Home > Magic Binds (Kate Daniels #9)(11)

Magic Binds (Kate Daniels #9)(11)
Author: Ilona Andrews

“A resident of Atlanta was brought here. I’m here to take him home.”

“Ah.” Roland nodded.

We turned the corner and I caught a glimpse of Julie’s face as she walked behind us. She was looking at the empty field beyond the eastern wall. Her eyes widened, her face sharpened, and her skin went two shades whiter. I glanced at the field. Beautiful emerald-green grass. Julie stared at it with freaked-out eyes. She definitely saw something.

We kept moving.

Don’t burn bridges. Stay civil. “You kidnapped Saiman.”

“I invited him to be my guest.”

I pulled a photograph of Saiman’s brutalized body out of my pocket and passed it to him.

Roland glanced at it. “Perhaps ‘guest’ was a bit of an overstatement.”

“You can’t snatch Atlanta citizens any time you feel like it.”

“Technically I can. I choose not to, because you and I have made a certain agreement, but it is definitely within my power.”

I opened my mouth and snapped it shut. We’d stopped at a square widening in the wall that would probably become the basis for a flanking tower. In the field, on the right, a man hung on a cross. Bloody, his clothes torn, his face a mess, he sagged off the boards. I would’ve guessed he was dead, except he was staring straight at Roland, his eyes defiant.

“Father!”

“Yes?”

“A man is being crucified.”

He glanced in that direction and a shadow flickered through his face. “So he is.”

It was the same look Julie gave me when she thought she had gotten away with stealing beer out of the keg but forgot about the empty mug on her desk. He had forgotten about the man he was slowly killing.

Julie glanced behind her, at the empty field. Okay, that’s about enough of that. I had to get her as close to the exit as I could now.

“I require privacy,” I told her. “Go back and wait with Derek, please.”

She bowed, turned, and walked away.

“You give her too little credit,” Roland said.

“I give her all the credit. I also never forget that she’s sixteen years old.”

“A wonderful age. Full of possibilities.”

Possibilities that you have no business contemplating. “What did he do?”

Roland sighed.

“What was so bad that you decided to torture him?”

Roland looked after Julie. “The problem with warlords is that the position is fundamentally flawed by its very nature. A general who is unable to lead is useless, but to lead, he must inspire loyalty. When the troops rush the field, knowing they may lay down their lives, they look to their general, not to the king behind him. Sooner or later, their loyalties become divided. They abandon their king and look instead to the one who bled and suffered with them.”

He looked at the human wreck on the cross.

“Is that one of Hugh’s men?”

“Yes.”

“What did he do?”

“He refused my orders. I told him to do something and he told me that he was a soldier, not a butcher. The great hypocrisy of this pseudo-moral stance lies in the fact that if Hugh had given him the same order, he probably would’ve obeyed. I merely reminded him that he draws his breath at my discretion.”

And he’d ordered him tied to the cross. So the death would take longer. “That’s barbaric.”

Roland turned to me with a small smile. “No. Barbarism usually produces swift death. Cruelty is the mark of a civilized human. I still have a hundred Iron Dogs in this location. He’s an excellent visual aid.”

And that was it right there in a nutshell. Nothing was off-limits as long as it let him accomplish his goal.

“How long has he been up there?”

“Five days. He should’ve been dead by now, but he’s using magic to keep himself alive despite the pain. The will to live is a truly remarkable thing.”

I wanted to march down there and take Hugh’s man off of it. I wasn’t kind. I could be cruel. I had used my sword to punish before, but at my absolute worst, the punishment I delivered lasted minutes. The man on the cross had been there for days. The Iron Dog might have belonged to Hugh, but there was a line between good and evil, and that kind of torture crossed it. This was bigger than Hugh and me. This was about right and wrong.

“And if Hugh returns?”

“He won’t. I purged him.”

“You what?”

“That which is freely given can also be taken away. I’ve severed the link between us. He still has the benefit of our blood with all its power—that, unfortunately, I cannot strip without taking his life—but we aren’t bound. The light of his gift is no longer precious to me.”

The small hairs on the back of my neck rose. My father no longer cared if Hugh lived or died. “You made him mortal.”

“Yes. Even with his healing ability I expect he won’t last the next century.”

“Does he know?”

“Yes.”

Hugh had been my father’s wrecking ball. Roland would point at a target, and Hugh would smash it, until only blood and ash remained. Then my father would sweep in to rein in his cruel violent Warlord, and Hugh’s victims would rejoice, because anything was better than Hugh. Roland was Hugh’s reason for living. And now his god had rejected and abandoned him.

I hated Hugh for a list of things a mile long. His people murdered Aunt B. He used magic to throw me into my father’s prison and slowly starved me to death, trying to break my will. He murdered one of my friends in front of me. But I understood Hugh. He was an instrument of my father’s will, as much as I had been an instrument of Voron’s. Voron pointed and I killed, without question and, worse, without doubt. It took his death and years on my own before I broke free. I knew exactly how much that rejection from the man who raised you like a father could hurt. I had thought Voron cared for me. When I found out that he’d been training me so he could watch the pain on my father’s face as Roland killed me, it nearly broke me, and by then Voron had been dead for a decade.

   
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