A strange thing, feelings. He was preparing for an execu-
tion and all he felt was relief that his appearance wouldn't bruise his housekeeper's pride.
No, not all. There was anger at the necessity and a simmering anxiety that, because of what he was about to do, he might look into sapphire eyes and see condemnation and disgust instead of warmth and love.
But she was with Mephis in Amdarh. She'd never know about tonight.
Saetan called in the cane he had put aside a few weeks ago.
Of course Jaenelle would know. She was too astute not to understand the meaning behind Menzar's sudden disappearance. But what would she think of him? What would it mean to her?
He had hoped—such a bittersweet thing!-—that he could live here quietly and not give people reason to remember too sharply who and what he was. He had hoped to be just a father raising a Queen daughter.
It had never been that simple. Not for him.
No one had ever asked him why he'd been willing to fight on Dhemlan Terreille's behalf when Hayll had threatened that quiet land all of those long centuries ago. Both sides had assumed that ambition had been the driving force within him. But what had driven him had been far more seductive and far simpler: he had wanted a place to call home.
He had wanted land to care for, people to care for, children—his own and others—to fill his house with their laughter and exuberance. He had dreamed of a simple life where he would use his Craft to enrich, not destroy.
But a Black-Jeweled, Black Widow Warlord Prince who was already called the High Lord of Hell couldn't slip into the quiet life of a small village. So he'd named a price worthy of his strength, built SaDiablo Hall in all three Realms, ruled with an iron will and a compassionate heart, and yearned for the day when he would meet a woman whose love for him was stronger than her fear of him.
Instead, he had met and married Hekatah.
For a while, a very short while, he'd thought his dream had come true—until Mephis was born and she was sure he wouldn't walk away, wouldn't forsake his child. Even then, having pledged himself to her, he had tried to be a good husband, had tried even harder to be a good father. When she conceived a second time, he'd dared to hope again that she cared for him, wanted to build a life with him. But Hekatah had been in love only with her ambitions, and children were her payment for his support. It wasn't until she carried their third child that she finally understood he would never use his power to make her the undisputed High Priestess of all the Realms.
He never saw his third son. Only pieces.
Saetan closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and cast the small spell tied to a tangled web of illusions that he'd created earlier in the day. His leg muscles trembled. He opened his eyes and studied hands that now looked gnarled and had a slight but noticeable shake. "I hate this." He smiled slowly. He sounded like a querulous old man.
By the time he made his way to the public reception room, his back ached from being unnaturally hunched and his legs began to burn from the tension. But if Menzar was smart enough to suspect a trap, the physical discomfort would help hide the web's illusions.
Saetan stepped into the great hall and hissed softly at the man standing silently by the door. "I told you to take the evening off." There was no power in his voice, no soft thunder.
"It would not be appropriate for you to open the door when your guest arrives, High Lord," Beale replied.
"What guest? I'm not expecting anyone tonight."
"Mrs. Beale is visiting with her younger sister in Halaway. I will join them after your guest arrives, and we will dine out."
Saetan rested both hands on the cane and raised an eyebrow. "Mrs. Beale dines out?"
Beale's lips curved up a tiny bit. "On occasion. With reluctance."
Saetan's answering smile faded. "Join your lady, Lord Beale."
"After your guest has arrived."
"I'm not expect—"
"My nieces attend the Halaway school." The Red Jewel flared beneath Beale's white shirt.
Saetan sucked air through his teeth. This had to be done quietly. There was nothing the Dark Council could do to him directly, but if whispers of this reached them. . . . He stared at his Red-Jeweled Warlord butler. "How many know?"
"Know what, High Lord?" Beale replied gently.
Saetan continued to stare. Was he mistaken? No. For just a moment, therehad been a wild, fierce satisfaction in Beale's eyes. The Beales would say nothing. Nothing at all. But they would celebrate.
"You'll be in your public study?" Beale asked.
Accepting his dismissal, Saetan retreated to his study. As he poured and warmed a glass of yarbarah, he noticed that his hands were shaking from more than the spell he'd cast.
Hayllian by birth, he had served in Terreillean courts, and had ruled, for the most part, in Terreille and then Hell. Despite his claim to the Dhemlan Territory in Kaeleer, he had been more like an absentee landlord, a visitor who only saw what visitors were allowed to see.
He knew what Terreille had thought of the High Lord. But this was Kaeleer, the Shadow Realm, a fiercer, wilder land that embraced a magic darker and stronger than Terreille could ever know.
Thank you, Beale, for the warning, the reminder. I won't forget again what ground I stand on. I won't forget what you've just shown me lies beneath the thin cloak of Protocol and civilized behavior. I won't forget. . . because this is the Blood that is drawn to Jaenelle.
Lord Menzar reached for the knocker but snatched his hand away at the last second. The bronze dragon head tucked tight against a thick, curving neck stared down at him, its green glass eyes glittering eerily in the torchlight. The knocker directly beneath it was a detailed, taloned foot curved around a smooth ball.
The Dark Priestess should have warned me.
Grabbing the foot with a sweaty hand, he pounded on the door once, twice, thrice before stepping back and glancing around. The torches created ever-changing shape-filled shadows, and he wished, again, that this meeting could have been held in the daylight hours.
He waved his hand to erase the useless thought and reached for the knocker again just as the door suddenly swung open. He almost stepped back from the large man blocking the doorway until he recognized the black suit and waistcoat that was a butler's uniform.
"You may tell the High Lord I'm here."
The butler didn't move, didn't speak.
Menzar surreptitiously chewed on his lower lip. The man was alive, wasn't he? Since he knew that many of Halaway's people worked for the Hall in one way or another, it hadn't occurred to him that the staff might be very different once the sun went down. Surely not with that girl here—although that might explain her eccentricities.