Daniel Williams stood close, but not too close, to Rachel and their daughter, Grace. Known as Danny to his family and friends, the Sapphire-Jeweled Warlord Prince wanted to bare his teeth to any man that came even remotely close to either of the females, but he refrained from doing so. He hoped beyond everything he was that he would be able to get a contract with the same person Rachel did.
He didn't blame her for wanting to leave Terreille behind. Rachel was a talented Healer from the Shalador reserves. He had rescued her from being attacked and raped by a group of Warlords, took her under his protection and soon fell in love with her as she had with him. He saw her through her Virgin Night and hadn't left her bed since. Grace was an extension of that love, but shortly after her birth almost seven years ago he started to notice that Rachel was growing restless and wary of him more and more. They had started to argue more and it had been leaving Danny very unsettled.
Finally, a few weeks ago, Rachel told Danny she was taking Grace to the service fair to immigrate to Kaeleer. He felt like she ripped his heart from his chest at those words. He made the decision then and there to follow Rachel wherever he had to so he could be with her and his daughter.
A murmur began to work through the crowd and Danny strained to see if he could detect where it was coming from. By pure instinct, he felt himself rising to the killing edge when he caught the psychic scent. Another Warlord Prince was nearby. The crowd parted and Danny felt his heart start to pound harder.
You heard things in Terreille that were hard to ignore, especially about people and reputations. There were two names that you heard of in Terreille, no matter what village or territory you were in, that could strike fear into your heart. Their reputations were legendary and not always in the best of ways. It wasn’t unusual to hear their names said separately nor was it unusual to hear of the danger they were together. But over the past few years, their names were rarely said anymore; but he remembered.
The Eyrien that walked nearby, that the crowd parted for, was vicious simply by race. The Eyriens were a warrior race by training and by birth. An Eyrien from the caste of Warlord Prince was an extremely dangerous predator. But this Eyrien... he was an entity unto himself.
He’s supposed to be dead... Danny thought to himself. However, the Ebon-gray jewel was in plain sight, laying against the golden skin of his chest. There was a ring on his right finger, but it didn’t look like the Ebon-gray or a Red, the man’s jewel of rank and birthright. Danny couldn’t tell what ring was on his right hand, but there was no mistaking what ring encircled his left hand. A gold wedding band.
There was something that was niggling at Lucivar Yaslana’s mind as he walked through the service fair, studying faces, seeing who would potentially fit in Kaeleer. Of course no matter who he chose, the final decision would be made by his Queen. Too much still weighed on him from the wrong choices he had made that cost two witches their lives and he would not make that same mistake twice if he could help it.
He felt another Warlord Prince very close. He never underestimated any Warlord Prince, regardless of the Jewels they wore. He knew that Warlord Princes were passionately violent and violently passionate just because of their natural instinct to protect and serve. Their Jewels simply amplified the natural predator within. However, he did know that this particular Warlord Prince posed no major threat Jewels-wise.
Turning a lazy glance in that direction, he easily saw the blond standing near a dark-haired beauty with a child. His eyes narrowed ever so slightly. There was fear there, but no fear from her or the girl of the man at their side. No, the fear came from somewhere else. His gaze flicked to their hands. No rings on the left, only their jeweled rings on the right. So not married, but definitely something, especially since he could smell similarities in the girl’s psychic scent to both adults. He let his senses open further and his eyebrow quirked ever so slightly when he realized. A little Queen. He had to wonder if her parents knew.
“Did you check the list?” a low voice said from Lucivar’s left. He turned his head to glance at the blond-haired, blue-eyed Warlord beside him. Morton, the Warlord of Glacia, and Khardeen, the Warlord of Scelt, had chosen to accompany him to the fair this time. Every time they came, they looked for a particular name in hopes of finally bringing home a certain Warlord Prince.
Daemon Sadi was a Black-Jeweled Warlord Prince and he was Lucivar’s brother. A part of the Queen’s triangle was empty, temporarily filled by Lucivar, himself, as the First Escort but they all knew the Consort was missing. Daemon was destined to fill that spot, but he’d yet come to the service fair to enter Kaeleer finally. Both Lucivar and their father, Saetan, were becoming increasingly worried that he never would.
“Prince?” Morton said, his voice growing concerned.
Finally, Lucivar shook his head, his gold eyes troubled. “I did, but he’s not there.”
“Damn,” Morton said, a sentiment that Lucivar silently agreed with. It tore them apart every time they had to tell Jaenelle that Daemon hadn’t shown up over the past five or so years since her memory of him returned and she mended his mind in the Abyss, then set up her Court. She would lock herself away in her room or garden for three days, or she would disappear to her cabin for those three days. It left every male of her Court heart-sore until she showed them she was okay. Deep down they knew she wouldn’t be, not until Daemon was with her in Kaeleer.
How long is that going to be, Bastard? Lucivar wondered silently. How long until you get your head out of your ass and get here?
“The bell is going to ring soon,” Khardeen said, walking over to the two men. “If decisions are going to be made, they need to be made now.”
“I--,” Lucivar started.
“Prince?” a trembling voice said. Lucivar fought back the anger that was rising from that small voice. It was instinctive for Blood males to respond to any sense of fear from a woman. Whether directly, or indirectly, focusing it on them.
Slowly he turned and saw the dark-haired beauty with the little Queen standing before him. The Warlord Prince wasn’t far behind, but kept a respectful distance. And gave himself enough room for a battle if needed without finding the woman and his child in the crossfire.
“Lady,” Lucivar said.
“I want to come to Kaeleer,” she said. “With my daughter.”
“As do I,” the man said immediately, though he stepped no closer. Lucivar’s gaze flicked to him, noting the protectiveness even from the distance between the man and the woman.
“Why?” Lucivar questioned them both.
“I’ve heard rumors... that life there is... more,” the woman said. “I want...” She bit her lip, glancing down at the top of her daughter’s head.
“You want more for your daughter,” Lucivar said. She simply nodded. He shifted his look to the man. “And you?”
“I go where they go.” Simple enough.
Lucivar glanced at Khardeen and Morton, both men giving nothing away in their faces. He looked back to the others.
“Very well,” he said. “You’ll both sign contracts with the Warlord Prince of Ebon Rih. But be aware, that final judgement is by the Queen. If she says you leave, nothing can be done to allow you to remain.”
Steve McGarrett let his legs stretch as he walked along the sidewalks through Riada. He always enjoyed being outside, which was why he had so readily taken up a post as the second-in-command to the Warlord Prince of Ebon Rih. Lucivar and Steve were much alike when it came to their view points and how they trained. He soon found himself close friends with other members of the Dark Court and with his role as Lucivar’s second, he was also asked to serve in the Second Circle of the Dark Court. A position he gladly accepted. Many had thought he simply wanted the prestige, but it gave him focus. A focus he hadn’t had since the death of his parents. He had finally managed to track down the bastards responsible for leaving both he and his sister without their parents, but his revenge on them had been bittersweet. It hadn’t taken away much of the pain and rage that had lingered from their deaths.
That rage almost got him killed by Lucivar, until the Lady had stepped in. He was dragged to SaDiablo Hall, where the Lady resided and was told to remain a few days. His sister had been gathered as well and soon both had been enveloped by the Lady’s dark power and the wound on their souls had been lanced and cleansed.
Mary was now residing in Scelt, working for Lady Morghann as a seamstress. She had gained quite a name for herself after she had made the young queen’s wedding dress for her marriage to her Consort, Khardeen. She wrote Steve often and since he sometimes found himself in Scelt on behalf of the Dark Court, he got to see her as much as he liked. He was suddenly pulled out of his musings when he heard a sharp whistle.
Steve shifted his gaze and saw Chin Ho and his cousin, Kono, making their way up the path to the Tavern as graceful as the Dea al Mon that walked with them. The Warlord Prince of Dea al Mon, Chaosti, who was also the Consort, and husband, to the Dea al Mon Queen. Chin and Kono came from the Dea al Mon, but their coloring was darker. Instead of having the silvery-blonde locks and blue eyes most of their race had, their hair was almost as coal black as the Dhemlan, Hayllian or Eyrien races. Unlike those races, their eyes were dark instead of gold.
Many generations ago, a race of people very similar to the Dea al Mon had resided in Terreille. As the taint grew stronger, their race was slowly being eliminated and brought to extinction. The Elders refused to allow their race to be wiped out entirely and managed to immigrate to Kaeleer before it happened. Noting the similarities, they were taken in by the Dea al Mon. At first they resided closer to the few mountains near the edges of Dea al Mon's borders to Askavi, but soon they began enmeshing themselves more and more with their adopted race. Their darker looks continued to hold dominant so far with each generation, but all now had the delicately pointed ears and larger than normal eyes of their fairer complected cousins.
"Prince," Chaosti said, bowing to Steve only slightly, showing respect to their caste but not deferring to a weaker Jeweled male.
"Princes, Lady," Steve said, bowing to the group. "Prince Yaslana hasn't returned yet."
"He's at the Hall with the Lady," Chaosti said. The Lady referred to only one person in Kaeleer. Jaenelle Angelline. The Queen of Ebon Askavi. Dreams Made Flesh. Witch.
"Did something go wrong at the service fair?" Steve was immediately alert. He hated the twice-yearly fair held in Little Terreille's capital, Goth, but understood that sometimes it was a necessity in order to save those who no longer belonged in Terreille. And that Yaslana was looking, waiting for someone in particular to be on those lists.
"Not really," Chin said. "But it was not as satisfactory as the Prince had hoped." Which meant that the person Lucivar was looking for had not been there.
"Lucivar wanted me to pass on a message since I was traveling with my cousins," Chaosti said. "He'll be unavailable the remainder of the day before staying at the Hall for a few days to sort things out with the new immigrants. He wants you to ensure nothing needs taken care of here before meeting him at the Hall."
Steve nodded. "Of course," he said. "I'll check in with everyone and pack a bag."
"Good," Chaosti said. He turned to Kono and leaned in to press a kiss to her cheek before addressing Steve again. "I'll make sure that Helene knows you are all coming and to have your rooms readied."
"Thank you, Chaosti," Steve said, falling on informality now that the formal messages had been passed. "Do you have time to have a drink at the Tavern?"
Chaosti shook his head. "Unfortunately, no," he said. "I'm just here to deliver my messages. I must return to Dea al Mon. I will see you in a couple days at the Hall after Gabrielle and I arrive."
Saying nothing, Steve simply bowed to Chaosti, a courtesy that was returned before the Dea al Mon male turned and walked a few yards away where he could catch the Winds to take him to his home territory.
Turning to look at Chin and Kono, Steve gave them a smile. "Do you both have time for a drink before I get to work and we head to the Hall?"
“We’d be honored,” Chin said. Steve inclined his head and offered his left hand to Kono, smiling softly as the Black Widow placed her hand on top of his.
*Prince, when are you going to officially stake a claim?* Chin asked on a spear thread, amusement lacing his tone.
Steve flicked a glance to Chin before responding, ensuring that their spear thread was very tight as he answered. *Your cousin is a talented Black Widow who is training with the Lady and her Coven. What right do I have to even think of making a claim?*
*As if you truly need to ask that,* Chin said.
*I’m not Dea al Mon,* Steve pointed out.
*No, at least not by lineage,* Chin said. There was a mild cryptic-ness to his tone that had Steve glancing at him curiously. Obviously not intending to elaborate further, Steve focused on leading the cousins into the Tavern for lunch before heading to the Hall.
*She’s going to snap a muscle if she shakes any harder,* Lucivar sent on a spear thread to his father, Saetan SaDiablo, also known as the High Lord of Hell. He was also Steward of the Dark Court.
*She is the lightest Jewel in this room and has a daughter to protect, of course she is shaking,* Saetan said dryly. His gold gaze shifted to where Danny stood nearby. *What do you think of him?*
Lucivar’s gaze also shifted to Danny, a soft frown forming. *I admit that I am not sure. I do not think he is a threat, but there’s a lingering anger and fear that I can’t pinpoint. I’m taking a chance here, Father. I’ve made some mistakes and I worry this is one of them. It’s why I immediately brought these three here.*
*You have good instincts, Lucivar. Don’t doubt them because of a couple mistakes. You are growing into your instincts more and more,* Saetan said to his son.
*Maybe, but I trust Jaenelle’s more,* Lucivar said. There was nothing that Saetan could say in response, because even he trusted Jaenelle’s instincts more. And they both were not ones to go against their Queen in instances such as this.
As they watched, Jaenelle Angelline, the living myth, Dreams Made Flesh, Witch and the Queen of Ebon Askavi circled Rachel and Grace first. They noted that Danny was tense as she did so, obviously ignoring him as she studied the two females. The more Jaenelle studied, the more Danny tensed. However, one wrong move on his part would result in the two strongest males in the Realm coming down on him.
Rachel shifted a little uncomfortably, feeling the tensions in the room. She tried to keep from shaking as Jaenelle stepped up to her, looking into her eyes. She found herself getting lost in the depths of deep sapphire, feeling a dark well of power floating towards her inner webs yet she had no desire to flee. It was almost like an embrace and cleansing in a way.
“Do you fear me?” Jaenelle asked quietly in a midnight voice.
“No, Lady,” Rachel said shakily, but honestly.
“Will he warm your bed?” Jaenelle asked, her voice still very quiet.
Too much hesitation gripped Rachel. She wanted Danny with her, but she didn’t know the protocol of Kaeleer or being in the presence of the Queen. Instead of affirming, Rachel slowly shook her head.
The careful balance Danny had been walking near the killing edge quickly slipped away as his arms went slack at his side and he stared at Rachel’s back. He wouldn’t cry, not in front of the other Warlord Princes, but oh how he wanted to. Rachel’s words ripped open a wound that had been slowly forming and he saw his future splintering.
“Rach...” His voice, damn his voice, had cracked just a little.
Jaenelle’s eyes never left Rachel’s, Saetan noticed. He felt his own heart constrict when Danny said her name. How often had he stood on that fragile edge of emotion when a woman he thought he could love held so much power, especially when a child was involved? It was a sorrow he silently felt for Lucivar, though he knew that his son would never face that pain. There was no fear between Marian and Lucivar, only the purest love two people could have.
“Welcome to Kaeleer,” Jaenelle said. “A suite will be arranged in the Hall while you are here before Prince Yaslana takes you to Ebon Rih.”
“Thank you, Lady,” Rachel said, obvious relief in her voice.
“Lord Khardeen?” Jaenelle called. Danny noted the Sapphire-Jeweled Warlord for the first time as he seemed to slip out of the shadows. He gave a small bow to Jaenelle. “Please escort Lady Rachel and Lady Grace to the suite that Helene has set up.”
“Of course, Lady,” Khary said. Under most circumstances, it’s not something he would have noticed, but Danny saw the Warlord flicker a gaze to him after a moment’s hesitation before leading Rachel and Grace from the room. His muscles bunched and he wanted to sprint after them and gather them to him without letting go. Only pure survival instinct kept him from moving at all.
“It is not you she fears, Prince,” Jaenelle said after a long moment of silence, ensuring that Khary had escorted Rachel and Grace from the room.
“I’m not going anywhere, Lady,” Danny snapped. “I’m not going back to Terreille.”
“Mind your place, boyo,” Lucivar growled. His growl quieted as Jaenelle glanced at him. Her attention returned to Danny.
“I never said you were,” she said. “But I did want a moment to speak to you before Khary returned to escort you to the suite.”
Danny blinked. “But...”
“In some cases, a lie would lead to a witch being brought to the Abyss and broken back to basic Craft for the lie told,” Jaenelle said. “However, in this instance I am making an exception because it was not a lie intended to hurt maliciously. It was a lie told out of fear and uncertainty.”
“I don’t understand,” Danny said.
“She loves you, Prince. She does not fear you,” Jaenelle said. “She wants you in her bed, but she did not know if it was acceptable to state such so she lied when I asked her.” She walked over to Danny and tapped a long, black-tinted nail on his chest.
“However, your emotions are too jumbled to be any good to her right now. My suggestion to you is to find something to do. I’m sure that there is some wood that needs chopping that Prince Yaslana or the other boyos haven’t gotten to yet where you can work off that energy while your lady tries to find her bearings here.”
“You aren’t sending me back to Terreille?” It had to be asked because he felt like the ground was going to give way under him.
“I welcomed you to Kaeleer, Prince,” Jaenelle said. “No, I am not sending you back to Terreille.” And it was that simple.
“Thank you, Lady,” he said quietly. Once she stepped back, Danny bowed to her. His gaze shifted to the entryway of the room as Khary arrived again. With one last glance at Saetan and Lucivar as well, Danny followed the Warlord out of the room.
“Cat, are you sure about what you said?” Lucivar questioned after they were gone.
“She doesn’t fear him,” Jaenelle said. She turned to look at her father and brother. “Oh she has a healthy dose of wariness because she is uncertain of how to fully deal with a Warlord Prince, but she does not fear him. Her fear was that she would not be allowed in Kaeleer. Her fear was that her daughter would end up butchered when she was older or that he would be killed protecting them.”
“And what of him?” Saetan asked.
“Ah... now he fears her,” Jaenelle said. Lucivar and Saetan exchanged looks before glancing at their Queen.
“Explain?” Saetan said.
“Things have not been easy since the birth of their daughter,” Jaenelle said. “That’s when her fear of things fully took grip and it’s caused many arguments. They’ve gotten bad enough, and after her initial denial of wanting him in her bed, he fears that perhaps she does not love him. And he fears that paternity will be denied at the girl’s Birthright ceremony and he’ll lose them both.”
Saetan and Lucivar glanced at one another, concern mirroring in their features. But Jaenelle’s next words stopped them short.
“They don’t know their daughter’s a Queen.” Their heads jerked around to look at her.
“What?” Saetan voiced.
“Or rather, I should say, *he* does not know his daughter is a Queen,” Jaenelle said. “I think Lady Rachel has an inkling, which is why she feared so much for her daughter remaining in Terreille. And do you blame her?”
“No,” Lucivar said, a heavy sigh escaping. “Why does it always seem that this lands in our laps?”
“We’re the strongest beings in this Realm and Jaenelle rules. As her males, it falls to us as well,” Saetan quipped, his eyes on his daughter.
“Plus the Lady is from a hunted race,” Jaenelle pointed out.
“So she really is Shaladoran?” Saetan asked.
Jaenelle nodded. “She is.”
“He’s obviously not,” Lucivar said.
Jaenelle gave a slightly ironic, mildly painful smile. “Prince Williams is from Chaillot.”
After arriving at the Hall, Steve escorted Kono to her room, leaving her to unpack as he headed to his suite to do the same. He could sense the new arrivals that Lucivar had brought. There weren’t many and he didn’t sense another Black. Which means Yaslana didn’t find who he was looking for, just as I suspected when Chaosti mentioned the fair was not as successful as he had hoped, he thought to himself as he walked down the hall after unpacking. Quick reflexes allowed him to dodge the bullet of a dark-haired girl that almost barreled into him.
“Grace!” a female voice said sharply. Steve lifted blue eyes from the little dark haired girl to see a woman she greatly resembled coming towards them. She had the most interesting coloring with her golden skin and bright green eyes.
Rachel slowed, watching Steve almost warily but not quite. She paused and curtsied to him. “Prince,” she said.
Steve bowed. “Lady,” he said.
“I apologize for my daughter,” Rachel said. “We were just--.”
“Get the Hell away from them,” an almost inhuman snarl came from just behind Rachel.
Steve’s eyes glazed slightly and he straightened to look past the dark-haired woman’s shoulder to look at his rival. A red haze fell over his eyes as he stared at the other Warlord Prince that was moving towards him with a predator’s grace. A quick glance to the Jewels showed that Steve outranked him and he would decimate the other man. But the ensuing battle would be a blood bath.
“Danny,” Rachel said, trying to stop the killing that was going to occur as she sensed both men were immediately on the killing edge towards one another.
Danny didn’t even hear her, too focused on Steve standing too close to his lover and his daughter, especially when Steve put himself between Danny and them. His Sapphire jewel began to glow as he moved towards him, calling in a blade.
“You don’t want to go up against me, boyo,” Steve growled, calling in a large blade himself, one not nearly as large as the Eyrien warblades, but closer to their hunting knives.
“Get the Hell away from them,” Danny snarled again. “I’ll gut you, you heartless son of a whoring bitch if you dare touch them.”
“I considered going easy on you ‘til you insulted my mother,” Steve said too calmly, too softly. Ice was starting to coat the walls of the hall and the banister of the nearby staircase.
“Your jewels may outrank mine, but I won’t go down without a fight,” Danny said, facing off with him.
The world was such a haze around the two men, that neither heard Rachel yelling, trying to get them to stop. Neither saw Grace clinging to her mother and crying, calling the name ‘Danno’. Neither heard the race of footsteps as members of the Dark Court hurried to where they were. Neither heard Kono and Chin racing from the other end of the hall, calling Steve’s name. Neither heard or noticed anything until...
Steve hesitated, Danny didn’t move.
“Princes, ATTEND.” There was just enough thunder in that midnight voice and dark power flowed over them to knock both men back from the killing edge. As the red haze slipped from his gaze, Steve noticed pain in his shoulder and turned, seeing Lucivar gripping him hard. He also saw Mephis SaDiablo and Chaosti gripping Danny’s arms. Kono had moved to Rachel and Grace, soothing them both as Rachel glared slightly at Danny.
“Prince Yaslana,” Jaenelle said in a formal tone.
“Yes, Lady,” Lucivar said.
“Take care of Prince McGarrett and report the punishment to the Steward and Master of the Guard,” Jaenelle said. “Prince Williams, you will see to Lady Rachel and Lady Grace. I will discuss with the Steward and the Master of the Guard what the appropriate punishment will be.”
“Lady,” Lucivar said. “If I may, Prince Williams signed a contract with me. I believe I should assign punishment to him.”
Jaenelle was too quiet and for a moment, Lucivar thought she would overrule him, but her sapphire eyes shifted from the two younger Warlord Princes to look at him. “You will report to the Steward and Master of the Guard your decision?”
“Of course, Lady,” he said.
“Very well.” She stared at the two men. “This will not happen again.” She said nothing more as she turned on her heel and walked down the hall to the stairs. No one moved, no one said anything until they couldn’t see her or fully sense her.
Saetan looked at Lucivar. *Handle this, Prince. Or she will.* Lucivar gave a curt nod. His father turned around and walked away from what could have been a killing field.
Lucivar focused and pointed at Danny where he still stood in Mephis and Chaosti’s grips. “You heard the Lady,” he said. “See to your lady and daughter. Once punishment has been determined, you will be informed.”
Danny started to speak, but a hard grip on his right arm had him glancing at the dark-haired Gray-jeweled Warlord Prince holding him. Seeing the fury that was brewing beneath his face and the other Gray-jeweled Warlord Prince that was holding his other arm, as well as Lucivar, he decided to keep his mouth shut. He stepped away from the men and moved towards Rachel and Grace. He nodded to Kono, leading Rachel and Grace into their suite. Danny wasn’t going to question or wonder why the one Warlord Prince was one of the demon dead he thought didn’t exist.
Once the door was shut, Lucivar looked at Steve. “Outside. Now.” Steve took a breath and bowed, turning to head down the stairs. He glanced briefly and saw the shuttered expression on Kono’s face as he passed her. Damn, he thought to himself.
"What the Hell was going through your head, Prince?" Lucivar demanded of Steve once he had gotten him outside. Sometimes facing off with an irate Yaslana was worse than the times he had faced off with his irate father. Of course, your father wasn't an Eyrien Warlord Prince who wore Ebon-gray jewels and was your superior either, he reminded himself.
"He started it," Steve said, but even to his own ears it sounded childish and lame. Lucivar's responding snort seemed to agree with the assessment.
"Boyo, that shit didn't fly with my father when I am sure I tried to use it when Daemon and I scuffled when we were snot nosed brats," Lucivar said. "It sure as hell isn't going to work with me about two full grown Warlord Princes who should damn well know better."
"My intent wasn't to fight," Steve snapped. "Or to have a pissing contest."
"Then what was your intent?" Lucivar demanded.
"I didn't have one!" Steve shouted. The chill he suddenly felt had him taking a calming breath and running his fingers through his hair as he forced himself to reign in his temper.
"The little Queen was racing down the hall," Steve said. "And only my reflexes kept me from colliding with her. Her mother was following her and we were simply exchanging apologies when he came roaring in and demanded I get away from them. He's an unknown Warlord Prince, it was instinct."
"And your instincts are usually a lot better than that, Steve," Lucivar said, hot anger replacing the cold chill. He let out his own sigh as his fingers slipped through his shoulder length, black hair. "All right. Look. Prince Williams is protective of the Healer and the little Queen. There's no marriage, but they are lovers and the girl is his daughter. He doesn't know Protocol--."
"He doesn't know Protocol?!"
Lucivar eyed Steve so long that the lighter Jeweled male started to get quite squirmy. "Yet," Lucivar finished. "So that's where you come in."
"Me?" It was all but a squeak and Steve cursed the lazy grin that formed on Lucivar's face.
"Yes, you," he said. "I'll praise you for coming to the defense of the girl and her mother when a Warlord Prince came flying at you."
"Thanks," Steven murmured, but somehow it felt hollow.
"But I refuse to tolerate you bringing it to a head in the halls of the Hall," Lucivar said. "So for that, you are assigned extra guard duty for the next week."
Steven said nothing. Under the circumstances, it was a fair punishment. And he was lucky he wasn't facing off with the Steward, Master of the Guard or the Queen. Or worse, all three.
"And it'll be your responsibility to ensure Prince Williams settles in Kaeleer."
Okay, maybe it wasn't fair.
Steve's head snapped up to focus on Lucivar's expression. "You want me to what?"
"You heard me, boyo," Lucivar said. "You wear darker Jewels, so you'll be able to wrangle him in if need be." He straightened, cocking his hip and hooking his thumbs into the wide leather belt he wore. "And you'll teach him proper Protocol."
Lucivar smirked and shook his head. "Steve, you are a good man and a good Warlord Prince. But if your temper is going to constantly scrape against Princes Williams', then we need to hash it out now. By law, he has to serve the Warlord Prince of Ebon Rih for the next five years to remain here. I can see about shifting his contract elsewhere, but I'd rather not. There's potential there, even Jaenelle says so. He just needs some polishing."
"You are one to talk about polishing," Steve quipped, but it was teasing and Lucivar knew it. Otherwise Steve's throat would be missing.
"That's why you are going to teach him about Protocol," Lucivar said with an arrogant grin.
"Oh yes, because I'm so polished," Steve said.
"No, but I outrank you," Lucivar said. "So have fun." Lucivar reached over to pat Steve's shoulder before turning. "First thing is to tell your new student." And then he disappeared around the corner to go inform the Steward, Master of the Guard and his Queen the punishment he'd delivered to his second-in-command, and essentially the punishment he was extending to Danny as well.
Steve watched him go and was silent for a long time, just staring after where Lucivar had been. Finally he shook his head, mumbling to himself.
"That's going to go over like a ton of bricks."
“Can we not argue about this?” Danny asked Rachel as she paced back and forth. “Grace--.”
“Is terrified out of her mind,” Rachel snapped. “And who’s fault is that?!”
“He--,” Danny started.
“Almost got run down by Grace and I was apologizing to him for that,” Rachel cut him off. “And you come roaring in as if he was going to throw me up against a wall and rape me, then break our daughter!”
“Do I get a damn word in edgewise in this?!” Danny demanded. “Rachel, I am a Warlord Prince. He is a Warlord Prince. He was standing too close to you and Grace. Instinct overruled everything!”
“Then you need to curb your damned instinct!” Rachel snapped. “I am tired of this, Daniel. I am tired of feeling like I walk this sharp fine line with you.”
Danny felt his heart drop. “What are you saying?”
Rachel let out a breath. “I love you, Danny, I do,” she said quietly. “But we need to find some sort of compromise. I can’t feel like I am going to set you off if I apologize for something Grace did or if I even say hi to someone. This isn’t Terreille.”
“I know this--,” Danny started but growled slightly as a knock sounded on the door. A quick probe and he felt his anger starting to rise as he sensed the other Warlord Prince. Remembering the reaction of Yaslana and the Lady, he quickly pushed that anger down. He turned and walked over to the door, trying to make sure that ice didn’t coat the door as he stared at Steve.
“What do you want?” he asked.
“Mind your place, Prince,” Steve growled. “I outrank you in many ways.”
“So you wear the Red jewels. You aren’t that much--,” Danny started.
“I’m Prince Yaslana’s second-in-command and he owns your contract, boyo,” Steve said. “I definitely outrank you.” He smirked when Danny cursed quite creatively.
“Daniel?” Rachel asked.
“May I come in?” Steve asked.
“Can’t say no now, can I?” Danny said sarcastically, stepping aside to let Steve enter the suite.
“You could, but then you’d have to deal with Yaslana,” Steve said, stepping in. “Trust me. Right now, you do not want to deal with him.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Danny said. “What do you want?”
“Daniel!” Rachel said sharply.
“To start over,” Steve said. “And tell you Yaslana’s ruling.”
“I am not going back to Terreille,” Danny snapped.
Steve gave him an odd look and shook his head. “Why the Hell would you think that is your punishment?” he questioned.
“Why not?” Danny asked.
“Because despite what you heard of Yaslana’s reputation when he was in Terreille, he’s a fair and honorable man,” Steve said. “Sending you back to Terreille after the Lady welcomed you to Kaeleer would be rather dishonorable.”
“Then what is this ruling?” Danny asked.
“You lack training in Protocol,” Steve said. “You are going to start training with me and take guard duty with me.”
“I know Protocol,” Danny snapped. “I’m not an idiot.”
“While I consider that debatable,” Steve said, smirking at Danny’s growl. “You don’t know Protocol. Whatever you learned in Terreille is bullshit they try to pass as Protocol and will not work here. And your ignorance of it will only work for so long while here, especially with the men of the Lady’s First Circle.”
“I am not disobedient,” Danny growled.
“Obedience is not the first rule of Protocol,” Steve returned his growl. “Though right now I wish it were. Are you going to shut up and let me talk?”
Danny gave a long suffering sigh, crossing his arms over his chest. “Fine. Talk.”
“Danno, be nice!” Grace said sternly from the door that led into her room. Surprised, he turned to look at his daughter. Steve looked as well and tried not to laugh at the little Queen as she stood there, her little hands firmly placed on her hips and her brown eyes staring at her father.
“Wait... Danno?” Steve asked, amusement in his tone.
“Grace’s nickname for her father,” Rachel explained.
“Really,” Steve said. The tone in which he said it had Danny whipping his head back to Steve so fast, that the other man thought he’d pull something from the swift action.
“No,” he said sternly. “You do not get to call me anything but Prince Williams or Danny. Preferably Prince Williams because only friends call me Danny and you are not a friend.”
“Danno!” Grace said.
“Grace,” Rachel said.
“I like him, Mama,” Grace said. “And I want Papa to be nice to him.”
“Grace, you don’t understand,” Danny started to say.
“Be nice to him, Danno. He’s a good Prince,” Grace said firmly. “The Lady says so.”
And there wasn’t much he could say to that. As much as he wanted to even attempt to fight it, he was drawn to Jaenelle Angelline. Not in the same way as he was drawn to Rachel, but he knew that if she asked him, Danny would lay his life down for Jaenelle. If *Grace* was saying that the Lady told her that Steve was a good Warlord Prince... well there wasn’t much Danny could do even if he didn’t like him.
“All right, monkey,” Danny said. “I will be nice.” But I’ll choke on it every time I have to be, he thought silently. Or maybe not so silently as he saw the knowing smirk on Steve’s face. All he wanted to do was wipe that smug look off his face.
“So what punishment does Daniel have to face again?” Rachel asked. As much as she hated to think that the Lady was capable, she remembered well how Queens punished anyone in Terreille.
“Prince Williams will be assigned to extra guard duty for the next week,” Steve said.
“Doesn’t sound so--.”
“With me,” Steve finished.
“Bad... I was wrong,” Danny also finished and grumbled.
“You’ll also learn Protocol from me,” Steve said.
Danny stiffened and shook his head. “I told you that I know Protocol,” he snapped. “I won’t be insulted and say that I don’t know it.”
“Boyo, you need to listen and listen good,” Steve said, his voice hardening. “To quote something I’ve heard Lucivar say, for every five rules you learned in Terreille about the proper behavior of a male in a court, the Blood here in Kaeleer know only one and it’s interpreted very differently.”
“Enlighten me, sunshine,” Danny said, earning a glare from Rachel.
“For Blood males, the first law is to honor, cherish and protect. Second is serve and the third is obey. Should obedience interfere with those first two, then you chuck it right out the window,” Steve said.
“How in the name of Hell does someone get away with that?” Danny demanded. “That makes no sense. You’d be lucky to make it out of a situation alive if you dare take that stance in Terreille.”
“But this isn’t Terreille,” Steve said. “And that’s all I’ll go into now. The Lady gave you instructions, if I remember right. Take care of your lady and your daughter.”
“Yes, of course,” Danny said, but there was sarcasm in his tone and annoyance at his dismissal in his own suite.
“You’ll be expected at training tomorrow, bright and early,” Steve said. “Once you eat and shower after that, I’ll collect you for our first lesson.” Danny gave him a mock salute, earning him a mental jab from Rachel. Steve bowed to Rachel and Grace before turning and leaving the suite. As he stepped into the hall, he glanced down a few doors and realized that he had someone else that he had to go talk to. Taking a deep breath, he decided he needed to go get some fudge first.
Chin Ho watched his cousin prowl around her suite. It was rare to see Kono so agitated. By their very caste, Black Windows tended to be more eccentric and fidgety. There were only a few that he had met that weren’t fully consumed by the visions that they could see. His cousin and Queen, Gabrielle, the Lady Karla from Glacia and the Lady were amongst them. He had thought that perhaps the reason that those three were not fully consumed was because they had two other castes that kept them focused, those of Queen and Healer. Kono, however, had nothing else to focus her energies on, but she had never shown the same actions of other Black Widows. That driving need that the visions gave her seemed to be lacking. He knew she was a strong Black Widow, so it wasn’t diminished strength. He had started to believe that it was the presence of the other three Black Widows and their training on her that influenced much of Kono’s ability to control how erratic things could be for her caste.
But now she was prowling the room in a way he had seen the Lady Tersa do, often when she was being consumed by a vision in a tangled web that hadn’t fully formed yet. If it wasn’t for the anger that was wafting off of his cousin, he would have thought a particularly strong web was forming in her mind. Chin was glad that the anger was not directed at him; and felt sorry for the Warlord Prince that the anger was directed at. The anger that was increasing with each step of a foot on the soft carpet in Kono’s suite.
“Of all the stupid, arrogant MALE things to do,” Kono finally snapped out. She had been having similar outbursts since he had gathered her to bring her to her suite after the incident in the hallway with Steve and the other Warlord Prince. A quick discussion with Chaosti and Mephis had informed him that the Prince was Danny Williams, an immigrant from Terreille who came through the service fair with his lover and their daughter, the Healer and the little Queen that Steve had put himself between.
“He thought they were in danger,” Chin ventured to say, arching a brow as Kono hissed at him and continued her pacing. “Cousin, why are you upset with him?”
“Because he’s an idiot!” Kono snapped.
Chin felt anger bubbling beneath the surface on behalf of his Brother. He let some of that anger burst out, causing Kono to jump when an insignificant vase near her shattered. He leashed it just as quickly, but was very satisfied he now had her attention. And her wariness.
“Do not insult the man for doing the very thing that is ingrained within him as it is within me,” Chin said. “A Warlord Prince defends and protects. Considering how many you are associated with, and related to, you should know better than to question the idiocy of one.”
Gracefully rising, Chin walked over to his cousin. He reached over and gently took her shoulders, stilling the erratic movement. And he prayed to the Darkness that she wouldn’t curl her hands around his wrists and dig her long, black-tinted nails, and her snake tooth, into his skin in her anger.
“Want to tell me why you are really upset with him?” he said gently. The way Kono ducked her eyes and tried to avoid the question merely piqued Chin’s curiosity. He knew that Kono was drawn to Steve, but had never questioned her feelings further because she didn’t want her to close off the potential for something with the man.
“It’s stupid,” Kono murmured, shifting her feet.
Without thought, Chin wove a soothing spell around his cousin as he rubbed her arms. “It’s not stupid, just tell me.” He tried not to give her an innocent smile when she offered him a glare the moment she detected the spell. Thankfully, she chose to focus on what he said instead.
“I thought... well I thought...” Kono bit her lip. “I thought he had feelings for me.”
“You were jealous,” Chin said, realization dawning. An embarrassed duck of her head was all the answer that he could have gotten. “Kono, why don’t you tell him?”
“I don’t have that right,” Kono said. “He deserves to be with a Queen. I’m just a Black Widow.”
There was a flash of temper from him that was quickly leashed, but the look on Kono’s face told him that she felt it all the same. He had to suppose that was not unusual. While he and his cousin were the same Jewel of Rank, her power was just that side of darker than his because she had descended a full three ranks in strength during her Offering, whereas he had only descended two ranks during his. It was something that never bothered him and never would, but it did make it annoying in times like this when he tried to leash his temper quickly without her detection.
“He deserves to be with a Queen,” Kono said again.
“Hell’s Fire, Kono, that’s insane,” Chin said. “And you know it is.”
“How is it insane?” Kono asked, breaking away from her cousin’s hold. “He’s a Warlord Prince--.”
“I know that.”
“And he should serve a Queen,” Kono said.
“He already does, two in fact. Mother Night, he actually serves ten if you think about it,” Chin said. “Just like I do.”
“I meant--,” Kono started.
“I know what you meant,” Chin interrupted. “And you need to listen. Yes, Warlord Princes are drawn to Queens. It’s our inherent nature, but it doesn’t always mean that we are drawn to a Queen in the same ways. Look at Lucivar. He’s drawn to the Lady because he is hers, but that love is not at all romantic. And the one he does love is not a Queen, if you didn’t notice.”
“No buts, cousin,” Chin said. “What McGarrett deserves is to find a woman that can understand his nature and still love him regardless. Perhaps even moreso because she does understand. It’s what we all deserve, especially Warlord Princes.”
Like to like. Kono looked at her cousin and realized that everything he just said that Steve deserved is what *he* also wanted, and deserved, for himself. Something she thought he had been working towards with Malia, a Dharo healer, but it seemed that things had fizzled out there. While he tried to keep a brave face, Kono felt the heartbreak in her cousin. There were times she wanted to go to Dharo and demand from Malia why she had ended things. Maybe it was time she did. She had a feeling that Chin Ho still had feelings for her, even though another of their people, Lauraelle, had been showing interest in her cousin of late.
“Don’t get any ideas, cousin,” Chin said, pulling Kono out of her thoughts. She lifted innocent dark eyes to him, a brow arching in question.
“No matchmaking,” Chin said. “And no going to Dharo to talk to Malia. Things are done there.”
“I just don’t understand,” Kono said. “Why she ended things with you. Especially when you needed her most. When they tried to claim you stole from that Queen.”
“It’s not important. What’s done is done,” Chin said, his jaw tightening. “Now get some rest. I’m sure McGarrett will be by later to see you.”
“Why do you...” she trailed off. He didn’t need to answer that question. Because if it had been Chin Ho in Steve’s shoes, he would be going through the same motions.
It took every ounce of strength that Danny had to not groan as he walked alongside Steve as they began their morning sentry duties the next day. He glanced sideways at the man, noting that he didn’t seem at all phased by the workout they had endured just a couple hours ago. No wonder he got along with Yaslana so well.
“So tell me something,” he said, breaking the silence. “Because I really want to, you know, not have my throat ripped out.” Steve smirked, having an idea where this was leading. “But why does Yaslana insist on the women joining us? Rachel looked ready to bolt.”
“Probably because she was,” Steve said. “And that’s the gut instinct most of the females have the first time they are at morning workouts.”
“That doesn’t answer the question, though,” Danny said.
“Lucivar’s insistent about the women knowing at least basic self-defense,” Steve explained. “He’s of the opinion that just because a woman has breasts instead of a cock, it doesn’t mean they are weaker then us. Males are physically stronger, but a woman provoked is a helluva lot more vicious then any male could hope to be. Lucivar figures that a woman, properly trained, can at least hold off even the strongest of Eyrien males until a male she trusts can get to them to handle the situation.”
“And if a male can’t get to them?” Danny asked quietly.
“In a situation like that, the female is dead regardless,” Steve admitted just as quietly. A dark smirk quirked the corner of his mouth. “But at least she’ll take a good chunk of flesh out of the bastard before she goes down.”
“So Yaslana would rather a woman go down fighting if she’s going to go down at all?” Danny asked.
“Yes,” Steve said. “A mother, by pure nature of protecting her offspring, will fight. Trained or not trained. She’ll go down in an effort to see that her child can escape if it’s possible. A young woman without a child or barely at the cusp of womanhood won’t have those instincts. So it has to be trained into them.”
“How does the High Lord feel about that kind of attitude?” Danny had to ask.
“The High Lord is behind Lucivar’s viewpoint all the way, especially as the Steward. And the Master of the Guard is right there as well,” Steve said. “Even more because the Queen also insists.”
“After seeing them go at it, I can understand why,” Danny admitted grudgingly. Everyone in Terreille knew of the reputation Lucivar Yaslana had gained as a warrior. Even after he had become a pleasure slave, few would truly provoke Yaslana into an all out physical altercation. He had seen that reputation reinforced that morning as he saw him spar with the other males. To then see a woman as slight as Jaenelle Angelline go up against the Eyrien Warlord Prince and make him *work* for every move he made in challenge was damned humbling.
“Lady Angelline is unique, that much is very true,” Steve said. “But even Lucivar’s wife is pretty skilled.”
Danny had to blink. He had seen the lovely Eyrien when she joined the women, even saw her briefly working with Rachel. He knew how ingrained it was in an Eyrien female’s mind that the men were the warriors. She was even skilled?
“How skilled?” he asked cautiously.
“She carries a modified hunting knife now,” Steve said. “Which she can call in and use with deadly precision if needed. Her first weapon was a skillet, however.”
Danny stopped dead in his tracks. He stared at Steve, an eyebrow inching towards his hairline. “A... skillet?”
Steve stopped and turned. “Yes.”
Danny watched him a moment before laughing slightly and lifting his finger to point at the man. “Funny,” he said. “You actually had me going there.” He turned and started down the path, pausing when Steve spoke.
“I wouldn’t find it too amusing if it wasn’t for the fact that she can break bone nine times out of ten when using that thing.”
Danny very slowly turned and studied the other Warlord Prince. He was waiting for a punchline; for Steve to suddenly start laughing. He was difficult to read, but Danny was pretty sure that he was being completely serious.
“Seriously?” Danny asked.
“Marian is a hearth witch,” Steve said. “It made sense for Lucivar to teach her how to use the very tools she is most comfortable with as weapons.”
“But you said she carries a hunting knife now,” Danny said.
“Yes,” Steve said. “Only because it has a sheath for when it’s not in use. But the weight and design is very similar to that of a standard kitchen knife that Marian is used to using while cooking.”
“How... did she react when Yaslana told her she was going to learn how to fight?” Danny asked.
“I wasn’t here when it happened, but from what I have been told, if she could have caved Lucivar’s skull in with the skillet, she would have,” Steve said. Danny studied the man a moment. There was obvious affection in his tone for the Eyrien woman, amusement as well. Was this what life was going to be like here? Was this the life his daughter would grow up with? Strong males to protect her, strong females to help her grow and learning to fight as physically well as he could, but still being the very life of the men around her? He felt suddenly swamped with emotions that he couldn’t vocalize.
“So... protocol in Kaeleer...” Danny said, shifting the conversation back to something that wouldn’t fray his emotions. At least the emotions that would turn him into a wibbling mess. It was very possible that his anger and frustration were destined to fray otherwise.
“Protocol in Kaeleer is very different from whatever is taught in Terreille,” Steve said, falling into step with Danny again. “It’s been twisted and manipulated so that tainted females, like Dorothea SaDiablo, can mold her pet witches and her males into a bloated, mutated version of who the Blood truly are.”
“What about men like Yaslana and myself? We grew up in Terreille?” Danny asked.
“You are one of the few males who, obviously, still believe in what the Blood are supposed to be,” Steve said. “Lucivar was around his father enough as a child to have the male’s code of honor instilled in him so that even when he was thrust into the twisted games of the Terreillean courts, he remained who he was.”
“I thought...” Danny started, frowning a bit.
“That he was a bastard?” Steve asked. After Danny nodded, he continued. “I don’t know all the details, but from what I understand that while Prythian claimed him and denied paternity, the same time as his brother with Dorothea, both Sadi and Yaslana were registered at the Keep.”
“Oh...” That put a few spin on things, even his perspective and fears.
“You met the High Lord, didn’t that clue you in?” Steve had to ask.
“So much hinges on the Birthright ceremony though,” Danny said. “And Yaslana doesn’t seem the type to just let something go, so if he had the chance to find out who his father was...”
“I’ll give you that,” Steve said. “But if the High Lord was denied paternity, by Blood right he would continue to do so.”
“Obviously he’s not holding to Blood right,” Danny pointed out.
“Oh he did. He had to,” Steve said. “Lucivar is over 1700 years old. And wasn’t reunited with his father until almost 8 years ago.”
“Yeah,” Steve said as they approached a nearby bridge. Steve’s mouth curved upwards at the corner as they got closer and he took note of the lovely dark-haired woman that was walking towards them.
“Good morning, Prince McGarrett,” she said, hooking her dark hair behind her ears. Danny noticed how they came to a gentle point, much like the Dea al Mon he had met earlier that day at the workout session.
“Lady Lauraelle,” Steve said, bowing slightly to her. “This is Prince Daniel Williams. He has a contract with Prince Yaslana.” Danny bowed to her.
“From Terreille, I take it?” Lauraelle questioned.
“Yes,” Danny said. His voice was tight, wondering if this woman was condemning him before even getting to know him. He forced himself to not flush with embarrassment as he saw her eyebrow inch towards her dark hairline and also noted the too-knowing look that Steve was now giving him.
“Welcome to Kaeleer,” Lauraelle finally said.
“Thanks,” Danny murmured. He wanted to find the words to apologize for his rather cool response, but didn’t even know where to begin.
“Lauraelle is from the Dea la Mon, in fact the same village as Lady Kono and Prince Chin Ho,” Steve explained. “But she’s also a liasion with the Dark Council in Little Terreille.”
Lauraelle had to laugh lightly at the look on Danny’s face. “You are welcome to give me your condolences now rather than later,” she quipped. “It’s not always the easiest of tasks, but I like to think I am a good go-between for my Queen.”
Danny coughed a little, shifting where he stood. “I uh... didn’t mean to...”
“No, don’t apologize,” she said, giving him a reassuring smile. “It’s no secret that there is no love lost, for the most part, between the Dark Council and the rest of the Realm. Especially those associated with the Dark Court.”
“Are things that bad?” Danny had to ask.
“Let’s just say that there are a number of Terreilleans that couldn’t, or wouldn’t, learn to adjust to life in Kaeleer. The things that were okay there in many cases are *not* okay here,” Lauraelle said.
“Like what?” Danny asked. “I mean...” He waved his hand a little. “Beyond some pretty obvious things. I get the give and take here between males and females is vastly different then Terreille, but...?”
Lauraelle and Steve exchanged a look before she inclined her head, silently telling Steve to explain. Steve turned and took a moment to gather his thoughts.
“Okay... well perfect example,” he said. “A few years back, a Queen that acquired a taste for being cruel tried to force twelve men to serve her, since none would do so willingly. She had gained eleven lighter-Jeweled males, forcing them to wear a Ring of Obedience. When confronted by a Warlord Prince who was looking for his cousin, she tried to force him to submit to her. He killed her.”
Danny blinked. He took a moment to process that information and, licking his lips, he spoke. “Now... I know that generally there is no law against murder, but he killed a Queen. Was he killed, too?”
“Of course not,” Lauraelle said. “Some were of the mind that he should have restrained her and turned her over to the then ruling Queen of Nharkhava, but the bitch was dumb enough to provoke a Warlord Prince to the killing edge. It was no wonder she ended up dead.”
Danny’s hand came up to pinch at the skin on the bridge of his nose. He could already feel a headache forming. “So... a Warlord Prince kills a Queen and nothing happens to him?”
“Had he killed her simply for sport, or broken her, every male from the surrounding territories would have tracked him down and eliminated him along with those males in the Nharkhava Queen’s Court,” Steve explained. “But since she had forced eleven other males to submit, tried to make *him* submit by using a device not allowed in Kaeleer... it was a justifiable punishment in the end.”
*Mother Night, Mother Night...*
“Okay...,” Danny said. “We definitely need to go over protocol. And by the way, I get the whole he was provoked to the killing edge... but why didn’t Yaslana or Lady Angelline handle it?”
“It happened before Lucivar was even in Kaeleer and well before the Lady set up her court,” Steve said. “So neither had jurisdiction, you would say. Not even the High Lord did. It was in the hands of the Nharkhavan Queen and her Court.”
“Then why does she now? I mean... I get the impression she did anyways,” Danny asked.
“When Lady Angelline set up her Court at Ebon Askavi, the other territory Queens, which make up her Coven and First Circle, yielded to her,” Steve explained. “They still rule and Jaenelle never really interferes, unless she needs to.”
“And if she does?” Danny asked warily. “Like if they are being attacked?”
Steve and Lauraelle exchanged a look. It was Lauraelle who spoke. “Then the entirety of the Dark Court will come crashing down onto the attackers. Among them would be Witch.”
There were times when things said would stick in Danny’s head. Despite the months that had passed since Danny had come to Kaeleer, he clearly remembered the day when Steve and Lauraelle had told him just who Jaenelle Angelline was. During those first few weeks, he had been very wary of her. Until he had his ass handed to him by both Steve and Lucivar for being too wary and causing it to let his guard down.
Since then, he gave her a healthy dose of respect but he had started to feel much more easy in her presence. Especially after discovering that his own little girl was a Queen. How had he never noticed that little fact? She certainly had a Queen’s disposition and already some of the little boys she met were drawn to her like moths to a flame. That had set him on edge some, but Jaenelle had been the one to explain that it was natural. She, herself, had started building her Court at the age of 5 without even realizing. And was just a mere seven years-old, about the age Grace was now, when she met Yaslana and the High Lord.
Danny was grateful when Jaenelle had taken his young daughter under her wing to start her training. At first.
Oh he was still grateful, he knew she would learn the proper ways of the Blood and it would make her a strong, good Queen. But the pure power his daughter was surrounded with day in and day out, not only by the Queen of Ebon Askavi but the Queens of her coven, scared the shit out of Danny just on their quiet days.
Today? The only thing keeping him upright as suppressed female rage rolled over him was his own caste and his Jewels. It would not do to be known as the only Sapphire-Jeweled Warlord Prince to faint because of the rage Queens exhibited. Though he had to admit that he found it slightly comforting to see that even men like the High Lord and Yaslana were pale and shaky in the face of those women.
*Never mind the fact that you are surrounded by the darkest Queens you’ve ever heard of, one of whom is Witch.* Danny mentally told his sub-conscious to shut up and focus on the task at hand.
“Report, Prince,” Jaenelle said in that damnable midnight voice that always made Danny feel like he was going to piss his pants. Thankfully *he* was not the Warlord Prince she was demanding a report from. Though he didn’t envy Chin Ho right now...
“Lady Lauraelle was found near the edge of the border between Little Terreille and Dhemlan,” Chin said. “She was dead.”
“A full kill?” Gabrielle asked.
“Yes, Lady. There wasn’t a whisper of her remaining,” Chin said, sorrow filling his voice at the loss. Danny quickly shifted his mind to a memory of Steve ribbing the Dea al Mon when he had begun to court the lovely woman shortly after Danny had come to Kaeleer with Rachel. Now any future was washed away forever.
“What did you find at the scene?” Jaenelle asked, bringing Danny’s thoughts back to the present.
Chin didn’t even try to cover the shudder that ran through him. He closed his eyes briefly to regain himself before speaking. “All but her face had been burned almost to ash. Her Jewels were nothing and surrounded by melted gold.”
Meaning that whoever had killed her wanted them to know who the victim was.
“What else?” Jaenelle asked too quietly.
Chin’s gaze flickered to where Steve stood, causing the other Warlord Prince to straighten. Danny knew that Steve disliked that gaze as much as Danny himself did. Despite their ribbing and arguments; they had come to be friends and Danny trusted Steve with his daughter and Rachel’s lives.
“There were signs that Prince McGarrett was responsible,” Chin finally said.
Various voices rose around the room, degrees of outrage pouring from some of the women and all of the men. Jaenelle simply lifted her hand.
“You question the signs,” was all she said.
“Of course I que--,” Chin started to say, his own outrage showing. His words cut off when he looked into Jaenelle’s sapphire gaze. He straightened himself, evening his tone.
“Yes, Lady, I question the signs,” he finally said.
“Why?” Saetan questioned.
“They were too perfect,” Chin said. “The kill was too perfect, sending a message. The associating signs to Prince McGarrett were too precise. Too... right.”
“Too perfect,” Chaosti said.
“Too perfect,” Chin confirmed. “We all know Steve. We all know what he is and is not capable of. That makes it easy for us to say this was impossible for him to do. But even those who don’t know him as we do... they would even question what I found. It’s obvious that someone is trying to blame McGarrett for this.”
“But why?” Danny had to ask. “There is no law against murder...”
“No, there isn’t,” Jaenelle says. “But it would bring suspicion and wariness upon him. Any other Court would immediately suspect that Prince McGarrett could not be trusted and when the time came, and it will, for the strike to come at him directly, that suspicion and wariness would cause just enough hesitation to be the end.”
“But this Court?” Danny was certain he knew the answer, but he needed to hear it.
“This Court will defend one of its own until the end,” Lucivar said. “Which means we have some investigating to do.”
“So what’s the next step?” Danny asked.
“This is getting ridicu-- ow!” Danny said as Rachel tightened the bandage on the cut he’d received. It was his own damn fault for it too, but he wasn’t focused on that. They were still trying to find out who was setting Steve up and the only thing they accomplished was a few scuffles with the residents of Little Terreille.
“Tell me about it,” Steve said, pacing the length of Rachel and Danny’s sitting room. “Who the hell would want to frame me for something like this?”
“Someone without brains,” Danny quipped. “Who else?”
“Not necessarily,” Rachel said quietly. Both men turned to her. Her short time in Kaeleer showed in how she straightened and gave both Warlord Princes even looks. Before, she would have cowered in paralyzing fear.
“What do you mean?” Steve asked.
“Whoever is doing this... you don’t know the reason yet,” Rachel said. Both men nodded. “But he’s obviously quite intelligent in order to frame you. Which means that he knows you well enough to do so, plus he’s a strategist which means he could hold, or held, a position of importance at one time. Such as Princes Yaslana.”
“Princes... you mean someone who was possibly a Master of the Guard at one time or the Warlord Prince of a territory,” Steve said.
“Exactly. And someone from a territory you were primarily in for any given of time, where they could learn your patterns enough to make anyone who doesn’t know you the way the Dark Court does suspect you.”
Steve frowned deeply, mulling that over in his mind. Danny looked at Rachel, seeing a new side of her that he never thought he would see. He always suspected that his quiet Healer was just that, but there was a fiery knowledge beneath that quiet demeanour. He realized that her brothers made sure she knew how to fight if necessary, even strategize how to keep herself safe. It was no wonder she had picked up many of the workout forms from Lucivar so quickly. It made Danny love her even more than he already did.
“The question is still who would do this,” Steve said, breaking into Danny’s thoughts. The three adults paused as a tap sounded on Danny and Rachel’s door.
“I got it,” Steve said. He walked over, opening to reveal Chin Ho and Kono. He stepped back to allow the two Dea al Mon in.
“Anything?” Danny asked them.
“Not on my end, but Kono may have something,” Chin said. Gazes shifted to the woman.
“It’s not clear,” Kono said. “The tangled web hasn’t fully given me all I can see yet, but it did tell me that it’s someone from Dea al Mon.”
Danny blinked and straightened. “What? Why? I thought your people had no issues with Steve?”
“They don’t, at least as a whole,” Chin said. “But there is one in a neighboring village of ours that has been trying to make a lot of power plays in recent years. Gaining somewhat of a following, but never enough to allow him to openly defy Gabrielle’s rule or go against Chaosti or the Dark Court.”
“Who?” Danny asked at the same time that Steve said: “Wo Fat.”
Chin nodded to Steve. “Wo Fat.”
“He’s never liked me,” Steve murmured. “Dammit, but why go to these lengths?”
“You aren’t certain it’s him,” Rachel reminded them.
“No, we aren’t,” Steve said, conceding. “I don’t know why he’s had such a grudge against me.”
“You are as close to being Dea al Mon without being one,” Kono said. “And you are close to the Lady and the rest of the Dark Court.”
“So he hates me because of who I associate with?” Steve asked, frowning. “He had his chance to be a part of Gabrielle’s court, but she made that choice. It has nothing to do with me. I didn’t make that choice and had no say in it.”
“Kono is a factor,” Chin said.
Steve whipped his head around so fast, Danny wondered if he had gotten whiplash. *How very interesting...*
“What do you mean Kono is a factor?” Steve said too quietly.
“I’d like to know, too,” Kono said, a frown marring the skin of her forehead.
Chin leveled a gaze at his cousin. “You know why,” he said. “Wo Fat has it in his head that he will have you for his wife.”
“When the sun shines in Hell,” Kono spat out. “That son of a whoring bitch better re--.” Four heads turned towards Steve.
*That sound should not be possible coming from a human throat,* Rachel sent to Danny, a slight quaver to her voice.
*It’s very similar to the one that came out of mine when we first met Steve and he was talking to you and Grace,* Danny sent back. Which told Danny a lot at that very moment.
The cold rage on Steve’s face had Danny putting his arm around Rachel as she shivered. A quick glance to the nearby table showed him that she had good reason to shiver. Ice coated the glasses and the top of the table. If they tried to pour the water in the carafe, he was pretty sure that it would be frozen solid.
“He. What?” Steve said too calmly. Grace came skidding out of her room, eyes wide. She looked between Steve and her parents, finally backing up when Danny sent a command to her mentally to go back into her room and not to come out until he said it was okay. Someone began pounding on the door about then.
“Open this door or I’ll smash it down!” Lucivar’s voice on the other side should have calmed them, but all it did was make them tense. Only Chin felt confident enough to move, but his eyes never left Steve. He slowly opened the door, revealing Chaosti, Lucivar and Gabrielle.
“Prince McGarrett,” Lucivar said, trying to reign his second-in-command to heel.
“Did he touch you?” Steve said, ignoring Lucivar, focusing completely on Kono. Chaosti stiffened, as did Lucivar.
Kono had been rooted to the spot, not ready for how quickly Steve rose to the killing edge. She stared into Steve’s glazed, blue-green eyes. She started to slowly shake her head.
“N--,” her voice croaked and she cleared her throat some. “No, Prince. He never touched me. He’d never dare.”
“Did he try?” Steve asked, still using that too calm voice.
“Prince--,” Lucivar started.
Kono knew she was taking a chance, one touch laid on a Warlord Prince when he was on the killing edge would either send him spiraling into that murderous rage they were capable of, or it would calm him. The level that Steve was at, only two people could even remotely calm him. If what Chin Ho had told her months ago was true about Steve’s interest in her as a woman, she was one of those people. If she wasn’t... there would be a blood bath.
His arm tensed as she laid her small hand against his skin, but Kono simply stared into his eyes as she spoke.
“He didn’t try, he never would try. Too many Warlord Princes would come down on his head if he tried to do anything I did not agree to. And that is if he could even dare to escape the tangled web I could weave into his mind before that,” Kono said softly. “I am not harmed and I am not claimed, Prince.”
The next moments were tense, knowing that Steve would release the rage one way or another. Either via violence or absorbing it into himself. No one knew, either way, what would happen as he stared at Kono’s face.
Finally, they could breathe as they saw the Warlord Prince within step away from the killing edge and Steve once again stood in front of them. He was still intent on Kono and none dared move just yet ‘til he was satisfied, not wanting to risk him snapping the leash she obviously held.
“You’ll tell me if he does,” it was a whispered declaration, not a question. Kono simply nodded before finding herself pressed to Steve’s chest, his arms around her. She felt the residual tension in his body still, knew he needed the contact. And she knew even deeper now what Chin had been subtly been trying to tell her months ago. She was Steve’s as much as he was hers. His Queen was the Lady, just as it was Lucivar’s and he was also Gabrielle’s, but there was a deep resonating call in her Jewel that thrummed from the Abyss, almost as if speaking to his as she felt it pressing against her collarbone while he hugged her; while he clung to her and inhaled her scent to calm himself. The longer he held her in his embrace, the more she felt the anger and tension leaving his body. And she knew. She knew what her dreams had always been telling her. Her dreams and life were as intertwined with this man’s as any tangled web even the Black Widows in Arachna could weave. Probably had even been weaving about them since they were born.
*What in the name of Hell just happened?* Lucivar sent on a spear thread to Danny and Chin, allowing Chaosti to hear.
*We may have found a lead on who is trying to set McGarrett up,* Danny said.
*Even more importantly, Kono finally realized what’s been right in front of her all this time because of it,* Chin commented, noting how Chaosti’s wary expression suddenly turned thoughtful. And almost mischievous. He almost felt sorry for Kono and Steve once his kinsman told their Queen and the Lady of this revelation. Almost.
“I don’t want you to go,” Rachel said to Danny.
He paused packing his bag and turned to face her. He knew that Grace was off with the Lady for one of her lessons, so any argument they might have wouldn’t be heard this time. They had received word, finally after a few months of searching for him, that Wo Fat was in his home village. And they had enough proof that he was trying to frame Steve.
“I have to go, Rach,” Danny said. “This is important.”
“You being safe is important,” Rachel said. “Please, Danny. I don’t want you to go.”
“I have to go,” Danny said. “I’m a male in this Court, I have to go.”
“You don’t have to go! Enough of the males are going, all the First Circle, you do not have to go!” Rachel was angry.
“I’m not going to remain here while the others go,” Danny said. “I made a promise I’d see this through, not just to Steve either.”
“You are doing this out of pride?!” Rachel asked.
“I serve, Rachel. I never *really* understood what that meant till I came to Kaeleer, but I do now. And I embrace it. I have to go,” Danny said. This time, Rachel said nothing. She only looked away. He walked over to her and cupped her shoulders. He leaned down and pressed a kiss to her temple.
“I’ll be back, love. I promise.”
Wo Fat was a slippery bastard, but they had finally gotten him dead to rights on a few of his plots and plans within the small village he resided in along the mountain edge of Dea al Mon. The problem was, he knew a lot of the moves that many of the Dea al Mon would use to try and capture him.
Lucivar knew, immediately, as they entered the village that they wouldn’t find him. Steve, unfortunately, needed to see it for himself. A few of the women skirted away from the anger radiating off the men. Some of the village’s men wanted to approach Steve and challenge him, but the sight of Chaosti walking alongside the other man held a lot of weight with them. If their own Queen’s Consort and husband trusted McGarrett, had everything they heard he had done been a lie?
Steve’s eyes scanned the village, frustration starting to fill him as he realized that Wo Fat had gone to ground. He wanted to rage at *something* when he realized he saw movement from a nearby home. Barely sparing a glance to Lucivar and Chaosti, he ran towards the burly, wingless, half-Eyrien he recognized from the times he had visited the village. He also recognized him was one of the men that was often the first to speak up in favor of Wo Fat.
“Don’t hesitate!” Lucivar snarled.
He didn’t have to be told twice. Within the span of one thought to the next, Steve had called in his personal Eyrien stick with the blades and he was swinging in an elegant arc. With a cry of pain and a fumbled attempt to blast out with his Yellow jewel, the larger man went down, his legs neatly severed. Steve was easily able to contain the Yellow blast with his Birthright Opal. He kicked the man over and used basic healing Craft to seal the blood vessels at his legs.
Swinging the stick, Steve brought it up and down. Lucivar almost spoke, but he watched as the blade stopped a whisper away from the man’s skin near his throat. He flicked a hand at the other men of the Dark Court, giving them indication that he was letting Steve set this scene.
“I need a healer!” the man cried out. “Damn you all to the bowels of Hell, I need a healer!”
“Answers first, then we’ll consider it,” Danny said, stepping up beside Steve. He barely acknowledged the mental tap from Lucivar when he told him this was Steve’s. He didn’t move, but he did defer to Steve.
“I need a healer,” he moaned.
“Suck it up, Kojiar,” Steve snapped. “You may not have the wings, but you are half-Eyrien...”
“And a lot of good that did me,” Kojiar snapped in return. “Treated as half of what I am because I don’t have my father’s wings. Looked down upon because I can’t take flight like the other warriors.”
“Wings do not make you a warrior,” Lucivar finally said. “Or an Eyrien. The fact that you could never accept that is why you are treated as you are.”
“You’re one to talk, you bastard,” Kojiar snarled. “You have your wings!”
Lucivar simply gave him a lazy grin. “Yes, I do, and I’ll be sure to let the High Lord know what you think of me when he has the pleasure of your company in Hell.”
“I can’t get a healer there!” Kojiar screamed.
“You aren’t going to need one if you don’t start talking,” Steve got out. “Where is Wo Fat?”
A sick, twisted smile began to form on Kojiar’s face. “Went to ground, didn’t he? Ah well, suppose that’s best. You’ll never keep him from laying waste to this territory. Not with the power he has.”
“You forget who we serve, Warlord,” Chaosti said too softly. “Oh how you forget.”
“I forget nothing, you pointy eared bastard,” Kojiar yelled. “That bitch you call a Queen will be spreading her legs for the one that will conquer her, you wait. The Dark Priestess has plans, and there is nothing you can do about them.”
Not even Steve could have moved as quickly as Chaosti did. All he knew was one minute the Dea al Mon was standing behind him, the next his blade had sliced open Kojiar’s belly and his guts were spilling onto the ground as he died. A quick flash of Chaosti’s Gray jewel ricocheted off the sudden Ebon-gray shield that was thrown around the body.
Spinning, the Warlord Prince snarled at the Eyrien. Lucivar simply waited, calmly, until Chaosti stepped back from the killing edge enough that it was safe enough to talk without him exploding back to that shaky plateau.
“Do not finish the kill,” Lucivar said. “The High Lord will want to speak with this one. Personally.”
Chaosti put a hand on his chest and inclined his head to Lucivar, fully stepping back from that angry plateau. He turned and vanished the body before turning on his heel to leave with the other males. Chin and Danny glanced at Steve and Lucivar. The Eyrien flicked a gaze to them and tipped his head very slightly. With small nods, the two other men turned to follow the other males, leaving Steve and Lucivar alone.
“The Dark Priestess and Wo Fat?” Steve said quietly after a moment. He called in a cloth to clean his bladed stick before vanishing both. “What in the hell could those two possibly be doing together?”
“I don’t know, but I don’t like it,” Lucivar said. “We’ll inform the High Lord and he can get the rest of the information from Kojiar.”
“But Wo Fat still got away,” Steve said. “There is more to this then just him working with the Dark Priestess.”
“We’ll find out, Steve,” Lucivar said. “What’s important is your name is cleared now.”
Steve glanced at him, sighing before turning to walk beside him as they left the village. “Somehow, that just seems so empty now.”
“Rach?” Danny asked as he entered the gardens. He looked around, frowning when he didn’t see Rachel anywhere. Grace had told him she went for a walk out here when he stopped in their room after returning from Dea al Mon.
“You’re alive,” Rachel said from behind him, her tone dull.
Danny turned, his smile dying before it ever formed as he saw the look on her face. She looked crushed, yet hopeful as well. It was a contradiction that concerned him.
“I’m alive,” Danny said. He watched her walk over to him before he found himself fending off her small fists as she tried to beat him. Her training with Lucivar and the boyos was showing, because he had to really work to keep from getting seriously hurt. He finally got a hold of her wrists.
“Rachel! What the Hell?!” he demanded.
“You could have died!” Rachel said, jerking her wrists from him. “You could have been gone, leaving me alone with Grace and you didn’t even care!”
“Wha-- I did it for you and Grace!” Danny said, his voice angry. “Some bastard was going to any lengths to destroy someone I trust you and Grace with. It’s obvious that he has no problems hurting innocent people. I had to go with to try and get him.”
“But you didn’t, Danny,” Rachel snapped. “You didn’t ‘get him’, and that means he’s still out there somewhere!”
“No, we didn’t get him. Yes, he’s gone to ground,” Danny said. “But we still had to try!”
“And what if he comes back?” Rachel asked. “What happens if he comes back and he doesn’t go away and I lose you?!”
Danny felt some of his annoyance slip out of his body. While Rachel spoke, her voice had cracked. He moved closer to her as she folded in on herself, covering her face with her hands and starting to cry. He put his arms around her, tightening his hold when she tried to shrug him off and move away. Finally giving up, she collapsed against him and began to sob.
“You aren’t going to lose me, Rachel,” he said, pressing a kiss to her hair. “I love you. I love Grace. I want us to be the family we’re meant to be.”
“We are a family,” Rachel said, hiccuping.
“A proper family,” Danny said. “I want us to marry. I’ve wanted us to marry for awhile, but I was scared you didn’t love me anymore.”
Rachel hiccuped again, lifting her head, tears slipping from her eyes. “Not love you anymore? I felt like I loved you too much,” she admitted. “I could never not love you, even when you are at your most infuriating.”
Danny grinned, laughter alight in his eyes. “That’s when I’m at my best,” he said. “Marry me, Rachel. Today even. As soon as we can get a Priestess to marry us.”
“Yes,” Rachel said. “I’ll marry you, but I have nothing to wear. We have to plan. Figure it all out.”
“Give me a day then,” Danny said. “You find a dress for you and Gracie, I’ll take care of the rest.” He gently cupped her face. “Give me one day and then we’ll be married.”
“Yes, Danny. Yes.”
“You want to what?” Kono asked, crossing her arms over her chest.
“I want to plan a wedding,” Danny said.
“By tomorrow?” she asked. She glanced at Steve and Chin Ho.
“We are so going to need the coven and boyos’ help.”
Kono looked around at the hustle and bustle of the Hall’s staff as they arranged everything needed for Danny and Rachel’s wedding in just a few hours. She should have realized that once Jaenelle and the rest of the coven got a hold of the idea Danny had, it would come to fruition in hours, let alone in a day. Hadn’t they done that very thing when Lucivar and Marian married? She had to wonder if they would ever be doing this for her, and if a certain Warlord Prince could possibly be the groom who’d be waiting for her.
“You look pretty lost in your thoughts there,” Steve said behind her.
Kono jumped and turned. She smiled at the slight boyish grin he wore. She took the flower he held in his hand.
“Aww, thank you,” she said. “I was a little.”
“And what did you have in that pretty head of yours?” he asked. Ever since that day in Danny and Rachel’s suite, Steve had been quietly courting her.
“Just wondering about something...” Kono lifted the rose in her hand to smell its fragrance.
“And what’s that?” Steve asked. A blush suffused Kono’s cheeks. *Oh now she has to tell me...*
“Just curious if this would be something done for me one day,” she admitted quietly.
“If I have any say, yes,” Steve said. Kono looked at him. He smiled and pulled a box from his pocket. He flipped it open, showing her the gold ring with sapphires and rubies along the band.
“Kono, I love you. I always have since I first met you,” Steve said. “I want to spend the rest of my life with you.”
“But your life is in Ebon Rih,” Kono said quietly. “Mine is in Dea--.”
“My life is where you are, Kono,” Steve interrupted. “I’ve already told Lucivar that I may step down as his second-in-command so I can move to your village. I’ll always be there for the Dark Court, but my life is with you. My future is with you. I want you to marry me.”
“You really want me to marry you?” Kono asked quietly.
“I really do,” Steve said. “I’ve already talked to Gabrielle, Chaosti and Chin Ho.”
Kono’s eyebrow arched, surprise evident in her too large dark eyes. “You talked to...”
“Your Queen and kinsmen, yes,” Steve said. “I wanted their permission and welcome to ask you to be my wife.”
A slow smile crossed over her features. “Is that what you are asking, Prince McGarrett?”
“Yes, Lady Kono, that’s exactly what I’m asking,” he said.
“Then yes, I will marry--.” The ring was on her finger and his lips on hers before she could finish the sentence. She didn’t have to finish the words aloud, simply pouring her feelings for Steve into their kiss.
“Need a drink?” Chin Ho asked Danny as he tied his tie for the fourth time.
“No,” Danny said.
“What about a club to the head?” Steve asked as he came into the room.
Danny glared at him in the mirror, Chin laughing. He pointed at Steve’s reflection. “Where the hell have you been? You were supposed to be here an hour ago!”
“I had something to take care of first,” Steve said, winking at Chin.
“Did it go as you hoped?” Chin asked. Steve simply grinned. “Good news, Brother.”
Danny turned to stare at the two men, his eyes moving from one to the other. “Okay, spill, what did you have to take care of?”
“Nothing that won’t keep ‘til after the ceremony,” Steve said, waving his hand. “You got the tie wrong...” He walked over to straighten it, laughing when Danny slapped his hands away.
“I know how to tie a tie!” he said. “Now. Talk.”
Steve grinned, glancing at Chin. The other man simply waved his hand. Steve finally looked at Danny. “I asked Kono to marry me.”
“Really?” Danny asked, grinning. “That’s grea-- wait she said yes, right?”
“No, I’m this happy because she said no, of course she said yes!” Steve said.
Danny laughed and actually pulled Steve into a hug, slapping his back. “Great news, man,” he said. “Congratulations.”
“Thank you,” Steve said. “But that’s for later. For now.” He reached up and straightened Danny’s tie, earning a smack on the back of the hand.
“For now, let’s get you to your bride.”
Steve had to chuckle as he watched Grace drag Chin into the street and dance to the music. If the girl were Eyrien, he would swear that her wings would be moving and she’d be fluttering up to dance with the Dea al Mon Warlord Prince. His gaze shifted to where he saw Kono and Danny dancing, laughing over something between them so much that they missed a few steps in the dance. His eyes scanned the crowd, seeing Rachel speaking to Gabrielle and Chaosti, smiling as they spoke. It was quite a change from the scared Healer that had entered Kaeleer six months before.
“You sure about leaving?” Lucivar asked to his left, breaking into his thoughts.
Turning, Steve glanced at his friend. He smiled a bit and nodded. “I am,” he said. “I won’t be far, you know that. But my place is with the Dea al Mon now.” He wasn’t the only one leaving. Danny, Rachel and Grace would be settling in Halaway where Rachel was offered a healer’s position with Lady Sylvia’s healer. Like Steve, Kono and Chin, they would still be available if the Dark Court needed them.
“It always has been,” Lucivar reminded him as he looked out over the rest of the crowd that had gathered for Rachel and Danny’s wedding. “Just took you some time to figure it out.”
Steve huffed out a laugh, shaking his head. “So everyone keeps telling me, even Mary,” he said.
“Like I said, just took time for you to figure it out,” Lucivar said. “Mary found her place faster, you and Kono simply needed time to realize it was time to stop dancing around one another and stake claims.”
“That’s the pot calling the kettle black, if memory serves about what I’ve heard regarding your courtship of Marian,” Steve teased.
“Yes, but I was on unfamiliar territory being from Terreille,” Lucivar reminded him. “So was she. But it all worked in the end.”
“That it did,” Steve said. He sobered a little. “Service fair starts tomorrow.”
Lucivar nodded, watching Andulvar as he danced with Marian. “I know. Aaron, Khary and I are heading there tomorrow morning,” he said.
“Ladvarian’s been very anxious,” Steve said.
“He’s convinced this time will be the time,” Lucivar said. “He’s certain Daemon will be there.”
Steve stood with his friend, letting his thoughts mull over as he watched Danny and Chin switch partners as father began dancing with daughter and cousin with cousin. He hated to voice his concerns, but he knew that he had to. He wouldn’t be in Ebon Rih when Lucivar returned to talk to him, leaving for Kono and Chin’s village to begin his life with his future wife.
“What if he’s wrong?” Steve finally asked. Two sets of gazes, one gold, one blue-green, found the form of the golden-haired woman they both called their Queen. Finally, Lucivar spoke.
“If the Darkness is kind, he won’t be.”