Book by Hambly Barbara
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Jenny Waynest's son Ian took poison on the night of winter's first
snowfall. He was thirteen.
She was dreaming about the demon when it happened. The demon was called
Amayon, beautiful as the night and the morning, and she had dreamed of him
every night since fall, when his possession of her had ended. While her
soul was imprisoned in a pale green crystal, he had inhabited her flesh
and done such things as still made her wake weeping, or screaming, or
speaking his name out of a longing so desperate she thought she would die
In daylight the grief of his loss, and her shame at that grief, occupied
her mind against her will, to the exclusion of all other things. Otherwise
she would have seen--she hoped she would have seen--the pain and horror
growing in her son's eyes.
This night there was a part of her that knew where Ian was. In her dream
she saw him in the small stone house on Frost Fell--the house that had been
her master Caerdinn's up to the old man's death. Later Jenny had lived
there, until she had gone with Lord John Aversin, Thane of the Winterlands
and her lover of ten years, to live at Alyn Hold. Asleep in their bed at
the Hold now, she saw their son in the old stone house, saw him descend
the stair from the loft and with a glance, as wizards could, kindle the
wood on the hearth.
He shouldn't be there, she thought. It was past midnight and the snow had
been falling since just before dark. He shouldn't be there.
Rest, Amayon's voice whispered. Sleepy dreams are better than plans and
Her consciousness drifted away.
Ever since the magics of the Demon Queen Aohila had taken Amayon from her,
Jenny had tried to decide whether the pain she felt was a memory that
Amayon had left or whether he spoke to her still. Sometimes she thought
that she could hear his voice, gentle and trusting as a child's, though he
was Aohila's prisoner behind the Mirror of Isychros. At other times she
guessed that the coaxing sweetness, the hurtful mocking, were only a
poison he'd left to make her suffer. How like him, she thought, and she
did not know if she thought it fondly or with hatred.
People who survived possession weren't the same afterward.
Her mind returned to her son. He sat beside the hearth, his head bowed,
thin fingers twisting at his dark hair.
She remembered her own pain when the demon who'd possessed her had been
At least he still has magic.
The loss of Jenny's magic, as a result of the final battle with the
demons, had been the worst of all.
You saved them, the sweet soft voice whispered in her mind: like Amayon's
voice, though sometimes it sounded like her own. You fought the demons for
your son, and for Lord John, and for the Regent of the Realm. You did just
as you ought. Yet you lost everything. How fair is that?
The image came to her of Ian casually brushing aside her spells of ward,
running his hands over the terra-cotta pots of her poisons in the brassy
dull firelight, but the vision melted with her resentment and her grief.
Sleepy dreams, the voice coaxed. Lovely sleepy dreams. Of Amayon. Of magic.
She saw Ian open a pot that she knew contained monkshood. Saw him dip his
fingers into the coarse powder.
Perhaps you'll find the magic again within your beautiful heart.
The sweet voice lured her back to her dream, where she lay in the great
bed in the Hold with John breathing soft beside her. His beaky face was
turned away; he was clerkish and shortsighted and middle-aged, and nothing
like the great thanes who had ruled the Winterlands before him, save for
Dreaming, she broke open her own ribs and tore her chest apart, as the
demon had suggested. She saw her heart, which in her dream was wrought of
a thousand crystals, scarlet and crimson and pink. Dreaming, she lifted it
out. Blood gummed her fingers together as she fumbled for its catch, as if
her heart were a box. The catch was a diamond, like a single poisoned tear.
Fascinated, she watched her heart unfurl in all directions, as if in
opening the box she had somehow folded herself inside it. Within it she
was, curiously, once again in the curtained bed with John, in a warm
frowst of worn quilts and moth-holed furs. Like mirrors within mirrors she
saw the scarred husk of her own body, burned in the final battle when she
had pinned the demon-ridden renegade mage Caradoc with a harpoon beneath
the sea: hair burned away, eyelashes burned away--magic burned away.
John lay beside her, twined in the arms of the Demon Queen.
"Don't wake her," the Queen whispered, and giggled like a schoolgirl. She
was beautiful, as Jenny had never been beautiful: tall and slim, with
breasts like ripe melons and coal-black jeweled hair. She traced on John's
bare flesh the silvery marks it had borne when he'd returned from the Hell
behind the mirror, marks that could occasionally be seen in the light of
the earthly moon. Then she pressed her lips to the pit of his throat,
where a small fresh scar lay like a burn.
She laughed huskily when John cupped her breasts in his hands.
"Let him be!"
Jenny's cry waked her. Like falling through a chain of mirrors, she fell
from the imagined tower and imagined bed to the real ones and sat bolt
upright, the air icy in her lungs. Beside her, John slept still.
He dreams of her. Rage washed from Jenny all thought of that other dream,
the dream of Ian hunting among the ensorceled poison pots at Frost Fell.
Laughs at me with her while I sleep.
Her cry had not waked him, and that made her angry, too. Hating him, she
rolled from the bed and through the heavy curtains. The tower chamber was
cramped and fusty: table and chest and large areas of the floor littered
with John's books. He had a formidable library, laboriously collected from
the ruins of crumbling towns, copied, collated, begged, and borrowed.
Since summer's end, when they had returned from the South, John had been
reading everything he could get his hands on concerning demons and
melancholy and the silent sicknesses of the heart.
As if, Jenny thought angrily, he can cure Ian by reading!
But that was always John's answer.
His armor lay among the books: a battered doublet of black leather, spiked
and plated with iron and chain; dented pauldrons and a close-fitting helm;
longsword and shortsword and a couple of fine Southern cavalry blades;
spectacles with bent silver-wire frames; and a pair of muddy boots.
Rocklys of Galyon, whose machinations to rule the Realm had set in motion
last summer's ter-rible events, had stripped the Winterlands of its
garrisons: John was back riding patrol, as he had done most of his adult
He had little time these days to give his son.
And less, Jenny thought, to give to her.
Fingers stiff with scars, she shoved up the latch of the heavy shutters
and stood gazing into darkness only a degree less heavy than that in the
room. Snow covered the bare fields, the bare moor beyond. The smell of the
sky calmed her, dispelled the envenomed miasma of her dreams.
Ian. The dream of him stirred at the edge of her thoughts.
Sleepy dreams. The sweet voice whispered and pulled at her heart. Sleepy
dreams, not plans and schemes. Somehow it sounded rational, true in its
simplicity, like a nursery song.
When she'd left the bed, the burning heat of the change of life had been
warming her flesh, but that fled away now and her limbs were cold. Better
to return to bed and the comfort of her dreams.
The cold from the window must have waked John. Anger and resentment burned
her. She wanted to be alone with her wretchedness and her grief.
"You were dreaming of her, weren't you?" Her voice snapped in her own
ears, black ice breaking underfoot and miles of freezing water beneath.
She spat the words back at him over her shoulder. She knew that he stood
next to the bed, wrapped in one of its shabby furs, long hair hanging to
his shoulders as he blinked in her direction, seeing nothing.
And just as well, she thought bitterly. Face and scalp and body scarred by
demon fire and poisoned steam, and scarred within by the heats and
migraines and malaises of the change of a woman's life. Better he be half
blind and in darkness than see me as I am.
"I can't help my dreams, Jen." He sounded tired. They'd fought before
going to bed. And yesterday, and the day before.
"Then don't deny me mine."
"I wouldn't," John retorted, "if dreams was all they were. But you had a
demon within you . . ."
"And you believe them, don't you?" Jenny swung around, trembling. "Believe
those people who say that anyone who has been taken by a demon should be
killed? That's what all those books of yours say, isn't it?"
"Not all." There was a warrant out in the South for his life for
trafficking with the Demon Queen. Had Rocklys of Galyon not taken the
King's troops from the North to fuel her demon-inspired rebellion, he
might already have been executed.
"Is that what you want?" She struck at him with her words as if it were
he, and not the archdemon Folcalor's final outpouring of magic, that had
robbed her of her power. "To kill me, as the books say? To kill Ian, for
something neither of us wanted, for something that happened against our
He was a man who had grown up keeping his thoughts to himself, and he said
"I was taken trying to save him!" she cried into his silence. She had a
sweet small voice: gravel veined with silver. It sounded brittle to her
now, and shrill. "For trying to save h...
Once the most powerful mage in the land, Jenny Waynest is now a broken woman. After being possessed and corrupted by the demon Amayon, she lost everything she holds dear--even the trust of her husband. Yet Lord John Aversin has torments of his own: memories of the beautiful and cruel Aohila, demon queen of a rival hell, whom he'd tricked into providing the help he needed to free Jenny. Now, condemned to death for trafficking with demons, John cannot forgive himself for opening the door to a far greater evil--an evil that still haunts his dreams. And not only his dreams . . .
For a vengeful Aohila needs mortal aid in realms beyond her power, and who better to provide it than Lord John? Blackmailed into cooperating, John must fight his way through unimaginable horrors in quest of a prize that may doom the world he has left behind . . .
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