Chapter One

The king must die."

Four single-syllable words. One by one they were nothing special. Put together? They called up all kinds of bad shit: Murder. Betrayal. Treason.


In the thick moments after they were spoken to him, Rehvenge kept quiet, letting the quartet hang in the stuffy air of the study, four points of a dark, evil compass he was intimately familiar with.

"Have you any response?" Montrag, son of Rehm, said.


Montrag blinked and fiddled with the silk cravat at his neck. Like most members of the glymera, he had both velvet slippers firmly planted in the dry, rarified sand of his class. Which meant he was just plain precious, all the way around. In his smoking jacket and his natty pin-striped slacks and...shit, were those actually spats?...he was right out of the pages of Vanity Fair. Like, a hundred years ago. And in his myriad condescensions and his bright frickin' ideas, he was Kissinger without a president when it came to politics: all analysis, no authority.

Which explained this meeting, didn't it.

"Don't stop now," Rehv said. "You've already jumped off the building. The landing isn't getting any softer."

Montrag frowned. "I fail to view this with your kind of levity."

"Who's laughing."

A knock on the study's door brought Montrag's head to the side, and he had a profile like an Irish setter: all nose. "Come in."

The doggen who followed the command struggled under the weight of the silver service she carried. With an ebony tray the size of a porch in her hands, she humped the load across the room.

Until her head came up and she saw Rehv.

She froze like a snapshot.

"We take our tea here." Montrag pointed to the low-slung table between the two silk sofas they were sitting on. "Here."

The doggen didn't move, just stared at Rehv's face.

"What is the matter?" Montrag demanded as the teacups began to tremble, a chiming noise rising up from the tray. "Place our tea here, now."

The doggen bowed her head, mumbled something, and came forward slowly, putting one foot in front of the other like she was approaching a coiled snake. She stayed as far away from Rehv as she could, and after she put the service down, her shaking hands were barely able to get the cups into the saucers.

When she went for the pot of tea, it was clear she was going to spill the shit all over the place.

"Let me do it," Rehv said, reaching out.

As the doggen jerked away from him, her grip slipped off the pot handle and the tea went into free fall.

Rehv caught the blistering-hot silver in his palms.

"What have you done!" Montrag said, leaping off of his sofa.

The doggen cringed away, her hands going to her face. "I am sorry, master. Verily, I am-"

"Oh, shut up, and get us some ice-"

"It's not her fault." Rehv calmly switched his hold to the handle and poured. "And I'm perfectly fine."

They both stared at him like they were waiting for him to hop up and shake his bumper to the tune of ow-ow-ow.

He put the silver pot down and looked into Montrag's pale eyes. "One lump. Or two?"

"May I...may I get you something for that burn?"

He smiled, flashing his fangs at his host. "I'm perfectly fine."

Montrag seemed offended that he couldn't do anything, and turned his dissatisfaction on his servant. "You are a total disgrace. Leave us."

Rehv glanced at the doggen. To him, her emotions were a three-dimensional grid of fear and shame and panic, the interlocking weave filling out the space around her as surely as her bones and muscles and skin did.

Be of ease, he thought at her. And know I'll make this right.

Surprise flared in her face, but the tension left her shoulders and she turned away, looking much calmer.

When she was gone, Montrag cleared his throat and sat back down. "I don't think she's going to work out. She's utterly incompetent."

"Why don't we start with one lump." Rehv dropped a sugar cube into the tea. "And see if you want another."

He held the cup out, but not too far out, so that Montrag was forced to get up again from his sofa and bend across the table.

"Thank you."

Rehv didn't let go of the saucer as he pushed a change of thought into his host's brain. "I make females nervous. It wasn't her fault."

He released his hold abruptly and Montrag scrambled to keep hold of the Royal Doulton.

"Oops. Don't spill." Rehv settled back onto his sofa. "Shame to get a stain on this fine rug of yours. Aubusson, is it?"

"Ah...yes." Montrag parked it again and frowned, like he had no idea why he felt differently about his maid. "Er...yes, it is. My father bought it many years ago. He had exquisite taste, didn't he? We built this room for it because it is so very large, and the color of the walls was chosen specifically to bring out the peach tones."

Montrag looked around the study and smiled to himself as he sipped, his pinkie out in the breeze like a flag.

"How's your tea?"

"Perfect, but won't you have some?"

"Not a tea drinker." Rehv waited until the cup was up to the male's lips. "So you were talking about murdering Wrath?"

Montrag sputtered, Earl Grey dappling the front of his bloodred smoking jacket and hitting Daddy's peachy-keen rug.

As the male batted at the stains with a limp hand, Rehv held out a napkin. "Here, use this."

Montrag took the damask square, awkwardly patted at his chest, then swiped the rug with equal lack of effect. Clearly, he was the kind of male who made messes, not cleaned them up.

"You were saying," Rehv murmured.

Montrag ditched the napkin on the tray and got to his feet, leaving his tea behind as he paced around. He stopped in front of a large mountain landscape and seemed to admire the dramatic scene with its spotlit colonial soldier praying to the heavens.

He spoke to the painting. "You are aware that so many of our blooded brethren have been taken down in the raids by the lessers."

"And here I thought I'd been made leahdyre of the council just because of my sparkling personality."

Montrag glared over his shoulder, his chin cocked in classic aristocratic fashion. "I lost my father and my mother and all of my first cousins. I buried each one of them. Think you that is a joy?"

"My apologies." Rehv put his right palm over his heart and bowed his head, even though he didn't give a shit. He was not going to be manipulated by the recitation of losses. Especially when the guy's emotions were all about greed, not grief.

Montrag turned his back to the painting, his head taking the place of the mountain the colonial soldier was that it looked like the little man in the red uniform was trying to climb up his ear.

"The glymera has sustained unparalleled losses from the raids. Not just lives, but property. Houses raided, antiques and art taken, bank accounts disappearing. And what has Wrath done? Nothing. He's given no response to repeated inquiries about how those families' residences were found...why the Brotherhood didn't stop the attacks...where all those assets went. There is no plan to make sure it never happens again. No assurance that, if what few remaining members of the aristocracy return to Caldwell proper, we are protected." Montrag really got on a roll, his voice rising and bouncing off the crown molding and gilded ceiling. "Our race is dying out and we need real leadership. By law, though, if Wrath's heart beats within his chest, he is king. Is the life of one worth the lives of many? Search your heart."

Oh, Rehv was looking into it, all right, black, evil muscle that it was. "And then what."

"We take control and do what is right. During his tenure, Wrath has restructured things... Look at what has been done to the Chosen. They are now allowed to tally on this side-unheard of! And slavery is outlawed, along with sehclusion for females. Dearest Virgin Scribe, next thing you know there'll be someone wearing a skirt in the Brotherhood. With us in charge, we can reverse what he has done and recast the laws properly to preserve the old ways. We can organize a new offensive against the Lessening Society. We can triumph."

"You're using a lot of wes here, and somehow I don't think that's exactly what you are thinking."

"Well, of course there needs to be an individual who is first among equals." Montrag smoothed the lapels of his smoking jacket and angled his head and body as if he were posing for a bronze statue or maybe a dollar bill. "A chosen male who is of stature and worth."