They’d thought they had captured the Grayhaven bloodline, and Gray never told them anything different, never revealed that he wasn’t the descendant of the Shalador Warlord who had been Lia’s husband.
They worked him—and they tortured him—for two years before Talon was able to rescue him and get him back to the mountains.
Gray was fifteen when he was taken.
They didn’t break his Jewels or castrate him—two common methods of diminishing a male who might be a threat. But they broke him in other ways, and now, as he sat across from Theran, his green eyes so full of fear, Theran wondered if taking Gray back to Grayhaven would be the ultimate act of betrayal.
“You’re all right?” Gray asked. “You’re not hurt?”
Didn’t matter if Theran was returning from a fight or slipping into a village to spend a couple of needed hours with a woman; the questions were always the same because, for Gray, the last time he’d left the mountains, he’d lost everything he was.
“I’m fine, Gray. I’m fine,” Theran said, leaning over to give his cousin’s hand a friendly squeeze.
“But something bad has happened.”
“Not bad, no.” How to say this to cause the least harm? “We’re getting a Queen, Gray. Do you remember me talking with Talon about that?”
“A Queen?” All the color drained out of Gray’s face.
“From Kaeleer, the Shadow Realm. She’s going to rule Dena Nehele.”
“She’s coming here?”
“Not to the mountains, no. She’s going to be living at Grayhaven.” Theran took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “And I’m going to be living there with her.”
“You can’t!” Gray leaped up, giving Talon a desperate look. “He can’t! If she’s at Grayhaven and knows who . . . who he . . .”
The keening started as Gray sank to his knees. That horrible keening of a boy in terrible pain.
“Gray.” Dropping to his knees, Theran wrapped his arms around his cousin. “Gray, I have to do this. For all of us.”
“She’ll hurt you, she’ll hurt you. I’m Grayhaven. I’m Grayhaven!”
The last words were said in a rising scream that echoed the pain remembered.
Theran looked at Talon, whose face was grim and sad. The old Warlord Prince had searched, and searched hard, to find the boy. But Talon didn’t find Gray soon enough.
Talon went down on one knee and put a hand on Gray’s shoulder. “You don’t have to go down there. You can stay up here in the mountains. You know how to fend for yourself. I taught you that. And there will be others staying up here. You don’t have to go back to Grayhaven.”
“He can’t go,” Gray whispered as he sagged against Theran. “Theran can’t go.”
“He has to,” Talon said. “That’s part of the bargain.”
Gray pulled away from both of them and walked over to a window.
What was he seeing? Theran wondered. The past? The present? Was he here with them in this cabin in the mountains or locked in some room in Grayhaven, waiting for the next bit of cruelty?
“I like growing things,” Gray said quietly, more to himself than to them. “The land was good, parched of what it needed, but still good. I could work outside.”
“Gray . . .”
“I wouldn’t have to live inside, would I?”
Shock kept Theran silent for a moment. He hadn’t expected Gray to consider leaving the mountains. Not really.
“No, you wouldn’t have to live inside,” Theran said. “There’s an old stone gardening shed.” He looked at Talon.
“Probably filled with broken tools and such,” Talon said,“but someone could live rough out there.”
“I could be a gardener,” Gray said. “I could take care of the land. But I couldn’t serve her.”
“No, you wouldn’t have to serve her,” Theran said. But if the new Queen showed any inclination toward playing with a damaged male, he’d have to explain a few things to the Lady.
“Then I’ll go.”
“Gray . . .”
“I’ll go.” Gray turned and looked at him—and Theran had never seen anything as bleak as the look in his cousin’s eyes. “I’m Theran’s blade.”
Talon cleared his throat. “It’s settled, then. Tomorrow we’ll pack up and start getting Grayhaven ready for the new Queen.”
Gray bolted out of the cabin.
Theran got to his feet, feeling more exhausted than if he’d been in a fight.
“Do you think he’ll survive going back there?” he asked.
“I don’t know,Theran,” Talon replied. “I just don’t know.”
Cassidy packed the last book and closed the lid of the small trunk. Just some favorites, things she read when she wanted the comfort of a familiar story.
She was as ready as she could be. Which wasn’t saying much, since there was precious little information about Dena Nehele. What she did know was that Dharo was on the eastern side of a mountain range and Dena Nehele was on the western side of a mountain range. Dena Nehele had a variety of seasons, so she’d packed all her clothes, figuring most would be useful.
As for the rest . . .
Twisting around, Cassidy looked at her mother, who was standing in the doorway. “I’m on my fourth or fifth set of thoughts about doing this, but I haven’t changed my mind.”
“Didn’t think you would.” Devra came into the bedroom and sat on the floor beside her daughter. “I’ve got something for you. I know it’s a bit more to carry, but you won’t be straining to carry all of it yourself, so . . .” She called in an open-topped wooden box filled with glass jars. “A bit of home to take with you.”
Cassidy lifted one jar and read the neat label. Then picked up another. “Mother, these are your seeds for the garden.”
“I divided what I had between us,” Devra said. “You’ll need to be careful. Some of these might not be healthy to give to a different land. But most, I think, will be similar enough to what is there. So you can turn over a small patch of ground, plant a few seeds—and know we’re with you in heart.”
“Mother.” Cassidy blinked back tears as she ran her fingers over the tops of the jars. “Thank you.”