“Prince,” she said, sounding cautious—as she should when addressing a male of his caste, especially one who wore a dark Jewel.
He frowned at her, not bothering to hide his disapproval of her appearance.
Then he caught a whiff of her psychic scent and thought, Oh, shit, just before he was surrounded by hard-eyed, grim-faced men who seemed to come out of nowhere—including a Red-Jeweled Warlord who was holding a sledgehammer and was big enough to be a wall without any help.
“Gentlemen,” the Queen said, tapping the Red-Jeweled wall on the shoulder.
No clean psychic scent in the village now. These men were pissed off, insulted that he’d frowned at their Queen.
They didn’t yield, didn’t obey—and Theran recognized a fight he couldn’t win.
Then . . .
*Theran!* Annoyance rang through a broad psychic thread, followed by a muttered, *Stubborn sheep.*
A vein of amusement suddenly flowed through the anger surrounding him. The circle shifted—and he didn’t need to see the Queen peer around the large Warlord and smile to know that the dog was standing next to him.
“Lady Vae,” the Queen said.
*Lady Sylvia,* Vae replied. *He is Theran. He is staying with Daemon and Jaenelle. I am taking him for walkies so he can see the village. We will get some food and he will sit and watch humans so he will learn how to behave.*
Sylvia’s gold eyes sparkled. “Are you a stubborn sheep, Prince Theran?”
Sensing the amount of temper still focused on him, he decided not to answer, since he didn’t think he could keep his voice sufficiently civil.
*I am helping to train him,* Vae said. *I am allowed to bite. But not hard. Not the first time.*
“I see.” Sylvia ducked behind the Warlord. That didn’t muffle the snorts and giggles.
He felt the anger break around him, and he had a feeling that whatever was coming was a harder punishment than a beating would have been.
“Well,” Sylvia said, struggling to maintain some dignity as she stepped clear of the large Warlord. “We shouldn’t delay your training any longer. Prince Theran, just tell any of the dining houses to put your meal on the Hall’s tab.”
Did he look like he didn’t have marks to spare?
“It’s customary,” Sylvia added, showing more understanding than he liked.
The men opened up a space for him but not in a way that would allow him to get within reach of Lady Sylvia.
Accepting the dismissal and wanting to get away from the village, he started to turn back toward the Hall, then swore loudly when he got nipped.
*This way, Theran. This way!*
Not daring to do anything else, he let himself be herded down the main street with the Sceltie trotting a step behind him, ready to nip at his heels.
Mother Night, it was humiliating—and him a Warlord Prince!
*Sheep brains,* Vae said, finally trotting alongside him.
*You made those males angry. You act like you have sheep brains. Foolish.*
“I didn’t do anything!” He kept his voice low, but he’d be damned if he’d swallow being scolded by a dog.
*You did. You made them angry. They do not fight for no reason.*
They didn’t have a reason. Not really. Sure, he’d expressed an opinion of sorts, and he wouldn’t have if he’d caught Sylvia’s psychic scent first. But, Hell’s fire, she didn’t look like a Queen with that hair and the shirt and trousers and . . .
He was making excuses for himself. He hadn’t been careful, and if Vae hadn’t amused them all, he wouldn’t be strolling through the village. He’d be wounded—or dead.
He hadn’t survived in Dena Nehele by being careless. He couldn’t afford to set aside all the things Talon had taught him just because he didn’t have a clear sense of the battlefield. And he couldn’t afford to forget that the power that had devastated Terreille had come from Kaeleer.
So he walked and he watched. Children tensed at the sight of a stranger, then relaxed again when they saw Vae. Clearly the dog was a signal he didn’t understand. He didn’t approach, didn’t talk to them, but he saw a pattern when he passed a group of children—the boys stepped forward, creating a shield between him and the girls.
“The men who were angry,” Theran said. “Were they all members of the Queen’s court?”
*They live in the village,* Vae replied. *They serve.*
“But were they court?”
No, I do not think any of them were court.*
“Then why did they do that?”
Vae stopped walking and looked at him. *It is their right to defend.* She turned her head and sniffed the air. *There is food.*
I guess one of us wants to eat.
Whatever the usual rule about animals being inside a dining house, the young witch who greeted them took one look at Vae, tipped her head as if in private conversation, then settled them at a table next to the windows.
He had a bowl of soup. Vae had a small plate of raw stew meat.
He ate slowly, watching, thinking.
The males considered it their right to defend, not their duty. So different from what he came from, what he knew.
Could his people do it? Could the males who would have to form the First Circle be able to make the transition from duty to desire?
He had no answers, so he watched and he thought—and he wondered.
Daemon buttoned the last button of his white silk shirt as Saetan walked into the bedroom.
“How do you feel?” Saetan asked.
“Better. Embarrassed.” Daemon tucked the shirt into his trousers and gave more thought to the question. “Hungry.” He’d slept for a few hours and didn’t feel as shaky as he’d felt early that morning. But he still had to face that room, and that was better done on an empty stomach.
“Then I’ll join you before I retire for the afternoon.” Saetan opened the door.
Slipping into his black jacket, Daemon stepped into the corridor and stared at the door to the Consort’s bedroom.
Saetan crossed the corridor, opened the door, and stepped into the room. Daemon hesitated, almost hoping for a command to stay out. When it didn’t come, he followed his father into the room and looked toward the left wall that held the doors leading to the bathroom and closet.
It smelled clean, like it did when Helene gave the room its seasonal scrubbing. Almost too clean, he thought as he noticed the lack of psychic scent. A hint of his presence was still there under the scents of soap and polish, but less than usual. Less than a cleaning would account for.