"What's happening?" Katarina joined the crowd collecting in the courtyard.
When she and her parents had awakened, they had heard the commotion and hadn't even bothered to dress in their regular clothes before venturing out to see what was going on, still dressed in their sleeping tunics. Kat pulled her robe more securely around her.
"King Bain sent messengers."
She spun around at the sound of Nicolas's voice, and her heart fluttered. She hadn't realized he was there.
"Oh! Nicolas. Hi."
He smiled at her, his dark, shoulder-length hair falling around his face in a way that made her want to reach up and tuck it behind his ears.
“Aren’t you a bit underdressed to meet the king’s liaisons?” His dark eyes reflected the flickering of the torches surrounding the courtyard, illuminating it.
Kat looked down at her informal attire and self-consciously pulled her robes more securely around her.
Nicolas chuckled. “You look presentable, Kat. I was only teasing.”
With an awkward giggle, Kat met his gaze. “Oh, I see.”
He stared at her, that humored grin on his beautiful lips, his eyes ranging her face. “I saw you dancing last evening,” he said. “With the child, Micah.”
Nicolas had been watching her? Heat filled her cheeks at the thought. “Yes. I’m friends with his mother. Why?”
With a shake of his head, Nicolas glanced down then up. “No reason. You just caught my eye is all.”
“I did?” The question had come out before she could stop herself from speaking.
“Is that so surprising?” His congenial features softened.
“I just –” Kat pressed her fingertips against the base of her neck, flustered and unable to form an intelligent response. She had caught the eye of handsome Nicolas, a male she had secretly fawned over for months.
He took a small step forward. “What I think is so surprising that it took me so long to notice you, Katarina. How have I missed such a beauty as you when you’ve been here for so long?”
Dear oh dear. Katarina thought she might faint from his courting words.
With a blush, she looked away shyly. “Nicolas, you flatter me.”
He took another step closer. “And you captivate me.”
Could he be any more romantic? For so long, all she had wanted was to capture his attention, and now she had succeeded.
Nicolas was about to speak again when a restless murmur within the crowd rose behind her. She turned and saw Yaris approaching, and he had 4 knights and a regal male dressed in velvet and satin robes with him. The way the man in the robes talked and gestured with Yaris made her think they knew each other and that whatever needed to be said was not good news.
Kat threw a worried glance toward Nicolas as he stepped up beside her and tentatively took her hand. She threaded his fingers through his, her body warming at his touch as he flashed her a reassuring smile.
“I wonder what’s going on,” she said.
Nicolas shook his head. “I don’t know, but it looks to be that we shall find out soon.”
Her heart raced, but she couldn’t tell if it was because of Nicolas’s newfound admiration for her or from the foreboding look on Yaris’s face. Or maybe it was Isabelle’s tear-streaked face as she followed behind her mate, attempting to stifle her sorrow as their blood servant, Sylvia, comforted her.
Kat couldn’t see little Micah, but she assumed he was with them.
Yaris stepped up onto the platform in the front of the courtyard where only last night the quartet had played. What a difference a day made. Last night, they had all celebrated the mating of two of their own, but tonight the mood was anything but celebratory. Worry, concern, and a sense of dread hung over the crowd. Everyone was expecting the worst, which could only mean one thing.
Her hand tightened around Nicolas’s.
“May I have everyone’s attention?” Yaris didn’t need to ask. Everyone had fallen silent and turned their eyes toward him the moment he had stepped before them.
“A liaison to King Bain has been sent to us with an announcement that requires our immediate action. He and I have already spoken, and I have been fully briefed on what has happened and what is to come. Now I will let him speak on behalf of the king.” Yaris stepped aside and gestured with a slight bow toward the male in the robes, who walked forward.
“People of Yaris’s lordship, I have come with grave news. The war between the vampires and the drecks has reignited after nearly two decades of peace.”
Hushed gasps and a few stifled sobs rose from the collection of villagers.
The liaison continued, “As you may have surmised, King Bain has called back into service those who have fought before, effective immediately. They are to leave for the royal capital within seven days. Furthermore, all young who are able are to return with us immediately to begin training for the guard.”
A near uproar rose from the crowd at the thought of their young being taken away, and Kat dashed a glance toward Isabelle, who broke down in tears almost immediately. She was losing her son. Little Micah was to be taken away. And Yaris would have to leave, too. He and his brother, Rory, who stood near the front of the crowd, had been powerful warriors in decades past.
What would happen to Isabelle? What would happen to all of them? Kat had yet to go through her change into adulthood the last time there had been war between the vampires and drecks. What had sparked this latest uprising, and how would they protect themselves in the village if all their males were called away?
As if reading her mind, the liaison said, “All adult males who have not taken up arms in prior war time will remain in the village with two of these knights.” He gestured to the side toward his human companions. “They will train you and stay here as protection in case of attack.”
“What are the chances of that happening?” called out one of the villagers.
The liaison raised his hands, palms out, as if to stave off their worries. “The war has erupted far from here. You have no need to worry at this time.”
“Then why train us?”
“As a precaution.” The liaison raised his hands. “That is all. Ready your young for we depart at sunrise.”
The liaison turned and march away amid a cacophony of questions and cries for more information. Yaris followed, as did Rory.
Kat watched and caught a glimpse of little Micah, caught up in Isabelle’s arms, tears flooding his cheeks. It was too much for Kat to take. She finally broke down, sobbing heavily as Nicolas pulled her into his embrace.
“Sshh.” He stroked his palm down her back. “It will be okay.”
But Kat had a feeling it wouldn’t be. How could it be okay when families were being torn apart and war had broken out once more? Couldn’t the drecks just accept what Fate had dealt them? They were the inferior race. Drecks could not win against a vampire army, but they could cause terrible grief and pain for the survivors of those they managed to kill. Their greed knew no bounds.
“I hate them!” She gripped Nicolas’s tunic, her tears dampening the material against his shoulder.
“The drecks,” she wailed.
“We all do, Kat.” Nicolas pulled her closer, trying to comfort her.
Drecks wanted nothing more than to destroy all the vampires so they could turn their pitiful hatred toward humans and systematically transform them into slaves. Humans couldn’t compete with the strength and poisonous venom of the drecks. If not for the vampires, who served as protectors of the human race, mankind would already be held in servitude. That was something vampires would never allow to happen on their watch.
“Please tell me you never fought before,” she said, looking up into Nicolas’s dark eyes. They were so dark, they were almost black.
He shook his head. “I was too young in the last war. I missed it by a couple of years.”
For the first time since the liaison began talking, Kat let out a grateful sigh of relief. At least Nicolas would be staying here with her. Now that she had finally caught his fancy, she didn’t want to lose him. “Thank the heavens.” She closed her eyes and rested her cheeks against his shoulder.
Caresses soft and delicate as a feather brushed her face, and Nicolas pressed his lips against her forehead then bowed his head against hers. “Yes,” he said quietly against her ear. “I would not have wanted to leave now that I just found you, Katarina.”
His comforting words were welcoming, but she knew she had to tear herself away. She couldn’t let little Micah leave without saying goodbye.
NOTE: To prevent me from having to put an adult filter on my blog, I will be posting upcoming chapters of a more adult nature here: http://www.facebook.com/MicahBlackAKM - this is my fan page for the character, Micah Black. I will be posting the chapters in the notes on that page, as well, but will only post adult content chapters there. I will provide a link here when such a chapter gets posted. Thank you.