Saetan bit back a laugh. There had been many reactions to his name in the past, but never this. No, never this. "And you are?"
He waited for the rest, but she offered no family name. As the silence lengthened, a sudden wariness tinged the room, as if she expected some kind of trap. With a smile and a dismissive shrug to indicate it was of no importance, Saetan gestured toward the chairs by the fire. "Will you sit and talk with me, witch-child? My leg can't tolerate standing for very long."
Jaenelle went to the chair nearest the door, with Char in close, possessive attendance.
Saetan's gold eyes flashed with annoyance. Hell's fire! He'd forgotten about the boy. "Thank you, Warlord. You may go."
Char sputtered a protest. Before Saetan could respond, Jaenelle touched Char's arm. No words were spoken, and he couldn't feel a psychic thread. Whatever passed between the two children was very subtle, and there was no question who ruled. Char bowed politely and left the study, closing the door behind him.
As soon as they were settled by the fire, Jaenelle pinned Saetan to his chair with those intense sapphire eyes. "Can you teach me Craft? Cassandra said you might if I asked." Saetan's world was destroyed and rebuilt in the space of a heartbeat. He allowed nothing to show on his face. There would be time for that later. "Teach you Craft? I don't see why not. Where is Cassandra staying now? We've lost touch over the years."
"At her Altar. In Terreille."
"I see. Come here, witch-child." Jaenelle rose obediently and stood by his chair. Saetan raised one hand, fingers curled inward, and gently stroked her cheek. Anger instantly skimmed her eyes, and there was a sudden pulse in the Black, within him. He held her eyes, letting his fingers travel slowly along her jaw and brush against her lips, all the way around and back. He didn't try to hide his curiosity, interest, or the tenderness he felt for most females.
When he was done, he steepled his fingers and waited. A moment later, the pulse was gone, and his thoughts were his own again. Just as well, because he couldn't stop wondering why being touched made her so angry. "I'll make you two promises," he said. "I want one in return."
Jaenelle eyed him warily. "What promise?"
"I promise, by the Jewels that I wear and all that I am, that I'll teach you whatever you ask to the best of my ability. And I promise I'll never lie to you."
Jaenelle thought this over. "What do I have to promise?"
"That you'll keep me informed of any Craft lessons you learn from others. Craft requires dedication to learn it well and discipline to handle the responsibilities that come with that kind of power. I want the assurance that anything you learn has been taught correctly. Do you understand, witch-child?"
"Then you'll teach me?"
"Everything I know." Saetan let her think this over. "Agreed?"
"Very well. Give me your hands." He took the small, fair hands in his light-brown ones. "I'm going to touch your mind." The anger again. "I won't hurt you, witch-child."
Saetan carefully reached with his mind until he stood before her inner barriers. They were the shields that protected the Blood from their own kind. Like rings within rings, the more barriers that were passed, the more personal the mental link. The first barrier protected everyday thoughts. The last barrier protected the core of the Self, the essence of a being, the inner web.
Saetan waited. As much as he wanted answers, he wouldn't open her by force. Too much now depended on trust.
The barriers opened, and he went in.
He didn't rummage through her thoughts or descend deeper than was necessary, despite his curiosity. That would have been a shocking betrayal of the Blood's code of honor. And there was a strange, deep blankness to her mind that troubled him, a soft neutrality that he was sure hid something very different. He quickly found what he was looking for—the psychic thread that would vibrate in sympathy with a plucked, same-rank thread and would tell him what Jewels she wore, or would wear after her Birthright Ceremony. He began with the White, the lightest rank, and worked his way down, listening for the answering hum.
Hell's fire! Nothing. He hadn't expected anything until he'd reached the Red, but he'd expected a response at that depth. She had to wear Birthright Red in order to wear the Black after she made the Offering to the Darkness. Witch always wore the Black.
Without thinking, Saetan plucked the Black thread.
The hum came from below him.
Saetan released her hands, amazed that his own weren't shaking. He swallowed to get his heart out of his throat. "Have you had the Birthright Ceremony yet?"
He gently lifted her chin. "Witch-child?"
Misery filled her sapphire eyes. A tear rolled down her cheek. "I f-failed the t-test. Does that mean I have to give the Jewels back?"
"Failed the— What Jewels?"
Jaenelle slipped her hand into the folds of her blue dress and pulled out a velvet bag. She upended it on the low table beside his chair with a proud but watery smile.
Saetan closed his eyes, leaned his head against the back of the chair, and sincerely hoped the room would stop spinning. He didn't need to look at them to know what they were: twelve uncut Jewels. White, Yellow, Tiger Eye, Summer-sky, Purple Dusk, Blood Opal, Green, Sapphire, Red, Gray, and Ebon-gray.
No one knew where the Jewels had come from. If one was destined to wear a Jewel, it simply appeared on the Altar after the Birthright Ceremony or the Offering to the Darkness. Even when he was young, receiving an uncut Jewel—a Jewel that had never been worn by another of the Blood—was rare. His Birthright Red Jewel had been uncut. When he'd been gifted with the Black, it, too, had been uncut. But to receive an entire set of uncut Jewels . . . Saetan leaned over and tapped the Yellow Jewel with the tip of his nail. It flared, the fire in the center warning him off. He frowned, puzzled. The Jewel already identified itself as female, as being bonded to a witch and not a Blood male, but there was the faintest hint of maleness in it too. Jaenelle wiped the tears from her cheeks and sniffed.
"The lighter Jewels are for practice and everyday stuff until I'm ready to set these." She upended another velvet bag. The room spun in every direction. Saetan's nails pierced the leather arms of his chair.
Hell's fire, Mother Night, and may the Darkness be merciful!
Thirteen uncut Black Jewels, Jewels that already glittered with the inner fire of a psychic bond. Having a child bond with one Black Jewel without having her mind pulled into its depths was disturbing enough, but the inner strength required to bond and holdthirteen of them . . . Fear skittered up his spine, raced through his veins.