Authors: Jacqueline Carey
Tags: #Kings and rulers, #Fantasy fiction, #revenge, #General, #Fiction, #Fantasy, #Cousins, #Arranged marriage, #Erotica, #Epic
Copyright © 2007 by Jacqueline Carey
All rights reserved.
Hachette Book Group
237 Park Avenue
New York, NY 10017
Visit our website at
The Warner Books name and logo are trademarks of Hachette Book Group, Inc.
First eBook Edition: June 2007
OTHER BOOKS BY
Phèdre nó Delaunay de Montrève—Comtesse de Montrève
Joscelin Verreuil—Phèdre’s consort; Cassiline Brother (Siovale)
Imriel nó Montrève de la Courcel—Phèdre’s foster-son (also member of the royal family)
Eugènie—mistress of the household, townhouse
Clory—niece of Eugènie
EMBERS OF THE
Ysandre de la Courcel—Queen of Terre d’Ange; wed to Drustan mab Necthana
Sidonie de la Courcel—elder daughter of Ysandre; heir to Terre d’Ange
Alais de la Courcel—younger daughter of Ysandre
Imriel nó Montrève de la Courcel—cousin; son of Benedicte de la Courcel (
) and Melisande Shahrizai
Barquiel L’Envers—uncle of Ysandre; Duc L’Envers (Namarre)
Melisande Shahrizai—mother of Imriel; wed to Benedicte de la Courcel (
Faragon Shahrizai—Duc de Shahrizai
Mavros, Roshana, Baptiste Shahrizai—cousins of Imriel
EMBERS OF THE
Ghislain nó Trevalion—noble; Royal Commander; son of Percy de Somerville (
Bernadette de Trevalion—noble, wed to Ghislain, sister of Baudoin (
Bertran de Trevalion—son of Ghislain and Bernadette
Amaury Trente—noble, former Commander of the Queen’s Guard
Julien and Colette Trente—children of Amaury
Nicola L’Envers y Aragon—cousin of Queen Ysandre; wed to Ramiro Zornín de Aragon
Raul L’Envers y Aragon—son of Nicola and Ramiro
Marguerite Lafons—Marquise de Lafoneuil
Childric d’Essoms—ambassador to Ephesium
Maslin de Lombelon—lieutenant in the Dauphine’s Guard
Agnés Rame—Second of Alyssum House
Mignon—adept of Alyssum House
Janelle nó Bryony—Dowayne of Bryony House
Simon nó Eglantine—adept of Eglantine House
Drustan mab Necthana—Cruarch of Alba, wed to Ysandre de la Courcel
Breidaia—sister of Drustan, daughter of Necthana
Talorcan—son of Breidaia
Dorelei—daughter of Breidaia
Sibeal—sister of Drustan, daughter of Necthana, wed to Hyacinthe
Hyacinthe—Master of the Straits, wed to Sibeal
Galanna, Donal—children of Sibeal and Hyacinthe
Grainne mac Conor—Lady of the Dalriada
Eamonn, Mairead, Brennan, Caolinn, Conor—Lady Grainne’s children
Brigitta—Skaldic wife of Eamonn
Urist—commander of the garrison of Clunderry
Kinadius, Deordivus, Uven, Cailan, Domnach, Selwin, Brun—members of Clunderry’s garrison
Morwen, Ferghus, Berlik—magicians of the Maghuin Dhonn
Kinada, Kerys, Trevedic, Murghan, Hoel, Cluna—folk of Clunderry
Leodan mab Nonna—lord of Briclaedh
Nehailah Ansout—priestess of Elua
Corcan—captain of the Cruarch’s flagship
Adelmar of the Frisii—ruler of Maarten’s Crossing
Ortwin—harbor-master of Norstock
Ditmarus and Ermegart—members of the Unseen Guild
Ravi, Yuri, Ruslan—sailors
Micah ben Ximon—commander of Vralian army
Tadeuz Vral—Grand Prince of Vralia
Fedor Vral—Tadeuz’ brother; rebel
Ethan and Galia of Ommsmeer, son Adam—Yeshuite pilgrims
Avraham ben David—Rebbe of Miroslas
Skovik—seal-hunting boat’s captain
Lelahiah Valais—Queen Ysandre’s chirurgeon
Emile—proprietor of the Cockerel
Quintilius Rousse—Royal Admiral, father of Eamonn
Favrielle nó Eglantine—couturiere
Bérèngere of Namarre—head of Naamah’s Order
Amarante of Namarre—daughter of Bérèngere
Morit—woman of Saba, astronomer
Eleazar ben Enokh—Yeshuite mystic
Raphael Murain—priest of Naamah
Diokles Agallon—Ephesian ambassador; member of the Unseen Guild
Tibault de Toluard—Marquis de Toluard (Siovale)
Isembart—steward of the Shahrizai hunting manor
Lucius Tadius da Lucca—friend of Imriel’s
Claudia Fulvia—Lucius’ sister; member of the Unseen Guild
Domenico Martelli (
Duke of Valpetra
)—member of the Unseen Guild; emissary of Melisande
Benedicte de la Courcel (
)—great-uncle of Ysandre; Imriel’s father
Baudoin de Trevalion (
)—cousin of Ysandre; executed for treason
Isidore d’Aiglemort (
)—noble; traitor turned hero (Camlach)
Waldemar Selig (
Skaldic warlord; invaded Terre d’Ange
mother of Drustan
The Mahrkagir (
)—mad ruler of Drujan; lord of Darsšanga
)—chief of the Kereyit Tatars
Gallus Tadius (
)—great-grandfather of Lucius
Cinhil Ru (
)—legendary leader of the Cruithne
)—legendary magician of the Maghuin Dhonn
Y THE TIME
eighteen years of age—almost nineteen—I’d been many things. I’d been an orphan, a goatherd, and a slave. I’d been a missing prince, lost and found. I’d been a traitor’s son and a heroine’s. I’d been a scholar, a lover, and a soldier.
All of these were true, more or less.
Betimes it seemed impossible that one person’s mere flesh could contain so many selves. Mine did, though. I was Prince Imriel de la Courcel, third in line for the throne of Terre d’Ange, betrothed to wed a princess of Alba and beget heirs to that kingdom with her. And, too, I was Imriel nó Montrève, adopted son of Comtesse Phèdre nó Delaunay de Montrève and her consort, Joscelin Verreuil.
Imriel. Imri, to a few.
When I gained my age of majority, eighteen, I tried to flee myself. My selves. I went to the University of Tiberium in Caerdicca Unitas, where no one knew me, and played at being a scholar. There I found friendship, passion, and intrigue. I found myself targeted by an enemy not of my making, and I dealt with it on my own terms. I found myself caught on the wrong side of a siege, and learned of grief, courage, and loyalty. I discovered that few people are wholly good or bad, and all is not always as it seems, including the very ground beneath our feet.
And somewhere along the way, I found a little bit of healing. It wasn’t enough to undo all of the damage done to me when I was a child; that, I think, cuts too deep. But enough. Enough to lend me a little bit of wisdom and compassion. Enough to face the responsibilities of my birthright like a man. Enough to let me come home, even if it was only for a while.
Enough to face one last self.
My mother’s son.
My cousin Mavros claims we must all face two mirrors, the bright and the dark. Perhaps it is true. I never thought I would confront the mirror of my mother’s legacy. When I was fourteen years of age, she vanished from the temple in La Serenissima where she had claimed sanctuary for long years. No one has seen her since, or no one living who will confess it. Before that time, I had seen her only twice. The first time, I thought her beautiful and kind, and I loved her for it. I didn’t know who she was; nor who I was, either.
The second time, I knew. And I hated her for it.
I thought she was gone from my life forever, but she wasn’t. In the besieged city of Lucca, a man spent his life to save mine. Canis, he called himself; Dog, in the Caerdicci tongue. I’d known him first as a philosopher and a beggar, and last as a mystery and a bitter gift. On the streets of Lucca, he flung himself in front of a javelin meant for me, and it pierced him through. He smiled before he died, and his last words stay with me.
Your mother sends her love.
So I came home. Home to Terre d’Ange, to the City of Elua. Home to Phèdre and Joscelin, whom I loved beyond all measure. Home to Queen Ysandre to agree to her political machinations; to Mavros and my Shahrizai kin. To Bernadette de Trevalion, who hired a man to kill me in Tiberium. To my royal cousins, the D’Angeline princesses; young Alais, who is like a sister to me, and the Queen’s heir Sidonie, who is . . . not.
To my mother’s letters.
For three years, she had written to me. Once a month the letters came, save when winter delayed their delivery; then a packet of two or three would arrive. I threw the first letter on the brazier, but Phèdre rescued it. After that, she saved them for me in a locked coffer in her study.
I read them in single sitting, well into the small hours of the night. The lamps burned low in Phèdre’s study until they began to sputter for lack of oil. I refilled the lamps and read onward. Beyond the door, I could hear the sounds of Montrève’s household dwindle into soft creaks and sighs as its members took to their bedchambers.
When I had finished the last letter, I refolded it and placed it atop the others. I put them away and closed the coffer, locking it with the little gold key. And then I sat for a long time, alone and quiet, my heart and mind too full for thought.
By the time I arose, it seemed it must nearly be dawn; but I’d grown accustomed to doing without sleep during the siege of Lucca. I blew out the lamps and made my way quietly through the townhouse.
There was a lone lamp burning in the salon. On the couch, Phèdre uncurled. She reached over and turned the wick up a notch. The flame leapt, illuminating her face. Our eyes met. It was still too dark to see the scarlet mote on her left iris that marked her as Kushiel’s Chosen. But it was there. I knew it was.
“I’m fine,” I said softly.
“Do you want to talk?” Her gaze was steady and unflinching. There was no mirror in the world into which Phèdre feared to look. Not anymore. Not after what she had endured. I thought about what my mother had written about her.
“No,” I said, but I sat down beside her. “I don’t know. Not yet.”
Phèdre had read the letters. It was four years ago, when my mother vanished. Because I couldn’t bring myself to face the task, I’d asked her to do it, to ensure there was no treason in them, nothing that might divulge her whereabouts. There wasn’t. But I remembered how she had looked afterward, bruised and weary. I felt that way now.
She watched me for a long moment without speaking, and what thoughts passed behind her eyes, I could not say. At length, she reached out and stroked a lock of my hair, a touch as light as the brush of a butterfly’s wing. “Go to bed, Imri. You need sleep.”
“I know.” I swung myself off the couch, leaning down to kiss her cheek. “Thank you.”
Phèdre smiled at me. “For what?”
“For being here,” I said. “For being
In my bedchamber, I pulled off my boots and lay down on my bed, folding my arms beneath my head and staring at the ceiling. When I closed my eyes, I could see the words my mother had written swirling in my head.
The first words, her first letter.
You will wonder if I loved you, of course. The answer is yes; a thousand times, yes. I wonder, as I write this, how to find the words to tell you? Words that you will believe in light of my history? I can tell you this: Whatever I have done, I have never violated the precept of Blessed Elua. It is in my nature to relish games of power above all else, and I have played them to the hilt. I have known love, other loves. The deep and abiding ties of family. The fondness of friends and lovers, the intoxicating thrill of passion, the keen, deadly excitements of conspiracy.
All of these pale beside your birth.
I began to know it as you grew within me; a life, separate yet contained. Our veins sharing the same blood; my food, your nourishment. And then the wrenching separation of birth, the two divided and rejoined. When they put you in my arms, I felt a conflagration in my heart; a love fiercer and hotter than any I had known.
You will remember none of this, I know. But in the first months of your life, I suffered no attendant to bathe you, no nursemaid to suckle you. These things, I did myself. Like any fatuous mother, I counted your fingers and toes, marveling at their miniature perfection, the nails like tiny moons. Your flesh, a part of mine, now separate. The veins beneath your skin where my blood flowed, the impossible tenderness of it all. In the privacy of my chambers, I held you close to my breast and said all the foolish things mothers say.
I remember the first time you laughed, and how it made my heart leap. And yes, I dreamed great dreams for you—dreams you will call treason. But above all I knew I would never, ever suffer anyone to harm you. I, who had never acted out of spite (although you may not believe it), would gladly have killed with my own hands anyone who harbored an ill thought toward you.
When I sent you away . . . if you believe nothing else, I pray you will believe this. I believed you would be safe in the Sanctuary of Elua. Safe from my enemies, and safe from the intentions of the Queen. Safe and hidden, the secret jewel of my heart. If I had known what would happen, if there was any way I could undo what was done to you, I would do it. I would humble myself and beg, I would pay any price. But there is none, none the gods will accept.
Instead, I am afforded a reminder harsher than any rod, that cuts deeper than any blade: Kushiel’s justice is cruel.
You will wonder if I loved you. The answer is yes; a thousand times, yes.
One may be wounded in battle without feeling it. After we retreated from the first onslaught in Lucca, I was surprised to find a gash on my thigh, a gouge on my arm. And I was surprised now to find tears leaking from my closed lids. I’d known the letters had bruised and battered my heart. I hadn’t known my mother’s words had touched something deep and aching within me, something I had buried since I was ten years old and I learned who I was. Now it was cracked asunder.
It hurt because I had believed myself unloved, a political expedient; a cog in my mother’s vast ambitions. It hurt with a deep, bittersweet ache. For the laughing infant in his mother’s arms, for all that she had understood too late. I had spent so many years despising her, knowing only the proud, calculating monstrosity of her genius. It was hard to feel otherwise.
Alone in the darkness of my bedchamber, I pressed the heels of my hands against my closed eyes and sighed. I couldn’t love her. Not now; likely not ever. But I could begin to forgive her, at least a little bit, for the things that had befallen me.
In time, I slept without knowing it, sinking into the depths of exhaustion. At first I dreamed I was reading my mother’s letters still, and then the dream changed. For the first time in many months, I dreamed of Darsšanga. I dreamed of the Mahrkagir’s smile and the sound of a rusty blade being scraped over a whetting stone, and I cried aloud and woke.
A figure at the window startled. “Your highness?”
I sat up and squinted at her. There was light spilling into my bedchamber. It had been the sound of the drapes being drawn, nothing more. “Clory?”
Phèdre’s handmaiden bobbed a quick curtsy. “Forgive me, your highness!”
“It’s just me, Clory.” I ran my hands through my disheveled hair. “Is it late?”
Her lips twitched. “Late enough, according to messire Joscelin. He thought you might want a bite of luncheon.”
“Luncheon?” My belly rumbled. “Tell them I’ll be down directly.”
No one mentioned the letters when I appeared, still yawning, and took a seat at the table. Joscelin gave me a quick assessing glance, and Phèdre merely smiled at me. Ti-Philippe and Hugues were there, bickering good-naturedly about who had neglected to fill an empty charcoal-bin in the garrison.
“I thought we might spar later,” Joscelin offered after I’d filled my plate. “I’m out of practice since you’ve been gone.”
“Well.” Joscelin looked mildly at him. “Somewhat, yes.”
I didn’t believe it any more than Ti-Philippe did. Hugues laughed. “ ‘Alone at dawn the Cassiline stands,’ ” he declaimed. “ ‘His longsword shining in his hands. Across the cobbled stones he glides. Through the air his bright blade slides’ . . . Oh, all right,” he added as Joscelin rolled his eyes. “I’ll stop.”
I laughed, too. Hugues was kindhearted and loyal to the bone, but his poetry was notoriously dreadful. “I’d like that,” I said to Joscelin. “Indeed, why not now?”
He glanced at Phèdre.
“There was a messenger from House Trevalion this morning,” she said quietly. “The Lady Bernadette wishes you to call upon her at your earliest convenience.”
“I see.” I nodded. “Well, good.”
Ti-Philippe raised his brows. “A clandestine affair? That’s swift work, young Imriel. You do know she’s old enough to be your mother?”
“Hmm?” I scarce heard the comment. This wasn’t going to be an encounter I relished, but it was necessary and I’d be glad to have the matter resolved. I was weary of being persecuted for my mother’s sins. “It’s not what you think. It’s . . . a family matter, that’s all. She
my cousin, you know.”
“Ah, well.” He grinned. “That never stopped anyone.”
“Shall I go with you?” Joscelin asked.
“No,” I said slowly. “It’s . . . somewhat I’d rather do alone.”
He gave me a long, hard look. “All right, then.”
After our luncheon was concluded, I borrowed Phèdre’s study to make a fair copy of a letter in my possession. Not one of my mother’s, this one. It was brief and inelegant, scrawled on a single sheet of parchment, a signature and a smeared thumbprint affixed at the bottom. It had been written by a man named Ruggero Caccini. In it, he divulged the details of his arrangement with Lady Bernadette de Trevalion, who had paid him a considerable sum of money to ensure that a deadly mishap befell me in the city of Tiberium.
I’d found out about it. And I’d extorted the letter from him using a combination of blackmail and bribery.
I daresay my mother would have been proud.
I had the Bastard saddled and rode to the Palace. There was a sharp chill in the air, a harbinger of winter. It made the Bastard restless. I kept him on a tight rein and he chafed under it, tossing his head and champing at the bit. He was a good horse, though. Tsingani-bred, one of the best. I patted his red-speckled hide, thinking about Gilot and how much he’d wanted the spotted horse we’d seen together in Montrève the day I learned my mother had vanished.
I wished I’d bought it for him, now.
Gilot was dead. He’d been one of Montrève’s men-at-arms, the youngest of the lot and the closest thing to a friend I had among them. He’d gone with me to Tiberium, where I’d been a plague and a trial to him. He was killed in Lucca. He’d gone to protect me, and I brought him home in a casket. It was only two days ago that I had arrived in the City; two days ago that we had buried him. I missed him.
At the Palace, I gave the Bastard over to an ostler with the usual warnings. The footman on duty swept me a low bow.
“Prince Imriel,” he said. “How may I serve your highness?”
“I believe Lady Bernadette de Trevalion is expecting me,” I said.