Home > Nightborn (Lords of the Darkyn #1)(5)

Nightborn (Lords of the Darkyn #1)(5)
Author: Lynn Viehl

The niche held a custom-fitted harness, a neatly folded habit, and a steel case. After donning the harness and habit, Simone opened the case and began removing the weapons inside. The short, razor-sharp blades she slid into each of the harness’s sheaths; the box of ammunition she opened and used to load the magazines of three semiautomatic pistols.

Twice a year she took out the guns to clean them before she took them into the hills to practice and check their accuracy. Whenever she’d considered discontinuing the unpleasant task, her father’s voice would begin ringing in her ears.

You must be prepared at all times.

She was not ready for this; she would never be ready. Yet as her father had predicted, her feelings didn’t matter in the slightest degree. He had once told her about Pavlov’s famous experiment in conditioned behavior, something that as a child of eleven she had not quite understood.

When the bell rings, the dog feeds.

Running downstairs, she had to dodge around several startled sisters, and kept silent as they called out their concern to her. From the convent she went to the stables, where the three horses they owned were placidly enjoying their morning feed. She took out the quickest, Georges, whom she used to pull the vegetable cart when they took their herbs to market. The gelding didn’t object to being saddled, although he seemed puzzled when Simone yanked up her skirts to mount him.

“Come, Geo.” She walked him out of the barn to the back of the yard, where a footpath led back into the hills. Three miles away, protected by fences and private-property signs, and nearly hidden among acres of ancient hundred-foot-tall plane trees, lay her destination: Château Niege. Her father’s house, her childhood home.

The prison she would never escape.

Chapter 2

A

s he deftly avoided yet another crater, Korvel decided the waitress at La Théière Verte had sent him down the worst road in southern France. Already half-caked in mud, the Audi had lost a hubcap and gained a crack in its windshield, thanks to gravel shed from an overloaded construction lorry. Twice the gendarmes had stopped him for speeding. Now the road’s condition had deteriorated to the point where he was obliged to slalom back and forth between the grassy shoulders to spare his tires. When his mobile rang, Korvel pulled off onto the side of the road before he answered it. “Yes.”

“Captain.” Static crackled across the line but failed to drown out the unsettling power of Richard Tremayne’s voice. “Have you arrived at your destination?”

He glanced at the GPS. “Not as yet, my lord. I should reach it before dawn.” He hesitated before he asked, “Has something changed?”

“I have just received a report from our Italian associates,” Richard said, referring to the tresoran council, which was based in Italy. The council, which governed all the tresori who served the Darkyn as their human servants, would contact the high lord only in the event of a real emergency. “Our competitors have organized the means with which they intend to acquire the property in question.”

Korvel’s jaw set. Whoever had taken interest in the scroll would be making a direct attempt to steal it. “When do they make their bid?”

“Our friends believe they will try within the next several hours.” The high lord’s voice grew sharper. “Upon your arrival, you must secure the property at once.”

What had been an annoying errand might now result in an unwanted confrontation—one Korvel was hardly prepared for. “Are there any of our associates in the immediate area?”

“Our friends have family there,” Richard said. “They will instruct them to meet you and provide whatever assistance you need.”

“I would rather they not, my lord.” Although the tresori had been serving the Kyn for many generations, and were trained from birth to become operatives with a variety of skills, Korvel disliked depending on them. For all their loyalty they were still mortal. In a fight he preferred to have his own kind watching his back. He thought for a moment. “Could you call on Gabriel and his lady to meet me, perhaps?”

Richard’s tone grew disgusted. “I would, if I knew where the devil they are.”

Two of the finest trackers among the Darkyn, Gabriel Seran and Nicola Jefferson had been devoting all their time to rescuing and relocating Kyn who had been targeted by their enemies. Nicola, who had been attacked and accidentally made Darkyn by Richard’s former wife, Elizabeth, had later found and saved Gabriel from a horrible and slow death. The two had bonded, and while Nicola remained fiercely devoted to her lover, she had little love for the Darkyn, and showed no respect for Richard whatsoever.

The high lord’s voice faded in and out. “You will report…me as…you have…the property.”

“Yes, my lord.” The connection lost, he switched off the mobile and frowned.

Something is wrong, Korvel thought as he drove back onto the road.

The scroll Richard had sent him to retrieve had once been the subject of much speculation among the Kyn, primarily because it was said that only the high lord knew what it contained and where it was located. Korvel had believed the same, until Richard himself had informed him to the contrary.

“I entrusted it to an old friend,” the high lord said. “He kept it in the family.”

Of course, the usual wild rumors about the artifact abounded, but only among the Darkyn. The passage of the centuries had slowly scoured away the scroll’s existence from the memory of the mortal world, at least until the human scholars and scientists had discovered a mention of it, written in an ancient text unearthed from the rubbish left behind in the bowels of an abandoned English monastery.

One of Korvel’s responsibilities was to monitor all news reports regarding the Knights Templar, which often contained information Richard found useful. The high lord also exercised his authority to bury any story that could lead to exposure of the Kyn and their interests, in particular anything that could be used by their enemies to identify any immortal or locate their strongholds.

The mention of the scroll had been confined to a few speculative lines by a medieval scholar who had proposed that it contained descriptions and possibly maps to treasures hidden by the Templars just before their arrest and the disbanding of the order in the early fourteenth century. Kyn memory did not deteriorate with age, so Korvel considered the scholar’s presumptions nothing more than the greedy hopes of yet another treasure hunter.

After listening to his report, Richard had dismissed the story. “Had I a shilling for every treasure we are said to have buried,” the high lord said, “I could buy controlling interest in Microsoft and IKEA.”

Korvel printed and filed away the AP report, and forgot it until three nights past, when Richard had summoned him and insisted he go to France to personally retrieve the scroll.

“Helada is the guardian of the scroll, but apparently he has disappeared,” the high lord said. “The treasure cannot be left unattended, so you will bring it to me.”

“My lord, we have a number of trusted couriers in Paris who in the past have served us as reliable transporters,” Korvel said, perplexed that the high lord would have him leave Í Árd island to perform such a menial task. “Permit me to contact one of them, and I will—”

“You will do as I tell you, Captain,” Richard told him flatly. “When you reach France, you are to travel alone and only by land. Once you are in possession of the scroll, you are to return directly to the island in the same fashion. That is all.”

With all his heart Korvel wanted to know his master’s reasons for such odd and specific instructions, but the high lord did not take kindly to being questioned, even by those he most trusted. “As you command, my lord.” He bowed low and turned to leave.

“Korvel.” Richard waited until he faced him again before he said, “The Scroll of Falkonera is a priceless treasure, forged from solid gold. That is not why our enemies are trying to steal it.”

He waited, but his master offered nothing more, so he had to choose his next words carefully. “Then perhaps I should know what value it has to them, my lord, that I may properly safeguard it.”

Richard inclined his head. “The scroll contains the writings of an alchemist of the first century, one who discovered the formula that bestowed immortality on a mortal. To protect the secret, the smith who forged it also placed a curse upon the scroll. Any unworthy human who touches it will die an agonizing death.”

Most of the alchemists who had lived during Korvel’s human lifetime had been practiced charlatans; most had wrapped themselves in secrecy and mystique to make their doubtful art seem more legitimate. “You do not believe in curses, my lord.”

“All that concerns me is how the scroll may be used against us,” Richard said. “Under no circumstances are you to permit it to fall into the hands of any mortal, friend or enemy. Is that understood?”

Korvel nodded and bowed again before leaving to make the arrangements for his journey, which now was coming to an abrupt end, thanks to a tractor-trailer that effectively blocked the entire road.

After he pulled over for the second time, Korvel parked the Audi and climbed out to inspect the disabled vehicle. Although crates of loudly squawking chickens and geese crowded the open-sided back of the trailer, the cab proved to be empty.

Once he had searched in vain for the keys, Korvel glanced over at the horizon. The hot orange crescent of sun blazed in the east; he slid on a pair of sunglasses designed to block most of its rays that would otherwise irritate his light-sensitive eyes. He could do nothing about the dawn or the weariness it inflicted on him except bear it. Fortunately a check of the GPS, which had decided to function again, showed him to be less than a mile from the château.

He had brought only one case with him for his garments, which he would not need until he returned to Paris. His two-handed broadsword and the other weapons he always traveled with lay inside the boot. He had not anticipated arriving at the château on foot; nor did he know whether he would encounter anyone along the way. Arming himself was second nature, but the sight of his sword would definitely alarm the resident mortals, and might result in alerting the enemy to his presence. He settled on taking just two daggers with forearm sheaths, which the sleeves of his coat completely concealed, before he started off toward the château.

   
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