The Shadow Queen
Talon limped over to join him that the first Warlord Princes came through the gate, walking up the weedy drive in pairs, the lightest-Jeweled males coming first.
*I count about a hundred,* Talon said on a psychic thread.
*Thats probably every Warlord Prince left in Dena Nehele,* Theran replied.
*Probably. And a better response than Id hoped for.*
What wasnt said was that only a handful of those men wore an Opal that was considered a dark Jewel. He and Talon, wearing Green and Sapphire, were the strongest males in the Territory. Everyone else wore lighter Jewels.
They formed a semicircle around him and Talon, the lighter Jewels leaving spaces so the darker-Jeweled males could stand in the front.
Except for one Opal-Jeweled Warlord Prince who stood apart from the othersa Prince whose golden brown skin marked him as having a Shalador bloodline. Maybe even being pure Shalador.
Lord Jareds coloring. Lord Jareds race.
Theran resisted the urge to look at his own hand and see the similarities.
Would you care to join us, Prince Ranon? Talon said.
I can hear from where Im standing, was the chilly reply.
Talon nodded as if the less-than-courteous response made no difference.
Prince Archerr, another who wore Opal Jewels, stepped forward. You called us here, and we answered. But none of us can afford to be gone long. The landens have to be held on a tight leash, and some of us are the only trained warrior left in our piece of Dena Nehele.
Theran nodded. Then Ill come to the point. We need a Queen.
A moment of disbelieving silence before several men made derisive sounds.
Tell us something we dont know, Spere said.
Weve got Queens, more or less, Archerr said.
Would you serve any of them? Theran asked.
When the sun shines in Hell.
Mutters with an undercurrent of anger.
We have Queens, Theran said. Women who, even in their prime, werent considered strong enough to be a concern to the Queens who whored for Dorothea SaDiablo. And we have Queens who are still little girls, barely old enough to begin training in basic Craft. And we have a handful who are adolescents.
One being a fifteen-year-old whos turning into such a ripe bitch she may not live long enough to be sixteen, Archerr said bitterly.
We need a Queen who knows how to be a Queen, Theran said. We need a Queen who could rule Dena Nehele in the same tradition as the Gray Lady.
You wont find one of those within our own borders, Spere said. Dont you think weve all been looking? And if you look beyond our borders to find a Queen mature enough to rule, the males in that Territory arent going to give up anyone good. And since I live in a village along the western border, I can tell you the Territories west of us arent doing any better.
I know, Theran replied.
Then where are we supposed to find a Queen? Archerr asked.
Silence. Not even embarrassed coughs or shuffling feet.
Theres no way into Kaeleer except through the service fairs, Shaddo said. At least, no other way to get into the Shadow Realm and stay alive long enough to state your business.
Yes, there is, Theran said, grateful that he and Talon had considered this possibility. Someone goes to the Black Mountain.
Ninety-eight men stared at him.
And does what? Archerr asked quietly.
Theran glanced at Talon, who nodded. Theres a Warlord Prince who owes my family a favor. That wasnt exactly the way Talon had phrased it. More like, For Jareds sake and memory, he might be willing to do the family a favor. If I can find him . . .
You think this Prince can get us a Queen from Kaeleer ? Shaddo asked. Who has that kind of influence and power?
Theran took a deep breath. Daemon Sadi.
Ninety-eight Warlord Princes shivered.
The Sadist owes your family a favor? Archerr asked.
A dozen voices muttered,Hells fire, Mother Night, and may the Darkness be merciful.
Talon and I talked it over and figured asking at the Keep is the simplest way of finding out if anyone knows where Sadi is.
He could be dead, Spere said, sounding a little hopeful. His brother disappeared years ago, didnt he? Maybe Sadi got caught in that storm like the rest of the Blood.
Maybe, Talon said. And maybe hes no longer among the living. But even if hes demon-dead, he still might be able to help. And if hes among the
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