As Guelida settled in to easy chatter about the Aravene court, Jonnah received a mental summons. If you can break away without causing a diplomatic incident, we need to talk.

Jonnah looked forward to where Anison rode at the head of the line, his back to the column and no outward evidence of his sending. Jonnah waited for a pause in the conversation, then said, “Would either of you mind if I excuse myself? There are some things I need to discuss with the General before we arrive at the palace.”

“Of course,” Bastyen waved him away. “I should thank you for letting me keep you from your duties this long.”

Guelida glared while Bastyen was looking at Jonnah. He winked at her when Bastyen turned back. Bastyen was her problem now.

Jonnah fed Diamond an extra burst of energy and galloped forward to join Anison. “Thank you,” Jonnah said. “For getting me away from him.”

“It wasn’t a favor.” Anison’s tone was grim. “There’s something you need to know before we arrive home.” Despite Jonnah’s best efforts, exhaustion had deepened the lines of Anison’s face over the course of their weeks on the road. He sat rigid on his horse, the perfect model of a soldier at his best, but Jonnah knew the man, had known him far too many years to miss the concern like a weight on his shoulders.

Anison tightened his reins and heeled his horse forward. He looked over at the soldiers in black that rode to either side of him and they obediently fell back, giving Jonnah and Anison privacy. Jonnah waited. There’d been plenty of chances to talk on this trip, what Anison could have to say to him now? “I want you to be careful.” Anison’s voice was low and his gaze forward. He didn’t look at Jonnah. “The queen will have her eyes on you.”

Jonnah didn’t see the need for all the drama. “The queen always has her eyes on me.”

“Not like this.” Anison glanced back over his shoulder, at the prince, who smiled and waved. Again. Like the empty-headed puppet he was. “Last night, I talked Bastyen into letting me read the treaty. It’s the first time I’ve seen at all the minor provisions.”

No clearer sign existed of the rift between Yinicof and Anison than the fact Anison, Chief General of the Aravene armed forces, had to go through Bastyen to get a look at the treaty. “Guelida shared an early draft with Chandra and me.” Jonnah shrugged. “It all seemed straight forward. Promises of aid. Technology exchanges. A couple provinces swapped back to their original owners.”

“In the newest draft, one of the provinces Yinicof requested back is Jenshen.”

His home. Jonnah’s stomach tightened and all he could think was, “Shit.” As his mind froze, the gestalt wobbled, but Jonnah caught it before it fractured. “Just the land?” he asked once he had control again.

Anison’s voice was flat. “Provision nine, sub-section twelve: that Kardenel protection of Tayn Miyelle ian Jenshen cease and she be returned to Aravene to face justice for the crime of high treason.”

His mother. Yinicof was still looking for vengeance against his mother. “And Bastyen’s father agreed?”

“Not exactly.” Anison’s expression twisted into a grimace. “King Darius is happy to hand over Miyelle to Aravene justice, but Jenshen will remain a Kardenel border territory.”

“Of course. Our taxes he wants.” Jonnah somehow managed a cool tone he didn’t feel. That asshole. That vapid, preening asshole—asking Jonnah about his mother, all the while knowing—

“I’m sorry.” Anison reached over, laid a hand on Jonnah’s shoulder.

Jonnah shook it off. The last thing he wanted right now was comfort. “And I’m supposed to just march back in there and smile—“

“Yes.” Anison’s voice was sharp. “Gods-dammit, yes, you will march back in there and smile. The queen is going to be watching you, waiting for any excuse to stick you in prison next to your mother.”

Frustration, anger, and—yes, he could admit it—fear disrupted the focus Jonnah needed to feed the circlet. He felt the power flicker, echo, a burning wave through his brain. Judging by the look Anison shot him, the General felt it too, the sudden absence of energy. “I hate that paranoid bitch,” Jonnah muttered as he struggled to regain the mental equilibrium to do his job.

Anison’s reprimand was mild. “And that is exactly what I meant by ‘watch yourself.’”

“Yes, sir.” The words were automatic, insincere.

Anison shook his head, then raised his hand, signaling the column to slow. “Go,” he said to Jonnah.


“Go on ahead. We’re close enough to make it the rest of the way without the gestalt.” The chill in Anison’s words were softened by his sending. Nine weeks boosted, of course you’re on edge. “Take the rest of the day to get your head straight.”

Jonnah nodded, his jaw clenched too tight to speak.

“And one more thing.”

Jonnah waited, his fist tight on Diamond’s reins.

“Try not to be thinking treason when you pass through the palace gates.”

A note from Barbara J Webb

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About the author

Barbara J Webb


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