Born of Fury (Page 20)

Born of Fury (The League #7)(20)
Author: Sherrilyn Kenyon

“Okay. Just hold still and I’ll be done in a minute.”

Hauk didn’t respond as he stared at the mountain range in front of them where he’d once climbed with his brother’s insults ringing in his ears. Memories surged with a brutal bite.

Because of the way Keris had been conceived, their father and paternal grandmother had always been lukewarm at best toward him. And their mother had pushed Keris hard to be the ultimate soldier, so that she could show them all that her bloodline was as good as the royal lineage she had denied to the Hauk progeny. It was why she’d named Keris after their Hauk ancestor who’d founded The League.

My sons will be legends, too…

Her constant demands on his brother and incessant bitching had been such that they’d embedded a vicious cruel streak in Keris’s heart. Something that had worsened anytime Keris drank or took drugs. Fain, alone, had been able to calm Keris’s rages. But after Fain had been disowned, Keris’s violence and cruelty had escalated. He’d acted as if he was afraid of meeting the same fate.

And he’d turned all that anger at their parents, whom he couldn’t attack, to his youngest brother – as if it was somehow Hauk’s fault Fain had chosen to be with a human over them.

But even before that, Keris had resented Hauk for the fact that Hauk had “shamed” them all when he’d been depledged after the pod accident that had left him scarred and humiliated by Jullien’s lies.

With the exception of Fain, from that day forward, his entire family had seen him as deformed and lacking.

Useless.

Worthless.

Embarrassing.

So much so, that only Fain had visited him the entire time he’d been in the hospital’s burn ward. Dutifully, Fain had watched over him as if he felt responsible for it and for Hauk.

To this day, even though Fain had never mentioned it, Hauk was sure Fain had paid for his surgeries and treatments. Had it been up to their parents, his mother would have left him to die.

Hauk didn’t blame her for that. It was, after all, the Andarion way. If you weren’t strong enough to survive, you were better off dead.

To this day, Keris’s first words to him when he’d finally come home from the hospital were carved in the bitterest part of his heart. “I hope that hybrid bastard kissed you before he f**ked you in the ass. You should have died like a warrior in that crash. Not been dragged to safety like a human bitch by a worthless mutant dog.”

Fain had gone for Keris’s throat. But for their mother’s quick actions, Fain would have most likely killed Keris for it. But it hadn’t erased the scar those words had seared into Hauk’s heart.

Whenever Keris had been sober, he was the fun-loving, surly brother Hauk remembered growing up with. But the moment any drug touched his system… the stopgap was removed, and out came a monster even Dariana had feared.

Hauk had tried to use the same tactics Fain had to calm him. But that had only pissed him off more.

“You’re not Fain! You’ll never live to be the warrior he is. You’re just a sorry excuse for a brother, and a disgrace to your name, and to every War Hauk who’s come before you. It’s not right that Fain was cast out while you’re left to bear our badge in his stead. You’re worthless, Dancer. I hate you!”

Now Sumi was staring at every bit of shame he carried. All of it. His scarred back was a road map of the minsid hell he’d survived. Of all the people who’d found him lacking and rejected him for it.

But he didn’t see disgust in her eyes as she tended him. Only kindness and concern. Her gentle touch was so different from Dariana’s.

Not that Dariana had ever touched him except to publicly humiliate him.

Closing his eyes, he felt Sumi running her fingers over the claw marks that covered his burn scars, and the ones left behind from his Endurance. While her touch soothed him in ways he wouldn’t have thought possible, the memory of those wounds tore through him, and left him bleeding even more than the Partini’s knife had.

A light frown wrinkled her brow. “What happened to cause all these?” she whispered, fingering the vicious claw scars.

Normally, he’d have never answered. But before he could stop himself, the truth come out. “Dariana.”

“I don’t understand.”

Hauk sighed as she bandaged his sutures. “Every year, on the anniversary of Keris’s death, I’m required to go to her and ask if she’ll accept me as husband. And every year, she refuses unification with me.”

Sumi felt sick as she realized that these scars were Dariana’s annual answer to his marriage pledge. “She claws you?”

He gave a single curt nod.

“Why do you keep doing it, then?”

“I’m Andarion and I’m pledged to her,” he said nonchalantly as if that explained everything.

Her heart broke over the cruelty his family forced on him. “I don’t understand why she doesn’t just release you.”

He sighed heavily. “It doesn’t matter. I won’t have to tolerate it again.”

“What do you mean?”

“After his Endurance, Darice will be old enough to bond marriage.”

He said that as if she should understand its significance. “And?”

“Whenever a hero dies, there are three years of mourning for the spouse, to ensure the sanctity of both bloodlines and pay tribute to his life and service. After that, the widow has nine years to accept the pledge of her husband’s brother, provided there are no children. When children are involved, the two are pledged until the youngest goes through Endurance. If they haven’t unified by then, he’s released from his pledge.” He sighed in quiet resignation. “When I picked up Darice to do this, Dariana swore to me that on our return she would finally honor her pledge and accept me as her husband.”

Sumi sat back as she digested that vicious little nugget.

Surely the bitch hadn’t done what Thia had said. “Are you telling me that the whole reason Dariana had Darice was to keep you tied to her longer, without marriage?”

To continue denying and punishing him for as long as she legally could? Meanwhile, she got to keep the Warring Blood Clan of Hauk as her moniker, and maintain a place in their world that she couldn’t have without Hauk’s family?

Hauk shook his head. “She loved my brother. I’m sure she only had Darice to carry Keris’s line forward and to honor him and his memory.”

Then why not conceive him sooner? Why wait until the year she’d have been forced to either free Hauk or birth a child?

No. Sumi didn’t believe it was a coincidence for a minute.

Thia was right. Dariana was a conniving Queen Bitch. But she bit her tongue. Let Hauk have his delusion about the honor Dariana obviously lacked.

Wishing she could save him from the whore’s clutches, she leaned forward and brushed her lips against those marks of selfish cruelty.

He tensed. “What are you doing?”

She laid her cheek against the assassin’s tattoo on his shoulder that had another vicious scar bisecting it from an old blast wound. “I’m giving you something I don’t think you’ve ever had.”

“And that is?”

The fact he had to ask said it all. “Tender affection.”

Hauk swallowed as he felt a hot tear slide from her eye and onto his skin. She was right. No one had ever touched him like she did.

Inside or out.

For the first time since that pod had crashed, he felt visible to the world.

Desirable.

Sumi brushed her hand through his hair, raising even more chills over him. “I’m done, sweetie.”

That single endearment meant more to him than it should have. And it made him wonder what kind of bastard could have ever struck a woman so decent. How could anyone harm the mother of his child? It made no sense to him. But one thing became crystal clear in his mind.

“I will get your daughter back for you, Sumi.”

She frowned at him as if she couldn’t believe what he was saying to her. “What?”

“I swear to you, on my blood honor. On the blood of my ancestors. I will see your daughter into your arms if it’s the last step I take in this life.”

“Hauk —”

He placed his hand over her lips to stop her protest. “Trust me. She deserves a mother like you. Not some callous League bitch who views her as a replacement drone.”

Sumi swallowed hard at a promise she wished she could see fulfilled. He made it sound so easy. But she knew better. Even if he kept that oath, she’d be hunted by The League.

Forever.

She didn’t have the political ties to force amnesty from them like Thia’s father had done.

They would be on their own, and The League would track her and Kalea down and execute them both, with cold and extreme prejudice. And knowing her compadres as she did, neither death would be pretty.

And neither would be quick. They would use them both as examples of what happened to anyone dumb enough to cross The League. Still, it meant a lot to her that he would make such a promise.

If only she could allow him to keep it.

CHAPTER 11

“What’s going on?”

Her hands trembling in fear, Sumi paused in her quest as she heard the concern in Thia’s tone. “I’m looking for Lyris root.”

Thia’s green eyes turned suspicious. “Isn’t that toxic?”

“It can be.”

“Then why are you looking for it?”

Sumi sat back on her haunches to give the young woman an irritated smirk. “I’m not trying to kill someone with it, Thia. I’m trying to save your uncle’s life.”

Thia’s face went white. “What happened?”

Sumi glanced past Thia’s shoulder to make sure Darice couldn’t overhear them. “The Partini’s blade was coated in poison. When he stabbed Dancer last night, it —”

“What does it look like?” Thia gasped, cutting her off. She fell to her knees to help search.

Sumi pulled some from her pocket to show her the delicate pink flower that marked the weed’s location. “I need at least twice this to even begin treatment.”

“Okay.” Thia took up position across from her. “He’s not dying, is he?”

She started to lie and tell her Hauk would be fine, yet she couldn’t bring herself to do it. The bitterest truth was always better than the sweetest lie. “He’s stronger than anyone I’ve ever known. But I could beat him for not telling someone he was wounded last night. Then we could have treated him immediately and he wouldn’t be in as much danger as he is now. He pushes himself too hard.”

“It’s what he does.” Thia pulled a handful of it out of the ground and handed it to Sumi. “I’ve heard Uncle Syn threaten a million times to embed an off switch in him so that when he refuses to rest when he’s hurt, Syn can force him. And my father threatens to hold him down while Syn implants it.” She gave more to Sumi. “How are your wounds, by the way?”

“I’ve had worse.”

Thia snorted. “You fit in nicely with this bunch. Sound just like them all.”

Sumi didn’t comment as she dug around for more root.

With Thia’s added help, it didn’t take long to gather enough and return to their small, mobile camp that Hauk had already packed up and slung over his back.

Aghast at him, Sumi gestured at the gear strapped to his wide shoulders. “What are you doing, sweetie?” she asked in a sarcastic falsetto.

He brushed at the sweat on his forehead. “We need to get going.”

“Dancer,” she chided. “You’re not up to this.”

“I’m fine.”

Hands on hips, Sumi gave him an oh-really stare. “The sweat beading on your forehead calls you a big fat liar pants. And the pallor of your skin calls you out even more.” She tugged at the strap of his haul bag. To her shock, he allowed her to remove it and his sword. That alone told her how bad he felt.

Shaking her head at him, she placed the back of her hand against his cheek. “You’re burning with fever.”

“It’s still not safe here.”

She pulled more gear from his shoulders. “You know… really hard to protect us when you’re dead. So unless you know some kind of mystic Andarion resurrection spell, I think you should sit down now before you fall over and we’re stuck dragging you behind us. In spite of what you think, I am a trained soldier, fully capable of defending us from attackers.”

He mumbled in Andarion under his breath. The words were beautiful, but she was quite certain their meaning wasn’t.

“You keep insulting me like that, and I’m going to have Thia translate it.”

Thia laughed. “He called you a bossy little mouse, which is actually not an insult in Andarion. Rather he respects the courage you’re showing by telling him what to do when you’re too small to physically force it.”

Sumi frowned. “What’s the Andarion word for mouse?”