The Queen's Weapons (The Black Jewels #11) by Anne Bishop



PROLOGUE




            Tersa drooped on the stool in front of her worktable. Her brown hands trembled as she pushed her tangled black hair away from her face. Her gold eyes, dulled by fatigue, stared at the latest tangled web of dreams and visions that she had woven in an effort to understand the uneasiness that kept scratching at her. It would go away for days, sometimes weeks, and then it would return. Scratching and scratching. Daring her to remember a life best forgotten for everyone’s sake. For her own sake most of all.

            With this latest web, she could almost see . . . something. But the truth of it eluded her, as so many things eluded her. Simple things. Ordinary things. Some days her body and most of her mind were present in Halaway, the village where she lived. Some days she looked at the decorated cakes in the bakery window and saw cakes. Then there were other days when she saw fragmented memories of other windows, other cakes full of sharpness and pain and screams.

            Perhaps the cakes had held those things. Perhaps not. Sometimes it was difficult to tell one thing from another because she was a broken Black Widow—and a shattered crystal chalice.

            The breaking had been done to her, the savage rape destroying her potential and turning her into another witch whose power had been broken by a man’s spear. But the shattering that had fragmented her mind and left her forever wandering the roads in the Twisted Kingdom? That had been her choice in order to regain the Hourglass’s Craft. She had done it in order to see, to give warning and hope to her boy and the winged boy.

            So many years had passed since the night when she had told Daemon Sadi and Lucivar Yaslana that Witch was coming. So much had happened—joy and pain, sorrow and celebration.

            And now . . .

            Tersa closed her eyes and let herself slide away from the border between sanity and the Twisted Kingdom. There was often clarity in madness.

            She followed a familiar road, stopping when the road began to fragment into paths that might hold the answer—or might hold some terrible memory. As she stood before those paths, knowing she could lose her way and never find the road back to the border, back to her boy, she wondered if all the pain and sorrow, if all the prices that had been paid, had been for nothing.

            *I am Tersa the Weaver, Tersa the Liar, Tersa the Fool.* She spoke the words she’d said once before, sent those words into the Darkness on a braided thread of power and madness.

            A midnight voice, rising from deep in the psychic abyss that was part of the Darkness, replied, *Not a liar, and not a fool.*

            *Something’s coming, but I cannot see.* She wondered if her ability with the Black Widow’s Craft, the ability she’d paid for with her sanity, was fading. Failing.

            *Even if you can hear the sound of a man’s feet marching on the road, can you see him when he’s still on the other side of a hill?* Witch asked.

            She considered that for a moment. *Not until he reaches the crest of the hill and becomes visible.*

            *Well, then?*

            Tersa looked at the fragmented paths that would fragment into more paths that would fragment into even more paths. So easy to get lost in the fragments, where yesterday might be tomorrow. So hard to remain close to the border and its noisy, everyday living.

            But her boy needed her. The winged boy needed her. Even the girl, the assassin, needed her.

            *You will help the boy?*

            *I will help him.*

            Turning away before she couldn’t resist the lure of following just one of the fragmented paths, Tersa began the climb back to the border of the Twisted Kingdom.

            She opened her eyes and grabbed the edge of the worktable as she swayed on the stool, adjusting to the harsh return to the tangible world. As soon as she felt steady enough, she disposed of the tangled web and cleaned the wooden frame that had anchored all the threads of spider silk. Then she locked her tools and supplies in their trunk before tidying up her worktable. When everything was in order, she left the workroom she’d created in the attic of the cottage she shared with the Mikal boy, locking the door before going downstairs.