Surreal laughed softly as they walked from the parlor to the kitchen. Having arrived in time to help clean up the carnage Lucivar and Daemonar called breakfast, she didn’t think anyone could outeat those two, but she’d been told to encourage any desire Marian had for food.

Setting the baby’s basket at one end of the kitchen table, Marian rummaged in the cold box.

“Looks like there’s a couple good servings left of this vegetable casserole. And there’s a beef soup, and . . .” Marian looked over her shoulder. “Just tell me what you have a taste for. I can probably find it in one of these dishes.”

Surreal looked at the overflowing counters and the cold box that didn’t have room left in it for a spoon. “Is it traditional to provide this much food to a new mother’s family? Seems a little excessive.”

“How many dishes did you bring with you this morning?” Marian asked.

She set her teeth in a smile. “I suggested waiting a week to send the offerings from the Dea al Mon, the Hall, and my house. I was overruled—and anyone who thinks hearth witches are gentle, fuzzy-hearted women has never dealt with Mrs. Beale.”

“Mrs. Beale is an excellent cook, but she isn’t a hearth witch,” Marian countered.

“I don’t care.”

Chuckling, Marian pulled covered dishes out of the cold box. “We’ll have the vegetable casserole and some of that crusty bread.”

“Suits me.”

“And after we eat, you can tell me what’s wrong.”

“Nothing is wrong. Hey hey hey! You’re not supposed to be using Craft yet!”

“Keep your voice down,” Marian warned, glancing at Titian’s basket. Then she raised the dish. “It’s just a warming spell. Basic Craft. Nothing that requires power on the level of my Jewels, or any Jewel for that matter. Even Lucivar doesn’t fuss about me using this much Craft, and he fussed about everything through the whole of this pregnancy.”

“I don’t care if he’d fuss about it—you’re not doing it while he’s gone.” Surreal took the casserole dish, set it above the counter, and put a warming spell on the dish to heat up the food in a few minutes.

“Is it all right if I make the coffee?” Marian asked too sweetly.

“I’m not being unreasonable about this.”

“Yes, you are. But that’s because something is wrong, and you won’t talk about it.”

“Nothing is wrong,” Surreal growled.

“I saw your face this morning when Daemon’s name came up.”

She had learned the hard way that emotions left to fester could turn into a poison, so she moved to the other end of the kitchen, away from the table and the baby.

“For most of the years he and Jaenelle were married, I shielded Sadi from bitches who wanted to see how seriously he took his marriage vows, especially during the later years of Jaenelle’s life. Some of us have not forgotten what happened when Lektra tried to take Jaenelle’s place—or that Daemon threatened to kill all the Dhemlan witches if anyone tried to get between him and his wife again. I’ve made a particular effort to keep one bitch away from him, even after he began escorting women to social events. I can’t tell you her real name because I’ve been calling her ‘Dorothea’ since the day I met her.”

“Mother Night,” Marian whispered.

“I protected him for years. And the first time I spend a few days with the Dea al Mon and he’s in Amdarh on his own for some social obligations, he ends up sleeping with the bitch.” Surreal raked her fingers through her hair. “I don’t know what that says about him—if he’s become that lonely or that unaware of the intentions of the women who are all but stripping down in public to get his attention—but I do know the family history, and I do know Sadi is his father’s son. Anyone who knows those things has good reason to be afraid of what could happen if his temper snaps the wrong way. The purge in Dhemlan would be devastating.”

“Do you think he’d . . . ?” Marian cleared her throat. “Of course he would. What happened to the Dorothea woman?”

“Nothing as far as I can tell. I think she was hoping to keep him interested long enough to get pregnant, but it appears that something about her repulsed him once she got him into bed, and he’s avoided her since then.”

“So she’s not pregnant?” Marian asked.

Surreal shook her head. “No. Thank the Darkness.” Then she sighed. “He needs someone, Marian. He would deny it with his last breath, but he needs someone to cuddle and fuss over.”

“If he and Jaenelle had had children . . .” Now Marian sighed.

“Yeah. But they didn’t.”

“Not all the women who are interested in being with him are calculating bitches, are they?”

“No, some of them are young, starry-eyed, and love the Prince they see at social functions with all their hearts. But they haven’t seen the cold side of him. They haven’t seen the Sadist. And they think if he made any kind of commitment to them, he would love them the way he loved Jaenelle.”

“She was the love of his life,” Marian said. “He’ll never love another woman the way he loved her.”

“No, he won’t. And sooner or later, any of those starry-eyed girls would break and become bitter under the truth of that. And when they became bitter, he would become colder and more distant—and less capable of giving any woman any kind of affection.” And that would be a waste of a good man.

Marian’s eyes filled with tears. She waved a hand when Surreal touched her shoulder. “Just moods. Happens for a while after the birth. I feel too much.” She looked toward the counter. “And you’d better get that casserole out of the dish while it’s still edible.”

“Shit.” For the next few minutes they busied themselves with putting the food on the table and getting themselves settled.

Marian cut a piece of the crusty bread and handed it to Surreal. “Do you think it’s foolish to wish that Daemon finds someone to love again someday?”

“No,” Surreal said, looking at Titian asleep in her basket. “I don’t think wishing is foolish.”

As the Weaver of Dreams tended the tangled web that Witch had left in the golden spiders’ care, she listened to longings, yearnings, and wishes that resonated with that web—and added more threads.


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