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  • Queen of the Darkness(Black Jewels,Book 3)(2) by Anne Bishop
  • Her coachman clucked softly to his horses.

    Dorothea leaned back against the seat and closed her eyes to hide her glee.Well, you son of a whoring bitch, I've made the first move. And now there's nothing you can do that can't be used against you.

    2 / Terreille

    Alexandra Angelline shivered despite the morning sun's warmth as she waited for Philip Alexander to return from his examination of the torn bodies lying on the wooden platform. She put a warming spell on the heavy wool shawl, knowing it was useless. No outer source of heat was going to thaw the cold inside her.

    It's too soon,she thought desperately.Wilhelmina had gone through the Gate yesterday morning. She can'tbe among...

    Vania and Nyselle, the two Province Queens she'd brought with her, had already returned to the inn, along with their escorts. They hadn't offered to wait with her. A few years ago—a fewweeks ago—they would have. They had still believed in her then, despite the problems in her family.

    But a few weeks ago, someone had sent cryptic messages to the thirty strongest witches in Chaillot—excluding herself and her daughter, Leland—inviting them to take a tour of Briarwood and promising to solve the riddle of what had happened to the young girls in their families who had been admitted to the hospital and then disappeared without a trace. Briarwood, which had been built to heal emotionally disturbed children, had been closed for several years now, ever since that mysterious illness started consuming dozens of men from the aristo families in Beldon Mor, Chaillot's capital—an illness that had seemed linked to that place.

    The witches had arrived on the specified night, and they had learned the secrets and the horrors of Briarwood. Their guide, a demon-dead girl named Rose, showed no mercy as she introduced them to the ghosts. One Priestess found her cousin, who had disappeared when they were children, bricked up inside a wall. A Province Queen recognized what was left of a friend's daughter.

    They saw the gaming rooms. They saw the cubicles that contained the narrow beds. They saw the vegetable garden and the girl with one leg.

    Numbed by what they saw, they followed Rose, who smiled at them and told them in precise detail how and why each child had died. She told them about the other demon-dead children who had gone to the Dark Realm to live with the rest of thecildru dyathe. She recited the list of Briarwood's "uncles," the men who had supported and used that twisted carnal playground. And she recited a list of broken witches from aristo families who had been "cured" of their emotional instability—and stripped of their inner power—and then returned home.

    One of the men Rose had named was Robert Benedict, Leland's former husband and an important member of the male council—a council already decimated by that mysterious illness.

    When a Healer in the group had asked about the illness, Rose had smiled again, and said, "Briarwood is the pretty poison. There is no cure for Briarwood."

    Alexandra clutched her shawl and kept shivering.

    The rage that had swept through Chaillot had torn it apart. Beldon Mor became a battleground. The members of the male council who had not yet died from the illness were viciously executed. After several men from aristo families died of poison, many others fled to inns or one of their clubs because they were terrified to eat or drink anything that might have passed through the hands of the women in their families.

    And after the first wave of rage had passed, the witches had turned their fury on her. They didn't blame her for Briarwood, since it had been built before she had become Queen of Chaillot, but theydid blame her, bitterly, for her blindness. She had been so intent on keeping Hayll's influence out of Chaillot and trying to retain some power in the face of the male council that she hadn't seen the danger that already existed. They said it was like arguing with a man about groping your breast when he already had his c**k sheathed between your legs.

    They blamed her because Robert Benedict had lived in her house for all those years and had bedded her daughter. If she couldn't recognize the danger when it sat across from her day after day, how could she protect her people against any other kind of threat?

    They blamed her for Robert Benedict and for all the young witches who had died or were broken in Briarwood.

    She blamed herself for what happened to Jaenelle, her younger granddaughter. She had allowed that strange, difficult child to be locked away in that place. She hadn't known Briarwood's secrets, but if she hadn't dismissed Jaenelle's fanciful stories, if she had accepted them as a child's plea for attention instead of an annoying social problem, Jaenelle never would have been sent to Briarwood. And if she hadn't dismissed the girl's hatred for Dr. Carvay, would she have learned the truth sooner?

    She didn't know. And it was too late to find the answers.

    Now she had another family problem. Eleven years ago, Wilhelmina Benedict, Robert's daughter by his first marriage, had run away after claiming that Robert had made a sexual advance. Philip Alexander, Robert's bastard half brother, had found his niece, but he had refused to say where she was. At the time, Alexandra had been furious with him for keeping Wilhelmina's location a secret from her. Lately, she had wondered if Philip had had some inkling about what lay beneath Briarwood's solicitous veneer, especially when it had been his vehemence that had been the final push to close the place.

    A couple of days ago, she had received a letter from Wilhelmina, informing her that the girl was going to Kaeleer, the Shadow Realm. No—Wilhelmina was twenty-seven now, no longer a girl. That didn't matter. She was still family. Still her granddaughter.

    Alexandra shook her head to break the pattern of her thoughts and noticed Philip walking toward her. Holding her breath, she searched his gray eyes.

    "She's not among them," Philip said quietly.

    Alexandra released her breath in a sigh. "Thank the Darkness." But she understood what hadn't been said:not yet.

    Philip offered his arm. She accepted, grateful for the support. He was a good man, the opposite of his half brother. She had been pleased when he and Leland had decided to handfast, and had been even more pleased when they chose to marry after the handfast year was done.

    Alexandra looked back at the platform where Dorothea SaDiablo had made her horrifying speech. "Do you believe her?" she asked softly.

    Philip guided her through clusters of people who were still too shocked to do more than huddle together while they gathered the courage to look at the mutilated bodies. "I don't know. If even half of what she said is true ... if Sadi..." He choked.

    She still had nightmares about Daemon Sadi. So did Philip, for different reasons. Sadi had threatened her when Jaenelle had been put in Briarwood for the last time, had given her a taste of the grave. When he unleashed his dark power in order to break the Ring of Obedience, he had destroyed half the Jeweled Blood in Beldon Mor. Caught in that explosive unleashing, Philip's strength had been broken back to the Green Jewel that was his birthright.

    "We can get a Coach this evening," Philip said. "If we buy passage on one that rides the darker Winds, we'll be home by tomorrow."

    "Not yet. I'd like you to talk to Dorothea's Steward. See if you can set up an audience for me."

  • Romance | Fantasy | Vampire