“I’m here to assess your current health and report it to the Prince of Ebon Rih, along with my requirements for what can and cannot be included in your training.”
“I get tired easily, and my lungs still get raspy if I exert myself too much, especially outdoors,” Surreal said. “And I still feel weak, so I won’t be able to do much of the training Lucivar has in mind.”
Jaenelle waited a beat, then looked at Rainier. “No protest or snarls from the Warlord Prince, which means he was aware of these limitations—and your Healer was not.”
Rainier winced when Surreal stared at him. *Sorry. I didn’t know you hadn’t talked to her yet.*
*Yeah.* Surreal looked into Jaenelle’s sapphire eyes, judged the sharpness of the temper she saw there, and meekly sat on the side of Rainier’s bed.
Jaenelle rested her hands on Surreal’s chest, her fingers spread wide. Warmth flowed from that touch. Surreal felt it on her skin, then in her muscles. A slow, soothing, pleasant sensation—and as she drifted on and in that sensation, her body told Jaenelle every secret it had.
*So,* Jaenelle said on a distaff thread, *are you just trying to avoid some of the training or are you exaggerating the severity of the damage you sustained while in the spooky house to misguide Rainier for some reason?*
The chill that flowed along that psychic thread surprised her. She hadn’t expected Jaenelle to be so pissed off about what was, after all, a ploy to get out of spending more time with the Eyriens than she absolutely had to. Then she realized she hadn’t taken into account that Jaenelle wasn’t just a Healer and she wasn’t just family. She was also a Queen who had never hesitated to defend a member of her court—and no matter whom he worked for or served in the future, Rainier would always be hers. Lying to him would not be acceptable behavior.
*I told Rainier the truth,* Surreal said. *But I didn’t want everyone to know.*
The chill faded and was replaced by sharp humor. *You don’t want Lucivar to know that you haven’t recovered fully because he’ll fuss over you, but you still want him to release you from a lot of the training?*
When put that way, the logic sounded more than a little fuzzy. *I was hoping that, as a Healer, you could . . . Hell’s fire, I hate feeling weak.*
*All the more reason to do the work that will make you strong again.*
Surreal sighed. How could you argue with a woman who, just by standing there, was proof of how doing the work could help a body to heal?
She studied Jaenelle’s face, looked into the eyes that saw too much. It wasn’t just her body that had been damaged and felt weak. Her heart, too, hadn’t healed since she left Falonar’s eyrie and Ebon Rih. That was almost a year ago. Wasn’t that long enough to let go of something other women could have shrugged off in a few weeks?
“Give me a half an hour to work on Rainier’s leg and go over a few things with Lucivar,” Jaenelle said. “Then you and I can take a walk around the village. That will give me a better assessment of what your lungs can do in this weather and in this valley.”
“Lucivar is downstairs now, waiting for a report?” Had the prick been sitting there a few minutes ago when she had contacted him?
“Of course he is,” Jaenelle said.
“Shit.” She wasn’t ready to deal with Lucivar. Not yet, anyway. Meeting him tonight to discuss The Tavern was one thing; meeting a bossy relative when he had nothing to do except keep an eye on her was quite another matter. “I’ll meet you downstairs after your chat with Lucivar.”
“Smart plan,” Jaenelle said. “Now shoo.”
A friendly dismissal was still a dismissal. Surreal scurried to her own room and looked around again. No clock. She called in a one-hour hourglass that she carried with her, turned it, and set it on the dresser. Meeting Jaenelle a few minutes late wouldn’t matter. Being a few minutes early and running into Lucivar . . .
As a way to pass the time, she pulled out the stack of books and took a better look at them. Some she put aside, having no interest in them; others she set with the Tracker and Shadow books to read in the evenings. Maybe she would find a story in one of the collections to share with the rest of the family during one of the evenings when they gathered together for a story night.
She looked at a story, read a few paragraphs, then glanced at the hourglass to see how much time was left before she could go downstairs and not run into Lucivar.
And wondered when she had become a coward.
Rainier hobbled around the room, putting the rest of his things away as he tried to ignore the pain in his leg—and the deeper pain in his heart.
As a Healer, Jaenelle wasn’t pleased with him. As a friend, she was furious with him. And he didn’t want to think about how she would have responded if she’d still formally been his Queen.
He didn’t want to talk about this. Not with Jaenelle, not with Daemon Sadi, and certainly not with Lucivar. He didn’t want pity. He’d had a bellyful of pity when he went to Dharo to visit his family. Worse than the pity was the unspoken hope he’d seen in too many of their eyes that a crippled leg would somehow diminish the nature of a Warlord Prince so they wouldn’t feel as uncomfortable being around him. He was less now. He had no future now. A dancer who couldn’t dance? He’d need to depend on his family and take whatever pity-work they could find for him to help pay his way, since, of course, he would have to return to Dharo and live with one of them.
They didn’t understand the depth of their cruelty. He’d seen that too when he’d talked to them. They did love him in their own way, but they saw his being born into the caste of aggressive, violent, dominant males as a failing of the bloodlines instead of seeing him as strength. He wasn’t like them. Had never been like them. Had never fit into the family. Different tastes, different temperament—and a difference in caste that had made him an outsider even as a child.
He didn’t know what to do. He was too damaged to go back to the life he’d known, but he wasn’t damaged enough for his family to feel safe in his presence. He’d never done anything to harm any of them, but they couldn’t quite hide their regret that his power hadn’t ended up as crippled as his leg.
He loved them. He truly did.
And he never wanted to see them again.
Which left him wondering what a maimed Warlord Prince was supposed to do with the rest of his life.
A hard rap on the door. Before he could respond, Lucivar walked into the room.