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  • The Shadow Queen(Black Jewels,Book 7)(46) by Anne Bishop
  • “I don’t want him as a pet,” Cassidy snapped. Then added silently, Or anything else.

    “Don’t be obtuse.”

    Cassidy shivered at the hint of midnight in Jaenelle’s voice and remembered to whom she spoke. “My apologies, Lady.”

    Jaenelle walked over to the windows and stared outside for a minute before turning back to Cassidy.

    “A simple truth, Sister,” Jaenelle said. “Theran Grayhaven doesn’t belong to you. He never will. He doesn’t understand that yet, but you need to accept it. As First Escort, consider him your personal guard and your companion at official functions. In time you might be able to be friends, and even if you’re not, you may be able to work well together for the common goal of restoring Dena Nehele. But he’ll never be a member of your court in the truest sense. Don’t expect him to be.”

    An awkward silence filled the room. Awkward for her, Cassidy admitted. Witch simply studied her—and waited.

    “Shall we join the men for dinner?” Jaenelle finally asked. “Or should I make your excuses and send Prince Theran back to Dena Nehele alone?”

    TERREILLE

    Remembering the previous evening, Cassidy gingerly pulled aside the curtains, looked out a grimy window, and thought, It’s only for a year.

    And if the rest of the days were anything like the journey to Dena Nehele, it would be a long year.

    Of course, she probably wasn’t the only one counting the days until Theran could take her back to Ebon Askavi. Especially after her rejection of the Queen’s suite.

    It had been obvious that people had worked hard to clean up the suite, but she could barely stand being in the rooms. She couldn’t consider living there. She didn’t know what could have been done in a Queen’s bedroom to make the room feel like that, but an oppressive, gleeful cruelty seemed to pulse from the walls.

    She had bolted. She’d stood in the hallway, trying not to be sick, trying to explain why she couldn’t use the suite.

    Theran had listened, tight-lipped and angry, as if her inability to use the suite that had been prepared for her was an insult to his people—or confirmed his own opinion of her inadequacy to be the Territory Queen. Finally he’d said,“The Lady must do as she pleases.”

    Close enough to Protocol. Avoiding the wing of the mansion that Theran had chosen as his family’s residence, she quickly explored the rest of the available living quarters and found a suite of rooms that seemed to welcome her, even though the rooms were dusty and clearly hadn’t been used in a long time.

    The Blood who had been hired as servants scrambled to give the bedroom and bathroom enough of a cleaning so that she could move in. The mattress and bed linens in the other bedroom were new and hadn’t absorbed the tainted psychic scent that filled the other suite. The look of relief on the servants’ faces when she’d agreed to use them had been painful to see—and had told her more about the Queens who had ruled here than all the words Theran had grudgingly offered on the journey.

    This morning he would introduce her to the other Warlord Princes. One hundred men, including Theran. All that was left of their caste after the Queens’ purges had taken so many men who wouldn’t bend to Dorothea’s vision of the Blood. The landen uprisings that had started after Dorothea’s taint had been cleansed from the Realms had taken even more. There must be boys in that caste who weren’t included in that number, but she suspected they were hidden somewhere and were being trained in secret—and were not something she could ask about until she had gained the adult males’ trust.

    One hundred Warlord Princes. How was she supposed to choose the twelve males required to make a First Circle?

    Jaenelle, thank the Darkness, had offered an answer.

    “You don’t choose the males who serve,” Jaenelle had said. “They choose you. Cassie, the total failure of your First Circle was as much your fault as theirs. You accepted those men because they said they wanted to serve, but their reasons for wanting it had nothing to do with you. You chose with your head instead of letting your instincts as a Queen make the decisions.”

    “If I hadn’t chosen with my head, there would have been no court, and that village wouldn’t have had a Queen.”

    Jaenelle’s sapphire eyes stared at her, into her. “They would have survived without a Queen living within their village borders. That village became available because the old District Queen no longer wanted to rule more than her home village. The other three Blood villages under her rule could have gone to one Queen instead of being divided.”

    “But that Queen wouldn’t have been me.”

    “No, it wouldn’t have been you. Dharo has a strong Territory Queen and strong Province Queens. The Blood there can be more indulgent in their choice of District Queens. They didn’t need someone like you, Cassidy.”

    Jaenelle’s words stung, more so because she’d expected a little sympathy to balance out their before-dinner “chat.”

    “They expect me to choose,” Cassidy said. “How do I choose if I’m not supposed to choose?”

    Jaenelle smiled. While the now-apparent sympathy was the tonic Cassidy needed to soothe her bruised feelings, the equally apparent amusement made her nervous.

    “It’s simple,” Jaenelle said. “You stand in front of them and let them all get a look at you. Say something so they can hear your voice. Then you wait. Many are going to feel disappointed—and some will feel bitter about it because they don’t realize it’s part of forming a court. For most of them, you won’t be the right Queen to serve—at least not in the First Circle. They’ll need to look at the other Queens. But the ones who belong to you . . . You may not recognize it immediately, since you’ve never felt it, but they’ll know. Some will approach you and look relaxed or relieved because they’ve finally found something they’ve needed. Others will be wary when they approach because they aren’t sure if they can trust the instincts that are pushing them to hand over their lives and surrender to your rule. As each man approaches, look him in the eyes. If something inside you says, ‘This one belongs to me,’ then he does.”

    “I don’t want a First Circle filled with Warlord Princes,” Cassidy said.

    “That’s not your choice,” Jaenelle replied. “And, really, they’re sweet men once you get past the bossiness and temper. I wouldn’t expect more than half the First Circle to be filled with Warlord Princes, but they get to offer themselves before the other castes of males.”

  • Romance | Fantasy | Vampire