"Lissa, do not look so sad, I beg you," Roff had my chin cupped in a hand.
"I'll be fine," I said, and folded away from him.
"Lissa, there is another pile of stuff to go through," Grant was standing outside my suite, waiting to ambush me, I think. He had a smile on his face, at least, and he smelled like waffles. Grant was already getting into the solid food thing, I could tell. I didn't want to look at piles of stuff; I wanted to huddle in a corner, somewhere. I sighed and followed Grant instead, as he headed toward my study.
"Little Queen," Rigo met us halfway there. Thurlow joined us quickly.
"Lady, is there something I can do?" Thurlow asked. Well, he probably knew how I was feeling, even if the others didn't. I rubbed the space between my eyes—the headache was coming on. "You need to eat and relax," Thurlow said as we walked through the door of my private study. Heathe was there, waiting for us.
"Heathe, will you and Grant go to the kitchen and ask Cheedas to make something for the Raona?" Thurlow asked. There was a Command in his voice that might have competed with the strongest of compulsion. Both my assistants trotted happily out the door and down the hall.
"Please sit, tiessa," Rigo murmured, taking my hand and leading me toward the chair behind my desk. Things slowed around me, as if time were different at that moment. Rigo settled me into my chair, kissed the hand he held, and then knelt next to me. Thurlow reached out with careful fingers and touched my forehead, taking the headache away while I blinked at him in confusion.
"I am keeping watch, my beautiful lady," Thurlow told me softly. "We will not be interrupted. Lissa," he sighed, "Rigo and I, well, our hearts are in these hands," he cupped both my hands in his and then knelt before me, right beside Rigo. He kissed my palms, then looked up at me, his sensuous mouth twisting into a sad smile. "I know that forgiveness for me may be long in coming. I was a fool, love. A terrible fool."
"I beg you not to turn me away," Rigo pleaded.
"Rigo," I reached out to touch his face—he was old as a vampire—older than Gabron, even, and I knew that he'd been the one to keep Hraede on an even track and stable for a very long time—he and the other kings he'd turned. Rigo kissed my palm and rested his forehead there afterward. I stroked his face with my free hand and ran fingers through his hair. Rigo rose and lifted me, sitting in my chair and then pulling me into his lap. I was wrapped in his arms and he was rocking me gently, telling me he was worried. About me.
"I have never attended a Conclave, because of my vampirism. I had to send our kings and queens with preliminary advice and remain in contact as much as I could. Now, with Thurlow's gift, I can go with you. Both of us must go with you, in addition to any others you can take who might provide protection. I fear for your life, tiessa." Tiessa. It meant beloved, in Hraedan.
"I don't know what to do about both of you," I pulled away from Rigo.
"Lara'Kayan, you are not obligated to do anything, only please do not shut us out," Thurlow replied. "Get to know us. Talk with us. Sit with us. We will be happy with that, until you learn the depth of what we feel for you."
"Fine." My fingers shook as Rigo set me on my feet and rose—we all heard Grant and Heathe returning with a meal for me. Rigo leaned down and settled the gentlest kiss on my mouth before stepping away, just as my two assistants entered the study.
"Aunt Lissa, I have a suggestion." Kyler and Cleo had come to my study, where I'd been reading through three hundred sixteen agenda items for the Conclave. My eyes were crossing and I wasn't getting any real information anyway, so I welcomed the interruption.
"What's the suggestion?" I looked up at her. Kyler had settled on the edge of my desk and lazily swung a leg as she smiled at me. Cleo, also smiling, had sat in one of the chairs in front of my desk.
"Well, since great-granny Narissa is here, what would you say to bringing the others—the ones you took away from Kifirin because they didn't want to be involved in Friesianna and Baltis' war against you? You can set them up on the other side of Narissa's area, and she can talk to them through the shield."
"That's a good idea. Talking to Tiearan all day won't improve anybody's temper," I nodded after considering Kyler's suggestion.
"Kyler and I are afraid they may become a target," Cleo added quietly. Her comment had me jerking my head in her direction.
"You think so?" I stared at her.
"Yeah. Even though they have no power now, how hard would it be to snatch them up and make them something else—like Ra'Ak or something? Once they become immortal again, any talent or power they had will come rushing back."
"Like misting and mindspeech do with the vampires," I said, staring at my niece. Thoughts of Ra'Ak with le'meruh filtered through my brain. We didn't need more of that.
"And that can manifest in quarter and eighth bloods, maybe even sixteenth bloods," Cleo agreed. "That's how a few vampires with only a little Elemaiyan blood can mist or mindspeak. You know Tony is only an eighth blood and he can mindspeak. Think what might happen with a full-blood Elemaiya."
"You just made me all goose-pimply," I shuddered. "We have to bring them here, now. I'll be scared to death for them—and us, if we don't. Are the ones on Mendenath the only ones?"
"No, Aunt Lissa. There are others, scattered here and there, that abandoned the Bright camp through the years. The Dark ones have already been picked up by the Ra'Ak. It's only a matter of time before they search these out."
"Kyler, how many others are out there?" If anyone would know, it would be the Larentii and Kyler was pretty much a Larentii, she just wasn't huge and blue.
"Aside from the sixteen on Mendenath, around seventy or so," Kyler said. She knew what I was thinking. "Do you want us to gather them up?"
"Yeah." I gave a heavy sigh—I felt exhausted. "Go ahead and bring them to the spot just east of the Green Fae settlement, we'll put them there." Narissa would be in a buffer zone between the two—she was locked inside her own little prison. She'd be able to see all of them and talk, but none could cross the barrier I'd set up. That was my punishment to my paternal grandmother for offing her parents and doing other nasty things throughout her long life. Kyler and Cleo nodded and disappeared.
"Where are we going?" Gavin demanded. I'd commandeered everyone at my breakfast table the following morning.
"To pay a visit to Le-Ath Veronis' newest arrivals," I replied cryptically. When we arrived at the designated spot, we found a village already there. Kyler and Cleo had not only brought the remaining Bright Elemaiya; they'd somehow convinced their Larentii mates to help.
With the Larentii there, everything had been set up quickly. I just shook my head at how efficient and powerful they were. I saw Callan, too—he was helping his Aunt Zela move a few belongings into a newly constructed house. Zela noticed we'd come and since she recognized me, immediately came over to talk.
"Thank you for bringing Callan to me and thank you for giving us this home. We are learning slowly to take care of ourselves." I nodded at her thanks. Most Elemaiya didn't bother thanking anybody.
"I'll see that some animals are brought in so you can raise your own meat, if you want. And you're welcome to trade with the others; bear in mind you'll abide by the laws here, or you'll be punished just like anyone else." I watched her—she seemed to be in charge.
"We expect nothing less," she agreed.
I'll keep an eye on them, Kyler sent the silent message. I nodded slightly. I needed to get back to my palace; I still had work to do before the Conclave.
"Your dinner, Tetsurna Prylvis."
"Thank you, Zellar." Prylvis nodded as Zellar, Viregruz's hired Karathian Warlock, made a plate appear before Prylvis. Prylvis was entertaining Viregruz and his brothers at his compound on Mazareal. The evening's entertainment had already occurred—Prylvis had watched as Viregruz and his brothers consume several youths his Blood Captains had captured the day before. Once Viregruz was finished with his meal, steaks had been cut away and cooked for Prylvis' favorite dish.
"I don't understand why you bother to cook it," Viregruz watched as Prylvis raised the fork to his lips.
"It's tender this way, Lord Viregruz."
"Ah. I prefer it my way. Screaming and all."
"I enjoy the screaming as well. It's why I invited you to dinner."
"And it's only polite for your guests to bring something, is it not?" Viregruz drew a finger through a puddle of blood—his and Prylvis' dinner had died atop the table.
"This is quite good, Lord Viregruz," Prylvis chewed another chunk of humanoid steak. "Tell me of your plans to destroy the bitch Queen and her planet."
"It will be easy enough to get to her—we have plans to join Twylec's retinue. After that, it is a simple matter," Viregruz snapped his fingers.
"What if it's not so simple?" Prylvis stopped chewing for a moment.
"A contingency plan is in place. It involves a tremendous effort on the part of my brothers, but I believe it will come out well, should they be required to use it."
"What about her planet? We've taken money from San Gerxon, after all. Surely he will be made happy if Le-Ath Veronis is destroyed."
"Oh, he will be more than happy, I assure you. We all know what happens when vampires are exposed to sunlight, do we not?" Viregruz's smile was malicious and wide.
"Giff?" Markoff led Roff inside his home. Roff had been there before, but not since he'd been turned. Dariff walked behind Roff, unsure how his cousin was going to react to her father, or to the return of his memories. Giff was now heavily pregnant and Rolfe had brought her to Markoff when he'd been called to hunt spawn on a faraway world.