Kushiel's Justice (Page 34)

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“I'll try,” he said, sounding none too sure.

Outside the hall, the music continued. I got up from the table and stood outside the door to listen. One by one, the others followed. We all stood together, watching and listening.

Conor was a solitary figure, vague in the dim light. He looked small and lonely, head bowed over the harp he held. But his fingers danced on the strings, and the notes rang out, clear and carrying, over the distant green hills. The last note fell with a sustained, dying echo. When he turned around and walked back to us, his dark eyes were shining.

“How did you know?” he asked his mother.

“Oh, he tried to teach me, too.” She smiled again. “Only I never learned to play the harp. We'll see what happens, shall we?”

After that, it seemed there was little to say; or mayhap what there was to say was too big for words. We made for a quiet and thoughtful lot. As the evening wore on, it became apparent that Conor's father was not going to manifest immediately. Joscelin excused himself early, and Phèdre went with him.

I knew he was unhappy with what had transpired, and I didn't blame him. I was none too pleased with it myself. Still, I thought I'd done the best I could, under the circumstances. Morwen was right, Blessed Elua had no place here; not yet, anyway. But mayhap if I could come to love Alba, that would change.

In bed that night, Dorelei examined the charms of protection the ollamh had placed on me; the red yarn, the croonie-stone.

“My D'Angeline prince,” she murmured. “Who would have thought?”

“You've been quiet through all this,” I observed.

She toyed with the croonie-stone. “It scares me.”

“What part of it?” I asked gently.

“All of it.” Dorelei raised her eyes to mine. “Tell me, was she beautiful?”

“Morwen?” I shook my head. “No.”

“And yet she bound you so easily.” She wound a lock of my hair around her fingers. “They are dangerous, you know. The Maghuin Dhonn. They're wild and unpredictable, and one can never be sure what they want. It's funny.” She gave a faint smile. “If I lost you to …your D'Angeline, whoever she is…at least I'd understand. You love her. This, this is just malice.”

“Dorelei.” I caught her hand and laid it flat on my chest. “Look at me, wrapped all around in the ollamh's charms. I'm not going anywhere.”

“I'm glad,” she said simply. “Imriel, when this is over, can we leave? I like Eamonn very much, truly, and all his family. But I miss my own.”

“Shall we return to Bryn Gorrydum?” I asked. “Or take up residence at Clunderry?”

“We don't have to do either, yet.” Dorelei laid her head on my shoulder, and I shifted to accommodate her weight, sliding my arm around her. “We could go to Master Hyacinthe's Stormkeep with Phèdre and Joscelin.”

I stroked her hair. “Well, it's like to be the safest place in all of Alba, that's for sure.”

“True.” She smiled drowsily against my shoulder. “And mayhap my aunt Sibeal will know why my dreams have been silent since we wed.”

To that, I had no reply.

I held her close with one arm and continued stroking her hair, humming softly, until I felt her body slacken in sleep, her breathing deepening. And somewhere along the way, I fell asleep myself; a deep, dreamless sleep, unhaunted by the sound of pipes or a woman's laughter.

On the morrow, the day dawned bright and clear, and seemingly free of harpists. I arose feeling more refreshed by my night's sleep than I'd felt in ages. Before I dressed, I sat on the edge of the bed, feeling for the croonie-stone at my throat and checking my wrists and ankles, making sure the bits of red yarn were securely knotted.

Dorelei watched me with a dimpled smile. “You're like a parcel I can't unwrap.”

“Consider it mere adornment,” I suggested.

Her smile deepened. “All right.”

We made love, laughing and hushing one another when the sounds from the great hall intruded. Innisclan was not built for privacy. I thought about what Aodhan had said, and understood for the first time that learning to love Alba and learning to love Dorelei were one and the same.

I didn't think of Sidonie.

For the first time, she seemed far, far away. On the far side of the Straits that divided our lands, on the far side of the charms of protection that bound me. I had given myself over to Alba, and Aodhan rendered me proof against my own innermost desire. Even the dark surge of Kushiel's bloodline seemed far away, tied to my feelings for Sidonie.

“That was nice,” Dorelei murmured.

I made a sound of agreement deep in my throat.

“Do you think we made a child?” She rolled over in the narrow bed, lacing my fingers in hers and laying my hand on her belly. “I'd like to.”

“Would you?” I squirmed downward to plant a kiss on the soft brown flesh below her navel. “Well, then. I reckon we should keep trying.”

“Imriel…” She breathed my name.

I spread her thighs and plied her with my tongue until she shuddered and writhed and tugged at my hair. She tasted of the sea and smelled of fresh-baked bread. I slithered up her body, my wrists and ankles bound with red yarn. I entered her, the croonie-stone hanging between us as I hovered above her on propped arms.

“Now,” Dorelei whispered. “Now!”

I arched my back and spent my seed in her, obedient.

Her face was soft with pleasure. “That was nice,” she said, echoing her own words.

“Indeed.” I kissed my wife. “We should get up. I promised Eamonn I'd make an offering at his uncle's burial mound.”

The household of Innisclan was still in a subdued mood, digesting the news of Conor's paternity and waiting in an apprehensive hush to see what would come of his summons. At Dorelei's suggestion, we paid a visit to the encampment where our men were idling to warn Urist that one of the Maghuin Dhonn might be approaching.

He spat on the ground and made a gesture to avert evil. “By the Boar! What did you go and do that for?”

“There'll be no trouble on the Lady's grounds,” I said firmly. “Not from this quarter.”

Urist eyed me dourly, jerking his chin toward the bindings of red yarn around my wrists. “There already has been by the look of you.”

“Just promise me you'll offer no offense,” Dorelei pleaded.

He folded his arms. “I do. Unless he gives cause.”

With that, we had to be content. Afterward, we visited the mound where Eamonn's uncle was buried. It was a simple grass-covered dome ringed round the base with a wall of stones. I was surprised to find there were no markers, nothing more elaborate.

“Why would it be needful?” Eamonn asked. “We know where he is.”

We climbed the gentle slope to the apex, where his uncle's head was entombed, facing toward the east where he'd fought the battle in which he died, far away across the Straits. Bringing forth a silver flask, Eamonn poured a libation of uisghe onto the ground. He handed it around and we all followed suit. Dorelei looked grave as a priestess, the amber liquid sparkling as she poured. Brigitta closed her eyes when her turn came, her lips moving in a silent prayer. It must be passing strange for her, I thought. For all any of us knew, it was one of her own kinsman had slain him.

When it was done, Eamonn sighed. “Rest easy in the Fair Lands, Uncle! May your spirit guard and protect us.”

“Do you think he is pleased?” Brigitta asked.

“I do.” Eamonn smiled at her. “If I could not bring him the heads of his enemies, at least I've conquered Skaldia in a different way.”

Brigitta made to strike him with her open palm and he dodged, laughing. They chased one another down the side of the burial mound. Below, in the open meadow, Eamonn caught her about the waist and bore her to the ground. Brigitta landed atop him. She thumped his chest with the heel of his hand, then kissed him. They made a pretty picture, entwined amid the buttercup and clover blossoming in the meadow. I felt a pang of envy, but it was distant and muted.

“What are you thinking?” Dorelei asked curiously.

“I'm thinking his uncle wouldn't have minded,” I said, taking her hand. “And that peace is a good deal more pleasant than war.”

The balance of the day passed uneventfully. Joscelin was engaged in helping Eamonn draft plans for his academy, but I spoke to Phèdre about accompanying them to visit Hyacinthe, explaining Dorelei's longing to see her own family, and she agreed readily.

“Poor child, I don't blame her. This must not be easy on her.” Phèdre studied me. “What of you?”

I shrugged. “I'm fine.”

“You seem…” She drew her brows together in consternation, at a rare loss for words. “I don't know, love. You're taking this very calmly.”

I thought about it. “Do you remember what Joscelin said after we left Saba? When I was upset because you looked the way you did in Daršanga?” Phèdre shook her head. “It was later that night, when you thought I was asleep. You asked if it bothered him. He said you walking around with the Name of God in your head was just one more damned thing to get used to.”

“Elua!” She gave a startled laugh. “I'd forgotten that.”

“Well, that's how I feel.” I touched the croonie-stone. “The Maghuin Dhonn, this …it's just all one more damned thing to get used to.” I glanced toward the east, toward the distant Straits and faraway Terre d'Ange. “In a way, they may have done me a favor. You see, whatever it is that the ollamh did, I'm protected from my own desires.” I lowered my voice. “Or at least my feelings for Sidonie.”

Phèdre was silent for a long moment. “I'm not so sure that's a good thing.”

“No?” I shrugged again. “Neither am I. But at the moment, I don't have a great deal of choice. So if a curse turns out to carry an unexpected blessing, I may as well enjoy it.”

We might have spoken further, but at that moment Mairead and Caolinn appeared. Like Joscelin, I'd kept up the practice of telling the hours on our journey, much to the bemusement of our Alban escort. The Lady's children had heard tales of our peculiar discipline and the Cassiline fighting-style and had come to beg me to importune Joscelin for a joint demonstration.

So I went to fetch him and he agreed, albeit with grumbling. Before supper was served, we put on a good show for them in the yard before the hall, in large part because Joscelin began to press me a good deal harder than was his wont. Having left our wood practice-blades in Terre d'Ange, we were sparring with real steel, his daggers against my sword. We'd done it before, but Joscelin was usually more careful.

“Are you angry at me?” I asked, using the sword's reach to keep him at bay.

Joscelin sidled around, forcing me to turn so that the light of the lowering sun was in my eyes. “Angry, yes. At you, no.”

I squinted at his dark silhouette. “What would you have me do?”

He took an unexpected step, feinting low with his left-hand dagger. I parried awkwardly and cursed as his right-hand dagger descended, trapping my blade with the quillon. His left-hand dagger rose to prick the underside of my chin. “I'd have you be careful!”

A smattering of cheers and applause arose. Joscelin stepped back and gave his Cassiline bow. I sighed and sheathed my sword.

“Well done, indeed!” a strange, melodious voice said. “An art worthy of song.”

I turned slowly, the hair on the back of my neck prickling.

“Dagda Mor!” someone whispered.

The harpist stood on the far side of the yard, arms spread to show he bore no weapons, only his harp slung over his back in a leather case. He was a tall, rangy figure with strong, striking features, coarse black hair streaked with iron-grey.

“My lord Ferghus,” Grainne emerged from the hall and inclined her head in greeting. “Be welcome to Innisclan.”

“Lady Grainne.” He smiled easily, showing white teeth. “My thanks.”

Everyone in the yard was very quiet as the harpist Ferghus approached. Joscelin watched him warily, crossed daggers at the ready. Conor was there, his eyes wide with wonder and fearful apprehension. The harpist paused, laying a lean brown hand on his head.

“Well played, lad,” he said.

“Thank you,” Conor whispered.

Joscelin shifted when Ferghus drew near, blocking me. The harpist gave another easy smile, showing his empty palms. I touched Joscelin's arm and stepped out from behind him.

“So you're the one would be a Prince of Alba,” the harpist said.

I offered my hand. “Imriel.”

He took it. “Ferghus.”

At close range, he didn't look dangerous; but he didn't look safe, either. There was a hint of something wild glinting in his black eyes, slanting the planes of his cheekbones. Like Morwen, the scent of forest loam and fermented berries clung to him. Untamed places, I thought. And though his jerkin and breeches were of roughspun brown cloth, he carried himself like a king.

“Will you dine with us, my lord?” Grainne asked calmly. “There's a matter I wish to discuss with you.”

“Shall I sing for my supper?” he asked. “As in days of old?”

Her red-gold brows rose slightly. “If you wish.”

Unexpectedly, Ferghus roared with laughter. “Ah, Grainne, Grainne! I've missed you, lass.” He stepped toward her, touched her cheek with affection. “Too long, it's been.” Something caught his eye. “Ah, and who's this?”

Grainne introduced Phèdre.