Vanishing the document, Theran shoved his arms into the coat sleeves. *I’ll be gone for the rest of the day,* he said on a spear thread when Kermilla rushed into the entranceway. *Hold on to any mail or messages until I return.*

*Done,* Julien said.

And when he returned he would put Green shields and locks around his study. Kermilla would be insulted, but better that than another error in judgment.

“Theran?” Kermilla’s voice was a blend of distress and whiny-bitchy that he hadn’t heard before. “Where are you going? What about our invitation to—”

“Send your regrets,” he snapped as he headed for the door. “I have an appointment.”With the Queen , he added silently.

Cassidy watched Shira remove the tangled web of dreams and visions from its wooden frame and drop the spider silk into a shallow bowl of witchfire.

“What did you see?” Cassidy asked. “Or can’t the vision be shared?”

Shira looked at her for a long time. Then the Shalador witch finished putting away her Hourglass supplies before saying, “Endings and beginnings. I think most of us left in the Hourglass have seen the end of Dena Nehele—and wept for it. Some of us saw hope and a new beginning, but it wasn’t always there in the visions, so we knew the end was coming but couldn’t be sure if anything good would follow.”

“And now?”

“I used to see orchards of honey pear trees growing out of the bodies of the men who had fallen in the killing fields.”

“Mother Night,” Cassidy whispered.

“Sometimes, in nightmares, I would pick the fruit off one tree. I would bite into one of the pears, and it was better than anything I’d ever tasted before. Then I would look down and see Ranon’s face. The tree was growing out of what was left of Ranon.”

“Shira . . .”

“Today I saw orchards of honey pear trees growing out of rich soil. Soil, Cassie. Not the bodies of our dead. And even though I couldn’t see them, I could hear men talking and laughing, and I knew they were alive and helping with the harvest.” Shira undid the Craft holding her hair up and let that dark hair flow around her shoulders. “You’re the difference. Dena Nehele will break, and Shalador Nehele will rise. A new beginning.”

“There could still be war,” Cassidy said. “Those honey pears might still grow out of the bodies of the dead.”

“That’s a possibility,” Shira agreed. “But before, it was a certainty.”

Shalador’s Lady will rule this new land?

She will.

We will continue to walk the path she has shown us and reclaim the Old Ways of the Blood?

We will.

Then the people of Shalador will welcome this change, and we will strive to be worthy of the honor she has given us by naming her new Territory Shalador Nehele.

Gray rode into the landen community with Ranon and wondered if this meeting was really necessary. Prudent, sure. But necessary? They’d used a small Coach that Ranon could handle so that they could ride the Opal Winds together. The news still arrived at the southern and western reserves ahead of them.

They were given the courtesy of being allowed to deliver their message to an assembly of elders and Tradition Keepers since they had made the journey. After their meeting in the western reserve, they were gently shooed home. Shalador’s decision was made. They would stand with the Queen. Ranon and Jared Blaed should return home and tend to Shalador’s Lady.

So they were back in Eyota in time to make this last visit and be home for dinner.

They rode in slowly, in part to give the guard on duty time to sense their presence but mostly because they could hear a dog barking and children laughing and squealing.

“Cows and sheep?” Gray asked, reining in before they reached the floating balls of green witchlight.

“Looks like it,” Ranon agreed.

Gray watched JuliDee evade the Sceltie and dart away from the corral of white witchlight. “Wynne doesn’t seem to be doing too well.”

“Wynne isn’t trying very hard,” Ranon replied dryly. “I imagine if there was a reason to round up these ‘sheep,’ they’d be rounded up.”

James Weaver came out of one of the workshops and raised a hand in greeting as they dismounted.

“We were all putting away our tools and having a glass of ale as an end to the day. Would you join us? Or would you prefer something hot?”

“Ale would be fine,” Ranon replied. They tied their horses to a post and followed James into one of the workshops. Potter and Tanner were there. So was James’s son, Rand, but the youngster got some signal from his father and excused himself.

Small glasses of ale were poured. Gray wondered if it was the cost of the ale that prevented them from enjoying a larger glass. Then he realized this wasn’t about drinking. This was a ritual among them that acknowledged a day’s work—and the freedom to work without fear.

“There is something we felt you need to know,” Gray said. He explained the court’s decision to break from Dena Nehele and form a new Territory, just as he’d been explaining it all day—and would explain it when he and Ranon met the Warlord Princes living in the five southern Provinces.

James looked at Potter and Tanner, then rubbed the back of his neck. “We thank you for the courtesy of telling us.”

Ranon studied the men. “You already knew.”

“In a way,” Potter said. “But we appreciate you translating it into human.”

Gray looked at Ranon. Ranon looked at Gray. Together they said, “Human?”

James said, “The message we got earlier today was ‘We don’t like the other Queen. We’re keeping Cassie. So her males are going to be busy for a while marking her territory.’ ”

“Marking—” Ranon choked. Then he blushed.

Potter nodded. “Of course, the boys wanted to know what that meant, so Duffy demonstrated and . . .”

Gray hunched his shoulders and groaned. “How many women are mad at us?”

James grinned. “As long as you don’t pee on any of the houses, I think you’ll be all right.”

Theran pounded on the boardinghouse’s front door. Damn dogs were going to stir up the whole damn village before someone opened the damn door. How in the name of Hell could an animal that small make a noise that loud?

He couldn’t see them, but he recognized the psychic scents of Archerr and Shaddo. And he felt Talon’s presence.

And he felt insulted that he’d been “escorted” here by a guard.

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