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IN THE end, the executions were held privately.

It was a matter of much speculation, for the Lioness of Azzalle had threatened to grieve her brother through the final minute of her life by whatever means she could, and surely a public execution would have raised much ill-feeling against him; but at the last, her pride won out. She would die with dignity, and not on display for the masses. It was a swift-acting poison, I am told; she drank it straight off, and laid down to wake no more.

Of Baudoin, it was said that he died well. When he was told that his mother had chosen a private death, he called for his sword. The King ordered his bonds struck, and his own Captain of the Guard to stand at second. But whatever his flaws, Baudoin de Trevalion was a Prince of the Blood and no coward. When he fell on his sword, he aimed true, the point positioned directly over his heart. The Captain of the Guard sheathed his blade unused.

A strange and somber mood held the City in the aftermath of the trial and execution. I felt it myself. To mourn their deaths would have been to sympathize with high treason; yet mourn we did. For as long as I could remember, the Lioness had ruled in Azzalle, and her wild boy had been the D'Angelines' darling: the Sun Prince, the daring war-leader. Now they were gone, and her husband and daughter wandered in exile. The shape of our world was forever changed.

Even Hyacinthe, by nature cynical about the fate of nobility, was touched by it. He had placed a considerable wager on the manner of death Lyonette and Baudoin de Trevalion would choose, but a morbid superstition was on him when he collected his winnings on the following day.

"It is blood-cursed," he said with a shudder, holding up a silver regal. "Do you see, Phèdre? There is a shadow on it."

"What will you do?" I asked. "Give it away?"

"And pass on the curse?" He looked at me in shock. "Do you think I have no more scruples than that?" He shook his head, dispelling the idea. "No, I cannot use this profit for gain. I'll use it to make an offering to Azza and Elua. Come, let's see if there are mounts to be had at the stable."

The youth tending the stables that afternoon was familiar, a long-time errand boy and message-runner. He left off dicing with a groom and jumped up with a grin. "Off to play the lordling about town, Hyas? Good day for it, it's quieter than Cassiel's bedchamber around here."

"It'll pick up, once they set out to drown their sorrows," Hyacinthe said, sounding certain of it. With a sidelong glance at me, he added in a less confident tone, "Just bring out the quietest two, will you? And fetch a lady's saddle for Phèdre noé Delaunay."

The lad hadn't seen me standing in Hyacinthe's shadow, but he moved with alacrity at mention of my name, which made me smile. In Night's Doorstep, the D'Angeline streetfolk knew better than to stand in awe of the self-styled Prince of Travellers, but Delaunay's anguissette was another matter. I wore the dark-brown cloak and not the sangoire, but Hyacinthe took care that his friends knew who I was. It added to his prestige, and they in turn took care that I was well-guarded, so both of us gained by it.

Once mounted, we struck out through the City at a careful pace. In the distance behind us, I heard a skittering of hooves and a muttered curse, and turned to see if I could catch a glimpse of Guy, wondering if he had been forced to lease a mount from Hyacinthe's stable. Though he was nowhere in sight, I did not doubt but that he was there.

The streets were largely empty, and where people were, they stood about in small groups, talking quietly. I saw black armbands on not a few D'Angeline arms, but their bearers turned away quickly, not wanting their faces marked.

"Do you grieve for him?" Hyacinthe asked softly. A carter approached from the opposite direction, and I did not answer immediately. I was no more skilled a rider than Hyacinthe.

"Prince Baudoin?" I asked, when the street was clear. Hyacinthe nodded. I thought of his careless arrogance, his insulting manner, his hand at my neck pressing me against the table. And I thought of my first sight of Baudoin, bright with wine and merriment, the mask of Azza askew on his brow. He had named me joy-bearer, and kissed me for luck, I remembered; and nine years later, Melisande Shahrizai had presented me to him with a kiss of death. I had known, and I had kept my silence. Truly, I had brought him all the luck of my ill-chosen name. "Yes."

"I'm sorry." He touched my arm lightly, his gaze questioning. "Is it that bad?"

I had not told him everything, nor could I. Even now, I merely shook my head. "No. Never mind. Let's go on, to the temple."

We rode in silence for a while. "There will be other princes," he remarked presently, glancing at me. "And one day, when you have made your marque, you will no longer be a vrajna servant, you know."

The temple of Azza beckoned in the distance, slanting beams of sunlight setting its copper dome ablaze. I cocked my head at Hyacinthe. "And will I then be worthy, O Prince of Travellers?"

Hyacinthe flushed. "I didn't mean...oh, never mind. Come on, I'll share the offering with you."

"I don't need charity from you," I spat at him, digging my heels into the mare's sides. She obliged by breaking into a brief trot, which set me to bouncing ungracefully in the saddle.

"We give each other what we can spare, and what we can accept," he said cheerfully, grinning as he drew alongside. "And that is as it ever has been between us, Phèdre. Friends?"

At that, I made another face, but he was right. "Friends," I agreed reluctantly, for I loved him dearly despite our quarrels. "And you will share the offering by half, yes?"

So it was that we came, bickering mildly, to the temple of Azza, and gave our horses into the hostler's keeping. I was not surprised to see that the temple was well-attended that day. House Trevalion was of Azza's lineage, and I had seen the black armbands. Inside the temple, hundreds of candles burned and banks of flowers lined the walls. The priests and priestesses of Azza wore saffron tunics with the crimson chlamys, or half-cloak, fastened with bronze brooches. Each of them wore the bronze mask of Azza, individual features lost behind the mask's forbidding beauty; though none, I daresay, was so finely wrought as the one Baudoin had worn to the Midwinter Masque.

We gave our offerings unto a priestess, who bowed, and gave in turn to each of us a small bowl of incense, and we took our places in line to await our turns. I gazed at the statue of Azza upon the altar as we waited. The same face echoed in a dozen masks about us gazed forth above the altar, proud and beautiful in its disdain. Azza held one hand open, palm upwards; in the other, he held a sextant, for that was his gift to mankind. Knowledge, forbidden knowledge, to navigate the world that was.

Hyacinthe went first, and then it was my turn. I knelt before the offering-fire, and the priest at the altar sprinkled me with his aspergillum, murmuring a blessing. "If I have sinned against the scions of Azza, forgive me," I whispered, tilting my bowl. Grains of incense spilled like gold into the flame, which burned briefly with a greenish tinge. The rising smoke stung my eyes. Mindful of the line behind me, I rose and gave my bowl over to the waiting acolyte, then hurried to join Hyacinthe.

The temple of Elua was quieter. No doubt people bore in mind that if Lyonette and Baudoin de Trevalion were scions of Elua, so much the more so was House Courcel, against whom they had committed treason.

There is no roof on Elua's temples, only pillars to mark its four quarters. Always, by tradition, the inner sanctum itself stands open beneath the heavens, unpaved, free to grow as it will. In the City's Great Temple, ancient oak trees flank the altar and a profusion of growth flourishes amidst the temple grounds, flowers and weeds alike lovingly tended. By the time we arrived, it was nigh-dusk, and the sky overhead was a deepening hue, the first stars emerging as pinpricks of light.

Barefoot and robed in blue, a priestess met us with the kiss of greeting, and an acolyte knelt to remove our shoes, that we might walk unshod in the presence of Blessed Elua. Our offerings were taken, and scarlet anemones pressed into our hands, to lay upon the altar.

The statue of Elua that stands in the great temple is one of the oldest works of D'Angeline art. By some reckoning, it is crude, but I have never thought so. It is carved of marble, and vaster than the size of a man. He stands with unbound hair and an eternal smile, gaze cast down upon this world. Both hands are empty. One is extended in offering, and the other is scored with the mark of his wound, the blood he shed to mark his affinity with humankind. Birds and an occasional bat flitted about the trees as Hyacinthe and I approached under the darkling sky, the advent of night leeching all color from the scarlet anemones we bore. The earth was moist beneath my feet.

Again I let Hyacinthe precede me, but this time no words came as I made my offering. In the presence of Elua, all was known, and all forgiven. I touched the fingers of the marble hand he extended, knelt and laid my blossoms at his feet. Stooping, I pressed my lips to the cool marble of Elua's foot, and felt peace pervade me. I do not know how long I lingered, but a priest came, hands on my shoulders bidding me to rise. He met my eyes as I did so, and his gentle smile did not falter. In his kind gaze, I saw knowledge and acceptance of all that I was. "Kushiel's Dart," he murmured, touching my hair, "and Naamah's Servant. May the blessing of Elua be upon you, child."

Though Hyacinthe waited in the grove beyond, I knelt again, taking the priest's hands and kissing them in gratitude. He allowed me a moment, then drew me to my feet once more. "Love as thou wilt, and Elua will guide your steps, no matter how long the journey. Go with his blessing."

I went, then, grateful for the respite and finding my heart eased by the offering. "Thank you," I said to Hyacinthe, joining him once more. He looked curiously at me.

"For what?"

"For giving what you had to spare," I said, as we reclaimed our footware from the acolyte at the gate. I leaned over to kiss his cheek as he drew on his boots. "For being my friend."

"Patrons you can count by the score." Hyacinthe tugged at a boot and grinned at me. "But I reckon there are few enough can claim friendship of Delaunay's anguissette."

It was true, which did not stop me from slapping him on the shoulder for saying so, and thus we left as we had come, bickering, but with our hearts—and our purses—lighter for it. The hostler of the temple stables brought our mounts around, and we rode back toward Night's Doorstep in good spirits, making wild dashes through the alleyways in an effort to lose Guy, always unseen, but omnipresent.

Thus it was that we came upon the Shahrizai.

We emerged into the market square of Night's Doorstep. Hyacinthe saw them first and checked his mount, moving without thinking, his hands sure on the reins. I drew my horse up, and gazed past him.

Flanked by servants bearing torches, the Shahrizai rode together, gorgeous in their black-and-gold brocade, singing with Kusheline accents as they rode, swinging their whips and crops, bound for Mont Nuit. The women wore their hair loose; the men wore it in small braids, falling like linked chains around their pale, gorgeous features. Darkness was full on us and the torchlight glimmered on their blue-black hair, picked out highlights on their brocaded coats. I stared at them over the neck of Hyacinthe's bay horse, picking out Melisande in their midst effortlessly.

As if an unseen bolt connected us, her gaze found mine, and she raised her hand, halting their band.

"Phèdre noé Delaunay," she called, voice rich with amusement. "Well met. Will you come with us, then, to Valerian House?"

I would have answered, though I know not what I would have said, if Hyacinthe had not heeled his bay, dancing sideways between me and the Shahrizai.

"She is with me tonight," he said, his voice tight.

Melisande laughed, and her Shahrizai kin laughed with her, tall and beautiful, brothers and cousins alike. If I could not match the faces, I knew the names, all of them, from Delaunay's long teaching: Tabor, Sacriphant, Persia, Marmion, Fanchone. All beautiful, but none to match her. "So you are her little friend," Melisande mused, her gaze searching Hyacinthe's face. "The one they call the Prince of Travellers. Well, and I have it on good authority, you have never been beyond the City walls. Still, if I cross your palm with gold, will you tell me of what will be, Tsingano?"

At that, the Shahrizai laughed again. I saw Hyacinthe's back stiffen, but his face as he replied, I never saw. It mattered naught; I had heard it in his mother's voice, and I heard it in his. "This I will tell you, Star of the Evening," he said in a cold voice, bowing formally to her, the distant tone of the dromonde in his telling. "That which yields, is not always weak. Choose your victories wisely."

If ever I had doubted that Melisande Shahrizai was dangerous, I doubted it no more that night, for alone among her kin, she did not laugh and jest, but narrowed her eyes in thought. "Something for nothing, from a Tsingano? That is something indeed. Marmion, pay him, that there be no debt between us."

One name, at least, to a fair Shahrizai face; a younger brother or cousin, I guessed, from the good-natured speed with which he obeyed, digging in his purse for a gold coin and tossing it in Hyacinthe's direction. The coin flashed in the torchlight, and Hyacinthe plucked it neatly from the air, bowing with a flourish and tucking it into his purse. "My thanks, O Star of the Evening," he said in his normally unctuous Prince of Travellers tone.

At that, Melisande did laugh. "Your friends never fail to amuse in their honesty," she said to me. I made no reply. Someone gave an order to the servants, and the Shahrizai began to move onward, taking up their song. Melisande joined them, then wheeled her horse. "As for Baudoin de grieve in your way," she said, her gaze making contact with mine once more, "and I in mine."

I nodded, glad of Hyacinthe's presence between us. Melisande smiled briefly, then put heels to her horse, catching up to her party with ease.

Hyacinthe let out his breath in a long sigh, brushing his black ringlets back. "That, if I am not mistaken, is the jewel of House Shahrizai, yes?"

"You spoke the dromonde without knowing?" My placid mare tossed her head; I glanced down and saw that my hands trembled on the reins.

"One's future knows one's name; it matters not if the teller knows," he said absently. "That was Melisande Shahrizai, wasn't it? I've heard songs about her."

"Whatever they sing, it's no more than the truth, and only a portion of it at that." I watched them disappear around a corner at the end of the street. "Stranger to tell, she knew who you were, and they sing no songs about you, Hyacinthe."

His white grin flashed in the darkness. "They do, actually. Haven't you heard the one Phaniel Douartes wrote about the Prince of Travellers and the Wealthy Comtesse? It's a great favorite at the Cockerel. But I take your meaning." He shrugged. "She is a friend of Delaunay's; mayhap he told her. Still, it is something, to so catch the interest of a Prince's consort. I suppose you should be flattered."

"Her interest is first in Delaunay's intrigues," I murmured. "As for the rest, she is Kushiel's line. It is writ in her blood as surely as mine is writ in my gaze."

"That much is obvious," Hyacinthe said dryly. "Only Kushelines would do their grieving at Valerian House, and only you would be fool enough to go with them."

"I didn't—"

"Nor would you," a third voice said behind us, flat and inflectionless in the dark. I twisted in the saddle to see Guy, unmounted, leaning against the alley walls with his arms folded. He raised his eyebrows at me. "I'm sure you wouldn't betray Lord Delaunay's trust in such a way, would you, Phèdre?"

"I thought you were on horseback," I said, for lack of a better response. Guy snorted.

"The way the two of you ride? Easy enough to follow on foot. Though you've a knack for it, when you forget to think about it," he added to Hyacinthe. To me, he said, "You, Delaunay should have taught. And if you've had enough of leading me on a merry chase, I'll take you home to him and tell him so."

There was no gainsaying Guy once his mind was settled. We returned the horses to the stable, and he had the coach brought round. Hyacinthe grinned at my annoyance, and it galled me, as it usually did not, to be subject to Delaunay's will. Guy merely gave me a resigned shrug, and called to the driver to take us home.

Delaunay was not even there, I discovered when we arrived, and was galled twice over by the knowledge that Guy had dragged me out of Night's Doorstep of his own wishes.

The fact that he might have other things to do with his time than spend it shepherding his master's headstrong, thousand-ducat-a-night anguissette through one of the most unsavory quarters of the City never crossed my mind. For that, I can only say that I was young, and filled with all of youth's self-regard. If I had known what was to come, I would have acted differently toward Guy that night, for he had been kind enough, in his fashion, but I am ashamed to say that I treated him with sullen disregard.

Restless and irritated on my return, I prowled the house as if it were a prison and came upon Alcuin in the library. I was on the verge of giving vent to my frustration, but something in his face stopped me as he looked up from the letter he was reading.

"What is it?" I asked instead.

Alcuin folded the letter carefully, smoothing the creases. His white hair gleamed about his face as he bent to the task. "An offer. It came by messenger this evening, from Vitale Bouvarre."

I opened my mouth, and closed it. He glanced up sharply at me. "You know?" Alcuin had always been better than I at hearing the unsaid. I nodded.

"I overheard you, the night of Baudoin's natality." I paused. "I'm sorry. I didn't intend to eavesdrop, truly. I've said nothing of it."

"It doesn't matter." He tapped the folded letter against the desktop, lost in thought. "Why now, I wonder? Does he have somewhat less to fear, now that House Trevalion has fallen? Or does he fear he's outlived his use to the Stregazza?"

I perched on a chair opposite him. "He has seen peers of the realm point fingers at one of the Great Houses, Alcuin, and live to gain by it. It has made him bold, and if the profit outweighed his fear, he would do it publically." I shook my head. "He is sick with desire, and these events have made him rash enough to seek a cure, no more. Have a care with him."

"I will have care," Alcuin said grimly, "this once, and never again."

"Will you... tell that to Delaunay?" I asked hesitantly.

Alcuin shook his head. "Not until it's done. The letter says only that Vitale agrees to my request regarding a patron-gift. Let Delaunay think it's an assignation like any other; if he knew how I felt, he'd not let me go." His dark eyes dwelled intently on me. "Promise me you won't say anything?"

It was not much to ask, and he had never asked me for anything before; it was not Alcuin's fault he had been offered his freedom the very night I was chafing at my own bonds.

"I promise."


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