Lucivar twitched his shoulders and followed his Lady.

By the time they reached the upper levels that appeared to be more inhabited, Lucivar began wistfully eyeing the benches and chairs that lined the corridors and promising himself a drink of water from the next indoor fountain or decorative waterfall they came to.

Jaenelle had said nothing since they'd stepped off the landing web in the outer courtyard. Her silence was supportive but not comforting. He understood that. Ebon Askavi was Witch's home. If he served her, he had to come to terms with the place without leaning on her.

She reached an intersection of corridors, glanced left, and smiled. "Hello, Draca. This is Lucivar Yaslana. Lucivar, this is Draca, the Keep's Seneschal."

Draca's psychic scent, filled with great age and old, dark power, unnerved him as much as the reptilian cast of her features. He bowed respectfully, but was too nervous to speak a proper greeting.

Her unblinking eyes stared at him. He caught a whiff of emotion that unraveled his nerves even more. For some reason, he amused her.

"Sso, you have finally come," Draca said. When Lucivar didn't answer, she turned to Jaenelle. "He iss sshy?"

"Hardly that," Jaenelle said dryly, looking amused. "But a bit overwhelmed, I think. I gave him the long tour of the Keep."

"And he iss sstill sstanding?" Draca sounded approving.

Lucivar would have appreciated her approval more if his legs weren't shaking so badly.

"We have guestss. Sscholarss. You will wissh to dine privately?"

"Yes, thank you," Jaenelle said.

Draca stepped aside, moving with careful, ancient grace. "I will let you continue your journey." She stared at Lucivar again. "Welcome, Prince Yasslana."

Jaenelle led him down another maze of corridors. "There's someone else I want you to meet. By then, Draca will have a guest room ready for you, one with a whirl-bath. It'll be good for those tight leg muscles." She studied his face. "Did she intimidate you?"

He'd promised honesty. "Yes."

Jaenelle shook her head, baffled. "Everyone says that. I don't understand. She's a marvelous person when you get to know her."

He glanced at the Black Jewel hanging above the V neckline of her slim, black tunic-sweater and decided against trying to explain it.

After another flight of stairs and several twists and turns, Jaenelle finally stopped in front of a door. He sincerely hoped their destination was behind it. A door stood open at the end of the corridor. Voices drifted out of the room, enthusiastic and hot, but not angry. Must be the scholars.

Ignoring the voices, Jaenelle opened the door, and they stepped into part of the Keep's library. A large blackwood

table filled one side of the room. At the other end were comfortable chairs and small tables. The back wall was a series of large arches. Beyond them, stacks of reference books stretched out of sight. The arch on the far right was fitted with a wooden door.

"The rest of the library is general reference, Craft, folklore, and history," Jaenelle said. "Things anyone can come and use. These rooms contain the older reference material, the more esoteric Craft texts, and the Blood registers, and can only be used with Geoffrey's permission."

"Geoffrey?"

"Yes?" said a quiet baritone voice.

He was the palest man Lucivar had ever seen. Skin like polished marble combined with black hair, black eyes, black clothes, and deep red lips that looked inviting in an unnerving sort of way. But there was something strange about his psychic scent, something inexplicably different. Almost as if the man weren't ...

Guardian.

The word slammed into Lucivar, freezing his lungs.

Guardian. One of the living dead.

Jaenelle made the introductions. Then she smiled at Geoffrey. "Why don't you get acquainted? There's something I want to look up."

Geoffrey looked pained. "At least tell me the name of the volume before you leave. The last time I couldn't tell your father where you 'looked something up,' he treated me to some eloquent phrases that would have made me blush if I was still capable of doing it."

Jaenelle patted Geoffrey's shoulder and kissed his cheek. "I'll bring the book out and even mark the page for you."

"So kind of you."

Laughing, Jaenelle disappeared into the stacks.

Geoffrey turned to Lucivar. "So. You've finally come."

Why did they make him feel like he'd kept them waiting?

Geoffrey lifted a decanter. "Would you like some yarbarah? Or some other refreshment?"

With some effort, Lucivar found his voice. "Yarbarah's fine."

"Have you ever drunk yarbarah?" Geoffrey asked drolly.

"It's drunk during some Eyrien ceremonies." Of course, the cup used for those ceremonies held a mouthful of the blood wine. Geoffrey, he noted apprehensively, was filling and warming two wineglasses.

"It's lamb," Geoffrey said, handing a glass to Lucivar and settling into a chair beside the table.

Lucivar gratefully sank into a chair opposite Geoffrey and sipped the yarbarah. There was more blood in the mixture than was used in the ceremonies, the wine more full-bodied.

"How do you like it?" Geoffrey's black eyes sparkled.

"It's . .." Lucivar struggled to find something mild to say.

"Different," Geoffrey suggested. "It's an acquired taste, and here we drink it for other reasons than ceremonial."

Guardian. Was the blood mixed with the wine ever human? Lucivar took another swallow and decided he wasn't curious enough to ask.

"Why have you never come to the Keep, Lucivar?"

Lucivar set the glass down carefully. "I was under the ..impression a half-breed bastard wouldn't be welcome here."

"I see," Geoffrey said mildly. "Except for those who care for the Keep, who has the right to decide who is welcome and who is not?"

Lucivar forced himself to meet Geoffrey's eyes. "I'm a half-breed bastard," he said again, as if that should explain everything.

"Half-breed." Geoffrey sounded as if he were turning the word over and over. "The way you say it, it sounds insulting. Perhaps dual bloodline would be a more accurate way to think of it." He leaned back, cradling the wineglass in both hands. "Has it ever occurred to you that, without that other bloodline, you wouldn't be the man you are? That you wouldn't have the intelligence and strength you have?" He waved his glass at Lucivar's Ebon-gray Jewel. "That you never would have worn those? For all that you are Eyrien, Lucivar, you are also your father's son."


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