“I’ve never attacked anyone before,” Cassidy said. “Lucivar taught me how to use the club. He said I didn’t have the right temper for a knife. I worked on the moves lots of times in practice—Lucivar has a lust for practice—and I kept practicing because it was good exercise and a kind of mental discipline. But I’ve never hit anyone before and meant it. Well, my brother, Clayton, but that’s different.”
“I’m not finding anything,” Shira said. “What’s wrong with her?”
“First-fight nerves,” Ranon said. “She’s just shaky.”
“I’ve got a bit of something that might help that,” the man said.
Theran exchanged a look with Ranon. They both knew about the “bit of something” that was brewed in stills and cost a lot less than the liquor that didn’t require a man to bring his own container.
*It will fuzz her nerves,* Ranon said.
“Thanks,” Theran said as he rose to follow the man.
The flask was tucked away with the water jugs and makings for tea. The man took a cup and saucer, then filled the cup halfway from the flask. He glanced at Theran, then poured a bit more.
Theran accepted the cup and took a sip. His eyeballs sang and his teeth danced.
“Mother Night,” he wheezed.
“It’s got some bite to it,” the man agreed.
When he brought the cup over, Cassidy got a whiff of the stuff and refused to drink it until Shira snapped, “You can drink that tonic or I can make you one that tastes worse.”
She gulped it down, draining the cup.
Her throat didn’t catch on fire, and her lungs didn’t explode.
Theran wasn’t sure if he should admire her for that or be afraid of her.
“Give me a minute to check on the girl,” Shira said. “Then I’ll ride with you and help you get Lady Cassidy home.”
“Um aright,” Cassidy said.
“Uh-huh,” Theran replied as he hauled her to her feet.
Vae was stretched out on the seat, looking quite pleased with herself. Theran dropped the Green shield around the packages and said, “In the back.”
She grumbled a bit, but she stepped over the seat and walked on air while she nudged packages around until she’d made a Sceltie-sized spot. Then she lay down with a sigh.
Cassidy was more of a handful since the liquor and the fight were catching up to her and coordination became a vague concept. But he finally got her on the seat and wrapped a Green shield around her to keep her from falling out of the cart.
When he turned to find out what was keeping Shira, he saw Ranon holding the Healer back—and the landen man standing within reach.
“I’ve got something to say to you,” the man said.
Theran stiffened. “Then say it.”
“What happened today . . . What those boys did . . . That’s happened before. Not to me and mine, but to others.”
“Been a long time since someone looked at us and saw people instead of less.”
He nodded again, not knowing what to say or what this man wanted.
“I fought in the landen uprisings.”
“So did I,” Theran replied.
The man glanced at the cart. “If there had been someone like her around two years ago, maybe we wouldn’t have felt the need to fight. I just wanted you to know that.”
His throat closed. Something ached inside of him. He raised a hand in farewell, then climbed up to the seat. A moment later, Shira joined him, and they drove away with Ranon riding behind them as escort.
“Exciting day,” Shira said.
“Yeah.” Too many things had happened too fast. There were too many things to think about.
And he wasn’t sure how he felt about any of them.
Daemon shifted the wooden delivery box to one hand and knocked on the cottage door.
He understood Jaenelle’s reason for waiting in solitude. Witch would not have been an easy companion last night, and Witch wouldn’t have been soothed by the company of all the women who had rallied around Marian. Lucivar had placed the Eyrien warriors on alert, and that had been enough warning for the women. For the warriors, seeing Lucivar go to the Keep armed and shielded told them everything they needed to know. If a fight broke out at Ebon Askavi between the three strongest Warlord Princes in the Realm, it would shake the whole damn valley. Or worse.
So the Eyrien women had gathered to keep Marian company, to keep Daemonar distracted. To wait.
But the Queen would have waited in silence, in solitude. Because if she’d felt the need to reclaim what she had given up, she would have terrified all of them.
He wasn’t sure who—or what—would open the door, and he began to worry when she didn’t answer.
Then the door opened and Jaenelle stood there, studying him with those haunted sapphire eyes that always saw too much.
“Why were you knocking?” she asked, the tension visible in her stance—and audible in her voice.
“Because this is your private place.”
Like his suite of rooms at the Hall.
Relaxing, she nodded, acknowledging his reason. “What did you bring?”
“A loving man—and breakfast.”
Her lips twitched, fighting a smile. “In that case, Prince, come in.”
He was so glad to see her, he didn’t try to fight a smile. There were shadows under her eyes, testimony of a sleepless night, and her hair was sticking up every which way, making her look like a scruffy waif . . . who was wearing snug trousers and one of his silk shirts.
Screw breakfast, he thought as he set the box on the table. I’ll just nibble on her for an hour or two.
Then Jaenelle peered into the box and her stomach growled so loudly, he figured it was prudent to change his priorities.
“Where did you get this?” Jaenelle asked.
“I stopped at The Tavern after seeing Lucivar home. There’s a steak pie, a vegetable casserole, and some fruit.”
“The Tavern isn’t usually open this early.”
Daemon hesitated, then wondered why he bothered. She would have been aware of the mood of the Blood in Riada. “They were just closing when I got there.” Merry and Briggs had stayed open because so many had been sleepless and uneasy last night, and a gathering place offered comfort.
He reached into the box for the steak pie. “The food needs to be warmed a bit.”
Her hands settled over his, stopping him.
“Daemon, why don’t you say what you need to say? The food will settle better on an easy stomach—and an easy heart.”