Kushiel's Justice (Page 60)

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“No,” Ysandre said simply, as though saying it would make it so. Bright spots of color rose to her cheeks. “Oh, no.”

Sidonie held her ground, her face still and grave. “I would speak to you about this.”

“No,” Ysandre repeated. She turned to Amarante in a fury. “You …you are dismissed for conspiring to treason!” Amarante glanced at Sidonie. Ysandre pointed toward the door exiting the quarters, which was thronged with Cruithne. “Don't look to her. Go! Now!”

Amarante hesitated.

“Don't go,” Sidonie said to her, and then to Ysandre, “Mother, I'm of age, and Amarante is sworn to my service, not yours. You've no right to dismiss her. And there is no treason here, only love, however ill-advised. We need to speak.”

“Love!” Ysandre laughed bitterly. “That's a fine jest.”

“Ysandre.” I got to my feet with difficulty, pressing my bandaged torso. “I'm sorry. Elua knows, sorrier than I've ever been. We should have been honest. We should have been brave. Or mayhap just dared to be foolish.” I smiled sadly. The Queen didn't smile back, but she was silent, listening. “My lady, the truth is, I have loved your daughter since she was sixteen years old. We weren't sure. We thought it might pass, both of us. We hoped it would pass. So we did what we thought was right and sensible. I'm sorry, I can't help that I love your daughter. I did my best not to.” My voice cracked. “I did all you asked of me, Ysandre! My wife, our child…do you think I don't grieve for them?”

“And yet,” Ysandre said coldly, “conveniently, they are gone.”

My ears rang.

If Ysandre could have taken the words back, I think she would have. She had a temper and she'd spoken in haste. It didn't matter. A white-hot rage possessed me. I could have struck her; I wanted to strike her. Since I couldn't, I pushed past her in a state of perfect fury. Thanks be to all the gods of Alba and Terre d'Ange for Urist and his men. They fell in around me, insulating me. I strode down the corridor and descended the staircase in their midst, deaf to everything around me, striding through the main hall.

And then there was Maslin de Lombelon, blocking my way, his lips moving. I couldn't hear through the ringing in my ears. I shoved futilely at him, and we struggled for a moment. Urist stepped forward, laying a warning hand on his sword-hilt. Maslin grabbed my arm and pointed, his face filled with intense, complicated dislike.

“Imriel!”

I turned and saw Sidonie.

She walked toward me, steady and deliberate. Maslin released me in disgust. I could hear again, hear the murmurs of speculation rising. The Palace was awake, buzzing with gossip. People were hurrying to see. Footsteps, running; guards shouting. I waited, aware of the slow, steady pounding of my heart. There, before a watching audience, Sidonie put her arms around my neck and kissed me.

It was a gentle, tender kiss, but the intent was unmistakable. I heard the gasps of shock. The Cruithne moved to encompass us in a protective circle. I bowed my head and leaned my brow against Sidonie's, resting my hands on her waist. “You know I can't stay here.”

“She didn't mean it,” Sidonie said. “She was angry.”

“It doesn't matter.” I swallowed. “I have to leave, Sidonie. We're going back to Azzalle to hunt the man who killed Dorelei.”

Her dark eyes searched mine. “Today?”

I hadn't meant to leave today. I'd meant to take at least a day to recover from the journey, to speak with Ti-Philippe. Mayhap a few days. In a day or two, I'd thought, I'd be fit to ride. It would make up for lost time, travelling without the carriage.

“Stay.” Sidonie saw my hesitation. “Send for me.”

“You'd come?” I asked.

She gave me a rueful smile. “Well, secrecy's not an issue anymore, is it?”

I didn't laugh. “I can't stay long.”

“I don't care,” she said.

“All right.” I let her go, pulled away. “I have to go.”

A considerable crowd had gathered. Freshly wakened peers, excitement chasing away their drowsiness. Servants abandoning their tasks, gossiping behind their hands. Guards, lots of guards. Queen Ysandre was moving through the throng, flanked by a dozen of them. Maslin de Lombelon appeared to have six or seven under his command.

I thought he might order them to block me, but he didn't. Instead, he gave a crisp order, and they stood aside. His face was stony as I passed. Urist and the Cruithne fell in behind me without a word. Together, we left the Palace.

In the courtyard, the ostlers scrambled to retrieve our barely stabled mounts and rehitch the carriage. I took a deep breath and stared at the sky.

“Whither now, my lord?” Urist asked.

“I'm not sure.”

Chapter Forty

In the end, we went to the townhouse.No one followed us through the streets of the City, but my back prickled and I could tell Urist was wary. I wished to heaven and hell that Phèdre and Joscelin were there. The Palace was buzzing like a hornets' nest, and I'd no idea what to do. I hoped Ti-Philippe would at least be able to tell me when they were likely to return.

Unfortunately, Ti-Philippe was gone.

“I'm so sorry, Imri,” Hugues said as soon as the initial joyous furor over my return had faded. “He's gone after them, after Phèdre and Joscelin. He left to try and fetch them back as soon as we heard the news from Alba.”

“Do you know where?” I asked.

“Not for sure.” His face was troubled. “Illyria, that's what they said. But why would they be gone so long?”

“Philippe didn't tell you?”

He shook his head. “He said he'd sworn not to, even to me.”

I sighed. “When were they planning to return?”

“Late summer, mayhap autumn—” There was a pounding at the front door, and Hugues rose to answer it. “One moment.”

“Hugues!” I said sharply. “If it's the Palace Guards …” I paused. What would I do if Ysandre had decided to fetch me in chains for despoiling her daughter with my traitor's seed? Urist caught my eye and shrugged. “I don't know. Go see.”

“What in the world have you done, Imri?” Hugues asked, perplexed.

I smiled grimly. “Oh, you'll hear.”

It wasn't the Palace Guard.

It was Mavros; an unwontedly serious Mavros. I rose to greet him as he strode into the salon, his multitude of blue-black braids swinging. “I'd heard it was true. Here you are, alive, and causing all manner of trouble,” he said, giving me a brief kiss and hard embrace that made me wince. “Elua be thanked.”

” 'Tis good to see you, too,” I offered.

“Don't jest,” he said briefly. “You're in trouble.”

“What did he do?” Hugues repeated in a bewildered tone.

“Stole the Dauphine's heart, it seems.” Mavros gave him a tight smile. “Suborned Alban troops to help him infiltrate her quarters for a tryst.”

“Name of Elua!” I raked a hand through my hair. “That's a lie.”

“Oh, I know.” Mavros turned his tight smile on me. “I lent a hand with the heart-stealing, remember?” He jerked his chin at Urist. “But what in all the seven hells are they doing aiding you?”

“Honoring my wife's last wish,” I said shortly.

His brows shot up. “What, her last wish was to send you into Sidonie's arms?”

“Sidonie? ” Hugues echoed in disbelief.

I sat down on the couch.

“Yes.” Urist folded his arms. His face was impassive. “It was.”

Mavros stared at him. “Why on earth?”

“Because Dorelei loved me, Mavros.” I buried my face in my hands. “Because she loved me, and she knew me.” I lifted my head. “It doesn't matter. We're not here for long. Why did you come?”

He regarded me. “Well, I stuck my nose in at the Palace to gauge the mood, and if I were you, I'd get out of the City. The Queen is wroth, Sidonie is in disgrace with at least half the Court, and someone was seen riding for hell-for-leather in the direction of Barquiel L'Envers' estate in Namarre.” He cleared his throat. “I'm not sure if my father will belt me or kiss me for it, but if you're minded to linger a day or so—and some sharp-eared folk said you were—I'd like to offer the hospitality of House Shahrizai, cousin. No one's using the hunting manor, and it lies beyond the City's walls.”

I remembered. “You're sure?”

“You're family,” Mavros said simply. “I'm sure.”

It was a solid thing; as solid as the support of Urist and Clunderry's men. I rose to embrace him. “You're a good friend, Mavros,” I said. “We'll not be there long.”

His twilight-blue eyes gleamed. “You're going a-hunting larger prey?

“Oh, yes.” I nodded. “Kushiel's justice.”

“May it come to pass.” Mavros' hands rested on my shoulders. “I'm sorry, Imri. I don't pretend I knew Dorelei well. But what I knew, I admired.”

The Cruithne murmured.

“She was worthy of your admiration,” I said thickly. “Thank you.”

“I'll send word to Duc Faragon,” Mavros said. “Elua only knows what the advocacy of House Shahrizai will do, but in the absence of Lady Phèdre, we'll stand by you. I can attest that your motives, however insane, weren't driven by aught but passion.”

“Can you get a message to Sidonie?” I asked. “Tell her where I've gone?”

“Like as not.” Mavros pursed his lips. “Her personal guard seems to be quite loyal to her. Maslin de Lombelon's doing, I believe. He's her second in command, and bucking hard for the captaincy…or somewhat. Pity there's no time for gossip.”

“Just tell her,” I said.

We didn't waste any time departing the townhouse, although Eugènie wept at it, and Hugues wasn't happy. But I reckoned Mavros' advice was sound. If the Queen decided to act—or worse, L'Envers did—I didn't want Urist and his men to be trapped in the City. It had never occurred to me that I'd be accused of subverting their loyalty. I promised Hugues that I would send word when we departed for Azzalle, and dispatches along the way informing him of our progress. Beyond that, there wasn't much else I could do.

The manor house was only a half league outside the City, but it was private and isolated. There was a good meadow for hawking, and the rest was surrounded by woods. Although we weren't expected, there was a small household staff on duty at all times, maintaining the house in readiness lest some member of House Shahrizai decide on a whim to entertain a hunting party.

The steward was a slender, handsome man of middle years whose hair had gone grey at an early age. His name was Isembart, and he took my sudden arrival, accompanied by a handful of tattooed Cruithne, and the announcement that Mavros had granted me usage of the manor with immaculate aplomb. If there are any servants in Terre d'Ange better trained than those at the Palace, surely it's in House Shahrizai.

“Very good, your highness,” Isembart said without batting a lash. “The master chamber awaits you, and I'll see Commander Urist and his men are given guest-rooms. May I order a bath drawn and a meal prepared?”

“Thank you, yes.”

“Are there any other comforts I may see provided for you or your men?” he asked.

I wondered what that might entail. “No, thank you. But if the Dauphine Sidonie should arrive, please admit her immediately. Anyone else, delay and fetch me.”

He bowed smoothly. “Of course, your highness.”

At any other time, I might have laughed at Urist's wry reaction to the opulence of the hunting manor and the efforts of its household to pamper him. He stared blankly at the offer of a warm, scented bath and a massage, then elected to ignore the staff altogether, pretending he spoke no D'Angeline. Instead, he ordered a pair of men to double back and look for pursuit, another to stand sentry duty in the woods at the end of the drive, and the rest to search the house and grounds.

I had a bath, although I declined the massage.

It was the first proper bath I'd had since Berlik had attacked me. Girard hadn't wanted my injuries submerged, but I reckoned they'd healed enough. I soaked as long as I dared, luxuriating in the warmth and aroma, until the long half-healed scabs raking my torso grew soft. I patted them carefully dry with a towel. They bled in a few places, but only a little. Underneath the scabs, they were knitting cleanly.

When I was done, Urist came to report. He eyed me. “You look more yourself, my lord. In a manner of speaking.”

“I feel it.” I'd rummaged in the clothes-press in the master chamber—an elegant room hung about with tapestries of hunting scenes, a tall canopied bed, and a well-stocked flagellary—and found a pair of soft deerskin hunting breeches that sat low on the hips and were loose enough in the waist that they didn't chafe, as well as an oversized linen shirt with carved wooden buttons. I was wearing it open, leaving my chest bare. I'd been able to unwind the bandages myself, but I couldn't rewind them.

“Shall I fetch Cailan?” Urist asked.

I shook my head. “Let the wounds breathe. It will do them good. What did you find?”

“No pursuit,” he said. “At least not yet. The lads scouted two or three escape routes toward the north through the woods if it comes to it. A good hunting armory. Longbows and boar-spears. Be good to take with us if your kinsmen won't mind.”

“I'm sure they won't.”