Kushiel's Justice (Page 99)

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I took a gulp of fiery liquid. “I know, my lord. I know what my mother did.”

' 'Tis one thing to know it, and another to live through it,” Drustan said quietly. “This land is my heart and soul. I love it beyond all telling. If one of my clan-lords betrayed Alba in such a manner, I would raze the very earth on which he walked to purify the land of his touch. I would know no peace until he was destroyed utterly. I'm not D'Angeline. I do not share the profound depths of Ysandre's horror at the thought of Melisande Shahrizai's son wedding her heir …but I understand it, all too well. No force on earth can diminish the shock of that betrayal. It goes deeper than words. And for that reason, out of respect for my wife, I cannot give you my blessing.”

There wasn't much I could say in reply. I refilled our cups and drank.

“Do you understand?” Drustan asked.

“Yes.” I set down my cup. “I do, my lord. But 'tis a piece of irony. It was Ysandre herself who fought so hard to see me found. To heal the rifts within the realm and House Courcel with love and forgiveness.” I smiled bitterly. “What are Sidonie and I doing if not that very thing? Of a surety, Ysandre had no qualms about letting Melisande Shahrizai's son wed your sister's daughter when it suited her political needs. What do you call that if not hypocrisy, my lord?”

“I'm not defending it, Imriel.” To his credit, Drustan looked disturbed. “But this isn't a matter of reason. All the reason in the world cannot change her heart.”

“A man's heart may change in a day,” I said, thinking about what Adelmar of the Frisii had said when I'd challenged Berlik's sincerity as a pilgrim. He'd spoken sardonically, but as it happened, he had been right. “What might change Ysandre's, my lord?”

Drustan shook his head. “That, I fear, you must discover for yourself.”

I gazed at him for a long moment. “Will you give us your blessing if I do?”

“I will.” His voice was firm.

“Then I'll find a way,” I said simply.

He drank the last of the uisghe in his cup, then rose and extended his hand. I stood, and we clasped hands across the table. “I pray you do.”

I made my way up the stairs to my bedchamber. I'd carried Dorelei up those stairs on our wedding night, to the very same chamber that Sidonie and I had been given to share. The thought gave me a pang, but not enough to deter me. I murmured a prayer to Dorelei's spirit, asking her forgiveness as I pushed open the door.

A single candle was burning low on the bedside table, guttering in a pool of wax. Sidonie lifted her head from the pillow, lying propped on one arm. Her hair was loose, honey-gold locks spilling over her creamy shoulders. I stood in the doorway and gazed at her, the tide of desire rising in my veins. A faint smile touched her lips. “Well?”

“Not good,” I said. “But not bad, either.”

She turned back the covers. “Come here.”

I went.

Chapter Seventy-Four

Once again, we made our farewells. I had a long talk with Alais before we departed, just the two of us. I knew Sidonie had spoken to her, too, and later we would discuss it, but I wanted time alone with Alais. She was the sister of my heart, and in many ways, my oldest friend. If she hadn't been there after Dorelei's death, I wasn't sure I'd have found the will to recover.We climbed up one of the watchtowers to the parapet of Bryn Gorrydum, empty and windswept. It was one of the few places where one could talk undisturbed. For a time, we simply strolled together.

Alais had changed. How not? She was seventeen, a year older than when I'd left her. It wasn't just age, though. Alba had changed her. She was at home here in a way she'd never been in Terre d'Ange. And Dorelei's death had changed her. She had been a serious child with a charming streak of spontaneity, then a prickly adolescent. Now, she was a thoughtful young woman.

“I worry about you,” I told her.

“Me?” Alais flashed a smile at me. “You're the one draws trouble wherever you go.”

“No good comes of disobeying Blessed Elua's precept,” I observed.

“Talorcan.” She sighed, gazing out at the Straits. “I know. He's grieving over his sister's death and angry at his failure. Still, what would you have me do, Imri? I am fond of him. And Alba…” Her voice trailed off. The wind plucked at her black curls. “Alba, I love.”

“Enough to wed a man you don't?” I asked. “And seek to change the laws of succession?”

Her chin rose. “Mayhap.”

There was an almighty stubbornness in her violet eyes; and Elua's priests acknowledge all manner of love. If Alais chose to act out of love for Alba, I had no footing to gainsay it. I took her shoulders in my hands. “I want happiness for you, that's all.”

“I am happy,” Alais said in a low voice. “Imri…we're not all given the same sort of happiness. This is where I belong, where I'm meant to be. Why and how and what I'm meant to do…” She shook her head. “That's my task, figuring it out.”

“Don't try too hard, love.” My throat tightened. “Madness lies that way.”

“I know.” Alais' face was grave. “I won't forget, I promise. After what happened, we are all mindful of it. Conor said…” Her words broke off again and she flushed.

I grinned. “Oh, Conor, is it?”

“Don't tease!” Her flush deepened. “About you and Sidonie …I'm sorry to have taken it amiss, before. I know there was no hurt intended.” I let go of her shoulders, and Alais took my right hand in both of hers, gazing at the gold knot on my finger. “You're good together. I didn't think you would be, but you are. And Imri…” Her voice grew small. “I think she's going to need you. I think she's going to need you very badly, one day.”

A chill chased the length of my spine. “Is that a true dream?”

“No.” Alais shook her head. “It's only a feeling. If I ever have a dream, a true dream, I'll send word.” She lifted her head to gaze at me. “You are a hero, you know. At least to me.”

I kissed her brow. “I'd as soon be a brother.”

“That, too. Always.” She smiled, her expression lightening. “Next spring, will you come to Alba and bring me a puppy?”

“One of Celeste's kin?” I asked.

Alais' eyes were bright. “Yes, please. You choose. I trust you.”

I hugged her, holding her close, feeling her cling to me. “Of course.”

“Just be safe,” Alais whispered in my ear. “Both of you. Promise?”

“I'll try,” I said. “You, too.”

She nodded. “I'll try.”

On the day of our departure, there was a considerable crowd gathered. I was touched to see that almost all the men of Clunderry's garrison who'd ridden together in the hunt had come …Kinadius, Deordivus, Domnach, Brun …Urist, of course. It was harder parting from him than I'd reckoned. We'd been through a great deal together.

He gave me a swift, hard embrace. “Take care of yourself, lad.” His black eyes glinting, he poked my brow with a callused fingertip. “Wish we could have gotten some proper warrior's markings on you.”

I smiled. “Try to give that leg a rest, will you?”

And then there were no more farewells to be made, only the Cruarch's flagship loaded and waiting. We filed aboard the ship; Sidonie and her retinue, Montrève's small company. Hyacinthe had not come, but I had no doubt he was watching in his sea-mirror, for a friendly breeze sprang up at our backs as the ship's prow swung toward the open sea. We crowded into the stern, waving as the harbor dwindled behind us.

“I can't believe I finally got to go on a great adventure, and you never even drew your sword,” Hugues said to Joscelin, sounding a bit mournful.

Joscelin gave him a sardonic glance. “I was jesting the other day. Be glad of it.”

“I am.” Phèdre took Joscelin's arm. “I'm glad that we went, and glad to find it wasn't needful. You've had enough fighting and death for one lifetime, love.” Her gaze touched on me then, filled with soft emotion. “And above all else, I'm glad that you're alive and well and coming home, Imri.”

“So am I.” I laughed aloud for the sheer joy of it. “Elua! So am I.”

It was another swift journey, sped by the hand of the Master of the Straits. I shared the state cabin with Sidonie that night and we made tireless love in the plunging darkness, finding after some trial and error that it worked best if she rode astride me, rocking gently, the rise and swell of the waves beneath the ship echoing our bodies' motion, soft gasps and moans echoing the splash of the rushing water, the creaking of the wooden hull. Things were still slow and sweet between us, our reunion touched with lingering tenderness and the awe of that first night. The sharper pleasures life offered could wait.

There was time, and time was a luxury.

We reveled in it, and in each other.

In the morning, Sidonie and I went to watch the coastline of Terre d'Ange appear on the horizon. A pair of her guards trailed us at a discreet distance, but no one disturbed us. The night's chill still hung in the air. I stood behind her in the prow of the ship, my cloak wrapped around us both, gazing over her shoulder.

The last time I'd left Alba, I'd wept. I'd felt numb at the sight of home. Now it was all different. There was still sorrow. There would always be sorrow. I bore scars that would never let me forget what had happened at Clunderry. But for once in my life—for the first time I could remember since I was a child—despite the difficulties that lay ahead of us, there was a calm, abiding sense of peace.

Pointe des Soeurs beckoned in the distance. The rising sun sparkled on the wavelets. Gulls circled the topmast, squalling. The world was a good place.

“What are you thinking?” I murmured in Sidonie's ear.

“Too many things I'd rather not yet.” She shifted. “Ask me somewhat silly and banal.”

“All right.” I tightened my arms around her. “Was Maslin a good lover?”

Her cheek curved in a faint smile. “Somewhat else.”

“Aha!” I grinned. “All right, then. Do you think Amarante will return when she completes her year's service to Naamah and takes her vows?”

“I hope so.” Sidonie leaned back against me. “I promised I'd see a new temple dedicated to Naamah if she did.” I peered around at her, and she glanced up with amusement. “I know its not the most politically astute gesture, but what's the point of being the Dauphine if you can't do that sort of thing? In a year's time, I hope matters will be more settled. And at least as a priestess serving in a temple, she wouldn't have to deal with D'Angeline lordlings in a snit claiming she's naught but a Court attendant enjoying royal favoritism.”

I winced, recognizing my own words. “She told you that?”

Sidonie shook her head. “Mavros did, trying to stir trouble.”

“Did it work?” I asked.

“What do you think?” she said equably. “I knew why you were in a foul mood those days. I was, too. I think he was just bored and anxious on your behalf. It makes him contrary.” She was silent a moment. “I'm glad you didn't inherit that particular streak of Shahrizai perversity.”

I smiled wryly. “An endless penchant for games?”

She nodded. “I trust you. I couldn't if you weren't who you are.”

A few strands of golden hair blew across my face. I freed one hand to tuck them under a jeweled hair clip. “Betimes I wonder,” I mused. “How much of it is me and how much of it is that which shaped me? Is it House Courcel's bloodline with its stubborn—albeit occasionally misguided—sense of honor? Abhorrence of my mother's deeds? What I witnessed in Daršanga? Phèdre and Joscelin's influence?”

Sidonie turned to look into my face. “Does it matter? You are who you are. I love you.”

“Then it doesn't matter.” I kissed her. “And I love you.”

“Of course…” Her black eyes sparkled when I lifted my head. “I do expect a certain amount of perversity.”

“Oh, yes.” I traced her lower lip with my thumb. “The part where I do wonderful, horrible things to your helpless body.” A steady pulse of desire beat in my veins, at once tender, predatory, and languorous, somehow all the more intense for knowing I had the patience to wait for its fulfillment. “Someday, love, we'll have to figure out what tangled Kusheline bloodline runs in House L'Envers' heritage to manifest in this way.”

Sidonie laughed; that unexpected, buoyant laugh that had turned my world upside down three years ago. “Do you care?”

I kissed her again. “Not really, no.”

It was true. However unlikely it was, we fit. Whatever the reason, I was glad of it. Time changes things; but so does love. Love, above all else. I didn't fear the darkness in me, not anymore. Love illuminated it, made the darkness dazzling. Tenderness and violent pleasure could be one and the same. The bright mirror and the dark, each reflecting the other, creating an infinity between them.

I understood it now.

The shore of Terre d'Ange drew nearer. Sidonie turned once more to watch, content to remain in the circle of my arms. She was mindful of the statement it would make, and unafraid to make it. The lines had been drawn in the Battle of Imriel. I could make out figures along the harbor; the banner of House Trevalion. I wondered if Bertran would be there.

A world of intrigue awaited.