"He tried to abduct one member of the court and killed another. Did you really expect us to just sit back and swallow that?"
"He wasn't abducting her!" Alexandra shouted. "He was helping her leave this place. That animal attacked him. He had to defend himself."
"He was taking her against her will. That's abduction."
"He was carrying out the wishes of her family."
"She's a grown woman," Saetan snarled. "You have no right to make decisions on her behalf."
"She's mentally fragile. She doesn't have the ability to make—"
"Is that how you deal with anyone who doesn't agree with you?" Saetan's voice rose to a roar. "You declare them mentally incompetent so you can justify locking them away in a place that revels in violating and torturing them?"
"How dare you?"
"Knowing what I know about Briarwood, I dare a great deal."
The air whooshed out of her lungs. His eyes were filled with the hatred he no longer bothered to mask.
With effort, she gathered her strength and sat up straight to face him. "I am a Queen—"
"You're a naive, snotty little bitch," Saetan replied in a singsong croon that made the words feel like a violent— and violating—caress. "Live a long life, Alexandra. Live a long life and burn yourself out at the end of it so that you return straight to the Darkness. If you don't, if you end up making the transition to demon-dead, I'll be waiting for you."
It took her a moment to understand him. TheHigh Lord of Hell.
"Robert Benedict made the transition," Saetan crooned, "and he paid his part of the debt that is owed to me for what was done to the daughter of my soul."
"I owe you nothing." Alexandra tried to sound firm, but she couldn't stop her voice from shaking.
Saetan smiled a gentle, terrible smile.
She had to get out of there, had to get away from him. "Since this is supposed to be a court, I think it's time I talked to this mysterious Queen of yours. Thereal Queen. In fact, I demand to talk to her."
He went absolutely still. "It seems she wants to talk to you, too," he said in an odd voice. "You've been summoned to Ebon Askavi to stand before the Dark Throne."
3 / Kaeleer
With her heart pounding in her throat, Alexandra followed the High Lord down the dark stone stairs. The huge double doors at the bottom of the stairs swung open silently, revealing intense darkness.
She had protested when she had learned that Leland, Philip, and the rest of her entourage had also been summoned to the Keep. Not that it had made any difference. No one had made the slightest indication that they had even heard her protests, let alone might comply with them.
She had also protested when Daemon and Lucivar had joined the High Lord as "escorts." Now she felt pathetically grateful for the male strength that was guarding her. She had found the Hall frightening, but compared to the Keep, the Hall was just a pleasant manor house.
As Saetan walked forward, torches began to light until only the back of the room was still too dark to see at all.
Another torch lit. She stared at the huge dragon head coming out of the back wall. Its silver-gold scales gleamed. Its eyes were as dark as midnight. On a dais beside the head was a simple blackwood chair. The woman who sat in it was still too much in shadow for Alexandra to make out more than the shape.
So this was the Queen of Ebon Askavi.
The light in the room shifted somehow, softly illuminating the unicorn's horn that was part of the scepter the woman held in her hands.
As Alexandra stared at the rings on those hands, a shiver of fear ran down her spine. At first glance, she would have said the rings held pieces of a Black Jewel, but the Jewels in those rings felt darker than the Black. Which was impossible—wasn't it?
The light continued to grow, and as it grew, the power in the room swelled. The woman's face was still in shadow, but now Alexandra could make out the black gown and another Black-but-not-Black Jewel that was set in a necklace that looked like a spiderweb of gold and silver threads.
The light grew. Alexandra looked up and found herself staring into Jaenelle's frozen sapphire eyes.
Long seconds passed before those eyes shifted to look at Leland and Philip, Vania and Nyselle, and the Consorts and escorts who had come with them.
Released from that frozen stare, Alexandra pressed a hand to her stomach, desperately trying not to double over. In this formal setting, she finally understood what Jaenelle had said at their first meeting at the Hall.The difference is that when the dream appeared, he recognized it.
The dark power that flowed from Jaenelle could have kept Chaillot free of Dorothea's influence. But how could she have been expected to recognizethis in a difficult, eccentricchild!
... he recognized it.
She dared a quick glance at Daemon. He had recognized it, too. Had recognized it and...
But wasn't that what Dorothea had said? The Sadist and the High Lord had recognized the potential of all that dark power and had set out to seduce and shape it. It was clear now why Dorothea had wanted control of Jaenelle, but that didn't alter the possible truth of what she had said about Daemon and the High Lord.
The thoughts kept spinning, twisting—until those sapphire eyes pinned her again.
"You conspired with Dorothea SaDiablo and Hekatah SaDiablo, who are known enemies, with the intent of handing over to them a member of my court, my sister." The voice, while quiet, filled the immense room. "In attempting to carry out that plan, you killed another member of my court, a young Warlord Prince."
Leland stirred, shrugging off Philip's attempt to restrain her. "It was just an animal."
Something vicious and terrible filled Jaenelle's face. "He was Blood... and he was a Brother. His life was worth as much as yours."
"I didn't kill him," Alexandra said, her voice muted.
Underneath the ice in those sapphire eyes was deadly rage bordering on madness. "You didn't strike the killing blow," Jaenelle agreed. "Because of that, I have decided not to execute you."
Alexandra would have fallen if Philip hadn't reached out to steady her.Execute her?
"However," Jaenelle continued, "everything has a price, and a price will be paid for Dejaal's life."
Desperation began to well up in Alexandra. "There is no law against murder."
"No, there isn't," Jaenelle replied too softly. "But a Queen can demand a price for the life that was lost."
Vania or Nyselle whimpered. She wasn't sure which one.
"You are no longer welcome in Kaeleer. You will never again be welcome in Kaeleer. If any of you return for any reason, you will be executed. There will be no reprieve."