Kushiel's Justice (Page 44)

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But I was a husband, too, and soon to be a father. And I had sworn a vow this very day; a vow I'd meant. For a year and a day, I'd pledged myself. I'd sworn it by the same oath that the Maghuin Dhonn had sworn to do me no harm. Blessed Elua might forgive me for breaking it for love's sake; I was not certain the myriad gods and goddesses, and Alba herself, would do the same.

I folded away the letter and went upstairs to lie awake in my nuptial bed.

Chapter Twenty-E ight

All throughout the following day, guests departed amid a flurry of well-wishes.Hyacinthe and Sibeal were among the first to leave. “My gift to you is a promise to Phèdre and Joscelin,” the Master of the Straits said to me. “Inasmuch as I may, I will keep watch over Clunderry in the sea-mirror; and the Maghuin Dhonn, too. If I see aught amiss, I will send swift word to you and Drustan alike.”

“My thanks, my lord. It is a great kindness.” Feeling awkward, I touched the croonie-stone at my throat, remembering the day he'd shown us the sea-mirror and the way he'd looked at me afterward. “Master Hyacinthe …may I ask you a question?”

He smiled a little. “You may.”

“Did you ever speak the dromonde for me?” I asked.

Hyacinthe didn't answer right away. He looked thoughtfully at me, shadows shifting like slow currents in his dark eyes. “I saw somewhat, once,” he said at length. “A glimpse.”

I cleared my throat. “Was it harmful to Alba? Or Dorelei?”

“No,” he said, slow and puzzled. “You were alone, and it was snowing. You were kneeling beneath a tree, holding a sword.”

It was Dorelei's dream, the only one she'd had of me. I remembered her telling me, back in Terre d'Ange, as I'd slid into a drunken slumber. A shiver brushed my spine. “Thank you.”

He smiled wryly. “For what it's worth, you're welcome. As Phèdre might well tell you, the dromonde can be a vague business, muddled as a dream and filled with odd portents. It may mean somewhat altogether different than it seems. But have a care this winter nonetheless. Sibeal's counting on you and Dorelei to visit next summer, babe in tow.”

I smiled back at him. “I will and we shall.”

We bade farewell to Eamonn and Brigitta that day; and to Conor, although I didn't see him at first. It was Dorelei who nudged me and nodded. In a quiet corner of the hall, Conor and Alais were deep in conversation, oblivious to aught else.

I raised my brows at Eamonn. “What do you know about that?”

Eamonn grimaced. “Not a blessed thing. Dagda Mor! He knows she's betrothed to Prince Talorcan.” He whistled sharply. Conor's head came up, his brown cheeks flushed. “Sorry, my lady,” Eamonn said to Dorelei. “I'm sure the lad meant no harm by it.”

“Ah, well.” She watched the two of them make their way toward us. “They're young.

Fifteen, I thought. In Terre d'Ange, that was too young to play the Game of Courtship in earnest, too young for admission to the Night Court. Old enough for other games, though. Alais' violet eyes were sparkling in a way they seldom did at home. At sixteen, she was pledged to wed Talorcan in a ceremony that would doubtless make our nuptial celebration look miserly. There would be no Game of Courtship for her. Alais and Talorcan seemed to like and respect one another, but I'd seen naught else between them. I remembered what she'd said when I asked if she'd consented to the betrothal. I couldn't think of a reason not to. I wondered if she fancied she might find one in Conor mac Grainne, son of the Lady of the Dalriada and a harpist of the Maghuin Dhonn.

“Why are you looking at me like that, Imri?” Alais asked.

“No reason,” I said. “Yet.”

Like as not, it was only harmless flirting. Still, Elua, what a mess that would be! For some perverse reason, the thought made me grin. Alais narrowed her eyes at me. “Whatever it is, it's not funny.”

“You're probably right about that,” I agreed.

Amid fond farewells and further promises of visits, they took their leave; and once the Dalriadans had left, there were dozens of clan-lords who must be thanked for their attendance and whatever gifts they'd brought.

All in all, 'twas a long, wearying day of courtesy.

I was glad Phèdre and Joscelin weren't leaving today, although the matter was problematic in its own way.

Two days hence, Dorelei and I, along with her mother and Alais, would leave to take up residence at Clunderry. It was Joscelin's initial desire to accompany us there to see to the skill of the estate's garrison and the security of its borders he had done in Montrève. Urist, appointed by Drustan to accomplish that very task, had taken it amiss. The Cruarch had stayed out of the matter thus far, and so had Phèdre, although I daresay she would have been glad to go to Clunderry with us. It was my first test of statecraft as a Prince of Alba, and fortunately, I'd had enough wits to consult Dorelei on the matter.

“Truly?” She had hesitated. “Imriel, it is not only Urist who would take it amiss. In the eyes of Alba, it is we who saved Terre d'Ange in her hour of need. It would not sit well to have a D'Angeline presume to teach us.”

Together, we had made our decision, and I was glad I'd heeded her counsel. That night, over a blessedly quiet meal, we discussed the matter. I'd thought Joscelin would be angry, but he surprised me, merely smiling ruefully.

“You've a point,” he said. “I wouldn't have tolerated it at Montrève.”

“You're welcome to come, of course,” Dorelei added.

Phèdre fixed her with one of those deep looks. “I remember how it was when I first inherited Montrève,” she mused. “They're a stiff-necked folk, the Siovalese.” Joscelin snorted, which she ignored. “No matter what I might have done, no matter that I was my lord Delaunay's legal heir. They were none too pleased to have the estate given over to a City-born courtesan. The wisest thing I did to earn their trust was to stay away a good deal of the time until they realized I didn't intend to alter the nature of Montrève.”

“You think it best if you don't come with us,” I said, realization dawning.

“What do you think?” Phèdre glanced around the table.

It was all family there that night; Drustan presiding, Talorcan, Breidaia, and Dorelei, and then Alais, Phèdre, and Joscelin. Strange to think, they were all my family, bound by ties of blood, fosterage, and marriage. The Cruithne glanced at one another, and it was my wife's mother who answered.

“I think it is in your heart to do otherwise,” Breidaia said to Phèdre, her voice gentle with compassion. “But I think what you say is wise. Let the folk learn to love the children on their own merits, in their own time. Then, when a pair of D'Angeline heroes out of legend grace Clunderry's threshold—in the spring, mayhap, when the babe is due…” She smiled, her cheeks dimpling like her daughter's. “…your presence will be received as a blessing.”

“Why wouldn't it be now?” Alais asked, bewildered.

“Because people can be foolish,” Drustan said. “And fearful of heroes not their own.”

So it was decided. We would depart for Clunderry, and Phèdre and Joscelin would return to Terre d'Ange. Or at least I thought so; I still wasn't entirely certain what they'd concocted with Hyacinthe.

On our last day together, I scavenged an hour's brief privacy and attempted to write a reply to Sidonie. That much, at least, I owed her. It wasn't the hardest letter I'd ever written—that, I'd written to Phèdre and Joscelin in Lucca, when I thought there was a good chance I'd not survive the siege—but it was awful in its own way.

I'd run a fearful risk once; I didn't dare remove any of the ollamh Aodhan's protections. And so I struggled with pen and ink and guilt, scratching at my itchy bindings, trying to find access to my own charm-bound feelings and give voice to them. It was as hard as chewing on rocks, and what I wrote was an absolute muddle.

Dear Sidonie,

There is so much I would say to you, and so much I cannot, for reasons that would take far too long to explain. I have stumbled afoul of strange magics here. Ask Phèdre or Joscelin; they will tell you what I mean.

You will hear this, so I will say you were right; a child changes things. I cannot make any grand promises and I cannot, in fairness, ask you to await me. What is in my heart has not changed; and yet it has grown to encompass things I did not imagine. If you seize some other chance for happiness, I will understand; even if it is Maslin, although the thought makes me ill, or it should. I cannot feel what I feel.

I sound like an idiot. I'm sorry.

You would be better off without me. I love you, though. Right now, I don't know how to make all of this work. But I swear to Blessed Elua, if I can find a way to be with you, I will. It may not be the way we would choose, but things aren't always.

None of this is making any sense. Just…ask P&J to explain. I will come when I can, although it will not be for a year, at the least. If you find it in yourself to save a place in your heart for me, I will be glad. If you do not, I will understand. Either way, I love and miss you. Nothing will change that, ever.

It was so dreadful, I nearly destroyed it. But there was no time to draft another, and the thought of leaving her forsaken with no reply at all filled me with an ache of remorse so vivid I could feel it through the charms that bound me. So I sealed it and penned a swift response to Mavros, which was equally oblique but not nearly as tortured, then sealed them both together in a packet.

I managed to catch Joscelin alone in the guest-chamber he shared with Phèdre, sorting methodically through their things and packing their trunks. I gave him the packet. “Will you see this is delivered to Mavros?”

Joscelin weighed it in his hand. “Mavros.”

My face felt warm. I scratched my left wrist. “I promised that you and Phèdre could explain …” I plucked at the yarn. “This.”

“To Mavros?” Joscelin eyed me. “Imri, come with me.”

I followed him through the castle, up the southeastern tower to the top of the fortress. There were guards posted in the tower chambers, but the parapet was unmanned. Joscelin leaned against a crenellation and folded his arms, the sea breeze tugging at the braided cable of his blond hair.

“All right.” I faced him. “There's a letter for Sidonie as well. Mavros will see she gets it. I would be grateful if you explained to her, too. I tried, but it's a mess.”

“You still fancy you love her?” he asked.

“No.” I shook my head. “I'm sure of it.”

“And Sidonie?” he asked. “Does she feel the same?” I nodded. Joscelin sighed. “I hoped this would pass, Imri. I truly did.”

“Do you think I didn't?” I asked. “Do you think she didn't?”

“No.” His mouth twisted humorlessly. “What of Dorelei? The hidden well whose depths you dream of plumbing? The other night, you told Phèdre you were happy. Was that a lie to set our minds at ease?”

“No. No, it wasn't.” I searched for the words. “Joscelin, I am happy…but the me that's happy isn't entirely real. And Dorelei knows it as well as I do. Whatever's best for the both of us, and for the babe, we'll decide it together.”

Joscelin tilted his chin, his blue gaze searching the summer sky as if to find answers written in the scudding clouds. “You do have a knack for finding the most difficult paths, love,” he murmured. “I swear to Elua, I've half a mind to snatch you from Alba and…” His voice trailed off.

“Take me on a journey to hide the pages of the Book of Raziel where no one in living memory might find them?” I suggested.

His brows shot up. “What makes you think that?”

I laughed. “Don't worry, I've said naught of it, nor will I. And as far as the letter goes …” I spread my hands. “Sidonie may well decide I've lost my wits altogether, and I wouldn't blame her for it. Mayhap it would be for the best.”

“Do you believe that?” Joscelin asked.

“No,” I said.

There atop the windswept fortress of Bryn Gorrydum, we regarded one another. ” 'Tis strange,” Joscelin said softly. “I thought it was hard when you left for Tiberium, but 'tis harder to leave you than it was to let you go, Imri. When a year and a day have passed, and you've a child of your own, you may find you feel the same way.”

“I know.” I swallowed. “I've made no promises I cannot keep and I have no false expectations. You'll see the letter delivered, though?”

“I will.” Joscelin pried himself upright. “With assurances that you've not lost your wits.” He hesitated. “Imriel, of all the women in the world, why Sidonie?”

I thought about it. “You know, I remember Eamonn telling me that Brigitta made him feel he wanted to be a better man. And you, you told me you began to fall in love with Phèdre when you were enslaved in Skaldia, when her courage put you to shame.”

Joscelin nodded. “I understand.”

“No, you don't.” I smiled wryly. “I feel that way all the time, Joscelin. I feel that way about Dorelei, about Phèdre—I feel that way about you. Eamonn, Drustan, Grainne …Name of Elua, I spend far too much of my life feeling that way, and when I don't, it's because I feel like I'd like to kill someone, like Barquiel L'Envers. With Sidonie…” I shrugged. “I don't. I just feel like myself, truly myself. And that it's a fine thing to be. And I think she feels the same way. I don't know why; truly, I don't. I only know it's true.”