“Auntie J.! Auntie J.! We gotta tree!”
“I see that,” Jaenelle said, crouching to receive her hugs and kisses. “Do you like the tree I made for the eyrie?”
“Yes! I read you a story! I read you a story now!”
“Could we read a story after we eat?” Jaenelle asked. “I’m very hungry.”
Marian smiled and held out a hand. Knowing better than to suggest that he could hang up his own coat, Daemon shucked off his overcoat and handed it to her before going into the kitchen.
“You put illusion spells of gifts around your tree?” Daemon asked Lucivar.
“The real gifts are at the Hall,” Lucivar said as he pulled a large casserole out of the oven and set it on the table.
“Why couldn’t we have the illusion-spell gifts?” Daemon grumbled.
“You can keep the real gifts until we open them on Winsol Night or you can keep the boy.”
“I’ll keep the gifts,” Daemon said too quickly.
“Smart choice.” Lucivar tipped his neck from side to side to ease the muscles. “Hell’s fire, he’s a handful this year.”
“I guess Marian won’t let you build a cage.”
“Not a chance. And whenever I growl about the boy, his grandfather laughs at me.”
“Seems petty of Father to do that.”
Lucivar used Craft to slice a loaf of bread and put it and the butter on the table. “You know what’s really scary? The times when Father looks at me and says, ‘You were worse.’ Makes me wonder if I’m getting off easy or if I should start preparing.” He finished setting the table. “Marian and I usually have ale with this meal since it goes well with the casserole, but I can open a bottle of wine for you.”
“Ale is fine.”
As Lucivar filled glasses, he said, “How is Yuli? That’s where you were this morning, wasn’t it? At that school?”
Yuli was an orphan boy he and Jaenelle met while rescuing Surreal and Rainier from Jarvis Jenkell’s spooky house.
“He’s doing well. Still too afraid of making a mistake and being severely punished for it to relax most of the time—at least, according to the teachers—but Socks isn’t afraid of voicing an opinion about anything, so the Sceltie pup balances out the boy.” Daemon looked around. “Speaking of pups, where are the wolves?”
“Off doing wolf things, thank the Darkness.” Lucivar raised his voice. “Food’s on the table.”
Jaenelle and Marian sat on one side of the table, the boy between them. Daemon and Lucivar sat on the other. As the adults talked about small things, Daemon became more and more aware that the boy was too excited by the company and all the festivities, and his misbehavior was going to clash with Lucivar’s temper soon.
Then Jaenelle spoke one quiet sentence in Eyrien, and Daemon saw the proof that Daemonar had made the transition from toddler to boy in the past few weeks. Because Daemonar’s reaction to that voice wasn’t a nephew responding to an aunt; it was a Warlord Prince responding to his Queen.
Daemonar quieted and began eating properly, glancing often at his father for approval and confirmation that he was behaving as he should.
The boy was no longer just a small male. He’d been born a Warlord Prince. From now on, the adult males would start treating him like one—and training him like one.
When the meal ended, Jaenelle and Daemonar went into the family room to read a book and Marian disappeared.
Lucivar smiled as he cleared the table. “Some days going to the bathroom by yourself is a luxury.”
Daemon stripped off his black jacket and rolled up his shirtsleeves. “I’ll wash.”
“Deal. Have you thought about what we’re going to do about Winsol?”
“I have,” Daemon said as he filled one side of the sink with water. “And I have an idea how we can accomplish it.”
“The little beast usually naps for a couple of hours after the midday meal, so he’ll probably be sound asleep by the time Jaenelle gets to the last page. We can talk after that.”
Marian made coffee, Lucivar put Daemonar to bed for his nap, and when the adults gathered in the family parlor, Daemon told them his idea.
“Yes,” Jaenelle said, smiling.
“It’s wonderful,” Marian said.
Lucivar said nothing. He didn’t have to because the look in his eyes said it all.
It was late afternoon on the eve of Winsol, and the streets and sidewalks of Amdarh were still crowded. But not with shoppers. These were the merchants who had closed their shops and were now heading home to friends and family.
An hour from now, the streets would still be crowded, Surreal thought as she opened the carriage door and accepted the assistance of a Warlord who was passing by at that moment, in order to step from carriage to sidewalk. Just one of those things she’d learned to accept about living in Kaeleer: It took less time to accept help you didn’t want or need than it took to explain to the helpful male why you didn’t want or need his help.
The Warlord escorted her to the door of the building where Rainier lived, wished her a happy Winsol, and continued on his way.
She didn’t dare look at her driver. Helton had told her to take a footman to serve her, but it seemed silly to drag a second man out in order to run a simple errand.
Idiot, she thought as she crossed the lobby to the reception desk, where packages or messages could be left for the residents. Next time listen to Helton.
She smiled at the Warlord at the desk, recognizing him from the times when she’d met Rainier there before an outing because it was on the way instead of him taking the extra time to come to the town house.
“Lady Surreal,” the Warlord said.
“Happy Winsol,” she replied. “I’d like to leave a package for Prince Rainier. Could you make sure he gets it when he gets home?”
A hesitation. “Prince Rainier returned home an hour ago.”
“But . . .” He’s supposed to be with his family in Dharo.
Another hesitation. A deliberate pause of a man deciding whether he should meddle. “Perhaps you would like to deliver the package yourself ?”
Surreal studied the man. “He asked you to tell people he wasn’t in, didn’t he?”
“He said he didn’t want to be disturbed.”
I’ll bet he did. She leaned against the desk. “Have I been sufficiently scary during this conversation?”