Read Avenger of Blood Online

Authors: John Hagee

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Avenger of Blood (4 page)

“My guess is, they're in this together,” Jacob said.

The sinking feeling that Peter had had earlier returned. He had been worried that Naomi would not give up easily, and he knew that she had never taken defeat well. But this was beyond anything he could have imagined.

Peter explained to Antony, who still looked perplexed, “If Damian has returned, it's likely that Naomi would know where he is. She's his stepmother.”

Antony landed on the nearest settee, his head in his hands, as Peter continued, “Naomi's husband, Senator Mallus, is Damian's father.”

Another thought was assaulting Peter's mind, and he spoke it out loud. “If this
is
Damian's sword, then . . .”

Jacob finished his brother's sentence. “That's right. It's the sword that murdered our mother.”

Peter pushed the weapon away and stood up from the desk. His ankle was throbbing and he badly needed to lie down. He couldn't bear to think about his mother's death; he still missed her terribly. And now Victor was gone. It was incomprehensible.

“ I'll tell you something else,” Jacob said to Peter's retreating back. “If I'm right, and if Damian dares to harm that baby, I'll kill him with his own sword. And nobody is going to talk me out of it this time.”

3

PETER NEVER MADE IT to his bedroom to lie down. As he left the library, he met Rebecca, who was outwardly calm but still visibly shaken.

“Marcellus is with Agatha,” his sister said. “She's awake and trying to talk.”

“Does Marcellus think she'll recover?”

“He said the wound wasn't as bad as it seemed, and he sounded reassuring.” In spite of the great effort her words seemed to require, Rebecca touched his arm in concern. “You don't look well,” she said.

“I'm all right, just hurting some. I'm much more worried about you. And Victor.”

The tears Rebecca had been holding back finally started to spill over. “Why would somebody want to take my baby?” she asked in a voice that wavered with anguish. “Who would do a thing like that?”

Peter wrapped his arms around her, offering what comfort he could. “We'll find Victor,” he said, “and we'll get him back.” Peter certainly wasn't about to tell her Jacob's theory that Damian had taken the baby. He still thought Jacob was overreacting, and he didn't want to alarm Rebecca any more than she already was.

He led Rebecca into the main room on the lower floor of the house, the
triclinium
, where the family took their meals. Soon the servants would begin preparing to serve dinner, but the room was quiet for the moment. Peter stretched out on one of the sloping sofas, easing the pain in his badly misshapen ankle. Rebecca sat beside him, holding his hand, her shoulders trembling as her tears subsided.

A few minutes later Marcellus came to find them. “We moved Agatha to her quarters,” he told Rebecca, “but she needs to rest quietly. Perhaps you could look after her baby for the time being; Aurora is fussing for her mother.”

Rebecca hesitated for a moment, then said, “Of course. I'll move Aurora into my room.” She gave Peter's hand a squeeze as she stood to leave. “Did Agatha say anything?” Rebecca asked. “Does she know who did this?”

Marcellus paused slightly before he answered. “She saw the man, but she didn't know who he was.”

When Rebecca left the room, Marcellus sat down on one of the other sofas. His jaw was set in a grim line.

“What is it you didn't want to say in front of Rebecca?” Peter asked.

“Agatha got a good look at her attacker. Her description sounded familiar—too familiar.” He paused, shook his head, then stared at the floor as if carefully inspecting the elaborate pattern in the mosaic tile. “I don't know. Maybe I'm jumping to conclusions.”

“Jacob is convinced he knows the attacker's identity just by looking at the sword,” Peter said. “However, I'm afraid he's letting his imagination run wild.”

Marcellus looked up. “Agatha mentioned a sword. What about it?”

“It's army. Tenth Legion.”

“Tenth Legion?” Marcellus repeated, and Peter nodded yes.

From the look on the other man's face, Peter knew the retired army officer had reached the same conclusion his brother had: Damian.

“I don't think it's a coincidence,” Marcellus said. “My instincts tell me Jacob isn't imagining things.”

Peter rubbed his eyes wearily.
His
instincts told him they were about to have a confrontation with Naomi. And if he'd thought the last encounter with his sister had been unpleasant, he knew that it would be nothing compared to this one.

Rebecca balanced the nine-month-old on her hip while she walked. Several times she had tried to place Aurora in the crib, but the infant had wailed so forlornly that Rebecca gave up the effort.

Why did Marcellus have to ask
me
to take care of Agatha's baby?
she wondered. Perhaps he had thought it would take her mind off the kidnapping. Instead, every time Aurora cried, Rebecca thought about what had happened to Victor and worried whether someone was comforting
her
son when he cried for his mother. Just when she had almost conquered her unidentified fear—the vague sense she'd been harboring that some other catastrophe was about to befall them—this had happened. And now each pitiful little cry of another woman's child brought a knifelike pain to her heart.

It was impossible to concentrate on consoling Aurora when her own baby was gone, Rebecca decided; she would find someone else to care for the child overnight. But as she started to leave the room, she recalled how Agatha had been injured trying to protect Victor, and she felt a twinge of guilt. She reached for the door and then stopped.

You're stronger than this,
Rebecca told herself, shifting Aurora to the other hip.
You can do this one thing for a woman who tried to save your child.

The baby nestled against Rebecca now, her ragged little sobs diminishing as Rebecca patted her back and tried to soothe her. In days past she had occasionally been able to coax a shy smile out of the tot, but most of the time her large gray eyes held a solemn expression; even at such a young age Aurora was a very serious child.

“Don't be sad, little one,” Rebecca said. “Everything will be all right.” It was more of a prayer than a statement.

She wondered if Agatha, like her daughter, had been somber as a girl. Rebecca didn't know Agatha that well; she had not been part of the congregation before Rebecca had left home. She had found their newest maid to be a pleasant person. Mostly Agatha was quiet, respectful, hardworking, and private. Of course, she was a servant, so that would be considered appropriate behavior; but Rebecca was used to more of a family relationship with the household staff.

Many of the family's servants, like their former steward, Servius, had helped raise her. They had always been a part of Rebecca's life, and she missed them now. Most of the household staff had been believers, and the majority of them had been sentenced to Devil's Island at the same time Rebecca had.

Six weeks ago, when Rebecca had returned, the changes had been jolting: not only were her mother and father gone, but she no longer saw other familiar faces around the house. She was home again, yet everything was completely different.

Rebecca tried putting Aurora in the crib again, but she immediately started whimpering.

“You miss Victor too, is that it?” Rebecca asked, remembering that Agatha often put the two babies in the crib together. It was an oversized crib that had originally been built for her twin brothers, then it had been Rebecca's.

She also recalled that Aurora was getting teeth, which was probably why the baby was crying now, and it was why Aurora had not been in the crib with Victor when the kidnapper entered the house. When Antony had questioned the servants earlier, one of them had said that Aurora had been fussy all afternoon, and Agatha had taken her out to the garden for someone else to watch so Victor could go to sleep. Then when Agatha had gone back upstairs to check on Victor, she had encountered the intruder.

What if the kidnapper intended to take Aurora and got Victor by mistake?
Rebecca suddenly wondered. Rebecca didn't know anything about Agatha's former husband or his family. What if one of them had wanted to steal Agatha's baby?

She immediately felt guilty for such a thought. It was useless to speculate, she told herself, and she should be grateful that only one child was abducted and not both of them.

No one had cleared the room after Marcellus had examined Agatha, and now Rebecca noticed a cup of
mulsum
on a tray near the bed. She poured some fresh water into a small basin and added a few drops of the honey-sweetened wine to it. Then she soaked one end of a clean handkerchief, in the liquid and gave it to the fussy infant to suck on. Aurora settled down, and after a few minutes fell asleep, one plump little fist resting against a damp cheek.

Earlier, Rebecca had asked for a maid to bring dinner to her room. She wasn't hungry at all and knew she wouldn't be able to eat more than a few bites, but she also knew she had to eat something. She had to keep her strength up, for Victor's sake.

Instead of a maid, however, it was Jacob who knocked on her door to deliver the meal. He was wearing a cloak over his tunic, as if he were about to leave the house. It would soon be dark outside, however, so if Jacob were leaving, it could only be for an important reason. Perhaps he intended to search for Victor.

“Are you going somewhere?” she asked.

Jacob sat the serving tray down and looked at her for a moment, evidently choosing his words carefully. “We think we may know where Victor is,” he said.

“Where?” Rebecca's heart soared with hope.

Again Jacob paused before speaking—not a trait he was given to. “I'm not sure exactly where,” he said, “but based on Agatha's description, we have an idea of who might have done this. So we'll start from there.”

“Just let me find someone to watch Aurora, then I'll get my cloak and be ready to go.”

“You can't go!” Jacob blurted out as Rebecca rushed toward the door.

Rebecca stopped suddenly and turned to face him. “Why not?” she demanded, hands on her hips. “He's my son, and he needs me.”

“But you're a . . .” Jacob caught himself before he finished the thought.

“I'm what? A woman?” Rebecca stared up at her brother, angry at his patronizing tone.

“Well . . . yes . . . and it might be dangerous.”

“And you think Devil's Island wasn't?” At the moment Rebecca didn't care about potential danger; all she could think of was that she wanted her baby.

Jacob looked flustered when she didn't back down. “That's beside the point,” he said. “Look, we're wasting time arguing. I've already had to talk Peter into staying. He wanted to go with us to Naomi's, but it truly could be dangerous, and if we had to make a run for it, what would he do?”

“Naomi? You think
she
did this?” Rebecca took a step backward, stunned.

“Rebecca . . .” Jacob sighed in frustration and ran his hands through his thick black hair.

So that's what he had been trying to avoid telling her. Jacob thought Naomi was involved in Victor's kidnapping.

“Just stay put. Please,” Jacob said as he turned to leave. “I have to go now. Antony and Marcellus are waiting for me.”

Rebecca caught his arm. “You didn't answer me. Do you think Naomi put someone up to stealing my baby?”

“That's what we're going to find out,” he said, grim determination lining his face. Jacob paused at the door. “I won't rest until we get Victor back. I promise you that, Rebecca.”

When Jacob left she stared at the door, then she tucked the blanket around Aurora and sat down on the bed.
My own sister.

Two hours later Rebecca snuffed out the lamp and tried to sleep. She had managed to eat some of her dinner, then she had paced the floor and prayed, pleading with God for the safe return of her son.

With heightened senses, she strained to hear every sound, alternately thinking that the least noise must be Jacob and the others returning, then wondering if an intruder had managed to enter the villa. Gradually the large house grew quiet, and Rebecca's mind finally gave up the struggle to stay alert.

Her sleep was not peaceful, however. Victor's disappearance invaded her dreams in disturbing images as Rebecca groped her way through an endless series of dim caves, searching desperately for her baby. She stumbled and fell, stumbled and fell, as she wandered through the cavernous realms of unreality on her frantic pursuit.

Finally, a beam of light appeared in the distance, and she recognized it as the entrance of the cave. She made her way toward the light and emerged into the bright sunshine, blinking at the vista that had greeted her every day of her life on Devil's Island: a rugged mountain peak with a sweeping view of the surrounding ocean.

Standing a few yards in front of her, staring out at the water, was a man. Even with his back toward her, Rebecca recognized him, and a profound mixture of relief and joy washed over her.

“Galen!”

At the sound of her voice he turned around, and Rebecca saw that her fiancé was holding Victor. She gasped. “Oh, Galen, you found him for me!”

“Yes,” he said sadly, fixing his familiar, intense gaze on her. “But you know I can't keep him.”

Before Rebecca could answer, Galen swiveled back toward the cliff and swung his arms in a wide arc, releasing Victor into the air. Rebecca watched helplessly as her baby sailed over the barren trees and plunged down, down, down toward the brilliant-blue water below.

She woke and sat straight up in bed, clutching the bedcovers, her heart pounding. For several long minutes Rebecca was barely able to breathe. The vivid image had been frightfully disturbing, but she was aware that that's all it was: a nightmare.

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