Cassidy shook her head as she joined them at the door. “War or not, we’ve got two months before spring. Fields will need to be plowed, and crops will need to be sown—and the Queens need to affirm their bond to the land. We need to make sure all the Queens know how to enrich the land, we need to confirm that the villages—landen and Blood—have the plows and other tools they need for their farms and—”
“All right!” Shira said, laughing. “All right. Point taken. We have plenty to do.”
Cassidy looked at Shira and knew that, for a moment, they both pictured an orchard of honey pear trees growing out of the bodies of the dead.
Then they both pushed that image aside, and the three of them went to Cassidy’s study and got on with the business of living.
Saetan read the document carefully. Then, assured that Powell had made all the changes he’d written on the draft, he set the document on the library’s large blackwood table and vanished his half-moon glasses. “We’ll make sure this is preserved. A place will be set aside in the library for any other documents or work from Shalador Nehele that you want preserved outside of your land.”
“Thank you,” Talon replied.
Saetan studied the demon-dead Warlord Prince who had been a friend of Jared and Lia. “This is hard for you.”
“Yes, it’s hard. Not so much that it happened, but the reason why it happened. Makes me wonder what I’ve been fighting for these past three hundred years.”
“I can tell you that,” Saetan said. “You’ve been fighting for honor and to protect what you cherish.”
“I failed him.” Talon shook his head. “Theran doing this means I failed him.”
“You don’t know that. Until he steps up to the line and makes the choice to start a war, you don’t know that. And if there is enough of Jared in him, he may surprise you.”
“I served a Queen before I turned rogue. She was the reason I turned rogue. I never felt the pull with her that I feel with Cassie. I don’t think I could turn away from Cassie, no matter what she did at this point.”
“That bond can wane or break, like any other kind of love,” Saetan said. Having faced the possibility of killing a son in order to save his Queen, he knew what Talon was feeling, but there wasn’t much comfort he, or anyone else, could give this man.
“It’s too late in the morning for you to be traveling back to Dena Nehele,” Saetan said. “I’ll show you to a guest room where you can rest until sunset.”
A simple message was sent from the High Lord of Hell to Lord Khardeen, Lady Sabrina, and Prince Daemon Sadi. It said:
Dena Nehele has broken. Shalador Nehele rises with Cassidy as its Queen. May the Darkness have mercy on them.
Theran read the document a second time, then stared at the man who had raised him and loved him—and was now an enemy.
“Why?” He tossed the document on his desk. “Hell’s fire, Talon,why? ”
“It’s clear enough,” Talon replied.
“It’s not clear,” Theran snapped. “Nothing is clear. Youbroke Dena Nehele. You broke the land that survived generations of twisted Queens and Dorothea SaDiablo’s hatred for the sake of a bitch who should be leaving instead of trying to take control.”
“I could say the same about you. And that’s the last time you get to call my Queen a bitch without blood being shed.”
Sick, scared, and furious, Theran clenched his teeth to avoid saying anything more. Talonwould shed blood. Even his.
“You can’t do this. She took a third of the Territory.”
“Cassidy didn’t take anything. The Provinces were free to make their choice.”
“And what price would they pay if they didn’t make the choice Lady Cassidy wanted?” Theran asked bitterly.
“You’re trying to dress Cassidy in another woman’s temper,” Talon said.
“You’re asking questions that don’t fit her as a woman or a Queen, so maybe you’re really wondering about someone else.”
Theran rocked back on his heels, not sure how to answer that—and sure hedidn’t want to answer that. “Talon, breaking Dena Nehele isn’t the answer.”
“Is Cassidy going to be the Queen of Dena Nehele two months from now?”
“No, she is not!”
“Then this is the only answer that gives both sides a choice besides war.”
“Choice.” The word hooked its claws into him and left his heart bleeding. “You call this a choice? Kermilla will never accept this.”
“She isn’t the Queen yet.”
“She’s going to be.”
“But she isn’t the Queen yet. And I guess, right now, that makes you the unofficial ruler of Dena Nehele. So it’s up to you to accept this.”
Theran staggered back a step. No Queen. No female hand to guide them once it became known that Cassidy had turned away from the Provinces north of the Heartsblood River.
No Queen again. At least, not until Kermilla formed a court.
“I guess I’m no longer part of Cassidy’s court,” Theran said.
“You don’t serve the Queen of Shalador Nehele, so, no, you’re no longer part of the court.”
So much sadness in Talon’s eyes.
“Talon . . . are you really going to stand against me?”
“Let us go, Theran. We don’t want a war, but if you send men against us or our Queen, we will fight. And I tell you now, boy, if we meet on a killing field I will do everything I can to destroy you.”
Theran’s eyes stung. He blinked away the tears. “That’s it then.”
“Yes, that’s it.” Talon walked to the study door and opened it. He stopped and looked over his shoulder. “May the Darkness embrace you, Theran.”
Theran said nothing until Talon left the room. Then he whispered, “And you, Talon. And you.”
Kermilla tapped on the study door and swallowed her resentment—again—about being locked out of Theran’s study. That would change once she was the Queen. Yes, that would certainly change. But for now, she couldn’t demand to know what had happened between Theran and that awful Prince Talon. Just looking at the man’s maimed hand and the way he walked because of the missing part of his right foot made her shudder. At least she wouldn’t have to considerhim for her court, no matter how Theran felt about him.