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  • Queen of the Darkness(Black Jewels,Book 3)(115) by Anne Bishop
  • Of course, the woman had reached an age where insignificant memories might slip away without being noticed. There were reasonable explanations for all the concerns. The supplies might have simply gotten used up but weren't replaced. The young Priestess-in-training might have taken a lover and the late-night voices were an assignation. The Gates ...

    Thatwas the item that troubled him—and troubled Karla, too. Were some Terreilleans using the Gate in Glacia to slip into Kaeleer instead of enduring the service fairs? There had always been a few who, by luck or some instinct, had managed to light the black candles in the right order and speak the right spell to open a Gate between the Realms. It was even said in stories that the power contained in those ancient places would sometimes recognize a spirit's need to go home and open the Gate into the right Realm whether the person knew the spell or not. More likely, that person had found the key in some old Craft text. But the other made a better story for the telling during the long winter nights.

    So he would go to that little village near the Arcerian border and talk to the Priestess.

    Morton checked his pockets to make sure he had a clean handkerchief and a few silver marks so that he could buy a bit of dinner and a round at the tavern. Last, he used the lightest touch of Craft to make sure his Opal Jewel was linked to the Ring of Honor around his organ.

    He smiled. Ever since Jaenelle had given the coven similar Rings, the males in the First Circle, by unspoken consensus, had begun wearing theirs all the time. That extra way of being able to decipher feminine moods had annoyed the witches as much as it had pleased the males.

    Morton paused at his door, then shook his head. There was no reason to bother Karla. He would go to the village, talk to the Priestess, and then report to his cousin.

    Besides, he thought as he left the mansion that was the Queen's residence, Karla's moontime was giving her more discomfort than usual this month. And she'd had minor illnesses on and off all winter—sniffles, a "weather ache" in her joints, light touches of flu. The two Healers who served in Karla's court couldn't find anything wrong that would account for this sudden vulnerability. They had suggested that, perhaps, she had been working too hard and was just worn down. She had dismissed that, saying caustically that she, too, was a Healer, and a Gray-Jeweled one at that. If something was wrong, wouldn't she know it?

    Of course she would. But ruling a Territory that had people who still supported Lord Hobart and his ideas of how Blood societyshould be, Karla might ignore a great deal in order to appear invulnerable. But if it was a more serious illness, she would tellhim, wouldn't she? She wouldn't use Craft to hide an illness from other Healers instead of getting help, would she?

    Knowing the answer tothat, Morton swore. Well, Jaenelle was making her spring tour of the Territories and would be in Scelt in a couple of days. He would send a message to her through Khardeen, formally requesting her services as a Healer on Karla's behalf.

    Having made that decision, he caught one of the Winds and rode that psychic path through the Darkness to the Priestess's village.

    2 / Kaeleer

    Despite his kitten's grumble-growl impatience, Kaelas kept to an easy trot. After all, the kitten was only half his size and had half the stride. Even at this easy pace, KaeAskavi had to run every few steps in order to keep up with him.

    This journey pleased him because he had never known his own sire. That had not been the Arcerian way. A small coven of Arcerian witches might den near each other for protection and for the different Craft skills each one knew. But the males had been on the outside, viewed as a threat once the kittens were born.

    It was true that the Arcerian males who weren't kindred had been known to kill their own kittens, and being kindred didn't eliminate feline instinct or behavior. But the kindred males had resented this exclusion—especially the Warlord Princes. They were allowed to leave meat near their mates' dens, and they could watch their kittens from a distance, but they had never been allowed to play with them or even be the ones to teach them about hunting and Craft.

    Having been raised by the Lady and having lived among her human kin, he had resented the exclusion even more. Other kindred males weren't excluded. And human males certainly weren't. They were allowed to play with their kittens and groom them and teach them.

    So he had brought his mate to the Hall shortly after Lucivar's kitten had been born. She had recognized another predator, even if he did have wings and only two legs. She had watched Lucivar handle his young one. She had watched the High Lord. And she had observed the human she-cat's—and the Lady's—approval of having the human kitten handled by these full-grown males.

    Because of that visit, and because she had felt honored that the Lady had done the naming of her kitten—a name that, in the Old Tongue, meant White Mountain—his mate had warily allowed him into the den soon after KaeAskavi had been born.

    So his kitten was learning the Arcerian way of hunting, and the human ways that Lucivar had quietly taughthim. That much exposure to humans had whetted KaeAskavi's curiosity about humans—which brought them to the reason for this journey.

    While on a solitary prowl, KaeAskavi had wandered too close to a human village in Glacia and had met a human she-kitten. Instead of being afraid of a large predator, she had been delighted with him, and they became friends. After many secret meetings throughout the summer and early winter, the she-cats, both human and feline, had found out about the friendship—and neither had been pleased.

    So KaeAskavi had turned to him, wanting his approval of the friendship to this young human female.

    In a way that his mate never would, Kaelas could understand his kitten's fascination with the human she-kitten. KaeAskavi was a Warlord Prince, and Warlord Princes found it harder to do without female companionship. It would be many many seasons before KaeAskavi or the little female would look for a mate. If the she-kitten was a suitable friend, why not let them have each other for companions?

    Not that he particularly liked humans. He had never forgotten the hunters who had killed his own dam. But some humans were capable of being more than just meat. The ones who belonged to the Lady, for instance. And the Lady's mate. Despite having only two legs and small fangs, there was much that was feline in that one, and he approved.

    So he would look at this little female, and, if he thought she could be accepted by the kindred, he would ask the Lady to look at her, too. The Lady would know if this was a proper friend for his kitten.

    Suddenly, the wind shifted so that it was coming from the village, still a mile away.

    Kaelas froze. Blood and death scented the air.

    *Della!* KaeAskavi lunged forward.

    With one swipe, Kaelas bowled the kitten over.

    *When blood and death are in the air, you do not run toward it,* Kaelas said sternly.

    *Della's village!*

    Using Craft, Kaelas probed the area around them. The season humans called spring had already come to other lands, but here winter still had fangs—and deep snow.

  • Romance | Fantasy | Vampire