A/N #1 – This is not a stand-alone story. As noted in the story summary, this is the sequel to "Trusting the Revenant". If you have not already, please read that story before starting this one so you'll have a better understanding of what's going when this story starts. I hope you will enjoy this continuation of Safondra and Iratannus's story. :) And there's still more to tell after this story, too!
A/N #2 – The villain in this story is probably one of the most vile I've ever written (though I know there's still a lot of room for improvement) so… Trigger/content warnings for this story – rape and pedophilia will be referenced in the second half of the story and the trauma of it dealt with, but there will also be one chapter with a scene of physical abuse and sexual assault (particularly groping/forced nudity) but it doesn't surpass the M rating. I will add another trigger warning at the start that one "eventful" chapter as a reminder.
As always - this is a work of fiction, the product of my (the author's) imagination. All names, locations, and events are, thus, not representative of any real people, places, or events. Granted, if you know of anything like this happening, I'd really like to know!
Chapter #1 – An Unexpected Life
Like happened most mornings, Iratannus woke before the woman who slept in his arms. He loved that she slept facing him, since it meant her face was the last thing he saw before he went to sleep and the first thing he saw when he woke each morning. He still marveled that he had the gift of her in his life. He'd never imagined he'd have someone like her during the centuries his spirit had been trapped yet here she was – loving him, trusting him, advocating for him.
He wanted desperately to kiss her awake like he did some mornings, but that would just frustrate them both today, as she'd started her courses the day before. So, instead, he carefully extracted himself from bed. It wasn't quite her time to rise yet – the sun still just a suggestion beyond the horizon. Being just past the solstice, though, it was quite early. He needed to get ready, though. He'd accidentally scandalized her maids once not long after their wedding and, while it'd been fun to see their flustered reactions to his naked backside, his princess hadn't been amused. He did everything he could not to make her disappointed in him.
His pretty mage, his princess, his wife.
A year ago he'd have never imagined this would be his life now.
The anniversary of him introducing himself to her was just weeks away. She'd fled from him that day…but she'd returned.
Before his urge to return to her grew, he went to their shared dressing room. Once dressed, he went to the window to take in the view, which really wasn't one anyone enjoyed right now. His princess hated the most and refused to look out the window at all.
The old wing still stood, despite an attempt a month earlier to tear it down. It had now been four months since the roof had collapsed and two since they'd recovered all that they could – particularly the stained glass window. Then they'd tried to start pulling down the walls.
It turned out the granite exterior was mostly only a façade, overlaid on the sandstone that had been the ruins of his citadel. It certainly explained where all the stone had gone, but no one had realized that. They'd started pulling the stones down…when he'd still had the inexplicable connection with what had once been his citadel.
He'd been in the middle of teaching a group of apprentice healers about poisons and their antidotes – an interesting job he'd happily accepted – when he'd nearly dropped to his knees like he'd taken a blow himself. Remembering the feeling vividly from when Laerman had attacked his citadel centuries before, he'd sent one of the apprentices to find the princess. Thankfully, she had been watching the start of the demolition of the wing and immediately called a halt, as she remembered him recounting the tale of the attack and how it had affected him.
That had led to a week of him trying to unwind the geourgic magic on those stones. He had primed the stones to draw power from the earth in a perpetual magic – difficult and time-consuming but worth it at the time. It had been to help bolster the defenses of the citadel and also for him to draw from, but he'd clearly tied his magic far more deeply to the power in the stones than he'd thought – his revenant soul bound to them, which made him unable to leave.
His attempt to unwind the ancient magic, though, had failed. It would take far more power to snap the geourgic magic than he'd anticipated. The easiest way to get that power was with blood magic…which had led to a long, heated discussion with the king and the Royal Justiciar.
They'd learned that it wasn't necessary to kill to utilize blood magic and that was what they wanted him to do. While it would work and he did his estimates to reflect that – it'd take over a dozen master mages to volunteer to get the amount of power he needed and he didn't think he'd get that many willing participants, as they'd be terrified he'd put other magic on them. He was proven right when he asked.
His proposal was that he be given two or three people already slated for execution. He knew execution was not used much in Saelva – only in the most extreme cases of violent crime where it was certain there was no chance for rehabilitation of the perpetrator – but there were still more than that awaiting their deaths in the kingdom. Neither the king nor Madam Tylorin were keen on the idea of handing over even one person to be used in blood magic, no matter their deaths were coming.
"Death must be dignified," his father-in-law had nearly shouted at him.
"I don't really think a man who's eaten an unknown number of people in his quest to find the 'tastiest' ones and that also likes indulging in necrophilia really deserves a dignified death, though," he'd countered, tossing the report about that cannibal back on the desk after having read it. He went on to say similar things about the other eight.
It had taken more than a week – with discussions not just among the justiciars and sheriffs but also with the families of both the victims and the guilty – but he was given the two worst of them. The one no one had debated was the cannibal. There'd also been little argument over an arsonist who'd torched four sets of terraced housing in three coastal cities after barricading the doors to prevent anyone escaping, which killed nearly five dozen people total.
That magic had been done just a week earlier. The entire process had been overseen by both the Royal Justiciar and the Captain of the Royal guard. He hadn't liked the audience but understood their caution with his using blood magic. It also kept him from taking liberties and causing more pain than necessary.
Now the bond he'd had with the stones of his citadel was broken – even though it should have never been that extreme in the first place. They'd pulled down an experimental section of the exterior wall and he'd had no repercussions. They hoped to have the entire thing down before the hottest part of summer and the debris cleared away by the start of autumn.
But he wouldn't be here to watch it, and neither would his princess…
When she'd originally mentioned going on a progress after their wedding, he'd thought it a half-thought-out idea. He'd learned that it was actually a tradition for the current or future ruler to go on one after they married so the people could meet the couple. But, of course, it was going to be more than that for them. While there'd been a fair amount of indifference to his being a blood mage when his presence had become known, since then there'd been rumors growing that he was a power-hungry monster and she wanted to quell that.
Part of the route for their progress, however, was going to take them to each of the nine communities that remembered him from when he'd been High Lord of Aoivres. He was dreading that, because he knew the sedate response he'd garnered from the Royal Sorcerer, Master Ranald Rysin, who'd been raised in such a community, would not be how most of those communities regarded him. He had a feeling that most of his history had turned to embellished legend, just as the widely-accepted history of Laerman had been.
While he considered, yet again, all the things that could go wrong on their impending trip, the crown princess's maids – Missa and Kolsa – arrived to prepare her for the day. They slipped into the dressing room while he went to wake her. She happily came awake to his kisses, lying there for a moment, combing her fingers through his hair as he ran his lips down her neck, though she did pull at those strands and gave a soft gasp when he decided to leave a wet spot over a nipple. She batted him away with a scowl, knowing he'd done it on purpose in order to make her maids stare and blush…again. He did always love seeing the two women who were grandmothers blushing.
"Unrepentant revenant," she muttered, tossing off the sheet and rising from bed opposite him.
Chuckling, he watched her go through the door to her maids, but then his eyes were snagged, as they frequently were, by the dried flower crown that was displayed on the mantel. He'd insisted it be put there, preserved with magic so it'd never crumble. She'd worn it on their wedding day.
The custom of the day was for the couple to meet at the door to the temple of the gods of life, love, and marriage – Kytrielle and Soliegen – and then enter together. Every available space had been filled with people gathered to see their crown princess marry a blood mage. They'd likely expected a terrifying man, not one who'd dropped to his knees at the sight of his bride.
She'd been resplendent in a gown of emerald green – the gown's style more typical of eight hundred years before, like the dark blue caftan he wore was. The skirt of her gown had been embroidered and beaded with flower designs – a repeating pattern of two wisteria racemes above and slightly framing a bouquet of tulips, lilies of the valley, and bleeding hearts. On her head, instead of the tiara one would expect a princess to wear, she had worn a crown made of real flowers matching those on her dress, the bleeding hearts bobbing as she walked.
"You're like the goddess of spring," he'd told her that day. He'd taken her hands and pressed his forehead to them.
It'd only been two months since then, but it had apparently quickly become commonplace for brides to wear flower crowns. He'd heard rumors of people giving bleeding hearts to their beloveds, too.
"You should wear flower crowns more often," he told his princess when she emerged from her dressing room once she was prepared for the day. His eyes went to the lightly jeweled, narrow crown she wore on a day-to-day basis as a sign of her royal rank.
"I don't think Father would find that appropriate."
"Then perhaps once you're queen in fifteen or twenty years?"
A smile turned up her lips. "Maybe, but I don't know how it'd look on an old lady."
"Forty isn't old, my princess."
"Says that nearly nine-hundred-year-old revenant."
He grinned at her. "Yet I only look twenty-five."
She gave an exasperated sigh, which was not an uncommon thing, though she was still smiling. She walked to him and kissed him on his cheek. "Make sure you don't have anything left to attend to."
"I've already cleared my few obligations."
"Check. We're leaving tomorrow. I don't want anything to delay us."
Tomorrow… He shuddered.
"You know we can't delay. The herald left two days ago to give the obligatory three-day warning of our impending arrival. People will be expecting us, preparing food for us, closing their businesses to see us. And you need to be seen by those in the wider kingdom so they'll know you're not cruel or evil despite what you are. And I haven't been beyond the capital in nearly a decade because of the magic that'd been on Father." She sighed softly. "I miss going to the summer and winter palaces."
"I'm sure, once things with Galst are dealt with, that you'll go there again." And the progress would take them to those secondary palaces for an inspection at her father's request. There was much hope that the court might move next year, though he wasn't so sure.
"Yes, Father said once it's safe enough to make the trip. Ylonna is really looking forward to it, since she was too young when we stopped to remember anything beyond the capital."
"'Once it's safe enough'… Are you sure it's –"
She poked him in the chest, looking annoyed. "You're not getting out of this, Iratannus. You and me going on progress isn't like father moving the entire court for a month or two."
He hadn't thought he'd talk her out of it… "Yet I feel like we're not prepared enough for this trip."
She sighed, shaking her head. "I don't think you'd ever consider us prepared enough."
No, he probably wouldn't.
"I don't know what else we could do to prepare, though." She leaned into him and he wrapped her in his arms. "And even if we weren't doing the progress, we'd still need to go out soon anyway so you can go meet Lonterrin."
Yes, there was that aspect of this trip because he truly wanted another dark sorcerer he could trust helping them.
Though the god of the dead had told him in a dream-like visitation nearly six months earlier that Lon and Milly were much the same as he remembered them, he still had his doubts. He sometimes worried the entire thing had been nothing but a dream born of hope. Granted, even if it had been real, he wanted to see the proof of that in person. He needed to assess his old friend, because if Agonorin was right, there was more trouble to come and he'd likely need help. He just wasn't sure how the king – how anyone – would react to his desire to have more dark sorcerers at the palace.
"You know, if things go poorly at any point, I will reserve my right to hold it over your head as an example of why you need to listen to me for the rest of your life."
"Of course you will. Just don't hold it over my head in my next life."
"I can't promise that. If I remain a revenant, I might need to use it as an example as to why you need to listen to me regarding things like this."
She smiled up at him. "As you say, my revenant." She rose to her toes and kissed him. "Now, we need to start our day."
He sighed heavily. "I'm only your husband, with no true power, yet I swear I have more work now than when I was pretending to be Geldron once I was made marquis."
His pretty mage poked him in the chest, scowling. "You said you'd finished everything."
"I did, but I'm sure there will be letters, maybe some last-minute appointment."
She patted him on the chest, looking unamused. "You'll survive. Meet with Yiber, do your duties, then go play with the guards, which is the thing I'm sure you're looking forward to the most today." She kissed his cheek. "I'll see you this afternoon." Then she pulled away and headed out, her maids in tow.
He might "survive" but he felt like he didn't have a tenth of her ability when it came to governance. She'd worked hard the past two weeks – often from breakfast until dinner – helping her parents clear as much as possible from their schedules ahead of time to make her leaving on the progress easier on them. Her mother was fretting far more than her father that she'd be away, since it was difficult to work on seasonal matters early. His wife kept reminding her that she'd have her other daughters to help her, along with her sister-in-law and niece, during those months she'd be gone.
The planned circuit of the kingdom would take nearly four months to complete. They'd be going to each of the twenty-eight counties and a majority of the baronies, of which there were one to four of in each county and were usually cities or regions or importance – trade hubs or large areas of vital resources. But they'd also be going to numerous towns and cities as well, introducing him to as much of the kingdom as was feasible.
Because of the tensions still present with Galst and with spies being a possibility, their exact route was known to very few. The nobles they'd be visiting would only get a few weeks' warning of their arrival, which had put all the nobles on edge, fearing their homes wouldn't be properly prepared for the crown princess's visit. She'd told them all she didn't want excessive pomp and that she didn't want them to harry their servants try to make everything "perfect" when they'd only be staying a single night.
Towns and cities would only get a three-day warning, however. It would give the people enough time to prepare for their arrival but also give less time for anyone to make harmful plans. He was glad his princess understood his worry about that, remembering the fact his Safa had been killed during something akin to a progress. He'd been warned, however, that nothing would prevent the general direction they were traveling to be noted and places they'd visit extrapolated from it.
But that was the future and he was sure he had things to do that day, so he sighed and finally headed out. He expected to have a very light schedule that morning. If it had been a typical day, he'd be headed toward the Magics Wing to teach apprentices – he was a master after all – or even teach the guards and masters who were proficient at learning anti-dark magic. All that had been canceled, though, to give him time for any last minute things that popped up.
In the sitting room, he found his attendant, Yiber. The gray-haired man nodded to him respectfully, but Iratannus wasn't fooled by his slight form and non-threatening demeanor. He knew he wasn't a servant or minor noble. He was certain the man the captain of the royal guard had suggested for him had either been an assassin or spy – or both – in his younger days. He'd laughingly asked Olsht if Yiber had trained him, considering there were rumors he had once been an assassin before his sudden appearance among the royal guards seven years earlier, after he'd married the queen's cousin. He'd gotten a noncommittal answer from the captain, but when he'd asked Yiber recently the answer had been a "no" but then he'd expounded on it after a thoughtful silence with "but that doesn't mean I didn't train others".
It had made Iratannus like the highly efficient man more.
"How many letters arrived for me overnight?"
"Too many, by your own estimates."
"So more than zero, wonderful."
The older man grinned at his sarcasm. "You have seven, my lord. Three appear to be responses to your requests about riez berries from the names of the senders. Two are from masters elsewhere in the kingdom, likely asking your assistance on some matter that may or may not be dark magic. One is from Marquis Byram, likely letting you know about how matters are going there. The last one, most importantly," he handed that letter over and only that one, "is from a Constable Aldrin Ulrish. The man who delivered it said it pertained to the hunt for the possible dark sorcerer abducting apprentices in the eastern counties, that they hope they may have a lead, however minor, in the most recent instance."
"I sure fucking hope so."
There had been too many such instances – ten in the past six months from an area that encompassed five counties in the east, on top of eight in the previous year. While having battle mages escorting the apprentices had stopped the problem for a time, whoever was responsible had responded by escalating. They now had several dead battle mages on top of the missing apprentices. Worse, the training he'd given several battle mages in the past several months who'd been assigned as escorts hadn't prevented any abductions.
The abduction of promising apprentices had been a problem throughout history – typically perpetrated by dark sorcerers who sought either an apprentice of their own or someone of significant power to drain for their magic. The current situation, however, he'd never encountered such frequency before and it was worrying. They weren't tied to Galst, they knew that because the king hadn't been ignoring them while he was cursed, so this was another dark sorcerer, one they were completely unaware of.
There was also the fact that the precision of these abductions indicated that someone with knowledge of the incoming apprentices was helping him. He'd suspected two of the masters who'd had dark magic on them but they'd vanished before the revelation of who he truly was. They'd been found dead not long after his real identity had started spreading around the kingdom – yet the kidnappings had continued. He and the Royal Justiciar had gone on to question all the apprentices, masters, servants, and guards who might have access to that information, yet it'd turned up no leads.
And that mysterious informant was one of the primary reasons he wasn't keen on leaving the palace. He didn't want the king unguarded. He'd been training the guards and masters as much as possible to stand in for him, but he wasn't sure how well they'd do if something did happen. He was only glad that nearly every one of the royal guards had been capable of learning to detect dark magic and most were learning anti-dark magic, but they still weren't proficient with its implementation.
As he headed out of the Royal Wing, his guard, Vodjir, joined them silently. Used to the two men accompanying him by now, he focused on reading through the letter Yiber had given him. Turned out the Chief Battle Mage, Master Krins Roshkel, was present and examining the latest scene, focusing on a "piece of cloth that reeks of dark magic". If he couldn't glean anything from the fabric, he planned to preserve it and get it to Iratannus – which wouldn't be too difficult, as Master Roshkel was one of the few privy to their progress route's details. He was glad that the other man had finally started tolerating him and now saw "the merit in having a trustworthy dark sorcerer on hand to help in matters like this".
"Do you have any appointments for me this morning," he asked his attendant once he was done with the letter.
"No. You're free to do whatever your dark heart desires this morning, my lord."
He stopped, turning to his attendant, who'd said that with perfect aplomb. "Are you one of my former attendants reborn? They liked telling me that same thing."
Yiber chuckled. "Wouldn't that be remarkable?"
Not really, he thought to himself.
But, with a free morning, he guessed he'd go to the masters' library to dig through books again. He loved those books, loved refreshing what he'd known after eight hundred years trapped and going insane in his ruins and also discovering "new" magic that had been developed in that time or spells that he'd known that were improved upon. He already had a few he was planning to take with him while he was away, needing extra time to study certain spells within them that had garnered his attention.
First, however, he'd get those letters out of the way, in case there was something of importance in them. Despite fear of it, there wasn't any dark magic being openly used in the kingdom, beyond what was being used by the mage taking the apprentices. In the five months since his identity was revealed, he'd been asked to investigate several possible instances of dark magic, but most were poisonings and not all poisons were dark magic since many were actually naturally occurring, such as arsenic and cyanide, nightshade and various mushrooms. None of those instances turned out to be anything dark magic related.
The most interesting assistance he'd been asked to render, though, had been in helping to mitigate an issue at a dairy farm where they had thought dark magic was the reason for all the milk souring, but that was a typical angry-fae action. He'd suggested finding a nearby ring – mushrooms, grass, flowers, stones – and leaving an offering of milk (from another farm, of course, and sheep's milk preferably) sweetened with honey for a week. Turned out they'd removed a ring of little stones despite someone warning them it was a fae ring and then they'd tilled that land. So he'd given them further instructions on how to placate the angry beings and, within a month of them implementing his suggestions, the milk had stopped getting soured, but he cautioned them to continue to be cognizant of the fae in their area and continue the offerings each month at the full moon.
Afterward, his princess had smiled at him, kissed him, and jokingly declared that her "big, bad blood mage" was helping her people and how "very unlike a dark sorcerer" he was behaving. He'd scowled at her, but she was right, of course. He was nothing like the typical dark sorcerer or blood mage and the kingdom was slowly discovering that.
Once he started getting the riez berries that were known to grow in wetlands in three counties and he got the cure for hay blight made, he knew he'd start earning far more than wary acceptance. His princess assured him the people would respect and adore him. He sort of hoped she was right. He didn't want the people to fear him. He knew that, with the state of the world, something "dark" was sure to happen and he didn't want them putting the blame on him. He needed them to trust that he would deal with problems, not create them. But only time would show them that.