Dark Magick Rising (Draegan Lords Book 5) by M.L. Rhodes
Copyright 2019 by M.L. Rhodes, All Rights Reserved
Later, after much discussion, and less-than-enthusiastic support from Jarrad, Wesley and Wen exited their chambers.
It was time to tell Marta everything they’d learned tonight. And that meant Wesley bringing someone else in on his secret, which, frankly, was starting to become a burden anyway. He wasn’t remotely ready to broadcast it to the entire castle, but, in spite of his concern over the sorcerer knowing about and wanting him, and after his initial shock at Malcolm already being aware of what he was, it was a relief that Malcolm and Jarrad knew. So, telling Wen’s mum was the least of Wesley’s concerns at this point.
Malcolm was scared, though, about anyone outside of their foursome knowing his situation. Which was understandable. Wen promised him Marta wasn’t going to lock him up or send him away, but his assurances hadn’t fully soothed Malcolm. Which was why Jarrad had argued against it.
“Just give him some time,” Jarrad had hissed at them in the doorway. “He has every reason to be scared.”
“He does, and I understand completely. But we don’t have the luxury of time, Jarrad. Mum’s not going to do anything to him, you know that. He’s a victim, and she’s going to recognize that, just as we have. He has nothing to be scared of.” He shook his head. “You’ve got to look at the bigger picture here. Mum’s acting in the draegan lord’s stead right now…which means we can’t keep all of this from her.”
“You kept the fact Wesley’s an ondaen from her.”
“We’re going to tell her that part, too. Wes has already agreed. She has to know what we know. Not to mention, from what Malcolm just told us, we’ve got to find out where they took Lochlann. It could be an important key in the sorcerer’s plans. But you, Wes, and I have responsibilities here. We can’t just disappear to investigate it without giving Mum a heads up.”
Ultimately, Jarrad had backed down. Wesley sensed he’d given in because, in his heart, Jarrad knew Wen was right. But he wasn’t happy about it.
So, they’d left Jarrad to watch over a restlessly napping Malcolm while they went to speak to Marta.
After they were in the hallway, with their chamber door closed behind them, Wen unexpectedly pulled Wesley into an embrace, and Wesley went willingly. He wrapped his arms around Wen’s lean waist and breathed in his warm, comforting scent. They stood that way for several long moments, savoring the quiet and the connectedness.
But eventually, Wen leaned back and kissed Wesley. Then he rested his forehead against his.
“How are you doing, m’caire?” he asked.
Wesley huffed out a soft breath that was almost a laugh but not really. “Honestly? I’m not even sure. It’s been a ridiculously unsettling night.”
“It truly has.”
“How’re you doing?”
Wen did let out a weak laugh, then shook his head. “Like you, I’m not sure. It’s a lot to take in. Malcolm as a spy…”
“And a morphling,” Wesley added.
“As well as being Jarrad’s mysterious lover. Who would ever have guessed any of that? And hearing about his friend…” He winced.
“I get a knot in my gut every time I think about him,” Wesley murmured. “And about the fact the sorcerer wants me to replace Kai, for whatever nefarious reason he requires ondaen blood.”
“I know.” Wen stroked his back. “I have that same sick knot. But Byram’s not going to get you, Wes. He’ll never get you.” His words were fierce, as was the wave of protection and love radiating out from him.
“I don’t know. Lochlann being captured is troubling.”
“I know what you’re thinking, but Byram can’t get to you here. He doesn’t know where you are.”
“You said yourself in there not a half-hour ago that Lochlann might not have meant what he said about giving the soldiers information. He might merely have been bargaining for time so they wouldn’t kill him on the spot. I’d bet my life he hates the sorcerer more than he hates any of us, and with his sister and brother here, it’s highly unlikely he’d lead the sorcerer to Kellesborne.”
“But that doesn’t mean he might not talk about me. If the sorcerer wants me as much as Malcolm seems to think, and he realizes Lochlann was living here at Kellesborne for a while, the sorcerer could describe me, and Lochlann would recognize me and give me up.”
“I don’t think that’s likely to happen.”
“You don’t know that for sure.”
Wen smiled, and it was so surprising under the circumstances it nearly stole Wesley’s breath.
He cupped Wesley’s bearded cheek between his hands. “Yeah, I kind of do. One soldier saw you in the woods, months ago, probably from a distance, while you were in the water. Because you were in your ondaen form, my guess is, he was not looking at your face. And even if he did pay attention to more details than the fact you have ‘dark hair,’ which is the only description Byram gave Malcolm, you look nothing like you did back then, love.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean…look at you. Your hair’s getting so long.” He gently tucked a strand of it behind Wesley’s ear as he spoke. “And it has sun streaks from you being outside all day, every day. Your beard gives you a completely different, rugged appearance from when you’re clean shaven. And after months of hard training, your body’s changed. You’re not even the same build. No one who doesn’t know you well would equate the young, untested Wesley you were before with the strong, confident Lieutenant Brannock of now.”
A part of Wesley wanted to be flattered by Wen’s description, but the more practical side of him insisted, “I’m still the only young man with dark hair who lived at the settlement.”
“Sure. But why would Lochlann know that? He, Risa, and Neric didn’t join us until after we were at Kellesborne. Months after the attack on your settlement. People have been arriving, first at the forest camp, and then here at the castle, for months. Lochlann would have no idea when you got here or where you came from. So even if the sorcerer questioned him, told him he was looking for a dark-haired young man…that description fits a significant portion of the men living here.”
“I suppose that’s true.”
“So, I say again,” Wen said, kissing his forehead, “Lochlann’s capture isn’t going to lead to Byram finding you. The sorcerer has no idea who you are, and we’re going to keep it that way. Okay?”
Wesley sighed. “Okay.”
“Meanwhile…what I am concerned about is this place in the mountains the soldiers were taking Lochlann.”
“I know. I am, too. Let’s go talk to your mum and get her take on it. Although, it’s so late, she’s probably in bed. Is she going to mind us waking her?”
“She’s not necessarily in bed. I don’t think she gets much sleep these days.” Wen’s forehead furrowed. “Can you find her?”
Wesley knew what he meant. “Probably. Give me a second.”
As he was closing his eyes to concentrate, Wen said, “And after that, you can tell me how in hel you found me and actually talked to me tonight down at the guard camp.”
Wesley’s eyelids fluttered open. “I wondered when you were going to ask me about that.”
“Consider yourself asked. I have an idea, but, holy crap, Wes. That was…”
“Yeah. For me, too,” Wesley said, biting back a grin as he sensed Wen’s excitement over how they’d communicated. “But your mum first.”
He closed his eyes and concentrated, tracing a path through the halls and down the stairs to the second floor where Marta, Al, Edric, Risa, and Neric lived. He sensed all of them asleep…except Marta. Wen was right. She wasn’t there.
He went next to the library tower, which seemed the most logical place if she wasn’t in her rooms. But aside from a faint sense of Thomas, sleeping in his small bedroom next to the library, no one else was nearby.
Kitchens and great hall? Maybe, so that’s where he looked next. But he couldn’t pick up Marta’s emotional aura there either.
“Are you sure she’s in the castle?” he asked Wen. “And not maybe down at the guard camp?”
“She could be, but I can’t imagine why she’d have flown down there this late, barring trouble of some sort. And if there were trouble, someone would have come to find me.”
“Hmm. Okay, she’s not in her usual places, but I’ll keep looking.”
He systematically searching Lilia’s treatment rooms, the vellanjhere common room, the armory, the greenhouses, then up and down the hallways. Until…
“Oh?” Wen asked.
Wesley opened his eyes, his pulse racing ever-so-slightly. “I found her. She’s with my mum.”
“In the greenhouses?”
“No. In my mum’s rooms.”
Wen shrugged. “Well, they’re friends, so—”
“Um, I don’t think this is about them having a friendly chitchat. Especially not in the dead of night.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I mean, your mum is with my mum. They’re sleeping. Together.”
Wen’s brows rose. “Ohhh.”
“I take it from the look on your face you didn’t know about this any more than I did?”
The little half smile that curved up one side of Wen’s mouth made Wesley smile, too. “Not a clue. But, you know what? In these troubling times, if they’ve found comfort and companionship with one another, I’m happy for them.”
“So’m I, actually. My mum’s been alone a long time.”
“So has mine. And I can see how they’d be drawn to each other.”
“Not including because their sons are mated, you mean?”
Wen smiled again. “That just means they were family already.” He held out a hand for Wesley to take. “I wish it were for a more pleasant reason, but let’s go pay them a visit. And you can explain your empathic adventure down at the guard camp as we walk.”
Wesley’s mother answered their knock in her dressing gown, her long hair falling loose around her shoulders.
“Sweethearts, is everything okay? What’s happened that would bring both of you here in the middle of the night?” Wesley sensed her worry, and it was reflected on her face as well, in the lines on her forehead.
“It’s okay, Mum, nothing terrible,” Wesley said, kissing her cheek. “But we do need to talk to Marta.”
She didn’t miss a beat, didn’t even look surprised they knew Wen’s mother was there with her.
“Of course. Come in.”
“Did I hear my name?” Marta met them, coming from the curtained-off sleeping area. She’d obviously just finished plaiting her hair and was tying off the end of her long, blonde braid with a ribbon Wesley recognized as one of his mum’s. Usually, Marta tied her braid with a piece of leather, much like Wen did, so the shimmering blue ribbon made Wesley smile. She was dressed in her usual utilitarian fashion, but her shirt was untucked and her feet were bare, evidence she’d probably thrown on her clothes quickly at their knock.
“Hi, Mum,” Wen said. “Sorry to bother you so late.”
“No, it’s fine. Anytime. You know that. What’s going on?”
“It’s… been an interesting night.”
“That’s an understatement,” Wesley murmured.
Wen glanced at him and gave him another of those half smiles that sent a pulse of warmth through Wesley. To his mother, he said, “Wes discovered something tonight that led us to uncover a lot of information we felt you needed to know about as soon as possible.”
“Before you go any further,” Wesley’s mother interjected, “is this private? Because I can take a walk if you need me to.” Wesley knew she meant it and wouldn’t be the least bit offended if they asked her to do so.
“No, it’s fine, Sarah. Stay. Please,” Wen said.
“All right. Sit down then and I’ll make some tea while you all talk.”
Wesley gazed fondly at his mother. Her solution to everything was a mug of hot tea. The thing was…more often than not, it did help. He’d followed in her footsteps earlier tonight, doing the same thing with Malcolm.
Marta sat on the bench on one side of the small table, while Wen and Wesley took the other side.
“Start from the beginning,” she directed.
“Before we do that, there’s something you need to know,” Wesley said. “That is, if you don’t already. Mum, does she?”
His mother turned from where she was working at the fire. He knew instantly she understood what he was asking. She shook her head. “It wasn’t for me to tell, sweetheart. That’s up to you.”
He took a deep breath and nodded. “Okay. You need to know this before we fill you in on anything else,” he said to Marta, “because it plays a role in the rest of it.”
“I’m listening,” she said kindly, her green-eyed gaze curious.
Wen’s hand curled around his under the table, twining their fingers together, offering his support.
“I’m an ondaen.”
Marta’s eyes grew wide, but the emotional reaction Wesley felt coming from her wasn’t concern or distrust, as it had been initially with Jarrad. It was… Was it wonder he sensed?
“Are you really?” It was said with that same flicker of admiring surprise, and the question was obviously rhetorical.
But Wesley answered anyway. “I am. My mum found me when I was a baby, after my parents had been murdered.”
Wesley’s mother had just set mugs down in front of each of them and settled herself on the bench next to Marta.
“Did you realize?” Marta asked her.
“Not immediately. Later, though, I suspected. And then when he told me about his full change in the water when he was a teenager, I knew.” Her eyes grew sad. “I didn’t tell him, for his own protection, just as I never told him until recently how he’d come to be mine. But I worry every day that those decisions weren’t fair to him.”
She was responding to Marta’s question, but her troubled gaze never strayed from Wesley and he knew she was really speaking to him.
He reached across the table and rested a hand atop hers. “Don’t feel that way, Mum. I understand why you made those choices. You did it out of love, as you do everything in your life.”
She gave him a grateful, damp-eyed smile, and he smiled back.
But then he returned his attention to Marta. “I’m an ondaen, but that means I have all of the traits of one. The good and…the not-so-good.”
“Sweetheart, you don’t kn—”
“Mum, I do know. Trust me.”
His mother’s expression grew fearful, and he knew she was pondering what could have happened to make him so certain. He also understood her fear wasn’t of him but rather for him and how others might react if the bad parts of being an ondaen were true.
Marta, on the other hand, merely cocked her head to the side, not projecting any particular concern over what the “bad” might be. It made him wonder if she knew enough about the ondaen to realize what he meant.
She confirmed as much when she said, “It’s not about good and bad, Wesley. All parts coexist necessarily within you, working in tandem, to create balance. It’s miraculous, actually, how efficiently it all works. The things you’re able to do, on one hand, must be balanced to fill the magick well you empty on the other hand.”
“So you…you know what happens?”
“It’s a natural part of the gift that makes you, as an ondaen, unique.”
It wasn’t that what she was saying was particularly different from what Wen or even Malcolm had told him, but she made it sound less about the bad being needed to balance the good, and more about how it was simply a complete state of being. And that was oddly…comforting.
Marta smiled. “Having you sitting here is something of a miracle as well, you know? Outside of Iann, I’m not aware of anyone who’s ever seen, much less met, an ondaen. Your species is so rare, many thought you might actually no longer exist.”
“Apparently, that’s what the sorcerer thinks, too,” Wen said.
“Byram?” Marta’s lip turned up in disgust. “What does he know of the ondaen? Although…” She tilted her head to the side again. “The more pressing question is…how do you know what the sorcerer’s thinking?”
Wen sighed. “And that leads us back to why we’re here tonight…”
After a summer of crazy-busy weekends (hence why I’ve been posting on Wednesdays)…next week, I’m starting back to school. As some of you might know, I have a BA in English Lit, but, next year, my plan is to apply for a masters program in art history. It’s a field I’ve been in love with for a while. Getting a masters is not going to affect me being a writer–I’ll still be writing fiction as my main gig. It’s more of a bucket list kind of thing. But because art history is not where my educational background lies, I have to take a few undergrad classes to fill in some gaps in my transcripts before I can apply for my MA.
What this means for you all is that, starting next week, I’m going to switch to posting on Saturdays instead of Wednesdays until the book is done. So…I will see you on Saturday the 31st. We’re getting pretty close to the end, here, so hopefully the next chapters will be worth the little extra wait for you. 🙂