"They must be mad," Gabrielle said. "What did Jaenelle say?"

Saetan forced himself to focus on Karla and Gabrielle. It would be the last time he would ever see them. But he couldn't answer them, couldn't get the damning words out.

Andulvar guided Saetan to a couch and pushed him down. "She said they could appoint a new guardian in the morning."

"Were those her exact words?" Gabrielle asked sharply.

"What difference does it make?" Andulvar snarled. "She made the decision to walk away from—"

"Damn your wings, you son of a whoring bitch," Karla screamed at him."What did she say?"

"Stop it!" Saetan shouted. He couldn't stand having them argue, having the last hour with them tainted by anger. "She said—" His voice cracked. He clamped his hands between his knees, but it didn't stop them from shaking. "She said when the sun next rose they could appoint another guardian unless they reconsidered their decision by then."

The mood in the room changed to a little uneasiness blended with strong approval and calm acceptance. Puzzled, Saetan watched them.

Karla plopped down on the couch beside him and wrapped her arms around one of his. "In that case, we'll all stay right here and wait with you."

"Thank you, but I'd rather be alone." Saetan tried "to rise, but Chaosti's stare unnerved him so badly he couldn't find his legs.

"No, you wouldn't," Gabrielle said, squeezing past Andulvar so that she could settle on the other side of him.

"I want to be alone right now," Saetan said, trying, but failing, to get that soft thunder into his voice.

Chaosti, Khary, and Aaron formed a wall in front of him, flanked by the other young males. Morghann and the rest of the coven circled the couch, trapping him.

"We're not going to let you do something stupid, Uncle Saetan," Karla said gently. Her wicked smile bloomed. "At least wait until the sun next rises. You're not going to want to miss it."

Saetan stared at her. She knew what he intended to do. Defeated, he closed his eyes. Today, tomorrow, what difference did it make? But not while they were still here. He wouldn't do that to them.

Satisfied, Karla and Gabrielle snuggled close to him while the other girls drifted toward the other couches.

Khary rubbed his hands together. "Why don't I see if Mrs. Beale is willing to brew up some tea?"

"Sandwiches would be good, too," Aaron said enthusiastically. "And some spiced tarts, if we didn't finish them. I'll go with you."

"SaDiablo?" Andulvar said on an Ebon-gray spear thread.

Saetan kept his eyes closed. "I won't do anything stupid."

Andulvar hesitated. "I'll tell Mephis and Prothvar."

No reason to answer. No answer to give. Because of him, Jaenelle would be lost to all of them. Would her new guardian welcome the wolves and the unicorns? Would he welcome the Dea al Mon and Tigre, the centaurs and satyrs? Or would she be forced to sneak an hour with them now and then, as she had done as a child?

As the hours passed and the children dozed in chairs or on the floor around him, he let it all go. He'd savor this time with them, savor the weight and warmth of Karla's and Gabrielle's heads nestled on his shoulders. Time enough to deal with the pain . . . after the sun rose.

"Wake up, SaDiablo."

Saetan sensed Andulvar's urgency but didn't want to re-

spond, didn't want to tear the veil of sleep where he'd found a little comfort.

"Damn it, Saetan," Andulvar hissed,"wake up."

Reluctantly, Saetan opened his eyes. At first he felt grateful that Andulvar stood in front of him, blocking his view of the windows and the traitorous morning. Then he realized the candlelights were lit, and necessary, and there was a flicker of fear in the Eyrien's eyes.

Andulvar stepped aside.

Saetan rubbed his eyes. Sometime during the night Karla and Gabrielle had slumped from his shoulders and were now using his thighs for pillows. He couldn't feel his legs.

He finally looked at the windows.

It was dark.

Why was Andulvar shoving him awake in the middle of the night?

Saetan glanced at the clock on the mantle and froze. Eight o'clock.

"Mrs. Beale wants to know if she should serve breakfast," Andulvar said, his voice strained.

The boys began to stir.

"Breakfast?" Khary said, stifling a yawn as he ran his fingers through his curly brown hair. "Breakfast sounds grand."

"But," Saetan stammered. The clock was wrong. It had to be wrong. "But it's still dark."

Chaosti, the Child of the Wood, the Dea al Mon Warlord Prince, gave him a fierce, satisfied smile. "Yes, it is."

A duet of giggles followed Chaosti's words as Karla and Gabrielle pushed themselves upright.

Saetan's heart pounded. The room spun slowly. He'd thought the Council's eyes had held a feral glitter, but that had been tame compared to these children who smiled at him, waiting.

"Black as midnight," Gabrielle said with sweet venom.

"Caught on the edge of midnight," Karla added. She rested her forearm on his shoulder and leaned toward him. "How long do you think it's going to take the Council' to reconsider their decision, High Lord? A day? Maybe two?" She shrugged and rose. "Let's find breakfast."

With Andulvar in the lead, the children drifted out of the family drawing room, chatting and unconcerned.

Watching them, Saetan remembered something Titian had told him years before.They know what she is. He saw Khardeen, Aaron, and Chaosti exchange a look before Khary and Aaron followed the others. Chaosti stayed by the window, waiting.

Another triangle of power, Saetan thought as he approached the window. Almost as strong and just as deadly. May the Darkness help whoever stood in their way. "You knew," he said quietly as he stared out the window at the moonless, starless, unbroken night. "You knew."

"Of course," Chaosti said, smiling. "Didn't you?"

"No."

Chaosti's smile faded. "Then we owe you an apology, High Lord. We thought you were worried about what was going to happen. We didn't realize you didn't understand."

"How did you know?"

"She warned them when she set the terms. 'When the sun next rises.' " Chaosti shrugged. "Obviously the sun wasn't going to rise."

Saetan closed his eyes. He was the Black-Jeweled High Lord of Hell, the Prince of the Darkness. He wasn't sure that was a sufficient match for these children. "You're not afraid of her, are you?"

Chaosti looked startled. "Afraid of Jaenelle? Why should I be? She's my friend, my Sister, and my cousin. And she's the Queen." He tipped his head. "Are you?"

Anne Bishop Books | Science Fiction Books | The Black Jewels Series Books
Source: www.StudyNovels.com