“What are we looking at?” Cassidy asked.

“The dominant Warlord Princes living in the two southernmost Provinces have sent in a proposed division of those Provinces into districts that would be ruled by a Warlord Prince if a Queen wasn’t available.”

“There aren’t more than a hundred adult Warlord Princes left in Dena Nehele,” Shira said. “Could so few actually rule effectively?”

Cassidy wiped her hands on a napkin and reached for the papers. “Let me see those.” Her heart pounded and her hands trembled. No indication of which districts would be ruled by Queens. Not that she’d expected them to offerthat much trust yet. She’d come to realize that the Queens who had met with her had been prepared to be sacrificed if the new Territory Queen turned out to be as twisted as the one who had ruled before. This was evidence that the Warlord Princes who had been disappointed when they had first seen her were now reconsidering what her knowledge might give their people.

“Maybe . . .” Reyhana began. She immediately hunched her shoulders and toyed with her scrambled eggs.

“Maybe . . . ?” Cassidy said.

“It’s not my place to speak.”

“Reyhana, I enjoy your company and I value you as a friend, but you’re also here to learn how to be a Queen. I can’t offer guidance if you don’t tell me what you think.”

The girl straightened up. “Are any of the Warlord Princes taking responsibility for a whole Province?”

“That would be a bit too aggressive,” Powell said gently. “It’s one thing to rule what the available Queens can’t handle themselves; it’s quite another to rule over a Queen.”

“Although it is done,” Cassidy said. “Daemon Sadi is the Warlord Prince of Dhemlan. Herules that Territory, and every Queen in Dhemlan answers to him. He is the exception, that is true, but Queens do sometimes rule within a Warlord Prince’s Territory and not the other way around. Lucivar Yaslana is another example. He rules Ebon Rih, the territory that belongs to the Keep. The Queens who rule the villages there answer to him.”

“I stand corrected,” Powell said with a smile.

“Someone needs to rule each Province, isn’t that true?” Reyhana said.

“Just getting the Warlord Princes to step up to the line and agree to rule a district is a victory,” Shira said. “At least half of these men lived in the rogue camps in the Tamanara Mountains after they reached puberty. Actually living in a village with the families they left behind is a new experience for them.”

“This is a good start, but it’s just a start,” Cassidy said.

“Why can’t your First Circle act as Province liaisons between the districts and the court?” Reyhana asked. “The same way Prince Ranon does for the Shalador reserves?”

“The way Ranon does?” Cassidy asked, glancing at Shira—who was frowning thoughtfully.

“May I?” Powell asked, indicating an empty chair.

“Yes, of course,” Cassidy replied. “Here, it’s probably best if we look at these papers more carefully in your office.”

Powell vanished the papers. Moments later, Birdie came in with a pot of fresh coffee, another cup and saucer, and more toast.

Cassidy wondered who had told Maydra that Powell was joining her for breakfast. Then she noticed Vae in the doorway. The Sceltie wagged her tail once and left, no doubt to herd a few more of her humans.

“Please explain about Ranon,” Powell said.

“I don’t think he ever visited all the villages,” Reyhana said, “but Janos told me Ranon would visit all three of the reserves and meet with the elders at least once each season. So he always knew if there was trouble or when things were getting too hard. Even during the uprisings, when he was off fighting, he’d visit a reserve if he was close by.”

“He’s been doing that for as long as I’ve known him,” Shira said. “Visiting the elders. I thought he was showing his respect. He never said otherwise.”

No, he wouldn’t have said otherwise, Cassidy thought. But that awareness of his people . . . Not so different from what the males in Jaenelle’s court had done. Not so different at all.

“If a member of the First Circle visited a Province once or twice a month,” Powell said thoughtfully, “and made it known he would carry back any concerns to the Queen, I think other men would approach him—especially if he’s already known to those men. Not an official ruler, but a reminder that all others who rule in Dena Nehele do so on the Territory Queen’s behalf. That is an excellent idea, Lady Reyhana.”

Cassidy smiled at Reyhana and lifted her coffee cup as a salute. “Yes, itis an excellent idea.”

Too bad Gray wasn’t here to share this moment with her.


Ranon stood in Daemon Sadi’s study, a stunned look on his face. “Mother Night, Gray. The man has abutler who wears a Red Jewel.”

Gray looked around the richly furnished room. There had been a jelly-knee moment when the door to SaDiablo Hall opened and that large, formidable man had stared at them. But it was clear the High Lord had sent a message ahead of them and they were expected, because Beale had led them to this room and informed them that the Prince would be with them shortly.

Noticing the stuffed toy on the floor near the long sofa, he nudged Ranon. “He may have a Red-Jeweled butler, but he also has a Sceltie.”

“Then may the Darkness have mercy on him,” Ranon muttered.

The door opened. Ranon sucked in a breath. Gray turned.

Beautiful, deadly man. Had he felt that sexual punch the last time he’d seen Daemon, or was there a reason why that heat and power were sharper today?

“Gray, it’s good to see you again.”

Is it?Gray wondered, noticing Daemon’s slightly glazed eyes. “Prince Sadi, may I introduce my friend Prince Ranon?”

Those gold eyes studied Ranon just a little too long.

“You’re Shaladoran,” Daemon said.

“I am,” Ranon replied. “How did you know?”

“You have the look of your people. Why don’t we sit down and you can tell me what brings you here.”

Gray started to turn toward the informal side of the room. Daemon walked over to the blackwood desk and settled in the chair behind it, leaving him and Ranon no choice but to sit in the visitors’ chairs.

He nodded to Ranon, who called in a package and set it carefully on the desk. “Lady Cassidy asked me to give this to you, along with this letter.”

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