Read Power & Majesty Online

Authors: Tansy Rayner Roberts

Power & Majesty (12 page)

BOOK: Power & Majesty
9.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Cats didn’t care about such things. It was five years since he’d thought like a cat.

With Kelpie still trailing him, Ashiol headed up the narrow stone steps to the first grassy bank of the gardens that had once held the decadent public baths set up in honour of the third Duc d’Aufleur, Trajus Alysaundre. The gardens were now shabby curves of greenery punctuated by ruined stone walls and the broken remains of skeletal pools, the marble tiles long since scraped away and—most likely—sold at a profit.

‘Ash…’ Kelpie said in a warning voice as they passed the first of the ruins.

He nodded and kept walking, eyes ahead. The scent of ferax was familiar, and telling. ‘Dhynar made Lord?’

‘Two years ago.’



Ashiol’s eyebrows went up. ‘Interesting.’

A moment later they were on him, hard and fast. A pack of hounds, black mixed with white, had him on the ground, paws scrabbling and teeth snapping. He twisted under them, punching dog bodies with his fists even as he summoned the animor within him.

I remember how to do this. Really, I do. It goes like this.

Ashiol exploded out from within the mass of darkhounds and brighthounds, escaping his clothes by
shaping himself into a dozen street cats. When he was free of the confines of cotton and leather he changed again, burning the hounds as he shaped his feline bodies into something else—something dark and menacing, with teeth and claws and wings and the taste of power on the back of his skin.

Two ferocious golden stripecats joined the brawl, half the size again of the dogs, and three lean and silver slashcats. They tore at him with claws and teeth, but he rose above them as if they were nothing.
I am King. I am more than you.

He didn’t need to strike them with his power, to burn them with flashes of light and pain. He didn’t need to reach inside them and twist their lesser animor with his own until they gasped voicelessly for mercy from their King. He didn’t need to leave them as a pile of bloodied, barely breathing bodies heaped up against the ruined stone baths. He did it anyway.

When it was over, there was only the ferax. Its lithe red body stood balanced on one of the crumbling stone walls. Its eyes glittered as it surveyed its fallen servants and the creature who had defeated them. It was more powerful than the hounds and cats combined, and it was barely as long as a human’s right arm.

‘Where’s the rest of you?’ growled the chimaera creature that was Ashiol.

A second ferax, slightly redder of coat, joined the first. After a moment, two more jumped up to join them. A fifth, smaller than all of them, slunk up last.

Ashiol breathed out, and unwound from the chimaera to become himself again—the taller, harder, sharper Lord version of himself whose every skin cell sang with darkness and power and animor, but himself nevertheless.

The five feraxes fell forwards from the wall, blurring together to form a single human shape. He was small, narrow of body and of face, his reddish-brown hair pulled back in a tail reminiscent of the bushy red tail of the ferax.
Like Ashiol, he was more than human, eyes glowing and narrow, ears pointed, claws clenched and ready for action. ‘Welcome home,’ he said in a polite voice.

‘Dhynar,’ said Ashiol. ‘Is this a challenge?’

The young man—frighteningly young—gave him a smirk. ‘If it was a challenge, surely I would have brought more power to the field?’ He motioned towards his pile of moaning, whining creatures. ‘They hardly made a mark on you.’

There was sweat on Ashiol’s brow, and a line of blood dripped from a deep scratch on his left arm. ‘If this isn’t a challenge, Dhynar Lord Ferax, what the seven hells is it?’

Dhynar was still grinning, as if this was nothing but a game.
I remember feeling like that
, Ashiol thought.
I remember feeling immortal. But I was younger than him when I learned this life was more than power trips and pissing contests.

‘I heard a rumour,’ said Dhynar, ‘that you were home, but you were planning to skip out on your responsibility to replace Garnet as Power and Majesty. That you were going to leave our Court without a leader. How do you plead, Ashiol Creature King?’

Ashiol offered no reaction, keeping his face blank. ‘How did you hear such a rumour, Dhynar?’
How stupid was I not to guess I was being spied on?

‘The streets have ears,’ said the young man. The grin peeled off his face. ‘You didn’t think we would let you leave, now, did you?’

‘This is not the way things are done,’ said Ashiol. ‘Lords do not make demands of Kings. Kings twist Lords into cringing pets until they agree to everything we want, everything we decide.’

‘So give some orders,’ said Dhynar. ‘Smash me into the wall, Ashiol. Make me bleed and make me obey you. Take your rightful place as the Power and Majesty. Just don’t leave us to fend for ourselves.’

Ashiol moved, only dimly aware that Kelpie was crying out for him to stop. He seized Dhynar’s throat with his hands and flexed his claws into the flesh. He let his animor pour into the other man, burning as it tore his face from the inside out. When Dhynar started screaming, Ashiol pulled away. He diminished back into his human form, shaking as he pushed the animor back into the deepest part of himself.

Dhynar sagged to the grass, still conscious. The gashes in his face, neck and arms began to heal themselves, but the process was painfully slow. He twisted his face into a grimace, still able to manage a grin. ‘Don’t let our city fall into the sky,’ he said between cracked and bleeding lips.

Ashiol picked up his fallen clothes and walked away. Kelpie stood at some distance, staring at him.

‘This is what you want me to stay for,’ he said angrily. ‘This is what you are happy for me to become. Garnet’s gone, so let
be the monster.’

‘We’re all monsters,’ she said.

‘And where was my sentinel when the fighting started?’ he blazed at her.

‘You didn’t seem to need my help.’

‘Not the point. Where were those Sisters and Nieces of yours, Kelpie? Are you saving your strength and your blades until you know whether or not I’m worth defending?’

She looked at him as if he were crazy. ‘Have you noticed anything odd about me, Ash? Anything unusual?’

He stared back at her. She was just Kelpie. Straggly hair pulled back into a horsetail, pissed-off expression, battered combat clothes, sturdy boots. ‘Where’s your cloak?’ he asked finally. ‘You always wear it in daylight, even in the height of summer.’

‘Clever man,’ said Kelpie. ‘Anything else?’ Deliberately, she turned her back to him.

How had he not noticed this earlier?
Too wrapped up in myself, that’s how.
‘Kelpie, where are your swords?’

She swung back to face him. ‘Our beloved Power and
Majesty decided that it made him look weak having armed sentinels at his back. Either that, or he was worried one of us would stick a knife in him. Garnet took our blades off us years ago.’

Ashiol was finding it hard to take this in. ‘But you were in a skybattle yesterday.’

‘Yes,’ said Kelpie. ‘We were.’

‘Doing what—serving refreshments?’

‘Mainly we were dodging skybolts and staying out of the way, when we could. Macready managed to break Livilla’s leg though, saving her life. We make ourselves useful from time to time.’

‘Where are the blades? He can’t have destroyed them.’

‘He hung them up in the Haymarket, as trophies,’ said Kelpie. ‘He liked to have the sentinels handy in case he needed blood, or messages sent, but that’s all we were good for.’

Ashiol shook his head. ‘Garnet always did think he was indestructible. How did you protect yourselves from the Court?’

‘We didn’t,’ she said, still in that unemotional voice. Her eyes flicked to the fallen figure of Dhynar and she shuddered visibly. ‘Garnet declared us sacrosanct, but…he never demanded a blood oath. Most of the Lords chose to interpret the rule fairly loosely.’

Ashiol was so angry he couldn’t see straight. He grabbed Kelpie’s arm, pulling her further along through the park. Let the ferax and his courtesi make their retreat without witnesses. He walked Kelpie halfway across the curved lawn until they came to a carved bench near the statue of Duc Trajus. He pushed her onto the bench and then dressed himself silently. The garments had held up well. When he was clothed, he sat beside Kelpie on the bench so they could both gaze ahead at the creeper-covered ruins and neither of them would have to meet the other’s gaze. That, and he could finally give his feet a rest.

‘How many sentinels survived this madness?’

‘I thought you realised,’ Kelpie said. ‘There are only three left. Me, Crane and Macready.’

Names and faces flashed through Ash’s mind. Beautiful Ilsa, laughing Zyler, quiet Tobin, Andronicus, Rory and Nathanial, the Silver Captain. The last he had seen of any of them was their blank faces as he left the Court for the last time, powerless and alone. It still hurt that they were gone.

‘All dead?’

Kelpie said nothing.

‘No new blood?’

‘Since we weren’t armed, there wasn’t much point in bringing in more of us. There have been a few potential candidates since the Captain died, but Garnet forbade us from adding to our numbers.’

Ashiol stared at the statue of the daylight Duc, willing himself not to turn chimaera and start smashing things just for the hell of it. ‘Garnet’s been dead since yesterday. I know I’ve provided something of a distraction, but what’s stopping you from marching down into the Arches and taking what’s yours?’

‘A Creature King—the Power and Majesty—ordered us to give up our blades,’ she said. ‘His death doesn’t countermand that order.’

‘Well, I’m a Creature King and I’m countermanding it,’ he snapped. ‘Fucking arm yourselves. Where are Crane and Mac?’

‘You told them to keep watch on the dressmaker’s shop—to take note of any men who visit the house.’

‘Glad to know I was even slightly lucid before you put me to bed. Get all the blades and get yourself over to Via Silviana. I’ll meet you there after I’ve spoken to Hel.’

‘All right.’

‘Don’t look at me like that,’ he said irritably. ‘This doesn’t mean I’m staying and it doesn’t mean I’m the Power and Majesty.’

‘Can I be grateful anyway?’ she shot at him.

Ashiol stood up fast and started striding in the direction of the Forum, ignoring the screams of his feet. ‘I don’t want your gratitude, Kelpie. I’m not doing this out of friendship or loyalty or compassion. I just want your fucking swords at my back.’


ia Silviana was a narrow street that ran down the affluent Vittorine hill and ended up in the shabby, bustling Giacosa district. The west end of the street classed itself as Vittorine, with lavish shopfronts and vendors who regularly made an effort to sluice detritus from the cobbles in front of their place of business. The east end was like any other street in Giacosa, carefree and colourful but worn around the edges.

At the halfway point between the two, beneath the Sign of the Rose and Needle, stood a cheerful-looking little shop. A wide glass frontage displayed a few elegant festival gowns that might appeal equally to a rich Vittorine debutante looking to slum it, or an upwardly mobile merchant’s daughter from Giacosa looking to splash out. Most of the window was taken up with flower arrangements and a rainbow of hand-stitched ribbons in a simple but effective display. The window was so packed with produce that you couldn’t see inside unless you were unreasonably tall—or high on a rooftop overlooking the large window.

‘Funny kind of shop,’ muttered Crane. ‘Never open for business.’

Macready grunted as a sharp piece of tile dug into his knee. ‘Tell me, my lad, is there a reason why we cannot be watching this dressmaker from the comfortable hot food bar below, instead of sharing a roof with every fecking pigeon the city has to offer?’

‘After we broke into her house?’ replied Crane. ‘She’ll recognise us.’

‘I don’t think she was paying much attention to either one of us last nox with our man spouting madness into her ear and gazing soulfully into her eyes,’ said Macready.

‘Can’t risk it.’

Macready shot the youngster a dirty look. ‘You get off on this spying lark, if I’m not much mistaken.’

Crane grinned a little. ‘Makes a change from ducking and dodging for our lives, or opening a vein to please our precious Power and Majesty.’

‘Eh, there’ll be plenty of that before long,’ said Macready. ‘Don’t be hoping for anything original from our Ashiol. He’s cut of the same cloth as Garnet, mark my words.’

‘Can’t be,’ said Crane. ‘If he was anything like Garnet, he wouldn’t have been beaten by him.’

Macready barked with laughter. ‘Ashiol’s weaker than Garnet, so he might make a finer King? You’re a rare lad, Crane, to have so much hope in you.’

Crane made a face, as he always did when Mac played the ‘wise old cove’ routine. It was fair enough. Macready was only thirty-six and he had already taken on the cynical persona of their dear departed Captain, who had made it his life’s work to spoil everyone’s enthusiasm for the job.

‘Will he be himself this morning, do you think?’ Crane asked after a while. There was no need to specify whom he was talking about. There was nothing but Ashiol on their minds.

‘Eh, the gabble should have run out by now.’

‘He seemed calmer when he gave us our orders last nox, before Kelpie hauled him away.’

‘That’s you being hopeful again,’ said Macready. ‘I reckon the first thing he’ll do when he recovers his senses is to tell us that this thing with the dressmaker was one of his delusions and we’ve been wasting our time.’

‘Could be worse. He might not think to tell us for a day or two.’

Macready growled.

Crane leaned forward, his eyes alert. ‘Something’s happening down there.’

‘Saints be praised, do we have action at last?’

Crane was disappointed. ‘A fellow looked in the window, but he kept walking.’

‘A shop with the door still bolted at an hour to the noon bell. I can’t be imagining how it is they have so few customers.’

‘You’re twitchy. Go for another walk.’

‘I’ve been for three. I know this district inside out now, and I’m likely to be arrested for loitering if I do another round before lunchtime. How can you be so frigging serene?’

Crane wriggled closer to the edge of the roof to get the best observation angle. ‘Just lucky.’

‘Humph.’ Macready shook his head. ‘Three lasses living together and not a gentleman caller between them. It’s not natural.’

‘Perhaps they’re nuns.’

‘Or whores.’

‘Perhaps they’re only interested in each other.’

Both men shared a dirty cackle at that one.

‘Having fun, lads?’ Kelpie climbed up onto the roof.

Crane waved a hand in greeting, but didn’t move from his observation of the shop below. Good little spy. Macready, pleased by the distraction, settled himself with his back to the street view so as to watch Kelpie approach.

There was something different about her. Her hair was scraped back into a businesslike knot, and instead of her sentinel’s cloak, she wore a long leather coat that Mac
hadn’t seen for years. She looked unaccustomedly…what?
Pleased with herself
, he decided.
Saints and devils, don’t tell me she took him to her bed again. That’s all we need.

‘What have you found out?’ Kelpie asked.

‘Macready makes a rotten spy,’ said Crane without turning around. ‘No patience.’

‘Crane’s an excellent spy,’ broke in Macready. ‘The lad must have been practising as a peeping tom in his spare time.’

Kelpie swaggered across to them, her feet neatly finding footholds among the tiles. ‘Too much to hope for any news on Ash’s dressmaker?’

Macready sighed. ‘Go on, laddie. You know you’re just dying to make your report.’

Crane shot Macready a look, but didn’t protest. ‘There are three of them,’ he said. ‘A blonde with bobbed hair—all lip paint and flouncing, that one. Then there’s our dressmaker, and another demme, a tall redhead, called Ree or Rhian.’

‘Any men?’ asked Kelpie.

‘Not in the house,’ said Crane.

‘Eh, it’s not even lunchtime yet,’ Macready said lazily. ‘Perhaps their gentlemen callers only come after sunset.’

‘A few messengers have been and gone,’ said Crane, giving Macready a dirty look. ‘A delivery boy came with a crate of fabrics about an hour ago. Here’s the thing though. Whenever anyone comes to the door, the redhead vanishes. Goes upstairs, or retreats to the kitchen.’

‘Not everyone,’ said Macready. ‘Some lassie came to the kitchen door with a basketload of hawthorn blossom and the one called Rhian talked to her for about a quarter of an hour.’

Kelpie raised an eyebrow. ‘You can see and hear all that from up here?’

‘I went prowling around the back a time or two,’ said Macready.

‘You really can’t sit still for long, can you?’

‘Sitting still’s for dead people. It’s not in my job description. I’m more interested in why you’re suddenly all bouncy. Don’t tell me someone broke Livilla’s other leg?’

Kelpie’s eyes gleamed with something Macready hadn’t seen in her for a long time.

‘I’ve got a surprise for you,’ she said.

‘It had better be a fecking good one, lass.’

Kelpie spread her coat open a little, allowing them to see the twin hilts on her hips. Steel and silver gleamed beneath the dark leather. A pair of daggers.

Macready’s throat went dry. He swallowed, and it hurt. ‘Kelpie, have I mentioned what a bonny woman you are?’

‘Not lately.’

Crane had a hungry expression. ‘Tell me it’s not just you.’

Kelpie strutted back across the roof to scoop up a flat box from behind the gable. Macready could see the lines of two swords sheathed against her back, under the soft leather of the coat.

‘Saints and devils, it’s a beautiful day,’ he breathed.

Kelpie returned to them and flipped the box open. There they were, his lasses, sheathed in leather and waiting for him. Two knives, long and green-hilted. Two swords, one slightly lighter than the other. Macready lifted one and then the other, weighing them in his hands. The balance was off, but that was hardly surprising. He’d had all his fingers, last time he held them.

Crane was cooing over his knives, pulling them into a heap in his lap, examining them both.

Macready eased his steel sword—Alicity—out of her sheath. She was perfect, of course. The swords had not been built to rust. The soft sound of her emerging into the sunlight made him grin so hard that his teeth almost fell out of his face. He resheathed her and reached for Tarea, the skysilver sword still waiting for him. His hand shook just a little as he pulled her free of the leather coffin.

Kelpie shook her head, looking superior. ‘Macready, you’re way too excited about this. You need to get laid.’

‘Wouldn’t want my ladies getting jealous, now would I?’ He slid both daggers—Jeunille and Phoebe—out of their sheaths. ‘Are you telling me you’re not jumping over the stars and moon to have your Sisters and Nieces back in their rightful?’

Kelpie reached behind to check that the twin swords were still safely strapped to her back.

‘We’re sentinels again,’ said Crane, half in a daze. He shot an alarmed look at Kelpie. ‘This is permanent, right? He’s not going to take them off us again?’

‘Ash is not Garnet,’ Kelpie snapped back.

‘Pray to the saints he never is,’ Macready said without thinking.

Kelpie glared at him. ‘His exact words were “fucking arm yourselves”. He’s not stupid enough to think he won’t need us.’

‘Is he not?’ Macready responded slowly. ‘He’ll be our Creature King then, a true Power and Majesty. He’ll heal the ills of the world and rule us wisely and we’ll all live happily ever after. Aye, what times we’ll have.’

Kelpie flushed and looked away. ‘He can do this, I know he can. He can be what we need him to be.’

‘He couldn’t beat Garnet,’ said Crane.

‘Nobody could fight Garnet,’ Kelpie said crossly. ‘We loved him too much in the beginning. Then we were too scared of him.’

‘And how much do you love Ashiol?’ Macready asked, unfairly.

‘Frig off,’ said Kelpie. ‘We have to believe in Ash because he’s all we’ve got. Otherwise we might as well sit back and wait for the sky to fall.’

Macready shrugged, allowing her the victory. ‘Aye, well. I never was good at sitting around.’

We have to believe in Ash because he’s all we’ve got. Saints and devils help us all.

BOOK: Power & Majesty
9.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

10 Gorilla Adventure by Willard Price
Secret of the Red Arrow by Franklin W. Dixon
Tapestry of the Past by Alvania Scarborough