Authors: Jacqueline Carey
Tags: #Adult, #Fantasy, #Romance, #Science Fiction
“HERE.” MELISANDE’S finger indicated the Sanctuary of Elua on the map. I bit my tongue on an exclamation. She glanced at me. “Yes. That close.”
For ten years, her son-Imriel de la Courcel, Prince of the Blood, third in line to Ysandre’s throne-had been raised in a Sanctuary of Elua in southern Siovale, not three hours’ ride from my own estate of Montrève.
“I told you we should have spent more time there,” Joscelin muttered. I shot him a look of pure annoyance.
“No.” Melisande traced a path northward from Montrève to another sanctuary. “You would go here, I think, if you went to worship, Cassiline. Landras is too far to ride in a day and back. I was careful in my choice.”
“Under our noses,” I said, awed by the audacious brilliance of it. “Or nearly. Where was he when we searched the Little Court?”
“Hidden in the rear of Elua’s temple.” There was no satisfaction in Melisande’s voice, merely matter-of-fact disclosure. “Ysandre’s men didn’t search it, only asked the priest.”
“Who lied for you,” Joscelin said. “
! And then took the child across D’Angeline borders to be raised in secret in the Sanctuary of Elua?” He shook his head. “I don’t believe it. Why? It doesn’t make sense.”
“Ask Brother Selbert, if you want his reasons.” Melisande bent to smooth a crease from the map. “He did not believe my request violated any of his vows.” She straightened and looked at Joscelin. Her deep blue eyes were clear and calm. “Messire Verreuil, Imriel
my son, and he has done no wrong. Ysandre de la Courcel has no claim on him and the priesthood of Elua does not answer to the throne of Terre d’Ange. Although you may not like it, there was no wrongdoing in it.”
for you!” Joscelin repeated, but Melisande made him no further reply.
I didn’t question the matter; not yet. I studied the map instead, thinking. Truly, Melisande had chosen well in the sanctuary at Landras. It was far from any city and the sort of political intrigue that made secrets impossible to keep. A quiet, provincial sanctuary, given over in equal parts to the academic study beloved of Siovalese, descendents of Elua’s Companion Shemhazai, and pastoral pursuits.
“How did it happen?” I asked Melisande.
She shook her head. “No one knows. The children-there were five who were wards of the sanctuary-had taken the temple’s goat herd to spring pasturage. At dusk, only four returned. Imriel wasn’t with them.”
“Your son,” I said. “A goat-herd.”
“A lost prince raised in secret by the priesthood of Elua.” Melisande smiled faintly. “Innocent of his origins, cleansed of the taint of his parents’ sins. Terre d’Ange would have embraced him with open arms.”
She was right; we would have. I shuddered and put aside thoughts of what more dire plans accompanied it. “The other four heard nothing, saw nothing?”
“No.” Her expression grew sober. “They were spread out across the hills with those little pipes, you know, that shepherds carry, to keep in earshot. After he questioned the children, Brother Selbert turned out the sanctuary to search the hills by torchlight. A few stray goats, no more.” She was silent for a moment, then continued. “They searched again in the morning. He thought at first that Imriel must gotten injured, or trapped somewhere-a steep gorge, a cave-in, something. But there was nothing.”
“So he sent to tell you,” I said.
“He searched the countryside first, questioning as best he dared to learn if a boy of Imriel’s description had been seen in any of the villages, on any of the roads. When he was sure none had, he came himself.”
“And you believe him?” I raised my eyebrows.
“Because he lied to Ysandre’s men, you mean?” Melisande met my eyes, reading my thoughts. “Elua’s priests are sworn to serve love, not truth. Yes, I believe him. I have not forgotten how to read the telltales of a lie, Phèdre nó Delaunay.”
I blushed, although for the life of me, I couldn’t have said why.
“And that’s when you set your spies to searching for him.”
“Yes.” Her lashes flickered. “My spies.”
“Who found … nothing?”
“Nothing.” Melisande drew a deep breath and exhaled. “Not a hair, not a footprint, not a rumor or whisper of conspiracy. My son has vanished as if he never existed. You see why I ask your help?”
“Yes.” I rose to wander the salon, frowning in thought; a bad habit and apt to cause unattractive lines. I would have been chided for it in the Night Court, but I didn’t like the direction in which my thoughts were going.
“Did anyone else know your son’s whereabouts?” Joscelin asked Melisande.
“No.” It was unnerving to hear her voice without its honeyed menace. What I had taken for restraint was an unfamiliar undertone of grief-and even stranger, fear. I don’t think anyone else would have recognized it as such. I did. “Some of the priests and priestesses may have guessed; I cannot say for sure.”
have known,” Joscelin said, watching me pace.
“Yes.” Melisande followed his gaze. “It is always possible. There is always danger. Phèdre, what are you thinking?”
My name from her lips. It still raised the fine hairs at the back of my neck. I paused before a pot of flowering almond, brushing the petals with my fingers. “That there are very few people capable of playing as devious and ruthless a game as you, my lady,” I said. “How many, do you think, in Terre d’Ange itself?”
“A few, mayhap.”
It was a generous estimate. “Your kin?” I asked.
“No.” Melisande hesitated. “No one in House Shahrizai would have harmed the boy, whether they reviled me or no. He holds too much possibility for us. If any of my kin had found him, I would know. One way or another.”
Now that, I did believe. I sighed, turning to face her. “There is one person who comes to mind.”
“Barquiel L’Envers.” Melisande’s eyes met mine, and I knew we thought alike.
We are wary allies, Ysandre’s maternal uncle and I. Once, he was my lord Delaunay’s greatest enemy, and I was slow to trust him because of it. I did, in the end; I placed the fate of Ysandre’s throne in his hands, and he acquitted himself heroically, holding the City of Eluaagainst Percy de Somerville’s rebellion until Ysandre came to reclaim it. Still, I cannot forget those other acts he committed to secure his niece’s throne, that were neither noble nor lawful.
“He wouldn’t,” Joscelin protested.
“He had Dominic Stregazza assassinated,” I reminded him. “He’s as much as admitted it.”
“Dominic killed his sister.” Joscelin flushed. “I’m not saying it was justified, Phèdre, but he had cause to seek vengeance.”
“Barquiel L’Envers is ambitious and clever,” Melisande said, “and he does not scruple to do what the Queen will not. If word of Imriel’s existence reached his ears, I do not think he would lay it in Ysandre’s lap. I think he would take whatever measures he deemed necessary to secure her throne for House L’Envers’ lineage.”
Although her voice remained even, her face was unwontedly pale. “I don’t think he would,” I said. “Not that. But he is one of the only people I can think of who would be capable. I will learn what I can.” I looked at her a moment without speaking. “You know there is a good chance the boy is dead.”
For all that I hated her, I made the words as gentle as I could. Melisande’s expression never changed. Given the same knowledge, there was no possibility I could conceive that she had not already thought of. “I know.” The words fell flat into the air between us. “If that is so, then whoever is responsible will be remanded unto Kushiel’s mercy. I will honor our agreement nonetheless.”
Barbed words, double-edged. As I was Kushiel’s chosen, she was his scion. If it was murder, one way or another, it would not go unavenged. I sighed again, feeling the weight of this task like a millstone around my neck. “My lady, I will need to speak to your … spies. The other likely possibility is that one of them has betrayed you.”
“No.” Melisande’s chin rose a fraction, eyes narrowing. “That much, I have determined on my own, Phèdre nó Delaunay. It was no one loyal to me. Those who are suffered enough when my cousin Marmion betrayed me. I will condemn no more to the Queen’s untender justice.”
“You will hobble my search,” I said.
“I will spare you wasted time.” Her voice was implacable. “Do you really think I would maintain allies I could not trust implicitly at this point? This was planned from outside, Phèdre, of that I am sure. I have named the price I will pay for your aid. Do not seek to bargain for more.”
“We could walk away.” Joscelin leaned back against the couch, unperturbed.
“You could.” Melisande eyed him, then looked back at me. “I do not think you will.”
“No.” There was no point in dissembling. I didn’t bother trying. “But you have your bargain yet to fulfill, my lady. How shall it be done?”
“Ah.” Melisande rose gracefully and crossed the room to open a low coffer. She withdrew a scroll-case of oiled wood and presented it to me. “Here.”
I opened it and removed the scroll within, unwinding it on its spindles to find a document on finely cured hide, written in unfamiliar letters. An alphabet of broad vertical lines inscribed the hide, black and decisive, the text illuminated here and there with brightly painted scenes in miniature. Here a king sat enthroned, receiving a gorgeously dressed woman in audience; here, he gave her a ring. Here was fire and swords and devastation; here, two men raised their hands before an altar. Here, a temple in ruins; here, a river voyage. I stared at it and frowned, uncomprehending. “What is this?”
“The document is written in Jeb’ez. The
, they call it; the Glory of Kings.” Melisande stooped as I sat to study it, marking a point on the hide. “See, here; this depicts the meeting of Shalomon and Makeda, the Queen of Saba. And this is the ring he gave her, a token of remembrance.”
“Shalomon’s Ring,” I murmured. Her fragrance was distracting.
“Mayhap.” Melisande gave me a quick glance. “It is Shalomon, and it is a ring. Here, you see? This man is Melek al’Hakim, Prince of Saba, Shalomon’s son, come to the temple to retrieve his father’s treasure in time of war. He bears his father’s ring. And this man …” She tapped the hide. “This is Khiram, son of Khiram, architect of the Temple of Shalomon.” Melisande sat back on her heels, neatly as any adept of the Night Court, her dark blue eyes thoughtful. “Who was born of the Tribe of Dân.”
“No.” I spread both hands unthinking over the hide. “The Tribe of Naftali. So it is written, in the Book of Kings.”
“The Book of Kings, yes. Not in the Paraleipomenon.” Melisande used the Hellene word and a rare impatient gesture. “How do you say it in D’Angeline?”
“Chronicles,” I said. “The
, the Acts of Days.” I tried to remember, and couldn’t. It might be so, that the Book of Chronicles ascribed a different lineage to Shalomon’s architect. “My lady, what are you saying?”
“What I was told. No more and no less.” Melisande regarded me. “That it is legend, in distant Jebe-Barkal, that Melek al’Hakim the son of Shalomon and Khiram the architect fled the fall of the Habiru empire over a thousand years ago. First to Menekhet under Pharaoh’s aegis, then southeast to Saba. And the Tribe of Dân went with them.”
“You read Jeb’ez,” I said, incredulous.
“No.” Melisande smiled. “I had the scroll translated. What I was told, I committed to memory.” She straightened, standing. “Take it. You are welcome to do the same. And when you have come back to report to me what you have learned of my son’s disappearance, I will give you the name of a man in the city of Iskandria, in Menekhet, who says he can lead you south into Jebe-Barkal, to the very place where Shalomon’s son founded his dynasty.”
I rolled the scroll carefully, mindful of crackling the glaze on the painted characters. “What makes you think I cannot find such a guide on my own, my lady?”
“You might,” Melisande admitted. “Although one such is not so easy to find, for the empire of Shalomon’s son is long fallen and its history forgotten. But you have given your word. And you are Anafiel Delaunay’s pupil. I do not think you will go back on it.”
“No.” I placed the scroll back in its container. “Did you teach me to use people better than you taught my lord Delaunay, my lady, I would take this and be gone. But when all is said and done, I am not like you.” I placed the lid on the wooden cylinder, sealing it with a twist. “You spoke the truth, when you said your son is innocent. For that, if naught else, I will seek to learn what has become of him.”
“Thank you.” Melisande said it graciously, standing tall and straight. It gave me a strange feeling in the pit of my stomach, hearing those words from her. With nothing to resist, I didn’t know what to do with my emotions. Joscelin swung himself off the couch in one seamless motion, assisting me to my feet.
“We’ll come back when we’ve something to report,” he said. “My lady.”
SINCE WE had no reason to stay, we left La Serenissima in the same day.
For a long time, neither of us discussed it, speaking only of those pragmatic matters necessary for travel. I daresay I couldn’t have borne anything more. My mind reeled, trying to make sense of what had transpired. I couldn’t do it. It was too much.
“You did well.” It was Joscelin who broke the silence somewhere outside of Pavento.
I turned to look at his profile, his gaze fixed on the road before him, hands competent on the reins. “Joscelin. I agreed to help her.”
“I know.” He glanced sideways at me. “And Elua help me, I don’t know what else you could have done. You think she’s telling the truth about this Jebean legend?”
“I don’t know.” I touched the scroll-case, lashed securely across my pommel. “She might be. It would be like her to have had this coin and withheld it for years.”
“For what?” Joscelin’s voice was curious. “I understand she was shadowing Delaunay, in the beginning, but what interest could the Master of the Straits hold for Melisande now?”
“What do you think Drustan mab Necthana would do if Melisande tried to put her son on Ysandre’s throne?” I asked.