By: Rebecca Cohen | Other books by Rebecca Cohen
Published By: Dreamspinner Press
Published: Sep 05, 2014
ISBN # 9781627989404
Available in: Adobe Acrobat, Epub, Mobipocket (.mobi)
Click here for the print version
Idolatry (Reagalos) by Rebecca Cohen - Romance>Fantasy eBook
Reagalos: Book Two
Upon taking the throne as High Lord of Katraman and Liege of Scura, Lornyc Reagalos’s focus on rebuilding one city and reassuring another leaves little time for his husband, Methian. Added to that, he must contend with the unexpected revelation that his grandfather, Romanus, set up his own religion and named an enigmatic figure called The One as its deity. Through some twisted interpretation of the signs left by Romanus, the Cerulean Cult comes to believe Lornyc is their god and invites him to sanctify the Cult as part of its five-hundred-year anniversary.
During the Sanctification Ceremony, the Cult’s holy relic, an orb given to it by Romanus, is split, releasing an entity that tears a hole in the dimensions. The species that guards the dimensions, the Valen, force Lornyc to fix the breach, or they will have him extinguished.
Now as Lornyc faces a race through the different planes of existence to capture the escaped entity, he must rely on his own Valen guardians to help him. With Methian and his family by his side, Lornyc must fight to repair the damage or lose his life.
AFTER CLOSING the door to shut out the bickering of the novices, Halm Grosvenor leaned against his office wall, enjoying the first peace he’d known all morning. Not that the bickering wasn’t good. In fact, some of the younger men were exceptional—they’d really embraced the spirit of the Solemn Squabble—but a man could only bear so much. And he still had a vivid scratch on his forearm where he’d stepped in to stop things getting physical between two enthusiastic women who had been hotly debating the merits of Katramanian wine.
The pile of letters on his desk threatened to topple, and Halm knew he had a long afternoon ahead sorting through them. Not that he had any right to complain. The membership was growing by the hour with new followers desperate to join their calling, to worship The One—he who would ignite the orbs. And the donations! He couldn’t get his head around the numbers yet, but he knew they’d never seen anything like it. The Holy Profit would have been very pleased.
Halm pushed off the wall, removed his large blue hat in the shape of a ball, and placed it carefully onto its stand on the sideboard, patting it fondly as he did so. He plucked a strand of his own blond hair from its surface, and smiling lovingly at the hat, gave it one final stroke.
He poured a glass of water from a jug on his desk and sipped to relieve the dryness in his throat from the dust that clung in the air from the building work going on. And although he wouldn’t say anything to the other priests so they wouldn’t accuse him of being negative, Halm was secretly surprised at the progress being made. At this rate the builders might be finished by the end of the week.
Humming under his breath, Halm lifted the lid of the teak box that sat on a pillar in the corner of his office and flicked a feather duster over the most sacred item owned by the Cerulean Cult. Not even the Scroll of Direction, handwritten by the Holy Profit himself, was as important. Taking a second to enjoy the view, Halm sighed happily and closed the box. He moved around his desk, almost tripping over the hem of the ceremonial gown he had worn every day since his appointment, even though his second-in-command had told him, somewhat snottily, that it was for special occasions only.
Sitting at the desk, Halm ignored the stack of unanswered letters and instead focused on the very important invite he had to send. He sucked on the end of the pen as he tried to find the right words. The sentences refused to form coherently. He grimaced as he reread his first attempt, then crumpled it into a ball, and threw the offending item in the bin. Several hours passed before he finally placed his pen down, happy with the wording. Now all he had to do was hope The One would agree to attend the Sanctification Ceremony. If he didn’t, Halm didn’t have the first clue how to break the terrible news to the congregation.
LORNYC STRETCHED, his toes breaking the surface of his bathwater. The steam rose, its menthol smell invigorating his synapses, and the heat chasing away the aches in his tired muscles caused by too little sleep and too much to think about. His long black hair stuck to the side of his face, but he was too comfortable to move it out of the way.
Finding a few minutes of peace was fast becoming impossible. He could hardly believe it had been nearly a month since his showdown with Luka Erion. If only the water could wash away the memories of how Luka had tried to kill him, steal his husband, and destroy his life. Lornyc stretched out, trying to forget that he was now the ruler of another city thanks to the death of Liege Korin Erion at the hands of his son, Luka, and that the city of Scura had cast him in the role of conquering hero.
“Very nice. A wet High Lord Reagalos is one of my favorite ways to start the day,” said Methian from the doorway.
Startled, Lornyc sat up. Water spilled over the side of the tub that stood in the middle of the opulent bathroom, a room with marble for every surface and more gold fittings than it warranted. He grabbed a sponge and threw it at his grinning husband’s head, but Methian easily ducked despite his height and broad build. “Aren’t you meant to be meeting with some of Scura’s civil servants rather than acting like a Peeping Tom?”
“That’s not for another hour,” said Methian, sitting on the edge of the bath. “More than enough time for a bit of sightseeing.”
“Then there are plenty of people who will give you a guided tour of the city, and I’m sure there are much more impressive sights to see than a bathroom in the Erion Palace.”
Methian leaned over and stole a kiss. “It’s not the interior design of the palace that’s my specialist area of study.”
Lornyc slid his fingers into Methian’s sandy blond hair and enjoyed the kiss. But knowing he needed to get out of the bath, he gently pushed Methian away, leaving a wet handprint in the center of his shirt. “And I know you’re a very dedicated student of anatomy, but I really need to get ready to face what awaits me. Hand me a towel.”
With a deep chuckle, Methian slid off the side of the bath and grabbed a white fluffy towel from a pile balanced on a pillar. Lornyc made to grab it, but Methian held it open. “Let me help dry you off.”
Lornyc decided he’d indulge Methian; it would only delay him further if he tried to put him off, and it wasn’t like he didn’t enjoy the attention—not that he’d tell Methian that. He levered himself to his feet, the water rushing over his body, and stepped out of the bath, allowing Methian to wrap him in the towel. He raised an eyebrow as Methian made a feeble effort to help him dry before his hands rested on Lornyc’s ass.
“What?” asked Methian innocently. “That bit needs drying too.”
“I think I can manage from here.”
Methian grinned and nuzzled into Lornyc’s neck. “I’m sure you can, but you don’t have to. And we could dry you off properly under the sheets.”
“As much as I’d like to spend the morning repeating last night’s acrobatics, I don’t have time.”
Methian pulled away with a mock sigh. “Can’t blame a boy for trying.”
“I’d be disappointed if you didn’t.”
Lornyc stepped back and dried off, then dropped the towel on the floor before padding naked into the adjacent bedroom, a room they’d deliberately chosen because it hadn’t belonged to either Korin or Luka Erion.
Deciding the morning’s schedule didn’t require him to wear his official Reagalos robes, Lornyc changed into a black frock coat and breeches. He’d have been more comfortable in a simple tunic, but he was well aware his days as a casual student were long behind him and from now on he had a very public role to play.
“Will I see you for lunch?” asked Methian, ready to leave with one hand on the door of the room.
“It’ll be a welcome distraction.”
Methian left after coming over to steal another kiss.
Lornyc stooped to collect a pile of folders from the floor beside the bed where they had been scattered the evening before when Methian’s persuasive advances had won out against Lornyc’s need to try and get a handle on the city he’d inherited. It took a moment to sort the papers back into order, but he was soon heading out of the suite and toward a room at the front of the palace he’d commandeered as an office.
From the office window Lornyc had a vantage point over the grounds of the Erion Palace and across the city of Scura. But he didn’t have time to enjoy the view. He fished out a list from one of the folders he’d brought with him, which had unsurprisingly failed to decrease in length of its own accord overnight. Lornyc knew he had a lot to do, but the act of writing everything down wasn’t helping him prioritize. Instead, the ever-growing list mocked his lack of progress. He really needed a secretary, but that meant finding someone trustworthy for the position.
Lornyc glanced down the list, amazed at its length given it had only been a month since he’d been a prisoner in the palace’s dungeon and not its ruler. The dull aches in his body were a reminder that he was still fatigued from the amount of magic he’d released during his confrontation with Luka. Lornyc’s explosive reaction had effectively ended the Erions’ centuries-long rule over Scura. Once Lornyc had finished with him, all that remained of Luka was a smoldering heap of ashes.
One of the piles of paper on his desk contained petitions from all over the city, from people anxious for him to provide them with direction, seemingly waiting for him deliver a new, brighter era for Scura.
A polite cough from behind him made Lornyc turn away from the window. Yasa, the palace’s Head of Staff, stood waiting patiently by the door. He had a number of blueprints tucked under one arm and carried a tray of coffee and fruit.
“Sire, I thought that since you have not breakfasted, you might like something to eat. I also have the schematics of the hydropower generators you requested.” He set the tray down on the corner of the desk and moved a pile of paperwork to one side so he could place the blueprints in the space he’d created.
Lornyc helped himself to a grape. “Thank you, Yasa. Have the engineers begun work dismantling the outer wall yet?”
“Preparations are underway, sire. I understand that demolition of the first section should commence this afternoon.”
Lornyc hummed to himself. The removal of the wall around the city of Scura was one of his first decrees, a visual statement that the city would no longer need to hide behind its defenses. “Good, good,” he muttered as he selected one of the blueprints and rolled it open, then used a coffee cup and an apple to stop it closing up on itself.
“There is one more thing, sire. I thought you would be interested to hear some news I’ve just learned of from the military.”
“News?” Lornyc looked up from the complicated diagram of a reaction chamber.
“One of the more experienced generals has been overheard discussing plans for action—more specifically, that something must be done given your reluctance to take command.”
Lornyc sighed. The general’s words were not an altogether unexpected reaction. “Then I must start to communicate plans of my own. Have this general visit immediately.”
“I thought you might require his presence, sire. He will be here after lunch.”
“Actually, Yasa, inform General…?”
“General Marate that I will visit the barracks in person. Tell him I want to address the men as well. Let him know I’m not someone who takes no for an answer.”
Yasa departed with a polite bow, and Lornyc returned his attention to the blueprint, running a long finger across the schematic, trying to understand how the Scurian electricity generators worked and then ultimately improve their efficiency. He’d witnessed the inadequacy of the electricity supply firsthand, and he knew one of the quickest ways to win the hearts of his new people was to make their day-to-day lives better.
After the second hour of poring over the diagram, he knew he really should let the engineers work on this, but the lure of doing something practical was too great. There would be day after day of political negotiations and niceties ahead of him, so he relished this small opportunity to escape into the black-and-white world of schematics, where there were no gray areas or individuals to appease. Lornyc’s stomach rumbled, and he snatched up an apple and took a bite as he read through pages of notes. Pleased with the progress he’d made, he could honestly say he was looking forward to the meeting he had planned with the city’s chief engineer the next day.
Yasa arrived to politely remind him it was lunchtime, and Lornyc for once obeyed his stomach and went to the small dining room. His sister, Vella, was already there, and she greeted him with a concerned smile. “I must say, Lornyc, you look awful.”
“Please don’t feel the need to pander to my fragile ego. The compliments are too much to handle on an empty stomach.”
“Oh dear, are you feeling delicate?”
Lornyc ignored her. “Have you been making yourself useful?”
“As if I could be anything but useful. But, yes, I’ve endured several tedious meetings with Scura’s oiliest politicians. The sooner you get rid of them the better. However, there is one man in particular who is too powerful for his own good.”
“Who?” asked Lornyc, thankful his sister had done the worst of the work dealing with the previous reign’s supporters.
“Wagstaff Countermain,” she said, wrinkling her nose. “Also, I’ve set up a portal since an orb arrived from Katraman overnight.”
Lornyc nodded. “Right, then I’ll get Yasa to arrange an appointment with him so I can gauge for myself. He might be of some use.”
Methian arrived, and Lornyc was relieved to see that he didn’t appear to be too worse for wear after a morning of sweet-talking civil servants. “You survived, then?” he asked as Methian sat down between Lornyc and Vella.
“I was almost smothered by propriety, but I think I’ve won more friends than enemies.”
Lunch was served, a light meal of soup and fresh salad. “What are your plans for this afternoon, Methian?” asked Lornyc.
“Nothing at the moment.”
“Then I would appreciate it if you accompanied me to the barracks after lunch.”
“It appears there are some murmurs from the military. And I want to silence them.”
“What kind of murmurs?” asked Vella.
“Oh, nothing unexpected,” said Lornyc, setting down his soupspoon. “‘We need to act since the new upstart won’t.’ I think it’s time I inform the Scurian army of my radical ideas for their future.”
Methian grinned. “Now that is something I would relish seeing.”
“Perfect. Then I think this is a time for Reagalos robes and a show of some of my special talents.”
THE IMPRESSION Lornyc received from General Marate as he stepped out of a carriage at the barracks could hardly be described as complimentary. Marate’s dismissive scowl broadcasted loud and clear that he thought Lornyc was little better than something he’d scraped off the bottom of his boot. He saluted, but his expression did not change. Marate’s blue dress uniform came complete with a chestful of medals, but the meaning behind each one was lost on Lornyc. He was tall, broad, and still in top physical condition despite being easily into his sixties.
“Good afternoon, General,” said Lornyc brightly. “I believe you received word I intended to visit.”
“Yes, sire. I have had the training halls opened up to accommodate my men, save those performing critical duties.”
“Afterward I require all the men who have patrolled the city’s lanes in the last three months to be held back, along with all men currently assigned to guard duty at the palace.”
“Sire?” Marate asked.
“Your question is noted, Marate, but your curiosity will have to wait. Lead on.”
Marate glowered at Lornyc, evidently not happy being ordered around by someone a third his age. Lornyc refused to shrink back at the power of the glare, and he was very glad to have Methian at his side for moral support. Marate marched away, leaving Lornyc and Methian to follow somewhat inelegantly in his wake. They entered the training rooms, an enormous brick-built warehouse with sliding dividers to partition off sections. Currently the warehouse was full to bursting with ten thousand members of the Scurian Army. Only a handful of soldiers remained on guard duty; the rest stood waiting with anticipation to get a glimpse of their new commander in chief.
The thought of addressing an audience didn’t bother Lornyc. Having said that, he had never previously stood in front of so many people, all trained to kill, with the intention of telling them he thought they were all substandard and in need of retraining.
Marate marched onto the raised stage that ran across the back wall, and the crowd fell quiet in a ripple of silence. “Listen up, men. His High Lord Reagalos, the new Liege of Scura, is here to address you.”
Marate barked out Lornyc’s orders for certain men to stay behind before stepping aside with a brief salute.
Lornyc stopped himself from wiping his sweaty palms on his robes and stared into the sea of faces to look at his new army for the first time. Unlike the Reagalos Guard, they were untidy and undisciplined. Before him, standing in uneven rows, was a mass of men in blue uniforms in various states of repair. At this point Lornyc knew the men of The Guard would have saluted in unison without need of prompting. But the soldiers of the Scurian Army were a long way from the elite caliber he would tolerate to maintain the peace of any city he ruled.
“The Scurian Army was once a feared body of men and women, a group of loyal soldiers respected through the Five Cities of Rystal Lake. But times have changed, and this so-called army has been ruined by the incompetent leaders of Scura who allowed a fine body of men to become an undisciplined band of mercenaries with little ability to function correctly.”
A roar of disapproval erupted. Drawing deep from his powers, Lornyc focused the tangled strands that weaved around his belly into a single direction, and fed them down through his body into the wooden floor beneath his feet. He vibrated the molecules of the wood, sending a wave of tremors under the army, strong enough to destabilize their footing. The roar vanished, replaced at first with shocked whispers before they fell silent.
“I expect silence when I am speaking. And you will show me respect.” Lornyc did not raise his voice. “Your previous leaders underestimated me, and where are they now? I intend to fix the inadequacies I have witnessed, so I have sent for trusted senior members of the Reagalos Guard. You will all be retrained to their exacting standards. After three months, those of you who make the grade will be allowed to stay and will be kitted out properly—not with the substandard equipment I have seen in operation here. Those of you who fail will be dismissed. Those of you who do not wish to try may go. However, you must leave not only the army but the city as well. You are hereby given two weeks to make that decision, by which time you should have received an inkling of what will be expected of you. Those of you who were not requested to remain behind are dismissed.”
The noise of the crowd began to rise again as they left the training hall. Whispering and muttering of what the future held reached Lornyc’s ears, and although he knew there would be some animosity to come, for now the soldiers were intrigued enough to wait and see what might happen.
Lornyc stared impassively at Marate, whose look of contempt had morphed into astonishment and, if he was not mistaken, a little bit of respect.
“You may wish to be present when I speak to those soldiers I specifically requested. I don’t want anyone saying they didn’t have one of their own there to defend them.”
Roughly two hundred men remained behind. A handful of the officer ranks made them line up correctly and salute when Lornyc approached. He scanned the lines and spotted immediately the individuals he’d been looking for.
“If I touch you on the shoulder you are to remain behind, otherwise, you are dismissed.”
Lornyc snaked through the men and selected three soldiers. The others left, relieved they weren’t the focus of whatever their new leader was unhappy about. Lornyc smiled coldly at the three remaining men standing scared, not daring to look at him; they seemed to be quivering in fear.
“Not so brave now, are you? You probably know why I have selected you, but let me just remind you. You”—Lornyc pointed to a ratlike creature with yellow teeth—“you were my jailer, and you should have learned that prisoners should be treated reasonably. No one touches me, splits my lip, and gets away with it.”
He turned on the other two. “I see in your eyes you remember me. Thought I was an easy target out on the streets after curfew, didn’t you? Count yourselves lucky I don’t castrate you for attempted rape.”
Lornyc paced back and forth with his hands clasped behind his back. “The question is: what am I to do with you?” He walked around each man, making little noises as if he was considering their fates, staring at them intently, making them squirm.
“You are certainly not the kind of men I want in the Reagalos Guard. You’re not the type of men I want in either of my cities. You have twelve hours to leave Scura. If I find out you’re still here after that time, I will personally hunt you down and kill you. And don’t even think about heading to Katraman.”
He turned to Marate who, if anything, was looking at the three men with greater loathing than Lornyc. “Do you have anything to say in their defense?”
“Then I will wish you good day, General. You’ll hear from my senior officers from the Reagalos Guard within a few days.”