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I DO not know if either Alcuin or Delaunay availed themselves of Melisande's hospitality in the same fashion; I rather doubt it. Delaunay gave my disheveled appearance a sidelong glance in the carriage ride home, but offered no comment.

True to her word, Melisande Shahrizai sent a man around the next day, bearing an invitation to Delaunay to pay her a visit that evening. I busied myself throughout the day and engaged in my too-oft-neglected studies in the latter hours, setting myself the task of translating a slim collection of Skaldic war-chants compiled by the younger son of a Tiberian statesman who had travelled extensively in his youth. Delaunay had a friend, a Caerdicci composer, who claimed that one could understand any culture through its songs.

Thus I was still awake when Delaunay returned, finding me ensconced in the library, all diligence and ink-stains. He gave me that look that meant he saw through my subterfuge and sighed, settling in his favorite chair. "So you caught Baudoin's eye, did you? Melisande is minded to buy him a night with you."

I shrugged and corked the ink, wiping my quill on a bit of rag, "My lord, is it not advantageous? You know I am nothing if not circumspect."

"You are agreeable, then." He held out his hand for the draft of my translation. "Let me see what you've done."

I passed it to him, watching him read. "How could I be otherwise? He is a Prince of the Blood. And, my lord, Gaspar Trevalion is closemouthed with you still, and Solaine Belfours has fallen out with the Princess Lyonette; we have no conduit to doings in Azzalle."

Delaunay looked shrewdly at me. "Baudoin de Trevalion is a lion's cub and dangerous, Phèdre, and Melisande Shahrizai standing in his shadow makes him thrice dangerous. If you would do this thing, I bid you keep your tongue sealed. A word from her, and he would have your head." He handed the translation back to me. "A nice job. Make a fair copy when you've finished, and I'll send it to the Maestro. He would be interested."

The praise made me glow, but I stuck to the matter at hand. "My lord, Melisande Shahrizai is your friend. Do you trust her so little that you think she would betray me?"

To think that I asked such a question.

He leaned forward, propping an elbow on one knee and resting his chin in his hand. The lamplight caught threads of silver in his auburn hair. "Melisande plays a subtle game, and I do not know the nature of it. If ever we found ourselves at cross-purposes, I would not look to our friendship for protection. Melisande knows too well how far I would go to—" He caught himself and fell silent, shaking his head. "It matters not. Heed me well when I counsel discretion, Phèdre."

"Was she your lover?" Ofttimes when someone makes a stand in one place, they will cede ground elsewhere. Delaunay had taught me the trick of it, and I used it on him now.

"A long time ago." He grinned at me. It was of no moment, then, if he revealed it so lightly. "We are well-matched in many ways, but that was not one of them; unless it be that we were too well-matched. If neither will give way in love, it is not pleasing in the eyes of Naamah." Delaunay shrugged, rising to his feet. "Still, I do not think either of us gave the other cause for regret," he added. "Well and good, if it is your will to accede, then I shall have the contract drawn."

"It is, my lord."

The assignation excited me, which I did not deny. A date was set for some weeks hence, and time passed slowly. I busied myself as best I could, taking great pains with the fair copy of the book of Skaldic songs for Gonzago de Escabares. They were songs of battle, and I showed them to Alcuin, but he did not care for them, and I did not blame him for it.

No word came for him from Vitale Bouvarre, and I did not speak to him of what I had overheard. Nor did I tell Delaunay, but when I made an excursion to the sanctuary of Naamah with Cecilie Laveau-Perrin, I spoke of it to her, for it weighed upon my mind and I knew she would understand. She was of the Night Court.

"You are right not to interfere," she said to me. "Alcuin has pledged his service, and it is between him and Naamah. If his heart is true, she will forgive. Naamah is compassionate."

"His heart has always been true," I said, knowing it was so.

"Well, then." Cecilie smiled gently, and my mind was eased. Of all the people I have known, none were kinder and wiser than Cecilie. So I believed then, and so I still maintain.

Though it seemed it never would, at length the day of my assignation arrived, and with it came a gown, sent by Melisande's messenger, of cloth-of-gold. My wardrobe was quite fine by now, for Delaunay was generous in such matters, but I had never owned anything quite so exquisite as this. There was a matching caul of gold mesh, strung with seed pearls. I dressed with great care, admiring myself in the mirror. Alcuin sat on the edge of my bed, watching with his grave, dark eyes.

"Be careful, Phèdre," he said softly.

"I am always careful," I retorted, meeting his gaze in the mirror.

He smiled faintly. "You were not careful with Lord d'Essoms, and you will not be careful with Melisande. You could lose yourself in her, I have seen it. And she knows what we are."

I tucked a stray curl into the mesh. "I am for Prince Baudoin this night. You know that."

Alcuin shook his head. "She will be there. It is his pleasure to have her present, in the bedchamber. I have heard it. Melisande Shahrizai is the goad to Baudoin's desire."

The thought of it made my heart quicken, but I took care not to show it. "I will be careful," I promised. And then the coach arrived, and we spoke no more of it. Alcuin accompanied me downstairs, where I presented myself for Delaunay's inspection.

"Very nice," he murmured, settling my sangoire cloak on my shoulders and pinning it for me. "A member of the house of Delaunay with a Prince of the Blood. Who would have thought it?" He smiled, but there was a reserve to his tone I didn't understand. "I shall be proud of you." He kissed me on the brow. "Be well."

Safe in the assurance of his blessing, I went out to meet Melisande's coach, Guy trailing me like a shadow.

I do not know how many properties Melisande Shahrizai owned, but one of them was a house in the City. I had supposed it would be close to the Palace, but it was in a quiet section near the outskirts of town, a rich little gem of a house surrounded by trees. Later I learned that she had quarters in the Palace itself. This was where she went when she wished to entertain in private; for her own sake as well as Prince Baudoin's.

I was not sure what kind of reception to expect, but when her servants ushered us into her home, Melisande welcomed me like a guest.

"Phèdre," she said, giving me the kiss of greeting. "I am pleased you accepted. You know my lord Prince Baudoin de Trevalion?"

I looked past her and saw him, and made a curtsy. "I am honored, my prince."

He came forward and took my hands, raising me. I remembered how he had swept me into his arms at the Midwinter Masque. "It is my honor, to receive such a gift," he said, and looked past me to smile at Melisande. "One so touched by the hand of Elua's Companions."

Melisande returned his smile, laying a hand lightly on my shoulder. Caught between the two of them, I trembled. "Come," she said. "We would have you play for us while we dine. Is that acceptable?"

I made myself nod. "It would be my pleasure."

She turned to a servant. "Attend to Messire Delaunay's man, and see that he is well quartered. We will adjourn to the table."

Although I was trained to it, it had been some time since I had been asked to play for a patron's pleasure. I saw clearly enough what was intended as I accompanied them; the velvet hassock and the lap-harp made it plain. I sat and took up the harp, playing softly while they dined. It was strange, to be welcomed as a guest, then ignored in such a manner. Servants in the black-and-gold Shahrizai livery moved smoothly and silently, serving an array of savory dishes. Melisande and Baudoin ate and bantered in low tones as they dined, speaking as lovers will, of inconsequential things. I played, feeling very odd indeed.

When they had finished and the dishes were cleared, Melisande ordered a third glass of wine poured and dismissed the servants. "Phèdre, join us," she said, setting the glass at Baudoin's elbow. "Drink."

I set down the harp and rose obediently, coming to stand next to him. I tasted the wine, and it was very good; subtle and spicy, with an undertone of currants and rich earth.

"So you were raised at Cereus House," Baudoin mused, grey eyes beginning to gleam. His hands encircled my waist and he lifted me to his lap effortlessly, so smoothly my wine didn't even spill. He was a trained warrior, and strong as steel with it. "Will you squirm with discomfort, then, like the adepts of that House, to be so treated?"

"No, my prince." His hands were at my hips now, pressing down. Beneath layers of cloth-of-gold and his velvet breeches, I could feel his phallus stir against my buttocks. My breath caught in my throat.

"Phèdre is an anguissette, my prince." Across the table, Melisande's face shone by candlelight, fair and beautiful and heartless. "If she squirms, it is not with discomfort."

"It is hard to fathom." He ran a hand up my body to cup my breast, squeezing it. My nipple hardened against his palm. "But you speak the truth," Baudoin said to Melisande, pinching my nipple. I gasped at the bolt of pain, rocking back against him. "And you've attired her fit for a prince." He transferred his hand to my hair, digging his fingers into the gold mesh and drawing my head back. I felt his mouth at my bared throat, sucking at my flesh. "Shall I have her for dessert?" he asked, lifting his head and laughing.

Melisande shrugged, sipping her wine and watching, cool and lovely. "You have all night, my prince; this is not dessert, but only the first course. Have her here at the table if you wish."

"So I shall," he said, smiling at her. "For I've a wish to see if this desire is truly unfeigned."

And with that he rose, pushing me down across the table and lifting my skirts. With one hand at the back of my neck, he kept me effortlessly in place as he undid his breeches. My cheek was pressed hard against the white linen that covered the table; all I could see was my overturned goblet of wine, and the pale red stain of wine seeping across the tablecloth as he thrust himself into me.

Baudoin de Trevalion was no green lad, and he had had years of training at Melisande Shahrizai's hands. If I hoped he would spend himself quickly and hasten an end to my humiliation, I hoped in vain. I closed my eyes and whimpered as he moved inside me with long, slow strokes. "Truth again, my lady," I heard him say above me, laughter and astonishment in his voice. "She is hotter than Camael's forge inside, and wetter than Eisheth's tears."

A chair scraped and I heard Melisande rise, knew by the rustle of clothing that she had come around to stand behind him. I could hear her hands slide over the breast of his doublet and knew that she whispered at his ear. "Do it hard, my love," her rich voice breathed. "I want to watch you make her spend."

Tears trickled from beneath my closed lids as he laughed, obeying her order, bringing me to the brink of pleasure with fierce, hard thrusts.

"Mmm." Melisande's voice, low with approval. "My love, you do well." She touched my cheek, grazing it with her fingertips, and gave the command coolly. "Now, Phèdre."

I obeyed without volition, shuddering at the force of my climax and crying out. Baudoin laughed again and thrust once more, twice, letting himself spend.

"Ah," he said, withdrawing from me. "We should have one of these, my lady. Shall we buy one at market, do you think?"

Relieved of his weight, I straightened slowly, turning to meet Meli-sande's amused eyes. "You will not find one such as Phèdre, my prince," she assured him. "And her service is pledged only to Naamah and Anafiel Delaunay. But come, you have tasted only the smallest part of what it is to have an adept kissed by Kushiel's Dart. If you would know the full of it, the night lies at our disposal. Unless you wish to give the signale?" she added wryly, addressing the last to me.

"My lady knows I do not," I said softly. I did not care how skilled a lover Baudoin de Trevalion was; he would never hear the signale spoken from my lips. Nor, while she served his pleasure, would Melisande Shahrizai. If she could wait, so could I. That much, I vowed to myself.

Melisande laughed. "Well, then," she said, going to the far doors and flinging them open. "We shall play."

Beyond the dining hall lay a pleasure-chamber. Through the door, I could see it bathed in firelight, cushion-strewn, with a complete flagellary and a wooden wheel with manacles, an exact replica of the one I had seen in the halls of Valerian House. Baudoin looked at Melisande and smiled.

I thought of Hyacinthe's name and bit my tongue.

But if it is true that no soul is free of the touch of Kushiel's fire, it also true that in most, it is a mere smolder. Baudoin de Trevalion did not burn with it, without Melisande to fan the spark in him. It was her I feared, and not him; I made no protest as I was ushered into the pleasure-chamber and gently stripped of my cloth-of-gold. Melisande's touch was cool as she guided me onto the wheel and fastened the manacles about my wrists and ankles. Baudoin examined the flagellary, picking up a tawse and fingering the slit in the center of the leather paddle.

"How is it done?" he asked, turning to Melisande and raising his eyebrows. "Do I give a Skaldic war cry and charge at her?" He hefted the tawse two-handed, holding it like an axe. "Waldemar Selig!" he shouted, then laughed.

On the wheel, I started with surprise. Melisande looked patiently at Baudoin. "There is no 'how' to it, my prince. You may do as you wish." Making certain that I was secured, she tugged the wheel.

It was well-crafted and beautifully maintained, turning smoothly and soundlessly. The pleasure-chamber, and Melisande and Baudoin in it, rotated in my vision. I hadn't reckoned how disorienting it would be, as the blood rushed to my head, then receded as I came rightside-up again. As the wheel inverted me once more, I saw Melisande select a scourge from the flagellary. "Like this, my love," she said to Baudoin. The world careened around me as Melisande snapped her wrist sharply, then vanished briefly in a haze of red as the weighted tips of the scourge bit at my skin.

The sound like a harpstring rang in my head, and I saw Kushiel's face swimming in the distance, stern and bronze. Then it faded, and there was only the dizzying vision and the ebb-tide of blood in my head. Melisande replaced the scourge and nodded to Baudoin. "As you wish," she said softly.

After that, he stepped up to it, and my flesh knew the slap of the tawse, the flat wash of pain where it landed, with a thin sharp line from the slit in the middle that felt as if it split my skin every time it landed. The wheel turned, and I knew not where I was, nor where the next blow would fall; but the red haze never returned. When at last he wearied of it, he turned to Melisande, drawing her reverently over to the cushions. I was left hanging, partially inverted. Before the pressure of my own blood grew too much and consciousness left me, I saw him undo her gown and draw it off slowly, tracing its path with his lips, kneeling before her. Melisande saw me watching and smiled, and then I saw no more.

I do not know how long I hung there, nor who took me down; I woke in the morning in a strange bed, and was treated like a guest by the servants when I arose.

Melisande came into the dining hall as I broke my fast, looking fresh and composed. "The coach is ready, and Delaunay's man is waiting." She set a purse on the table near me. "The gown is yours to keep, of course, and this is in honor of Naamah." Her blue gaze rested on me, filled with amusement. "You are indeed a gift fit for a Prince, Phèdre."

"My thanks, my lady," I said automatically, taking the purse. My limbs moved stiffly today. The purse was heavy, and clinked of gold. I regarded her thoughtfully. "Fit for a farewell gift, my lady? Who is saying good-bye?"

The beautifully arched eyebrows rose a fraction, and Melisande inclined her head. "Delaunay's pupil, indeed," she said, and gave her liquid laugh. "I will answer, if you tell me what you know of Waldemar Selig."

I made no reply. Melisande laughed again, and stooped to kiss my cheek. "Give your lord Delaunay my regards," she said, straightening and caressing my hair affectionately. "We will meet again, my anguissette. And perhaps the next time there will be no Prince between us."

And with that, she left.


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