She turned back to face him. “Pack your things. You’re returning to Bhak immediately. I’ll have Gallard assign another in the First Circle to stand escort here.”

“As the Lady wishes.” Kenjim’s smile held a sharp, terrible edge. “Before you, I served an honest—and honorable—Queen for five years. But that doesn’t mean I don’t understand the value of negotiating.”

“What does that mean?”

“If you try to smear my reputation by distorting what happened today or by misrepresenting this conversation, I will go to Lady Darlena and counter your report with a charge of mistreatment.”

“You wouldn’t dare!”

“Wouldn’t I?”

Kermilla paled. As a District Queen, she ruled under the hand of a Province Queen who, in turn, ruled her piece of Dharo under the hand of the Territory Queen. If Kenjim went to Darlena with a charge of mistreatment, more than the Province Queen would be taking a look at her court. And that wouldn’t do at all. Not when spring was so many months away. If Darlena—or even worse, Sabrina—took Kenjim’s side in this and released him from his contract right now, it would break her court, and she wouldn’t have the income from Bhak and Woolskin to support her, as insufficient as it was.

If she asked Theran to kill Kenjim, would he do it without asking questions?

No. Not without questions. Even if Theran would do that for her, Jhorma and Bardoc would insist on some justification—and would insist on her leaving Dena Nehele, which would ruin everything.

Kenjim has already considered that. He knows the knife he’s holding against my throat is sharper than any I can hold against his. I can’t strike against him without hurting myself more.

“Very well,” she said coldly. “We’ll just say that you’ve completed your rotation as escort and are returning to Bhak to take up other duties on behalf of your Queen. Is that satisfactory?”

“Quite satisfactory.”

“In that case,get out. ”

He reached for the door but didn’t open it. When he looked at her, she thought she saw regret, maybe even sorrow, in his eyes.

“Do yourself a favor, Kermilla. Cut the acquaintance with those two young Warlords. Stop playing these games. Go back to Bhak and start taking care of what is already yours. If you don’t, I won’t be the only man who walks away from your court.” He opened the door and walked out.

She didn’t go down to dinner that night, claiming a sick headache. And that wasn’t far from the truth, since she had blurred the afternoon with many generous glasses of brandy.

Tonight she would brood and sulk and get gloriously drunk. Tomorrow, when those Warlord Princes came to dinner, she needed to shine.

CHAPTER 19

KAELEER

*Bastard?*

Daemon opened his eyes, not sure if the call that had broken his sleep had been real or part of a dream.

*Bastard?*

Ebon-gray psychic thread. No doubt now that the call was real. *Prick?* He waited. Didn’t get a response. Just a sense of pain running through that psychic thread.*Lucivar?*

*I need help.*

Daemon flung the sheet aside and rolled out of bed, startling Jaenelle. *Where are you?*

*Home.*

*Are you hurt?*

*No. Marian . . .* Pain. Grief.

Mother Night. *I’ll be there as soon as I can.*

He rushed into the adjoining bedroom to dress. Jaenelle rushed in right behind him.

“What’s wrong?” she asked.

“I don’t know.” He pulled on trousers and a shirt that he didn’t bother to button. He grabbed a jacket, shoes, and socks, then vanished them. “Something about Marian.”

“May the Darkness have mercy.” Jaenelle ran back to her bedroom, hollering as she went, “Get one of the Coaches. I’m going with you.”

He hesitated, even considered arguing with her. She was still in the days of her moontime when she couldn’t use more than basic Craft without causing herself excruciating pain. But she was a Healer, the best Healer in the whole damn Realm, and she was Lucivar’s sister and Queen. If Marian needed more help than the Eyrien Healer could provide, Jaenelle would step in, no matter the cost.

And this time, as long as her own life wasn’t at risk, he wouldn’t try to stop her.

“I’ll wait for you downstairs.” He was out of the room and running through the Hall to reach the outer door closest to the stables and the building that housed the carriages and Coaches.

The footmen who were on night duty didn’t call to him, but word must have passed as they figured out his direction because Beale was waiting at the outer door for him.

“Because of your haste and the late hour, I assumed the small Coach would be sufficient,” Beale said. “It’s being brought around to the landing web since that would be more convenient for the Lady.”

Still panting from the run, Daemon nodded. It seemed Beale was thinking a lot more clearly than he was. “Guess I should have contacted you to begin with.”

“You have other things on your mind.”

He hurried through the corridors, buttoning his shirt as he went, and reached the great hall at the same time Jaenelle came running down the stairs. They raced out the open front door to the Coach on the landing web.

Holt waited beside the Coach, dressed in nothing but a pair of short trousers. As Jaenelle entered the Coach, a basket suddenly appeared beside the footman. He grabbed it and shoved it into Daemon’s hands.

“The best Mrs. Beale could do in the time,” Holt said.

Daemon handed the basket to Jaenelle and took the driver’s seat while Holt closed the door and moved away from the landing web.

Jaenelle took the seat beside Daemon, still holding the basket. “Did Lucivar say anything?”

“He’s scared, he’s grieving, and he’s in pain.”

She didn’t ask anything else.

He raised the Coach off the landing web, caught the Black Wind, and raced to Ebon Rih as fast as the Black could take them.

“Wait until I set this thing down,” Daemon snapped as Jaenelle started to rise from her seat. “If you fall off the damn mountain, you won’t help any of us.”

She gave him a look that normally produced a cold sweat. He ignored the look, just as he ignored the odd way his hands trembled when he remembered the way Lucivar sounded.

Couldn’t think about that. One of them needed to be the warrior who could draw the line and defend it. It didn’t sound like Lucivar was in any shape to defend anything, including himself.

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