Caine's Blood is a Shadow Sprawl Historical story by Terri Pray, following on from last weeks story.
Artwork by Samuel Pray, created using Daz3D, Photoshop and Filter Forge.
This wasn’t what he’d had in mind when he’d agreed to visit those sworn to the service of Caine. Alexandrious rubbed his temples as he fought the growing rise of pressed behind his eyes.
“May I serve you, lord?”
He blinked at the soft female voice, eyes narrowing as he turned his attention to the kneeling form. Curvaceous, soft and very submissive, the female didn’t lift her gaze as she waited for his reply. Long, light brown hair fell in loose waves around her shoulders and the downward tilt of her head combined with her hair, hid her features. The robe she wore, a pale green, soft weave, fell at mid thigh as she knelt and the cut offered the hint of a view down her ample cleavage. Soft, willing and submissive, or at least that was the impression the female gave.
His body responded, triggering an erection until he forced himself to look away. This wasn’t his mate, his wife, the mother of his unborn children. No, this woman - not female - wasn’t his for the taking. She knelt because that was expected. This was how the women of this branch of the line were now expected to live. Service was pushed down their throats, disobedience wasn’t tolerated though if there was a punishment he had yet to witness.
Please Lilith, don’t let me see such a thing.
He didn’t know how he would cope if one of the women triggered that reaction from the men here. Would he be able to sit back and watch, or would he find himself jumping up in order to defend the woman? By all that was holy, he didn’t want to find out, not this time around when his focus had to be trying to build a peace between the three branches of his divided family.
“Water,” he finally forced his voice to work.
A soft, hazel gaze lifted for a moment. “Anything else, lord?”
“No, that will be all.”
She rocked back onto her heels, using the momentum to carry her to her feet before she took a graceful step back and turned, silently moving away with a soft, sensual sway to her hips.
“You can use her if you wish.” A strong, male voice broke through his thoughts.
Alexandrious turned toward the voice, smoothing his features into an amiable smile. Use the woman? Was the man serious? “Thank you, but no. I do not feel the need at this time.”
“Or perhaps you’re simply not comfortable with our ways yet.” A dark haired man with a well tended, oiled beard inclined his head. “Still, I must ask what brings you to us. Somehow I doubt its in search of your rightful place as a man. Yet here you are regardless and you travel without the female you’ve claimed as your mate. Could it be that your chosen woman refuses to kneel?”
“She is elsewhere, tending other tasks.” And with luck she will be able to make Lilith’s Daughters see sense.
The man snorted, shook his head and offered his right hand in a warrior’s grip of hand to wrist. “You wished to talk with me.”
Grantham. Of course, who else would come to speak to him? He’d heard tales of the man who led those sworn to Caine but this wasn’t quite what he’d expected. No bluster, no weapons drawn, instead an offered hand and curiosity as to why Alexandrious had stepped into their home. “It is an honor to meet you.”
A loud, bold laugh split the air. “An honor, he says. Yes, well maybe, but we know that’s not what you mean.” He snorted, his grip firm as he tightened the warrior grip. “You’re here to sue for peace or something of that nature. Yes, yes, we know about your visit just as we know that your mate has been sent to the daughters of the darkness spawned Lilith.”
He flinched at the words. Darkness spawned? Did the man not realize he was insulting the mother of their race? He looked down at the clasped hands, increasing the grip before both men released their holds. “She is speaking with the third branch of our family, I won’t deny that, but we both have reason.”
“Then we’ll talk, but if you think that I’ll agree to bowing down to those misguided females, you’re mistaken.” Grantham gestured to the back of the large cave system the family had claimed as their own. He didn’t wait to see what Alexandrious would do, but continued to walk through the gathered men and women of his home.
“That isn’t why I’m here.” Alexandrious explained and kept pace with the other man. “There is a growing danger for all of us, and this constant fighting needs to stop. At least for now. I’m not saying that you need to change your beliefs, no more than my mate will advise that the women of Lilith drop their beliefs. This is about survival.”
“And just who do you think is so deep a threat that we must band together?”
“The First Sons.”
Grantham turned, his eyes widening before a fully bellied laugh echoed through the caves. “Mortals, humans, weak willed fools and you want me to take them seriously?”
“If we don’t, then we place all of our people at risk.”
The other man didn’t speak for a moment, his eyes narrowed as he let his gaze move over Alexandrious. “I didn’t mark you as one afraid of a mere human.”
“Not afraid of a single human, wary of the damage that this nest of humans, these hunters with a weapon that can kill us with a single strike, might do not just to my family, but yours and those sworn to Lilith.” Did the man not understand the risk…Even as he looked at Grantham, he couldn’t believe the level of arrogance that shone from the man’s eyes.
Grantham gestured to the simple rug and cushions scattered around the large meeting area. He didn’t wait for Alexandrious before he settled himself down on a well worn cushion, legs crossed and snapped his fingers at a passing woman. “Food, drink. Now girl!”
“Yes, lord,” she bowed over folded hands and scurried away, gaze lowered as she moved.
He inhaled, tasting the air as the girl hurried past him. Acrid and undeniable, the scent of fear clung to her skin. His hands clenched, the need to go after the woman, to find out what was wrong and make it right, pushed at him. But this wasn’t his home, his family, and there was little he could do without snatching her and bringing her back into the fold of the first family.
“Sit, sit, the girl will be back soon enough if you need anything else from her.”
A girl who was terrified of the men around her. He bit back the comment and settled down opposite Grantham. “You have more people here than I had counted on.” Far more than should have been possible unless…
“We’ve taken a few females here and there, turning them so that they might serve my sons and brothers.”
“A few?” He glanced back in the direction of the girl, who there was no sign of. “I’d say more than that.”
“Perhaps, but there has been reason.”
Alexandrious rolled out his shoulders and tried to push back the growing tension. The attacks, the claiming of human and women and turning them, those were the very reasons why the First Sons were focusing their attention on their people right now. “How many survived the change?”
Grantham’s eyes narrowed. “About forty percent, not that it matters. Their lives were pointless before they were brought into the fold.”
Useless? Not an uncommon belief among his kind, though not one he shared. “How many have you taken?” He needed to know, to understand what had caused the increase in attacks by the First Sons.
“In the last few years, perhaps thirty or forty. I lose count,” the other man shrugged.
Thirty or forty? No, it was more than that. Unless…”The others?”
“Females we’ve… reclaimed.”
“From the Daughters?” His hands clenched, the pieces falling into place.
“And other places.”
His women? Had any of them been from his family? He closed his eyes, reaching back through his memories. Had there been missing females? One or two, maybe more in the last twenty years. So where had the others come from? He shook his head, opened his eyes and met the arrogant gaze of the leader of Caine’s chosen. He wasn’t going to tell him the truth. Not anytime soon, if ever. “I see, well then, we have much to discuss. Far more than I believed at first.” Did the man not understand the problems he was causing? The risk he placed them all in? If he did, he obviously didn’t care.
“I see it differently. We have little to discuss, you’re welcome here as a man of our people, but you walk a very different path. You fail to keep your females in line and so have been softened by your choices.”
His jaw clenched but Alexandrious forced himself to remain calm, at least outwardly. “Yet it is my family that is the strongest. Both yours and the daughters are much smaller, a third of the size of our family.”
“For now.” Grantham snorted, his shoulders stiffening. “Sooner or later we will outnumber you and when that happens you will come crawling to us for protection.”
Is that what this was all about? By Caine, the man was a fool. Those who had broken off failed to understand the strength offered by remaining as a single family. Hadn’t that been one of the arguments that had led to the split in the first place? Caine’s chosen refused to allow the use of magic and Lilith’s daughter’s ignored the skills offered by male warriors. Both relegated half, if not more, of their people to a place of service. “Perhaps, but your fighting force will remain reduced.”
The other man frowned, his gaze moving to the woman who approached holding a carefully cradled tray filled with bowls, a pitcher and a small plate. “Females have no place in battle. They are meant to serve, to please and produce sons.”
“Yet the women of my home are trained to defend not just themselves but their children. Perhaps if you permitted…”
“No, giving them such leeway would also tempt them to break our rules of behavior. It will not happen here. Not whilst I lead this family.”
Not ever. The words didn’t have to be given life in order for them to be true. “Then I will deliver my message and leave.” He watched as the woman knelt and offered the tray. “The First Sons are rallying, striking deeper with each attack. You’ve already lost people - don’t deny it, the information is easily obtained and has been confirmed several times over. The daughters have lost people, though not as many. The occasional male killed, a female snatched for cleansing. And we have lost people, though they number far fewer than your losses.”
“The First Sons will be gone soon enough. Before the next new moon we will wipe them out to a man and then bring their females into our care. Those who survive will find their true place in life, those who don’t were not worth the effort to begin with.” The man laughed, reaching for a small bowl and the pitcher. ‘You can join us in wiping them out, or sit back and watch the real men handle their business.”
Could the man be more obvious with his taunts? Perhaps fifty years ago the insult would have worked, but not now, not with his mate and their children on the line. Nothing Grantham or any of his people would trick him into making a mistake like that. Instead he smiled, met the man’s gaze and inclined his head slightly. “I wish you nothing but the best with your plans to deal with the First Sons.”
Grantham’s smile faltered. “You do not plan on taking part in the attack?”
“No, as you’ve made clear, such things should be left to the real men, not those who listen to the needs of all of their family, including their women.” He rose, taking care to move without any outward signs of aggression. “I will not waste your time or mine by attempting to continue this conversation. You know where I stand and I know where you and yours stand.” He let his gaze move, briefly, to the still kneeling woman. “I only hope those in your care do not suffer for the choices you’ve made.”
“You’re a fool, willing to turn your back on your people and your position as a man.” Grantham snorted, his gaze narrowing, eyes dark. “You and your weakness will pay for your choice, your people will become our people when they see what your cowardice has led to. The death and destruction brought down on your children because you refused to stand and fight with your brothers.”
Alexandrious tensed. God, he knew what the man was doing, what he was trying to provoke but this wasn’t going to work. He wouldn’t let it work. “Is that all you’ve got?”
Grantham scowled and pushed to his feet, one hand moving to the hilt of the dagger worn at his waist. “You think this a game?”
“You make it one with your blustering attempts to manipulate me and my actions.” He forced his voice to remain calm, despite the knots that formed and tightened in the pit of his stomach. “I know my choice doesn’t match yours, but a hundred years ago the family split into three, each one with their own dreams and visions of what they wanted their branch of the family to become. Perhaps you’ve forgotten that a part of that agreement meant that we respected the choices the other families made.”
Grantham took a step forward, dagger half drawn from its sheath. “I haven’t forgotten, I simply don’t care. You and your people are weak and once I’ve dealt with the First Sons it will be your turn. Yours and those arrogant females who have forgotten that they were put on this earth to serve their men, to provide a home and heart, to bring sons into this world and to leave the rule of family and home to the men.”
There was nothing he could do to change his mind, nor would he continue to waste time by trying to do the impossible. “I will leave you to it then, Grantham. Know this, should you and yours ever need assistance, you have but to ask. You might turn your back on the agreement, but I will not, nor will those of my line. Not this night, nor any night to come.”
He didn’t wait for Grantham to respond, nor did he follow his instincts to rescue the trembling woman who still knelt, holding the tray. The agreement made when the family had split prevented him from doing so, even though the men of this family had snatched females from the other two families. He would abide by the agreement, he had to prove to be the bigger man, the stronger man who would never turn his back on the honor of his people.
Curses reached his ears, but Grantham didn’t attack, didn’t strike out at his back as Alexandrious walked out of the cave system Caine’s people had claimed as their home. He had other things to think about, his people, his wife and the children she carried.
The cry was faint, little more than a tickle at the back of his mind. A touch of magic carried fear that raised the hair on the back of his neck.
Shandria, in danger, under attack.
He ran, ignoring the laughter that followed his steps. Whatever else happened he had to reach his wife before it was too late.
To Be Continued