Read [Merry Gentry 04] - A Stroke of Midnight Online

Authors: Laurell K. Hamilton

Tags: #Fiction

[Merry Gentry 04] - A Stroke of Midnight (26 page)

BOOK: [Merry Gentry 04] - A Stroke of Midnight
13.61Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

“Hawthorne,” I said.

“Yes, Princess.”

“Help Mistral bring her out.”

Hawthorne bowed to me, then moved toward them in his crimson armor, putting his helmet back on so he had his hands free. He went to stand on the other side of the woman's chair. Mistral shook his unbound hair back behind his shoulders, then nodded to Hawthorne, as if they'd discussed it. They both bent their knees, and raised the chair up with Madenn still plastered to it. They carried her and the heavy wooden chair, threading their way through Blodewedd's people, and out to the main floor. They carried it all easily, gracefully. If Madenn hadn't looked terrified, it would have appeared as if they were honoring her, carrying her like the May queen, to be worshipped by her subjects. The look on her face said that she was expecting to be the sacrifice, not the belle of the ball.

They put her chair down beside her husband. Her shoulders rounded, and I thought she was probably crying. “Meredith,” the queen said, “come join me.”

She didn't have to ask me twice.

She had taken her throne, leaving what had once been Prince Cel's throne empty for me. It had been my chair for only twenty-four hours. She motioned Eamon, her consort, from behind her throne to take his smaller throne that was a little lower on the dais. There was another throne lower down on my side, too. It wasn't for my consort of years but for the flavor of the day. Consort of the moment, perhaps.

The last time I'd sat here, the consort's chair had been occupied by Sholto, Lord of That Which Passes Between. It was only as I took my throne that I realized that Sholto and his sluagh weren't at their table near the door. Nor were they at the queen's back as guards. The sluagh were not here. He was king of his own court. The goblins were not here either, but they were often absent unless it was a planned event or a major holiday. This was neither, but Sholto never missed an occasion at court. He wanted too desperately to be accepted as sidhe to miss one.

Tyler, the Queen's pet human, curled at her feet. She asked, “Where is your little goblin?”

She meant Kitto. “He is helping Rhys watch over the police while they are inside faerie.”

“Has there been some problem?” She was letting Kieran sweat, or seeing whether he would. Madenn was openly weeping, and if she hadn't been part of a plot to kill Galen, I might have felt sorry for her.

I told her briefly of the effect the entrance to faerie had had on Walters and his people. She seemed most interested.

“I wouldn't think that your little goblin would be a good choice to protect the police.”

“He's almost guaranteed not to bespell anyone by accident.”

“Not sidhe enough for that,” she said.

I controlled the spurt of anger that followed her comment. “He became fully sidhe during an earthquake in California.”

“The earth moved for you, how charming.” She was being both terribly urbane and slyly insulting. I wasn't sure my nerves were good enough to keep up the small talk for much longer.

“Have you fucked anyone else today besides Mistral?” she asked.

“Actual intercourse, no.”

“Then, Mistral, take your place on the dais, for Goddess knows it will probably be your last chance to sit here.” I didn't like the implied threat in her words, but I couldn't argue that Mistral deserved the chair.

Frost had led the other men to fan out around me like good guards—that is, those who weren't guarding our prisoners. Barinthus was left standing on the floor. She looked at him, and it was not friendly. “Take your place with her guards, Barinthus. For it is where you have chosen to stand.”

He hesitated a moment, then bowed and went wide around her, to stand on the far side of my guards. I think he was going to try to be as invisible as he could manage until we could figure out what had angered her. He had too many enemies to have any illusions. If he slew the queen, then most of the rest of the nobles would unite and kill him. Of course, Andais might not need the help.

Only one guard, Whisper, remained at the queen's back. When she'd offered the guards a chance to help me, I had not expected her to empty her stables, as it were. Perhaps she hadn't either. She had given them the choice of working for someone else, and they had leaped at the chance. Offer a man a chance to break a thousand years of celibacy, and he'll do a lot for you.

Of course, being mine meant they would be leaving faerie behind in a few days. Exile from faerie, if they followed me. Did they understand that? Did they care? And if they didn't, then how puzzled Andais must be to find that her greatest threat, exile from faerie, was not so great a threat after all.

Mistral took his seat on the consort's throne. He swept his grey hair to one side so that it caressed the edge of the chair like a cloak. I'd have given a great deal to see his face in that moment. To see him survey the court from the royal dais for the first time. If the queen's words were true and not just her anger talking, she planned on seeing that he did not get a second chance at the chair, which meant no second chance with me. Was it personal to Mistral, or had she finally realized that she could lose all her guard to the ring and my body?

Frost stood on one side of me, and Galen the other. I missed Doyle. Where was he? Where were Usna and Cathbodua? I clung to Galen's hand, because I couldn't seem to get enough of touching him. I'd held his death in my hands, now I wanted to wrap myself in the life of him. But I did not trust him to fight here among the lords of the sidhe and survive.

I think Andais thought we were giving Kieran and Madenn the silent treatment to wear them down. I was waiting for my queen to take the lead. I'd angered her enough for one night; I would do everything I could to avoid pissing her off again.

“Kieran, you have tried to slay one of our royal guards. Not in fair challenge, but in an ambush.”

“If you think to trick me into challenging the young one, it will not work. If I challenge, then he chooses the method of the duel. He would choose weapons, and I cannot best him without magic.”

“You admit that one of the lesser among my guard is a better warrior than you, Kieran?”

“Of course. The Queen's Ravens are the best warriors the sidhe have ever had. I would not be so bold as to think I could best him with metal.” Kieran looked at me. His pale beard framed the smile that had not left his face. “Of course, if the young lordling thinks I have insulted him and wishes to challenge me . . .” He left it open.

I squeezed Galen's hand, and he laughed. Kieran's smile faltered.

“Was I ever that stupid,” Galen said. “Goddess, I hope not.” He raised my hand and laid a kiss against my fingers. I saw a hardness in his face then that had never been there before. “I am at Merry's side and in her bed, and I won't give that up because you hurt my ego.” His usual grin flashed bright and clear, as if the shadow I'd seen on his face hadn't been there at all. “Besides, I'm flattered. You ambushed me with two magicians and three warriors. I didn't know you were that scared of me.”

“I am not frightened of some jumped-up pixie.” Kieran's face had begun to flush in anger.

Galen laughed, and pressed his lips to my hand again. “If you're not afraid of me, then why did you need so much help to kill me?”

“Oh, I agree,” Andais said. “Only fear would make Kieran take so much help to slay one guard. If it were Frost or my Darkness, I might understand. Even Mistral, our lord of storms, but I did not know you feared Galen.”

“I do not fear him,” Kieran said again, but there was something in his voice that made me want to quote Shakespeare. The lady doth protest too much. What was it about Galen, even if he were the green man who would bring life back to the court, that would make Kieran pack so much firepower, as it were, to kill him? It was a very good question. I'd been too caught up in nearly losing Galen to really think about it.

“If you don't fear Galen, then what do you fear, Kieran?” I asked.

“Lord Kieran,” he said.

“No, Kieran,” Andais said. “She is heir to my throne, and will one day be your queen if you live that long. I think she can address you as I do, Kieran.” There was that purring edge to her voice that either meant sex, or that you were about to be hurt, really badly. Sometimes it meant both.

“What do I fear?” Kieran said. “I fear the death of the sidhe, as a race.”

“Do you fear that my niece's mixed blood will condemn us all to mortality?”

“Yes, as do many of us. They are afraid to speak of it, but they would act as I do, if they had the courage.”

Andais looked past him. “I do not know, Kieran. I think your wife's courage is fast fading.”

He looked at her, and there was something in his face, some question, or pleading. “If she would but speak with courage, this might end well.”

Madenn gave a great hiccupping sob. She had once been a goddess of youth, which had left her permanently looking about fifteen, a young fifteen. The face she turned up at us now looked younger, as if her fear were stripping years from her.

“You have said many times that you would cleanse this court of the half-breeds.” Her voice was breathy, and thick with tears. “We mean only to help you do what you always wished to do before she returned from the Western Lands and turned you from us.”

Andais was leaning forward, and the anger was falling away from her. Kieran's face was beginning to regain its smugness.

“Crystall, search her for a spell, some trinket aimed at the queen.”

Andais frowned at me. “What are you talking about, Meredith?”

“Please, Your Majesty, please,” Madenn said, “help us.”

I watched Andais's face soften.

“Hawthorne,” I said, “if she speaks again before I give her leave, slit her throat. She'll heal.”

He didn't argue with me, he simply unsheathed a knife, and put it against her throat, even as she tried to protest.

Andais looked away from her, shielding her eyes. “What is it?”

Crystall searched Madenn, and he was thorough enough that Kieran protested. “He is laying hands on my wife.”

“If she is a widow then there will be no marriage vows to break,” Andais said.

Kieran's mouth hung open for a moment, then he closed it, and I saw the first hint of fear in his eyes.

Madenn made a small sound, and Hawthorne pushed the tip of his blade in enough to draw a pinprick of bright crimson blood. She whimpered, but did not try to speak.

Crystall had to get very up close and personal with Madenn before he drew a little cloth bag from under her breasts. It was two pieces of cloth sewn together, almost a tiny pillow, the size of a fifty-cent piece.

I lowered my shields enough to see the little pillow glow, and there was a thin red line from it to the queen.

Crystall cut the threads that bound it, and spilled out a few dried herbs and seven strands of black hair. He held up the hair between his fingers, and the rest in his opposite hand. “A charm for you, and only you, Your Majesty,” he said. “A charm of eloquence, so that her words be sweet to your ears.”

Andais looked to Barinthus on the far side of the dais. “I may give you what I seldom give anyone, Lord Barinthus.”

He bowed. “And what would that be, Queen Andais?”

“An apology.” She looked at Madenn and Kieran. “Why would you risk death to kill Galen?”

“He doesn't think he risks death,” I said.

She looked at me. “He has used magic to try and work wiles upon me. That is cause for me to challenge one or both of them personally.”

“He told me that Siobhan tried to kill a royal princess and she lives still, and is not being tortured because Ezekiel fears her too much. He said if you would not punish someone for that, then there would be no punishment for trying to kill a half-pixie guard.”

She looked at him, and there was something in that look that made him take a step back, only to bump into the guards. “Did you say that, Kieran?”

“Not those words, no.”

“Did you say the gist of it?”

He swallowed hard enough to be heard and nodded. “Nerys's entire house turned traitor, tried to kill you, my queen, and they live. Why is the life of one half-breed guard worth more than the life of the queen herself?”

“See, Meredith, you show mercy and they will use it against you.”

“Nerys gave her life so that her house could survive,” I said. “She paid the price for your mercy.”

“Perhaps.” Andais looked past them all to another house of nobles. “Dormath.”

The man who stood was tall and almost impossibly thin. His skin was the whitest that our court could boast, the bloodless pale of a corpse. The black hood of his cloak was pushed back to reveal hair that was as white as his skin, so that he looked almost like an albino, except his eyes were large and luxurious and black. He looked very close to the modern idea of “death.” I was told that once he was as handsome and muscular as any of the sidhe, but that centuries of people's beliefs had changed him. There were those who debated whether being the representative of death to that degree made him a weak-magicked fool who couldn't protect himself from mortal thought, or proved that he was one of the most powerful among us, and still worshipped by humans, in a way. His voice was deeper than expected.

“Yes, my queen,” he said.

“Innis is one of yours, as is Siobhan. Are you traitors as Nerys's house were traitors?”

“No, my queen, I swear that I did not know of Siobhan's plan, nor of Innis's. This I swear.”

“You interceded for Siobhan. You begged my mercy. I gave it because my son also valued her, and asked for her life to be spared. I listened to my son and one whom I thought was my ally.”

“I am your ally, Your Majesty. My house is still your house.”

“Two traitors, Dormath, two in one house. How can I trust that there are not more?” She was making idle circles with one finger on the arm of her throne.

BOOK: [Merry Gentry 04] - A Stroke of Midnight
13.61Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Intermezzo by Delphine Dryden
Lieberman's Law by Stuart M. Kaminsky
Hidden Among Us by Katy Moran
Not That I Care by Rachel Vail
Rebel's Claw by Afton Locke
Dark Throne, The by Raven Willow-Wood
Transit by Abdourahman A. Waberi