Kushiel's Justice (Page 64)

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“So how dangerous is he?” she asked.

“Berlik?”

Sidonie nodded, still concentrating.

I rested my head against the tub's rim. “I don't know. He's travelling as a man now, and not a bear. I don't know how powerful his magic is, now that he's cursed by a broken vow and left Alba's soil.” I paused. “For that matter, how dangerous is Barquiel L'Envers? You made an enemy of him today.”

“Not as powerful as he thinks.” Sidonie finished her task and dropped the sodden mass of blood-soaked bandages over the side of the tub. “Not anymore. I know you weren't happy with the decision Mother made, but his power has dwindled considerably since he lost command of the Royal Army. I'm not afraid of him.”

“You turned Maslin de Lombelon against him,” I said softly.

“No.” She shook her head. “Maslin turned himself. I told him once when we were quarrelling what my uncle had done to you, seeking to frame you as a traitor. Maslin has a keen sense of honor.”

“What happened between you?” I asked.

“Ah, well.” Sidonie's mouth quirked. “It was a bad idea. I should have listened to Amarante. She warned me that it was too soon, that I was just trying to distract myself. That his feelings were strong. She was right.” She was quiet for a moment. “Maslin tried to comfort me after we heard about what had happened. During that time when no one knew if you were going to live or die. It was kind. He was trying to be kind. And I suddenly couldn't stand having him anywhere near me. I'm not proud of that.”

“I'm sorry,” I said. “But he's still in your service?”

“Oh, yes.” She gazed into the distance. I sensed there was a part of the story she wasn't willing to tell, knowing there was no love lost between Maslin and me. “He insisted. And I felt guilty enough that I assented. Maslin …you know, any man in my guard would be expected to risk his life to save mine. It's a simple fact, true of any royal guardsman. But I don't think any of them save Maslin would welcome the opportunity.” A shadow crossed her face. “Anyway, I don't want to talk about him.”

“Fair enough,” I said. “How about this, then. Sidonie de la Courcel, do you actually think we could wed without tearing the realm apart?”

“Mmm.” Her gaze returned, glinting with amusement and determination. “Well, I don't think it will be easy.” She slid forward in the tub, wrapping her legs around my waist. “But if we don't try, we'll never know.”

Her skin was wet and slippery from the oil, sliding deliciously against mine. The last discreet Shahrizai servant placed one last item on the table and withdrew, closing the door behind him with a click. I slid my hands down Sidonie's waist, worked them under her buttocks, and drew her toward me.

“Oh, no.” Her eyes narrowed. “You're not going to exert yourself and start bleeding again. At least not until after dinner.”

“It's no effort,” I assured her.

“Nonetheless.” She picked up a ball of soap. “I insist.”

I let her bathe me, smiling at the simple pleasure she took in it. It reminded me of the pleasure I'd taken in rubbing Dorelei's belly with flaxseed oil when the babe had gotten so big. The memory hurt, but it was good, too. And strangely, it did nothing to lessen my arousal. When Sidonie finished, we both clambered out of the tub. She patted me dry with a thick towel, careful not to disturb the water-softened scabs.

“Leave it be for now,” I said. “They need to dry. I've a salve to put on them later, it will keep the bandages from sticking.”

“Oh, I've somewhat else in mind at the moment.” Sidonie slid a dressing-robe over my shoulders; heavy black silk embroidered with the golden Shahrizai key pattern, thoughtfully provided. Her lips curved in a wicked smile. “Don't worry, it's no effort.”

She led me over to the nearest chair, the robe hanging loose around me, then knelt between my knees when I sat. Her naked skin was moist and flushed from the bath, her hair spilling over her shoulders in damp coils.

At the first touch of her mouth on my taut phallus, I groaned and sank both hands into her hair. Sidonie made the languisement an act of worship, performed with lips and tongue; beautiful, wonderful, and maddening. The sounds she made, the murmurs of pleasure, set my entire body to quivering. I never wanted to it to end and I never wanted to stop watching her. And then she took the whole of my shaft into her mouth, cheek and throat muscles working, and uttered a deep, stifled moan, and my eyes nearly rolled back in my skull. I held her head hard, my hips jerking, as my body sought to turn itself inside out, sending spurt after spurt of seed down her throat.

“Name of Elua!” I sank back in exhaustion. “No effort?”

“A little, mayhap.” Her voice was low and sensuous, hoarse from her exertions. Sidonie gathered herself and rose to straddle my lap, sitting on my knees. We regarded one another. “I love you,” she said. “You're headed off Elua-knows-where, like as not into a hostile nation, pursuing a man who may or may not be able to turn himself into a bear, a bear that nearly killed you. Imriel, I understand why you have to do this. I do. But if you don't come back, if you don't survive this, I will spend the rest of my life with an aching hole in my heart, mourning you.”

I wound a lock of her damp hair around my fingers. “And this helps?”

“Yes.” Sidonie traced my lower lip. “If nothing else, I want to leave here with the memory of you inside me. Everywhere.”

“Everywhere?” I asked.

She leaned forward and kissed me. “We'd better eat. You're going to need your strength.”

The servants of the manor house had provided a prodigious feast. We uncovered platters to find roasted partridge with a quince sauce, rabbit stew, simmered leeks and mushroom tarts, an array of nuts and candied peels of orange and lemon.

To my surprise, once the food was revealed, I discovered I was ravenous.

Small wonder, I suppose.

Sidonie, clad in a robe that was the twin of mine, ate half as much as I did and spent the balance of the time watching me with a spark of laughter in her eyes. “You needn't stare,” I observed, washing down a mouthful of partridge with a swig of cool white wine.

She smiled. “Your appetite amazes and impresses me.”

I swallowed another bite and pointed my fork at her. “You're the cause.”

“Oh, I know.” Her smile deepened. “It's just…Elua! I don't want to let a moment pass unmarked. It seems so strange, after all the secrecy and hiding, to be here with you, like this. Even if it's only for one night. To have stood up to my mother, to have defied all those men today…”

She shook her head in wonderment. “You know, I never thought I'd do such a thing for the sake of love. I could never have imagined the need. Betimes I think the gods must have a peculiar sense of humor, to visit this on us. Don't you?”

“Yes.” I put down my fork. “Sidonie, if it comes to it, what if your mother does threaten to disinherit you?” When she didn't answer, I pressed the issue. “Is it worth the cost?”

“Is it to you?” she asked.

“To spend my life with you?” I didn't hesitate. “Yes, of course. But it's not my birthright we're talking about.”

Sidonie lifted her chin, gazing at the ceiling. “Blessed Elua cared naught for crowns or thrones,” she mused. “It was your mother who said that, wasn't it? You told me so, once. Melisande Shahrizai may have done a great many bad things, but she was no fool.” She looked back at me, her black eyes unfathomable. “If it comes to it, and I pray it doesn't, it would be my choice, my goatherd prince. Not yours. Mine.”

Why it was those words that caught at my desire and aroused me beyond bearing, I couldn't say. There is no logic in love or desire.

It sufficed.

It sufficed to ignite a maelstrom in me.

I cleared the table with a sweep of one arm, sending dishes and platters clattering in a wholly unnecessary gesture. I stooped and picked up Sidonie, cradling her in my arms and carrying her to the bed, neatly remade by the manor house's servants. This time there were no clothes to be disposed of, only robes, easily shed. I laid her on her stomach. She turned her head and watched as I went to fetch a vial of scented oil from the corner where the bathtub stood.

“Everywhere?” I asked softly, spreading a glistening trail down her spine.

Sidonie nodded, wordless.

Creamy skin, young and tight. I worked the oil into it, lower and lower. I pulled her to her knees, spreading her buttocks with both hands. Braced on her elbows, she shuddered when I touched the tip of my tongue to the puckered rose of her anus. Shuddered harder when I slid one oiled finger into her, then two. With my other hand, I caressed Naamah's Pearl. Sidonie cried out, convulsing around my fingers.

“Do you want this?” I slid my fingers out of her and grasped my phallus, slickening it with oil. I positioned the swollen head at her rear entrance, prodding. “Do you?”

“Yes.” She gasped. “Elua, yes!”

I eased it into her, slowly. We both caught our breath when the head of it breached the tight ring of muscles. Ah, gods! She was so tight it nearly hurt, but it was so good, too. Inch by inch, I sank into her, until I'd sunk to the hilt, my testes pressed against her swollen nether-lips. Her head was turned on the pillow, her profile clean and clear, her features suffused with unspeakable pleasure.

“So full,” she whispered.

I withdrew a few inches, then thrust slowly back into her. She slid one hand between her thighs, rubbing. Faster. Her hips thrust backward to receive me, urging me onward. Faster, harder; full, deep strokes. I dug my fingers into her flesh hard enough to bruise, my breath ragged. The sensation when she climaxed was indescribable, sending me over the edge in an excruciating spasm of pleasure, buried deep inside her.

For a long moment, neither of us moved.

I rested my cheek on her back. “I don't want to leave you.”

“I know,” she said quietly.

It took a great effort to make myself move. My limbs felt heavy, my entire body languid with pleasure. I pulled away slowly, my softening phallus slipping from her. Sidonie sighed and rolled over. I lay down beside her.

She turned her head. “Did your wounds reopen?”

I glanced down at myself. “Not much.”

“That's good.” Sidonie closed her eyes. “I'll go fetch that salve. In a moment.”

“It can wait.” I pulled her closer to me, settling her head on my uninjured left shoulder. “Stay here a while.”

“All right,” she murmured.

Which of us fell asleep first, I couldn't say. I heard her slow, steady breathing deepen, felt her limbs growing lax. And then there was only darkness, warmth, and peace, the low crackle of the fire dying in the hearth, the smell of lovemaking and the rain-washed scent of her hair. I slept and dreamed of joy.

Chapter Forty-Three

The knock at the door of the master chamber came before sunrise. Urist and I had agreed that we should leave at the day's first light. I donned my borrowed dressing-robe and opened the door to find Isembart bearing an oil lamp.”Forgive me, your highness,” he said. “Commander Urist said you wished to be awakened.” He glanced past me into the wreckage of the darkened room; the cold bath, blood-sodden bandages beside it, the remains of our dinner strewn around the floor amid shards of broken crockery. And the heir to Terre d'Ange, naked and sublimely disheveled, sitting in a tangle of bedclothes. Isembart's expression never changed. “I'll send attendants.”

“My thanks.” I took the lamp from him, closed the door, and eyed Sidonie. “You might put some clothes on, you know.”

She smiled sleepily. “He's a steward for the Shahrizai. I daresay he's seen worse.”

“Do it for my sake, then,” I suggested. “Or I'll never be able to bring myself to leave.”

“Mmm.” A hint of regret clouded her smile. “Don't tempt me.”

There was a part of me that yearned to stay. To barricade the door and return to the bed with Sidonie. To make love until we were limp and exhausted, covered in sweat and drenched with love's juices. To tie her to the bedposts and fling open the doors of the flagellary. To explore every pleasure, the sharp and the sweet alike. To forget about the world that lay beyond these four walls and lose myself in her.

But there was the matter of vengeance.

I took a deep breath, feeling my scabbed bear-gouges stretch and crackle. I thought about Dorelei, laughing and alive, our son growing in her belly. All the lovemaking in the world wasn't enough to assuage the deep ache of that grief. Berlik had rent my heart as surely as my flesh, and it was a scar I'd carry to the end of my days. I thought about the bear-witch and his sad, sad face. Somewhere to the north, Kinadius and the others were following his trail. I had to join them. There would be no lasting peace for me until Berlik was dead, and his head buried at Dorelei's feet.

And if mighty Kushiel was merciful, I'd find the chance to kill him myself.

Sidonie slid into her dressing-robe and crossed the room. She touched my face, kissing me lightly. She was the eldest child of the Cruarch of Alba and the heir to the Queen of Terre d'Ange. I didn't need to speak to her of love, honor, and duty. “There's clean water in the ewer by the washbasin. Go wash, and I'll find that salve you mentioned.”

I obeyed.

She did a good job of tying the bandages, better than the first time. She was a quick study. I watched her deft fingers at work and thought about what Alais had said about her. “We talked about you,” I said. “Alais and I.”