Read Cast In Courtlight Online

Authors: Michelle Sagara

Tags: #Adventure, #Mystery, #Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Young Adult, #Romance, #Paranormal, #Adult, #Dragons, #Epic, #Magic, #Urban Fantasy

Cast In Courtlight (6 page)

BOOK: Cast In Courtlight
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The ceiling above her head was rounded, like a gentle dome; it was rimmed by something that looked like marble, and its surface was engraved with runes. She didn’t recognize them.

She didn’t want to.

“The words – those runes – were… already here… when you took possession of the castle?”

“They were,” he said, sparing her a brief glance. His eyes traced the runes, and the light that rippled across them, as if it were reflected by the surface of a small pond in sunlight. “But they are not, I think, a danger to you. Can you read them?”

This was polite, as it was often polite to ask questions for which you technically weren’t supposed to have the answers. She distrusted polite in men of power. “No.”

“Ah. A pity. I believe that among the runes above us there are words you can invoke, should it come to that. They will afford you some protection.”

She said nothing.

“I have taken the liberty of giving you one of the outer rooms,” he continued. “You will not be required to enter the Long Hall. If I remember correctly, it causes you some discomfort.”

“It’s not the hall,” she said, before she could stop herself. “It’s the Barrani. The ones that don’t move and seem to be interested in blood.”

“Even so.” He pointed. Against the far curve – there was no direction in this room, given lack of anything that offered a directional anchor – was a large, round bed. With pillows, even. It was pristine, and covered in silks she thought were worth more than two years of her pay. It was annoying. On the other hand, it lacked a canopy, which seemed to be the thing to attach to the beds of people with too much money.

“I don’t suppose you have a map of the Castle?”

“One that wouldn’t change?”

“I’ll take that as a no.”

He smiled. “There is a wardrobe for your… belongings. You will also find – ”

“I don’t need anything else.” She remembered, clearly, her first visit; she’d lost her uniform and had woken up in a really impractical dress. A really beautiful, attractive, impractical dress.

“If you dine with me – as I hope you will – you will need less… political garb. I have seen to that,” he added, his voice cooling by several degrees. She remembered that annoying him was not a good idea. Not that she wasn’t willing, but she wanted to choose the fights.

He walked over to the wall and gestured. Stone separated, and a section of the wall reflected light evenly. Perfectly. “This,” he told her quietly, “is the mirror. You may use it, if you wish.”

“But you’ll hear everything.”

“Indeed.”

“And anyone who wants to reach me?”

“They’ll be… directed… to this one. You are free to explore the Castle. I suggest, if you do, that you take a guard with you.”

“Which one?”

“One of the two,” he replied, “who stand outside this door.” And he walked toward it. “I have much to attend to this eve. We will talk on the morrow.”

“I have to work – ”

“You are not a prisoner here, Kaylin. You are no longer a child. You know the way to the upper city.”

The mirror didn’t wait.

She was almost asleep – she had trouble sleeping in strange, obscenely comfortable beds – when it went off. For a moment, she was disoriented; she was already out of the bed, and padding on cold stone toward the wrong wall when she remembered that she wasn’t home; she corrected herself as wakefulness caught up with her instincts.

She touched the mirror, keying it; an image began to form in its depths. Familiar face, and a dreadful, familiar expression.

“Marya?”

“Kaylin, thank the gods!”

Marya was a midwife. Which pretty much said it all.

Kaylin reached for her pack. “Where?” she said.

“Stevenson Street. It’s Worley’s old house.”

“How long do I have?”

There was a small, stressful silence. Silent answers were always the worst. Had she been home, it would be a five-minute sprint, a fifteen-minute jog. She wasn’t anywhere that close.

“Marya – I’m not at my place.”

“I gathered. The mirror had trouble.”

Kaylin cursed mirrors. And Barrani. And time.

“I’ll be there,” she said quietly, yanking her boots on under her nightdress.

“I’ll be there as soon as I can. Tell her to – to stop pushing. To stop doing anything. Do you have worryroot?”

Marya’s nod was brisk. “Everything we can do, we’ve done. The baby’s not – ”

Kaylin lifted a hand and shattered the image. Her way of saying she was on the move. She dressed quickly and sloppily; she looked like a walking human crease. Her hair, she shoved back and staked. It wouldn’t hold through a real run; it would have to do for now. She stopped for a moment as a glint of light at her wrist was caught in a downward spark by the mirror’s reflective surface.

Caging her power, opulent and ancient, the bracer that had been both gift and bane, its jeweled surface cool and distant. She could hear Marcus now. She had her orders: it was not to come off.

And she had her imperatives. She couldn’t wear it and do what – what probably needed to
be
done. With a grimace, she touched the stones in a sequence that was so familiar she couldn’t consciously say it out loud. A loud click, and it opened. She dropped it on the floor.

It would find its way back to its keeper, sooner or later – and at the moment, that keeper wasn’t Kaylin. That much thought she spared before she ran to the door. The next thought was for the guards that stood outside of it.

She almost tripped over the men who now barred her way.

They were both beautiful, both perfect, and both utterly impassive. She snarled something in very rude Leontine.

They failed to understand. This could even be because they
couldn’t
, although she wouldn’t have bet money on it. “I don’t have
time
for this!”

But she did. The baby didn’t. The mother didn’t.

They exchanged a glance. She lifted a hand to her cheek, and drew back in surprise; the mark was
hot
. She hadn’t even seen it in the mirror, in the brief glance she had given herself before she’d tried to flee the room.

“We are not empowered to let you wander alone,” one of the two Barrani said. She looked at him carefully.

“I have to leave. Now. You have your duties,” she added, “and I have mine. But I will
never
forgive you if you keep me here, and I will
never
forgive you if any delay you cause costs me.”

The man’s gaze never wavered. But he drew his sword and nodded at the other guard. “I will accompany you,” he said. “Where will you go?”

“To the upper city,” she replied, pushing past him.

“The ferals – ”

She knew. It just wasn’t allowed to matter. Not for the first time – and not for the last – she wished she was an Aerian; she could fly above the reach of ferals with ease, had she but wings.

She started to run, stopped, and turned to look at the guard. “What is your name – no, what should I call you?”

A dark, perfect brow rose. “Andellen,” he said at last, as if she’d asked him something that had never been asked by another living creature. Or not one who wanted to stay that way.

“Good. Andellen. I don’t know the Castle. I need to get out. Can you lead me?”

He nodded. Whatever hesitation he had shown had vanished the moment he had agreed to accompany her. He was stiff; he wasn’t at all like the Barrani Hawks she knew. He spoke High Barrani, and he chose a sword as his weapon; the Hawks usually used a very large stick.

He also wore armor.

But the armor didn’t seem to slow him down, or if it did, it didn’t matter; he was moving at a speed that Kaylin could barely match.

They made the vestibule, and Kaylin gritted her teeth as she passed through the portal and into the world. There was no time for conversation. They made a lot of noise as they ran, and that was bad. It was dark, although the skies were clear enough that the moon provided light. For them, certainly. For the ferals, as well.

Fighting ferals usually involved a lot of running, but that took time. She made her way straight toward the Ablayne, and the single bridge that crossed it, praying silently. It’s funny how someone who couldn’t follow the names of half the gods in Elantra could pray with such conviction.

At her side, the Barrani guard ran. He glanced at her only when she stumbled, but did not offer her any assistance; she found her footing and continued, thinking of Worley’s house. Thinking of how best to reach it. Thinking of only that.

It helped.

When they reached the bridge, she exhaled, a long, slow movement of chest. The bright and dark moons across the water were a benediction. The guard, on the other hand, didn’t have the grace to look winded. Had she the energy, she would have whiled away time in idle hatred for all things Barrani; as it was, she looked up at him once. His expression, being Barrani, gave nothing but ice away.

Which was good; had he intended to stop her, it would have looked worse.

She started to adjust her pack, and Andellen surprised her; he grabbed it instead. His hair flew in the stillness as he shouldered its weight, but he said nothing.

And she let him do it. As if he were Teela or Tain.

She led now, and he followed; he probably knew the entire city by heart, but the only roads he usually traveled were those ruled by Nightshade. She wanted to ask him how often he left the fief, but she couldn’t spare breath.

Wasn’t certain he would answer if she could.

The streets were now lined with stalls; there were men and women beneath the low glow of torches and the high lamps that decorated the skyscape; they would work all night, and well into morning, decorating, carving, nailing or sewing as the Festival season required. This was their best chance to make money for the year, and if sleep suffered, it suffered.

They noticed her as she ran past, but that was probably because of Andellen. He didn’t wear a uniform. He wasn’t a Hawk. And a smart person didn’t get in the way of a running Barrani.

She made it past her apartment, turned the corner, skidded and fell; she rolled to her feet, cursing like a Leontine – and in Leontine – and kept going. Five minutes passed like a lifetime. And it wasn’t
her
life.

And then, two rights, one short left, and three small buildings, and she was there. A lamp was hanging by the side of the door, the dark, glowing blue of the midwives’ beacon. She leaped up the three warped steps and pushed the door open; it wasn’t locked.

Marya was waiting for her. Her eyes were dark, and her face was that kind of pale that speaks of whole days without sleep. “Kaylin! She’s in the – ” Her dark eyes rounded when she saw what followed Kaylin in.

“Marya,” Kaylin said, half shouting as she grabbed the midwife’s hands before they picked up the nearest candlestick, “he’s with me. I don’t have time to explain. He
won’t touch anything
. He means no harm.” She could not force herself to add,
trust him
.

Before Marya could answer, a thin, attenuated cry carried the distance of still room and closed door. A younger woman, fingers clutching the frame of the door for support, appeared as the door swung open and slapped the wall. “Marya – she’s started to bleed – ”

“Kaylin’s here,” Marya said, her voice pitched low, but pitched to carry. “Kaylin’s here now.”

And Kaylin pushed past the poor girl and into the bedroom. “Get water!” she shouted as she ran to the bed. “Drinking water!” But Marya was already in motion, a comfortable, busy blur. Marya had worked with Kaylin before; she would know what was needed, and when.

Kaylin took the hand of the woman whose eyes were beginning their slow slide into shock. She pressed her free hand up and against the stretched, hard curve of belly and winced as the body told its story.

Late. She was late. She could feel the rupture.

She looked up and met the eyes of a young man that she didn’t recognize; he was so white he was almost green. “Get out,” she told him. He shook his head, mute, his defiance the product of fear.

“Marya – ”

“Gerrold, come away,” the midwife said, her voice above Kaylin’s back. “Now. Your wife needs her privacy.”

“But she – ”


Now
.” A mother’s tone. With just the edge of anger in it – and at that, the right kind of anger. Pity, compassion, or fear would have watered the command down so badly it wouldn’t have worked – but Marya had confidence in Kaylin.

And the poor man? He had nothing. He tried to stand. Stumbled. Kaylin wondered if he was going to pass out. Better if he did.

Without another word, she drew her knife. It wasn’t clean, but it would have to do. She heard a stifled scream from a long, long distance away; heard Marya’s angry words attempt to drown it out.

And then she gave herself over to the sound of two beating hearts; one labored and slow, the other so fast and soft it could barely be heard at all.

Two hours later, she was finished. Marya caught her hands, and forcibly broke all contact with the young woman who sat in the bed. Kaylin could hear the sounds of infant cries; could see the bundled – and cleaned – baby resting in its mother’s arms. The wound – what there was left of it – was new and raw, but it wasn’t bleeding.

“The – the father?”

“He’s there, in the chair,” Marya said in the soothing voice reserved for the injured. “He was a bit upset about the knife, dear,” she added. “We had to restrain him.” She paused, and then added, “Your man was most helpful, there.”

“My man?” Kaylin shook her head. “Who – ” She turned her head sideways, which was much more effort than she would have liked, and saw Andellen. “He’s not my – he didn’t hurt him, did he?”

Marya shook her head. “Not much, at any rate. I think he’ll have a bruised jaw, but dear, he simply
wasn’t
listening.”

Kaylin could imagine. Blood had that effect on most people. She tried to say as much, and Marya took the opportunity to trickle water into her mouth. “It’s not for me – ”

“You should see your mouth.” There was no point in arguing with Marya. “I’ve made sure she drinks,” Marya added.

“Tell her – ”

“Later, dear. There
will
be a later, thanks to you.” She paused, and added, “It’s a girl.”

BOOK: Cast In Courtlight
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