Kushiel's Justice (Page 98)

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“Thank you for keeping your pledge,” she said softly, taking my hand once more and sliding the ring onto my finger.

“It kept me alive,” I told her. “I would have given up without it.”

Her breath caught in her throat and she made a small, unexpected sound, as though my words had hurt her. The threat of tears made her eyes bright. Sidonie gave her head a familiar, impatient shake, then reached up to sink both hands into my hair, pulling my head down and kissing me with all the ferocity in her.

It was like a dam breaking. All the desire I'd suppressed—we had both suppressed—flooded over me, around me, through me. I held her hard, both arms around her waist, hands pressing her back, returning her kisses as though to devour her whole. I wanted her so badly, my knees felt weak.

I couldn't get enough of her, couldn't get close enough. We sank down onto the soft pallet together. Sidonie's mouth was on my throat, biting and sucking, her fingers working at the buttons on my shirt.

Lower, tracing my scars. I wriggled out of my shirt, pinned her, worked at her stays. Her back arched as I freed her breasts, suckling them, the grip of my fingers hard enough to leave bruises.

“Here…”

“No …ow! Yes.”

Fabric, too damned much of it between us. I almost couldn't wait. A fold of her gown, caught beneath me, tore when I tried to ease it over her head. My phallus was so hard it ached, thick and throbbing, straining the knots on my Alban breeches. Caught in a spiral of rising urgency, we struggled and laughed and kissed our way to nakedness.

“Now.” Her nails dug into my buttocks, her voice raw. “Please,”

Kneeling between her thighs, I spread them wider. “Now?”

Her hips bucked. “Yes!”

I slid into her with one long, practiced thrust, sliding the length of my body up hers and bracing myself over her.

And somewhat changed between us.

It wasn't that the urgency diminished. It simply …changed. Both of us went very still. Our bodies were joined. She held me. I filled her. The profound, staggering intimacy of the act of love struck me anew, the way it had never struck me with anyone else in the world. I laughed softly.

“Imriel…” Sidonie's eyes were open and filled with wonder.

“I know,” I said. “I know.”

When the gods themselves make love, I think it must be like this. All of love's glorious mortal follies, all the tangled clothes and awkward limbs, went away. For a long time, I filled her without moving. I could feel her heart beating. Our breath intermingled. When I did move within her, it was as though the hand of Blessed Elua himself impelled me. Our bodies moved together; rising and falling, rising and falling.

Why do we fit so well together?

A woman's pleasure is different from a man's. It surged like a ship atop the waves, and I drove it, furthering it, our gazes locked on one another. Each trough was deeper, each crest higher than the next, onward and onward and onward. It felt as though I could last forever. It felt like it would never end. I wished it wouldn't.

Still, we were mortal.

I held off and held off, as long as I could, making the moment last, until I could hold no longer. My entire body shuddered as I spent myself in her in one long, exquisite series of spasms.

We lay entangled together, neither wanting to move.

“That was …” I murmured, then realized I had no words for it.

Sidonie touched my cheek. “Yes. It was.”

Chapter Seventy-Three

Waking the following morning in Sidonie's bed, with her naked and warm and tumbled in my arms, was one of the gladdest moments of my life. The sun had risen and filtered blue light filled the pavilion. I held her and watched her sleep until she awoke and smiled at me, her eyes sleepy and heavy-lidded. For the first time in longer than I could remember, I was quietly, peacefully, and utterly happy.”Good morning, Sun Princess,” I said.

“Mmm.” Her smile deepened. “We could make it better.”

I daresay we would have, but at the sound of our voices, there was a discreet cough outside the pavilion. “Your highness?” a woman's voice called. “Shall I attend you?”

I groaned. Sidonie kissed me. “Duty beckons.”

Even so, it was strange and wonderful to be there with her, openly and unquestioned. Margot de Monluc, who was wed to Sidonie's Captain of the Guard, entered and greeted us both with cheerful respect. She bustled about the pavilion, bringing a ewer of fresh water and arraying Sidonie's attire for the day.

“Well, that will want mending,” she observed in a good-natured tone, folding away the gown I'd torn last night. I found myself growing warm, but Sidonie was unperturbed as ever.

When Margot had departed, I donned my clothes, then sat cross-legged on the pallet and watched Sidonie comb out her hair beside me. “I'm surprised Amarante didn't accompany you,” I observed. “I would have thought to see her here.”

“I released her from my service before I left for Alba.” She looked at my face and laughed at my shocked expression. “Elua! Released, not dismissed.”

“Why?” I asked.

Sidonie concentrated on a thick tangle. “You know she lacked a year's service to Naamah in order to take her vows as a priestess?” she asked. I nodded. “Well, I would have freed her to do it a long time ago, except she wouldn't have gone. Not until we knew you were safe.” She set down the comb. “Whatever lies before us, I don't want Amarante drawn into it.”

“You think she would have been?” I asked.

She shrugged. “I've been working to get the support of the priesthood. Her mother is the head of Naamah's Order. Even the semblance of influence might set tongues wagging. It's not fair, since it's naught to do with Amarante.”

I hadn't thought about that. “How difficult is this like to be?”

Sidonie's brows furrowed. “Well, my mother's dead set against us marrying.”

I picked up the comb and began working on her tangles. “Love, I don't need to marry you to be with you. Phèdre and Joscelin never wed. I'd be happy to spend the rest of my life as your consort.”

“I know. Last night…” She shook her head, disturbing my handiwork. “It would be enough if I weren't my mother's heir. But I am. It's complicated.”

“Politics,” I said softly.

“Always.” Sidonie sighed. “Let's not talk about it yet.”

I eased the comb through a golden snarl. “Your wish is my command.”

“Now that would be fun.” Her voice was light, but there was a serious undertone. She turned her head to glance at me. “Would you do it? Give yourself over and submit to my will for a night, Imriel?”

“A whole night?” I asked.

“Just one,” Sidonie said. “Every once in a while.”

I raised my brows. “What would you give me in turn?”

“Any other night you wished.” Her gaze was steady, but her color rose.

Another wave of desire rolled over me. Fighting the urge to haul her onto my lap and kiss her all over, I shuddered and handed her the comb. “I think you'd better finish this yourself, and I think we'd better not talk about this, either, or we'll end up delaying the entire procession.”

Sidonie took the comb without comment, watching as I rose and crossed the pavilion.

“Yes,” I said at length, looking back at her. “To you, yes.”

She smiled wickedly. “Good.”

By the time we emerged from the pavilion, the campsite was bustling with activity. Drustan's pavilion had already been taken down, as had many of the smaller tents. Ti-Philippe glanced up as we approached the makeshift dining table, his face splitting in a broad grin. I ignored him studiously, helping myself to a plate of cold pheasant and farmer's cheese. As it happened, I was ravenous.

In truth, I didn't mind the smiles, not really. Not from folk I loved and trusted. I would have expected Sidonie to respond to them with cool aplomb, but in fact, she seemed quietly amused by it. I wondered if, by the time we'd been together as long as Phèdre and Joscelin, I'd be able to predict her reactions.

I wasn't sure I would.

I wasn't sure I wanted to, either.

The only shadow cast over that morning came from Talorcan. He came from the picket-lines and passed by the table. Upon seeing Sidonie and me seated side by side, he paused, a muscle in his jaw working.

“Could you not have waited a few more days?” he asked me in a low voice. “The sod has barely settled above the bear-witch's grave. Did my sister deserve so little respect?”

It was unexpected. I glanced up at him, seeing the sorrow and grief and bitter failure in his dark eyes. “Talorcan, there was no—”

“Do you say Imriel should have refused me, cousin?” Sidonie inquired.

Dark blood suffused Talorcan's face. “Of course not.”

“Then it is I who owes you an apology,” she said gravely. “Not Imriel. For I was the one to extend my hand to him. I assure you, in the name of Blessed Elua and his Companions, and all the gods and goddesses of Alba, there was no disrespect intended. If there was a semblance of it, I do apologize.”

The muscle in his jaw twitched. “No apology is needed,” he said curtly.

“Tal, my prince.” Urist, seated on the opposite side of the table, heaved himself to his feet, leaning on his walking-stick. He clapped the Cruarch's heir on the shoulder. “Take a walk with me, will you? I've a mind to tell you a tale.”

We watched them walk away.

“You know,” Joscelin said wistfully, “betimes I miss the days when the worst of our problems could be solved at sword-point.”

I glanced at Sidonie and smiled. “I don't.”

After that, though, there was peace; at least of a sort. Whatever Urist said to Talorcan—and I daresay it had to do with the promise he'd made Dorelei—there was no more animosity between us. He made an effort to tamp down his hurt and his anger; and I didn't blame him for it, anyway. In his place, I would have felt the same. Still, I kept a careful eye on him, concerned for Alais' sake. They were courteous with one another, and betimes there seemed to be genuine warmth between them.

At other times, there didn't.

So many uncertainties, so many things to ponder! We tried, Sidonie and I, to find a time to talk freely without the world listening. But there was little privacy on the road by day, and hushed conversations in her pavilion by night turned quickly to somewhat else. We had been parted for far, far too long.

All too soon, we arrived at Bryn Gorrydum.

I would have been content to have the journey last longer. It was an in-between time, a happy time. Such times never last. True to his word, Drustan had held off speaking to me about my relationship with his eldest daughter until we reached Bryn Gorrydum. But that first night, he did. It was a quiet affair, a dinner amongst family and friends. When Sidonie rose to retire, Drustan shook his head at me.

So I stayed.

Everyone else left, taking their cues from the Cruarch of Alba. I slid down the bench to sit opposite Drustan, pouring uisghe for us both. I'd celebrated my Alban nuptials in this great hall. I'd composed a heartfelt poem in Dorelei's honor. I'd fought with staves against some fellow named Goraidh and won. And on the night we'd wed, I'd lain sleepless, creeping at last from the bed we shared to read the letter Sidonie had sent to me. Here in this very hall, I'd removed the croonie-stone from around my throat; laughed and wept and realized I truly did love her, madly and hopelessly and always.

I sat across from Drustan and folded my hands on the table.

He cleared his throat. “Sidonie.”

I nodded. “I love her, my lord.”

“I can see that.” Drustan shook his head impatiently. It was a gesture Sidonie had inherited. I'd never noticed before; he didn't do it often in public, any more than she did. “The both of you make it quite obvious. By the Boar, Imriel! You will always be family. I said that to you. Do you recall?”

My heart ached. “I do, my lord.”

He fixed me with a hard gaze. “You knew then, didn't you?”

“Yes,” I said steadily. “And mayhap I should have spoken to you, but I was grievously hurt and racked by guilt. Of a surety, I should have spoken to you before Dorelei and I wed. My lord, I will tell you what I told your wife. I have known since Sidonie was sixteen. We doubted. We were afraid; too young, too uncertain. We should have trusted Blessed Elua's precept. We did not. That was our mistake.”

“And now you stand to make a hypocrite of me,” Drustan murmured.

“My lord!” I protested.

He held up one hand and drained his cup. I refilled it. “I will not oppose your union,” he said in his direct manner. “Neither will I support it. I would have you understand why.”

“I'm listening,” I said.

“I think you're a fine young man, Imriel,” Drustan said. “You've overcome a great deal in your life. You were raised by two people I trust beyond all doubt. You served Alba well; in truth, better than Alba served you. And I would indeed be a hypocrite of the worst kind if I believed that you were worthy of my niece, but not my daughter.” His mouth twisted wryly. “Urist was kind enough to point that out to me.”

“Urist has been good to me,” I said.

“He's come to respect you,” Drustan said. “Which is another point in your favor. I value Urist's judgment. If he says you were a good lord of Clunderry and a good husband to Dorelei, I believe it to be true.”

I swirled the uisghe in my cup. “And yet.”

“And yet.” Drustan nodded. “Imriel, Ysandre was scarce older than you are now when she took the throne and inherited a realm poisoned by treason, poised on the brink of utter conquest.” His voice was gentle. “You've seen battle, I know. I do not think you can imagine the scope of this war. Ysandre is strong and determined. She was always prepared to defend the throne from those who sought to usurp it from within, and to defend the borders of Terre d'Ange from those who sought to assail it from without. But never in her darkest dreams did she suspect one of her own people would betray the very beating heart of Terre d'Ange into the hands of the Skaldi.”