“I never cheated in a competition,” Falonar snarled.
“No, you probably didn’t. But that doesn’t mean you weren’t pleased when someone else did something that pushed the odds in your favor.” She leaned a little more, showing more cle**age—and watched the way his eyes lingered a moment too long.
“You finished your training and were no longer in Yaslana’s shadow because he defied Prythian and ended up a slave being controlled by a Ring of Obedience, while you ended up an aristo male moving in court circles, serving a bitch you hated, but you were always careful not to step too close to a line that might be seen as a challenge. And there was Lucivar, who, despite being a slave, was always crossing those lines and growing into the most lethal and feared warrior in the Realm of Terreille.”
She felt pressure on her first inner barrier. Not an actual attempt to force open the first level of her mind, more like someone leaning against a door to push it open just a crack and find out what was on the other side while claiming that he didn’t do anything.
A man could find out a lot of useful information while not doing anything. And maybe—maybe—because it was a passive move, it wouldn’t be considered a breach of the Blood’s code of honor.
She usually wore her Birthright Green Jewels, just like today, but she no longer hid the fact that the Gray was her Jewel of rank. Had he forgotten that? Was he actually hoping that she’d be lax about maintaining the barriers that protected her mind from the rest of the Blood? Was he that much of a fool?
“Skipping a few centuries, the Realm of Terreille becomes a very bad place, and people are scrambling to get away from the bitches who rule there,” she continued. “Among those people is an Eyrien Warlord Prince who comes from an aristo family and has significant social standing. And wearing Sapphire Jewels means he is a powerful, dominant male—a leader other men obey without question. No reason to think that will change. Aristo is aristo; power is power.”
She drifted down into the abyss until she reached the level of the Gray, then drifted back up until she was under him. She reached up with one delicate psychic tendril to get the honest flavor of his emotions.
She didn’t like the taste of those emotions. She didn’t like them at all. Apparently the story she was weaving around the little she knew and the lot she guessed based on knowing the two men was close to the truth.
“And what happens?” she said. “You come to Kaeleer with your credentials polished, expecting the Queens to fight over who gets the privilege of having you in her court, and there’s your old friend Lucivar, already here before you. And he’s not only serving the Queen the rest of you would give your balls to serve; he’s the ruler of the most prized bit of land in Askavi. Not only that, he’s no longer a half-breed bastard the rest of you can ignore. He comes from the most aristo family in the whole damn Realm. His father and uncle are the most powerful men in the whole damn Realm, not to mention being Witch’s Steward and Master of the Guard, which gives them even more status.”
“Just because they acknowledged him doesn’t mean he actually carries the bloodlines,” Falonar snapped.
“Blood sings to blood—and blood doesn’t lie. Sure, there are generations between Lucivar and Andulvar, but he is the High Lord’s son, and his mother did come from Andulvar’s line. An aristo among aristos. And he still doesn’t give a damn about any of that, does he? He’s just who he’s always been—a warrior, a leader, a strong man. Except now all the Eyriens who would have spit on him before have to walk softly because one word from him—one word—and that person gets tossed all the way back to Terreille. If the fool isn’t killed first.”
“What does any of this have to do with him gutting Eyrien culture and tradition?” Falonar shouted.
“What goes on in Ebon Rih is his version of Eyrien culture and tradition,” she replied sweetly.
“His version?” Falonar paced away from the bar and back. “You can’t have different versions and have the same people!”
“Maybe that’s the point. Maybe there needs to be a different version for the people who would otherwise be excluded from Eyrien culture.”
“Besides Lucivar? How about Endar and Dorian’s little girl? A Queen. But her hair has curl. Not only is she not pure Eyrien; that curl proves she has a bit of a bloodline that isn’t from any of the long-lived races. What about Tamnar? He wouldn’t have had much of a future among your people, which is probably why he risked the service fair in the first place. Eyrien culture and tradition were already rooted here, Falonar. It’s just not the same as what you left.”
Falonar’s mug shattered. “Back in Askavi, if a bitch like you spoke to me like that, I’d have you whipped.”
Surreal called in a towel and tossed it on the bar to sop up the coffee. “Bitch like me. Yes, let’s address that final topic before you go. Well, two topics really, and that’s the second one. You know what none of you big strong Eyriens have admitted? Except Lucivar. The man may be a pain in the ass, but he does have brains. You all came to the Shadow Realm expecting the other races to be cowed by a warrior race. Because that’s what the Eyriens are, aren’t they? Warriors, bred and trained. But no one was cowed by Eyriens because, in Kaeleer, you are not the race that is feared.”
Surreal slowly reached up and hooked her long black hair behind one delicately pointed ear. “They are called the Dea al Mon. The Children of the Wood. They know as much about fighting as you do. Maybe more, since they have always followed the Old Ways of the Blood. Which brings us to the last topic—my bloodlines.”
“You have no bloodlines.” Falonar’s voice was harsh, and his hands were clenched.
“On my sire’s side, you’re probably right.”
“You have no connection to the SaDiablos beyond what they give you.”
“That’s true too. I don’t have one drop of blood in common with Lucivar or Daemon or the High Lord. I only used that name when I came to Kaeleer as a way to spit in Dorothea SaDiablo’s face. But the High Lord decided to let that claim stand and accepted me as family. So you’re correct that calling myself a SaDiablo doesn’t give me the right to call myself aristo. My mother, on the other hand ...” She brushed her finger over the curve of her ear. “My mother was a Dea al Mon Queen and Black Widow. If she hadn’t been broken by Dorothea’s son and then murdered by one of the bitch’s assassins, she could have been the Queen of the Dea al Mon’s Territory. As it was, when she made the transition to demon-dead, she became the Queen of the Harpies. So no matter how you turn it, my mother’s bloodline is more than aristo enough to make up for any lack by the c**k and balls who sired me.”