But maybe someday.
“So whatever business you brought from Ebon Rih is finished now?” he asked.
Chaosti held out a hand. “In that case, cousin, Grandmammy Teele is waiting to meet you.”
Ten years later . . .
Pulling the collar up around her ears, Sylvia added more power to the warming spell in her coat as she followed another path through her hosts’ gardens. She needed the crisp night air and the silence. More, she needed to be away from her hosts. Was her uneasiness due to staying at an estate that bordered the Territory called Little Terreille, or was there a tangible reason she wanted to grab her sons and Tildee, catch the Winds, and flee?
Remembering the cloying, desperate civility that had surrounded her at the dinner table, she used Craft to put a shield around herself under her clothes—a subtle precaution that made her feel better. And because having that much protection did make her feel better, she stopped trying to rationalize her feelings.
There was something wrong with this place, with this family, maybe with the whole damn village.
Her son Beron had reached the age where he was allowed to attend house parties in order to become acquainted with youngsters beyond his home village. At one of those parties he had struck up a friendship with Haeze, a Warlord his own age, and had asked if his new friend could spend a few days with them at the end of Winsol. Her father had chaperoned Beron to that particular party and had voiced no objection to Haeze, so she agreed.
Haeze had been staggered by the proximity of Beron’s home to SaDiablo Hall—and even more staggered when the boys passed the Warlord Prince of Dhemlan on the street and Daemon stopped to talk to them, making it clear he took a personal interest in young Lord Beron. Add to that a couple of weapons lessons from Prince Yaslana and Haeze’s first encounter with a kindred Sceltie, and she’d seen the impact that a few days with them had on the boy. By the end of the visit, Haeze had sounded more confident and carried himself with an assurance that had been hidden by his initial shyness.
A few weeks later, Haeze extended an invitation to Beron to visit his family’s estate. Sylvia would have asked a Warlord from her Second or Third Circle to stand escort for the short visit, but the invitation had included her other son, Mikal, claiming that Haeze’s younger brother was eager to become acquainted. Making connections was an intrinsic part of the Blood’s society, not just for friendships in general, but for the kind of association that could eventually provide a young man with the opportunity to train in a specific court.
This house party hadn’t sounded like it would be any different from others Beron had attended, except that the invitation hadn’t included her, and it should have if a boy Mikal’s age was going to be visiting a family who was unknown to her. That had scratched her sense of propriety enough that she had declined the invitation on her sons’ behalf.
The next invitation from Haeze’s family arrived shortly after that, crammed with apologies and gorged with assurances that they had meant no insult. They did not have the means to entertain a Queen, since that would mean guesting her escorts as well, and they had thought she wouldn’t want to visit their small estate simply as a mother with her sons.
Having been in the position of entertaining to excess because a guest brought several unanticipated companions—and having her children grumble about the other parties they couldn’t attend after she paid the bills for that excess—she understood the dilemma Haeze’s mother faced: Pay for a visit by a District Queen that might not net enough social value to be worth the cost, or have the means to send Haeze to several parties in other villages.
Her Steward and Master of the Guard had voiced no objections to Sylvia not bringing a human escort because Tildee was coming with her. The Sceltie, who was a Summer-sky witch, poked her nose into everything that had to do with her family, especially when it came to Mikal, who was her special human.
So Sylvia had accepted the second invitation for a family visit.
She stopped walking. She’d been careful not to wander beyond the formal gardens, but she was still alone in the dark. Thinking about the invitation that brought her family here, she used Craft to create several balls of witchlight and tossed them in the air to float above her as she headed back toward the house.
There would have been room for a couple of escorts because she and her boys were the only guests—and that second invitation had given her the distinct impression the house would be crammed with guests. Haeze’s younger brother wasn’t eagerly waiting to meet Mikal as she’d been told. The boy wasn’t even here, and the excuses being made for his absence rang false.
She should have listened to Tildee when the Sceltie growled about something smelling wrong near the house. The dog had wanted to get away from this place and these people within minutes of arriving.
Thank the Darkness she had a code phrase the Sceltie promised to obey. If used, Mikal would be taken away from the danger, no matter what else might be lost.
When had a sense of something wrong turned into a conviction there was danger?
*Mother?* Beron called on a psychic thread.
*Coming,* she replied. If a son had noticed her absence and come looking for her, she had been out in the garden longer than she’d intended.
Sylvia lengthened her stride, the witchlights bobbing along with her. Hearing Beron’s voice helped her make her decision. She didn’t care if she was being rude. She didn’t care if she embarrassed her son and his friend. She was taking her boys home!
The attack came without warning. A bolt of power hit her in the chest, knocking her down, shattering the shield beneath her clothes. As she scrambled to her feet, a male figure, dressed in black, rushed toward her.
“Bitch,” he snarled. “This is your brat’s fault.”
She threw a Purple Dusk shield between them, certain the feel of power clashing would bring the men in the house running to help. The man shattered that shield and kept coming toward her, destroying the next one too as she backed away.
A hint of rotting meat in the air now, and a foulness to his psychic scent that gagged her more than the physical smell. In the moments before he struck again, she knew why Haeze’s brother wasn’t home. Since she couldn’t hold this Warlord off for long and it was clear she wasn’t going to get any help from the people in the house, she made her choice.
Everything has a price.
*Beron! Run!* she shouted on a psychic thread. *Tildee! Run now!*