It had been over a week and Winsol festivities were still in full-swing. However, not everyone was off enjoying the holidays. No, the ever-vigilant, ever-concerned Dark Council was meeting right in the middle of it, trying to keep up with the flood of hysterical complaints from Terrellean Queens and investors who were still losing males in droves as they tried to take the unclaimed land.
Lord Magstrom rubbed his forehead and wished, violently, that this session of the Dark Council would end soon. Not just because he had been enjoying a holiday visit with his children and there was a fine roast waiting for him; if it were only that, then Magstrom would sigh, but remind himself that with the appointment to the Dark Council came important responsibilities and the occasional sacrifice. Not that you could tell that from the behavior of some of his fellow Council members. No, his weariness came from listening to Lord Jorval, the First Tribune, make soothing noises and deftly evading making firm promises since the first petitioner had stepped into the circle. Not today's first petitioner, no. The very first one, from months ago after the disastrous invasion of Scelt. He really wasn't sure what the Queens expected them to do any more, or why they bothered. Perhaps they simply wanted the opportunity to harangue? Well, that and the assurance that the males sent into the kindred lands that had been granted as human territories wouldn't be slaughtered by these 'Hell-spawned animals.'
The Council had proven it couldn't give such assurances months ago. And yet, here they were again, listening to the same tale told in a slightly different voice.
The stories told by the few survivors who hobbled home from those first attempts to secure the land had roused a great anger in the people of Little Terreille. Later, with the new wave of survivors crawling back, that anger had turned to demands of retaliation. The piles of mutilated corpses--some partially eaten--that clogged the main street of Goth a few days ago that were all that were left of this most recent wave of settler had chilled that anger into furious impotence.
Everyone wanted something done to make these unclaimed lands safe for human occupation. No one wanted to face what was already living in those 'unclaimed' lands.
"I assure you, lady," Lord Jorval said to the strident petitioner, "we're doing everything possible to rectify the situation." Their 'everything possible' was actually 'nothing,' but Magstrom had long-since grown weary of pointing that out. Now, he spent the time worrying that his position on the Council he was increasingly losing respect for was harming him more than he was helping it.
"When I came here, I was promised land to rule and males who knew how to serve properly," the Terreillean Queen replied angrily.
Magstrom wondered if anyone else had noticed that the majority of Kaeleeran-born males, even with the enticement of serving in the First or Second Circle of a Terrellean Queen's Court, resigned with bitter animosity after a few weeks of service. Terreillean males pleaded to serve Kaeleeran-born Queens, willing to serve in the Thirteenth Circle as a menial servant if that's all that was available. Since Kaeleer had started allowing immigration, he'd had more than a few tearfully beg him to approach minor Queens outside of Little Terreille and see if there was any way they could serve in a Territory like Dharo or Nharkhava. Glacia, too, was beginning to be mentioned, in the year since Lady Karla had taken over. They would do anything, they'd told him. Anything.
The pleas were getting more desperate as more and more Terreilleans flooded into Little Terreille. And, with every plea, every story he heard about Terreille, he became more and more worried about his youngest granddaughter. Even in his small village incidents had already occurred and it was no longer wise for a woman to travel after dark without a strong escort. Was that how it had begun in Terreille? With fear and distrust spiraling deeper and deeper until there was no way to stop it?
And this, sadly, was why he stayed on the Council. To help those he thought could adapt to Kaeleer find homes and to keep an ear out for worse news on the wind.
"Your request has been noted," Jorval said, making a gesture that indicated dismissal. "Will the next--"
The doors at the end of the chamber blew open with a force that sent them crashing into the walls.
Jaenelle Angelline glided into the Council chamber, Karla and Gabrielle taking up twin positions behind her, an unmistakable triangle of power, the only Queen-Black Widow-Healers to ever be born. Behind them was a distinctly more masculine and outwardly more dangerous triangle; The High Lord of Hell, flanked by Andulvar and Lucivar Yaslana. The High Lord and Lucivar both wore rings on their fingers to show they served in a Court as Steward and First Escort respectively. Andulvar Yaslana wore the badge of the Master of the Guards. Magstrom didn't have to be able to see the insignia or recognize it to understand who they served. There could only be one person who could command these males to yield.
Witch, Queen of Ebon Askavi.
Along the edges of her black, cobwebby gown's low neckline were dozens of Black Jewel chips glittering with dark fire. Around her neck was an Ebony Jewel that looked like a spider's web made of delicate gold and silver strands. The Council murmured, trying to decipher what looked to be a Black Jewel but felt ever so much darker than even the High Lord's. In her hands...In her hands was an object that had made Karla's mouth go dry when she'd seen it, ice-blue eyes pinched a little at the corners.
Jaenelle held a scepter. The lower half was made of gold and silver and had two Ebony Jewels inset above the hand-hold. The upper half of the scepter was a spiraled horn. Fingers pointed at the horn. The murmurs grew louder.
"Lady Angelline, I must protest your interrupting--" Jorval began.
"I have something to say to this Council," Jaenelle said coldly, her voice carrying over the others. "It will not take long."
"Why is she allowed to have a unicorn's horn?" the dismissed Terreillean Queen shouted. "I wasn't allowed to have one as compensation for my men being killed."
There was no expression on the High Lord's face as he looked at the Queen. Karla, however, didn't bother to hide her loathing and Gabrielle's hand twitched towards her sleeve, as if she had a knife hidden there.
Knowing the Dea al Mon, she probably did.
"Silence." Jaenelle didn't bother to raise her voice, but the undisguised malevolence in it hushed everyone. She looked at the Terreillean Queen and spoke five words.
Karla knew enough of the Old Tongue to recognize the language but not enough to understand. Something about remembering?
"His name was Kaetien," she said in her midnight voice, sliding her hand along the horn. "This horn was a gift, freely given."
"Lady Angelline," Jorval said, pounding on the Tribunal's bench as he tried to regain order. Harsh whispers arose talking about some people who thought they could ignore the authority of the Council.
Jaenelle swung the scepter in and arc, holding it for a moment when the horn pointed at the floor before swinging it up until it pointed at the chamber ceiling. A cold wind whipped through the chamber. Thunder shook the building. Lightning came down from the ceiling and entered the unicorn's horn. Dark power filled the chamber. Unyielding, unforgiving power.
When the thunder finally stopped, the the wind finally died, the shaking members of the Dark Council climbed back into their seats. Jaenelle and her entourage stood quietly, unmoved and untouched, even by the wind. The scepter was once again held in both hands, the horn itself unmarked, but flashes of lightning were held inside the Jewels. The entire Council could feel the power waiting to be unleashed. "Hear me," Jaenelle said, because I will only say this once. I have made the Offering to the darkness. I am now the Queen of Ebon Askavi." She pointed the scepter at the Tribunal's bench.
Lord Magstrom shook; the horn was pointing straight at him. But rather than the strike that he clearly feared was coming, a rolled parchment tied with a blood-red ribbon appeared in front of him. Karla's lips twitched in amusement. Of the entire Council, Lord Magstrom was the only person she respected, but it still felt good to watch a Council member squirm.
"That is a list of Territories that yielded to Ebon Askavi. They all stand in the shadow of the Keep. They are mine. Queen Karla of Glacia and Queen Gabrielle of the Dea al Mon stand as witness that their consent was given freely." Karla and Gabrielle nodded once in unison; Karla smirking, Gabrielle unreadable. "Anyone who tries to settle in my Territory without my consent with be dealt with. Anyone who harms any of my people will be executed. There will be no excuses and no exceptions. I will say it simply so the members of the Council and the intruders who thought to take land they had no right to can never say they misunderstood." Jaenelle's lips curled into a snarl. "STAY OUT OF MY TERRITORY."
The words rang through the chamber, echoing and reechoing. Her sapphire eyes, which no longer looked quite human, held the Tribunal for a long moment. Then she turned and glided out of the chamber, followed by the other Queens and her males. Karla's chilly laugh lingered behind them.
Magstrom's hands shook so hard it took him four tries to untie the blood-red ribbon. He unrolled the parchment, ignoring the fact that he should have given it to Jorval as First Tribune. Name after name after name. Some, he'd heard of as stories his grandmother used to tell him. Some he'd heard of as 'unclaimed land.' Some he'd never heard of at all. Name after name after name.
At the bottom of the parchment, above Jaenelle's signature and black-wax seal, was a map of Kaeleer, the Territories that now stood in the shadow of the Keep shaded in. Except for Little Terreille and the island that had been granted to the Dark Council centuries ago, the Shadow Realm now belonged to Jaenelle Angelline.
It was good to breathe outside of the Dark Council chamber, Karla always found. The air in there was always thick and stuffy, almost feeling oily on the back of her throat. "What did you say to that bitch back there?" she asked Jaenelle. "In the Old Tongue."
"You haven't been studying," Uncle Saetan said with a chuckle, which only deepened when Karla shrugged and looked abashed.
"It wasn't on Fandom's required reading list, all right?" she mumbled.
Saetan looked to Jaenelle and saw that she'd withdrawn into herself, face pale and stiff with thought. Better to let her work her way back to them, than try to engage her in conversation before she was ready. As such, he answered Karla's question. "For remembrance. As a reminder."
A wind whispered up her back and Karla shivered. Nor was she the only one. From Jaenelle's lack of expression, she knew full well who was remembering. And what would happen to those who needed the reminder.
[Finally! Heir to the Shadows canon catchup is complete, though there are still a few sections that won't get transcribed. (Suck it, Daemon). Text adapted from Chapter 16, Part 4 from HttS by Anne Bishop. NFB, NFI, OOC is hearts, stars, moons, and clovers. Woo, it's only taken me five years to get through one book! Queen of the Darkness will take much less time, though it'll be awhile before it starts. Woo! End of book block party!]
- Island of the Dark Council, Friday Morning, (Fandom Time)