“That’s about right.”
Rainier shifted in his chair. “Anyway, there were twelve men around that table, and every one of them resented me asking questions abouttheir Queen andtheir court.”
“They resented me too,” Surreal said.
“No,” Rainier said, “they were afraid ofyou. Me they would have buried without hesitation if they thought they would survive the retaliation.”
“Which they wouldn’t,” Surreal said.
“Something is going on, and no one wants to talk about what that something is,” Rainier said. “However, Gray was more than willing to complain about Cassidy wanting to use the Queen’s Gift of having a connection to the land to boost the potential harvest—and also teach the other Queens how to do the same thing. They all sat there with their mouths hanging open when I said Cassidy and the other Queens had left it a bit late since all the Queens in Kaeleer had done this in the spring. I told them how it’s usually part of the spring planting festival most villages have and there’s usually music and dancing in the evening—a bit of fun before people settled in to the summer work. And I mentioned that Queens habitually drain a little of their power into the land before their moontime because it makes them more comfortable physically. They didn’t know about that either—and considering how many of those men blushed when I said the word ‘moontime,’ I have the feeling not many of them have had much experience living with women for more than a few days.”
“Most of Cassie’s court are rogues as well as warriors,” Daemon said. “So you’re probably right that this is all much newer ground than any of us realized.”
“They also didn’t know about the tradition of fussing,” Rainier said. “So I took the liberty of explaining it—especially as it applies to a Queen and her court.”
Daemon laughed. Oh, Cassie was going to have some comments aboutthat in her next report. Then his humor faded as he looked at Surreal.
She shrugged. “Stone in a pond. Cassidy seems frustrated by how little she’s done in the weeks she’s been in Dena Nehele. My sense is she’s done enough already to send ripples through the whole Territory—including taking a young Shalador Queen into the court for training. I met the girl the last time I was in Eyota. With the right hand to guide her, Reyhana will be a strong, impressive ruler in a few years. She didn’t say a word while Cassidy and Shira talked, but she listened fiercely—and I had the impression she was hearing some of the same things that weren’t being said that I was. And didn’t like them any better.” She paused, then added, “Theran Grayhaven wasn’t in residence, by the way.”
“Oh?” Daemon said, watching her carefully. Those gold-green eyes held the ruthless chill of a first-rate assassin.
“Does the name Kermilla mean anything to you?” Surreal asked.
“No. Should it?”
Surreal shrugged. “This is what I was told. A Lady Kermilla arrived at Grayhaven to have an audience with the Queen. Audience was granted, and Kermilla’s request was denied. Instead of leaving as she should have, Kermilla has become Theran Grayhaven’s ‘personal guest,’ over Cassidy’s objections. So Queen and court removed themselves from the Grayhaven mansion and have taken up residence in Eyota, where Cassidy is determined to do some good for these people during her year in Dena Nehele.”
“I hope she’s not set on leaving at the end of that year,” Rainier said, “becausemy impression is that, however this started, her court is no longer thinking of her presence in Dena Nehele as temporary or as just a year to train someone else. They’re starting to dig in, and they’ll challenge anyone who tries to take her away from them. And that, Prince Sadi, includes you.”
Good,Daemon thought. “So Cassidy relocated her court because of Theran’s lover? I’m assuming ‘personal guest’ equals lover.”
“I don’t know that it does,” Surreal replied. “But she must mean something if Theran chose her over the Queen he swore to serve.” She leaned forward. “Kermilla is the key to this break between Cassidy and Theran because everyone was being very careful not to tell me where Kermilla came from or her caste. You don’t know her. Maybe Jaenelle does. You should ask her.”
Why don’t you?He knew the answer to that. As strong as she was, as powerful as she was, and as fierce as she was, Surreal did not want to be the one who asked Jaenelle Angelline that question.
He waited until the midday meal. Surreal and Rainier had . . . fled, to be accurate, leaving him to ask what seemed a simple question.
“Do you know Lady Kermilla?” he asked as he cut into his beef.
“Why do you ask?”
Her voice—that midnight, sepulchral, lightning-filled voice—ripped icy claws down his spine.
And not just his spine, Daemon thought as he put down his knife and fork. There were ice crystals on his food, and the water in the glass was frozen solid. And when he looked up, the sapphire eyes staring at him were filled with cold rage.
“I asked a simple question, Lady,” he said, keeping his own voice quiet and respectful.
“She is someone who will never be a guest in this house if you want me to continue living here,” Witch replied.
Had Surreal guessed this would be Jaenelle’s reaction? A little more warning would have been appreciated.
“Hell’s fire, Jaenelle, whois she?”
“She’s the Queen who took Cassie’s court.”
“Then . . .” Oh, shit.
“Why are you asking about Kermilla, Prince?”
The look in her eyes and the lethal purr in her voice made him put a double Black shield around himself before he said, “She’s in Dena Nehele, staying at the Grayhaven estate.”
Daemon removed his shoes and socks. He checked one foot, then the other. He didn’t respond to the knock on his study door, but the door opened anyway. Jaenelle walked in, carrying a large tray.
“What are you doing?” she asked, sounding contrite.
“Counting my toes.”
A pause. “They’re all there, aren’t they?”
“Yes.” Thank the Darkness.
She set the tray down on the low table in front of the sofa, then sat close to him. But not next to him.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I don’t usually lose my temper like that.”
No, she didn’t. Her response was so fast and so fierce . . . Well, even a Black-Jeweled Warlord Prince can have the shit scared out of him—especially when one moment he was sitting at a large blackwood dining table and the next he was surrounded by a table, chairs, dishes, silverware, glasses, and food that had all been reduced to a pile of uniform pieces no bigger than grains of rice.