Authors: Jaide Fox
THE DEVIL’S CONCUBINE
THE DEVIL’S CONCUBINE
© copyright February 2006, Jaide Fox
Cover art by Eliza Black, © copyright February 2006
New Concepts Publishing
Lake Park, GA 31636
This is a work of fiction. All characters, events, and places are of the author’s
imagination and not to be confused with fact. Any resemblance to living persons or
events is merely coincidence.
THE DEVIL’S CONCUBINE
Talin’s keen gaze was captured by a flutter of movement on the roof of King
Andor’s palace as he guided his mount through the castle gates and into the inner
courtyard. The brightly colored veil of a maiden flashed again as he looked up and he saw a cluster of young women along the waist high walls that topped one wing of the
palace. They returned his perusal with unabashed interest and his lips curled faintly, for he knew, being mere man children, they could not see him nearly as well as he could see them and no doubt thought subtlety was unnecessary.
A nervous flutter of feminine giggles tickled at his ears as one turned to look at
someone beyond his view. “Princess Aliya! You must come to see!”
His interest instantly sharpened. Tilting his head, he listened for a response,
frowning when he heard nothing and wondering if she’d only spoken so softly he’d failed to hear, or not at all.
No matter. The maid had spoken to her, the one he’d come so far to see, the great
beauty the man children were crowing about and gathering to squabble over. He knew
exactly where she was and it would be no great feat to join her there.
He’d intended to confront King Andor about the insult to the people of Goldone
head on, but upon consideration he decided he was more interested in assuaging his
curiosity about the Princess Aliya.
After studying the façade of the palace for several moments, he handed off the
reins of his mount absently to a stable hand and casually strolled away from the crowd that had bottle necked at the main entrance to the castle. The crowd thinned as he
walked, peared to a handful and then only the occasional passerby. Moving to a small outbuilding, he leaned back against the wall, folding his arms across his chest and
pretending no more than a mild interest in the wall before him as he assessed it. When no one passed after several moments, he discarded his boots and peeled his breeches off, tossing them aside.
He was on the point of shifting fully when it occurred to him that doing so might
make climbing through the narrow window above him a little difficult. Shrugging, he
merely focused on morphing wings and talons for gripping and launched himself
skyward. The climb was harder than he’d expected, for he’d moved into a narrow cul-de-sac and there was little in the way of air currents to aid him.
He was only slightly winded when he grasped the window ledge with his sharp
talons, however. Morphing from wings to arms once more, he grasped the edges of the
window and leapt down onto the stone floor of a corridor.
There were two guards standing stiffly erect outside a set of doors some ten feet
from where he’d landed. Either he’d made more noise that he’d thought, or the
movement caught the eye of one of the guards, for he turned his head curiously.
Unhooking the whip coiled at his waist, Talin flicked. The leather snaked out, the tip curling tightly around the man’s throat. Gasping, his eyes widening, he caught at the THE DEVIL’S CONCUBINE
leather around his throat instinctively even as Talin yanked on the whip, jerking the man face down on the tiles.
Leaping forward and upward at almost the same instant, he caught the second
guard with his talons around the throat, choking off a half uttered cry of alarm. His momentum slammed the guard backward into the wall. Talin released the man as he
began to slide to the floor.
After staring down at his prey for several moments, he grabbed the man’s armor
and slugged him in the face with his fist. The guard’s eyes rolled back in his head and, satisfied, Talon turned to the first. That one, he saw, was already turning blue in the face.
Shrugging, he balled up his fist and knocked that guard out, as well.
Retrieving his whip, he glanced up and down the corridor and finally opened the
door and peered inside. Finding the room empty, he morphed into full man once more,
grabbed a man in each hand and dragged them inside. One was already beginning to
come around. A quick search of a chest nearby turned up a marvelous collection of
scarves. Using those, he bound and gagged both men, then strode across the room,
checking at each window for guards.
There were two more guards on the roofs overlooking what he now saw was a
garden of some sort, for potted trees and flowers grew there in profusion. It took a little longer than he liked to dispatch the last two guards because he was forced to climb the walls to get to them. Finally, however, he had neatly disposed of the possibility of interruption and merely vaulted over the low wall of the last post, landing lightly on the garden tiles.
* * * *
Emerging briefly from her own thoughts, Princess Aliya smiled absently at the
maid who’d spoken to her. It seemed to be the response the maid had expected. She
flitted away again, leaving Aliya to her thoughts once more.
The roof top garden was not a place for meditation at any time that her ladies
were present. Today it was even less peaceful than usual. The maids flitted from one spot along the low wall that protected the outer edge of the garden to another, looking, and sounding, like a small flock of excited birds as they watched the activity below them, exchanging observations about the dignitaries arriving for the tournament.
Wryly, Princess Aliya thought that, from their behavior, one might almost believe
one, or all, of them were watching the arrival of their own suitor.
She almost wished that were the case, but she wasn’t entirely sure of why she
Almost two years to the day before, when preparations had been underway for her
sixteenth birthday celebration, she had been as excited as any of her ladies were, certain that her father meant to settle her and that she would soon be overseeing her own
household. She had been tremendously disappointed when that was not the case. She
had reached marriageable age the year before and had not been settled, but she had been brought up to understand that her marriage would be of political significance. As
disappointed and impatient for life as she was, she’d understood that her father needed time to weigh his decision carefully when there had been no less than three princes who had offered for her. She also understood that the decision was made even more difficult by the fact that others offered for her in the time that her father, King Andor, pondered his decision--powerful men that he had no wish to offend. She’d convinced herself that THE DEVIL’S CONCUBINE
the celebration planned for her sixteenth birthday was also to be the occasion when she would at last be told who had been chosen for her. Again, she had been disappointed and so it had gone since. Each time her father had considered her suitors and concluded
which would be best to choose to protect the interests of his kingdom and his daughter, a new suitor would appear upon their doorstep and he would go back to examining the
She’d begun to think she would never be wed, or if she was that she would be
long in the tooth and perhaps too old to bear children.
She had enjoyed the courtships. With each new suitor, she had found something
to admire about him, something to appeal to the woman in herself, the mother, the
princess and, occasionally, all three. It had not always been an easy task. Some had been young, barely old enough to be considered men at all, others more ‘seasoned,’ and still others quite old. Few of them were actually handsome, but they were quite presentable and only a couple had been completely unappealing physically.
Her opinion mattered to her father, but she was a woman full grown now, and she
realized that her personal feelings could not be allowed to get in the way of a sound political decision so she preferred to keep those to herself.
In truth, she didn’t feel more particularly drawn to one above another.
She supposed she wasn’t as excited as her ladies because she had been
disappointed so many times before and, although her father had announced that she
would be bestowed upon the winner of the tournament, that he would allow ‘right of
might’ to determine her fate, she didn’t entirely believe that would settle the matter when she had girded herself so many times before and been disappointed.
After a time, she realized there was a niggling of disenchantment at the heart of
her strange moodiness. As unnerving as it had been to imagine men fighting over the
honor of her hand, it had also been exciting. There had been a sense that fate would choose the perfect man for her, that she could not make the wrong choice, or her father.
She would be wed to the strongest and bravest warrior among them.
Politics had again intervened. The oldest and the youngest and least experienced
of her suitors had complained that that was not a fair way to conclude the matter and they had been allowed to send their champions to fight in their place.
Now she might well end up with a man who was not strong and brave at all, but
rather the man who’d paid the best warrior. And, regardless of her sensitivity to the issues at stake, she hardly felt that that was fair to her. She might end up with a
grandfather … or a boy!
That had always been a possibility, of course, because the young and virile did not
always inherit a powerful kingdom, but it was very disappointing to be allowed to think she would have a skilled, fearless warrior as husband and then discover that might not be the case at all.
Sighing, she decided to try to put those anxieties from her mind. Now was not the
time to be moping. There was to be feasting and entertainment of all sorts.
The tournament would be far more exciting than it had ever been before for the
simple reason that she would wed whoever emerged as the best.
By her next birthday, she might well have a babe in her arms to cuddle!
THE DEVIL’S CONCUBINE
That was almost as frightening a thought as it was thrilling, though, and she rose
abruptly from the lounging couch where she’d been perched almost from the time she had come up to the gardens with her ladies.
Her beautiful gown, commissioned by her father especially for the occasion, was
creased she saw in consternation when she looked down to smooth it. She was not
generally prone to be so careless with her dress. Particularly not those things she owned that were as lovely as this gown, which had been fashioned of the finest silk and
brocaded all over the bodice, the long, fitted sleeves, and the bell shaped skirt, and then sewn with seed pearls and tiny diamonds in a cunning floral design. From the moment
she had had her first fitting, it had been her favorite, for the pale color seemed to her the perfect foil for her dark skin and the style was both fashionable and very flattering to her figure.
Sighing with irritation at herself for crimping it, she finally dismissed it and
crossed the garden to join her ladies at the garden wall.
Leesa, the daughter of one of her father’s highest advisors, turned at her approach.