And their Queen didn’t see any reason to push them about something that had made them happier.

Opening her eyes, Cassidy picked up the letter opener and started on the stack of correspondence from the Queens.

It was lovely to receive these notes, to read the caution and hope beneath the stiff phrases of the Queens in the northern Provinces and to read the growing confidence and warmth of the Queens in the Shalador reserves and the southern Provinces.

Many of them were interested in sending members of their courts to learn from the two Protocol instructors she had hired to work with courts and teachers so that the people of Dena Nehele would learn Protocol and the Old Ways from people who lived by the Old Ways. Two of the cottages in the Queen’s square were being repaired and cleaned for the Warlord and witch. They still hadn’t decided where the “school” would be located. She’d suggested another empty cottage in the square. Her First Circle had vehemently opposed having that many strangers coming and going within the boundaries of land that was supposed to be secure ground.

She’d resigned herself to the time it would take to negotiate with her men. Hell’s fire, it had taken days to get them to agree to let the instructors live in the square, and they only gave in aboutthat after Gray, Ranon, and Talon met the two people at the Keep—and received confirmation that Prince Sadi and the High Lord approved of these instructors and thought they would fit in easily with Eyota’s residents. What sealed the deal was learning that the Warlord came from Scelt and was used to living around Scelties and the Lady from Nharkhava, being an enthusiastic reader of the Tracker and Shadow stories, was willing to learn to live with Scelties.

Cassidy glanced at Vae, who was snoozing in front of the hearth.

Let the Lady from Nharkhava learn on her own like the rest of us did,Cassidy thought as she opened the last letter in that stack—a letter that bore the Grayhaven seal.

Then she forgot about Scelties and Protocol instructors, forgot about the spiced tea and fruit tarts, forgot about all the hope and promise in the letters she had already read.

She’d been so happy and so busy building a life and working to fulfill her promise to these people that she’d forgotten it was temporary—until this note from Kermilla reminded her.

“. . .I’m sure you won’t do anything to make the transition difficult . . . valuable asset to the Territory . . . treat the reserves like a Province and appoint you their Queen. ”

“To do what, Kermilla?” Cassidy asked. “Encourage these people to break their backs and their hearts so that you can buy another fancy dress?”

Vae raised her head. *Cassie?*

“I can’t do that to them. Iwon’t do that to them.”


She wasn’t aware of Vae leaving the room, but the Sceltie returned with Powell.

“Vae says something upset you,” Powell said. “What’s wrong?”

“I forgot.”

“I’m sorry, Lady. I don’t understand.”

She handed him the note.

His expression turned grim. “I didn’t think Theran was really that much of a fool.” Then he sighed. “The First Circle is out and about on the court’s business, so there’s nothing to do about this bit of information until evening when everyone has returned and Talon can join us. We can discuss it then.”

What was there to discuss? In another two months, she wouldn’t have a court. Just like the last time.

Her stomach rolled. Her skin turned clammy.

Was that why the men had relaxed? Had they been promised a place in Kermilla’s court and had the assurance that their own status wouldn’t change? Come to think of it, her former court also had been more relaxed and considerate in the weeks before they’d all walked away from her.

“Lady?” Powell reached for her. “What’s wrong?”

How could he not know what was wrong?

She pulled away from him before he could touch her. “I’m not feeling well.”

He studied her, and she saw nothing in his eyes except concern. “You’ve been working steadily all morning,” he finally said. “Why don’t you rest for a while?”

She pushed away from the desk. She had to get away from him before she got sick. “I’ll do that. I’ll go up to my room and rest for a while. Please ask Reyhana to open the invitations and review the calendar. It will be good practice for her.” She hesitated, then added, “I don’t want to be disturbed.”

“Shall I have Birdie or Frannie bring up a tray? Or ask Lady Shira to make up a healing brew?”

She shook her head. “I’m not hungry, and there’s no need to bother Shira about this.” What ailed her was something the Black Widow Healer couldn’t fix.

She left her office, aware that Powell followed her to the door and watched her.

Vae followed her all the way up to her room.

“I want to be alone, Vae.”

*No. You are upset, and your smells are strange.*

“Leave me alone.”

*No.* Vae jumped up on Cassidy’s bed and growled a warning.

Cassidy studied the Sceltie’s Purple Dusk Jewel. Outranked and out-toothed.

*Why are you upset?*

It bubbled out, hot and bitter. “I’m going to lose this court. I’ve given the best that I have, but in two months, I’ll be replaced by another Queen.” Again.

*You are being foolish.*

“No, I’m not. Kermilla took my court before. She’ll do it again.”

Vae’s shock hit her as hard as a blow.

*You will not defend your males? You will not defend the other humans who belong to you?*

“Vae . . .”

Vae snarled. *When a Sceltie is given a flock to protect, she protects it. When a bad dog tries to take her flock, a Sceltie doesn’t tuck her tail between her legs and run away whining. A Sceltiefights. ”

“Well, I’m not a Sceltie!”

*No, you are only human, but you are a Queen. You have shown your teeth before. Why won’t you show them now and drive the bad Queen away? Your males would fight for you. Why won’t you fight for them?*

“Iwould fight for them, with my last breath and beyond,” Cassidy shouted. “But they don’t . . .”

She stopped. Closed her eyes. Thought about Powell’s reaction to Kermilla’s letter.

Almost dismissive. A potential problem the men had been aware of, so it hadn’t come as a surprise, but it was nothing important enough to summon the court immediately.