“Prince Ranon, here.” Guard Jaego hurried up with his horse.
Ranon took a step, then looked at Shaddo and Archerr.
“We’ll find a place to store the carrion until Talon rises and can get a look at the bastard,” Archerr said.
“Go on,” Shaddo said. “We’ll take care of things here.”
Freed of any duties beyond the dog in his arms, Ranon mounted Jaego’s horse and galloped back to the Queen’s Residence with Darkmist racing after him.
One of the Scelties must have alerted the silver twins because Lloyd was waiting for him when he reached the Residence. He dismounted and tossed a rein to the Sceltie, who led the horse to the stables.
“Shira!” Ranon roared as he entered the house. Sweet Darkness, let her be here. He took Khollie into the parlor the court used and laid the dog on the sofa.
“Hell’s fire, Ranon,” Shira said, rushing into the room. “What are you—” Seeing Khollie, she shoved him aside so hard she knocked him on his ass.
He snarled at her, still too furious and too close to the killing edge to tolerate the shove, even from her.
“Prince Ranon, attend.”
Cassidy’s voice. Strong. Demanding. A leash that held his fury.
Breathing hard, he rose and walked out of the parlor.
“Report,” Cassidy said, then held up a hand and led him to the meeting room.
Powell came into the room, followed by Spere, Burne, and Cayle. A moment later, Gray, dirt-streaked and panting, rushed into the room.
“Report, Ranon,” Cassidy said.
He told them everything from the moment he had left Khollie at Elders’ Park for story time to the moment he had wrapped the Sceltie in his shirt and ridden back to the Residence to get help.
Almost everything. Watching Cassidy’s increasingly pale face, he couldn’t tell her how Darkmist had killed the bastard, couldn’t tell her about seeing the still-beating heart in the dog’s jaws.
“Hell’s fire,” Spere said when Ranon stopped talking. “I’m not going to wonder why the fool thought he could get away with it, but why did he do it in the first place?”
*He belongs to the other Queen.* Vae stood in the doorway. Ranon couldn’t tell if she quivered with anger or fear. *I remember her smells. She is on his clothes.*
Cassidy swayed. Gray wrapped an arm around her waist.
“Kermilla did this?” Cassidy asked.
*Her smells are on him.* Vae left the room.
“Did you recognize him, Ranon?” Burne asked.
Ranon shook his head.
Cassidy swallowed hard. “If he belongs to her First Circle, I could identify—”
“No,” Ranon said. After Darkmist unleashed that punch of Opal power, the man’s head had lookedwrong. Until he figured out why it looked wrong, he wasn’t letting Cassidy near the body. Wasn’t letting Shira near it either.
“Archerr and Shaddo are going to find a place to store the body until Talon rises,” Ranon said. “As Master of the Guard, this falls to him now, Lady.”
“Ranon is correct,” Powell said. “And as Talon’s second-in-command, the decisions of what to do with the enemy are Ranon’s to make, Lady, not yours.”
Maybe she would have argued, but just then Shira appeared in the doorway, hugging herself.
“I don’t know,” Shira said, coming into the room. “He’s alive. His heart is beating and he’s breathing. His neck may be bruised, but I have no sense of anything broken. But he’s not there. I can’t wake him up, not with healing Craft or the Hourglass’s Craft. Vae says . . .” Her voice broke, and Ranon watched her pull on all the strength inside her to continue. “Vae says sometimes humans try to force kindred to live with them. It’s almost impossible to control the cats once they start growing up because they’re wild and so big. The wolves, like the cats, are too wild, and the horses, unicorns, and dragons are big. But Scelties are small, so sometimes humans try to take them. And s-sometimes a Sceltie goes away to a place deep inside himself, where humans can’t find him. Where humans can’t follow.”
“What happens then?” Cassidy asked.
Tears filled Shira’s eyes. “He either comes back . . . or he dies.”
“What can we do?” Ranon’s voice was rough. “Shira, what can we do?”
She shook her head. “We wait. Vae and Darkmist said to leave him wrapped in your shirt because it has your smells. They think that’s a good thing for him right now.”
She walked out of the room.
*Ranon?* Archerr called softly.
*We didn’t know where else to put it, so we brought the body to the Healing House.* Archerr hesitated. *Keep Shira away from here. Shaddo and I have had a closer look at what Darkmist did to this bastard and . . . Keep Shira away from here. Cassidy too.*
*Can you put a shield around the Healing House to keep everyone out?*
*I can. I have, in fact. I’d rather not be inside with . . .that . . . more than I have to.*
“Why would Kermilla do that?” Cassidy asked. “Why?”
“Come on, Cassie,” Gray said gently. “Come away now.”
Ranon watched Gray lead Cassie out of the room.
*Ranon?* Janos called.
Mother Night. *Where are you? Are you okay?*
*We’re fine. Reyhana and I got back from a ride and . . . Could you tell Kief to let us go? He’s got us trapped in a stall, and he says we can’t leave until you say it’s safe.*
On another day, that would have been funny. *We’ve had some trouble, Prince Janos. Khollie’s been hurt.*
*Don’t know yet. Here are my orders for you and Kief: Both of you escort Reyhana back to the Residence. I want all three of you shielded, you hear me?*
*Yes, sir. I hear you.*
Andhe heard the Warlord Prince in his brother’s voice.
“I’ll be in my office if you need me.” Powell touched his arm—a gesture full of understanding—before following Cassidy and Gray out of the room.
“Burne and I will head over to Main Street and see what needs to be done,” Spere said.
Ranon nodded. “Jaego was on the street and probably already alerted Rogir, but pull in everyone you can to ride circuits. Make sure the landen community is put on alert, too. I don’t know what kind of game that bitch was trying to play, but we’re not giving her a second chance at it.”
“I’ll do that,” Cayle said.
“And you, Ranon?” Spere asked.