As with other snippets posted on this site, this is a rough draft. Don’t be surprised if you find placeholders for names or places. They are there to help me remember to go back to the story bible and confirm spellings, etc. By the time the book goes to publication, it will be edited and so the final version very well be different from what you see here. Copyright 2016 by Amanda S. Green. All rights reserved. You know the drill.
The glass flew across the room, shattering against the far wall. He was surrounded by fools, nothing but incompetent fools. That thrice-damned Wolf had failed him time and again. His death at the hands of the Order had been the only thing that saved him from being sacrificed upon the altar to Balaar. The skinwalker had lied to him. To him! He had assured him the girl had died in the ambush. Then, when finally forced to reveal the truth, Wolf had promised on penalty of death to hunt her down and kill her. Even then Wolf had failed him. Instead of being the hunter, Wolf had become the hunted.
Wolf’s death may have denied him one victim but the man’s family would replace him. They would serve as a reminder to anyone foolish enough to consider betraying him what the penalty for such foolishness would be. It did not matter who they were or what their personal connection to Wolf. They would die, screaming Balaar’s name and begging for mercy, and all because the head of their family had failed in one simple task.
Their deaths would not enough to make up for the Order now knowing the girl – no, the young woman – was in danger. It had taken steps after Wolf’s death, steps that had driven his contacts within the walls of the Citadel out lest they be discovered. Now security within the Citadel was so tight few could come and go without first being vetted by the Knights Council. That meant the likelihood of getting any of his people in place any time soon was negligible. Something else the skinwalker’s family and friends would pay dearly for.
And damn his successor. The magicker had assured him nothing would go wrong. If he could not be physically near the Citadel, watching and reporting, his constructs would be. At first, everything had gone as Gareth promised. For more than a month, daily reports came in. They might have reassured him the target had not managed to slip her watchers again. But the magicker had been no more successful at arranging her death than had Wolf. Still, the daily reports had at least proven the magicker had not betrayed the mission.
Until that morning. The expected report had not come. Nor had Gareth responded when his pet magicker at the keep tried to contact him. Mykel had stammered, his fear a stink that filled the room. He knew not why Gareth failed to respond. Nothing he tried brought a response from Gareth or the construct. All but pissing himself, Mykel had begged not to be killed for the failure of another.
Gods above and below, what did it take to kill one woman?
He turned to the guard standing near the door to his rooms. “Have the prisoners been secured?”
“Aye, m’lord.” The guard never looked at him, his expression never wavered. But there could be no mistaking the fear in his voice.
“Bring mother and son to me. Now!” Before the guard slipped out of the room, he changed his mind. “No, bring them to the dining hall. Send word to my family and advisors to make their way there at once. Any who tarry very well may join the prisoners.”
“Aye, m’lord.” The guard saluted and hurried off down the corridor.
Ten minutes later, he made his entrance into the dining hall. He nodded once to see all he had sent for gathered at the far end of the room. As one, they turned and bowed. Without breaking stride, he motioned them forward. He wanted them to see what he had planned. The lesson would be clear. Fail him and all they cared for would be destroyed. More importantly, they would see to it that word of what happened was spread. No one would dare fail him again.
Without a word, he approached the two figures in the center of the room. Long tables formed a “U” around them. At other times, this area would be filled with musicians or dancers. But now, it served a different purpose. The entertainment would be his alone.
“Your husband and father failed me. He knew the price and now you and the rest of your family will pay it.”
He stood before a woman in her middle years and a young man who had just seen his twentieth summer. They had been stripped by his guards. Filthy rags gagged them. Their arms were chained over their heads and their ankles secured to bolts in the floor. They were not the first to entertain him here and they would not be the last.
He reached out, one hand running from the young man’s chest to his abdomen and below. As he did, the woman jerked against her bonds, her cries of protest muffled by her gag. She was protective of her cub, that much was sure. But how would the young man react when the tables were turned.
“Such a pretty boy,” he purred as he continued his exploration. “But your mother has her own enchantments. Perhaps I should sample her charms before playing with you. What say you?”
The young man did not disappoint. He flung himself against his bonds, anger and fear at war with one another. Good, so very good. Breaking the mother and son might at least partially make up for Wolf’s failure. Then he would let them live long enough to see the rest of their family executed before he slid his own knife into their hearts.
“I think I will start with the boy. Move him to the table.” An almost feral smile touched his lips. “Uziel.” He turned his attention to his youngest son who stepped forward
“Get the woman ready for me. Use her as you will. Hurt her. But do not kill her. Do not let her lose consciousness. I want her aware of everything I am doing to her son even as she knows all you are doing to her. Fail me in any way on this and you will take her place.”
“As you wish, m’lord.”
Uziel studied the woman, a thoughtful expression on his face. Then he instructed the guards to move her to the same table where her son was being secured. As he did, Gavril Dalasqua nodded in approval. The baron knew his youngest son took after him in ways his eldest son, Laion, never would. This day, Uziel’s actions would be a lesson for Laion. Only those strong enough to do that which was difficult survived and flourished. If Laion failed to learn the lesson, Dalasqua would shed no tears in naming Uziel his heir.
Soon, mother and son were bound to the table, head to head. What happened to one would be felt and heard by the other. The fact they could not actually see what happened would only make it worse for them. Their imaginations would work against them. Good. Their terror would translate to the other and, in turn, to those looking on.
“This is your only warning,” Gavril said as he turned to those gathered to witness his punishment of Wolf’s family members. “Failure will not be tolerated. These two will begin paying the debt owed by the head of their family. The rest of their relations will pay the balance on the executioner’s block. Guards, remove the prisoners’ gags. I want to hear their cries and hear them beg. For the rest of you, the guards will tell me if any turns away. You will watch everything that happens here or you will join these two.” He waited, watching as one after another of those gathered slowly nodded. Their fear, almost as strong as that of the prisoners, filled the air. Good. Let them remember who held the power and who had been chosen by Balaar as his human hand. “Uziel, you may begin.”
“As you command, m’lord.”
The sound of the young man’s fist striking the woman and her cry of pain was soon echoed by that of her son as Gavril went to work. Unlike Uziel, he used a blade, leaving a shallow but painful cut across the prisoner’s chest. Perhaps this was the day to teach his youngest just what could be done with a blade without actually killing the prisoner. It wasn’t as if they did not have enough volunteers to practice on. Wolf had been prolific as a sire if nothing else.