*You are supposed to shake hands now,* Vae said. *That is what humans do for bargains.*

Stunned looks all around as the people stared at the Sceltie.

*I like this human puppy,* Vae said, wagging her tail. *She has good smells.*

The woman clapped a hand over her mouth. Her eyes were bright with laughter. The man looked like he’d been whacked in the head.

“I know the feeling,” Theran muttered.

A flash of humor in the man’s eyes.

Seeing the change in her father, and intrigued by a talking dog, the girl shook hands with Cassidy, sealing their bargain.

And that, thank the Darkness, would end this visit.

After bidding them all a good day, Cassidy headed back to the pony cart. She smiled at him as he fell into step beside her, as if nothing unusual had happened.

It hadn’t, he realized. Not for her. This wasn’t the first time she had purchased something from a landen.

What kind of place was Dharo that a Queen would shop in a landen village? Or was it that, wearing a Rose Jewel, Cassidy didn’t feel as different from landens as the darker-Jeweled Blood?

He didn’t have answers. Wasn’t sure he wanted any. But he had to let the rest of the First Circle know about their Queen’s potential for doing the unusual.

Vae growled. That was the only warning he had before he heard a child scream in pain and a man roar in outrage.

Theran spun around to meet the threat. When he saw the two adolescent Warlords standing a few paces away from the weaver’s table, he hesitated.

Cassidy didn’t. She ran back to the landen family.

He—and the guards—felt the punch of Rose power and saw one adolescent Warlord get knocked off his feet. The other young Warlord staggered under the punch, but he wore a Summer-sky Jewel and was able to absorb most of Cassidy’s strike.

Rose shields went up in front of the landens. Rose shields went up around Cassidy as she called in a round-headed club and settled into a fighting stance.

“You bitch!” A man old enough to be the Warlords’ father ran toward them. “I’ll teach you a lesson, bitch.”

Hell’s fire.

Theran took a step toward Cassidy, intending to yank her out of a fight she shouldn’t have gotten involved in, since it wasn’t Blood against Blood.

Then Vae launched herself at the man, and Theran saw a small dog who knew her Craft yank a full-grown man off his feet.

And heard bone snap as jaws enhanced by Purple Dusk power closed on the man’s forearm.

The Summer-sky Warlord launched himself at Cassidy. Theran received another shock when Cassidy bared her teeth and met the attack, using the club with enough savagery to break through shields stronger than her own and drive the Warlord back.

By then Vae was beside Cassidy, Purple Dusk shields around them both.

*Theran? Theran!*

*Prince?* one of the guards said. *What should we do?* Damned if he knew. They shouldn’t have been in this fight in the first place.

*I smell blood,* Vae said.

Of course you do, you little bitch, Theran thought. You bit a man and tore up his arm.

But Cassidy looked behind her, then screamed, “SHIRA!”

The Craft-enhanced sound probably wouldn’t reach the estate, but it was going to shake up the Blood closest to this part of town.

“You hurt my boys!” the older Warlord shouted as he got to his feet, cradling the broken arm.

“They hurt the girl,” Cassidy snarled.

“Landen slut,” the Warlord snarled back.

“Girl. I am the Queen here, and that makes her one of mine. And no one lays a hand on one of mine.”

“Queen, is it? Rose-Jeweled bitch, you don’t have the power to be a Queen.”

“Try me.” Cassidy shifted her stance. “You want a fight? Draw the line.”

The Warlord hesitated. Theran felt the guards recoil in shock.

And he saw everything he’d hoped for going down in ruins because of Cassidy’s foolish actions.

And he saw Gray breaking under the pain of losing her because she wouldn’t survive this fight. Cassidy and Vae against those three Warlords? Even wounded, the males would rip the witches to pieces.

He hated her. In that moment, when he knew what he had to do and choked on the knowledge, he hated her.

But making a choice, he stepped across the boundary of that small battleground. “If you want to draw the line, you do that,” he told the Warlord. “But you won’t be meeting her. You’ll be meeting me on the killing field.”

“And me.” Ranon dropped the sight shield as he moved to guard Cassidy’s left side, his Shalador blade flashing in the sun.

“Us,” Archerr said, flanking the three Warlords.

More sight shields were dropped. More blades flashed in the sun.

Except for Powell and Talon, the whole First Circle was there.

*How . . . ?Theran asked Ranon.

*Vae called us.*

The bitter anger in Ranon’s thoughts made it plain that he thought the First Escort should have been the one to call the court to the Queen’s defense.

Which was true.

“I need Shira here,” Cassidy said, glancing at Ranon.

“I’m here. Drop your shield, Cassidy, so I can get to the girl.”

More shields. Layers of them going up in front of Cassidy and curving around to close off the area where the landen family huddled.

Layers of shields formed by the Warlord Princes who served Cassidy.

But not the Green. His strength wasn’t needed, and if he added it now, it would feel like a lie.

“You can drop your shield now, Lady,” Ranon said.

The Rose shields behind Cassidy vanished. Shira rushed over to the girl, who was still wailing.

“Let me have a look.” Shira pulled the girl’s hands away from her face. “I’m a Healer. I’m going to help—”

“Shira?” Cassidy said.

“Hell’s fire,” Shira said. Then she looked at the girl’s mother. “Give me a hand. Come on, darling. Come back here with us.” She hustled the girl to the back of the family’s space, where they had a canopy for shade and a small table and chairs.

“Shira?” Cassidy said.

“Let me work!”

It’s bad, Theran thought, remembering other Healers who had that particular tone in their voices.

“That Healer should be looking after my arm, not some slut’s face,” the older Warlord said.

“If he’s the one who threw the stone, I’ll be happy to take care of his arm,” Shira said. “And I promise there won’t be much left of it when I get done.”

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