A/N - here it is, the end of the story. It's hard to believe that after this story was sitting unfinished for a decade or more that it's done. It gives me hope for my other plot bunny stories that they, too, might one day get finished - all I need is the right stroke of inspiration. :) I hope all of you who read this have enjoyed the story. While I'd appreciate reviews, I know most of you don't like leaving them, but I do hope you'll give my next story a chance at the very least, whenever I get one that I'm ready to post.
Chapter #33 - All Things Settled…For Now
Jerron found ruling the continent both daunting and dull. He knew already, considering how much his father had told him, that he could never please everyone so he had to please the most people he could. His father had also told him to let the Houses deal with the majority of issues unless they directly needed his oversight and he followed that advice to keep from being overwhelmed, but he still liked being given monthly reports on the more-than-minor issues the Houses were dealing with.
By now, nearly four decades after his father's death, the ruin wrought by the sorcerers and, sadly, by his own troops, had been repaired. Means to bolster the protections around the coast had been deeply established, falling mostly to Groves that had volunteered for the task, using Jaiwen's powers to protect the continent. New agreements were drawn up with were-beast Clans to try to keep the tentative peace that had sprung up with them in the last decade or so of the Reclamation. Sects were to have more oversight than before, which many balked out, but the threat remained that Thulawe might worm his way back into their minds to turn them against the peace they had on Hagole.
Most importantly, though, he had done what he had discovered his father had started to lapse on – he sent spies to the sorcerer-controlled continents of Eswar and Leizgrel to keep an eye on matters there. It was hard to find those willing to be spies, though. The only ones he could send with the fewest potential problems were were-beasts. Sorcerers could potentially be swayed by their brethren and become double agents. All the other races were subjugated there – witches, humans, and the few vampire the sorcerer had usually kidnapped and taken there as prisoners.
He had two main goals for his spies to accomplish, especially in the near future – determine if the sorcerers had been successfully stopped for the time being and figure out exactly where his nephew was.
Raulch… He had learned when questioning some of the captured invading sorcerers that his nephew's name was Raulch.
Called "the Eminent One", he was both feared and practically worshipped as a god himself. He was powerful, as one would expect with a god as his father and the traces of another god in his ancestry. He wanted to go after the boy, for he was still mostly that even at close to fifty years of age now, his aging very similar to vampires, but he kept Sanshil's warning in his mind whenever getting reports regarding his nephew.
That was not his fight. His duty was to keep Hagole together, unified, protected. The sorcerers would come again – from outside, most certainly, but he was more afraid of those within his borders that might turn back to Thulawe in a quest for more power, for that was what sorcerers craved. But that would not be any time soon so he tried to not worry about it beyond ensuring that he would never become complacent.
For now, though, things had settled. Well, they had settled mostly. There were still those wary of a new ruler, even after decades – particularly among the vampires. There had not been a change in who ultimately controlled the continent in the more than fifteen hundred years, since the Unification was finished. He had a lot of expectations to live up to, and a lot of anger to overcome that still flowed from his father's inactions…and his reluctance to take up the mantle sooner.
Lydia slid an arm around his shoulders where he sat at his desk in his private study. "Are you still looking at all those reports from the High Lords' Houses?"
"Missives from my spies, actually."
"Oh? Anything change?"
"No. I'm grateful for that, too."
"I doubt they'd retaliate so soon. They have to regroup, make new plans."
"I still hate all I learned about what happens on the other continents."
It had turned his stomach, some of the things Thulawe and his sorcerers did. He had refused to share that information with Lydia, knowing it would affect her greatly, possibly give her nightmares – particularly the things that the witches there had to suffer through.
"Any news on Raulch?"
"Nothing new. He's apparently still sequestered with a harem. None of my spies can gain access to where he is. Rumor they are getting, however, is that they're seeing what sort of children he has and he has his pick of any of the races." And he knew the only willing ones were likely the sorceresses.
"Any word on if he can make vampires?"
"Not yet. If he's truly aging like a normal born vampire, he's right at maturity, though. If he possesses the trait, it will appear soon. I have a feeling, however, he won't. His mother may have been my sister, but that is not how the ability passes."
"I wish Sanshil would tell us."
"She says that's cheating. She said she already told me more than she wanted to, for she hates interfering with the future with her insights."
"But learning of Raulch saved your life."
It had been early on in the fighting, while he had been interrogating a foreign sorcerer in Ilnesbarg, that it had happened. The man had smiled and told him how much his sister's son looked like him, that he could definitely tell the family resemblance. He had been stunned by the mention but not enough to miss the fact the sorcerer had been hoping to shock him enough that he failed to see the sorcerer had broken free of his bindings – with the help of a traitor among his own troops. After that, he had ordered his men and women try to capture the highest ranking sorcerers, in order to get more information out of them about his nephew. He did not learn as much as he would have liked, but he had learned enough that, once grown, Raulch would be a potentially serious threat.
"Well," his beloved leaned down and kissed his cheek, "you need to get ready."
He sighed heavily. He hated parties, but tonight was something he did not want to miss because Lydia was excited, for tonight was the Gods' Moon – the first since that fateful night. The Coven had arranged a celebration in the gardens. While they had also had a private celebration at sunset, when the moon had risen, they had felt it a milestone for everyone, particularly him and Lydia, and wanted to celebrate it on a grander scale.
Lydia, now out of her ritual garb, was in a stunning dark blue gown with her hair pinned up in a braided crown. She looked the part of Lady of Hallenach – elegant and confident. One would never know now that she had been born and raised in the woods outside a small town, far away from the intrigues of court. She had grown into her power, a skilled potion maker now, and had specialized in poisons and their remedies. Sometimes he wondered if he would need to deal with dead bodies when she cut glances at some of his critics that still remained in court.
"Why are you just staring at me? You need to change."
He was dressed in a simple pale green button-up shirt and black pants. "I am Lord Sovereign; I may wear what I wish."
"Not with me as your Lady, Jerron."
She hauled him out of his chair and ushered him to their room, where she ordered him to change. Laughingly, he did so, then they headed out into the night, the full moon shining a bright golden, a color only ever found on the night of the Gods' Moon.
For a while they mingled together, until she was pulled away by others. He kept noting where she was, ever wary of her safety. Attempts had been made but she had never been harmed. Whenever she was not with him, she always had guards with her who were very efficient.
It was some time later – well past the moon's zenith – while he was talking to two of his officials who were discussing the status of the mitigation efforts on a drought hitting the foothills of the southwestern Golriss Range that the thing he had been dreading for the past few years finally occurred.
Without even looking, he knew a woman was drawing near and he knew what she wanted. He had gotten looks any time he had been home but had not yet been approached by any of those subtly offering themselves to him. He felt her press her breasts against his arm suggestively, leaning toward him. He did his best to ignore her…
"I'd very much like to tend to all your needs, Lord Jerron," she whispered into his ear in a sultry whisper.
Yes, he was sure she would, just as she had served his father's needs at some point. He could feel his father's presence in her. Not because she was a Changed vampire, which she was, but because for whatever reason, every woman – other than his own mother – who had ever slept with his father had a disgustingly slimy feeling to them. He hated the feeling, had not missed it while he was gone. Many women that had gone with him into the war gave off that feeling, but they were easy to avoid.
He needed to finally make it clear…
Slowly, he moved his hand to her back, sliding it upward. His hand entered her loose mass of curls, settling on the back of her neck. His gesture was almost loving and, when he turned to her, he saw that look of triumph in her eyes. She thought he would be as tempted by her as his father had of any female who showed the slightest sign of welcome. But he was not his father.
His hand tightened on her neck to the point that she flinched in pain, trying to pull away.
He leaned down to her, hissing in her ear. "I don't need my father's whores in my bed."
Then he violently pushed her away. She crashed into someone else and collapsed to the ground. Everything around him stopped, then it slowly filtered through the garden. Good, he had their attentions.
"Listen to me well. I will never accept invitations – subtle or overt – from any woman to come to my bed. I am not my lecherous father. I will not sleep with any woman willing to spread her legs for me. And I most especially will not sleep with any woman that's ever been with my father. I can sense that fact within them – no matter how long ago it was. It's like a disgusting fog that fills the air around them."
Eyes widened. He heard whispered remarks. He knew that his comment effectively meant that nearly every woman in the palace and over half of those in the rest of the city could not seek to bring him sexual pleasure – his father had bedded that many women.
"And just so we're clear – as long as Lydia is my lover, I plan to have no others." He looked to her, as she stopped at his declaration in her hurry to return to him. He could see the slight tinge of red on her cheeks even across the distance. "And even if and when she and I might part sometime in the future, I will only take a lover who does more than just rouses me. For me, attraction is far more than just lust. I do so very much hope you all understand."
Silence filled the garden, until the soft sound of Lydia's steps came. He turned to her again as she approached. The moment she was beside him, he leaned down and kissed her. "You're mine and I am yours."
She smiled up at him. "I know. I've never doubted that."
And his love for her had not begun to wane yet, no matter he sometimes worried about when it would happen. He knew it would come. Vampires simply did not keep the same love forever, but he hoped he would keep Lydia for decades still – if not a century or more. They wanted children together and that had not yet happened, much to her disappointment.
One day, though, that joy would come.
Lydia stayed at his side the rest of the night and he was grateful for it. The offer had rattled and angered him far more than he had expected it might whenever he thought of the eventuality. He was also grateful that women avoided him the rest of the evening unless they had a proper reason to approach him, or were one of his half-sisters or the witches of the Coven.
While most of the court retired before the moon disappeared from the sky, Jerron remained outside with Lydia and the Coven to witness the end of the Gods' Moon night. When the sun had taken over the sky, they headed back inside. Once they were back to their rooms, Lydia hesitated just beyond the threshold.
"I sometimes still think about that cryptic conversation you had with Emirna when we first moved here. That 'disgusting fog' was present here, too, wasn't it?"
"It was. Emirna knew I felt it. She removed everything that might have held that energy the most – the furnishings, the rugs – and it helped lessen it. It's faded now to the point I don't notice it." Usually, at least.
"Do any of your half-siblings sense it?"
"A few do, yes, but most of them didn't seem to care. I suppose it never disgusted them like it did me."
Lydia walked up to him and pressed a kiss to his cheek. "I've been worried about all the looks you get, waiting for them to do more than just look at you in invitation, but I haven't said anything because I know you're mine, that you're faithful."
"I desire no other woman but you, Lydia."
"I'm glad, because I desire no other man but you, Jerron."
He smiled at her and kissed her before she headed off to take down her pinned up hair and get ready to get into bed.
He stood in the sitting room for a while, gazing at his desk, which was littered with reports and communiqués. He knew he had so much work to do – being a leader always required it – and sometimes he feared that, at some point in the future, he would become like his father, just simply tired and losing touch with the world. But then when Lydia called to him, he smiled, remembering what Sanshil had said – that, one way or another, his witch would be at his side until his end.
She would keep him straight, he had no doubt.