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Authors: Jacqueline Carey

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

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“Hyacinthe.” I felt Sibeal’s gaze upon me and said his name like a desperate prayer. “Is there no way to free you?”

He looked up at me, almost close enough to touch, and the sorrow in his eyes was ocean-deep. “I have not found it, Phèdre. Have you?” When I shook my head in wordless denial, he gave his terrible smile, fine lines crinkling at the corners of his eyes. “Then let all knowledge of my curse be buried and forgotten. If you love me, Phèdre, let them forget. For you see, I am still young enough and new enough at it to scruple at passing it on to any other. While my will holds, no vessel shall be allowed to land on these shores.” Hyacinthe spread his hands. “But I am getting older, you see,” he said softly. “The Master of the Straits was Rahab’s get, on a woman who was first-born to Elua’s line. I am not him, with three parts ichor in my veins to one part blood, to endure eternity unaging.” He swallowed, then, hard. “Let them forget. Then, when all I have known and loved has passed from this earth, when I am a withered husk, then when my scruples give way, I will have less on my conscience.”

My dream came back to me with terrible clarity; the gap, the widening void of water and Hyacinthe receding, his boy’s voice crying out my name in vain. “What is it?” I made myself ask, forcing my voice to steadiness. “Hyacinthe, when you tried to step off the island, there was a presence, in the water. Is it Rahab?”

“Him, or an invocation of him. Yes.” Hyacinthe went still. Our ship bobbed gently on the water, lines creaking, wavelets churning and milling. “You do know a way.”

“Yes and no.” I took a deep breath and gazed into the empty blue sky. “There is a word. The Yeshuites claim the One God is nameless and unknowable, but it is not so. Adonai, they call him; Lord, nothing else. But He has a name, and it is a word, spoken, that all His servants must obey. Even Rahab.” I looked at Hyacinthe. “That much, I have learned. But,” I shook my head, “the Name of God eludes me. I do not have the knowledge.”

Something moved in Hyacinthe’s oddly changeable eyes; power, mayhap, stirring in the depths … or mayhap only hope. “You can find it.”

“Hyacinthe.” His name caught in my throat. “I’ve been looking, for ten years! There are Yeshuite scholars who have devoted their lives to it, going back in an unbroken line since before Blessed Elua walked the earth. I will never, ever stop looking, I swear to you, but after ten years, I do not hold a great deal of hope.”

Hyacinthe looked away.

“Tsingano.” Joscelin’s pragmatic voice broke the silence. “You have the
. What does the gift of sight tell you?”

.” Hyacinthe gave him his dire smile. “I see an island, Cassiline; I see wind and sea. What do you think? I have seen naught else since I came here.”

“What of Phèdre?”

The question hung in the air between them. The intense black pupils of Hyacinthe’s eyes blurred, losing focus. “Phèdre,” he whispered. In the old days, he would never speak the
on my behalf. “Ah, Phèdre! It is a vaster pattern than I can compass. There are branchings beyond which I cannot see, and each one lies in darkness. Kushiel bars the path, stern and forbidding, his hands outstretched. In one hand, he holds a brazen key, and in the other …” His gaze focused abruptly. “And in the other, a diamond, strung on a velvet cord.”

I touched the hollow of my throat.

“It is my dream.” Sibeal’s voice spoke softly in Cruithne. “It is as I have seen.”





IT WAS a somber journey back to Pointe des Soeurs.

We parted ways with Drustan mab Necthana and his entourage at sea; they would sail east, putting in at the harbor of Trevalion, where Ghislain and his wife Bernadette looked for their arrival. Evrilac Duré’s men were in restrained good spirits, uncertain what had transpired, glad of their survival. I leaned in the prow and watched the water part before us, thinking.

Joscelin interrupted my thoughts only once, leaning beside me. The hilt of his sword jutting over his shoulder cast a wavering cruciform shadow on the water below us. “I know of only one such diamond,” he said softly. “Melisande-”

I know
.” I cut him off sharply.

What had Melisande to do with Hyacinthe’s fate? Nothing. Of the many things for which I blame her, that is not one. Ill-luck, it was, a destiny laid down eight hundred years gone by, and my Prince of Travellers caught in it. I could not shake the memory of my final glimpse of him. Hyacinthe had raised his hands, and the seas had answered, a limpid, rising swell that caught our vessel and turned us, carrying us plunging through the narrow entry and into the open seas. I had seen his lips moving as he did it, uttering words of command.

How could he, who now held such power in his hands, look to me for aid? It had grown unreal to me in his absence, this role in which he was cast. Now, having seen, I doubted the measure of my own meager skills. In ten years, what had I found? A rumor, nothing more; a tale buried in legend. The Rebbe had told it to me long ago, before La Serenissima. Lilit, the first wife of Edom, had fled his dominion; the One God sent his servants to bring her back. She had laughed and spoken His name, sending them back.

Well and so; I had not lied, I have spoken with many Yeshuite scholars since first I heard that tale. There are branches of mysticism within the Yeshuite religion, and those that hold the five books of the Tanakh itself is but the Name of God written in code. To each letter of each word a value is ascribed, and the resonance of every word to words of like value studied endlessly. Yet I never met a one who claimed the Name of God was known.

Now, there are fewer Yeshuites in the City of Elua and elsewhere across the realm, and their thoughts turn ever northward. The exodus that began ten years ago has continued, and rumor comes from the far northeast that they are forging a nation in the cold wastes. Not all agree that it is this which the prophecies of Yeshua ben Yosef intended-my old master the Rebbe did not-but the dissenters grow fewer every year. What he feared has come to pass: The Children of Yisra-el are divided. Of those who remain, their eyes turn increasingly toward the future, and less and less to the past. And I … I am D’Angeline. When the One God sought to bid Elua to his heaven, Blessed Elua and his Companions refused. I am a child of Elua, Kushiel’s Chosen and Naamah’s Servant, and I have no place in such matters.

But for Hyacinthe.

There is a Hellene myth, which tells of a man who had leave to ask a boon of the gods. He asked for immortality, and failed to ask for eternal youth in the bargain. The mocking gods granted his wish to the letter. Never dying, ever aging. At the end, when he had shriveled to naught but a dry, creaking thing of sinew and bone, they took pity on him and turned him into a grasshopper. How long? The myth does not say. To this day, I cannot hear the grasshopper’s song without a shudder.

We passed a quiet night at Pointe des Soeurs, and in the morning, took our leave of the place. Evrilac Duré offered to send an escort with us, which I declined, though I thanked him graciously for the aid he had already provided. We broke our fast at dawn, and were on the road a scant hour later.

Joscelin, having already ascertained my mood, kept wisely silent on our journey, and Ti-Philippe knew well enough to follow his lead. It was young Hugues, prattling endlessly about the encounter, who would not let matters be. “They say his mother was the Queen of the Tsingani, with gold on every finger and gold scarves for every day of the week, and if she cursed a man, he would fall down dead. Is it true, my lady?” he asked eagerly. “They say he told fortunes in the marketplace when he was but a boy, and Palace nobles would line up to wait their turn!”

“He stole sweets,” I said shortly, “in the marketplace. And his mother took in washing.”

“But they

“Hugues.” I rounded on him, drawing my mount up short. “Yes. Hyacinthe had the
, and his mother before him. She told fortunes, and sometimes people gave her coin; mostly, they were poor. She ran a lodging house for such Tsingani as did not disdain a woman who had lost her
, her virtue, and she took in laundry and changed her profit for gold coin, such as you have seen around the necks of half the Tsingani women on the road. Do you think her son was marked for this destiny?”

Blood rose to his fresh cheeks. “I did not mean …”

I sighed. “I know. It is a splendid, terrible tale, and you have been privileged to see a glimpse of it. Outside Azzalle, I do not think they even tell it. But Hugues, never forget it is real people who live out such tales and bear the price of the telling, in grief and guilt and sorrow.”

He fell silent, then, and lowered his handsome head, and I felt remorse for having shamed him. We stayed at an inn in the town of Seinagan that night, and Hugues excused himself from the common room to retire early. Ti-Philippe, offering no comment, accompanied him.

It was pleasant in the common room, whitewashed walls freshly scrubbed, a fire to ward off the evening chill of spring smelling sweetly of pear wood. “You were hard on the lad,” Joscelin said quietly, not looking at me, running his fingertips over the sweating earthenware curve of a wine-jug. “He’s excited, no more. He meant no harm.”

“I know.” I put my head in my hands. “I know. It’s just that it
me, Joscelin. To see Hyacinthe thus, and be helpless. It is a pain in my heart, and I take no pleasure in it.”

“Would that I had been the one to answer the riddle.” Joscelin raised his head abruptly. “Is that what you want to hear? I would that I had, Phèdre. Better for all of us if I had. If I could trade places with him and spare you this pain, I would. But I
,” he said savagely. “I’m not clever, like you, and I have no gift of sight to aid me. Only these.” He turned out his hands, palms upward, callus-worn. “It has been enough, until now.” His expression changed. “And could be still, if you convinced him,” he said slowly. “I do know the answer, don’t I? I don’t need to be wise or gifted, not anymore. All I need is for Hyacinthe to let me set foot on his shores.”

“Joscelin, no!” I stared at him in horror. “How can you even think such a thing?”

“Ah, well.” He smiled faintly, wryly. “It would solve your problems.”

“Idiot!” I grasped both of his hands hard in mine. “Joscelin Verreuil, if you think for one minute I would grieve over you one whit less than I do for Hyacinthe, you are a blessed fool,” I said in exasperation. “He is my oldest and dearest friend and I love him well, but you …” I shook my head. “You are an idiot. And if you think I’m going to walk into darkness without you at my side, an idiot thrice over. You’re not getting out of it that easily.”

His fingers closed over my own. “Then I shall stand at the crossroads,” he said quietly. “And choose, and choose again, wherever your path shall lead. I protect and serve.”

They were words that needed to be spoken between us, and in the morning I awoke with a resolved heart and made greater effort to be gracious to those around me. Thus we made good time on the road and returned the City of Elua to find the word of Drustan’s arrival had preceded us by a day, brought by Azzallese couriers riding at a breakneck pace to receive Ysandre’s reward.

The Queen heard our news with grave compassion, taking note of the passage of power and Hyacinthe’s words thereon. I daresay she was genuinely sorry for his plight-but there are limits even to a Queen’s power. Ysandre had a realm to govern and her beloved husband, the father of her children, was making his way to her side. There was naught she could do. If there had been, I would have asked it; would have spent the boon, long-hoarded, she had granted me with the Companion’s Star.

But there was nothing.

As a matter of courtesy, I consulted with the Master of Ceremonies on preparing the way for Drustan’s entry into the City; it is one of the great rites of spring nowadays, and I was there at its inception. Once, there were precious few D’Angelines who spoke Cruithne. Now, traffic is brisk between our lands, it is taught in many schools and Ysandre does not lack for translators. The children of the realm do not need my coaching to greet the Cruarch in his own tongue.

One distraction I had in the days before his arrival, and that was a cabinet meeting of the Guild of the Servants of Naamah. It is the only appointment I have ever sought, and I have served in the cabinet since the days of La Serenissima, designated as the Court liaison. They reckoned themselves lucky to have me at first-over a hundred years it has been, since a member of the peerage served on that Guild-but they did not always like the reforms I proposed. We voted on one that day that had Jareth Moran, the Dowayne of Cereus House, tearing at his hair in frustration.

“If we have sunk four thousand ducats into an apprentice’s marque and training, my lady,” he said carefully, “and he or she is found unfit to serve, we
have a way of recouping our investment! Elsewise we will be bankrupt.”

“Then choose more wisely, my lord Dowayne,” I said remorselessly, “or have more care with your adepts. For those who are reckoned unfit have no way of recouping their lives.”

Jareth glared, but made no retort, mindful of my history. I had been a child in Cereus House, reckoned unfit to serve by virtue of the scarlet mote in my eye. It was my lord Anafiel Delaunay who knew it for the sign of Kushiel’s Dart and bought my marque, training me in the Naamah’s Arts as well as the arts of covertcy. And with the gifts of my patrons I earned my freedom, inch by inch, paying the marquist to etch its progress on my skin. For each assignation, I paid, and my marque is complete. It rises from the base of my spine to the nape of my neck, a briar rose wrought in black, accented with drops of crimson.

If it signifies that I am Naamah’s Servant, it also announces that I am a free D’Angeline, with no debt owing to be possessed by another. It is hard-won, my marque, and I have used the stature I have earned along with it to enact changes. No more were the Thirteen Houses of the Night Court allowed to set marque-prices for children sold into indenture, such as I had been. Now, it was all apprentices, or such children as were born into the Night Court and freely raised therein. Anafiel Delaunay would not be able to buy my marque today as he had when I was ten.

BOOK: Kushiel's Avatar
11.11Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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