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Authors: Jacqueline Carey

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BOOK: Kushiel's Avatar
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I listened well and nodded solemnly. High on the fortress walls, the cries of gulls resounded in the salt air along with the fainter sounds of Duré’s men making ready a ship for the morning’s sojourn, checking the rigging and tending to minor details.

“What do you make of it?” Joscelin asked that night in the spare chamber we had been allotted. He had his baldric in a tangle on his lap, oiling the leather straps against the salt tang of a sea voyage. I looked up from the Yeshuite scroll I was reading-the Sh’moth, chronicling the flight of Moishe from the land of Menekhet and the parting of the seas. My old teacher the Rebbe would have chomped at his beard to see me handling a sacred text bare-handed and familiar, but he was dead these seven years past, his weary heart faltering in his sleep.

“Nothing.” I shook my head. “Little enough they have recorded of Rahab, and naught to do with Elua’s get. A few similarities, mayhap. No more. You?”

Joscelin shrugged, looking steadily at me, his strong, capable hands continuing to work oil into the leather. “I protect and serve,” he said softly.

Once, he had known more than I of Yeshuite lore; they are near-kin, the Cassiline Brotherhood. Apostates, the Yeshuites call them. Of all the Companions of Blessed Elua, Cassiel alone came to follow him out of perfect purity of heart, a love and compassion the One God, in his ire, forswore. Yeshuites claim the others followed Elua out of arrogance, defying the One God’s rule; Naamah for desire, Azza for pride, Shemhazai, for cleverness’ sake, and so forth. Kushiel, who marked me for his own, was once a punisher of the damned; it is said he loved his charges too well. Mayhap it is so-but Blessed Elua bid them,
love as thou wilt
. And when the One God and Mother Earth made their peace and created such a place as had never before existed, Cassiel chose to follow Elua into the true Terre d’Ange-that-lies-beyond, and he alone among the Companions acknowledged damnation, and accepted it as his due.

He gauged it worth the price. That is the part they cannot explain, neither Yeshuite nor Cassiline. I do not think they try.

I know more, now, than any Cassiline; and I daresay many Yeshuites. It was still not enough. Rising from the bed, I went to kneel at Joscelin’s side, pressing my brow against his knee. He did not like it when I did such things, but I could not help the ache of penitence in my heart.

“I thought I would find a way to free him,” I whispered. “I truly did.”

After a moment, I felt Joscelin’s hand stroke my hair. “So did I,” I heard him murmur. “Elua help me, Phèdre, so did I.”





IN THE morning, we set sail.

It is not a long journey to the Three Sisters from Pointe des Soeurs. Nonetheless, a stiff headwind sprang up against us, making our course difficult as we must needs beat against it in broad tacks. The galley was a fine and suitable vessel with a shallow draught and wide decks, flying the pennant of Trevalion, three ships and the Navigators’ Star. It felt strangely familiar to have the sensation of sea-swell beneath my feet, and I soon recovered the trick of swaying to balance myself with it.

Duré and his men were capable, and had they not been, I daresay Ti-Philippe would have filled any lack, for he scrambled over the ship from stem to stern in high spirits. He had been a sailor, once, under the command of the Royal Admiral, Quintilius Rousse. The awe-stricken Hugues trailed in his wake, fit as an ox, while my Perfect Companion leaned against the railing, pale and sweating. As I have said, Joscelin was no sea-farer.

Despite our to-and-fro approach, it was only a few hours before the coast of the Third Sister grew solid on the horizon. I stood in the prow and watched the island grow larger in my vision, a curious reversal of the terrible dream that had awoken me little more than a week ago.

Intent and focused, I did not see that we were not alone on the Strait.

It was a cry from the crow’s nest that first alerted me, but in moments, we could all of us see. There, across the surging grey waves, a fleet of seven ships was making its way, coming from the opposite angle to converge on the same point.

If you pass the Cruarch’s flagship on your journey, tell him to make haste
. Ysandre de la Courcel’s words had been in jest-it was in spring that Drustan mab Necthana came to stay with her, and there was ever a prize granted to the first person who spotted his sails-but there could be no doubt of it. The lead ship bore a great scarlet square of a mainsail displaying the Black Boar of Alba.

“Drustan!” I breathed, and ran to tell Evrilac Duré, abandoning my vigil in the prow. He stared at me in disbelief, then looked and saw the proof of his own eyes and gave orders to his helmsman to change our course, making to intercept the flagship of the Cruarch of Alba. We had to go to oars, beating across the choppy waters.

They saw us coming and halted, lowering sails to idle at sea as Duré’s oarsmen heaved and groaned, the other six ships dropping anchor behind the Cruarch’s. I saw him at a distance, a small figure across the waters, recognizable by his crimson cloak of office and the flash of gold at his throat.

“Drustan!” Ti-Philippe said at my side, frowning. “What in seven hells is the Cruarch of Alba doing making for the Three Sisters? He ought to be headed for port, and the Queen’s bedchamber.”

“I don’t know.” There was a second figure beside him, smaller and slighter. Not one of his warriors, I thought, gazing across the water. It was not until we drew nigh that I recognized the figure as a woman, and not until we hove to alongside them that I realized I knew her. She was Drustan’s youngest living sister, the middle daughter, Sibeal.

I saw him smile, dark eyes grave and unsurprised in the whorls of blue woad that tattooed his face, raising one hand in greeting. “Phèdre nó Delaunay, my brother Joscelin,” the Cruarch of Alba called from his ship, “well met.”

His D’Angeline was excellent; it ought to be, for I had taught him. I gripped the railing and stared at him, Duré’s men murmuring behind me. “My lord Drustan,” I said in bewilderment. “How do you come here, and why?”

Drustan mab Necthana nodded to his sister, who raised her chin to gaze at me across the divide. She had the same solemn eyes as her brother, seeming even wider-set for the twin lines of blue dots that etched her cheeks. “Sibeal had a dream,” he said simply.

It was only meet, after that, that our forces were conjoined. It took some jostling and maneuvering to enact the transfer, but the seas became oddly calmed and we managed without much difficulty. Some few of Evrilac Duré’s men joined us; most did not, with varying degrees of relief, and Duré ordered the sea-anchor dropped. Drustan helped me aboard his flagship himself, returning my embrace warmly when I flung both arms about his neck and gave him the kiss of greeting. There are few people I like better and admire more than the Cruarch of Alba.

And when it was done, we heard his sister’s dream.

They are seers of a sort, the women of the Cruarch’s line. When we arrived on the shores of Alba, it was Drustan’s youngest sister, Moiread, who gave us greeting; there to meet us, she said, in answer to a dream. Moiread is dead, slain these many years ago by a Tarbh Cró spear at the Battle of Bryn Gorrydum where Drustan regained his throne. I saw that happen, too. Many more would have died, if not for Joscelin. The Cruarch has named him brother since that day.

“I saw a rock in the waters,” Sibeal said softly, speaking in Cruithne. “And on it stood a crow. I saw the skies open and the lightnings strike, and the crow stretched out its wings in agony. I saw the waters boil, full of serpents, and the crow could not fly. I saw the skies part and a white dove fly forth and land upon the rock.” She hugged her arms around herself and gazed toward the island of Third Sister. “I saw the waters rise and the serpents lash their tails, and the crow could not fly,” she said. “I saw the dove land and open its beak, and vomit forth a diamond. And then I awoke.” Her troubled eyes turned to me. “You have dreamed it too.”

“No,” I whispered; my hand rose of its own accord to touch the naked hollow of my throat. There had been a diamond, once. Melisande had put it there. “That is, yes, my lady Sibeal, I have dreamed. I dreamed of Hyacinthe, no more.”

“Hyacinthe.” She spoke his name with a Cruithne accent, a faint frown creasing the downy skin betwixt her brows. “Yes.”

“They say,” Drustan mab Necthana said, “that a fortnight past, lightning flashed and the seas rose. So I have come to see.”

“My lord!” The words came out sharply. “It is not fitting, that you should risk yourself in this fashion! Even now, the Queen awaits you in the City of Elua. Let us go, my lord. It is what was intended.”

Evrilac Duré shifted behind me; at either side I had Joscelin and Ti-Philippe, who knew the risks and counted them full well. Drustan mab Necthana, the Cruarch of Alba, merely gazed at me. He had been there, when Hyacinthe paid the price of our freedom. If he could have paid it himself, he would have. He had not forgotten any more than I had.

We had always understood one another, he and I.

“Then let us go together, Phèdre,” he said quietly. “One last time. Sibeal has had a dream that is a riddle demanding an answer. This I must do.”

Thus it was that I came to the island known as Third Sister for a second time, borne as I was the first, on the flagship of the Cruarch of Alba. Whether or not the Alban sailors were affrighted, I cannot say; they were men hand-picked by Drustan, their worth measured in the elaborate degree of tattooing that swirled their arms and faces, and they showed no fear as they hoisted sail. The D’Angelines onboard murmured amongst themselves as a sudden wind bellied our crimson sails, making the Black Boar surge and billow. Joscelin was pale, though whether with fear or seasickness, I do not know. Ti-Philippe’s features settled into unwontedly grim lines as he cast his eye on the steep, looming cliffs of Third Sister. Young Hugues shuffled from foot to foot in an excess of excitement. Drustan looked purposeful, and his sister Sibeal, serene. I felt sick.

I had forgotten how the island rushed upon one, how the ingress was hidden by high, steep walls. ’Twas a mighty wave had brought us the first time. This time, it was the wind that picked us out like a child’s toy, bearing us into the cliff-flanked harbor. I had forgotten how the open temple sat atop the isle, the endless stone stair cascading down to a rocky promontory.

Where a lone figure awaited us.

Even at a distance, I recognized him. My mouth opened to admit an involuntary sound, squeezed out by the unexpected, painful contraction of my heart.


He lifted one hand and the wind went still. Our ship drifted, born on bobbing wavelets toward the shore. He lowered both hands and a shuddering ripple arose in the scant yards that separated the ship’s planks from the rock shore, the water heaving and churning. And he stood there, very much alone, clad in breeches and doublet of a rusty black velvet, salt-stained lace at his breast and cuffs.

I made a choked gasp and he gave a rueful smile, his eyes, Hyacinthe’s eyes, dark and aware in his familiar, beloved face, taut fingers outstretched at the churning waves. His hair still spilled in blue-black ringlets over his shoulders, longer than when I had left him. Tiny crow’s-feet were etched at the corners of his eyes, always wont to smile; his eyes, Elua, oh!

“Hello, Phèdre,” Hyacinthe said softly. “It’s good to see you.”

His eyes went deeper and darker than ever I had seen, his pupils twin abysses, blackness unending. And around them his irises constricted in rings, shadow-shifting, oceanic depths reflected in a thousand wavering lights. I heard Joscelin’s cracked exclamation, saw those unearthly eyes shift.

“And you, Cassiline.” Hyacinthe bowed from the waist, ironically. “My lord Drustan.” His voice changed. “Sibeal.”

!” I breathed, nails digging into the railing. “Oh, Hyas … name of Elua, let us come ashore!”

He shook his head, locks stirring, fingers still outstretched at the sea and a crooked smile quirked his mouth. “I can’t, Phèdre, don’t you see? I don’t dare. You’re the only ones I’ve let get this close, and I wouldn’t if I didn’t trust you. Once you set foot ashore, the
is invoked.” He bowed again, this time to Drustan. “Half the riddle is done, my lord Cruarch; you have wed Ysandre in love, Alban and D’Angeline united. For the rest…” He shrugged. “I will not ask anyone to take my place.”

I was weeping open-eyed, the tears running heedless down my cheeks. As if from a distance, I heard Drustan say, “There was a storm that was no storm, ten days ago and more. What does it betoken?”

“He is dead.” Hyacinthe’s voice was quiet, yet it seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere. It had never been so, in my memory. “The one you called the Master of the Straits. What you have seen is the passage of power.”

“Then come!” I caught my breath, regaining control of my voice, and spoke fiercely. “Come with us! Let it be ended.”

Hyacinthe smiled, and his smile was terrible, not reaching the dark-ringed abysses of his eyes. “Do you think I can?” he asked, and relaxed his fingers, making to step onto the surging waves that bordered us.

All at once, the world
. I can find no better word to describe it. While we remained stationary, adrift on the waters, and Hyacinthe sought but to take a simple step, the very mass of the world itself shifted in a nauseating fashion. And in that few feet of water, something changed, opening; an abyss deeper and darker than aught in Hyacinthe’s eyes, a bottomless, sickening void around which my world suddenly pivoted and in its depths, a radiant and dreadful presence moved, a defiant, destructive rage. I thought, for an instant, that he had done it, had completed the step and bridged the gap between us … and then the world righted itself, and I found we were adrift still, the abyss and the presence gone and Hyacinthe bent over double on the shore, gasping for air. He raised his haunted eyes, and his voice, when he spoke, belonged to the Tsingano lad I remembered.

?” he panted, sweat beading his brow. “It cannot be done. Merely to try is like dying. I ought to know, I’ve done it enough times.” He straightened slowly, as if the motion pained him. “Let it be proclaimed,” he said formally, “since you have come, that the Straits have a new Master. Let it be proclaimed that all who seek passage will be welcome. The Cruarch’s truce holds. While Alban and D’Angeline find love in common, the Straits shall remain open.”

BOOK: Kushiel's Avatar
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