Theran felt the blood drain from his face. He’d escaped all that. By living with Talon, by hiding in the mountains so the pet Queens couldn’t control the last male in the Grayhaven bloodline, he’d escaped that kind of service.
“Assess your skills, Prince,” Saetan said. “You will be one of the male triangle that serves the Queen most intimately.”
“Consort?” Theran choked on the word. “You expect me to service—”
Saetan laughed, and the undercurrent of violence in the sound made Theran shiver.
“You’re being presumptuous, puppy. No Kaeleer male is going to tolerate an assumption that any male in Terreille has a right to the Queen’s bed.”
“Then what . . . ?”
“First Escort,” Saetan said. “Same duties for the most part, up until you reach the bedroom door. As First Escort, you don’t cross the threshold. You don’t serve in bed. However, if being First Escort isn’t a service you can perform, you can stand as Master of the Guard or Steward—providing the other males in the First Circle will accept you in one of those positions.”
Relief shuddered through him.
“But if a Queen does agree to go back with you and rule your people, you will be held responsible for her care,Theran. Make no mistake about that. And if that care is found wanting, you will answer to Kaeleer. Make no mistake about that either. The Warlord Princes here may sympathize with what you want to do for your Territory. They may even be willing to help. But if they think you’re mistreating or endangering a Queen who comes from the Shadow Realm, they won’t hesitate to destroy you and your people. They will wipe you out of existence more thoroughly than Dorothea ever could. Do we understand one another?”
He had to swallow to get his heart out of his throat. “Yes, High Lord. We understand one another.”
“I’m delighted. Lady Angelline has gone to talk to a Queen who may be interested in helping your people. She’ll be back for dinner. Since you have the time, I suggest—” Saetan frowned at the door.
Theran turned his head to catch the sound. Yes, there it was again. Something scratching at the door.
Saetan raised one hand. The study door swung open, and a small brown and white dog trotted into the room and stopped near Theran’s chair.
He’d never had a dog. Always liked them, liked petting them when he was in a village, but the rogue camps in the mountains were hidden places, and while a dog might have alerted them to a stranger’s presence, its barking could also have revealed the location of the camp to an enemy.
The dog didn’t come quite close enough for a casual pat, but it did seem interested in him.
“Vae,” Saetan said.
Wondering why the High Lord sounded cautious, Theran looked at the dog more carefully. A glint of something in the ruff. A gold chain and . . .
His heart gave one hard bump before he recognized his mistake. For a moment, he thought someone had put a Purple Dusk Jewel on the dog, but it was just an amethyst, just someone thinking he was being clever by making it look like the dog wore a Jewel.
“Why don’t you and Lady Vae walk down to the village?” Saetan said. “Since the people in Halaway live by the Old Ways, spending a few hours there would give you a good idea of what would be expected from your people.”
*Walkies? I like walkies!*
The voice sounded like a young girl’s, but he didn’t actually hear it. It rang inside his head, just outside his inner barriers, as if someone had communicated on a psychic thread. But the only other being in the room besides him and the High Lord was . . .
*He does not talk? He is not trained?*
“His training has just started.” Saetan’s mouth curved in a maliciously amused smile. “Lady Vae is a kindred Sceltie. A Purple Dusk witch.”
Theran felt the blood draining out of his head. “Kindred? Witch?” That Jewel he’d seen was real? This dog was the same rank as his Birthright Jewel?
“Yes,” Saetan crooned. “I think Vae will be the perfect escort for you.”
*He is male and foolish. I will protect him.*
“You do that.”A pause. “Is there anything else you wanted to discuss right now, Prince Theran?”
He knew a dismissal when he heard one, but his legs felt like overstretched taffy and it took him a couple of tries to get out of the chair. He vanished the paper with the conditions his people would have to agree to, and as he walked toward the door, he realized the dog was waiting for him.
*I can pass through doors,Vae said. *I know my Craft. But you are in training, so I will wait for you to open the door.*
As he stepped into the great hall and the study door closed behind him, he heard the High Lord of Hell laugh.
Cassidy stared at Jaenelle Angelline, then looked at her cousin Aaron, who was pacing the length of the sitting room in her parents’ house.
“You’re both teasing,” Cassidy said. “This is a joke.”
“I wish it were,” Aaron growled. “But she’s serious.”
“You can’t be serious!”
“Why not?” Jaenelle asked.
“I’m a minor Queen. I wear a Rose Jewel. I’ve never ruled anything larger than a small village.” Which no one else had wanted until a new, young Queen needed a place to rule to gain credentials for something better. “Aaron, tell her!”
“I did,” Aaron replied. “All the way here.”
“My entire First Circle resigned and broke the court.”
“They were idiots,” Aaron growled.
“And because they were idiots, you’re now available to help a people who need you,” Jaenelle said calmly.
“They need a strong Queen,” Cassidy argued.
“You are a strong Queen.”
“They need a . . . a polished Queen.”
“They need a Queen who knows the Old Ways, who lives by the Old Ways, who knows Protocol, and who knows how to rule fairly,” Jaenelle said. “They need someone like you, Cassidy.” She placed one hand over Cassidy’s. “Look at me.”
She didn’t want to look into those sapphire eyes. They saw too much. Understood too much. But she obeyed because it didn’t matter if Jaenelle officially ruled or not. She was still the Queen. And no one disobeyed Witch.
“They aren’t going to understand you,” Jaenelle said. “Most of them aren’t going to see who you really are. They’ll be disappointed by the surface.”
Cassidy winced—and winced again when Aaron snarled his opinion of her former court.