In the end it was one frightened mind against so many enraged ones probing for weakness, while Titian's trained Hounds constantly lunged at the body, forcing Greer to use more and more of the reserved strength in his Jewels to keep them away. The Harpies broke through his inner barriers at the same moment Titian's arrow drove through his body and pinned it to a tree.
As the Harpies pulled the body away from the tree and began carving up the meat, Titian picked through Greer's mind as delicately as if she were picking the meat from a cracked nut. She saw the children he'd feasted on. She saw the narrow bed, the blood on the sheets, the familiar young face that had been bruised by his maimed hands. She saw Surreal's horn-handled dagger driving into his heart, slicing his throat. She saw him smiling at her when his own knife had slither throat centuries ago. And she saw where he'd been tonight.
Titian sheathed the knife and checked the blade of the small ax propped beside her.
She regretted not bringing him down before he reached Little Terreille. If Greer's assessment of Lord Jorval was correct, the whispers would begin soon.
A Guardian wasn't a natural being in a living Realm.
There would always be whispering and wondering—especially when that Guardian was also the High Lord of Hell. And she could guess well enough how the Kaeleer Queens were going to react to the rumors.
She would visit her kinswomen, tell them what she wanted from them if the opportunity presented itself. That would help.
Titian picked up her ax. The Harpies moved aside for their Queen.
The limbs were gone. The torso was empty. The eyes still held a glimmer of intelligence, a glimmer of Self. Not much, but enough.
With three precise strokes, Titian split Greer's skull. Using the blade, she opened one of the splits until it was wide enough for her fingers. Then she tore the bone away.
She looked into Greer's eyes. Still enough there.
Whistling for the pack leader, she walked away, smiling, while the Hound began feasting on the brain.
7 / Kaeleer
Saetan brushed his hair for the third time because it gave him something to do. Like buffing his long, black-tinted nails twice. Like changing his jacket and then changing back to the first one.
He stopped himself from reaching for the hairbrush again, straightened his already straight jacket, and sighed.
Would the children come?
He hadn't requested a reply to the invitation because he had wanted to give the children as much time as possible to gather their courage or wear down their elders' arguments—and because he was afraid of what rejection dribbling in day after day might do to Jaenelle.
As he had promised, he or other members of the family had delivered all the invitations. Some had been left at the child's residence. Most had been left at message stones, the piles of rocks just inside a Territory's border where travelers or traders could leave a message requesting a meeting. He had no idea how messages left in those places reached
the intended person, and he doubted those children would be here this afternoon. He didn't know what to expect from the children in the accessible Territories. He only hoped Andulvar was right and that little witch from Glacia would be here, stepping on his toes.
Taking a deep breath that still came out as a sigh, Saetan left his suite to join the rest of the family and Cassandra in the great hall.
Everyone was there except Jaenelle and Sylvia. Halaway's Queen had been delighted when he'd told her about the party and had used her considerable enthusiasm to browbeat Jaenelle into a shopping trip for a new outfit. They didn't come back with a dress, but he'd had to admit, grudgingly, that the soft, full, sapphire pants and long, flowing jacket were very feminine-looking, even if the skimpy gold-and-silver top worn beneath the jacket. ... As a man, he approved of the top; as a father, it made him grind his teeth.
As soon as she saw him, Cassandra took his arm and led him away from the other men. "Do you think it's wise for everyone to be out here?" she asked quietly. "Won't it be too intimidating?"
"And whom would you ask to leave?" Saetan replied, knowing full well he was one of the people she thought should be absent.
After receiving his note, Cassandra had arrived to help with the preparations, but she'd acted too forcedly cheerful, as if she were really preparing for the moment when Jaenelle would face an empty drawing room. Sylvia, on the other hand, had thrown herself into the preparations and had bristled at anyone who dared to express a doubt.
A wise man would have locked himself in his study and stayed there. Only a fool would have left two witches alone when they were constantly circling and spitting at each other like angry cats.
When Cassandra didn't answer his question, Saetan took his place in the great hall. Andulvar was one step behind him on his left. Mephis and Prothvar were on Andulvar's left and a little to the side so that they weren't part of the official greetings. Cassandra stood on Saetan's right, one
step behind. By rights she should have stood beside him, Black with Black, and he was only too aware of why she was using an option of Protocol to distance herself from him.
Saetan turned toward the sound of feet racing down the staircase in the informal drawing room.
Sylvia burst into the great hall, looking a little too lovely with her golden eyes shining and her cheeks flushed. "The wolf pups hid Jaenelle's shoes and it took a while to find them," she said breathlessly. "She's on her way down, but I didn't want to be late."
Saetan smiled at her. "You're not—"
A clock struck three times.
Cassandra made a quiet, unhappy sound and stepped away from him.
For the first time since he'd told her about the party, Sylvia's eyes filled with concern.
They all stood in the great hall, silently waiting, while Beale stood woodenly by the front door and the footmen who would take the outer garments stared straight ahead.
The minutes ticked past.
Sylvia rubbed her forehead and sighed. "I'd better go up—"
"We don't need any more ofyour kind of help," Cassandra said coldly as she brushed past Sylvia. "You set her up . for this."
Sylvia grabbed Cassandra's arm and spun her around. "Maybe I was too enthusiastic, but you did everything but say outright that she would never have a friend for the rest of her life!"
"Ladies," Saetan warned, stepping toward them.
"What could you possibly know about wearing the Black?" Cassandra snapped. "Ilived with that isolation—"
"Hell's fire," Andulvar muttered.
Beale leaped to open the front door while it was still intact.