“No.” Sylvia made a face. “I didn’t ask you here to talk about your father. It’s your mother we need to discuss.”
Daemon studied the fronts of the two cottages, then slowly circled the buildings, checking to see that everything was well tended. Saetan had purchased one cottage fourteen years ago as a home for Tersa. Daemon had purchased the neighboring cottage for Manny, the servant who had been his caretaker when he had been an enslaved prize living in Dorothea SaDiablo’s court. More than that, Manny had raised him, had loved him, had been the one good constant in his childhood.
When he immigrated to Kaeleer, he brought Jazen and Manny with him, not willing to leave them to the mercy of the Queens in Terreille. Jazen remained as his valet. Manny, after a few weeks at the Hall, wanted a place of her own—and work of her own. He bought her the cottage next to Tersa’s, and Manny gradually took over as housekeeper and cook for Tersa and Allista, the journey-maid Black Widow who was Tersa’s current companion.
He rounded the corner and stopped, counting silently to see how long it took the young couple locked in an ardent embrace to become aware of his psychic scent and, therefore, his presence.
He reached twenty before the boy’s body jerked with awareness and the couple jumped away from each other.
He stared at the girl first, letting instinct rule temper. Her embarrassment came fromwho had caught them kissing, but he didn’t pick up any of the bitch-pride feeling that came from witches who enjoyed putting males in a compromising position. And the shy smile she gave the boy before bolting out of the yard made him feel easy enough about her to relax about the boy. This wasn’t a conquest; this was young love. Most likely, Manny would have shooed the girl out of the yard—after giving the couple enough time for a few unchaperoned kisses.
As he walked toward the boy, he wondered if Manny had taken up her other occupation—village matchmaker.
“Prince Sadi,” the boy stammered.
Sleeveless undershirt, dirt-smeared and sweaty. Wheelbarrow, hoe, rake, shovel. No doubt one of the youths who earned a few coins by helping out with the heavier chores.
“We were just…I was just…” Flustered, the boy looked at the tools and the ground as if an answer would suddenly appear.
“I noticed.” He smiled, letting dry amusement clearly show.
“The next time you want to kiss the girl in a public place, stay aware of what is around you. And try a little less tongue next time. Never hurts to have the girl wanting more than you’re giving. Especially in these circumstances.”
The boy looked at him, shocked delight lighting his face because the Warlord Prince of Dhemlan—and more importantly Jaenelle Angelline’s husband—had offered sexual advice.
Suppressing the urge to sigh, and feeling much older than he had felt when he woke up that morning, Daemon walked to the back door and knocked.
When Allista opened the door, she didn’t seem overly anxious, but he did pick up an undercurrent of concern as he stepped into the kitchen.
“Tersa is up in the attic,” Allista said. “She’s put locks on the attic door, and she’s secretive about what she’s been doing for the past few weeks.”
“Why wasn’t I informed about this?”
“It’s odd, but there doesn’t seem to be any harm in it or any danger to Tersa. In fact, she’s quite pleased about…whatever this is.”
He felt the edge of his temper sharpen. Tersa was his mother, a broken Black Widow who, seven hundred years before, had surrendered her already-tenuous hold on sanity in order to reclaim her power as a Sister of the Hourglass and see the dreams and visions that foretold the coming of Witch. She had given him hope the night she had told him about the vision she’d seen in her tangled web. But the price of seeing that vision was that her life became as shattered as her mind—until Jaenelle brought her as far out of the Twisted Kingdom as Tersa was able to go, and brought her here to live under the care and protection of the High Lord.
“I am here at least once a week,” Daemon said, his voice strained by the effort not to lash out at Allista. “I should have been informed if Tersa was acting unusual in any way.”
Allista stared at him, clearly struggling with the need to balance loyalties. Being here was part of her own education—all Black Widows took the risk of becoming lost in the Twisted Kingdom—and in that, her loyalty was to the Hourglass Coven and to Tersa. But he ruled Dhemlan, and he was the one who provided her with a quarterly income to show his appreciation of her care—just as his father had done before him.
She came to a decision. She raised her chin, squared her shoulders, and said, “She didn’t want you to know.”
He was out of the kitchen and bounding up the stairs before Allista could sputter a protest.
The physical lock on the attic door was undone, but when he tried to open the door, he heard the rattle of another lock on the other side. And he felt the tangle of a Craft-shaped lock. If Tersa had made it, that lock was potentially dangerous, even to someone with his power.
“Tersa?” He pounded on the attic door. “Tersa! Open the door!”
"Go away," she replied on a psychic thread.
"No, I will not go away."
Annoyance came through the thread. And a trace of fear.
He paced the upstairs hallway, and he waited. Five minutes. Ten minutes. Fifteen minutes.
Finally the attic door opened and Tersa slipped into the hallway. She was as thin as she’d always been, despite the regular meals, but her clothes were new and her hair, still as tangled as her mind, was clean.
“Tersa.” He couldn’t read her emotions, couldn’t untangle them enough to get a feel for what was going on. That she was unhappy about his presence hurt, but he set the hurt aside.
“It’s a surprise,” she said, a pleading note in her voice that he’d rarely heard before. “For the boy. Just a little surprise for the boy.”
The boy. Meaning him. He often wondered what she saw when she looked at him. Was it like looking into a shattered mirror with each piece holding an image from the past? Sometimes heknew she was seeing him as the child he had been before Dorothea took him away from her and drove her out of Hayll. Sometimes she saw him as the youth he had been when he’d met her again, thinking it was the first time because he didn’t remember who she was. And sometimes she saw him as he was here and now. But within all the broken pieces of her mind, he was always the boy.