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

Authors: Laurell K. Hamilton

Tags: #Fiction

[Merry Gentry 04] - A Stroke of Midnight (5 page)

BOOK: [Merry Gentry 04] - A Stroke of Midnight
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“If Beatrice were the only one dead, then I might agree,” I said. “But a human is dead in our land. We can't hide that.”

“Yes,” he said, “we can.”

“You haven't dealt with the press as directly as I have, Amatheon. Was this reporter alone when he came here to the sithen? Or was he part of a group that will miss him right away? Even if he came alone, he will be known to other members of the press. If one of us had killed him out in the human world, we might be able to hide who did it, and let it be just another unsolved crime. But he was killed here on our land, and that we cannot hide.”

“You sound as if you are going to tell the press of his death.”

I looked away from his confusing eyes.

He reached out to touch my arm, but Frost simply moved in the way, and he never completed the gesture. “You will announce it to the press?” He sounded astonished.

“No, but we have to contact the police.”

“Meredith,” Doyle started to say.

I cut him off. “No, Doyle, he was stabbed with a knife. We'll never figure out whose blade did it. But a good forensics team might.”

“There are spells for tracing a wound to the weapon that made it,” Doyle said.

“Yes, and you tried those spells when you found my father's body in the meadow. You did your spells, yet you never found the weapons that killed him.” I did my best to make those words empty, to have nothing in my head with them. My father's death, like the capital of Spain. Just a fact, nothing more.

Doyle drew a deep breath. “I failed Prince Essus that day, Princess Meredith, and you.”

“You failed because it was sidhe that killed him. It was someone who had enough magic to thwart your spells. Don't you see, Doyle, whoever did this is as good at magic as we are. But they won't know modern forensics. They won't be able to protect themselves against science.”

Onilwyn stepped away from the guards. He was blockier than any of the other sidhe, tall but stocky, and yet he always moved with grace, as if he'd borrowed his movements from someone more slender. His hair fell in a long wavy ponytail over the back of his black suit and white shirt. Black, the queen's color, and Prince Cel's color. A very popular color here at the Unseelie Court. His hair was a green so dark it had black highlights. His eyes were pale green with a starburst in the center around his pupil.

“You cannot mean to bring human warriors into our land?”

“If you mean human policeman, yes, that is exactly what I mean to do.”

“You will open us up to that over the death of one human and the death of a cook?”

“Do you think the death of a human is less important than the death of a sidhe?” I looked him straight in the face and was happy to see that he realized his faux pas. I watched him remember that I was part human.

“What is one death, even two, over the damage it will do to our court in the eyes of the world?” He tried to recover, and it wasn't a bad job of it.

“Do you think the death of a cook is less important than the death of a nobleman?” I asked, ignoring his attempt to fix things.

He smiled then, and it was arrogant, and so very Onilwyn. “Of course, I believe that the life of a noble-born sidhe is worth more than the life of a servant, or a human. So would you if you were pure sidhe.”

“Then I'm glad that I'm not pure sidhe,” I said. I was angry now, and I fought not to have it translate to power, not to start to glow, and raise the stakes of this fight. “This servant, whose name happens to be Beatrice, showed me more kindness than most of the nobles of either faerie court. Beatrice was my friend, and if you have nothing more helpful to add than class prejudice, then I'm sure that Queen Andais can find a use for you back among her guards.”

His skin went from pale whitish green to just white. I felt a swift burst of satisfaction at his fear. Andais had given him to me to bed, and if I didn't bed him, he would suffer. So would I, but in that moment, I wasn't sure I cared.

“How was I to know she meant anything to you, Princess Meredith?”

“Consider this my only warning to you, Onilwyn”—I raised my voice so that it carried down the hallway—“and for the rest of you who don't know me. Onilwyn assumed that the death of a servant meant nothing to me.” Some of the men at the far end turned and looked at me. “I spent a great deal of time with the lesser fey while I was at court. Most of my friends here were not among the sidhe. You made it plain that I was not pure-blooded enough for most of you. You have only yourselves to blame, then, that my attitude is a little more democratic than usual for a noble. Think upon that before you say something as foolish to me as Onilwyn just did.” I turned back to the guard in question, and let my voice go lower. “Bear all that in mind, Onilwyn, before you open your mouth again, and say something else equally stupid.”

He actually dropped to one knee and bowed his head, though I think that was to hide the anger on his face. “As my princess bids, so I do.”

“Get up, and go stand somewhere farther away from me.”

Doyle told him to go to the other end of the hallway, and he went, without another word, though the starbursts in his eyes were glittering with his rage.

“I do not agree with Onilwyn,” Amatheon said, “not completely, but are you truly going to bring in the human police?”

I nodded.

“The queen will not like it.”

“No, she won't.”

“Why would you risk her anger, Princess?” He seemed to be truly puzzled by that. “I would not risk her anger again for anything, or anyone. Not even my honor.”

He had been one of the sidhe who had made my childhood hellish, but lately I'd seen another side to Amatheon. A side that was frightened, and vulnerable, and helpless. I always had trouble hating people who showed me they could feel pain, too. “Beatrice was my friend, but more than that she was one of my people. To rule a people is to protect them. I want whoever did this. I want them caught and I want them punished. I want to stop them from doing it to anyone else. The reporter was our guest, and to kill him like this is an insult to the honor of the court itself.”

“You don't care about the honor of the court,” he said, and I watched him struggle to understand me.

“No, not really.”

He swallowed hard enough for me to hear it. “There is no one's death that I fear, not even my own, enough to bring the human policemen down into our home.”

“Why do you fear the police?”

“I do not fear them. I fear the queen's anger at inviting them in.”

“No one gets to kill people I have sworn to protect, Amatheon, no one.”

“You are not sworn, not yet. You have taken no oath for this court, you sit on no throne.”

“If I do not do my utmost to solve these deaths, to protect everyone in this sithen, from greatest to least, then I do not deserve to sit on any throne.”

“You are mad,” he said, and his eyes were very wide. “The queen will kill you for this.”

I glanced back at Beatrice's body, and I thought of another body so many years ago. The only reason she hadn't hidden my father's body from the press is that they found him first. Miles away from the faerie mounds, cut to pieces. They found him and took pictures of him. Not only were his bodyguards too late to save his life, they were too late to save his dignity, or my horror.

The police had done some investigating because he was killed off our lands, but no one had helped them. They had not been allowed inside any of the faerie mounds. They had been forbidden to question anyone. They had been stopped before they began because the queen was convinced we would find who had done this terrible thing, but we never did.

“I will remind my aunt what she said when my father, her brother, was murdered.”

“What did she say?” he asked.

It was Doyle who answered, “That we would find who had killed Prince Essus, that the humans would only hinder us in our search.”

I looked at him, and he met my gaze. “This time I will say to her that the humans have things the sidhe cannot hide from. That the only reason to keep the police out is if she does not want these murders solved.”

“Merry,” Rhys said, “I'd put it a different way, if I were telling her.” He looked a little pale himself.

I shook my head. “But you aren't princess, Rhys, I am.”

He smiled, still pale. “I don't know, I think I'd look cute in a tiara.”

I laughed, I couldn't help it. I hugged him then. “You'd look adorable.”

He hugged me back. “You will discuss this with the queen before telling the press or contacting the police, right?”

“Yes, and just the police. We're going to try to get the press out of here first.”

He hugged me tighter. “Thank the Consort.”

I drew back from the hug, and said, “I'm determined, Rhys, not suicidal.”

“You're hoping she loved her brother enough to feel guilty,” Amatheon said, and the fact that he'd grasped that made me think better of him.

“Something like that,” I said.

“She cares for no one except Prince Cel,” he said.

I thought about that. “You might be right, or you might be wrong.”

“Will you wager your life on that?” he asked.

“Not wager, no, but I'll risk it.”

“Are you so certain that you are right?”

“About the queen, no, but I am right about what we need to do to find our murderer. I am right about that, and I'm willing to tell the queen so.”

He shuddered. “I would rather stay here and guard the hallway, if you do not mind.”

“I don't want anyone with me who's more afraid of the queen than of doing what's right.”

“Oh, hell, Merry, then none of us can come,” Rhys said.

I looked at him.

He shrugged. “All of us fear her.”

“But I will go with you,” Frost said.

“And me,” Galen said.

“Do you need to ask?” Doyle said.

It was Adair who finally spoke for most of them. “I think this is foolishness, though honorable foolishness, but it does not matter. You are our ameraudur, and that is a title that I have not let pass my lips for many years.”

Ameraudur meant a war leader who was chosen for love, not bloodline. Ameraudur meant that the man who called you this would give his own life before he saw yours fail. It was the word that the Welsh had used for Arthur, yes, that Arthur. It was the term that some of my father's men had used for him.

I didn't know what to say because I hadn't done enough to deserve the title. Not yet. “I haven't earned such a title from you, Adair, or from anyone. Do not call me so.”

“You offered yourself in our place last night, Princess. You took the might of the queen herself upon your mortal body. Seeing you draw magic against her was one of the bravest things ever I saw, my oath on that.”

I didn't know whether to be embarrassed, or try to explain that it wasn't brave. That I'd been afraid the whole time.

“You are our ameraudur, and we will follow you wherever you may lead. To whatever end. I will die before I let another harm you.”

“You can't mean that,” Amatheon said.

I agreed with Amatheon. “Do not give your oath to keep me from harm, Adair, please. If you must, give your oath to save my life, but not all harm.”

But it was as if I wasn't there for him, or for Amatheon in that moment. I was the object of the conversation but that was all.

“She saved us last night,” Adair said. “She saved us all. She risked her life to save ours. How can you stand there and not give her your oath?”

“A man without honor has no oath to give,” Amatheon said.

Adair put his mailed hand on the other's shoulder. “Then come with us to the queen, regain your honor, rediscover your oath.”

“She took my courage with the rest. I am too afraid to go before her with such news.” A single tear glittered down his cheek.

I looked at the despair in his eyes, and said the only thing I could think of. “I will try for guilt to allow this. Her guilt over never solving her own brother's murder. But if guilt won't work, then I will remind her that she owes me the life of her consort and her pet human.”

“It is not always wise to remind the queen she owes you a debt,” Doyle said.

“No, but I want her to say yes, Doyle. If she says no, then it's no, and I need it to be yes.”

He touched my face. “I see in your eyes a haunting. I see in your eyes your father's death like a weight of injustice on your heart.”

I closed my eyes and let my cheek rest against the warmth of his hand. His hand was worn from centuries of sword and knife practice. It made his hand seem more real, more solid, more able to protect. Some sidhe, those pure enough that they couldn't get calluses, thought it a sign of impurity. Racist bastards.

With Doyle touching me, I could let myself remember that awful day. It's funny how your mind protects you. I saw the bloody sheet and the stretcher. I held my father's hand, cold but not stiff, not yet. I had his blood on my hands from touching him, but it wasn't him. It was just cool flesh. That feeling of terrible emptiness when I touched him was like going into a house that you thought would be full of people you loved, only to find it empty, and even the furniture taken. You walk from room to room, hearing your footsteps echo on the naked floors. Your voice bounces back from the empty walls, where the lines of beloved photos still show like the line around a body at a crime scene. He was gone. My tall, handsome, amazing father. He was supposed to have been immortal, but there are spells to steal even the life of a god, a once-upon-a-time god.

If I poke at the memory of that day too hard, try to make myself remember too much, it isn't my father's body or blood that I remember. It is his sword. One of his guards laid it in my hands, the way you lay a flag at a military funeral. The hilt was gold inlaid, carved with a tree on either side. Cranes danced around the tree. And sometimes there were tiny carved bodies hanging from the branches of that tree, bleeding across the gold. Literally the little sacrificed people could bleed onto the sword hilt. The sword hilt was bare that day, cool to my hands. The branches of the trees empty of little sacrifices because the biggest of all had already been made.

BOOK: [Merry Gentry 04] - A Stroke of Midnight
12.7Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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