The old man followed Danae to the doorway, and for a moment he stared into her eyes, searching. Then Yewan parted his lips, and barely breathed the word, “Why?”
She looked away. Bands like iron seemed to squeeze her chest, but she had come here for this. She forced a breath and made herself speak her shame. “I do not want to die.”
He didn’t answer. After a dozen heartbeats she raised her gaze, afraid what she would find, but she was astonished to see sympathy in his eyes. Sadness. And understanding. Something unfolded inside her chest. It felt like a flower blooming, like a knot unraveling. She reached a hand toward him, but his own hand flashed past hers. He pulled her knife from her belt, and before she could react he carved a long, deep gash in his left hand. Blood poured, but he did not make a sound. He drew one shuddering breath, determination in his eyes, then shoved her roughly deeper into the darkness of the room, and he went out to the door.
For a moment she just stared after him, dazed. The memory of his bright-flowing blood stained her thoughts, the unflinching calm with which he’d slashed his own flesh. For her. She knew that much. She understood–or thought she understood–but she could barely conceive what he had done for her. What he was doing.
It was not a large house. It took him four paces to reach the outer door, and before she could move she heard it creak open. She heard the angry voice of the Peaceguard who had called out before. She heard Yewan arguing back. It was late. They had disturbed him at dinner. Just look at the mess he’d made!
All of it was a show for her sake. She’d stained his window. She’d stained his floor. She’d stained his honor, and he hadn’t even hesitated to cut himself deep for her. And now he lied. Now he bickered with a Peaceguard to distract him from the other signs of her presence. Her strength failed her and she slipped soundlessly to her knees. She pressed her forehead against the floor, and she practiced breathing.
He had always been good to her. He was a hard man, but that made him a good master. He had taught her what no one else could have. He had taught her the rites of the bloodshield bond, her people’s special birthright. He had taught her the spiritual discipline to become a Bloodshield Protector, and with that power she had become one of the most respected members of a kingdom that largely hated her tribe.
And he had taught her to be a warrior, too. They were very different disciplines–the bond and battle–and without his training in the fight she never could have been the Protector he taught her to be. He had made her into the most famous warrior in all the land, second only in esteem to old retired Yewan himself. He had taught her what no one else in all the world could have, and it was her hand that had ended the War of Three Thousand Nights.
Scars marked her top-to-toe, more from the hard years of her training than from the dozen men and women she had bonded in a decade of service. The bloodshield bond allowed her to take the injuries dealt to another. Her people had long been bondservants and slaves, forced to take the bond to protect the rich and powerful. For all their eerie magic, they’d been little better than kings’ wine-tasters.
But Yewan’s prowess had made him something else. He had raised up all his people–not into a respected warrior caste, perhaps, but most people only spoke their hatred of her tribe in hushed tones now–and his education of Danae had allowed her to go with her charges into battle, to fight by their sides, to protect them in strength and in spirit. And in the end she had followed the old Marshall to the gates of the ancient city.
She had stood with him against an army. She had parried the thrust that would have felled him. She had accepted the cut that would have crippled his leg. She had swung against the Nightlord’s head and drawn the shield, and the Marshall had stabbed him through.
Nine years gone. She had been a hero. She had been hobbled, too, and put out to pasture. She had been appointed nursemaid to the infant king, and spent her precious bloodshield bond guarding him against the tedious pains of childhood.
Darling King Jeras cut his teeth, and it was his Protector whose gums bled. King Jeras stumbled against a redbrick hearth, and it was his Protector’s scalp that split from ear to eyebrow. King Jeras climbed a tree, and it was his Protector’s arm that broke in three places.
For nine years she had watched him grow, snotty and stupid and spoiled. He had never known war, never known sacrifice or loss. For nine years she healed–her wounds and his–and her nation healed, too. Peace came, and prosperity with it. She had trained her ruined leg to take her weight again. She had learned to walk, and then to run. For nine years she had followed the boy king and paid the price of his recklessness.
And then on a lazy afternoon he had chosen the unbroken stallion from the royal stable. He had insisted, and who would dare defy the king? Danae had ridden out on a placid little roan, King Jeras on a wild beast of midnight black, and she’d watched him fight the monster across half a dozen acres. She’d watched the beast throw him, and felt the agony when he landed on a jutting limb. She’d taken the injury like a spear to her gut. She’d watched the rearing stallion, hooves slamming like warhammers, and she had seen the blow coming that would have staved in the king’s skull.
A little tremor shook her, crouched in the still darkness of Yewan’s empty room. She had watched the rearing stallion, and she had broken the bloodshield bond. She had sat upon her roan, bleeding from her side, and watched the stallion stomp the pretty little king to death. And then she had run.
You can read the full text of “The Bloodshield Betrayal” in A Consortium of Worlds, #1.