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  • Daughter of the Blood(Black Jewels,Book 1)(117) by Anne Bishop
  • Saetan stared at the full-length dress. There was a lump in his throat he couldn't swallow around, and the room was suddenly misty. He fingered the black spidersilk. "Her first Widow's weeds," he said huskily. "This is what she should wear for Winsol." He let the silk slip through his fingers as he turned away. "She should be with us."

    "Yess, sshe sshould be with her family."

    "She will be with her family," Saetan said bitterly. He laughed, but that was bitter, too. "She'll be with her grandmother and mother . . . and her father."

    "No," Draca said gently. "Not with her father. Now, finally, doess sshe have a father."

    Saetan took a deep breath. "I used to be the coldest bastard to ever have walked the Realms. What happened?"

    "You fell in love . . . with the daughter of your ssoul." Draca made a little sound that might have been a laugh. "And you were never sso cold, Ssaetan, never sso cold ass you pretended to be."

    "You might spare my pride by allowing me my illusions."

    "For what purposse? Doess sshe allow you to be cold?"

    "At least she allows me my illusions," Saetan said, warming to the gentle argument. "However," he added wryly, "she doesn't let me get away with much else." He sighed, his expression one of pained amusement. "I must go. I have to talk to some distressed merchants."

    Draca escorted him out. "It hass been a long time ssince you celebrated Winssol. Thiss year, when the black candles are lit, you will drink the blooded rum and dance for the glory of Witch."

    "Yes," he said softly, thinking of the spidersilk dress, "this year I will dance."

    6—Hell

    Saetan settled his cape around his shoulders. On the floor of his private study were six boxes filled with the many brightly wrapped gifts he had purchased for thecildru dyathe. Since the children were so skittish of adults, it was impossible to know how many were on the island. The best he could do was fill a box for each age group and leave it to Char to distribute the gifts. There were books and toys, games and puzzles, from as many Kaeleer Territories as he had access to. If he had been overly indulgent this year, it was to fill the hole in his heart, to make up for the gifts he wanted to give Jaenelle and couldn't. There could be no trace of him in Beldon Mor, no gift that might provoke questions. Knowledge was the only thing he could give her that she could take back to Terreille.

    He vanished the boxes one by one, left his study, and caught the Black Wind to thecildru dyathe's island.

    Even for Hell, it was a bleak place made of rocks, sand, and barren fields. A place where even Hell's native flora and fauna couldn't thrive. He'd always wondered why Char had chosen that place instead of one of the many others that wouldn't have been so stark. And then Jaenelle had unthinkingly given him the answer: The island, in its starkness, in its unyielding bleakness, held no deceptions, no illusions. Poisons weren't sugar-coated, brutality wasn't masked by silk and lace. There was nowhere for cruelty to hide.

    He took his time reaching that rocky place that was as dose to a shelter as the children would condone. As he reached the final bend in the twisting path and mentally prepared himself to watch them flee from him, he heard laughter—innocent, delighted laughter. He wrapped his cape tightly around him, hoping to blend into the rocks and remain unnoticed for a moment. To hear them laugh that way . . .

    Saetan eased around the last rock and gasped.

    In the center of their open "council" area stood a magnificent evergreen, its color undimmed by Hell's forever-twilight. Throughout the branches, little points of color winked in and out like a rainbow of fireflies performing a merry dance. Char and the other children were hanging icicles—real icicles—from the branches. Little silver and gold bells tinkled as they brushed against the branches. There was laughter and purpose, an animation and sparkle in their young faces that he'd never seen before.

    Then they saw him and froze, small animals caught in the light. In another moment, they would have run, but Char turned at that instant, his eyes bright. He stepped toward Saetan, holding out his hands in an ancient gesture of welcome.

    "High Lord." Char's voice rang with pride. "Come see our tree."

    Saetan came forward slowly and placed his hands over Char's. He studied the tree. A single tear slipped down his cheek, and his lips trembled. "Ah, children," he said huskily, "it's truly a magnificent tree. And your decorations arewonderful. "

    They smiled at him, shyly, tentatively.

    Without thinking, Saetan put his arm around Char's shoulders and hugged him close. The boy jerked back, caught himself, and then hesitantly put his arms around Saetan and hugged him in return.

    "You know who gave us the tree, don't you?" Char whispered.

    "Yes, I know."

    "I've never . . . most of us have never . . ."

    "I know, Char." Saetan squeezed Char's shoulder once more. He cleared his throat. "They seem a bit . . . dull . . . compared with this, but there are gifts for you to put beneath the tree."

    Char rubbed his hand across his face. "She said it would only last the thirteen days of Winsol, but that's all they ever last, isn't it?"

    "Yes, that's all they ever last."

    "High Lord." Char hesitated. "How?"

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