He slowly realized the weight had a name: body. This confused him for a while. Didn't he already have a body? He walked, he breathed, he heard, he saw. He felt tired. He felt pain. This other body felt different, heavy, solid. He wasn't sure he liked absorbing its essence into himself— or, perhaps, having it absorb him.
But the body was part of the same delicate web as the violets, the water, the sky, and the fire—reminders of a place beyond the shattered landscape—so he resigned himself to becoming reacquainted with it.
After a while, each resting place held an intangible gift, too: a Craft puzzle piece, one small aspect of a spell. Gradually the pieces began to make a whole and he learned the basics of the Black Widows' Craft, learned how to build simple webs, learned how to be what he was.
So he rested and treasured her little gifts and puzzles.
And he climbed to where she had promised to be waiting.
1 / Kaeleer
C6rT"'he first part of our plan is coming along nicely," .L Hekatah said. "Little Terreille is, at last, justly represented in the Dark Council."
Lord Jorval smiled tightly. Since slightly more than half of the Council members now came from Little Terreille, he could agree that the Territory that had always felt wary of the rest of the Shadow Realm was, at last, "justly" represented. "With all the injuries and illnesses that have caused members to resign in the past two years, the Blood in Little Terreille were the only ones willing to accept such a heavy responsibility for the good of the Realm." He sighed, but his eyes glittered with malicious approval. "We've been accused of favoritism because so many voices come from the same Territory, but when the other men and women who were judged worthy of the task refused to accept, what were we to do? The Council seats must be filled."
"So they must," Hekatah agreed. "And since so many of those new members, who owe their current rise in status to your supporting their appointment to the Council, wouldn't want to find themselves distressed because they didn't heed your wisdom when it came time to vote, it's time to implement the second part of our plan."
"And that is?" Jorval wished she would take off that deep-hooded cloak. It wasn't as if he hadn't seen her before. And why had she chosen to meet in a seedy little inn in Goth's slums?
"To broaden Little Terreille's influence in the Shadow Realm. You're going to have to convince the Council to be I more lenient in their immigration requirements. There are | plenty of Blood aristos here already. You need to let in the lesser Blood—workers, craftsmen, farmers, hearth-witches, servants, lighter-Jeweled warriors. Stop deciding who can come in by whether or not they can pay the bribes."
"If the Terreillean Queens and the aristo males want servants, let them use the landens," Jorval said in a sulky voice. The bribes, as she well knew, had become an important source of income for a number of Blood aristos in Goth, Little Terreille's capital.
"Landens are demon fodder," Hekatah snapped. "Landens have no magic. Landens have no Craft. Landens are about as useful as Jhin—" She paused. She tugged her hood forward. "Accept Terreillean landens for immigration, too. Promise them privileges and a settlement after service. But bring in the lesser Terreillean Blood as well."
Jorval spread his hands. "And what are we supposed to do with all these immigrants? At the twice-yearly immigration fairs, the other Territories altogether only take a couple dozen people, if that. The courts in Little Terreille are already swelled and there are complaints about the Terreillean aristos always whining about serving in the lower Circles and not having land to rule like they expected. And none of the ones already here have fulfilled their immigration requirement."
"They will have land to rule. They'll establish small, new territories on behalf of the Queens they're serving. That will increase the influence the Queens in Little Terreille have in Kaeleer as well as providing them with an additional source of income. Some of that land is obscenely rich in precious metals and precious gems. In a few years, Little Terreille's Queens will be the strongest force in the Realm, and the other Territories will have to submit to their dominance."
"What land?" Jorval said, failing to hide his exasperation.
"The unclaimed land, of course," Hekatah replied I sharply. She called in a map of Kaeleer, unrolled it, and I used Craft to keep it flat. One bony finger brushed against large areas of the map.
"That's not unclaimed land," Jorval protested. "Those are closed Territories. The so-called kindred Territories."
"Exactly,Lord Jorval," Hekatah said, tapping the map. "Theso-called kindred Territories."
Jorval looked at the map and sat up straighter. "But the kindred are supposed to be Blood. Aren't they?"
"Are they?" Hekatah countered with venomous sweetness.
"What about the human Territories, like Dharo and Nharkhava and Scelt? Their Queens might file a protest on the kindred's behalf."
"They can't. Their lands aren't being interfered with. By Blood Law, Territory Queenscan't interfere outside their own borders."
"The High Lord . . ."
Hekatah waved a hand dismissively. "He has always lived by a strict code of honor. He'll viciously defend his own Territory, but he won't step one toe outside of it. If anything, he'll standagainst those other Territories if they step outside the Law."
Jorval rubbed his lower lip. "So the Queens of Little Terreille would eventually rule all of Kaeleer."
"And those Queens would be consolidated under one wise, experienced individual who would be able to guide them properly."
"Not you, idiot," Hekatah hissed. "A male can't rule a Territory."
"The High Lord does!"
The silence went on so long Jorval began to sweat.
"Don't forget who he is or what he is, Lord Jorval. Don't forget about his particular code of honor. You're the wrong gender. Ifyou tried to stand against him, he would tear you apart. / will rule Kaeleer." Her voice sweetened. "You will be my Steward, and as my trusted right hand and most valued adviser, you will be so influential there won't be a woman in the Realm who would dare refuse you."
Heat filled Jorval's groin as he thought of Jaenelle Angelline.
The map rolled up with a snap, startling him.
"I think we've postponed the amenities long enough, don't you?" Hekatah pushed back the cloak's hood.
Jorval let out a faint scream. Leaping up, he knocked over his chair, then tripped over it when he turned to get away from the table.