“Grayhas become friends withSadi ?” Elendill asked.

“Yes.” Not a surprising question considering the shape Gray had been in for the past ten years. “We’ll be able to purchase things like blankets, clothes, and shoes—things that are in short supply here,” Ranon continued. “A weavers guild in the southern Province was burned out during the uprisings. By borrowing from the loan, they will be able to purchase looms and wool, fix up a couple of empty houses as a new workplace, and begin to make a living again.”

“How does a village ask for such help?” Rikoma asked with extreme courtesy.

“Whoever rules the village submits a request to Lady Cassidy, telling her what is needed—and the cost.” Ranon sighed. “Our land was destroyed over generations. It will take more than one season to fix all the wrongs. But we have the means now of buying feed for livestock and food for our people if the harvest falls short this year. We have connections we wouldn’t have dreamed possible a year ago.”

“If you’re worried about envy, don’t be,” Ferall said. “It’s right and fitting that the Queen’s home village receive the first benefit of her efforts. And like her court, it should be an example of what is possible.”

Before he could think of what to say, a voice called his name.

Rainier pulled up next to them.

What had Ferall said about no envy? Hell’s fire!He felt envy. That pony cart Rainier was driving practically screamedaristo. Not because it was fancy, but because of the quality and craftsmanship that had gone into the making of it. And the bay gelding pulling the cart was a gorgeous piece of horseflesh.

“Glad I found you since no one seems to know where Gray is working today,” Rainier said.

“He’ll be at the Queen’s Residence for the midday meal,” Ranon replied.

“Can’t stay. I swung by to see if Marcus needed anything, and then put this lad through his paces to make sure there wouldn’t be any problems. Now I’m heading back to Kaeleer. Prince Yaslana’s wife is indisposed, so I’m going to stay in Ebon Rih for a while and help out with administrative tasks. Lucivar is too short-tempered right now to deal with paperwork—or the people who bring it.”

Rainier smiled when he said it, but Ranon saw the concern in the other man’s eyes. “Is there anything we can do to help?”

“No, but he’ll appreciate the offer.”

Rainier continued to smile as he looked at the other men, but Ranon had the feeling the Kaeleer Warlord Prince had just completed a very quick—and thorough—assessment of his guests.

“Well,” Rainier said, “I’ll get this boy to the stables and be on my way.”


Rainier made a gesture that included the horse and cart. “Ladies Morghann and Jaenelle sent this to Ladies Shira and Cassidy. Queens and Healers in Scelt like this cart’s design because there are storage compartments under the benches in the back, and it’s small enough to be comfortable for a Lady to drive. Lord Khardeen raised the horse up from a foal and trained him personally, so the lad is solid and dependable. He’s not kindred—Khardeen figured you had enough adjustments to make without that particular bit of fun—but the horse is used to being around Scelties, so he’ll settle in just fine with Kief and Lloyd to look after him.”

“Rainier, it’s very generous, but we can’t afford this,” Ranon said.

Rainier gave him an odd look, and his smile sharpened. “Ranon, darling, I’ll bet when you took a piss this morning you noticed you have a c**k and balls. That means you have no say in this. Cassidy’s friends want her to have the horse and cart. They figured she’ll share it with Shira since Shira is the court’s Healer. If you want to argue about this with the Queen of Scelt and . . . Prince Sadi’s wife, you go right ahead. I’m not about to.” He gathered the reins and clicked to the horse, turning back the way he’d come.

Ranon had heard the hesitation and conscious choice of how to identify Jaenelle—and knew that Rainier might work for Daemon Sadi, but the man still served the Queen of Ebon Askavi.

He watched the pony cart turn a corner.

*What in the name of Hell just happened here?* Ranon asked Rainier on an Opal thread.

Rainier’s laughter came through the thread. *I didn’t tell your friendsall of Cassidy’s connections. And whether you tell them why Cassidy knows so many Territory Queens in Kaeleer or why they’re all paying so much attention to what happens in Dena Nehele is up to you.*

*Are they paying attention?* Ranon’s heart started to pound hard.

*Ranon,* Rainier said gently, *the rulers of Scelt, Glacia, Dharo, Nharkhava, Dhemlan, and Ebon Rih all have a connection to your Queen or her court. Not to mention the High Lord of Hell. Of course they’re paying attention. And it doesn’t hurt if the Queens and Warlord Princes in Dena Nehele know a little more about your Lady’s credentials.*

Being so busy day after day, focusing on repairs and crops and the things the people would need to get through the winter, it was easy to forget how much power could arrow down on their land.

But being so busy day after day never quite smothered the knowledge that Theran’s actions might be setting up Dena Nehele for another violent storm.

He turned to the other men. “Shall we continue?”

Rikoma, Elendill, and Hikaeda looked at Ferall.

“Is there any place we could get a drink and sit for a bit?” Ferall asked.

“There is. It’s down this way.”

They’d had enough. Whatever they had come here to see, whatever questions they had wanted answered, they had gotten more than they’d expected.

So he took them to Elders’ Park and got them coffee and food, and gave them silence as they watched the workers return to their assignments. And knew with absolute certainty that something had changed.

They arrived back at the Queen’s Residence earlier than anticipated, so Ranon took the other men around to the back of the house. He didn’t think any of them knew any more about gardens than he did, but they looked around politely as he pointed out the Healing House and the cottage Gray wanted to convert into a loaning library.

“Gray is working with Lord Marcus, Prince Sadi’s man of business, to figure out costs and what will be needed,” Ranon said. “Since many people can’t afford books right now, he wants to have this library and obtain a wide variety of books to educate and entertain. The villagers would pay a couple of coppers to take a book for a month, then return it. We want to keep the fee small enough that people can afford it, but it also has to pay for the books themselves, the librarian’s wages, and the repairs and upkeep of the cottage.”

Anne Bishop Books | Science Fiction Books | The Black Jewels Series Books
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