“That’s all well and good once the spring tithes come in, but I need something now!” Kermilla said.

“But the winter tithes were paid not more than a few days ago,” he protested. “What happened to that income?”

“A misunderstanding between my Steward and Sabrina’s. It will be straightened out as soon as I talk to her after Winsol, but for now I need two or three hundred gold marks to tide me—”

Shock in his eyes. Panic as the front door opened. He bolted out of the chair and almost knocked her over in his haste to get out of the room.

She heard her mother’s voice—and her father’s. Too low to hear the words, but she recognized the tone.

A minute later, her mother walked into the room and stood near the chair. Kermilla stood up, lifting her chin in a subtle challenge. After all, her mother might wear Summer-sky too, but she was just a witch, not a Queen.

Her mother studied her for a long moment. Too long. “We’ve given you all the financial help we can. It’s time for you to take responsibility for yourself, especially when you’ve taken responsibility for so many other people’s lives now. I love you, Kermilla, and I love your father. But I will divorce him if that’s what I have to do to protect your brother and sister’s future. I will do that.”

“You won’t help me at all?” Kermilla asked.

Her mother sighed. “Financially? No. There’s nothing left to give, and there won’t be for several more years.” She paused. “Are you going to stay with us through the days of Winsol?”

Kermilla nodded.

“Good,” her mother said. “It would have hurt your father terribly if you only came to see him in order to get money.”

TERREILLE

Cassidy came downstairs and paused, listening. Hearing nothing in the rooms usually occupied by the court, she went along to the kitchen, where the servants were most likely to gather at this hour for a cup of tea and a light snack.

It stung that Gray had been right to insist that she take a nap. During the first four days of Winsol, she’d visited a dozen villages in the Shalador reserves and the two southernmost Provinces; she’d listened to children in each of those villages sing the same three traditional Winsol songs; she’d toured those villages with the residing Queen or Warlord Prince to see the new loaning libraries and other improvements; and she’d felt overwhelmed by the number of people who had lined those villages’ main streets in order to see the Queen known as Shalador’s Lady.

A couple of sneezes this morning and Gray had started fretting that she was coming down with a chill from overwork. He’d held his tongue while she attended the performances this morning, since it was the last official function she would make beyond her home village until after Winsol, but when they returned home for the midday meal he insisted she go to bed and rest for the afternoon—and Shira had agreed with him.

Her breathinghad felt a little raspy and her chest had burned when she coughed, so she didn’t argue with them too much. Now, feeling better after drinking the healing brew Shira had made for her and getting some sleep, she wandered into the kitchen to find her court and family.

Devra looked over, then pulled two baking sheets out of the oven and set them on trivets to cool. “There you are, Daughter. You look better for the rest.”

“Uh-huh.” Cassidy was so focused on the baking sheets, she barely heard her mother. “What are those?” They looked like circles of dough, baked golden brown and full of . . . Was that chocolate?

“Chocolate chunk cookies,” Maydra replied as she continued to blend and stir ingredients in a big bowl on the counter. “A special Winsol treat that’s made in Dena Nehele.”

“I brought the ingredients to make a couple of our family treats, so Maydra and I have been baking this afternoon,” Devra said.

Cassidy’s mouth watered.

Devra transferred the cookies from the baking sheets onto cooling racks. She glanced at Cassidy, then shook her head and chuckled. “The last time you had that look in your eyes, you were seven years old and ate yourself into a stupor.” She picked up a cookie and handed it to Cassidy. “One.”

Cassidy ignored Maydra’s amused snort and bit into the still-warm cookie. “Oh. Mmmm.”

“Lady Devra suggested that the women connected to the court each make one or two treats for Winsol,” Maydra said. “Then we’ll divide them up between those households. That way everyone gets variety without extra expense.”

“You’re going to make enough of these to share?” Cassidy asked, eyeing the cookies.

Her mother gave her a look that made her feel like she was seven years old again, so she decided it was time to sound like a grown-up. “Where is everyone?”

“Your father is with his apprentice carpenters. They’ve all made gifts for people and wanted his help with the finishing touches. As for everyone else . . .” Devra tipped her head. “They’re outside.”

“Then I’ll just—”

Frannie rushed into the kitchen with Cassidy’s heavy winter coat. “Lady! You can’t be going out there without a coat. Not with you trying to shake off a chill!”

Cassidy eyed the young Shalador witch who wanted to work as a personal maid—and was using Cassidy and Reyhana as her training ground. The girl had potential and took real pleasure in her work—and everyone pretended not to know that Frannie had become so skilled at weaving hair into intricate braids by practicing on her father’s draft horses.

“I’m just going to step outside for a minute,” Cassidy said.

“Huh!” Frannie held up the coat. “The stoop is swept clean, so you won’t be needing boots.”

Cassidy glanced at her mother, decided the gleam in Devra’s eyes meant that mother sided with the maid, and let herself get bundled into the coat and nudged out the back door.

Shira and Reyhana stood next to the stoop, watching men, boys, and Scelties run around the backyard.

“You’re looking better,” Shira said.

Cassidy nodded. “What are they doing?”

“Playing cows and sheep,” Reyhana replied. “Eryk and Eliot are the sheep. Shaddo, Janos, Ranon, and Gray are the cows. The silver twins, Darcy, Khollie, and Darkmist are the herders. The white globes of witchlight at that end of the yard is the corral. The green globes are brambles.”

“Are those little hourglasses floating near the witchlights?” Cassidy asked.


Tags: Anne Bishop The Black Jewels Science Fiction
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