Queen of Darkness
Roc Books, January 2000
For more information, check out www.penguin.com.
Copyright © 2000 Anne
Bishop. Used with permission.
1 / Terreille
Dorothea SaDiablo, the High Priestess
of the Territory called Hayll, slowly climbed the stairs to the
large wooden platform. It was a bright morning in early autumn,
and Draega, Hayll's capital, was far enough south that the days
were still warm. The heavy black cloak that shrouded Dorothea's
body made her sweat. Under the deep hood, her hair was damp and
her neck itched. No matter. In a few minutes, she could shed the
When she reached the platform,
she saw the lumpy canvas that stretched across the front, closest
to the waiting crowd, and automatically began taking shallow breaths
through her mouth. Foolish. She'd used every spell she knew to
keep what was beneath that canvas a secret until the proper time.
Forcing herself to breathe naturally, she walked across the platform,
stopping a few feet behind the canvas.
Watching her, with wariness and
resentment, were the Queens of all the Territories in the Realm
of Terreille. She had demanded that each Territory Queen bring
her two strongest Province Queens and any Warlord Princes who
served her. She knew that many of the Queens, especially those
from the far-western Territories, had come expecting a trap of
Well, the bitches were right.
But if she presented the bait in the right way, they would throw
themselves into the trap without a second thought.
Dorothea raised her arms. The
crowd's rippling murmurs faded to silence. Using Craft to enhance
her voice so that everyone would hear her, she began the next
move in a deadly game of power.
My Sisters and Brothers,
I called you here to warn you about a terrible discovery I made
recently, something that threatens every one of the Blood in the
entire Realm of Terreille.
In the past, I've done some
unspeakably cruel things. I have been responsible for the destruction
of Queens and some of the best males in the Realm. I have bred
fear into the Blood in order to be the controlling power in Terreille.
Me. A High Priestess who knows better than anyone that a Priestess
can't be a substitute for a Queen, no matter how skilled or how
strong she is in her Craft.
I will shoulder the sorrow
and burden of those acts for the rest of my life. But I tell you
this now: I HAVE BEEN USED! A few weeks ago, while using my skills
as a Black Widow to spin a tangled web of dreams and visions,
I inadvertently ripped through a mental shroud that had surrounded
me for all the centuries I've been the High Priestess of Hayll.
I fought my way through that mental fogging and finally saw what
my tangled webs had been trying to tell me for so very long.
There is someone
who wants to dominate Terreille. There is someone who wants to
subjugate all the Blood in this Realm. But it isn't me. I've been
the instrument of a monstrous, malevolent being who wants to crush
us and consume us, who plays with us the same way a cat plays
with a mouse before it strikes the killing blow. That monster
has a name a name that has been feared for thousands upon
thousands of years, and with good reason. Our destroyer is the
Prince of the Darkness, the High Lord of Hell.
Uneasy murmurs rose from the crowd.
You doubt me? Dorothea
shouted. She tore off the cloak and tossed it aside. Her wispy,
white hair, which had been thick and black a few weeks ago, fell
around her shoulders. Her sagging, deeply lined face twisted,
and tears filled her gold eyes as the murmurs changed to shocked
exclamations. Look what happened to me when I fought to
free myself from his insidious spells. Look at me. This
is the price I paid so that you would be aware of the danger.
Dorothea pressed a hand against
her chest, gasping for breath.
Her Steward stepped forward and
gently grasped her arm to support her. You must stop, Priestess.
This is too much for you to endure.
No, Dorothea gasped,
still using Craft to enhance her voice. I must tell them
everything while I can. I may not have another chance. Once he
realizes I know about him...
The crowd grew silent.
Lowering her hand, Dorothea stood
as straight as she could, ignoring the ache in her spine. I
was not the High Lord's only instrument. There are those among
you who have had the misfortune to have had Daemon Sadi or Lucivar
Yaslana serving in your courts. May the Darkness forgive me, I
sent those monsters into fragile Territories, and because of them,
Queens have died. Sometimes whole courts were torn apart. I, like
Prythian, Askavi's High Priestess, thought we were sending them
into service in other courts by our own choice, in the hope that
they could be controlled. But we were manipulated into sending
them to those Territories because they are the High Lord's
sons! They are that bestial creature's seeds, and they have
grown up to be his tools of destruction. The control Prythian
and I thought we had over them was nothing but an illusion, a
blind to conceal their true purpose.
Both of them disappeared
several years ago. Most of us hoped they had died. Not so. I've
learned from some brave Brothers and Sisters who are now living
in the Kaeleer Territory called Little Terreille that both Yaslana
and Sadi are in the Shadow Realm, where the High Lord has been
living under the guise of being the Warlord Prince of Dhemlan.
The viper's children have returned to the nest.
There's more. The High Lord
has an unhealthy influence over most of the Territory Queens in
Kaeleer, as well as absolute control over a young woman who is
the strongest witch in all the Realms. With her strength behind
him, he will overwhelm us unless we strike first. We have
no choice, my Brothers and Sisters. If we don't crush the High
Lord and everyone in his service, the cruelty I have done as his
instrument will seem like a child's game in comparison.
Dorothea paused for a moment.
Many of you have friends or loved ones who have fled to
Kaeleer in order to escape the violence that has been strangling
Terreille. Look at what has happened to many of those who have
run straight into the High Lord's seductive embrace.
Using Craft, she whipped away
the canvas covering the front of the platform. Then she clamped
her hand over her mouth to keep from gagging as the flies rose
from the mutilated corpses.
Screams filled the air. A piercing
shriek of grief and rage rose above the other voices. Then another,
and another, as the people nearest the platform recognized what
was left of a face, or recognized a distinctive piece of jewelry.
Using Craft again, Dorothea gently
drew the canvas over the bodies. She waited several minutes for
the screams to fade to muffled sobs.
Know this, she said.
I will use every bit of Craft I have learned, every drop
of strength that I have in me to defeat this monster. But if I
stand alone, I will surely be defeated. If we stand and fight
together, we have a chance to rid ourselves of the High Lord and
those who serve him. Many of us won't survive this fight, but
our children Her voice broke. It took her a moment
to continue. But our children will know the freedom we paid
so dearly to give them.
Turning around, she stumbled.
Her Steward and Master of the Guard supported her across the platform
and down the steps. Tears and a fierce pride filled their eyes
as they gently settled her into her open carriage for the short
ride back to her mansion. When they tried to go with her, she
shook her head.
Your duties are here,
she said weakly.
the Master of the Guard started to protest.
Please, Dorothea said.
Your strength will serve me better if you remain here.
Calling in a folded piece of paper, she handed it to her Steward.
If these Queens ask to see me, arrange for an audience this
afternoon. She saw the protest in his eyes, but he said
Her coachman clucked softly to
Dorothea leaned back against the
seat and closed her eyes to hide her glee. Well, you son of
a whoring bitch, I've made the first move. And now there's nothing
you can do that can't be used against you.
2 / Terreille
Alexandra Angelline shivered despite
the morning sun's warmth as she waited for Philip Alexander to
return from his examination of the torn bodies lying on the wooden
platform. She put a warming spell on the heavy wool shawl, knowing
it was useless. No outer source of heat was going to thaw the
cold inside her.
It's too soon,she thought desperately. Wilhelmina
had gone through the Gate yesterday morning. She can't
Vania and Nyselle, the two Province
Queens she'd brought with her, had already returned to the inn,
along with their escorts. They hadn't offered to wait with her.
A few years ago a few weeks ago they would
have. They had still believed in her then, despite the problems
in her family.
But a few weeks ago, someone had
sent cryptic messages to the thirty strongest witches in Chaillot
excluding herself and her daughter, Leland inviting
them to take a tour of Briarwood and promising to solve the riddle
of what had happened to the young girls in their families who
had been admitted to the hospital and then disappeared without
a trace. Briarwood, which had been built to heal emotionally disturbed
children, had been closed for several years now, ever since that
mysterious illness started consuming dozens of men from the aristo
families in Beldon Mor, Chaillot's capital an illness that
had seemed linked to that place.
The witches had arrived on the
specified night, and they had learned the secrets and the horrors
of Briarwood. Their guide, a demon-dead girl named Rose, showed
no mercy as she introduced them to the ghosts. One Priestess found
her cousin, who had disappeared when they were children, bricked
up inside a wall. A Province Queen recognized what was left of
a friend's daughter.
They saw the gaming rooms. They
saw the cubicles that contained the narrow beds. They saw the
vegetable garden and the girl with one leg.
Numbed by what they saw, they
followed Rose, who smiled at them and told them in precise detail
how and why each child had died. She told them about the other
demon-dead children who had gone to the Dark Realm to live with
the rest of the cildru dyathe. She recited the list of
Briarwood's uncles, the men who had supported and
used that twisted carnal playground. And she recited a list of
broken witches from aristo families who had been cured
of their emotional instability and stripped of their inner
power and then returned home.
One of the men Rose had named
was Robert Benedict, Leland's former husband and an important
member of the male council a council already decimated
by that mysterious illness.
When a Healer in the group had
asked about the illness, Rose had smiled again, and said, Briarwood
is the pretty poison. There is no cure for Briarwood.
Alexandra clutched her shawl and
The rage that had swept through
Chaillot had torn it apart. Beldon Mor became a battleground.
The members of the male council who had not yet died from the
illness were viciously executed. After several men from aristo
families died of poison, many others fled to inns or one of their
clubs because they were terrified to eat or drink anything that
might have passed through the hands of the women in their families.
And after the first wave of rage
had passed, the witches had turned their fury on her. They didn't
blame her for Briarwood, since it had been built before she had
become Queen of Chaillot, but they did blame her, bitterly,
for her blindness. She had been so intent on keeping Hayll's influence
out of Chaillot and trying to retain some power in the face of
the male council that she hadn't seen the danger that already
existed. They said it was like arguing with a man about groping
your breast when he already had his cock sheathed between your
They blamed her because Robert
Benedict had lived in her house for all those years and had bedded
her daughter. If she couldn't recognize the danger when it sat
across from her day after day, how could she protect her people
against any other kind of threat?
They blamed her for Robert Benedict
and for all the young witches who had died or were broken in Briarwood.
She blamed herself for what happened
to Jaenelle, her younger granddaughter. She had allowed that strange,
difficult child to be locked away in that place. She hadn't known
Briarwood's secrets, but if she hadn't dismissed Jaenelle's fanciful
stories, if she had accepted them as a child's plea for attention
instead of an annoying social problem, Jaenelle never would have
been sent to Briarwood. And if she hadn't dismissed the girl's
hatred for Dr. Carvay, would she have learned the truth sooner?
She didn't know. And it was too
late to find the answers.
Now she had another family problem.
Eleven years ago, Wilhelmina Benedict, Robert's daughter by his
first marriage, had run away after claiming that Robert had made
a sexual advance. Philip Alexander, Robert's bastard half brother,
had found his niece, but he had refused to say where she was.
At the time, Alexandra had been furious with him for keeping Wilhelmina's
location a secret from her. Lately, she had wondered if Philip
had had some inkling about what lay beneath Briarwood's solicitous
veneer, especially when it had been his vehemence that had been
the final push to close the place.
A couple of days ago, she had
received a letter from Wilhelmina, informing her that the girl
was going to Kaeleer, the Shadow Realm. No Wilhelmina was
twenty-seven now, no longer a girl. That didn't matter. She was
still family. Still her granddaughter.
Alexandra shook her head to break
the pattern of her thoughts and noticed Philip walking toward
her. Holding her breath, she searched his gray eyes.
She's not among them,
Philip said quietly.
Alexandra released her breath
in a sigh. Thank the Darkness. But she understood
what hadn't been said: not yet.
Philip offered his arm. She accepted,
grateful for the support. He was a good man, the opposite of his
half brother. She had been pleased when he and Leland had decided
to handfast, and had been even more pleased when they chose to
marry after the handfast year was done.
Alexandra looked back at the platform
where Dorothea SaDiablo had made her horrifying speech. Do
you believe her? she asked softly.
Philip guided her through clusters
of people who were still too shocked to do more than huddle together
while they gathered the courage to look at the mutilated bodies.
I don't know. If even half of what she said is true...if
Sadi... He choked.
She still had nightmares about
Daemon Sadi. So did Philip, for different reasons. Sadi had threatened
her when Jaenelle had been put in Briarwood for the last time,
had given her a taste of the grave. When he unleashed his dark
power in order to break the Ring of Obedience, he had destroyed
half the Jeweled Blood in Beldon Mor. Caught in that explosive
unleashing, Philip's strength had been broken back to the Green
Jewel that was his birthright.
We can get a Coach this
evening, Philip said. If we buy passage on one that
rides the darker Winds, we'll be home by tomorrow.
Not yet. I'd like you to
talk to Dorothea's Steward. See if you can set up an audience
You're a Queen, Philip
snapped. You shouldn't have to beg an audience from a Priestess,
no matter who
Philip. She squeezed
his arm. I'm thankful for your loyalty, but right now we
are beggars. I can't afford any more assumptions. I'm not
convinced that Dorothea isn't the monster she's always appeared
to be, but I am convinced that the High Lord is a greater
threat. She shuddered. We have to go to Kaeleer to
find Wilhelmina. We can't afford to go there without having as
much knowledge of the enemy as we can gain, no matter what the
All right, Philip
said. What about Vania and Nyselle? Will they go with us?
They'll stay or go as they
choose. They certainly won't care what I do. She sighed.
Who would have thought, even a month ago, that I would have
to entertain the idea of Dorothea being an ally?
3 / Terreille
Kartane SaDiablo wandered through
the formal gardens, trying hard to ignore the speculative or pitying
glances of the few people who hadn't retreated indoors.
He had waited until Dorothea's
carriage was out of sight before walking away from the platform.
The mutilated bodies that had been left for grisly inspection
didn't bother him. Hell's fire, Dorothea had done that much
or worse to people when she was feeling playful. But no
one seemed to remember that. Or, perhaps, most of the fools here
had never witnessed one of the High Priestess's moods.
But the Steward and the Master
of the Guard... Ball-withered idiots. They had actually had tears
in their eyes when they helped her into the carriage. How could
they believe she'd been under a spell for all these centuries,
that she hadn't reveled in her victims' pain?
Oh, she had certainly sounded
sincere and remorseful. He didn't believe it for a moment. Any
man who had ever had to pleasure Dorothea in a bed wouldn't have
believed it. Daemon wouldn't have, that's for sure.
Daemon. The High Lord's son. That
explained a great deal about his cousin. All those
years, when Daemon had been raised as a bastard in Dorothea's
court, had she known? She must have. Which meant that the High
Lord of Hell would have no love for the High Priestess of Hayll.
Which circled back to his own
The mysterious illness that had
started almost thirteen years ago was consuming him. All the other
men who had enjoyed Briarwood's secret little playground were
already in the grave. Because he was Hayllian, one of the long-lived
races, and because he had never gone back to Chaillot, he was
the only one left. And he could feel that he was running out of
After the connection between the
illness and Briarwood had been revealed a few weeks ago, he had
started thinking when his mind wasn't so consumed in nightmares
that he could think and he always came to the same
conclusion: the only Healers who might be powerful enough to cure
this illness before it destroyed him, and the only ones who would
be ignorant of the cause, were in Kaeleer. They would probably
be serving in the courts of the Territory Queens, who, if Dorothea
hadn't been lying about that, were under the High Lord's
control. Which meant he had to find something that would buy the
High Lord's assistance. Thanks to Dorothea's little speech, he
now had information he thought the Prince of the Darkness would
find very interesting.
Pleased with his decision, Kartane
smiled. He would spend a few more days sniffing out information
and then pay a little visit to the Shadow Realm.
4 / Terreille
Alexandra Angelline gingerly settled
into a chair, relieved that Dorothea had chosen a private receiving
room instead of a formal audience room. This meeting was going
to be difficult enough without enduring a court full of sneering
But being alone with Dorothea
also had disadvantages. She'd heard that Hayll's High Priestess
had been a handsome woman. Oh, the ghost of that loveliness was
still there, but there was a definite stoop to Dorothea's shoulders,
a twistiness to her spine. Age spots dotted the backs of her brown
hands, and the face and hair...
It happens to all of us, eventually,Alexandra thought as she watched Dorothea
pour tea into delicate cups. But what would it feel like to go
to bed one night a woman in her prime and wake the next morning
as a crone?
me an audience, Alexandra said, trying not to choke on the
Dorothea's lips curled in a slight
smile as she handed Alexandra a cup of tea. I'm surprised
you asked for one. The smile faded. We haven't seen
eye to eye in the past. And considering what happened to your
family, you have good reason to hate me. She hesitated,
took a sip of tea, and continued softly, It wasn't my idea
to send Sadi to Chaillot, but I can't remember who suggested it
or why I agreed. There's a veil over those memories that I still
Alexandra lifted her cup toward
her lips, but put it down again without drinking. You think
the High Lord arranged it?
Yes, I do. Sadi is a beautiful,
vicious weapon, and his father knows how to use him well. And
they did achieve their goal.
What goal? Alexandra
said angrily. Sadi tore my family apart and killed my younger
granddaughter. What was achieved by that?
Dorothea sat back, took a sip
of tea, and said quietly, You forget, Sister. The girl's
body was never found.
Something about the expectant
way Dorothea was looking at her made Alexandra shiver. That
doesn't mean anything. He's a very discreet gravedigger.
She put the cup and saucer on the table, the tea untouched. I
didn't come here to talk about the past. Just how dangerous is
the High Lord?
Daemon Sadi is his father's
son. Does that answer your question?
Alexandra tried but couldn't suppress
a shudder. And you really think he wants to destroy the
Blood in Terreille?
I'm sure of it. Dorothea
touched her white hair. I paid a heavy price to be sure
My other granddaughter,
Wilhelmina Benedict, recently went to Kaeleer, Alexandra
Dorothea stiffened. How
She went through the Gate
Mother Night, Dorothea
said, collapsing in her chair. I'm so sorry, Alexandra.
So very, very sorry.
Prince Philip Alexander
and I intend to go to Kaeleer as soon as that 'service fair' is
over and visitors are permitted again. Hopefully, we'll be able
to find her, and convince whatever Queen she's signed a contract
with to release her.
She's in far more danger
than that, Dorothea said worriedly.
There's no reason for her
to draw anyone's attention, Alexandra said, fear making
her voice sharp. There's no reason for her to accept a contract
outside of Little Terreille.
There are two reasons: the
High Lord and the witch he controls. If you don't find her quickly,
Wilhelmina will end up in his dark embrace, and there will be
no hope for her then.
Despite the warm room, a chill
ran down Alexandra's spine.
Dorothea just looked at her for
a long moment. I told you Sadi and the High Lord
achieved their goal. No one hunts very long for a corpse when
the living need care. And your granddaughter's body was never
Alexandra stared at Dorothea.
You think Jaenelle is this powerful witch under the
High Lord's control? Jaenelle? She laughed bitterly.
Hell's fire, Dorothea, Jaenelle couldn't even do basic
If you know how to read between the lines of some of
the...less available...records of the Blood's history, you'll
find that there have been a few women very few, thank the
Darkness who had enormous reservoirs of power that they
were unable to tap by themselves. They required an...emotional...bond
with someone who had the skill to channel the power in order to
use it. But they didn't always have the choice about how
it was used. Dorothea paused. The gossip that has
recently filtered in from Little Terreille about the High Lord's
pet describes her as 'eccentric,' 'somewhat emotionally disturbed.'
Does that sound familiar?
Alexandra couldn't catch her breath. There wasn't enough air
in the room. Why wasn't there enough air?
If you'll take it, I'll give you whatever help I can.
Dorothea looked at her sadly. You can't ignore this, Alexandra.
No matter what you want to think or what you want to believe,
you can't ignore the fact that the High Lord's pet witch, the
witch Daemon Sadi helped him acquire, goes by the name Jaenelle
5 / Terreille
Dorothea pulled aside the dark,
heavy curtains and stared out at the night-shrouded garden. She
felt drained, physically and emotionally. Oh, how she had wanted
to dig her nails in and scratch out the pathetically hopeful look
in the eyes of the males in her First Circle. They wanted to grasp
at any excuse for her behavior over the past centuries. They wanted
to believe that a male had made her cruel, a male had
manipulated her and controlled her thoughts, a male had
been behind her rise to power and the viciousness afterward that
had made it possible to soften and harvest most of the other Territories
They didn't want to give her any
credit at all. They wanted her to be a victim so that they wouldn't
feel ashamed of serving her, so that they could pretend they served
out of a sense of honor instead of avarice and fear.
Well, once Kaeleer fell, she would
make a few changes in her court. Maybe she would even arrange
for the fools to die in battle, choking on their bloody honor.
You did well today, Sister,
said a harsh but still girlish voice. I couldn't have done
Dorothea didn't turn around. Looking
at Hekatah, the demon-dead Dark Priestess and self-proclaimed
High Priestess of Hell, always turned her stomach. They
were your words, not mine, so it's not surprising that you're
You still need me,
Hekatah snarled as she shuffled to a chair near the fire. Don't
I never forget that,
Dorothea replied softly, keeping her eyes focused on the garden.
It had been Hekatah who had seen
her potential when she was a young witch still learning a Priestess's
duties as well as the Black Widows' Craft. It had been Hekatah
who had nurtured her ambitions and dreams of power, who had pointed
out the possible rivals who could interfere with those dreams.
And it had been Hekatah who had helped eliminate those rivals.
The Dark Priestess had been there, every step of the way, guiding,
She couldn't remember just when
she realized that Hekatah needed her just as much as she needed
Hekatah. That need made them despise each other, but they were
bound together by the common dream of ruling an entire Realm.
Do you really think, after
all we've done to gain control of Terreille, those Queens will
believe it was all the High Lord's fault?
If you cast the persuasion
spells correctly, there's no reason they won't believe it,
Hekatah said with sweet venom.
There's nothing wrong with
my Craft skills, Priestess, Dorothea replied with equal
venom, turning to face the other woman.
Your skills didn't help
you elude the spell Sadi wrapped around you, did they?
No more than your skills
protected you, or have helped you reverse the damage.
Hekatah hissed angrily, and Dorothea
turned back to the window, feeling a brief satisfaction at the
Seven years ago, Hekatah had tried
to gain control of Jaenelle Angelline and eliminate Lucivar Yaslana.
Something had gone wrong with her scheme, and the backlash of
that confrontation had stripped away her ability to pass as one
of the living, had made her look like a decaying, desiccated corpse.
For the first couple of years, she had insisted that all she needed
was to consume large quantities of fresh blood in order to restore
her body. But the demon-dead were, in a sense, spirits that still
had too much psychic power to return to the Darkness and were
now housed in dead flesh. While the power lasted and could be
renewed, the body could be maintained by consuming blood. But
nothing was going to restore Hekatah's looks. The juice had been
wrung out of her dead flesh, and the past seven years had been
a slow decay of a body that had died 50,000 years ago.
They'll believe the High
Lord has been responsible for all the perversion in Terreille,
Hekatah said, coming up behind Dorothea close enough for her reflection
to be visible in the window's night-darkened glass. They
want to believe it. He's a myth, a terrifying story that
has been whispered for thousands of years. And anyone who has
doubts about him will have no doubts at all about Yaslana
and Sadi. The thought of the three of them coming together and
having the use of a strong witch as their tool will be enough
to unite Terreille against Kaeleer. In the end, it doesn't matter
why they join the fight, only that they fight.
We've gained one reluctant
ally this afternoon Alexandra Angelline, the Queen of Chaillot.
Dorothea's lips curled in a vicious smile. She was shocked
to discover that her younger granddaughter has been under the
High Lord's thumb for all these years, thanks to Daemon Sadi.
Hekatah frowned. She's a
fool, but she isn't stupid. If she convinces Jaenelle to help
her maintain control of Chaillot...
Dorothea shook her head. She
doesn't believe Jaenelle has any power. I could see it in her
eyes. I spun her a little story about women who are reservoirs
of raw power she didn't believe that either. She can accept
that Sadi and the High Lord might have wanted Jaenelle for their
own twisted reasons, but she'll continue to believe what she wants
to believe about Jaenelle Angelline. Once she gets to Little Terreille,
Lord Jorval will be waiting to offer his assistance. He'll
never mention that Jaenelle is the Queen of Ebon Askavi. And I
doubt Alexandra will believe anything anyone at the Hall
Hekatah laughed gleefully.
And I imagine that once
she actually meets Prince Saetan Daemon SaDiablo, the High Lord
of Hell, she'll be more than happy to send along any information
she thinks will be useful to us.
And if he discovers her
deceit... Hekatah shrugged. Well, we would have had
to get rid of her after the war anyway.
Dorothea stared at their reflections
in the glass. They had been lovely women once. Now Hekatah looked
like a corpse that the worms had been feasting on, and she..
Sadi had created some kind of
spell to age and twist her body, but he hadn't done anything to
diminish her sexual appetite. The Blood called him the Sadist,
but she hadn't really appreciated the depths of his cruelty. He
had known her appetites how could he not since he'd had
to satisfy them when he was young? He had also known the humiliation
she would feel when she saw revulsion in the eyes of the males
she rode instead of that exciting combination of lust and fear.
Now, after her tearful confession, she wouldn't even be able to
indulge in that much.
You've informed your pet
Queens that they'll have to abstain from their more imaginative
pleasures for the time being? Hekatah asked.
I've told them, Dorothea
replied irritably. Whether they will restrain themselves
is difficult to say.
Any who indulge will have
to be eliminated.
And how do we explain that?
Hekatah made an impatient sound.
Obviously they, too, have been under the High Lord's spell.
Your gallant struggle to free yourself from his power also freed
a number of your Sisters, but, unfortunately, not all of them.
All it will take is one or two of them being killed for the others
to understand the message and behave properly.
And after we've won?
After we've won, we can
do whatever we damn well please. We'll rule the Realms, Dorothea.
Not just Terreille, but all of them Terreille, Kaeleer,
Wanting to savor that possibility,
Dorothea didn't say anything for several minutes. Then finally,
reluctantly, she asked, Do you really think that fear of
the High Lord will be enough to start a war? Do you really think
this will work?
What was left of Hekatah's lips
pulled back in a terrible smile. It worked the last time.
6 / Kaeleer
The Queen of Arachna settled next
to the shoulder of the weary, golden-haired woman who leaned against
a flat-sided boulder.
*Is bad?* the large golden spider
asked in her soft voice.
Jaenelle Angelline brushed her
hair away from her face and sighed. Her haunted sapphire eyes
narrowed a little against the early-morning sunlight as she once
again studied the delicate strands of the tangled web that she'd
woven during the night. Yes, it's bad. A war is coming.
A war between the Realms.
Jaenelle shook her head slowly.
No. No one can stop it.
The spider shifted uneasily. The
air around the woman tasted of sadness and a growing, cold
rage. *The two-legs have fought before. Is more bad this time?*
You may look.
Accepting the formal invitation,
the Arachnian Queen opened her mind to the dreams and visions
in the large tangled web Jaenelle had spun between a boulder and
a nearby tree.
So much death. So much pain and
sorrow. And a creeping taint that soiled the ones remaining.
Pulling back from the dreams and
visions, she studied the web itself and noticed two odd things.
One was the delicate silver ring set with an Ebony Jewel that
had been placed in the center of the web. A Jewel chip was rarely
woven into a tangled web because the magic that shaped those webs
was powerful and dangerous enough, and this particular
Jewel belonged to Jaenelle, who was Witch, the living myth, dreams
made flesh. The other odd thing was the triangle. Many threads
were connected to that ring, but overlaying them were three threads
that formed a triangle around it.
Intrigued, the spider continued
to study the web. She had seen that triangle before. Strength,
passion, courage. Loyalty, honor, love. She could almost taste
the male tang in those threads.
If Kaeleer accepts Terreille's
challenge and goes to war, Jaenelle said softly, it
will destroy the Blood in both Realms. All the Blood. Even the
*Some will live. It is always
Not this time. Oh, there
will be some who will physically survive the war, but...
Jaenelle's voice broke. She took a deep breath. All of my
Sisters, all of my friends will be gone. All of the Queens will
be gone. All of the Warlord Princes.
There will be no Queens
left to heal the land, no Queens left to hold the Blood together.
The slaughter will continue until there's no one left to slaughter.
The witches will be as barren as the land. The gift of power that
had been given to us so long ago will be the final weapon that
destroys us. If Kaeleer goes to war with Terreille.
*Must fight,* the spider said.
*Must stop creeping taint.*
Jaenelle smiled bitterly. War
won't stop it. I know who nurtured the seeds, and if eliminating
Dorothea and Hekatah would stop this from coming, I'd destroy
them right now. But it wouldn't stop anything, not anymore. It
would only delay it, and that would be worse. This is the right
place and the right time to cleanse that taint out of the Blood.
*You speak paths that go no place,*
the spider scolded. *You say can't fight but must fight. You confused?
Maybe you read web wrong.*
Jaenelle turned her head toward
the spider, a dryly amused look on her face. And where did
I learn to weave a tangled web? If I'm not reading it right, maybe
I wasn't taught correctly.
The spider used Craft to make
a harsh, buzzing sound that indicated severe disapproval. *Not
fault of teaching spider if little spider pay more attention to
catching fly than doing lesson.*
Jaenelle's silvery, velvet-coated
laugh filled the air. I never once tried to catch a fly.
And I did pay attention to the teaching spider. After all,
she was the Dream Weavers' Queen at the time.
The Arachnian Queen resettled
herself, somewhat mollified.
Jaenelle's humor faded as she
turned her sapphire eyes back to the web. Terreille will
go to war.
*Then Kaeleer will war.*
This web shows two paths,
Jaenelle said very quietly.
*No,* the spider replied firmly.
*One web, one vision. That is the way.*
Two paths, Jaenelle
insisted. Following the second path, Kaeleer doesn't go
to war with Terreille, and the Queens and Warlord Princes survive
to heal and protect the Shadow Realm.
*Then who war with Terreille?*
Jaenelle hesitated. The
Queen of the Darkness.
*But you are Queen!*
Jaenelle exhaled sharply. A
war that cleanses the Realms, calls in the debts, takes back the
gift of power that was given. There's a way. There must
be a way, but the web can't show me yet because of that.
Her finger pointed to the triangle. That's not the Queen's
triangle. Her finger traced the left side of the triangle.
That thread is the High Lord. She traced the bottom
thread. And that thread is Lucivar. Her finger hesitated
at the triangle's right side. But that thread isn't Andulvar.
It should be, since he's the Master of the Guard, but it's someone
else. Someone who isn't here yet, someone who can guide me to
the answers I need to walk that other path.
*The thread not tell you its name?*
It says the mirror is coming.
What kind of answer is Tensing, Jaenelle scrambled
to her knees. Daemon, she whispered. Daemon.
The spider shifted uneasily. Witch
had flavored the air with intense pleasure when she had whispered
that name but underneath the pleasure there was a little
taste of fear.
I have to go, Jaenelle
said hurriedly as she leaped to her feet. I still need to
stop at a couple of kindred Territories before I return to the
Hall. She hesitated, glanced at the spider. With your
permission, I'd like to keep this one for a while.
*Your webs be welcome among the
Weavers of Dreams.*
Raising her hand, Jaenelle used
Craft to put a protective shield on the tangled web's threads.
She looked back at the spider. May the Darkness embrace
*And you, Sister Queen,* the spider
The Arachnian Queen waited until
Jaenelle caught one of the Winds, those psychic pathways through
the Darkness, before she used Craft to float gently toward the
One web, one vision. That was
the way. But when Witch spun a web...
Using instinct and all of her
training, the spider cautiously brushed a leg against a small
thread that floated loose from the Ebony ring. The tangled web
showed her the second path.
The spider quickly backed away.
*No!* she called, sending out her psychic communication thread
as far as it would reach. *No! Not a second path. Not
an answer! You not walk this path!*
No answer. Not even a flicker
from Witch's powerful mind to indicate that she had heard.
*You not walk this path,* the
spider said again sadly, seeing clearly where that path would
Perhaps not. Witch could weave
a tangled web better than any other Black Widow, but even Witch
couldn't always sense all the flavors in the threads.
The Arachnian Queen turned back
to the web and felt a mild tug. Walking on air, she followed the
tug to a thread near the tree-anchored side of the web. Cautiously,
she brushed a leg against the thread.
Dog. The brown-and-white dog she
had seen in the first web she had spun after the cold season had
passed. She had asked Witch to bring the dog, Ladvarian, to the
Weavers' island. She had wanted to see this Warlord and
she had wanted him to see her.
She plucked the Ladvarian thread
and felt its vibration run through the web. Many of the threads
connected to the Ebony ring the kindred threads
began to shine brightly. The human threads shone, too, but not
so bright, not so sure. She must remember that. And that triangle...
With her leg still resting on
the Ladvarian thread, the spider let her mind sail to the secret
cave, the sacred cave in the center of the island. There the Arachnian
Queens had gone time after time to listen to dreams and
to weave, thread by thread, the very special webs that bound dreams
to flesh, that were the first tangible step in creating Witch.
Small webs. Larger webs. Sometimes
only one race, only one kind of dreamer, had dreamed Witch into
being. Other times the dreamers had come from different places
with different needs that somehow had fit together to become one
When that dream's time in the
flesh was done and it no longer walked the Realms, the Arachnian
Queen would respectfully cut the anchor threads that held the
web to the cave walls, roll the spidersilk into a ball, deposit
it in a niche, and then use Craft to coax crystals to grow over
the opening. There were many closed niches, more than the human
Blood realized. But then, the kindred had always been far more
There was one web in the cave
that had been started long, long ago. Generation after generation
after generation, the Arachnian Queens had brushed one of the
anchor threads of that web, had listened to the dreams, and then
had added more strands. So many dreamers in this web, so many
dreams that had fit together to become one. Twenty-five years
ago, by human reckoning, that dream had finally become flesh.
In the center of that special
web was a triangle. Three strong dreamers. Three threads that
had been reinforced so many times they were now thick and very
And each Queen, as she consumed
the freely offered flesh of the one who had come before her, had
been told the same thing: Remember this web. Know this web. Know
The spider pulled her mind back
to the new web.
Dreams made flesh. A spirit nurtured
in the Darkness, shaped by dreams. And a tangled web, equally
nurtured and hidden in a cave full of ancient power, that guided
that spirit to the right kind of flesh.
There had been times, when the
spider had seen terrible things in her webs of dreams and visions,
when she had wondered if that particular spirit had, in fact,
found the right flesh; had wondered if, perhaps, some of the threads
had been too old. No, there had been a reason why this one had
been shaped into this flesh. The pain and the wounds had not been
the fault of the dreaming or the dreamers.
The spider drew silk out of her
body and carefully attached it to the Ladvarian thread.
So. Witch would choose the second
path, blind to the fact that, while she would save Kaeleer and
those she loved, she would also destroy Kaeleer's Heart.
There had to be a way to
save Kaeleer's Heart.
Spinning out an anchor thread
between the tree trunk and a sturdy branch, the Arachnian Queen
began to weave her own tangled web.