But with that command, Sabine sensed Lanthe's power was depleted once more.
Rydstrom appeared stunned, even more when Sabine whispered, "I have something for you, demon." She shakily tugged open the edge of one of the blankets that Nïx had bundled her in, presenting him with the sword that lay along her body. She'd asked the Valkyrie, "Why are you doing this? For your army? Or for Rydstrom?" N'ix had answered, "Maybe I'm doing it for you."
"Sabine, I don't.. . you are sick?"
"I am, but Nïx gave me a shot... so I could have the strength to give this to you. But it's starting to fade. You have to use this to kill Omort-"
"Then who will give you the antidote?"
"The Hag will help . . . but only after Omort dies. There's not . . . much time, Rydstrom. Lanthe's powers are weak. . . . Hettiah might come and erase her com­mands."
"Then if I right Omort, I risk you. There's not enough
"You can do this. You must. Destroy him forever. It's your due...."
This was all a trick? Sabine had warned him again and again. I always have a plan, she'd said. Nothing is as it seems with me.
Here was his chance to destroy Omort, and as he took the sword from her, all he could wonder was if she had feigned her feelings for him.
No. He knew his woman, and with everything in him he felt that she returned his love. "Sabine-"
"Kill first... talk later. Please."
He gave a grave nod, then turned to Lanthe. "Come, take Sabine."
She hurried over, clasping Sabine in her arms.
"If you've gotten your powers back, then heal her," Rydstrom said.
"I'm out, demon. I'm tapped. I can't help Sabine, I can't stop the fire demons from eventually busting down that door, and I can't freeze Omort for you to simply behead him. I forbade him to use sorcery, but he can still fight you."
Rydstrom grasped the sword, rising up to slay a sor-cerer. Omort's yellow eyes seemed to bulge at the sight of the weapon.
"How did you get that inside here? Sabine?" He briefly appeared devastated, before his crazed look returned. To Rydstrom, he said, "You forced her to do this. She would never willingly betray me."
From his scabbard, Omort drew a sword with a mystickal blade of concentrated fire. "Even without my sorcery, I will still take your head! I look forward to meeting you once more in battle-and I fight for her."
I do, too. "In any other circumstance, I'd want to savor killing you," Rydstrom said, advancing on Omort. "But as much as I've envisioned this fight, I just don't have time for it." Never would he have imagined he'd be fighting Omort, not for his crown, but for the life of the woman he loved.
They began circling each other. Omort struck first, but Rydstrom made an easy parry, his sword sparking off Omort's blade.
"My brother Groot forged that sword true," Omort said. "Mine usually cuts through metal." He charged once more, striking with a blinding speed.
Rydstrom blocked again. Omort was surprisingly good-just as he'd been nearly a millennium ago. He was fast, his eyes revealing nothing. He telegraphed no move.
Again, they circled, assessing each other for weak' nesses. Omort surged forward, flying to get to his back. Rydstrom pivoted around with his sword for a clean block.
The sorcerer had skills and technique, but so did Rydstrom. And he could beat Omort's speed with his strength.
When Rydstrom's sword connected with Omort's, he followed through with all the power in his body, making the sorcerer's weapon quake in his own hands, jarring him with the merciless strike.
Again and again, their swords clashed. Then Ryd­strom feinted, catching Omort off-guard, and delivered a particularly punishing blow against his sword. Omort staggered, his body growing weaker.
Just when Rydstrom made a charge to end this, Omort snatched off" his cape, throwing it over Ryd­strom's head.
His vision obscured, Rydstrom leapt back, snatching at the material, just dodging the worst of Omort's next blow. The blade of fire cleaved through Rydstrom's shirt, searing a line across his chest.
The sorcerer came in for the kill right as he was able to see once more. Rydstrom switched sword hands as he twisted around, then swung a backhanded blow.
It landed true. Omort's head thudded to the floor. His corpse dropped to its knees before slumping to the ground.
Need to get to Sabine. But Rydstrom couldn't repeat the mistake he'd made the last time he'd faced this foe. He forced himself to wait for the space of several heart­beats.
These moments feel longer than the nine hundred years I've waited for this. . . .
The sorcerer did not regenerate. A wall of hanging tablets came crashing down, splintering across the floor. With the death of their master, the revenants dropped
ail around them.
Rydstrom clutched the hilt of the sword in thanks as he charged for Sabine. The weapon had fulfilled its
Lanthe murmured, "No longer deathless-"
Suddenly, the great doors of the court began bowing as fire demons fought to get inside. Rydstrom skidded to a stop, swinging around, readying for battle once more.
Over his shoulder, he said to Lanthe. "Still noth­ing?"
"No, but if we can make it out of here alive, we can
get to the Hag-"
The doors began to smoke, then burn. Soon the remaining warriors of the Pravus, mainly fire demons, rushed in. The tide slowed when they spied Omort the Deathless, sprawled beheaded by his throne.
The call arose among the fire demons to take the castle. They surrounded Rydstrom, raising their palms alight with flames. With this many combining fire, they could kill him. Too many . . .
Rydstrom heard Sabine scream again as the pain
hit-Suddenly, the fire demons' attention shifted from
Rydstrom to something behind him. "Need some help?" Cadeon called. When Rydstrom twisted around, he found his
brother-and Cadeon's entire crew of mercenaries-
here and looking bloodthirsty.
It hit Rydstrom then-with Omort's death, Cadeon could trace once more. And he'd led his men here.
Just as the mercenaries attacked, Sabine screamed again. Rydstrom charged for her, battering any oppo­nents in his way. When he reached her, he shoved the sword in his belt, then cradled her in his arms. She'd gone unconscious.
Lanthe said, "We have to find the Hag! She's the only one who can cure her."
Rydstrom whisked Sabine up, storming from the court. Over his shoulder, he yelled, "Cadeon! Taking her for help!"
"I've got this!" his brother called back as he slashed at opponents with abandon. "I have some experience against these fucks! And I'm out for fire demon blood."
Lanthe was right behind Rydstrom as they rushed for the exit. "Demon, head for the base-"
She was abruptly cut off. When Rydstrom swung around, he saw her skidding across the floor.
A wild-eyed Hettiah had tackled her, blocking her way to the door. "You and your sister will pay!"
Lanthe snatched up a sword from a fallen revenant. "Take Sabine! Go!"
Rydstrom turned, barreling down the corridor stairs, before remembering he could now teleport as well. He traced Sabine into the bowels of the castle. But there were chambers everywhere, connected by a twisting labyrinth of passages. He turned in a circle, bellowing, "Hag, where the hell are you?"
"In here," she called. He followed the sound of her voice to a chamber that was exactly like he imagined a poisoner's laboratory. Atop long tables were dissected creatures, fermenting potions, bubbling brews. Bats' wings and frogs' legs hung from the ceiling.
The Hag, however, was not what he was expecting. Instead of the crone, a pretty elven brunette stood before him, the woman he'd glimpsed before.
And she was packing.
"Save her . . ." Rydstrom rasped. "You have to save
Without glancing up, she said, "And why should I?" "Because I defeated Omort. I think his death has
"Well, there is that." She met his gaze. "For five hundred years, I've waited for the sorcerer's curse to end. Lay Sabine on the table." Rooting through a safe, she withdrew two wooden cases, opening the first one. Within it lay a vial of black liquid.
When the Hag offered the antidote, Rydstrom accepted it, then propped Sabine up, holding the vial to her pale lips. He glanced at the Hag. "Do you vow this will cure her?"
"Cure her of the morsus? Yes, I vow it. But I can't help her with the bitchiness."
He scowled at her, then dripped the contents between Sabine's lips.
Waiting . . . nothing . . . "Why's it not doing any­thing?" he snapped.
She shook her head, baffled. "It should have worked by now. It must be too late."
Are her cheeks pinkening? Is she healing?"
Sabine heard Rydstrom's harried voice as she
woke by degrees.
"They are." Was that the Hag? "It figures the sorcer­ess would milk the tension for all it was worth."
When Sabine murmured Rydstrom's name, he exhaled. "Ah, gods, cwena. I'm here with you." When she opened her eyes, she found his were fierce but tender as he gazed down at her. He brushed the backs of his fingers against her cheek.
The Hag muttered, "I'll leave you two alone."
"Wait," Sabine said. Who was this female that sounded like the Hag? Was this the Hag? "Where's Lanthe's cure?"
"I left her vial on the table beside the rhinoceros testicles."
"Oh." Free. They were finally free of Omort. Of the poison that had befouled their blood. And the Hag was apparently free as well. "How is it that you are . . . different?"
"Omort stole my foresight, cursing me to live as a crone in this hellhole. All for a foretelling I gave about a sorceress Omort would fall in love with. At least, as much as he was capable of it. Sabine, your brother didn't seek you out for the demon-he sought you for himself. But as soon as I saw you, the prophecy came to me that you and the demon king would wed and have a son who would unlock the well's power."
"But not in the way Omort said?" Sabine asked.
"Not in the least. Omort used the prophecy, embel-lished on it, until even he believed his own lies. Now, if you don't mind, I've got a portal to catch. And I'm five hundred years late for a date."
"The battle's still going on upstairs, sorceress." She swept out of the room.
Sabine turned to Rydstrom. "Trace me to my sister!"
In an instant, he traced her to the court. But Lanthe had already felled Hettiah and was kicking her lifeless body, telling it, "For centuries, I put up with your shit! Day after day!"
That's my sister. . . .
Sabine saw Rydstrom gazing at his own sibling in the melee, looking torn, clearly wanting to be with her but needing to help his brother. "I need to get Cadeon's back."
"Oh no, you don't, demon!" With an angry flick of her hand, Sabine made the mercenaries invisible to the fire demons. "We have things to discuss."
Cadeon roared, "Hell, yeah!"
After a few moments observing Cadeon's joyful slaying and Lanthe's therapy, Rydstrom said, "I think they've got it." He shoved his sword under his belt again, then traced Sabine from the court to her room in the castle, to the balcony overlooking the sea.
Once Rydstrom had steadied her from the teleporta-tion, she said, "You didn't believe Omort about the well and the sacrifice? That I was a part of that plan?"
"Of course not. Just as I don't believe this was all some plot you concocted ahead of time. The last week between us was real."
"Like our marriage?"
Sabine's expression was inscrutable, eyes glowing blue with emotion. He couldn't predict what she would do about his deception, had no idea . . .
To be this close to all he'd ever wanted.
"Did Omort lie?"
He, ran his hand over his mouth. "I-cwena .. ." . "You can't call me that, can you? I'm not your queen. What had you promised that night? What did you say to me so solemnly?"
"That I would exact my revenge on you."
Her brows drew together, and her bottom lip trem­bled.
Rydstrom's heart fell. "Ah, gods, Sabine." She was crushed. She should be. To act as if he'd wed her....
"Demon. I. Am"-she shook her head and swallowed hard-"so proud of you." Her eyes were misty. "You got one over on me."
He parted his lips with astonishment. "You're not... you-" He swept her up in his arms.
"Well, it did anger me at first. But luckily for you, I'm not a tool. When someone decides to sacrifice his life for mine, I can be forgiving."
"I'd do it gladly, Sabine. Always." "Yes, well, I also realized that I can hold this over your head-for eternity. Think of the leverage, demon!" In a feigned innocent tone, she said, "But whatever do you mean we're not instituting a kingdom mini-skirt day? Don't you remember when you deceived me about our marriage vows?"
He cupped her nape. "Do it, hold it over my head. Wear me out on it. Just as long as you stay with me."
"I don't have a choice, since I seem to have acciden­tally fallen in love with you."
That line between his brows deepened. "I love you, too, sorceress. I want to remedy this lack of a marriage right now."
She laid her palms on the sides of his face. "Good, because I need the authority to make some serious changes around here. Oh, and this time, make it in English."
Two months later New Tornin, The Kingdom of Rothkalina
Lke taking candy from a baby!" Rydstrom's wife cried as she swung her bag of stolen loot over her shoulder.
Lanthe answered, "Shooting fish in a barrel!"
Sabine and her sister still hadn't seen Rydstrom sit­ting quietly on his throne in the empty court. Lanthe had created her portal in here-the one place no one was supposed to be today. But Rydstrom had finished up with a construction project early, and had come here merely to relax and enjoy the renovated court until his wife returned from "shopping."
"Your shopping went well?" he said, his voice boom­ing.
Sabine and Lanthe froze midstride, then slowly craned their heads to him.
"I hope you paid for all that."
"Busted," Lanthe muttered. "I'll be in my tower." She scurried out.
Sabine recovered from her surprise and sauntered up to him. "We didn't pay for these with money per se. But we paid back some karma."
"Who did you steal from?"
"This half demon Nïx told us about. A drug lord down in Colombia."
Rydstrom steepled his fingers. "And why would you do this?"
"She said we should 'have at him.' Since I owe her for helping me in a tight spot, I thought I should be accommodating to her. This one time. And we didn't think you'd be mad if we stole from a bad guy."
"I'm not. But I'm furious that you put yourself in danger."
"No one ever saw us! And Lanthe even managed a tiny bit of persuasion, just to make sure we were extra safe."
Rydstrom sighed. "Then let me see what you got." He could never stay cross with her, not when she was so happy here with him and with their new life together.
When she settled on his lap, he wrapped his arms around her, and she proudly showed him a bag of gold coins of an ancient cast.
Of course, this wasn't his little queen's first heist since they'd wed. He knew it wouldn't be her last.
But then, she could get away with anything. All of Lorekind knew that if anyone harmed a hair on her head they'd be dealing with a maddened rage demon out for blood. Sabine took full advantage of that fact.
"This is a respectable take," he said.
"Lanthe and I are exactly like Robin Hood." She nod-
ded winningly with laughing amber eyes. "Except we don't give to the poor."
"You will be now. I'm seizing forty percent of this." When she grumbled, he said, "Or we could use that per­centage for another new road project."
During the days, the sound of hammers, building, and restoration rang out over the kingdom. His people were thriving once more. "Just think, you'll be helping us ease out of medieval times." Into the sixteen hun­dreds. But they were taking it slow. "And we could even name a major thoroughfare after you."
The people certainly wouldn't object to that. They loved their merry and clever queen, who'd helped her king defeat an evil tyrant, and who only wanted a bit of gold.
She nibbled her bottom lip. "And one after Lanthe, too?"
"Do you think I don't know you're managing me?" "I do. But I think you like it." He drew her in closer, savoring the smell of her hair. "By the way, Puck came by just after you'd left this morning."
The boy had been fostered with Durinda and her new husband, but Sabine got to see Puck whenever she liked because he and his new family had returned to Rothkalina-many refugees had, as well as families from other factions of the Lore. "Puck was sad you weren't here, so I showed him the presents you're hav­ing sent to Durinda's."
A full drum set and a year's supply of sugary candies. The demoness was going to love that.
Since Rydstrom and Sabine had officially moved back into the renovated castle, they'd continually had guests. Old friends and trusted allies visited often. Even Mia and Zoe, Rydstrom's younger sisters, were coming to stay with them in the spring.
"And Cadeon dropped by the work site today," Ryd­strom said. "I invited him and Holly to dinner."
"Tonight?" Sabine sighed, though Rydstrom knew she grudgingly liked her in-laws. "Great. I get to watch Holly battle all through dinner to keep her meal down."
Holly's unrelenting queasiness wasn't surprising since they'd learned she was carrying Cadeon's twins. Two warriors of ultimate good.
Sabine continued, "The last time they were here, Cadeon followed her around like she'd break. He car­ried her down a set of three steps. You better not do anything like that once we decide to have a kid."
Rydstrom and Sabine were waiting to have their own son until they'd gotten the kingdom settled. They'd decided the power of the well had gone untapped for eons, so a little while longer wouldn't make a dif­ference. Especially when Rydstrom was savoring the indescribable satisfaction of protecting his little queen, spoiling her.
"Sorceress, you know I'll be worse."
"Then expect me to make fun of you. It won't be
There was another factor in their decision to wait. As Sabine had put it, "We'll be having no firstborns, demon, until that vampire Lothaire is contained." As a surprise castle-warming gift to Rydstrom, Sabine had
used a good deal of her own personal jewelry to pay Cadeon's mercenaries to hunt down the Enemy of Old.
The crew had strong leads already, and it was only a matter of time before they found the cunning vampire. .. .
When Rydstrom dropped Sabine's bag of gold on the floor and turned her in his arms, she said, "Earlier, I was thinking about the first night we met. You'd had no idea what was about to hit you when you saw me on the road that night."
"You wrecked my car, my life as I knew it."
"But now you have me, and your crown. You look very kingly on this throne, by the way."
"I practice in the mirror every day."
She grinned. "No, you don't. You're too busy staring at the scratches running up and down your back." Then she said with a purr, "I could add to them, my liege."
He inhaled sharply-and had her traced to their bed before he'd released that breath. As he began the pleasure of undressing her, the sea winds rushed in over them, and she stretched her arms over her head with a languid smile.
He dipped a kiss to her neck while he unraveled the laces of her top. With approval in his tone, he mur­mured, "This one's complicated."
Sabine sighed, "I'll be worth the wait, demon."
Rydstrom met her gaze, needing her to see all that he was feeling for her.
She did. Her expression grew soft when he grazed the backs of his fingers along her silky cheek. "Cwena, you always are. . . ."