Kushiel's Justice (Page 23)

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“I will,” I promised drunkenly.

“Good,” he said.

Entering the Palace, I waved off the footman's insistence on summoning a guard to escort me to my quarters. It was late enough to be quiet, for which I was grateful. I walked slowly through the marble halls, willing my head to stop spinning. The unusual hush helped. By the time I reached my quarters, I was reasonably steady on my feet.

Inside, it was dark. I fumbled with my flint striker, trying to kindle a lamp, and failed to raise aught but a clatter and a shower of sparks. I gave up and took a taper into the hallway to light it from one of the wall sconces. The D'Angeline guard on duty looked amused. I went back inside and used the chamberpot in the privy closet, scoured my face in the washbasin. The cool water felt good.

Carrying my lighted taper, I made my way to the bedchamber. At first I thought Dorelei was asleep. I knelt beside the clothes press that held my things, easing the little book of love letters from my shirt and tucking it away in the bottom drawer beneath an old pair of breeches I wore for hunting. When I rose to unbutton my shirt, I saw her watching me.

She was sitting with arms wrapped around her knees, clad in a thin shift with her shining black hair loose over her shoulders.

“I'm sorry,” I said. “I didn't mean to wake you.”

“I wasn't asleep.”

“Mavros sends his apologies.” I raked a hand through my tangled hair. “I didn't know it was so late.”

“Where did you go?” Dorelei asked quietly.

“To the Night Court.” I sat on the edge of the bed and hauled my boots off. The lone candle flickered. I felt her waiting silence and sighed, turning to face her. “Dorelei, I'm sorry. I've been cruel and unfair. It's not your fault.” When there was no response, I swallowed and said the words aloud. “I'm in love with someone else.”

She nodded. “I know.”

“You do?” I blinked. “How?”

For a long moment, she didn't answer. “I asked Alais,” she said at length. “You know, I'm perfectly aware that this is a marriage of politics. I didn't expect you to love me, and I didn't expect you to be faithful to me. But I hoped, at least, that there could be honesty between us. At first I thought it was me, that I was distasteful to you.”

“You're not—”

Dorelei held up her hand, forestalling me. “But you can be so charming sometimes, kind and funny. And I thought some of it was real. Alais thought so, too. She says you have a good heart. So I thought it must be because of what you suffered, like you warned me.” I didn't say anything and she continued. “But then it seemed like there was always someplace else you'd rather be, someone else you were always looking for, and I began to wonder. And so I asked Alais.”

I felt a chill in my veins. “What did Alais say?”

“Alais turned a lot of strange colors,” she said steadily. “And told me to ask you. I didn't want to, though. I wanted to see if you'd tell me yourself.”

“Well,” I said. “Now I have.”

“Now you have.” Dorelei regarded me, pinpricks of flame reflected in her dark eyes. “I don't know who it is, Imriel, and I'm not asking. Believe me, I don't want to know whose face you're picturing when you hold me so hard it leaves marks. I'm not asking you to break off the affair. All I'm asking is that you stop treating me like I'm an actor miscast in your own personal tragedy through no fault of my own.”

“I don't—” I began to protest, then stopped. “That's well said, actually.”

“Please don't make me laugh.” She shook her head, and I saw there were tears making a gleaming path on her brown cheeks. “I want you to treat me like a person, that's all. To see me and not only who I'm not. I don't love you either, you know. I barely even know you. But I might if you'd let me.”

It was fair; it was more than fair.

I got to my feet and made a courtly bow. “My lady, my name is Imriel de la Courcel no Montrève. I have been many things in my short life, most recently what my foster-brother Eamonn would call a right bastard.”

Dorelei smiled through her tears. “Well met, my lord. My name is Dorelei mab Breidaia. I am the niece of the Cruarch of Alba, and most recently, your wife. If you are willing, I think we might at least become friends.”

“I would like that,” I said gravely.

Her eyes shone. “So would I.”

It was late and I was tired and still more than a little drunk. I shucked off the rest of my clothing and climbed into bed beside her. A part of my heart ached with loss and longing. A part was glad we had talked. I laid my head on my pillow and closed my eyes, feeling Dorelei's fingers stroking my temples.

“I do wish you weren't so beautiful,” she whispered.

“So do I,” I murmured.

“Oh, such a burden!” she said, soft and teasing. I opened my eyes to gaze at her. She didn't know, didn't understand that my face carried a constant reminder of my mother's treachery. Although we'd never spoken of it, Sidonie had understood. She'd grown up with my mother's veiled image hanging in the Hall of Portraits. She'd never said such a thing to me, ever. I sighed, knowing I should try to explain to Dorelei, too tired to do it. I lifted one hand and touched her cheek, tracing the dots of blue woad. I'd thought, when first she said she knew, that mayhap she'd seen it in a dream. Stranger things had happened.

“Have you ever dreamed of me?” I asked. “A true dream?”

“Only once.”

“Oh?” I closed my eyes again, feeling sleep begin claim me. “What was it?”

“It wasn't one I understood,” she mused. “No one did. You were all alone, kneeling in a snowstorm, beneath a barren tree. Holding your sword and weeping.”

“Oh,” I whispered, and slept.

Chapter Fifteen

On the following morning, I slept late. In consideration of my late—and somewhat drunken—return, Dorelei had left orders not to disturb me, and by the time I arose I'd missed Sidonie's departure. It was probably as well that I did, though my heart ached at it.Still, by the time the day ended, I had to own that it was easier knowing she was gone. Knowing we wouldn't encounter one another in unexpected places, knowing we wouldn't have to endure the grueling ordeal of being cordial to one another in public. Knowing the temptation to take dangerous risks was removed, knowing there was no way of arranging a covert assignation.

I didn't like it, but it was easier.

I had no idea what I'd do upon her return. Amarante was right, of course. It would be for the best if I could find a way to remove myself from the Court. I toyed with the idea of an excursion to Montrève, but something in my heart balked at the notion. It was a special place, a private place. I wasn't ready to share it with Dorelei. Mayhap, I thought, it would be better to tour my own neglected holdings with her. Of a surety, it would be politic to pay a visit, and they held no strong memories for me.

Well, except for Lombelon, which was no longer mine. Though I wouldn't find Maslin there, oh no. He was off to Namarre accompanying Sidonie, second in command of her personal guard, which galled me to no end. The thought of her in his arms, naked and willing, was enough to make the bile rise in my throat. Why she liked him I couldn't fathom, but she did.

She'd do it, too; I was sure of it. It was only a question of when.

I tried not to think about it.

And as matters transpired, for once the gods took pity on me. A few days after Sidonie's departure, the one thing that could serve to lift me well and truly out of the slough of despondency took place.

Eamonn returned.

He presented himself at the Palace, himself and his Skaldic wife. There was no letter, no word of warning. I was sharing a midday luncheon with Dorelei and Alais when the news arrived, delivered by a grinning guard. Alais let out a little shriek.

“Eamonn mac Grainne?” Dorelei asked. “The Lady of the Dalriada's son?”

“The same.” I laughed, lightheaded with relief and gladness. “I told you, he fostered with House Montrève for a year. I was hoping to have word from him weeks ago. Have you met?”

“Oh yes, years ago, when I was a little girl. I daresay he won't remember it.” She smiled. “I do, though. He was lively.”

“Indeed.” I held out one hand to her. Alais was already tugging on my other hand. “Well, come on! Let's go.”

The Palace Guard had, after some debate, escorted them to one of the Queen's private salons. Brigitta was stalking around the perimeter of the room, eyeing the luxurious appointments warily. Eamonn was watching the door, rocking on the cracked heels of his boots and grinning to split his face, which sported a thick red-gold beard.

“Imri!” he shouted.

My heart rose into my throat; I couldn't even answer. I embraced him hard, thumping his broad back with both fists. Eamonn gave me a long, crushing squeeze, then held me off by the shoulders.

“All right, all right!” he said good-naturedly. “Dagda Mor! You'd think I'd risen from the dead.”

I feinted a punch at him. “Elua! You might as well, by the smell of you.

“Eamonn!” Alais hugged him about the waist, then wrinkled her nose. “You do stink. And you're very hairy.”

Eamonn laughed. “Sorry, young highness. It's been a long journey.” He pried her gently away and bowed, switching to the Caerdicci language. “May I present my lady wife, Brigitta of the Manni.”

“Yes, of course.” Alais, suddenly realizing she was the ranking member of the royal family present, struggled for composure. Her face reddened as she gazed at tall, blonde Brigitta, who was regarding us all with profound skepticism. “Well met, my lady, and welcome to the City of Elua. I'm Alais de la Courcel.”

“Hello, Brigitta,” I said to her. “You're supposed to curtsy.”

“Hello, Imriel.” She smiled slightly. “What are the dues of fealty in a strange land?”

It sounded like one of the questions Master Piero would have posed us back in Tiberium, and it made me laugh. I turned to introduce Dorelei to her, and realized belatedly that they shared no language in common. Brigitta spoke Skaldic and Caerdicci; Dorelei, Cruithne and D'Angeline. Of a necessity, I made the introductions in two languages and the women nodded awkwardly at one another.

At least with Eamonn there was no awkwardness. “Breidaia's little girl!” he exclaimed, hugging her. “Look at you, all grown up. I'm sorry we missed the wedding.”

“Never mind that,” Alais said impatiently. “Tell us what happened!”

I was dying to hear it, too, but it was clear they were both travel-worn and weary. “Mayhap you might extend the Queen's hospitality to them?” I suggested gently to Alais. “I suspect Prince Eamonn and his wife would be grateful for it.”

“Oh!” She flushed again. “Yes, of course.”

By the time Ysandre and Drustan arrived to proffer their greetings, Alais had summoned the Master of Chambers. Quarters had been located for Eamonn and Brigitta and Palace servants had gone ahead to drawing them a much-needed bath. They would have moved their baggage, too, but there was none.

“Name of Elua!” Ysandre murmured, bemused. “The last time anyone emerged from Skaldia and turned up on my doorstep looking like this…” She shook her head, and I knew she was thinking of Phèdre and Joscelin, who had escaped from slavery to bring word of an impending invasion. I was glad Brigitta didn't catch the reference. She was none too fond of D'Angelines as it was.

“Oh, we were robbed, that's all,” Eamonn said cheerfully. “Still, here we are!”

An hour later, we heard their tale over our interrupted luncheon. Neither the Queen nor Cruarch were able to attend, but I sent word to the townhouse, and Phèdre and Joscelin came posthaste. They'd grown fond of Eamonn during the time he fostered with us and the feeling was amply reciprocated. Eamonn let out another shout, sweeping Phèdre off her feet in a glad embrace, setting her down to clasp Joscelin's hand with a broad grin.

“This is my lady Phèdre,” Eamonn said to Brigitta. “She taught me to speak and write Caerdicci. And my lord Joscelin.” He laughed. “He taught me I'm not as clever with a sword as I think!”

“Well met, my lady,” Phèdre said graciously to Brigitta, speaking in fluent Skaldi. “We're so very pleased to have Prince Eamonn returned safely, and you with him.”

Brigitta nodded curtly; staring at her, staring at Joscelin with his Cassiline daggers and the longsword at his back. I thought of Erich, the young Skaldi man in the zenana. Phèdre had spoken to him in his mother tongue, too. And although he'd given no indication of it for weeks on end, he had known exactly who she was. He'd known her by that and by the scarlet mote in her eye. I remembered what he'd said. The defeated always remember. He'd been six years old when it happened. I hadn't even been conceived. Nor had Brigitta, but she'd grown up with the same stories.

“Eamonn,” I said in D'Angeline. “Did you ever happen to mention to Brigitta exactly who Phèdre and Joscelin are, and their history with a certain Skaldic warlord?”

“Well, of course!” He blinked at me. “Oh, that. No.”

I sighed. Everywhere I turned, it seemed I was hemmed in by the past. Heroism on one side, treachery on the other. “Oh, hell! No mind. Tell us what happened, will you?”

“May we eat first?” Eamonn asked plaintively. “I'm perishing.”

Between bites of a warmed-over roast with piquant sauce and large chunks of bread, he got out most of the story. Being Eamonn, he made it funny, although I daresay little of it was at the time. Armed with the map Brigitta had drawn for him and copies of maps in the archives at the University, he'd gone in search of her father's steading amid the tribes of the Manni in southern Skaldia.