Lucivar grinned. “I told her alewas Eyrien milk.”

You prick,Daemon thought, feeling resentful because he’d never thought of something like that. “You visit my mother.”

“Yes,” Lucivar replied.

“You never mentioned that.”

“It’s none of your business.”

He rocked back on his heels, not sure how to respond. Itwasn’t any of his business as long as Tersa wasn’t harmed by it.

“I don’t know what you’re fussing about,” Lucivar said. “I drop in, ask a question, and just listen while I have a glass of ale. A lot of what Tersa says has nothing to do with the question, and some of it makes no sense to me at all, but she picks up all the scattered pieces of information as she wanders the paths within her mind. It’s up to the listener to recognize what he needs and put the pieces together.”

He could picture them in the kitchen of Tersa’s cottage, with Allista hovering nearby. And it occurred to him that it might be a relief to Tersa to have the company of someone who could recognize her gifts of knowledge and experience without asking her to think in straight lines.

That was something he needed to consider more carefully at another time.

“You’ve been learning the Hourglass’s Craft from Tersa?” Jaenelle asked.

“No, I’ve been learningabout the Hourglass’s Craft and how to defend against some kinds of spells,” Lucivar replied. “You can punch your way out of a trap spell, but you have to do it fast and you have to do it before you use Craft enough times for the spell to hook into you and start feeding off your own strength. Of course, part of the point of a trap spell is to drain the prey’s power, so there’s a backlash spell attached to the trap. The first time you try to punch out, you’ll get hit with a blast of power. It will hurt like a wicked bitch, even if you’re shielded. And you might have to take a second hit. After that, it’s strength against strength. The trap spell will keep trying to close up, so you just keep breaking through and moving forward until you’re out.”

“Mother Night,” Daemon muttered as he stared at the house.

“One of them would have tried to break through the spells,” Jaenelle said.

Lucivar nodded. “And took a hard enough hit to discourage them from trying again. So they’re playing the game—and moving deeper into the trap. And that means whoever goes in to find them has to deal with whatever is in that house without using Craft. Which is why I can go in and neither of you can.”

Lucivar unbuckled his everyday belt and vanished it. Then he called in the double-buckle fighting belt that Eyriens wore in battle. The hunting knife Eyrien males wore as standard dress was replaced by a hunting knife that was a little bigger, a little heavier, and a lot meaner. A palm-sized knife was slipped into a sheath between the belt buckles. Two more knives went into the sheaths in Lucivar’s boots. Then…

“Wait wait wait,” Jaenelle said. “What isthat ?”

Daemon felt the shield that formed around Lucivar like a second skin. He knew what it was. He’d just never expected to feel it again.

Lucivar frowned at her as he closed the leather gauntlets over his wrists and forearms. “It’s an Ebony shield.” Using Craft, he put chain mail over the light leather vest he was wearing in place of a shirt. “You may not wear Ebony Jewels anymore, Cat, but the power you put into the Rings of Honor is still there and the shields you built into those Rings still work.”

Jaenelle stared at him. So did Daemon.

In Kaeleer, a Ring of Honor was given to every male who served in a court’s First Circle. Worn around the cock, it was a symbol of the Queen’s control over every aspect of a male’s life. It also allowed her to monitor the emotions of her males, and the Rings were usually set to raise an alarm if anger, pain, or fear indicated the male was in trouble and needed help.

Lucivar attached a small bag of healing supplies to the belt. “The Ebony shield is the best protective shield a man can have going into a fight.Nothing can get through it.”

“I didn’t realize…” Jaenelle shifted from one foot to the other. “You still wear that Ring?”

Lucivar snorted. “We all do.”

"You do?" Daemon asked.

Lucivar just looked at him.

“The Rings still work?” Jaenelle asked.

“In that the shields you put in them work and the males in the First Circle can sense if one of us needs help, yes.”

"But you can’t read Jaenelle?" Daemon asked, guessing at the reason for his Lady’s dismay at learning the Rings hadn’t been tossed into the backs of dresser drawers. Through a quirk in the way she had made the Rings for her court, the males in her First Circle had been able to read her emotions as easily as she could read theirs.

"Not like we used to," Lucivar replied, sounding a little too evasive for a man who was usually blunt when answering a question.

Daemon decided not to ask anything else about the Rings until he retrieved his own from the velvet-lined box he’d had made for it and discovered for himself just how much connection the Rings of Honor still had to the former Queen of Ebon Askavi.

In quick succession, Lucivar layered an Ebon-gray shield, a Red shield, and another Ebon-gray shield over the Ebony. All of them followed his body rather than being a bubble around him.

He’s preparing for a killing field,Daemon realized. “Lucivar.”

Then he blinked as power coated Lucivar’s hands. His brother could do enough damage just with muscle and temper. Boosted by the Ebon-gray, Lucivar could probably drive his fist through stone.

“You see, that’s the thing,” Lucivar said as he called in his Eyrien war blade and began coating the lethally honed steel with layers of Ebon-gray power. “This game depends on the Blood using Craft once they’re inside the house, which works to the advantage of the spells woven in and around the place. Those spells can’t do a damn thing to any Craft that’s donebefore entering the house. So Surreal and Rainier should be safe from physical attack.” He paused. His eyes narrowed. “If they didn’t shield before they walked through that gate, I am going to beat the shit out of both of them.”

“They thought they were going into the spooky house Marian and I made,” Jaenelle protested.

“I don’t care what they thought,” Lucivar said. “They were entering an unknown building. If they didn’t shield, they will regret it.”

Anne Bishop Books | Science Fiction Books | The Black Jewels Series Books