Carefully wrapping the shirt around the pieces, he used Craft to sink the bundle deep into the earth. When he was done, there was no mark on the ground to indicate the spot, no sign of a grave. It was as if his little son had never existed.
Except the baby kept crying.
He rose to his feet, vanished the box, and walked back to the Hall, empty of everything but a terrible clarity…and a growing storm that was hidden in the mist.
Andulvar stood back from the desk where Saetan sat. There was nothing on the desk except the trade agreements, a quill, and a small bowl made of black marble.
The Zuulaman Ambassador stood in front of the desk, clearly unhappy about being in a room with Warlord Princes who wore the Ebon-gray and the Black.
Andulvar didn't give a damn if the Ambassador was happy or not. Saetan had asked him to stay for this meeting, so he would stay. Besides, the glazed, sleepy look in Saetan's eyes worried him.
"You won," Saetan said quietly. He pushed up his left shirt sleeve and nicked his wrist with a long, black-tinted nail. Blood spilled into the marble bowl.
"What…" The Ambassador gave Andulvar a startled glance before focusing on Saetan. "What are you doing?"
"Your Queens killed my son," Saetan said as he used Craft to heal the nick. "They butchered a baby barely out of the womb. These agreements were bought with blood, so they will be signed in blood."
In silence, Andulvar watched Saetan pick up the quill, dip it into the blood, and sign the agreements. When he set the quill down, the Ambassador stepped forward and reached for the parchments.
One black-tinted nail came down, pinning the sheets of parchment to the desk.
"The agreements have been signed," Saetan said too softly. "You're a witness to that fact. So is Prince Yaslana. When I receive a message from Lady Hekatah's father, and from the Lady herself, that she has been safely returned to her family's house in Draega, and is unharmed, I will bring these agreements to you. You're staying at the inn in Halaway, yes?"
"Yes," the Ambassador said, "but I don't think the Queens will agree…" He looked into Saetan's eyes… and shivered. "I will inform them that the agreements are signed. I'm sure you'll hear from Lady Hekatah very soon."
Saetan just smiled a gentle, terrible smile.
When the Ambassador left, Andulvar sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. "By nightfall, half the Queens in Dhemlan will hear about these agreements."
"It doesn't matter." Saetan's voice sounded queer and hollow, as if it were coming from far away. Then he roused, but the glazed, sleepy look was still in his eyes. "I'd like you to take Mephis and Peyton to Askavi. I need to know they're safe while I deal with Zuulaman."
Andulvar nodded, then studied the man who had been his closest friend for several centuries. "Will you be all right?"
"I'll take care of things. I'll take care of everything."
As Andulvar went up to the family wing to collect the boys, he didn't know which worried him more…the psychic storm he'd felt growing when he'd arrived that morning… or the fact that he couldn't sense any trace of it now.
Grief ripped into him, its jagged edges slicing his heart. He lost his precarious balance and tumbled through a landscape filled with knives and little arms that rose up from crevices in the stones like brown-skinned flowers. As he clung to a stone to keep from sliding further into the mist, the petals of one flower opened, became a tiny hand… with a missing finger.
A howl of rage and pain shook the landscape. Then silence.
Getting to his feet, he looked around. No landmarks he recognized, and he'd set no markers as guides to take him back to the border of that place called sanity.
He wasn't sure he wanted to find that place. It was quiet here, almost peaceful here, despite the flowers. But…
He looked around again, saw two beacons shining above him. His markers. His anchors. Two reasons to go back.
But not yet. Here there was terrible clarity. Here there was quiet…except for the sound of a baby crying.
Saetan read the two messages again, not sure what he was searching for but certain he hadn't found it.
The message from Hekatah's father was a scrawled assurance that she'd arrived in Draega, distressed but unharmed, and would remain there until everything was settled with Zuulaman's Queens.
A similar message from Hekatah, with additional reminders that he was responsible for her safety, that her continued safety, and the safety of their two sons, depended on his fulfilling the agreements he'd made with Zuulaman.
As he read her message one last time, he knew what was missing. There was nothing about the baby. If she knew what had been done, there was no sign of grief. If she didn't know, there was no concern that she'd been allowed to leave without the child. Not one word about the loss of their newborn son. Not. One. Word.
He dropped the messages back on the silver tray his butler had placed on his desk. Called in a long, soft black jacket, slipped it on, adjusted his shirt cuffs and collar. Then he picked up the agreements and left the Hall.
While the Ambassador carefully looked over the agreements, no doubt to confirm that nothing had been altered after they'd been signed, Saetan looked around the room the man had called home for the past few weeks. Two pieces of Zuulaman pottery were arranged on a table, along with a wooden flute and a book of the island's folk tales. He knew that's what the book contained because the Ambassador had given him a copy the first time the man had called to discuss the trade agreements. And on the wall was a framed, primitive sketch of a seashore.
"This takes care of it," the Ambassador said. "I believe this takes care of everything."
Not quite.The thought bloomed. Found the storm hidden in the mist. Echoed through that terrible clarity.
"If there's anything I can do to assist you in collecting the first shipment of goods …" The Ambassador frowned. "Prince SaDiablo?"
No word of regret. No mention of the child whose blood had bought those sacks of grain, those casks of wine, whose death had sentenced the Dhemlan people to buying pottery and sketches they didn't want.
Rage flowed through him, a cold, sweet poison.
Saetan looked at the Ambassador and smiled. "There is one thing you can do."
"I'm not available to anyone," Saetan said as he brushed past his butler.
"What if the Dhemlan Queens…"
"Not to anyone."
Down, down, down until he came to the corridor deep beneath the Hall that led to his private study. Only Andulvar knew about this study, with the small bedroom and bathroom attached to it. A private place for the times when his Craft demanded such privacy.