Authors: Chaz Brenchley
'You used us instead, you used men to fight your spirit-battles for you.'
'We cannot meet them in our own form; and if we take solid bodies in this world as they do, we become as vulnerable as they are. Even a man can kill us, with a blessed blade. So the King lives in seclusion, and we take what precautions we can.'
'Esren isn't cautious,' Elisande said, thinking of Rhabat and the flooding of the valley, an invasion of
'ifrit blocked by one djinni and a small inland ocean.
'That djinni is unique.'
was what it seemed to mean. 'As am I. We are both unlike our kin.'
'That unlikeness didn't stop you using my land, my people for your war.' The Princip again, in a rising anger.
'Of course not. Men are always eager to fight. The Sharai and the Patrics would have fought each other anyway; they would both have fought in Surayon. I brought you together to let you fight for us.'
'I thought you were going to go on to say that now we were all peaceful together, thanks to you.'
'That would be absurd. The Sharai and the Patrics will fight again; they will both fight the Surayonnaise.'
'But not yet,' Coren interrupted, over
e Princip's grunt, 'not for a while yet. I will be sure of that much. And don't tell us who will win those fights, djinni; foreknowledge is not a human gift, because it is not a gift to humans.'
'But the 'ifrit have foreknowledge too,' Julianne objected. 'They must have known that you were leading all our armies into Surayon to face them
'Of course; but death clouds the image. They knew there would be a battle, and so did we; they hoped to win it, and so did we. They did what they could to keep your armies apart and fighting each other. If the most powerful forces in the Sanctuary Land destroyed themselves, then the 'ifrit could rule unchallenged; we would have nothing to set against them for a generation. Men fight like dogs, they hardly needed to encourage you. And then they are an army in themselves, faith is the only weapon that men have against them; and they hoped to have the Ghost Walker among their ranks, to lead the Sand Dancers and so the Sharai in a holy war. That would have been a triumph. The King's Daughter is a part of me, and they could have used it against me and mine.'
'Would the Sharai have followed Morakh? The tribes hate the Sand Dancers . . .'
'If he was the Ghost Walker,' Elisande said, 'and if he showed them they could drive the Patrics out of Outremer? Even at the cost of letting in the 'ifrit, they'd have followed him. They hate the Patrics worse than anything.'
'We were lucky, then.'
'For a while. Lucky often, I think. So many times it could have gone wrong; from that first day where you met us in the road,' and Elisande addressed the djinni again, 'and started moving us around
'It started before that,' Julianne corrected, 'when it called my father away so that I'd be alone on the road, so that I could meet you and then it could persuade us both, without a man there to interfere. Except for Blaise, I mean
Her voice faltered as she remembered, as she glanced aside to see where he stood quite impassive, with the figure of Fulke silent beside him. Pain or terror had broken that one utterly, she thought, unless it was simply helplessness, that terrible weight of certainty, too much for any man to stand against
'I had started long before that,' the djinni said. 'I knew what I would need, and when need it; I have been preparing this for forty years.'
'Julianne, I met your mother on a mission for the King,' her father told her suddenly, 'and it was I who brought your parents together, Elisande, and proposed the match to your grandfather here, under the suggestion of the King.'
Foreknowledge is not a gift to humans; sometimes, neither is its inverse. The girls looked at each other, and it was a shared decision that had them suddenly turning away, walking away, crossing that wide pillared space without a glance back. None of the men there sought to detain them.
The djinni presumably had known that they would go, had been entirely ready for it.
'Everything we are,' Julianne murmured as they came out into sunshine at last, in the courtyard of the Dir'al Shahan, 'everything we do. It knows
Did it make us, or did it just predict us? I can't work it out.'
'I don't think there's a distinction. What are you going to do, Julianne?'
'I don't know. I wish I could spite it somehow, but it's too late for that, the war's over.'
'And we won,' Elisande said glumly. 'But there'll be other wars, it said so. Only we'll just be fighting for ourselves next time, and I don't know if that's better or worse.'
'Worse. Definitely. I think
And how could we know, anyway? Maybe it's still using us, against the next time the 'ifrit want to fight. Whatever it tells us, whatever it
to tell us, it knows exactly how we're going to react anyway, so we might as well ignore it and do what we think is right for us, for Outremer, for Surayon
'Or for the Sharai? You're still married to Hasan, my love.'
'I know. And I love him, I want what's best for him and all of us.'
'Him too. I love them both.'
'Tricky. You can't stay married to them both.'
'Why not? My father'll love it. What better way to keep peace as long as possible between them, than to have one girl married to the lords of both armies?'
'The men won
t accept it.'
'I think they will, they'll have to. It's my ultimatum: if either one wants me, they have to be prepared to share me. Neither one recognises the other marriage anyway, so that's not a problem. I can be true wife to each, just that I spend a lot of time away and travelling without them.'
'But you can't, you can't have children, not to either one of them
'No.' Traditionally children sealed an alliance, but here it was impossible. And both girls meant more than that in any case, they meant that she couldn't share either man's bed, not even once, or the whole delicate structure she was trying to build here would come crashing down. She had lied, when she said she could be a true wife; she could be a virgin wife, but nothing more.
sleep with one would be to cuckold the other, by their own laws or any. That would be political disaster, and personal catastrophe.
'It's all right, sweet. I can find my comforts, be a power in the shadows on both sides, it's what my father trained me for all my life.' And Hasan had his other wives, and Imber -well, Imber would suffer and endure, and be noble and honest and not take a lover because she was the one that he loved and th
e one that he'd married. Mostl
y, he would suffer, and she'd suffer to see it, and there would be nothing that either of them could do except to remind themselves that it was a small price to pay for peace, for as long as the peace should last. 'What about you, though, what will you do?'
'What, without Rudel to kick against, without my country to defend?'
'Surayon will still need defending, I think.'
'Yes, but not the same way. It'll be all negotiation and treaties now in the open, secret dealings and distrust in the shadows. We need politicians, and that's not me. And Grandfer needs to find an heir, and that's not me either; I don't w
ant to be Principessa and urgentl
y looking for a husband. You've got the best of them in any case. I was going to say I'd have your cast-off, but if you're not going to be casting one off, then I think I'll just come with you anyway. If you'd like to have me.'
'Elisande, I'd love it. You know that. But I won't let you waste your life on me
'Why not? Waste is my speciality.' Her voice was bleak beyond bearing, savage with self-contempt; her desperate anger needed a focus, and had found it in herself.
think surprising your friends is your speciality. But what will you do?'
'Look after you, sweetheart. See that your men make you happy, as best they can. Oh, it may not be for ever - though if you're planning to die a shrivelled virgin, I don't see why I shouldn't be sisterly about it. For the moment, I just can't think of anything better,' and even she wasn't sure which way she meant that. 'And when we get bored, I've always got Esren to liven us up.'
'For my lifetime, it promised.'
'Elisande, I think it was lying, wasn't it?'
'Oh yes, I'm sure it was lying. It'll do what it wants to do. But as Djinni Khaldor said in there, Esren is unique. I think it gets bored too; I think it'll still come when I call it. Sometimes.'
'Just to see how it can annoy us, most likely.'
But the way she phrased that sentence was a resounding yes, a welcome and a thank you all at once. Elisande grinned and said, 'Come on, lets go and tell your husbands, see how they take the news.'
All the news, and there was a lot to tell them and a lot for them to take in; but all of it had to wait, nothing could be told or talked about for a little while yet.
There was — of course - a man waiting at the high gate, to let them out of this deceptive palace and into the gaze of all those men waiting and watching. As they emerged, Julianne was struck by a sudden thought. 'How do we tell the Ransomers that their Marshal Commander isn't coming out, that Fulke's just one of the Kings servants now? They'll think we tricked him inside and killed him '
'Show them the body. Let him come out and wave.'
'Will his eyes be red, do you think,'
'Sure to be.'
'Then they'll say he's been possessed by a demon.'
'Which is true, or true enough. So all right, let's not tell them anything.
went in all together, and we girls have come out alone; they'll think that's as it should be, except that they won't know why we were allowed to accompany the men in the first place. Leave your father to find a way to deal with the Ransomers. You've got two husbands to deal with, that's enough for any woman. I've got a djinni, and no sense of responsibility.'
There was something else that had to be dealt with first, though, something that touched them both deeply and irredeemably.
The sun glared cruelly off the white stone of the pavement, reducing men to mirage, shimmering shadows. The days heat lay heavy in the air, dulling sounds and senses.
They saw a figure push through the gathered Sharai, and come running out into the open space betwee
n them and other groups. Distantl
y, they heard him cry a challenge, with a contemptuous insult for support when it brought no instant response.
They saw a man reply at last, striding from the Ransomers, sliding a black cloak from his shoulders as he went, stepping forward in vivid white.
They could not hear what passed between the two, but that was quickly done with; then it was a case of blades, a scimitar for the Sharai and a long sword for the Ransomer.
And both girls could name both men, and one at least of the swords. They scurried forward uncertainly, not knowing how to interfere, knowing only that they must; and were too late already, because another figure came chasing after the first, and he too had a sword in his hand and the girls were old friends with that one.
He used it even as he ran, he used it on himself; and then he flung his body between the two duellists and was impossibly lucky not to find himself twice skewered as he deserved - but he always had been lucky, just as he always had been desolate.
No talking this time, no mediation; all in the same move
ment, he seized one of the startl
ed fighters and dragged him through a sudden raw wound in the world, a ripped red gateway to a golden land.
And the gateway closed at their backs and and there was nothing there except his blade, which he had dropped as he went through, deliberately or otherwise.
And the one left behind stood quite still for a long, long minute, as the girls did, as did the watching world; and then he stooped slowly to pick up the fallen sword, which was called Dard.