The feeling of discomfort evoked by having others witness what usually stayed private between Dara and the prince — Dara and Maric — was beginning to fade as they joined the rest of the guests. Maric had taken the intrusion with such ease, completely unconcerned with the presence of the other slaves until he'd realised it was disrupting Dara's enjoyment. Was it that Maric saw them as furniture, or had military life simply destroyed any sense of modesty he may have once had?

Whatever the case, Dara couldn't summon the same indifference. Having an audience like that... it had made him feel vulnerable, dirty. Not that he found shame in what he did with Maric — not at all — but when they were alone he could imagine it was a special thing between the two of them. Being on display like that presented an uglier truth.

He couldn't dwell for long, though. Not with the distracting press of party guests all around them, many of them keen to get a word in with Maric. Part of Dara wanted to run off and hide, but most of him was happy under the shelter of Maric's arm. Even so, it was a relief when Maric excused himself and led Dara to the long dinner table.

"No," Maric said when Dara went to kneel on the floor next to his chair. Maric tapped the back of the chair next to his. "You sit at the table now."

Dara chewed his lip. "But... nobody knows."

Maric's eyebrows quirked up a fraction. "I do, and I don't see that anyone else matters."

Dara couldn't help the smile that tugged at his lips as he sat down in the chair. Maric made it so easy to forget that he stood not only above Dara, but also above every single other person in the country with the exception of his father, the king.

The sound of someone clearing their throat drew both their attentions to a middle aged man standing behind them with his arms folded firmly across his chest. "Is there a reason there's a slave seated at my table?"

"I think you'll find it's my table," Maric said as he turned his back to the man. From his words and the amount of gold on his ostentatious coat, Dara could only assume the man was Lord Nolen.

Lord Nolen sat down next to Maric, pulling a male slave no more than eighteen down to kneel next to him with a rough yank of his arm. He was a pretty thing, his dark hair long and loose down his back. The dark hair and pale skin of the man who came to stand two steps behind Lord Nolen betrayed him as a slave too, but he was tall and broad shouldered, possessing none of the delicate beauty of the kneeling slave.

"I had hoped you had grown out of your rebellious stage," Lord Nolen said once they were all settled. "Is there a reason there is a slave seated at your table?"


"And what is that reason?"

Maric shrugged and reached out a hand to stroke Dara's hair. "That reason is none of your concern."

They continued to bicker, but Dara's attention was drawn away by the slave kneeling on the floor. He was modestly dressed given his obvious purpose, only his hands and head uncovered, but Dara suspected it was simply to hide the bruises and cuts that his clothing concealed. Injuring a slave for any reason — for no reason — was perfectly legal, but certain behaviours were unbefitting a respectable man no matter who the victim was.

"If you find the slave of more interest than me, perhaps we should borrow him for the night," Maric said in a hushed tone near Dara's ear. It was a reprimand, not an offer.

Dara shook his head in an attempt to clear away the trance the feeling of the injuries had drawn him into. "Sorry. He has injuries hidden beneath his clothes. It bothers me."

Maric frowned, and Dara was surprised to see he was troubled too. "Injuries of what kind?"

"Bruises. Cuts. Old and new. He has been beaten recently." Dara couldn't help the shudder that ran down his spine. "The pattern of the injuries suggests someone took their time, got creative. Punishments are quick and efficient. This was done for pleasure."

Maric gave a sharp nod before turning his attention back to Lord Nolen. "Who hurt your slave?"

Lord Nolen let out a startled laugh. "Excuse me? Didn't we just have a discussion about how a slave is the business of no one but his master?"

"No, we had a discussion about how I'm in charge here and what that implies." Maric's gaze shifted to the slave on the floor. "Take off your shirt."

The slave hesitated, nervous eyes seeking out his master's face.

Maric clapped his hands together sharply, making the slave jump. "Don't make me tell you twice."

Dara's heart went out to the boy as he hurried to comply. His body, all that had been done to him, was put on display. Slaves were trained to accept the shame of such things as their own.

"Why?" was all Maric could ask as his eyes grazed the assortment of injuries that covered the boy's body, his voice hard and cold. It must have taken some careful savagery to contain the many cuts and bruises, both fresh and fading, to only places on the boy's body which could be covered.

Lord Nolen rolled the stem of his glass between his fingertips, a move too casual in the face of Maric's anger to reveal anything but anxiety. "Does it matter?"

It was only when Maric's eyes cut to Dara that Dara realised how Lord Nolen's words had echoed what the guard had said on the night Maric had rescued him. Does it matter, sir?

"Yes," Maric said, his voice cold and threatening. "It concerns me deeply that I have a sadist running my city."

The smile Lord Nolen gave Maric was tight lipped. "This is an important issue to you. I see that. Perhaps we could discuss it in privacy later? This is hardly the place for such drama."


Dara tapped a finger on Maric's shoulder. Once he had Maric's attention, he gestured to the slave. "May he put his shirt back on? He's uncomfortable."

Maric nodded and cast a look in the slave's direction. "Get dressed."

This time, the slave hurried to comply without hesitation.

Dara tried to focus on the dinner, but the other slave's wounds were too much of a distraction. He could feel them as though they were his own, each point a sinking hole of wrongness he wanted nothing more than to fix. He ate only when Maric explicitly instructed him to, each mouthful of food settling nauseating and heavy in his stomach.

It was a relief when Maric finally finished his food and excused himself. He took hold of Dara's wrist and led him back to their room.

As Maric shut the door, Dara flopped down onto the bed. "Well."

Maric sat down beside him and ran a hand down his back. "War was more fun than this. And usually less brutal."

Dara arched against Maric's touch, but it was comfort he sought from the contact. Reassurance that he was here, safe and cared for. He had escaped torment, but that boy and so many others were still living with it as part of their daily lives. There was nobody to save them as Maric had saved him. That boy would likely suffer until one day his master went too far and killed him.

Maric began untucking Dara's shirt, his touch deft and gentle against Danya's skin. "I can make laws against what he did. Not everywhere, but here." Maric leant down to nip at Dara's neck. "This city is mine, not my father's. I can make whatever laws I wish. I can do whatever I wish."

Dara sat up to allow Maric to unbutton his shirt. "Of course. It is your due."

Maric's lips quirked up into a smile. "What would you do if you were a prince?"

Dara was silent for a stretch as his mind whirred through all the changes he would like to see in the world. No more innocents suffering, no more brutal people in power. If he were a violent man he might have wanted to burn the world and all its injustices to the ground, but what he really desired was the power to cleanse it. "Many things."

Maric slipped Dara's shirt off his shoulders and then started on the buttons of Dara's pants. "Do you think I'm doing a bad job of it, then?"

Dara couldn't read Maric's tone, wasn't sure how close he was to getting in trouble. "No," he said carefully. "We simply all serve our own interests. As a leader you serve yours, and as a leader I would serve my own. How good of a job you're doing is only determined by how successful you are at achieving your goals, isn't it?"

"What a little diplomat you are." Maric tugged Dara's pants off and found him already halfway hard. He reached a hand out and began slowly, gently stroking him. "And my father? Do you think he's doing a good job?"

"Mmh. He's the king."

There was no amusement in Maric's laugh. "Yes, I'm aware."

Suddenly Dara felt vulnerable. Maric had never hurt him before, had always been kind to him. It was easy to forget that he could be a very dangerous man.

"He is the king," Dara said carefully. "The things he does are right by default."

"He fucks little boys," Maric said flatly.

Dara had shoved Maric's hand away before he even realised what he was doing. He didn't want to be naked anymore, not when...

He'd only met the king once, when he was eight and his abilities had first begun to develop. He remembered the way the king had looked at him, meaningful in a way Dara hadn't been able to grasp at the time. Well aren't you a pretty thing, as a hand had grazed his cheek. He remembered the dead eyed slave boy no older than himself sitting at the king's feet.

And then the king had declared Dara would be a surprise gift for his son on his son's eighteenth birthday, had arranged clothes in Maric's colours and sent him away from the palace for training. Dara hadn't known why he'd felt such a sense of relief at the time.

Maric withdrew from Dara and pillowed his head on his hands. "But of course he is the king, and as the king he can only do right. Clearly you're much too old for me."

Dara forced his breathing to calm and pulled the blanket up to cover his body. He was no longer in the least bit aroused. "You disagree with his... choices."

"Why do you think I left the moment I could and returned as rarely as possible?" Maric asked. "He's never hurt me, nor any free man not guilty of a crime so far as I'm aware, but the things he..." Maric let out a sigh and rolled his head from side to side. "I think I prefer when I can pretend I'm nothing more than a soldier. We kill people, but we do it cleanly and with respect. We don't get off on it."

"May I put my clothes back on now?"

A grin broke through Maric's gloom as he rolled over to lay along Dara's side, one arm braced over Dara in a way that wasn't quite restraining enough to feel threatening. "After I went to all that trouble to take them off? You would waste my labour?"

Dara wouldn't have said he was exactly in the mood, but when Maric brushed his knuckles against Dara's cheek, Dara found himself pressing into the contact. Maric leant forward and the gentle way he pressed their lips together was exactly what Dara had needed. Something shared, not taken.

Maric's hands had just begun to roam down Dara's body when a knock on the door interrupted their affections. Maric turned to scowl at the door as Dara pulled the blanket back up to cover his body.

"What?" Maric asked the door.

"Lord Nolen would like to see you now, highness," a male voice said through the door.

Maric's scowl deepened. "Lord Nolen can go fuck himself."

Dara fought back a laugh. Amusement probably wasn't the appropriate response to Maric's ire.

"Lord Nolen sends his apologies for the disruption," the voice said, "but there are things the two of you need to discuss and it would be best to do that tonight unless you wish to change your plans to leave early tomorrow morning."

"Fine," Maric said, but he had a smile for Dara when he turned back around. He pulled down the blanket and placed a kiss on Dara's bare stomach. "When I get back."

As soon as Maric left, Dara set about putting his clothes back on. Being naked when he was alone... it made him feel vulnerable. It was ridiculous, really. Maric had locked the door behind himself and was unlikely to dally with Lord Nolen longer than necessary, but even so. Past experiences of extended nudity had not been pleasant for him.

He regretted going to the trouble when, as soon as he had his uniform back on, he heard a key in the lock. Surely Maric hadn't had time enough even to visit Lord Nolen and then return after delivering nothing more than the simple vulgar message he'd given the man at the door. Had he changed his mind about facing Lord Nolen tonight?

It wasn't Maric who opened the door, though.

For a moment Dara didn't recognise the slave standing before him. Not until the slave was inside the room with the door shut behind him. He was Lord Nolen's slave. Not the svelte bed slave who had distracted Dara from the meal, but the tall, broad shouldered slave who had stood behind Lord Nolen, still and silent as a statue.

There was nothing statuesque about him now, though. Not with the grin he wore. Hungry, deadly. Dara eyed the knife on the slave's belt as he shuffled off the bed. He felt less vulnerable standing.

"What's wrong, little fucktoy?" the slave asked. "Master away?"

Dara had thought all the pride trained into him when he was still useful had died, but the feeling of outrage that rose up in him showed there were still sparks of it left. He pressed his back against the wall, keeping as much distance between the two of them as possible.

The slave stroked the hilt of his knife but didn't draw it. "He wanted me to fuck you bloody, but I convinced him that lingering too long and leaving evidence you didn't off yourself wasn't worth it. Truth is, I just don't want to dirty myself with your whore prince's leftovers."

Dara swallowed thickly as his mind whipped through the possibilities. If the slave used the knife, it would be obvious someone else had been responsible. What really mattered was that this man didn't know he was a healer. There was a decent possibility that Dara would survive, that he would be able to pass any information he discovered on to Maric. "He... Lord Nolen?"

The slave's grin broadened, and as he spoke he slowly approached. "He hates you almost as much as he hates your master. Thinks you might be responsible for further softening an already weak heir. You will pay, and your unworthy master will learn that it's better for everyone to keep slaves in their places."

It was likely Lord Nolen wouldn't have arranged Dara's murder if he'd known Dara was a healer, then. Of course, by now it was too late for that little fact to save him. It would only assure thoroughness. The slave had already revealed his intent.

Dara wasn't a very good fighter — quite the opposite — but he had quite a bit of experience with kicking up a fuss. He only got half a scream out before a hand clamped down over his mouth. He doubted anyone would have heard him through the stone walls and heavy wooden door anyway.

The slave was no larger than the guards who had for so long tormented Dara, so it came as a surprise how much stronger than them he was. There was no breaking his grip, and the dullness of the echo of pain when Dara struck out told him the slave barely felt his retaliation. It seemed Dara wasn't the only one here with magic.

It wasn't until Dara was on the window's ledge that he understood what was about to happen. He almost smiled, almost laughed, though he knew how much pain was coming. He'd thrown himself from twice as high before and survived.

He squeezed his eyes shut as one final shove sent him falling into empty air.


"Wine?" Lord Nolen offered. He was sitting comfortably in an armchair while Maric paced irritably in front of him. There was a thump from the adjoining room and Lord Nolen shot it a look of irritation.

By rights this suite, the largest in the palace, ought to have belonged to Maric, but since he was there so infrequently he had been happy to settle for a single room. Now he wanted to claim these rooms out of spite. He gave Lord Nolen an acidic look. "I am not here to socialise. I am here to discuss your behaviour and decide whether you are the appropriate person to be filling such a prestigious role."

Lord Nolen shrugged, but his shoulders were tense. When another thump came from the room he glared at the door as though he could intimidate the wood. "Have I not performed my role well? Call me a sadist if you want, but whatever my flaws may be they do not extend out of my private life. Are you attempting to start some kind of ideological war? To force people to abide by your personal morals by penalising them if they don't?"

If Maric had been holding something, he would have thrown it at Lord Nolen then. "This is my city! Not my father's and most certainly not yours! I don't need to play games to make changes. I control the law, and you can damn well expect I will be altering it!" Thump. "And what is that blasted noise?"

Lord Nolen steepled his hands on his lap. "Bug had to be punished. It seems he is seeking further discipline, but he shall have to wait until after you leave."

"Oh for..." Maric sighed and shook his head as he stomped to the door. What he found in that room, he decided, would determine whether or not Lord Nolen kept his job.

"Those are my private quarters," Lord Nolen said as he stood. "You do not have my permission to—"

"I do not need your permission to do anything," Maric said as he pulled open the door.

For a moment the only thing Maric saw of note in the otherwise normal sleeping quarters were hand restraints on the bed. He made a face as he imagined the delicate slave who had sat at Lord Nolen's feet at dinner in them. The thud came again and Maric's attention was drawn to a large chest at the end of the bed.

Maric knelt before it and examined the lock. He spoke without turning around. "Open it."

"I will not—"

"You will, or I will kill you now and take the key from your body." Maric turned to look up at Lord Nolen. "You've been spending too much time around aristocrats. You forget what military men are capable of."

Lord Nolen let out an annoyed sigh before digging through his pocket and tossing Maric the key to the chest. The thuds from inside had increased in urgency as Maric unlocked it.

The slave inside, the one from dinner — Bug? — was tied up, but the ropes binding his legs had come loose, allowing him to kick the end of the chest. Maric hauled him upright and carefully unknotted the rope holding the gag shoved into his mouth in place.

For a moment Bug gasped and coughed, but as soon as he had himself under control he croaked, "Your slave."

It could have meant many things, nothing at all, but the mention of Dara in a voice so desperate and broken sent chills down Maric's spine. Maric ignored Lord Nolen's shouts as fled back to his room.

Maric had left the door to the room he shared with Dara locked, but when he tried the handle it turned easily. Someone had been there since he'd left. He half expected to find Dara bleeding on the floor when he opened the door, or perhaps still in the process of being hurt. The empty room he found instead was far more terrifying. Dara had been taken.

Maric checked under the bed, checked the large wardrobe, and by the time he was absolutely certain Dara was not in the room, Lord Nolen had arrived.

"If you are responsible for this—" Maric started, but Lord Nolen interrupted him.

"I was with you the entire time. Perhaps he simply wandered off?"

"I locked the door when I left. It is now unlocked. Somebody came in here and—" The sound of a woman screaming outside cut Maric off.

Maric already knew what he'd see when he rushed to the window, but the sight of Dara's body laying twisted on the ground far below still made his stomach clench. Could Dara have survived such a fall?

Lord Nolen's eyebrows twitched up when Maric turned to him. "He jumped? I'm hardly surprised when you've elevated him to a position he's unsuited for. If you—"

Maric shoved past Lord Nolen as he ran from the room. He wanted to beat the hell out of Lord Nolen whether or not he was responsible, but he wanted to get to Dara more. He sprinted down the servant's corridor, the quickest way outside.

By the time Maric got outside the woman, middle aged and dressed in the manner of a palace maid, had stopped screaming and was crouched down next to Dara. She quickly backed away when she noticed Maric's approach.

Dara looked... Maric took a sharp breath in. Not good. His eyes were open and he was breathing, but he didn't respond when Maric said his name. There was blood — a great deal of blood — and one of Dara's arms was twisted at an unnatural angle. A gash ran down the side of Dara's head, but it was impossible to tell in the dark whether or not his skull was intact. He was alive, though, Maric reminded himself. Could he heal himself from this before the injuries killed him?

Maric turned to the woman who was standing back, twisting her hands nervously in her apron. "Fetch a blanket large enough to carry him in. A clean one. And... do you know what the captain of my guard looks like? Brayan, the one with silver threading on his uniform."

The woman was nodding, though Maric wasn't sure if it was in confirmation or simply the only response she was presently capable of.

"Find him for me," Maric continued. "He should still be in the ballroom chasing down dance partners. Tell him to send the rest of the men up to arm themselves and then come to me immediately. Understand?"

The woman looked uncertain for only a moment before nodding confidently. "Yes, highness."

"Good. Go."

Each breath Dara took was ragged, fought for. If he hadn't been a healer, Maric would have written off any chance of his survival. Maric had seen many men die, some he had been quite close to, and yet crouching there, watching Dara struggling against death... He tried to tell himself it was because Dara was a healer, because he was so valuable, but it didn't stick. Maric's feelings hadn't changed as much as they ought to have after that particular revelation.

Maric heard footsteps and looked up. Lord Nolen. For a moment Maric had forgotten about him. Lord Nolen would have done better to leave it that way.

"Did you do this?" Maric asked, voice low and dangerous.

"Must we go over this again? I was with you the entire time."

"And where was that slave you sent to fetch me? You don't have to strike with your own hand to be a killer."

"I don't see why you're getting so worked up." Lord Nolen held out a hand. "Come on, someone else will clean this up. Come inside."

"He's not dead."

"Then he's suffering, and if you care for him you should finish things off. Those aren't survivable injuries and you know it."

A servant boy came running up with a blanket bundled in his arms, and Maric ignored Lord Nolen in favour of taking it. Getting Dara onto it without hurting him further, though... that would be the difficulty.

"My goodness, you are ridiculously sentimental," Lord Nolen said. "I thought military men were supposed to be sensible and efficient. Would you prefer to watch him drown in his own blood than give him a quick end?"

"Afraid of what he might say?" Maric asked without looking up from the dilemma of Dara's broken body. This would be a two man job, he decided, and he would certainly not be allowing Lord Nolen to assist him.

"Oh for... He's clearly not in any state for conversation."

"I just think it odd that a torture hobbyist would be so insistent on mercy."

Lord Nolen let out a sigh and threw his hands up in a dramatic show of frustration. "Fine. Let us sit and wait while he bleeds out, then, shall we?"

When Maric heard the sound of boots hitting gravel and looked up to see Brayan running towards them, he let out a groan of relief. He would have to make sure that servant was rewarded for her efficient work.

Brayan swore as soon as he was close enough to see Dara as well as the dim light allowed. "What happened?"

Maric worked on getting the blanket laid out next to Dara so that they could lift him onto it. "Someone pushed him out of the window."

"Oh come on, I hardly think that's a fair assumption," Lord Nolen interrupted. "It's far more likely he jumped."

"I locked the door when I left, and it was unlocked when I returned," Maric said. "That's just sloppy."

"Yes, a conspiracy is far more likely than you simply forgetting to lock the door."

Others had emerged from the palace now and were watching from a safe distance, but they were slaves and servants, trained to be unobtrusive. Maric hardly noticed them. With Brayan's help, he managed to get Dara onto the blanket. Dara cried out and twisted away when they picked him up, but nothing fell out. He was still in one piece.

"Think he's going to be all right?" Brayan asked as they got Dara as comfortable on the blanket as they were able given his condition.

"Of course he's not going to be fucking all right!" Lord Nolen shouted. "Look at him!"

"Ah, here come my boys," Brayan said, and Maric looked up to see Mathers and Raedan heading towards them, armoured and armed. Good. Now things could get moving.

Maric stood and greeted his men with a nod. "Please arrest Lord Nolen under suspicion of attempted murder of a healer."

"What?" Lord Nolen spat out.

"Dara," Maric said. "He's a healer. It's quite likely that he won't die and that he will be able to tell us what really happened."

Lord Nolen didn't take his eyes off of Maric even as his arms were yanked behind his back. "As I already said, I was with you. You cannot prove other involvement and whatever he tells you is meaningless because a slave's word is not considered permissible evidence in court. All that aside, I cannot be charged for attempting to murder a healer when I was not aware he was one!"

Maric stood up and took a step towards Lord Nolen. The few inches of height he had on the man allowed him to look down on him. "Remember how adamant you were about your rights to do whatever you wished to your property? Well, this city and all of its inhabitants belong to me. By legal right, I can do whatever I wish here. I could have you killed excruciatingly slowly and painfully simply because I do not like you, but instead whether you live or die will be determined by whether or not I believe you had anything to do with hurting Dara." Maric nodded to Mathers. "Lock him up and keep a guard on the door."

Anything Lord Nolen shouted as he was dragged away was ignored in favour of soothing Dara. Or trying to, anyway. If Dara was aware of anything but pain, Maric couldn't tell.

Brayan took one end of the blanket and Maric took the other, and together they carried Dara back inside. Maric spotted the servant who had helped him earlier clearing people out of the way for them, and he gestured with his head for her to follow.

There was no way not to jar Dara further going up the stairs. Maric had seen so many injured people in his time, but most of them had been either soldiers or those he hardly knew. Dara hadn't signed up for this. He'd gone with Maric to avoid being hurt.

As soon as they had Dara settled as comfortably as possible on the bed, Maric turned to the helpful servant. "I'll need more lanterns in here. And a tub of water, warm, and a washcloth."

"Yes, highness," she said before dashing off to complete his requests.

Maric let out a tired sigh and turned back to Brayan. "I want any slaves owned by Lord Nolen arrested. Oh, except the little bed slave. Bug, I think his name was. Last I saw he was tied up in a chest in Lord Nolen's sleeping chambers. Bring him here."

"Lovely," Brayan murmured.

"Mm. I want the palace on lockdown. No one enters or leaves until this is sorted out. If anyone challenges your authority, arrest them. Understood?"

Brayan nodded. "Yes, sir."

Maric couldn't help a smile. He would always be Brayan's commanding officer or his friend, not his prince. "Go."

The smile dropped off Maric's face when he turned back to Dara. How did you help an injured healer? Maric knelt down next to the bed and examined Dara. All bleeding had more or less stopped, at least externally. Who knew what was happening inside Dara's body, what damage had been done.

Dara had several broken ribs, and if the sound of his breathing was any indication, at least one punctured lung. His arm was also badly broken. Should that be splinted? Maric wasn't sure if it was better to treat his injuries as best they could or leave him alone entirely. These were things Maric should have researched, should have asked Dara about, should have known before he needed the information.

Lanterns were brought in and set up, and a few minutes later someone brought the requested tub of water. When he needed help cutting Dara's clothes off, the same servant was there to assist him.

"What's your name?" Maric asked.

"Neala, highness."

"Neala," Maric said, committing the name to memory. "You have done good work tonight and will be rewarded for your loyalty to the crown."

"It is simply my duty, highness," she murmured, clearly uncomfortable with the praise.

"Yes, well, there seems to be a lack of people fulfilling that particular duty tonight. Apparently it's not something I can count on here."

The door opened again, and Maric looked up to see Brayan leading Bug into the room with a firm hand on his shoulder. The slave looked terrified, and when his eyes landed on Dara his face crumpled and one hand came up to cover his mouth. "I'm sorry, highness, I'm sorry. I was too late, I—"

Maric held up a hand to stop him. "You did what you could to save him and risked a great deal in the process. You are to be commended for that. Can you confirm that your master was responsible for this?"

Bug chewed at his lip. "I'm an empath. I didn't hear him planning or anything, I didn't witness anything that could be called proof, but I... I felt his intention. I knew he was going to do something to hurt you, to hurt your slave. I'm sorry, there was nothing I could do, I just—"

"Shh. Help me wash him."

As Bug helped, he cried. Quiet and hurt and tired, the kind of exhausted tears that couldn't be stopped. An empath. Maric wondered how much of the pain Bug was feeling was his own.

"He's a healer," Maric explained when he realised word likely hadn't spread far enough to reach Bug yet. "I suspect he will survive."

The extra emotion brought on by the reassurance only made Bug cry harder. In many ways, Maric suspected he was just as broken as Dara right now.

Neala brought them water without being asked, and Maric couldn't help but like her more when she took the time to make sure Bug drank. Many would have disregarded the slave entirely. Perhaps, at times, Maric would have too. After seeing how much Bug had been hurt, though, indifference was impossible.

There were many things that had become harder to ignore recently, most of them thanks to Dara. Having something in life didn't mean you deserved it. Lord Nolen had certainly proven that. Maric wasn't quite ready to face what that meant for himself.