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WHY DID I run, on the day before I was scheduled to meet with Anafiel Delaunay, sometime potentate of the court—the real one—and potential buyer of my bond?

In truth, I know not, except that there was always a drive in me that sought out danger; for its own sake, for the chill it gave me or for the possible repercussion—who can say? I was thick with one of the scullery maids, and she had shown me the pear tree in the garden behind the kitchens, how it grew along the wall so one might climb it and thus over the wall.

I knew that the thing was done, for the Dowayne had told me a day prior, that I might be forewarned of the preparations to come. Truly, the adepts murmured, I would be prepared as if for a prince; washed, combed and adorned.

No one would say, of course, who Anafiel Delaunay was, nor why I should be grateful that he would come to look at me. Indeed, if any of them knew the whole truth, I would be much surprised to learn it now. But his name was spoken with a certain hush by the Dowayne of Cereus House, and there was no adept but took his or her cue from her.

So, between awe and fear, I bolted.

With skirts tucked about my waist, the pear tree was easy enough to navigate, and I jumped down unharmed on the far side of the wall. Cereus House sits atop the crest of a hill above the City of Elua. The wall lends it discretion, and there is nothing save the perfume of its gardens to distinguish it from the other estates that sprawl below it, wending down to the centre. It is, as are the others, marked with a discreet insignia upon the gate that admits patrons into its domain. For three years, I had been within those walls; now, outside, I gaped to see the bowl of the City open before me, ringed by gentle hills. There, the river cleft it like a broadsword; there, surely, was the Palace, gleaming in the sun.

A carriage went past at a good clip. Its curtains were drawn, but the coachman cast me a quick, wondering glance. Surely, if I did not move, someone would stop; I was conspicuous enough, a small girl-child in a damask gown, with my dark curls caught up in ribbons. And if the next coach stopped, surely someone inside would hear, and in a moment, the Dowayne's guards would be out to usher me gently back inside.

Elua was born unwanted to the Magdelene, and what had he done? Wandered, wandered the earth; so then, I resolved, I would follow his footsteps. I set off down the hill.

The closer I got to the City, the farther away it seemed. The broad, gracious streets lined with trees and gated manses gave way slowly to narrower, winding streets. These were filled with all manner of people, of a poorer sort than I was accustomed to seeing. I did not know, then, that below Mont Nuit, where the Thirteen Houses were situated, was a lower sort of entertainment; cafes frequented by poets and gentlefolk of ill-repute, unpedigreed bawdy houses, artists' dens, dubious chemists and fortunetellers. It gave spice, I learned later, to nobles venturing into the Night Court.

It was morning, though late. I clung to the edge of the street, overwhelmed by the noise and bustle. Above me, a woman leaned over a balustrade and emptied a washbasin into the street. Water splashed at my feet and I jumped back, watching it edge its way downhill, forming rivulets between the cobblestones. A gentleman rushing out of an unmarked establishment near to tripped over me and cursed.

"Watch yourself, child!" His voice was brusque. He hurried down the street, his pumps striking a rhythm on the stones. I noted that his hosen were rucked and twisted, as though he had donned them in a hurry, and the hood of his cassock was inside out. No patron but left Cereus House cool and collected, having enjoyed a glass of wine or cordial; but then, no patron of Cereus House would come for leisure clothed in fustian.

Around the next corner, a small square opened, pleasantly shaded with trees, a fountain in its centre; it was market day, and a clamour of vendors abounded. I had made my escape without provisions, and at the sight and smell of food, my stomach reminded me. I paused at the sweet-seller's stall, mulling over her comfits and marchepain; unthinking, I picked up an almond-paste sweet.

"Ye've touched it now, ye must be buying it!" The old woman's voice rang sharp in my ear. Startled, I dropped the sweet and looked up at her.

For a second she glowered, florid-faced, the sturdy country beauty of her bones hidden under the suet with which over-sampling her wares had given her. I stared back, trembling; and saw beneath her weighty dour a not-uncompassionate heart, and feared less.

And then she saw my eyes, and her face changed.

"Devil-spawn!" Her arm rose like a loaf of bread and one plump finger pointed at me. "Mark this child!"

No one had told me that the neighborhood below Mont Nuit was superstitious in the extreme. Vendors began to turn, hands reaching to catch hold of me. In an excess of terror, I bolted. Unfortunately, the first obstacle in my path was a stand of peaches, which I promptly upset. Stumbling on the vendor's wares, I measured my length beneath the market's awnings. Something squished unpleasantly under my left elbow, and the odor of bruised peaches surrounded me like a miasma. I heard the vendor roar with anger as he charged around the toppled stall toward me.

"Hsst!" From beneath another stand peered a small, swarthy face; a boy, near to my age. Grinning, his teeth white against his skin, he beckoned with one grimy hand.

I scrambled madly across the fruit-strewn ground, feeling a seam part as I tore loose from someone's grip on the back of my gown. My youthful savior wasted no time, shoving me past him, guiding me at a rapid crawl under an elaborate series of stalls. Excitement raced in my veins, and when we burst out of the market and gained our feet, taking to our heels ahead of the shouts, I thought my heart would burst with it.

A few of the younger men pursued us half-heartedly, giving up once we dodged into the labyrinth of streets. We pelted along anyway, not stopping until my savior judged it safe, ducking into a doorway and peering carefully behind us.

"We're safe," he pronounced with satisfaction. "They're too lazy to run more than a block, any road, unless you swipe somewhat big, like a ham." He turned back to look at me and whistled through his teeth. "You've a spot in your eye, like blood. Is that what the old hen was squawking about?"

After three years in pale, swooning Cereus House, he was positively exotic to my eyes. His skin was as brown as a Bhodistani's, his eyes black and merry, and his hair hung to his shoulders in curls of jet. "Yes," I said, and because I thought him beautiful, "What House are you from?"

He squatted on his heels. "I live on the Rue Coupole, near the temple."

The stoop was dirty, but my gown was dirtier. I gathered it around my knees and sat. "My mother was of Jasmine House. You have their coloring, yes?"

With one hand, he touched the ribbons twined in my hair. "These are nice. They'd fetch a few coppers, in the market." His eyes widened, showing the whites. "You're of the Night Court."

"Yes," I said, then; "No. I've the spot, in my eye. They want to sell me."

"Oh." He pondered it for a moment. "I'm Tsingani," he said presently, pride puffing his voice. "Or my mother is, at least. She tells fortunes in the square, except on market days, and takes in washing. My name's Hyacinthe."

"Phèdre," I told him.

"Where do you live?"

I pointed up the hill, or in the direction I thought the hill might lie; in the maze of streets, I had lost sense of home and City.

"Ah." He sucked in his breath, clicking tongue on teeth. He smelled, not unpleasantly, of unwashed boy. "Do you want me to take you home? I know all the streets."

In that moment, both of us heard the clatter of hooves, quick and purposeful, parting from the general noise of the City. Hyacinthe made as if to bolt, but they were on us already, drawing up the horses with a fine racket. Two of the Dowayne's Guard, they were, in the livery of Cereus House, a deep twilight blue bearing a subtle gold cereus blossom.

I was caught.

"There," one of them said, pointing at me, exasperation in his deep voice. His features were handsome and regular; members of the Cereus Guard were chosen for their looks as well as their skill at arms. "You've annoyed the Dowayne and upset the marketplace, girl." With one gloved hand, he reached down and plucked me into the air, gathering a wad of fabric at the nape of my neck into his grip. I dangled, helpless. "Enough."

With that, he sat me down on the saddle before him and turned his horse, glancing at his companion and jerking his head homeward. Hyacinthe scrambled into the street, dangerous beneath the horses' hooves, and the other guard cursed and flicked his crop at him.

"Out of my way, filthy Tsingano brat."

Hyacinthe avoided the lash with ease born of long-practiced dexterity and ran after the horses a few paces as we departed. "Phèdre!" he shouted. "Come back and see me! Remember, Rue Coupole!"

I craned my neck to see past the guard's blue-swathed chest, trying to catch a last sight of him, for I was sad to see him go. For a few minutes, he had been a friend, and I had never had one of those.

Upon our return to Cereus House, I found myself much in disgrace. I was denied the privilege of serving at the evening's entertainment and confined to my room without supper, although Ellyn, who was tenderhearted, concealed a morsel of biscuit in her napkin for me.

In the morning, the adept Suriah came for me. Tall and fair, she had been the one who had taken my hand that first day at Cereus House, and I fancied she harbored some little fondness for me. She brought me to the baths and unbraided my hair, sitting patient and watchful as I splashed about in the deep marble pools.

"Suriah," I said, presenting myself for inspection, "who is Anafiel Delaunay and why might he want me?"

"You've the odor of the common stews in your hair." She turned me gently, pouring soap with a sweet, elusive scent atop my head. "Messire Delaunay is known at the royal court." Her slim fingers coaxed a lather from the soap, marvelously soothing on my scalp. "And he is a poet. That is all I know."

"What sort of poetry?" Obedient to her gesture, I submerged myself, shaking my head underwater to dispel the soap. Her hands gathered my hair expertly as I rose, gently twisting the excess water from my locks.

"The kind that would make an adept of Eglantine House blush."

I smile now, to remember my outrage. Delaunay laughed aloud when I told him. "He writes bawdy lyrics? You mean I'm getting dressed out like a Carnival goose to be sold to some seed-stained scribbler with one hand in the inkwell and the other in his breeches?"

"Hush." Suriah gathered me in a towel, chafing my skin dry. "Where do you learn such language? No, truly, they say he is a great poet, or was. But he offended a lord, perhaps even a member of the House Royal, and now he no longer writes and his poems are banned. It is a bargain he made, Phèdre, and I do not know the story of it. It is whispered that once he was the paramour of someone very powerful, and his name is known at court still and there are those who fear him and that is enough. Will you behave?"

"Yes." I peered over her shoulder. Her gown was cut low enough in back that I could see her marque, intricate patterns of pale green vines and night-blue flowers twining up her spine, etched into her fair skin by the marquist's needle. It was nearly done. In another patron-gift or two, she would be able to complete it. With a last blossom to shape the finial at the nape of her neck, Suriah would have made her marque. After that, her debt to Naamah and the Dowayne alike was reckoned paid and she was free to leave Cereus House, if she willed it, or remain and tithe a portion of her fees to the House. She was nineteen, my mother's age. "Suriah, what's a Tsingano?"

"One of the travellers, the Tsingani." Drawing a comb through my wet curls, she made a moue of distaste, the frown that leaves no unpleasant lines. "What have you to do with them?"

"Nothing." I fell silent, submitting to her care. If the Dowayne's guards had said nothing, neither would I, for the keeping of secrets from adults is oft the only power a child may hope to possess.

In due course, I was groomed and made ready to meet Delaunay. As a child, of course, I was not painted, but my clean skin was lightly powdered and my shining, fresh-washed hair dressed with ribbons. Jareth Moran himself, the Dowayne's Second, came to fetch me to the audience. Awed, I clutched his hand and trotted beside him. He smiled down at me, once or twice.

We met not in the courtyard, but in the Dowayne's receiving room, an inner chamber with gracious appointments, designed for conversation and comfort alike.

There was a kneeling cushion set before the two chairs. Jareth released my hand as we entered, moving smoothly to stand at his post behind the Dowayne's chair. I scarce had time to glance at the two figures before I took my position, kneeling abeyante before them. The Dowayne, I knew; of Anafiel Delaunay, I had only an impression of lean height and russet hues before I knelt with bowed head and clasped hands.

For a long moment, there was only silence. I sat on my heels, hands clasped before me, itching in every particle of my being to look up and not daring to do so.

"She is a comely child," I heard at length spoken in a bored voice; a man's rich tenor, cultivated, but with the lack of modulation that only nobles can afford to display. I know this now, because Delaunay taught me to listen for such things. Then, I thought merely that he disliked me. "And the incident you describe intrigues. But I see nothing to intrigue me overmuch, Miriam. I've a pupil in hand these two years past; I'm not looking for another."


My head jerked up at the command in the old Dowayne's tone and I stared at her wide-eyed. She was looking at Delaunay and smiling faintly, so I transferred my gaze to him.

Anafiel Delaunay sat at his ease, canted languidly, elbow propped on the arm of the chair, contemplating me with his chin on his hand. He had very fine D'Angeline features, long and mobile, with long-lashed grey eyes flecked with topaz. His hair was a pleasing shade of ginger, and he wore a velvet doublet of deep brown. His only adornment was a fine chain of chased gold-work. His sleeves were russet, a hint of topaz silk gleaming in the slashes. He stretched his well-turned legs out lazily, clad in rich brown, the heel of one highly polished boot propped on the toe of the other. And as he studied me, his booted heel dropped to the floor with a thud.

"Elua's Balls!" He gave a bark of laughter that startled me. I saw Jareth and the Dowayne exchange a quick glance. Delaunay unfolded himself from the chair in one smooth, elegant motion, lowering himself to one knee before me. He took my face in both hands. "Do you know what mark you bear, little Phèdre?"

His voice had turned caressing and his thumbs stroked my cheekbones, perilously close to my eyes. I quivered between his hands like a rabbit in a trap, longing... longing for him to do something, something terrible, fearful that he would, rigid with suppressing it.

"No," I breathed.

He took his hands away, touching my cheek briefly in reassurance, and stood. "Kushiel's Dart," he said, and laughed. "You've an anguissette on your hands, Miriam; a true anguissette. Look at the way she trembles, even now, caught between fear and desire."

"Kushiel's Dart." There was an echo of uncertainty in Jareth's voice. The Dowayne sat unmoving, her expression shrewd. Anafiel Delaunay crossed to the side table and poured himself a glass of cordial uninvited.

"You should keep better archives," he said, amused, then spoke in a deeper voice. " 'Mighty Kushiel, of rod and weal/Late of the brazen portals/With blood-tipp'd dart a wound unhealed/Pricks the eyen of chosen mortals.' " His voice returned to its conversational tone. "From the marginalia of the Leucenaux version of the Eluine Cycle, of course."

"Of course," the Dowayne murmured, composed. "Thank you so much, Anafiel. Jean-Baptiste Marais at Valerian House will be gratified to learn it."

Delaunay raised one eyebrow. "I do not say that the adepts of Valerian House are unskilled in the arts of algolagnia, Miriam, but how long has it been since they've had a true anguissette under their roof?"

"Too long."

Her tone was honey-sweet, but butter wouldn't melt in the old woman's mouth. I watched, fascinated and forgotten. I wanted desperately for Anafiel Delaunay to prevail. He had laid his poet's hands on me and changed my very nature, transformed the prick of my unworth to a pearl of great price. Only Melisande Shahrizai ever named what I was so surely and swiftly; but that was later, and a different matter. As I watched, Delaunay shrugged eloquently.

"Do it, and she'll go to waste; another whipping-toy for the hamfisted sons of merchants. I can make of her such a rare instrument that princes and queens will be moved to play exquisite music upon her."

"Except, of course, that you already have a pupil."

"Indeed." He drank off his cordial at one draught, set down the glass and leaned against the wall, folded his arms across his chest, smiling. "I am willing, for the sake of Kushiel's Dart, to consider a second. Have you set a bond-price?"

The Dowayne licked her lips, and I rejoiced to see her tremble at bargaining with him, even as my mother had trembled before her. This time, when she named a price, there was no surety in her voice.

It was high, higher than any bond-price set in my years at Cereus House. I heard Jareth draw in his breath softly.

"Done," Anafiel Delaunay said promptly, straightening with a negligent air. "I'll have my steward draw up the papers in the morning. She'll foster here until the age of ten as customary, yes?"

"As you wish, Anafiel." The Dowayne bowed her head to him. I could see, from my kneeling perspective, how she bit her cheek in ire at having set the bond-price so low he didn't even deign to barter. "We shall send for you upon the tenth anniversary of her birth."

And with that, my future was decided.

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