Love & Duty | CR Gardner

Love is in the blood.


Love & Duty

CR Gardner

Romance Alliance Award


 

Cries of despair floated up from the plains to where I stood on Sanctuary’s outer wall, facing an uneasy sea lit by a sinking sun. Something was not right. Sanctuary’s gates were closing against the long night and the murderous creatures that would come with it, yet many Daylighters and their livestock were still out on the blood red plains. Their only hope now were the Naruggia Riders.

Complacency, and the growing belief among the people that the long nights were ended had left them vulnerable. I wondered if the same scenario was being played out in Haven. Consciously relaxing, yet remaining vigilant while my uneasiness grew was making me edgy.

On the plains I could see Evik mounted on his golden Naruggia, a wild, savage creature the size of a horse with attributes of wolves, cats and bears. They chose their riders and could be ‘domesticated’ no other way. I longed to be out there with them, but the child in my belly was due at any moment. I sighed.

The gates hung poised, waiting, closing the moment the world became dark, but for now there was still enough light in the sky. Their clockwork mechanisms a result of the new alliance between Darklighters and Daylighters. I too was part of this alliance, duty forcing me to leave my lover and marry a man I’d never met. I looked for his golden Naruggia – I’d not thought to find love here, but I’d been surprised.

Armour-less, but not weapon-less I paced the battlements while the colour leeched from the world. Premonition dogged my steps, as faithful as Maran, my husband’s wizard sister, and my minder. There would be blood spilled this night, I knew this with a certainty, but whose, I could not see. Tightness and niggling pain in my belly.

‘Now would be a good time to return to the Citadel, Asquil,’ said Maran, touching my arm. ‘Evik wanted you to go there as soon as he left.’

I laughed, ‘And your response?’

‘Same as yours.’

‘Poor Evik. What did he do to deserve you as a sister and me as a wife?’

‘The child is close,’ she said, watching me with eyes as blue as Evik’s.

‘I…’

A voice slammed into me with physical force. ‘Garnet has turned to the dark. They are coming for you and your babe.’

‘Asquil?’ said Maran, holding me upright.

‘Garnet. He’s coming for me with the Nighters.’

‘The Citadel?’

‘It’s too late,’ I said, standing unaided, unsheathing my blades, ‘They’re here!’

Angry buzzing filled the sky. Maran threw a ball of silver light into the air. The world turned white. Nighters flowed towards Sanctuary, not from the plains, but from the hills behind, the skies above and the sea. A wall of water and shadow rushed towards us. ‘Damn it, Garnet!’ I thought as magic flashed from the fingers of a thousand Daylighter wizards, Maran’s magic shielding us as the wave crashed down.

‘Asquil,’ whispered Garnet in my mind as I killed the first two Nighters that came close. Doubling over as a contraction tore through me.

‘Not now, child!’ Maran said, placing her light filled hand on my belly.

‘What did you do?’ I gasped, feeling instant relief.

‘A delaying. It will not hold for long. Down?’ said Maran, as Nighters flowed across the ramparts towards us.

‘Down,’ I agreed, running for the stairs. I so wanted my body back. Being the size of a small whale had lost its appeal long ago. The light had faded and the world was dark, but with night vision of a Darklighter I could see as we ran down the stairs that Sanctuary’s gates were still open. Garnet must have sabotaged them.

‘We must close the gates!’

Maran nodded.

‘Why do you fight me, Asquil, my love? Come, let us take back what was taken from us.’

I stood in the eye of the storm. Across from me stood Garnet, his head cocked, his robes the colour of blood. Our eyes met and then Evik was at my side along with Maran. We fell into an easy rhythm.

‘You’ll not go with him?’ Evik shouted over his shoulder.

‘No!’

‘The alliance tore you apart. I won’t stop you if you want to go to him.’

‘My place is here, with you.’

‘The Alliance…’

Sheathing my swords I took Evik’s bearded face in my hands, kissing him with all of my being.

‘No!’ screamed Garnet, focussing his power of compulsion on me.

‘Get out of my head!’ I screamed. Resisting, my own power awakened and rushed through me, forcing Garnet out of my mind as it radiated outwards, obliterating all the Nighters it touched, slamming Sanctuary’s gates shut. Evik caught me as my legs turned to jelly.

‘Drink, Asquil. As much as you need,’ he said, baring his neck as I shook and trembled, unable to stand without his arms around me.

His trust in me was absolute and had been from the moment we’d first met. He’d awoken a fierce and passionate love. I would not give that up, ever. I drank.