Home > The King (Black Dagger Brotherhood # 12)

The King (Black Dagger Brotherhood # 12)
Author: J.R. Ward

PROLOGUE


SEVENTEENTH CENTURY, OLD COUNTRY


“Long live the King.”

At the sound of the deep, grave voice, Wrath, son of Wrath, had an instinct to look around for his father … a spark of hope that the death had not occurred and the great ruler was as yet still with them.

But of course, his beloved sire remained gone unto the Fade.

How long would this sad searching last? he wondered. It was such useless folly, especially as the sacred vestments of the vampire King were upon himself, the bejeweled sashes and silken coat and ceremonial daggers adorning his own body. His mind cared naught for such proof of his recent coronation, however … or mayhap it was his heart that remained unswayed by all that now defined him.

Dearest Virgin Scribe, without his father, he was so alone, even as he was surrounded by people who served him.

“My lord?”

Composing his visage, he turned around. Standing in the doorway of the royal receiving chambers, his closest adviser was like a column of smoke, long and thin, draped in dark robes.

“My honor to greet you,” the male murmured, bending low. “Are you ready to receive the female?”

No. “Indeed.”

“Shall we initiate the procession.”

“Yes.”

As his adviser bowed again and backed out, Wrath paced across the oak-paneled room. Candles wafted in the drafts that somehow infiltrated the castle’s stone walls, and the roaring fire in the chest-high hearth seemed to offer only light, not warmth.

In truth, he had no desire for a shellan—or rather, a mate, as it inevitably was going to be. Love was required for the former, and he had none to offer a soul.

From out of the corner of his eye, he caught a flash of brilliance, and to pass the time before this dreaded meeting occurred, he went over and regarded the sets of gems that had been displayed upon the carved desk. Diamonds, sapphires, emeralds, pearls … nature’s beauty captured and anchored by hammered gold.

The most valuable were the rubies.

Reaching out to touch the bloodred stones, he thought, It was too early for all of this. His being King, this mating arrangement, the thousand different demands he now bore and yet understood too little of.

He needed more time to learn from his father—

The first of three pounding knocks reverberated through the room, and Wrath was grateful that no one was about to see him flinch.

The second was just as loud.

The third was going to require his response.

Closing his eyes, he found it hard to breathe through the pain in his chest. He wanted his father with him—this should be happening later, when he was older, and not guided by a courtier, but his own sire. Fate, however, had robbed the great male of years that were his due, and in turn, subscribed the son to a sort of drowning even though there was air about him to breathe.

I cannot do this, Wrath thought.

And yet, as the third rap upon the panels faded, he squared his shoulders and mimicked the way his father’s voice had always sounded. “Enter.”

At his command, the heavy door swung wide, and his eyes were greeted by the sight of a full complement of courtiers, their somber gray robing identical to that of the adviser who stood at the front of them. But that was not what registered. Behind the group of aristocrats, there were others, tremendous of stature, narrow of eye … and those were the ones who began to chant in a concerted growl.

In honesty, he feared the Black Dagger Brotherhood.

According to tradition, the adviser stated loudly and clearly, “My lord, I have an offering to bring before you. May I proceed with its presentation?”

As if the noble daughter were an object. Then again, tradition and social norms provided that her purpose was for breeding, and at court, she would be treated as any prized broodmare was.

However was he going to do this? He knew naught of the sexual act, and yet if he approved of her, he would be engaged in the activity sometime after nightfall on the morrow.

“Yes,” he heard himself say.

The courtiers filed in through the doorway in pairs, splitting and forming a circle around the perimeter of the room. And then the chanting grew louder.

The magnificent warriors of the Brotherhood entered in a march, their tremendous bodies clothed in black leather and strapped with weapons, the cadence of their voices and movement of their forms so synchronized, it was as if they were one.

Unlike the members of the glymera, they did not part, but stayed shoulder-to-shoulder, chest-to-chest in a box-like formation. He could see nothing of what was in their midst.

But he could smell the scent.

And the change within himself was instant and immutable. In a single heartbeat, the plodding nature of life was washed away by a prickling awareness … one that, as the Brothers came closer, matured into an aggression that he was unfamiliar with, but utterly disinclined to ignore.

Breathing in again, more of that fragrance entered his lungs, his blood, his soul—and it was not the oils she had been rubbed down with or the perfumes that had been applied to whatever clothed her form. It was the skin underneath all that, the delicate combination of feminine elements that he knew was unique to her and her alone.

The Brotherhood stopped in front of him, and for the first time, he was not in awe of their deadly auras. No. As his fangs elongated into his mouth, he found his upper lip lifting in a snarl.

He even took a step forward, prepared to rip the males asunder so he could get at what they were shielding from him.

The adviser cleared his throat as if seeking to remind the assembled of his import. “Our lord, this female is being offered by her bloodline for your consideration for birthing purposes. Should you desire to inspect—”

“Leave us,” Wrath snapped. “At once.”

The shocked silence that followed was easily ignored on his part.

The adviser dropped his voice. “My lord, if you shall permit me to finish the presentation—”

Wrath’s body moved on its own, pivoting itself around until he could match stares with the male. “Get. Out.”

Behind him, a chuckle rose from the Brotherhood, as if they rather enjoyed the dandy getting put in his place by their ruler. The adviser, however, was not amused. And Wrath did not care.

There was also no more conversation to be had: the courtier had much power, but he was not King.

The males in gray shuffled out of the room, bowing, and then he was left with the Brothers. At once, they stepped aside and …

Revealed within their heft was a slender form draped in black robing from head to foot. In comparison to the warriors, the intended was slight of stature, narrower of bone, shorter of height—and yet hers was the presence that rocked him.

“My lord,” one of the Brothers said with respect, “this is Anha.”

With that simple and more apt introduction, the fighters disappeared, shutting him in alone with the female.

Wrath’s body took over again, prowling his chaotic senses around her, stalking her even as she did not move. Dearest Virgin Scribe, he had meant for none of this, not his reaction to her presence nor the need coiling in his loins nor the aggression that had sprung to the fore.

But most of all, he had never thought—

Mine.

’Twas as a lightning bolt out of the night sky, changing his landscape, carving a gashing vulnerability in his chest. And yet even with that, he thought, Yes, this was right. His father’s former adviser indeed had his best interests at heart. This female was what he needed to carry him through the loneliness: Even without seeing her face, she made him feel the strength within his sex, her smaller, daintier form filling him out in his skin, the urge to protect giving him a priority and a focus he had been sorely lacking.

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