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Dreams Made Flesh

Roc Books, January 2005

For more information, check out www.penguin.com.

Copyright © 2005 Anne Bishop. Used with permission.




The Prince of Ebon Rih

(This story takes place after the events in Heir to the Shadows)


Chapter One

Lucivar Yaslana stood at the far end of the flagstone courtyard of his new home, enjoying the early morning sunlight that had begun warming the stones beneath his feet. The mountain air felt chilly against his bare skin, and the freshly made coffee he sipped from a plain white mug tasted rough enough to make him wince. Didn't matter. The coffee might not have the smooth potency that Mrs. Beale produced for his father's table, but it wasn't any worse than what he made when he went hunting and spent a night out on the land. Couldn't be any worse since he'd made it the same way.

He looked over his shoulder at the open door that led into the warren of rooms that made up the eyrie. Some of the rooms had been carved out of the living mountain; others had been built from the extracted stone. The result would have been a nightmare for any race that needed predictable lines and angles in a structure, but for anyone born of the Eyrien race, it was perfect.

And this particular eyrie was now his.

Smiling, he closed his gold eyes and tipped his head back to feel the sun on his face. Slowly opening his dark, membranous wings, he savored the feel of sunlight and chilly air playing over his wings and light-brown skin.

In all of his seventeen hundred years, he'd never had a home until three years ago when he'd been reunited with his father--the man who, through the machinations of Dorothea, Hayll's High Priestess, had had his two younger sons taken from him. The man who had never forgotten or forgiven the betrayals that had left scars on all of them.

He'd been happy living in the suite of rooms at SaDiablo Hall, but the Hall was still his father's house. This place was his. Exclusively, totally his.

*Yas?*

Well, maybe not exclusively his.

Sipping his coffee, Lucivar watched the adolescent wolf trot toward him. The youngster had been ready to leave the pack that lived in the north woods of his father's estate but hadn't wanted to go back to the Territory most of the kindred wolves called home. Tassle had grown up near humans and wanted to learn more about them, but there still weren't many places where the wild kindred could safely live in human Territories—and there still weren't many humans beyond Jaenelle Angelline's court who felt easy about living around an animal who had the same power as the human Blood. Since he now had plenty of land for a wolf to roam in, it was easy enough to share the space.

Tassle, Lucivar thought, raising the mug to hide his smile. What kind of name was Tassle for a Warlord wolf? “Good morning. Smell anything interesting?”

*Yes. Yas, you aren't wearing your cow skin.*

“It's called leather.” Which Tassle knew perfectly well. Humans had prejudices, but so did the kindred. If something could be described by referring to the animal it came from, they ignored the human word for the end result. They viewed the world from their own furry perspective, which was fair, he supposed, since no two people, let alone two species, would view the world around them in quite the same way. “I don't need clothes right now. It's a fine morning, we're alone up here, and it's not like anyone living in the valley is going to see me.”

*But, Yas--*

He sensed it then. Someone coming up the stone stairs from the landing area below had passed through the perimeter shield he'd placed around the eyrie. The shield wasn't meant to keep anyone out, just alert him if someone approached his home.

As he turned toward the intruder, Helene, his father's housekeeper, hurried up the last few steps, then stopped abruptly when she reached the flagstones and saw him.

“Good morning, Prince Yaslana,” she said politely.

“Helene,” he replied with equal, if forced, politeness—especially when a dozen maids who worked at the Hall came up the stairs and gave him a quick, and approving, glance before going into the eyrie.

Well, Lucivar thought sourly, they all got an eyeful to perk up their morning. “What brings you here, Helene?”

“Now that all the workmen are done with the renovations the High Lord felt were necessary to make Prince Andulvar's old eyrie livable again, we've come to give it a good cleaning.”

“I've already cleaned the place.”

She made a sound that told him what she thought of his ability to clean anything. But that was a hearth witch for you. If it didn't sparkle, shine, or gleam, it wasn't clean. Never mind that stone walls weren't supposed to sparkle, shine, or gleam.

“Fine,” Lucivar said, knowing he was cornered and arguing was a waste of breath. “I'll get dressed and show you—”

Helene waved her hand dismissively. “You were obviously enjoying a fine morning. There's no reason why you should do otherwise. I'm sure we can find everything. What there is of it,” she added under her breath.

He bared his teeth in what he hoped would be mistaken as a smile. “I wouldn't want to be a distraction.”

She gave him a fast sweep with her eyes. “You won't be.”

Lucivar just stared at her, too stunned to think of anything to say.

Helene sniffed delicately. “I won't say I've seen better, but I've seen just as good.”

Who? He could think of one man Helene could have walked in on and surprised.

As she headed for the door, another woman's voice, coming from the stairs, said, “Come along, ladies. We don't want to interrupt too much of the Prince's day.”

Helene turned toward the stairs, the light of battle in her eyes, as Merry bounded up the last few stairs and saw him. Along with her husband, Briggs, Merry ran a tavern and inn in Riada, the closest Blood village in the valley.

“Oh, my,” Merry said with approval. Then she noticed Helene, and the glint in her eyes didn't bode well for a peaceful morning.

“Ladies,” Lucivar said, wondering if he was going to start his day breaking up a brawl outside his door.

“We're going to clean up the eyrie for the Prince,” Merry said stiffly, indicating the women crowding the stairs behind her. “As a welcome to Ebon Rih since he'll be living here now.”

“I'm sure Prince Yaslana appreciates the gesture, but I've brought some of my staff from the Hall to take care of things,” Helene replied.

“Ladies.”

“There's no need for you to be taking time away from your own duties. We can look after him. He is the Warlord Prince of Ebon Rih now,” Merry said.

“Which doesn't make him any less his father's son—” Helene said, raising her voice.

Hell's fire! They were squaring off like two bitches ready to fight over a meaty bone—and he was not going to become the prize of whoever won this battle.

“—and I won't have it said that any of the High Lord's children are living in squalor,” Helene continued.

Lucivar gritted his teeth. Squalor? Squalor? He'd moved to the eyrie two days ago. There hadn't been time to accumulate squalor. "Ladies."

They turned on him, and after studying them the way he'd study any adversary, he wisely swallowed his rising temper. Helene worked for his father, and since he would, no doubt, continue to spend time at the Hall, telling her to leave would be an insult he didn't want to live with. And Merry made the best steak pies he'd ever tasted. If he told her to go, it might be years before he had another slice of steak pie.

Finally Helene turned to Merry and said, “While yours is the more recent claim, it is equally valid. And there's more than enough work for all of us.”

Merry nodded, then clapped her hands. “Come along, ladies. We've work to do.”

Four of the women who'd come with Merry were married or, at least, had acknowledged lovers. The other seven were younger and unattached—and would have dawdled a lot longer if Merry and Helene hadn't herded them into the eyrie.

When he'd been a slave in Terreillean courts, he'd been stripped down and displayed for the enjoyment of the Queen who controlled the Ring of Obedience. He'd never felt the need to smile politely while he was being ogled. But here he was, smiling—showing his teeth, anyway—as Helene pushed the last witch inside and closed the door.

Rage danced in his belly, twisting it into knots. He closed his eyes and tightened the leash on his temper. He had an explosive one, and it had served him well when he'd lived in Terreille, but this wasn't the same. He hadn't been forced to strip down. He'd been standing outside of his own free will, and if the women who had suddenly appeared appreciated the view he provided, he couldn't blame them for it.

Thank the Darkness none of them had tried to touch him. He wasn't sure what he would have done if any of them had tried.

No. That wasn't true. He knew what he would have done. He just didn't know how he would have explained breaking a woman's arm for a touch they'd all think of as harmless or, at the very worst, an invitation.

*Yas?* Tassle's sending on a psychic thread sounded hesitant, a little fearful.

Turning, Lucivar looked at the young wolf. “Women are a pain in the ass.”

Confusion replaced fear. *Pain? They didn't nip you. Why is there pain?* After a pause, Tassle added, *I could lick it to make it better.*

Maybe it wasn't just for Tassle's sake that he'd offered to share his home with a wolf, Lucivar decided as amusement eased the knots in his belly. You could never tell what the kindred would pick up from human behavior and decide to make their own. Obviously, Tassle had decided the wolf version of “kiss it and make it better” was the appropriate response to this situation.

“No, thanks,” Lucivar said, moving away from the eyrie to walk in the rock-strewn grass that might have been a lawn or a garden once upon a time. He swallowed a mouthful of coffee and swore. Not only rough enough to bite but now it was also cold.

Noticing the way Tassle sniffed the air, Lucivar made a “go forward” gesture with one hand. “Go on. Go explore. If you stay around here, you'll end up getting washed and polished.”

*You come too?*

He hadn't had a chance yet to really walk the land around the eyrie and get a feel for it, but leaving right now felt a bit too much like running away—and it went against his nature as an Eyrien Warlord Prince to run from a battleground. “You go on. I'll keep an eye on things here.”

As he watched Tassle trot off to mark the home territory, he felt the weight of the eyrie at his back and wondered if it really would be running away to get out of sight while all of those women cluttered up his home. Besides, if his presence wasn't a distraction from the allure of buckets and mops, his absence wouldn't be noted either. Which should have pleased him. The fact that it didn't was an annoyance he'd think about later.

“I'd wish you a good morning,” a deep, amused voice said, “but I'm not sure that's appropriate.”

Turning, he watched the slender, brown-skinned man cross the rock-strewn ground with feline grace. The movement lifted the edges of the knee-length black cape, revealing the red lining and providing slashes of color to accent the black tunic jacket and trousers.

His brother Daemon moved with the same feline grace.

He tried not to think about Daemon too much, tried not to wonder too often if his brother had found a way out of the madness the Blood called the Twisted Kingdom. There was nothing he could do for Daemon, wherever he was.

He pushed those thoughts aside and focused on the man settling on a stone that time and the elements had weathered into a natural seat. He looked like a handsome man at the end of his prime, his black hair silvered at the temples and faint lines around his golden eyes—an aristo Hayllian male who would be in his element at a dinner party and wouldn't know what to do on a killing field.

Looks could be deceiving. This was Saetan Daemon SaDiablo, a Black-Jeweled Warlord Prince who was the Prince of the Darkness, High Lord of Hell, Warlord Prince of Dhemlan, Steward of the Dark Court at Ebon Askavi...and his father.

It was the last title that made Lucivar wary. There weren't any clear rules when it came to sons dealing with fathers. Not that he paid much attention to rules, but it would have been nice to know when he was about to do something that would stomp on Saetan's toes and end with them yelling at each other. Which he did know, actually. Every time Jaenelle said, “Lucivar, I have a wonderful idea” and he went along with it, he could pretty much count on ending up in Saetan's study to receive a blistering lecture. Too bad he enjoyed squaring off with his father as much as he enjoyed getting into trouble with the golden-haired, sapphire-eyed witch who was Saetan's adopted daughter—and, therefore, his sister. The fact that Jaenelle was the Queen of Ebon Askavi and they both served in the First Circle of her court just added spice to their shouting matches.

“It's none of my business, but I am curious,” Saetan said. “Why are you standing out here displaying your assets?”

“I'm standing out here because my home has been invaded by two dozen women with brooms and buckets—”

“Two dozen? I wasn't aware Helene brought that many from the Hall.”

“She didn't. Some of the women from Riada showed up right after Helene did. And this is how I was dressed—”

“—or not dressed,” Saetan murmured.

“—when they showed up.” Lucivar took another gulp of coffee and shuddered. “And getting dressed after I'd been assured I wouldn't be a distraction seemed like...bragging.”

“I see. Who told you this?”

“Helene. She said she'd seen just as good.” Lucivar eyed his father.

Saetan shook his head. “No. I will not indulge in a pissing contest with you to appease your curiosity. Besides, you've seen me naked.”

True enough, but he'd only noticed Saetan looked damn fit for a man who'd seen over fifty thousand years. He hadn't paid attention to particulars.

“So Helene said you wouldn't be a distraction,” Saetan said, looking more amused. “And you believed her because...?”

“Well, Hell's fire, she's your housekeeper.

“She's also a woman in her prime who is, in fact, only a few centuries older than you.”

Lucivar stared at Saetan. “She lied to me?”

Saetan's gold eyes gleamed with suppressed laughter. “Let me put it this way: Your floors won't be swept, but you'll have the cleanest windows in Ebon Rih—at least on this side of the eyrie.”

Lucivar spun around. Female faces were pressed against every window, watching him. Oh, there were cleaning rags pressed against the windows, too, but nothing was being done with them—until the women realized he'd seen them. Then there was a lot of vigorous polishing.

Swearing under his breath, he used Craft to vanish the coffee mug and call in a pair of leather trousers. As he pulled them on, he snarled, “It was easier when I could use my fists. If this was Terreille, I would have thrown the lot of them off the mountain.”

“You still can.”

It surprised him that the words hurt.

“You're the Warlord Prince of Ebon Rih,” Saetan said quietly. “You are the law here and answer to no one but your Queen. If you want to use your fists, there's no one who will stop you. No one here who can stop you since you wear the Ebon-gray Jewels.”

“What happened to that code of honor you live by and insist is followed in the court?” Lucivar snapped, letting temper ride the crest of wounded feelings. “What happened to the lines that are drawn for what a Blood male can and can't do? If I hurt them for no good reason, what does that say to every other man? That he can strike out for the least little thing? We serve. We're the defenders and protectors. I've hurt women, and I've killed women. They were the enemy and the court was the battleground. But I will not be the kind of man women cower from because they're afraid of being brutalized.”

“I know,” Saetan said. “You'll decide what is and isn't acceptable in Ebon Rih, and you'll stand as defender and protector. As volatile as your temper is, as physical as your responses are most of the time, I've never worried about you hurting the coven. If you're pushed, you push back. That's not a bad thing. I'm sure there were times in the past three years when something scraped a nerve and reminded you too much of what it was like living in Terreille, but you didn't lash out automatically. You won't now.”

The temper faded, but his feelings were still raw. “Then why did you say that?”

Saetan smiled. “Because you needed to hear yourself draw the line. You're the strongest living male in this valley. The strongest Blood, regardless of gender, when Jaenelle isn't at the Keep or staying at her cottage. Having that much power isn't easy.”

He would know, Lucivar thought. Saetan wore the Black Jewels. Until Daemon made the Offering to the Darkness and came away wearing the Black, Saetan had been the only male in the history of the Blood to wear that Jewel. If anyone knew the price that came with that much power, it was the High Lord.

Lucivar glanced at the eyrie. “What should I do about them?”

“Hire a housekeeper.”

He winced. “Hell's fire. Then I'll have a female underfoot all the time.”

“From where I'm sitting, your choice is one hearth witch who works for you or dealing with this lot two or three times a week.”

Lucivar felt his knees weaken. “Two or three— Why? How many times can they polish the same few pieces of furniture?"

Saetan just looked at him pityingly. “If you hire a housekeeper, your home is her domain, and if she's worth what you pay her, she'll be territorial enough to take care of any unwanted help without you having to do a thing.”

That didn't sound bad. But he sighed. “I don't know how to hire a housekeeper.”

Saetan stood up and arranged the folds of his cape. “Why don't we go to the Keep and discuss it over breakfast?” He looked back at the eyrie. “Or were you planning to stay here and get in the middle of the tussle over who would cook it for you?”

“I can cook my own damn breakfast.”

“You could try, boyo, but the odds are against you.”

Oh, yeah. If he walked back in there now, somebody would be pissed off at him before he even got close to a piece of toast, let alone something more substantial. “Let's go to the Keep.”

“A wise choice.”

As they walked back to the eyrie to inform Helene that they were leaving, Lucivar said, “If I'm so wise and so powerful, tell me again why I have to hire a housekeeper I don't want?”

“Because you're not a fool,” Saetan replied. “And given your choices, only a fool would put up with this any longer than he had to.”

“This is more than I bargained for when Jaenelle appointed me the Warlord Prince of Ebon Rih.”

“Everything has a price. This is yours. Deal with it.”

Lucivar sighed and gave up. So he'd have to put up with having one little hearth witch underfoot. How bad could it be?





Zuulaman

A story from Saetan's past

1


Saetan set aside the latest letter from the Zuulaman ambassador, leaned back in the chair behind his blackwood desk, and rubbed his eyes. A half dozen meetings with the man and nothing had changed. The same complaints filled this letter as had filled the last three. He understood the concerns, even sympathized with them up to a point. But he wouldn't order Dhemlan merchants to buy coral and pearls exclusively from Zuulaman traders at a higher price than other Territories offered to sell sea gems of the same quality. He'd already checked on the complaints that Dhemlan ships were encroaching on the fishing grounds that belonged to the Zuulaman Islands. Hayllian ships were certainly plying the same waters and competing for catches, but the Queens who ruled the fishing towns in Dhemlan were quick to penalize any boat that fished beyond the Territory's established waters—just as they were quick to send the Warlord Princes who served them out to confiscate the catch of any boat that encroached on Dhemlan's fishing grounds.

Of course, he hadn't heard so much as a whisper of complaint about Hayll. Not yet, anyway. Sooner or later, the Zuulaman Queens would become less enamored with Hayll's Hundred Families—the aristo families that heavily influenced the Hayllian courts if they didn't rule them outright. He might be Hayllian by birth, might have lived his early years in the slums of Draega, Hayll's capital, but, thank the Darkness, he'd shed himself of that self-centered race centuries ago. For the most part. He had no interest in the Hundred Families, except to keep a watchful eye on their intrigues to be sure the people he ruled came to no harm because of them.

But that still left him with the problem of dealing with Zuulaman. He was certainly willing to sell them surplus grains, meat, and produce for a reasonable price that wouldn't beggar Zuulaman's people, but he wasn't willing to cut prices to the point that his own people suffered, especially when the islands still had enough arable land to feed their population, despite the fact that they made little effort to care for the land. Which was part of the problem. They overfished their waters, overplanted their farmland, pushed the islands' resources to the breaking point. Then the Zuulaman Queens complained that they couldn't sell their surplus, which rightly should have gone to feed their own people—or they complained that they had no surplus, and the pottery and other art forms that were distinct to their people didn't sell at the prices they wanted. Which wasn't surprising. No one but aristos with surplus income, or debts enough to ruin their families, could afford the asking price for most of what Zuulaman tried to sell.

Still, as the Warlord Prince of Dhemlan, it was his responsibility to deal with the Queens who ruled the other Territories in Terreille, so he would meet with the Zuulaman ambassador once more and hope that, this time, there would be some glimmer of understanding in the man's eyes when he explained why the trade agreements the Zuulaman Queens wanted were not acceptable.

As he reached for the letter to review its contents again, the door of his study opened, and his wife, Hekatah, hurried into the room as quickly as a woman three weeks away from childbirth could move.

“Saetan,” Hekatah said as she lowered herself into the chair in front of his desk. “I just had the most distressing news from home.”

This is home. But he bit back the words since it was as useless to think them as it would be to say them. Hekatah was a Red-Jeweled Priestess from one of Hayll's Hundred Families, and she looked at the Territory of Dhemlan in much the same way that she looked at her family's country estates—as something quaint and inferior...and valued only for what she could take from it.

“Is someone ill?” he asked politely, although he knew the reason for her distress.

“No, but Mother says you refused to give my father and brothers a loan. I'm sure she misunderstood something, because that accusation is utterly—”

“True.”

She stared at him. “It can't be.”

Her gold eyes filled with tears, and her mouth moved into that sexy, sulky pout that had pulled at his loins when he'd first met her and now always scraped against his temper.

“I'm sorry, Hekatah, but I won't give your family another loan.” He'd informed her father of that fact a month ago. Since the bastard had delayed telling Hekatah, why couldn't he have waited a few more weeks until she had safely delivered the baby?

Her lips quivered. One tear rolled down her cheek. “But...why?”

“Because they didn't honor the agreement they made with me when I gave them a loan last year.” When her only response was a blank look, he swore silently and struggled to be patient. “Last year, in order to save your family from financial and social ruin, I gave them almost two million gold marks to cover all of your father's and brothers' gambling debts. I paid close to a million gold marks to cover all the debts that were owed to all the merchants who would no longer allow anyone in your family to buy so much as a spool of thread or a handful of vegetables on account. And I also provided another million gold marks with the understanding that those funds would be put back into the estates so that the properties could be restored and once more provide an income. I made it clear that I required receipts to prove materials were being purchased for that purpose and that your father and brothers would receive no further financial help from me if they didn't fulfill their side of the bargain. I never received a receipt of any kind, and from what I can tell, absolutely nothing was done to benefit the estates and make them productive again. Since they squandered what they already received, that is the end of it.”

“Maybe they did do something foolish with the money,” Hekatah conceded with real, or feigned, reluctance before adding quickly, “But I'm sure they didn't believe you really meant it about not giving them another loan.”

I'm a Black-Jeweled Warlord Prince, the strongest male in the history of the Blood. I'm the only male Black Widow in the history of the Blood. And I'm the High Lord of Hell. Despite the fact that I still walk among the living, I rule the Realm of the Blood's dead. How could your family not believe I meant what I said?

“It doesn't matter if they believed me or not,” he said. “The decision stands.”

She slapped the chair's arm. “You're being unreasonable. The Dhemlan people didn't complain the last time you raised the tithes to cover the loans. They won't dare whine this time, either.”

Speechless, he stared at her and wondered if there was any point in explaining how deeply she'd just insulted him. Finally, he regained his balance sufficiently to reply. “I didn't raise the tithes, Hekatah. That was a personal loan, from me to your family.”

Now she stared at him. “Our money? You used our money?”

“Of course. Why should the Dhemlan people have to pay for your family's financial imprudence?”

“So you took almost four million gold marks away from us?”

He shrugged. “I could afford it...once.” And the timing for that last loan had pissed him off enough that he'd played their manipulative game with so much finesse Hekatah's family had never realized he was playing. “You could always give them a portion of your quarterly income.”

“As if that pittance would do much good,” Hekatah replied, her eyes filled with resentment.

“Thirty thousand gold marks a quarter is hardly a pittance,” Saetan said with cutting gentleness. “Especially when you don't have to maintain a household”—he saw the jolt of nerves, quickly suppressed, which confirmed what he'd suspected—“and the only thing those funds have to cover are your personal expenses.” He paused. “Or, if you prefer, I can release the principal I put in trust for you as a wedding gift, from which you receive that quarterly income, and you can give your family as much of it as you choose.”

She said nothing. He hadn't expected her to.

She pushed herself out of the chair and stood before him, one hand resting on the large belly where his child moved inside her. It might have softened him enough to yield a little if he'd truly believed that gesture was a protective one rather than a reminder that she had power over something he wanted.

“I'm going to Hayll to offer my mother, and the rest of my family, whatever comfort I can,” she said.

He choked back a protest, knowing she would use any concern he showed as a weapon against him. “Do you think that's wise?” he asked mildly. “You shouldn't be traveling so close to your time.”

“I'm going to Hayll.”

The challenge filled the space between them.

“I would appreciate it if you would send a message back to let me know you arrived safely,” Saetan said.

Her shoulders slumped, her only acknowledgment that she had lost this battle of wills. Then she walked out of his study.

He waited there, his hands, tightly clasped, resting on the desk, while his mind, at times too facile for his own comfort, turned over nuggets of information and presented him with some unpalatable conclusions.

Last year, Hekatah's father had come to him for help in solving a “minor financial difficulty” shortly before Peyton's Birthright Ceremony, when the power a Blood child was born with was tested and confirmed, and the child received the Jewel that would be a visual warning of the depth of power that lived within that flesh as well as a reservoir for the power that wasn't used. It was also the time when paternity was formally acknowledged or denied. A man could sire a child, raise that child, love that child, but he had no rights to that child until the mother granted him paternal rights in a public ceremony that usually followed the Birthright Ceremony. It didn't matter if the child looked like the man in miniature, didn't matter if the woman had taken no lovers so there could be no question of who was the sire. If paternity was denied at that public ceremony, the man had no rights to the child. He could be cut out of the child's life in every possible way, becoming nothing more than the seed.

A public ceremony—and a decision that was never overturned. In many ways, a man who wanted children was held hostage by his heart until that ceremony. After that, the child was his, no matter what happened between him and the mother.

He should have wondered why Hekatah had wanted to get pregnant so soon after they'd married, should have wondered why she hadn't wanted a year or two just for the two of them to enjoy each other. But her true personality had already begun to crack the facade that had attracted him to her in the first place, so she couldn't afford to delay a pregnancy if she was going to keep the prize of a Black-Jeweled Warlord Prince whose wealth rivaled any of Hayll's Hundred Families and who ruled a Territory without having to answer to any Queen. At least, not a flesh-and-blood Queen that she could see or understand. She hadn't recognized his deep commitment to Witch, to the living myth, dreams made flesh. He had served Cassandra, the last Witch to walk the Realms. He had made a promise to serve the next one, no matter how long he had to wait for her to appear. She was the Queen he served, and he ruled both Dhemlan Territories, the one in the Terreille and the one in Kaeleer, on her behalf.

Hekatah hadn't recognized his commitment, and he hadn't recognized that she'd seen him as a way to fulfill her ambitions to become the most powerful Priestess in Terreille—or, possibly, all the Realms.

How convenient that she'd become pregnant with Peyton a few months before Mephis's Birthright Ceremony. How well-timed was her father's embarrassed admittance a year ago, when it was time for Peyton's Birthright Ceremony, that the family debts had become a difficulty. The bastard had mentioned too many times how distressed Hekatah was about the family's social status being tarnished by whining merchants who had so far forgotten their place that they'd gone to the Queen of Draega to complain about a “few” overdue bills.

He'd made sympathetic murmurs, but he'd understood the threat: If he didn't make some effort to reestablish her family financially, Hekatah might say something in haste when it came time to acknowledge Peyton as his son and grant him paternal rights to his child.

Hekatah's father and brothers were anxious to have their gambling debts paid off since those were to other aristos and the invitations to social engagements had declined as those debts had piled up. Instead, Saetan had paid up the accounts with all the merchants and presented her father with the receipts—and had insisted that he was simply too caught up in the celebration of Peyton's Birthright Ceremony to deal with “minor” gambling debts. He'd assured her father that those would be taken care of after the ceremonies.

While they realized he might refuse to pay the gambling debts if Hekatah said something in haste at the ceremony, it never occurred to anyone in her family that his timing in paying off the debts that concerned them the most was as manipulative as their timing in asking for financial help.

So his paternity of his younger son was granted, the debts were paid off...and he gave himself a few weeks to consider if, with his sons safely under his control, he wanted to remain married to a woman who expected absolute fidelity from her Warlord Prince husband while she indulged her taste for variety by having affairs with men from the minor branches of Hayll's aristo families.

He'd almost accepted that his hopes for this marriage had been wishful thinking and the self-delusion of a lonely man who, while receiving plenty of bedroom invitations, had been craving love.

Then Hekatah had told him she was pregnant again. And, once again, a child's life held his heart hostage. He didn't blame her for the pregnancy. He wanted another child, had willingly stopped doing anything to prevent conception, and had let her decide when she was ready.

But the timing had just been a little too convenient to make him feel easy, just as this request for another loan coming so close to when Hekatah would be brought to childbed was a little too convenient.

He sighed. Hekatah would punish him for not agreeing to provide the loan by staying with her family instead of being with him right now, and Zuulaman...

He pushed away from the desk. Screw all of it. What was the point of being the most powerful male in Terreille and shouldering the responsibility for a land and its people if he couldn't indulge himself once in a while?

Leaving the study and moving through the massive structure he'd built as a symbol of his power as well as a family home, he bounded up the stairs and headed for the family wing. He opened a door and his sons, Mephis and Peyton, the two joys of his marriage, rushed forward to greet him.

“Papa!” Peyton said. “Look what we helped Daemon Carpenter make for us!”

“You helped him, did you?” Saetan said as he took a wooden ship from his younger son and gave it the careful inspection that was expected—and wondered if he should offer Daemon Carpenter hazard pay for whatever “help” had been given.

“Well,” Mephis said, “we didn't actually help him make the ships, but we did make the sails.”

Which explained the badly stitched canvas. But that was the difference between the two boys. Peyton tended to be fiery, dramatic, always leading with his heart, while Mephis thought things through as well as he could before acting, was a little less demonstrative, and more bitingly exact about details.

“That's helping,” Peyton protested, scowling at his older brother. “Are you going to read us a story?” he asked, turning back to his father.

Saetan blew softly on the sail, using Craft to expand a puff of air into enough to fill the canvas. “No, I don't think so,” he replied, handing the ship back to Peyton in order to inspect the one Mephis now held up for his approval.

Peyton's lower lip pushed out in a pout, but before he could start wheedling, Mephis gave him a hard elbow jab in the ribs.

“No,” Saetan said slowly, “as commander of the fleet—”

“How come you get to be commander?” Peyton demanded. “Ow!” That because Mephis's elbow caught him in the ribs again.

“Because I'm bigger,” Saetan replied. “As I was saying, as commander of the fleet, I think my stalwart captains should test their new ships on the Phantom Sea.”

“Where?” Peyton asked.

“He means the pond,” Mephis said out of the corner of his mouth. “Now, hush.”

“Dangerous place, the Phantom Sea,” Saetan said, his deep voice dropping into a croon while he continued to inspect Mephis's ship.

“Are there whirlpools, Commander?” Mephis asked.

Peyton frowned at his brother, still young enough that he had to work to catch up.

“Yes, Captain Mephis,” Saetan crooned. “There are the Wailing Whirlpools and the Murky Mists. Challenges for even the most courageous sailors.”

“Are there sea dragons, too?” Peyton asked, his eyes wide.

“What would the Phantom Sea be without sea dragons?” Saetan murmured.

“How'd we get sea dragons in the pond?” Peyton whispered to Mephis.

“Papa's going to make them for us,” Mephis whispered back.

“Oooh.” Peyton looked up at Saetan, his gold eyes sparkling with anticipation.

“If we're ready, gentlemen,” Saetan said, handing the ship back to Mephis.

“And I suppose you're going to end up muddy to the knees and smelling like pond water,” a female voice said.

Saetan turned to face the woman now standing in the doorway. He had no complaints about Lady Broghann, the Purple Dusk-Jeweled witch who was the boys' governess and teacher, but he was feeling a little too raw to accept a challenge from anyone, especially a woman.

Then he saw the humor in her eyes that balanced the stern tone of voice.

“I expect some mud will be inevitable,” Saetan said solemnly.

“Yay!” Peyton said, only to be elbowed again by Mephis.

Puppy is going to be black-and-blue before he figures out when to keep quiet, Saetan thought.

“Now,” Lady Broghann said. “Don't go drinking so much grog that you run aground.”

“What's grog?” Peyton asked, starting to bounce with impatience.

“You would know if you had paid attention to the lesson about sailing,” she replied.

While Peyton's face scrunched up in thought, Saetan turned away and coughed to clear the laughter from his throat.

Finally able to look suitably grim, he turned back to his captains. “Shall we go?” Then he noticed the boys' appearance. The trousers were worn to the point of looking shabby, and there was a long tear on the left sleeve of Peyton's shirt—neatly mended but still apparent. “Why are you wearing those clothes?”

“This is the attire of adventurous sailors,” Lady Broghann said.

Curious, Saetan studied her. “According to...?”

“My mother. I have three younger brothers.”

And her younger brothers had a clever older sister.

“An unquestionable authority,” Saetan said with a small bow.

“What's grog taste like?” Peyton asked, having circled back to something more interesting than clothes.

“It tastes like milk,” Saetan replied.

“Sailors drink milk?”

“Short ones do.”

While Peyton was working out why Mephis was snickering, Commander Saetan led captains Mephis and Peyton to the Phantom Sea, where they tested their ships against Murky Mists, Wailing Whirlpools...and sea dragons.





Kaeleer's Heart

This story takes place after the events in Queen of the Darkness.



Chapter One

1

Rage filled him. Love drove him. He and Witch hit the Green web. He rolled, but he didn't have Lucivar's skill. They broke through close to the middle of the web. He kept rolling so that when they hit the Sapphire, they were close to the edge. He rolled the other way, wrapping her in the web's power.

They broke through the Sapphire, but they weren't falling as fast now. He had a little more time to brace, to plan, to pour the strength of his Black Jewels into fighting the fall.

They hit the Red, rolled, clung for a second before falling to the Gray. Only half the Gray strands broke immediately. He strained back as hard as he could. When the other half broke, he rolled them upward while the web swung them down toward the Ebon-gray. He pulled against the swing, slowing it, slowing it.

When the other side of the Gray broke, they sailed down to the Ebon-gray. The web sagged when they landed, then stretched, then stretched a little more before the strands began to break.

His Black Jewels were almost drained, but he held on, held on, held on as they floated onto the Black web.

And nothing happened.

Shaking, shivering, he stared at the Black web, not quite daring to believe.

It took him a minute to get his hands to unlock from their grip around her ankles. When he was finally able to let go, he floated cautiously above the web. Near her shoulder, he noticed two small broken strands. Very carefully, he smoothed the Black strands over the other colors that cocooned her.

He could barely see her, only just enough to make out the tiny spiral horn. But that was enough.

*We did it,* he whispered. He looked up. He couldn't see his brother and father, but he knew they were still floating in the abyss, exhausted from their own part of this fight to save her. *Lucivar! Priest! We did it!*

Then he looked at Witch—and horror filled him. In that moment of inattention, the Black web's strands had sagged, stretched, started to break. He lunged, trying to grab her. His fingertips brushed against her ankle, but no matter how hard he strained, he couldn't get any closer.

Her eyes opened. Even through the cocoon of webs, they glittered like fine sapphires.

"Daemon." Little more than an exhalation of breath, a sigh. "Daemon."

Then the strands of Black web broke, and she spiraled down into the Darkness and disappeared.

"No." Grief ensnared him, cocooned him in agony. "Noooo!"


Still trembling from the nightmare that had become a familiar companion over the past few months, Daemon Sadi braced his hands against the shower walls and let the hot water sluice over his bowed head.

He loved Jaenelle Angelline with everything in him, had waited all of his seventeen hundred years for the day when he would surrender to Witch and serve her, be her lover. He had dreamed of her, yearned for her, had endured the centuries of being used as a pleasure slave because he had to survive in order to find her. And now...

He was losing her. He didn't know what he'd done, or hadn't done, to cause her feelings for him to change, but he was losing her. There was sadness lurking in the depths of her sapphire eyes whenever he was with her, and with each passing day, she seemed a little more distant, a little more out of reach.

Daemon shook his head. He'd let doubt become a living cry of pain while the kindred were fighting to hold on to Jaenelle and heal her body, and those doubts had cost her dearly. He couldn't afford to let doubt surface again.

Soaping up a washcloth, he scrubbed himself fiercely, as if washing the sweat off his skin could also scour the nightmare from his mind and heart. When he finally shut off the water and toweled himself dry, his body was clean—and his heart still ached.

Going back into the bedroom of the master suite in his family's town house in Amdarh, Dhemlan's capital city, he looked at the bed and hesitated. No. He wouldn't take a chance of the nightmare coming back. Once in a night was more than enough. Besides, he could spend the hours before dawn going over the papers Marcus, his man of business, had delivered to the town house for his review.

During the years when he'd been lost in the Twisted Kingdom and the years he'd remained hidden while he regained his strength and patched together his sanity, Marcus had worked diligently on his behalf. Because of that, much of the wealth he'd accumulated over the centuries had been quietly transferred to investments in various Territories in Kaeleer. That diligence had served Marcus as well, establishing him as a businessman and making it possible for him to bring his wife and young daughter to Kaeleer without having to serve in a Queen's court. Now Marcus and his family also lived in Amdarh, where it was safe for a child to play in the park with her friends, where a woman could walk down the street and not fear the men she passed, where a man wouldn't have to wonder if he would be snatched and maimed for the amusement of a bitch's court.

Using Craft, Daemon turned on the candle-light near the chair and table where he'd left the large stack of papers waiting for his perusal. Between his personal assets and controlling the vast wealth of the SaDiablo family, he had enough work to keep him busy, enough work to fill the hours when Jaenelle...

He reached for the robe at the foot of the bed, then turned away empty-handed to stand in front of the freestanding mirror.

He had the light-brown skin, black hair, and gold eyes that were common to the long-lived races. But his face was beautiful rather than handsome and left women breathless; his deep, cultured voice with its sexual edge could cause a pulse to race; and his body, trim, toned and full of feline grace, made women, and more than one man, crave him. He was seduction in motion, a promise of pleasure to the woman who held his affection and loyalty—and a promise of pain to everyone else who thought to use him in a bed.

He was also a Black Widow, one of the Blood who could wield the Hourglass's Craft of dreams and visions...and poisons. His father had been the first male in the history of the Blood to become a Black Widow. He had been born one, and the venom held in the sac beneath the ring-finger nail of his right hand was deadly. Adding that to the fact that he wore Black Jewels made him the most powerful, and dangerous, male in the history of the Blood, second only to Saetan.

No. Not second. They had taken each other's measure, and they both knew the truth. He might be his father's mirror, but his power was a little stronger, a little darker. And whatever held his father in check from unleashing that power didn't hold him. With the right provocation, there was nothing he couldn't, and wouldn't, do.

Especially when it came to Jaenelle Angelline, the living myth, dreams made flesh, the Queen who had sacrificed herself and the tremendous power she'd wielded in order to cleanse the taint that Dorothea and Hekatah SaDiablo had smeared over the Blood in Terreille.

The Queen who was called Kaeleer's Heart.

She had stopped the war that would have devastated Kaeleer. The price had been vicious. Even though she had healed enough to come home, she had suffered so much during the first weeks when he'd brought her back to SaDiablo Hall. True, the pain had lessened as autumn gave way to the first breath of winter, but even now, when the winter days would soon give way to the promise of spring, she was still so fragile, still an invalid who could barely walk from bed to chair. She never spoke about shattering her Ebony Jewels, never spoke of the new Jewel, Twilight's Dawn, that had taken the place of what she had lost.

She didn't say much of anything anymore. At least, not to him.

"It's not over," he told his reflection. "You've kept your best weapons sheathed, old son. Maybe it's time to remind your Lady what you can offer a woman, remind her that you're hers for the taking. If you don't play this game out to the full and you lose because of it, you'll regret it for the rest of your life. It's not over until she asks you to leave, so give her a reason to want you to stay."

Turning away from the mirror, he slipped into the robe, poured a snifter of brandy, and settled in the chair to take care of the work that had brought him to Amdarh. If he could get through the business that required his immediate attention, he'd have time to take care of some personal errands in the morning before meeting with Marcus—and he'd be home with Jaenelle by tonight.


2


Daemon left the town house and strode down the sidewalk, his hands in the pockets of his wool coat, the collar flipped up to shield his neck from the bite of winter air. The walkways and streets were clear of snow, which made it easy to enjoy a brisk morning walk.

Personal errands first. As night gave way to dawn, he'd realized the only way to battle doubt was by feeding hope. He knew what he wanted more than anything else, and this would be a small step in the right direction.

The bookseller he patronized was his first stop, and the man barely had time to open his store before Daemon arrived. Today, browsing wasn't a temptation, so he simply looked at the books the man had set aside for him. Reading was Jaenelle's main entertainment these days, so every time he came to Amdarh on business, he made a point of stopping at the store. He selected three of the six books that had been set aside, but asked the bookseller to hold the others until he returned to the city in a fortnight. Buying them but not giving her all of them seemed dishonest, as if he were withholding a treat. Delaying the purchase gave him the pleasure of bringing her something new each time he had to leave the Hall on family business, and he needed to give her anything he could.

By the time he left the bookstore, there were plenty of people out and about Amdarh's shopping district. As he walked to his next destination, he greeted the men and women he'd met at aristo houses when he'd been invited to dinner or to a party. He'd made an effort to become acquainted with the Blood aristos in the city, especially the ones who served in Lady Zhara's court, since she ruled Dhemlan's capital. Except for Karla, the boyos and the coven who had made up Jaenelle's First Circle hadn't quite forgiven him for the games he'd played to keep them away from her while she created the spells that would protect them and Kaeleer. And he and Lucivar still weren't quite easy with each other. What he'd done in Dorothea's camp to protect his brother's wife and son was a still-healing wound between them.

He greeted two witches he'd met at a party when he was in Amdarh a few weeks ago buying gifts for Winsol. Baffled by the wary stares they gave him before returning the greeting, he shrugged it off as unimportant, his mind already focused on the shop at the end of the block.

"Good morning, Prince Sadi," Banard said as soon as Daemon walked into the shop. "I hadn't expected to see you here so soon after Winsol. Did the Lady like the pin?"

"Good morning," Daemon replied as he walked up to one of the glass displays that also served as a counter. "Yes, Lady Angelline was delighted with the unicorn pin."

A gifted craftsman who worked with precious gems and metals, Banard, a Blood male who wore no Jewel himself, had been commissioned over the years to create a number of unique pieces for darker-Jeweled Blood—including Jaenelle's scepter when she'd established her Dark Court.

"I have a commission for you," Daemon said. "One that requires your discretion for the time being."

Banard smiled. "Don't they all require discretion, Prince?"

"Yes, they do," he replied, returning the smile to acknowledge the truth of Banard's statement. "But this one needs a little more than most."

Banard just continued to smile.

Daemon hesitated, wondering if he was being premature. Didn't matter. If he ended up being a fool over this, so be it. "I want you to make two rings. One...I'm not really sure how I want it to look." Despite the fact that they were alone in the shop, he lowered his voice. "The other is a plain gold band."

"Do you know the ring size for this gold band?"

In answer, Daemon held out his left hand.

"Ah." Banard's smile widened. "Then this other must be a special ring for a special Lady?"

"A ring worthy of a lifetime."

Banard called in a velvet lined ring case. Brass rings marched in neat rows from the largest, which would fit a man twice Daemon's size, to the smallest, which looked like it would fit only a small child.

"I made the rings for the Lady's Court," Banard said, his fingers moving above the rows of brass rings. "If I remember correctly..." He selected a ring and held it out.

Daemon slipped it on his finger. A perfect fit. Just as the Consort's Ring had been a perfect fit.

He removed the ring and gave it back to Banard, who returned the ring to its place and vanished the case.

"As for the other—"

Banard broke off as the shop's door opened and a woman stepped inside. She smiled at them, then moved to the display case that contained brooches.

"I'll give the matter some thought," Banard continued quietly. "Make a few sketches for you to look at the next time you're in Amdarh. Would that be sufficient?"

"That would be fine," Daemon replied, working to keep his voice from turning into a snarl. Something in the air. Something that honed his temper.

He turned his head and studied the woman. A lighter-Jeweled witch. Who was cloaked in an illusion spell. The kind of spell that could only be made through the Hourglass's Craft. That's what he sensed. But there was nothing...enhanced...about her appearance. She was attractive but hardly stunning. Perhaps she was disfigured in some way, from accident or illness. There were some things even the best Healer couldn't fix completely, so an illusion spell was sometimes used to hide a disfigurement.

Wondering if she had come from Terreille, and knowing the cruel and terrible things Dorothea and her followers had done to people, he felt a moment's pity for her and was glad the illusion spell gave her the courage to go out in the world.

"There is one thing I can show you," Banard said. "I just finished it yesterday." He retreated behind the curtain that shielded his workroom and the private showrooms, then returned quickly with a piece of folded black velvet. He set the cloth on the counter and revealed its contents.

Daemon picked up the bracelet. It was a double strand of white and yellow gold set with precious and semiprecious gems that matched the colors of the Jewels from the Rose to the Black.

"It's beautiful," Daemon said. And so appropriate since it reflected every color that made up Twilight's Dawn, the Jewel Jaenelle now wore. "A special gift for a special Lady."

"I was hoping you would think so," Banard said.

Grinning, he set it back on the velvet. "Wrap it up, and I'll take it with me."

"Oh. May I see it?"

The woman was standing near him, focused on the bracelet. There was a greediness in her eyes that made him want to lash out, to sweep the bracelet out of sight. But he thought of the illusion spell and the reasons she might have paid a Black Widow to create one. Beauty of any kind might be a new discovery for her.

He forced himself to step aside so she could get a better look at the bracelet, but he rested his hand on the counter close to the velvet, a subtle claim and a warning that she could look but not touch.

After a long study, she smiled and moved back to the counter with the brooches.

Wrapping the velvet around the bracelet, Daemon vanished it, promised to return in a fortnight, and turned to leave the shop. At the door, he looked back at the woman, but her attention was on the brooches, not on him. Shrugging off his uneasiness as a reaction to living in Terreille for most of his life, he headed back to the family town house, where he and Marcus would share a midday meal before getting down to business.





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Updated Monday March 01 2010