If they hadn't, they were going to. "The shield," he prompted.

"All of a sudden, the sky was filled with Jhinka screaming like they do. Khevin told me to come to the community hall. We . . . the Lady says that sometimes a link is formed when people like us are . . . close."

Lucivar glanced at her left hand. No marriage ring. Lovers then. At least Khevin had known, and given, that pleasure.

"I was at this end of the village, delivering some of Gran's herb medicines. The adults wouldn't listen to me, so I just grabbed a little girl who was playing outside and yelled at the other children to corne with me. I—I think Imade some of them come with me.

"When we got to the community building, Khevin had a shield around it. He was sweating. It looked like it was hurting him."

Lucivar was sure that it had.

"He said he'd tried to send a message to Agio on a psychic thread, but he wasn't sure anyone would hear it. Then he told me someone had to stay inside the shield in order to reach through it to bring another person in. He brought me through just as one of the Jhinka flew at us. The Jhinka hit the shield so hard it knocked him out. Khevin got his ax—he'd been chopping wood when the attack started. He went through the shield and k-killed the Jhinka. By then all the men in the village were in the streets, fighting. Khevin stayed outside to protect the children while I pulled them through the shield.

"By then the Jhinka were all around us. A lot of the women who tried to reach the building didn't make it, or were badly wounded by the time I pulled them through the shield. Gran . . . Gran was almost within reach when one ' of the Jhinka swooped down and. ... He laughed. He looked at me and he laughed while he killed her."

Lucivar refilled the cup and put a warming spell on the pots while Mari groped in her apron pocket for a handkerchief.

She sipped the herbal tea, saying nothing for a minute. "Khevin couldn't keep fighting and hold the shield, too. Even I could see that. He had a-arrows in his legs. He couldn't move very fast. They caught him before he could go through the shield and did that to him. Then Lord Randahl and the others came and started fighting.

"Two of the Warlords were shielding the wounded, leading them here, while the other two kept killing and killing.

"Khevin's shield started to fail. I was afraid the Warlords I would put up another one that I couldn't get through, and Khevin would be left outside. As I reached out and grabbed

him, a Jhinka saw me and slashed my arm. I pulled Khevin through just before the Warlords slipped inside and put up another shield."

Mari sipped her tea. "Lord Adler started swearing because they couldn't break through the witch storm around the village to send a message to Agio. But Lord Randahl just kept looking at Khevin.

"Then he and Lord Adler picked Khevin up 1-like he was finally worth something. They took the mattress and sheets from the caretaker's bed and did what they could to make him comfortable." Mari stared at the cup, tears running down her face. "That's it."

Lucivar took the empty cup, wanting to offer her some comfort but not sure if she could accept it from a Warlord Prince. Maybe from someone like Aaron, who was the same age, but from him?


Relief washed through him when Jaenelle walked into the kitchen.

"Let's see your arm," Jaenelle said, gently loosening the bandage and ignoring Mari's stammered pleas to take care of Khevin. "First your arm. I need you whole so you can help me with the others. We're going to need some mild— ah, you've already prepared some."

While Jaenelle healed the deep knife wound that had opened Mari's arm from elbow to wrist, Lucivar ladled out cups of the healing teas and put a warming spell on each cup. After a bit of cupboard hunting, he found two large metal serving trays. Full, they'd be too heavy for Mari— especially since Jaenelle had just warned her that the kind of fast healing she was going to have to do wasn't going to hold up under strain—but the young Warlords out there could do the heavy hauling and lifting now that he was maintaining the shield.

Jaenelle solved the problem by putting a float spell on both trays so that they hovered waist high. Mari didn't need to lift, just steer.

With Lucivar and Mari guiding the trays, the three of them went to the large room. Jaenelle ignored the clamor that began as soon as the villagers saw her and went to the ' shadowed wall where Khevin lay.

Mari hesitated, biting her lip, obviously torn between her desire to go to her lover and her duties as assistant Healer. ; Lucivar gave her shoulder a quick, encouraging squeeze j before he joined Jaenelle. He didn't know what help he j could give her, but he'd do whatever he could.

As Jaenelle started to lift the sheet, Khevin's eyes opened. With effort, he grabbed her hand.

She stared at the young man, her eyes blank. It was as if she had gone so deep within herself that the windows of ! the soul could no longer reveal the person who lived within

"Do you fear me?" she asked in a midnight whisper.

"No, Lady." Khevin licked his dry lips. "But it's a War- j lord's privilege to protect his people. Take care of them first."

Lucivar tried to reach her with a psychic thread, but Jaenelle had shut him out.Please, Cat. Let him have his pride.

She reached under the sheet. Khevin moaned a wordless protest.

"I'll do as you ask because you asked," she said, "but I'm going to tie in some of the threads from the healing j web I've builtnow so that you'll stay with me." She smoothed the sheet and rested one long-nailed finger at the base of his throat. "And I warn you, Khevin, you had better stay with me."

Khevin smiled at her and closed his eyes.

Cupping her elbow, Lucivar led Jaenelle into the hallway. "Since they won't be needed for the shield, I'll send the younger Warlords in to help with the fetching and carrying."

"Adler, yes. Not the other two."

The ice in her voice chilled him. He'd never heard any Queen condemn a man so thoroughly.

"Very well," he said respectfully. "I can—"

"Keep this place safe, Yaslana."

He felt the quiver, swiftly leashed, and locked his emotions up tight. Hell's fire, even if the drugs were out of her system enough for her to do the healings, her emotions weren't stable. And she knew it.

"Cat . . ."

"I'll hold. You don't have to watch your back because of that."

He grinned. "Actually, it's when you're hissing and spitting that you're the most useful when it comes to guarding my back."

Her sapphire eyes warmed a little. "I'll remind you of that."

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