In the pre-dawn darkness, Ravier stood on the wide flat roof of Leyston Abbey, listening to the wind whisper to the trees. The peasants who tended the vast woods that surrounded the Abbey believed the whispers to be the voices of the dead; their souls trapped in the forest canopy, unable to leave until they had given the listening trees an honest assessment of their life. A peasant close to death would rehearse his life’s story, hoping to buy his soul a quick release into the next world.
Ravier did not believe in the soul. For him there was no life after death, there was only this world and how you chose to live in it. When he listened to the leaves soughing in the wind, he heard time rushing past him second after second, always bringing him closer to his mortal end.
He was thirty-five. Soon he would be past his prime. Younger men would test him. Eventually one of them would bring him down. He would not let that happen.
Rejuve would keep him at his peak and extend his life almost indefinitely but to gain access to the off-world treatment he had to claw his way into the Brotherhood’s elite. Rachel was the weapon he would use to win his place. He would make her the heart’s desire of every man in the Synod. He would make them compete for her. He would barter up her status and his own, refusing to surrender her until he had taken his father’s place in the Synod.
Ravier knew that Rachel was a perfectly shaped charge with which he could demolish all that stood between him and an eternity of power. With Rachel in his possession, Ravier ought to have been elated. Instead he was unsettled, unable to sleep, driven by a restless energy that deprived him of focus.
As always when he was troubled, Ravier had sought solitude and then focused his mind of the Book of the Brotherhood.
The Founder taught that manhood was based on three qualities: courage, control and competition. A man strove always to have the courage to shape his world so that he could win.
This afternoon Ravier had felt that he had won. He had found Rachel and taken a small revenge on the over-proud Abbess. And yet something was not right. When he’d lifted Rachel in his arms, her naked body still hot with desire and spattered with his sperm, he’d wanted to consume her. He had wanted to drive himself into her so hard and so far that nothing of her would remain. It had taken all his will to return her to the care of the Sisters. No woman had ever had that effect on him.
This loss of control gnawed at his sense of self-worth and played upon his deepest fear. Ravier knew he had the potential to cause himself and others great harm. His blood was hot, his need to dominate was strong; rage could make him lethal.
He was fourteen years old when he killed for the first time. An older boy in his Uncle’s household had kicked one of Ravier’s hunting dogs. When Ravier had complained to him about it, the boy had taken a knife and slit the dog’s throat. He had laughed as he did it. The look on his face had said “I am strong and you are weak and this is the consequence.”
The rage took Ravier then. The red mist descended and he leapt upon the older boy. He had no clear memory of the act. He did not feel the boy’s knife bury itself in his thigh. He felt only hate, and hate has to be fed. When the mist went away, Ravier found himself spitting out the remains of the boy’s throat.
That had been his first encounter with the side of himself he now called his Wolf. The Wolf had courage but lacked control. Ravier had spent the last twenty years learning how to harness the strength of the Wolf. Now, when he killed, it was because he had decided it was the right thing to do. He was proud of that.
Yet, with Rachel, the howl of the Wolf in his blood had almost taken over. It made no sense. Rachel was no use to him if she was just another sex-toy; the Court was already flooded with them. To be valuable she had to follow The Way of the Courtesan and he had to be her Sponsor. The Way started with the Blessing. If he took her before then, she became just another piece of meat that the Court would chew up and spit out and he became nothing more than a pimp. So why had he come so close to despoiling her?
“Bad blood perhaps?”
The words came from an interior voice he tried not to listen. A voice that he knew wanted him weak, uncertain, less than a man. And yet the voice sometimes spoke the truth.
His father was in his seventies when he sired Ravier. He’d been through rejuve more than forty years earlier. Few men remained fertile after the treatment. It was whispered that the drug did something to the blood that nature didn’t want passed on. Ravier had always dismissed the statement as superstition fuelled by jealousy and taken pride in his father’s potency. But on the day of his first kill, after the Wolf had left him, Ravier had looked down at the bloody corpse he was kneeling over and had been overwhelmed by shame. That was the first time the interior voice had spoken to him. “Bad blood spills blood,” it had said.
Ravier shook his head. His lust for Rachel had nothing to do with bad blood. He had simply been too long without a woman. The journey to Leyston Abbey had taken five days on horseback. He should have brought a bedmate with him. His men had brought two. He could have borrowed one or used one of the Sisters, but… but what?
“But I want Rachel,” he said, surprising himself by speaking aloud.
He listened to see if he had been overheard. There was no sound except the whispering of the trees.
The first light of dawn was seeping over the horizon. Soon the air-transport would be here and it would be time to leave. Ravier felt the transport was a sign of weakness. He had intended to travel to Dransden by horse, the way a man should, but he did not trust himself to journey for so long with Rachel. That was another part of what was wrong: Rachel was supposed to make him stronger, supposed to help him become the man he knew he should be, yet he was already making compromises because of her.
And she was affecting his relationship with his men. They had actually laughed when he had announced the change of plan. Gaudin, his second in command, had voiced all their thoughts when he’d said, “This wench must be hot for you to want to have her Blessed so quickly.”
Ravier had been short with him and told him to get on with making the preparations. That had been a foolish way to respond. Gaudin was Ravier’s right arm and had been since childhood. After the first kill others he’d thought of as friends had kept their distance from Ravier. Gaudin had stayed by his side. He deserved Ravier’s respect, not the rough side of his tongue.
“Rachel is making you weaker rather stronger,” Ravier’s interior voice said. “Perhaps she also has bad blood?”
“Gaudin!” Ravier called, partly to drown out the voice and partly because he wanted to see his friend before they parted. While Ravier flew to Dransden to see Lady Sabine, Gaudin would lead half the men and all of the horses back to Court.
For a big man, Gaudin made very little noise coming up the stone steps and making his way across the roof. The new-risen sun dressed his features in gold and made his smile seem more radiant than ever.
“Good morning, My Lord. A fine day to fly above the forest,” he said. Then his smile dimmed and he continued, “You are taking only three men with you. Is it wise to place so much trust in Lady Sabine?”
“The transport will take no more,” Ravier said, “and I know the Lady.”
“Aye, you and half the Synod I hear.”
“She is a Courtesan, not a slave, Gaudin; pay her some respect.”
“Aye, Milord. Of course, Milord,” Gaudin said, stepping back as Ravier tried to cuff him on the ear.
Ravier made another move and soon the two of them were sparring in the sunlight. Not trying to inflict damage, just happy to work muscle and limb.
“Good morning, My Lord,” the Abbess said.
The boxing stopped and both men looked toward her.
“By the Founder’s balls,” Gaudin said.
Ravier said nothing. Rachel was standing next to the Abbess, dressed not as a novice but as a Lady. Her sarong was made of a golden cloth that glinted in the sunlight. Her shoulders and arms were bare. Her legs were naked below the knees except for sandals that laced across her calves. Her hair was dressed in a ponytail high on her head, emphasising her neck. She looked fresh and rested. Ravier wanted to touch her.
A shadow fell across him. Leaves, that would whisper no more, were ripped off the nearby trees, to whip past him and swirl around Rachel’s feet. She looked at him and smiled. The transport had arrived.
© Mike Kimera 2001 All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without written permission from firstname.lastname@example.org
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