Oca 22

Homelands Pt 2 Ch 04

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The palace had changed a lot since Brianna’s reign. It looked like nothing so much as a modern mansion. No smaller in size or less impressive than before, but far more inviting. Like some place you’d actually want to live, rather than a symbol of power. There was also no longer a throne room. Jack held court, if you could really call it that, in the back garden. He sat in a lounge chair beside a swimming pool, wearing silk boxers and a silk robe, smoking a cigar and drinking Scotch. I sat on a camping stool before him. Aunt Cindy stood behind Jack, a martini glass in one hand, the other resting on the back of Jack’s chair. She wore a white satin robe, tied so loosely at the waist that the corners of her breasts were visible. Her blonde hair was held up in a bun. Her facial features were a bit more mature. But her figure hadn’t changed a bit. She still had a killer lower body and a nicer pair of breasts than a woman as toned and fit as she was ought to have had. Iva stood behind me, shielding me from the setting sun’s rays. At least, that’s how I chose to look at it. You could also say she loomed over me, casting a shadow down upon me. True enough, either way. I hadn’t gotten more than a fleeting look at her, but I was pretty sure that she looked exactly the same as before. Hadn’t aged even a little. Which, I noted in passing, fit both with the idea that our aging was determined by our power and the one that emphasized the amount of time we’d spent in the mortal world. Jack, in contrast, looked a lot different. He’d packed on several dozen pounds of muscle. Whereas before, he invited comparison to a beanpole, having been all height and virtually no bulk, he now cut a rather imposing figure. His face could have been chiseled from stone. Actually, all of him looked that way. His jaw had grown wider, his brow more prominent. And his dark hair was lightly flecked with gray. Except for his temples, which were more than lightly flecked. He looked powerful and confident. Yet, I thought, weary as well. I wondered what everyone else looked like. Especially my mother. “Can I offer you a drink?” Jack asked, swirling his glass. “Please,” I said. Iva snapped her fingers then handed me a glass, saying, “You’ve been gone a long time. We missed you. So much.” Her voice was flat, almost wooden. I ignored her tone and sipped my Scotch. It was smooth for how strong it was. “A lot has changed,” Jack said, in a rather more amiable tone. “I would imagine,” I said. “I heard dribs and drabs, but I feel pretty out of the loop.” Jack puffed on his cigar. “Yeah, we need to fill you in on a lot. And same goes for you, I’m sure. You look good, by the way, for a man who’s been held captive all this time.” I heard Iva mumble her agreement to the last part. But from her, it sounded more like an accusation than a compliment. “Thanks,” I said. “So do you. Power suits you well.” It was Cindy’s turn to murmur to herself. Jack laughed. “I’m not sure it suits any of us well. I feel like it’s been a lifetime already. I’m never on top of everything. Seems like the good days are the ones where the number of new fires that spring up is only one or two more than the number of ones I put out. I honestly don’t know why it hasn’t all gone up in flames already.” “Heavy is the head,” I said. Iva mumbled something again. “Trite but true,” Jack said. “But I’m sure you don’t want to hear me whine about it.” I didn’t reply. “So what all has changed?” “Well, some of your kin are no longer with us. But there’ve also been a few additions to your family. Iva tried to tell me I shouldn’t get them permits. Shouldn’t be helping your family produce still more potential claimants to the throne, she says. But most days, I think I’d be glad to pass it all istanbul travesti off to someone else. Someone younger.” I raised an eyebrow. “Permits?” “You didn’t know that we’re not supposed to reproduce without approval from the Patriarch? I know, it sounds crazy. Like we’re vampires or something. But apparently, as long as the overall birth rate in each court remains low enough, it’s all but unheard of for a request to be denied, so it’s mostly a formality. Mostly. Keeping the overall number low enough does mean that I have to pick winners and losers though. So my loyal supporters get to have as many kids as they want, while I have to say no more often than I’d like to anyone who isn’t politically important. But no matter how much sense there might have been in it, there was no way I was going to deny my cousins that right. Besides, it’s not like Todd or Natalie are likely to be grooming their kids for power. They’ve never cared about that.” “Just like Liz Orwin never cared about power,” Iva said. “And yet, we got Brianna. One day, one of those children will sit the throne. I assure you. When that day comes, you’ll regret how blithely you dismissed my concerns.” “Even if you’re right about that, and one of them does make a play for the throne, I’m not sure I’ll regret it,” Jack said. My aunt snorted. I shook my head. I couldn’t believe I didn’t know that we couldn’t reproduce without permission. And not just from the king or queen. But that was something to worry about later. “Who’s no longer with us?” “Oh, he just means Dom and Brianna,” Cindy said. “Everyone else is fine. My baby isn’t cruel, like your other cousin.” I nodded. The cold pit in my stomach faded at the news that everyone else was fine. But it didn’t leave altogether. Whatever problems we might have had, I wasn’t glad to hear that Dom had suffered the same fate as Brianna. It wasn’t surprising. I’d pretty much assumed he had as soon as I heard about Brianna. He wouldn’t step aside quietly unless she commanded him too. But I wished it hadn’t been necessary. “He didn’t even resist,” Iva said. “And he knew what was coming. I think he was tired of it all, to be honest.” I could almost think she was lying, but it didn’t seem like her to do so. Thinking more about it, Dom had never really ceased to surprise me. I never did quite get a handle on who he really was. And now, I never would. Damnit. I’d spent years of my life wishing him dead. And now that he was, even though he’d served the queen who’d exiled me and was thus indirectly responsible for me being held captive for more than two years, I couldn’t help tearing up. “Well, the queen and her Shadow were the only casualties of the otherwise bloodless coup, yeah,” Jack said. “But your sister has all but retired. Married a mortal and is doing her best to live the life of a soccer mom. And I’ve banished Tara and her children. So in a sense, they’re not the only ones who are no longer with us.” “What his majesty is trying to tell you is that your family has had a lot of trouble falling in line,” Iva said. “Besides your father, that is.” Jack flashed an impatient look at his aunt before turning to regard me with a softer face. “Well, obviously your family hasn’t really gone out of their way to show that they’ve made their peace with the transition, as my lovely Shadow has pointed out. But I didn’t exactly expect them to be pleased to see the throne pass back to Farrier hands.” Iva cleared her throat. “All the same, it would be nice to have at least one member of your family swear fealty. Perhaps even become a vassal.” “Would send a strong signal,” Jack said with a sigh. “I’d be more than happy to,” I said. “I owe you my life. Can’t thank you enough.” Cindy smiled, tension istanbul travestileri I hadn’t noticed before easing from her shoulders. “Whichever way the wind blows,” Iva mumbled. It was just barely loud enough for me to hear. Jack and Cindy probably couldn’t make out her words. Jack raised his glass to me, and for a moment, his voice sounded upbeat. “Good to hear, man. Good to hear. I knew I could count on you. But I didn’t want to force it.” We clinked our glasses together. “Of course,” I said. “Be pretty ungrateful not to.” “And wouldn’t that be a first. Ungrateful,” Iva whispered. Again, her words were just barely audible. For my ears alone. I ground my teeth together, but held my tongue. “Right now, I’ve only got these two lovely ladies, my brother and his wife,” Jack said. “So where is Mark anyway?” I asked. “I’d love to see him. And meet the wife.” “You’d love April,” Jack said. “Sometimes, I can’t help but wish she was more powerful, for my own selfish reasons, but they’re really perfect for each other.” “Good,” I said, and meant it. It must have been plain in my tone of voice because Cindy smiled when she heard me say it. “Anyway, they’re serving as ambassadors to the First Autumnal Court. It was them that negotiated your release, in fact.” Interesting. “So you said Natalie is also married. Anyone else?” I asked. “Todd. Also a mortal. But she knows what he is, and they’re still active. They visit here fairly often, with their two kids. Sean is twenty-two, and Melanie nineteen.” “They’re going to need to be watched,” Iva said. “We’re hoping you can get close to Todd again, even though it’s been a while. His children are getting strong fast.” I whistled. “I didn’t realize I was gone long enough for that.” Except I had. I’d figured that twenty-five to thirty years had passed in the mortal world. Plenty of time to raise and initiate a new generation. So that part fit. What didn’t fit was that Iva had made it sound like Todd and Nat hadn’t had kids until after Jack had already taken power. “How long have you been king?” I asked. I heard Iva inhale sharply. This time, even Jack seemed to dislike either my tone or my words. But the sour look on his face passed quickly enough. “I’m sorry we couldn’t get you released sooner. We didn’t have anyone to trade him for you. Brianna wasn’t in the habit of taking prisoners. She Devoured the few confirmed spies she caught. Or had Dom kill them. It wasn’t until-” I cut him off. “You don’t have to explain yourself to me, your grace.” “And you don’t have to call me that,” he said, with a grin. I smiled back. “I was just trying to get the math right.” “A little over two years,” he said. I nodded. That made sense. I took another gulp of Scotch. “I’m not surprised Todd’s kids have a lot of potential. He was probably the least interested in learning what all he was capable of. But I never thought he lacked for raw power.” Jack pointed his cigar at me. “Exactly.” “What about Natalie? You said something about her being a mother.” “One son. Patrick. He’s twenty. To best of our knowledge, he doesn’t even know about his heritage. But you can only keep that from a child for so long,” Jack said. “And Todd and Holly do take their kids to visit once a year or so. So he may well have experimented with Mel, even if Nat has been doing her best to keep him away from it all.” “And you?” I asked. “You never married?” He reached up, squeezed his mother’s hand. “No,” he said. “I don’t go back to the mortal world as often as I’d like. Simply can’t afford to be away for long. Brianna had just about brought us to the brink of war with Silas. He would have been all too happy to absorb the Third Autumnal Court. Maybe, maybe allow us to continue on as a principality. travesti Walking things back from the brink has not been easy. And to think how many firstborn sons and daughters of our lesser nobles I had to pledge to him.” Jack shuddered. “But tensions definitely have defused a bit. We might even be back to more or less normal relations soon enough. If a few ideas I’ve got on that front pan out, I just might be done. May not even name a successor. Let it be sorted out by ritual again.” Aunt Cindy massaged her son’s tense shoulders. “Whatever you think is best, dear.” I was tempted to look over my shoulder. But I felt pretty confident that I could guess what Iva’s reaction was anyway. “As long as Tara doesn’t become queen,” Jack continued. “Might as well put Brianna back on the throne. If you could persuade her to be more reckless. There’d be war for sure.” I cleared my throat. “If you don’t mind my asking, why’d you only banish her then? Why not\ldots you know\ldots just\ldots?” Jack rubbed his forehead with the hand that held his glass. “Don’t have the stomach for it. Apparently, I should have enjoyed Devouring Brianna. But I didn’t.” My stomach went weak. What did it say about me that my reaction had been so different? Probably just what Iva seemed to assume. “Anyway, there will be plenty of time to catch up more later. I’ll be throwing a party in your honor tomorrow. But for now, I’m going to slip in the pool and cool off.” “It’ll be great to see everyone again,” I said. “Thanks.” “No problem,” he said as he got up and eased his robe off. “Hang around as long as you want, by the way. You’re free to come and go as you please. If you want anything just let one of us know.” Then he walked over to the pool and dove in. Iva came out from behind me and took Jack’s place in the lounge chair. “So tell me more about Sean and Melanie,” I said to my aunts. “Sean’s a lot taller than anyone in your family. Which is odd, because Holly is one of the shortest women I’ve ever met. And he makes even you look out of shape,” Iva said. Cindy sighed. “And he has perfect hair. And perfect teeth. And he’s so sweet.” “I’m not sure he’s any more ambitious than his father, thankfully,” Iva said. “I think if he wanted to, some day, he could give Silas a run for his money. That boy is just too damned gorgeous. And completely sure of himself. But not in an obnoxious way. No, Sean is very much aware of both his virtues and his faults, few as they are.” “That does sound like quite the package,” I said. “Are you sure he’s Todd’s kid?” Cindy laughed. “Your brother married well. Holly is the same way. Not a pretentious bone in her body. Yet neither would you ever accuse her of doubting herself. And you wouldn’t guess she wasn’t one of us if you didn’t know. She is absolutely gorgeous.” Figures. Without even trying, Todd won at everything. “What’s Melanie like?” I asked. “Hardly anything like her mother or brother. She’s got that desperate need for approval that most women go through when they’re young, only she’s got it real bad,” Cindy said. “She tries to come across as confident, but she just exudes insecurity.” “That’s too bad,” I said. “What it is, is dangerous,” Iva said. “She’s also irresistible,” Cindy said. “Might be headed for the Olympics in gymnastics, and it shows. In all the good ways, at least. She somehow still has nice feminine shoulders, relatively small but perfectly toned arms, and the kind of breasts women have to tell themselves are fake to avoid being driven insane with jealousy. Of course, they’re not though. It’s just not fair. I would kill to have her body.” I started to tell her she had nothing to be jealous of, but swallowed my words. Iva would think I was trying to get off the hook or something. Maybe if it was someone other than Cindy, I would have anyway. But we’d never been so close that I felt like it made me an asshole to let her comment go unchallenged. “Holly has really embraced our lifestyle, you know,” Cindy said, changing the topic. “She…

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