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  • The Shadow Queen(Black Jewels,Book 7)(30) by Anne Bishop
  • “Is indisposed this morning. You may discuss this with me.”

    May the Darkness have mercy. All he wanted right now was to get out of this room.

    Jared wouldn’t have run. Blaed wouldn’t have run.

    “The terms are . . .” Sadi had accepted the position of Warlord Prince of Dhemlan a few months after his father resigned. Theran remembered hearing that last night at dinner. How was he supposed to voice his objections to the terms without sounding like he was criticizing the son? Because this was one father he did not want to offend.

    “Unreasonable? Insulting? Barbed?” Saetan offered with a hint of a sharp smile. “Everything has a price, Prince Grayhaven. The man who wrote up these terms has a good understanding of Terreille. A better understanding than you do, since yours, I suspect, is confined to your own Territory. Prince Sadi also has a fine understanding of how the males in Kaeleer, especially the Warlord Princes, respond to any threat to a female, let alone a Queen. You may feel hobbled by these terms, but they were thought through carefully and are designed to protect your people as well as the Queen who comes to rule.”

    Realizing he’d dropped the paper when he’d grabbed for the chair,Theran retrieved it and stared at the list of conditions.

    “A year? She only stays a year?”

    “A year is enough time for both of you to know if your people can accept an outsider ruling over them—and if your people really want to go back to following the Old Ways of the Blood.”

    “If we didn’t want to go back to living the way we did when the Gray Lady ruled, we would have settled for . . .” For one of the Queens we have—who would destroy what’s left of us as surely as one of Dorothea’s pet Queens would have done.

    Theran slumped in the chair, his hands dangling between his knees. “Grayhaven is my family’s home—and my inheritance. What’s left of it. She can have the use of it. As for a tithe . . . Hell’s fire. We’re just trying to get enough food planted and harvested so that everyone has enough to eat this winter. The Queens who ruled bled the land and the people dry. I told Sadi that last night.”

    “That doesn’t change what is needed for a Queen’s court,” Saetan said quietly. “She deserves something for her effort, and the court needs some way to pay for its expenses.”

    “Couldn’t the tithe be paid in goods and services?” Theran asked.

    “If the Queen and the First Circle are agreeable to that condition, yes, a high percentage of the tithe could be done that way.”

    Hopeful that there might be more flexibility to these terms than he’d first thought, Theran looked at the sheet of paper again. “Inspections?”

    “And weekly reports from the Queen.”

    “Why does she have to answer to anyone? And why should my people be treated like children who get surprise tests to see if we’ve learned our manners?”

    Saetan leaned back, steepled his fingers, and rested his forefingers against his chin. “Because you don’t have any manners. That’s one of the reasons you’re here. You want something you don’t remember, something your people don’t remember. The inspections aren’t to test you; they’re to appease the Warlord Princes from the Queen’s home. Since you belong to that caste, you shouldn’t be so dismissive of the power and temper that could land on your doorstep with the intention to kill. As for the Queen’s weekly reports, those, too, are to offer reassurance and are in place of having armed escorts living with her in Dena Nehele.” He paused. “I should say armed escorts from her home Territory. Providing sufficient escorts for her protection is your responsibility. Gathering the men and women who will form the First Circle is your responsibility. And assuring the Queen’s physical and emotional well-being is also your responsibility.”

    Theran felt the blood drain from his face. He’d escaped all that. By living with Talon, by hiding in the mountains so the pet Queens couldn’t control the last male in the Grayhaven bloodline, he’d escaped that kind of service.

    “Assess your skills, Prince,” Saetan said. “You will be one of the male triangle that serves the Queen most intimately.”

    “Consort?” Theran choked on the word. “You expect me to service—”

    Saetan laughed, and the undercurrent of violence in the sound made Theran shiver.

    “You’re being presumptuous, puppy. No Kaeleer male is going to tolerate an assumption that any male in Terreille has a right to the Queen’s bed.”

    “Then what . . . ?”

    “First Escort,” Saetan said. “Same duties for the most part, up until you reach the bedroom door. As First Escort, you don’t cross the threshold. You don’t serve in bed. However, if being First Escort isn’t a service you can perform, you can stand as Master of the Guard or Steward—providing the other males in the First Circle will accept you in one of those positions.”

    Relief shuddered through him.

    “But if a Queen does agree to go back with you and rule your people, you will be held responsible for her care,Theran. Make no mistake about that. And if that care is found wanting, you will answer to Kaeleer. Make no mistake about that either. The Warlord Princes here may sympathize with what you want to do for your Territory. They may even be willing to help. But if they think you’re mistreating or endangering a Queen who comes from the Shadow Realm, they won’t hesitate to destroy you and your people. They will wipe you out of existence more thoroughly than Dorothea ever could. Do we understand one another?”

    He had to swallow to get his heart out of his throat. “Yes, High Lord. We understand one another.”

    “I’m delighted. Lady Angelline has gone to talk to a Queen who may be interested in helping your people. She’ll be back for dinner. Since you have the time, I suggest—” Saetan frowned at the door.

    Theran turned his head to catch the sound. Yes, there it was again. Something scratching at the door.

    Saetan raised one hand. The study door swung open, and a small brown and white dog trotted into the room and stopped near Theran’s chair.

  • Romance | Fantasy | Vampire