BVC Announces As Shadow, A Light by Rachel Neumeier

As Shadow, A Light by Rachel Neumeier
As Shadow, A Light

Book 3 of Death’s Lady
by Rachel Neumeier

Sometimes the past does not let go.

Tenai is determined that no one will use her to break the fragile peace of her world, even if that means she must support and defend the son of her bitterest enemy. But set against four hundred years of fury and hatred, that determination may not be enough.

Daniel has come to know far more about Tenai’s adversaries than he ever wanted to — more than she knows herself. Forced into unwilling cooperation with these enemies, Daniel must find a way to defy their plans, protect his daughter, and help Tenai overcome the shadows of her past — before it’s too late.

REVIEWS:

This was a beautiful, enthralling series. The story reminds me of Patricia McKillip with the same lyrical, rich voice.— Goodreads

Buy As Shadow, A Light at BVC Ebookstore

Read a Sample:

-1-

The pain was so strong, so intense, and so unexpected that when it hit, Jenna lost all thought and awareness. She did not know she was screaming; if she had known, she would not have tried to stop because the pain drove her past caring what impression she made or whom she frightened. She was not conscious of pain as a thing outside herself; she was not really conscious of herself as a person at all, with a past that went back before pain began and a future that might extend somewhere outside of pain. All that existed was pain and terror.

Then it was over. Jenna found herself limp on the paving stones, with a man’s broad shape bending over her and her head cushioned on his knee. She clung to him in mute desperation, shaking—she was crying like a baby and could not stop—the man was not her father. For a long moment, she didn’t know who he was. Then she knew, in a vague way. Emel, right, this was Emelan Terusai, whom Tenai had set to guard her. But she wanted her father. She tried to get up. Emel held her. He was saying something to her. She didn’t understand him, but there was an urgency to the way he held her that made her stop fighting him. She let him gather her up—he was very strong, big, his hands went almost all the way around her arms, she hadn’t realized before how strong he was. He set her on the edge of the fountain, and splashed her hands and face with the cold water.

“Emel,” she said. Tried to say. It came out in a cracked whisper. They had been in a garden. In Kinabana. At Keitah’s house in Kinabana, in Talasayan. She knew that. She remembered that. What had happened?

“Hush,” Emel was saying. He sounded upset. Well, she’d been hurt somehow. She didn’t remember how, but probably that had upset him. She was still shaking. The sun on the back of her neck felt strong enough to press her down to the stones again. The cold water helped. She rubbed her wet hands across her face. Was she still crying? She thought she wasn’t. She tried to speak. Where was her father? Her vision seemed uncertain. She peered around, looking for him.

“Hush,” Emel said again. “Hush. Nola Danyel is over there, with … with Terusai-e. Try to breathe a little more deeply. You are well. It is past.”

There was her father. With, right, Keitah Terusai-e. Jenna tried again to get to her feet. Again, Emel wouldn’t let her. She stared at him, at last feeling her wits jar sharply back to order.

There was no pain now. She couldn’t even remember what it had felt like. Just that it had been awful. But it was over, leaving her wrung out and exhausted, but fine. She was stiff all over. But basically she felt okay. And her father was talking to Keitah, over near the gate and now that her vision had cleared, she could see he didn’t look happy. He looked awful. He kept looking over at her, quick little glances like he didn’t dare take his eyes off Keitah for more than a second.

“Emel,” she said, and was startled at the fragility of her voice, “what happened? What happened to me?”

The man answered, his rough voice sounding strained, “Terusai-e put pain on you. It is something he can do. He does it sometimes to punish. This time … it is clearly Nola Danyel at whom Keitah strikes.”

Jenna stared at him. “Why?” That had been a stupid question. Pieces were falling into place, inescapably. “I guess we know now who the king’s enemy is. Not Niah. Obviously.” The young queen had struck Jenna as timid and sad from the first moment she’d met her. She’d immediately decided the suspicion that Niah might be working against her husband was ludicrous. But she sure hadn’t jumped from that to suspecting Keitah.

As far as she knew, no one had suspected Keitah Terusai-e. Not her father, not the king, definitely not Tenai, because there was no way Tenai would have sent Jenna and her father to Kinabana if she’d guessed. No way. He must have covered his tracks really well.

Jenna looked at her father again, where he stood with Keitah. She swallowed hard.

“Nolas-ai Keitah will be angry if you foul his fountain,” Emel said, his tone flat.

Jenna took this as simple advice and nodded. She hadn’t thought herself still so badly thrown by … the thing Keitah had done to her. The thing that … if he had done once, he might do another time. She swallowed again. “I thought we were immune to magic,” she said in a small voice. “Daddy and me.”

“Yes,” Emel agreed, his tone flat. “Save enchantment you accept freely. I think my brother may have offered you some small enchantment, a kindness, something you took willingly from him, from his hand …”

“The literacy spell.” It wasn’t a question. The second she thought of it, Jenna was sure. She’d thought that was just a kindness, offered because things had gotten so rushed and weird and Tenai hadn’t had the time or opportunity to do it. She hadn’t thought anything of it.

Keitah had worked that spell on both of them. On her father as well as Jenna herself. She stared across the garden. Her father looked all right … upset, scared, but all right. But who knew what Keitah had done to him? Or might do, later?

Emel rubbed a hand across his mouth. Then he dropped his hand and straightened his shoulders, bracing himself. “I failed you.”

That made Jenna look at him. “You didn’t. You weren’t there. You were … I think you must have been drilling with Keitah’s guardsmen that morning. My father thought it was all right—he said the king told him it was all right. He said that. He said Mitereh said Keitah could do the spell for us.”

She tried to stand up. It took her two tries, and even then she might not have made it except that Emel set a hand beneath her elbow. Jenna felt sick. Not from what Keitah had done to her, not from the pain. From … just everything.

As soon as she was steady, Emel let her go and answered, his tone bleak. “And so I failed you. Had I been standing at your back as I should have been, I would never have let you take enchantment from my brother’s hand.”

“You wouldn’t? You knew?”

“No—I did not know, but I should have thought of the possibility there might be peril for you in such an offer—”

“Well, I don’t know why you should have been so special. If the king didn’t guess and Tenai didn’t and my father didn’t, why should you? You hadn’t been anywhere near your brother for ten years, Emel!”

He started to say something else, some kind of protest, but Jenna didn’t listen. She was staring at her father, who, as she watched, turned and walked away, quickly. Stiffly. Toward the gate, where horses were ready. Most of the men were already mounted and waiting. Her father didn’t even look at her. One swift glance, but then he looked away again and let one of the men hand him the reins of a horse and offer a knee to help him mount.

Her father rode away, out the gate and down the road and away, leaving Jenna behind, in this sunlit garden that no longer seemed at all peaceful or pleasant. She watched him go, feeling stunned in a way the pain alone had not produced.

Emel said, tentatively now, “He would not leave you freely.”

“No,” Jenna agreed. She didn’t try to explain that this made it worse.

Keitah was coming toward them. Jenna braced herself. She had no idea what to say. She felt fragile and stupid and frightened.

She didn’t have to find something to say. Emel spoke first. This time he spoke in a cool, hard tone that was nothing like his usual manner. “I believed you a friend of the king’s, Nolas-ai.”

Emel looked, Jenna thought, ten years older than he had ten minutes ago. More like his brother. But a lot grimmer. Keitah never looked grim. He always looked smooth and calm and thoughtful and thoroughly civilized. Even now, it was hard to believe he was a bad guy—the bad guy—the enemy who had brought Tenai back to this world in order to use her as a weapon against the king. Who now obviously meant to use Jenna’s father as a weapon, somehow.

Keitah merely answered, his tone mild, “He believes so as well. Tell me, Emelan, what opinion does Nolas-Kuomon have of me? Does she also trust me? She must, surely, to send these people of hers into my keeping. Or is this some manner of ruse? Tell me everything you know.”

“I am her dog, not her confidant, Nolas-ai.”

“Ah.” Keitah was silent for a moment. He said then, “You are my brother.”

“No.”

Keitah said pleasantly, “Repeat that statement, and I will take you at your word.”

“I am no brother of yours, Terusai-e.”

“I agree, then. You are nothing of mine and nothing to me.” Keitah turned his attention to Jenna as though that exchange had been completely unimportant. He still seemed for all the world like a perfectly friendly, civilized person. He said, “Your father will do a small task for me, Nola Jenna. You are here to see that he does it. But so long as he obeys me, you need have no fear. I have no desire to harm you. Indeed, I find you most interesting and pleasant company.”

Jenna began, “I think I would prefer to spend time with—” Emel closed a hand on her arm so hard it hurt. She stopped.

Keitah lifted an eyebrow at his brother.

“Forgive the young nola,” Emel said, still in that flat tone. “She is young and impulsive, and she has been raised to be bold, Nolas-ai.”

Keitah studied him. “You protect her?”

“As is my duty, Nolas-ai.”

“Should the young nola require protection from me, you assuredly cannot provide it.”

Jenna thought she had better step between them right this minute. She said, as politely as she could, “Nolas-ai, please. Could you tell me what you did to my father?”

Keitah made a dismissive gesture with one hand. “Did to him? Very little. Frightened him. It is what he will do for me that is important to me.”

“Murder the king,” said Emel, not quite a question.

“Yes, I know that.” Or if she hadn’t exactly guessed, it was obvious the instant someone else put it into words. “But why my father?”

Behind Keitah’s back, Emel made a small gesture at her. Do something. Do what? Oh—do something distracting. Jenna was perfectly willing to, and took a step forward and sideways to draw Keitah’s eyes. Keitah was saying, “Because Nola Danyel can, I believe—”

“You God-damned evil bastard,” Jenna said distinctly, and spat on the ground by his feet.

Keitah stopped dead.

Behind him, Emel flicked a sharp little knife from some hidden sheath into his hand, took a step, and delivered a short hard blow up toward his brother’s kidney. Jenna heard his grunt of effort as he made the strike, and the way the sound changed when the knife hit something other than cloth or flesh and skidded off sideways. Keitah, twisting around, caught his brother’s wrist in a firm grip and turned, using his body and hip to force the younger man down. Emel, on one knee, struck hard with his fist against Keitah’s leg, a blow which skidded off just as the knife had. Rather than breaking his brother’s wrist, Keitah let go his hold and stepped back, lifting his hand. Emel, still on one knee, checked himself and froze where he was.

Jenna, perfectly placed to deliver a kick, only just managed to stop herself from trying it.

“I confess I am astounded,” Keitah said, sounding no more than exasperated. “A man once of Terusai, striking at me in favor to an Encormio scion! It is a wonder of the age. Surely God in his brilliant Kingdom is amazed at the happenstance! Renounce your oath to Chaisa. Give over this strange enthusiasm you have for unsuitable loyalties. I will permit you to bind yourself again to this house—your own house!—and to me. Would this not be preferable?”

Jenna said tartly, “Preferable exactly how? Tenai doesn’t slink around betraying people who think they’re her friends!”

Keitah, eyes narrowed with anger, began to turn back to her. Jenna glared at him. But whatever Keitah might have done, Emel interrupted him by getting swiftly back to his feet, saying harshly, “Surely God in his Kingdom is indeed amazed at the sight of the Terusai. Oath-breakers both, men without honor in their words or—”

Keitah’s mouth tightened. He made a slight movement of his hand, and his brother stopped at once, dropped back to his knees, and said quickly, but even more harshly, “Your prisoner begs you will pardon his insolent tongue, Nolas-ai.”

“Prisoners of mine would not dare speak so,” Keitah snapped, biting off each word. “So I see you still consider yourself my brother at the end of all.”

“You mistake me. I am Chaisa’s dog, and none of yours.” Emel got back to his feet once more, color high in his face—pride, Jenna thought, or fear? He was terrified of Keitah. She was sure he was. She thought now Emel had always been afraid of his brother. Probably he’d said, like the rest of them, that as the king trusted Keitah, so he must be trustworthy. Probably he’d wanted to forget any doubts. In fact, Jenna thought, he had been ashamed of his doubts. So of course he had not said anything to her or her father or even Tenai. He had probably not even admitted his fear to himself. But she was sure she saw that—now that it was too late.

Keitah said, biting off each word, “Shall I then have you chained in the kennels with my hounds?”

There was a pause, during which Jenna gradually realized that Keitah meant the threat literally. Then Emel bowed his head and said in a much more subdued tone, “Forgive my unwise temper, Nolas-ai. I ask you to relent.”

Keitah let his breath out and made an impatient gesture. “You are grateful to the one who found you in your chosen death-in-life and lifted you out of it. I understand this. But to strike at me! I will not have a dog of Chaisa’s here in my house save in chains!”

Emel nodded as though this made sense. He tilted his head toward Jenna. “Then say I am hers, Nolas-ai. Why not? You have shown I am no threat to you.”

Keitah stared at him a moment, and then laughed. “As indeed you are not. Very well. That will do.” He sounded now considerably amused. “As you say. Dog you may be, but dog of this foreign lady. Very well! Show Nola Jenna back to her apartment and stay with her there, if that pleases you, Emel. I shall send for her later. Or for you.”

That last sounded like a threat to Jenna, but Emel murmured “Nolas-ai,” very meekly, took Jenna by the arm, and led her firmly toward the house.

She went, not without a backward look. “What about my father?” she asked under her breath.

Emel gave her a little shake. “Forget impatience. Forget pride. Think carefully what you would know and think again what you dare to ask, and then ask very courteously. If Keitah has a use to make of you against an enemy, he will be ruthless. Remember always that he does not permit defiance.”

“I get that,” Jenna muttered. And then, “You sure defied him.”

“I thought I might have a chance to end everything with one stroke. I was twice a fool. I had forgotten he would be warded against steel, against violent attack. Come inside, Nola. Better if you are out of his sight.”

“Better if you are, I bet! After what you said to him. Fine, we both said stupid things. You because I did first, I know that, and you were protecting me. Thanks.” And, at Emel’s startled look, “I’m not blind, you know. It’s obvious you said those things to him to get his attention off me. That was dangerous, I guess. I mean obviously that was dangerous, so thank you.”

“I—it is my duty to protect you,” said Emel.

His tone was strange: angry and subdued at once. Jenna thought he was probably still in shock. She sure was. “And a bitch of a job that’s turned out to be, huh?” she said.

They entered the house and Jenna headed without argument back toward the apartment in which she had stayed quite happily just last night, when everything had been fine.

Two guards stood before the door, as they had since Jenna and her father had arrived at this house. She had learned to barely notice them. She’d taken them for a courtesy. Their presence no longer seemed like a courtesy, that was for sure. She lifted her head and walked straight between the men, pushing open the door and stepping into the pretty sitting room. They let her in, but stopped Emel and searched him with thorough care, taking his sword and several little knives. From his stiff calm while they did it, that might be an insult. As well as potentially inconvenient.

Emel came in at her back afterwards and shut the door. He stood in front of it, looking stiff and cold and maybe uncertain. “I must beg your forgiveness,” he said at last.

Jenna stared at him. “Why?”

“I will not be able to protect you. I will try, Nola Jenna. I will advise you and guard you as well as I can, but my brother will do as he pleases and I will not be able to prevent him.”

“No, how could you? No one could. Unless Daddy slips a message to Tenai.” That would sure take care of Keitah. Jenna would love to see Tenai ride into Kinabana like the Dark Queen and stab Keitah about a million times with that sword of hers. Obviously Keitah must think he could stop her father from telling Tenai anything. Probably by threatening Jenna. That was a depressing thought. She said instead, “I thought you weren’t his brother. Aren’t you my dog? Why ‘dog’ anyway?”

Emel grimaced and rubbed the back of his hand across his jaw. He seemed even bigger than usual in this pretty room with its delicate chairs, but it was the hard despair in his eyes that made him really look out of place. He said after a moment, “I misspoke. As for the other … brigands on the road are called curs. Such a man might get a master and reclaim honor, if he is fortunate, and then he would be a dog. So I am Chaisa’s dog. Or yours.” He held up a hand at some expression Jenna hadn’t even known she was showing. “Nola—if I am your dog, I am nothing to Terusai-e. I ask you not to deny me.”

“No,” Jenna agreed. “All right. I get that. I don’t like the term and I won’t use it and I wish you wouldn’t either, but fine. You don’t owe me any kind of apology. I get that too. Of course you can’t protect me, not when we’re stuck here, his prisoners. He’s too powerful.” So they had to get out of this house and out of Kinabana. That way Keitah couldn’t do anything to her and couldn’t threaten her father with her. Getting out was absolutely crucial. As fast as possible.

Jenna walked across the room and looked out the wide window. Opened its shutters. Looked down. It was a long way to the ground. There was a ledge one might put a foot on, but it was a pretty narrow ledge. She asked, “If you hadn’t distracted him, would Keitah have hurt me again? Because I was rude to him?”

“I think he might have done so, Nola.”

“Huh.” Jenna wandered away into the next room, which was a dining room. There were several windows in this room, one with a big tree outside it.

Emel had followed her and now stood in the doorway. “There will be enchantments on the windows, Nola, so that no one may climb through without raising an alarm.”

“Oh.” Jenna turned and studied him. “I bet I could. But, yeah, not you, I guess. How about the doors?”

Emel was looking thoughtful, reminded again that most of the time, Talasayan enchantment wouldn’t work on Jenna. “There are men on the doors. The windows might provide a better manner of exit, Nola. But they would come after you at once.”

“You can’t go through the windows. Only two men on the door. Or would they be impossible to attack, like your brother?”

“Unlikely, Nola. That is an enchantment one is not likely to find on common soldiers. I do not know that I could defeat two well-trained men quickly and quietly enough. More would come if an alarm were raised. The gates will be well-guarded. The walls will be tightly warded, but again, Nola, perhaps not against you.”

“Huh.” Jenna glanced at the angle of the sun. Early. Hours of daylight yet. She wondered how long it would take her father to get back to Nerinesir. And what he would do once he got there. What would he do, to protect her? Surely he wouldn’t actually try to kill the king.

Jenna wandered away again, further into the apartment, into another sitting room. The windows here were higher and offered nothing better than the ones she’d already checked out. She turned back to Emel. “Look, if we got out of this house, could we get back to Nerinesir without being caught, do you think?”

“If we could escape from this estate, and from the immediate area of Kinabana … perhaps. Nola Jenna, I cannot battle a way out for us through all the guards and wards of this house!” Emel leaned forward earnestly, his deep voice dropping further. “You saw them disarm me! And I am only one man. I would be caught, probably killed. Then you would be caught, and I warn you, Keitah is a ruthless man. You do not want to incur his anger. Nola Jenna, you would risk more than pain. I have seen him cut the foot off a man who tried to run from him. I have seen him chain men in his kennels—did you think that mere threat? It was not. The man was left with the hounds for more than a year.”

“I didn’t think it was just a threat.” Jenna wanted to know why the man had tried to run from Keitah, but she didn’t ask because she didn’t want to encourage Emel to dwell on it. She said instead, “Look, Emel, that’s my father he’s sent off to murder the king for him, or if that’s not the plan, then it’s probably something even worse! There’s no way I’m going to let Keitah do anything awful to Daddy! My God, do you think I’m just going to sit here and wait to see what happens? That’s Tenai in danger and your king and I know you’re scared of your brother, I understand that, I’m scared of him too, but don’t you see we can’t just sit around and be captives and wait to be rescued? Because what if nobody rescues us, what then, huh?”

Emel looked away from her. He weighed twice what she did and he was nearly ten years older, but he was scared. So scared he wanted to curl up into a little ball and wait for things to get better all by themselves. She understood that perfectly. Only she didn’t think they could do that. She knew she couldn’t.

But then he turned back to face her. More, he came close and dropped down to one knee. “You see more clearly than I,” he said, his gritty voice low. “Very well, Nola. I am willing to try. I will accept the risks attendant on the trial. I can take a sword from one of these men at your door and kill them both … maybe I can do that. But there will still be many other men. I cannot fight them all, Nola, and when Keitah comes, I can do nothing against him.”

Jenna let out her breath and sat down in the nearest chair, finding her knees suddenly shaky and her hands trembling. “All right. All right, then. Look, why don’t you sit down and tell me about this house. The whole estate. Just what are the obstacles in our way? Come as close as you can to describing absolutely everything. All right?”

There was a clap outside the door, dimly audible even from this interior room. Jenna leaped to her feet. Emel got to his more slowly.

The clap proved to be one of the guards, looking impatiently polite and bearing a message from Niah Madalan Kuyad-sa.

Jenna glanced at the message and looked up again at once. “Of course I’ll come,” she declared. She wanted to speak to the queen, in fact. She wanted very badly to know whether the queen was also a prisoner. And if she was, whether she knew it. And why in hell she had let Keitah get away with whatever he was doing—for what, months? At least months, instead of doing something useful. She was the queen, and she hadn’t been able even to slip Jenna or her father a note under the table? She waved briskly for Emel to come and headed for the door.

“Nola—” he started.

“The queen asked only for Nola Jenna,” said the guard.

“So? Nolas-ai Keitah specifically acknowledged that Emel is mine, so what’s the problem?” Jenna tried to sound brisk, and snagged Emel’s arm on her way to the door, at which he yielded and came with her. The guard shrugged and evidently decided not to worry about it, which was a relief. Emel was her ally, probably the only one she could find in this house, and she wanted him with her.

Up three flights of stairs and down the long gallery to the very end—just yesterday, Jenna had lingered in this gallery to admire the porcelains displayed here and the huge painting of Kinabana that hung above them. This time Jenna barely noticed either. She was interested only in the apartment at the end of the gallery. There were guards on that door too. Like the guards on her own apartment, they’d always been there, but she hadn’t really noticed them before. She noticed them now. They looked stern and professional. Each had a short sword and a knife; normal equipment for the house-guard. How many guardsmen did Keitah Terusai-e have, anyway? Lots, probably.

Within the apartment, Niah Madalan Kuyad-sa was sitting, surrounded by her women, in her accustomed chair by the wide windows. The view over the gardens was, as always, beautiful. Today Jenna noticed mainly that the windows overlooked the fish pool with its fountain, and that they gave one a fine view of the main gates. She crossed her arms and gave the queen a narrow-eyed stare.

Niah rose to her feet and came half a step forward. She was wearing a silvery-gray gown that fell straight down to her feet and a belt set with pearls and lapis; her fine dark hair was dressed with more pearls. She looked beautiful and distressed and very young. “Nola Jenna. I beg you will forgive my weakness.”

“You were watching,” said Jenna. She didn’t feel very forgiving. “You knew what he was going to do. You really did. And you sat and chatted with my father and made friends with me and never let on at all what he had in mind. My God.”

“Please,” said Niah, coming forward a small step and holding out her hands, “you must understand, Terusai-e made threats. Against my Inana. He said he would cut off her hands and her feet. What was I to do? All these women are his spies.” She rounded abruptly on the ladies, who were looking shocked at all this open truth. “Go away! Go out! What is there to report now? Everything has been done according to the will of your master. There is nothing left for you to do.”

The women fluttered out, and for the first time Jenna was able to see—or thought she was able to see—the falsity they were hiding behind their looks of distress. Only one remained: the stern older woman called Merai, who had always been with the queen. She gave Jenna a forbidding look and Niah a stern one and settled in a chair almost far enough away to be out of earshot. Jenna had thought her a particular friend of the queen. She saw now that the look was not the look of a friend. And Niah did seem desperately in need of a friend.

Jenna said, “Cut off her hands and feet? He wouldn’t really do that to a little girl?”

The young queen drew a shuddering breath. “He said that he would. I thought that he would. So he said I would have to deceive you for days. So you would trust everything he said and give yourselves into his hands. What else could I do?” She was gripping her hands together tightly.

Well. That was awful. Jenna leaned against the windowsill. “We think he probably sent my father to kill your husband,” she said, watching the queen’s face. “Emel thinks that’s probably the plan.”

Niah seemed to take this in rather slowly. For a moment she only looked at Jenna without apparent comprehension. Then she said, “It is as well, then, that I wear the ashen colors of mourning. But … but Mitereh is a man grown, and Inana is only a baby. My husband must look after himself. Inana has only me to keep her safe. So.” She rubbed the tips of her fingers delicately over her eyes. Then she looked up again and added, “And your father … I am sorry. If your father does as Terusai-e demands, he will surely die, and if he refuses, you will probably die, and indeed, I am very sorry, Nola Jenna. But I must protect Inana.”

Niah ought to take her daughter and run—or stab Keitah in the kidney when he turned his back on her—but Jenna sighed because obviously both ideas were hopeless. Actually, she couldn’t think of a lot the queen could have done. Except surely there must have been a way to warn them.

“Why does Terusai-e make your father his weapon?” Niah asked.

“We think, because magic doesn’t affect us the way it does you.”

“Does it not?” Niah nodded, looking very tired. “Yes. He would find a way to use any such difference. He is clever, is Keitah Terusai-e, and turns everything to his hand. And everyone. Will he do it?”

This time she meant Jenna’s father. Jenna shrugged. She was sure he wouldn’t.

“Of course he will,” said Niah. “Terusai will tell him he will cut off your hands and feet. So he will see his only true duty is to you.”

That … could be true. Jenna said nothing.

“They let me see Inana in the morning and in the afternoon.” Niah veered back to thoughts of her daughter with the inevitability of a compass pulled to the north. “The girl who looks after her is kind. Inana is not frightened here.” She herself was clearly very frightened. “Is it true what the women say, that your servant is also a Terusai? Keitah’s brother?”

Jenna glanced over her shoulder at Emel, who stood expressionlessly just inside the door. “Yes.”

Niah reached out and took Jenna’s hands in her own; her hands were slender and graceful, but her grip was urgent. “Please,” she said in a low intense voice. “If he asks his brother, surely Keitah will let me see Inana more frequently. Even let me keep her with me. Now that he has made your father do as he wishes, perhaps he would promise not to harm her? Can you not ask your man to beg this for me? Would he do it? Keitah might listen to him where he will not hear me. I would be so grateful.”

This, Jenna realized, was why the queen had asked to see her. She said gently, “Emel isn’t on good terms at all with his brother. I don’t think you want him putting your case to Keitah. I’m really sorry. Really,” she added, seeing the desolation in Niah’s dark eyes. “I’ll ask him to do it if he thinks it might work. I’ll do it myself if I think I can get Keitah to listen to me. But I don’t think you’d better depend on it.”

“I would be so grateful,” Niah repeated, but not as though she expected anything, now, to come of it. Wretched exhaustion hid behind the smooth façade of her delicate well-bred face, perfectly obvious once you knew it was there.

They did not stay long after that. The young queen had made her plea and that was all she had wanted to say. Jenna didn’t want to linger; Niah’s desperation was painful and anyway Jenna wanted to think.

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