*Now,* Kaelas said.
Silent, invisible, the cats spread out and went hunting.
1 / Kaeleer
Lucivar and Falonar stood back at a prudent distance and watched the women at archery practice. Hallevar stood a few feet behind the women, giving instructions that could be heard in the still morning air as clearly as the smack of sticks coming from the arms practice field.
The weather had turned overnight, bringing the warm promise of spring. It wouldn't last, but while it did, Lucivar intended to have the women on the practice field for a couple of hours every morning. This was the first day they were actually aiming an arrow at a target. Watching them would have been amusing if he hadn't felt so edgy.
A day and a half had passed since Daemon's order to "stay put and stand guard" had been relayed through the First Circle—an order which, a couple of hours later, had been reinforced by Jaenelle. The only other message he had received had been equally brief: Karla had been poisoned and Morton was missing.
He would have disregarded the order if Daemon hadn't been with Jaenelle, but he knew that if anyone could protect the Queen better than he could, it was the Sadist.
So he'd stayed... and watched... and waited.
Falonar huffed out a breath as a spattering of arrows made a pathetic attempt to reach the targets. "Do you really think they can do this?" he asked doubtfully.
Lucivar snorted. "During your first six months in the hunting camps, you couldn't hit anything smaller than the side of a mountain."
Falonar just looked at him. "But I didn't whine about taking up time that could be used to air out the bedding. What's the point of pretending they can use a—shit."That when a woman with a bow fully drawn started to turn toward Hallevar as he added instructions. Hallevar leaped forward and shoved her so that the arrow skittered along the grass instead of into the woman next to her.
Lucivar and Falonar both winced at the language Hallevar used to explain that little error.
"Do you see?" Falonar demanded.
"Hallevar didn't learn to leap like that because this was the first time someone had done something so stupid," Lucivar replied. He paused, then added, "What's really biting your ass about this?"
Falonar scuffed a boot over the ground. "If we aren't the warriors and protectors, we don't have much to offer— until a woman is looking for a stud. And that's not easy to stomach."
"Can you cook?" Lucivar asked mildly.
Falonar glared at him. "Of course I can cook. Any Eyrien who's been in the hunting camps knows how to do rough-and-ready cooking."
Lucivar nodded. "Then relax. Just because a woman knows how to catch her own dinner doesn't mean she's going to grow balls any more than you're going to grow tits just because you know how to cook it." He watched Surreal put an arrow into the outer ring of the target and smiled. "Do you want to go over and tellher you don't think she's capable of handling a bow?"
"Not while she's got a weapon in her hand," Falonar muttered.
They jumped when one of the women let out a loud yelp.
Lucivar relaxed when he noticed the way Hallevar was rubbing one hand over his mouth and the woman was surreptitiously rubbing her forearm against her right breast.
"Five minutes of free practice," Hallevar called before hurrying toward the other two men.
"What happened?" Falonar demanded.
"Damnedest thing," Hallevar said, breaking into a wide grin. "Didn't think to warn them about it 'cause... well, Hell's fire, I've neverhad to consider it before. How was I supposed to know you could catch a tit with a bowstring?"
"Catch a—" Falonar looked at the women—who had all turned to glare at the men. He looked at the ground and cleared his throat—several times. "Bet it stings."
Lucivar felt his jaw muscles cramp with the effort to keep from laughing. "Yes, I'm sure it does. I didn't think to warn Marian when I taught her, and I'd already worked with Jaenelle. But Marian's got ... a bit more chest."
Hallevar just nodded solemnly. "That's a fine, respectful way to phrase it—especially when there's a handful of women out there who might just get mad enough to actually hit something if you phrased it any other way."
"Precisely," Lucivar said dryly. "Work them through one more quiver and—"
He was running toward the arms practice field before the first panicked scream could be drowned out by furious shouts. He leaped up on the low stone wall that separated the two fields. Ice formed around his heart when he saw Kaelas give a Green-Jeweled Eyrien Warlord Prince a casual swat that opened up the back of one thigh. The ice became a painful cage when he saw Rothvar and Zaranar running toward the stranger with weapons drawn.
*NO!* he shouted on a spear thread. I’ll gut any man who raises a weapon!*
They skidded to a stop, their shock at his order rivaling their fury. But they, and the other men on the practice field, obeyed.
"Help me!" the stranger yelled as he swung his war blade at Kaelas, trying to keep the cat in front of him while he limped backward toward the other men. "Damn you all to the bowels of Hell,help me!"
Lucivar turned, looked back at the women. *Marian, take all the women up to our eyrie. Close the shutters.*
He strode toward the loose circle of men, Falonar and Hallevar right behind him. A gut-sick satisfaction filled him as he watched how easily Kaelas dodged the stranger's attempts to counterattack—and he wondered what the other men would say if they knewhe had been the one who had taught the cat how to move with and against human weapons.
As soon as the Eyrien shifted into a fighting stance, Kaelas charged. The speed and the sheer weight behind the charge knocked the man back several feet. The claws ripped open the Eyrien's shoulders and followed through down the arms, leaving them useless. The cat leaped away and began lazily circling a man barely able to get to his feet.
Falonar looked behind them and cursed softly, viciously. Turning and opening his wings to hide the practice field, he snarled, "Go back with the other women."
"Don't give me any of that—oh, shit," Surreal said as she dodged Falonar and got a good look at the man and cat.
Kaelas continued the light, almost playful swats, inflicting surface wounds that would slowly bleed out his prey. He continued until the Eyrien stranger spread his torn wings and tried to fly. The cat leaped with the man, then landed lightly. The man, with his back ripped open, fell heavily.