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Authors: Tansy Rayner Roberts

Power & Majesty (6 page)

BOOK: Power & Majesty
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Aphrodal, four days before the Kalends of Floralis

he third letter did not convince Ashiol that he should ride to Isangell’s rescue. Nor did the fourth, or the fifth. Each sweet entreaty worked like a drop of acid, reminding him what a coward he was.

He drank more, snapped at his younger siblings, and spent far too long staring at the blank, unthreatening sky.

His mother broke first. ‘If you don’t go back, you’ll never face your fears. You’re a grown man, and stronger than you think. Perhaps you should just go.’

Would she encourage him if she knew what he was really hiding from?

So Ashiol Xandelian entered the city of Aufleur for the first time in five years. His entrance was modest and uneventful, except that he spent the entire walk from the Aurian Gate Station to the Palazzo watching the sky and thinking Garnet, Garnet, Garnet with every step.

The sky told him nothing.

At the Palazzo, Ashiol was greeted with the usual flurry of servants and officials. He dodged the formal reception as soon as he could and made off in search of Isangell’s
private rooms. Halfway there, he realised that he was heading for the nursery, which wasn’t right. The little Ducomtessa had become a ruling Duchessa; she would not be sleeping in a child’s cubby with bars on the window. Gritting his teeth, he hailed a servant and was directed to an elegant suite in the Inner Sanctum, alongside the Old Duc’s rose atrium.

The woman waiting for him was not the demoiselle he had left. A tall, slender creature sat on the Duc’s favourite bench, her long fair hair hanging carelessly to her waist. Ashiol watched her for several minutes before she turned that tree-branch neck and saw him. Her wicked grin, at least, was much the same.

‘Hello, Ash,’ said the Duchessa d’Aufleur.

‘Hello, Isangell.’ He eyed the thin white shift that barely covered her to mid-thigh. ‘Is that what you’re wearing to the festival? The City Fathers might be overly aroused.’

She rolled her eyes at him. ‘The festival is hours away. Besides, my gown hasn’t been delivered yet.’

‘Cutting it fine, aren’t we?’

‘You’ll see why when it arrives. I have to wear it fresh.’

‘You are aware that festival gowns aren’t food?’

‘Someone told me, but I don’t believe a word of it.’ She stared at him and laughed. ‘You got old!’

Ashiol wasn’t thirty yet. ‘You too, gosling. Nineteen and not married? “Spinster” is such an ugly word.’

‘I’ve missed you,’ she said. ‘Everyone else refuses to be mean to me. It’s quite wretched of them.’

‘I’m sure your mother more than makes up for it,’ he said dryly.

‘Yes, well. The less said about that, the better.’ Isangell looked serious for a moment. ‘I’m glad you came. I need you here, in Aufleur.’

‘Because that worked out so well last time…’

Ashiol barely remembered the last few months of his time here, except that he had been sampling every mind-altering substance under the sun to blot out the pain of
what Garnet had done to him. He certainly hadn’t left the city on his own two feet.

‘You look good,’ said Isangell. ‘I mean, better than before.’

‘I worked out my demons.’ Potions and powders were so difficult to purchase in the provinces. Easier to do without. ‘I don’t know why you want me here,’ he said abruptly. ‘I mean, I know why—I know the role you want me to play. But I have four strapping younger brothers, all with blood as fine and Aufleurine as my own. None of them have the history I have with this city.’

None of them were cut down from a rope in the deepest wine cellar, gibbering about the man who had destroyed him.

‘I’m sure they’re lovely boys and your mother raised them well,’ said Isangell. ‘But I don’t know them, Ash. They never lived in the Palazzo. They never told me stories of saints and angels. They have no bad history with the city because it doesn’t know them at all. I want you. I need you here, by my side.’

And there was that voice, the one their grandmother had used to such effect when she wanted a thing done.

‘Well and fine,’ Ashiol muttered. ‘I’m here, aren’t I?’

‘You promised me a year.’

‘I’ll do my best to keep that promise.’
Not likely to go running with the cats and wolves in the street this time around. Garnet made sure of that.

‘Mother,’ Isangell said, in a different voice.

Ashiol steeled himself for the dour glare of his least favourite Aufleur matron. ‘Aunt Eglantine,’ he said politely.

‘Nephew,’ said Isangell’s mother. ‘Isangell, dear, you should be sleeping. You have only a few hours before we must prepare you for the festival.’

‘I was greeting my cousin,’ Isangell said impatiently. ‘It’s hardly worth sleeping now.’

‘It won’t do to look tired for the Floralia parade. Spring is about renewal.’

‘And cosmetick is a marvellous thing,’ said Isangell.

‘We were expecting you yesterday,’ Eglantine added, addressing Ashiol.

‘I like to make an entrance,’ he replied.

Eglantine gestured at the silent servant who had accompanied her into the atrium. ‘Armand will escort you to your chambers. Your festival costume awaits you. We had to guess at the measurements.’ She eyed his arms as if disapproving of the muscle he had put on in the last five years.

‘Your kindness overwhelms me, madame, as ever,’ said Ashiol. He dropped a wink at Isangell. ‘See you in the parade, gosling.’

His chambers were spacious enough, and about as far from Isangell’s rooms as one could get without actually being in the kitchens. Ashiol was amused by his aunt’s work. Eglantine had always been terrified that her rakish nephew would seduce her daughter, but he was a greater threat now that Isangell was of age and had the power to choose her own husband.

Ashiol had no words to describe to Eglantine how unlikely it was that he would ever desire to climb under Isangell’s skirts. Something to do with the fact that he had read her bedtime stories since she was three years old. The thought that Isangell might want him as a husband had likely given Ashiol as many nox terrors as it had Eglantine.

The festival costume was as appalling as Ashiol had feared, but he was grateful at least that it was not pink. The Floralia was one of those festivals designed to challenge one’s masculinity.

He ate a few mouthfuls from the supper plate left out for him, and stretched out on a couch to have a snooze before the servants woke him for his first official engagement as the Spring Consort of the Duchessa d’Aufleur.

The sky cracked open, raining blood across the city. Ashiol laughed aloud. ‘At least it isn’t any ordinary battle that’s going to kill us.’ He had missed the glory of this, saints, he had missed it.

They had been fighting all nox, and, just as they thought they had beaten the damn sky into submission, it had this to throw at them. Shapes of darkness sizzled out of the wounds in its expanse. Spears of light and silver stabbed and pierced the city below. In the centre of it all, a screaming, pulsing rift tore the sky apart.

Livilla screamed as a hail of fire burst across the rooftop where she stood. It was Macready, the sentinel, who saved her from the flames, tackling her to the ground below.

Ashiol tried to go to them, but his body would not move. ‘Not here, not really here,’ he reminded himself. He ached for his animor, for the ability to transform himself into the clawing chimaera and feel the thrum of battle in his veins.

The Lords and Court streaked into the sky, throwing everything they had at that awful, tearing rift.

‘If it’s my dream,’ Ashiol said, ‘why can’t I have my powers back?’ He launched himself up through the clouds. As the cold air flooded over his skin, he shaped himself into his chimaera form. His arms lengthened and thickened. His body swelled with strength, new flesh and muscle. Claws descended from his knuckles with a nasty sound.

Someone was caught in the rift. He couldn’t see who at first, there were too many Lords and Court struggling at the mouth of it. Ashiol batted away several of Priest’s winged courtesi. Useless waste of skin and feathers.

Warlord was working so hard that sweat splashed off him. He diverted various screeching missiles of light and ice with his own bolts of power, shielding the others.

Poet was the closest in, his feet braced against the stiff edges of the rift as he tried to save the idiot who had been weak, stupid and careless enough to get himself caught.

As Ashiol soared past the crowd of glowing, defensive courtesi, he finally figured out that it wasn’t a courteso that
Poet was trying to save. Not a courteso, and sure as hell not a Lord.

It was a Creature King. The Power and Majesty. It was Garnet.

‘My Lord,’ whispered a nervous voice. ‘My Lord Ducomte? It’s time to get dressed for the festival.’

Ashiol awoke with a grunt. It was still dark, an hour or so before dawn.
Garnet’s alive

‘Thank you,’ he said, and rolled off the couch, fumbling for the ornate white tunic and trousers that Isangell’s people had provided for him. Some of the servants tried to help, but he growled at them until they backed off.

Once he was clothed and tidy enough that he wouldn’t disgrace his cousin, he allowed the servant to lead him to her.

She was waiting for him in a cloud of pink roses masquerading as a dress. ‘What do you think?’ she asked, evidently delighted with herself.

‘I hope there isn’t too strong a breeze as we cross the Church Bridge,’ he said, reaching out to pick at her petals. ‘Or you’ll be flashing your shift to the City Fathers anyway.’

Garnet’s alive

She slapped his hand. ‘Don’t even think it. Your job is to protect me from breezes, rain and assassins.’

‘Marvellous,’ he said. ‘And me armed only with a pair of lacy cuffs. Mind you, they will serve as blunt weapons in an emergency.’

They were led out to a horse-drawn pavilion that looked like a bridescake. Even as he bantered back and forth with Isangell, Ashiol kept his eyes on the quiet nox sky. Had he been dreaming a real battle, one that was taking place at this very moment? Without his animor, he had no way of knowing.
Damn you, Garnet. Took my eyes as well as my power

The pavilion began its rocking progression down the avenue. Isangell reached out her hand, shivering a little in
the cool air, and Ashiol wrapped his fingers around hers.
Garnet’s still alive
, he chanted inwardly as the pavilion rattled along.
Alive, still Power and Majesty, still whole, still sane

In that instant, Ashiol knew that he was going to break every promise he had made to Isangell. Nothing in this city was going to stop him seeing Garnet again.

King, my King, my King, my King.

Velody dreamed of a battle.
Lords and ladies fought the sky, throwing lightning with their fingers and shaping themselves into all manner of fearsome creatures.

She had dreamed such things before. In particular, she had dreamed of the red-gold man who blazed at the centre of the battle, hurling balls of fire at the unseen enemy.

He was beautiful in his passion and his violence. She could watch him for hours, dancing the sky with blood dripping down his face and hot light pouring from his fingers.

Only this time, the sky caught him and would not let him go.


She awoke in darkness, gasping for air.
He was caught, he was trapped…could they pull him free this time, or would the sky swallow him?

A hot cup was pushed into her hands and the aroma of mint and sage drowned out everything else, even the lingering memories of the dream.

‘You do want to catch the parade, don’t you?’ asked Rhian.

Velody swallowed a mouthful of tisane. ‘As if I’d miss our masterpiece.’

‘Tell me everything about it when you get back,’ the other demme said eagerly.

Velody drank deeper, burying her disappointment.
The dress is half your work, you should see it, why aren’t you braver?
‘You know I will.’

‘Veeeeelodeeeee,’ sang Delphine from the door. She held a lantern, and was wrapped in just about every garment she owned. Her bobbed blonde hair was shoved under a knitted hat she had once claimed was so ugly that the creator of it should be forced to wear last year’s fashions for a decade. ‘Wrap up warm, don’t want to get cooooold!’

‘I think you’ll be warm enough for both of us,’ said Velody, putting down her cup. It was time to go.


thought of them both, when the sky swallowed me. It was the nox before Floralia—the warmth of spring just beginning to touch the air. Twelve years earlier I had kissed a demoiselle on a balcony and stolen the powers that were only beginning to awake within her skin.

Five years ago I had stolen the powers of a King, my dearest friend, and made him crawl away into exile.

When I went into battle, I knew. I knew he had returned to the city. He was coming for me. To take back everything I had stolen. My head was full of him, and every time I forced him out of my thoughts to concentrate on the frigging battle in front of me, I saw the little brown mouse’s face before my eyes instead.

It wasn’t that much of a kiss, but it changed my life, and his, and is it any wonder she was as tangled in my thoughts of him as her animor was tangled with his and my own?

The three of us, warring inside my skin. Maybe that’s why it happened.

I was caught in a rift like some frigging first-year courteso and it had to be the two of them finally getting their own
back. I couldn’t feel my legs, and I resolved to kill them both as soon as I got out of this.

The sky dragged me deeper and I started losing it completely. I thought I heard Ashiol’s voice in my ear: ‘Remember that day when you carved three scars into my skin, and I begged you to let me go because you needed me on your side, needed me to save your arse half a dozen times a nox, and I would still do it, because you were my Power and Majesty and the best friend I ever had? Looks like I was right.’

‘If I’m seeing you,’ I said with a gasp, ‘does that mean I’m dead?’

I didn’t feel dead, not yet, but then how could I tell? I couldn’t feel anything.

‘Not yet,’ said Ash. A damned good hallucination. He even smelled right, as familiar as my ma’s beef and apple soup. ‘There’s still time.’

‘Time for what?’

‘Time to give it back,’ said the not-Ash, and he didn’t look fifteen any more. There were scars along his arms, and on his neck, and on that face of his. My scars. I did that to him.

Then he was gone again, and it was Poet in my frigging face, his hands clawing at my ribs. ‘I’ve got you,’ he said. Stupid kid never did know when to give up.

‘What are you planning to do with me?’ I demanded. ‘The rift is closing.’

It wasn’t just that I couldn’t feel my legs. I didn’t know if they even existed any more. No one knew what lay beyond the sky, but I was damned sure it wouldn’t do me any favours.

‘Get him out of there!’ yelled Warlord as he streaked past, wrestling tendrils of ice and light.

‘I could amputate everything from the waist down,’ snapped Poet. ‘Do you think that would help?’

Priest was there too now, fat fucker, so bloody satisfied with himself. ‘Burn him out if you have to. If he’s going to die, we need him dead on this side of the rift.’

Aye, Priest, I frigging love you too.

‘No one’s going to die!’ insisted Poet.

The sky swam around me. I was dizzy from their impressive levels of stupidity. When I opened my eyes, I was in bed with Tasha.

You never met her. I’m not going to waste time telling you how beautiful she was. As golden as the day I killed her.

‘Promise me,’ she said, arching her back against the warm pillows with a sleepy pure-sex smile.

I could hear the voices of Poet and the other Lords trying to free my body, but none of that mattered, not with Tasha here and warm and alive.

‘I’ll promise you anything,’ I said.

‘Stupid,’ she said scornfully. ‘Wait and see what I’m asking first. Have I taught you nothing?’

I felt fifteen years old again. How could I not?

Tasha was talking, expecting me to hang on her every word like we always did. ‘We’re getting weaker. Day by day, with every soul we lose to the sky, the Creature Court is diminishing.’

I remembered this lecture. She wanted us to promise that when we got ourselves killed, we’d be generous enough to do it in the gutter like real men, instead of wasting our animor by letting the sky swallow us whole. Death meant something if the ones left behind got to quench you, to suck you down and take your power into themselves.

‘Screw that,’ I said aloud, and, just like that, I was back in the rift. My lungs were tearing at me. I tried to push my body into gattopardo-shape, but it didn’t take. Too exhausted for chimaera, as well. Frig. Out of options.

‘You know what you have to do,’ said the hallucination Ashiol, back to torment my last few moments.

I laughed into his scarred face. ‘The real Ash wouldn’t be pleading with me to “do the right thing”. He’d know better than to frigging ask.’

‘You’re right,’ said the hallucination. ‘I’m not him.’ His dark, broad-shouldered figure shaped into a narrower body
with sleek muscles, pale complexion and bright red hair. ‘I’m you.’

‘Is that supposed to impress me?’ I sneered. Now I was torturing myself—there was a certain poetry in that.

‘You’re the Power and Majesty,’ my other self said to me. ‘Act like it. If the rift takes you, your animor and Ash’s are both gone for good. He’s the last King and you’ve crippled him. If you take his power with you, there will be no one left to lead the Creature Court. The whole fucking city will go up in smoke. Another forgotten relic, just like Tierce. Will you let that happen?’

I grinned. ‘Apparently you don’t know me very well, friend.’

My body slipped a little further into the rift.

‘We’re losing him,’ said Poet.

‘Blast his bloody head off and drink him dry,’ said good old Priest. ‘He’d do the same to you in a second.’

It was nearly dawn. The sky was lightening. If I could just hold on for another few minutes, the rift would leave me be. Wouldn’t it? I’d never known a skybattle to end this close to daylight. Maybe it wasn’t going to end at all.

The other Garnet leaned in close. ‘Give him this,’ he whispered. ‘You loved him once. He’s wandering around somewhere in the city below, powerless and miserable. You can give him back his place in the Creature Court. You can give him everything you stole from him. You can make him Power and frigging Majesty.’

Fire burned in my belly at the thought of it, of Ashiol flaunting the title I had worn proudly. ‘Stupid prick. Serve him right if I did.’

The rift growled and rippled against my body. They were still there, why were they still there? They had to get clear.

‘Get away from me,’ I yelled at Poet. ‘Let me go, you stupid bloody brat, I’m not worth it.’

‘Make me!’ Poet yelled back.

Warlord and Priest were already moving back, eyeing me uncomfortably. That’s right, our lads. Save yourselves.
It’s how we work. Loyalty is for the living…I was a dead man already, and they knew it.

‘I said, get away from me!’ I lashed out at Poet, not with my hands but with animor. It flared up inside me, an uneasy mix of my power, Ash’s power, her power…Ha. That demme on the balcony, I thought in that moment. Isn’t she in for a motherfrigging surprise?

Poet’s hands lost their grip.

I let go. My skin screamed at me to hold on, to keep it together, to fight and spit my way out of the sky until my feet were on firm, solid ground. But I ignored all that and let the stolen animor go.

It tore its way out of my flesh in burning arcs that sprayed wildly across the sky. I didn’t expect it to hurt like that, but what did it matter now?

‘Take it, you bastards!’ I screamed.

But not mine. I let the demme’s go, and Ash’s, but I held mine tight inside myself. I had no idea what fucking hells were waiting for me on the other side, and I wasn’t going to face them naked and alone.

I was still laughing as the rift closed over my face.

BOOK: Power & Majesty
11.46Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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