Nephilim were upon the earth in those days.
“Where did he go?” Altor roared, biting his lip in frustration.
Ittai observed the bunching of Altor’s jaw muscles and the darkening tinge of red across the blue eyes, unmistakeable signs of the Earth-Born’s gathering rage. Ittai glanced at the points around the room. His people were near if Altor attacked.
“We are sure he’s left the city, Lord,” Ittai replied, his exterior calm.
In reality he was furious. It had come as a shock, that his men, among his most skilled, had lost track of a weakened prisoner. Now Ittai was anxiously speculating on who must have helped him and why.
The plan to release the prince and follow him back to Tetrahin had backfired. Still, Ittai was confident Prince Amis and his companions would be found. There must be no early warning for the fugitives hiding out in a fortress with Altor’s female.
Ittai’s lip curled at the thought of Altor besotted with a girl, with anything other than himself.
“You set him free and then you lost him.”
It was a statement. Altor bent a suspicious, piercing gaze upon Ittai. Ittai felt the full force of that mesmerising gaze. Although he harboured a deep hatred for Altor, the Earthborn had a forceful, majestic beauty, a deadly charisma that compelled people to worship him.
Ittai inclined his head.
Altor lifted a sceptical eyebrow, “I only agreed to set him free in order to test the foreign queen’s story. She is getting far too close to my father.”
Ittai shifted uncomfortably under that glorious, menacing stare, resisting the urge to bow ingratiatingly. He managed to maintain a bland expression.
“We have the essential information, my lord. Tetrahin’s location will be revealed.”
He forced himself to utter a question burning in his brain.
“This young woman, Rija, who is she, my lord?”
Altor’s face lost its ferocious expression and his eyes turned to the lightest heavenly blue. He smiled faintly.
“The human female I have chosen – my woman, happens to be a daughter of Arca’s former king. A hidden princess. So fitting.”
He mused lost in thought.
Ittai knew he must act cautiously. How much did the great Proximus, ruler of the city, know about his son’s plans and this female, Altor’s remarkable new obsession? Did he know she was purportedly of the Royal family?
Treading the line between Proximus and Altor was hazardous. Ittai was caught up between the opposing wills and machinations of two powerful creatures, a terribly risky business and he had the remnant of his own people to keep hidden and safe. He must word his next question carefully, very carefully.
“Will my Lord Proximus be coming with us when we set out to find the…er…princess?”
“My father is waiting for us at the edge of the forest right now,” Altor snapped, “he wants to find the fortress as much as I do. Now, summon a dozen of your best men. I want to leave at once.”
A loud knocking interrupted the Earthborn’s diatribe.
“Enter,” he called curtly, keeping his eyes pinned on Ittai.
A tall, spare man swept in. The flowing scarlet robes proclaimed him as one of the Priesthood of the Asherah. His high-cheekboned face was matched with deep-set, eyes and hooded lids. Ittai stepped back, sucking in his breath. It was the High Priest.
The High Priest nodded to Altor, “Young Earthborn, I wish to see your Father.”
“He is not here,” Altor was surprisingly courteous.
The High Priest sighed. His eyes narrowed and he raised an eyebrow at his entourage fidgeting at the doorway. They sobered at once, arranging themselves in a silent line along the wall.
Ittai watched them with interest. The Asherah seemed above and beyond the rules that bound all other Arcan citizens. They were the pet lapdogs of the Fallen One.
The heavy eyes of the High Priest switched to Altor, “A daughter of mine is missing.”
Altor was at once sardonic and amused, a curl playing around the corner of his mouth.
“You think my father will hop about looking for her?”
The High Priest regarded him silently until the mighty Altor almost squirmed. There was a strange, hypnotic quality about those deep-set eyes.
“Her mother was special to me but your father claimed her for a while.”
Ittai could have sworn there was real emotion in the Priest’s voice.
“She turned against me from that time and now she is regretfully dead and the daughter vanished. I thought it might interest your father,” he hinted delicately, “that this particular daughter is missing.”
Altor straightened and his eyes blazed, “You mean, High Priest, that my father has a daughter running around in the forest?”
He swung around to Ittai, “A daughter of my father’s could handle a great shimerith and snatch my Rija from under my nose!”
Ittai’s mind flew back to the incident in the forest, handing Altor a towel to wipe off the gore, “I thought you said it was a small female.”
Altor waved his words away, “This explains everything. High Priest, my father and I are going right now to try and retrieve your…er…daughter. We will summon you directly we return to Arca.”
The High Priest watched Altor, unable to decipher what had just passed. Finally he nodded slightly, turned about and left the room.
“Now you go too,” Altor growled.
Ittai bowed, his thoughts racing behind closed lids. He felt pity for the woman mentioned. Taken against her will by Proximus, the resulting girl child would have lived under a cloud.
He clicked his heels together. They echoed along the marbled floor as he gently closed the door on the brooding Altor. Once out of that alienate presence, his eyes grew hard and he pressed his lips tight. He had his own losses thanks to Proximus and Altor.
His own wife had been right to flee this dread, city and yet their Gershoni enclave deep in the forest hadn’t been a haven either. When Proximus attacked there had been no survivors.
Her small oval face rose before him, the clear blue eyes searching him out from under a curtain of flaxen hair.
‘I will avenge you, my darling,’ he murmured inaudibly, ‘I will be avenged.’
Echoes of another treasured face superseded hers and his mind raced further back to another loss. His first love snatched in the forest, himself left for dead.
Ittai’s eyes turned to granite.
He would find a way to destroy the Fallen One and his son. He must keep them away from the Gershoni homelands in the north. Away from his one remaining child.
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