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Authors: Jacqueline Carey

Tags: #Adult, #Fantasy, #Romance, #Science Fiction

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BOOK: Kushiel's Avatar
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I HAVE known other losses as grave as that of Hyacinthe’s sacrifice and some worse, in other ways. The brutal murder of my lord Anafiel Delaunay and his protégé Alcuin are things I do not forget, any more than I forget how my chevaliers Remy and Fortun were slain on Benedicte de la Courcel’s orders, cut down before my helpless eyes for the sin of their loyalty.

Their loyalty to me.

But the awfulness of Hyacinthe’s fate was unique in that it was undiminished by time. He was not dead, but doomed. For eight hundred years the Master of the Straits had ruled the waters from his lonely tower-eight hundred years! And Hyacinthe had made himself his heir. No amount of grieving could wash away his sentence, and I could never forget that while I lived and laughed and loved, he endured, isolated and islanded.

It took no more than a day to make ready to travel. For all that I maintain one of the foremost salons in the City of Elua, renowned for gracious entertainment and discourse, I have not lost the trick of adventuring. Joscelin, ever-prudent, had sent to Montrève for Philippe, my dear chevalier Ti-Philippe, to accompany us the moment Ysandre’s courier had appeared at our doorstep. Left to my own devices, I would have spared him the journey; and I would have been wrong, for Ti-Philippe, the last of Phèdre’s Boys, came pelting hell-for-leather into the City, a familiar gleam in his eyes.

“I owe the Tsingano my life as much as do you or Joscelin, my lady,” he said, catching his breath in my antechamber. “And have nearly foundered three horses to prove it. Let your seneschal oversee the shearling lambs without me; I will ride to Pointe des Soeurs with you! Besides, you may have need of a sailor.”

After that, I could not deny him. And Ti-Philippe had brought with him a companion, a stalwart shepherd lad from the hills of Montrève; Hugues, his name was, a fresh-faced boy no more than eighteen or nineteen, with ruddy cheeks and dark hair, eyes the color of rain-washed bluebells stretched wide at all he saw. Ti-Philippe grinned at me as young Hugues bowed and stammered, blushing a fearsome shade of red upon meeting me.

“He’s heard tales, my lady, like everyone else. Since you come too seldom to Montrève, I thought to bring him to the City. Besides,” he added judiciously, “he’s strong as an ox.”

I could believe it, from the breadth of his shoulders. I
travel to Montrève, and make it my residence at least a few months of every year, but the truth is, my estate prospers without me. I have an able seneschal in Purcell Friote and his wife Richeline, and Ti-Philippe enjoys lording over the estate without me, playing the role of steward to the hilt and dallying with the eager lads and maids of Siovale. I have heard it said-for I pay attention to such things-that nigh unto a quarter of the babes born out of wedlock in Montrève are my chevalier’s get. Well and so; I could not fault their mothers for the choice. He is a hero of the realm, my Philippe, awarded the Medal of Valor by Ysandre’s own hands.

And I saw the self-same hero worship in young Hugues’ grey-blue eyes, cast onto Ti-Philippe and reflected larger on Joscelin and myself. “Well met, Hugues of Montrève.” I greeted him in formal tones, playing the role in which fate had cast me. “You understand that this is no May lark, but an undertaking of the utmost solemnity?”

“Oh, yes!” He gulped, stammering once more, color rising beneath his fair skin. “Yes, my lady, yes! I understand in the fullest!”

“Good.” I pinned my gaze sternly on him. “Be ready to ride at dawn.”

Hugues muttered some wit-stricken acquiescence; I don’t know what. As I turned away, I heard him say in a stage whisper to Ti-Philippe, “I thought she would be

This, I ignored, though Joscelin’s cheeks twitched with suppressed mirth. “What?” I asked irritably, rounding on him when we were in private. “Does my stature amuse you?”

“No.” Joscelin disarmed me with a smile, sliding his hands beneath the mass of my sable locks. “He is bedazzled by your reputation and you would have to be seven feet tall, to match your deeds, Phèdre nó Delaunay. I’d need to stand on a footstool, to kiss you.” He did kiss me, then, bending his head. I caught my arms about his neck. “A veritable Grainne mac Connor,” he murmured against my lips.

“Don’t tease,” I begged, tugging at his neck. “I’m no warrior, Joscelin.”

“Naamah’s warrior.” He kissed me again, loosening the stays of my gown. “Or Kushiel’s. As well one of us knows how to use a blade.”

That he did full well, Joscelin, my Perfect Companion. Like Ysandre, I owe my life to his skill with daggers and sword; many times over. All of Terre d’Ange knows of his match against the renegade Cassiline and would-be assassin David de Rocaille. I have never heard of another swordfight that brought an entire riot to a halt. If he is equally proficient with that other blade with which nature endows mankind, fewer folk know it. They would not expect it of a Cassiline Brother, once sworn to celibacy.

I hadn’t, either. But I knew better now.

Joscelin’s hands were gentle on my skin; it is seldom in his heart to be aught but gentle with me, though I am an
, Kushiel’s Chosen, and find pleasure in pain. But we have learned together, he and I, and he knew well enough how to make a torment of gentleness. The Cassiline discipline is a stern one. I felt it in the calluses of his palms, of his fingertips, as he disrobed me. With infinite skill he roused me, until I ached with yearning and begged him in earnest to make an end of it. When he entered me at last, I sighed with gratitude, wrapping my legs about his waist. Looking at his face was like gazing upon the sun; the love that suffused it was almost too much to bear.

“Phèdre,” he whispered.

“I know.” I buried my face against his shoulder and held him for all I was worth, memorizing the feel of him against me, within me, surging with desire steadfast as a beacon. He was the compass by which I had fixed my heart’s longing, and filled with him, I was replete. I held him hard, my voice coming in gasps. There were tears in my eyes, though I couldn’t have said why. “Ah, Joscelin! Don’t stop. As you love me, don’t stop.”

I felt him smile, and move within me. “I won’t,” he promised.

And he didn’t, not for a long, long time.

Thus did we make love that night, the last night of our long peace. I daresay Joscelin could scent change on the wind as well as I; we had been together too long not to think alike, and ours was a bond forged under the direst of circumstances. Afterward I fell straight into sated sleep and slept dreamlessly. Any tears I had wept, the night breeze had dried upon my cheeks, and I awoke to a clear spring morning.

No matter how dark the quest, there is a freedom in the commencing. Always, my heart has risen at the beginning of a journey, and this one was no exception. My competent staff had seen to all of our needs, and Eugenie, my Mistress of the Household, fussed incessantly over the provisioning of our trip. We would lack for naught.

My own fortunes had prospered in ten years of peace. My father, whom I remember vaguely, was a spendthrift with no head for money. Had he been more prudent, I would not have been indentured into servitude in Cereus House, first of the Thirteen Houses of the Night Court. As a hedge against fate, I have always invested wisely, aided by good advice from my factor and my connections at court and elsewhere.

Nor does it hurt to be the foremost courtesan of the realm. Betimes there have been outlandish offers for my favor-and betimes I have taken them. Naamah’s portion I have tithed generously to her temples; the rest, I have kept.

Evrilac Duré and his men were well rested from their travel and faced the return journey with a better will than they had shown in Ysandre’s council chamber. He raised his eyebrows to see our party assembled, for we numbered only the four of us with necessaries carried on pack-mules.

“Only four, my lady?” he inquired. “I thought you would bring a maidservant, at the least.”

“My lord Duré,” I said pleasantly. “We are travelling cross-country to a forsaken outpost to assail the Master of the Straits in his own domain, not paying a social call on the duchy of Trevalion. I have crossed the Skaldic wasteland in the dead of winter on foot, and been storm-blown to Kriti in the company of pirates. Will you not credit me with some measure of competence?”

He laughed at that, flashing white teeth; the Azzallese love a show of pride. And so we set out across the greening land beneath the auspices of spring. As the marble walls of the City of Elua fell behind us, I filled my lungs with great breaths of fresh air and saw Joscelin do the same. Guillard and Armand stole admiring glances in my direction as we rode, and young Hugues sang for sheer exuberance. He had a prodigious set of lungs in his broad chest, and his voice was sure and true.

“He reminds me of Remy,” Ti-Philippe said at one point, dropping back to ride alongside me, a shadow of sorrow in his smile. “He begged to come. I couldn’t say no.”

I nodded, the old grief catching in my throat. Remy had been the first of my chevaliers, the first of Phèdre’s Boys to pledge himself unto my service. I had watched him die. I was never free of the chains of blood-guilt, that awareness forged in the ceremony of the
in a Kritian cavern. Nor did I forget the living, whose numbers are never given to us to know. Would he have sung so freely and joyously, this stalwart lad, in a Terre d’Ange ruled by Melisande Shahrizai? I believed he would not. I could never know for sure.

“I am glad you brought him,” I said gently to Ti-Philippe, who smiled in full.

“He writes the most abysmal poetry,” he said. “Much of it dedicated to you, my lady, these two days gone by. ‘O lily-fair, with raven-cloaked hair; O star-drowned eyes, like night’s own skies.’”

At that I laughed, as he had meant; to be sure, Hugues’ presence lightened the journey and it passed pleasantly enough. We made good speed northward along the Aviline River and into the province of Namarre, thence turning westward toward Pointe des Soeurs. The sun shone brightly on our travels. In the vineyards, pale green tendrils were beginning to curl on the stands of brown, withered grapevines and the silvery leaves rustled in the olive groves. We saw Tsingani on the road from time to time, making their way from the early spring horse-fair at the Hippochamp in Kusheth; there was no mistaking them, white teeth flashing against their brown skin, their women wearing their wealth in gold coins strung in necklaces and earrings, or sewn into bright scarves, chattering in their own tongue mixed with D’Angeline.

Hyacinthe was a prince of his kind, his mother had always told him; the Prince of Travellers, for so they called themselves, doomed to wander the earth. I had believed it, when I was a child; when I was older, I thought it a mother’s fond lie, for she was an outcast among her people, deemed
, tainted, for having loved a D’Angeline man and lost her honor. As it transpired, it was the love that had been a lie. Hyacinthe’s mother’s honor had been lost in a careless bet, laid by a cousin who must needs then trick his headman’s daughter into a seduction to settle his debt with Bryony House.

It was true, after all. Hyacinthe’s grandfather Manoj was the Tsingan kralis, King of the Tsingani. And he had welcomed his long-lost grandson with open arms when he met him.

That, too, Hyacinthe had sacrificed. He had committed an act that was
when he used the
on my behalf, that gift of sight he had from his mother to part the veils of past and future. It is forbidden, among the Tsingani, for men to wield the
. But Hyacinthe had done it, and the Tsingan kralis had cast him out once more.

These things I thought on as we travelled, remembering, and I saw Joscelin’s gaze sober when it fell on the companies of Tsingani in their gaily painted wagons.

We avoided cities and larger towns, staying only in modest inns such as catered to couriers along the roads where the proprietors looked askance at my features and murmured speculation, but asked no questions. Twenty years ago, few D’Angelines recognized the mark of Kushiel’s Dart; there had been no
in living memory. Now, they know. I have heard it said that country lasses hungry for fame in Naamah’s service will prick themselves to induce a spot of red in the whites of their eyes. I do not know if it is true; I hope not. They do not do it in the City of Elua, where any urchin in the streets of Mont Nuit would know it for a sham. I would have thought, as a child in the Night Court, I would rejoice to have my name regaled throughout the realm; now, a woman grown, I kept my mouth shut on my fame and thought of other things.

It took a matter of some few days to reach Pointe des Soeurs, where our company was greeted with a certain awe, part and parcel as we were of the legend over which they maintained a watch. Duré’s men Guillard and Armand affected a careless swagger, relishing their role as escorts, and the commander himself, Evrilac Duré, cast an indulgent eye on their antics.

I think the garrison at Pointe des Soeurs was a lonely one, for the fortress overperches the sea and there is no village within ten miles’ ride; they grew starved, there, for polite company and news of the broader world. Still, I do not think they were expecting such news as we brought and the men fell silent when Duré called for volunteers for our excursion.

“Are you feared?” It was stocky Guillard who challenged his comrades, jeering. “I tell you, the Queen herself, Ysandre de la Courcel, said to the commander, ‘Messire Duré,’ she said, ‘I will not command any man of Trevalion to assail the Three Sisters … but I will ask.’ What have we seen to fear, lads? Fish?” He thumped his chest. “I tell you,
not be left behind to hear secondhand stories around the fire!”

After that, the volunteers came forward in twos and threes, until Duré had to turn them away. Young Hugues watched it all with open-mouthed delight, his face glowing. I smiled at his pleasure, and wondered what we might find.

Following on the heels of an afternoon repast, Armand and Guillard showed us about the fortress and its grounds. Here, I was told, the wave had broken on the stony shores, bearing its stricken load of sea-life. I paced the curve gravely, examining the drying corpses of fish left lying on the shore. Atop the parapet, Armand pointed northwest across the grey rippling sea, toward where a faint shadow lay on the horizon, nearest of the Three Sisters. There, he told me, the cloud had hung and the unnatural lightning played, quiet now since their departure.

BOOK: Kushiel's Avatar
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