“The landen villages at the north end of the valley are under attack!” the Warlord said.

“Who’s attacking?” Lucivar demanded.

“Don’t know. I was heading back to camp when I was ordered to come here and find you. Not just Jhinka. Whoever is fighting the Eyriens is also Blood. Our men have pushed the fight away from the villages, but we need help. We need it now.”

“Did you contact the Master of the Guard in Agio?” Lucivar asked.

A moment’s hesitation. “I didn’t, no. I was told to fetch you. Someone else must have gone for Lord Randahl.”

Most of the Eyriens in the northern camps wore Jewels with sufficient power to send a psychic call for help to the Blood in Agio. Hell’s fire, there were plenty of them who could reach him here. If they needed help so badly against this unknown enemy, why waste time having a Rose-Jeweled Warlord ride the Winds to Riada to fetch him?

There was one reason he could think of.

Lucivar eyed the Eyriens Falonar had left behind this morning. “You coming with me?”

“We are,” one of them answered.

“Then head out. I’ll meet you there.” He turned and walked toward the short hallway in the back of the building that held the water closets available to customers.

“We’ll wait for you,” one of the Warlords said.

Lucivar stopped. Turned. “I’m not driving a Coach to a killing field, and I’m not shielding all of you on the Red Winds and then dropping down onto a killing field. So you catch the Winds and go. I’ll still arrive close behind you. But first I’m going to take a piss.”

“The Red Winds?” one of the men asked. “Not the Ebon-gray?”

Lucivar shifted his weight—and deliberately winced. “Not today.”

Two flashes of emotion filled the room, equal in intensity, at his inability to hide how much an imprudent move hurt his ribs—alarm from Merry and relieved anticipation from the Eyriens who watched him.

“Go on,” he said.

Waiting until the Eyriens left The Tavern, he raised a hand and used Craft to put a Red lock on the front door. Then he went into one of the water closets. He’d opened his fly when Merry burst into the small room.

“Hell’s fire, woman,” he growled.

“Something is wrong,” she said. “This all sounds wrong.”

Of course it did. It was all wrong. “Get out of here.”

“Lucivar.”

“Merry, he’s young and excitable. If things in the north were as bad as he said, he would have been there fighting with the other Eyriens, and I would have been summoned on a psychic thread by Lady Erika’s Master of the Guard. So stop fussing. I’ll take care of this.” He gently pushed her out of the room and closed the door in her face.

He had no doubt in his mind that he could—and would—take care of this. He just hoped he could convince Merry of that sufficiently to delay her sounding the alarm. He didn’t want anyone standing with him. Not today. Today he wanted to know with absolute certainty the faces of his enemies.

That much decided, he quickly prepared for the coming fight.

First he created the Ebon-gray shields he usually put around his anklebones to give them extra support. Next, he shaped an Ebon-gray shield over his ribs. Then he called in the Ring of Honor that Jaenelle had given every male in her First Circle. She no longer wore Ebony Jewels, but the Ebony power she had put into those Rings to fuel the shields in them was still as potent as ever.

He slipped the gold Ring over his c**k and used Craft to adjust the size to a comfortably snug fit. Engaging the Ring, he created a skintight Ebony shield around himself, then layered an Ebon-gray shield over that, and finally a double Red shield.

Would any of the men he was about to meet look beyond that second Red shield for what lay underneath? Especially when the Eyriens who, supposedly, were going to fight alongside him told their comrades that Lucivar Yaslana was already too injured to wear the Ebon-gray?

He vanished the pendant that held his Birthright Red Jewel, called in the pendant that held the Ebon-gray, then put a sight shield over it. He held out his right hand and carefully triggered the spell in his Red ring—a spell he’d never shared with anyone except his uncle Andulvar and cousin Prothvar. Seven thin psychic “wires” spun out from the Red Jewel in the ring, stopping when they were a handspan in length. When fully extended, those wires could slice through lighter-Jeweled shields as easily as flesh, and he could slaughter dozens of men with a single sweep of his arm. Drawing the wires back into the ring, he ended the spell.

After fastening his trousers, he took another minute to call in and check all his weapons.

He walked out of the water closet and found Merry blocking the end of the hallway. He didn’t have time to negotiate, so he locked his hands around her upper arms, lifted her, and set her back down out of his way.

The shields around his ribs were working just fine. He’d hurt tomorrow, but the sore ribs and bruises weren’t going to interfere with anything he had to do today.

“Lucivar! This isn’t right. It has to be a trap!”

Which just proved she was a smart, observant woman.

“I know,” he said.

“Then you need help.”

“No, I don’t. Merry . . .”

“Don’t you ‘Merry’ me,” she snapped. “There could be thousands of them out there waiting for you!”

“There aren’t thousands of Eyriens in the whole of Askavi Kaeleer, let alone in Ebon Rih.”

“Well, there are still lots of them and one of you.”

“Merry . . .” Did any of them understand what his wearing Ebon-gray Jewels meant? Did the Eyriens really know what kind of power was about to meet them on a killing field?

He kissed her forehead. “If I get hurt, you can yell at me all you want. I’ll be back in time for that bowl of stew. Until then, rest easy.”

Releasing the Red lock on the front door, Lucivar walked out of The Tavern, caught the Ebon-gray Winds, and headed north.

The moment Rainier returned from his walk, Briggs gave him a “need you” tip of the head.

“Merry is in the kitchen,” Briggs said. “Something happened this morning while I was out getting supplies. She says she’s not supposed to say anything yet, but maybe she’ll talk to you, since you work for Prince Sadi.”

“Why would that make a difference?” Rainier asked as he took off his coat and vanished it.

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