Kushiel's Justice (Page 26)

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“No good deed goes unpunished,” Mavros observed. “Will you see her before you leave?”

“Sidonie?” I shrugged. “I'll make no effort to. 'Tis too maddening to hope.”

“Good lad.” Gauging his bird had been aloft long enough without a strike, Mavros whistled shrilly through his teeth and began swinging his lure in looping circles. “Make her come to you.”

“It's not like that,” I said.

Overhead, the falcon abandoned its gyre and began winging toward us. Mavros whistled again. Something rustled in the long grass and wild chicory. The falcon changed course abruptly and stooped, falling like a comet. There was a thrashing in the grass and a hare's terrible squeal. “Ha!” Mavros looked smugly at me and began coiling his lure. “It's always like that.”

“We'll see,” I said.

There was a formal Courcel dinner that night in celebration of Sidonie's return, with Eamonn and Brigitta attending as guests. I managed to be pleasant and circumspect throughout the evening. I hadn't lied to Mavros. I did want to see her, but it was simply too agonizing to hold out hope where little or none existed. There was too little time and no opportunity I could conceive. I made myself close the door on the possibility, regretfully but firmly, wondering in only a small corner of my mind if Mavros might be proved right.

He was.

I rose early on the day before our departure. Since moving to the Palace, I'd taken to practicing the Cassiline training-drills Joscelin had taught me in the little pleasure-garden beneath my balcony, at least on those days when I rose at a decent hour. I'd neglected them in Tiberium, and it felt good to establish the habit of discipline. I moved through the circular patterns—telling the hours, the Cassiline Brothers called it—slowly, then swiftly, then slowly again. My plain, well-wrought sword glinted in the grey light, marking each quadrant of defense. The dewy grass squelched under my boots, and I concentrated on placing my feet with care.

When I finished, I realized I was being watched.

The garden lay within the Palace walls and there was no guard posted at the little trellised egress that led onto it. Amarante was standing there in the shadow of the doorway, a shawl over her shoulders to ward off the dawn's chill. I sheathed my sword and crossed to her.

“Can you be at Naamah's Temple at noon?” she asked. “Alone and unseen?”

My throat went tight. “Yes.”

Amarante nodded. “Please be careful.”

“I will be,” I promised.

For once, I was. If the risks Sidonie and I had run had been high in the past, they seemed a great deal higher now. Too many people stood to be hurt, too many plans could be thrown into chaos. I wondered, briefly, if it was worth it for the sake of a single assignation. And then I lied to Dorelei and told her I meant to make an excursion to Phèdre's townhouse to retrieve a favorite shirt I'd neglected to bring with me.

I rode instead to Night's Doorstep and begged a favor of Emile. Along with the Cockerel, he also owned a livery stable, started long ago by Hyacinthe.

“Of course!” Emile waved off my coin. “No, no, consider it a wedding gift. You'll need a driver?”

“A discreet one, yes.” I hesitated. “And…a shirt.”

He stared at me. “A shirt?”

“Something worn,” I said. “Not too fine.”

“Secrets.” Emile shook his head. “Well, the Tsingani will keep yours, young highness, never fear. We never forget what Phèdre nó Delaunay did for Hyacinthe, Anasztaisia's son.” He plucked the coin from my hand. “But I'll take this for the trouble of finding you this shirt.”

“My thanks,” I said.

So it was that a bit before noon, I arrived at Naamah's temple in an unremarkable livery carriage driven by a close-mouthed Tsingano lad named Yanko. The same doves were roosting in the yew trees, but the garden below them was in full splendor. It seemed like a long time since I'd made my offering there, begging Naamah's forgiveness for my transgressions.

To my surprise, I was expected. The acolyte at the door led me past the altar, into the inner sanctum of the temple. There was a courtyard with another garden, this one bright and bursting with geraniums and bougainvillea.

The priest who had been an adept of Gentian House was waiting for me there. I remembered his name: Raphael Murain. His grey eyes were somber. “Prince Imriel, you are neither the first nor the last to seek the clandestine aid of Naamah's Order in this manner. I do this in honor of my vows, in recognition of the blessing you received at my hands, and in accordance with the wishes of her Ladyship in Namarre. However, I pray you understand it is a serious business. We serve Naamah, not the Crown, but no priest relishes the thought of crossing the Queen.”

“I understand,” I said steadily, although it gave me a little shiver.

Raphael Murain sighed. “Come with me.” He escorted me to the far side of the garden and unlocked a door onto a small bedchamber with shuttered windows, prettily appointed and bedecked with flowers. Even the bed was strewn with petals. “As I said, neither the first or the last. Wait here.”

I waited.

Sidonie came.

We didn't make it to the bed; we didn't make it beyond the door. The moment it closed, her arms were around my neck, my mouth on hers. Elua, the taste of her! She bit my lower lip, sucked on my tongue. I shoved her against the door, shoving her skirts up. She wrapped her legs around my hips. I clawed at her fine linen underdrawers, tearing them. Only the sound of ripping fabric made me pause.

“We should—”

“No.” Sidonie's nails dug into the back of my neck. “Please.”

Bracing her with one arm, I undid the straining laces of my breeches. I could feel the wet warmth of her sliding against my phallus, heard her gasp at my ear. Enough; Elua, enough! I shifted to grasp her buttocks with both hands, entering her with a thrust so hard and deep, it made the door bounce.

It was hard and fierce and so, so terribly good! The door creaked and rattled as I slammed into her, over and over, feeling her climax with a wordless cry, her thighs suddenly gripping me so tightly I could barely move. It didn't matter, I was ready. I buried myself in her and spent, the release so dizzying and intense that for a moment I couldn't see.

The sparkling darkness receded.

I held her where she was, breathing hard. “Feel better?”

“Yes.” Sidonie smiled. “Carry me to the bed?”

“Can't.” I shook my head. “Not with my breeches around my ankles.” She laughed, low and enthralling, arms still wound around my neck. The sound made me ache. I released my grip on her buttocks, moving my hands to her waist. Her legs slipped slowly down mine until her feet touched the ground and she stood, her skirts falling into place. “Sun Princess,” I murmured. “You break my heart.”

“Mine, too,” she whispered.

“I know.” I stooped to retrieve my breeches, tying them loosely. “Come here.” I swept her off her feet, scooping her into my arms and carrying her to the bed.

How long it lasted, I couldn't say. An hour, mayhap, before there was a discreet knock at the door. It wasn't enough. It was never enough. I gazed at Sidonie, naked and disheveled, bruised geranium petals stuck to her damp skin, and heaved a sigh from the depths of my heart.

“I have to go.” She climbed out of bed and began pulling on her clothing. “Will you write to me?”

“Yes.” I plucked a crimson petal from her collarbone. “Will you?”

“Yes.” Sidonie swallowed. “And in a year …?”

I nodded. “We'll see.”

She took my right hand and held it to her cheek. Planted a kiss in my palm, then folded my fingers and kissed the gold knot of a ring; soft and lingering, her breath warm against my knuckles. There were tears in her eyes. “Think of me?”

“Always,” I said.

There was another knock at the door, more insistent. Sidonie swept her hair into a coil. I helped her pin it in place, adjusted the stays of her bodice. I tugged on my breeches and kissed her one last time before she went to open the door.

And then she left.

Sunlight flooded the little bedchamber. I sat on the edge of the bed, its covers tossed and tangled, turning the gold ring on my finger. I thought about what Elua's priest had said to me about love when I was fourteen years old, spending the Longest Night maintaining Blessed Elua's vigil with Joscelin, filled with a mixture of bitterness and hope and hero-worship.

You will find it and lose it, again and again. And with each finding and each loss, you will become more than before. What you make of it is yours to choose.

He hadn't told me how much it would hurt.

I wished he had.

Chapter Seventeen

On the morrow, we departed for Alba.It seemed like half the City turned out to see us off. Everyone loves a gala procession. Of a surety, we were that. The Cruithne guards rode bare-chested, displaying their woad warrior's markings. The D'Angeline guards were resplendent in Courcel blue uniforms. The carriage-horses and wagon-mules had been caparisoned with silver head-plumes that bobbed with every step. No one was riding in the carriages, not on such a bright, fine day. Eamonn was grinning, the sunlight glinting on his red-gold hair, Brigitta beside him. Phèdre and Joscelin were there, the Queen's Champion and the realm's most famous courtesan.

And me; a Prince of the Blood, now a Prince of Alba. Riding alongside my wife. Somewhere in the multitude of trunks stowed aboard the wagons there was a truly disreputable shirt in gaudy Tsingano colors and a small leather volume of love letters.

I felt numb.

At the head of our procession rode the royal family, doing us the honor of escorting us to the gate of the City. Ysandre was merry, Drustan pleased. Alais wore a downcast expression. I couldn't bear to look at Sidonie. All I knew was that she sat very straight in the saddle, upright and unwavering.

We filed through the gate. Ysandre made a pretty speech about the Dalriada, and Drustan added a few words. The crowd cheered. A throng of well-wishers flooded through to bid us farewell, including most of Montrève's household. Eugènie and Clory embraced me and wept. Hugues gave me his wooden flute as a keepsake, insisting over my protests. Ti-Philippe listened, nodding, to last-minute instructions from Phèdre. Joscelin watched with amusement, his strong hands resting idle on the pommel of his saddle.

And then it was over.

Heralds atop the walls blew a fanfare on long trumpets. The Cruithne commander Urist raised a battle-horn to his lips and blew a long note in reply. The crowd cheered again. The Bastard pranced under me, reckoning the attention was all for him. Dorelei's eyes were bright, her gaze fixed on the western horizon. The Queen raised one hand in salute.

Urist blew another long blast, and our company began to move.

We were bound for Alba.

I clenched my right hand into a fist, feeling the ring's bite. Knowing Sidonie was somewhere behind me, watching. If she could be strong, I could, too. I squared my shoulders as I rode away from her, feeling her dwindling presence tug at me like a sea-anchor. I wanted to turn the Bastard and ride back, I wanted to take her in my arms and kiss her in front of the Queen, the Cruarch, and the watching City, and let the consequences be damned.

But I didn't.

The first day was the hardest, and all the harder because everyone around me was glad-hearted. 'Tis a lonely business, being miserable when happiness abounds. I did my best to hide it, although the people who knew me well, knew. To my surprise, one of them was Dorelei.

She was the only one who spoke of it. We'd made the village of Hercule in L'Agnace by nightfall. Accommodations had been arranged for the peers among us at a local inn, along with a handful of soldiers. The rest made camp in a field on the outskirts of the village. Dorelei and I shared a private room, as did Phèdre and Joscelin, Eamonn and Brigitta.

Our room had a battered bronze mirror. Dorelei sat on a low stool before it, brushing her long black hair, watching me in the mirror. I sat cross-legged on the bed atop the thin counterpane, toying with Hugues' flute.

“Can you play it?” she asked, curious.

I lifted it to my lips and blew a few notes, soft and low, my fingertips dancing over the wooden holes.

“Oh!” Dorelei's face kindled. “How nice!”

I lowered the flute. “I played the shepherd's pipe when I was a boy.”

Her reflected features turned grave. “You don't speak of it often.”

“No.” I shook my head. “Not often.”

“I'd listen, you know.” Dorelei hesitated. “Do you…do you miss her, Imriel? Was it hard to leave her?” She hesitated again. “It is a her, is it not?”

“Would it matter?” I asked, my voice stony. She flinched, and I sighed. “Oh, Dorelei! I'm sorry. Yes, and yes. You did beseech me for honesty. I miss her, and it was hard.” I patted the bed beside me. “Come here, I'll play for you.” I didn't play well, but I could still carry a tune. I played a simple, lilting melody from my childhood, one of the songs all the children at the Sanctuary knew by heart.

Dorelei sat quietly, listening. ” 'Tis a pretty tune,” she said when I finished. “Are there words to it?”

“Oh, yes.” I played the first measure, then sang for her. “Little goat, brown goat, with the crooked horn. Little goat, bad goat, eating all the corn. If you don't come away with me, I'll lock you in the paddock. Cook will come and chop you up, and stew you like a haddock.”

She laughed with delighted surprise. “That's terrible!”

I smiled. “I know. You shouldn't have asked.”

“Will you play it again?” Dorelei asked. I obliged, and she sang the chorus. She had a sweet voice, clear and true. I taught her the rest of the words and played it through. We were both laughing by the time it was over.