Daemon jumped up, pulling her halfway to the floor before she let go of his wrist. "Leave it alone, Lady," he said tightly, carefully putting his hands in his pockets.
Out of the corner of his eye. Daemon watched her resettle on the couch and study her own hands. It seemed as if she were struggling to say something, and it struck him that she, too, was considering what might inadvertently be revealed.
Finally she said shyly, "I know some healing Craft."
"I'm not ill," Daemon replied, staring straight ahead.
"But not well." Suddenly her voice sounded years older.
"There's nothing wrong, Lady," Daemon said firmly. "I thank you for your concern, but there's nothing wrong."
"It seems ladies aren't the only ones who like to seem mysterious," Jaenelle said dryly as she headed for the door. "But there is something wrong with your finger, Prince. There is pain there."
He felt cornered. If anyone else had found out about the snake tooth, he would have been creating a quiet grave right now. But Jaenelle . . . Daemon sighed and turned to look at her. From a distance, particularly in dim light, she seemed like such a frail, plain child, friendly enough but not terribly intelligent. From a distance. When you got close enough to see those eyes change from summer-sky blue to sapphire, it was hard to remember you were talking to a child, hard not to feel a shiver of apprehension at the sharp, slightly feral intelligence just beneath the surface that was drawing its own conclusions about the world.
"I helped you once," she said quietly, daring him to deny it.
Too startled to respond, Daemon stared at her. How long had she known he was the one who had given his strength to the Priest the night she had asked for help, the night Cornelia had whipped him? When he realized the answer, he could have kicked himself for being such a fool. How long? Since the first morning in the alcove when she'd made her decision about him.
"I know," he said respectfully. "I was, and am, grateful for the healing. But this isn't a wound or an illness. It's part of what I am. There's nothing you can do."
He shivered under her intense scrutiny.
Finally she shrugged and slipped out the door.
Daemon extinguished the candlelight and stood in the musty, comforting dark for a few minutes before going to his room. His secret was in her hands now. He wouldn't protect himself against anything she might say or do. A few minutes later, Alexandra's bell began to ring.
Saetan looked up from the book he was reading aloud and suppressed a shiver. Jaenelle had been intently studying the book's cover for the past half hour, with that vague look in her eyes that meant she was absorbing the lesson as he intended but was also considering the information in an entirely different way. He continued to read aloud, but his mind was no longer on the words.
A few minutes later, he gave up and put the book and his half-moon glasses on the table. Jaenelle's eyes didn't follow the book as he'd expected. She focused on his right hand, her forehead puckered in concentration while she fluffed her hair.
Ah. While it was difficult to be certain until a witch reached puberty, Jaenelle showed a strong inclination to being a natural Black Widow. It would be a few years yet before the physical evidence was apparent, but her interest demanded that the training begin now.
With one eyebrow rising in amusement, Saetan held out his right hand. "Would you care to examine it more closely, Lady?"
Jaenelle gave him a distracted smile and took his hand.
He watched her explore his hand, turning it this way and that, until her fingers finally came to rest on his ring-finger nail.
"Why do you wear your nails long?" she asked in a soft voice as she studied the black-tinted nails.
"Preference," he replied easily and waited to see how much she could detect.
Jaenelle gave him a long look. "There's something beneath this one." She lightly brushed the ring-finger nail.
"I'm a Black Widow." He turned his hand so she could see beneath the nail, flexed his finger, and watched her eyes widen as the snake tooth slid out of its sheath. "That's a snake tooth. The small venom sac it's attached to lies beneath the nail. Careful," he warned as her finger moved to touch it. "My venom may not be as strong as it used to be, but it's still potent enough."
Jaenelle considered the snake tooth for a while. "Your finger isn't hot. What does it mean if your finger gets hot?"
Saetan's amusement fled. So this wasn't idle curiosity after all. "It means trouble, witch-child. If the venom isn't used, the snake tooth has to be milked every few weeks. Otherwise the venom thickens. It can even crystallize. If it can still be forced through the snake tooth, it will be a painful procedure at best." He shrugged his shoulders unhappily. "If it can't, removal of the tooth and the sac would be the only way to stop the pain."
"Why would someone wait to milk it?"
Again Saetan shrugged. "Venom needs venom. After the venom sac fills, a Black Widow's body craves poison of some kind. But what's taken into the body must be taken with care. The wrong poison can be as deadly to a Black Widow as poison generally is to the rest of the Blood. The best poison is your own. Usually Black Widows milk the sac right before their moon time so that during those days when they must rest, their bodies, stimulated by a few drops of their own venom, will slowly refill the sac with no discomfort.
"And if it's thick?"
"No good. The body will reject it." Saetan reclaimed his hand and steepled his fingers. "Witch-child—"
"If you can't use your own venom, is there a safe poison?"
"There are some poisons that can be used," he said cautiously.
"Could I have some?"
"Because I know someone who needs it." Jaenelle stepped away from him, suddenly hesitant.
Saetan's rib cage clamped around his heart and lungs. He fought against a desire to sink his nails into flesh and tear it. "Male or female?" he asked silkily.
"Does it make a difference?"
"Indeed it does, witch-child. If the distillation of poisons isn't blended to take gender into account, the effects could be unpleasant."
Jaenelle studied him, her eyes troubled. "Male."
Saetan sat still for a long time. "I have something I can give you. Why don't you see what sort of snack Mrs. Beale has for you? This will take a few minutes."
As soon as Jaenelle was distracted by taste-testing Mrs. Beale's offerings, Saetan returned to his private study in the Dark Realm. He locked the door and checked the adjoining rooms before going to the secret door in the paneling beside the fireplace. His workshop was Gray-locked, a sensible precaution that kept Hekatah out but still allowed Mephis and Andulvar to reach him. He flicked a thought at the candlelights at the end of the narrow corridor, locked the door behind him, and went into his Widow's den.