“He’ll be old enough in five years,” she said tightly.
Which explained the length of her contract.
“Jaenelle . . .”
“The next five years will be a proving ground. The three of us will work out the rules and restrictions. If Beron violates any of the big rules, he’ll be packed up and will have to live here with us and be held to a short leash. Since Surreal and Rainier live in the village half of the time, they can drop by and check on him, day or night.”
“Not to mention that the court will be working in the other half of the residence most days.” Daemon nodded.
“If he acts like a responsible young man, at the end of that five years, he’ll be allowed to go to Amdarh and train in the work of his choice.”
She studied him, as if trying to judge how he would respond even before she said the words.
“He wants to be an actor. He wants to perform onstage. He’s had a passion for it since the first time he was given a part in a school play. He’s talked about this for as long as I’ve known him. It’s what he wants to do, Daemon. A life dream.”
That explained her fury when Jaenelle discovered how the Healer had damaged Beron, and why she had been so fierce about restoring his voice, hearing, and vision to exactly what they had been before the damage.
And it explained something else. “His grandfather disapproves?”
“It’s not a profession suitable for a Queen’s son. Beron should be training to serve in a court or apprentice for some other suitable occupation.”
“Which is nothing Beron wants.”
“No. That disapproval has caused a strain in the relationship between grandfather and grandson. While Sylvia was alive, she supported Beron’s choice, encouraging him to audition for the plays performed in the village. With her gone, there would have been no buffer, especially if he had gone to live with Sylvia’s father. Beron doesn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but he wouldn’t have backed down from what he wants. Eventually he would have rebelled and chosen a reckless path that would have done him irreparable harm.”
Daemon sat forward. She sounded too certain, which meant she’d seen something in a tangled web. “Couldn’t you have told me some of that when you asked me to deny Sylvia’s father custody of her sons?”
“Did I need to?” Witch asked.
No. As wife or Queen, he was hers to command. “So I guess we’re all settled.”
“I guess we are.” Jaenelle stood up, walked around the desk, and gave him a kiss that narrowed his focus to just one thing: sex.
“I’m going to talk to Rainier and explain his new duties,” she said. “Why don’t you apply yourself to the paperwork so that we can take a long nap after the midday meal? You can warm up my feet.”
“I’ll warm up anything you want,” he purred.
Laughing, she eased back and picked up the stack of letters. “I’ll answer these for you. Just to save you some time.”
“You do that.”
When she closed the study door, he blew out a breath. “Get your mind out of your pants, boyo,” he muttered. Although his pants weren’t exactly where his mind was fixed right now. It was more on the things he wanted to taste. . . .
He shifted in his chair and pulled a stack of reports to the center of his desk. Before he’d read the first page, there was an enthusiastic scratching on the door.
Sighing, he used Craft to open the door. Shuveen, Boyd, and Floyd rushed over to him. Shuveen was the first to jump into his lap, giving him time to put a shield over his crotch before Boyd and Floyd scrambled to join her. One Sceltie on his lap, he could handle. Three Scelties? Someone was going to plant a paw on his balls.
Easy enough to tell them he had to work and they needed to leave him alone—and he almost did. Then he thought about family. What would have happened to Mikal if Tildee hadn’t been with the boy, hadn’t received her training here at the Hall?
There was no black-haired, blue-eyed daughter to climb in his lap and ask for a story, but he and Jaenelle had raised quite a few kindred youngsters over the past few years, and now there were Beron and Mikal, who would need help and guidance and love.
He looked at the three Scelties, at the brown eyes filled with happy expectation. Whose lives would they change one day because of what he and Jaenelle taught them?
“One story,” he said. “Then I have to work.”
He waited for them to carefully turn around so they were all facing the desk. Then he put his arms around them, called in the storybook, and began reading Sceltie Saves the Day.
THE HIGH LORD’S DAUGHTER
A story that spans decades ...
In the dream, Daemon opened his eyes and knew three things: He was lying on a beach, he was naked, and he was dead.
There was pain in his chest. Huge, terrible pain. It had dulled to an ache now, but the memory of that pain was reason enough to keep his eyes focused on the gray metal sky above him and not allow his fingers to explore the flesh around the ache.
Shifting position, he climbed stiffly to his feet, careful to keep his eyes focused beyond his body. He wasn’t ready to see the damage, wasn’t ready to face the truth.
He spotted the tent, the loosely woven fabric billowing in the early-morning breeze. He’d seen that tent before, more than seventy years ago. It had held a treasure then, a promise, a dream. Now it held . . .
When he reached the tent, he slipped inside. Nothing there except a washstand in one corner. A small towel and a full jug of water sat next to the basin. He poured water in the basin and washed his face. As he raised his head, he saw the edge of the framed mirror now floating above the washstand.
Daemon closed his eyes and straightened up. Then he opened his eyes and looked in the mirror. Looked at the hole in his chest where his heart had been.
How was a man supposed to survive a wound like that? How was he supposed to pretend it wasn’t there?
He tried to speak, but his throat closed, preventing him from saying the words. Protecting him for a little while longer. Because once he said the words ...
Daemon opened his eyes. Early morning from the look of the sky. Groaning, he sat up, scrubbed his fingers through his hair, and looked around.
Brandy bottles were lined up on the wooden seat nearby, except for the last one, which lay on the damp ground next to him, almost empty. That explained why his shirtsleeve was wet and smelled. Just as the number of empty bottles on the wooden seat explained how he’d ended up sleeping outside—again.