Starting today, I’m going to post snippets from LIONHEART every Friday through the month of August. They’ll be around 2,000 words or so long, with the understanding that I’ll break whenever there seems to be a good place in the narrative.
Please remember, as always when I post snippets of draft work it’s all subject to change (or even deletion). Anything you read will very likely have typos and grammar issues that will be addressed during the editing process. For that reason, I ask that you don’t post this in other places.
The attack happened long ago at one of those bloody masques King Oberon and his Dark Court had once been so fond of hosting.
In the early nineteenth century, those of the Elder Races—along with a select few humans, chosen for their Power and political influence—traveled from around the world to attend Oberon’s masques, and all of England knew that whatever the weather, snow always fell in the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens on the winter solstice.
The guests were treated to a lavish array of exotic foods and mulled wine, magic and mystery, all served by attendants dressed in spotless white, intricately embroidered uniforms. Intrigues always occurred, along with intimate conversations amid the entertainment. Illicit affairs were pursued in the shadows. Treaties were born, and sometimes broken, and there was always the opportunity to forge new alliances.
But mostly, the annual festival was Oberon’s way of saying fuck you to his greatest enemy, Isabeau and her Light Court. The richness of the revelry, the contrived excess—it all said, we dance in spite of you. We thrive.
Until at one masque, Oberon stood watching a swirl of costumed dancers. As he cast a silent spell, large flakes of clear ice drifted down from a cloudless midnight sky as if the frozen stars themselves fell to earth.
The flakes reflected pagan color from nearby bonfires, until the air glittered with brilliant gold and piercing light. All dancers came to a halt, and everyone stared upward in awe while fey music raced through the clearing at a hectic pace.
Laughter broke out, along with applause, even among the most Powerful and jaded of the guests. Oberon smiled to see one pretty Vampyre reaching up with a slender white hand to catch a flake. She stared, eyes wide with wonder, as the glittering ice melted in her fingers.
A sharp sting pierced Oberon’s neck, along with a sense of alien magic. It broke his concentration, and the weather spell fractured.
His reactions were swift and catlike, but even as he slapped one gloved hand over the spot and focused all his fierce attention on it, the brief pain faded. He spun around, his gaze racing over the crowd.
It had been an attack. He was in no doubt.
His gaze fell on one individual, a tall, handsome man in elegant evenig attire, wearing a plain, black domino. The man held a hollow reed between the fingers of one gloved hand.
His direct hazel gaze met Oberon’s. “I have killed you on the orders of the Light Fae Queen, and I must say I am sorry for it.”
Oberon’s lips drew back in a snarl. A savage roar burst from his throat as he lunged forward to kill the transgressor. Even as he sprang forward, an intense wave of dizziness struck him down.
Sharp voices soared overhead like the raw screech of hunting hawks. He recognized Nikolas and Gawain, even as he focused his attention inward, searching for that deadly thread of alien magic.
There it was, the enemy that had invaded his body. The magic wriggled deeper, seeking to enter his bloodstream. Where it touched, coldness spread.
Panicked hands gripped his arms, and another, more feral voice intruded upon his awareness: Robin. “Sire, what happened?”
“Assassins,” he managed to hiss.
He did not need to say more. His knights roared through the milling crowd, cutting short the festivities with drawn swords. Trusting them to do their jobs, he closed his eyes and concentrated everything on stopping the malicious spell from completing its work.
Time passed, while he tried spell after spell to counteract the attack. The masque ended early, and everyone went home. Over the next few weeks his knights roamed the streets of London, hunting the Light Queen’s Hound, Morgan le Fae, for that was who the assassin had been. They never located the sorceror. He had simply vanished, apparently into thin air.
Oberon retreated to the country where he continued to search for ways to eradicate the magic that attacked him from within. Some spells seemed to work, at least temporarily, and for a while the progress of the magic halted.
He gained a measure of time.
Weeks, months. Even years.
But each time, after a period of stasis, the bastard evil that invaded his body reawakened and burrowed deeper, always aiming for his heart.
It caused undeniable damage. He could feel himself changing. The closer the magic came to his heart, the colder he grew. Colder in his thinking, in his emotions. He grew crueler, more calculating.
Once he had taken lovers who had longed for his touch and chased him for another taste of the ecstasy he had given them. Then as he changed he took conquests, and although the pleasure he brought them was extreme, they did not beg for his return when he left.
After a few more years, he and his Court stopped hosting the annual Masque, and the Elder Races found a few popular venue in the Wyr demesne located in New York.
Oberon could see his changes reflected in the growing reserve in the eyes of those he had once considered his intimates. His family. They began to withdraw, and he didn’t care. His fight for survival was easier that way. He was growing to distrust them anyway.
The magic burrowed deeper until it pressed against his heart. Finally, he acknowledged he had to try a last, desperate gamble to save his own life.
He gathered the senior members of his Court together—Nikolas, Gawain, Annwyn, and the others. The puck Robin came too, to bear witness.
“The sorceror’s spell has almost won,” he said to them. “I’m losing control over my own magic. I must try to put myself into a deep sleep, for if I can stop my own heart from beating, his cursed spell might not gain victory. In the meantime, you must leave the palace while you can. I…I no longer trust myself.”
His cousin Annwyn clasped him in a tight hug, and he allowed it out of respect for the memory of how he had once loved her.
“We will never stop fighting,” she told him, her green eyes fierce. “Not for you, and not for Lyonesse. Rest well, Oberon, and know that you will awaken again.”
She would make a splendid Queen for the Daione Sidhe should he die. He almost killed her for it right then and there, but that act would have been anathema to the man he had once been, and he would not let the damned sorceror’s spell dictate the actions of the man he had become.
Stepping back from her embrace, he watched as they left.
The puck had lingered behind the others, his thin frame lost in a shadow. When they were gone, he crept out. Oberon said slowly, “Guard this place and watch them.”
Robin’s eyes gleamed. “As you wish, sire.”
But the question was, could he still trust the puck? They were all people he had loved and trusted once. He could no longer feel the feelings, but he still had the memory of feeling them. How could he trust his own instincts, when he could no longer tell how the spell was affecting him?
In the end, much as he hated it, there was nothing left for him to do but let go. Retreating deep into the palace, he cast the stasis spell that would plunge him into darkness.
There, full of rage, he slept and dreamed of vengeance.
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