"And you've spent these past years trying to find a way here?"
She hesitated. "I wasn't ready for a long time. Then, one day, I started wondering if I wouldever be ready. So I came anyway."
Which meant this woman had more courage than was readily apparent.
"Tell me something, Wilhelmina," Saetan said gently. "If, thirteen years ago, Jaenelle had decided to leave Chaillot and had asked you to go with her, would you have?"
It took her a long time to answer. Finally, reluctantly, she said, "I don't know." She looked around the room, sadness in her eyes. "Jaenelle belongs here. I don't."
"You're Jaenelle's sister and a Sapphire-Jeweled witch. Don't judge too quickly."And I, too, will try not to judge too quickly. "Besides, you would have had a different opinion of this place if you'd been here while ten adolescent witches were in residence," he added in a deliberately mournful voice.
Her eyes widened. "You mean "the Queens who are here?"
"That's one way of putting it."
She ducked her head as she stifled a laugh. When she dared to look at him again, he could tell she was thinking hard, reassessing the Hall and the people who resided here.
"I still don't have anything to do," she said hesitantly.
The almost-hopeful expectation in her eyes made him realize she had taken a long step toward accepting him as the family patriarch—and expecting him to fulfill the duties of that position.
"Lucivar didn't sayanything ?"he asked, fully aware that the only reason Lucivar had brought her there was to keep her away from anyone who might try to use her relationship to Jaenelle.
For the first time, a bit of temper flashed in her eyes.
"He told me to try not to faint because it will upset the males if I do."
Saetan sighed. "Coming from Lucivar, that was almost tactful. He's right. Blunt, but right. Males react strongly to feminine distress."
Wilhelmina frowned. "Is that why that large striped cat keeps following me?"
Saetan looked at the study door. A quick question on a psychic spear thread gave him the answer. "His name is Dejaal. He's Prince Jaal's son. He's appointed himself your protector until you feel comfortable with the other males at the Hall."
"He's kindred? I had heard stories—"
"The Blood in Little Terreille don't have much use for the kindred, and the kindred have even less use for the Blood in Little Terreille," Saetan said, and then added silently,Except when they're hungry.
Rising, he offered a hand to Wilhelmina and led her to the door. He called in a grooming brush and gave it to her. "If you want to do something that will help all of us right now, take Dejaal out to one of the gardens and brush him. Once you get used to him, perhaps it will be easier for you to be around the rest of us."
"If it's supposed to make me feel easier, maybe I should brush Lucivar instead," she said with just a hint of tartness. Saetan burst out laughing. "Darling, if you want to get along with Lucivar, just show him that bit of steel in your backbone. Since he's lived with Jaenelle for the past eight years, he'll recognize it for what it is."
8 / Kaeleer
"Are you sure this is the path back to the Hall?" Daemon asked as he ducked under a low-hanging branch.
*We left the path,* Ladvarian said. *We have to cross the creek, and the path has no bridge.*
"I don't need a bridge to cross the creek."
Ladvarian looked at Daemon's shoes. *You would get wet.*
"I'd survive," Daemon muttered.
When he left Tersa's cottage, he'd found Ladvarian waiting to escort him back to the Hall. At first, he'd wondered if this was a subtle kind of insult, implying that he couldn't find his way back by himself. Then, when Ladvarian offered to show him a footpath that ran between Halaway and the Hall, he'd wondered if he was being set up for an ambush. Finally he realized the dog just wanted to spend a little time getting to know the male whose duties made him an important part of the Queen's life.
What he didn't like was the growing impression that he was being labeled as a human who needed to be coddled.
He stopped walking. "Look, this has got to stop. I may not be an Eyrien warrior, but I'm perfectly capable of walking a couple of miles without collapsing, I can get across a creek without getting wet if I choose to, and I don't need a short furball treating me like I can't survive if I'm not inside a house full of servants. Do you understand?"
Ladvarian wagged his tail. *Yes. You want to be treated like a Kaeleer male.*
Daemon rocked back on his heels and studied the Sceltie. "Is that what I said?"
*Yes.* Ladvarian headed off at an abrupt angle. *This way.*
A minute later, they arrived at the creek. Ladvarian trotted up to the bank and leaped. By rights, he should have landed in the middle of the creek, but he kept sailing over it, and when he landed, he was standing a foot above the ground, a doggy grin on his face.
Daemon looked at the creek, looked at the Sceltie, and then air walked over the creek to the other bank.
*Did Jaenelle teach you that?*
Remembering the afternoon when Jaenelle had shown him how to walk on air, Daemon's chest tightened. "Yes," he said softly, "she did."
*She taught me, too.* Ladvarian sounded pleased.
As soon as they walked through another stand of trees, Daemon saw the road. The drive, he amended. Once the north road out of Halaway crossed the bridge, it became the drive up to the Hall, and the land spread out before him was the family estate.
He headed for the drive, then spun around when Ladvarian growled, half-expecting an attack despite the dog's display of friendship.
But Ladvarian was facing the way they'd come. The bridge was out of sight because of the roll of the land, but the wind was coming from that direction.
"What is it?" Daemon asked, opening his first inner barrier enough to sense the area around them.
*Humans are coming. Three carriages. I've warned the other males, but we have to get back now.* Ladvarian started trotting in a direct line toward the Hall, forcing Daemon into a fast walk to keep up.
"What's wrong with humans coming to the Hall?"
Ladvarian's psychic scent became hostile. *They feel wrong.*
The sudden fierceness was a sharp reminder that the small male trotting beside him was also a Red-Jeweled Warlord, and if Lucivar had overseen some of Ladvarian's training, the Sceltie was a far more effective fighter than anyone might suspect.
*Nighthawk will take you to the Hall. He runs faster.*