Long after she'd gone, Saetan sat quietly, watching the logs in the fireplace break and settle. He roused himself enough to pour and warm one last glass of yarbarah, content now with the solitude and silence.
He didn't dispute her theory of why males came to serve, but it wasn't his. It wasn't just the magic that had drawn the males. It was the inner radiance housed within those female bodies, a luminescence that some men had craved as much as they might have craved a light they could see glowing in a window when they were standing out in the cold. They had craved that light as much as they had craved
being sheathed in the sweet darkness of a woman's body, if not more.
Males had become Blood because they'd been drawn to both.
And, as he knew all too well, they still were.
7 / Kaeleer
Lucivar lay on his back in the young grass, his hands behind his head, his wings spread to dry after the quick dip in the spring-fed pool. Jaenelle was still splashing around in the cold water, washing the sweat and dirt out of her long hair.
He closed his eyes and groaned contentedly as the sun slowly warmed and loosened tight muscles.
Yesterday, he'd awakened just before dawn to find Jaenelle busily rummaging through the food pack. They'd managed a hasty meal before the physical tension produced by the drugs forced her to move.
It wasn't the unrelenting drive of the previous days, and as the day wore on, physical tension gave way to emotional storms. Anger would flood her suddenly, then turn to tears. He gave her space while she raged and swore. He held her while she cried. When the storm passed, she'd be fine for a little while. They would walk at an easy pace, stopping to pick wild berries or rest near a stream. Then the cycle would start over, each time with a little less intensity.
This morning, he and Smoke had brought down a small deer. He'd kept enough meat to fill the small, cold-spelled food box he'd brought with him and had sent Smoke back to the Keep with the rest. If Saetan wasn't at the Keep, Smoke would go on to the Hall to let the High Lord know that the worst had passed and they would spend a few more days in Askavi before coming home.
Home. He'd lived in Kaeleer for a year now, and the way witches treated males in the Shadow Realm still bewildered him sometimes.
One day he'd walked in on a discussion Chaosti, Aaron, and Khardeen were having about how the Ring of Honor worn by males in a Queen's First Circle differed from the
Restraining Ring Terreillean males were required to wear until they proved themselves trustworthy. He told them about the Ring of Obedience that was used in Terreille.
They didn't believe him. Oh, intellectually they understood what he said, but they had never known the saturating, day-to-day fear Terreillean males lived with, so they didn't,couldn't, believe him.
Wondering if the boys simply weren't old enough to have firsthand experience in the ways a witch kept her males leashed, he had asked Sylvia, Halaway's Queen, how a Queen controlled a male who didn't want to serve in her court.
She'd gaped at him a moment before blurting out, "Who'd want one?"
A few months ago, while in Nharkhava running an errand for the High Lord, he'd been invited to tea by three elderly Ladies who had praised his physique with such good-natured delight that he couldn't feel insulted. Feeling comfortable with them, he had asked if they'd heard anything about the Warlord Prince who had recently killed a Queen.
They reluctantly admitted that the story was true. A Queen who had acquired a taste for cruelty had been unable to form a court because she couldn't convince twelve males to serve her willingly. So she decided toforce males into service by using that Ring of Obedience device. She had collected eleven lighter-Jeweled Warlords and was looking for the twelfth male when the Warlord Prince confronted her.He was looking for a younger cousin who had disappeared the month before. When she tried to force him to submit, he killed her.
What happened to the Warlord Prince?
It took them a moment to understand the question.
Nothinghappened to the Warlord Prince. After all, he did exactly what he was supposed to do. Granted, they all wished he had simply restrained that horrible woman and handed her over to Nharkhava's Queen for punishment, but one has to expect this sort of thing when a Warlord Prince is provoked enough to rise to the killing edge.
Lucivar had spent the rest of that day in a tavern, unsure
if he felt amused or terrified by the Ladies' attitude. He thought about the beatings, the whippings, the times he'd screamed in agony when pain was sent through the Ring of Obedience. He thought of what he'd done to earn that pain. He sat in that tavern and laughed until he cried when he finally realized he would never be able to reconcile the differences between Terreille and Kaeleer.
In Kaeleer, service was an intricate dance, the lead constantly changing between the genders. Witches nurtured and protected male strength and pride. Males, in turn, protected and respected the gentler, but somehow deeper, feminine strength.
Males weren't slaves or pets or tools to be used without regard to feelings. They were valuable, and valued, partners.
That, Lucivar had decided that day, was the leash the Queens used in Kaeleer—control so gentle and sweet a man had no reason to fight against it and every reason to fiercely protect it.
Loyalty, on both sides. Respect, on both sides. Honor, on both sides. Pride, on both sides.
This was the place he now proudly called home.
Lucivar shot to his feet, cursing silently. Considering the tension he felt in her, he was lucky she hadn't taken off without him.
"Something’s’ wrong," she said in her midnight voice.
He immediately probed the area. "Where? I don't sense anything."
"Not right here. To the east."
The only thing east of them was a landen village under the protection of Agio, the Blood village at the northern end of Ebon Rih.
"There's something wrong there, but it's elusive," Jaenelle said, her eyes narrowed as she stared eastward. "And it feelstwisted somehow, like a snare filled with poison bait. But it slips away from me every time I try to focus on it." She snarled, frustrated. "Maybe the drugs are messing up my ability to sense things."
He thought about the Queen who had ensnared eleven young men before being killed. "Or maybe you're just the wrong gender for the bait." Keeping his inner barriers tightly shielded, he sent a delicate psychic probe eastward. A minute later, swearing viciously, he snapped the link and clung to Jaenelle, letting her clean, dark strength wash away the foulness he'd brushed against.
He pressed his forehead against hers. "It's bad, Cat. A lot of desperation and pain surrounded by . . ." He searched for some way to describe what he'd felt.