Spark into Flame Chapter 5

Updated on November 11, 2018
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Evelyn has published 2 novels, Justice Lost and Rescue, and 2 scifi/fantasy short stories in magazines.

Chapter 5

Ember whirled around, his muscles rippling against her skin, taut for action.

“Don’t let me interrupt,” came a deep, resonant voice.

A figure emerged from the shadows of some tall flowering bushes. A tall man, clothed in black. Black hair, a touch of silver brushing his temples. He looked rather like Ember, as if a mirror had twisted him, lengthened him, distorting him into something still beautiful, but dark, and not quite sane….

He glided forward, his black robe sweeping along the ground. A gold insignia was etched on his shoulder.

The golden eye of the secret police.

It could only be one person. The Enforcer, Shadowblade.

Her heart flipped in fear. She grasped Ember’s shoulder, seeking refuge in his strong arms. He wrapped his arms around her, pressing her to his chest, shielding her from the man’s view. Gratefulness poured through her at this protective gesture.

“You should not be in here,” said Ember, menace lacing his voice. “This is the morning after my wedding. You would dare to intrude on our privacy.”

Shade waved a hand dismissively. “I’ve seen the King himself in a lot more compromising positions than this. As the intel chief, I must be allowed access where others cannot go. Nothing is sacred."

“There is such a thing as protocol and common decency.”

“Of course. But I will be the judge of what overrides such considerations.”

Ember set her gently down, keeping himself between her and his great-uncle. Fear trembled through her, but she also felt indignant that this man, no matter who he was, dared intrude on their private chambers, violating what should be theirs alone to share. She emerged and stood beside Ember.

Could he be so fearless in front of the man who had tortured him? Ember towered over Shade, making the other look small, unimpressive.

But still, a dark power emanated from the Enforcer. Outwardly, he exuded calm elegance, but potential danger seemed to thrum through the air near him.

“What could be so important that could possibly bring you to our private chambers?” said Ember.

“You know that complacency is no virtue in a king,” replied Shade. “Even you are not immune to it. It’s high time you started to learn what is expected of you. We have been too lenient, and perhaps it is too late to unlearn some things. From time to time, it is desirable to jar you out of your complacency, your regrettable laxity. This—” he swept his arm around the room—“is a luxury. So is she. A prince has to be prepared to sacrifice such pleasures for his duty. Privacy is a privilege, not a right.”

“My grandfather would beg to differ.”

“We differ on many things. But we agree that we have let you have free rein of your life for too long. Letting your father take charge of your upbringing, letting his unorthodox ideas influence you, was a mistake. It may be too late for him, but hopefully not for you.”

Without warning, his hand darted forward and grabbed Sky’s chin.

She froze at this sudden assault. His fingers dug into her chin, rough, calloused.

“I can see why you’d want to stay with her, though. She is a pretty little thing.”

Ember grabbed Shade’s arm. “You will take your hands off of her.”

Electric current laced across Shade’s skin, prickling into her face. Lightning crackled down Ember’s arm, meeting Shade’s.

“You know what I could do to her,” said Shade.

“Let her go.”

Shade released her. Her face felt bruised. Her limbs trembled, but she forced herself to show at least some of the bravery that Ember did. To be worthy of him.

“You will never lay your hands on her again,” said Ember.

“If you insist. But such things have little import either way. What matters now is internal security. We have reason to believe that spies have infiltrated the Spire. We are not sure from which faction.”

“There are always spies,” said Ember, a note of disgust in his voice. “You see spies everywhere, even when there aren’t any. You deal in shadows. It has nothing to do with me.”

“As king, you will have to know about intelligence. You will start your training by searching for the spies that have infiltrated the Spire.”

“I am sure you have more experienced spies in your employ.”

“You miss the point, my dear prince. You must sacrifice pleasure to avoid complacency. You must learn espionage to become a king. And you must slough off this softness and develop hard steel beneath. Or will you allow this girl to be your weakness?”

“If that’s what you call it.” Ember caressed her cheek, touching softly the place where Shade had bruised it. It felt better, as if he’d already healed it. Her heart swelled at how he defended her in front of this man. “I am not going anywhere.”

“Not that I need it, but your grandfather has authorized this.”

Ember drew her close to him, his arm around her shoulder. “I will speak to him.”

“Interrupt him if you must, but he will be most displeased that you disregard his decrees.”

“This is unjust.”

Shade’s lip twitched. “Such a good example you are showing to your wife. I hope she will not follow suit and disobey me; such things could have deeper consequences than the recalcitrance of a spoiled prince.”

“What do you mean?” said Ember.

“If she is loyal, then she will obey. If she does not, her loyalty will be called into question.”

“She is and will always be loyal to our family.”

“She is a Vale. The Vales are docile now, but they are our former rivals, and we have at times glimpsed simmering resentment still nurtured by their clan.”

He turned to Sky. “This is unofficial, of course, but whenever you are in contact with them, I want you to….keep an eye on them.”

“I…doubt I will see them much, now that I live here,” she said.

“On the contrary, they are entwined with our family now. They have pretext for visiting the Spire. In fact, we have invited them over for a reception tomorrow. On this occasion, you will sit with them as guests of honor, and afterwards you will visit the house of your father—”

Her head spun—she barely heard what he said next—something about binding our two families together—keeping potential enemies close—

Her knees almost gave way—and would have, if she hadn’t had Ember to lean on.

“I—can’t go back,” she said, her voice barely above a whisper.

“Of course you can. And if you do not—”

“You can’t ask her to spy on her own family,” said Ember.

To go back there—even for a little while—to that atmosphere of death—to return to the prison where she’d lived for 25 years….

But to refuse would mean suspicion. Perhaps treason…which would mean the annulment of the marriage, and death…

“You don’t have to do it,” said Ember.

“I think I do,” she said, feeling like her heart was being squeezed, twisted—

“Good girl,” said Shade. “I will be seeing you both soon. In the meantime, enjoy yourselves.” He turned and glided away, blending with the shadows among the bushes.

Ember grasped her shoulders, turning her to him, his golden eyes full of concern. “Are you okay?”

She nodded, unable to catch her breath.

“You’re not okay.” He gathered her to him. She leaned her head on his chest, feeling his heartbeat—trying to forget it had happened and return to the time when it was just her and him.

He helped her over to a marble bench and sat down beside her. Took her hand in his.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I told you we were safe here, but not much is safe from him. He thinks he’s entitled to everything just because he’s in charge of security. Only the king can override his authority, but in theory, Dad and I should be able to order him. He has too much power. That’s another thing we need to reform—but he’s not likely to give up his power…” He touched her cheek gently. “There are marks there. Does it hurt?”

“Not really. I’ve—” She was about to say she’d had a lot worse. What was she thinking? Her guard had been shattered even further after what had just happened. “Your touch makes it better.”

She laid her hand over his. He clasped her hand in his and lowered it, then kissed her on the cheek. Kissed her chin. The pain faded completely.

He pulled back. “I’m sorry to bring you into all this. Royal society isn’t always as pleasant as it might seem from a distance. We rival the Nobility for intrigue—and it’s worse, with the Enforcer behind every shadow. I should be able to stand up to him. It’s just that he’s powerful in his own right. I…haven’t really recovered from what he did to me.”

“You are still afraid of him?”

Ember nodded. “As he was speaking, I could feel the fire licking across my skin—his eyes burning into me—merciless—but I couldn’t let him know he affected me. And I couldn’t let him hurt you. I’d face him a thousand times if it meant keeping you from any semblance of the pain I felt.”

She flinched, recalling the fire he described, ripping through her, her father enjoying her pain—

“Thank you,” she said. “For shielding me from him.”

“If he touches you again—” A thrill ran through her that he would stand up for her even in the face of his own pain. At the same time, she never wanted him to get hurt because of her. “I’m going to talk to the king. See if he can’t get us out of this. You shouldn’t have to spy on your family. And it’s time something was done about Shade.”

“Will the king listen to you?”

“I hope so. You never know with Infinity March.”

“What if he doesn’t?”

“Perhaps I will talk to my father… but if he can’t do anything, then I will have to obey. I hate the thought of leaving you, even for one minute.”

“I could come with you.”

“No—you should have to deal with Shade as little as possible. I will come with you to your family’s, though. I’ll give you all the support you need.”

“Thank you,” she said and leaned her head on his chest, comforted by the fact that he’d be with her.

But still, she couldn’t shake the feeling of terror at the very prospect of seeing her father…. of being hit by the memories she longed to forget…. Just when she thought she was free of them, they returned—a dark shard in her heart that could not dissolve….a part of her that her father owned. No matter what she did, she’d never be able to get it back—a part of her would always be his, and not Ember’s.

Pain twisted through her heart at this realization. She thought she was free…but she would never be completely free…. The very fact that she’d lied to him attested to it. She couldn’t just erase it, no matter how much she wanted to. Even Ember, as wonderful as he was, could never totally free her of it….

She just hoped she could shake the shame she felt and pretend to go back to the way it was, at least for a little while. To not let her past intrude, as long as she could help it.

Sky turned to him, and he swept her into a kiss. She immersed in his golden magnificent beauty.

But somewhere beneath it all, a shadow had settled over her heart.

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    © 2018 Evelyn

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