"She was a good Queen, wasn't she?" Jaenelle asked in a pleading voice a few minutes later.
Daemon felt a stab of pain. At another time, the lie would have been easy enough to say, but not tonight. Knowing he was going to rip away her last justification for Alexandra's behavior, he gave her the truth as gently as he could. "Compared to the other Queens in Terreille, she was a good Queen. Compared to any of the Queens I've met since I've been in Kaeleer... No, sweetheart, she was not a good Queen."
Pain flowed with the tears as Jaenelle finally gave up the people she had once tried to love.
He held her, saying nothing. Just held her while he let all of his love surround her.
The door opened quietly. Ladvarian walked in, followed by Kaelas.
Daemon watched them, and wondered if they had decided on their own to defy the command for solitude or if they had equated his presence with permission to enter.
After a minute, the tip of Ladvarian's tail waved once. *We will come back later.*
They left as quietly as they had come.
1 / Kaeleer
Lord Magstrom nervously wandered around the room where the records from the service fair were stored. He'd only been home a couple of days and was still catching up on the official business of his own village. But Lord Jorval had urgently requested him to return to Little Terreille's capital to discuss something of the "utmost importance."
He'd spent several days with his eldest granddaughter and her husband—days that had been filled with excitement and apprehension instead of the rest he so badly needed. His granddaughter was pregnant with her first child, and, though delighted, she was also quite ill. So he'd spent most of his time reassuring her husband that his granddaughter wouldn't divorce a man she loved just because she couldn't keep her breakfast down for a few weeks.
He shouldn't have said "a few weeks." The younger man had looked ready to faint when he'd said that.
Hehad written a hurried letter to the High Lord about the discrepancies he had found in the service fair records but then had hesitated over sending it, wondering if his own exhaustion had made something sinister out of what was really just sloppy clerical work.
No matter. As soon as he was home again, he would write a more thoughtful, carefully worded letter, one that expressed concern rather than alarm.
He had just reached this decision when the door swung open and Lord Jorval entered the room.
"I'm glad you came, Magstrom," Jorval said a little breathlessly. "I wasn't sure who else I could trust. But anyone who's worked with you knows you couldn't be involved inthis."
"And just what is 'this'?" Magstrom asked cautiously.
Jorval went to the shelves holding the records and pulled out a thick folder.
Magstrom's stomach tightened. It was the Hayllian folder—the same one he had examined before his hasty departure from Goth.
Jorval's hands trembled as he leafed through the papers, then put several on the large table. "Look. There are discrepancies in these lists." Hurrying to the shelves, he pulled out several folders and dumped them on the table. "And not only in the Hayllian lists. At first I thought it was a clerical error, but..." Taking a sheet of paper from one of the folders, he pointed. "Do you remember this man? He was most unsuitable to immigrate to Kaeleer.Most unsuitable."
"I remember him," Magstrom said faintly. A brute of a man whose psychic scent had made his skin crawl. "He was accepted into a court?"
"Yes," Jorval said grimly. "This one."
Magstrom squinted at the scrawled writing. The Queen's name and the territory she ruled were almost illegible. The only thing he could definitely make out was that the territory was in Little Terreille. "Who is this... Hektek?"
"I don't know. There is no Queen named Hektek who rules so much as a village in Little Terreille. But thirty Terreilleans were accepted into this alleged court.Thirty."
"Then where are these people going?"
Jorval hesitated. "I think someone is secretly creating an army right under our noses, using the service fair to cover the tracks."
Magstrom swallowed hard. "Do you know who?" he asked, half expecting Jorval to accuse the High Lord— which was ridiculous.
"I think so," Jorval replied, an odd glitter appearing in his eyes. "If what I suspect is true, the Territory Queens in Kaeleer must be warned immediately. That's why I asked you to come. I'm to meet someone tonight who claims to have information about the people missing from the lists. I wanted another member of the Council to come with me as a witness to confirm what was said. I wanted you because, if weare in danger, the High Lord will listen to you."
That decided Magstrom. "Since there may be some risk in revealing this information, we shouldn't keep this person waiting."
"No," Jorval replied, sounding queer, "we shouldn't."
They found an available horse-drawn cab almost as soon as they left the building. A heavy silence filled the cab until, a few minutes later, it pulled up.
Magstrom stepped out, looked around, and felt a jagged-edged fear. They were at the edge of Goth's slums, not a place for the unwary—or for an older man at any time.
"I know," Jorval said hurriedly as he took Magstrom's arm and began leading him through narrow, dirty streets. "It seems an unlikely meeting place, but I think that's why it was chosen. Even if someone recognized us, they would think they were mistaken."
Breathing heavily, Magstrom struggled to keep up with Jorval. He could feel eyes watching them from shadowed doorways—and he could sense the flickers of power coming from the ones who watched. There were many reasons why a dark-Jeweled male could end up in a place like this.
Finally, they slipped into the back door of a large building and silently climbed the stairs. At a second floor door, Jorval fumbled with a key, then stepped aside to allow Magstrom to enter the suite.
The furnishings in the sitting room were secondhand and shabby. The room itself looked as if even minimal cleaning hadn't been done in a long time. And it stank of decay.
"Something wrong?" Jorval asked in an oddly gleeful voice.
Magstrom moved toward the narrow windows. A little air might help relieve the smell. "I think a mouse or a rat must have died behind the walls, so—"
Jorval made a queer sound—a sharp, high-pitched giggle—at the same time the bedroom door opened and a hooded figure stepped into the sitting room.
Magstrom turned—and couldn't say a word.
Knucklebones peeked out of the split skin as brown hands pushed the hood back.