Dark Magick Rising (Draegan Lords Book 5) by M.L. Rhodes
Copyright 2019 by M.L. Rhodes, All Rights Reserved
As they helped put away weapons after training that evening, Wen knew Wesley was struggling with anxiety again. He’d hoped—really hoped—that the time they’d spent at the hot springs this morning had helped him. And it appeared to have. For a while anyway. By the time they’d left there, Wesley had definitely been more balanced and, if not fully at ease, at least not riddled with apprehension like he’d been earlier.
But as the afternoon wore on, Wen had sensed disquiet building in Wesley again in the form of steady waves of tension surging through their link. The worst part was, he suspected what he felt was merely the overflow of what Wesley was experiencing. He couldn’t even fathom how difficult the full dose of it must be for Wes.
As he watched, Wesley entered the weapon tent, carrying training swords to put away. He looked as if every step were a struggle, and it killed Wen to watch him. He hated what the worry was doing to Wes, but beyond offering support and trying to keep up a flow of the soothing magick he’d been using on him all day, he didn’t know how to fix it.
Wesley seemed to be better when he was in close proximity to Wen, so Wen had to hope the magick he was focusing on Wes was helping some. He’d never maintained it for so long before—had only ever used it for short periods of time on his brothers or the occasional other draegan or human who seemed to be in distress. Maintaining a steady flow of calm and comfort to Wes wasn’t exactly difficult. But it did take a bit of concentration—he had to keep a part of his mind and senses trained on Wesley at all times to maintain it. But since he pretty much thought about him all the time anyway, and had from the moment he’d met him, it wasn’t exactly a hardship.
Still, he needed to be near him for it to work.
After they’d slept for a few hours, and Wen was heading out to help Lord Rizik with training, he’d told Wesley that he didn’t have to go with him, he could stay and sleep longer until they had sentry duty later. But Wesley had wanted to join him. Wen didn’t argue. He was relieved, because it allowed him to keep the soothing magick flowing. But also, he realized the thought of being away from Wes made him anxious.
The real question he kept asking himself, though, was…did he feel uncomfortable about being apart because he and Wes were so emotionally and magickally wound together now? Or was it because he was afraid what had happened to Wesley last night might happen again?
He hated that a part of him might be feeling that way. It smacked of exactly what Wesley had accused him of this morning—not trusting him. But he did trust Wes. He just wanted to know what had caused the whole thing in the first place, what kind of dark magick had taken him over, and why Wesley had been so susceptible to it.
For now, though, he could only try to help Wesley in the here and now.
He followed him into the tent, hoping they might snatch a few quiet moments together. Lord Rizik had already gone for the evening, saying he needed to see Iann about something. He’d left Wen, Wesley, and some of the trainees to clean up. A few still stood talking just outside the tent, but Wen was certain Wesley was alone inside.
He slipped through the canvas flap and saw Wes near a rack of weapons.
He approached Wesley from behind, rested a hand on the small of his back, and pressed a kiss against his neck.
Wesley sighed and tilted his head slightly, exposing more of his neck, seeming to appreciate the contact. So Wen kissed the warm patch of skin again. “You okay?”
Wesley placed the training swords on the rack and shrugged. “I’ll be all right.”
He turned toward Wen, but his gaze came to rest over Wen’s shoulder, on the rows of swords, avoiding directly looking at him.
That wasn’t a good sign.
“You’ve been quiet and uneasy ever since you woke up.” Wen curled his hand around the back of Wesley’s head and pulled him in to press a kiss to his forehead. “What’s going on in that busy mind of yours?”
Wesley sighed and shook his head.
“Wesley, talk to me. No one else is in here right now, and you’re worrying me.”
Finally, Wesley sighed and made eye contact. “I just didn’t want to bother you because it’s the same stuff. I’m sure you’re tired of hearing it.”
“I’m not. Did something else specific happen to upset you?”
Wesley swallowed hard and seemed to be fighting against a pressing weight. “It’s nothing. I’m sure it’s nothing.”
Wen gently squeezed his neck, then stroked the dark curls at his nape. “Come on, don’t make me pry it out of you word by word. Just tell me. I can’t help until I know what’s going on.”
Wesley let out another sigh. “It happened earlier, while we were sleeping,” he said in almost a whisper.
“Bad dreams?” Wen kept his voice equally low, aware of the people standing just on the other side of the canvas wall.
Wesley nodded. “Disturbing ones.”
“That’s just it, I don’t know exactly. They were vague and troubling, but not specific.”
“Filled with darkness, pain, fear.” He winced and looked away again, then squeezed his eyes closed. “And anger. So much anger. And there was blood.” He shuddered. “It was all just flashes, nothing coherent, but it was so real, Wen. Like I was feeling all those things, seeing them, experiencing them in real life.”
He opened his eyes again and looked at Wen. “I want to believe they were just dreams, but what if… Well, what if it’s more than that? What if it all means something?”
“Are you wondering if you’re maybe having prophetic dreams like Lord Rizik does?”
“No. No, nothing like that. It’s… I guess I’m more concerned the dreams have something to do with last night. Like maybe they’re not dreams at all. What if these are memories trying to come back?”
Oh damn. The anger. And blood. Maybe they were flashes of memory.
Wen truly wanted Wesley to remember, but at the same time, he worried that whatever those memories might bring, they would only intensify Wesley’s anxiety. His own fear once again reared its ugly head, but he drew in a breath, then slowly released it, determined to let go of his fear at the same time. He needed to keep this in perspective, for himself and for Wes. Maybe they were just dreams and nothing more.
“You said you’ve been ill at ease since our confrontation with Byram’s soldiers, which is understandable,” he told Wesley, keeping his tone gentle. “You were forced to fight for your life, and then to fight for mine. If that wasn’t traumatic enough, you can probably pick up all the emotions in camp, Wes, where everyone’s worried and afraid of what the high sorcerer will do next. You keep sensing there’s a storm coming, that all of these intense emotions are leading up to something, and I know what a weight that is for you. Maybe all those things, all those fears, simply manifested in your dreams.”
“Maybe. But I can’t stop worrying about last night. Why would I have run off and left the tent in the middle of the night without getting dressed or taking any weapons with me? Or without telling you? It doesn’t make any sense. And how did I get through the magick barrier and end up so far away? It’s like I was…I don’t know…out of my mind or something. And why…” He closed his eyes again and dragged his hands through his hair. “Gods, why do I not remember?”
Wen sighed and drew him close, holding him in his arms.
Wesley leaned into him, and Wen could feel him soaking up the comfort he offered, but could also tell it wasn’t enough now. Wesley’s missing hours weighed on him, and the dreams had clearly only made it worse. Which, with a sudden, sharp pang, made Wen feel awful for not telling Wes the truth this morning. Not that he knew anything for sure, but he also hadn’t been fully honest about what had led up to Wesley’s departure from the tent. He’d hoped to try to figure it all out before he told Wes, so he could find some definitive reason for Wesley’s earlier behavior and the drastic change in his looks and demeanor. He’d thought if he could offer Wes an explanation, it would surely make him feel better.
But maybe that wasn’t a great plan after all.
Not knowing was clearly eating at Wesley to the point it he thought about it constantly, and it had even interfered with his sleep. Wen had had the best of intentions for wanting to protect Wesley from more trauma, but his actions—or lack thereof—seemed only to have caused Wes more upset.
Damn it. He hadn’t meant for that to happen. The last thing he ever wanted was to be the cause of any of Wesley’s grief.
With a sigh, he realized he had to tell him the truth. He moved his hands to Wesley’s shoulders and took a step back so he could meet Wesley’s gaze again.
“Wes, I need—”
But before he could finish the first sentence, Wesley must have read his uncertainty and guilt because he sucked in a quick, startled breath, and a sudden jolt of shock lashed through their link, cutting Wen off.
“You know something.” Wesley jerked away from him then, and stared at him, his beautiful, expressive eyes wide with what looked suspiciously like hurt.
Damn. That was not a look Wen ever wanted to see directed at him from the man he loved.
“Let me explain.”
“I can’t believe you’d keep something from me. Especially since you know I’ve been agonizing about it all day.” Wesley’s voice was strained yet quiet because of the trainees still standing outside the tent, and Wen could tell he struggled to keep it that way.
“I’m sorry. Truly, Wes. You were so worried this morning. And you’ve been through so much already the past few days. I know it’s not a good excuse, but I just…I had this stupid idea that I wanted to protect you from anything else unsettling today.”
“Protect me from what? You can’t keep things from me, Rowen. Especially not things that have to do with me. That’s not, in any way, okay.”
“I know. You’re right.” Wen tried to send him an extra pulse of calming magick, hoping to ease his upset.
But Wesley held up a hand. “Don’t. I can feel you doing your magick thing, but you can’t soothe this away. Why would you not have told me the truth this morning if you know something?”
Wen swallowed hard and, for now, cut the cord on his magick. “I just thought I could spare you some additional anxiety since I don’t really know anything for sure. I was going to tell you. I just wanted to try to find out first what caused…” He stopped and shook his head.
“What caused what?”
Wen reached out and grasped his hand. Wesley tried to pull it away, but Wen held on. “I’ll tell you what I do know. Anything and everything I know. Just, not here, okay? This isn’t the best place to have this conversation.” He nodded toward the tent wall and the voices outside it, while lowering his own voice even more. “We need to be at our post shortly. We’re at the north edge of camp tonight, and once we get there and the earlier shift leaves, we’ll be alone. I promise, once we are, I’ll tell you what I saw.”
“What you saw?” Wesley face had turned ashen and he looked like he was going to be sick. But Wen sensed this time it wasn’t driven by magick or any kind of illness. This was the kind of sick caused by fear. And Wen could read clearly on his face that he wondered what in hel had happened that was so bad Wen hadn’t wanted to tell him.
Gods, he hated this. He should have been honest from the start.
“I’m so sorry.” He hugged Wesley, holding him tight even when Wesley didn’t respond for several seconds. But eventually Wesley’s arms crept up to curl lightly around his waist, and Wen knew he was once again seeking comfort, even if he still wasn’t ready to forgive Wen yet.
“Come on,” Wen murmured against his ear. “Let’s get out of here. And then we’ll talk.”
Wesley dragged in a deep, shuddering breath, before he finally nodded. “Fine. But the moment we’re alone, you tell me everything. You’re the one who said we were mates. Mates don’t keep secrets. Do they?” The last was said with another hint of uncertainty that made Wen’s heart ache.
Damn. His words cut to Wen’s soul in their simple but brutal honesty.
“No. They don’t.” Wen squeezed his hand, never loving Wesley more than he did in this moment for keeping him honest. “No more secrets. I swear.”
Wesley’s nod didn’t offer forgiveness, but it did give Wen a sliver of hope he could still make things right.
* * *
As it turned out, they didn’t go straight to their sentry post. Wen’s mother saw them passing, and angled them into hers and the younger brothers’ tent so she could feed them. Jarrad was out at a post somewhere, Allend was running errands for Lord Hareldson, and Edric was just finishing his food when Wesley and Wen arrived. Ed ate his last few bites, then with a wave, left to go back to work with the blacksmith.
Both Wesley and Wen were quiet, eating the hot stew, which Wesley had to admit tasted good after having eaten very little all day, and downing hot spiced wine. Marta, Wen’s mother, didn’t question their silence, though she affectionately ran a hand over Wen’s head a couple of times as she passed by, and she’d hugged Wesley when they entered the tent. That had surprised Wesley since he didn’t really know her that well. If she wondered at all about the fact Wen held Wesley’s hand through the entire meal, she didn’t comment, though Wesley saw her smile fondly a time or two.
She seemed distracted, muttering something about “Thomas” and “the book.”
When Wen asked her about it, she said, “Thomas says he’s getting close.”
“He’s been saying that for a week,” Wen responded, before shoveling another bite of stew into his mouth.
Marta sighed loudly. “I know. But he may actually be close this time. Gods help him, because if he doesn’t find something soon, I think Keiran’s going to snap his fool neck out of sheer frustration.”
Wesley had no idea what book they were discussing. He did know Thomas, however, the odd, fussy, often-distracted man from the small settlement where Wesley and his mother had lived the past few years. Thomas had been a teacher before the sorcerer had raided their village, and had traveled with Wesley and his mum, Lilia, the old woman Sele, and a few others, deeper into the forest to avoid any further entanglements with Byram’s soldiers. Which, of course, hadn’t mattered in the end, when the sorcerer’s troops had found them anyway, and no doubt would have killed them all had the draegan lord and his group not shown up just in time.
Wesley knew Thomas had been working in the draegan lords’ tent recently on some special project, and perhaps “the book” was that project. Thomas did have a particular love for the written word, and had insisted on bringing most of his books with him to the draegans’ camp. After living near Thomas for so long, Wesley had sympathy for anyone who had to have close dealings with him because while he was, genuinely, a nice man—Wesley had always gotten along with him just fine—he could be overly nitpicky and a bit of a know-it-all. So Wesley could imagine that the draegan lord might very well be annoyed with him if he had Thomas working for him.
In any case, what caught Wesley’s interest the most was the casual way Wen’s mother referred to the draegan lord—Keiran. Wesley knew that was his name, of course, but most everyone in camp, including Wen, called him Lord Hareldson, or occasionally just Hareldson, which, Wen had said, was how everyone referred to him before they found out he was the draegan lord. Sometimes Wesley forgot that Marta was one of Lord Hareldson’s oldest friends. She always called him Keiran, and called Lord Rizik by his first name as well, Gaige.
Keiran and Gaige. Thinking of them in that context made Wesley realize that in spite of being the leaders of the camp, commanding both draegan and human respect, and having such strong magick, they were still just men, who, clearly, based on Marta’s comment, got irritated and frustrated like anyone else. And who, according to Wen, and from what Wesley had seen himself, shared a deep love for one another that had nothing to do with being leaders or lords, but was fully about a bond between two people who couldn’t live without one another.
He swallowed hard and instantly felt bad for snapping at Wen earlier and being angry. Weren’t they all just trying to do the best they could under difficult circumstances?
Wen hadn’t kept secrets because he was malicious. He’d said he was trying to protect Wesley. That’s what Wen did…he protected those he loved. Maybe he didn’t always use the best methods. Like when he’d been training Wesley, he’d been hard and demanding, all while holding Wesley at arm’s length and shutting him out emotionally to the point Wesley had decided he’d never be good enough, fast enough, skilled enough, to earn Wen’s respect. That situation had left Wesley feeling insecure and inadequate. Later, though, Wen had apologized profusely, and admitted he’d been so hard because he was scared that if he didn’t train Wesley well enough, it might cost Wesley his life down the road, and Wen was terrified of losing him.
One of the things Wesley had discovered about Rowen over the past months was that his heart was enormous, as was his concern for the people he loved. Which made him not always react logically. He’d said earlier that he’d do anything in his power to keep Wesley safe, and Wesley realized by not being fully honest with him, that’s exactly what Wen had been doing. Trying to “spare him from more anxiety,” he’d said.
He looked at Wen, at his handsome but serious profile, the determined line of his jaw. He was one of the most loyal people Wesley had ever met. And when Wen turned and their gazes locked, Wesley saw the open emotion and apology in his eyes, and he knew he’d forgive him anything. Because that was the other thing about Wen…when he’d done something wrong, he owned up to it. He didn’t ever try to lay blame elsewhere or pretend it didn’t happen. Instead, he learned and worked hard to make things right. He was so damned honorable, and that was part of what had made Wesley fall for him in the first place.
Wen squeezed his hand, and Wesley felt a rush of love flood through him.
I’m sorry for being angry, he thought at Wen.
He knew Wen couldn’t actually read his thoughts when he was in his human form, but Wesley couldn’t say the words aloud right now with Marta so close, not without bringing up questions. So he thought it. And hoped maybe, through his own emotions flowing along the thread that connected them, that Wen would understand.
Wen squeezed his hand again, and for a moment Wesley wondered if maybe he had understood.
Then Wen turned to his mother. “Thanks for the food, Mum, but Wes and I really have to get to work. We’re due at the northern boundary.”
Wesley swallowed the final bite of stew from his bowl, then he and Wen rose and put on their cloaks.
Marta hugged Wen, then Wesley again. And again he was surprised. She looked him in the eye, and for a second it felt like she was probing all the way to his soul. But a moment later she smiled at him before turning serious and addressing them both. “Watch each other’s backs.”
“Always,” Wen said. He was already halfway out the tent flap, but Wesley felt like he should say something else.
“Thank you for the meal,” he told her.
“You’re always welcome here, Wesley. You’re family.”
That startled him and he stared at her. “I… What?”
Her smile was so much like Wen’s. “Go. Before my son gets his wings in a knot that you’re not with him. I get the distinct impression he might not be able to breathe if he’s not sharing the same air as you.”
She ruffled his hair—which maybe should have felt demeaning since he was a grown man, but somehow it wasn’t. Marta was nearly as tall as he was, and wore the same type of clothing as most of the rest of the draeganjhere in camp—pants, boots, weapon belt. She was practical and no-nonsense, and as tough as anyone in the guard. But she loved her sons, and Wesley had seen her do the same thing to them. It was one of the ways she showed her sons affection, and now she was doing it to him.
“Wes?” he heard Wen calling from outside the tent, his voice low but urgent. Maybe a little worried.
Marta chuckled. “Told you,” she said, patting his shoulder. “Go and put his mind at ease that you haven’t fallen into an abyss or that I haven’t waylaid you with stories of his misspent youth.”
Wesley couldn’t help but smile. “Thank you again,” he said. Then he pulled up the hood on his cloak and, with one last smile at Marta, pushed through the tent flap.