Saetan stormed through the corridors, heading for the garden room that opened onto a terrace at the back of the Hall.
Three days since Jaenelle, Prothvar, and Smoke had left to bring Smoke's pack to the Hall! Three gut-twisting, worried days full of thoughts of hunters and poison and how young she must have been when she'd first met the kindred, had first started teaching them to avoid man-made traps without a thought of what might happen to her if she'd been caught in one of those traps—or the other kinds of traps a Blood male might set for a young witch.
But she had been caught in "that kind of trap," hadn't she? He hadn't kept her safe from that one.
Now, finally, she was home. Had been home since just before dawn andstill remained in the gardens bordering the north woods,still hadn't come up to the Hall to let him know she was all right.
Saetan flung open the glass doors, strode out onto the
terrace, and sucked the late afternoon air through his clenched teeth. Teetering at the edge of the flagstones, he tasted that held breath and shuddered.
The air was saturated with Jaenelle's feelings. Anguish, grief, rage. And a hint of the abyss.
Saetan stepped back from the terrace edge, his anger bleached by the primal storm building at the border of the north woods. It had gone wrong. Somehow, it had gone very wrong.
As anxiety replaced anger, as he wavered between waiting for her to come to him and going out to find her, he finally caught the quality of the silence, the dangerous silence.
Step by careful step, he retreated to the glass doors.
She was home. That's what mattered. Andulvar and Mephis would be rising with the dusk. Prothvar would rise, too, meet them in the study and tell them what happened.
There was no reason to intrude on her precarious self-control.
Because he didn't want to find out what would happen if the silence shattered.
Prothvar moved as if he'd endured a three-day beating.
Perhaps he had, Saetan thought as he watched the demon-dead Warlord warm a glass of yarbarah.
Prothvar lifted the glass to drink, but didn't. "They're dead."
Mephis made a sound of protest and dismay. Andulvar angrily demanded an explanation.
Saetan, remembering the dangerous silence that had filled the air, barely heard them. If he'd asked her about the wolf print earlier, if Smoke hadn't had to wait so long to reach her . . .
"All of them?" His voice broke, hushing Andulvar and Mephis.
Prothvar shook his head wearily. "Lady Ash and two pups survived. That's all that was left of a strong pack when the hunters were through harvesting pelts."
"They can't be the only kindred wolves left."
"No, Jaenelle said there are others. And we did find two
young wolves from another pack. Two young, terrified Warlords."
"Mother Night," Saetan whispered, sinking into a chair.
Andulvar snapped his wings open and shut. "Why didn't you gather them up and get out of there?"
Prothvar spun to face his grandfather. "Don't you think I tried? Don't you—" He closed his eyes and shuddered. "Two of the dead ones had made the change to demons. They had been skinned and their feet had been cut off, but they still—"
"Enough!" Saetan shouted.
Silence. Brittle, brittle silence. Time enough to hear the details. Time enough to add another nightmare to the list.
Moving as if he would shatter, Saetan led Prothvar to a chair.
They let him talk, let him exorcise the past three days. Saetan rubbed Prothvar's neck and shoulders, giving voiceless comfort. Andulvar knelt beside the chair and held his grandson's hand. Mephis kept the glass of yarbarah filled. And Prothvar talked, grieving because the kindred were innocent in a way the human Blood were not.
Someone else needed that kind of comfort. Someone else needed their strength. But she was still in the garden with the kindred and, like the kindred, was not yet able to accept what they offered.
"Is that all?" Saetan asked when Prothvar finally stopped talking.
"No, High Lord." Prothvar swallowed, choked. "Jaenelle disappeared for several hours before we left. She wouldn't tell me where she'd been or why she'd gone. When I pushed, she said, 'If they want pelts, they'll have pelts.' "
Saetan squeezed Prothvar's shoulders, not sure if he was giving comfort or taking it. "I understand."
Andulvar pulled Prothvar to his feet. "Come on, boyo. You need clean air beneath your wings."
When the Eyriens were gone, Mephis said, "You understand what the waif meant?"
Saetan stared at nothing. "Do you have commitments this evening?"
Mephis hesitated, then bowed. "As you wish, High Lord."
Silence. Brittle, brittle silence.
Oh, he understood exactly what she'd meant. Beware the golden spider who spins a tangled web. The Black Widow's web. Arachna's web. Beware the fair-haired Lady when she glides through the abyss clothed in spilled blood.
If the hunters never returned, nothing would happen. But they would return. Whoever they were, wherever they'd come from, they would return, and one kindred wolf would die and awaken the tangled web.
The hunters would still get their harvest, would still do the killing and the cutting and the skinning. Only one, confused and frightened, would leave with the bounty, and once he'd returned to wherever he'd come from, then, and only then, would the web release him and show him that the pelts he'd harvested didn't belong to wolf-kind.
4 / Kaeleer
Lord Jorval rubbed his hands gleefully. It was almost too good to be true. A scandal of this magnitude could topple anyone, even someone so firmly entrenched as the High Lord.
Remembering his new responsibilities, Jorval altered his expression to one more suitable to a member of the Dark Council.
This was a very serious charge, and the stranger with the maimed hands had admitted that he had no evidence except what he'd seen. After what the High Lord had done to the man's hands before dismissing him from service, it was understandable why he refused to stand before the Dark Council and testify against the High Lord in person. Still, something should be done about the girl.
A strong young Queen, the stranger had said. A Queen who could, with proper guidance, be a great asset to the Realm. All that glorious potential was being twisted by the High Lord's perversions, being forced to submit to ...
Jorval jerked his thoughts away from those kinds of images.
The girl needed someone who could advise her and channel that power in the right direction. She needed someone she could depend on. And since she wasn'tthat young, maybe she needed more than that from her legal guardian. She might even expect,want, that kind of behavior . . .