Kushiel's Justice (Page 27)

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“Thank you,” I said to her. “That was fun.”

” 'Twas your doing.” She ducked her head with a shy smile and took my right hand in hers. Her slender fingers toyed, unthinking, with the gold knot of Sidonie's ring. It was more than I could bear, and I pulled my hand away gently. “I'm sorry.” Dorelei glanced up at me, her wide eyes filled with sorrow and a sympathy I didn't deserve. “Will it be better in Alba, do you think?”

“I do,” I said. “Truly.”

She kissed my cheek. “I hope so.”

After that night, I made a determined effort to master my mood. I sought to live from moment to moment, enjoying the camaraderie of the friends and loved ones who surrounded me, taking pleasure from Eamonn's gladness at going home after his long travail, from Phèdre and Joscelin's delight at embarking on adventure, albeit a small one. From Dorelei's happiness at returning to Alba, from the fierce earnestness with which Brigitta applied herself to her study of Alban languages.

All of us tried to help in her endeavor. We sang a great deal as we rode. With Eamonn's aid, Phèdre translated a handful of Skaldic hearth-songs into Eiran, and we sang those over and over. I began learning to play them on Hugues' flute, which had proved to be a far better gift than I'd reckoned. Betimes I played the song about the little brown goat to make Dorelei smile, and we made up Eiran verses for that, too. Betimes, when everyone was tired of singing, I played simple, wandering melodies of my own invention.

There is healing in music; or so they say in Eisande, which is famous for its chirurgeons, its musicians, and its storytellers. I found it to be true. I poured my grief into the mouthpiece of the wooden flute and turned it into music, refused to let myself dwell on it.

Refused to allow myself to think about Sidonie.

Betimes, my concentration would lapse and my thoughts would drift toward her. The memories that broke through the barriers I'd erected against them were vivid and shocking in their intensity. Love is an irrational force, urgent and animal. Betimes—ofttimes, to be honest—it was memories of lovemaking that pierced me. That, at least, I could understand. It was an endless source of wonder to me that Sidonie managed to effortlessly combine uninhibited ardor, tenderness, and willing depravity.

She was so young, and so sure in her desires.

Elua, I loved that about her.

But it was the other memories that hurt the worst. All the little intimate moments, so damnably precious and few. The way she'd wrinkled her nose at me, so like Alais; and yet so not. The upraised sweep of her arms as she coiled her hair, quick and deft. The way she carried herself in public, stalwart as a soldier and twice as proud. The tears in her eyes when we parted for the last time.

It hurt.

It hurt a lot.

Again and again, I pushed my memories away. There were days when it was easy and days when it was hard. My love for Sidonie was a boulder in my heart. I sought to let go of it and let it sink. Let it sink below the surface, carrying my heart with it. Let it come to rest on the stream's bottom, a vast hidden bulwark, dividing the current. Let it stay there, hidden and unseen. Forgotten.

Betimes it worked.

Betimes it didn't.

It was the best I could do.

The Cruarch's flagship was awaiting us in Pointe des Soeurs, along with a pair of lesser vessels to carry our entourage. I hadn't seen it since I was ten—no, eleven—years old. The sight of it filled me with remembered awe. I watched it bob gently in the harbor, the crimson sails lashed, wondering if it was the selfsame ship I'd known as a child. If it was, I'd stood aboard its wooden decks and watched as Phèdre floundered to her feet atop the waters, and spoke aloud the unspeakable Name of God to banish the vengeful angel Rahab.

“Elua!” Phèdre gazed at it. “It's been so long.”

“Not so long.” Joscelin leaned over in the saddle to capture her hand, lifting it to his lips for a kiss. His summer-blue eyes danced. “Never that long, my love.”

I caught Dorelei watching them, a shadow of sorrow in her eyes. She hid it when she noticed me looking, giving me a quick smile.

And then we were at sea, the shores of Terre d'Ange falling away behind us. There were only water and wind, bearing us afloat, bellying our crimson sails as they were unfurled. Wind, caressing our cheeks; wind, ruffling the waters. We crossed the Straits and headed northward up the coast. Our journey was uneventful. How not? The Master of the Straits controlled the winds and the waters.

The waves danced for us, shaping themselves into patterns. Spelling out a message in an alphabet none of us could understand, save one. Phèdre watched the water and smiled to herself, while a green-hued Joscelin avoided looking at the water altogether. Somewhere, Hyacinthe was watching in his sea-mirror.

A day later, we made landfall at Bryn Gorrydum. The city wasn't where Dorelei and I would ultimately forge our lives together—once we were wed, we were to be ensconced in Clunderry Castle, which lay inland—but it was the Cruarch's seat of rule. Bryn Gorrydum was a harbor city, built where the Fayn River spilled into the sea. A sturdy grey fortress flying the Black Boar from its turrets perched above the harbor, surrounded by the sprawl of a thriving city. The innermost center looked to be old Tiberian stonework, but the outer rings gave evidence of a D'Angeline influence.

Phèdre and Joscelin marveled at it. “It's grown,” she murmured. “I hadn't expected it to have grown so much.”

“Oh, aye.” The Cruithne commander Urist sauntered up to the railing and spat over the edge. “Lots of things have grown. You should see Lug's Town.”

“Bryn Gorrydum's grown since / left.” Eamonn sounded wistful. I remembered him gaping at the tall buildings in the City of Elua. “I hope Innisclan hasn't changed.”

It felt strange to set foot on Alban soil for the first time. I was a D'Angeline Prince of the Blood, descended from two of the oldest Houses of the realm, Kushiel's scion and Elua's. I felt, suddenly and keenly, that I didn't belong here. It seemed as though the earth itself roiled underfoot in agreement, although I daresay it was only the effects of the sea voyage.

At least I hoped it was.

Compared to others I'd seen—Marsilikos, Ostia, the great harbor at Iskandria—Bryn Gorrydum's harbor was small and sleepy. But there were ships flying D'Angeline and Aragonian flags, a few round-bellied merchant-ships from the Flatlands, even a Skaldic dragon-ship that made Brigitta clap her hands with glee. Twenty years ago—mayhap even ten—few of them would have been here.

Prince Talorcan had sent a delegation to meet us. As we ascended through the city toward the fortress, I tried to gauge the mood of the populace. If they were hostile, it didn't show; but neither did they receive us with great joy. The dark-eyed Cruithne glanced sidelong at us, while other folk stared outright with impolite curiosity. Overall, the mood felt wary and watchful.

Of a surety, I didn't feel I was entirely welcome here.

In the City of Elua, I thought, there would have been cheers. Even if the commonfolk cared for naught but the spectacle and the nobility immediately turned to plotting ways to dispose of the foreign prince, there would have been cheers. Well, and so. Mayhap it would change. Mayhap there would be cheers when Dorelei and I wed in the Alban tradition. It didn't matter—I had no heart for cheers, anyway—but it served to remind me I was once more far from home.

At the fortress, Prince Talorcan received us graciously He was a serious young man, the Cruarch's heir; Drustan cast in a youthful mold, only without the quiet, intense air of command that made people fall silent and listen when he spoke.

Dorelei wept for gladness to see him and Talorcan smiled, folding her in a warm embrace. “Why weeping, my heart?” he asked in an older brother's tone of teasing affection. “Surely your marriage has not treated you so ill?”

“No.” She smiled at him through her tears. “No, of course not.”

“That's good.” Talorcan leveled a glance at me. “I know this is a marriage of state. But it is my hope that your husband will prove worthy of you, my sister. As I in turn will seek to be a worthy husband to Alais.”

I bowed. “I am trying, your highness.”

True and not true.

I hadn't been unkind, not since that first day of our journey. And I hadn't laid an ungentle hand on her since the night we talked, the night Mavros arranged for the Showing at Valerian House. Even in the throes of lovemaking, I'd been tender and considerate. I'd made her laugh playing the flute and singing silly songs, I'd listened to tales of her childhood. I'd even told her some of my own; innocuous tales of life at the Sanctuary of Elua.

I'd discovered that we liked one another, Dorelei and I. But I was fearful of giving free rein to my emotions. Fearful that all those emotions and longings I suppressed would spill forth, rendering me bitter and cruel.

Still, in my own way, I was trying.

And mayhap if I played at being the kind and gentle husband long enough, it would become true. Master Piero once told us that we might embody those qualities we desire to possess by embracing them, over and over, until the line between seeming and being is no more. I'd attempted that much on this venture.

Surely no one could ask for more.

Chapter Eighteen

We spent two days in Bryn Gorrydum before departing for Innisclan.Phèdre had hoped that Hyacinthe might visit while we were in Bryn Gorrydum, but Talorcan shook his head when she voiced it. “No, my lady. I believe he will attend the nuptials, but Master Hyacinthe seldom leaves his Stormkeep. He bears a great responsibility.”

Somewhat in his tone made her cock her head. “But all is well?”

“Oh, yes.” He nodded. “He wards the Straits as ever.”

“Who choose?” Brigitta made an impatient gesture. “What ship?”

Talorcan blinked at her. “My lady?”

“Who chooses which ships are granted passage?” Eamonn clarified helpfully. “The Cruarch or the Master of the Straits?”

“Ah.” Talorcan frowned. “Well, 'tis a complicated matter. Master Hyacinthe has agreed to bar passage to no ship of Alba, nor”—he nodded in my direction—”Terre d’Ange, save at his extreme discretion. As for trade-ships from other nations, only those which the Cruarch has approved are permitted, pending Master Hyacinthe's agreement. 'Tis but a formality, as they are generally in accord. My lord Drustan often hears petitions when visiting the Queen. Thus far, Master Hyacinthe has been in agreement with my lord Drustan.”

Eamonn translated for Brigitta. “Skaldia?” she asked.

“Including Skaldia, yes.” The Cruarch's heir smiled at her. “I believe their suit was brought at the behest of others. 'Tis a recent development and a cautious one. But perhaps your charm will hasten the process.”

This time Brigitta understood him well enough to color at the unlikely—to my mind—compliment. Phèdre still wore a thoughtful look. “What of the matter of a successor, your highness? Has…” She hesitated. “…Master Hyacinthe made any decision?”

“I don't believe so.” Talorcan turned his gaze toward her. His dark eyes were unreadable. Sidonie wore a similar look in public, sometimes. Strange to think they were cousins, more closely related than she and I were. I pushed the thought away and wondered instead what manner of husband Talorcan would make for Alais. I had the sense she admired and respected him, but of a surety, there was no passion there. “You would know if he had, would you not? It is well known in Alba that Master Hyacinthe holds you in the highest regard.”

“Well, he damnably well ought to,” Joscelin muttered.

“We're friends, yes,” Phèdre said. “But I don't believe he would inform me in such a matter without speaking to the Cruarch first. I wondered, that's all.”

Talorcan shook his head. “Nothing is resolved.”

The conversation turned to other matters. I thought about Hyacinthe, the Master of the Straits. In Night's Doorstep, Emile and others remembered him as he'd been when Phèdre first knew him: a merry Tsingano lad, quick with a laugh, with a knack for making a profit. It was hard to reconcile that image with the man I'd met aboard the Cruarch's flagship, who had eyes that looked like shadows crawling at the bottom of the sea and held the power to tame the waves in his hands. He was still young, but something ancient had looked out of him. I suppose facing the prospect of aging eternally would do that to a man.

Small wonder Hyacinthe held Phèdre in the highest regard. She'd freed him from the curse that had bound him to such a fate.

I wondered how old he must be now. Not so old, really. A little over forty, mayhap; he and Phèdre were near the same age. He was wed to Sibeal, Drustan's other sister. They had two young children, a girl and a boy. In accordance with the Cruithne's matrilineal line of succession, either one would have been eligible to be named as the Cruarch's heir. Alais had told me in utmost secrecy that her father had asked Hyacinthe if he were willing to allow either of his children to serve. Hyacinthe had told him flatly, no.

And one did not argue with the Master of the Straits.

Not even the Cruarch.

We departed Bryn Gorrydum in good order. If the city had proved larger and more sophisticated than one might expect, any notion that Alba was tame vanished within a half day's ride. At first we followed the course of the Fayn River westward. It was a broad, slow-moving river, suitable for barge traffic, and an old Tiberian road ran alongside it. Still, the city gave way rapidly to rolling countryside, dotted here and there with small croft-holdings. It was very green, a green so intense it smote the eye.