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  • Daughter of the Blood(Black Jewels,Book 1)(63) by Anne Bishop
  • Surreal dug into her pocket and extended a handful of gold coins.

    The woman shook her head. "Those who are what I am are not paid in that kind of coin." She turned back toward the doorway she'd come through. "Come. I'll make some tea and we'll talk. Perhaps we can help each other." She went down the passage, letting Surreal leave or follow, as she chose.

    Surreal hesitated for a moment before dropping the coins into her pocket and following the woman. It was partly the sudden feeling of awe she had for the place, partly curiosity about what sort of price this witch would require for information, partly hope that she might finally have an answer to a question that had haunted her ever since she'd fully understood how different Titian was from everyone else. Besides, she was good with a knife and she wore the Gray. The place might hold her in awe, but the witch didn't.

    The kitchen was cozy and well ordered. Surreal smiled at the contrast between the feel of this room and the rest of the Sanctuary. The woman, too, seemed more like a gentle hearth-witch than a Sanctuary Priestess as she hummed a cheery little tune while the water heated. Surreal sat in a chair, propped her elbows on the pine table, and watched in amused silence as a plate of nut cakes, a small bowl of fresh butter, and a mug for the tea were placed before her.

    When the tea was ready, the woman joined her at the table, a glass of wine in her hand. Suddenly suspicious, Surreal looked pointedly at the tea, the nut cakes, and the butter.

    The woman laughed. "At my age, my dietary requirements preclude such things, unfortunately. But test them if it troubles you. I won't be offended. Better you should know I mean you no ill. Else, how can we talk honestly?"

    Surreal probed the food and found nothing but what should be there. Picking up a nut cake, she broke it neatly in half, buttered it, and began to eat. While she ate, the woman spoke of general things, telling her about the Dark Altars, how there were thirteen of these great dark places of power scattered throughout the Realm.

    The wineglass was empty and Surreal sipped her second cup of tea before the woman said, "Now. You want to know about your mother's people. True?" She stood up and leaned toward Surreal, her hands outstretched to touch Surreal's face.

    Surreal pulled back, long years of caution making her wary.

    "Shh," the woman murmured soothingly, "I just want to look."

    Surreal forced herself to sit quietly as the woman's hands followed the curves of her face, neck, and shoulders, lifted her long hair, and traced the curve of her ear to its delicate point. When she was done, the woman refilled her wineglass and said nothing for a while, her expression thoughtful, her eyes focused on some other place.

    "I can't be certain, but I could tell you what I think."

    Surreal leaned forward, trying not to appear too eager and yet holding her breath in anticipation.

    The woman's gaze was disconcertingly steady. "There is, however, the matter of the price." She toyed with her wineglass. "It's customary that the price be named and agreed upon before help is given. Contracts such as these are never broken because, if they are, the price is then usually paid in blood. Do you understand, Sister?"

    Surreal took a slow, steadying breath. "What's your price?"

    "First, I want you to understand that I'm not asking you to endanger yourself. I'm not asking you to take any risks."

    "All right."

    The woman placed the stem of the wineglass between her palms and slowly rolled the glass back and forth. "A Warlord Prince has recently come to Chaillot, either into Beldon Mor or an immediate outlying village. I need to know his precise whereabouts, who he's serving."

    Surreal itched to call in the stiletto, but she kept her face carefully blank. "Does this Prince have a name?"

    "Daemon Sadi."

    "No!" Surreal jumped up and paced the room. "Are you mad? No one toys with the Sadist if they want to stay this side of the grave." She stopped pacing and gripped the back of the chair so hard it shook from the tension. "I won't do a contract on Sadi. Forget it."

    "I'm not asking you to do anything but locate him."

    "So you can send someone else to do the job? Forget it. Why don't you find him yourself?"

    "For reasons that are my own, I can't go into Beldon Mor."

    "And you've just given me a good reason to get out."

    The woman stood up and faced Surreal. "This is very important."

    "Why?"

    The silence grew between them, straining, draining them both. Finally the woman sighed. "Because he may have been sent here to destroy a very special child."

    "You got anything to drink around here besides tea and that wine?"

    The woman looked pained and amused. "Will brandy do?"

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