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  • Shalador's Lady(Black Jewels,Book 8)(184) by Anne Bishop
  • Four days after Shalador Nehele came into being, most of the Warlord Princes who lived north of the Heartsblood River gathered at the Grayhaven estate.

    Most, but not all,Theran thought as uneasiness soured his belly. Ferall hadn’t come, and because Kermilla had burned the one letter Ferall had sent to him weeks ago, Theran didn’t know if there was something he could have done to convince the Opal-Jeweled Warlord Prince that he knew what was best for the people and the land.

    He walked up the steps to the platform and faced the men. Less than a year ago, Cassidy had stood in this same room and selected the men who became her First Circle. Every man who was here now had been in the room that day—and they remembered. He saw it in their eyes.

    Using Craft to enhance his voice, he said, “By now, you’ve probably all heard that Lady Cassidy enticed the Warlord Princes in the five southern Provinces to abandon Dena Nehele and form a new Territory. She did this because her contract to rule as the Territory Queen would have ended in two months and was not going to be renewed.”

    “Why not?” someone in the back of the room asked. “From what I hear, her court is standing strong and there have been no complaints about the Lady herself.”

    “I haven’t heard any complaints either,” someone else said. “Quite the contrary.”

    “Cassidy did an adequate job of starting us on the right path,” Theran said, “but another Lady more suited to Dena Nehele is ready to stand as our Queen.”

    “Who is this Lady?” Hikaeda asked.

    Hikaeda and Elendill came from the Province that bordered the Heartsblood River and would, no doubt, be reporting back to Ferall and the other Warlord Princes who had settled there.

    “Lady Kermilla, who is also from Dharo in the Realm of Kaeleer,” Theran replied.


    Hikaeda looked at his friend Elendill, then back at Theran. “What is it you want from us, Prince?”

    “Lady Kermilla held back from forming a court here out of courtesy for Lady Cassidy, allowing Cassidy to finish her rule here uncontested. Because of that courtesy, Dena Nehele is left without a Queen or a ruling court. Our situation is a little better than it was a year ago, but the need for a Queen to rule our land remains. What I’m asking of you, Hikaeda, is the same thing I asked a year ago—that all of you offer yourselves for the Queen’s consideration, and if chosen, serve in her First Circle.”

    “And Kermilla is the Queen you intend to have rule over us?” Hikaeda asked.

    How many times was he going to have to say it? “Yes, because Kermilla is the right Queen for us.”

    Another silence.

    “Thank you for your words, Theran,” Hikaeda said politely. “Elendill and I will return to our Province and convey your message to the District Queens and the Warlord Princes who were unable to answer your summons. I am certain you will not wait long for an answer.”

    What in the name of Hell did that mean?

    Hikaeda and Elendill turned away from the platform and headed for the door. The other Warlord Princes turned and followed, not even glancing at him to confirm that this meeting was over.

    He wanted to call them back, wanted to demand some kind of answer. But there was nothing he could say to them right now—and apparently, there was nothing they wanted to say to him.

    CHAPTER 42


    “Library, library, library.” Ranon set those three letters on the stack marked for Gray to handle. Only a week had passed since the official creation of Shalador Nehele, and the mail coming in for Queen and court had tripled.

    The day had turned cold and snowy, with a wind that cut like a mean-tempered bitch. Cassie was tucked in for the afternoon and he was the escort on duty, so he’d offered to sort the mail since Powell had more than enough to do right now. It wasn’t a job he enjoyed, but he didn’t mind it either, and doing something productive for the court made him feel less guilty about being warm and comfortable today while other members of the First Circle were out in that white misery fulfilling their own assignments.

    “Request for a loan to repair a printing press and open a print shop and bookbindery.” He frowned at that letter for a moment, then put it in Gray’s stack. “Request for lessons with the Protocol instructors. Well, Gray can deal with that too.”

    Then he hesitated and wondered if they were dumping too much on Gray, especially since hewas the First Escort and his first priority was taking care of the Queen.

    “We really need a Second Circle to assist the First Circle,” he muttered. The problem was paying a Second Circle, although Powellhad hinted they could afford to bring in a few more people to work for the court. Well, for the time being, they would do the best they could with what they had.

    Could a Sceltie learn to sort mail?

    While he pondered what the dogs might be able to do with the reading skills they had, Dryden tapped on the door and said, “Prince Ferall is asking to see you.”

    “Me?” When Dryden nodded, Ranon set the unsorted letters at one end of the big meeting table. Nothing really confidential in the stacks he’d sorted so far, but he used Craft to make a layer of witchlight over the papers, effectively preventing anyone from reading them. “Send him in.”

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