"Watch, Jaysen," his father instructed, pointing to the corridor furthest below their balcony perch. Jedean whispered, though the pulse of magic around them made it painfully clear to Jaysen that the shields between them and the floors below would protect them not only from attack but also from being observed or overheard.
He stared at Jedean a moment longer, taking in his father's ice-blue eyes and the light-brown curls cropped only a finger-width down his neck. Jedean's tanned chest was uncovered in his typical form of dress for inside the keep, nude save his white trousers.
Jaysen's resemblance to his father ended with the tanned skin and mode of dress; he was undeniably his dead mother's son, possessing her midnight blue eyes and black curls that he kept longer than was fashionable for a man under his father's protest.
Even his sensibilities ran more to his mother's tastes, something Jedean assured him would change as he became a man and learned more of the cares a man had. Jaysen hoped he was wrong, though he dared not speak that thought aloud.
Jaysen's mind worked at the powerful mage's great glee. It was unbecoming, something Jaysen himself had been counseled about by his teachers many times.
"This is how a man grows powerful. Watch now."
Jaysen sighed. He was ten and six winters, a moon from his manhood ceremony, and his father still treated him like a child. Still, he looked where his father directed. There was a lesson to be learned here, a lesson that might make him a mage as powerful in radiant light as his father was.
He gasped in surprise at the sight of their greatest rival, stripped to his ceremony wrap and standing in the lowest corridor of the keep, tanned skin in stark contrast to the rosestone walls, feet uncovered on the bare floors. Jaysen would have thought him a prisoner had he been restrained in any way, but he was clearly a penitent, fresh from some rite or about to engage in one.
Within our keep? Such a thing defied reason.
"What is Delek Tro doing here?" he asked in amazement.
Jedean chuckled darkly, urging Jaysen along the upper corridor ahead of him. For a moment, the only sound was that of their feet against the thick carpets of the family core, brick red to offset the rosestone and golden accent pieces along the walls.
"I possess something Delek desires ... something many strong in the radiant light desire, something they will pay in loyalty oaths and riches to obtain."
Jaysen looked back, watching the house steward leading Delek the same direction they traveled. "It must be a precious possession," he mused.
"The most precious," Jedean agreed.
"What could be--"
"She." His father stopped at another balcony and motioned to the room below.
"A woman?" Jaysen questioned in disbelief. No woman was worth the risk of entering an enemy's keep unshielded, even one as lush as the one stretched out nude on the bed below.
Though, she is a striking woman. He took a moment to consider her before stating his disbelief more firmly, certain that he was missing something that would encompass the whole of his father's intended 'lesson.'
She was young, no more than a year or two his senior, an adult but barely so. She was unadorned by jewels, her beauty speaking for itself. Her skin was unnaturally pale, a sign that she spent much of her time inside the keep ... or inside some keep. It only added to her allure, setting her apart from the dark tans of the nobility. And yet, something about her spoke of a noble background, the cut of her face, perhaps. Her hair was long and straight, as black as his own, well-kept and untangled, an invitation to touch her unspoken. Yes, she was stunning.
Still, entering an enemy's keep in such a fashion was madness. Tempting flesh could only tempt a man so far. "What could--"
She opened her eyes, and the breath caught in Jaysen's lungs. Green-gold eyes. They fairly glowed in the candlelight.
"A Blood Mage," his father confirmed. "One of the last and of bastard lineage, but powerful and eligible stock."
But, Jaysen heard him through the haze of sexual longing. A spike of jealousy sliced through him as her gaze locked on Jedean. Jaysen wanted her to look at him, to invite him in.
"She always knows when I am near, despite the wards and shields, even if I am out of her line of sight," Jedean mused. "This is our greatest treasure, Jaysen. Every mage with aspirations of the seat of power desires her."
I desire her. I need her. But, he was incapable of forming the words to state it.
"But, I have her, Jaysen. I own her."
He shuddered at the thought of the woman below being a slave of the house. A slave to anyone.
"Those who wish to test her passion become indebted to me."
"You let them use her?" Jaysen could hardly force the words past his dry mouth. He needed to drink of her body. It was as essential as breathing to him.
"She has no hope of better," Jedean dismissed his concern. "Her magic led her here in search of her mate."
What desperation would force her to abandon her keep and go to those who slaughtered her kind? Even if her mate was a Radiant, even if she trusted that he wouldn't turn on her as so many would...
His father kept speaking, oblivious to his contemplation. "She was young, barely ten and six winters gone, na´ve, quick to test."
Jaysen stiffened. His father had used her inexperience against her. He didn't question it. In his pursuit for the seat of power, no foul trick was beyond Jedean.
"Binding her was a simple matter, once I had her trust and her arousal proved a detriment to her attention. I wasn't the mate she sought, of course, but I played the part well, I think ... until I had her snared. I knew I wouldn't be." His voice showed his contempt at the thought of such a match, as advantageous as it would be. "She'd undoubtedly been one with my brother, Tason, and our close blood confused her."
"He is dead," Jaysen offered numbly. He wasn't certain whether he should feel anger at Jedean's deception or pity for the poor girl thus ensnared. She was barely a woman and a slave to the mage she'd hoped would save her from some dire predicament.
"Yes, and so there is nothing better in her future than feeding on a line of men she can never accept fully." Jedean leaned on the balcony rail, staring at her. "Though eventually, she will choose to birth a bastard. Most without mates do, as her mother did after Gavin tested her and let her live to produce a new generation."
The image of the woman below, tied down while old Gavin tested her lust and hunger, had his fury burning. Her mother would have been much like her, much like all Blood Mages were.
"She took a human, I hear," Jedean spat. "It would have been better if she'd chosen a Blood Mage to sire her bastard, but I imagine finding one was difficult. Still, this one is a strong one, considering she is a half-blood."
Jaysen's retort was cut off as the door opened. Delek stepped into the room below, and Jaysen's blood ran cold. He was here to force her to test.
Her eyes turned gold, and she moved them from Jedean to Delek. Her hunger assaulted Jaysen, making him lightheaded. She spread her legs in invitation, and his cock rose.
Delek went to her bed, kneeling between her parted ankles, his oiled skin reflecting points of candlelight. "I come to test you, Blood Mage."
Jaysen wanted to throw the older mage out, to go to her himself, to allow her to test him in the manner she should be allowed. And yet, he longed to watch her feed and be fed upon.
Her voice was like silk. "You and many others, Radiant. Continue, if it pleases you."
Delek darkened, his jaw tightening in fury that spoke of violence to come. "It will please you," he challenged.
Her golden eyes flicked to Jedean, then away, a wry smile curving her lips. "No doubt, it will. You know my price."
Jedean laughed harshly. "Her idea, her addition to what I require of her ... and require of them. They are bound to give their lifeblood to her willingly in payment for the right to test her. They leave here exhausted from their efforts to drive her to test and a little weaker in fluids, but they leave indebted."
Delek nodded and spoke in a low voice that was lost in the rushing in Jaysen's ears. She smiled indulgently, saying something that made Delek go shades darker.
Jaysen didn't hear it; he didn't want to hear it. He fisted his hand. Though she affected amusement well, her sadness and pain ate at him.
Jedean chuckled. "She thinks she punishes me with the knowledge that she enjoys their attention."
The force of an energy blast to the chest left Jaysen gasping for breath. It tortured him to know it.
Delek lowered himself, tasting her, growing more avid as she bowed up. Her eyes closed, and her lips parted, her fangs lengthening as her cries became louder and more frantic. Her hips cycled, guiding Delek's ministrations.
Jaysen's muscles tightened in preparation for battle, and his cock ached. His breathing regressed to gasps. He stepped toward her, intent on killing the one who dared touch her, who dared make her feel such dark emotions in what should be a beautiful sharing.
Hands dragged him away. Jaysen fought them, grumbling curses, searching frantically in a mind that fought clear thinking for the battle spells he'd had driven into him since toddlerhood.
Two hands became four, then six. A heavy door closed, then a second. He roared in protest as her emotions disappeared from his mind. He had no sense of direction, no idea where she was, but he had to reach her. The voices around him made no more sense than the hum of night insects.
A sharp incantation brought his head around. His father's face was abruptly clear before him. Then all went black.