Watching the two men, Ranon wondered what else the Steward might be telling the Master of the Guard.
“We work the same way as if we needed to make a fast move from one camp to another,” Talon said. “Grab your personal gear first. Make sure you take what you don’t want to lose. That goes for all of you. Bardric, Cayle, and Radley, you’re in charge of getting our horses and tack. Get them saddled and down to the gate. Use aural shields around their feet to keep the hooves silent.”
“Done,” Cayle said, looking at Bardric and Radley, who both nodded.
“Archerr. Spere. You’ll give Shira a hand packing up the Healer’s supplies.” Talon looked at the Healer. “We can’t take anything that belongs to this house, only what you’ve acquired on behalf of the court.”
“Understood,” Shira said, getting to her feet.
“The honey pears,” Gray said, breaking whatever Talon was about to say. “We aren’t leaving the honey pears withher. ”
“We can’t take them all, Gray,” Ranon said.
A slashing look was Gray’s only response.
“Shaddo, you give Gray a hand,” Talon said. “The honey pear that was planted in the wish pot stays here. Gray, if you’d feel easier taking the other twelve, then bring them. Ranon, once you pack your gear, you’ll give Powell a hand with the court papers.”
“Yes, sir,” Ranon said.
“Burne. Haele. You back up anyone who needs help. And keep watch. No reason to think the guests will be up this early, but I want the rest of you on your way before I inform Theran.”
“You’re going to tell him?” Powell asked.
“He’s Cassidy’s First Escort,” Talon replied. “He needs to know where his Queen is residing. And there are a few other things Prince Grayhaven needs to know.”
They all heard the threat under the words.
“Move,” Talon said.
“A moment of your time, Talon,” Powell said, rising.
“We’ll talk while you start packing.”
The men rose and slipped out of the room, warriors breaking camp.
Ranon waited, wanting a moment to talk to Shira, but she looked at Gray, who was lingering, and shook her head.
*Pack up my things along with yours,* she said.
*Is there anything private I shouldn’t touch?* Ranon asked.
*Like personal supplies?*
She found it amusing that a warrior who didn’t flinch when looking at the carnage of a battlefield got skittish around clean moontime supplies. He didn’t find it amusing at all.
He winced. *I meant hourglass supplies.*
*No,* she replied, all amusement gone. *What is private I carry with me.*
He nodded as she left the room. Which left him alone with Gray.
“She was really leaving?” Gray asked, his eyes full of hurt bewilderment. “Without me?”
“She’s confused, Gray.” He couldn’t think of any other way to say it, so he said it straight out. “She thought you were going to fall in love with Kermilla.”
Gray’s eyes widened. “Why would she think that? Did I do something?”
Ranon shook his head. “Theran’s been making such an ass of himself, I guess Cassidy figured the rest of us were attracted to Kermilla too.”
Gray shuddered. Ranon shared the feeling.
“Come on,” Ranon said. “We’ve got to pack up and get out.”
“Ranon?” Gray did a nervous shuffle from one foot to the other.
“You didn’t invite her to this meeting, so which one of us is going to tell Vae?”
“What’s on your mind, Powell?” Talon asked as soon as they were alone in the Steward’s office.
“Were you aware that Theran has been driving Kermilla all around town, introducing her to the aristo families here and . . .” Powell cleared his throat and suddenly got busy stacking account ledgers into neat piles before vanishing them.
“And . . . ?” Talon prodded. When Powell didn’t answer, anger began to simmer under a reluctance to understand. “He’s introducedher as the Queen?”
“Not directly,” Powell said. “I believe he’s introduced her as a Queen from Dharo and has not corrected people who made the wrong assumption.”
“What kind of game is he playing?”What kind of game did I allow him to play? Cassidy’s pain—and the fact that it ran so deep she’d been ready to run—was as much his fault as Theran’s.
Powell sighed. Calling in some small slips of paper, he handed them to Talon. “Kermilla wanted to do some shopping. Theran ordered the merchants to open accounts for her since she hadn’t brought sufficient marks with her to pay for extra expenses. So she said.”
“Which means Theran will end up paying those bills from the treasure Lia hid for the family.”
“No, Theran told the merchants all of Kermilla’s expenses would be covered by the town’s tithe to the Queen.”
“Kermilla spent more in a day than Cassidy spent in all the weeks she’s been here.” Powell paused. “The merchants wanted confirmation that they could deduct Kermilla’s purchases from the tithe. I told them I would let them know as soon as I had a chance to discuss this with the Queen. The merchants who remained in Grayhaven are well aware of the dangers of dealing with a Queen. By not giving immediate confirmation, I’ve warned them to be wary of further transactions.”
Talon prowled the room for several minutes while Powell packed up the maps he’d been gathering for Cassidy.
“We’ll concede the town of Grayhaven,” Talon said. “Theran can have fifty percent of the tithe to use as he pleases. The other half goes to the treasury to pay the guards’ wages and maintain the town. I’ll clear it with Cassidy, but I’ll ask her to accept my decision and give up that much.”
“In exchange for what?” Powell asked.
Talon shook his head. In exchange for nothing. At least, nothing he was willing to discuss with Powell.
He felt a respectful tap on his first inner barrier. “Ranon is on his way down. The boy cleared out his room fast.”
“He wants to be gone.” Powell rubbed his left hand. “So do I.”
Talon sighed. “I raised Theran, taught him as best I could. Tried to hold on to the Old Ways even when I could feel them slipping away with each generation. I fought to keep him safe. I killed to keep him safe. You don’t know how much it hurts to see him giving himself to Kermilla. I can’t decide if protecting him from the twisted Queens all his life has made him blind to the kind of woman Kermilla is, or if he senses that something isn’t right but is defending her because he can’t admit he might be wrong about her. I can’t decide—but tonight I’m wondering if men wasted their lives by defending the Grayhaven bloodline.”