Disclaimer: All recognizable characters and settings belong to Anne Bishop.


"The girl, Gabrielle, stopped just inside the door. The boy -- oh, no, it would be extremely foolish to think of Chaosti as a boy -- came forward slowly, silently." - Heir of the Shadows.


DEA AL MON


Chaosti had the deer in his sights when he received Gabrielle's onslaught of emotions. Opal to Green, the link should have been clear but instead it was a gibberish sort of excitement mixed with urgency. Long used to Gabrielle's moods, Chaosti found himself at a loss to decipher this particular one, and so settled for caution. An Opal-Jeweled Dea al Mon Queen, no matter how young, was a woman to be handled carefully when her emotions got the best of her. *I'm busy,* he sent back.

*I don't care.* The annoyance at his response was obvious, but he couldn't detect any anger in the words; the taste of them was brighter, tinged with an absolute joy that Chaosti hadn't felt for the last three years.

The deer, suspecting that the hunter's attention was elsewhere, sprinted into the thick cluster of trees ahead.

Chaosti didn't pay it any mind. Three years. Only one thing, one person, had made Gabrielle sound like a three-year-old witchling during a Winsol party. But it was impossible… wasn't it? Without his notice, the grip on his bow had strengthened until he felt the bite of the wood into his palm; the physical discomfort gave him the backbone to ask, *What is it?* It'd been years since he'd used such a tentative voice, even over a thread communication.

*She is back.* Gabrielle sounded like a girl who had just mastered air-walking. *Oh, Chaosti. Jaenelle is back!*

Three years ago, he would have caught the nearest Wind back to the house at those words. Three years of complete absence rooted his feet to the ground. *Is she here?* His tone was whispery, cold edging under the words. Older Warlord Princes looked at him warily when he used that voice. *Has the High Lord let her out at last?*

Gabrielle paused, her joy dimmed. *No. It's just a letter.*

Just a letter.

The Green Jewel on his chest gleamed into life before he thought to control it. The bow, a magnificent piece that his aunt had gifted him for his sixteenth birthday, turned to ashes in his hand. *I see,* he said, scrambling to keep his temper in check. Three years. Chaosti had heard Titian's words, had understood the motives his kinswoman had listed for Jaenelle's absence. While their friend had convalesced at the Keep, the desire to go to her had been chained back. He and Gabrielle had convinced each other that the Keep existed for Witch, and so Jaenelle would be safest in the Black Mountain.

Then, a few months ago, they heard the sweetest call, a reminder of childhood games of tag in the woods. 'Catch me,' it sang from deep in the abyss, 'Follow me.'

It had taken a direct order from his Queen to keep Chaosti out of Dhemlan after learning that Jaenelle had moved into SaDiablo Hall. "She needs to heal all wounds, Prince. Grant your friend that time," Grandma Teele had said, not without compassion in her eyes. "Besides," she said days later, when they were sure that Chaosti wouldn't take the fastest horse and make a dash out of the borders of their Territory, "I fear another Warlord Prince would be redundant at the Hall. That poor girl has all the male attention any young witch should stand."

As if the High Lord and a bunch of demons were better company than Jaenelle's childhood friends. But Chaosti had bitten back that comment, bowed his head in acceptance and stalked into his rooms to collect his favorite bow and quiver. He'd spent most days out hunting, riding his horse hard as he burned out his helplessness in the wilderness instead of bringing it to the court. For the last months, the only voice that had given him pause was Gabrielle's; whenever she felt that he'd been outside for long enough, she had called him back under the pretext that she needed something heavy moved into her rooms.

*Prince Chaosti,* she called now, her voice an order instead of a request, a demanding grip that hauled him back from the killing edge. Until the moment they'd met a golden-haired imp in their grandmother's garden, everything in Chaosti had belonged only to Gabrielle. It was as impossible to deny her something as it was to deny the power of the Green in his self.

He stepped back, then, returned all his senses to the woods and tried to ignore the irregular cold of a summer day. *I'm here.* He gave the small pile of ashes at his feet a regretful look. *Will you wait for me to write a response to our cousin?*

*I'll do better.* The joy flared again in their communication. *I'll wait at the Coach.* Gabrielle sent an image of several trunks in her room and his, servants rooting through their chests to pack their best clothes while Gabrielle discreetly vanished well-used pants and shirts. At his bafflement, she laughed. *It's an invitation letter, Chaosti!"

*Grandmother already gave her permission?*

Gabrielle sounded exasperated now. *Of course grandmammy already gave her permission. It's Jaenelle's own writing! I think she's rather sorry the Dea al Mon Territory Queen can't attend a party with such short notice,* she confided with another laugh.

It wasn't amusement what sparked Chaosti's laughter.

It was relief.

An invitation. A chance to see Jaenelle, to bask in that dark glory he'd missed as a boy and now hungered for. Even if the meeting had to take place at the Hall and not in complete freedom, even if the High Lord must be witness to what should have been an unrestrained reunion, he'd see her. Touch her. Be back under that bottomless sapphire stare.

Even if the party should last only an hour, it was… good.

But a better idea came to him.

If he had to meet his friend under the High Lord's conditions, Chaosti refused not to add a few conditions of his own. *Gabrielle?* If he'd thought about it, he would have been surprised at how much his voice resembled a purr. He did feel Gabrielle snap to attention, a girl's curiosity mixed with a Queen's assessment of a Warlord Prince's temper. He smiled as he mounted his horse. *Have you any plans for the summer?*

Dea al Mon witches were quick. Gabrielle caught his meaning at once, and happy approval reached through the Opal thread and engulfed him. *I'll ask Grandma to write a formal letter.*

*You do that.* Chaosti snapped the reins, eager to arrive. For a moment, he wished for the power of the Black just so his message would reach Dhemlan, *Jaenelle. We are coming to you.*


THE END
27/02/10