Kushiel's Justice (Page 65)

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Sidonie gave me a quick glance. “Did you?”

“Yes.” I smiled. “She came to visit me every day in the temple, after it happened. I don't think I could have endured it without her. She said betimes it was hard to be your sister, because you're always the proper one. But that you're fierce, too, only it doesn't show. I said I knew that.” I watched her mouth quirk with amusement. “She said it was hard to think about, you and I. But she promised she would, if I promised to live.

“Blessed Alais,” Sidonie murmured. “I miss her.”

“Berlik killed her dog,” I said.

“I know.” Her hands went still for a moment. “Turn around, I need to knot this in the back.”

I shifted. “Did you know Alais wants to rule Alba?”

“Oh, yes.” Sidonie tied the final knot. “Or at least to rule as Talorcan's equal and see their children inherit. Imriel…” She sighed, sitting back on her heels. I turned to face her. “Will you please go kill this man, this cursed magician, so you can avenge your wife and your unborn child, and come home and marry me so we can spend the rest of our lives making love and discussing politics?”

Her eyes were bright with tears. I swallowed. “Yes.”

“Good,” she said.

While we spoke, attendants arrived and set the room in order; cleaning away the mess, kindling a new fire in the hearth, bringing boiled eggs, sausages, fresh-baked bread, and an assortment of fruits. They were swift and efficient, and once they had finished, there was nothing to do but dress and eat.

And leave.

Once we were under way, I thought, it would be all right. I would feel the drumbeat of my heart calling once more for justice, calling as it had yesterday when Deordivus arrived. There would be only the keen, insistent tug of vengeance, hard and cold. But right now, the memory of last night's intimacy was too close, and the thought of leaving brought a tightness to my throat that made it hard to eat.

We both dressed in silence. I watched Sidonie brush her hair, turning a glorious tangle of locks into a smooth, shining fall. “Will you be all right at Court?” I asked her.

“I'll manage.” She wound her hair into coils, pinning it artfully. “My mother's temper will cool, and you're not without sympathizers, Imriel. After all, you are emerging as a figure of great and terrible romance.” The words were wry, but the shadow of sorrow was still there. “It will help when Phèdre and Joscelin return,” she added, pausing. “What in Elua's name are they doing, anyway? 'Tis an odd time for them to be gone.”

I laughed. “Unless I'm mistaken, hiding the Book of Raziel.”

Her hands froze. “Does anyone else know this?”

I shook my head. “No.”

“That's a grave trust you've imparted to me,” she said slowly.

“I know,” I said.

Sidonie set down her hairpins with an inarticulate sound, came over and kissed me. I held her hard and kissed her back. “I hate this,” she whispered against my mouth. “I hate it so much.” She pulled away, pressing the heels of her hands to her eyes for an instant. “You should go. This is only going to get harder. Where's your sword-belt?”

I pointed.

She fetched it, knelt, and buckled it around my waist. I drew another deep breath, testing the pressure and pain. It was bearable. She'd found the vambraces, too; rose and slid them into place, fastening the buckles. My eyes burned. “Dorelei did this for me,” I said hoarsely. “The night…”

“Don't say it.” Sidonie touched my lips with two fingers. “She loved you. I love you.”

“I have to go,” I said.

She nodded. “Make it swift.”

Urist had everything in readiness. We were travelling light for speed. No carriages, no wagons. Only our mounts and four pack-horses. They had assembled in the narrow courtyard, ready and waiting. A stable boy was holding the Bastard's head. I slung my saddlebags over his haunches, lashing them in place. I wasn't carrying much, either. Salve, clean bandages. A change of clothing, borrowed from the closet of the master chamber. A woolen cloak. The satchel of coin Hugues had brought. His wooden flute. The polished croonie-stone. A golden torc around my throat, a golden ring knotted around one finger.

The dawning sky was grey, holding the promise of more rain. The Cruithne were mounted and waiting. Lord Amaury Trente was there. The Dauphine's Guard was there. I glanced at the Bastard. He blew hard through flared nostrils and tossed his speckled head, doubting whether or not I was ready to ride. I wondered, too. Urist watched me without comment. He didn't say what he was thinking, but I could guess. If I could ride a woman until my half-healed wounds burst their seams, I could ride a horse. No excuses.

I didn't offer any.

Time to go.

Lord Amaury said somewhat; I don't know what. It sounded as though he wished me well. I trusted it was so, nodded, and shook the hand he offered.

Sidonie.

Her guardsmen, headed by Captain de Monluc, stood behind her in tight, neat ranks. She looked small standing in front of them, the regal tilt of her chin belying the tears in her eyes. Neat and proper.

What a lie that was.

It felt like my heart would burst.

I didn't have any words left. There was too much to say, not enough time to say it. I enfolded her in my arms and held her close, held her hard enough to hurt, hard enough to defy all the forces of the world that sought to separate us. Sidonie clung to me, burying her face against my chest. I bowed my head over hers. I didn't want to let her go, not ever. Horses snorting, a shuffling of hooves.

“Go.” Sidonie pushed me.

I went.

My eyes were blurred. I took the Bastard's reins, found the stirrup, and hoisted myself blindly astride. Settled myself in the saddle. I shook my head, blinking, trying to clear my eyes. “I love you,” I said roughly.

Tears shone on her cheeks. “Just come home.”

Urist blew his hunting horn; a clear, clarion call, piercing the leaden dawn. Unexpectedly, Amaury Trente saluted, pressing a closed fist to his heart. His brown eyes looked over-bright. After a second's hesitation, Claude de Monluc followed suit, and so did all his men; Sidonie's guards. Another time, it might almost have made me laugh. Now it made me want to weep. Urist glanced at me.

“Ride.” I cleared my throat and repeated it more strongly. “Clunderry, ride!”

We rode.

We rode fast and hard, thundering down the entryway and turning onto the road. Deordivus took the lead, heading unerringly north. My wounds burned and ached. I concentrated on keeping my seat. The Bastard ran smoothly beneath me, stretching his legs. I gritted my teeth and settled into the pain, welcoming it. It was a fair price to pay for the pleasure I'd taken.

Behind us, the manor house dwindled.

I don't know how long or how far we rode in that first burst. Deordivus led, but Urist set the pace. Too fast for common sense, really, but he knew what he was about. He'd watched me, he gauged me. Trees and fields passed in a green blur. Urist didn't give the order to slow for a long time. Not until the wind of our passage had blown away the sharpest of the lingering remnants of yearning and desire that clung to me, until I was able to fix my mind on the distant horizon.

“Walk!” Urist called.

We slowed to a walk.

It must have been a long time; the other horses were blown, and the Bastard was sweating, reins damp with lather. I patted his neck, then felt at my torso. If I was bleeding, it wasn't bad.

Urist ranged alongside me. “All right, lad?”

I nodded.

“Doesn't come often, does it?” There was sympathy in his voice. “Passion like that.”

I gazed at the grey sky. “Gods above, I hope not.”

He laughed, reached over and patted my arm. “Remember who you owe it to. Hold hard, ride hard. Do it for her!' Urist's voice hardened. “Our lass, our sweet lass, the one who loved you enough to free you.”

“She was my wife, Urist.” I held his gaze. “She would have been the mother of my son. Do you truly imagine I could ever forget what I owe her?”

“No,” he said after a moment. “No, I don't.”

After that, he left me to ride in silence, and the others did, too. I was grateful for it. It had been a hard parting, harder than anything I could have imagined. The first time, I'd felt numb and half-dead inside. Sidonie and I had been young and uncertain. It was all different now. There was no uncertainty and all my emotions were honed to a keen edge, aching and tender. For the first time in my life, I knew, beyond any shadow of doubt, exactly what I wanted. I knew, beyond any shadow of doubt, that I was wanted in turn. And I was riding in the opposite direction.

I didn't try to hide the pain from myself. I settled into it, letting the pain in my heart echo the soreness of my wounds. In time, both would diminish and grow more bearable. I knew that now. After Dorelei's death, I hadn't thought the enormity of that grief would ever grow less raw and overwhelming, that I'd ever wake to face a new day without feeling my heart scourged anew with a tide of anguish and helpless fury.

But bit by bit, I was learning to live with it. We live, we heal, we endure. We mourn the dead and treasure the living. We bear our scars.

Some of us more than others.

There was guilt, of course. There would always be guilt. If Sidonie and I had been more brave, if we'd had the courage to trust in our love, in Blessed Elua's precept, Dorelei wouldn't have died. The shadow of that knowledge would always lie over us. That, too, I would learn to bear. So long as there was brightness, I could accept the darkness.

As we rode, I became aware that we hadn't managed to outrace gossip. It had been two days since Sidonie walked up to me in full view of the watching Palace and kissed me; one day since she'd managed to silence Barquiel L'Envers in front of a considerable audience. D'Angelines love gossip, and the news had spread fast. Every traveller we passed glanced curiously at us, and there were covertly pointing fingers, wondering stares, hushed whispers.

But they had heard the other news, too.

News of Dorelei's terrible death, of magicians and bears and dire enchantments. Of the oath of vengeance I'd sworn, of the trail that had been found. Urist and his men rode grim-faced, surrounding me, countenances forbidding comment or question, and I was glad of it, since I'd no wish to speak to anyone. Still, it seemed to me that mayhap not all of the stares were condemning. In some, especially among the commonfolk, there was a measure of awe and sympathy.

It gave me hope. I cherished it, that hope.

We made camp that night near the edge of a forest in northern L'Agnace. I was stiff, my muscles unaccustomed to riding, but not as sore as I expected to be. The overcast sky had cleared before sunset, so we didn't bother with the tents. I lay wrapped in my bedroll, gazing at the stars. I went over in my mind the memory of every moment I'd spent with Sidonie in the past day. Every moment, great and small. I polished them like jewels, examining every facet.

And then I put them away, one by one, locking them away safely in my heart. Not buried, not denied. Safe. Hidden. Like as not, we had a long, dangerous journey ahead of us. I needed my wits. I couldn't afford to be distracted, mooning endlessly over my girl. And if there was anyone in the world who would understand, it was Sidonie, with her streak of cool pragmatism; Sidonie, who'd been careless only a fateful once.

I put away the memory of her farewell last of all.

Just come home.

I slept, and dreamed of vengeance.

Chapter Forty-Four

In the days that followed, we rode northward and passed through L'Agnace and Namarre and into Azzalle. Our journey was uneventful. My wounds continued to heal, my stiffness abated, and we made good time. Several days after crossing the Azzallese border, we found the bridge across the Rhenus River, and left Terre d'Ange behind. When we paid the bridge-keeper the toll and asked after a message, we found our first indication that our quest through the Flatlands wasn't going to be met with generous assistance.”I am to be paid for the message by the fine D'Angeline lord.” The bridge-keeper's eyes glinted with avarice. “So they promise, the Picts.”

“How much?” I asked.

The bridge-keeper sucked his teeth. “Gold ducat.”

I glanced at Deordivus. “Is that true?”

He shrugged. “What did he say? I can't make out a cursed word.”

It was true, the bridge-keeper had a thick accent. We had trade relations with the Flatlands, and along the border formed by the Rhenus River they spoke some D'Angeline, but farther inland they spoke a guttural dialect resembling Skaldic. The Flatlands weren't a proper nation, but a loose consortium of farms, villages, and small merchant-guilds. For years, they'd formed a buffer between Terre d'Ange and Skaldia, neither of us reckoning them worth a great deal of bother, except when the Skaldi sought to use them as one of the staging-points for invading Terre d'Ange. Phèdre and Joscelin had first met Ghislain nó Trevalion, then called Ghislain de Somerville, at one such battle.

I discussed the matter with Deordivus, and we determined that yes, Kinadius had promised the bridge-keeper payment, but a lesser sum. I gave the man a coin worth twenty-five silver centimes. He pocketed it and pointed northeast. “A Tsingani company come through, maybe two, three days, carrying a message from Picts. You meet them in Zoellen town, on the Issel River, at the inn with crowned goose sign. Or maybe they leave message there.”

“How far?” I asked.

He shrugged again. “Your horses? Maybe two, three days.”

So it began.

We followed the road north. The terrain wasn't truly flat here, not yet. In truth, except for the quality of the road, it didn't look much different from Terre d'Ange. It was the people who looked different, earthy and solid, without the unmistakable stamp of Elua or his Companions on their features. Although I'd travelled a great deal in my young life, nearly every voyage from Terre d'Ange had begun with a sea crossing. The only one that hadn't was when the Carthaginian slave-traders had taken me into Aragonia, and I'd been drugged nearly insensible. It seemed strange to cross a river and find myself in a strange land.