“Did you try contacting her on a psychic thread?” Theran asked.
Didn’t you? Shira wondered as she nodded. “No answer.”
“But she didn’t”—Theran glanced at Gray—“pack up?”
She shook her head.
Poor Gray. Cassidy’s retreat from all of them had been hard on him. Now Shira could see him breaking down, little by little, as the possibility of Cassidy disappearing for good began to take root.
“Well,” she said, trying for a bracing tone and hoping no one—except Ranon—heard the worry, “at least we know Cassidy isn’t alone.”
“Why do you think that?” Ranon asked.
“Because I can’t find Vae either.”
“I guess when you get rid of a wardrobe, the mirror and trunk go with it,” Cassidy said, rubbing her forehead with a grimy hand as she studied the latest combination of furniture. Why hadn’t she thought to bring a jug of water? She was parched, and Vae was panting.
I’m certainly not going to tell anyone I didn’t bring any water. Lucivar can’t yell about what he doesn’t know.
It was tempting to give up, since they had circled and wandered the damn attic long enough to have crossed their own footprints a few times, but the answer was up here. Somewhere.
*Tired, Cassie,* Vae said.
And there were times when sense should override a foolish need to do one thing right.
“Me too. Last one. If we don’t find anything this time, we’ll go downstairs and get some help looking.” Maybe they could just pitch every mirror, trunk, and wardrobe onto the lawn until they found the right one. And Theran could damn well help with the pitching and searching. After all, this was his inheritance, not hers.
Taking a deep breath—and coughing from the dusty air—Cassidy crouched in front of the trunk and warily held out a hand. Some of the trunks . . . Whatever they contained was so vile, she couldn’t get near them without feeling sick. This one . . .
Expectation. Anticipation. An odd feeling of hope.
She slipped the key into the trunk’s lock . . .
. . . and the wardrobe door opened.
“Well, that’s clever.” She pulled the wardrobe door open a little more, then pushed the nearest box of whatevers against it to hold it open before she created a ball of witchlight.
“It’s a room,” Cassidy whispered. She stepped back and looked at the discarded furniture and boxes. Part real and part illusion? Had to be, but she wasn’t sure her hands would be able to tell the difference, even now when so many centuries had passed since that spell had been cast.
“Vae, you stay out here.”
“Because if that door closes and I get trapped in there, you’ll need to find Theran and rescue me.”
Vae sat down, wagged her tail in agreement—and sneezed.
“Let’s see what Lia left for her heirs.”
Trunks lined two of the walls. Sturdy shelves rose above them, filled with boxes and bags—and more journals. The third side, to her left, had racks for storing paintings.
She pulled out the first painting, easing away the protecting cloth—and wondered how a portrait of Theran had gotten up there. Then she uncovered the next painting and saw the same man, older. His arms were around a woman who wasn’t pretty, but had her own kind of beauty.
Jared and Lia.
She wanted to uncover the rest of the paintings, wanted to spend hours studying these people who were still the heart of their land. But Theran and Gray should have the pleasure of that discovery, so she replaced the cloths over the paintings and began to check the shelves to get an idea of what was there before she went downstairs to tell the others what she’d found.
Bags of gold and silver coins. Even a few gold bars. Loose gemstones. Enough, she judged, to repair the estate and support a prudent Queen’s court for several years so that the tithes could be put back into the Provinces and villages, helping Blood and landens alike to rebuild Dena Nehele.
And a few pieces of jewelry, carefully preserved in velvet-lined boxes and fit for a Queen.
Family heirlooms. Dishes and trinkets that were worth more for their history than for whatever price they might fetch.
Then there was the box with the sealed message resting on top.
For the Queen.
You have found what we left behind to help when it will be needed most.
Give this box to the Grayhaven heir. Once it is placed in the heir’s hands, all the spells that have kept these items safe will end, and this room can be found by any eye.
May the Darkness embrace you, Sister. You have given Dena Nehele, and my family, more than you know.
“Where in the name of Hell have you been?” Theran said the moment Cassidy stepped out on the terrace, looking happy and incredibly dirty. “Gray’s been frantic, worrying about you.”
Hell’s fire, was he relieved to see her! At that moment, he wanted to strangle her for scaring them all so much, but he was relieved to see her.
“Do you realize it’s midafternoon now and there’s been no sign of you—none!—since the maid found the breakfast tray outside your door?”
“So late?” She looked startled. “I didn’t realize.”
“Where have you been?” he shouted.
She shifted away from him. “I was up in the attic.”
“What for? And why didn’t you tell someone? We were ready to tear apart the town looking for you.” Not to mention having to go to Sadi and tell him they had lost the Queen.
Vae joined them, so filthy he imagined the housekeeper was having a fit about the dog tramping through the house, and since he knew who would end up washing the little bitch, he wasn’t quite as relieved to see her.
Especially when she growled at him.
“And you,” he snapped, pointing at Vae. “You couldn’t have told us where Cassidy had gone? You’re always yapping about everything else.”
*I do not yap.*
“Prince . . . ,” Cassidy began.
He didn’t need to watch Gray running for the house. He watched Cassidy . . . and the way her eyes lit up when she saw Gray.
At least that answered one question.
“Cassie!” Gray stopped at the edge of the terrace. “There’s . . . there’s something I want to show you.”
She smiled. “I have some things to show you too.”
“Mine first,” Gray said.
Her smile widened. “All right.” Then she looked at Theran and held out a rectangular wooden box, its top decorated with the Grayhaven seal. “This is for you.”