Kushiel's Justice (Page 37)

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We arrived at the Stormkeep on a hot, sweltering day. Although it was only a day's ride from Bryn Gorrydum, it was an isolated place, perched on a high crag overlooking the sea. It had been a Tarbh Cró holding, once, but Drustan had granted it to Hyacinthe and Sibeal some years ago.

“Not the most welcoming place, is it?” Joscelin observed, gazing up at it.

“No,” Phèdre murmured. “He found a taste for solitude.”

It had always been hard for me to reconcile the high-spirited, half-breed Tsingano lad of their memory with the man I'd met. But for ten long years, Hyacinthe had labored under a geas, apprenticed to the old Master of the Straits, studying the secrets of wind and wave written in pages of the lost Book of Raziel. When the old Master had died, his power and his curse had passed to Hyacinthe, binding him to an isle in the midst of the Straits; binding him to a life of eternal aging.

Phèdre had freed him from the curse, or I daresay he'd still be there. But there was no way to remove the burden of power, to restore the years of carefree youth he'd lost.

“Have you met him?” I asked Dorelei.

“Oh, yes.” She nodded. “He's …imposing.”

The approach to the castle was a winding path up the crag. There had been defensive fortifications once, but the ditches were crumbling and silted and the drawbridges hadn't been raised for years. A man who could call thunderbolts down on his enemies had little fear of attack.

“Should we bring our escort or have them make camp here?” I asked Joscelin, uncertain what protocol dictated. “Is Hyacinthe even expecting us?”

“Phèdre sent a message,” Joscelin said absently, shading his eyes and staring at the Stormkeep. He let out a laugh and pointed. “I'd say he is.”

I squinted. There were banners fluttering from three corners of the keep's single turret. Two were familiar: the Black Boar of the Cullach Gorrym and the lily and stars of Terre d'Ange. The third, I'd seen only once: a black field with a ragged crimson circle, pierced by a barbed golden dart. Kushiel's Dart. It had flown from Admiral Rousse's flagship when we'd sailed to rescue Hyacinthe.

“Damned Tsingano,” Joscelin said softly. He and Phèdre exchanged a long, private glance, then he shook himself. “Let them make camp here. I doubt the keep's big enough to accommodate them.”

So it was that the four of us mounted the pathway alone, our horses picking their way along the winding path. At the top, we found the portcullis raised and the tall doors to the Stormkeep's inner courtyard standing open.

We were expected.

They were there, waiting for us. A pair of Cruithne stable-lads waited to take our mounts. And beyond them was the Master of the Straits and his family.

Hyacinthe.

It had been some seven years since I'd seen him. I'd been no more than a boy when it had all happened, but seeing him brought it all back. The wind-driven ship, the maelstrom. The bright figure emerging from it, awful and wonderful. Phèdre, standing on the waters, speaking the Name of God.

“Hyacinthe.” She said his name through tears, dismounting.

I watched them embrace, a lump in my throat. He didn't look all that much older; nor did she. But they'd known one another for a long, long time. I saw his face when he released her, saw the flicker of anguish and regret that came and went so swiftly I might have imagined it.

“Cassiline.” Hyacinthe approached, hand extended.

“Tsingano.” One corner of Joscelin's mouth quirked. He clasped Hyacinthe's hand. “Good to see you.”

“And you.” Hyacinthe moved to hold Dorelei's reins as she dismounted. “Welcome, my lady Dorelei,” he said courteously. “Your aunt has been very much looking forward to this visit, as have I.”

“Thank you, Master Hyacinthe,” she whispered.

He tilted his head. “Please, go greet her.”

I watched her go, exchanging happy greetings with the Lady Sibeal, Drustan's sister, who appeared to have two smallish children clinging to her skirts. Joscelin went to Phèdre's side. She hugged him briefly, hiding her face against his neck. The Bastard sat motionless beneath me, prick-eared and interested.

“So.” Hyacinthe took hold of the Bastard's bridle. “Imriel de la Courcel.”

I dismounted with alacrity and bowed, keeping a wary eye on the Bastard, who continued to behave himself. “My thanks, Master Hyacinthe, for your hospitality.”

Hyacinthe looked at me without speaking. Dark eyes; Tsingano eyes. As dark as the Cruithne. Only things shifted and changed in their depths, like shadows moving over the ocean's floor. There was power enough behind those eyes to scatter the Maghuin Dhonn to the four winds. “I would not have Phèdre nó Delaunay's foster-son stand on ceremony with me,” he said at length.

I put out my hand. “Imriel, then.”

He clasped it. “Hyacinthe.”

Thus, our welcome at the Stormkeep. Dorelei reintroduced me to her aunt, the Lady Sibeal, whom I'd also met as a child. She embraced me with unreserved warmth as a member of the family. We all met their two children. Galanna, the girl, was six; the boy Donal was four. At first they were shy of us, but it passed quickly. Once it did, we discovered they were both prone to chatter.

For all its isolation, there was a surprising degree of warmth and informality within the keep's walls. There was no garrison, but they maintained a small household staff, a mix of Alban folk who cooked and cleaned, and tended to the stables and the extensive gardens that supplied much of the Stormkeep's provender. They were respectful of their imposing master and seemed genuinely fond of Sibeal and the children. Hyacinthe showed us the place, as gracious as any regional lord playing host to old friends; except that his holdings included a locked room at the top of the tower, which contained an ancient leather case bound with bronze straps, in which resided pages torn from the Book of Raziel.

“This is where you study?” Phèdre asked, gazing out the high windows.

“I come here to think.” Hyacinthe watched her. “There's naught left to study.”

She glanced at the case. “You've committed it all to memory?”

He nodded. “All of it, yes.”

“The ollamhs would approve,” I observed.

Hyacinthe laughed. “So Sibeal says. Come, I'll show you the sea-mirror.”

He led us to the rear of the keep, where a small, windswept terrace extended to the edge of the cliff. A narrow stair led down to the sea, waves crashing against the rocks. There was a pillar at each corner of the terrace, and in the center, a broad, shallow bronze basin sitting on a tripod, filled with seawater.

Joscelin took a deep breath. “It's been a long time since I saw that.”

” 'Tis not the same vessel,” Hyacinthe said. “This one was wrought of ore smelted on Alban soil. Still, it serves the same purpose. Is there aught you would see, Cassiline?”

“No.” Joscelin shook his head. “I saw enough the last time.”

“Phèdre?” Hyacinthe asked.

She smiled. “All I desire to see is here. Let the children choose.”

Hyacinthe turned to us. “What will you?”

“Can it show my mother?” Dorelei asked.

“Of course.” He inclined his head and swept one arm over the basin. The water within it rippled in a manner that owed nothing to the wind, then went still. When it did, it reflected not sky, but a scene unfamiliar to me: a room filled with afternoon light, three Cruithne women sitting and conversing, their hands busy with embroidery-work. I leaned over the basin and stared, fascinated.

“That's your mother?” I pointed to the one with a look of Dorelei and Sibeal, careful not to disturb the surface of the water.

“It is.” Her voice was warm. “And that's Kinada beside her, Kinadius' mother, and her daughter, Kerys. She's a friend of mine. They're in the parlor of Clunderry Castle.”

It looked to be a pleasant place; a safe harbor. Nice.

“What will you see, Imriel?” Hyacinthe asked.

I shrugged. “I can't think of anything.”

“Imri!” Dorelei nudged me. “What of Alais?”

“All right, yes,” I agreed. “May I see Alais?”

“You may.” Hyacinthe made no second pass over the basin, but the water rippled and the images on its surface blurred and changed.

It was another scene of domesticity, this one set in a place I knew well. The room had been the royal nursery once; it had been converted into a study, and Alais and I had spent many hours there under the ollamh Firdha's tutelage.

Alais was there.

So was Sidonie.

My heart gave an odd, constricted leap. From the look of it, they were quarrelling. I watched Alais fold her arms, scowling. Although I couldn't make out her face as well, Sidonie looked perturbed. I was aware, at a great distance, of a desire to make her laugh, to smooth the troubled look from her brow. Her lips moved; Alais shook her head, then glanced sharply away. I saw her mouth tighten. Maslin de Lombelon entered the room. He made a stiff bow to Alais, then offered his arm to Sidonie.

I fought the urge to clutch the croonie-stone.

She didn't take his arm, not right away. The perturbed look gave way to puzzlement. Her head turned, as though someone distant had called her name. For a moment, it seemed Sidonie gazed directly out of the sea-mirror at me.

My heart thudded in my breast. The red yarn around my wrists and ankles seemed suddenly tight and binding.

And then Maslin must have spoken, although his back was to the sea-mirror, for Sidonie's expression changed to her usual one of composure, and her lips moved in reply. She moved past Alais to take Maslin's arm and they left the room together. Alais flung herself into a chair, glaring after them. The wolfhound Celeste padded over and laid her hairy chin on Alais' knee, begging to have her ears scratched.

The image faded. The water became water, reflecting only sky.

“Siblings.” Dorelei smiled. “Talorcan and I used to fight when we were younger. You wouldn't think it, but we did. What do you suppose they were quarrelling about?”

“I don't know,” I murmured. “Maslin, mayhap. Alais doesn't like him.”

“Sidonie does,” she said. “So I heard, while she was away at Naamah's shrine.”

“Yes.” I gathered myself and turned to our host. “My thanks, my lord. That was most interesting.”

“You're welcome.” Hyacinthe looked at me for a moment, dark and grave. His sea-shifting eyes had gone still. I remembered that he had another gift; a Tsingano gift. The dromonde, the gift of sight. It was what had drawn him to Sibeal, to a daughter of Necthana's line. I wondered what he saw, and found myself afraid to know. But whatever it was, it passed. “You must be weary and hungry from your journey,” he said. “Let me show you to your chambers ere we dine.”

After Innisclan, the chambers seemed spacious. We refreshed ourselves and joined our hosts for dinner. It was a pleasant meal, due in large part to the children, who were permitted to attend during the early portion of the evening. In them, I could see a bright shadow of the man their father had once been, merry and irreverent.

“You're pretty” Galanna informed Phèdre, clambering down from her chair and flouncing her skirts. “Do you like my dress?”

“Very much, my lady.” Phèdre smiled. ” 'Tis as lovely as you are.”

She tossed her silken black hair. “I know.”

Joscelin grinned at Hyacinthe. “There's D'Angeline blood in that one.

“Oh, do you reckon, Cassiline?” Hyacinthe shifted the burden on his lap; the boy Donal, who'd ensconced himself there. It was an image I'd never thought to see; the Master of the Straits as rueful father. Donal leaned forward, intent on grabbing a serving-spoon from a dish of baked pears. “No, no, let it be.”

“They're a bother, aren't they?” Sibeal said fondly, rising to pluck Donal from Hyacinthe's grasp. “Forgive us for inflicting them on you. Anyway, 'tis time they were a-bed. Let's find Nurse, shall we?”

A chorus of howls ensued.

“Here, I'll take him.” Dorelei reached out her arms. “Just for a moment.”

“As you will.” Sibeal transferred him gladly. The boy settled into Dorelei's lap with a sigh of victorious contentment, and began telling her a long, rambling tale about chasing a frog in the garden that morning.

I watched them together. Dorelei smiled, bending her head to listen to her young cousin. He had a round, impish face, his father's black curls, and a pair of protruding ears. If we had children, they'd be close kin.

“We wanted to give their lives a semblance of normalcy.” Hyacinthe was watching them, too. “And I wanted them to have the things I never had.”

“Like a father?” Phèdre asked softly. “It seems you're a good one.”

“He indulges them terribly,” Sibeal said, smiling at him.

Hyacinthe smiled back at her. “That's because I can always lock myself in the tower and leave you to deal with them.”

The children were permitted to linger for a few more minutes, and then Sibeal exerted her maternal will and declared an end to it. The nurse, a befreckled young Tarbh Cró woman who clearly doted on the children, was summoned and led them away. I laughed at the production they made of it, with downcast heads and dragging feet, futile pleas trailing behind them.

After their departure, we spoke of more serious matters, telling them what had transpired with the Maghuin Dhonn. I expected Sibeal to be reluctant to hear them discussed, but she didn't seem as troubled by the Old Ones as Dorelei and the Cruithne in general. I suppose being wed to a man who could command the seas to rise and fall had that effect.