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    Chapter 1

    06:22:5376--RA

    Tory:

    Today your twin daughters were born and they are beautiful. I was hoping you'd come to see them when they were new and innocent. Your father says you are busy and can't come. I am trying to understand that. King Jayd has already prepared a list of suitable mates, but Glinda and I have both demanded final approval. I have also asked your mother, Queen Lissa, to write to you as well, so you will likely receive correspondence from her. Vid-images enclosed. Hope you are well—Reah.

    01:15:5377--RA

    Tory:

    I was hoping to have heard from you by now. Your father, Gardevik, along with your uncle, King Jayd, and your aunt, Queen Glinda, are planning a trip to Surnath in two weeks. They have asked to take the girls with them. I have given permission. I hope you greet your daughters with the love and respecbott they deserve—Reah.

    07:07:5378--RA

    Torevik:

    Today your second set of twin daughters were born. Lissa says she explained to you that Kifirin manipulated this pregnancy, taking your seed and fertilizing my egg while we both slept. Kifirin knows I am angry that he interfered in this way, but he has been curiously absent since then. Most likely not wishing to hear my thoughts on the matter. I was also hoping to hear from you at least for Tara and Raedah's birthday. I try to explain to them that they have a real father and that he is busy and lives elsewhere. Of course, they are too young to understand at this age, but they will question one day. What shall I tell them, Torevik? In the meantime, Lara and Kara, our newborns, are doing fine. Vid-images enclosed—Reah.

    09:27:5380--RA

    Torevik:

    Our third set of twin daughters was born this morning after a difficult labor and birth. Karzac is waiting for me to finish this message to you before placing a healing sleep. Dara and Sara are doing well. Vid-images enclosed—Reah.

    09:27:5380--RA

    Tory, I am disappointed in you. Reah almost bled out delivering Dara and Sara. Karzac believes that it may have been similar to the situation Reah's mother faced when Reah was born, only Raedah's was worsened by the drug administered. I cannot understand why you refuse to respond to message after message your father and I have sent to you over the past day and a half. Somehow, you have transferred this unfounded hatred you have for Reah onto your daughters, and I find that unforgivable. I have threatened Kifirin and he has promised not to force another pregnancy on Reah without her consent. In the meantime, your firstborn are now four turns old, the second set two. You have only seen them at your father's insistence. Have you discarded all your family as well as your common sense? I hope Darletta is everything you ever hoped for and can make up for six little girls who don't recognize their father.

    Your mother—Lissa

    06:22:5396--RA

    Torevik:

    Today your eldest turned twenty and your youngest will be sixteen soon. Lissa and I have been arguing with your father and your uncle, King Jayd, asking that the claiming date for our eldest to be put off. I fear we are waging a losing battle in this matter. Philavik Weth and Rindavik Foth are impatient, it seems, and do not wish to postpone it. They keep promising that they will allow Raedah and Tara to finish their medical studies. Both are currently working with Karzac and will have their medical certification in five years if all goes as planned. Of course, I have difficulty believing anything a High Demon male promises. You should know why—Reah.

    P.S. Vid-images enclosed.

    08:29:5400--RA

    "Reah, its Dee."

    "Dee, I can see your face on my comp-vid." I could; he was smiling at me. I wasn't smiling back. "What does the lord and master need this time?" I asked. Teeg never called to ask or tell me anything; he always told Dee to do it. Likely, some ball, banquet or state event required Teeg to have a wife on his arm.

    "Reah," Dee sarz" ighed.

    "You know it's true. He can't seem to find five ticks to ask me himself. He tells you to do it. And I don't get to pick out my own dresses, shoes or anything. Those two floozies he calls assistants do it for him." My temper was rising and it wasn't Dee who deserved my wrath.

    "They're not floozies. They work hard for both of us."

    "I'm sure they do. Feel free to dress one or both of them up and send them off with Teeg San Gerxon. I'm sure everybody is gossiping about it anyway."

    "You could live here if you wanted."

    "When do I have time? I run the gishi fruit groves here on Kifirin, and Garde insists on sending me Crown employees injured or disabled elsewhere and then expects me to care for them or find work they can do in a limited capacity. I have to stretch every credit I get to cover expenses here, while all the profits go straight to the palace. And then I go to Desh's or Dee's twice a week to make sure everything is good and work over the menus and the financials with Radolf and Fes. That doesn't include the calls I get from my twenty-year-old twins; Garde insisted on sending them to that private college, yet I'm the one they complain to when they think they aren't kept well enough there."

    "Perhaps you need some time to yourself," Dee suggested quietly. I realized he was trying to calm me, but that wasn't likely to happen.

    "Teeg can't spare a few ticks to call me, but I can drop everything and fling on a dress and smile and say nothing to diplomats, Kings and rulers from across the Campiaan Alliance, just like the empty-headed twit they all think I am." I realized I should stop talking. Dee wasn't smiling any longer.

    "Reah, the people who matter know better than that."

    "I almost said what people who matter. I'll be honest with you, in case you haven't read the latest chapter in this book, all right? Teeg and Lendill are caught up in pirates and rebellions across both Alliances. Lok and Aurelius are too busy chasing after Ra'Ak spawn to even send mindspeech. Radolf went into a female cycle ten turns ago and now he and Ilvan are together whenever Radolf isn't working at Dee's and Ilvan isn't cooking for Queen Lissa on Le-Ath Veronis. Farzi and Nenzi are knee-deep in keeping the farms and fields going on Campiaa, and Nefrigar shows up one night a month. For a woman who has eight mates, I spend most of my nights alone, Dee. Tell me why that is."

    "Look, I see that things aren't going well for you at the moment. Teeg is holding the annual ball that marks the end of the conclave in three nights. If you'll be here around five bells, the hairdresser and maid will be available to help you."

    "I'll be there," I grumbled, looking away. Yes, I was angry. About so many things. But mostly because I had mates who had no time for me unless they wanted sex or to keep up appearances. My daughters, all six of them, knew their father's name and little else. None had seen him in twenty-two years. The youngest had never seen him. They wrote his name on school forms when asked to do so, but that was the only purpose Torevik Rath served in their life. All of them had grown up treating Aurelius as their chosen father. He was the one they called Daddy and ran to, if he were home.

    I never asked them to call him that, they'd decided on their own. Aurelius held them, dried their tears and treated the slightest of injuries as a legitimate reason to reassure and fuss. My eldest, Raedah and Tara, were less than a year from receiving their medical cert I medicalifications. I was pleasantly surprised with Philavik and Rindavik—they'd allowed their wives to continue with their studies, even if they did show up in class from time to time, causing Karzac to grumble about High Demons underfoot.

    Lara and Kara were nearly ready for their claiming night, although Lara begged Jayd and Garde to move hers up. Lara insisted that she and Eldevik Greth were ready and madly in love. Of course, she conveniently didn't remember how ill her older sisters had been when their claiming came. Raedah was feverish for days, while Philavik—Phil—worried and fretted the entire time. Tara had a slightly better time, but not much. Rin was just as fretful as Phil, wanting to hold Tara while she was ill. Karzac almost had to chase him away from her bedroom with a broom.

    Cursing under my breath, I shut off the comp-vid and went back to walking through the southern grove of gishi trees. The fruit was almost ready, and insects would be waiting if I or another High Demon didn't walk through the groves as smaller Thifilathi or in my case, Thifilatha, to keep the tiny predators away. Yes, I'd answered Dee's call as Thifilatha and completely na**d. It didn't matter; I think he was used to it by now.

    "What is it, Garde?" I received Gardevik Rath's call the moment I stepped into the house several hours later. At least the groves were protected, now. Only the gishi fruit from Kifirin could claim that it was completely organic. Baetrah, the nearby volcano, had provided the Southern Continent on Kifirin with rich, black soil. The workers employed by the Crown tended and harvested for the most part, but I oversaw the crews, kept the records, helped the work crews out and made sure expenses were kept to a minimum. Pest control was just a sideline.

    "We have everything ready at the palace for the claiming night," Garde informed me. I hoped he had everything ready. The dates he and Jayd had chosen coincided with the harvest. I would be hard pressed to divide my time during the next eight-day. Fes had called the day before, asking me to sit in on interviews with prospective assistant cooks for the new restaurant opening in Targis.

    "Which healers are coming?" I asked, wearied from a full day of work. Night was falling and I was too tired to enjoy the beauty of it.

    "Karzac and your father Edan are coming," Garde replied. "And they're bringing your two eldest, since they have firsthand experience with this."

    "Of course," I sighed.

    "And I sent word to Torevik."

    "Why do you even bother?" I grumbled.

    "He is still my son."

    "I realize that. And still father to my daughters. Do you think he might notice them, one day?"

    "Reah, I see I've caught you on a bad day. I realize the harvest is a concern right now. Next time, Jayd and I will take that into consideration."

    "I'd like to say there won't be a next time, Gardevik Rath, but there will be, won't there?" There would be—he and Jayd had already selected husbands for my twenty-year-olds, with very little input from me.

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