“The expression sounds juvenile, but the intention was sincere,” Daemon replied.

“Fine. I’ll let Chaosti deal with her.”

“She’ll get over being angry with you.”

“Will she?”

“Eventually.” Daemon joined him at the window. “What game are they playing?”

“No idea. But they’re doing enough running that they’ll all be happy to sit for a while once they come inside. And since Marian is visiting the Eyrien women in Doun, I’ll be glad to have the children stay quiet for a bit.”

“How much longer is Falonar going to remain confined to his eyrie here?”

“He leaves tomorrow to serve in a Red-Jeweled Queen’s court.”

“I was under the impression the only Red-Jeweled Queen in Askavi wouldn’t take any Eyrien at this point.”

“Actually, there are two Rihlander Queens who wear the Red. I hadn’t considered Perzha at first because . . . well, she’s Perzha.”

Daemon raised an eyebrow. “And that means . . . ?”

“She rules one of Askavi’s coastal Provinces. There’s not a mountain in her territory.”

“Meaning no eyries.”

Lucivar nodded. “She’s a bit eccentric, dresses oddly, and doesn’t much care for the formalities of being a Queen. But that’s Perzha as Perzha. Perzha the Queen is quite formidable and ruthless when required.”

“She sounds a bit like Jaenelle.”

“Nothing in the theater can match the entertainment of listening to the two of them at a dinner party. Just don’t eat anything until you get their assurance that there aren’t any surprises in the food.”

“Such as?”

“Being served a seafood soup and having a tentacle rise up out of the bowl and grab your spoon. No one was sure if the squids were real or illusions, but the surprise did prevent everyone from realizing that the cook had ruined the soup.”

Daemon burst out laughing.

“On top of that, Perzha lives in a village called Little Weeble.”

“You’re joking.”

“No, I’m not.”

“Is there a Big Weeble?”

Lucivar shook his head. “If you ask anyone in the village about the name, they give you a wink and say if you understand where the name came from, then you’ll understand the name.”

“But they don’t tell outsiders.”

“Nope.”

“And this is where you’re sending Falonar?”

“Perzha offered to take him, as a favor to me.”

“Why are you letting him remain in Kaeleer?”

Lucivar turned away from the window. “Because he won’t be in my face every day, but he won’t be that far away if I need to deal with him. And because I’ve learned a few things from you and Father about the just payment of debts.”

“Meaning?”

Lucivar smiled. “Despite her eccentricities, Perzha is a Queen with the kind of bloodlines that puts her above most other aristo families. Which means she doesn’t give a damn about being aristo. Rather like Father in that way.”

“Ah. So for someone like Falonar, who defines everything by whether it’s aristo . . .”

“I figure serving Perzha for the next three years will be punishment enough.”

FIFTEEN

Hearing a burst of male laughter in the corridor outside his room, Falonar choked on bitterness. He’d been in Little

Weeble only two days. He would go mad if he had to spend the next three years among these people, serving this Queen. And not even in her First Circle, which was where he should be, given his caste, rank, and aristo bloodlines. No, he was a Third Circle escort who was always kept under the watchful eye of the Master of the Guard or confined to his bedroom or the common rooms when he wasn’t on duty.

He was isolated, alone, the only Eyrien in the whole damn Province. And this land! Water on one side, farmland on the other. And what these people considered hills was laughable.

What was the point of living in Askavi if he couldn’t live in the mountains?

Not his choice. Nothing was his choice. He couldn’t ride the Winds without permission. He couldn’t contact other Eyriens without permission. He could barely take a piss without permission.

Lucivar had survived centuries of this treatment when he was a slave.

Further proof that Yaslana wasn’t a real Eyrien. But Lucivar did understand Eyrien pride. Being exiled from Ebon Rih when he’d hoped to rule the valley was shaming, but being forced to serve a Queen like Perzha and admit to living in a place called Little Weeble was the real punishment.

He deserved something better, something more!

The room dimmed. He felt an odd pressure inside his skull. No, that pressure was in the abyss, near the level of his Sapphire strength, surrounding his Self and pulling it down slowly, gently, past his Sapphire web.

*Something better?* a deep voice crooned. *Something more? A place you truly deserve? I know exactly where you should be.*

Claws hooked into his Self, pulling him down down down into the abyss, far too deep for his mind to withstand. He fought, trying to escape, but he could no longer sense his body, could feel nothing but crushing pressure.

And then he felt nothing at all.

Falonar opened his eyes and stared at the night sky. How did he get outside? The unbearable pressure was gone, but his head felt stuffy, his body ached, and he couldn’t seem to reach the power that always flowed within him.

He tried drawing from the reservoir of Sapphire strength stored in his Jewel—and found nothing. He reached for the reservoir in his Birthright Opal.

Nothing. Nothing! Terror filled him as he realized he hadn’t been drained; he’d been broken back to the limited power needed for basic Craft. How? Why? He remembered fighting against something that had caught him and tried to pull him too deep into the abyss, but . . .

“You’re awake,” a deep voice said. “How delightful.”

Falonar turned his head and stared at the man watching him. “Sadi?”

Daemon smiled a cold, cruel smile. “Everything has a price, Falonar. It’s time for you to pay the debt.”

Falonar struggled to roll over and get to his feet. Something was wrong with his left wing, something bad, but it was too dark for him to see the extent of the damage. “What did you do to me?” he snarled.

“Nothing you didn’t deserve.”

“You can’t blame me for Lucivar being challenged by those Warlords.”

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