Chapter 15: The Bloodlines of Covens
‘I made you wait?’ Tristan clenched his jaw as he glared back into the Emperor’s scowling face. ‘You made me wait nearly two decades before you bothered claiming me as your son and ruined my future.’
Tristan exhaled slowly, then unclenched his hands and jaw. “Why did you summon me back, Emperor?”
“Insolent,” Zenaku hissed. His oiled mustache and beard quivered with unspoken rage as he fixed his glare upon the prince.
Arius raised a single finger and silenced the powerful head of the Burning Viper Coven. Zenaku shifted his glare to the floor, as if it too had offended him, but remained wisely silent.
“Forgive Duke Zenaku his ill-temper. We were discussing another important matter that has resulted in—a less than favorable result for his family,” Arius explained as his gaze slid past Tristan to where Lady Isleen and Duke Tyrrell appeared to have finished their private discussion.
The Emperor’s tone was casual, but Zenaku hastily turned and knelt before him. “If my anger has offended you, my Emperor, then punish me. But it is hard to overlook the favor shown by your request when it shifts the power between our three Coven’s in favor of only one family.”
“We are all equal under the Emperor,” Tyrrell replied grimly as he led Isleen to stand beside Tristan at the end of the carpet. “Had you a daughter of your own, Zenaku, then perhaps things would be different.”
“You say that as if having two daughters is some great favor to be envied,” Zenaku returned with a leer.
“I have one daughter and one son—as you damn well know!” Tyrrell snapped.
“Forgive me, but the behavior of your “son” makes it hard to remember sometimes. But that is perhaps the result of your precious inbreed bloodline.”
“Enough!” Arius commanded with strained patience. “Duke Tyrrell, does your daughter accept our terms?”
Tyrrell replaced his glower with a satisfied smile as he turned and nodded to Isleen.
Lady Isleen curtsied gracefully and remained in the lowered pose as she responded, “I am honored to serve, Imperatoris Ignis.”
Tristan glanced from Lady Isleen to Duke Tyrell, then over to the Emperor, and sighed impatiently. “If you have other important matters to discuss, then may I be excused, Emperor. I want to bath and rest.”
This time even Tyrrell gave him a disapproving glare while Arius considered him silently for a moment.
“We understand you lost control of your magic just before leaving Lafeara—again,” Arius commented dryly.
Tristan clenched his jaw. Though he did not understand the speed with which the Shadow Guard reported his movements back to the Emperor, he was not at all surprised to learn that Arius was so well informed. The Emperor had gathered a few air witches beneath his banner, and Tristan had seen for himself the devilish speed with which they covered a dozen miles in mere minutes.
“I did—” Tristan replied tensely “—lose control for a moment. But the incident need not affect relations between Ventrayna and Lafeara since I am not a citizen of either.”
“You are my son,” Arius pointed out with an impatient sigh. He shook his head and rubbed his trimmed beard distractedly. “The sooner you accept that role and the responsibilities of your awakened powers, the better.”
A nerve twitched in Tristan’s jaw as he clenched his jaw shut once more.
“Now then,” Arius continued with a nod to Isleen, who rose to her feed. “We shall settle the matter between the covens as agreed upon.”
“The Emperor would give the Tyrrell family all power and glory while my coven and family must bow its head and accept this—humiliation,” Zenaku snarled. His tone might have been offensive if it were not clearly evident that he was holding back his rage and magic with great restraint.
“Duke Zenaku, this is not about favor or humiliation, but the preservation of the flame which guides our kingdom,” Arius replied forcefully. “If it is appeasement you seek, you have my word that I shall make it up to Lord Mekhi shortly.”
Zenaku’s eyes narrowed with cynical disbelief. “My Emperor, the Burning Viper Coven does not need wealth nor lands. We had hoped to strengthen our bloodline through matrimony with House Tyrrell, who has been graced with royal favor for the “purity” of its bloodline frequently—despite their offspring’s evident weakness when it comes to the actual combat.”
“And yet House Tyrrell takes first place in each year’s Trial of Flames,” Tyrrell shot back quickly. “Or do your sons only count the slaughter of slaves, women, and children as a glorious achievement?”
“Enough of your bickering,” Arius interjected with more annoyance than anger as he rose from the throne. “My son is weary from his journey across the desert.”
Tristan stood firm as the powerful pure-blood approached him with measured steps. General Zere and Lady Isleen stepped back as the Emperor embraced his son tightly and then kissed Tristan’s cheek.
“It would seem your trip to Lafeara was not a complete waste,” Arius commented as he brushed the sand from his lips. “You have come back stronger—” he patted Tristan’s shoulder lightly “—though not yet strong enough to slay your mother’s killer.”
A broken breath slid past Tristan’s clenched teeth as Arius turned towards Isleen, who bowed at the waist beside her father.
“Rise, Lady Isleen,” Arius replied with warm affection. “I am overjoyed that you have accepted this responsibility. You have my full authority to push the prince through his paces—he lacks training and experience.”
“I am honored by this favor, Imperatoris Ignis,” Isleen replied as she bowed lower still in humility. The jeweled beads in her hair clinked together as the braids fell over her shoulders and curtained her beautiful face.
Arius nodded as his gaze shifted between Isleen and Tristan with evident satisfaction. “A good pairing. Experience and potential. Humbleness and arrogance. Patience and recklessness.”
Tristan scoffed. “Surely, the Emperor is not suggesting—”
“Lady Isleen will be your instructor starting tomorrow,” Arius cut him off quickly. “You will stay at her brother’s palace as Lord Farrell is your new Warden.”
“My—what?” Tristan blinked, caught off guard.
“When I can trust you not to make impulsive decisions, then you may have your own palace. In the meantime, your mishap in Lafeara has proven my point. You sorely lack training, Tristan. Without control, you are little more than an infant witch who may turn on friend and foe at any moment,” the Emperor stated sharply. “Though I suspect you’ve learned that much already.”
Guilt twisted in Tristan’s gut as the image of Alex disintegrating in his arms flickered behind his eyes.
“I shall take your silence as acceptance and understanding,” Arius replied with a faint smirk. “Prince Farrell will also provide you with court instruction and lessons on the coven’s politics. As your Warden, he will be responsible for your safety and wellbeing in-between Isleen’s training sessions.”
“As much as I appreciate the Emperor’s generosity,” Tristan growled restlessly. “I have matters that require my attention and immediate return to Lafeara. I request permission to travel with the Ambassador when he departs—”
“Ambassador Haemish has already left for Lafeara,” Arius cut in with a stiff smile. “And I have provided him with more than enough capable witches to invade Lafeara—”
“—and cause significant damage, should you continue to rebel and disobey me.”
“Are you threatening me?” Tristan roared. The familiar scent of brimstone filled the room as the sparks set free the demon that lingered too close to the skin.
Arius chuckled darkly while Zere and Isleen cautiously retreated from the demonic fire that curled around Tristan’s entire body and glinted in his eyes. “If you think my witches are to be feared—imagine the destruction you could wreck on Lafeara and its citizens if you returned. Do you honestly think you can maintain control after the church begins its inquisition?”
Tristan took a sharp breath in and exhaled as he struggled to reign in Kritanta’s power. “Do not—threaten me.”
Arius smiled back, his gaze shadowed with a hint of regret as he shook his head. “Then don’t force me to resort to such threats. Your place is here, Tristan. Focus on your training and prove you can control the gifts you were born and blessed with. Do this, and I shall proudly send you back to Lafeara as a Prince of Ventrayna.”
“I don’t need a title,” Tristan snarled.
“No?” Arius’s lips twisted in scorn. “You already let yourself be robbed of one title and Lafeara’s throne.”
“It was not mine to take!” Tristan snapped back. “And it was you who gave away the woman I was promised too, or have you forgotten?”
Arius’s smile faded as he stepped forward and gripped Tristan’s neck. The demonic flames that wrapped around the prince’s body hissed and withered as father and son locked eyes. “The sooner you forget the past, the sooner you can embrace your future,” Arius urged. “You are not some weak mortal prince of Lafeara. You are my Son. The strongest pure-blood witch the priests have seen in centuries. Eleanora—is unworthy of the bloodline you carry.”
“Unworthy?” Tristan laughed. “Was my mother also unworthy? Is that why you married her to Henri with your seed in her belly?”
“I will repeat this as many times as I have to, even if you never believe me,” Arius replied with measured force. “I did not know you were mine until after Catalina was dead.”
“And that makes all the difference, doesn’t it,” Tristan shot back bitterly.
The throne room doors opened abruptly, and a young man, dressed in exotic silks and feathers, who somewhat resembled Isleen about the face, entered the room with elegant confidence and proclaimed. “I was summoned, Imperatoris Ignis.”
Arius’s dark gaze flickered with anger as it shifted towards the intruder. Then, with a heavy sigh, he relaxed his grip on Tristan’s neck and returned to his throne.
“Farrell,” Tyrrell growled after a worried glance to the Emperor. “You are late.”
“Prince Farrell,” Isleen’s brother corrected flippantly with a sardonic smile before he knelt upon the carpet. “Honor and Glory, Imperatoris Ignis.”
“Take my son back to your palace and see he is attended to properly. Your sister will begin his rigorous training schedule at first light tomorrow.”
Farrell grimaced and rose. “I am honored to serve, Imperatoris Ignis.” He turned his midnight black eyes, flecked with gold, towards Tristan and gave a flourished gesture to the open doors behind him. “Your Highness, shall we depart?”
For a moment, something in Farrell’s features reminded Tristan of Alex, but the cunning glint in the witch’s eyes could only belong to a member of the Tyrrell family.
‘The more time I spend among these witches, the more I understand the mortal’s prejudices against them.’ Tristan nodded silently to Farrell and followed his brother-in-law out the throne room doors. ‘And yet—was my Lafearian family any better?’