Morbidon’s Bride: Chapter 10

Author’s Note: The good news is: I’ve decided to publish more than one chapter at a time if they are ready by that Friday. The bad news is: I’m currently only one chapter ahead, and I want to keep a one-chapter cushion in case I run into a difficult two week window and don’t have a chance to get to my writing. However, now that Jessabelle’s Beast is almost ready to be published, I have more time to work on Morbidon’s Bride and should be getting several chapters ahead pretty soon. Hopefully by the Friday after next.

More good news is that–while making some character notes–I hit an inspiration bubble and managed to fully map out the rest of the story, clacking madly away at the keyboard as the ideas flowed and the story fell completely into place. The end was not what I was expecting! We’ll see if it’s what you all were expecting.

I have to say, I’m very pleased with it. It feels right. I love when a story I’m working on takes off in a direction I didn’t anticipate, or that I had specifically planned against. This sense of “rightness” sometimes makes me feel like I’m not making these stories up, but simply telling them as they happen in some other dimension. Hey, it’s fun to dream! 🙂

And I sure dream that Morbidon is real somewhere! I can’t help falling in love with the arrogant (but so socially inept) god of death. And Marcos! Sheesh, my alpha males are so much fun to write. I love this guy! He’s completely hijacked the story in some spots! Men who feel fear but still stand in the face of danger are so much hotter to me than men who feel no fear at all. It shows more courage in my opinion. 🙂

The real question is: Who will Febe fall in love with? I gotta tell ya, I love them both already. I hope you guys do too. And I hope you’ll keep joining me for new chapters (fingers crossed there will be even more than one at a time soon). Enjoy, and as always, feel free to add any comments, advice, suggestions, critiques, predictions, or maybe just a hello. 🙂 I love hearing from you guys!

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Chapter 10

Morbidon wanted to enjoy the feeling of having his bride in his arms, but the bitter yellow of her aura robbed him of even that much pleasure. She feared him, and his hold on her as they descended to his kingdom did nothing to assuage that fear. If anything, it only deepened the roots of it. Her fear was an obstacle he would have to overcome, and he’d blundered badly thus far in winning anything even remotely approaching affection from Febe.

He hadn’t intended to unleash his reaper in front of her, but the way she’d clung to Marcus had only aggravated the suspicions Vivacel had put into his head. His control over his rage had slipped, and Febe had borne witness to the monster within him. To make matters worse, it had only taken a shift to his dragonsight to see that she did not harbor any amorous feelings towards Marcos. At least, she didn’t yet.

Giving in to her request to keep Marcos around as a companion had been the most difficult choice he’d ever made. Morbidon wasn’t a gambler. He didn’t like leaving anything to chance, and there was a big chance that allowing the two to remain together for any length of time could lead to the very situation Vivacel had mocked him about.

Yet, what he’d seen in Febe’s aura beneath the corrupting fear had been plotting-pink, not the red of romantic feelings. Marcos was part of her plans, whatever they might be. Morbidon was confident he could handle any escape or murder attempt Febe or her companion might try, so her plotting didn’t worry him. The important thing was to keep her near him long enough for her to see that he wasn’t the monster she believed him to be, although he’d done a terrible job proving that to her thus far.

His magic flowed around them as they traveled through the pathway to the Underworld. Though he’d left the revenant behind, it was a simple matter to have a reaper retrieve Marcos, and he’d already sent the order. By the time his horse, Specter, set hooves onto the black marble of his palace courtyard, Marcos would be on his way. It occurred to Morbidon that the former human might be of use to him in more ways than simply reassuring Febe. Somehow, despite Febe’s upbringing and her dislike and disdain for males, she’d turned to Marcos for protection. Marcos had earned her trust, even after she’d discovered that he was working for Morbidon.

Given her history, he hadn’t thought Febe would be quick to trust anyone, but then again, perhaps her soul was starved for companionship. That was something he could relate to. He’d been alone for so long he’d almost forgotten what it had been like to trust another. He hadn’t forgotten what it had been like to have that trust betrayed. Though he was still sorely tempted—every time Vivacel came around—to forgive the past and foolishly trust her again, simply so he wouldn’t have to be alone any more.

It was uncomfortable to hold the stiff woman on his lap because he desired her, and didn’t want to frighten her further with evidence of that desire. Her scent recalled a garden of blooming flowers, reminding him of Spring—and of life—but the tension in her body and the yellow in her aura reminded him that she wanted nothing to do with him. He had a long journey ahead of him to win her, as well as no idea exactly how he could do that. He would make Marcos share his secret.

Specter clattered down to the marble of the courtyard, neighing in triumph at yet another successful journey to and from the surface. His stallion enjoyed the exercise and didn’t get it enough, since Morbidon liked to travel in his dragon form. This time, he’d chosen his human form in an attempt to avoid further frightening Febe, but he’d failed miserably.

Febe sat frozen on his lap even after the horse finished his victory prancing. Her fear never abated, and the steel hard muscles in her back never loosened. They sat astride the shifting horse awkwardly for a moment as Morbidon wondered what he should do next.

His steward came to his rescue, floating over to them as Febe turned to regard the ghostly man with a blank expression. The terror in her eyes had faded to an almost trancelike calm that Morbidon didn’t like at all. She’d retreated within herself, her fear solidifying into a knot that didn’t look like it would ever unravel.

His steward bowed. “My Lord, shall I show the princess to her chambers?”

“Yes, see her to her rooms.” At this moment, there was nothing Morbidon wanted more than to be away from his bride. He was uncomfortably aware that no matter how close he held her, she was so far out of his reach that even with all his power, there was nothing he could do to bring her closer. He hadn’t felt this helpless since he’d been a child watching his mother turn her face to the wall rather than look at him and his sister. He released Febe, quickly dismounting Specter and taking several steps away from the horse as his incorporeal groom rushed up to hold the stallion’s reins.

The steward held up a hand to Febe to help her off the tall stallion. She stared down at the hand blankly, perhaps unaware that it would have substance in his kingdom, despite its appearance. Or perhaps, she was simply so far gone that she didn’t even notice it.

To Morbidon’s relief, she finally reached out and placed her palm into the steward’s hand, allowing him to help her slide off Specter’s back. She didn’t even glance back at him when the steward bowed once more to him and then motioned for her to follow him into the palace.

For a moment, Morbidon had been afraid he’d broken her so completely with fear that she’d never recover. If a part of him wasn’t still so certain that she belonged to him and that he needed her, her behavior would have convinced him that he’d made a serious mistake in bringing her here. Perhaps I should have taken one of the other sisters in her place. Yet neither of the other sisters had appealed to him the way Febe did. In fact, he’d yet to meet another soul that had ever appealed to him the way Febe’s did.

Instead of retiring to his palace as his horse was led away, he paced in the courtyard, unwilling to be caged in by walls in his current mood, even the grand walls of his own design. He waited for his reaper servant to return with Marcos in tow.

 

Marcos clutched Febe’s pack to his chest as he rode behind the reaper, suspiciously eyeing the scythe that arced over his head. Febe had demanded his companionship as a condition of her agreeing to marry Morbidon, but that didn’t mean the god of the dead had to honor that condition. Still, in everything he’d heard about Morbidon, the god did have some notion of honor. Marcos just hoped it extended to keeping his word to Febe and not just killing Marcos outright. After all, Morbidon suspected he’d been trying to seduce Febe away from the god.

The worst part was that Marcos hadn’t been entirely unaffected by her. The idea of spending more time in her presence was disturbing, given that she was to be married to the god of the dead. He hadn’t expected the little mouse to turn to him with so much trust, but when she had, it had kicked his protective instincts into high gear, giving him the strength to face down the god that terrified him. Now, he had the image of her wide, frightened eyes etched into his memory, appealing him to fight for her—to protect her. There was something about that vulnerability that called to him in a way that even Eldora’s fiery independence had not.

When the reaper landed in the center of a shadowed courtyard lit only by guttering torches of blue flames in the middle of a dark underworld kingdom that Marcos had hoped not to visit for a long time yet, he found the god himself awaiting their arrival, a flickering blue flame hovering beside him without even the illusion of a torch to hold it.

Marcos dismounted as soon as the reaper’s horse stopped moving, and the beast stamped its hooves a few times before its rider kicked it back into motion. Animal and rider took off into the air, heading back to the surface to no doubt continue their endless work. That left him alone with Morbidon, who was watching him through the shadows cast by his black cowl.

Marcos bowed awkwardly. He’d only had a few conversations with the god, and they had all been essentially Morbidon giving him orders. All except for the first conversation, which he didn’t want to relive. “My Lord.”

“Marcos.”

It was strange to hear his name spoken so frequently now that he’d gotten it back. Ironically, he had the god who had killed him to thank for returning his true name to him. He’d been “Farmer” for so long that he’d almost forgotten what his name had been before. This, at least, put him in Morbidon’s debt, which was not a comfortable place to be. “Was there something you needed, milord?”

“Tell me how you won her trust?” Blue light limned the robed figure, deepening the shadows beneath his cowl so that Marcos couldn’t even see his lips moving. It was an eerie reminder of the wraithfire that precipitated the transformation of the god into the Dread Reaper.

Clutching Febe’s pack in one hand, he held his other hand up, eyeing the god for any sign of offensive movement. Not that Morbidon couldn’t simply smite him with the wave of a hand, or perhaps even a thought. “I swear, milord, nothing happened between us!”

Morbidon tilted his head to one side as if to regard him from a different angle. “You are drawn to her. Do not deny it. I can see it in your aura. The red of desire trickles through your soul like spilled wine when she is near you.”

Marcos dropped his gaze to the marble tiles beneath his feet. “It doesn’t mean anything. Nothing happened between us, and I swear on my honor that nothing will!”

“I believe you. But you have earned her trust, and she does not fear you as she does me. I wish to know how you’ve done it. I would have her turn to me when she is afraid, rather than be the one she fears.”

He struggled for a moment to find words to respond to Morbidon. The god was actually asking for his advice. It was a strange and uncomfortable position to find himself in, but if he could help Morbidon win Febe over, perhaps his life would be fully returned to him, and he would no longer be trapped in the Underworld under the god of the dead’s control.

Of course, that meant that he’d be leaving Febe behind, but that was probably a good thing. Her vulnerability was dangerous to his peace of mind. “It would help her to see your face.” It was the first bit of advice that popped into his head, but as soon as he said it, he realized he was right. One of the things that made Morbidon so frightening was how his face was always obscured so it was difficult to read his expression.

The god touched his cowl, his long fingers stroking over the fabric as if loath to part with it. “Are you certain that would help?”

Just then, it occurred to Marcos that Morbidon might have a truly monstrous visage that he was hiding behind the cowl. If that was the case, then revealing himself to Febe might seriously backfire, but he had no idea how to express that without insulting the god. “I believe she would be more comfortable if she could better read your mood. If she can’t see your face for some reason, then perhaps you could give her more clues to how you’re feeling in other ways.”

Morbidon suddenly reached out and grasped hold of Marco’s shirt to lift him off his feet until they were eye-to-eye. “Explain these other ways! I would have her feel comfortable here. No one will try to assassinate her here! No one would dare bring harm to her.”

Due to his position and the way the blue light shifted to follow Morbidon’s movements, Marcos got his first close-up glimpse of what was under the cowl. The god was far from deformed or monstrous, and if Febe were the vapid type of girl to appreciate beauty over substance, revealing his face would probably win her over easily. However, from the things Marcos had heard about Febe, and his own observations, it would take much more than a pretty face to win her. “The first step you need to take is to show her your face.” Perhaps that will help her forget the monster you become. Though I doubt it! Who could forget that? “If you want her trust, you need to earn it, and you can start doing that by putting your trust in her.”

Morbidon released his shirt, dropping him back to his feet. As he regained his balance, brushing his hands down his shirt to smooth it, Marcos reflected that the other man had shown no sign of effort lifting his significant bulk one-handed off the ground. It was a sobering reminder of just who he was dealing with, as if he needed one. It was little wonder Febe feared Morbidon so much. It was an appropriate response. He would have to tread very carefully with his advice. If he made a mistake or gave bad advice, he had no idea what the god would do to him in retaliation.

Morbidon’s attention had thankfully strayed from him, his head turning towards the castle where a ghostly figure stood watching them. Unfortunately, Marcos hadn’t been dismissed, so he assumed that Morbidon still wanted information, which meant if he ever wanted to get away from this conversation, he had to bring the god’s attention back to him. “Milord?”

Morbidon glanced down at him, his sublimely handsome features cast back into shadow again. “You said the first step.” Again, his fingers stroked the cowl, clutching the edge of it for a moment before his hand dropped. “I assume that means there are more.”

Marcos held up Febe’s pack. “I guarantee she’ll be happy to have this back, and it gives you an excuse to see her again. Don’t have one of the servants take it to her. Deliver it to her yourself.” Febe would be worried about her book. Having Morbidon return it to her might make her more receptive to him. It was worth a try.

Morbidon took the offered pack, holding it away from him by the strap as if it were filled with diseased rats. “You think I should wait on her instead of ordering my servants to do so?” His tone shifted from skeptical to thoughtful as he stared at the pack dangling at the end of his long arm.

Marcos threw up his hands in a stopping gesture. “Well, no, I wouldn’t go that far! Just this one del—”

Morbidon snapped the long fingers of his free hand as he stared at the pack. “Of course! The more she sees me, the less she will fear me! From this moment on, none shall serve my bride save for me!”

With the situation spiraling quickly out of control, Marcos tried to mitigate some of the damage. “Ah, that might be difficult, milord! Febe is a princess. She’ll need a lady’s maid at the very least. Unless you can perform arcane rituals with hair styles and hairpins, and you understand all those powders and creams and unguents that princesses wear.”

To Marcos’s dismay, it seemed that Morbidon was considering these obstacles, tapping his chin with his finger as if he were ticking off a list of things he’d need to learn to allow him to be the sole caretaker of his wife. That would be catastrophic. “Little steps are the best—most guaranteed—way to get a woman to trust you. She won’t have a chance to grow comfortable with you if you’re never out of her sight!”

The god returned his attention to Marcos, clenching his free hand into a fist. “How can she possibly grow comfortable with me when I’m not there? Now you’re just playing games with me, peasant!”

How to say this without offending him? “If you’re hovering over the princess, she’s going to feel like a captive. She needs her own space, and she also needs to see other faces besides yours—and mine,” he hastily added in the hopes of heading off any lingering suspicions Morbidon might have.

Morbidon slung the pack over one shoulder and crossed his arms. “In all this tiptoeing around my bride, when do I get the honor of her company?”

How can a god be so ignorant of these things? “Dates are probably the best way to win her over and spend time with her. But they have to be the right ones. Take her to the nicest parts of your… kingdom.” If there are any.

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