He would take the warning to heart and send a message home tonight. His two older granddaughters had made happy marriages outside of Little Terreille. He'd tell Arnora, his youngest granddaughter, to go to one of her sisters' homes immediately. Once she was there, surely there would be some way of persuading the new Queen of Dharo or Nharkhava to permit her to stay.
Half-listening to the Council's indignant, frightened babbling, Magstrom felt a nicker of hope for Arnora's future.
He didn't know the new Queens, but he knew someone who did.
After all the whispers, after all the stories, he thought it was fitting irony that the one person he could go to who would sympathize with his concerns and assist him was the High Lord of Hell.
5 / Kaeleer
"I never wanted to rule," Jaenelle said as she and Saetan strolled through the Keep's moonlit gardens. "I never wanted power over anyone's life but my own."
Saetan slipped an arm around her waist. "I know. That's why you're the perfect Queen to rule Kaeleer." When she looked puzzled, he laughed softly. "You're the one person who can weave all the separate strands into a unified web while still encouraging every strand to remain distinct. If you promise not to snarl at me, I'll tell you a secret."
"What? Okay, okay. I promise not to snarl."
"You've been ruling Kaeleer unofficially for years now, and you're probably the only person who hasn't realized it."
Jaenelle snarled, then muttered, "Sorry."
Saetan laughed. "Forgiven. But knowing that should be some comfort. I doubt there's going to be much difference between the official Dark Court and the unofficial one that was formed the first summer the coven and the boyos descended on the Hall and made it a second home."
Jaenelle brushed her hair away from her face. "Well, if that's true, then youreally were an idiot not to have realized you would become the Steward since you've been the unofficial Steward for at least as long as I've been the unofficial Queen."
Since there was no good way to respond to that, he didn't.
"Saetan ..." Jaenelle nibbled her lower lip. "You don't think they'll start acting differently now, do you? It's never° made a difference before, but . . . the coven and the boyos aren't going to start acting subservient, are they?"
Saetan raised an eyebrow. "I'm surprised any of you know the word, let alone what it means." He hugged her. "I wouldn't worry about it. I think Lucivar's about as subservient as he's going to get."
Jaenelle leaned against him and groaned. Then she perked up a bit. "Well, that's one good thing about forming the court. At least I found something for him to do that'll keep him from being underfoot and badgering me all the time."
Saetan started to reply, then thought better of it. She was entitled to a few illusions—especially since they wouldn't last long.
Jaenelle yawned. "I'm going in. I'm telling the bedtime story tonight." She kissed his cheek. "Good night, Papa."
"Good night, witch-child." He waited until she'd gone inside before heading for the far end of the garden.
"The waif turned in early?" Andulvar asked, falling into step.
"She's doing the bedtime story and howl-along," Saetan replied.
"She'll be a good Queen, SaDiablo." "The best we've ever had." They walked in silence for a couple of minutes. "The bitch has gone to ground again?" Andulvar nodded. "Plenty of indications that she's got her hooks firmly into the Dark Council, but no sign of her. Hekatah was always good at staying out of the nastiness once she got it started. It still surprises me that she managed to get herself killed in the last war between the Realms." He rubbed the back of his neck and sighed. "It must be biting Hekatah's ass that the waif's got the kind of power over a Realm that she's always wanted." "Yes, it must be. So stay sharp, all right?" "We should warn all the boyos before they return to their own Territories so they know what to look for in case she tries to come in from another direction."
"Agreed. But if the Darkness is kind, we'll have some time for these youngsters to get some ground under their feet before we have to deal with another of Hekatah's schemes."
"If the Darkness is kind." Andulvar cleared his throat.
"I know why you've wanted to wait, and I know who you've been waiting for, but, Saetan, Jaenelle's a grown woman and she's the Queen now. The triangle should be complete. She should have a Consort."
Saetan rested his arms on the top of the garden's stone wall. A soft, night wind sang through the pines beyond the garden. "She already has a Consort," he said quietly, firmly. "As First Escort, Lucivar can stand in for most of a Consort's duties and be the third side of the triangle until . . ." His voice faded.
"If ever, SaDiablo," Andulvar said with gentle roughness. "Until someone wears the Consort's ring, every ambitious buck in the Realm—and not a few of them being straight from Terreille—is going to be trying to slip into her bed for the power and prestige he'll gain by being her Consort. She needs a good man, Saetan, not a memory. She needs a strong, flesh-and-blood man who'll warm her bed at night because he cares abouther."
Saetan stared at the land beyond the garden. "She has a Consort."
"Does she?" When Saetan didn't answer, Andulvar patted his shoulder and walked away.
Saetan stayed there a long time, listening to the night wind's song. "She has a Consort," he whispered. "Doesn't she?"
The night wind didn't answer.
6 / The Twisted Kingdom
The land wasn't as twisted here or as steep, but the mist-wisps that filled the hollows sometimes covered the trail, leaving him with the unsettling feeling that nothing existed below his knees.
As time passed, he realized the place felt familiar, that he had explored these roads before when he had been strong and whole. He had entered the borderland that separated sanity from the Twisted Kingdom.
The air held a dew-fresh softness. The light was gentle, like early morning. Somewhere nearby, birds chirped and twittered the day awake, and in the distance was the sound of heavy surf.
His crystal chalice was almost intact. During the long climb, the fragments had fit into place, one by one. There were a few slivers, a few memories missing. One in particular. He couldn't remember what he had done the night Jaenelle had been brought to Cassandra's Altar.
As he passed between two large stones that stood like sentinels, one on either side of the trail, the mist rose up around him.