There was Sceron, the Red-Jeweled Warlord Prince of Centauran. The dark-haired centaur had stood near the dining table, eating a vegetable omelet while talking with Morton, a blond-haired, blue-eyed Warlord from Glacia. Then there was the Green-Jeweled Warlord, Jonah, a satyr whose dark pelt covered him from his waist to his cloven hooves but didn't quite cover the parts of him that were blatantly male. There was Elan, a Red-Jeweled Warlord Prince from Tigrelan, who had tawny, dark-striped skin and whose hands ended with sheathed claws. Watching Elan, Daemon would have bet the man had more in common with the dark-striped cat he'd glimpsed from a window than just physical markings.

And then there was Chaosti, the Gray-Jeweled Warlord Prince of the Dea al Mon, with his long silver-blond hair, delicately pointed ears, and slightly too large forest-blue eyes. Every territorial instinct in Daemon had come roaring to the surface at the sight of Chaosti—perhaps because Chaosti was the kind of man who could be a formidable rival no matter what Jewels he wore or perhaps because Daemon saw a little too much of himself in the other man. Only Saetan's presence had kept a sharp-edged greeting from turning into an open confrontation. That meeting had left him edgy, and far too aware of his own inner fragility.

Next came the older, Gray-Jeweled Warlord Prince who had introduced himself as Mephis, his older brother. The room had tilted a bit when Daemon realized that, as Saetan's eldest son, Mephis had been demon-dead for more than 50,000 years. He might have recovered his balance if Prince Andulvar Yaslana and Lord Prothvar Yaslana hadn't walked in at that moment, and the collective shock of the Eyrien males who realized who they must be—and then realizedwhat they must be—hadn't hit him like a runaway wagon. After one raking look at the fearful Eyriens and a murmured comment to the High Lord, the demon-dead Warlord Prince and his grandson had left the room.

By that point, Daemon had sincerely wished for brandy instead of coffee—a wish that must have been apparent. The stuff Khardeen had poured into his coffee from a silver flask hadn't been brandy, but it had successfully furred his nerves enough for him to be able to eat.

Still too jangled to enjoy the meal, he'd just finished his modest breakfast when Surreal stormed in, muttering something about it taking more time than expected "to get us brushed." She had looked shocked when she saw Chaosti, who was the only person she had seen who came from the same race as her mother, but the moment he'd moved toward her, she had bared her teeth and announced that the next male who approached her before breakfast was going to get brushed with the edge of a knife.

She, at least, had enjoyed a quiet, and undisturbed, breakfast.

He was just about to leave the room when a tall, slender witch with spiky, white-blond hair walked in, took one look at him, and said loudly enough to be heard in every corner of the Hall, "Hell's fire,he's a Black Widow!"

That he was a natural Black Widow—and, besides Saetan, theonly male Black Widow—was something he'd been able to successfully hide for all the centuries since his body had reached sexual maturity, just as he'd been able to hide the snake tooth and venom sack beneath the ring-finger nail of his right hand. Whatever he had done instinctively to suppress other Black Widows' ability to detect him had failed him now, when there was nothing he could do about such a public betrayal.

The tension in the room had faded when Saetan replied mildly, "Well, Karla, heis my son, and heis the Consort."

The witch's surprise had changed to sharp speculation. "Oh," she said. "In that case ..." A slow, wicked smile bloomed. "Kiss kiss."

Brushing past Lucivar, he had escaped from the dining room and had spent the past hour wandering through the Hall, trying to get his churning thoughts and emotions under control.

"Are you lost?"

Daemon glanced over to where Lucivar leaned against a doorway. "I'm not lost," he snapped. Then he stopped pacing and sighed. "But I am very confused."

"Of course you are. You're male." Grinning at Daemon's snarl, Lucivar stepped into the courtyard. "So if one of the darlings in the coven offers to explain things to you, don't take her up on it. She'll sincerely be trying to help, but by the time she's done 'unconfusing' you, you'll be banging your head against a wall and whimpering."

"Why?"

"Because for every five rules you'd learned in Terreille about a male's proper behavior in a court, the Kaeleer Blood know only one of them—and they interpret it very differently."

Daemon shrugged "Obedience is obedience."

"No, it's not. For Blood males, the First Law is to honor, cherish, and protect. The second is to serve. The third is to obey."

"And if obedience interferes with the first two laws?"

"Toss it out the window."

Daemon blinked. "You actually get away with that?"

Lucivar scratched the back of his head and looked thoughtful. "It's not so much a question of getting away with it. For Warlord Princes, it's almost a requirement of court service. However, if you ignore an order from the Steward or the Master of the Guard, you'd better be sure you can justify your action and be willing to accept the consequences if they won't accept it, which is rare. I got into more trouble with the High Lord as my father than as the Steward."

Father. Steward. The ties of family and court.

"Why are you here, Prick?" Daemon asked warily. "Why aren't you at the practice field observing the warriors you selected?"

"I was looking for you because youdidn't show up at the practice field." Lucivar shifted slightly, balancing his weight.

Not yet,Daemon thought.Not now. "And because we have unfinished business," he said slowly.

"And because we have unfinished business." Lucivar took a deep breath, let it out slowly. "I accused you of killing Jaenelle. I accused you of viler things than that. I was wrong, and it cost you your sanity and eight years of your life."

Daemon looked away from the regret and sadness in Lucivar's eyes. "It wasn't your fault," he said softly. "I was already fragile."

"I know. I sensed that—and I used it as a weapon."

Remembering the fight they'd had that night in Pruul, Daemon closed his eyes. Lucivar's fury hadn't hurt him as much as his own fear that the accusations might possibly be true. If he'd been sure of what had happened at Cassandra's Altar, the fight would have ended differently. Lucivar wouldn't have spent more years in the salt mines of Pruul, and he wouldn't have spent eight years in the Twisted Kingdom.


Tags: Anne Bishop Books The Black Jewels Series Books Science Fiction Books
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