"Who knows what lies deep in the abyss?" Saetan said bitterly. "I don't. Was she lost in madness or simply walking roads the rest of us can't possibly comprehend? I don't know. Ido know she is more and less and different than she was, and there are some days when it's hard to find anything left of the child we knew. She told me that she'd put the crystal chalice back together, and from what I can tell, she has. But she doesn't remember what happened at Cassandra's Altar. She doesn't remember anything that took place during the few months before that night. And she's hiding something. That's part of the reason she's withdrawing from us. Shadows and secrets. She's afraid to trust any of us because of those damn shadows and secrets."
Mephis finally broke the long silence. "Perhaps," he said slowly, "if she could be persuaded to see us in one of the public rooms, just for a few minutes at a time, it might help rebuild her trust in us. Especially if we don't push or ask any difficult questions." He added sadly, "And is being locked within herself while she lives in her body really any different than being lost in the abyss?"
"No," Saetan said softly. "It's not." It was a risk. Mother Night, was it a risk! "I'll talk to her."
Andulvar, Prothvar, Mephis, and Geoffrey left after agreeing to meet him in one of the "smaller parlors. Saetan waited for several minutes before walking the few yards that separated his room from the Queen's suite. Once Jaenelle established her court, no males but her Consort, Steward, and Master of the Guard would be permitted in this wing unless they were summoned. Not even her legal guardian.
Saetan knocked quietly on her bedroom door. When he got no answer, he peeked into the room. Empty. He checked the adjoining sitting room. That was empty, too.
Running his fingers through his hair, he wondered where his wayward child had gone. He could sense that she was nearby. But he'd also learned that Jaenelle left such a strong psychic scent, it was sometimes difficult to locate her. Perhaps it had always been that way, but they'd never spent more than an hour or two together at any given time. Now her presence filled the huge Keep, and her dark, delicious psychic scent was a pleasure and a torment. To feel her, to yearn with all one's heart to embrace and serve her, and to be locked out of her life ...
There could be no greater torture.
And it wasn't just for Andulvar, Mephis, Prothvar, and Geoffrey that he was willing to risk her emotional stability by asking for contact. There was one other, lately never far from his thoughts. If she didn't heal emotionally, if she could never endure a man's touch . . .
He wasn't the key that could unlock that final door. There was much he could do, but not that. He wasn't the key.
Daemon Sadi was.
Daemon . . . Daemon, where are you? Why haven't you come?
Saetan was about to retrace his steps, intending to find Draca—she always knew whereeveryone was in the Keep— when a sound made him turn toward a half-open door at the end of the corridor.
As he walked toward it, he noticed how much better his leg felt since Jaenelle started dosing him with her tonic. If he could stomach it for a couple more weeks, he'd be able to put the cane away—and hopefully the tonic with it.
He had almost reached the door when someone inside the room let out a startled squawk. There was a loudpop fizz boosh, and then a lavender, gray, and rose cloud belched out of the room, followed by a feminine voice muttering, "Damn, damn, and double damn!"
The cloud began a slow descent to the floor.
Saetan held out his hand and stared at the chalky lavender, grey, and rose flecks that covered his skin and shirt cuff. Butterflies churned in his stomach, and they tickled, leaving him with an irrational desire to giggle and flee.
He swallowed the giggle, strapped a bit of mental steel to his backbone, and cautiously peered around the doorway.
Jaenelle stood by a large worktable, her arms crossed and her foot tapping as she frowned at the Craft book hovering above the table. The candlelights on either side of the book gave off a pretty, stained-glass glow, softening the surrounding chaos. The entire room—and everything in it, including Jaenelle—was liberally dusted with lavender, grey, and rose. Only the book was clean. She must have put a shield around it before beginning . . . whatever it was.
"I really don't think I want to know about this," Saetan said dryly, wondering how Draca was going to react to the mess.
Jaenelle gave him an exasperated, amused look. "No, you really don't." Then she gave him her best unsure-but-game smile. "I don't suppose you'd like to help anyway?"
Hell's fire! During all the years when he'd been teaching her Craft and trying to unravel one of these quirky spells after the fact, he'd hoped for just this invitation.
"Unfortunately," he said, his voice full of wistful regret, "there's something else we have to discuss."
Jaenelle sat down, on air, hooking her heels on the nonexistent rung of a nonexistent stool, and gave him her full attention.
He remembered, too late, how unnerving it could be to have Jaenelle's undivided attention.
Saetan cleared his throat and glanced around the room, hoping for inspiration. Maybe her workroom, with the tools of her Craft around her, was the best place to talk after all.
He stepped into the room and leaned against the doorframe. A good neutral place, not invading her territory but acknowledging a right to be there. "I'm concerned, witch-child," he said quietly.
Jaenelle cocked her head. "About what?"
"About you. About the way you avoid all of us. About the way you're shutting yourself away from everyone."
Ice filled her eyes. "Everyone has boundaries and inner barriers."
"I'm not talking about boundaries and inner barriers," he said, not quite able to keep his voice calm. "Of course everyone has them. They protect the inner web and the Self. But you've put up awall between yourself and everyone else, excluding them from even simple contact."
"Perhaps you should be grateful for the wall, Saetan," Jaenelle said in a midnight voice that sent a shiver of fear up his spine.
Saetan. Not Papa. Saetan. And not the way she usually said his name. This sounded like a Queen formally addressing a Warlord Prince.
He didn't know how to respond to her words or the warning.
She stepped off her invisible stool and turned away from him, resting her hands on the dusty table.
"Listen to me," he said, restraining the urgency he felt. "You can't lock yourself away like this. You can't spend the rest of your life in this room creating glorious spells that no one else will see. You're a Queen. You'll have to interact with your court."