It dawned on Stefin partway through evenmeal that T’Kaela was unusually quiet, something remarkable considering how silent she was in any case. But tonight she was even more pensive and withdrawn, almost huddled in on herself. She didn’t touch her food and responded meekly to any comment he made to her. He eyed her suspiciously and saw that her face was pale and drawn-looking and wondered if she might have fallen ill.
Well, that was something she would do, he thought pettily. It would be just her style to take sick as he was about to leave on campaign and would most likely pass her sickness onto him.
“What’s wrong with you?” he demanded, as if his thoughts had escaped to be voiced aloud.
She looked up at him and he saw that there were dark circles under her eyes. “I beg pardon, my lord,” she answered softly. “I do not feel well this evening. I have no appetite.”
“Go to your chambers then,” he ordered gruffly. “You spoil my appetite sitting there like a sick paran. Get out!”
“Yes, my lord.” Almost gratefully, she rose from the table and left the main hall.
He watched her go, then turned back to his meal and commanded more wine be brought to him by his twin slave girls. He pulled one of them onto his lap and held her there, groping her breasts as he traded jests with his fellow Holder, Stakkan, who had effectively moved into D’Khahl with his army.
“Take the other one, Stakkan,” he grinned, placing a boot against the other girl’s rump and shoving her toward the portly man. “Might as well have your just desserts!” Stefin roared in laughter at his own bad joke and Stakkan joined in.
“Stefin, you’re drunk,” Stakkan accused as he pulled the proffered girl to him.
“Not too drunk, my friend,” the Holder answered. “If I were too drunk, I wouldn’t have the sword to sink into T’Klinda’s tight little sheath now, would I? Would I, my dear?” he asked, turning his attention to the girl on his lap.
“No, my lord,” she answered softly, squirming in delight as he provocatively pumped his hips up a few times to emphasize his point.
“Then turn ‘round here and kiss me as I’ve taught you,” he murmured. The slave girl moved to straddle Stefin’s lap, slipping her arms around his neck and leaning down to press her lips against his mouth. He pushed his tongue between her teeth and pulled her firmly against him, devouring her, his arousal growing, oblivious to the other people in the hall.
S’Von watched Stefin coolly through half-closed lids, the Holder’s debauchery filling him with disgust. When the evening’s activities showed signs of turning into a full-fledged orgy, the sorcerer could abide it no longer. He rose and bowed before his master, asking to be excused. Stefin waved him away, preoccupied with his entertainment.
Glad to be away from the main hall, S’Von climbed the stairs to the upper chambers but at the portal of his own room, he made the decision to look in on T’Kaela while Stefin was still involved below. Her waiting woman let him in, for he had become a frequent visitor by now, and he found the Telapuli woman curled up on her bed.
“My dear,” S’Von exclaimed, his concern holding a touch of sincerity. “You did not tell me you had become ill.”
“I am not ill with sickness, my lord,” she answered, sitting up on the side of the bed. “I am ill with child.” Her expression was bleak.
“A child! This is good news!”
She glared at him. “How can you say that? It is the child of abduction and rape. You know that! I hate it. I hate Stefin! If I knew how to rid myself of both, I would do so!”
S’Von was taken aback, despite himself. He had never heard T’Kaela speak with such fury and he truly believed her capable of anything at that moment. He sought to calm her. “You must not speak so, my dear lady. It will only infuriate Lord Stefin to hear such things. I do believe that he will treat you kinder now as you bear him an heir.”
“I no longer care,” she answered grimly. “Go away. I am tired and wish to sleep.” She pulled her sleeping gown about her and hugged herself, as if cold.
S’Von bowed to her in deference and was turning toward the door, when a commotion in the hall pulled him up short. Stefin was outside the door and the sorcerer was suddenly consumed with fear, for he had no doubt that the Holder would kill him in a jealous rage if he found him in T’Kaela’s bed chamber.
She was evidently thinking the same thing, for she stared at him in dread and motioned him toward the curtained alcove that held the chamber’s bathing area. S’Von hurried through the curtains and hid himself in the shadows there.
He had barely made it when Stefin, drunk from the wine he had consumed, barged into the bed chamber. “Get out!” he ordered the waiting woman and slammed the door behind her. Then he turned to where T’Kaela still sat on the bed. “Ah, wife, how considerate of you to be ready for me!”
Defiantly, she rose to her feet. “I am no more ready tonight than I ever am,” she responded coldly. “I don’t feel well tonight, Stefin. Why don’t you go bed one of your servant girls?” She turned and started to walk away.
Roughly, he reached out and grabbed her arm, yanking her back to face him. “I have bedded the servant girls and now it’s your turn!” He pulled her to him and covered her mouth with his, kissing her brutally.
She squirmed away. “Stop! You smell like sour wine!”
“You’ll smell like more than that soon,” he sneered contemptuously and threw her across the bed. “When I’m done, you’ll reek of the wine I’m about to pour into you.” He unbuckled his dagger belt and let it drop to the floor, then pulled his tunic over his head and tossed it away.
She had learned that it was futile to resist him. He would only beat her then take her anyway. So she lay watching him as unlaced his breeches and freed his aroused manhood.
The sight of it filled her with disgust and she began to squirm away from him. Abruptly, he seized her gown and ripped it apart, baring her pale body to his scrutiny. “You’re putting on a little weight, aren’t you, my dear?” he leered as he climbed atop her. “I like a nice soft cushion, you know.”
She glared at him with loathing. “I’m pregnant,” she answered tersely.
That halted him for a moment, then he grinned nastily. “Are you now? All the more reason to celebrate tonight, eh?” He fell across her, pinning her to the bed, and began kissing her roughly again.
She tried to shove him away, to avoid his wine-stained mouth. “Get off me! You turn my stomach!”
“Oh, no, not until we have thoroughly celebrated your happy news,” he answered and gripped her face between his hands, planting his lips hard on hers. At the same time, she felt his mind clumsily and roughly attempting to meld with hers. Having him in her body was bad enough. Having him in her mind was more than she could take.
Revolted, she dug in her nails and slashed them down the side of his face, taking skin and blood with them. He jerked back with a cry then gingerly touched his fingers to his cheek, staring in disbelief at the green liquid that stained his hand. His shock quickly turned to anger and, exploding with rage, he backhanded her hard, nearly knocking her senseless.
It wasn’t enough to assuage his fury. He slapped her again and again, then dragging her to her feet, he slammed his balled fist full into her face, sending her crashing to the floor, blood spurting from her broken nose. “You seehn bitch,” he hissed at her. “How dare you defy me!”
He aimed a kick at her which she managed to avoid, rolling away from him, then, thoroughly frightened, she tried to scramble out of his reach. “Oh, no,” he said through clenched teeth. “I’m not finished with you yet!”
He tackled her and fell hard upon her, not caring that his weight landed full on her abdomen. Pinning her, he shoved her legs apart and with one hard, savage thrust, he buried himself in her, hilt-deep. She screamed but he slapped a hand over her mouth and savagely pounded into her, deliberately being as brutal as possible, enjoying the cries of pain she was unable to suppress each time his pelvis impacted against hers.
The thrill of it drove him quickly to climax and he slammed into her one final time, pouring his contempt into her along with his seed. When he had finished, he rose and glared down at her in disgust. “I don’t know why I wanted you in the first place,” he spat. “I should throw you to the troops and let them use you as a relief woman!” Still seething, he drew back and kicked her in the side. “Get out of my sight!” Turning away from her, he shoved his spent manhood back into his breeches and walked to the sideboard where he poured himself a goblet of wine.
On the floor, T’Kaela dragged herself into a sitting position and glared at his back, blood from her nose still streaming down her face. Shaking with rage and pain, she tried to get to her feet but couldn’t seem to make her muscles work. A sharp stab inside her bruised torso told her that at least one of her ribs was broken and lower down, in her abdomen, there was another pain, a tight cramping pain that grew worse. Somehow she recognized what was happening and she knew that soon she would be wracked with the dreadful torment of bringing forth the infant he had killed within her.
Fury and hatred fueling her tortured body, T’Kaela spied the dagger lying in its sheath beside the bed and, before she could think, it was in her hand. With a strength born of insanity, she got to her feet and stumbled toward him.
Hearing her approach, Stefin turned back toward her, goblet in hand, surprised that she was so resilient. “Oh, do you need more—”
It was as far as he got, for by that time she had plunged the dagger into his side and twisted it into his beating heart. He gasped in shock and dropped the goblet from his suddenly nerveless fingers, clutching feebly at the knife still buried within him.
He stared in disbelief into her pale, bloodied face, her disarrayed black hair like a le’matya’s mane around it, and wondered how he could have misjudged the extent of her outrage and ferocity. It was the last thought he had as she finally drew the dagger from his side and watched him crumple to the stone floor, dead.
From his hiding place, S’Von had been watching in horrified fascination the scene unfolding before him. Now he ventured forth and went to where T’Kaela was standing shakily over Stefin’s body, the bloody knife still in her hand. She looked up at the sorcerer, the magnitude of what she had done beginning to register on her face, then her legs gave way beneath her and she sank to the floor.
“Get help,” she whispered and for a second S’Von thought she was concerned about her husband. Then he saw that her torn gown was soaked with her own blood as she began to hemorrhage from the miscarriage.