“I don’t know how to do that,” he protested. “I don’t have any training to do that.”
“You don’t need training. This is about fathers and sons. Lucivar needs to go with you.”
“Hell’s fire, Jaenelle. Saetan is my father. Do you really think I’ll need Lucivar there to watch my back?”
She smiled gently. “No, think of his being there as stacking the deck in your favor.”
Suddenly exhausted, and scared sick of what he might be facing, he rested his cheek against her head. “When?”
“Tomorrow after sunset,” Jaenelle replied. “He’ll be done with the execution by then, and I think he’ll go back to the Keep after that.”
“All right.” His breath came out in a shuddering sigh. “Come to bed with me. Just be with me.”
They went to bed for rest, for comfort. And as he went through the motions of the rest of the day, talking to Lord Collyn and dealing with the aftermath of the kill, he tried not to think about what might be waiting for him at the Keep tomorrow.
Gray tensed. When he’d been in captivity, that sound usually preceded some boy’s attempt to “befriend” him so that he could be blamed for whatever mischief the boy and his friends had done.
He turned toward the sound—and wondered why Ranon was hiding behind the stone shed.
He moved toward the other man slowly, reluctantly. Ranon seemed hesitant, uncertain. That in itself was a reason to be wary.
Then Ranon crouched and rested his hand above the ground. When he dropped the sight shield and revealed the wooden box, Gray rushed behind the shed to join him.
Plants. Lovely little plants ready for a garden.
“I talked to my people,” Ranon said. “Some of the elders, along with the Queens, traveled to my home village to meet with me. To hear about the new Queen. I told them about Cassidy. I told them she knew about witchblood—a plant that is not unknown in the reserves even though we’d forgotten what it meant. I told them about the flower bed you wanted to plant for her. I mentioned that some of the flowers Cassidy’s mother had sent looked similar to plants that grew in the southern part of Dena Nehele, so they sent these back with me. The Ladies sent notes with the plants.” He called in several folded sheets of paper. “They said some are perennials, some are annuals. Some can winter over. They tried to give me more of a gardening lesson than I wanted, but I figured you’d know what they were talking about.”
Each plant had a carefully written label attached to its pot. Gray touched each one gently, moved that strangers would be willing to help him make this special part of the garden.
He looked up, and was about to ask why Ranon was acting so uneasy about offering the plants. But when he looked into the other man’s dark eyes, he understood the risk—and the hope—that had been carried with these plants.
Would someone from the house of Grayhaven accept plants that came from the Shalador reserves? Would the new Queen accept a gift from the Shalador people?
“Thank you,” Gray said. “This will make the flower bed even more special.”
Ranon’s shoulders relaxed, and he smiled.
“I’ll be ready to plant tomorrow,” Gray said. “I just need to talk to Theran about keeping Cassie occupied for a few hours.”
“Won’t that be interesting?”
He wasn’t sure what that meant, but judging by Ranon’s amusement, he didn’t think Theran would share the opinion that tomorrow would be “interesting.”
When Daemon arrived at the Keep at sunset, he didn’t know what to expect.
What he found scared him to the bone.
A sparely furnished room that was heavily shielded, but he couldn’t tell if the shields were Black or had been made by a power more ancient than the Blood—the power of the dragons, who had gifted the Blood with their magic long, long ago.
He also couldn’t tell if the shields were meant to contain the man who waited for him in that room or contain the rage. The cold, dark, glittering rage.
He entered the room and walked toward the table that was set a few paces from the door. An awkward place for the thing, which made him think it had been placed there so that no one would have to cross the room under that feral gaze.
He moved toward the table and the man waiting beside it, and he swallowed hard. When he looked into Saetan’s eyes, he saw the Warlord Prince who had destroyed an entire race so completely, there had been no trace of them left behind—including the islands they had called home.
And he saw a truth about himself.
“Prince,” the High Lord said.
Oh, no. He had no chance of reaching the man if they kept to formal titles.
“Father,” Daemon said—and saw a flicker of emotion in those glazed gold eyes. He stopped when he reached the edge of the table, still out of reach of lethally honed nails—and the venom in the snake tooth under Saetan’s ring finger nail. “Father, talk to me. Please.”
No response. Just a terrifying assessment being made by a powerful man who was walking who knew what roads in the Twisted Kingdom.
I can take him. If it comes to that, I’m strong enough to stop him.
Strong enough to win—maybe—but not strong enough to come out of that fight intact. Not when he’d be pitting a little extra raw power against thousands of years of experience.
Which made him glad Jaenelle had held Lucivar back instead of having both of them go to the Keep. One of them needed to survive to take care of the rest of the family.
If it came down to that.
Sweet Darkness, please don’t let it come down to that.
“Father,” Daemon said again.
Saetan looked at the table. Pressed the fingertips of his right hand on the polished wood. Two sheets of paper appeared beside his fingers.
Wary, Daemon took a step closer. “What are these?”
“Names,” Saetan said, his voice a hoarse, singsong croon. “The names of men who didn’t take the bait but were still caught by the trap.”
Moving slowly, painfully alert in case a simple action gave offense, Daemon drew one of the sheets closer so he could read it.
Names and places.
He took her head, Daemon thought. All he needed. What kind of pain did the High Lord extract along with these names in order to collect the full debt Vulchera owed the people she had harmed?
“Words that were said cannot be unsaid,” Saetan whispered. “But sometimes hearts can forgive when a lie is revealed, and maybe, for some, the truth will let them hold what is most dear.”