“I don’t think you understand,” Falonar said. “I meant aristos. They don’t need to work.”

“They do if they want to live in Ebon Rih,” Lucivar replied. “There isn’t an adult living in this valley who doesn’t have some kind of work, and anyone who isn’t willing to agree to that doesn’t belong here. The Queens in the rest of Askavi might feel differently, but I don’t see any reason for anyone to sit around idle, no matter who they are or what bloodlines they can claim.”

“You can’t expect an aristo to stoop to menial labor,” Falonar protested.

“I didn’t say they would have to clean the horse shit off the streets; I just said that if they want to come to Kaeleer and live in Ebon Rih, they have to be willing to do some kind of work that will benefit the Eyrien community at the very least.” Lucivar continued to study Falonar. “Is there someone in particular you want living here? A friend? Family? Is that what this is about?”

“No. It’s not about someone in particular; it’s about a whole level of Eyrien society that is missing. Can’t you feel that?” Falonar’s voice rang with frustration.

Lucivar huffed out a sigh. “No, I can’t feel that. I never saw that part of Eyrien life, and the little time I spent around Eyrien courts before I was sent away from Askavi didn’t impress me—and neither did the aristos in those courts. Whatever you think is missing . . . I never experienced it, so I don’t feel the loss.”

“That’s the point, Lucivar! You don’t know what the rest of us are missing.”

He heard the passion in Falonar’s voice and the conviction, but Hallevar, Kohlvar, and the other men willing to voice an opinion hadn’t given him any indication that something was lacking.

Maybe Daemon or Father can tell me why this is so important to him. “Write up a report that explains what you think we need. Maybe we can find a way to bring some of that into the community.” Did Falonar understand how much of a concession he was making by offering to read a damn report?

Apparently not. Judging by the resignation he saw in Falonar’s eyes, what he was offering was nowhere near what the other man wanted.

“Maybe you should go back to Askavi Terreille,” he said quietly. “There must be some Eyrien aristos who survived the purge. Maybe you’ll find life there more to your liking now. I think it’s clear to both of us that whatever you were hoping to find by emigrating doesn’t exist in the Shadow Realm. At least not the way you hoped.”

“Are you forcing me back to Terreille?” Falonar asked.

“I didn’t say that.”

“We rub against each other. Perhaps I should take command of the northern camps. That would give us both some breathing room.”

Something floated in the air between them. Something subtle, almost hidden. When he’d been a slave and couldn’t trust anything about the Queen who controlled him or anyone in her court, he survived because he never ignored what instincts couldn’t shape into words.

He wasn’t going to ignore his instincts now.

“I didn’t renew any of the contracts of the men from the northern camps,” Lucivar said. “I’m giving them a few extra days to pack their gear, but after that, they are barred from Ebon Rih.”

Falonar looked shocked. “You let all of them go? Who’s going to patrol that end of the valley?”

“Rothvar, Zaranar, and the other Riada Eyriens will have to stretch out a bit and work with the Agio Master of the Guard.”

“Rihlanders aren’t the same caliber of fighter as an Eyrien and you know it!”

“Yes, I do. But the Eyriens in those camps didn’t do a damn thing when they were needed—and proved to Agio’s Queen, her Master of the Guard, and me that they aren’t needed here. Or wanted here.”

They stared at each other.

“There’s nothing more to say,” Falonar said.

“No, I don’t think there is.”

Lucivar turned and walked out of the eyrie. Unless he had Ebon-gray shields already in place, it was the last time Falonar would see his back.

Falonar poured the coffee down the sink and carefully rinsed the pot. The spelled liquid he’d added to the coffee wasn’t a true violation of the Blood’s code of honor. It was too mild to be considered a compulsion spell, but adding it to food or drink helped make a person more open to suggestions.

He’d taken a lot of risks in order to buy those vials of liquid from a Black Widow. In the decade since then, he’d used the liquid carefully, slipping a few drops into a glass of wine or ale when there was a real chance that his words would make a difference, when that added something would help him influence people into making the right decisions. He’d used that influence to temper a punishment when a man didn’t deserve to be punished at all. He’d used the liquid to stop perversions that would have harmed common Eyriens as well as aristos. That had to count for something.

But he’d used too much of the liquid when, at his father’s demand, he tried to save his older brother from a punishment the fool had deserved. The change in the Master of the Guard’s chosen method of discipline had been too pronounced. No one had suspected Falonar of causing that change, but the discovery that someone had tried to manipulate the Queen’s Master had thrown the Lady into a rage.

The new punishment had gone beyond cruel. Falonar, his father, and their other male relatives had been required not only to witness the punishment but to participate in order to retain the family’s social standing and their own status in the courts where they served. When it was done, the Queen let what was left of his brother live and sent him back to the family. And that had been the cruelest punishment of all.

His father couldn’t publicly blame him without bringing attention to himself, but neither of his parents forgave him for what had happened to the favored son, and his mother deliberately began closing social doors, leaving him vulnerable to the whims of Prythian and the most elite members of the High Priestess’s court.

The service fair had offered him a way to escape his family and Terreille, but it hadn’t given him a way to regain his standing in Eyrien society because there was no Eyrien society. He accepted invitations for social events held by Riada’s aristos, but it wasn’t the same. He wasn’t someone among the people who mattered.

There was nothing left for him in Askavi Terreille. What he needed he would have to build here. Since his effort to influence Lucivar had failed, he had no other choice except to eliminate the obstacle that stood in his way.

Tags: Anne Bishop The Black Jewels Science Fiction
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