“Marian lost the baby. No one gives a damn about food right now.”
“Shit.” She looked out over the mountain. “Shit.”
He didn’t like being jabbed about it, but there were going to be a lot of people coming and going over the next few days to give whatever help they could, and they would need to be fed.
Surreal drew in a breath and huffed it out. “All right, then. You and Uncle Saetan can baby Marian until she starts snarling at you, and Jaenelle and I will bully Lucivar.”
He bristled. “Don’t you think Lucivar deserves a little pampering too?”
She gave him an odd look. “Sugar, to an Eyrien male, being bulliedis a kind of pampering. Don’t ask me why, but sometimes nothing says ‘I love you’ to a male better than getting a whack upside the head.”
She walked into the eyrie, leaving him out there to ponder the perversity of his own gender and the mystery of hers.
After renting a horse at Grayhaven’s Coaching station, Ranon headed for the parts of the town where he’d spent some time. He didn’t want to be here, didn’t want to be wasting a day pursuing something Shira couldn’t explain. But she’d gone all hissy cat on him last night and insisted that he come to Grayhaventoday.
That wasn’t fair,Ranon scolded himself as he rode through the streets and felt a grim uneasiness settling over him. Saying she had been a “hissy cat” diminished the power of the feelings Shira had last night. And remembering the tightness in her face, the worry in her eyes . . . Something was pushing her to push at him, but this time her tangled web only gave her a sense ofwhen something was coming and notwhat was coming.
Now that he was here, he wished he’d asked Archerr or Shaddo to come with him.
This town didn’t feel right anymore. Or more to the point, it was starting to feel the way the towns and villages had felt for the past several generations: discouraged, resigned, wary. Angry. He rode through the shopping district and had the odd sense that shopkeepers were letting their windows stay dirty and weren’t bothering to sweep the walks as a deliberate way to discourage the interest of some customers.
Like aristos. Or Queens.
You don’t have to go up to the mansion, Shira had said.Just go to the places in town where we’d shopped or visited. Then listen to your heart.
He could have used something less cryptic. Then again, maybe the messages were here. The women who sold them plants when Gray was working on the gardens at the mansion asked him if the Rose Queen was coming back to Grayhaven. Some of the shopkeepers came out of their stores to ask if the court was returning. He heard the hope in their voices when they asked, and he saw the dull acceptance in their eyes when he told them Cassidy and her court were remaining in Eyota.
He stopped at a tavern for a short glass of ale. It was late morning, too early for a drink as far as he was concerned, but he’d gone in because you could usually get a feel for what the men were thinking—and there were too many men there for the time of day. That in itself was not a good sign.
Why wasn’t Theran seeing any of this? The man was supposed to be ruling this town. Why wasn’t he heeding warnings that were so clear? Grayhaven was the capital of Dena Nehele. When Cassidy left a few weeks ago, there were signs of people shaking off the years of war and the decades of abuse at the hands of twisted Queens. Now shops that had been open were closed, empty. Now people hurried along the walks with the same hunched wariness that had been typical of the people everywhere in Dena Nehele.
What was Theran doing that people were reacting this way? Ranon didn’t like him, but that was a clash of personalities. It didn’t mean Theran wasn’t a good man or a good Warlord Prince. So why wasn’t hedoing something to fix whatever this was?
Ranon continued riding through the streets, becoming more and more edgy. Enemy camp. Enemy ground. His instincts shouldn’t be telling him those things, but he could feel himself preparing for a fight.
When he reached the guardhouse that marked the line that separated the landen part of town from the Blood, he hesitated for a long moment before he urged his horse forward and continued down the street.
There was an ugly feeling here. As he rode toward the craftsmen’s courtyard, he created a skintight Opal shield around himself. Where were the craftsmen? Where was the merchandise?
He looked over at the area that had been occupied by the weaver family and saw James Weaver step toward him, looking grim, angry, and battle-hard.
“Prince,” James said, “I would speak to you.” He caught himself, as if just realizing he’d issued a kind of challenge. Then he added, “If you will permit it.”
Ranon stared at the man, assessing the temper he saw in those eyes. He and Shira had come here often while Shira was healing JuliDee’s face and checking the eye that had almost been lost because of two Warlord pricks. Those sessions, and his and Shira’s presence among these people, had become cordial enough that Shira would have a cup of tea with the wife and daughter while James shared a glass of ale with him.
So what would putthat look in a man’s eyes? Why would there be so much tension just because one of the Blood rode by?
The answer came to him. He was off his horse and grabbing James’s arms so fast the other man didn’t have time to react.
“Is something wrong with your family? Is that why they aren’t with you? Your wife? Has something happened to your daughter, your son?”
James relaxed. “They’re all well, Prince. I thank you for asking.” Then he looked uneasy, so when he stepped back, Ranon let him go. “The Rose Queen stood up for us landens, and your Lady healed my little girl. You helped me and mine, so I thought . . . fair warning, like.”
“Fair warning about what?” Ranon felt a chill settle in his gut.
“When Prince Grayhaven’s bitch takes control of Dena Nehele, there’s going to be another uprising. And this time it won’t end until all of us are dead—or all of you.”
Ranon stared at James, shocked speechless. Then he shook his head. “Cassidy’s court stands. She rules everything but this town, which is under Prince Grayhaven’s control. Kermilla isn’t going to rule Dena Nehele.”
“She says she is.”
No.It wasn’t just that he wanted Cassie to rule; the thought of Kermilla ruling filled him with dread.
“Thing is,” James said, “I’m tired of destroying, tired of fighting and killing. But if it has to be done again, I’d rather fightfor something than against something.”