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THOUGH IT was not my art to do it in the bedchamber—indeed, my gift lay in my very inability to do so—I am fairly well-skilled at dissembling. In all this time, for example, no patron of mine ever suspected the nature of my education as Delaunay's anguissette save Melisande Shahrizai, but she was a separate matter. Even Childric d'Essoms, who knew in his bones that Delaunay had a game at stake, never fathomed my part in it until the day I told him.

But if I thought my skills considerable, they were nothing to Alcuin's. I had heard in his voice and seen in his face the depth of his loathing for Vitale Bouvarre, yet in the days before his final assignation, no trace of it reflected in his demeanor. He was the same as he had always been, gentle-spirited and gracious, calmly accepting whatever fate dealt his way.

That which yields, I thought, is not always weak.

True to his word, Guy told Delaunay that Alcuin and I should be taught to sit a horse properly. Delaunay agreed, and Cecilie Laveau-Perrin graciously offered the usage of her country estate. It was still maintained by the seneschal appointed by her late husband, the Chevalier Perrin, when he had accepted his post as a counselor to the King.

We spent four days at Perrinwolde, and when I think back upon it, they were four of the happiest days of my life. Something in Delaunay eased in the country, a reserve that was so much a part of him I scarce noticed it. The manor was rustic, but clean and well-kept. The food was simple but good, and the seneschal's wife, Heloise, prided herself on having a hand in its preparation.

The riding lessons themselves were a pain and a delight at once. To Alcuin's and my mutual chagrin, we were placed in the charge of a grinning lad of eleven who sat bareback atop his shaggy pony as if he'd spent his whole life astride it. But once we put our dignity aside—which incident, I am happy to say, involved a headlong spill, a midden-heap and Alcuin, rather than me—we found him to be an excellent tutor. By the third day, we were neither of us as sore as we had been, and Delaunay gauged us proficient enough to be taught a few of the niceties of a nobleman's seat.

Our last morning, the seneschal called for a hunt in the early hours, to put a final test to the skill Alcuin and I had gained. The sun rose in the east, long rays slanting over the fertile earth. Green fields scarce touched with autumn's gold rushed past as we hurtled over them; peasants shouted, waving their hats. Far ahead, the hounds belled on the trail of scent.

We caught up with the front-runners in the orchard; the fox had gone to earth, and the hounds nosed about its den, giving mournful tongue while the riders milled in the open air. One of the men-at-arms whooped, and wheeled his mount; amid shouting and hallooing, half the hunt dashed back the way it had come, and I saw Alcuin among them, dark eyes shining, his white hair loosed from its braid, lashing his cheek like sea-foam as he turned his horse so sharply it near sat in its haunches. For this, like other things, he had a natural gift.

By the time we gained the manor, Delaunay's ease had perceptibly lessened. Surely he was no less cordial, but there was a measure of distance in his manner as he laughed and jested, paying the promised sum to the winner. We took our leave after the noon meal was served, and I daresay it was a regretful one on all sides.

There are those who hold that there is a pattern to all that is said and done in this world, that no thing happens without reason nor out of time. As to that, I cannot speak, for I have seen too many threads cut short to believe it, but of a surety, I have seen too the weft of my fate shuttled on the loom. If there is a pattern, I do not think there is anyone among us who can stand at a great enough distance to discern it; yet I will not say that it is not so. I do not know. This, though, I know is true: If Alcuin had not learned to ride in that week's span, events would likely have fallen out differently. And if Hyacinthe had not placed his wager as he had... if he had not decided his earnings were blood-cursed, and Guy had not been forced to chase us through the City...who can say? I would not second-guess fate.

True to my word, I said nothing of Alcuin's assignation with Vitale Bouvarre. Delaunay had given his approval and the contract had been signed before ever we left for Perrinwolde. When the night arrived, there was some minor confusion over the matter of conveyance—Bouvarre sent his coach, when Delaunay thought to send Alcuin in his own—but the matter was easily settled. Delaunay accepted Bouvarre's offer of conveyance, on the contingency that Guy accompanied Alcuin.

This was a matter of course; indeed, a part of our contract, so no one thought anything of it.

If Bouvarre thought twice about it, I do not know. The contract specified merely that Alcuin or I would be accompanied by a liveried servant of the Delaunay household. Because Delaunay was not landed—so we believed—he was not officially entitled to have men-at-arms, and Guy was never sanctioned thusly. He was a quiet man, always, and there was nothing about him that marked him as a man of weapons. Many men affect a dagger at the waist; if he wore two, still, there was nothing else about him to suggest he had been trained by the Cassiline Brotherhood. I had known him for years, and never suspected.

The matter of the coach resolved, Delaunay gave Alcuin his blessing. As we never took assignations for the same night, I was there to see him off. He wore the same garb he had worn for his debut, the fawn breeches and the white blouse; Vitale's request, I assumed. His expression, calm and tranquil, never faltered, but his hands when I grasped them were ice-cold. I drew his head down to kiss his cheek—he had grown that much taller than I—and murmured, "Be well." Alcuin's lashes flickered, but he gave no other sign of hearing.

Thus he left us for the arms of Vitale Bouvarre.

It was well into the small hours of the morning when he returned.

Sound asleep, I thought that I dreamed, and in my dreams Gaspar Trevalion returned, shouting in the courtyard for Delaunay, loud and terrible. Even after I woke, it took me some moments to place the voice, for I had never heard Alcuin raise his. Then I scrambled out of bed at all speed, throwing on the first garment that came to hand and racing downstairs.

Half the household was there already, shocked and bleary-eyed behind raised torches. Delaunay had dressed as hastily as I, and his shirt was half-askew, caught up in the sword-belt he had lashed round his waist. "What is it?" he was shouting, as I emerged into the courtyard.

Alcuin was astride one of the coach-horses, legs clamped to her sides, wrestling with the severed reins. Maddened with fear, she plunged wildly, her traces dangling, nostrils flaring. Alcuin struggled to hold her in check, and his face was grim. "The coach was attacked," he cried, hauling back sharply on the reins. The mare's head came up, foam flying from her mouth where the bit sawed at her lips. Alcuin's white shirt was amber in the torchlight, but I could see a spreading dark stain across the ribs. "By the river. Guy's holding them off, but there are too many. He cut the traces."

For a split second, Delaunay stared, then turned to the nearest man, shoving him. "Get my horse!"

Already there were lights kindling in the stable. Now wide-awake, Delaunay grabbed the carriage-horse's bridle, bringing her to a standstill by force of arm and will. Alcuin swung his leg over and dismounted, grimacing as he hit the ground.

"Are you...?" Delaunay reached out a hand to him.

With startling speed, Alcuin struck his hand away, face set with rage. "This wouldn't have happened if you had taught me to use a blade!"

At that moment, a lad emerged from the stables at a run, leading Delaunay's saddle horse. Delaunay turned away, mounting in a flash and grabbing up the reins. "Where?" he asked coldly.

Alcuin pressed his hand to his side. "Near the elm grove."

Without a reply, Delaunay wheeled his horse and set out, striking sparks against the flagstones. With a sound somewhere between a laugh and a sob, Alcuin sagged to the floor of the courtyard. A bulging purse at his belt struck the stones, gold coins spilling out. I hurried to his side. "My marque, Phèdre," he gasped as I pushed untold wealth out of the way. "Unless I am wrong, Guy will bear the cost of it."

"Shhh." I held him in my arms, and unbuttoned his shirt deftly; if I was good at nothing else, that much, at least, I could do. I slid my hand inside and felt the wound, covering it with my palm, holding back the pulsing blood. Torches stooped low around us, faces peering to look. I wished we were at Perrinwolde, where Heloise would surely know what to do. "Get a physician!" I shouted. "Hovel, Bevis... send for the Yeshuite doctor! Now!"

I do not know how long I held Alcuin against the chill flagstones of the courtyard that night, while footsteps raced around us and voices muttered. It seemed like hours. His blood seeped warm between my fingers and his face grew pale, while I whispered prayers above him and apologized to Elua and all his Companions for every jealous thought I had ever had. When I saw the dark, solemn face of the Yeshuite doctor bending over Alcuin, it was the most beautiful sight I had ever seen.

"What is he doing on the cold stones?" he asked, clicking his tongue in disapproval. "Do you want him to take a chill and die, if this wound doesn't kill him? You...and you, there, carry him into the house."

I relinquished my burden with gratitude, my fingers stuck together with Alcuin's blood. He rolled his eyes in my direction as they lifted him, thanking me without words, and I gathered up the fallen coins and followed them into the house. Alcuin was esconced on the nearest couch, and the doctor cut his shirt away with expert shears.

The wound was long and deep, but not mortal. "You have lost much blood," the Yeshuite said matter-of-factly, threading a long needle with silk, "but you will not die of this, I think, because I am here." He plied his needle without speaking for a time, and Alcuin hissed through his teeth. When it was done, he called for strong spirits, and washed the wound, then bandaged it and gave me a container of salve. "You know to use this, I think," he said, and the irony was not lost on me despite his strange accent. "Tell Lord Delaunay to send for me if it mortifies."

Alcuin fumbled at his purse, spilling out coins. I plucked one from the floor and gave it to the doctor. He took it, then glanced at me with raised eyebrows.

"It is a hard life you lead. I hope it is worth the cost." I had no answer for that, nor did Alcuin, had he strength to speak. The doctor bowed, and one of the servants showed him silently to the door.

It opened before he could make his exit, Delaunay entering with a dreadful look on his face and the limp form of Guy in his arms. The doctor paused, laying one hand on Guy's throat and feeling for a pulse. Delaunay looked at him without speaking. The doctor shook his head. "For him, it is too late," he said quietly.

"I know," Delaunay said. He paused, a shadow crossing his face as he searched for courtesy. "Thank you."

The doctor shook his head again, sidelocks swinging, and murmured something in his own tongue. "It is nothing," he said, and though his voice was curt, he touched Delaunay's arm briefly before he left. The door closed behind him. Delaunay laid Guy's body down carefully, arranging his lifeless limbs as if he could still feel discomfort.

"You should have told me," he said to Alcuin. "You should have told me the bargain you made."

"If I had told you," Alcuin whispered, "you wouldn't have let me make it." He closed his eyes, and the tears that the Yeshuite's needle hadn't bidden seeped from beneath his lids. "But I never meant anyone else to bear the price."

Delaunay sank down on his knees, bowing his head over Guy's body and pressing his hands against his eyes. I hovered between staying and leaving, wanting to leave him to grieve alone, and not knowing if I should. But his head rose, a terrible imperative in his gaze that outweighed even guilt and grief. "Who was it?" he asked, voice scarce more than a whisper.

"Theérèse...and Dominic Stregazza." Alcuin's eyes opened a crack, speech coming with difficulty. "Prince Benedicte's daughter."

Delaunay covered his eyes again, and a shudder racked him. "Thank you," he whispered. "Blessed Elua, I am sorry, but thank you."

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