"If there is nothing else you require, High Lord, I will lock up and retire."
Saetan shook his head. "There's nothing. Good night, Beale."
He walked to the end of the great hall and paused at his study door to watch Beale lock the front doors. Not really a necessary precaution since there were other ways of safeguarding the people and things he treasured. Even with those protection spells, it was simple enough to get into the Hall. Getting out was another matter.
He went inside his study, flicked a thought at the lamp on his desk. The candle-light inside glowed softly. He picked up the half sheet of parchment that had been folded into thirds and sealed with a few drops of black wax, called in his half-moon glasses, opened the note, and read.
Meet me at the Keep at dawn. The High Lord's expertise will be required.
Vanishing the paper and glasses, he stared at nothing for a moment before extinguishing the lamp and leaving the study. As he crossed the great hall to reach the informal receiving room and climbed the stairs that led to the family wing, a chill spread through him. He knew what kind of expertise Jaenelle might require from the High Lord of Hell. What he didn't know was why.
When he reached her suite of rooms, he knocked on the sitting room door. He didn't expect an answer since she wasn't there, but the knock was a habit…and a precaution, since some of the kindred Warlord Princes who served her were fiercely protective.
As he opened the door, the cold rage filling the room stopped him before he'd taken the first step. He gritted his teeth and moved forward, each step a test of will, until he stood in front of the worktable and stared at the reason Jaenelle had declined Sylvia's invitation to see the play.
The curtains were still open, and the moonlight was enough to make the spider silk look silvery in the dark room.
A tangled web. The kind of web Black Widows used to see dreams and visions. Besides being a Queen, Jaenelle was a natural Black Widow and Healer. That rare combination of gifts made her an extraordinary witch. The Ebony Jewels she now wore…Jewels that indicated power he couldn't begin to estimate…made her the most powerful…and lethal… witch in the history of the Blood.
She hadn't cut any of the threads. Hadn't destroyed the web. She'd left it intact, knowing there was another Black Widow living at the Hall who could look into that web and see the same vision. Him.
Not quite an invitation to look, but the tacit offer to let him see what she had seen was the reason he turned and walked out of the room. It was enough to know whatever she'd seen had produced the cold rage that lingered in the room.
As he retraced his steps through the corridors and down the stairs, he called in his black cape and settled it over his shoulders, hooked the silver chain that held it together in front, and flicked the material so that the front edges folded back to reveal the red lining. He didn't bother unlocking the front doors. He simply used Craft to pass through the wood.
A few moments later, he reached the stone landing web in front of the Hall, caught the Black Wind, and was riding that psychic roadway through the Darkness to Ebon Askavi.
It didn't take him long to reach the Keep, despite the distance between the Hall in Dhemlan and the Keep in Askavi. He dropped from the Winds, appearing on the landing web closest to the residential section within the mountain. Not the area that housed scholars when they came to study the books in the library, but the part of the Keep set aside for the Queen and her court.
He wasn't surprised to see Draca waiting for him by the time he reached the first common room. She was the Keep's Seneschal. Had always been the Keep's Seneschal. And a very, very long time ago, she had been the dragon Queen who, when her own race's time in the world had finally come to an end, had shed her power along with her scales. The females those scales touched had become the first Blood, inheriting an old power in order to become the new guardians of the Realms. She looked human now, and ancient, but the reptilian cast to her features intimidated most people.
Even as he walked toward her, his mind was reaching out, searching, probing. Not finding what he sought honed his temper. But this was the Keep, and this was Draca, so he tightened the leash on his growing rage… and fear.
"Draca," he said, bowing slightly when he stood before her.
"Ssaetan," she replied, inclining her head in a mark of respect she rarely gave anyone.
"Jaenelle told me to meet her here. Where is she?"
"Sshe iss expecting you at dawn, High Lord."
"I'm here now. My daughter is not."
"The Queen hass gone to the Keep in Terreille."
Anger flamed, then turned icy. He understood the distinction she made, heard the warning in it, but he still turned away, intending to go to the Dark Altar within the mountain…one of the thirteen Gates that linked the Realms of Terreille, Kaeleer, and Hell.
He stopped and looked over his shoulder. "No. Terreille is enemy territory. She shouldn't be there, and she certainly shouldn't be there alone."
"The Keep iss protected."
He knew that, but the need to protect…a need that was part of what made a Warlord Prince so deadly…was swelling in him until he couldn't think past it, couldn't feel anything but the drive to defend his Queen.
Centuries of training made him hesitate.
"Sshe doess not expect you until dawn."
He fought a vicious internal battle, instincts warring with training.
"Come," Draca said, her voice gentled with understanding. The door of the common room silently opened, untouched by any hand. "I will have yarbarah brought for you. When you are needed, you will be nearby."
He closed his eyes. Breath by breath, he pulled himself back from the killing edge, that state of mind that stripped Warlord Princes of the veneer of civilized behavior…and was an intrinsic part of their nature. When he was sure he wouldn't respond by striking out with lethal intent, he opened his eyes, and said, "Thank you. Yarbarah would be welcome."
He walked past her and entered the common room, feeling as if he'd stepped into a cage. In a way, he had. But he had made the choice to obey. That was the only thing that made staying in that room tolerable.
Removing the cape, he dropped it over a chair, then walked to the windows that overlooked one of the many gardens. He heard a servant enter and set the blood wine and a glass on a table, but he kept his eyes focused on the garden… and the night sky. And waited for the long hours to pass until dawn.
Listening to the voices just beyond the kitchen, Marian watched batter drip from the wooden spoon back into the mixing bowl, nervous that even the quiet sound of a spoon against a bowl might call attention to herself. It wasn't likely anyone would notice sounds in the kitchen if she continued making breakfast. No one in her family noticed she was around unless there was some hearth-Craft they wanted done. But there was something about the anger and desperation edging her father's wheedling voice and the strained annoyance in her mother's that made her draw her wings in tight to her body in a defensive gesture and want to play least-in-sight.