“If we destroy his weak spot, he’ll go down like any other man.”
“I always thought his reputation was more farted air than truth,” the second Warlord said.
“It’s not like he made that reputation in Askavi among real warriors,” the third Warlord said.
“He’s also nursing bruised ribs that he got in a sparring match with a half-breed witch,” Falonar said.
“Well, Hell’s fire, this won’t be any kind of challenge,” the first Warlord said, laughing nastily. “It sounds like tomorrow will be a good time to put what is left of Lucivar Yaslana in a grave. You just make sure the only men left to come with him are committed to fighting on the right side of the line.”
“I’ll make sure of it,” Falonar said. “By tomorrow evening, I’ll be the Warlord Prince of Ebon Rih, and we’ll be able to live the way Eyriens should.”
The following morning, Lucivar walked into The Tavern five minutes after it opened. He should have stayed home and given the ribs a day to rest, but his getting hurt for “foolish reasons” had scraped the wrong side of Marian’s temper. By the time he’d swallowed breakfast, he’d also swallowed enough of her angry sympathy.
He’d gone to the communal eyrie only to discover that Falonar had taken half of Riada’s Eyrien Warlords to do a flyover of Doun and the landen villages in that part of Ebon Rih. The remaining men had signed a new contract with him grudgingly but preferred working with Falonar—which made him wonder why Falonar hadn’t taken those men with him on the flyover.
He couldn’t stay home, and he didn’t want to stay at the communal eyrie. So he ended up at The Tavern, being given a narrow-eyed stare by another woman.
“You pissed at me too?” he asked as he carefully settled himself on a stool at the bar.
Merry considered the question much too long before crossing her arms and nodding. “Yes. Yes, I am.”
“Since I outrank you, can I get a cup of coffee anyway?”
Too many feelings in those dark eyes, and most of them translated to a “whack him upside the head” mood.
“I won’t bring you coffee because you outrank me, but I will bring you some out of pity, since you are looking pretty pitiful right now.”
“Fine, then. Bring me a large mug of pity.” If he was getting this much temper and sass from lighter-Jeweled witches, thank the Darkness Jaenelle hadn’t come here to check his ribs. She’d probably yank one out and beat him with it. Of course, she would put the rib back and heal it when she was done, but still . . .
Merry returned with a large mug of black coffee and a warmed piece of berry pie.
“Did you get any breakfast?” she asked.
“I could make you a sandwich or heat up some soup.”
She wasn’t through being pissed at him, but unlike Marian, she hadn’t gotten a look at his ribs, so she had less reason to hold on to her anger.
“Thanks, but this is plenty.” He dug into the pie.
Merry looked like she was getting the place set up for business, but she wasn’t actually accomplishing anything except keeping an eye on him. Finally she came up beside him.
“You did it on purpose, didn’t you? Surreal was raging about you yesterday, and what she said made sense.”
Well, that wasn’t good. Of course, it was never good when a raging female made sense to other females, because that usually got a man into a whole lot of trouble.
“It doesn’t matter what you said; you didn’t make a mistake,” Merry said. “You knew exactly what you were doing when you left yourself open for that last blow.”
He sipped his coffee and studied her. Then he sighed. “She needed to beat an enemy into the ground. I figured I was the only one who could take the pounding she needed to inflict.”
“Well, why didn’t you ask Jaenelle to make one of those fancy shadows and fix it so Surreal could beat it into a mushy pulp?”
He shook his head. “Jaenelle has made some of those shadows for me to beat down to a mushy pulp, so I can tell you it doesn’t feel the same. It’s safe because you know it isn’t real. There are no consequences for what you do or serious risks for yourself. Most of the time that’s a good way to purge temper and bad feelings. But when something has festered for a lot of years like it has with Surreal, sometimes you need to work off that temper by fighting against a flesh-and-blood opponent, knowing there are consequences and risks.”
“You let yourself get hurt.”
He heard the undercurrent of anger building in her voice again. She just wasn’t going to let go of that detail. “Okay, that part was a mistake. Your gender gets mean when you fight, and while I took into account that Surreal is stronger than she looks, I forgot that she can be a sneaky bitch. She used her own illness as the bait for the trap, and I fell for it.” And damn if he didn’t admire her for it. Hearing that raspy breathing and seeing her falter, he’d hesitated instead of pushing harder to put her on the floor and end the match.
The coffee had cooled enough, so he drained his mug with long swallows before setting it on the bar.
Merry fetched the coffeepot and refilled his mug. “You’re the Warlord Prince of Ebon Rih. You’re not supposed to fall for a trap.”
“If she’d been anyone but family, I wouldn’t have.”
She offered no other comment, but his answer must have satisfied some unspoken concern, because she finally started doing her own work while he finished the piece of pie.
When he and Merry reached their usual easy silence, Lucivar figured it was time to leave if he wanted to avoid running into Surreal. He wasn’t ready to deal with her yet.
As he eased off the stool, he said, “Thanks for the pie and coffee.”
“If Marian is still annoyed with you come midday, I’ll have a spicy stew cooking,” she said. “And if you can avoid riling up the women you know for a few hours, I can leave out the big dose of pity.”
Lucivar gave her a sharp grin. “Darling, whatever you’re dishing out is too tart to be pity.”
She didn’t laugh, but she couldn’t keep a straight face either. “Go away.”
“I’m going. Even if Marian works off her mad, save me a bowl of that stew.”
As he reached the door, a young Eyrien Warlord from the northern camps burst into The Tavern, followed by the Eyriens who had been at the communal eyrie.