She watched him absorb her words. Someone who wore a darker Jewel could have gone undetected and followed him, but he should have sensed a Purple Dusk witch who had been trailing him for hours.
A witch is a witch,Theran. Don’t dismiss one because she looks different from you.
A lesson the Blood in Kaeleer were still learning when it came to the kindred.
“Coffee?” he asked.
She wanted to linger a little longer, since it was a lovely summer day. And now that Vae’s presence was acknowledged, she thought the two of them could persuade Theran to show her a particular part of town.
How did I get talked into this? Theran asked himself. He knew how. Sure he did. Two females yapping at him. One of them even growled at him when he’d refused to do this, and it wasn’t Vae.
So here he was, driving the pony cart into the landen part of the town.
“Landens usually have their own villages,” Cassidy said.
Theran nodded to the guards who patrolled this part of Grayhaven. Two nodded back and mounted their horses to provide an escort.
“Most still do,” Theran replied, “but some landens were resettled as part of Blood villages after their own villages burned during the uprisings.” And making them live so close to the Blood kept them on a very short leash.
That didn’t mean the Blood liked having a landen slum attached to their town.
Bitterness laced his voice as he looked at the shops they passed and the people who watched them. “Damn landens are nothing but a boil on the town’s backside.”
“They’re people,” Cassidy said. “They belong to this land, same as you.”
“They would have driven us out if they could. Took us two years to crush the uprisings.”
“How many died in those two years?” Cassidy asked.
“More Blood than we could afford to lose.”
“And how many landens?”
She sighed. “All the more reason for me to see this part of the town.”
Exactly the reason she shouldn’t be there. But it was pointless to argue now that they’d crossed that boundary, and there were other Blood wandering these streets.
Market day, Theran realized. When power—and the unspoken threat of its being unleashed—was another marker on the table, a few coins could buy a Blood family provisions for a week at the landen markets.
“What’s that?” Cassidy asked, sitting up straighter.
“A craftmen’s courtyard,” Theran replied, glancing in that direction. “Potters, weavers, and others of that sort put out their wares. Some even work on a piece to—”
“Stop,” Cassidy said. “Theran, stop the cart, I want to—”
Shit. The little bitch would yap at him for the rest of the day. And Cassidy wouldn’t be much better.
He gave the guards a psychic tap to alert them as he reined in.
Cassidy and Vae were out of the cart and walking back the way they’d come before he could set the brake and tie off the reins.
One of the guards dismounted and came to stand at the horse’s head. “I’ll keep an eye on the cart, but you’d best shield those packages. Lots of quick fingers here could lift a package and be on the next street before you know you’ve been robbed.”
“Thanks for the reminder.” Theran put a Green shield around the back of the cart, then hurried to catch up to Cassidy. If the packages were stolen, it would give the Blood a reason to shake this part of town. If the Queen was injured . . . Well, he wasn’t sure who would be going to war with whom, especially once Sadi andYaslana heard about it, but no matter who stepped onto the battleground, a lot of the town would burn before the fighting was done.
Cassidy had stopped before a weaver’s table.
Family group,Theran decided. Man, woman, adolescent boy, and young girl. The man had a hard face and a look in his eyes Theran recognized.
“This is lovely work,” Cassidy said, smiling at the girl. “And this is yours?”
Cassidy stepped closer to the loom and the unfinished piece—and the girl.
The man stiffened.
Theran descended to the depth of his Green Jewel and prepared to rise to the killing edge.
But Cassidy pointed at the loom, not touching child or work.
“What kind of pattern is this?”
“It’s a traditional pattern, Lady,” the woman said. “Dena Nehele has traditional patterns for each season. The girl is weaving a summer pattern.”
“Lovely colors,” Cassidy said, directing her remarks to the girl. “Did you choose them?”
The girl nodded.
“You have a good eye for color.”
By now the other merchants and their customers had stopped their own bartering to watch this exchange. A few had even sidled closer.
But not too close. One slashing look from him was enough to have them reconsidering the wisdom of getting too close.
“Are you planning to sell this piece when it’s done?” Cassidy asked.
Tension flashed through the landens, the emotion so strong it surprised a growl out of Vae in response.
“Why?” the man asked roughly.
“Because I’d like to buy it,” Cassidy said, looking confused. “As I said, it’s lovely work. The traditional design would appeal to my mother, so I’d like to buy it for her as a Winsol gift. If you think it would be completed by then,” she added, once more addressing the girl.
The girl nodded.
“We would be pleased to make a gift of it,” the man said.
If you were any more pleased, you’d choke on the words, Theran thought, hearing the man’s anger and bitterness from being obliged over the years to provide a good number of “gifts” to keep his family safe.
Bristling, Cassidy straightened to her full height. “You’ll do no such thing. If the piece is being made to sell, then you should make a reasonable profit on it. Besides, it’s not for you to decide. This is between me and the young lady. When she delivers the piece to the Grayhaven estate, we’ll sit down and discuss the price.”
Landens in my home? Never!
But Theran saw the man’s face turn white with fear, and he wondered what had happened to other landens who had gone up to the estate.
“Is it a bargain?” Cassidy asked, holding out a hand.
The girl glanced at her father, confused enough by the tension to hesitate.