They were on the terrace and almost to the door before he had an answer.

“The Shalador Queens,” Theran said. “You need to write a letter inviting the Queens on the Shalador reserves to meet you. Ranon will take the letter when he goes back to his village. That’s why it’s urgent.”

“You don’t want me to contact the Queens in Dena Nehele,” Cassidy said. “You’ve opposed that suggestion every time I’ve made it.”

“Seemed more important for the court to adjust to working with each other. Now . . .” He shrugged.

“You really want me to contact the Queens on the reserves?”

“Yes, I do.” Besides, he added silently, it’s not likely any of them will come.

He opened the door for her. “Come on. Once you wade through the paperwork Powell seems to create overnight, you’ll be free the rest of the day to save the posies from the nasty weeds.”

She stopped in the doorway and looked at him as if she suddenly saw a different man.

“You don’t have a feel for the land, do you?” she asked. “It’s just dirt and boundaries to you.”

“I don’t fuss over it like you and Gray seem to,” he said dismissively. “It’s the people that matter. It’s the people that need tending.”

“How do you take care of one without taking care of the other?”

Since she didn’t wait for him to answer, he guessed she didn’t expect one.

Gray set the items in the box on the potting bench, one by one, and marveled at this gift.

Cassie’s mother had written this book. Cassie’s mother had sent this box. No hasty reply to his letter, but a bundle of information from a woman who seemed to understand that he was hoping to put down roots in her daughter’s heart.

And the flowers, preserved in shields so he could study them at his leisure.

His own mother had given him a fierce kind of love. He didn’t know if it was because she was unable to be soft, or if because he’d been destined for the killing fields, she hadn’t wanted to give him anything a warrior wouldn’t need.

He could still see her face, filled with hard pride, on the evening when Talon came to take him to the mountain camps. He’d been seven years old, but there had been no tears, no hugs. To her, he was already a warrior. To her, he always had been.

He didn’t think Cassie’s mother was a fierce woman. Didn’t mean she couldn’t be dangerous if there was need, but he thought, maybe, she’d be the kind of woman who wouldn’t be afraid to hug a boy.

Was his mother still alive? Did she know how to find him—if she wanted to find him?

He hadn’t wondered until now. Maybe Powell, being the Steward of the court, would know how to find out.

A knock on the shed’s door. He used Craft to vanish the box before the door opened and Ranon walked in.

The Shalador Warlord Prince glanced at the empty potting bench.

“None of my business,” Ranon said, “but I saw the box this morning. Well, a few of us did, and we wondered. . . .”

Gray called in the box and showed Ranon what Devra had sent to him.

“Look at this one,” Ranon said, picking up one of the cuttings. “It’s got one flower open and one still in the bud. Maybe that’s why it took her a few days to send a reply. She must have waited for some of these flowers to bloom so she could send them to you.”

“I hadn’t thought of that.”

Ranon set the cutting down. “Look, Gray, planting this bed is going to be a lot of work.”

“I know.”

“When are you planning to do this?”

“I’ll need a few days to study the book and select the plants that will work best in the place I’ve cleared. Then I’ll need to see what I can find.”

Ranon nodded. “I’m heading to my village, but I’ll be back in a couple of days. Three at the most. When you’re ready to plant, I’d like to help. Shira said she’d help too. And I think there are a couple of other men in the First Circle who would be willing to help.”

Gray studied Ranon, seeing more than a Warlord Prince who seemed to rub against Theran the wrong way.

“You liked Yaslana, didn’t you?”

Ranon gave him a considering look. “That one scares the shit out of me, but I’d follow him into battle without a doubt or second thought.”

And you’d have both if it was Theran who was leading.

“Thanks for the offer,” Gray said. “I’ll figure out the planting day and let you know.”

Ranon smiled and walked to the shed door. Then he paused. “Shira wanted me to ask. Are you the reason Cassidy isn’t sleeping well?”

Gray grinned.

After a moment Ranon laughed. “Good for you, Gray. Good for you.”

Cassidy sat on the edge of her bed, fingering the key she’d found in the old wish pot—something she’d done every day, hoping the key would provide some clue to the treasure that was supposed to exist on the estate. Of course, her mind wasn’t on treasure. Not tonight. Her mind was on . . .

“Lia and Thera, your male descendants are a pain in the ass.”

At least Theran and Gray could share the blame for her being unable to sleep tonight. Theran had run hot and cold all morning—wanting her to write to the Shalador Queens and then being opposed to her writing to any of the other Queens who must have heard by now that there was a Territory Queen to whom they owed allegiance. Then this evening, Gray had just run . . . hot. But not hot enough to do more than kissing and petting. Not hot enough to go to his room and make use of his bed.

But that could be Lucivar’s fault because at one point this evening, when Gray pulled away because what he really needed was more, he had snarled something about writing to Daemon to find out if he really had to follow that stupid schedule.

She hadn’t met Daemon before the dinner party, but she’d spent enough time around Lucivar to know the Eyrien wouldn’t hesitate to give Gray a few bruises if Gray didn’t stay within the boundaries Lucivar had set. So until Daemon convinced Lucivar to alter the rules, she wasn’t going to ask Gray for more.

Wasn’t sure she’d have the courage to ask for more anyway.

Doesn’t matter who decided what, she thought sourly as she turned the key over and over. It still means another sleepless night.

A scratching on her suite’s door. She got up to let Vae in, mostly because the sofa in her sitting room was a comfortable place to brood.

Tags: Anne Bishop The Black Jewels Science Fiction