Jaenelle had been right about that. It was more than his own life at stake in this decision. He'd let his dislike of Roxie color his sense of justice, had avoided her because she reminded him too much of the bitches who'd used him in Terreille…and hadn't gone after her for using other men as he'd done when he was a slave because, he'd told himself, those men had had a choice about being with her. He wasn't sure of that anymore, but the Queens in both Doun and Riada had informed him with wary formality that no complaints had been lodged, no man had come forward to say Roxie had mistreated him. Didn't mean much, although the Queens here could be naive enough to believe it did. As long as an aristo witch didn't play with an aristo male whose family would protest if his reputation was damaged, the Queens would never know about the others…youths, now ashamed that lust had overruled common sense, who were considered "sluts." Good enough when a woman wanted a warm body in bed, but too "experi-
enced" to be considered for a public, long-term relationship…or a marriage.
He didn't like Roxie, which is why he'd given himself a full day to think hard about what was just…and, thank the Darkness, his Queen had approved of his decision.
That didn't mean the aristo families in Doun were going to find it easy to swallow. But everything had a price. Males who warmed too many beds sometimes paid dearly. Roxie would be the lesson…and the warning…that witches who used men would pay a price as well. He'd been too passive in dealing with Roxie. He wouldn't make that mistake again.
A servant escorted him into the formal parlor where Roxie's father waited. The man rocked on his heels, all ruffled indignation and puffed-up anger. But there was fear in his eyes.
"Warlord," Lucivar said.
"Prince." Roxie's father bobbed his head sharply. "I hope you've dismissed that servant. Dreadful woman, accosting an innocent girl on a public street and then spreading lies about her."
"If you're referring to Lady Marian…"
"Marian. Yes, that's the name! Your…"
Roxie's father paled. "What?"
"Marian is my lover," Lucivar said softly.
"But… But you promised Roxie…"
Lucivar snarled. "The only thing I ever promised Roxie was that I'd kill her if I found her in my bed again."
The man staggered toward a chair and sank into it.
He loves the little bitch,Lucivar thought as pity stirred in him. But pity couldn't alter what he'd come here to do. In truth, he was showing Roxie more mercy than she probably deserved. "Everything has a price. The price of rape is execution. Falsely accusing a man of rape also has a price…the witch's Jewels… or her life."
"But she didn't accuse you of anything! You only have that woman's…that Lady's word on it."
"She didn't have a chance to accuse me," Lucivar countered. He took
a deep breath, let it out in a sigh, and shook his head. Better just to say it and be done. "Because she didn't have a chance to play out her game, I can be… flexible… about the penalty. I can't justify taking her life, but I won't have her putting men's lives at risk in the land where I rule. Therefore, Roxie is exiled from Ebon Rih.You have three days to get her settled beyond the borders of this valley. If she's not gone by then, I'll come hunting. And if she ever returns to Ebon Rih, I'll kill her."
"You can't!" Roxie's father wailed.
"I'm the law here," Lucivar said. "This is as much mercy as I can offer a woman like her. You can accept it and get her out of Ebon Rih"…he called in his war blade…"or I can kill her now. I imagine there will be a fair number of young men who will sleep easier tonight if I do."
Roxie's father clutched his chest. Tears filled his eyes. "Where is she supposed to go?"
"I don't give a damn." He vanished the war blade. "Just get her out of Ebon Rih, or her life is forfeit."
The man burst out crying.
Since there was nothing more to say, Lucivar walked out of the house and down the street. It was tempting to fly away, to let speed and height put distance between him and that house. But he walked down the street so the people in the other houses would see him, would know. He was the law in Ebon Rih, and nothing except his Queen's command could change that.
Lucivar stopped, turned toward the voice. A young man lingered in a carriageway between two of the houses. Decently dressed, but not from an aristo family. Probably a merchant's son. "What can I do for you?"
"There was some talk…" He glanced down the street. "I mean… Roxie…"
"Has been exiled from Ebon Rih."
The youngster closed his eyes. "Thank you."
Lucivar choked back his temper. So. Here was one of Roxie's victims. "She won't bother you anymore."
"But what about the others?" the young man asked, pleading.
"What others?" Lucivar snapped.
"We… Roxie and me… we only did it twice. Then she lost interest in me, said I wasn't a good enough tumble for her to keep seeing me. But her friends started coming around to my father's shop, and they wanted… expected…"Bitterness filled his eyes."They said they'd heard I was an easy romp, and I should accommodate them the way I'd done for Roxie. But I'd cared for her, and I thought she cared…" His voice trailed off.
"Is your family standing by you?"
"Yes, sir. My father says caring enough to be intimate with a girl isn't a mistake. My mistake was in caring for the wrong kind of girl. And Mother says all young men have a trip and stumble somewhere along the way, that I'll be a better man for it."
"But that doesn't keep the other bitches from expecting you to drop your pants," Lucivar said.
The young man hung his head. "No, sir."
He almost told the youngster there was nothing he could do for him. Then he thought about Saetan's rules for anyone staying at the Hall."This is an order, puppy, so pay attention." He waited until the youngster straightened up and stared at him. "Until I tell you otherwise, you may not have sex with a girl without my permission. That means both of you coming before me and telling me you want each other. I'll let you make the choice about kissing and petting above the waist. You go any further than that without coming to me first, I will beat the shit out of you. And I'll beat the shit out of her, just so it's clear that the penalty to her will be equally harsh if she pushes after you decline. You understand me?"