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  • Home > Anne Bishop > Black Jewels > Shalador's Lady (Chapter 14)      Page
  • Shalador's Lady(Black Jewels,Book 8)(14) by Anne Bishop
  • Gray looked at Theran, whose face seemed frozen in an expression between stubbornness and forced courtesy, then at Ranon, who stood tall and proud—but not confident, despite his effort to appear so. Too much depended on this meeting for Ranon to feel confident of the outcome.

    Gray watched Cassie talk to the Tradition Keepers. Her eyes never left Lord Yairen’s face, but he knew her well enough to appreciate how much effort it took for her not to look at the old man’s crippled hands. And he was certain she understood that the crippling hadn’t been caused by age or accident.

    The Queens wore new dresses that were simple in design. Over those dresses were finely embroidered vests—old vests that were tended carefully and probably only worn for special occasions. The Tradition Keepers had worn their best clothes too, but even skilled seamstresses couldn’t hide all the mending and patches in those clothes, and Gray admired the men and women for not using illusion spells to cover one truth about the reserves.

    He had lived a rough life in the rogue camps hidden in the Tamanara Mountains. These people had lived a desperate life, had endured more—and worse—than anyone else in Dena Nehele because of Dorothea SaDiablo’s hatred for Jared.

    Was it any wonder that Ranon felt so bitter and angry about the way his people had been treated? Was it any wonder that he took every opportunity to call attention to the way the Shaladorans lived—and what they lived without?

    But was Ranon hoping for more than Cassie could give?

    Thank the Darkness, the ceremonies were over. At least until that evening when she would be the special guest at a feast held in her honor.

    Honor,Cassidy thought as she brushed her hair. The Shaladorans had held on to honor when they could hold on to nothing else. She saw that truth in their dark eyes, heard it in the quiet voices. Unlike Ranon, who was vocal on his people’s behalf, the Queens and elders had said nothing. They didn’t have to. Just looking at them, just hearing the dignity in their voices told her more than words.

    The boardinghouse told her even more. Shabby? Yes. But there was a new mattress on the bed in her room, new linens. The room had been scrubbed free of every speck of dirt, although the wallpaper still showed signs of water stains. Andeverything was free of psychic scents. There was no psychic residue on the bed or linens or carpets to reveal the previous owners.

    Who in the village had given up these new things in order to furnish this room for her visit?

    She didn’t know how much she could do for these people, but she knew where to begin—if the Shaladorans, and Theran, would let her do this much.

    She looked at the door that opened into the adjoining bedroom. By rights it should have been her First Escort’s room, but Ranon must have said something to the elders, and Gray had been assigned that room. His need to be close to her had been so obvious, Theran had said nothing about taking the room on the other side of hers—the room without an adjoining door. Ranon and Shira were across the hall from her, sharing a room. At some point she would ask Shira if the elders’ eyes had widened because it was a Black Widow and a Warlord Prince sharing a room or just because it was unusual in the reserves for unmarried lovers to share a room so openly.

    For now, she would go outside and take a look at the boardinghouse’s gardens and see what she could do.

    When she opened the bedroom door, there were no guards waiting for her in the hallway, there were no escorts. There were no males of any kind.

    But there was a Sceltie, who took one look at her and said, *Hat, Cassie.*

    “I’m just—”

    *Hat.*

    She fetched the brown, open-weave hat she had bought for this visit. Gray insisted she wear a hat to protect her skin, and Shira had talked her into shopping for one and had gone so far as to buy a hat too, laughingly saying it would become a trademark of the court—any Lady serving in the First Circle would wear a hat as a symbol of her service to the Queen.

    At the time, Cassidy had accepted the teasing and Shira’s purchase of a hat without a second thought. Now she wondered how dear the cost of the hat had been for the Shalador witch.Her hat had been put on the court account, and its price would be deducted from the tithe the shopkeeper owed at the end of summer. But Shira had paid for her own hat.

    Prince Sadi had offered to help pay some of her expenses while she was in Dena Nehele. Would he be willing to extend the Queen’s gift to a small loan so she could pay her First Circle an advance against their quarterly wages? Would she have the courage to ask him?

    *Cassie?*

    She plunked the hat on her head and scowled at Vae. “See? I’m wearing the hat.”

    *Yes.* Vae gave Cassidy a tail-tip wag. *Now Gray will not worry about your face molting.*

    The image of pieces of skin fluttering to the ground like discarded bird feathers made her queasy. Kindred tended to describe things in relation to an animal, but that wasn’t always a comfortable picture for humans when they were the subject of the conversation.

    Vae headed for the stairs, pausing long enough to make sure Cassidy was following her.

    *Gray is outside with Ranon and a young male who is a Warlord Prince,* Vae said. *He is family to Ranon, and Ranon wants you to see him, but there are worry smells too.*

    “Ranon has probably spent a lot of years keeping his relative hidden from the Queens,” Cassidy replied. “It can’t be easy for him to bring a young Warlord Prince into the open.”

    *Why? You are Ranon’s Queen. You are Dena Nehele’s Queen. The pup belongs to you.*

    You can’t claim what you can’t find,Cassidy thought.Hide some of the Queens so there will be someone left to rule. Hide the young Warlord Princes so that another generation can survive long enough to stand on a killing field and fight for their land.

    The world was simple for Vae. Not because she was a dog, but because she had grown up in the village the Queen of Scelt called home. Even if only a few actually served in a court, a Territory Queen held the life of every person in her hands, as well as the land itself. Lady Morghann was a strong Queen and a close friend of Jaenelle Angelline, and Morghann’s husband, Lord Khardeen, ruled the village of Maghre on his Lady’s behalf. So Vae had no reason to doubt that praise and punishment would be given fairly—and both would be given when deserved.

  • Romance | Fantasy | Vampire