Chapter 48 - The Oath of the Eighth
The snow crunches underneath my riding boots. The ground, the trees, and the roof of the palace are covered with several inches of snow. The sun is already low in the sky even though it’s barely 3 pm. The cold wind picks up and the soft, thick, brown fur lining of the hood on my cape rubs against my cheek. The cape is black velvet with a deep red lining that peeks out with every step that I take. A bodyguard named Günter is leading me away from the palace toward a building that I’m guessing is a stable. He reminds me a bit of Darius; tough looking, quiet, and stoic.
He’s the same guard who took me to see Jorden and Jonah at their quarters this morning. I didn’t stay too long because Jonah told me that they needed to run some errand at a werewolf pack nearby. He didn’t elaborate what the errand was about and I didn’t get the chance to ask.
When I got back from seeing Jonah and Jorden, François had my lunch ready and handed me a note from Caspian. The Prince asked me to put on the riding habit and join him at the stable. François had a black, tight-fitting jacket, a crisp white ruffled top, a pair of black riding trousers, gloves and riding boots all laid out for me in the bedchamber. He held up the cape for me just before I walk out of our guarded area.
So, now here I am, trekking my way across the snow-covered land with a bodyguard behind me. My puzzlement turns into excitement when I see Caspian waiting by the stable. He looks dignified and aloof, yet I sense our bond zings with awareness, lust, need, adoration, devotion, and possessiveness as he watches me.
His riding boots are visible underneath his cape. He’s in all black as far as I can see, except for a red scarf around his neck. His golden hair glistens in the late noon sunlight and his electric green eyes are mesmerizing. His sensual lips red and his cheeks pink from the cold. He doesn’t even look real - a stark relief against the white snowy background. He’s so beautiful to look at, he makes me breathless. The air charged with electricity, a thousand butterflies flutter in my stomach and my heart thunders whenever he’s near. Will it always be like this everytime I see him?
When he holds his gloved hand out for me, I don’t hesitate to take it.
“Thank you, Günter. I take it from here,” he says to the bodyguard without taking his eyes off of me. I hear Günter’s retreating footsteps soon after.
“Are we really riding the horses?” I ask him. “Why can’t we just run?”
“Where is the fun in that?” he says, tugging me into the stable with him. A wolfish grin pulling at his lips, flashing me his gleaming straight white teeth as he grips my hips and closes the gap between us. “Did you miss me today?” He doesn’t wait for my response. He leans in and covers my mouth with his. I wrap my arms around his neck as he deepens the kiss. I love the taste of him on my tongue, the way his mouth molds to mine, the way he sucks my lip and our tongues dance together.
“I missed you,” he says after he pulls back. We’re both breathing hard. “You’re always in my mind. I yearn for you all day, it took everything in me not to come and seek you out earlier.”
“You know I missed you. I walk around like I’m missing a limb when you’re not with me,” I confess even though I’m sure he knew that already.
“Good,” he says, smugly. “Now we need to go, Moya Printsessa.”
“Where are we going?”
“You’ll see.” His lips curve up into a boyish grin as he steers me deeper into the stable.
The last time I was on a horse was when Nana took me to visit her older sister for a week in a neighboring pack when I was 15. Her sister had five horses and a donkey on their farm. She gave me a lesson, and I rode every day when I was there but that was three years ago.
“Don’t worry, horses have a very good instinct when it comes to us. Even the most stubborn horses will not give us any trouble,” he assures me. “But you’re welcome to ride with me if you want.”
“No way! Give me my own horse, Your Highness,” I tell him.
Sunlight is so fleeting in Winter. Twilight is falling over the horizon, shimmering between the trees as we ride through the snow-covered woods.
We come to a stop when we enter a clearing. Caspian dismounts, helps me get off the horse then he sets both horses free.
“They’ll find their way home,” he says. “We’ll go back on foot from here after we’re done. We’ll run.”
“After we’re done with what?”
I smell them before I see them. We are greeted by the sight of six figures in black cloaks, standing around a big roaring bonfire as we come around a pine tree. My hand is firmly clasped in Caspian’s as we approach them.
Genesis, Constantine, Lazarus, Serena, Penny, and Darius. They all turn to look at me as we move to join their circle. Their perfect, gorgeous faces aglow warm and golden from the raging bonfire.
“Welcome,” says Serena. A small peaceful smile plays on her lips. Warmth fills her amber eyes.
I can feel the heat. The tall bonfire dancing wildly as the wind picks up speed. It is crackling and popping. The smoke rises, the smell of wood burning fire fills the air. The clearing isn’t too big. We are surrounded by tall pine trees.
“This is where it all began,” Constantine announces. “This is the place where Caspian, Lazarus, and I took our oaths to be pack brothers. At this very spot, 160 years ago.”
“The oaths that served us well, my brothers,” says Lazarus. “Mate and sisters,” he adds. All of them nod in agreement.
Caspian turns to face me. “Quincy Romanov, my love,” he says. “It’s time for you to follow your path, take your oath and stand next to me to be part of the pack.”
Lazarus, who is holding a copper chalice, steps forward. The chalice looks like an antique with carvings of a crown flanked by a lycan and a wolf. It has strange symbols carved around the edge.
Constantine steps forward as well to stand on the other side of Caspian. In both hands, he carries a very old looking dagger with symbols on the blade. A big, brilliant red ruby is embedded in the handle. It is surrounded by gleaming emeralds. “Do you agree to be a member of this pack and do you agree to take this oath willingly?” he asks.
“Yes,” I answer. My heart is beating wildly. Caspian told me about this but I can’t believe today’s the day.
“So it shall be,” says Darius and he moves forward and drops a lighted match into the chalice. The fire flares then turn into a strange brilliant blue flame. The girls step forward to stand next to their mates. Everybody takes the gloves off of their left hands and so I do the same.
Caspian nods and Constantine hands him the dagger.
Caspian holds the blade up, then he slashes the middle of his palm. “This blood symbolizes our lives, our vows, and my bond to you and yours to me,” he announces. “Follow my lead and repeat after me,” he tells me before he tilts his already healing hand and lets a drop of his blood falls into the goblet. Suddenly the flame burns bright. It pops and fizzles, then turns back into the blue flame again.
“I swear my life to you, my mate. Our souls are one. You are privy to my feelings and senses, the keeper of my secrets. I pledge you my protection, my honor, and my companionship. My loyalty shall be yours. My strength shall quell your weakness, my courage shall absolve your fear. This is my pledge to you,” he vows looking deep into my eyes, right into my very soul.
He presses his hand that’s holding the dagger into mine. I wrap my fingers around the handle, feeling the weight of the dagger in my hand. I lift it up and make a cut in the middle of my palm. As soon as my blood drops in the chalice, the fire glows brilliantly before it crackles and pops and settles down into the blue flame again. The flame seems bigger and brighter.
Caspian recites the oath again and I repeat after him. My palm is already healing even before I finish reciting the oath.
When I’m done, he pulls me to him and presses a quick but searing kiss on my lips. After he releases me, he takes the dagger from my hand and passes it to Constantine.
“Do you agree to be a member of this pack and do you agree to take this oath willingly?” asks Constantine.
“Yes, I do,” I answer him.
He raises the blade and makes a cut across his palm. A few drops drip into the goblet and the fire glows brilliantly before it crackles and pops and goes down again.
“I swear my allegiance to you, as the member of my pack. Our souls are linked. You are privy to my feelings and senses, the keeper of my secrets. I pledge you my protection, in my honor. My loyalty shall be yours. My strength shall quell your weakness, my courage shall absolve your fear. This is my pledge to you,” recites Constantine.
After I repeat after him, he nods solemnly and leans in to drop a brotherly kiss on my cheek.
Constantine hands the dagger to Genesis who does the same thing. This, I repeat with Lazarus, Serena, Darius, and finally with Penny.
When we’re done, Caspian takes my hand firmly in his once again. The rest of our pack members drop to their knees before us and lower their heads.
“We trust you to lead our pack. We pledge you our lives,” says Constantine. “We pledge you our lives,” repeat the others.
My eyes burn and my lower lip quivers. My heart is full. I’m honored that they have accepted me so readily and now they trust me enough to lead the pack next to Caspian. I’ve never felt so totally belonged. I feel my soul connected with each and every one of them. I feel our bond deep in my bones.
“Thank you for trusting us with such an honor,” says Caspian. His hand squeezes mine. “I know I’m fabulous,” he says with a smirk. I hear snickers and I can see Penny trying hard not to roll her eyes. “But I think we both would have preferred that you treat us as equal.” I squeeze his hand in agreement. “Speak freely and provide us counsel without fear or hesitation as usual. We too, pledge our lives to you. We are more than a pack. We are a family. You are all our brothers and sisters. We shall protect each other as we’ve always done. Now please rise.”
They all rise and Genesis is the first to grab me and pulls me into a hug. Tears are brimming in her eyes. Everybody soon joins in.
I just pledged my loyalty, my soul, and my life to my pack and my mate and they did the same to me. This pledge is forged with our bond and honor, sealed by blood. I will not fail them. These are my brothers and sisters. This is now my family.
My eyes rove around the table. Here we are again at the Formal Dining Room having dinner with the King and the Queen. Lady Celeste is here at the table too. She’s been awfully quiet.
I’m determined to enjoy my dinner this time. I had lived in constant hunger at the pack house. Food is something I’d never take for granted.
Besides, I’m hungry. I enjoyed our run from the forest back to the Palace this evening. The eight of us run as a group but I was way ahead of everybody. I was even faster than my mate who was supposed to be the fastest in the pack. I’m glad that in the werewolf’s and lycan’s world, males covet strong females just as females find powerful males desirable. The bond created when mated to a powerful partner will make us even stronger. Needless to say, Caspian was very proud.
Appetizer came and went. They are now serving us some kind of fowls, garnished with chopped parsley and yellow and red sauce delicately drizzled on the gleaming china that has the royal crest emblazoned on the edge of each piece.
I cut through the meat, swipe it across the sauce, and stuff it into my mouth. Mmmm...so good, I almost moan. The meat is so tender, it almost melts in my mouth. The sauce is the balance of spices, it’s like a party in my mouth. If Nana was here, she’d accosted the chef for the recipe.
The conversation around the room is subdued. Everybody can feel how fragile our peaceful moment is but I pay no mind.
Caspian is looking amused as we exchange glances from time to time. Sometimes we’re lost in each other’s eyes; lost in our own little world where no one else exists.
“Caspian, I’ve sent the suit to your room,” says Queen Sophia suddenly, addressing his son for the first time this evening. "You will wear that suit to the ceremony tomorrow.”
His body goes rigid all of a sudden. His face turns to stone. Caspian lifts his head up to face his mother. “I will wear the suit I already have for the occasion.”
“No, you will match Lady Celeste. I requested the suit to be made especially for the ceremony,” she says calmly but firmly.
I can feel his burning rage growing and the red-hot fire flaring in my chest. Black is rapidly swallowing the green pupil and the white of his eyes. I lift my hand to touch the top of his gently. As soon as my skin touches his, I feel the heat cools down, somewhat. He’s still angry but he’s in control again. His eyes cleared.
“I’ve lost my appetite. Please excuse me, father, ladies, and gentlemen.” He snatches the napkin off his lap and tosses it onto his plate. The chair scrapes back with a grating sound as he stands up. The guard hastily opens the door for him before he storms out.
I stare at the door, stunned. That was quick and...unexpected. A few seconds later, the door swings open again and the angry Prince strides in. He grabs my wrist and drags me out with him. I expect the queen to yell or scream for him to stop but she’s strangely quiet. I chance a quick glance before we exit the room. She’s staring after us but instead of anger, she has a strange speculative look on her face.
Caspian takes me to an icy stone gazebo out in the garden and buries his face in my neck, breathing me in. His arms around me keep me warm despite the frozen temperature. “I swear, mother is set to push my every button to drive me crazy. It didn’t use to be this way,” he says with his face still pressed against my skin. We stay like that until I hear footsteps approaching. I relaxed when I catch their scents. Lazarus, Constantine, and Darius.
“I wish I could stay with you longer, Moya Printsessa,” Caspian says, looking above my head at our three brothers. “But I have to go.”
“Where are you going?”
“We set up a meeting with Chamberlain. Remember the youngest member of the Royal Advisor who advised us to come back sooner? He has some urgent matter to discuss with us.”
“Okay. Be safe,” I tell not only him, but also Darius, Constantine, and Lazarus who are now standing close by.
The four of them walk me back to the Palace’s entrance where Günter is already waiting.
“Remember, please don’t go wandering around by yourself, my love,” he reminds me again before he kisses me on the forehead. Then they’re gone into the night.
I pace around in our bedchamber, rubbing my chest. Caspian, where are you? Something is wrong. I can feel it. I was just dozing off when this strange jolt deep in our bond woke me up.
The sound of knocking on the door makes me jump. “Quincy! Are you in there? Open the door.” Genesis’s voice is faint from the other side of the door.
Genesis, Serena, and Penny rush in as soon as I open the door. “Something’s not right,” I tell them and all of them nod in agreement.
“We can feel it,” Serena says.
“I think they’re in danger. I can't shake the feeling,” I tell them. “I think we need to go to them.”
They all agree and Penny says, “I don’t want the guards to follow us. Call me paranoid, but after the last attack, I still don’t trust anybody outside our pack.”
“I agree,” Genesis says. “The men didn’t bring any guards with them either, so I don’t think they want anybody to know what they’re up to.”
“We’ll have to find a way to sneak out without the guards knowing,” says Serena.
“The tunnel,” I suggest.
Penny nods her head right away. “There’s a tunnel that leads to another room outside the East Wing from this room.”
I hear Genesis sighs. I know she really hates spiders.
“But first, let’s get changed,” suggests Serena.
I have to agree because all of us are now in our pajamas. “We’ll meet back here in my bedchamber in five,” I tell them.
They show up in mine and Caspian’s room less than five minutes later and we’re all dressed quite similarly in jeans, sweater, boots and hair in ponytails or braids.
The feeling of doom increases in my chest. “Okay, let’s go.”
* 3040 words
I will post Gideon Archer’s short story in a few days. My next update for TQ is on next Friday if not sooner. Have a wonderful and safe Holidays everybody!