By the time the First Circle gathered in the court’s parlor and Dryden opened bottles of sparkling wine for the first of many celebrations, everyone who lived with or worked near a Sceltie had heard the news about Prince Jared Blaed and Lady Cassidy.
Daemon walked into one of the sitting rooms. Lucivar came in a step behind him and immediately swung to the left to give them both working room. Their father stood by a window, looking out and smiling an odd little smile.
“Where is Gray?” Daemon asked. “You said he needed to talk to us.”
“Is he outside making mulch?” Lucivar asked.
“He’s outside,” Saetan replied. “And once in a while he stops grinning and remembers what he’s supposed to do with the piece of wood he’s holding.”
Daemon looked at Lucivar, who shrugged.
*I’m not picking up any temper,* Lucivar said on an Ebon-gray spear thread.
*Neither am I,* Daemon replied. But what his psychic probewas picking up from the boy was damn peculiar.
“Don’t give him a hard time,” Saetan warned as he rapped on the window. “The only reason I chucked him out there was because he insisted that he wanted to wait until he could tell all three of us the news, and he’s so bouncy it was exhausting to be in the same room with him.”
“Ah.” Daemon smiled.
A minute later, still dressed in his heavy coat and holding a piece of wood, Gray bounced into the room.
*He’s spending too much time with Vae,* Lucivar said.
Daemon stifled a laugh.
“Hi!” Gray said.
Looking at those bright green eyes and sensing the almost skin-bursting excitement, Daemon didn’t need to hear the words to know the news. But he kept his expression politely interested—and noticed that Saetan was wearing the same expression.
Lucivar shook his head and said, “Give me that.”
“What?” Gray looked at the chunk of wood Lucivar took from him and vanished. “Oh.” Then he just grinned at all of them.
“Okay, brainless,” Lucivar said. “Use words.”
“Lucivar,” Saetan groaned quietly.
“I’m getting married. To Cassie. And she’s getting married to me. It happened yesterday. Not the getting married part. The asking part.”
“Congratulations, Gray,” Daemon said.
“That’s wonderful news,” Saetan said. “And worthy of a celebration.”
Lucivar stared at Gray until the weight of that stare quieted some of the excitement in the young Warlord Prince.
“So,” he finally said. “You’ve decided to live right up to the line.”
“Yes,” Gray replied. “I did. I am.”
“Good for you, Gray,” Lucivar smiled. “Good for you.”
Draca entered the room, followed by a servant who brought in a tray filled with food and another servant who brought bottles of sparkling wine and glasses.
When told the news, the Keep’s Seneschal offered her congratulations and left. Daemon opened a bottle of wine and poured while Lucivar handed out the glasses.
After the first toast, Daemon set his glass aside and called in two small jeweler’s boxes. “Here, Gray. I had a feeling you were going to need these someday, and it looks like that day has come.”
Gray set his own glass down and opened the first box. “A man’s traditional marriage ring. Do you think it will fit me?”
Daemon chuckled as Gray admired the plain gold band. “Darling, I know it will fit you. Remember our trip to Amdarh for some of the Winsol shopping? Remember going to Banard’s?”
Gray nodded. “Surreal wanted to buy a ring for Rainier, and I tried some on so you could see how they fit.” He frowned. “Which actually made no sense, but at the time, itsounded like it made sense.”
*What sort of spell did you wrap around him when you did that?* Saetan said.
*Nothing much,* Daemon replied. *And it wasn’t around him, it was around my voice.*
*Ah.* “Except for a court ring or a marriage ring, the only ring a man usually wears is his Jewels,” Saetan said.
“Oh.” Gray narrowed his eyes at Daemon. “It was a trick?”
“A small deception,” Daemon replied. “But with that little ruse, you obligingly provided Banard with your ring size. And then there is this.” He flipped the other box open and held it out.
“Mother Night,” Gray whispered.
When Gray just stood there, staring, Daemon tipped the box so Saetan could see the ring.
“That’s lovely,” Saetan said. “And it suits Cassie.”
It did suit Cassidy. Amber in three colors, set in a clean design of gold.
“I can’t afford that ring,” Gray said.
“The two rings are a wedding gift from the SaDiablo family,” Daemon said. “A gift to a Queen we admire—and to a Warlord Prince who has had the courage to live up to his potential. I hope you’ll accept them.”
*I trust you have no objections to the gift?* he asked Lucivar and Saetan.
*None,* they replied.
Gray took the box that held Cassie’s wedding ring. “Thank you.”
“Come on, boyo,” Daemon said. “Let’s sit down, have something to eat, and you can tell us every detail about your marriage proposal.” He and Lucivar and Saetan all laughed at Gray’s expression. “All right. Not every detail.”
There was nothing Theran could do. The more he tried to hold on to the land his family had guarded and cherished for so long, the more of it fell away.
Two weeks after the Heartsblood River Province deserted Dena Nehele and gave itself to Cassidy, one of the northern Provinces that bordered the Tamanara Mountains became part of Shalador Nehele. A week after that, the other Province that bordered the mountains turned away from its heritage.
Only four Provinces left. A land that had held for centuries had been reduced to a third of its size within the space of a couple of months. Kermilla was almost hysterical in her demands that hedo something, and hetried . But nothing worked.
When the news about the second mountain Province reached him, he didn’t summon the Warlord Princes living in the four remaining Provinces.
This time, they summoned him.
They met in an old barn next to an abandoned farmhouse. A familiar kind of gathering place, Theran thought as he slipped inside. During the years when these men had fought against the twisted Queens, they couldn’t gather at an inn without coming to the attention of the Queens’ guards and they wouldn’t gather at anyone’s home and put that man’s family at risk.