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  • Home > Anne Bishop > Black Jewels > Dreams Made Flesh (Chapter 85)      Page
  • Dreams Made Flesh(Black Jewels,Book 5)(85) by Anne Bishop
  • But that still left him with the problem of dealing with Zuulaman. He was certainly willing to sell them surplus grains, meat, and produce for a reasonable price that wouldn't beggar Zuulaman's people, but he wasn't willing to cut prices to the point that his own people suffered, especially when the islands still had enough arable land to feed their population, despite the fact that they made little effort to care for the land. Which was part of the problem. They overfished their waters, overplanted their farmland, pushed the islands' resources to the breaking point. Then the Zuulaman Queens complained that they couldn't sell their surplus, which rightly should have gone to feed their own people…or they complained that they had no surplus, and the pottery and other art forms that were distinct to their people didn't sell at the prices they wanted. Which wasn't surprising. No one but aristos with surplus income, or debts enough to ruin their families, could afford the asking price for most of what Zuulaman tried to sell.

    Still, as the Warlord Prince of Dhemlan, it was his responsibility to deal with the Queens who ruled the other Territories in Terreille, so he would meet with the Zuulaman ambassador once more and hope that, this time, there would be some glimmer of understanding in the man's eyes when he explained why the trade agreements the Zuulaman Queens wanted were not acceptable.

    As he reached for the letter to review its contents again, the door of his study opened, and his wife, Hekatah, hurried into the room as quickly as a woman three weeks away from childbirth could move.

    "Saetan," Hekatah said as she lowered herself into the chair in front of his desk. "I just had the most distressing news from home."

    This is home.But he bit back the words since it was as useless to think them as it would be to say them. Hekatah was a Red-Jeweled Priestess from one of Hayll's Hundred Families, and she looked at the Territory of Dhemlan in much the same way that she looked at her family's country estates…as something quaint and inferior… and valued only for what she could take from it.

    "Is someone ill?" he asked politely, although he knew the reason for her distress.

    "No, but Mother says you refused to give my father and brothers a loan. I'm sure she misunderstood something, because that accusation is utterly…"

    "True."

    She stared at him. "It can't be."

    Her gold eyes filled with tears, and her mouth moved into that sexy, sulky pout that had pulled at his loins when he'd first met her and now always scraped against his temper.

    "I'm sorry, Hekatah, but I won't give your family another loan." He'd informed her father of that fact a month ago. Since the bastard had delayed telling Hekatah, why couldn't he have waited a few more weeks until she had safely delivered the baby?

    Her lips quivered. One tear rolled down her cheek. "But… why?"

    "Because they didn't honor the agreement they made with me when I gave them a loan last year." When her only response was a blank look, he swore silently and struggled to be patient. "Last year, in order to save your family from financial and social ruin, I gave them almost two million gold marks to cover all of your father's and brothers' gambling debts. I paid close to a million gold marks to cover all the debts that were owed to all the merchants who would no longer allow anyone in your family to buy so much as a spool of thread or a handful of vegetables on account. And I also provided another million gold marks with the understanding that those funds would be put back into the estates so that the properties could be restored and once more provide an income. I made it clear that I required receipts to prove materials were being purchased for that purpose and that your father and brothers would receive no further financial help from me if they didn't fulfill their side of the bargain. I never received a receipt of any kind, and from what I can tell, absolutely nothing was done to benefit the estates and make them productive again. Since they squandered what they already received, that is the end of it."

    "Maybe they did do something foolish with the money," Hekatah conceded with real, or feigned, reluctance before adding quickly, "But I'm sure they didn't believe you really meant it about not giving them another loan."

    I'm a Black-Jeweled Warlord Prince, the strongest male in the history of the Blood. I'm the only male Black Widow in the history of the Blood. And I'm the High Lord of Hell. Despite the fact that I still walk among the living, I rule the Realm of the Blood's dead. How could your family not believe I meant what I said?

    "It doesn't matter if they believed me or not," he said. "The decision stands."

    She slapped the chair's arm. "You're being unreasonable. The Dhemlan people didn't complain the last time you raised the tithes to cover the loans. They won't dare whine this time, either."

    Speechless, he stared at her and wondered if there was any point in explaining how deeply she'd just insulted him. Finally, he regained his balance sufficiently to reply. "I didn't raise the tithes, Hekatah. That was a personal loan, from me to your family."

    Nowshe stared athim. "Our money? You usedour money?"

    "Of course. Why should the Dhemlan people have to pay for your family's financial imprudence?"

    "So you took almost four million gold marks away from us?"

    He shrugged. "I could afford it… once." And the timing for that last loan had pissed him off enough that he'd played their manipulative game with so much finesse Hekatah's family had never realized he was playing. "You could always give them a portion of your quarterly income."

    "As if that pittance would do much good," Hekatah replied, her eyes filled with resentment.

    "Thirty thousand gold marks a quarter is hardly a pittance," Saetan said with cutting gentleness. "Especially when you don't have to maintain a household" …he saw the jolt of nerves, quickly suppressed, which confirmed what he'd suspected… "and the only thing those funds have to cover are your personal expenses." He paused. "Or, if you prefer, I can release the principal I put in trust for you as a wedding gift, from which you receive that quarterly income, and you can give your family as much of it as you choose."

    She said nothing. He hadn't expected her to.

    She pushed herself out of the chair and stood before him, one hand resting on the large belly where his child moved inside her. It might have softened him enough to yield a little if he'd truly believed that gesture was a protective one rather than a reminder that she had power over something he wanted.

    "I'm going to Hayll to offer my mother, and the rest of my family, whatever comfort I can," she said.

    He choked back a protest, knowing she would use any concern he showed as a weapon against him. "Do you think that's wise?" he asked mildly. "You shouldn't be traveling so close to your time."

    "I'm going to Hayll."

    The challenge filled the space between them.

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