"Mm. I would think that if she wants her consort quietly buried, you'd be more skilled to handle it than I."

"It's not the consort she wants buried." Hell's fire, it was cold!

"Ah. I see." Sadi crossed his legs at the knee and steepled his fingers, resting his long nails on his chin. "However, as you must know, my ability to travel is severely limited by the desires of the Queen I'm serving. An unexplained jaunt would be difficult."

"And not necessary. That's why the offer is being made to you."

"Oh?"

"The High Priestess's friend has reason to believe that her nemesis is in this very city." Greer's feet were numb. He wanted to rub his hands together to warm them, but Sadi didn't seem to notice the cold, and he wasn't about to show any sign of weakness.

Sadi frowned, the first change in his face since the interview began. "And how old is this nemesis? What does she look like?"

"Hard to tell exactly. You know how hard it can be to judge these flash-in-a-day races. Young, though, at least in looks. Golden hair. That's the only definite feature. Probably has a strange aura—"

Sadi laughed, an unnerving sound. He looked highly amused, but there was something queer about the glitter in his eyes. "My dear Lord Greer, you're talking about half the females living on this clump of rock. Strange aura? Compared to what? High-strung eccentricity is a prepubescent epidemic here. You won't find an aristo family on the whole damn island that doesn't have at least one daughter with a 'strange aura.' What do you expect me to do? Approach each one while her chaperon looks on and ask her if she's screwing a Hayllian from one of the Hundred Families?" He laughed again.

Greer ground his teeth. "Then you're refusing the offer?"

"No, Greer, I'm simply telling you that without more information, the friend's consort is going to be playing with his toy for a very long time. So unless you can tell me more than that, it isn't worth the effort." Sadi stood up and tugged his jacket sleeves down over his cuffs. "The offer is intriguing, however, and if I stumble across a golden-haired girl with a taste for Hayllians, I'll give her a very good look. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm overdue at a dressmaker's shop where my tasteful opinions are required." He bowed mockingly and left.

Greer counted to ten before leaping out of the chair and stumbling to the door on his numb feet. He clawed at the door, the knob so cold it almost stuck to his skin. He finally pulled the door open, stepped into the hallway—and sagged against the wall.

The hallway felt like an oven.

Daemon stared at the bed of witchblood in the alcove. Unable to sleep, he'd gone for a walk and had ended up here. The night air was cold and he'd forgotten his topcoat, but it felt good to be numbed by a cold that wasn't coming from within.

Dorothea was looking for Jaenelle. It didn't matter if she was looking for her own reasons or at someone else's behest. Dorothea always tried to destroy strong young witches who might one day rival her power. Once she found out who and what Jaenelle was, she would use every weapon at her disposal to destroy the girl.

Greer was sniffing around for information, which meant Dorothea wasn't certain that Jaenelle lived in Beldon Mor. But there was no reason to think that Greer's visit would be brief, and if he stayed around long enough, sooner or later he would overhear someone talking about Leland Benedict's eccentric, golden-haired daughter. And then?

Have you taught her how to kill, Priest?Canyou teach her such a thing? She's so wise in her innocence, so innocent in her wisdom.

He should have killed Greer instead of just crippling the hand that had slit Titian's throat. But the timing had been wrong, and even if she had had no proof, Dorothea would have suspected him. An oversight he still couldn't correct without drawing too much attention to this house. There was no place he could hide Jaenelle that would be safe enough, not with her propensity to wander, and he wasn't willing to give her to the Priest yet, even if she would go and stay away. Not yet.

Daemon shook his head. The night was fleeing, and since he'd reached the alcove, he'd known what he had to do. If the offer had been made for him alone, there would have been no question about his answer. But it hadn't been made for him alone. He took a deep breath and sent a spear thread along the Ebon-gray.

"Prick? Prick, can you hear me?"

There was the sudden awareness of someone waking instantly from a light sleep. "Bastard?" A stirring, a focusing. "Bastard, what—"

"Listen. There's not much time. Greer made me an offer today."

"Greer?"Icy wariness. "Why?"

"A friend of Dorothea's wants a favor." Daemon swallowed hard and shut his eyes tight. "One hundred years out of court service . . . for both of us . . . if I kill a child."

The next words floated into Daemon's mind, venomously sweet. "Any child? Or one in particular?"

Daemon looked down. His right hand was rubbing the scar on his left wrist. "A very special child. An extraordinary child."

"And your answer was?"

"I told you. The offer wasn't for me al—"

"Where are you?"

"Chaillot"

A hiss of fury. "Listen to me, you son of a whoring bitch. If you accept that offer for my sake, the first thing I'll do is kill you."

The first thing I'd do is let you.Daemon sank to his knees, shaking with relief. "Thank you."

"What?" The waves of fury rolling through the thread stopped.

"Thank you. I . . . had hoped . . . that would be your answer, but I had to ask." Daemon took a deep breath. "There's something else you should—"

"The bitch is up. There's no time. Take care of her, Bastard. If you have to bleed everyone else dry, do it, but take care of her."

Lucivar was gone.

Daemon slowly got to his feet. He'd taken a tremendous risk contacting Lucivar. If they were caught communicating, a whipping would be the least of the punishments. He wasn't worried for himself. He was too far away from Hayll for Dorothea to detect it through her primary controlling ring, and he was confident of his ability to slide around Alexandra, who wore the secondary controlling ring. But Zuultah wasn't Alexandra, and Lucivar didn't always walk cautiously.

Be careful, Prick,Daemon thought as he slowly walked back to the house.Be careful. In a few more years, Jaenelle would be of age. And then they would serve the kind of Queen they'd always dreamed of.

He could have followed the Ebon-gray spear thread back to Lucivar to find out if Zuultah had detected their communication, but he didn't because he didn't want to know for certain that Zuultah was using the Ring. He didn't want to know that Lucivar was in pain.


Tags: Anne Bishop Books The Black Jewels Series Books Science Fiction Books
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