“Lord Falgriz,” I continued, “is escorting my brother to the palace at Merencia where I intended to meet with him.”
Griz is waiting at the rendezvous point, along with troops.
“But I can put some of my longer-term plans on hold and make a short stop at Hell’s Mouth.”
Even a queen could not put some plans on hold.
“I accept the Ballenger invitation to visit. I look forward to seeing you at month’s end.”
If you have still not found your quarry by then, he is not there. Come home.
“Your faithful service is a gift to me and all the kingdoms. It will never be forgotten.”
She signed off with all four of her given names, which I knew she never used.
The letter held no surprises except for the last line. It was a reminder—I believe in you.
Pleased chatter erupted around the table, all of it polite because Wren, Synové, and I were present, but I heard the crisp ring of entitlement. This was something they felt they had coming, and it was long overdue, but I noticed Jase said nothing, his eyes focused on Jalaine instead. She’d said nothing ever since we arrived, her back stiff against her chair, her eyes cast downward at her lap.
While still looking at Jalaine, Jase asked, “Samuel, how is your hand?”
The mirth of the room dulled.
Samuel struggled to master his spoon with his left hand, the green soup spilling over the sides with his clumsy movements. “I’ll live,” he answered.
> “Jalaine, look up from your lap,” Jase said. “Look around. You have nothing to add?”
“Jase,” Priya said, warning in her tone.
He shot her an icy stare to quiet her.
Jalaine’s attention rose from her lap. Her eyes were swollen and red. Her gaze circled the table, as if seeing everyone for the first time, until her eyes landed back on Jase. “Nothing to add, brother. Not a word.”
Wondering glances ricocheted around the table. Surprisingly, it was the nasty one who tried to bring a measure of cheer back to the room. “I have more good news,” Gunner said. “While you were away, another kingdom signed a lease for apartments. Cruvas will now make us a base for trading too. And that shipment we promised the Candorans? I have confirmation it will be here in two weeks.”
Now Gunner had Jase’s full attention. “Two weeks? That’s excellent news.” He leaned forward, eager to discuss it more, but then sat back. “We’ll talk more later.”
Vairlyn’s eyes nervously swept the table. “That’s enough about business,” she said. “Let’s enjoy our soup.”
Conversation erupted as everyone dug in. Nash asked Wren question after question, mostly about her ziethes, which I had persuaded her to leave behind in her room tonight, though she still wore a dagger. I was surprised to see Mason talking quietly to Synové, asking about her head, whispering something else I couldn’t hear. Priya questioned Samuel about the settlement, but I noticed Jalaine remained quiet.
“What’s wrong with your sister?” I whispered to Jase.
“I’ll explain later,” he answered and his hand reached under the table and squeezed my thigh. His expression was taut, and he looked like he wanted to be anywhere but here right now.
A loud clatter stopped the conversation and everyone looked at Samuel. His spoon had tumbled from his fingers and green soup splattered the table. “Sorry,” he said. “It may take me a while to get the hang of using my left hand.” He blotted the green spots with his napkin. Wren pushed her seat back and circled around to his side of the table, grabbing a mug from the sideboard as she walked. She placed the mug in front of him and poured the soup from the bowl into it. “There,” she said. “Drink. Problem solved.” She returned to her seat.
Samuel smiled and lifted the mug to his lips, but Jalaine’s eyes pinched with horror as she watched him. She pushed back her chair and fled the room.
“What’s wrong with Jalaine?” Lydia asked.
Nash looked at Wren. “Can I drink my soup from a mug too?”
“Should one of us go after her?” Aram asked.
“Jalaine will be fine,” Jase said firmly. “She’s just tired. I’m giving her some time off from the arena.”
Gunner leaned back and moaned. “Why would—”