In the Darkest Hour
by burn to ashe
"Dorothea never would have become the power she has in Terreille
if Tersa has survived her Virgin Night intact."
Author Note: I have been enamored of this storyline for some time, because of the quote listed above. Tersa is a magnificent character, but this story is concerned with the "what if" of it all. What if Tersa had survived her Virgin Night intact... Let us discover together, shall we?
CHAPTER ONE: THE PROMISE
HEADQUARTERS HOURGLASS COVEN, HAYLL, TERREILLE
"The contract is clear. Prince Sadiablo retains the right to choose the witch who will bear the child." Althea, elderly Black Widow who served as a clerk for Hayll's Hourglass coven looked between the assembled parties. The beautiful, vivacious young Black Widow who had brought forward the complaint looked as if she had swallowed something bitter, but hid it well enough not to cause a stir. The Warlord Prince inclined his head, but the clerk could tell that the tension in the room was becoming dangerous. He bowed exactly as a Warlord Prince to an elderly Black Widow who did not outrank him should, and left the room.
The girl who remained was young and pretty; she had made the Offering not many months before, and had come back wearing some of the darkest Jewels in the coven. It made her a force to be reckoned with. It made her duel caste even more dangerous, for Dorothea was a Priestess as well as a Black Widow and she came from Hayll's Hundred Families.
Dorothea didn't quite forget to take her leave of the clerk, but she was impertinent with her nod and left shortly on Prince Sadiablo's heels. Althea was glad that it seemed Prince Sadiablo was repulsed by Dorothea, for some reason. Her own visions had been elusive on the subject, but when Prince Sadiablo and Dorothea had asked for this meeting with her, she had woven an idle web as guidance. It had told her to lie... for this lie would be startlingly important.
Prince Sadiablo's child must not be Dorothea's.
Rubbing at tired old eyes, Althea turned her attention to the piles of paperwork that remained for her before she could retire for the day. The coven did not operate as a Court, of course, which meant that she was the only one who dealt with the mundane, day to day things, like paying off their accounts with the local merchants, etc. She was beginning to wade through a pile of notes when she began to feel somewhat sick to her stomach.
She pressed a hand to her side and decided, maybe she had been working too much today. She would take a break, perhaps a nap. She stood and stumbled somewhat on her way to the door. What was wrong with her? She was usually in fine health for her age, and only the knotted old joints gave her trouble in the winter months, with the salve the Healers made and delivered for her.
Frowning, she almost made it to the door of her office before she slumped to the ground.
SADIABLO HALL, DHEMLAN, TERREILLE
Saetan Daemon Sadiablo was the most feared male in the history of the Blood. The only Black Widow, the only Black. He had walked a road of honor and duty, serving the Courts of Queens of note and purpose. And he felt very, very old. He returned to the Hall that was his legacy in Dhemlan, glad to be home. His butler met him in the front hall, and he nodded a greeting, but exchanged no pleasantries. He didn't pause before he was in the sanctuary of his study with the door closed, when he sighed with relief and rubbed at his temples. He was glad to be home.
The portrait of Cassandra that overlooked the fireplace looked down upon him as he crossed to his desk and poured himself a finger of brandy and sipped at it. He hadn't considered the stir he would cause by agreeing to this contract. He had thought it would be a good idea, to help breed dark Jewels back into the coven by siring a child. Preferably a daughter. He had had sons, and thought that perhaps a daughter would be a nice change. He would welcome another son, too, if it came to that. The Hall was quiet of late. Too quiet.
He hadn't expected these meetings. He hadn't chosen a witch to carry the child yet. Most of the Black Widows knew better than to try and force a Warlord Prince into their bed, knowing that fierce passion and violence that could so easily equate sex for his caste, but some had made their attraction to him... no, not him, his Jewels and caste and rank... so apparent as to be in poor taste.
This morning had been the worst. Dorothea thought it was her right to be the child's mother. Somehow that witch had gotten it through her head that her wearing the Red somehow marked her as a messianic mother. Saetan wasn't sure her womb wouldn't eat any child, destroying his seed. She was a mercenary bitch, from what Saetan had seen, and he would rather break this contract, and thus faith with the Hourglass coven in Hayll, than sire a child on that bitch.
He was startled by his own certainty. He, too, belonged to the caste of visions and tangled webs, but his own webs had been startlingly quiet of late. Perhaps not as quiet as he had originally thought; he could imagine no other reason he had such a violent response to Dorothea's suggestion. After all, she was one of the darkest Jewels in the coven, and a woman of good breeding.
Perhaps she simply reminded him too much of Heketah, his ex wife and mother to two... three... of his children. That stab of pain was as fresh now as it had been thousands of years earlier, and he finished the brandy to numb it. Heketah, too, wore the Red, and had once been a young, vivacious, pretty Hayllian woman of good breeding. Now she was demon dead and haunted his doorstep only occasionally.
A knock at his door startled him, but he recognized the psychic scent of his butler, and indicated the man might enter. A polite incline of the head before the man began to speak. "There is a Lady from the coven here to see you, Prince." Saetan's eyes narrowed. He had indicated he would conduct this business in Hayll, to maintain the privacy he felt he was due in Dhemlan. Sadiablo Hall was his home, but also the main administrative building of Dhemlan; he was, after all, Warlord Prince of Dhemlan and protector of those found within his borders, though he was Hayllian by birth.
"Does she offer a name?" he asked. He had horrible visions of Dorothea having followed him here. He could hear her laughter... Heketah's laughter... echoing off the walls of this room and it made his skin crawl. He wouldn't allow it.
"Tersa." the voice came from behind the butler. The man turned, shocked to have been followed. But if the witch hadn't wanted to be detected, his butler only wore the Purple Dusk. It wouldn't have been hard to mask her scent. And as she stepped into the room, he was caught by the petite figure that belayed the rich, dark scent that she now did not bother to mask. She stepped into his study, and faced him with a small smirk. Her sharp gold eyes were amused, but he could sense tension as well. She didn't know how she would be received.
"Lady Tersa. I was not expecting you," he offered the courtesy because it did not pain him to do so. Having expected Dorothea, he was refreshed by the presence of this Black Widow. He had heard her name before, spoken in the halls of the coven with some manner of anticipation, but he had never been introduced to her. "Would you please be seated?" he glanced at his butler, who was obviously off put by the Lady's actions, but he inclined his head. Refreshments would arrive shortly.
Tersa stepped lightly through his office. He had indicated no seat in particular, but she did not choose to sit before the blackwood desk. Instead, she sat on one of the two couches in a less formal section of the room. He wondered at the choice, and looked at this woman... was she Dhemlanese, not Hayllian?... with some apprehension. She was nothing he had expected, thus far. Neither was that Red Jewel around her neck.
"Thank you, Prince." she paused and glanced up at him. "I'll be frank because I don't know how to dance around the issue... have you chosen Dorothea as the child's mother?" She was young. Younger, perhaps, than Dorothea. At further glance, he realized several startling things about this witch, and one that threw him for a loop. That Red Jewel she wore was her Birthright. He had heard nothing about a Red Birthright within the coven... but would he have? She was precious. He had heard that. Precious to them... and protected from him? Black Widows were notoriously closed mouthed when it suited them.
But her question begged for an answer. "I have not." he wasn't sure it was safe to be frank with her in reply, but he allowed some measure of his distaste for Dorothea to show in his psychic scent. She stiffened, as if unsure of the change in the air, then she seemed to taste the difference and turned to him. Her expression startled him. It was rather feral, and amused. It was the sort of expression he would have expected were they in Kaeleer. The Blood there were somehow... different. He couldn't never place exactly why, but it was true. Tersa's expression turned impish for a moment.
He was even more surprised by his response to that expression, and the sudden tartness in the Black Widow's psychic scent. He hadn't felt attraction like that in some time. Daring, he raised a hand and brushed an errant strand of hair back from her face, but she flinched, and there was sudden heat in her eyes. Hot anger, not the cold of the Jewels. He had overstepped the boundaries in this budding acquaintance; she had some reason to fear men. He removed his hand, and the heat dimmed.
Neither one spoke about the exchange.
"Good." she finally replied. She tensed her hands, white knuckles testament to her tension. He wondered at it. She turned to look at him in the eye; bold, and unforgiving. "Don't." she stood up. He stood as well, somewhat thrown off balance by her sudden movement. She glanced over her shoulder at him, considering, before she tucked dark hair behind an ear. "I should be going."
He was somewhat in shock. Her behavior was off putting. Certainly she hadn't come all the way from Hayll to say that to him when a letter would have sufficed? And she was unescorted, unless he was mistaken. Young, unescorted, and in a hurry...
"The coven doesn't know you are here." he said simply. She tensed, eyes suddenly sharp. He knew he would have to tread carefully. She was cautious, and he would guess she was fiercely loyal to the coven. He would not ask her to betray confidence, but it seemed strange she was being so elusive and secretive.
"And if they don't?" she asked dangerously.
"It's none of my business, of course." he answered. She turned, considering him. He had offered a wary trust, and she studied him as if he might snatch that back at any moment. "But perhaps I could offer you an escort of my own men back to Hayll?" he suggested. She let out a huff, and the coldness was gone.
"I'm perfectly capable of finding my way." she snarled good naturedly. He laughed, and her eyes lit up. He was entranced by her, this bright, shining young Black Widow. "I thank you for the offer, Prince Sadiablo." She inclined her head, and then she was gone, as quickly at she had come. He was left somewhat speechless, and amused. There was a lingering scent of almonds and some perfume he couldn't place, as well as that dark, sweet psychic scent.
Perhaps he had found the witch he would choose.
TYREWOOD ESTATE, HAYLL, TERREILLE
Dorothea paced the balcony of her rooms at her family's home in Hayll, hands twining around the silken handkerchief, and gold eyes blazing. After her horrible meeting with Althea and Prince Sadiablo, she'd come home here, to where she could stew in peace.
She hadn't expected to be thwarted. She needed that child. It would solidify her position within the coven, and within Hayll. Saetan Sadiablo might not come from any of the hundred families (she had checked) but he was well known, infamous, and gloriously dark Jeweled. Everyone knew who he was. Everyone knew his name. His child would be the perfect pawn in Hayll. Dorothea's ultimate goals were simple: she might not be a Queen, but she would rule Hayll.
And that child would be the tool she needed!
She threw herself in a fit over the long, low lounging couch she had in her sitting room. The decor was all rich and brilliant, to compliment the normal coloration for one of the long lived; rich gold, deep reds, and midnight blacks. She twisted her lips into a pretty pout and sighed to herself.
But all was not lost. She could still win this. She turned over and sat up, the folds of her silk gown tangling around her legs as she did. She simply had to prove to the Prince that she was the best... the only, option. After all, he wasn't going to choose some stupid, ugly light Jeweled Black Widow. She had it all going for her. She would win yet. After all, he could hardly resist her.
She smiled to herself, pleased by the thought of having such a handsome, dark Jeweled Warlord Prince as the sire of her child... no, children. She'd let him have one or two more, just to make sure she held the leash firmly. With the Black at her disposal, her takeover of Hayll would be a certainty. And he already ruled Dhemlan, which was scandalous enough, but useful. She may not be a Queen, but she could be High Priestess of Hayll. The title made her smile.
She leaned back, thinking of her future, and smile.
HEADQUARTERS HOURGLASS COVEN, HAYLL, TERREILLE
"Prince Sadiablo, this is a surprise." Saetan watched the middle aged Black Widow shift things around. She was obviously distracted as she flipped through documents now strewn all over the desk. "I understood that Althea met with you just a few days ago about your contract? Were things not settled to your satisfaction?" Her disinterested tone could mean many things, but Saetan chose to believe that she was simply overwhelmed. Lady Mercedes was the head of the Hourglass coven in Hayll, and had a great many concerns on her plate. It was strange that she was even meeting with him. He had expected to meet with Althea again.
"No, the issue was settled. I came to inform the coven I have chosen a Black Widow, if she accepts my offer." he replied. That seemed to cut through the Lady's haze. She looked up at him and then settled into the chair behind the desk. It was strange, he noted, to be the one on the opposite end of the desk, so used to the duties as Warlord Prince of Dhemlan.
Mercedes cleared her throat. "Who have you chosen, Prince?"
As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he sensed the change in Mercedes. Her demeanor shifted and darkened. Her face closed off to him, and the temperature in the room chilled. Startled by her shift in temper, he felt his own instincts rise to the unspoken challenge. Lady Mercedes was impressive with the Gray Jewel she wore, but his Black still eclipsed her. She knew that, and yet he had the impression she would go down fighting. But why? What about his selection had been a call to battle to this witch?
"Lady Tersa is not part of this contract. You will have to choose another." Mercedes said quite chillingly. The two sized one another up for a moment. Predators, both, simply by merit of being Blood. But no Black Widow could meet a Warlord Prince on the killing fields and expect to walk away. Especially not with the man who was the High Lord of Hell before he was a Guardian. Several moments ticked by before the Black Widow shifted in her seat and looked back at him. The unspoken question deserved an answer, and she knew it. "Tersa has not had her Offering or her Virgin Night."
That explained a great deal about the young Black Widow and her caution. A witch was most vulnerable that night, before her power was confirmed, when a man could strip potential from her; a broken witch could do some basic Craft, but would never be the kind of witch she had been born to be. And she would always know it, too.
But it was more than that, he knew. Something he could not place, and something she was not going to tell him. He accepted the answer, however inadequate, and inclined his head. "When does the coven expect her to have her Virgin Night?" The coven had no power to force Tersa to have it, merely to suggest partners or times to her. She was old enough to have had her majority, old to not have had her Virgin Night. There was a great deal he did not know about Tersa, but this oddity seemed to sit ill at ease with him. Why would a young Black Widow forgo something that would only solidify her power, and protect her?
It cost Mercedes a great deal to answer, but she did, because the coven needed to be able to trust him, and she knew it. "Within the month."
He considered the answer, and then nodded slightly. "If this idea pleases Tersa... then I would be willing to wait until she is safely confirmed of her power." he was in no rush, and if the coven was, then they would have to renegotiate. He had chosen Tersa.
Little did he know that Tersa was not a witch who had much interest in being chosen.