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  • Queen of the Darkness(Black Jewels,Book 3)(68) by Anne Bishop
  • Irritated by his presence, she snapped, "We've been here for over a week and nothing's happened. How long does that 'escort' expect us to be able to remain guests?"

    Philip didn't have to point out that Osvald, the escort Dorothea had provided, hadn't been able to get close to either Wilhelmina or Jaenelle without having to deal with at least one male chaperon, let alone get close enough to slip the women away from the Hall. He also didn't have to point out that they would be "guests" until the High Lord—or thereal Queen who ruled this court—decided otherwise.

    "Lucivar came to see me this morning," Philip said abruptly.

    Hearing the tightness in his voice, Alexandra glanced at him, then took a closer look at the flush darkening Philip's face. Was that anger or embarrassment? "And?"

    "He strongly suggested that you tighten your hold on Vania's leash before she gets hurt. It seems she's too aggressive in her efforts to coax a Kaeleer male into her bed. He said if she's that itchy for a male, she should invite her Consort, since that's why he's here."

    Personally, Alexandra thought Vania acted like a slut. But Vania was also generous about sharing the use of her males with visiting Queens—a generosity Alexandra never refused whenever she visited that Province. She had kept no steady lover in her own court for more than twenty-five years—ever since she had asked Philip to see Leland through her Virgin Night. It wouldn't have been fair to any of them if she had asked him to warm her bed after that when he really wanted to be her daughter's lover, and the other men she had considered since then had been far more interested in the power they might wield as her Consort than in giving her pleasure.

    But remembering Vania's generosity—and the fact that no male currently warmedher bed, either—made Alexandra defensive. "She wouldn't have to be 'aggressive' if this court remembered to provide visiting Queens with the basic amenities."

    "I mentioned that," Philip said through gritted teeth. "And was told that there are no males in this court whose service requirements include that duty."

    "I find that hard to believe. Not every Queen who comes here would necessarily have a Consort at that moment or have brought him. There must besome arrangement—" She stopped, shaken by the depth of the insult. "It's because we're from Terreille, isn't it?"

    "Yes," Philip said flatly. "He said there are a few males in the Second and Third Circles who would normally be willing to accommodate a guest of the court if asked, but because Terreillean Queens don't know how to enjoy a male without mistreating him, no Kaeleer male would willingly offer himself." He hesitated. "He also said there are no pleasure slaves in Kaeleer."

    Thatverbal slap hurt as much as a blow because it was a reminder that, for a few months, Daemon Sadi had been a pleasure slave in her court.

    "I see," she said tightly.

    "Despite his anger over the situation, Lucivar actually seemed concerned," Philip said, sounding baffled. "Mostly because Vania's fixed her efforts on Prince Aaron."

    "Aaronis a very handsome man, and—"

    "He's married."

    There wasn't much she could say to that, not when she could feel waves of anxiety rolling off of Philip. Vania's marked attention toward a married man would be a sharp reminder of his own vulnerability.

    While more and more aristo marriage contracts in Terreille were being made for social or political reasons, most Blood males still cherished the idea of marriage because it was the one relationship where the genders met on common ground as partners. Or as close to being partners as was possible—or reasonable. It also meant that male fidelity was a marriage requirement, and any man who looked beyond his wife's bed could swiftly find himself without home or family, could even lose his children.

    "There's another reason to curb Vania," Philip said. "If the males here get any more riled ..."

    "I know," Alexandra replied sharply. They would never get Wilhelmina and Jaenelle away from the Hall if the males became more hostile than they already were. "I know," she said again, softening her voice. "I'll talk to her."

    "Soon?"

    She disliked herself for thinking less of him because of the anxiety in his voice.

    "Yes, Philip," she said gently, "I'll talk to her soon."

    2 / Kaeleer

    An interesting gathering,Daemon thought as he slipped his hands into his trouser pockets and wondered what it meant when the Steward of the Court summoned the Master of the Guard, the Consort, and the First Escort to his study in order to "discuss something."

    He'd spent the past couple of days studying the book of Protocol Saetan had given him and had been surprised by the differences between these rules and the ones he had been taught in Terreille.This Protocol, while reinforcing the matriarchal nature of the Blood, gave males some rights and privileges that helped balance the power. Which explained the refreshing lack of fear and subservience in these males. They understood the boundaries that defined acceptable male behavior, and within those boundaries, they stood on solid ground, never having to wonder what would happen to them if they were no longer in a particular Lady's favor.

    He'd also been surprised by the section of Protocol that involved First Circle males since he'd never even seen the vaguest mention of it in Terreille.

    There was a phrase that summed up a male's surrender into formal service: Your will is my life. It gave the Queen the right to do anything she pleased with a male, including kill him. That wasn't new, and, in Terreille, it was a serious risk. Whatwas different was the tacit agreement on the Queen's part that, by accepting the male, she was also accepting his right to have a say in her decisions andher life. If a Queen gave an order and the majority of males in her First Circle opposed it, she could yield to their decision or dismiss them from her court.But she couldn't hurt them for opposing her.

    If the males in Terreille had known about that part of Protocol, they might have been able to keep the behavior of Dorothea's pet Queens in check, might have been able to keep the younger strong witches safe and whole, might have found a way to fight the threats of slavery and castration that had made most of the males too afraid to challenge the witches in power.

    But something—or someone—must have purged the sections about male power from the books of Protocol in Terreille so long ago that no one had remembered they existed.

    No wonder Terreilleans found living in Kaeleer such a shock. And now it finally made sense why immigrants from Terreille were required to serve in a court. They would need that time to absorb the new rules and understand how those rules applied to day-to-day living.

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