By the Old Ones did he hate her.
He hated her scarred face, made that way by his previous Lady. Hated the eyes that gave truth spoken to her impure bloodlines, to the indiscretion not of his beloved Lady but of the personal guard who had come before him that was tasked with protecting her and did everything but. Hated her voice and the pompousness it held, the air of I am better than you so die mad about it that oozed from her every pore. Hated the mediocrity she pawned off as earth-altering beauty. Hated the dishonor she dealt to her mother’s memory by continuing to hunt those who had done no wrong to her.
Yes, four hundred years ago, he had agreed with her politics; like many in the Eighth Army, he had wanted to see Rhyshladlyn suffer for what he’d done. Like many that had remained loyal to Lulphé despite her faults, he had wanted the Grey Qishir to feel the same loss he had dealt to them all, but especially to Eiod himself. Because when the time came for Eiod to cross the River and walk the After, Lulphé would not be there to greet him. Rhyshladlyn had seen fit to wipe her from Existence. Never again would she be reborn, never again would he hold her in his arms, never again would he know her as he had. She was forever and irrevocably lost to him. And so for that he had hated. He had wanted the worst kind of revenge. He had wanted to make Rhyshladlyn know the pain that he did, the pain that only came when the love of one’s life was irrevocably gone forever, never to be seen or felt or held or heard again.
So he had sworn fealty to Xitlali, his beloved’s despised, nearly disowned, second child, in order to get the resources necessary to achieve his vengeance. He had bent knee and sworn to stand at her side and protect her as her personal guard if she would grant him leave to search for and make Rhyshladlyn Nhulynolyn Ka’ahne hurt.
Xitlali, of course, had readily agreed to the terms of his loyalty, accepted the conditionality of it, thinking that she could use him to further her own twisted, half-cocked agenda. Thought that with him and the knowledge he had her mother’s operations that she would be unstoppable. Because “who will oppose my right to the throne when my mother’s beloved personal guard, her truest and only confidante, stands at my side so willingly?” Though it hadn’t been willingly per se, more like his other options were worse and he had plans that he couldn’t perform while standing at Thayne’s side, not when Xheshmaryú and Shadiranamen Otherborn stood as Thayne’s personal guards. And there was no way he could pull off standing beside Alaïs of all people and Rhyshladlyn was certainly not even in the same universe as an option. So he was left with only Xitlali because there were no other major players who would know of him well enough that his skill set alone, the information he held so closely guarded, was a good enough bargaining chip that he needed nothing else.
He regretted it now, but at the same time he was thankful he had acted on that almost irrational urge to bend knee to Xitlali Sha’i’akkensahn all those centuries ago. For if he hadn’t? Things would be a lot more difficult than they were now.
But even with the added ease that came with being sworn to her, after four hundred years at the bitch’s side? He had come to loathe her more than he despised the Grey Qishir. A fact that still shocked him. It had been a change that hadn’t happened completely overnight, though not for lack of trying on the gods’ parts, he was sure.
The tides of his hatred had changed slowly but surely. With the day that the current shifted towards the wannabe Eighth Qishir being the day he had come across Azriel reborn on one of the Fields. The Anglëtinean Companion had been fighting for their side no less, completely oblivious that he wasn’t fighting for or with his Qishir, but against him. And once Eiod had realized that? He’d thought the gods had smiled upon him because Rhyshladlyn had also been on the Field, unknowingly so close to his Companion. His plan had been nothing more than a hastily thought out, Get Azriel near to Rhyshladlyn and kill him while he watches. I will do to him what he did to me. But it hadn’t gone the way he had hoped. Because of course a plan to rip Azriel’s Self from the rebirth cycle, from existence entirely, a skill Eiod had spent a century mastering for that moment to present itself, couldn’t have possibly gone goatfucking sideways.
He clenched his jaw at the memory, glancing side long at Xitlali where she walked arm in arm with High General Hujiel to his left. But he couldn’t ignore it, try as he might. And since she was occupied flirting with the High General, whom she claimed to dislike and only be using for her own amusement and for his knowledge of alchemy for their “grand master plan” gods she makes me want to vomit up my own stomach, he figured he was able to not fight the surge of memories for once.
Rhyshladlyn swung about, eyes battle-glazed, lips parted as he Sang, the bells woven into his hair chiming out the melody to the Song of War and Love that echoed out around him. His black-bladed sword, Mallacht, slammed against Azriel’s blade, the sound of impact thunderous. He knew the instant the Qishir recognized the Anglëtinean when his face paled, battle-glaze evaporating, and his Singing stopped mid-word. The accompanying silence was eerie and he stared in wonder at the visceral reaction the Grey Qishir had to seeing his Companion reborn before him.
Because the expression Rhyshladlyn bore was not one of elation or happiness or shock or any combination like Eiod had expected. No, it was a look of profound guilt and loss so great it rattled his bones and he found himself unable to carry out his plan to kill Azriel in front of the Qishir. Because that look told him everything he’d needed to know.
Rhyshladlyn may not have killed Azriel directly, but he felt responsible for whatever reason, and that was far worse of a punishment than anything Eiod could do to him.
He still wanted to kill the Qishir, still wanted to show him the damage he’d left in his wake that day in the Great Hall of the Eighth Palace, but he knew that he would never be able to kill Azriel. Rhyshladlyn had lost him once already and carried the weight of that on his shoulders like shackles worn by a prisoner. And plus robbing Azriel of his Qishir for the length of time it took before their Bond dragged the Anglëtinean into death after him was good enough of revenge for Eiod. Because Rhyshladlyn’s guilt of being the reason Azriel died again would follow him into the After and throughout any lifetimes that followed.
But Rhyshladlyn had dropped off the face of the Worlds after that battle. And so Eiod’s focus had shifted to his current Lady, the one he regretted giving his loyalty to. Regretted it if only because it meant he was at her beck and call. Never mind that her intelligence, while impressive in some areas, was sorely lacking over all and it made his teeth itch. How she could be a product of his beloved would likely forever be a mystery to him. But now he was caught in a cat and mouse game that he had to handle delicately. Because he knew of Alaïs’ plans, knew what she and Thayne aimed for with this war’s outcome and while he agreed that Thayne was the best choice to take the Eighth Throne, he still had plans to kill Rhyshladlyn and take Azriel down with him.
Sure he was trained for this very type of thing, for playing both sides while remaining true to his own intentions above all others, but it was far more draining than it used to be. Perhaps it is merely because I am getting old now. Though if he were to be truly honest with himself, it was probably more because his beloved was no longer there to hold at night.
“U’ei oy vol.”
“Eiod!” he fought hard to keep from flinching at the high pitch of her whining voice as it snapped his name, shattering the memory of Lulphé speaking the words she hadn’t spoken until her dying breath like ice under a hammer’s weight.
“Aye, my Lady,” he answered, keeping his voice devoid of inflection or tone; it was part of the persona he had built for the un-female. One she had bought far more easily than he had been readily prepared for. Low intelligence will do that. The stupid ones were always easier to fool.
“Where were you just now?” she asked and he tilted his head to the side, careful to keep his expression as blank as his voice. “I’ve been trying to get your attention for several minutes.”
Blinking slowly he noticed they had already crossed Ryphqi City and were at the gates to Lord Queen Alaïs’ Palace, waiting on the guards to vet them so they could be granted entrance. He had no recollection of crossing the City at all. Old Ones have mercy, I need to get myself together.
“My sincerest apologies, my Lady,” he replied, turning to bow low at the waist to her, “I confess that I am suffering lack of sleep as of late. It has clouded my ability to pay clear attention. I will correct it as swiftly as possible.”
A soft touch on his forearm startled him and he looked up and met her gaze before he could think better of it. He averted his eyes just as quickly hoping she wouldn’t reprimand him for it. But where he expected a scathing word spoken in a biting tone, instead she spoke softly with a sincerity in her tone that was rare for her.
“Is it the nightmares again, Eiod?” Her words were spoken for just the two of them to hear and he found himself torn between regretting telling her about them and being thankful he did because it gave him the perfect excuse for his lack of sleep. It saved him from having to tell an outright lie if she had already made an assumption.
“Aye,” he whispered, giving a barely imperceptible nod of his head.
“Then it is I who apologizes,” her hand lifted from his forearm to pat his cheek and it took all he had not to hiss at the touch. No one since Lulphé was murdered had touched his body in any way, let alone his face. But Xitlali didn’t know about the slavers, didn’t know about his past, didn’t know that he had loved her mother as much as Lulphé had loved him, didn’t know that the only person he had trusted to ever touch him was his Qishir. Never mind that he had no real want to inform Xitlali of any of that either. “When we return home, I relieve you of your duties for the remainder of the day.”
“But, my Lady–” he weakly protested, mainly to keep up appearances and nothing more.
“No, Eiod, you will return to your quarters and rest, or stalk the streets of the City, whatever strikes you. But you will take a day for yourself. You’ve earned it.”
“Aye, my Lady,” he bowed again and stepped back just as the gates to Alaïs’ Palace swung open.
He hated Xitlali with more passion than he thought was possible after the loss of his beloved Qishir. But there were moments where she showed the thoughtfulness her mother had possessed and that her sister was renowned for that made him wonder how he could hate her.
And whenever he began to forget he would remind himself of the Alphenian male she had kidnapped and forced into slavery at her feet and he would no longer wonder how he could hate her.
Because anyone who took away the freedom of another for only their pleasure was worthy of nothing short of abject hatred.
By the Old Ones, I cannot wait for the day I watch your plans crumble to dust around you.