That was one worry. Ebon Rih was the Keep's Territory in Kaeleer—Jaenelle's Territory now. Ruling Ebon Rih wouldn't help the kindred or keep the human invaders out of their Territories. Traditionally, the Queen of Ebon Askavi had considerable influence in all the Realms, but would that influence and the innate caution within the Blood not to antagonize a mature dark power be enough? Would any of the fools in Kaeleer's Dark Council even recognize who they were challenging?

Another worry was who was going to make up Jaenelle's court. He'd always assumed that the coven and Jaenelle's male friends would form the First Circle. It wasn't unprecedented for Queens to serve in a stronger Queen's court since District Queens served Province Queens who, in their turn, served the Territory Queen. That was the web of power that kept a Territory united.

But Queens who ruled a Territory didn't serve in other~ courts. They were the final law of their land and yielded to no one.

In the past week, while Jaenelle rested after making the Offering, her coven, Queens all, had also made the Offering. And every one of them had been chosen as the new Queen of their respective Territories, the former Queens stepping aside and accepting positions in the newly formed courts.

The boys, too, had come to power. Chaosti was now the Warlord Prince of Dea al Mon and Gabrielle's Consort. Khardeen, Morghann's Consort, was the ruling Warlord of Maghre, his home village. After accepting Kalush's Consort ring, Aaron had become the Warlord Prince of Tajrana, the capital of Nharkhava. Sceron and Elan were the Warlord Princes of Centauran and Tigrelan, serving in the First Circles of Astar's and Grezande's courts. Jonah now served as First Escort for his sister, Zylona, and Morton served as First Escort for his cousin Karla.

As feminine voices drifted down the corridor behind him, Saetan headed for the table where Lucivar, Aaron, Khary, and Chaosti were gathered. Geoffrey and Andulvar nodded in greeting but didn't break away from their conversation with Mephis and Prothvar. Sceron, Elan, Morton, and Jonah were talking to a diminutive Warlord Prince Saetan hadn't seen before. Little Katrine's First Escort or Consort?

"The tailor did an excellent job," Saetan told Lucivar, accepting the glass of warmed yarbarah.

"Uh-huh." The reply sounded sour, but after a moment Lucivar shook his head and laughed. He put his hand over his heart. "I represent a challenge worthy of good Lord Aldric who, as he happily informed me while he was sticking pins everywhere, had never designed formal attire that had to accommodate wings."

"Well, now that he has your measurements—" Saetan began.

"Oh, no." Lucivar shook his head, wearing an expression Saetan recognized all too well from his own dealings with good Lord Aldric. " 'Each fabric has a character of its own, Prince Yaslana,'" Lucivar said, mimicking the tailor's mournful voice. " 'We must learn how each one will flow around these marvelous additions to your physique.' "

Khary, Aaron, and Chaosti coughed in unison.

"Maybe he just wants to stroke your wings," Karla said as she joined them. She slid her hand over Saetan's shoulder and leaned against his back, her sharp chin digging into his other shoulder. "Theyare impressive. Is it true that the length of your"—her ice-blue eyes flicked to Lucivar's groin—"is in direct proportion to your wings?"

Lucivar made a very crude sexual gesture.

"Touchy, isn't he? But not touchable? Ah, well. Kiss kiss."

"Stuff yourself, Karla," Lucivar said, baring his teeth in a smile.

Karla laughed. "It's so good to be back among the surly. A few days ago I said 'kiss kiss' and everyone tried to." She shuddered dramatically, then ruffled Saetan's hair, cheerfully ignoring the accompanying snarl. "You know what, Uncle Saetan?"

"What?" Saetan replied warily, sipping his yarbarah.

Karla's wicked smile bloomed. "Since you're the Warlord Prince of Dhemlan and rule that Territory, and I'm the Queen of Glacia and rulethat Territory, now whenever Dhemlan has to deal with Glacia, you get to deal with me."

Saetan choked.

"Appalling thought, isn't it, that you're going to have to deal with all the things you taught me."

"Mother Night," Saetan gasped as Karla plucked the glass out of his hand and thumped his back.

"What'd you do to Uncle Saetan?" Morghann asked, accepting a glass of wine from Khary.

"Just reminded him that we're now the Queens he has to deal with."

"How unfair, Karla," Kalush said, joining them. "You should have eased into it instead of springing it on him."

"How?" Karla frowned. "Besides, he knew it already. Didn't you?"

Saetan retrieved his glass and drained it to avoid answering. After all the hours he, Geoffrey, Andulvar, and Mephis had spent chewing over the implications of having this particular group of Queens coming into power at this time, none of them had thought of the obvious—that he was going to have to deal with them as Territory Queens.

A gong sounded throughout the Keep. Once. Twice. Thrice. Then, after a pause, a fourth time.

Four times for the four sides of a Blood triangle, the fourth side being what was held within the other three. Like the three males—Steward, Master of the Guard, and Consort—who formed a strong, intimate triangle around a Queen.

At the back of the room, huge double doors opened outward, revealing a dark emptiness.

Paying no attention to the hesitant stirring around him, Saetan set his glass aside, smoothed his hair, and straightened his new clothes. Since Protocol dictated that processions went from light Jewels to dark, first all the males and then the females, he would be at the end of the male line.

So he didn't realize no one had moved and that everyone was looking at him until Lucivar poked him.

"Protocol dictates—" he began.

"Screw Protocol," Karla replied succinctly."You go first."

When everyone nodded agreement, he slowly walked toward the double doors. Lucivar and Andulvar fell into step on either side of him. Mephis, Geoffrey, and Prothvar followed them.

"What's in there?" Lucivar asked quietly.

"I don't know," Saetan replied. "I've never been in this part of the Keep before." He glanced back at Geoffrey, who shook his head.

They reached the doors and stopped. The lights from the room behind them revealed the first handful of wide, descending steps.

We'll all break our necks trying to go down without lights.

The thought was barely completed when little sparkles embedded in the dark stone began to glow, growing brighter and brighter.

Anne Bishop Books | Science Fiction Books | The Black Jewels Series Books