Saetan shrugged, already preoccupied with how to word his reply. There hadn't been much contact between Dhemlan and Glacia in the past few years, but he'd heard enough about Lord Hobart and his ties to Little Terreille to decide on a verbal reply instead of a written one.

Long centuries ago, Little Terreille had been settled by Terreilleans who had been eager for a new life and a new land. Despite that eagerness, the people had never felt comfortable with the races who had been born to the Shadow Realm. So even though Little Terreille was a Territory in Kaeleer, it had looked for companionship and guidance from the Realm of Terreille—and still did, even though most, Terreilleans no longer believed Kaeleer existed because access to this Realm had been so limited for so long. Which meant any companionship and guidance coming from Terreille now was coming from Dorothea, one way or another—and that was reason enough for him to feel wary.

Saetan and Andulvar exchanged a quick look when Beale showed the courier into the room.

Andulvar sent a thought on a Red spear thread. "He's a bit young for an official courier."

Silently agreeing with Andulvar's assessment, Saetan lifted his right hand. A chair floated from its place by the wall and settled in front of the desk. "Please be seated, Warlord."

"Thank you, High Lord." The young man had the typical fair skin, blond hair, and blue eyes of the Glacian people. Despite his youth, he moved with the kind of assurance usually found in aristo families and responded with a confidence in Protocol that indicated court training.

Not your typical courier,Saetan thought as he watched the young man try to control the urge to fidget.So why are you here, boyo?

"My butler must be having a bad day to overlook introducing you when you entered," Saetan said mildly. He steepled his fingers, his long, black-tinted nails resting against his chin.

The youth paled a little when he saw the Black-Jeweled ring. He licked his lips. "My name is Morton, High Lord."

Now you're not quite so sure that Protocol will protect you, are you, boyo?Saetan didn't allow his amusement to show. If this boy was going to approach a dark-Jeweled Warlord Prince, it was better he learn the potential dangers. "And you serve?"

"I—I don't exactly serve in a court yet."

Saetan raised one eyebrow. "You serve Lord Hobart?" he asked, his voice a bit cooler.

"No. He's just the head of the family. Sort of an uncle."

Saetan picked up the letter and handed it to Morton. "Read this." He sent a thought to Andulvar. "What's the game? The boy's not experienced enough to—"

"Nooo," Morton moaned. The letter fluttered to the floor. "She promised me she'd be polite. I told her I'd be waiting for a reply, and she promised." He flushed, then paled. "I'll strangle her."

Using Craft, Saetan retrieved the letter. Whatever doubts he'd had about motive were gone, but he was curious aboutwhy the question was being asked now. "How well do you know Karla?"

"She's my cousin," Morton replied in the aggrieved tone of a ruffled male.

"You have my sympathy," Andulvar said, rustling his dark wings as he shifted in the chair.

"Thank you, sir. Having Karla like you is better than having her not like you, but . . ." Morton shrugged.

"Yes," Saetan said dryly. "I have a friend who has a similar effect on me." He chuckled softly at Morton's look of astonishment. "Boyo, even being me doesn't make a difficult witch any less difficult."

"Especially a Dea al Mon Harpy," Andulvar sent, amused. "Have you recovered yet from her latest attempt to be helpful?"

"If you're going to sit there, be useful," Saetan shot back.

Andulvar turned to Morton. "Did your cousin keep her promise?" When the boy gave him a blank look, he added, "Was she being polite?"

The tips of Morton's ears turned red. He shrugged helplessly. "For Karla ... I guess so."

"Oh, Mother Night," Saetan muttered. Suddenly a thought swooped down on him, and he choked. He used the time needed to catch his breath to consider some rather nasty possibilities.

When he was finally in control again, he chose his words carefully. "Lord Morton, your uncle doesn't know you're here, does he?" Morton's nervous look was answer enough. "Where does he think you are?"

"Somewhere else."

Saetan studied Morton, fascinated by the subtle change in his posture. No longer a youth intimidated by his surroundings and the males he faced, but a Warlord protecting his young Queen.You were wrong, boyo, Saetan thought.You've already chosen whom you serve.

"Karla . . ." Morton gathered his thoughts. "It isn't easy for Karla. She wears Birthright Sapphire, and she's a Queen and a natural Black Widow as well as a Healer, and Uncle Hobart . . ."

Saetan tensed at the bitterness in Morton's blue eyes.

"She and Uncle Hobart don't get along," Morton finished lamely, looking away. When he looked back, he seemed so young and vulnerable. "I know Karla wants her to come visit like she used to, but couldn't Jaenelle just write a short note? Just to say hello?"

Saetan closed his golden eyes.Everything has a price, he thought.Everything has a price. He took a deep breath and opened his eyes. "I truly wish, with all of my being, that she could." He took another deep breath. "What I'm about to tell you must go no further than your cousin. I must have your pledge of silence."

Morton immediately nodded agreement.

"Jaenelle was seriously hurt two years ago. She can't write, she can't communicate in any way. She . . ." Saetan stopped, then resumed when he was sure he could keep his voice steady. "She doesn't know anyone."

Morton looked ill. "How?" he finally whispered.

Saetan groped for an answer. The change in Morton's expression told him he needn't have bothered. The boy had understood the silence.

"Then Karla was right," Morton said bitterly. "A male doesn't have to be that strong if he picks the right time."

Saetan snapped upright in his chair. "Is Karla being pressed to submit to a male? Atfifteen?"

"No. I don't know. Maybe." Morton's hands clenched the arms of the chair. "She was safe enough when she lived with the Black Widows, but now that she's come back to the family estate . . ."

"Hell's fire, boy!" Saetan roared. "Even if they don't get along, why isn't your uncle protecting her?"

Morton bit his lip and said nothing.

Stunned, Saetan sank back in his chair. Not here, too. Not in Kaeleer. Didn't these fools realize what was lost when a Queen was destroyed that way?

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