This was the place where he brewed his poisons and wove his tangled webs of dreamscapes and visions. Going to the worktable that ran the entire length of one wall, he called in a small key and opened the solid wood doors of one of the large cupboards that hung above it.

The poisons sat in neat rows, their glass containers precisely labeled in the Old Tongue. Another precaution, since Hekatah had never mastered the Blood's true language.

He removed a small stoppered jar and held the glass up to the candlelight. He opened the jar and sniffed, then dipped his finger into it and tasted. It was the distillation he used for himself. Since he wasn't born a Black Widow, his body couldn't produce the venom on its own. He replaced the stopper on the jar, looked in the cupboard again, and took out a jar of tiny, blood-red flakes.

Just a flake or two of dried witchblood added to the distillation and the pain Daemon felt now would be a sweet caress compared to the agony that would be his last experience among the living. Men had actually opened themselves with a knife and pulled their own guts out trying to relieve the pain. Or this one. A softer death but just as sure. Because he was sure now that Daemon was too close. Jaenelle was reaching out to help him, but how would Daemon repay that kindness?

Saetan hesitated. And yet . . .

When he'd walked among the living and raised his sons, Mephis and Peyton, he was one note and they were two others, harmonious but different. Lucivar, too, was a different note, more often than not a sharp. Saetan had known from the first time Lucivar hauled himself to his feet, his little wings stirring the air to help him keep his balance, that this son would be a father's plague as he threw himself at the world with that arrogant Eyrien respect for all things that belong to sky and earth.

But Daemon. From the first moment Saetan had held him, he had sensed on some deep, instinctive level that the Darkness would sing to this son in the same way it sang to him, that this son would be the father's mirror. So he'd given Daemon a legacy and a burden he'd never intended to give any of his children.

His name.

He had intended to teach Daemon about honor and the responsibility that came with wearing Jewels as devastating as the Black. But because of honor, he hadn't been there. Because he believed in the Blood Laws and Protocol, he had accepted the lie when Dorothea denied him paternity. And because he had accepted the lie, Daemon had been raised as a bastard and a slave, an outcast who had no place in Blood society.

So how could he condemn Daemon to death when it was his failure to protect the child that had helped shape the man? And how could he not make that choice when Jaenelle's life might be at risk?

Saetan replaced the dried witchblood and locked the cupboard door.

There had been many times in his long, long life when he'd been required to make hard choices, bitter choices. He used the same measuring stick to make this one.

Daemon had given his strength to help Jaenelle when she needed it.

He couldn't repay that debt with a bottle full of death.

Honor forbade it.

He returned to the Kaeleer Hall, gave the distillation to Jaenelle, and went over and over the instructions with her until he was sure she had them exactly right.


Daemon sat on the edge of his bed, his right hand cradled in his lap. His shirt clung to him, sweat-soaked from the fever and the pain.

He had tried to milk the snake tooth that morning, but the venom had thickened more quickly than he'd expected, and except for inflaming already tender flesh, he'd accomplished nothing. He'd managed to get through the day, and after dinner he had asked to be excused, claiming, truthfully, that he was unwell. Since Philip had gone to dinner elsewhere and hadn't returned and Robert was going about his usual nightly business, Alexandra and Leland had been sympathetic enough not to demand anything further from him.

Now, as midnight approached and the pain was a sharp, thin line that ran from his finger up to his elbow and slowly climbed toward his shoulder, Daemon vaguely wondered what Leland and Alexandra would do when they found him. He might lose the finger or the hand, possibly even the arm at this point. Given a choice, he would rather die within his own pain. That would be preferable to what Dorothea would do to him after learning about the snake tooth, particularly since he doubted he would be capable of protecting himself.

His bedroom door opened and closed.

Jaenelle stood in front of him, solemn and still.

"Let me see your hand," she said, holding out her own.

Daemon shook his head and closed his eyes.

Jaenelle touched his shoulder. Her fingers unerringly followed the line of pain from shoulder to elbow, elbow to wrist, wrist to finger.

Daemon slowly opened his eyes. Jaenelle held his hand, but he couldn't feel it, couldn't feel his arm at all. He tried to speak but was silenced by the dark look she gave him. Positioning the small bowl he used to milk the snake tooth beneath his hand, she slowly stroked the finger from knuckle to nail tip. He felt no pain, only a growing pressure at his fingertip.

Then a faint sound, as if a grain of salt had been dropped into the bowl. Then another, and another, and one more before she squeezed a thin, white, steady thread of thickened venom out of the tooth.

"May I recite the lesson I learned today?" Jaenelle asked quietly as she continued to stroke his finger. "It will help me remember."

"If you like," Daemon replied slowly. It was hard to think, hard to concentrate as he stared at the little coil of venom at the bottom of the bowl, at the crystallized grains that had caused so much pain.

When Jaenelle began to speak, Daemon's head cleared enough to listen and understand. She told him about the snake tooth and about venom, about how a Black Widow uses four drops of her own venom mixed with a warm drink to restore the balance of poison her body needs after milking the snake tooth, about the dangers of letting venom thicken, and on and on. In the time it took her to completely milk the thick venom from the tooth, she had told him more than he'd been able to glean from centuries of effort. The fact that what she told him contradicted most of what he'd learned didn't surprise him. Dorothea and her coven made an effort to educate their Sisters in other Territories, an education Daemon knew they themselves didn't ascribe to. It explained why so many potential rivals died in such agony.

Finally it was done.

"There," Jaenelle said with satisfaction. She plumped the pillows. "You should lie back and rest now." She frowned at his shirt.

His mind felt fuzzy. She had him half out of the shirt before he realized what she was doing and made a fumbling effort to help her. Holding the drenched material by her fingertips, she wrinkled her nose and vanished it. She disappeared into the bathroom with the bowl, returned with a towel, rubbed him dry, and pushed him back onto the pillows.

Tags: Anne Bishop The Black Jewels Science Fiction