Why had the Shalador Queens neglected this? Cassidy wondered as she knelt at the edge of the bed. Surely they were aware of the need. Had they been so afraid to call attention to themselves that they hadn’t done this one thing that would have helped so many? Or had they stopped because they realized that if they made this land richer than the rest of Dena Nehele by following traditions, it would have been taken away? Ranon had told them that the reserves were half the size they had been when Lady Grizelle and Lia had established those parts of Dena Nehele as a place that belonged to the Shalador people.
Well, it was time everyone stopped denying one of the duties of a Queen.
She didn’t turn around. If she looked at him, Gray would join her—and raise too many objections. Ceremony could come later. First she would show themwhy ; then she would show them how.
Cassidy called in a short-bladed knife and made a cut on each palm. As the blood flowed, she vanished the knife and pressed her hands into the soil—and sent her Rose-Jeweled power flowing through her blood and into the ground.
So parched. So needy. So empty for so long.
Power flowed, spreading through the vegetable garden like sweet rain.
The land was the true root and heart of the Blood’s power. They were the caretakers of the Realms. That was more than society and cities. It was more than music and literature, more than ruling over the landens. A connection to the land was an important part of what made the Blood who and what they were, and the Queens were the bridge because their power supported the land.
So parched. So needy. Soaking up everything she was willing to give. She could feel the land responding under her hands, wanting more. Wanting everything.
A little more. She could give a little more. Saturation would come soon, and the land would stop draining her.
So parched. So needy. To be wanted so much.
Then the power was draining too fast, too much. But she couldn’t pull away, couldn’t turn away when there was so much need.
Just a little—
The ground felt soft and smelled lightly of herbs. She didn’t remember seeing herbs in the vegetable garden.
Groaning, Cassidy rolled onto her side. Her eyes felt sleep-crusted, but it was too much effort to pry them open. One hand pressed on the surface next to her head. Pillow. Was she in bed? How did she get there? What in the name of Hell happened? Every muscle ached, and she felt parched, like she had been wrung so dry she was hollow.
Quiet rustling. Movement. Then a weight settled beside her on the bed.
Had to be Shira since the psychic scent was female, but she couldn’t tell anything beyond that—a sure sign thatsomething was wrong with her.
“Hell’s fire,” Cassidy muttered with her eyes still closed. “Am I late for the evening’s feast?”
“By about two days,” said a voice that wasn’t Shira’s but held a vaguely familiar tartness.
She rubbed the crustiness from her eyes and looked at the woman sitting beside her. Short, spiky, white-blond hair. A thin face that looked a decade older than the woman’s real age. Gray Jewel and Hourglass pendant. And a wicked smile that curved unpainted lips but didn’t reach the glacier blue eyes.
Cassidy struggled to prop herself up on one elbow—and failed. “What are you doing here?”
“Looking after you. I was at the Keep visiting Uncle Saetan when Vae arrived howling that you were dying and needed help from a Healer who knew about Queen things. Being a Healer and a Queen, I figured I would know how to deal with whatever happened. So here I am.” She paused, then added, “Lucivar is here too.”
“No,” Cassidy groaned. “Not Lucivar.”
“Oh, he’s not the worst of it.” Another pause. “Maybe he is the worst of it, but he’s not all of it.”
Hell’s fire. “What happened?”
“You were an idiot.”
It was said lightly, but Cassidy heard the anger under the words.
“You let your power flow without restraint, without limit,” Karla said.
“I’ve always done that,” Cassidy protested.
“Then you missed a step in your education.” Karla’s voice stung like a slap. “That did you no harm in Dharo, where the give-and-take of power is done so often it doesn’t take that much power to renew what had been used. But this land wasempty, Cassidy. I don’t think anyone has made that kind of offering here for generations. You were a drop of power away from breaking your Rose Jewel. Not just draining it,breaking it. If that Warlord Prince hadn’t had the sense to pick you up and get you into the house to break the connection to the land completely, at best you would have been broken back to your Birthright Tiger Eye. At worst . . .” Karla shook her head and sighed heavily. “Well, there’s no reason to dwell on that, is there? You still wear the Rose. And thank the Darkness for that.”
Yes. Thank the Darkness for that.
Information began to sink in. Cassidy huffed and grunted, but she got herself propped up on one elbow. “Two days? I’ve been asleep fortwo days ?”
Karla nodded. “We can call it ‘sleeping,’ which is a very generous word to use since even the deepest healing sleep usually isn’t that deep—not when there’s hope of the person coming out of it. I was about to call Lucivar and arrange to bring you to the Keep so Jaenelle could look at you. Then you shifted to a more natural sleep, and I decided to wait a few more hours. Which was fortunate for you—and this village.”
Keep? Jaenelle? Damn. If Lucivar was here, she couldn’t brush this off in her next report to Prince Sadi. And if she had been “ill” for the past two days . . .
“The First Circle,” Cassidy said.
“They couldn’t figure out how to declare war on a vegetable garden, so they’re waiting for some indication that you’re going to recover. The only reason this room isn’t filled with hysterical males watching every breath you take is because I wear the Gray and outrank them all. Also, I threatened to rip the balls off any male foolish enough to enter without my permission—and Lucivar threatened to break all the bones of any man who eventried to enter.”
“Lucivar threatened my court?”
“Court, family, village. He was too pissed off about what happened to you to be particular about whose bones were going to meet his fist.”