“That’s for later,” she said. “Now I have to see what’s left in the shops.”
“Don’t spend it all in one place,” he said, trying to keep his voice light but hoping she heard the warning to spend carefully.
“Silly man,” she said as she danced out of the parlor.
A few minutes later, he looked out a window and saw her heading down the drive in the pony cart with one of the stable lads as her driver. He also saw a man in a messenger’s livery walking up the drive. Not a messenger from the town. One of them would have come on horseback. This man must have ridden the Winds and arrived at the landing web just beyond Grayhaven’s gates.
He started to go to his study, then turned and headed for the front door. Any message coming here was most likely for him anyway. No point having Julien track him down when he could be on hand.
He timed it so it looked like he was passing through the entranceway on his way to the stairs when Julien opened the door and took the message.
The messenger’s tone sounded courteous, but there was clearly something on the man’s mind. Theran saw hot anger in the eyes that stared at him before Julien shut the door and handed him the wax-sealed heavy paper.
Theran broke the seal and opened the message—and wished he’d waited until he’d reached the privacy of his study.
“Trouble?” Julien asked.
He shook his head. “Already taken care of.”
“I know what that phrase means—a bitch got buried. Will anyone weep?”
The coldness of Julien’s words stung him.
He went into his study and locked the door. Just a physical lock, just an indication he wanted no company and no one disturbing him.
He read the words again and again. As he sat there through the morning, staring at letters and reports and seeing nothing, he was glad he’d given Kermilla the gold marks—glad she would find some sweetness in what would be a bitter day.
Kermilla rode back through the Grayhaven gates, her color high with the pleasure of a long morning in the shops. She glanced at the basket of packages in the back of the pony cart and felt a prick of guilt, which was easily dismissed. It wasn’t her fault. She hadn’t had anything new in weeks, months,forever. So she’d gotten a bit extravagant buying things for herself—like that gorgeous red dress that cost ninety gold marks.
Of the two hundred gold marks Theran had given her that morning, she had ten left. She’d meant to be careful, she really had, but it felt sogood to have money again that she couldn’t stop herself from buying all the things she’d been denied.
She’d regained some control at the end when she realized she had to come back with some packages that were gifts for other people—things she could let Theran see. He didn’t have to know that she’d grabbed a few things off the shelves of a shop an aristo wouldn’t normally enter and had put those gifts into the boxes of the things she’d bought for herself in the only aristo merchant shop left in the whole dung-heap town. If he noticed that the quality of the goods didn’t match the implied quality of the box, he would blame the merchant.
She’d known he was being stingy and had been holding back on giving her any money. But she’d worn him down until he finally acknowledged that she deserved a Queen’s due—and a Queen’s income.
Theran was like her father in that way.He’d grumped and grumbled about her spending, had asked her—almost begged her sometimes—to be less extravagant, but he always ended up giving her the marks she needed to pay for the clothes or the entertainments that were vital to bringing herself to the notice of the men who had enough reputation and potential to form a court around her and provide her with a place to rule that would, in turn, provide her with the income she deserved.
Theran wouldn’t be happy that she’d spent all the marks he’d given her, but she’d wiggle more out of him.
“Good afternoon, Julien.” She kept her tone frigidly polite.
“I trust you had a pleasant outing,” he replied.
No matter how cold she made her voice, the damn butler would match it—and then add just a little more ice.
“Prince Theran is in his study,” Julian said. “He asked that you join him there when you returned.”
She handed him the basket of packages. “Take these up to my room, if that won’t interfere too much with your other duties.”
He tipped his head in a bow that was less than he should have given her.
She knocked on the door and felt a quiver of uneasiness when she heard theclick of the lock turning before the door opened.
Theran stood halfway between his desk and the door, as if he couldn’t decide where he was supposed to be.
“You enjoyed yourself?” he asked.
She rushed up to him and gave him an enthusiastic hug. “I did. And I was pleased to see so many people doing a little something to make the town look festive for Winsol.” She played with a button on his shirt, looked up at him through her lashes, and gave him the smile that always made men sigh indulgently before doing what she wanted. “But I was alittle bit careless because everything looked so wonderful.” She caught her lower lip between her teeth. “So I’m going to need more money in order to finish my shopping for Winsol.”
She saw it in his eyes, felt it in the way he seemed to step away from her without actually moving. A bad miscalculation on her part. She should have remembered that he wasn’t used to aristo measurements of spending. A trifling expense to her was an almost unthinkable extravagance to him.
“I’m sorry, Kermilla.” Now he did step back. “I gave you everything that could be spared from the tithes and the estate. I’m sorry it wasn’t enough.”
“Oh, Theran.” She grasped his hands. “I’m the one who’s sorry. I see this grand house, and I forget that . . .” No, that wasn’t the right way to regain the ground she’d just lost.
“It doesn’t matter.”
Why not?That he gave up without anger or arguing troubled her.
“I need to talk to you about something else.” He led her over to the stuffed chair and footstool that were tucked on one side of the room. Once she was settled in the chair, he sat on the footstool.
“What is it? What’s wrong?” Something bad. She could tell that much.
“It’s about your friend Correne.”
“Theran, I haven’t even written to her lately, so if she’s making remarks about Cassidy—”