They called this a craftsmen’s courtyard? Kermilla looked at the half-empty tables and the sullen landen faces. They watched her with a look in their eyes that made her nervous. Maybe Kenjim was right. Maybe this wasn’t a good part of town for her to be in. But giving in now would mean taking orders from a male who was supposed to serve her, and no Queen with any pride would do that.

She joined Correne, who had been studying a selection of leather belts.

“This one would be acceptable,” Correne said. “The buckle is almost pretty.”

The leather was lusciously soft and meant to accept the sweet curve of a woman’s hips, and the pewter buckle was in the shape of an arbor and bench, a highly suggestive piece implying the pleasure that could be sampled in a garden—if a woman wore it in the right place.

“This is a fine piece, Lady,” the landen said. “The price is thirty silver marks.”

“Thirty!” Correne said. “You think I would pay alanden thirty silver marks foranything ?”

Rage flashed in the landen’s face, quickly masked but not quickly enough.

Brok and Garth stepped up to the table.

“You trying to give the Ladies trouble?” Brok snarled.

“Gentlemen,” Kermilla said firmly. “There is no reason to be uncivil because of a simple misunderstanding.” She looked at the landen and used the same tone that effectively cowed the landens in sheep-shit Woolskin. “I’m sure this man didn’t realize aQueen was interested in the belt, and it is customary that when aQueen expresses interest in an item, it is given to her as agift. ” She picked up the belt and handed it to Correne. “Therefore, haggling over the price isn’t necessary. Is it?”

The landen looked at Brok and Garth. Then he shook his head. “No, it’s not necessary. Please accept this belt as a gift, Lady.”

“The guards are coming,” Garth said. “Let’s go.”

Something in his voice had Kermilla walking back to their carriage. And something in Brok’s voice when he looked at a weaver and said, “Tell your little bitch to keep an eye out for us,” made her shiver.

Then the guards rode up and surrounded them—hard men with honed tempers.

“What is the meaning of this?” Kermilla demanded.

“These two Warlords were forbidden to come into the landen part of town,” a guard said. “The penalty for disobeying the Queen’s command is exile. Or death.”

“No!” Kermilla’s heart pounded. How could this man be such a brute? He had no business threatening her boys. None! “You can’t do that.”

“The Queen’s command—”

“I outrank Cassidy, andI say these men are free to come and go as they please!”

The guard looked at her, and there was no indication he was going to yield.

“Your Jewels may outrank Lady Cassidy’s, butshe rules Dena Nehele.”

“For now,” Kermilla snapped. “Come spring,I will be the law here, and I won’t forget who caused trouble for me and mine.”

A humming, terrible silence.

“Warlord,” Kenjim said politely as he stepped up to stand at her left. “The Ladies were not aware of this command when they asked these two Warlords to stand as additional escorts.”

“Garth and Brok were aware of it,” the guard said. “They almost blinded a young girl. That’s why they were banned from this part of town.”

“If Lord Bardoc and I had been aware of this, we would have opposed those Warlords coming with us,” Kenjim said.

Kenjim’s anger was a scalding heat against her skin. Kermilla took a half step away from him.

“We’ll escort you all back to the line,” the guard said. “And we’ll take Garth and Brok back to their father’s house. This will be reported to the Master of the Guard. If he feels that more needs to be done, he’ll take care of it.”

If more needs to be done? Kermilla frowned. What did that mean?

“Fair enough,” Kenjim said.

“Fair enough?” Kermilla stared at Kenjim in disbelief. Then she glared at the guard. “You won’t report to anyone. Grayhaven isTheran’s town.”

“Last I heard, it was still part of Dena Nehele. Prince Grayhaven may rule here, but he still has to answer to the Queen and her court. And that includes Talon, the Master of the Guard.”

Theran would befurious if Talon came here and started chewing on him over this.

She offered no other protests as Kenjim and Bardoc helped her and Correne into the carriage.

*I vanished the belt before the guards arrived,* Correne said once they were all seated.

As if that was the least bit important right now,Kermilla thought.

Two of the guards escorted them all the way back to the spot where she had met up with Brok and Garth. Then they rode off with her two boys, leaving her with Bardoc’s discomfort and Kenjim’s simmering anger.

As soon as they returned to the mansion, Correne scurried to her room and Bardoc made some excuse about needing to talk to Jhorma. Which left her alone with Kenjim, who followed her right into her room.

“What in the name of Hell are you doing, associating with bastards who would try to blind a child?” Kenjim growled.

“Garth and Brok are mine.” Kermilla thumped a fist against her chest. “Mine!”

“They tried to blind a child!”

“A stupid landen!” Kermilla shouted. “Who cares about landens?”

He stared at her before saying quietly, “A Queen with honor.”

The insult silenced her. She studied his eyes, felt the sharp heat of his temper. She tried a delicate psychic probe to find out what was under the moment’s temper—and found disgust, disappointment, and contempt.

“If Garth and Brok belong to you, then I don’t.” Kenjim’s voice was dangerously quiet. “I don’t know what kind of game you’re playing, claiming that you’re going to be Queen here—”

“Iam going to be Queen! Theran promised me!”

Kenjim let out a huffing laugh that held no humor. “Then he’s as much of a fool as we were.”

Kermilla walked over to the window and stared at nothing. Bardoc was unhappy about this misunderstanding with those stupid guards who were protecting landens, but she could talk him around. Kenjim, however, was now a danger to her. He wouldn’t be able to turn Theran against her, but his anger could sour the opinion of the Warlord Princes who were coming to meet her. He might even try to ruin her chance of becoming the Queen of Dena Nehele.