“Bardoc, stay with the Lady,” Jhorma said as he pushed away from the card table and approached Theran.

Jhorma had no business assuming he could be part of this meeting, but Theran wasn’t going to argue. Jhorma was a rival for Kermilla’s affections—and her bed—but lately he’d shown himself to be a sensible man who had a fair amount of court polish. And right now, Theran wasn’t going to turn away anyone’s help. “Julien, tell Prince Talon—”

Talon walked into the room, brushing Julien aside. Ranon, Archerr, Spere, and Haele followed him, carrying a stretcher that held a blanket-wrapped bundle.

“Theran,” Talon said. “Lord Jhorma.” He looked at Kermilla, who was still sitting at the card table, and said nothing—a deliberate social cut.

“I think this belongs to your Lady,” Talon said, turning his attention back to Theran. Using Craft he pulled aside the blanket far enough to reveal the head.

“Mother Night,” Jhorma whispered. “That’s Laska.”

“Laska?” Kermilla squeaked.

“What happened to him?” Theran asked.

The look in Talon’s eyes. Hard. Unforgiving.

“This afternoon, this man came to the village of Eyota and tried to abduct a young Warlord,” Talon said. “The youngster’s brother, a Warlord Prince, eliminated the enemy. Afterwards, a member of the court identified the man as one ofhers. So we have returned him.”

“It took a lot of rage to do that,” Jhorma said, staring at Laska.

“There was a reason for the rage,” Talon replied, his eyes never leaving Theran.

Theran’s heart banged against his chest. “Is the youngster all right?”

“The Healer has done all she can. We don’t know if it will be enough,” Talon said.

Hard eyes. Unforgiving eyes. Accusing eyes.

*Hell’s fire, Talon, how bad is it?* Theran asked. *Why would Laska do it?*

*As for why, ask your Lady,* Talon replied. *As for how bad . . . We won’t know that until we know if the youngster will live.*

Theran looked at Ranon. Cold, black fury inthose eyes. And pain.

Mother Night.

“I appreciate you returning the body to us,” Jhorma said. “I recognize the courtesy you have extended to us in doing so. I will take the body back to Dharo. Shame will shroud his family’s grief because there was no honor in how Laska died, but his family will still grieve.”

*Talon, I am so sorry,* Theran said.

*Laska’s family isn’t the only one who has a reason to feel shame because of this.* Talon walked out of the room.

After lowering the stretcher to the floor, Ranon and the other men followed Talon. Julien hurried out after them.

“I’ll leave as soon as I’m packed.” Jhorma vanished the body and stretcher.

“Let Bardoc give you a hand with the packing.”

Jhorma gave Theran a long look, then signaled Bardoc, who joined them with too much haste.

“I think Bardoc should accompany me to Dharo,” Jhorma said. “He and Laska came from the same village. He knows the family.”

Theran nodded. He didn’t care what Jhorma did, not when all his hopes for Dena Nehele were breaking around him.

He closed the door behind Jhorma and Bardoc—and put a Green lock on it. Then he turned to face Kermilla, who had left the card table and was now standing in the middle of the room, looking pale and scared.

“What was Laska doing in Eyota?” He moved toward her while his temper strained the leash. “He had no reason to be there. He hadno business being there.”

“I don’t know,” Kermilla said.

“Don’t lie to me.” He stopped, not willing to tempt his control by getting too close to her. “He’s a member of your court. You have to know.”

“I don’t know!” Some anger in her voice and eyes now that he was challenging her.

“Hell’s fire, Kermilla. Do you know what this has done to your reputation? One of your First Circle tried to abduct a young Warlord. I can tell you two reasons the Warlord Princes are going to think of when they hear about this: torture and rape.”

“Laska wasn’t like that,” Kermilla snapped. “Laska wouldn’tdo that. I wouldnever have anyone in my court who would do that!”

You would have brought Garth and Brok into your court. If you could overlook one kind of ra**st, why not another?

He pushed that thought away and buried it deep.

“Then what was he doing in that village, and what was he doing with that boy that would piss off a brother enough to kill Laskathat way?” Theran shouted.

“He wasn’t getting a boy!” she screamed. “He went there to get me a Sceltie!”

Theran took a step back, staggered by the foolishness that cost a man his life—and probably cost the rest of them in other ways.

“A Sceltie.” He raked his fingers through his hair. “Hell’s fire, woman, have you lost your mind?”

“The Warlord Princes are all so impressed that Cassidy has some, and they’re not going to take me seriously until I have one too.” Tears filled her eyes and her lower lip trembled. “They wouldn’t have missed one in that stupid village. Besides, you sent Correne away, and that awful Talon killed Garth and Brok, and I wanted company.You’re always too busy to pay attention to me even though yousay you love me.”

“So this ismy fault because I’m working in every way I can to get this town through the coming winter?” He paced, circled, wanted to tear up the room and smash the furniture. But he couldn’t afford to replace whatever he destroyed, so he held his temper and circled. And paced.

“Even if Laska had managed to snatch one without being detected, how would you have held on to it?” he asked. “They’rekindred, Kermilla.Blood. Didn’t you notice anything while Vae was here? She’s awitch. She wears a Purple Dusk Jewel. Mother Night, woman,she outranks you. ”

“How dare you!”

He stopped in front of her. “That’s fact, Kermilla. Vae’s Jewels outrank yours. So what were you going to do with this Warlord if he didn’t want to stay here? Chain him? Cage him? Beat him and torture him until he was too broken down in body and spirit to run?”

“He wouldn’t be of any use if he was like that.” She stamped her foot. “But hewould have wanted to stay with me. Once he got here, he would have.”

“Doesn’t matter now.” Theran sank into the nearest chair, leaned back and closed his eyes.


Tags: Anne Bishop The Black Jewels Science Fiction
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