"Surreal." His voice was husky, aching.

She sipped her wine. "Doesn't the wine please you?"

Philip consumed half the glass in a swallow.

Surreal hid her smile. Who did he really hunger for that he couldn't have? Who did he pretend she was when he closed the curtains and turned off all the lights so he could satisfy his lust while clinging to his illusions?

She kept the meal to a leisurely pace, letting him consume her with his eyes as he drank the wine and ate the delicacies. As he always did, he talked to her in a meandering, obscure fashion, telling her more than he realized or intended.

Philip Alexander. Gray-Jeweled Prince. A handsome man with sandy hair and honest, troubled gray eyes. Half brother to Robert Benedict, a premiere political player since he had tied himself to Hayll, to . . . Kartane. Robert only wore the Yellow, and barely that, but he was the legitimate son, entitled to his father's estate and wealth. Philip, a couple of years younger and never formally acknowledged, was raised as his brother's accessory. Tired of playing the grateful bastard, he broke with his family and became an escort/consort for Alexandra Angelline, the Queen of Chaillot.

Subtle cultural poisoning over a couple of generations had allowed Chaillot's Blood males to twist matriarchal rule into something unnatural and wrest control of the Territory from the Queens, so Alexandra was nothing more than a figurehead, but she was still the Queen of Chaillot and wore an Opal Jewel. A little strange, too. Well, unusual. It was rumored that she still had dealings with the Hourglass covens even though Black Widows had been outlawed by the Blood males in power. She had one daughter, Leland, who was Robert Benedict's wife.

And they all lived together at the Angelline estate in Beldon Mor.

She played dinner as long as she could before beginning to play the bed. A Gray-Jeweled Prince who had gone without pleasure for a long time could be an unintentionally rough companion, but he didn't worry her. She, too, wore the Gray, but never for this job. She always wore her Birthright Green, or no Jewel at all, allowing her clients to feel in control. Still, tonight he wouldn't mind a little rough handling, and he was one of the few men she knew in her second profession who actually wanted to give as well as receive pleasure.

Yes, Philip was a good way to begin this stay.

Surreal dimmed the candlelights, turning the room to smoke, to dusk. He didn't rush now. He touched, tasted, savored. And she, subtly guiding, let him do what he had come here to do.

It was dawn before Philip dressed and kissed her goodbye.

Surreal stared at the gauze canopy. He'd gotten his money's worth and more. And he'd been a pleasant distraction from the memories that had been crowding her lately, that were the reason she'd come to Chaillot. Memories of Titian, of Tersa . . . of the Sadist.

Surreal was ten years old when Titian brought Tersa home one afternoon and tucked the bedraggled witch into her own bed. During the few days the mad Black Widow stayed with them, Titian spent hours listening to Tersa's gibberish interspersed with strange jokes and cryptic sayings.

A week after Tersa left them, she returned with the coldest, handsomest man Surreal had ever seen. The first Warlord Prince she had ever seen. He said nothing, letting Tersa babble while he watched Titian, while his gaze burned the child trembling beside her mother.

Finally Tersa stopped talking and tugged at the man's sleeve. "The child is Blood and should be trained in the Craft. She has the right to wear the Jewels if she's strong enough. Daemon, please."

His golden eyes narrowed as he came to a decision. Reaching into the inner pocket of his jacket, he removed several gold hundred-mark notes from a billfold and laid them carefully on the table. He called in a piece of paper and a pen, wrote a few words, and left the paper and a key on top of the notes.

"The place isn't elegant, but it's warm and clean." His deep, seductive voice sent a delightful shiver through Surreal. "It's a few blocks from here, in a neighborhood where no one asks questions. There are the names of a couple of potential tutors for the girl. They're good men who got on the wrong side of the ones who have power. You're welcome to use the flat as long as you want."

"And the price?" Titian's soft voice was full of ice. "That you don't deny Tersa access to the place whenever she's in this part of the Realm. I won't make use of it while you're there, but Tersa must be able to use the refuge I originally acquired for her."

So it was agreed, and a few days later Surreal and Titian were in the first decent place the girl had ever known. The landlord, with a little tremor of fear in his voice, told them the rent was paid. The hundred-mark notes went for decent food and warm clothes, and Titian gratefully no longer had to allow any man to step over her threshold.

The next spring, after Surreal had begun making some progress with her tutors, Tersa returned and took Surreal to the nearest Sanctuary for her Birthright Ceremony. Surreal returned, proudly holding an uncut Green. With tears in her eyes, Titian carefully wrapped the Jewel in soft cloth and stored it in a strangely carved wooden box.

"An uncut Jewel is a rare thing, little Sister," Titian said, removing something from the box. "Wait until you know who you are before you have it set. Then it will be more than a receptacle for the power your body can't hold; it will be a statement of what you are. In the meantime"—she slipped a silver chain over Surreal's head—"this will help you begin. It was mine, once. You're not a moonchild; gold would suit you better. But it's the first step down a long road."

Surreal looked at the Green Jewel. The silver mounting was carved into two stags curved around the Jewel, their antlers interlocking at the top, hiding the ring where the chain was fastened. As she studied it, her blood sang in her veins, a faint summoning she couldn't trace.

Titian watched her. "If ever you meet my people, they will know you by that Jewel."

"Why can't we go to see them?" Titian shook her head and turned away. Those two years were good ones for Surreal. She spent her days with her tutors, one teaching her Craft, the other all the basic subjects for a general education. At night, Titian taught her other things. Even broken, Titian was expert with a knife, and there was a growing uneasiness in her, as if she were waiting for something that made her relentless in the drills and exercises.

One day, when Surreal was twelve, she returned home to find the apartment door half open and Titian lying in the front room with her throat slit, her horn-handle dagger nearby. The walls pulsed with violence and rage . . . and the warning to run, run, run.

Surreal hesitated a moment before racing into Titian's bedroom and removing the carved box with her Jewel from its hiding place. At a stumbling run, she swept the dagger up from the floor and vanished it and the box as she'd been taught to do. Then she ran in earnest, leaving Titian and whoever had been hunting them behind.

Anne Bishop Books | Science Fiction Books | The Black Jewels Series Books
Source: www.StudyNovels.com