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DESPITE THE concerns of Gonzago de Escabares, the only news of note that occurred outside our borders in the following months lay not within Skaldic territories, but in the kingdom of Alba. And the rumor that crossed the waters was this: The Cruarch of Alba was dead, slain, it was said, by his own son, who sought to overturn the old matrilineal rites of succession and seize rulership of Alba for himself.

The Cruarch's rightful heir, his club-footed nephew, had fled with his mother and three younger sisters to the western shores of Alba, where the Dalriada of Eire, who had a foothold there, gave them asylum.

No one had ever paid much heed to the regency of Alba before, but because this Cruarch had set foot on D'Angeline soil, it merited a passing interest. In a joint venture with the royal House of Aragon, Quintilius Rousse was ordered to bring his fleet through the southerly Cadishon Strait and scout the coastline; he reported that Elder Brother maintained his sovereignty over Alban waters. Thus Ganelon de la Courcel strengthened his alliance with the King of Aragon, and Quintilius Rousse found an excuse to leave a portion of his fleet on the coast of Kusheth. At Delaunay's, he boasted of his cunning, but I liked him well enough to forgive it. Delaunay was summoned twice to court, and afterward said nothing of it.

No word came from de Escabares, nor any rumor of Waldemar Selig. The borders of Camlach remained quiet; so quiet that Prince Baudoin grew bored of seeking glory in the mountains and began to divide his time between the royal court and his home in Azzalle. His father, the Duc de Trevalion, was quarreling with the King. Azzalle maintained a small but capable fleet of its own, and the Duc was put out that the King had called upon Quintilius Rousse to scout the coastline instead of him.

There was some merit to his grievance, for Azzalle lay almost in hailing distance of Alba, whereas Quintilius had needed to bring his fleet a fortnight's journey around Aragonia. That the joint venture strengthened ties with the House of Aragon, Duc Marc knew full well; but Quintilius Rousse was not of royal blood, and the slight stung.

I do not know if the King mistrusted the Duc de Trevalion, on this score. I do know that he mistrusted his sister and her all-too-obvious ambition for her son, and was too canny to pass up a means of undermining her power when there was political gain to be had in the process.

All of these things I heard and knew—indeed, Delaunay and Gaspar Trevalion had a falling-out over the quarrel between House Courcel and Trevalion—but during this time they registered lightly on my consciousness. I was young and beautiful, and I chose my patrons from among the scions of Elua. I would be lying if I said all of this did not go to my head. There is a power in being able to choose one's patrons, and I learned to wield it well. Three times running, I declined offers from Lord Childric d'Essoms, until even Delaunay debated the wisdom of my judgment, but in this, I was the master of my art. When I acceded to his fourth offer—his final, his servant warned—his stored fury was prodigious indeed.

That was the night he burned me with a red-hot poker.

It was also the night he let slip his patron's name.

Servants of Naamah are not the only ones with patrons, of course; in court society, nearly everyone is either a patron or patronized. It is only the services which differ. One of the reasons I loved Delaunay so well was that he was one of very few people I ever met who truly stood free of the system. I suppose it is one of the reasons d'Essoms hated him so.

The other reason came clear with the name he so carelessly uttered. Always, without exception, it pleased Childric d'Essoms to press me to reveal Delaunay's motives. Where Solaine Belfours sought a myriad of reasons to punish me, d'Essoms needed only the one: Delaunay.

When he used the poker, he knew he had gone too far. For my part, I sagged in my bonds, splayed against the X-shaped cross he so favored, fighting to remain conscious and thinking how Delaunay would berate me for failing to give the signale. In truth, I hadn't thought he would do it. But d'Essoms had laid the poker against the inside of my thigh, and the stench of my own scorched flesh surrounded me. The poker had stuck when he pulled it loose, tearing skin.

There was no pleasure in this, at least not in the way that anyone but an anguissette would understand it. Pain strung my body like a plucked harpstring, and behind closed eyes my vision was washed in red. I was in it and of it, at once the taut, quivering string and the high sustained note of it, a note of purest beauty uttered in the depths of torment. In a crimson haze, I heard as if from a great distance d'Essom's agitated voice and felt his hands patting my cheeks. Somewhere I could hear the echoes of a great clangor and knew he had thrown the poker from him in horror. "Phèdre, Phèdre, speak to me! Oh, for Blessed Elua's sake, speak to me, child!" There was anxiety in his tone, and caring; more than he ever would have confessed. I felt his hands patting me, chafing, rough tenderness, and heard his mutter. "Barquiel L'Envers will have my head for this if Delaunay makes a charge...Phèdre, child, wake up, tell me you're well, 'tis naught but a burn..."

Head hanging, I opened my eyes and the wash of red receded, fading from my right eye and dwindling to a mote in my left. Seeing my lashes lift, Childric d'Essoms gave a cry of relief, undoing my bonds and easing my limp body down as it slipped loose of the whipping cross. Cradling me in his arms in the middle of his trophy room, he shouted for his physician.

I knew then that he was mine.

As I had guessed, Delaunay was not so pleased, though he withheld comment upon my return. He ordered me confined to bed and brought in a Yeshuite doctor to attend me. Although they are shunned in many nations, they are made welcome in Terre d'Ange, for Blessed Elua was fathered by the blood of Yeshua, which we do not forget. The doctor cut a solemn figure with his grave face and the long, curling sidelocks of his people, but his touch was gentle and I rested more comfortably when he had applied a poultice to draw the poisons and re-bandaged my thigh. It discomforted him to touch me in so intimate a fashion, which made me smile. "I will come in two days to examine her," he said to Delaunay in his formal, accented D'Angeline. "But I bid you inspect the wound on the morrow, and if there is an odor of mortification, send for me without delay."

Delaunay nodded and thanked him, waiting courteously until the doctor was ushered from my room. Then he turned his dry look on me and raised his eyebrows.

"I hope it was worth it," he said curtly.

I did not take offense, for I knew it was only that he cared for me. "You may be the judge, my lord." I squirmed in my bed, rearranging pillows to sit propped until Delaunay swore softly and aided me, his careful movements at odds with his tone.

"All right," he said, unable to prevent a gleam of amusement from lighting his eye at my dissembling. "There is a pile of love-gifts from Childric d'Essoms amassing in the hallway in atonement for this injury, and if he doesn't stop soon, next it will be a brace of oxen or a copy of the Lost Book of Raziel itself. Now what information do you have that is so valuable it is worth turning yourself into a braised rack of lamb?"

Content to have his full regard, free of judgment, I relaxed against my cushions and gave it straight out. "Childric d'Essoms answers to Barquiel L'Envers."

To watch Delaunay's face at such a time was like watching a storm cross the horizon. Duc Barquiel L'Envers was full brother to the long-dead Isabel.

"So d'Essoms is the conduit for House Envers' ambitions," he mused aloud. "I wondered who kept the torch alight. He must be behind L'Envers' posting to the Khalifate. You told him nothing?"

His glance was swift and cutting. "My lord!" I protested, sitting upright and wincing at the pain.

"Phèdre, I'm sorry." Delaunay's face changed as he knelt at my bedside and grasped my hand. "This information you give me is a pearl of great price, truly, but it is not worth the pain you have suffered for it. Promise me that next time you will give the signale."

"My lord, I am what I am, and it is for that you bought my marque," I said reasonably. "But I did not think he would use the poker, truly." Seeing him take ease from my words, I pressed the moment's advantage. "My lord, who was Isabel L'Envers to you, that her enmity should pursue you beyond the grave?"

If I thought to catch him in a weak moment, I was mistaken; his features took on their stern look, which I loved. "Phèdre, we have spoken of this, and it is best you do not know why I do as I do. Mark my words, if Childric d'Essoms truly thought you knew aught you were not telling, he would not be so gentle with you; and his gentleness leaves little to commend it."

And with that, he kissed my brow and took his leave, bidding me to sleep and be healed.

Happily, I have good-healing flesh, legacy of Kushiel's Dart. When the Yeshuite doctor returned, he pronounced the ugly burn clean of any trace of festering and gave Delaunay a salve to spread on it that would aid the growth of new skin and help to prevent scarring. I saw adepts in Valerian House whose skin was thick with welted scars, but that was never the case with me. Delaunay always kept in stock a supply of unguents and balms to spread on such weals as I received; though I may say that none ever worked so well as the Yeshuite's salve.

Since I could not practice my art, I spent time with Hyacinthe.

Even as my station had changed, so had his. He had at long last convinced his mother to part with some of her hard-won gold to augment his own, and they now owned the building on Rue Coupole. It was no less small and squalid than before, but it was theirs. They lived as they always had on the lower floor, and let rooms to an interminable stream of Tsingani families who passed through the City with every horse fair and circus that followed the trade routes.

His mother had grown older and dwindled in size, but the fierce glare of her deep-set eyes had not diminished. I marked how the itinerant Tsingani paid her respect; and I marked how they avoided Hyacinthe, though I never spoke of it to him. Among the Tsingani, he was half-D'Angeline and shunned, but among D'Angelines, he was the Prince of Travellers and the denizens of Mont Nuit continued to pay good coin to have him read their palms.

For his part, Hyacinthe had not given up his dream of finding his mother's people and claiming his birthright as her son; but these were not such Tsingani as passed the City's boundaries and came to dwell for a time within it. They had done so once and once only, he told me—for so his mother had told him—and lost their fairest daughter to the wiles of D'Angeline seduction. Now only the poorest of companies entered the City gates, while the flower of Tsingani nobility wandered the earth, following the Lungo Drom, the long road.

So Hyacinthe believed, and it was not for me to disabuse him of this notion; perhaps, indeed, it was true. For now he seemed well-enough satisfied to remain the undisputed Prince of Travellers in Mont Nuit, and I was glad of it, for he was my friend. I never told him, though, that I had chosen his name as my signale. I loved Hyacinthe dearly, but he would have crowed like a cock to hear it, and I could not abide that much of his vanity all of a piece.

"So Childric d'Essoms is in the L'Envers' pocket," he said when I told him my news, and whistled through his teeth. "That is news, Phèdre. What does your Delaunay make of it?"

"Nothing." I made a sour face. "He gets closer-lipped with age, and would feign protect us with ignorance. Though I think sometimes he tells Alcuin things he would not have me hear."

We sat at the kitchen table, and I had thrown off my sangoire cloak, which I wore everywhere those days, for the air was stifling and smelled of cooking cabbage. His mother poked and muttered at the stove, ignoring us. It was a reassuring constant in my life. Hyacinthe grinned at me and tossed a silver coin in the air, catching it in one hand and making it walk across his knuckles, then disappear. He had learned the trick from a street-corner illusionist in exchange for two weeks' lodging. "You are jealous."

"No," I said, then; "Yes, perhaps."

"Has he bedded the boy?"

"No!" I exclaimed, offended at both the notion and his use of the word "boy," when Alcuin was no younger than he himself. "Delaunay would not do that!"

Hyacinthe shrugged. "Still, you must consider the possibility. You would be quick enough to boast of it, if it were you."

"It's not me." The lack of promise in that outlook made me glum. "No, he is freer with Alcuin because he reckons Alcuin's patrons are not so dangerous as mine, or at least more subtle in the ways of violence. Anyway, they have been thick in politics since the day he took Alcuin to court to pose as his scribe. I do not see the logic in it, when the Cruarch was slain and another rules in his place."

Hyacinthe's mother muttered louder at the stove.

Once, he had ignored such ominous rumblings; now, I noted, his expression grew sharp, like a hound on the trail of scent. "What is it, Mother?"

The words were repeated, unintelligible, then turning, she brandished a ladle at us. I remembered her pointing finger, which had struck a note of fear in my heart. "Pay heed," she said in a dire tone. "Do not discount the Cullach Gorrym."

I looked at Hyacinthe, who blinked. "I do not understand your words," he said carefully to his mother.

She trembled and lowered the ladle, passing her other hand before her eyes. Her face looked sunken and old. "I know not," she admitted in a thready voice.

"The black boar." I cleared my throat, feeling strangely apologetic. Both of them glanced at me. "It is Cruithne, madame; the words you spoke." I had been so long dissembling among patrons, I was awkward in vaunting my learning. "Do not discount the black boar."

"Well, then." Her expression cleared, resuming its usual dour mien. Her jaw jutted forward obstinately, defying me and my knowledge and my sangoire cloak to contradict her. "There you have it, missy. Do not discount the black boar."

It was my second such prophesy granted free of charge by the mother of the Prince of Travellers and my one true friend; and as clear as the first had been, the second was oblique. I looked once more at Hyacinthe, who raised both hands and spread them, shaking his head. Whatever the black boar might be, he knew no better than I.

When I returned home, I related the incident to Delaunay, who had spent the day being fitted for a new suit of clothing. As he misliked wasting overmuch time on tailors, he was in a foul mood and quick to dismiss the warning. "You of all people should know that Tsingani fortune-telling is mere foolery," he said sharply.

I stared at Delaunay. "She has the gift. I have seen it. My lord, she did not seek to lie in this, nor before when she told me I would rue the day I unraveled your mystery."

"She..." Delaunay stopped. "She said that?"

"Yes, my lord."

Alcuin brought the wine-jug over to refill Delaunay's glass. His hair fell forward as he bent to his task and Delaunay ran a shining strand of it through his fingers absentmindedly, gazing at the flame of an oil lamp. "My lord," Alcuin said softly, straightening. "You remember I told you of the whispers of the Alban delegation? The Cruarch's sister had a vision, of a silver swan and a black boar."

"But who is...?" Delaunay's face changed. "Alcuin, send word on the morrow to Thelesis de Mornay. Tell her I would speak with her."

"As you wish, my lord."


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