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The Queen's Price

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The Queen's Price

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Author: Anne Bishop
Publisher: Ace Books, 2023
Series: Black Jewels: Book 12
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
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The Queen's price is to stand against what you know is wrong. To stand and fight, no matter the cost to your court or to yourself. Especially to yourself.

Zoey, a young Queen-in-training at SaDiablo Hall, is wounded... and vulnerable to taunts and criticism. When an opportunity arises to befriend a stranger seeking sanctuary at the Hall, she puts herself and others in danger by ignoring Daemonar Yaslana's warning to back off.

Meanwhile, the witch Jillian's family prepares for her Virgin Night, the rite of passage that assures a woman will retain her power and her Jewels. The trouble is Jillian secretly went through the ceremony already. Now she has to explain the omission of that detail to her powerful and lethal family. And the High Lord of Hell's daughter, Saetien, travels to Scelt to find out about Jaenelle Angelline's sister--and perhaps to discover truths about herself.

With some guidance from Witch, these three young women will learn when to yield because it is right--and when to take a stand, even if they must pay the Queen's price.



SaDiablo Hall

Daemonar Yaslana spread his dark membranous wings to their full span before letting them settle into a relaxed position-or as relaxed as he could manage, all things considered. Then he blew out a breath and raised a hand to knock on his uncle's study door.

The school that wasn't officially a school had been in operation at SaDiablo Hall for a month. The instructors were still adjusting to teaching a very select group of thirty-six students as well as adjusting to being under the scrutiny of the Black-Jeweled Warlord Prince of Dhemlan, who was not only their employer but also the patriarch of the SaDiablo family-the wealthiest and most powerful family in the entire Realm of Kaeleer. The students were still adjusting to living in a massive gray stone building that, with all its wings and interior courtyards, could be mistaken for a small enclosed village, as well as dealing with that same Black-Jeweled Warlord Prince as an administrator and benefactor who was benign-most of the time-but could swing to cold, lethal rage in a heartbeat if provoked... and was their instructor in Craft and Protocol.

All that adjusting meant someone had to act as leader or liaison or some other nonsense word that basically meant being the one who explained things to the adults when stuff happened. And who better to do the explaining than the Warlord Prince who wore a Green Birthright Jewel and was the nephew of that Black-Jeweled Warlord Prince?

He never looked forward to explaining stuff. If his sister hadn't been involved in this mess, he might have refused, but he couldn't let Titian fly into a potential storm on her own. Cherish and protect. Those commitments were bred into the bones of Warlord Princes, so he had to get some answers without getting Titian into trouble.

Daemonar gave the door a quick knock before he stepped into the room, leaving himself partially shielded by the door. He didn't need the protection, not from his uncle-at least not right now-but it made him feel less... exposed.

The man behind the large blackwood desk looked up from the papers he'd been reading and smiled a welcome.

Daemon Sadi was still a breathtakingly beautiful man, with a well-toned body, golden-brown skin, and thick black hair that was now silvered at the temples. That he was also the most lethal man in the Realm was something people often forgot when they looked at his face and felt the seductive pull of his potent sexual heat.

Having seen all the sides of Sadi's temper, Daemonar never forgot the man's lethal nature, but it was something he could dismiss-most of the time.

Giving Daemon what he hoped looked like an easy smile, he said, "Hypothetical question."

Did he detect a hint of panic in his uncle's gold eyes?

Daemon capped his pen and said in that deep, cultured voice that always held a sensual edge, "All right."

"If someone tried a bit of Craft inside the Hall instead of going outside because it's cold and rainy today, and the spell went a wee bit wrong and punched a hole in a wall, how much trouble would that person be in? Hypothetically."

He watched Daemon swallow. Started counting the seconds before getting a reply. Not so different from counting between seeing lightning and hearing thunder to determine the distance of a storm.

"How big is this hypothetical hole?" Daemon finally asked.

"More decorative window than door," Daemonar replied.

"No risk of any part of the Hall collapsing because of this hole?"

"Not at all. Easily repaired." He hoped.

"Well then. If no one was injured and there is no structural damage that might cause future injuries, I think the person or persons involved in the spell that went a wee bit wrong could make their own arrangements to have the repairs done without requiring me to get involved. Hypothetically."

"That's what I thought."

"However." Daemon uncapped his pen and made a mark on the paper in front of him.

Hell's fire, here it comes, Daemonar thought.

"I would expect to find a copy of this bit of Craft on my desk when I return to the study after the midday meal so that I can review it and use it as part of the next Craft lesson, since it had gone a wee bit wrong."

Daemon looked up and gave Daemonar a smile that made the boy's knees turn weak.

"That's a sensible idea," Daemonar said.

"I'm delighted you think so." The words were purred, and that, in itself, was a warning.

Daemonar closed the study door, smiled at Beale, the Red-Jeweled Warlord who was the Hall's butler, and Holt, the Opal-Jeweled Warlord who was Daemon's secretary, and strode across the great hall, heading for the staircase in the informal receiving room. Once out of sight, he bounded up the stairs and ran to the part of the Hall where the other youngsters waited.

Seven of the twenty-two girls who were now living at the Hall had been involved in whatever had gone awry. The rest of the girls and the fourteen boys who also lived at the Hall had come running at the sound of something going boom. Everyone had looked at the remains of the table that had held the items used for that spell, then looked at the hole in the wall-and then the other thirty-five youngsters had looked at him.

When he walked back into the room, they stared at him, their expressions all some variation of "Oh, shit, how much trouble are we in?"

Granted, they had good reason to be concerned. It was the first time any of them had blown up a piece of Uncle Daemon's home.

"Well?" Titian asked, catching her lower lip between her teeth. "Are we in trouble?"

"What did Prince Sadi say?" Zoey asked.

"We'll all chip in to pay for the repairs and get them done quietly." He was pretty sure there wouldn't be anything quiet about sawing and hammering and whatever else was needed, but this was a remote part of the Hall, so the noise shouldn't be too obvious. "Zoey, write out what you and the other girls were trying to do, what you used in the spell, and the steps you took before things went..."

"Out the wall?" Titian suggested.

"Yeah. That. Don't leave anything out. I'll slip it on Prince Sadi's desk when he's away from his study."

Everyone sucked in a breath. It was Jhett, one of the young Black Widows, who finally said, "Why tell him what we used for the spell?"

"Because that was his price for allowing us to take care of this ourselves," Daemonar replied.

When Beale and Holt walked into his study, Daemon kept his eyes on the paper and continued to write random words-as if this conversation were casual enough not to require his full attention.

"There is a hole in a wall?" he asked mildly.

"There is, Prince," Beale replied.

"A big hole?"

A hesitation. "Big enough to require repairs, but small enough that it shouldn't require reconstruction of the entire wall."

"I see." Daemon noticed his mind had given up on the challenge of forming words and he was simply writing the same three letters over and over. "No one is at risk from falling debris?"

"I checked," Holt said. When Daemon looked up, he shrugged. "One of the Scelties told Mikal there was a boom. Since Mikal was working with me today, we went to take a look. Discreetly."

"But you didn't think to inform me?" Daemon asked, his voice still mild.

Another shrug. "Daemonar was heading toward the study as Mikal and I headed toward the room, so I didn't think it was my place to report the incident-unless Daemonar failed to tell you."

Unfortunately, that made sense-or as much sense as anything currently made in the Hall.

"It's raining," Beale said. "And it's cold out."

Daemon capped his pen, abandoning the attempt to look unconcerned. "Yes, it is."

"I believe the young Ladies would have tried this bit of Craft outdoors if it hadn't been raining."

"That it is cold and rainy has been pointed out to me." He had to give the youngsters a chance to figure things out for themselves and work together to correct mistakes, just like they would have to do in the future when they were part of a Queen's court. Wouldn't his father have done that when Saetan had had the job of teaching and protecting Witch's coven and the boyos? "Along with correcting whatever Craft has gone wrong, I think a review of creating shields will be in order for this week's lessons, don't you?"

"Absolutely," Holt said.

"It would be prudent," Beale agreed. "Experience indicates this will not be a singular event."

Daemon sighed. "Very well." He waited, but Beale and Holt didn't leave. "Something else?"

Beale looked at Holt. Holt looked at Beale.

"It's time," Beale said. "Will you show him, or shall I?"

Holt hesitated, then said, "I'll show him."

Daemon studied the two men. "Show me what?"

His study was in the shape of a reversed L, the short end holding floor-to-ceiling bookcases behind his large blackwood desk. The sides of that part of the study were covered in dark red curtains. Behind one set of curtains was a door that opened into a storage room. Large shelves-some open, some with doors-started above Daemon's head and went to the ceiling. Beneath the shelves were two rows of wooden filing cabinets that held paperwork and records for the family's various estates and business interests.

Holt walked into the storage room. Daemon pushed away from his desk and followed his secretary to the last filing cabinet on the left-hand side. Holt called in a gold key and unlocked the cabinet. Then he handed Daemon the key.

"Beale has one key. I've held the other," Holt said. "Per our instructions."

"Instructions from... ?" He knew. He just wanted someone to say it.

"Your father. About a year before he went to the final death, he gave us the keys and told us to make the contents of this cabinet available to you when it would be helpful."

"And that's now?"

"Prince, you have a hole in a wall, so it's time."

Hell's fire.

He'd been aware of this locked cabinet for centuries, but he'd never tried to find out what it held. Saetan had written Private on the label that had been slipped into the brass holder on the cabinet's top drawer. These locked drawers had been his father's business-and apparently, that business was now his.

Holt opened the top drawer, scanned the neatly labeled files, pulled one out, and handed it to Daemon.

He opened the file, read what amounted to a report, read it again-and looked at Holt. "I'll double your wages this month if you can look me in the eyes and tell me this is fiction."

Holt said nothing.

"I'll triple your wages."

Holt looked regretful but said nothing.

Mother Night. "Tell me what you remember."

"Their intentions were good," Holt began. "Well, their intentions were always good, but this time it started because a child in the village was playing with some friends and through some foolishness put his arms through the glass in a window. Serious injuries, lots of bleeding, panicked adults, hysterical friends-and the possibility that the boy would lose the use of both arms. Halaway's Healer requested assistance, which is how Jaenelle, Karla, and Gabrielle got involved."

"The healing was successful?" Daemon asked. Not that he had any doubt it would have been. Besides being Queens and Black Widows, those three witches had been the most powerful and talented Healers of their generation-and were still considered to have no equals.

"Yes. The child recovered completely and suffered no loss of movement or strength in his arms. He had one scar on each arm to show to his friends, but those faded after a year. However, the concern about a window breaking and someone being badly hurt had the coven working on the idea of adding some Craft to window glass so that it would break into pieces with no sharp edges, like glass worn down by sand and the sea."

"That explains the notation here about a visit to Lady Perzha and the beaches around Little Weeble," Daemon murmured.

"There's probably another file about that visit," Holt muttered. Then he continued. "Once the coven thought they had a working spell, they had to test it. So Jaenelle and Karla purchased a couple of pieces of window glass that they inserted into freestanding frames so that they could do the test in one of the Hall's outside courtyards."

"And it worked."

"Pretty much. The glass broke into small, smooth-edged pieces just the way they wanted it to. But the High Lord pointed out that glass that obligingly broke in a way that wouldn't cause a would-be thief any harm and also didn't have the sound of glass shattering was a potential invitation for mischief." Holt breathed in, breathed out. "So the girls added another bit of Craft for the second test. When the glass broke that time, it started shouting, 'Intruder! Intruder! I'm hit! I'm hit! I'm hit!'"

Daemon reminded himself that breathing wasn't optional.

"Well, if the warning wasn't loud enough to be heard, it wouldn't be any good, would it?" Holt continued. "But the sound in the test window had been punched up with Jaenelle's Birthright Black and Karla's Birthright Green, so..."

"Everyone in the Hall heard it, didn't they?"

"In the Hall and in Halaway. Caused quite a commotion, especially because some of the windows in the rooms surrounding that particular courtyard in the Hall must have absorbed some of the spell, so when that booming sound rattled the frames, the affected windows began to yip in higher voices, 'I'm hit! I'm hit! I'm hit!'" Holt blew out a breath. "Since those higher voices sounded like young Scelties, that got all the kindred excited, and they were racing around the Hall looking for the intruders."

Daemon leaned against one of the other filing cabinets and closed his eyes. Nothing to do with me, he thought. Nothing, nothing, nothing.

Copyright © 2023 by Anne Bishop


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