"Do you feel well enough to channel that much power through your body to make the shadow capable of doing an extensive healing?"

"There won't be much healing required," Jaenelle replied calmly.

That wasn't the impression he or Saetan had gotten from Jorval's urgent letters, but he knew better than to say anything. Serving Jaenelle in the past few years had taught him when to yield.

She vanished the case and traveling bag, then picked up a hooded, full-length black cape. "Shall we go?"

4 / Kaeleer

Kartane SaDiablo restlessly paced the sitting room of his suite.

The bitch was late. If he'd been home, the bitch wouldn't have dared keep Dorothea's son waiting. Hell's fire, he'd almost be glad to get back to Hayll.

Working himself up to insulted outrage, he almost missed the quiet knock on the door. He pulled himself together. He needed this bitch, who, Jorval assured him, was the best Healer in Kaeleer. If he was uncivil, nothing and no one could stop her from walking out the door again.

He walked over to the windows and looked out. There was no reason for her to know he had been waiting anxiously, no reason to give her even that little bit of power over him. "Come in," he said when the knock sounded again.

He didn't hear the door open, but when he turned around, a figure shrouded in a hooded black cape stood inside the room.

At first he thought it was that witch Dorothea called the Dark Priestess, but there was something slimy about the Dark Priestess's psychic scent and this one's scent...

Kartane frowned. He couldn't detect a psychic scent at all. "You're the Healer?" he asked doubtfully.

"Yes."

Kartane shivered at the sound of that midnight voice. Trying to ignore his uneasiness, he reached up to unbutton his shirt. "I suppose you want to examine me."

"That won't be necessary. I know what's wrong with you."

His fingers froze around the button. "You've seen this before?"

"No."

"But you know what it is?"

"Yes."

Annoyed by the terse answers, he tossed aside any effort at civility. "Then what in the name of Hell is it?"

"It's called Briarwood," replied the midnight voice.

The blood drained out of Kartane's head, leaving him dizzy.

"Briarwood is the pretty poison," the voice continued as fair-skinned hands reached up and pushed the hood back. "There is no cure for Briarwood."

Kartane stared at her. The last time he'd seen her, thirteen years ago, she had been more like a drugged puppet than a child—a plaything locked in one of Briarwood's cubicles, waiting to be used. But he'd never forgotten those sapphire eyes, or the terror he'd felt after he'd tried to touch her mind.

"You." The word came out as nothing more than exhaled breath. "I thought Greer destroyed you."

"He tried."

It hit him then. He pointed an accusing finger at her. "You did this to me.You did this!"

"I created the tangled web, yes. As far as what's happened to you, Kartane, you did this to yourself."

"No!"

"Yes. To each is given what he gave. That was the only command I spun into the web."

"Since you did this, you can damn well undo it!"

She shook her head. "Many of the children who were the threads of that tangled web have returned to the Darkness. They're out of reach, even for me, and there's no way to undo the web without them."

"You lie," Kartane shouted. "If I hand you enough gold, you'd find a way fast enough."

"There is no cure for Briarwood. But thereis an end to this, if that's any consolation. To each is given what he gave."

"WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?"

"Every blow, every wound, every rape, every moment of fear that you ever inflicted on another is coming back to you. You're taking back what you gave, Kartane. When you've taken it all back, the debt will be paid, and the web will release you as it did the other males who amused themselves in Briarwood."

"They're all dead, you stupid bitch! I'm the last one left. No one survived this web of yours."

"The web only set the terms. If none of the others survived... How many of the children who were sent to Briarwood survived any of you?"

"Since you didn't come here to heal me, whydid you bother to come? Just to gloat?"

"No. I came to stand as witness for those who are gone."

Kartane studied her, then shook his head. "You can end this."

"I've already told you, I can't."

"You can end this. You can stop this pain. And you're damn well going to!"

With a howl of rage, Kartane rushed her—and went right through her. He hit the door, unable to stop himself.

When he turned around, there was no one else in the room.

5 / Kaeleer

Daemon approached Jaenelle cautiously, reluctant to disturb her solitude and not sure what to think about the odd blend of sadness and satisfaction on her face. The solitude was an illusion, of course. When she had left her room in the guardhouse and gone out to sit near the creek, Lucivar, Chaosti, and half a dozen Dea al Mon guards had followed her, swiftly disappearing into the woods. He couldn't see any of them, but he knew they were nearby, watching and listening.

"Here," he said quietly, handing her a mug. "It's just herbal tea. Nothing fancy." When she thanked him, he slipped his hands into his trouser pockets, feeling self-conscious. "Is everything all right?"

Jaenelle hesitated. "I did what I went to do." She took a sip of the tea, peered into the cup, then looked at him. "What's in this?"

"A little of this and that."

"Uh-huh."

If that doubtful tone had come from any other woman, he would have felt insulted. But the concentration—and hint of frustration—in her eyes as she took another sip indicated that her doubt was caused by his dismissive "nothing fancy" rather than the brew itself.

She eyed him speculatively. "I don't suppose you would be willing to exchange the recipe for this brew for one of mine?"

Since she liked it that much, it was tempting to refuse so that he would be the only one who could make it for her, but he quickly realized that the time spent with her over a table full of herbs would serve him far better.

Daemon smiled. "I know a couple of brews you might find interesting."

Jaenelle returned the smile, then drained the mug and stood up. "I'd like to head out to Amdarh soon," she said as they walked back to the guardhouse. "That way, we can get settled in tonight."

Anne Bishop Books | Science Fiction Books | The Black Jewels Series Books
Source: www.StudyNovels.com