Copyright © 2011 Anne Bishop. Used with permission.
(Suggested reading age: 15 years and older.)
This story takes place after the events in Tangled Webs.
Daemon Sadi, the Black-Jeweled Warlord Prince of Dhemlan, crossed the bridge that marked the boundary between private property and public land. On one side of the bridge was the drive leading to SaDiablo Hall, his family’s seat; on the other side was the public road leading to the village of Halaway.
Fluffy snow dusted the bottoms of his trousers as he walked toward the village in blissful solitude. Of course, he’d had to sneak out of his own home in order to have that solitude, and he recognized that there was something not quite right about the most powerful male in the Realm of Kaeleer sneaking out in order to avoid three snoozing Sceltie puppies. But whether or not he was allowing little bundles of fur to dictate his actions instead of using his rank and power to do as he pleased wasn’t the point. At this moment, here and now, he was alone on a crisp winter morning, and that was the point. No one was whining about having cold paws. No one was complaining that he walked too fast. No one was grumbling because he wouldn’t stop every few feet so interesting smells could be properly sniffed.
And no one was going to sulk because he refused to carry someone with wet fur under his coat and up against his white silk shirt.
Solitude. Bliss. And if his mother had created the gift he’d asked her to make, fun.
Winsol was almost here. Those thirteen days were a celebration of the Darkness—and they were a celebration of Witch, the living myth, dreams made flesh.
It would be his first Winsol as the ruler of the Dhemlan Territory, his third celebration since he’d come to live in Kaeleer. The first year, he’d still been mentally fragile from the years when he’d wandered the roads in the Twisted Kingdom, lost in the insanity of guilt and grief. And in that first year, he’d also been lost in the wonder of finding Jaenelle Angelline again, alive and well—and still able to love him.
The second year, she had been the one who had been so terrifyingly fragile. She had unleashed her full power to prevent a war between Kaeleer and Terreille that would have destroyed both Realms—and had torn her body apart in the process. She shouldn’t have survived—wouldn’t have if the kindred and the Weaver of Dreams hadn’t done the impossible and remade the living myth, the Queen who was Witch.
But this year he and Jaenelle were together, they were married, and the worst thing looming over their heads was how many invitations to parties and public gatherings they needed to accept in order for him to fulfill his duties as Dhemlan’s ruler.
He made his way through Halaway’s quiet streets, noticing lights in the windows of most of the houses. The snow wasn’t marred yet by many footprints or cart wheels, but soon the merchants would open their shops, people and carriages would fill the sidewalks and streets, and the small village would bustle through another day of holiday preparations.
As he approached the cottage where his mother, Tersa, lived, he studied the walkways up to her cottage and the neighboring one that was occupied by Manny, an older woman he considered a friend rather than a former servant. Then he smiled and, using Craft, dealt with the snow as he glided up the walkway and knocked on the cottage door.
He waited a minute, then knocked again.
The third time, he put a bit of temper and Craft into the act of applying knuckles to wood, which guaranteed the sound would roll through the cottage like thunder.
A few seconds later, the door swung open as the young woman on the other side growled, “If someone doesn’t answer the door, you could take the hint that it’s too early for com—”
She blinked at him. He smiled at the journeymaid Black Widow who lived with Tersa as part of her training.
“Lady Allista,” he said politely.
“Prince Sadi.” Her tone was much less polite. Since he was who and what he was, she couldn’t shut the door in his face.
But she wanted to.
Obviously, Allista was one of those women who did not wake up cheerful. That was all right. A few months of marriage to Jaenelle had taught him the value of having a few tricks when it came to dealing with a witch who woke up grumpy—and he had become an expert at all of them.
“Tersa asked me to come early,” he said, slipping past Allista. “Since my timing is a bit off, why don’t I make breakfast for the two of you?”
He shrugged out of his overcoat and vanished it as he continued down the hall to the kitchen, not giving Allista time to answer.
All right. Tersa hadn’t told him to come this early, but she would be awake—and he wanted to slip out with his requested gift before too many people were up and about.
“Good morning, darling,” he said as he walked into the kitchen.
Tersa turned away from the counter and studied him for a moment. Then she smiled. “It’s the boy. It’s my boy.”
Her boy. His mother was a broken Black Widow lost in the madness the Blood called the Twisted Kingdom. Lost in the dreams and visions—and the shattered pieces of her own mind. She remembered him as the child he had been before he’d been taken from her. She remembered him as the youth who had met her again but didn’t know who she was. And sometimes she remembered him as the man he was now. But however she saw him on any given day, he was always the boy. Her boy.
“I’ve come to cook you breakfast,” Daemon said. He gave her his best-boy grin. “And to talk about gifts.”
She narrowed her gold eyes as if she was about to argue. Then she shrugged and turned back to the counter. “There is bacon and eggs and bread for toast.”
“That sounds like breakfast,” Daemon said. “How would you like me to make the eggs?”
She hesitated—and he wondered if she would be able to answer or if her mind had turned down another path too far removed from such mundane things as bacon and eggs.
“I like them scrambled,” she finally said.
He put an arm around her, brushed his lips against her temple, and felt all his love for her well up and squeeze his heart. “Me too.”
Shades of Honor
This story takes place before
the events in The Shadow Queen
Prince Falonar stood outside his eyrie, restlessly opening and closing his dark, membranous wings as he stared down at the village of Riada. Within minutes of her arrival, he’d felt Gray-Jeweled power ripple through the village and up the mountains like a challenge—or a warning.
Surreal SaDiablo had returned to Ebon Rih.
He had made two mistakes when he came to Kaeleer two years ago. The first was agreeing to serve Lucivar Yaslana, whom he’d despised from the moment they’d met as boys training in the same hunting camp. He’d thought he could swallow taking Lucivar’s orders for five years in exchange for living in Ebon Rih and being in a position to catch the attention of the Queen of Ebon Askavi. He’d been confident that she would see the value of having a true aristo Eyrien Warlord Prince in her First Circle and take over his service contract. Serving in the same court as Yaslana would have rubbed him a bit raw, but he would have accepted having to treat Lucivar as an equal—at least until he could persuade the Queen to find another way for Lucivar to serve her that would keep the man away from Askavi, leaving the Eyriens free to live without the constant embarrassment of acknowledging a half-breed bastard. Whether Yaslana’s Hayllian father acknowledged him now or not, Lucivar would always be a bastard with no standing in Eyrien society. And nothing would change the fact that Lucivar was a half-breed, and being a half-breed was, in many ways, even worse than being a bastard.
Desperate to find a position in Kaeleer and avoid being sent back to Terreille, Falonar had signed the five-year service contract, gambling that he wouldn’t be under Lucivar’s control for most of it. But the following spring, Witch had unleashed her power to purge the Realms of Dorothea and Hekatah SaDiablo’s taint, and she’d been injured so severely by the backlash of her own power that she was no longer capable of ruling Ebon Askavi. That left Falonar with the choice of bending to Lucivar’s will for the full term of the contract or being tossed back to Terreille, where he had no future of any kind.
His second mistake had been responding to Surreal’s initial interest in him—and his interest in her—and having sex with her. Oh, she was terrific in bed—strong and experienced and so knowledgeable when it came to playing with a man’s body to give him the sharpest release. She was worth every gold mark she’d charged as a whore in Terreille, and he’d had her for the asking. She had also been a sharp, interesting companion outside of bed—when she wasn’t trying to acquire skills that should be kept exclusive to warriors.
Except the sex hadn’t been as free as he’d thought. At least, not after they came to Ebon Rih and he’d invited her to stay with him in his eyrie. He had been thinking of the relief of having as much sex as he wanted with a woman strong enough to handle being with a Sapphire-Jeweled Warlord Prince. But he hadn’t considered that the SaDiablos, by allowing Surreal to use the family name, really would think of her as family. In Terreille, that was something no true aristo family would have done, because no matter how skilled she was and how exclusive the Red Moon houses were where she had plied those skills, the fact was that Surreal was still a half-breed whore who had started her career in dark alleys and dirty rooms.
Unfortunately, he had realized too late that even whores could have unrealistic romantic notions. About the time he wanted Surreal to find other accommodations, leaving him free to express his interest in Nurian, the Eyrien Healer, he discovered that Surreal thought they were a step away from a handfast—and that Lucivar thought the same thing. As much as he’d enjoyed her, he wasn’t about to make any commitment to a woman who wasn’t Eyrien, let alone a woman who’d seen so many balls she was now trying to grow a pair of her own.
In the end, Surreal had packed up and left, and Lucivar’s civility toward him had developed a sharp edge because of her hurt feelings. No doubt that edge would get sharper now that she was going to be in front of both of them again.
And that other Warlord Prince. The crippled one. Hell’s fire. What was the point of bringing that one to Ebon Rih to train with Eyrien warriors?
Which only confirmed what he’d suspected all along—Lucivar Yaslana might be Eyrien in looks, and definitely had the skills of an Eyrien warrior when he stepped onto a killing field, but he wasn’t, at heart, an Eyrien. As long as Lucivar controlled Ebon Rih, the Eyriens trying to build a life here and retain their heritage and culture were going to suffer.
Unfortunately, for now, there was nothing Falonar could do about that except hide how much he was choking on that bitter truth.
Surreal walked into the room that would be her home for the next few weeks and looked around. The furniture was basic but in good condition, and gleamed from a fresh cleaning. Everything felt a bit rustic, but that was in keeping with the rest of The Tavern. It wouldn’t suit an aristo prick who thought his farts didn’t smell, but she found nothing to complain about.
“We’re nothing fancy,” Merry said as she hovered just inside the room. “I know we call the place a tavern and inn, but we’re really a tavern with a handful of rooms we converted because we had the space. There are two nice boardinghouses here in Riada, and a couple of fancier inns on the aristo side of the village.”
Surreal studied the other woman, making note of the nerves. She’d had a passing acquaintance with Merry and Briggs during her previous stay in Ebon Rih, but she hadn’t gotten to know the owners of The Tavern because she had been living with Falonar. Merry and Briggs, and their establishment, were too common for a man like Falonar, especially since he thought being Lucivar’s second-in-command was a reason to act even more aristo than the aristos in Riada.
Since Merry didn’t know her either except in passing, why was the woman so nervous? Maybe the Rihlander had heard about Surreal’s former professions and didn’t want to rent a room to a whore—or an assassin? If that was the case, she wanted to know before she unpacked her trunks.
“Do you have a problem with me staying here?” Surreal asked.
“Oh, no,” Merry replied quickly. “I just wanted you to know there are other options.” She hesitated, clearly debating if she should say anything more. Then she sighed. “Look. Lucivar is a good man, and Briggs and I count ourselves fortunate to call him a friend. But he can be single-minded at times. Lucivar likes The Tavern, but it’s not to everyone’s taste, and I don’t think he considered that you might prefer something a bit fancier.”
Which confirmed that Merry had more than a passing knowledge of the man who was the second most powerful male in the Realm of Kaeleer. Despite coming from the most aristo family in the Realm, there was nothing aristo about Lucivar’s tastes or preferences.
But Lucivar could be single-minded about a good many things, and that tickled a suspicion about the real reason for his choice of accommodations.
“He comes in here fairly often?” Surreal asked.
“Every day when he’s home,” Merry replied. “Sometimes he stops to have a mug of coffee just after we open. Other days he stops in for a bowl of soup or stew. He will have a glass of ale while he talks to the men and waits for me to pack up a steak pie or something else he’s bringing home for dinner. But that’s not every day.”
“Uh-huh.” Hell’s fire. You know the man, but you still haven’t figured out how a Warlord Prince’s mind works, have you, sugar?
The Tavern was a local gathering place where people could have a drink or a meal, and it did a good business. Dark-haired and dark-eyed, Merry had a pretty face and a nicely curved body that would tweak plenty of men’s interest. Her Tiger Eye Jewel, being a lighter Jewel, might dampen the interest of stronger males—or it might heighten the interest of a predator who preferred females who weren’t strong enough to fight back. Briggs was a Summer-sky Warlord. Since he wasn’t trained to fight, maybe that wasn’t enough power to protect his wife and their livelihood.
Unless, of course, that Summer-sky Warlord was quietly backed by an Eyrien Warlord Prince who wore Ebon-gray Jewels, and had a vicious, violent temper and centuries of training as a warrior.
There were predators and there were Predators—and even among the Predators, Lucivar Yaslana was a law unto himself.
Surreal looked at the room again, turning over possibilities of why Lucivar had chosen this place as her home-away-from-home. Then she put those thoughts aside before Merry became too anxious about her being here—or began to wonder why she was here.
She opened a door and found the bathroom. Her gold green eyes narrowed as she considered the bathroom’s second door. “I’m sharing?”
“With the Warlord Prince who’s also coming in for the training,” Merry said.
She nodded. “Rainier. He’s a friend, even if he does pee through a pipe. Well, I can try to live with sharing a bathroom with him.” She gave Merry a wicked smile. “And if I have reason to complain about his aim, he can just try to live.”
Merry blinked, started to say something, then changed her mind—a couple of times. Finally she said, “I can provide you with the midday and evening meals, but we aren’t open early in the morning, so I don’t usually prepare breakfast.”
“That’s all right,” Surreal said. “We’re expected at the eyrie for breakfast.”
So much sympathy in one little word. But it was the humor laced in the sympathy that caught Surreal’s attention.
“You’ve met Lucivar’s son,” Surreal said.
“I have, yes.”
Surreal watched Merry weighing and measuring loyalties and obligations.
“There’s a coffee shop two blocks from here,” Merry said. “And there’s a bakery. The two businesses converted the store in between into a dining area used by both. You wouldn’t get a full breakfast there—just coffee and baked goods—but it would be a peaceful one. Or you’re welcome to warm up whatever soup or stew is left from the previous day.”
Giving up your own breakfast? Surreal wondered. “Thanks. We’re expected at Lucivar’s eyrie tomorrow morning, but I, at least, will take advantage of the coffee shop and bakery most of the time after that.”
“Well, then,” Merry said. “I’ll let you get settled in.”
“One other thing,” Surreal said before Merry had a chance to escape. Because that was what the other woman clearly had in mind—bolting before this last detail was mentioned. “How do you want me to pay for the food and lodging? By the day or week?”
“That’s not necessary,” Merry said, her eyes looking bigger and darker in a rapidly paling face.
“Yes, it is,” Surreal countered politely.
“No, it isn’t.”
“Damn him, I told him I was going to pick up the tab for my own lodging. So you’ll give the bill to me.”
“No. Uh-uh. If you want to argue with Prince Yaslana about this, you go right ahead. But he was very clear about what he expected from me.”
Of course he was. The prick. And wasn’t it interesting where the line got drawn between Lucivar the friend and Prince Yaslana the ruler of Ebon Rih?
“All right, fine,” Surreal grumbled. “I’ll deal with him in my own way.”
Merry made a sound that might have been a squeak, and the next thing Surreal heard was the woman clattering down the stairs.
“Don’t be such a bitch,” she scolded herself. “You know what it’s like trying to deal with your male relatives. You wear the Gray and they roll right over you. How do you expect Tiger Eye to face down someone like Lucivar?”
No recourse. Daemon would tell her not to be an ass about who paid for what, since the SaDiablo family as a whole was not only the most powerful family in Kaeleer; they were also the wealthiest. Lucivar wasn’t going to feel pinched by the tab for her lodgings, but that wasn’t the point. Paying for it herself wouldn’t pinch her pocket either.
On the other hand, whenever she had accepted a job as an assassin, her client sometimes paid for her expenses as well as her fee.
Which circled back to the question of why she really was staying at The Tavern.
Ten years later . . .
Daemon followed Jaenelle into her sitting room, closed the door, then wrapped his arms around her.
“I love listening to you sing,” he said as he nuzzled her. “And so did everyone else tonight.”
“I was pleased that we had a full house.” She tipped her head to give him access to his favorite spot on her neck.
He brushed her hair back before giving that spot a delicate taste. After years of keeping her hair sleek-short or shaggy-short, depending on her mood, she had finally let it grow out. It wasn’t as long as it had been when she was twenty-five, but it now hid the spot between neck and shoulder that the Warlord Princes who served her found so intriguing.
“You always have a full house,” he said, feeling a swell of pride, among other things. She owned a music shop in Halaway and sang there twice a month, hosting Dhemlan musicians as well as musicians from many other Territories in Kaeleer—and beyond. “Since you included a couple of folk songs from Shalador Nehele, I was surprised you hadn’t asked Ranon to come here and play with you.”
Jaenelle gave him a wicked grin. “I knew better than to ask Ranon. I asked Cassidy and Shira if he could indulge me. They—and Vae—ganged up on him. He’ll be here for the next concert.”
Daemon laughed. He felt a keen sympathy for the Shalador Warlord Prince because he knew how it felt to be backed into a corner, but he laughed anyway.
Then Jaenelle kissed him with heat, and the parts of him that had swelled along with his pride responded with enthusiasm. But he eased back a little before he forgot what he’d wanted to discuss.
“You’re going to be thirty-seven this year,” he said.
“And that is significant because . . . ?”
“You’ve never been thirty-seven before. I thought we should do something special for your birthday.”
“We always do something special for my birthday.” She rocked her hips, brushing against him. “And some part of the ‘something special’ usually involves you being deliciously naked.”
The world narrowed to his need to make love with her—to play and seduce and savor until they were both boneless and satisfied. His arms tightened around her, and just as his mouth touched hers . . .
He raised his head, snarling. *Go away!* One Sceltie might be cowed by the snarl traveling along the psychic link, especially when he made no effort to hide that he was aroused and wanted to mate. But cowing three of them? Wouldn’t happen.
“I like Shuveen,” Daemon growled as he stepped away from Jaenelle, “but why can’t we send Boyd and Floyd back to Scelt for more . . . seasoning?”
“Ladvarian is staying here with us for a while and wanted those two with him for extra training.” She looked toward the door and frowned. “They seem upset.”
“They probably got in trouble with Mrs. Beale again.” And wouldn’t sorting that out be a fun way to end the evening?
*Daemon!* Shuveen called.
Boyd and Floyd began barking outside the door.
Swearing, Daemon strode to the door. He would tolerate them interrupting him when he was in his study working. After all, they were young, and living with him and Jaenelle was part of their training to become a working member of a household. But he wouldn’t tolerate their intrusion when he was about to make love to his wife, and that was something they also needed to learn.
Then Ladvarian passed through the wall and said, *Sylvia told Tildee to run.*
*Daemon!* Shuveen shouted.
*daemondaemondaemondaemondaemon,* Boyd and Floyd yapped.
Daemon rose to the killing edge in a heartbeat. Telling a Sceltie to run was the code Jaenelle had established between the Scelties living in Dhemlan and their human families. It meant life-threatening danger, and the dog’s task was to grab the special human friend—usually the child—and get them both out of harm’s way.
He used Craft to open the door. Letting the young Scelties in was the only way to shut them up.
“Sylvia isn’t in Halaway,” Jaenelle said. “Or if she is, she’s not able to respond to a psychic call.”
*She is far,* Ladvarian said. *They are visiting. Tildee isn’t sure where.*
“Tildee has Mikal?” Jaenelle asked.
*Far far far,* the youngsters yapped.
“How far can Tildee reach on a psychic thread?” Daemon asked Jaenelle.
“Not that far,” she replied.
Ladvarian said, *Tildee called. Other Scelties answered, then called to me.*
Daemon swore softly, straining to keep his temper leashed. Upsetting the youngsters wouldn’t get him the information he needed. If that call for help had traveled from Sceltie to Sceltie, Sylvia and her boys could be anywhere in Dhemlan. “Where were the other Scelties? Could you tell?”
All four Scelties spun to face the same direction.
“South,” Daemon snarled. He moved swiftly, out of the room and down the corridors. *Beale, I need a Coach on the landing web, and a driver to come with us.*
“If Tildee is running, someone is going to need a Healer,” Jaenelle said when she caught up to him.
*Rainier!* Daemon called.
*Contact Sylvia’s Master of the Guard. I want to know exactly where she is and who is with her. There’s trouble. We need to find her.*
*Can you wait for Surreal?*
*Only if she can get to the Hall by the time you have the information. If not, you’ll have to tell her where to meet us.*
*We were on our way home, so I’ll stop at the Master’s house and she’ll come up to the Hall.*
When Daemon and Jaenelle reached the great hall, Beale and Holt were waiting, holding their winter coats.
“The driver will bring the Coach around in another minute or so,” Beale said. He helped Daemon into his coat while Holt helped Jaenelle into hers.
Daemon wanted to snap at the delay. There had been time to bring the Coach around to the landing web in front of the Hall. But he held his tongue. Once they caught the Winds, they would be out of touch, so they couldn’t leave until Rainier found out where Sylvia went.
“There are blankets and winter boots in the Coach,” Beale said. “Mrs. Beale is putting together a basket of food and jugs of water.”
We aren’t going on a picnic, Daemon thought. On the other hand, Tildee was running, and if whatever was happening around Sylvia was as bad as that indicated and Jaenelle was needed as a Healer, he wouldn’t want her eating or drinking anything that didn’t come from the Hall in case it had been tainted in some way.
*Prince?* Rainier called on a spear thread.
*Where is she?*
His temper turned viciously cold as Rainier gave him the information. As soon as Rainier broke the link, he turned to Jaenelle. “Let’s go. Lord Ladvarian, your presence is requested.”
The youngsters whined. Daemon pointed a finger at them, then at Holt and Beale. “You three tell them everything you know about this.” He looked at Beale. “Do whatever you can.”
Holt rushed to open the door. Daemon, Jaenelle, and Ladvarian walked out of the Hall.
Within moments of the driver setting the Coach on the landing web, a horse-drawn cab raced up to the Hall’s front doors. Surreal sprang from the cab and ran to the Coach. She didn’t say anything until they were inside and Daemon was settling into the other chair in the driver’s compartment.
*Jaenelle is going in as a Healer?* she asked on a Gray thread.
*Yes,* he replied.
*Then I’ll protect Jaenelle, and you and Ladvarian take care of the rest.*
Letting Jaenelle and Ladvarian explain the situation, Daemon lifted the Coach off the landing web, caught the Black Winds, and raced toward a village on the border of Little Terreille.