Authors: Charlotte Boyett-Compo
An Ellora’s Cave Romantica Publication
Her Reaper’s Arms
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Her Reaper’s Arms Copyright © 2007 Charlotte Boyett-Compo
Edited by Mary Moran.
Photography and cover art by Les Byerley.
Electronic book Publication August 2007
This book may not be reproduced or used in whole or in part by any means existing without written
permission from the publisher, Ellora’s Cave Publishing, Inc.® 1056 Home Avenue, Akron OH 443103502.
This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or places, events or locales
is purely coincidental. The characters are productions of the authors’ imagination and used fictitiously.
HER REAPER’S ARMS
At Críonna in the Aneas Quadrant
All living things must die
, he thought as he looked up at the bright blue sky. It was a
shame his existence was ending on such a beautiful day when life was burgeoning all
around him. Birds were singing sweetly in the trees and a soft, gentle wind was
caressing his face. The scent of the ocean wafted beneath his nostrils and he inhaled
deeply, knowing it would be his last unsullied breath this side of heaven—wherever
and whatever that was.
Remanded to the Execution Mound, his hands had been chained above his head to
the concrete pillar at his back. They had piled the dried branches thickly at his feet and
had sprinkled oil upon the wood. Before him, the people of the keep were gathered to
watch him die and there was not a tearful eye among those who glared hatefully at him.
He had—after all—unwittingly caused them grief for when their mistress was angry,
her people suffered.
Only one face in the crowd bore a smile and it was a brutal, vindictive smile
awaiting revenge. It did not help that the face was the loveliest thing he’d ever been
allowed to see in his lifetime or that her face had once gazed upon him with heated
passion—albeit one that held no resemblance whatsoever to normal desire. Now her
eyes bore into him as fiercely as the flare of the torch waiting to set the rushes afire,
burning into his flesh a pathway of hatred.
Taking one last look at the brilliant, calming sky, he lowered his head and found
those savage eyes, locking gazes with the Countess Kennocha Tramont. Her red lips
glistened in the sunlight as she swept the tip of her pink tongue across them in
anticipation. In the regal ianthine robes of her ancestry, her milk-white complexion was
framed perfectly, her lush cleavage above the low neckline of the bodice drawing the
eye of every male among those assembled. Sweeping almost to the ground, the
crowning glory of her midnight black hair shimmered with blue highlights in the sun
and was held in place by a golden circlet upon her forehead.
For over a month he had endured the worst kind of hell in the dungeon of Rathlin,
the imperial seat of the Tramont clan. During that time, he had been subjected to the
most evil and perverse torments ever devised. The inquisitors had beaten and burned
his body, torn his flesh, broken fingers and toes, stretched his limbs until the joints had
been dislocated, driven wood slivers under his fingernails, repeatedly held his head
under water until he was forced to drag the liquid into his lungs—all under the guise of
eliciting a concession he was unwilling to make.
“Will you give yourself to me now?” he had been asked over and over again, but
refused to answer.
Her Reaper’s Arms
“Submit!” they had screamed at him.
“To what?” he had pleaded. “An evil I care not to embrace?”
The one responsible for his imprisonment had been there in the dungeon, seated in
her soft, comfortable chair, eating food he could not have, drinking water he was not
allowed, watching as his body had been broken and his spirit crushed, that enigmatic
smile hovering on her full lips.
“Give in,” she had whispered to him.
“How will I live with myself if I do, milady?” he had pleaded, barely able to speak.
When at last she grew bored with the torture, she had calmly ordered his death. By
then he longed for the surcease of the agonies being inflicted upon him and did not care
that his life would soon be forfeit. He embraced the sentence, knowing the final anguish
of the bonfire would put an end to his suffering. Learning that he would not be allowed
the humane reprieve of being strangled before the fire was lit had only marginally
dampened his eagerness for death. When it was done, it would be done.
He smiled sadly at his tormentress as she stood on the balcony of Rathlin Keep, her
slender white hands resting on the stony balustrade, elegant jewels flashing in the
sunlight. Despite what he was—or rather what he had been—he knew he should
forgive her for what she was doing to him but he could not dredge up the energy or the
will to do so. Perhaps he was not the man he had believed himself to be after all for
there was anger in his broken heart, vengeance of his own seething in his tired mind.
He would die cursed for the sins weighing heavily upon his battered soul—the sin of
desiring revenge, the sin of anger.
Tearing his gaze from her, he looked out across those assembled.
“Heretic! Degenerate! Sinner!”
What lies had she told them? he wondered. What evil accusations had she flung?
How badly had she sullied his name? His honor?
The inquisitor had called him many things with the passing of blades and barbed
scourges across his bound body, but he knew himself to be guilty of none of those
things. Now he would pay for sins he had not committed, be made to atone for
unspecified evils he had never entertained.
His eyes were drawn to the executioner as the squat man dressed in black, his face
hidden beneath a hood, came toward the branches with the torch. Through the twin
slits in the ebon mask he could see spite gleaming back at him. As the man’s arm
lowered the fire to the oil-soaked sticks and twigs, he thought he heard a sinister laugh
from beneath the thick hood.
“Die, you worthless bastard,” she called out from the balcony. “Die and spend
eternity in the Abyss!”
Smoke rose up in spiraling columns to burn his eyes. It clogged his nostrils, was
sucked down his throat to gag and choke him. Long before the first lick of the flames
touched his body, his lungs were seared and he was gasping for breath. The pain leapt
up his legs—the fabric of his robe going up with a
of sound. He tried not to
scream as the agony ate at him but he was not that strong a man.
He writhed in the flames as the burning torment moved up his chest and flicked at
the underside of his chin. The reverberation of his howls echoed over the courtyard as
he struggled wildly and in vain to break free of the chains binding him to the upright.
But as the flames fanned across his face, the sunlit day grew dark, forbidding as
gunmetal gray clouds came out of nowhere to block the sun. The air grew chill. The
wind whipped the flames, helping them to consume him. A mighty rhythmic
began and vaguely he heard the people screaming. He could no longer see for the fire
had taken his vision but in the periphery of his anguish, he thought he heard the
thunder of running feet. Lightning zinged across the heavens and rain began cascading
down in thick sheets, putting out the flames, turning the ground beneath his ruined
body to a smoldering pile of steaming ashes.
He felt his arms falling away from the chains, felt his body being lifted. Cold wind
flowed over and around him.
In the arms of the Gatherer
, he thought as he soared through the air to the
accompaniment of mighty flapping wings.
Pain engulfed him from head to toe. It was an agony that not even the chill streams
of air could assuage. He felt the agony all the way to his bones and when he took his
last breath, he drew that fierce torment down into his very soul.
If he had thought the pain of his death had been bad, the pain of his rebirth was a
thousand times worse. That pain would last him through eternity.
In his nightmares he would remember the feel of rough ground beneath him as he
was lain down, his ravaged body screaming in protest though he no longer had vocal
cords with which to make sound. He would remember the taste of something thick and
cloying trickling down his gullet, remember swallowing convulsively as a scaly hand
massaged the charred flesh of his throat. He would remember being turned to his belly
and the godawful agony that had come after his back had been slit open.
Overwhelming anguish, staggering agony had invaded his body and what had come
from that invasion of his being would forever be his rebirthright.
Though he would not remember what had happened to him after the Transference
of the Revenant Worm—the parasite that would give him the strength and longevity of
ten men and heretical abilities beyond his ability to imagine—he would remember the
face of the white-haired hag who had gazed down at him with a snaggle-toothed grin
when he could see once more.
“You have given me your seed, now reap the benefits I will bestow upon you!”
He could not move as She pressed Her odorous mouth to his. The feel of Her slimy
tongue thrusting past his lips had sickened him as Her hands had roamed over his
body, touching him in places he found repellent.
“You are Mine, boy and you always will be! I will have you as I desire you to be!”
She had stated and then he was once more flying through the air. Looking up, he had
Her Reaper’s Arms
seen a huge creature with bright copper scales that glistened under the glow of the
moon, its wings rising and lowering with a soft, pounding sound.
He would never know where She had taken him or how long She had held him
there. When next he was fully aware, he was lying in a strange room on a strange world
with three unknown men hovering over him. His burned flesh was whole again except
for the myriad scars that were testament to his torture.
“Welcome to the Citadel, milord,” the tallest man said. “We are pleased you have
Armistenky Territory, 3473
Reaper 2-I-C Bevyn Coure hated remembering how he’d been introduced into