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  • The Shadow Queen(Black Jewels,Book 7)(49) by Anne Bishop
  • “Everyone who lives within the borders of this Territory,” Cassidy replied. “Landens as well as Blood.”

    “What about the Shalador people?”

    “Now is not the time for that, Ranon,” Theran snapped.

    “Then when is the time, Grayhaven?” Ranon snapped back.

    “Who are the Shalador people?” Cassidy asked.

    “What’s left of a race who came from a Territory that no longer exists. We live on reserves in the southern part of Dena Nehele, land that was granted to us by the Gray Lady.” Ranon gave Theran a hostile look. “Land that’s been trimmed by the hand of every Queen who has ruled since Lia until there’s barely enough farmland to feed us and not enough healthy woodland to supply the game we need.”

    “Now is not the time,” Theran said again, shifting into a fighting stance.

    “Prince Theran is right,” Cassidy said as Ranon also shifted into a fighting stance. The odds were against Opal being able to win a fight with Green, but Warlord Princes who served in the same court could not be allowed to fight. “Now is not the time.”

    She saw bitterness in Ranon’s eyes, but she pushed on. “What you have said deserves more thought and discussion than I can give it this morning. But we will discuss the concerns of your people, as well as the other people who live in Dena Nehele.”

    Hers. She saw it in his eyes as he relaxed a little and stepped back from the killing edge. Even if he’d hated her answer, he would have served in her court. It would have damaged something inside him, but he would have served.

    Five more Warlord Princes made their way to the front of the room to stand before the platform. The connection, the need for what she was, wasn’t as strong with them as she’d felt with Ranon, but it was there. For the first time, she felt the weight of being a Queen, of holding lives in her hands.

    She stepped back to the center of the platform. As Theran announced each man, he came up on the platform, knelt before her, and said, “Your will is my life. Take what you need.”

    Surrender. Loyalty. At least for the next year.

    Theran had knelt before her and said those words with Prince Sadi and the High Lord as witnesses. He hadn’t meant them. They’d all known that last night.

    But Ranon and the other five Warlord Princes did mean the words—and the fact that they did mean the words terrified them.

    Scared her too.

    When the chosen stood at the back of the platform, Cassidy turned to Theran. “Who else is waiting to be considered for the First Circle?”

    He looked at the remaining Warlord Princes, then at her. “You’re dismissing the men who are here?”

    “I don’t think they’re best suited for this First Circle,” Cassidy replied quietly. “I would like to meet with the others before making further decisions. But I need some air and some time to think. We’ll reconvene in two hours.”

    “May I remind you that you have seven males,” Theran said, shifting so most of the men couldn’t see that he was getting angry. “You need twelve to form a court. If you dismiss these men now, you may not get any of them back.”

    “I’m aware of that.”

    Walkies!Vae shouted. *You males will go for walkies now. You can mark the trees. Human males do that sometimes. And I will teach you how to play fetch.*

    Vae leaped from the platform and sailed over the men’s heads, landing in the middle of the room—an impossible thing to do without Craft. She disappeared for a moment, then popped up shoulder height, her tail smacking faces as she began herding the men out the door.

    Theran was angry. This audience hadn’t gone as he’d wanted, and by turning the Warlord Princes away, she was taking the risk of not being able to form a court. If she couldn’t form a court, whatever favors he had called in would have been wasted, so she couldn’t blame him for feeling upset.

    Ranon, on the other hand, looked more relaxed as he came up to stand on her left side. Baffled, but more relaxed.

    “She’s a relentless little bitch, isn’t she?” Ranon asked, tipping his head to indicate Vae.

    The knot in Cassidy’s stomach eased as she watched Warlord Princes obeying a dog because they couldn’t figure out how not to obey the dog. That, at least, felt like home.

    She smiled at Ranon. “Of course. She’s a Sceltie.”

    CHAPTER 11

    TERREILLE

  • Romance | Fantasy | Vampire