Authors: Kele Moon
THE QUEEN’S CONSORTS
The Queen’s Consort
Copyright © April 2013 by Kele Moon
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Editor: Maryam Salim
Cover Artist: Scott Carpenter
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To my three beautiful children, who each in their own amazing way make me believe in a better
Special thanks to:
My husband for being my hero—always.
Laurann Dohner for being the best CP in the world! Thank you for everything you do! My books are always better because of you! I appreciate you so much!
Lori Toland for always being there for me even when I’m curled up on the ground crying because I can’t get a scene right.
I’m so lucky to have a BFF who “gets it.”
Karen M. for all your support! Your enthusiasm for my
and my success means more to me than you’ll ever know. Thank you so much for being my friend.
Lissanne for all your help! It meant so much to me, and I’ll be forever grateful.
for your amazing insight. You gave me the push I needed and I thank you for it.
Saritza for being that extra pair of eyes when I needed them.
Maryam for being the most amazing editor I could ever hope for! Thank you for all you do to make my stories the best they can be. Working with you is always a joy!
Planet of Auroria
Solar Cycle 1114
“In the days before the darkness the sun shone so brightly flowers grew right out of the ground,” Sari said softly, making her voice compelling on purpose. “Just like magic.”
Then she smiled at the little girl who had introduced herself as Aria when Sari found her searching for food in the disposal bins in the market earlier. Now the two of them sat huddled in the corner of an alley sharing the box Aria called home.
“Without glass or artificial light?”
Aria clutched the threadbare blanket—her only protection against the cold—as she stared up at Sari with wide blue eyes.
“No greenhouses required.” Sari’s smile grew broader as she too got caught up in the fantasy. “Flowers sprang up everywhere. Anyone with fingers was allowed to pick them and enjoy their beautiful scent.”
Aria sighed. Her blonde hair was stringy and greasy, her skin unnaturally pale in the alley where no artificial light glowed and only the vast gray from a sun hidden by endless clouds was there to make things visible. “The flowers for sale at the market smell so good. Sometimes I wish I could touch them, but I wouldn’t dare.”
Sari resisted the urge to take Aria to a shelter, knowing there was usually a far worse fate than a life on the streets for young, unclaimed females. Being much
than males, if a girl was unfortunate enough to be orphaned and alone, they were usually seized for the underground sex market that was saturated with males. A female was prized and worth far more.
What this little one needed was a place where she could grow to adulthood, then find a pair of males who would cherish having a female to form a union with and start a happy family. But if Sari hadn’t found such a haven for herself, she certainly couldn’t help Aria find a place to claim the dreams orphans shouldn’t dream without risking a life filled with disappointment.
All she could offer were the fairy tales her grandmother had told her before she died. Like this little girl, Sari had never seen flowers magically grow out of the ground either.
“One day when our queen is found and returned to her throne in the Sacred City, flowers will grow again,” Sari assured her. “It’ll be a glorious day.”
“What if she’s never found?” Aria asked in concern.
Rather than betraying her own doubts in the matter, Sari forced cheer into her voice. She repeated the mantra of the believers who held faith in the queen’s return no matter how dark things became. “She’s our queen. The gods guard her and guide her. She’ll return home to her consorts, who will protect her and please her for our people. The sun will shine when the gods deem it time and not a moment before.”
“What are consorts?”
Sari winced, not certain she wanted to go into that with a young one—no matter that she made her home on the streets and probably knew far more than she should of adult matters. “They’re lifemates who serve the queen and make her happy.”
“Like forming a union!”
Aria was clearly proud of herself. “One day I’m going to form a union with two handsome lifemates and wear a yellow dress with flowers in my hair for the ceremony.”
“A noble dream,” Sari agreed, happy to hear it because by the time she was Aria’s age, she wanted nothing to do with males even in passing and certainly didn’t entertain the fantasy of finding a pair of them to form a union with. “I wish it for you, lovely Aria. May the lifemates you bind yourself to be kindhearted and strong as well as handsome and fond of the color yellow.”
“What happened to the queen?” Aria asked as if it was something she pondered and never had someone to ask. “Where did she go?”
“There was a coup. A group of Rayians who craved the queen’s power for themselves rose up against the old queen and cut her down while she slept in the arms of one of her consorts. The evil Rayians, those of the queen’s own blood, then tried to kill the baby queen as well, but her other father was swift and brave. He fought back against those who would kill his daughter and her two young consorts as they slept peacefully in the nursery. The baby queen was saved, whisked away in the dead of night to be hidden until the time is right for her to return.”
“What happened to the baby consorts?” Aria asked in a hushed whisper, her eyes wide.
“They’re still in the Sacred City waiting for their queen, but they’re not babies anymore.”
“She misses them.” Aria’s voice was still hushed and awed with the story. “That’s why it rains all the time.”
“So they say.” Sari shrugged, indifferent to that side of the story. Aria was obviously more of a romantic than she was. “Their souls are bound to hers. They were supposed to be with her always.”
“How sad that they’re not.”
Aria grabbed a stick and pushed at a can in the alley with it. “My momma and daddies all died together in a fire. I’m happy none of them were alone when they passed through the veil to the heavens. They loved each other very much.”
“How very selfless of you,” Sari mused. “You have a very special soul.”
Aria beamed up at Sari.
“You as well.
Usually I have to hide from adults, but I knew right away you were kind.”
“Thank you.” Sari looked past the box when she heard laughter. She frowned when she spotted a group of teenage males round the corner to the dead-end alley. “How long have you been here, Aria?”
Sari swallowed hard against the lump of uneasiness, knowing instinctively these teenage boys, with their sallow skin and thin bodies, were set on survival no matter what the means. She turned back to Aria, holding her finger to her lips.
Aria nodded, fear showing on her face, making it obvious she too knew what it meant to be cornered by a street gang.
“I’ve seen her gathering crumbs in the market,” one of the youths explained as he draped an arm over another male, this one thinner and more fragile looking. He turned his head, burying his face in the smaller one’s hair. “We’ll sell her to Faltner and be rich off the little rodent. We’ll rent a room and stay in bed for days. I told you I’d take care of you if you agreed to be my lifemate.”
“Believe it when you see it, Gardner. I don’t see anything,” another of the males said. “There’s nothing but disposal bins down here.”
“She’s here.” The leader of the gang broke away from his lifemate to walk farther down the alley. “She hides like a little creature. She’s filthy. We’ll have to scrub her raw to get what we deserve from Faltner.”
Sari realized Aria had hidden her box in a way that made it nearly undetectable behind the disposable bins. No one walking down the alley could see it until they were right on top of them. Sari gave Aria a wide-eyed look, urging her to stay where she was before she put her cloak over her head, hoping to hide her strange hair, which she hadn’t bothered to mask with dirt or grease.
Knowing surprise was her only advantage, Sari leaped out of the box, making the five boys at the end of the alleyway jump back in shock.
“It’s a male!”
Sari didn’t argue the point. She rushed at them, knowing the tactic could sometimes scare less brave or eager males. It didn’t work. These young men were starved and beaten by life, making them vicious predators. After a few steps they hesitated, staring at her with narrowed eyes. It caused her to falter. Sari’s natural curves couldn’t be hidden by cloaks once she got close. Despite dressing like one, it was obvious she wasn’t male.
“You said she was little.”
“This is a different one.” The leader gaped at Sari, his dark eyes glowing with excitement. “Forget Faltner, we’ll keep this one for ourselves.”
Sari growled as she rushed at them once more, not even hesitating before she pulled out the bolter weapon she had hidden in her cloak. A blue arc of electricity lit up the alley as she aimed at the leader’s lifemate, watching with satisfaction as he fell to the ground, screeching in agony, his entire body convulsing from the pain.
“Gardner!” the leader yelled, genuine grief over his lifemate’s pain flashing on his face as he fell to the ground next to him.
“Get that rodent! Hurt her before you fuck her!”
Counting on that reaction, Sari took off running. Sadly used to evading heartless teenage gangs like this, she slipped through their fingers easily and was out of the alley before they could realize their hands were empty.
Her first goal was to get the predators away from little Aria, but a very close second was to prevent herself from being raped and beaten. She had attacked the leader’s lifemate, knowing revenge made weaker opponents than hunger, lust, or survival, which was what both she and Aria were to these greedy youths.
Sari was new to this area, having never ventured this close to the capital. Despite being the central area of government for the entire planet, and the largest of the four palaces for a long-gone queen, the vast Sacred City was walled off from commoners. The surrounding area was just as impoverished as other cities were, perhaps more so because the hungry and desperate traveled here hoping for help from their leaders.
She rounded the corner, following the smell of burned meat, knowing if she could find her way to the public
these males would be less inclined to attack her in front of such a vast audience. She shot blindly behind her with her bolter, hoping to eliminate another opponent, and felt a keen sense of satisfaction when she heard the hard crash of a body hitting pavement and the screeches of pain that followed.
“You’re going down!”
Sari made the mistake of turning to look behind her. The leader had taken to the chase and was moving faster than his friends. She knew before it happened that she was caught. His body slammed into hers, forcing her to the ground with all his weight on top of her.
Sari’s vision went black from the pain when her forehead smacked hard onto the pavement, her senses filling with the copper smell of blood. When she felt a boot connect hard with her ribs, a scream burst out of her, and she had a fleeting thought of Aria, hoping she wasn’t as brave as Sari feared she was. She would be better off in the hands of the underground sex market than these creatures, being too valuable to hurt as a female consort to the rich. It was a fate that could have been Sari’s, and she was wondering, not for the first time, why she had walked away from it.
Sari was forced onto her back. She stared up at what seemed like a sea of vicious faces when in actuality it was only five. She blinked past the rain, the blood from her forehead running into her eyes. The boom of lightning was deafening, making the ground shake with the force of it.
“You hear that, rodent?” the leader growled, grabbing her hands and forcing them to the ground. “Even the queen is pissed you hurt my lifemate. After I’m done kicking the shit out of you, I’m gonna tie you down and let Gardner fuck you for as long as he wants.”
Another crack of lightning reverberated around them, shaking the ground, and it made Sari’s already throbbing head too much to handle. Her eyes rolled back, and she gave herself up to the pain as she felt a fist connect with her jaw, knowing this could very likely be a one-way ticket to the veil of the heavens.
She wasn’t wholly disappointed with that notion. Life had never been kind to Sari, and perhaps little Aria would escape to one day wear a yellow dress and flowers in her hair as she bound herself to the males of her dreams.
Sari wasn’t certain how much time had passed, but she was highly disappointed it was taking her so long to die, only recognizing the high-pitched screams echoing off the worn walls of the buildings as her own on a distant level. She was out of her mind enough not to care when her clothes were torn away, exposing her skin to the freezing rain.
Then a voice cut through the fog of pain, terrifying in its fierceness. “Cease in the name of the great mother, Queen Darisa!”
“It’s the royal guard.”
Sari blinked at the sound of bare feet running fleetly in fear of capture. Rain and blood still blurred her vision, but she found herself looking up into the bright blue eyes of Aria.
“You’re hurt.” Aria’s lower lip trembled as she fell down next to Sari on the ground. “I was too late.”
“No, young one, she breathes,” another voice said, this one low and deep enough to have Sari attempting to roll away from it. “Do not move, sister. You’re gravely injured.”
“Spare the young
and I’ll be yours.” Sari wished she could beg Aria to run, but discovered her thinking as well as her words were garbled as if she had too much wine. “I’m trained by the Order of the Seven Swords. I’m more valuable.”
“I’m not a threat, sister.” He caressed Sari’s hair, fingering the strands of white at her temples that made her an oddity. “How does a sister come to be trained by the Order of the Seven Swords? It’s a death crime against our queen and her people to enslave one of her sisters. Your body is sacred.”
Sari blinked again, the rain still falling heavily, making the large man swim in her hazed vision. Realizing he was far larger than the starved street urchins she was used to evading, perhaps one of the largest, most muscular males she had encountered, had Sari biting her lip and rolling to her side. She reached out to Aria in fear. “Run, young one.”
“Captain Macro is my friend. He gives me food and clothes when he surveys the outside walls of the Sacred City.” Aria squeezed Sari’s hand tightly. “He’s one of the queen’s guards.”
Sari heard the truth in Aria’s words and looked back to Macro, squinting to study his eyes past the pain. “You’re kind,” she said in stunned realization, seeing the compassion in his gaze as well as hearing it in Aria’s voice.
“I try to be.” He studied her for one long moment, and then, despite being tanner than any other male she’d seen, his face seemed to actually drain of color. He reached down and fingered the pendant Sari wore. “Where’d you get this?”
“’S my grandmother’s.” Sari fought the darkness’s hold as the fear for Aria’s safety dissipated. With the adrenaline rush gone she felt the pain of her injuries in full force and groaned under the weight of it. “If you are truly kind, take Aria inside the Sacred City. Find her a future.”