How was he supposed to explain to an Eyrien warrior like Lucivar what his leg couldn’t do? He’d seen Lucivar on a practice field, and he’d seen him in a real fight. The Prince of Ebon Rih was another kind of dancer, and he was brilliant on a killing field.

Right now, that fact scared the shit out of Rainier because, for the next few weeks, Lucivar controlled his life.

“You need to understand a couple of things about your stay in Ebon Rih,” Lucivar said as he walked up to Rainier.

Rainier saw Lucivar’s mouth curve into a lazy, arrogant smile. He never saw the fist that smashed into him so hard the blow knocked him off his feet and tossed him on the bed. While he lay there, struggling to breathe, Lucivar leaned over him and pressed a hand against his painfilled ribs, pinning him to the bed.

“Listen up, boyo, because I will only say this once,” Lucivar said. “I don’t know what’s riding you, and I don’t care. From now on, you work it out some other way than damaging that leg. I know exactly the condition you’re in right now. I know exactly what you need to do to heal and bring that leg back to the best it can be. And that’s what you’re going to do. But if you need to be a cripple, I will help you be a cripple. I will shatter your other leg into so many pieces, even Jaenelle won’t be able to give you back more than the ability to hobble around with a pair of canes and spend most of your life in a chair. Do you understand me?”

“Yes,” Rainier gasped.

“Do you have any doubt that I will do what I say?”

“No.”

Lucivar eased back. “There are places an easy walk from The Tavern where you can get breakfast. Think of not dealing with the little beast first thing in the morning as a reward for sincere effort in the training. You start getting sloppy . . .”

Lucivar using breakfast with his boy as a threat made Rainier curious about what really went on in the Yaslana household in the morning.

Then again, Lucivar didn’t bother to bluff, so it probably was a real threat.

“I’ll see you on the practice field tomorrow,” Lucivar said as he walked to the door. “Don’t be late.”

A bitter anger filled Rainier. “You don’t know what it’s like.”

Lucivar stopped. He turned and gave Rainier a hard stare. Then he was gone.

Rainier waited another minute before he struggled to sit up. Hell’s fire, he hurt. He pulled his shirt up and gathered his courage before he looked down.

A fist-sized bruise was already rising dark along his ribs, but there was nothing broken. Nothing even cracked, if his timid probing could be believed. A punishing blow, but Lucivar must have done something to temper that blow to avoid breaking bone.

Still hurt like a wicked bitch.

Rainier lowered his shirt and carefully stood up to finish his unpacking.

But if you need to be a cripple, I will help you be a cripple.

Lucivar Yaslana didn’t bluff, and he rarely gave second chances.

How was he supposed to explain to such an active, physical man that there were things he could no longer do?

“I’m trying to decide how hard I should kick your ass,” Jaenelle said pleasantly as she and Surreal strolled down Riada’s streets.

Mother Night, it was cold in the valley. Surreal felt the burn in her lungs, and she couldn’t hide the raspy sound of each breath. She began to dread the time she’d have to spend higher up in the mountains, not just because she’d be around the Eyriens, but because of how hard it would be on her lungs.

“Doesn’t bother me much when I’m inside,” she said. Unless the fire was smoky. Which wasn’t a concern at the family’s town house. Helton dealt with anything that might delay her healing by the tiniest bit, whether it was a smoky fire or a potential draft. “I’m drinking the healing brew you made up for me, three times a day. I’m resting. I’m keeping my chest protected and warm. I’m doing everything you told me to do in order to heal. Do you think I want to feel like this for the rest of my life?”

“No, you’re smart enough to take care of yourself, if for no other reason than to keep Lucivar and Daemon from breathing down your neck every day and challenging everything you want to do.”

“Damn right.”

Jaenelle smiled. “That’s enough fresh air for today—and enough information about your physical health to give Lucivar firm boundaries for what you can and can’t do for this training he’s inflicting on you.”

“Thank the Darkness.”

Laughing, Jaenelle raised a hand to catch the attention of the driver of a horse-drawn cab coming down the street. The driver nodded and pulled up next to them. A Warlord got out and smiled as he helped them into the cab and asked their destination. After conveying the information to the driver, he closed the door and stepped back.

“He’s going to walk the rest of the way to wherever he was going or catch another cab, isn’t he?” Surreal asked.

“Yes, he is,” Jaenelle replied.

“Was that for my benefit or yours?”

“Mine. I think.” Jaenelle sighed. “When I was still healing, you did me a favor—you convinced Lucivar to stop coddling me and help me get stronger. I’m going to return the favor. I needed to work; you need to be able to step back, especially now when we’re still in the sharp edge of winter.”

“Meaning?”

“More private instruction rather than the public training that could expose you to a chill.”

The look in Jaenelle’s sapphire eyes told her she wasn’t talking about just the weather.

“Thank you.”

Jaenelle hesitated. “Lucivar is worried about you. Take care with his heart, Surreal. You’re not the only one here who can get hurt.”

She nodded and looked out the cab window.

Backwinging, Lucivar landed on the road near a large, three-story stone house on the outskirts of Doun, the Blood village at the southern end of Ebon Rih. He hesitated. Then, swearing at himself for that hesitation, he went through the gate in the low stone wall that separated two acres of tended land from the wildflowers and grasses now buried under knee-deep snow. No vegetable garden had been planted last summer. Marian had cleaned up the herb garden, flower gardens, and rock garden, letting the plants reseed themselves. Making use of the labor portion of the tithes owed him, he’d had some of Doun’s residents keep the beds weeded and the grass trimmed. A few of the women came twice a month to give the house a light cleaning.

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