Damn the work! Theran thought.

“Not today,” Shira said. “Today your only work is to rest and heal. If you do that, by tomorrow you and Lady Cassidy can go back to digging in the garden for an hour or so—under Vae’s supervision.”

Despite the fact that he was still shaking, Gray tried to smile. “Vae bites.”

“Which makes her the perfect choice for watching over the two of you,” Shira replied tartly. Then her voice softened. “Come on, now. Let’s get you settled wherever you feel comfortable. Then I can do something about the pain.”

Gray didn’t argue when Shira led him away, his expression once more that of a docile boy.

Theran watched Gray and Shira, ignoring the sounds of the other men leaving the room.

“It took a lot of courage for him to walk into this house,” Ranon said.

Theran continued to stare at that doorway, even though Shira and Gray were gone. Then he swallowed hard and said, “He’s always had courage.”

The door of the Steward’s office was open, but Talon knocked on the wood anyway before entering.

“You wanted to see me?”

Powell’s smile of greeting wobbled for a moment, then failed altogether. “Yes. Please close the door.”

Not good, Talon thought as he closed the door and settled himself in the visitor’s chair. This was not good.

Powell lifted the corners of a few papers on his desk, removed an envelope, and handed it to Talon. “This needs to go to the Keep.”

Talon stared at the name on the front of the envelope, then studied the seal on the back. “When did the Queen give this to you?”

“Shortly after the midday meal.”

“It’s marked ‘urgent.’ ”

“It was . . . misplaced . . . for a few hours,” Powell said. “I wanted to discuss the situation with you before I sent this message . . . there.”

“Situation.” He hadn’t needed a message slipped under his door, asking him to meet with Powell, to know something had happened today. He’d felt the tension the moment he left the family wing.

“Lady Cassidy and Prince Theran had an altercation this morning. Sharp words were exchanged—and a few shoves.”

“Hell’s fire,” Talon muttered.

“Afterward, Lady Cassidy retired to her rooms and hasn’t come down since.”

“She’s not hurt?” Talon asked, making it more of a demand for the right answer than a question.

“No, no. Neither of them were hurt.” Powell hesitated. “But that—and the order to get it to the Keep as soon as possible—was the only communication any of us have had from her since then.”

Telling tales, Cassidy? Talon wondered. It was tempting to toss it into the fire, but someone would have to shoulder the blame for failing to deliver the message—and sometimes the first break in trust was the one that could never be fully repaired.

“I’ll take it,” Talon said. “I can ride the Sapphire Winds, so I’ll be able to get it there faster than anyone else.” And I want a chance to tell our side of it.

Powell nodded. “If anyone asks where you’ve gone?”

Talon vanished the envelope. “Tell them I had a meeting.”

He returned to his room long enough to warm and drink a glass of yarbarah. He hadn’t ridden the Winds outside Dena Nehele since he’d become demon-dead, and he had no idea how much power might be drained by riding those psychic roadways through the Darkness over a long distance.

Had no idea what he would face once he got to the Keep.

And he had no idea if the High Lord of Hell would allow him to return to Dena Nehele—and the people there who were still among the living.

Ebon ASKAVI

The Black Mountain. Ebon Askavi. Warrens of rooms carved out of the living stone to house a court, a library that was, supposedly, the repository of the Blood’s history—and Witch.

No paneling or plaster on the walls to soften the weight of stone. No illusion to help someone forget that the weight of a mountain rested above a man’s head.

The feeling of age pressed down on Talon as much as the feeling of stone. And even though the sitting room where he had been taken to wait was as finely furnished as any he’d ever seen, he wondered how anyone could stand living in this place.

Then the sitting room door opened.

Talon didn’t need to see the Black Jewels to know that the Warlord Prince who walked into the room was dangerous. Just looking into those gold eyes would tell anyone with any sense that you walked softly in this man’s presence.

Especially if you were demon-dead.

“I’m the High Lord,” the man said, a croon in his deep voice.

A shudder went through Talon at the sound of that voice. Nothing threatening, not in and of itself, but he wondered how many men hadn’t survived a meeting when the High Lord’s voice had held that particular tone.

“I’m Talon.”

“What brings Dena Nehele’s Master of the Guard to the Keep?”

Apparently Prince Sadi was sharing Cassidy’s reports with his father. Why else would the High Lord know who he was?

Hell’s fire, Mother Night, and may the Darkness be merciful.

Talon called in the envelope and held it out. “Message from Lady Cassidy.”

Saetan closed the distance between them and took the envelope just as a chime sounded and a tray with a decanter and two ravenglass goblets appeared on a table.

“Would you join me in a glass of yarbarah, Prince Talon?” Saetan asked. “Then we can sit comfortably while you tell me whatever it is you came to say.”

“I’m just delivering Lady Cassidy’s message,” Talon said. “I wear Sapphire and could ride a Wind darker and faster than anyone else in the court could ride.”

“Give me some credit, boyo,” Saetan said dryly. “I’ve been a Steward. I know a Master of the Guard doesn’t deliver messages, no matter how urgent, unless there’s more than one message. Sit down.”

He sat.

“Guess no one gives you much argument,” Talon said, feeling a little stunned that he had obeyed before he’d consciously decided to obey.

Setting the envelope aside, Saetan warmed two glasses of yarbarah, then handed one to Talon. “A man uses the tools he has available, and he learns to use them well. The males in the court seldom argued with a direct order. The coven . . .” He shrugged, and his smile was as affectionate as it was reluctant. “That tone of voice usually stopped them long enough to give me a chance to argue about what they were—or weren’t—going to do.”

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