Saetan nodded. “Yes, there are. And there are a few love bites, which I didn’t see. And her leg muscles are sore, but you and Nighthawk are being given equal blame for those.”
The smallest twitch of lips; a hint of amusement in the golden eyes; the tight muscles in the shoulders beginning to relax one breath at a time.
He knew the signs, had watched this son struggle to repair himself once before when he’d believed Jaenelle had been lost forever.
“Now,” he said, “you and Nighthawk may be equally to blame for the sore muscles, but you’re the only one with hands, so I suggest that you be the one who offers to give Jaenelle a back rub this evening.”
An unspoken question hung in the air. He waited.
Finally Daemon gave him the tiniest nod. The Steward of the Dark Court wouldn’t tell the Consort to take care of the Queen if there was any doubt about the Consort’s welcome.
Having done as much as could be done for the moment, Saetan called in a book, opened it to the table of contents, and pointed to the titles of two stories. “Which one would you like to hear?”
The answer made his heart ache—and also gave him hope that Jaenelle was right and Daemon was emotionally battered right now but not truly broken.
Daemon didn’t remember giving the same answer so many times as a boy that it had become a ritual between them. But he did. And because he remembered, he called in his half-moon glasses, took his time settling them on his nose just so, and completed the ritual with the same words he’d always said. “Yes, I think we can read both this time.”
Agitated and feeling reckless, Theran rapped on the study door and walked in before he was invited.
“Hell’s fire, Sadi. Are you serious about these conditions you’ve set?”
The man sitting behind the blackwood desk wasn’t Daemon Sadi. It was the pissy old c**k from the Keep. The assistant historian /librarian—who no longer looked like a somewhat benign clerk whose Red Jewels and caste could, mostly, be ignored.
Now he saw the resemblance between Sadi and the Hayllian Warlord Prince, who set a piece of paper on the desk and removed the half-moon glasses, whose gold eyes never left Theran’s face.
Fear shuddered through Theran when he noticed the Warlord Prince’s right hand, with its long, black-tinted nails and the Black-Jeweled ring.
“You managed to hone my temper before I walked into that sitting room at the Keep, so we never did finish the introductions. I’m Saetan Daemon SaDiablo, the former Warlord Prince of Dhemlan—and still the High Lord of Hell.”
Theran’s legs buckled. He hit the edge of the chair in front of the desk and grabbed the arms to push himself back in the seat.
“I—” What was he supposed to say to the High Lord? Apologize for not being more courteous when he’d been at the Keep?
“I’m assuming by the way you entered the room that you want to discuss the terms Prince Sadi set for having a Kaeleer Queen rule Dena Nehele.”
“Sadi . . .”
“Is indisposed this morning. You may discuss this with me.”
May the Darkness have mercy. All he wanted right now was to get out of this room.
Jared wouldn’t have run. Blaed wouldn’t have run.
“The terms are . . .” Sadi had accepted the position of Warlord Prince of Dhemlan a few months after his father resigned. Theran remembered hearing that last night at dinner. How was he supposed to voice his objections to the terms without sounding like he was criticizing the son? Because this was one father he did not want to offend.
“Unreasonable? Insulting? Barbed?” Saetan offered with a hint of a sharp smile. “Everything has a price, Prince Grayhaven. The man who wrote up these terms has a good understanding of Terreille. A better understanding than you do, since yours, I suspect, is confined to your own Territory. Prince Sadi also has a fine understanding of how the males in Kaeleer, especially the Warlord Princes, respond to any threat to a female, let alone a Queen. You may feel hobbled by these terms, but they were thought through carefully and are designed to protect your people as well as the Queen who comes to rule.”
Realizing he’d dropped the paper when he’d grabbed for the chair,Theran retrieved it and stared at the list of conditions.
“A year? She only stays a year?”
“A year is enough time for both of you to know if your people can accept an outsider ruling over them—and if your people really want to go back to following the Old Ways of the Blood.”
“If we didn’t want to go back to living the way we did when the Gray Lady ruled, we would have settled for . . .” For one of the Queens we have—who would destroy what’s left of us as surely as one of Dorothea’s pet Queens would have done.
Theran slumped in the chair, his hands dangling between his knees. “Grayhaven is my family’s home—and my inheritance. What’s left of it. She can have the use of it. As for a tithe . . . Hell’s fire. We’re just trying to get enough food planted and harvested so that everyone has enough to eat this winter. The Queens who ruled bled the land and the people dry. I told Sadi that last night.”
“That doesn’t change what is needed for a Queen’s court,” Saetan said quietly. “She deserves something for her effort, and the court needs some way to pay for its expenses.”
“Couldn’t the tithe be paid in goods and services?” Theran asked.
“If the Queen and the First Circle are agreeable to that condition, yes, a high percentage of the tithe could be done that way.”
Hopeful that there might be more flexibility to these terms than he’d first thought, Theran looked at the sheet of paper again. “Inspections?”
“And weekly reports from the Queen.”
“Why does she have to answer to anyone? And why should my people be treated like children who get surprise tests to see if we’ve learned our manners?”
Saetan leaned back, steepled his fingers, and rested his forefingers against his chin. “Because you don’t have any manners. That’s one of the reasons you’re here. You want something you don’t remember, something your people don’t remember. The inspections aren’t to test you; they’re to appease the Warlord Princes from the Queen’s home. Since you belong to that caste, you shouldn’t be so dismissive of the power and temper that could land on your doorstep with the intention to kill. As for the Queen’s weekly reports, those, too, are to offer reassurance and are in place of having armed escorts living with her in Dena Nehele.” He paused. “I should say armed escorts from her home Territory. Providing sufficient escorts for her protection is your responsibility. Gathering the men and women who will form the First Circle is your responsibility. And assuring the Queen’s physical and emotional well-being is also your responsibility.”