked Ambrea she just smiled and told me an affair lasted as long as both wanted it to. She had a dreamy, soft smile on her face.
One full of memories. Good ones.
I impulsively asked her how many affairs she’d had. She’s almost 113 now, after all. I know she’s had at least one.
Three. She’s had three. Her first was when she was all of twenty-five. Her last was five years ago. I’m still trying to figure out who it was with. All she does is stay home and take care of our family, our gardens, and raise Alleah. I’m not sure when or how she would have met a handsome warrior.
Unless it was the Lycurgus Equa’s brother. He was sniffing around the neighbor’s place around five years ago. Looking for some stolen jewelry, I believe.
He did spend a lot of time with Ambrea back then. She was supposedly helping him.
That’s probably who it was. Matthuin Lycurgus’s younger brother. I can’t remember his name right now. Or whatever happened to him.
He used to come by Theo’s office frequently. He hasn’t in at least four years or so. I hope nothing bad has happened to him.
I’m going to have to ask Kellis if she knows.
She always seems to know what’s going on around here.
It is rather irritating at times. Especially since she won’t ever spill her secrets. Completely irritating.