MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK
No one would deny that I have known hardship in my time, brief though it has been for all that I have done in it. This, I think, I may say without boastfulness. If I answer now to the title of Comtesse de Montrève and my name is listed in the peerage of Terre d'Ange, still I have known what it is to have all that I possess torn from me; once, when I was but four years of age and my birth-mother sold me into servitude to the Court of Night-Blooming Flowers, and twice, when my lord and mentor Anafiel Delaunay was slain, and Melisande Shahrizai betrayed me into the hands of the Skaldi.
I have crossed the wilds of Skaldia in the dead of winter, and faced the wrath of the Master of the Straits on the teeming waters. I have been the plaything of a barbarian warlord, and I have lost my dearest friend to an eternity of lonely isolation. I have seen the horrors of war and the deaths of my companions. I have walked, alone and by night, into the vast darkness of an enemy encampment, knowing that I gave myself up to torture and nigh-certain death.
None of it was as difficult as telling Joscelin I was returning to the Service of Naamah.
It was the sangoire cloak that decided me; Melisande's challenge and the badge of my calling that marked me as an anguissette, Kushiel's Chosen, as clearly as the mote of scarlet emblazoned since birth in the iris of my left eye. A rose petal floating upon dark waters, some admirer once called it. Sangoire is a deeper color, a red so dark it borders upon black. I have seen spilled blood by starlight; it is a fitting color for one such as I, destined to find pleasure in pain. Indeed, the wearing of it is proscribed for any who is not an anguissette. D'Angelines appreciate such poetic niceties.
I am Phèdre nó Delaunay de Montrève, and I am the only one. Kushiel's Dart strikes seldom, if to good effect.
When Maestro Gonzago de Escabares brought the cloak from La Serenissima, and the tale by which he had gained it, I made my choice. I knew that night. By night, my course seemed clear and obvious. There is a traitor in the heart of Terre d'Ange, one who stands close enough to the throne to touch it; that much, I knew. Melisande's sending the cloak made it plain: I had the means of discovering the traitor's identity, should I choose to engage in the game. That it was true, I had no doubt. By the Night Court and by Delaunay, I have been exquisitely trained as courtesan and spy alike. Melisande knew this—and Melisande required an audience, or at least a worthy opponent. It was clear, or so I thought.
In the light of day, before Joscelin's earnest blue gaze, I knew the extent of the misery it would cause. And for that, I delayed, temporizing, sure in my reasoning but aching at heart. Maestro Gonzago stayed some days, enjoying the hospitality I was at such pains to provide. He suspected somewhat of my torment, I do not doubt. I saw it reflected in his kind, homely face. At length he left without pressing me, his apprentice Camilo in tow, bound for Aragonia.
I was left alone with Joscelin and my decision.
We had been happy in Montrève, he and I; especially he, raised in the mountains of Siovale. I know what it cost Joscelin to bind his life to mine, in defiance of his Cassiline vow of obedience. Let the courtiers laugh, if they will, but he took his vows seriously, and celibacy not the least of them. D'Angelines follow the precept of Blessed Elua, who was born of the commingled blood of Yeshua ben Yosef and the tears of the Magdelene in the womb of Earth: Love as thou wilt. Alone among the Companions, only Cassiel abjured Elua's command; Cassiel, who accepted damnation to remain celibate and steadfast at Elua's side, the Perfect Companion, reminding the One God of the sacred duty even He had forgotten.
These, then, were the vows Joscelin had broken for me. Montrève had done much to heal the wounds that breaking had dealt him. My return to the Service of Naamah, who had gone freely to Elua's side, who had lain down with kings and peasants alike for his sake, would open those wounds anew.
I told him.
And I watched the white lines of tension, so long absent, engrave themselves on the sides of his beautiful face. I laid out my reasoning, point by point, much as Delaunay would have done. Joscelin knew the history of it nearly as well as I did myself. He had been assigned as my companion when Delaunay still owned my marque; he knew the role I had played in my lord's service. He had been with me when Delaunay was slain, and Melisande betrayed us both—and he had been there that fateful night at Troyes-le-Mont, when Melisande Shahrizai had escaped the Queen's justice.
"You are sure?" That was all he said, when I had finished.
"Yes." I whispered the word, my hands clenching on the rich sangoire folds of my cloak, which I held bundled in my arms. "Joscelin…"
"I need to think." He turned away, his face shuttered like a stranger's. In anguish, I watched him go, knowing there was nothing more I could say. Joscelin had known, from the beginning, what I was. But he had never reckoned on loving me, nor I him.
There was a small altar to Elua in the garden, which Richeline Friote, my seneschal's wife, tended with great care. Flowers and herbs grew in abundance behind the manor house, where a statue of Elua, no more than a meter tall, smiled benignly upon our bounty, petals strewn at his marble feet. I knew the garden well, for I had spent many hours seated upon a bench therein, considering my decision. It was there, too, that Joscelin chose to think, kneeling before Elua in the Cassiline style, head bowed and arms crossed.
He stayed there a long time.
By early evening, a light rain had begun to fall and still Joscelin knelt, a silent figure in the grey twilight. The autumn flowers grew heavy with water and hung their bright heads, basil and rosemary released pungent fragrance on the moist air, and still he knelt. His wheat-gold braid hung motionless down his back, runnels of rain coursing its length. Light dwindled, and still he knelt.
"My lady Phèdre." Richeline's concerned voice gave me a start; I hadn't heard her approach, which, for me, was notable. "How long will he stay there, do you think?"
I turned away from the window that looked out at the garden loggia. "I don't know. You'd best serve dinner without him. It could be a good while." Joscelin had once held a vigil, snow-bound, throughout an entire Skaldic night on some obscure point of Cassiline honor. This cut deeper. I glanced up at Richeline, her open, earnest face. "I told him I am planning to return to the City of Elua. To the Service of Naamah."
Richeline took a deep breath, but her expression didn't change. "I wondered if you would." Her voice took on a compassionate tone. "He's not the sort to bear it easily, my lady."
"I know." I sounded steadier than I felt. "I don't chose it lightly, Richeline."
"No." She shook her head. "You wouldn't."
Her support was more heartening than I reckoned. I looked back out the window at the dim, kneeling figure of Joscelin, tears stinging my eyes. "Purnell will stay on as seneschal, of course, and you with him. Montrève needs your hand, and the folk have come to trust you. I'd not have it otherwise."
"Yes, my lady." Her kind gaze was almost too much to bear, for I did not like myself overmuch at this moment. Richeline placed her fist to her heart in the ancient gesture of fealty. "We will hold Montrève for you, Purnell and I. You may be sure of it."
"Thank you." I swallowed hard, repressing my sorrow. "Will you summon the boys to dinner, Richeline? They should be told, and I have need of their aid. If I am to do this thing before winter, we must begin at once."
"The boys" were my three chevaliers; Phèdre's Boys, they called themselves, Remy, Fortun and Ti-Philippe. Fighting sailors under the command of Royal Admiral Quintilius Rousse, they had attached themselves to my service after our quest to Alba and the battle of Troyes-le-Mont. In truth, I think it amused the Queen to grant them to me.
I told them over dinner, served in the manor hall with white linens on the table, and an abundance of candles. At first there was silence, then Remy let out an irrepressible whoop of joy, his green eyes sparkling.
"To the City, my lady? You promise it?"
"I promise," I told him. Ti-Philippe, small and blond, grinned, while solid, dark Fortun looked thoughtfully at me. "It will need two of you to ride ahead and make arrangements. I've need of a modest house, near enough to the Palace. I'll give you letters of intent to take to my factor in the City."
Remy and Ti-Philippe began to squabble over the adventure. Fortun continued to look at me with his dark gaze. "Do you go a-hunting, my lady?" he asked softly.
I toyed with a baked pear, covered in crumbling cheese, to hide my lack of appetite. "What do you know of it, Fortun?"
His gaze never wavered. "I was at Troyes-le-Mont. I know someone conspired to free the Lady Melisande Shahrizai. And I know you are an anguissette trained by Anafiel Delaunay, who, outside the boundaries of Montrève, some call the Whoremaster of Spies."
"Yes." I whispered it, and felt a thrill run through my veins, compelling and undeniable. I lifted my head, feeling the weight of my hair caught in a velvet net, and downed a measure of fine brandy from the orchards of L'Agnace. "It is time for Kushiel's Dart to be cast anew, Fortun."
"My lord Cassiline will not like it, my lady," Remy cautioned, having left off his quarrel with Ti-Philippe. "Seven hours he has knelt in the garden. I think now I know why."
"Joscelin Verreuil is my concern." I pushed my plate away from me, abandoning any pretense of eating. "Now I need your aid, chevaliers. Who will ride to the City, and find me a home?"
In the end, it was decided that Remy and Ti-Philippe both would go in advance, securing our lodgings and serving notice of my return. How Ysandre would receive word of it, I was uncertain. I had not told her of Melisande's gift, nor my concerns regarding her escape. I did not doubt that I had the Queen's support, but the scions of Elua and his Companions can be a capricious lot, and I judged it best to operate in secrecy for the moment. Let them suppose that it was the pricking of Kushiel's Dart that had driven me back; the less they knew, the more I might learn.
So Delaunay taught me, and it is sound advice. One must gauge one's trust carefully.
I trusted my three chevaliers a great deal, or I would never have let them know what we were about. Delaunay sought to protect me—me, and Alcuin, who paid the ultimate price for it—by keeping us in ignorance. I would not make his mistake; for so I reckon it now, a mistake.
But still, there was only one person I trusted with the whole of my heart and soul, and he knelt without speaking in the rain-drenched garden of Montrève. I stayed awake long that night, reading a Yeshuite treatise brought to me by Gonzago de Escabares. I had not given up my dream of finding a way to free Hyacinthe from his eternal indenture to the Master of the Straits. Hyacinthe, my oldest friend, the companion of my childhood, had accepted a fate meant for me: condemned to immortality on a lonely isle, unless I could find a way to free him, to break the geis that bound him. I read until my eyes glazed and my mind wandered. At length, I dozed before the fire, stoked on the hour by two whispering servant-lads.
The sense of a presence woke me, and I opened my eyes.
Joscelin stood before me, dripping rainwater onto the carpeted flagstones. Even as I looked, he crossed his forearms and bowed.
"In Cassiel's name," he said, his voice rusty from hours of disuse, "I protect and serve."
We knew each other too well, we two, to dissemble.
"No more than that?"
"No more," he said steadily, "and no less."
I sat in my chair gazing up at his beautiful face, his blue eyes weary from his long vigil. "Can there be no middle ground between us, Joscelin?"
"No." He shook his head gravely. "Phèdre…Elua knows, I love you. But I am sworn to Cassiel. I cannot be two things, not even for you. I will honor my vow, to protect and serve you. To the death, if need be. You cannot ask for more. Yet you do."
"I am Kushiel's chosen, and sworn to Naamah," I whispered. "I honor your vow. Can you not honor mine?"
"Only in my own way." He whispered it too; I knew how much it cost him, and closed my eyes. "Phèdre, do not ask for more."
"So be it," I said with closed eyes.
When I opened them, he was gone.
Copyright © 2002 by Jacqueline Carey