Devra brushed a hand lightly over Cassidy’s hair. “You’re still set on going after the midday meal?”
Cassidy nodded. “I’d like some time to settle before I meet the Warlord Prince from Dena Nehele. Prince Sadi and Lady Angelline arranged for us all to have dinner at the Keep so there would be an opportunity to talk with him a bit before making a final decision.” A formality, really. Unless he was some kind of fearsome male, she would give his people a year of her life. Besides, she’d spent four months in the Dark Court and had slammed into Lucivar Yaslana on occasion, and there was no male more fearsome than Yaslana when he was in a mood.
Except Prince Sadi. Or so she’d heard.
“Is Poppi coming home to see me off?” Cassidy asked.
“Your father is in the sitting room, brooding. Has been for the past hour.”
“He didn’t have to leave his work so early.”
“He hit his thumb with a hammer twice because he was busy brooding.” Devra shook her head. “After that, old Lord Wittier tottered your father over to the Healer’s to make sure nothing was broken, and refused to let him come back to finish the work until you were off.”
She could picture old Lord Wittier clinging to Burle’s arm to keep his balance while insisting that he was taking Burle to the Healer—and telling everyone why Burle needed a Healer.
Smacked himself with a hammer, the fool. Too busy thinking about his girl to tell the difference between a nail and a thumbnail. Gotta take him to the Healer’s, make sure he didn’t mash any bones. Who would have thought Burle would smack himself with a hammer?
“Oh, dear,” she said, wishing she’d been in a shop where she could have watched that procession without being seen.
“Don’t tease your father, Cassidy. He’s already had a difficult day.”
Taking the wooden box from her mother, Cassidy set it next to the trunk of books. “Shall we go downstairs? There’s nothing more to do.”
“If you go down now, he’ll have an extra hour to fuss about you leaving and to take you through the checklist he made in order to check the checklist he’d previously made.”
Cassidy smiled. “I know. But he’ll feel better for it, don’t you think?”
Despite the unmistakable psychic scent that identified his caste, the thing that had always amazed Cassidy was how a man as powerful as the High Lord of Hell could feel like a Steward—like a man who didn’t find the tedium of paperwork tedious, like a benign clerk who simply wanted to be helpful. Like a strict and yet indulgent honorary uncle to the most powerful Queens and Warlord Princes in Kaeleer.
Kind. Courteous. Indulgent.
Unless you made him angry. Then there would be the lightning-fast change from benign clerk into predator. She’d never been the cause of that change in the few months she’d served in the Dark Court, but she’d seen it, felt the cold punch of temper that had flashed through the Hall, warning everyone that the High Lord was not pleased.
Right now she wasn’t sure if his mood was benign clerk or honorary uncle, but after the past few days with her father, Cassidy recognized the look of a man who had his own checklist and wasn’t about to let her walk away until they’d gone over every single item.
“Your trunks are all packed?” Saetan asked.
“Yes, and they’ve already been taken to the Keep in Terreille and stored in the Coach,” Cassidy replied.
“You’ve brought some personal things with you? Books? Music?”
“Yes. They’re also in the Coach.”
“Yes,” Cassidy huffed. “And I’ve brought a stack of clean handkerchiefs.”
He stared at her, one eyebrow rising as his mouth curved in that dry, knowing smile.
She winced. I don’t believe I said that to the High Lord.
“So,” Saetan said, “was that on your mother’s list or your father’s list?”
“And which one tucked a few marks about two-thirds of the way down in the stack so you would find the gift about the time you might be feeling homesick?”
“No one . . .” She remembered her father blushing and mumbling something when she’d walked into her room and found him poking around near her trunks. “How did you know?”
Saetan’s smile warmed. “I’m a father.” He leaned against a big stuffed chair and crossed his arms. “Do you want some advice?”
Since that wasn’t actually a question, she nodded obediently.
“According to the conditions Prince Sadi set to have you go to Dena Nehele, you will send him a report once a week. That report is from the Queen of Dena Nehele to the Warlord Prince of Dhemlan and can be nothing more than information about your court and your official meetings for that week. That will tell him how the Queen is doing, but not how you are. He can accept that because you don’t know him beyond a passing acquaintance. Therefore, you should also write a brief note to Jaenelle to let her know how you’re doing. That’s personal and equally important. Don’t shrug it off. If you miss a report, there are Warlord Princes in Kaeleer who are already committed to finding out why, and they will descend on Dena Nehele ready to step onto a killing field. Is that clear?”
“Yes, sir.” Cassidy hesitated. “Do you really think this will be that dangerous?”
“If I thought you’d be in danger, you wouldn’t be going,” Saetan replied softly. Then he shifted a little and continued in his usual voice. “You should also send a note to your mother when you send the report. We’ll see that it reaches her. That should be a daughter-to-mother note. Tell her about your life. Between those reports and notes, send a note to your father. He won’t be concerned about the court; he wants to know about you.”
“Why don’t I send them both at the same time?” Cassidy asked. “Then the messenger only has to make one trip to the Keep.”
“It will be good exercise for the messenger,” Saetan said dryly. “The point is to reassure. Staggering the notes will make both your parents feel better since they’ll hear from you twice as often. And at least once a month, write a letter to your brother.”
“Yes, Clayton. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never sent him a letter before. It doesn’t matter if he’s always gotten news about you from your parents. You won’t be in Dharo anymore, Cassidy. Getting a letter from you that’s just for him will matter.”