Aliette stood in the shade of the pillars in the stone hall, and she watched what the sisters at the abbey were watching. She watched the sun going down.
Sister Everett held her hand and patted it. “It is fine, child. He will be here to take you to safety, and you will be out of the demon’s grip.”
Aliette patted Sister Everett’s hand. She didn’t need to say that she wasn’t afraid. The demon wouldn’t hurt her. He needed her. All the books said so. The sisters were afraid of what would come to pass if the current demon lord rose to king, so they were hiding her. Aliette was the demon lord’s bride and his only path to power.
She heard the pounding of hooves, and the sisters each kissed her on the forehead before handing her up to the courier that would take her to the next place of shelter.
The man placed her behind him, and she carefully took a grip on his tunic. She was not allowed to touch men for more than a moment. Bad things happened when she did.
“It is all right, mistress, I will get you clear of here before the demon arrives.”
She made a small noise, and he kicked the horse into action. They thundered away from the abbey and up toward the crest of the hill.
Aliette turned her head toward the abbey, and she sighed. The sisters were burning her clothing. There was a column of smoke with the occasional bright flicker of flame. Her time at the abbey was being erased. Two years of her life were gone in a flash.
Aliette sighed, and she watched the party of men approach the abbey. It was a small group, and they were still some distance away when the courier crested the hill and took them into the safety of the other side.
“We are going into the woods and cutting across the southern plains, mistress.”
Aliette cleared her throat. “I can’t. I can’t pass the barrier of Lord Harrow’s lands. You have to stick to the border.”
The rider ignored her and pressed onward. They rode through the woods, and when he would have jumped over the stone barrier between Lord Harrow’s land and Lord Meskar’s, she was simply plucked off the back of the horse by a spectral hand and settled in the long grasses.
Aliette got to her feet and dusted herself off, waiting for him to realize that he had lost his passenger. She had walked five hundred yards along the barrier before she heard the pounding of hooves again.
He jumped his horse back to her side of the barrier, and he leaned down to help her back into position. “What happened to you?”
“I cannot cross the barrier. I have to be hidden from Lord Harrow from within his own demesne. It is frustrating, I know, but it is my life.”
She settled back on the horse and took up her previous position. “Whenever you like, we can proceed.”
He nodded and nudged the horse back into action, briefing her about her new hiding place while they went. Her education was about to start, so that was something to look forward to.
* * * *
They had been looking for his bride for eleven years. Harrow’s father had thrown up a barrier around their lands to keep the bride in, but it was a lot of ground to cover, even for a demon lord.
Flying would have been a great way to search, but that was a skill that he could only fully activate with age or a bride who was able to bear a child.
The latest tip had come from a pilgrim who stopped at the abbey and was beguiled by the bright laughter of a young girl playing around the hanging laundry. When the girl had shown herself, her crimson eyes were unmistakable, and the sisters had taken her in the abbey itself the moment she was seen. That had been the best lead they had had in a decade.
Harrow rode at the head of his small group of warriors, and his lips quirked in a smile when he saw the military formation of the sisters waiting to confront and defy him.
He pulled up his horse and looked at the blaze in the centre of the courtyard. There were bits of unburned paper and fabric that had yet to surrender to the fire.
“So, Mother, you have destroyed all trace of her. Even her scent is fading in the cooling air.”
The mother superior stepped forward, and she inclined her head. “We are not sure of whom you speak, but we are merely burning the possessions of the dead, as is our way.”
A slight movement of his hand and two of his men bracketed a nervous-looking sister while the other of his men held the group back.
They backed her toward the fire until she was wincing and tears were forming in her eyes. Harrow dismounted and walked toward the woman, using the seduction aura that came so easily to him.
“Well, little one, you have no child here with red eyes?”
The sister looked to her superior, but the woman was surrounded. “No, my lord.”
He smiled. He leaned in and whispered softly. “There is no girl-child of about eleven who has touched your heart and soul, who has made you care though you did not want to.”
The sister stared at him with wide eyes, and while her arousal was building, so was her mental image of the girl in question. Aliette was the name, and the girl was just beginning her voyage into womanhood. Her eyes were bright rubies, and her hair was rich mink. The sound of her laughter lingered in the sister’s mind, and he nodded when he found that she did not know where the child was headed next.
“Do not worry, sister. She is alive, healthy, and growing in intelligence and beauty. There are things she should be taught, but I will continue my quest to find her. They are not going to harm her, and that is my primary concern. We will keep looking. She is to be mine, and she will be.”
He stepped back and brought the woman away from the flames that were causing her robes to smoulder.
The mother superior pushed past his men and reached for her charge. “Let her go.”
Harrow looked to the older woman with a quirked brow. “I have. Very wise to burn the fabric, by the way. That is how I nearly caught up this time. Her last home kept one of her first sewing projects and the blood called me here.”
The mother superior scowled at him and took in his features. “You have only come to your power.”
“Yes, three months ago. Would you happen to know why?”
The mother superior and the sisters paled. They knew what had happened three months earlier. That was when their charge began her cycles. He knew why it had happened and acknowledged that as long as his body continued its transformation to full demon lord that his bride was healthy.
He was going to keep searching, but the frantic look for the connection was not foremost in his mind. It was time to build his city and set his century-long reign up for a solid start. He would have everything in place when his bride came to him.
As he gathered his men and rode back to the stronghold, he sighed in relief. At least they didn’t kill her. Twenty years earlier, that was the fate of his first bride. This time, she had thankfully been born to those with compassion and hope, not the frenzy of fear that the Demon Lord Feir had fanned when the signs of an impending arrival had flowed in the world around them.
A weight lifted off his shoulders where his wings were beginning to thicken to full strength. When he met his bride, he would be presentable, strong, and he would have a place worthy of her to rule at his side. Aliette. He savoured the name that he had lifted from the sister’s mind. He would return to his search in earnest in seven years.