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Dark Lords: Book One, Shadows, Chapter 31

 

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Chapter Thirty-One

Moving On

Castle Cor, New Oxford, Albion, Realm World

 

Abigail walked through the trees then stopped. Her mother was sitting on the stone bench at the foot of Nana’s marker. Not trying to stop the tears, Abby sat quietly next to her on the hard white marble.

Claudette put her arms around her youngest child. Birds sang in the trees around them, butterflies drifted by. There had been a time not too long ago when she could have rested her head on the top of her daughter’s, but Bonita had been right, Abigail was no longer a child. A red breasted Robin landed on the simple military stone marker. Claudette sighed, they had been Bonita’s favourite.

Abigail had gone to the funeral by Duck Lake. She had stood quietly, in her black dress. Claudette could still taste her youngest daughter’s pain like ash in her mouth. Bonita’s family, never strangers to Castle Cor, had been the ones to bring her Abigail back to herself, to release the dam of her tears.

In Loving Memory and Deepest Thanks, Here Rests Our Friend, Mother and Teacher, Bonita Smith, Retired Major, Unified Ground Forces, Airborne Division. The impression of five Service Medals underscored the last line.

“I never knew Nana was in the military.”

“She had been retired for only two years when I met her.” Claudette could feel a smile lift her cheeks. “I was carrying you. Your father and I had gone to the Black Country to get away. No one was expecting me to keep you.”

Abby pulled away and looked at her mother, her question plain.

“I had miscarried twice after Johanna. Your father is not young.” Claudette held Abby’s face in her hands. Gently she wiped tears from her daughter’s cheek. “I could not sleep. I had started spotting.”

“You were afraid?”

“Terrified. I wanted you so badly.” Claudette pulled her daughter close. “I was so tired that George decided we must stop instead of pushing on to our house by the sea. There was this local B&B. Not even on the updated lists. I do not know how your father found it.”

“It that when you met Nana?”

“Yes, she was running the B & B. It had been her parent’s home. I had my Ladies with me, of course, but they had gone on ahead. I was just feeling so … they were carrying with such ease. All of them would be giving birth and I was spotting again.” Claudette kissed Abigail’s head, breathing deep the scent of her daughter. “We stopped. I had fed, so it did not matter.”

“Was Nana’s hair turning grey yet?”

“No, it was still all black.”

Abby closed her eyes, seeing and feeling her mother’s memories of a much younger Bonita. The small woman smiling at her front door, welcoming them in, her dark hair short, the lines in her face so much thinner, lighter.

Claudette sitting in the chair by the window, looking out at Duck Lake in the distance. Bonita coming into the room. Asking if she needed anything. Offering to turn down the bed. Claudette shaking her head, tears falling from her face.

“I do not want to ruin it.”

“Why would you ruin it?”

“I am losing my baby.”

Bonita’s look of concern. “What do you mean, you’re losing your baby?”

“I have been spotting for three days. There is nothing that can be done.”

“You know the baby’s dead?”

Claudette had started crying silently then, the pain of the coming loss was a searing wound through her soul. She dropped the blanket from her shoulders she had taken from the hover car and placed her hands on her stomach. “No, she is not dead … yet.”

Bonita reached out and placed her hand on Cluadette’s swollen belly. She felt the flutter against her palm. Claudette let her feel the little life—Abby gasped. That had been her!

Abby looked at her mother, her desire for more pouring through their connection. Claudette nodded and Abby was back in her mother’s memory.

“There is nothing that can be done.”

“By Alexandria, woman, of course there is.”

Bonita left the room. Less than an hour later she returned with something that smelled awful. “This tastes worse than it smells, so I’m going to mix it with some honey, helps a little.”

“What is that?”

“Mother’s tea. Got ourselves some Witches down in the woods by the Lake.”

“You want me to drink that?”

“Works on women, mares and cows. John Bodan even used it on one of his bitches, a nervous thing, couldn’t keep a litter.” Bonita mixed in the honey, added hot water and handed Claudette the drink.

Abby could feel her mother’s angst from long ago and sense of respect for the herbalist’s concoction. She gagged at her mother’s memory of the taste.

“Your husband is beside himself out there. Thinks you don’t want him with you.”

“I do not.”

“He loves you.”

“He is terrified I am going to die. George stands by my decision, but it kills a part of him, opens old wounds … each time. He has offered me Sires.”

Bonita snorted. “That’s not an offer most wives get. Sure you don’t want to take him up on it?”

It was Claudette’s turn to chuckle. “Well, I might have too. He has threatened to cut me off from my lovers.”

Laughter exploded from the younger Bonita. “Woman, you are going to have yourself a beautiful baby girl. As for a Vampyre his age, I thought they were … you know?”

“I love him.”

Bonita had nodded. “I know what you mean. I loved my James. We have our Claire and two beautiful sons. He died pulling kids out of a hole in the ice up on the lake. Never even saw our Karl James born.” Bonita sighed. “Don’t doubt for a minute he would be prouder than a new rooster of how they turned out. Now, you come. Lay on the bed, it really is more comfortable.”

When Claudette opened her eyes at ten the next morning, it was to find Bonita standing by the window. She had brought in a tray. The horrible mixture was there, but so was a pot of white tea with Jasmine blossoms.

Abby smiled. It had been Nana’s favourite too, she had not known that Nana had introduced mother to it

Bonita was smiling and trying not to laugh, while looking out the window. Claudette got up and peered out. George with a stick, was chasing birds. “What, by the Blood, is that man doing?”

“He’s chasing away the woodpeckers so they won’t wake you. Been guarding this house, you, all night.”

Abigail could feel their love, could feel Mother reaching out to Father. Their love  was part of who they were. Then they were back at Nana’s marker, but the love remained.

“You drank that horrible stuff?”

“Everyday. Drank, even when I was not hungry, which was more often than not. When you were born, I sent a note, an invite, to Bonita to come and see you.” Claudette looked at the rose bush planted at the base of the marker. “She showed up and I let her hold you.”

Abby laughed at the sense of scandal that had entailed. “Really?”

“It is believed by many, even some Vampyre, that a new born can be impressed by the nature of those who hold them and help care for them, especially in the first few weeks.”

“Really?” Abby sat up, looking at her mother, the sense of scandal had not been a trifling thing. “And you still let her hold me?”

“Because of the person she was inside. She joined the Armed Forces telling her children not to, she was taking that duty for herself. A duty she felt so strongly about that she earned the Royal Star, the Honour Under Fire and the Guardian of the Realm medals. On her second tour she earned the medal of Distinguished Duty and the highest honour the Realm can bestow, the Heart of Alexandria.”

“I thought the Heart came with lots of stuff?”

“Yes,” Claudette laughed. “Bonita chose to live simply, Abigail. She chose to help others because she called it the purest thing one person could do with their existence. She once told me she chose the Armed Forces because violence was in her nature and she needed to develop a love of peace.”

“Peace?” Abigail’s confusion brought a smile to Claudette.

“Real soldiers, true warriors, understand the loss of self that occurs at the heart of the horror that is war. Each person who has picked up a weapon knows the greatest victory is won when no lives are lost. They war against hate, they war against ignorance and know they must demand honour in all their actions, seek reason above emotion. Find balance. At the battle of PuJaHar, what did Nicholas do?”

Abby pursed her lips. “He said no. He put his ships between the fleet’s guns and Lakosh World … and twelve ships joined him.”

“There are many who point out that the Realm could be far richer if we rented out our Armed Forces.”

Abby looked at Claudette with horror. “No!”

“Why do you say no?”

“We would dishonour our people. To make them Mercenary … there can be no honour without the right to say no, without the right to stand up because it is the right thing to do.” Abby looked at the headstone. “Was she angry, about her husband?”

Claudette nodded.

“She needed to work out that anger?”

“Yes,” Claudette said, her hand resting on her daughter’s back. “And of course there was you.”

“Me?”

“Did Bonita love you?”

Abby let her mother feel her Nana’s love. It had been the love of a mother for a daughter, the love of a parent for a child. Never, even when being scolded, made to sit in the naughty chair or even when she had her hand spanked or her bottom, had Abby ever doubted that Bonita Smith, her Nana, loved her.

“There was quite the uproar when I asked her to be your Nanny and she accepted.” Claudette smiled. “The diction issues alone.”

“She was always making sure I spoke properly. Always! And she sounded worse than Alex!”

“Ain’t that so,” Claudette said to Abby’s shocked face. They burst into laughter. Then Abigail sighed.

“Why did Nana have to die?”

Claudette shook her head. “Death defines life. She died a warrior, honourably. That or in her sleep, was the way she wanted to pass.” Closing her thoughts from her daughter, Claudette looked to the grave of a woman who had also been one of her best friends. You will be avenged.

The Steward’s summons came too soon.

“We have to go. It is time Abigail. We must do what we have put off for too long.”

Abigail looked down. “Nana said that no one feels ready.”

Claudette and her daughter walked hand in hand to the house. The Salazars were waiting in the main lounge with George, the Steward and Mrs. Findley. Everyone seemed very stern and serious.

Abby could see her suitcases stacked in the hall, she wondered why they had not already been loaded into their hovercraft. Maybe she was not ready! Mistakes could be made.

Two young men were with them. They must be guards, Abby thought. The Salazars were both tall and elegant. The woman had long dark hair and dark rich skin. Her husband had blue eyes, red hair, cut short and pale skin. They were a lot older than she had expected.

“Hello, Abigail, I am Estrella Salazar.” Close up, they looked almost as old as her parents. “Do you know who we are?”

“You are the Inanna.” Abby could feel her face heating up. She looked at Mr. Salazar, as the opposite sex partner to the Initiate, he had a different name. “You are the Artemis.”

“My name is Oliver, Abigail, and I am pleased and honoured to meet you.” Oliver Salazar held out his hand. Abigail let him take hers and kiss the back. A shiver ran down her spine and she found herself swallowing saliva. Oliver smiled and nodded.

“There is something we have to do, before we know if it is your time.” Estrella looked over at her husband. Oliver leaned forward and gave his wife a kiss.

Abby felt her fangs drop. She swallowed the sudden liquid in her mouth. It was not the kiss, but the smell of them. It reminded her of Kelvin, when he had come down after being Honoured. Everyone was looking at her. Abby felt her face get hotter. She wanted to run, but mother caught her arm.

“It is okay,” Claudette said into her daughter’s hair as she hugged her. How had we not noticed? Because Bonita had been helping Abigail. Calming her. She had told you sixteen months ago that the time was quickly approaching. In the last six months she had broached the subject three times. Be honest Claudette, you were simply not ready for your baby to grow up. 

“Mother?”

“It is time, Abigail.” Claudette took her child’s hands in hers. “When we see you again you will be a young woman. We will have quite the party.”

Abigail had tears in her eyes.

Claudette looked up at George. He was barely holding up. He stepped forward and took his daughter into a hug.

If there is anything you need, call. Even if you just want to talk.” George glared at Oliver Salazar, the man kept his head bowed. “How long will Abigail be staying with both of you?”

“Abigail has been through a lot. We can not rush the process. Between one year and two is standard. Except that we are starting late.” Estrella stepped toward Abby. “Abigail, you are not our prisoner. You may call your family at any time. You may leave at any time.”

“Lord De La Roche, was not your time of transition positive?” Oliver asked.

George’s face had gone red. He hugged his daughter again and kissed her cheek. “Remember, we love you. Should you need it, we will collect you at once.”

After saying goodbye to Johanna, Abby couldn’t hold back her tears. She walked out of the Castle stiffly between Estrella and Oliver Salazar, the two guards walking silently behind them.

* * *

George sat in his den, sipping scotch. Around him the Castle seemed quiet, empty. Thomas entered. He could hear the man fussing with some papers at the big desk.

“My Lord?”

“Yes, Thomas?”

“We can not find the envelope.”

George nodded. The last time they had given him an address they had saved Abigail’s life.

Had there been a location in this last envelope? Once their actions had given him a daughter, this time was he losing one? Internal security, the Guard, Military Police, even Liam had been unable to find any trace of Daniella.

A person could not just vanish!

The hundred year old glass smashed against the ancient stone in the fireplace. George did not remember getting up. His hands ached. He wanted them around the throat of those responsible.

“Call Girard. We need to tell him about Daniella.”

“Yes, my Lord.” Thomas entered George’s private office.

At least the last of the foreign ships would be leaving in the next few days. As long as Daniella is not a captive in one of them …

* * *

Excalibur Shipyards, Albion System, Realm

Jason lay on the floor of the main engineering room, exhausted. He waved off Cromby. “It’s okay, I’m just taking a rest.”

Laying back on the hard ship flooring, Jason stared at the ceiling. Was there a soft ship flooring? Maybe there was a market for it? Right now he would pay for some soft flooring to curl up on. Strike that, curling up would take too much energy.

Just two more to go, he reminded himself. No one had mentioned the braces every metre that he had to knock out. It didn’t matter where he was in the tube, as soon as the damn winch pulled on the cable it hit him.

“Sir! We need to hose you off.”

Jason got to his feet, barely. He was aching in every bone and muscle as he walked slowly to decontamination. He was hosed, stripped out of the suit and underwear, it was flushed and he was back in the shower. He had trouble lifting his arms to wash properly. The young Yeoman seemed a little eager with the long handled scrub brush. Turning, Jason saw a woman and two men standing just inside the doorway.

“This shower’s in use,” Jason said.

The woman stepped forward. She was tall with long legs and a head of short jet black hair. Her dark eyes were almond shaped and turned up. She smiled, a mixture of sex and knowledge. Jason was too tired to give her a line.

“My Lord, I am Grace Kwan.”

Jason felt his muscle tense.

“I am nobody’s Lord, lady. So march your ass right out of here.”

“My Lord Malwas, it has been arranged, we are your personal staff. This is your chef.” Her smile seemed pasted on.

“My Lord, I am Leopold Barlow.” The man, six foot and built like a footballer, bowed.

“I do not—”

“Lord!” Grace snapped, her smile never faltering. “We have chosen the challenge of this assignment. A mutual friend has given us complete understanding of your situation. The Lady says to contact her if there are any problems.” Grace watched Jason’s face for a moment then motioned to the second man. “This is Hiroki Anderson. He is your personal trainer, chauffeur and—”

“Hey!” Jason turned to the guy with the brush. “Watch what you are scrubbing, Jones!”

The kid jumped off the stool and grabbed another radiation work suit. Jason grabbed the hose, as he rinsed off he ground his teeth. “I am not your Lord. What exactly is the nature of your assignment, Grace Kwan, Leopold Barlow and Hiroki Anderson?”

“We are here to train you, My Lord.”

Jason turned, and froze, he literally could not move. She was in his head! 

“I should not be able to do that, my Lord,” Grace Kwan said as he pushed her out.

“All right, Bitch, so De La Roche sent you.” Jason, under his own power again, began drying off.

Grace had flinched. “That is inappropriate, my Lord. We are here to help you. We will train you in the mental skills you lack. To prepare you for your future.”

“What if I don’t want your help?” Jason stayed behind the screen, he picked up yet another bottle of body lube. The stuff stank.

“That is not an option, my … Captain,” Leopold said.

Jason looked at them then started putting on the double thick underwear. They fit like a set of one-piece swimwear. He re-lubed his legs and arms. “Do you have any idea what my orders are? There are no chefs or personal trainers, chauffeurs or whatever on a warship, no personal secretaries, either.”

“My … Captain,” Grace stepped forward. “You must be trained. You can not forever avoid … confrontation.”

Jason snorted. With Yeoman Jones’ help, he pulled on the suit. Put on the boots, put on another chest shield, he had shredded two on the last cable.

“Let me see your hands,” Jason said. The three looked at each other, then held out their hands. Jason came around the privacy screen and took a look at each of them.

“You seeing what I am, Yeoman?”

“Yes, Captain.”

Jason smiled then shook his head. “I will repeat for the slower members of the audience. This is a warship. What I need are 311 Peace Keeper pilots, a Quarter-Master and hands dirty crew. I do not need mani-pedi-ed, oiled and coiffed Servant wannabes.”

Squeaking loudly, he headed out the door. Grace Kwan stepped into the hall. “I can fly 300’s. They are basically the same.”

Jason stopped, he turned and looked at them.

“Barlow has worked for a catering company. Every ship runs on it’s stomach, give him the mess and you will have a happy crew.” Grace stepped closer. “We are all high level telepaths. Tell me there is not a war ship that could not use three naturals?”

“What can you do, Anderson?”

“I grew up in Blaine, my Captain. Hands dirty has never bothered me.” Anderson shrugged. “And I am a programmer, my Captain.”

Jason shrugged. “Fuck up and I will space all three of you out the nearest airlock. Jones, take them to Biggs, see what she can do with them.”

As they followed Jones down the hall in the opposite direction, Anderson and Leopold cast glances at Grace.

“Do not look at me like that. You told him you were a programmer.”

“If you can pilot 300’s then I am a world class programmer.” Anderson smiled.

Leopold Hiroki was shaking. “Once he bites us he will know! What do we do then? I do not want to go to jail for lying to a Lord!”

“Calm down. Look, we train him, we get to retire rich. By the Blood, he is not even a two!” Grace shook her head. “What about you, Anderson?”

“Well, jail does have some perks. All those bored men. Do you think there are any Fex?”

“You are such a deviant!” Grace rolled her eyes. “You must be so pleased with this ‘Captain’ stupidity. He is a Lord!”

“Hey, Jones,” Anderson caught up to the kid. “He can not really space us, right?”

“A Captain of any Royal Vessel has both the right and the duty to remove from their ship any person or thing, inanimate or otherwise, deemed a risk to the safety of the crew.” Jones stepped into a crowded office. “That includes the act of spacing, sir.”

* * *

 Jason stretched. He wasn’t looking forward to another four hours in the pipe, but there wasn’t anyone else. He looked up as he stretched his neck. Two of the Yeomen were staring through the observation window. He turned his head and felt his heart skip a beat. The sky was empty. Feeling sweat trickling down his back, he walked to the view port. As far as he could see, there were no ships. The normally buzzing space around Albion was empty but for satellites and a few yachts. Jason shivered, he was running out of time.

“Everyone ready?” Before anyone could answer, he zipped up the head piece and pulled on the flat mask.

 

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