Home > Nightbred (Lords of the Darkyn #2)

Nightbred (Lords of the Darkyn #2)
Author: Lynn Viehl

Chapter 1

Baucent Stronghold

Great Smoky Mountains, North Carolina

“You’re a pretty lad,” Etienne Guelard, the swordsman wielding three feet of razor-sharp, copper-clad steel, told Jamys Durand. “One step more and you’ll not be.”

Murmured wagers swept round the loose circle of half-naked onlookers as their watchful eyes shifted from the massive brute waiting inside the warriors’ circle to Jamys, who stood just outside the perimeter.

Beyond the sprawling compound of Baucent, nightfall had drawn its deep amethyst cloak across the mountains; its gilded edges had narrowed the glittering gold of sunset to a silken fringe of tangerine. November had sharpened the wind from crisp to cutting, and turned to diamond density every drop of moisture touched by its wintry breath. Ten thousand acres of evergreens stood guard among the bare, leafless branches and trunks of kin that the long, dark months had already sent to sleep.

Jamys kept his back turned against the modernized version of a medieval mansion. Tonight he could not retreat to the safety of his father’s house.

The mortal architect who had been commissioned to design the mountain fortress of Baucent had never understood the need for the broad, walled space at the back of the main house, or why the owner had vetoed any landscaping for it. The human had not been told that the space would be called the lists, or that it would serve as the training area for the stronghold’s garrison of warriors. To the architect, it had been merely a football-field-size rectangle of packed dirt.

“Don’t hurt the boy, Tien,” one of the guards called out from his watch post above the lists. “The master will have your head.”

Being goaded about his adolescent appearance never aggravated Jamys; as an immortal Darkyn he had lived with his youthful form for more than seven centuries. He had gone to his mortal grave before he had matured, and since rising to walk the night, he had never aged another day. He would forever look like a boy of seventeen.

It did not, however, make him a boy.

He ignored the voices as he measured his opponent’s readiness. Tien’s scent, as sharp and clean as lemongrass, enveloped the air around him. Although he had threatened to spoil Jamys’s face, Tien had dug in his heels and held his wrist ready to turn his weapon to a specific thrusting angle; he would attack first with a jab to the upper arm. Jamys had watched all the men practicing, and knew Tien favored disabling to disarm an opponent. That practice made him the boldest and most effective member of the garrison’s front line.

That knowledge provided Jamys with a distinct advantage. Because he trained alone or with his father, the men of the garrison had never seen him spar or fight.

“Challenge night is for the warriors of the jardin, not coddled whelps. Is this not so, men?” Although he spoke to the crowd, Tien never took his eyes off Jamys. “Did not your sire inform you of this? Or are you as deaf as you are dumb?”

The casual insult effectively rendered silent the men surrounding the circle. All of them knew that torture at the hands of their enemies had deprived Jamys of his ability to speak and, for a time, his mind. He had not realized they still believed him mute, however.

No wonder Tien employed his own tongue so freely; he assumed Jamys couldn’t respond in kind—or repeat his insults to their master.

Jamys could speak now, but despite long hours of solitary practice he still could not speak quickly or with any ease. It was simpler to remain silent and use his ability to speak through the mortal servants of the keep to convey his wishes. After tonight he would have to rethink that.

“Lord Jamys,” Coyan, the garrison captain, spoke in a gentle tone. “If you will return tomorrow sunset, I will be glad to practice with you.”

“Our lord shall never give you leave to breathe hard on him, Coy.” Tien made an impatient sound. “Go back to the house, whelp. You have wasted enough of my night.”

The scent of sandalwood shed by Jamys’s own skin quickly overwhelmed the lemon-scented air inside the ring. For the object of his desires he could bear any amount of insolence or derision. Being reminded of the weight of his father’s love, however, was almost enough to provoke him to recklessness.

Almost enough.

Jamys stepped over the line, turning on the toe of his boot and arching away from the dark metal blade that punched through the air his right arm no longer occupied. As Tien swung round to follow through, Jamys switched his grip on his sword from right to left, using the flat of the blade to deliver a heavy blow to the back of the bigger man’s broad shoulder.

As the men shouted and Tien staggered, Jamys moved in behind him, forcing him to spin again while still unsteady. That provided Jamys the opportunity to kick the sword from Tien’s hand and hook his leg to knock him on his ass. He poised the tip of his own sword against the bigger man’s septum.

All the voices, movements, and sounds within the lists went as still as Tien himself.

Jamys regarded him. “Pretty nose.”

Some of the men uttered low chuckles. Tien’s eyes widened, and he swallowed before he said, “I like it.”

“Then concede, you idiot,” Coyan advised him, “before you lose that, too.”

Jamys held the blade for another long moment before he lowered it and offered his free hand to Tien.

The warrior seized Jamys’s slim hand with his huge paw and touched his brow to the knuckles. “The circle is yours, Lord Durand.”

“Jamys.” He pulled Tien to his feet and returned his blade to him before he scanned the grinning faces around them. “Next.”

Clashing steel, shuffling boots, and grunts of effort filled the next several hours, and after the sky had gone black and the final challenger had conceded his bout, Jamys stood alone in the circle.

Coyan stepped up to the line, but he didn’t cross it. “My men are drilled every night. They are not permitted leave nor rest until they have satisfied me that they are able and ready to defend our lord and this household. On this I have prided myself. Now you step into our midst, wreak absolute havoc, and defeat my finest. I wager you have been watching us from the house for some time.”

Jamys inclined his head.

“You are your father’s son, my lord.” He offered one of his rare smiles before he performed a deep bow of respect. “And the night is yours. What would you have of us?”

Jamys knew well the garrison’s tradition of awarding a boon to the last warrior left standing. It was the primary reason he had come to the circle.

“He doesn’t want my nose,” Tien joked, and then winced as Coyan cuffed the back of his head. “Well, he doesn’t.”

“I would train with you,” Jamys said, taking care with each word. “For battle, and command.”

“Aye, my lord. We can prepare you for battle, aye.” Coyan’s eyes shifted toward the house. “But command is the realm of the master.”

“Glad I am to hear it.” A massive form separated from a shadowed corner, and the warriors made way as Thierry Durand walked toward them. Flickering light from the burning torches traced the scowl that made harsh his strong, handsome features, and glittered in the black slits of his eyes. Before he reached the ring, the power he shed, which smelled like a field of gardenias being burned, blotted out every other scent in the air.

Jamys remained in the circle until his father took Coyan’s place. Only when Thierry folded his arms did he step outside and bow. “Good evening, Father.”

“Is that what it is?” The suzerain inspected the ducked heads of his garrison. “I am of a rather different opinion.”

Tien stepped forward. “The boy came to the circle tonight well prepared, Master. His arm is fair magic. He bested me in the space of ten heartbeats.”

“I counted five,” another brave soul muttered.

Thierry, who towered over all the men of the garrison, divested Tien of his sword in less than a blink. “Copper on steel.”

Coyan shuffled his feet. “We fight with only the weapons that can harm us, my lord.”

“Indeed.” The suzerain eyed Tien. “And if you had thrust careless, Etienne, and cut off my son’s magical arm? The boy is not a warrior.”

“He fights like one,” Tien had the nerve to say.

“Is this so?” Thierry looked ready to kill the swordsman. “Had you prevailed, would you have sought boon from me for mutilating my only child? The Brethren never did.”

“No need,” Jamys said before Tien could answer. “They had it from my mother.”

The pain that replaced the anger in Thierry’s eyes proved too much for Jamys to bear; he strode to the armory to return his sword to the weapons master. From there he retreated to the house, avoiding the servants on his way to the curving staircase that led to his chambers in the north tower.

He didn’t notice the scent of ripe apples until he encountered the petite brunette sitting on the bottom step. She stood as he approached, and twisted her hands together.

“I tried to keep him occupied,” Jema Shaw told him. “But after three hours he figured it out.”

That his stepmother had guessed his intentions and tried to help him didn’t surprise Jamys; little escaped Jema’s shrewd gaze. She also carried the same unseen scars on her soul, thanks to her own greedy, murderous mother, so she understood what his father could not.

“I could talk to him,” she offered.

He shook his head, pausing to kiss her cheek before he climbed the stairs.

The top two floors of the tower had been designed as living space independent of the main house, and provided all the physical comforts as well as a panoramic view of the surrounding countryside. Jamys had gradually rid his rooms of most of the furnishings to create more open space. During the day he took his rest on the low, simple bed that occupied the lower floor, where custom electric shutters lowered to seal sunlight from the room.

The top floor served as his private retreat, the one place in the stronghold where he felt completely at ease. Here he had installed a compact computer array and entertainment center, although lately he had been interested only in researching those areas of America that had not yet been assigned to a lord paramount as official jardin territories. With all the refugees fleeing from Europe to the States, the land available had begun to dwindle rapidly. In less than a year there would be only deserts and wastelands left unclaimed.

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