Kushiel's Justice (Page 39)

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But I'd failed at being a simple soldier, too. I hadn't been boasting, I'd acquitted myself well enough during the siege of Lucca, and none of my comrades had cause to complain of me. Still, my fellow soldiers hadn't loved me, either. I didn't have the knack of easy camaraderie that Eamonn did. And in the end, simplicity had evaded me. The Duke of Valpetra had sought me out, bent on vengeance because I'd cut off his hand. I'd survived only because Canis, my mother's willing tool, had given his life for mine.

It seemed like a long time ago.

I found Dorelei gazing out the room's single window, shutters open onto the summer breeze. The window looked inland, and twilight was falling over the green plains. She turned and gave me a swift, halfhearted smile. “I'm sorry. I didn't mean to be rude.”

“You weren't.” I sat on the bed.

“Do you know what they're about?” she asked.

“No.” I smiled wryly. “Oh, I could hazard a guess, which I daresay is why they're not bothering to hide it. It's somewhat to do with the Book of Raziel. Phèdre and Hyacinthe have written back and forth to one another for years on the matter.”

“I didn't know they used to be lovers.” Dorelei's voice was nearly inaudible.

“Long ago.” There was only a single oil lamp burning low, and the room was growing dark. I found a pair of tallow candles and lit them. “Did your aunt Sibeal tell you? Is she troubled by it?”

“Yes, and no.” She watched the candle flames grow, casting shadows. “She said she always knew, that it didn't matter. That what is between them is strong and good, and enough for the both of them. That if he were to betray her, it would never be under their own roof.” Her mouth twisted ruefully. “And that love is a complicated business.”

“What of your dreams?” I asked. “Did she know why they've gone silent?”

Dorelei sat on the bed beside me. “Because of you.”

“Me!” I was startled.

“Not at first.” She took my hand. “At first it was likely because I was far from home, and …scared. And then, mayhap, because of them” Her lips thinned. “That music you heard, the charmed song. They may have interfered.”

“And now?” I asked.

She traced the threads of red yarn around my wrist. “We see only glimpses, you know. Riddles. Our own fates, or those we love. Those to whom our lives are bound.” She was silent a moment. “I saw my father's death when I was eight years old. I didn't understand the dream until it happened.”

“I'm sorry,” I said quietly. I knew her father had been killed in a rockslide when she was a child, and she'd always spoken fondly of him. I hadn't known she'd foreseen his death.

“Thank you.” Dorelei squeezed my hand. “The thing is, my life is bound to yours now. And you're bound against charms.”

“Harmful ones.” I hesitated. “Their magic.”

“It may be it's all of a piece.” Her voice dropped again. “I told her what he said, that harpist. That our gift came from their blood. She said it might be true.”

“Well, of a surety, they're obsessed with trying to unravel the future.” I took a deep breath and told Dorelei what had transpired with Morwen that day. She listened to me without interrupting, grave and concerned, until I got to the part where I tried to grab the leather bag.

A disbelieving giggle burst from her. She clapped one hand over her mouth and stared at me. “You didn't!”

“I did,” I said.

Dorelei's eyes were wide as saucers. “What did she do?”

“Ran.” I grinned. “Ran like a rabbit. I wasn't anywhere close to catching her.”

“Are you jesting?” she asked dubiously.

I shook my head. “I wouldn't. Not about this, I promise. But why would she say she wanted me to get her with child? It makes no sense. A month ago, she wanted me to leave Alba and return to Terre d'Ange.”

“A lot may change in a month,” Dorelei murmured.

It was my turn to stare. I opened and closed my mouth several times, no doubt looking as dumbstruck as I felt. “Are you …?” I cleared my throat and gestured with my free hand in the vicinity of her belly. The words emerged in a whisper. “With child?”

“Well, what did you think we were about!” she said tartly. She let go my hand and sighed. “I don't know for sure, Imriel; not yet. But I think so, yes.”

“But that's …that's wonderful!” I blinked. “Isn't it?”

“Is it?” Dorelei looked steadily at me. “Nothing's really changed, has it? Not beneath these.” She reached out to pluck at the red yarn. “If it had, these wouldn't be needful.”

“I don't know.” I thought about my glimpse of Sidonie in the sea-mirror, my encounter with Morwen. The way the bindings had itched and chafed, the croonie-stone had grown heavy. “Probably not.” I returned her even gaze. “I'm doing my best, and I think 'tis fair to say we've grown fond of one another, but it may never change, Dorelei. I'll not make any false promises. What of you? Would you claim to love me?” She made no reply. “When I returned today, you were happy, there with your aunt and Urist's men. Kinadius leapt up like a scalded cat when I entered the hall. He'd hoped to court you one day, you know.”

Dorelei flushed. “What are you saying?”

I spread my hands. “Only that he's the sort of man could make you happy, and I'm not.”

“A proper Pict, you mean?” She smiled sadly. “It doesn't matter, Imriel. Neither you or I entered this marriage thinking to find love and happiness.”

“No, but one can hope,” I said.

“One can.” She rose and went to gaze out the window again. “And one can recognize the moment when hope turns to folly, too. But it's not only that. It's all become so complicated. We agreed to a marriage of state. You didn't agree to having your heart's desire locked away behind an ollamh's charms. I didn't agree to have my dreams silenced. Mayhap these are signs that should be heeded.”

“What will you?” I asked simply.

Her slender shoulders rose and fell. “You know, I've thought about it from time to time. The sky wouldn't crack and fall if we were to part. My brother is the Cruarch's heir, yes, but he needn't worry about naming an heir of his own for years and years. The Cruarch may have conceived this solution, but 'tis Terre d'Ange pushed for it.”

The answer took me by surprise. I'd no idea she'd thought seriously about ending our marriage. Since I didn't know what to say to it, I only addressed her latter comment. “Believe me, I know,” I said. “I felt the pushing.”

“So fearful of protecting their interests!” Dorelei laughed, but there was no humor in it. “Our nations are allies and both of us profit by it. Why should that change, no matter who rules? Tell me truly, Imriel, what do they think a child of ours would guarantee? Unquestioning fealty?”

“I don't know.” My chest felt tight. “My lady, I never claimed to agree with my countrymen. Despite Blessed Elua's teaching, they place far too much significance on his bloodlines.”

“And yet you agreed to this,” she mused. When I didn't answer, she laughed again, short and humorless. “Do you know what the worst thing is?”

“No,” I murmured.

Dorelei turned to face me. “I actually do love you.” There were tears on her brown cheeks. “Not…” She made an impatient gesture. “I don't know, not like it is in the ballads. It's stupid and it hurts. You're insufferably self-absorbed, and you make me miserable.”

“I'm not—” I began.

“Oh, you are!” She laughed bitterly, dashing at her tears. “And then you do your best to be kind and charming, and you look at me, truly look at me with those stupid blue eyes, and smile, and my heart turns upside down, and I hate it, and I hate you for it.”

“That would be love,” I said quietly.

“Now you know.” Dorelei sniffled and wiped her nose. Her voice hardened. “So what will you, Imriel de la Courcel?”

I sat on the edge of the bed, elbows propped on my knees. “You spoke of parting. Is that your wish?”

“I don't know.” She sounded weary. “Betimes, I think it would be better for both of us. You'd be free. I'd be able to dream freely again. Mayhap all this strangeness that's been attendant on our marriage would end. I'd like that, very much. It frightens me to have the …Old Ones …meddling in our lives. And I …this would pass, I think, in time.”

“What of the child?” I asked.

“What would you have me say?” Dorelei smiled ruefully. “It would hardly be the first child in Alba raised without a blood-father. There would be no lack of men at Clunderry willing to play the role. You'd acknowledge him, I hope. Or her. I've not been with anyone else.”

“Of course!” I glanced up at her, stung.

“So.” Dorelei shrugged. “Mayhap we should cancel the Alban nuptials. You'll have to tell me what's needful to recant the vows we swore in Terre d'Ange.”

My head ached. I felt a sense of loss, keen and piercing; the first true emotion I'd felt since Aodhan placed his protective charms on me. What if there's a child? Sidonie had asked. I'd made some careless reply, assuming it would make little difference. I thought about my mother's letters, filled with an unexpected depth of maternal passion, and about the way Hyacinthe devoted himself to his children, having grown up fatherless. And I thought about Dorelei calling me self-absorbed, too.

And Morwen. Morwen had said the future had changed. I wondered if she'd known.

“I'd rather not.” I swallowed. “If…if there is a child, I'd rather it were born knowing I cared enough to wed you, to stay with you. To be a father to my daughter or son, at least long enough to see him draw his first breath, laugh his first laugh. But…” I took a deep breath, trying to ease the tightness in my chest. “Not at the cost of your happiness, Dorelei. I'll abide by whatever you wish.”

“You mean it?” she asked.

I nodded. “If my staying will make you miserable, I'll go.”

She considered me. “And if you stay, what happens later? To us?”

“I don't know,” I said honestly. “If we find that our lives together don't contain enough happiness to sustain us, so be it. At least we will always know we tried, and so will our child. If he becomes Talorcan's heir, he'll have the full mantle of legitimacy.” I hesitated. ” 'Tis your choice, truly. Do you think you could endure my presence a while longer? Even if it meant the loss of your dreams?”

Dorelei laughed, but this time there was no bitterness in it, only sorrow. “Oh, I think I could manage it.”

“Good.” The ache of emptiness retreated a little. I smiled at her. “You're sure?”

“I think so, yes.” She sighed and left the window, coming to sit beside me. “You know, this wasn't the discussion I'd planned on having, but I'm glad we did. 'Tis time and more we were fully honest with one another, and this time I'm more to blame than you. We did promise to be friends to one another.”

“Many a marriage of state is built on worse,” I agreed.

“True.”

Her admission of love hung between us. I hadn't known she felt that way, hadn't even suspected. For as much attention as I'd been paying her, it was my own feelings, or lack thereof, I'd been obsessing over. Self-absorbed, indeed.

I cleared my throat. “Shall I see if there's another guest chamber available?”

“Well, I didn't mean we had to take it that far,” Dorelei said quickly, then flushed. We both laughed, although she stopped first, turning somber once more. “We should wait a while, though. I'll know for a surety in a couple of weeks. If I'm right, then there's no harm in making love. The damage is done, as it were. But if I'm wrong…” She fell silent.

“What if you are?” I asked. “If you're not with child, what then?”

The strength of women is different from the strength of men, deep and enduring. Dorelei looked at me, her eyes dark and solemn. She touched the red yarn bound around my wrist. “Imriel, I don't know what the Old Ones want, and I don't care. You're not meant to live this way and neither am I. If I'm not with child, then I think it would be for the best if you boarded the first ship to Terre d'Ange. Don't you?”

“Yes.” There was a vast relief at saying the words. “I do.”

She smiled sadly. “Good.”

Chapter Twenty-S ix

Our relationship changed for the better after that night.Dorelei's honesty had been as bracing as being doused with a bucket of cold water. I'd been working so hard to convince myself that things might be fine between us, if only I tried hard enough. If only I pretended to be what I thought I should. And bound behind charms, I'd done a better job of fooling myself than I had her.

It was a blessed relief to have it in the open between us. I stopped trying so hard to be pleasant and charming, and discovered she liked me well enough as myself. I worried less about being attentive, and more about actually paying attention to what she thought and felt.

We grew easier with one another, truly easier. If Dorelei's feelings for me troubled her, we spoke of it. And if my bindings chafed, I acknowledged it.

Oddly enough, they didn't, though. Not as they had.

I spoke to Phèdre about what Dorelei and I had decided, alone and in private. She was Queen Ysandre's confidante, and I thought it best to tell her first. She heard me out in thoughtful silence. “Are you upset?” I asked when I'd finished.