Home > Sweep of the Blade (Innkeeper Chronicles #4)(11)

Sweep of the Blade (Innkeeper Chronicles #4)(11)
Author: Ilona Andrews

“Knight Derit requests transfer out of Second Regiment.”

“On what grounds?”

“Irreconcilable differences with his commanding knight.”

“Inform Knight Derit that I declined his request and that he has misconstrued the nature of his relationship with Commander Karat. They aren’t married. It’s not a partnership of equals. Commander Karat says, ‘Do this,’ and Knight Derit does it, because that’s what knights do. It’s not a complicated arrangement, and if he has further difficulty understanding it, he needs to hang up his blood mace and look for a different profession more in line with his delicate nature. Perhaps flower arrangement would suit.”

Maud hid a smile.

The carved doors swung open at their approach. They walked through them and into the shadowy hall. The air here was cooler. Tall windows spilled narrow blades of light into the hall, drawing golden rectangles on the stone floor. Shadow, light, shadow, light…It reminded her of the north wing of Castle Ervan. The last few weeks before their exile, she’d walked that hall expecting a dagger in her back at any moment.

The male retainer next to her gave her a startled look.

Maud realized she’d switched her gait. She was gliding now, silent like a wraith, each step light and smooth. Next to her Helen desperately tried to imitate her, but her legs were too short, and she ended up gliding two steps and skipping forward on the third.

The hall ended, splitting into a Y-intersection of two hallways.

Arland raised his hand. “Enough.”

The auburn-haired knight clamped his mouth shut, biting a word in half.

“Dismissed.”

The four retainers and Ruin did a 180 and hurried back the way they came.

Arland invited her to proceed down the right hallway with a wave of his hand. “My lady.”

“My lord.”

She turned right, and they walked side by side to a door at the end of the hallway. It slid aside at their approach.

“Your quarters,” Arland said.

Maud glanced inside and froze. A spacious bedroom suite stretched before her. A big arched window in the opposite wall betrayed the true thickness of the walls, a full three feet of solid stone. Delicate glass ornaments, so fragile they looked like they would shatter at the first sign of a breeze, hung from the walls, glowing with gentle light.

On the far left, an enormous bed waited, big enough to lay four vampire adults comfortably, and equipped with an artfully arranged pile of pillows and a soft red comforter. Its legs were carved into tree roots, its headboard was a tree trunk, and the tree’s carved branches provided the canopy. A rug spanned the length of the floor, painstakingly depicting an image of a female vampire knight fighting a murr, a massive crocodile-like reptile, in a dozen shades of red, burgundy, and white. Beyond the bed, a door stood wide open, showing her a glimpse of the bathroom with a colossal stone tub. Next to it another door, heavy and plain, waited for someone to open it.

On her right, a fire was laid out but not lit in a fireplace that was tall enough for her to walk into it. A collection of chairs was arranged before it, around a low table. A large banner of House Krahr stirred in the breeze, dripping from the wall next to the window, so if someone sat in the largest chair, the banner would serve as the backdrop. Maud squinted at the chair. A small crest was carved in its back, two stylized fangs.

It was a beautiful room, elegant in its simplicity, and timeless, every line and every angle a perfect blend of function and aesthetics. She couldn’t have made a better room for herself back at Dina’s inn, if she tried for a week.

“No.”

“Are the quarters not to your liking?” Arland asked.

“What are you doing?” she asked through clenched teeth.

“I’m showing you your room.”

“This is the room of a Marshal’s spouse.”

Arland looked into the room, his expression puzzled. “You think so?”

She resisted the urge to punch him. “Yes, I think so. It has the House Krahr banner positioned behind a chair with a Marshal’s insignia on it.”

Arland blinked and rubbed his chin. “So it does. How peculiar.”

“My Lord Marshal.”

“My Lady Maud?”

“I’m not your wife. I’m not even your betrothed.”

“Where would you like me to put you?”

“Not here.”

“I don’t know a room suitable to a woman I asked to marry me and who replied with ‘maybe.’”

“That wasn’t what I said.”

“You said, ‘Arland, I’m sorry, I can’t marry you right now. I need time to decide.’”

It was an exact quote.

“I assure you my recollection is accurate. Your words are branded in my memory. Did I misinterpret?”

She opened her mouth. He had her there. “No.” It was a maybe.

“Aside from my mother’s quarters, this is the most secure place in the castle. The door is keyed to your harbinger. By assigning these quarters to you, I send a clear signal to everyone within my House. I think of you as my betrothed and I expect you to be treated accordingly.”

“It’s not an honor I deserve.”

“Last time I checked, I was the Marshal of House Krahr,” he said, his voice gentle. “Assigning honors to my guests is my prerogative.”

And he just reminded her that she was stomping on the most basic rule of vampire hospitality: one abided by the laws of the host’s House. It would be a mortal offense to refuse the rooms given to her by the Marshal. From his point of view, no other quarters could be assigned to her either. If he sent her down to the guest rooms, it would look like a dismissal. Here is the woman who rejected me, I brought her here, and now I don’t want anything to do with her…It made him look bad. It made her look bad. There were no winners in that scenario.

“Would you prefer some other woman takes these quarters?”

There was no point in lying. “No.”

“Very well, then.”

“This will make things harder,” she said.

“Are you unfit for the challenge?”

She glared at him.

Arland grinned and handed her a key. It was a real key; heavy, metal, and cold. “That door next to the bathroom opens into a passageway leading to my quarters. There is a second door there. I left it unlocked. There is only one key, my lady, and you have it. If you have any need to see me in private, all you have to do is unlock your door and walk down the passageway.” He bowed his head. “My lady.”

She pictured herself smacking him on the head with that damn key.

“Thank you, my lord,” she said. She’d loaded enough steel into the words that even the densest vampire wouldn’t miss it.

“Make yourself comfortable,” he said and went back down the hallway.

Helen slipped into the room, dropped her bag, took a running start, and leaped onto the bed. She bounced straight up, waving her tiny arms.

“Wheeee!”

Wheee. That was about right. She’d remembered Dina saying Arland had the subtlety of an enraged rhino. Her sister didn’t know him at all. Neither did she. Which was why she told him maybe.

Maud stepped into the room, listened to the barely audible click of the electronic lock, and slid the heavy metal bar in place, barricading herself in the Marshal’s quarters.

She wasn’t unfit for the challenge. This was going to be one hell of a visit. Either way, it was time to unpack and settle in.

Maud made it four feet from the door before a knock stopped her. Maybe Arland forgot something…She unbarred the door and swung it open. A female vampire knight stood in the hallway. Broad-shouldered, sturdy, with a lustrous mane of chocolate-brown hair, she wore the full syn-armor. Her dark eyes stared at Maud, and she felt herself weighed, measured, and judged in a split second.

“My name is Alvina, Lady Renadra, daughter of Soren,” she said. “You may call me Karat. That’s my battle name. I’m Arland’s cousin. His favorite cousin. And you are the human gold digger who rejected his proposal. I think we should talk.”

Maud leaned against the doorway and studied her nails. “If I were a gold digger, I would’ve married him already and come here as his wife. There would be nothing you or your whole House could’ve done about it.”

Lady Karat narrowed her eyes. “You seem so sure that you have my cousin on a leash, ready to do your bidding.”

“Nobody in this universe, man or woman, could put Arland on a leash.”

“You know what I think?”

“I have no doubt you’ll enlighten me.”

“I think he wanted to play hero. He found you, an exile living in squalor with your daughter, and he decided to rescue you. You preyed on his noble instincts, manipulated him, and now you’re toying with him. It appeals to your pride to have the Marshal of House Krahr pining for you like some lovesick puppy.”

And that was exactly the welcome she’d expected. “It’s refreshing, Lady Karat.”

“What?”

“Your honesty. I’d prepared myself for murmured insults behind my back and ugly glances. I thought perhaps it would take your House a couple of days to build up enough outrage to throw their derision in my face, but you laid it all out in my first hour on the planet. Why, I haven’t even had a chance to wash my face after the journey. Truly, you’re a credit to your bloodline.”

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