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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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That was my doing, too, and I reckoned it well-done. For all that my lord Delaunay owned my marque, he had been the first to teach me that it was wrong to treat people as chattel. He did not permit it, in his household. All Naamah’s Servants must enter the bargain of their own accord, but I do not think the choice was made so freely in the Night Court as in Delaunay’s household. Now, it is. The Queen herself, newly a mother when I proposed the reform, backed it wholeheartedly.

And I do not think the ranks of Naamah’s Servants have dwindled for these measures; indeed, if anything, they have swelled since I rose to prominence.

“Naamah lay down in the stews of Bhodistan with strangers that Blessed Elua might eat,” said the priestess of the Great Temple of Naamah with considerable amusement. “Not to fatten the wallets of the Dowaynes of the Night Court, my lord Jareth. We find this proposal meet. If an apprentice is reckoned unfit to serve, it is meet that the Dowayne of his or her House provide a means for them to serve out the terms of their indenture in the time allotted. No more, and no less.”

“You ask us to find employ for persons unfit for Naamah’s Service?” the Dowayne of Bryony House inquired. “It is unreasonable. We do not have the means to serve as a referral agency for failed adepts.”

“Will you tell me Bryony House cannot find a half a dozen suitable clerkships for a trained apprentice?” I asked cynically; everyone knows the financial acumen with which Bryony’s adepts are instilled. “I am saying that the system of indenture as it exists is imperfect. It allows legal means whereby an apprentice may become a virtual slave to his or her House.”

There was a silence, at that; D’Angelines like to reckon themselves better than the rest of the world, for we are closer than others to our nation’s begetting. Even the meanest peasant among us can trace his or her ancestry to Elua or one of his Companions, who gave us many gifts. We have not practiced slavery since Blessed Elua trod our soil.
Love as thou wilt
, he bade us; slavery by its very nature violates his Sacred Precept. And owing a vast debt against one’s marque is almost as bad as being a slave, when one is prevented from receiving patron-gifts.

I have a
, sharp-tongued and gifted, who was a failed adept, flawed by a scar that rendered her unfit by the tenets of the Night Court; fifteen years or more, it might have taken Favrielle nó Eglantine to make her marque on the commissions her Dowayne allowed her-meanwhile, her youth fled and her genius gone to make the marques of her erstwhile companions. It did not happen, for I used my own earnings to pay the price of her marque and buy her freedom. But there were others, and I did not have the means to save them all.

Even my freedom had been bought. That was Melisande’s doing.

And the diamond … the diamond had been her gift.

In the end, they passed the measure by a slim margin, as I had gauged they would. The representatives of the street-guild had naught to lose, and the Temple of Naamah had endorsed the measure. It was the Night Court that stood to be inconvenienced … but not so greatly that its Dowaynes were prepared to stand in opposition to the rest of Naamah’s Servants.

Especially me, the Queen’s favorite.

Afterward, I spoke with Bérèngere of Namarre, the priestess of the Great Temple, thanking her for her support in the matter. In a way, I have known her since I was scarce more than a child; she was there, as an acolyte, when I was first dedicated into the Service of Naamah. When I was rededicated, it was she who performed the rites.

“There is no need,” she said simply, folding her hands inside the full, elegant sleeves of her crimson robe. “The measure was a good one. You have done good things in this cabinet, Phèdre nó Delaunay.”

“I have tried.” I flushed at the compliment; one does, from a member of the priesthood.

Bérèngere smiled, her green eyes tilted catlike in their regard. I remembered the taste of honeycake on my tongue, and her kiss; sunlight gilding the pinions of my offering-dove as it beat its wings toward the oculus. “Pride, they have in the Service of Naamah; pride and passion,” she said, watching the Dowaynes of the Night Court leave. “I do not belittle these things, nor begrudge them coin and glory. But the heart of the matter is love.” Her gaze returned to me. “There are a thousand reasons why Naamah chose to lie with strangers, to give and receive pleasure as she did. Devotion, greed, modesty, perfection, solace, genius, atonement, mastery, desire …” She named the attributes of the Thirteen Houses. “All of them are true, but the chiefest among them is love. Always love.”

“I know,” I whispered. I did. I have loved all my patrons, at least a little bit. It is not a thing I tell to Joscelin, who would not understand. For all that he was a priest, once, he was Cassiel’s, and such things Cassiel does not comprehend. Naamah’s priestess understood.

“They forget, in the Court of Night-Blooming Flowers,” she said. “All the great Houses. Cereus, Heliotrope, Valerian, Jasmine … even Gentian, with their visions. They forget, or comprehend only a piece of the whole. You remember. Always remember.” Bérèngere of Namarre reached out with one slender hand, laying delicate fingertips above my heart. “The true offering is given in love.”

I shuddered under her touch with fear and desire, almost as if she were a patron. “My lady,” I said, making myself deliver the words calmly. “I have been told my path lies in darkness. What do you see? Is it Naamah’s will that I suffer?”

She shook her head ruefully, hair the color of apricots shining against the silk of her robe. “I am a priestess and not a seer, Phèdre nó Delaunay. This, I cannot say. Only that your knowledge will serve you true, in the end, if you do not fear the offering.” Withdrawing her touch, she folded her hands once more in her sleeves. “
Love as thou wilt
,” she quoted. “Even Naamah’s Servants follow Blessed Elua, in the end.”

It was not the most comforting of advice.





DRUSTAN MAB Necthana came to the City of Elua.

There was feasting, and fetes; Joscelin and I turned out to meet him, of course, a part of Ysandre’s entourage. And I wore the Companion’s Star upon my breast, and had Ti-Philippe in attendance with Hugues as his wide-eyed guest, and we pelted the Cruarch with rose-petals and sighed, charmed, with the others when the young Princess Alais hurled herself at her father at the gates of the City. She clung about his neck like a monkey, wrapping her legs about his waist, and Drustan smiled, burying his face in his daughter’s hair and walking half the distance to the Palace, despite how his twisted left foot must have pained him.

Truly, it would have warmed a heart of stone.

It warmed Ysandre’s heart, I know; and I could not find it in mine to begrudge her. No monarch has risen to the throne of Terre d’Ange under graver circumstances than Ysandre, and none has held it with more courage and compassion. If I seem to damn my lady Queen with faint praise, it is not my intention. I have cause to know, better than any, to what mettle Ysandre’s spirit is tempered, and I could not ask for any finer.

No, my discontent lay with the shadow on my own soul.

It is no one’s fault but my own that I underwent the ceremony of the
on the island of Kriti, and came face-to-face with the chain of sorrow and suffering that had arisen from my actions. If I had not transgressed, I would have been purged of the knowledge and cleansed to face life renewed and forgiven. I know, for I saw what transpired in the heart of Kazan Atrabiades, who was my friend; friend and lover, and one-time captor. But I
transgressed, and I could not be absolved. The mystery into which I stumbled was not meant for me. What I saw, I must remember and endure.

So I had, for ten years, and the pain of that knowledge had lain buried. Now, Hyacinthe’s plight had split the healed flesh and the scars on my soul bled anew.

I went, when I had the time, to my last ally among the Yeshuites, the mystic scholar Eleazar ben Enokh. He is held in awe and disdain among his people, Eleazar ben Enokh. Awe, for he is among the last of his kind and his knowledge is prodigious for all that he is young to it; disdain, for he looks backward and inward, pondering half-forgotten mysteries while the rest of his folk look increasingly to the north and the future. It is with Eleazar that I began studying the Akkadian language; and that too, his people disdain.

They are wrong, I think-Eleazar thinks it too. There are few tongues older than that which is spoken among the scions of the House of Ur, whose hero Ahzimandias led his people out of exile in the desert to reconquer their ancestral lands. Khebbel-im-Akkad, they call it; Akkad-that-is-reborn. Once upon a time, they were near-kin, the Akkadians and the Yeshuites. The Habiru, they were called then, the Children of Yisra-el; their language is still called the same. But when the Akkadians conquered, the Children of Yisra-el were dispersed and flung to the winds, their Twelve Tribes disbanded, Ten of the Twelve lost and the purity of their mother-tongue diffused.

So it is said, at any rate.

When the empire of Persis arose and overthrew the Akkadians, the royal court of the House of Ur fled, deep into the Umaiyyat, where they were succored by the Khalifate of the Umaiyyat. And there, for a thousand years, they maintained their traditions and language unaltered, and nurtured revenge. It was in Eleazar ben Enokh’s heart that somewhere in the deep past, Akkadians and the Children of Yisra-el sprang from the same root. El, their deity was called; El, that is: God, whose True Name is unknowable. Now the Yeshuites think less on the Name of God, having affixed their faith to His son Yeshua ben Yosef, and the Akkadians care little for El, having reconquered Persis in the name of Shamash, the Lion of the Sun, in accordance with Ahzimandias’ vision.

But Eleazar ben Enokh, a Yeshuite who dwelt in the City of Elua, kept his heart attuned to his One God and courted Him with profound meditation, fasting and reciting hymns, composed in Habiru and Akkadian alike, seeking betwixt the two to find the original root words, the First Word of Creation that spoke the world into being-for that, he believed, was the Name of God.

I sat with him as he did, for we had become friends, Eleazar and I, of the unlikeliest sort. I knelt on mats in his prayer-room,
, as I was taught long ago in the Night Court, sitting on my heels with the skirts of my velvet gown composed around me. Eleazar knelt too, and rocked, inclining back and forth and keening all the while in his strong voice. Betimes he arose and danced about the prayer-room, hopping and spinning, his spindling limbs akimbo beneath his black robes, head thrown back in ecstasy.

I daresay it looked humorous; I know his wife Adara smiled, ducking her head to hide it as she brought water and crusty bread bought fresh at the market into the prayer-room to make ready for her husband who would be ravenous when he broke his fast. To her credit, it never disturbed her that her husband kept company with the foremost courtesan in the City of Elua.

“Father of Nations!” Eleazar gasped in Habiru, “Lord of the Divine Countenance! Hear me, Your meager worshipper, and grant me the merest glimpse of Your throne! Ah!” He went rigid, kneeling, arms outflung. “Abu,” he whispered, reverting to Akkadian, “Abu El, anaku basû kussû.”God, my Father, let me come before your throne.

A look of bliss suffused his face, the straggling ends of his black beard quivering. I knelt patient and watched, while Eleazar ben Enokh descended slowly through the realms of Yeshuite heavens and returned to the here-and-now. I knew, when he opened his kind, brown eyes and shook his head, that he had returned empty-handed.

“I have no name.”

The words were spoken with ritual sorrow. He believed, Eleazar ben Enokh, that he beheld the Presence of God in his transports, and that one day he might return with the Sacred Name writ fast upon his heart. I nodded in acknowledgment, bowing low before him.

“I am grateful for your efforts, father,” I said formally. Eleazar sighed and sat cross-legged, his bony knees poking sharply into his robes.

“Yeshua have mercy on us,” he said sadly, “but we have lost the gift of it since we followed the Mashiach. He sent His Son to redeem our broken covenant.” He broke off a piece of bread and looked at it as if it were strange and wonderful in his sight, placing it on his tongue and chewing slowly. “It is said-” he swallowed a mouthful of bread,-that one tribe alone never faltered, that is the Tribe of Dân.” Eleazar shook his head again. “Adonai is merciful, Phèdre,” he said softly, “and to us He sent His Son, Yeshua ben Yosef. I catch a glimpse of His throne, of His almighty feet; no more. For the rest, there is Yeshua.” He smiled, and joy and sorrow alike were commingled in his mien. “It is upon his sacrifice that our redemption now depends. I do not think Adonai will make His sacred name known any more to the Children of Yisra-El. Perhaps He will do it for Elua’s child.”

“Elua!” My voice was bitter. “Adonai cared so little for his ill-begotten scion Elua that he wandered forgotten for a hundred years while Adonai grieved for your Yeshua! I do not think He will share His name with one such as me.”

“Then perhaps the Tribe of Dân holds it in keeping.” Eleazar ignored my sharp tone and scrubbed at his face, weary with long prayer. “If you can find them.”

To that, I said nothing; every Yeshuite knows the myth of the Lost Tribes. Most believe, if they venture an opinion, that they went north, beyond the barren steppes, where Yeshua’s nation is to be founded in preparation for his return. Whether or not it is true, I do not know. Only that in the writings of Habiru sages before the coming of Yeshua, the Tribe of Dân is never mentioned among the exiles.

“And mayhap Shalomon’s Ring lies forgotten at the bottom of my jewelry-box,” I said, “but I don’t think so.” Rising, I repented of my ill grace and stooped to kiss his cheek. “Keep searching, Eleazar. Your God is fortunate to be served with such devotion.”

He nodded, tearing off another piece of bread and placing it in his mouth. I left him there, chewing meditatively, the remembrance of glory illuminating his narrow features. Adara showed me to the door, where I pressed a small purse of coin into her hands. “A token,” I said, “in gratitude for your hospitality.” So I said at every visit. Eleazar would never have taken it-or if he had, he would have given it away within the hour-but Adara knew the cost of bread and what was needful to allow her beloved husband to continue his contemplations untroubled.

BOOK: Kushiel's Avatar
3.26Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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