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AFTER THE Midwinter Masque, you may be sure, the weeks could not pass quickly enough for me until my tenth birthday. Now more than ever, I was without place in Cereus House; no longer fit for the nursery, but too young for the fosterlings and apprentices, among whom I was never to be numbered anyway.

The house was abuzz with the events of the masque, seeing in Prince Baudoin's audacity the portent of a return to days of yore, when the scions of Elua freely sought pleasure and counsel of the Servants of Naamah. This much I learned: Baudoin was nephew to the King, by way of his royal sister, the Princess Lyonette, who was wed to Marc, Duc de Trevalion. He was only nineteen, and had earned a name for wildness at the University of Tiberium, where he had been suspended for unnamed escapades.

Beyond this, I knew little. Hyacinthe told me that it was rumored in Night's Doorstep that there had been, unlikely as it seemed, two wagers placed on Baudoin de Trevalion to play the role of the Sun Prince, and no one—not even he—knew into whose pocket the considerable sums had been paid. Other than this, there had been much money lost, and the backers at the countinghouses had grown fat on this Longest Night.

When the chill of winter began to give grudging way to the moist warmth of spring and the faintest haze of pale green clung to the branches, I turned ten.

For children of the Night Court, this was a grand and solemn occasion. It is upon this day that one moves out of the nursery, and into the fosterlings' quarter to live side by side with those favored apprentices who have come of age and been initiated into the mysteries of Naamah, who it is said will whisper secrets in the small hours of the night of the training they have begun. One takes the name of one's household and there is a celebration, with watered wine, and the ceremonial breaking of a honey-cake, which is shared by the adepts of one's House.

I was accorded none of this.

Instead, as before, I was sent to attend in the Dowayne's receiving room, where I once again knelt abeyante upon the cushion. Anafiel Delaunay was there, and the Dowayne, and Jareth, her Second. She had grown older and querulous, and I noted from beneath my lashes how her hand shook as she held the papers to review.

"Everything is in order," Jareth said soothingly, patting her hand. He cast an impatient glance toward the doorway, where the Chancellor of the House lurked with the official guild seal. "You have but to sign, and Phèdre has leave to go with my lord Delaunay."

"Should have asked for more!" the Dowayne complained. Her voice was louder than she thought it, as happens with the elderly. Anafiel Delaunay laid a hand on my head, briefly stroking my curls. I dared an upward glance and saw him smiling reassuringly. The Dowayne signed with a shaky hand, the crabbed veins blue through her fine old skin, and the Chancellor of the House glided forward with his taper to stamp the official guild seal on the documents, certifying that all had been executed within the laws of the Guild of the Servants of Naamah.

"Done." Jareth bowed, palms together, touching his fingertips to his lips. There was a merriment to him these days that spilled out at the slightest provocation, born of the surety that the Dowayneship of Cereus House was nearly in his lap. "May Naamah bless your enterprise, my lord Delaunay. It has been a pleasure."

"The pleasure has been mine," Delaunay said smoothly, returning his bow, though not as to an equal. "Miriam," he said to the Dowayne, in a graver tone. "I wish you health."

"Bah." She dismissed him and beckoned to me. "Phèdre." I rose as I had been taught, and knelt at her chair, suddenly terrified that she would recant. But her crabbed hand rose to smooth my cheek and her eyes, no less steely behind the rheum that veiled them, searched my face. "Should have asked for more," she repeated, almost kindly.

They say that money is one of the few pleasures that endure, and I understood that, despite everything, this was a blessing of sorts. Of a sudden, I felt great tenderness for the old woman, who had taken me in when my own mother had cast me out, and I leaned into her caress.

"Phèdre," Delaunay said gently, and I remembered that I had a new master and rose obediently. He smiled pleasantly at Jareth. "Have her things brought to my coach."

Jareth bowed.

And so I took my leave of Cereus House, and the Night Court, unto which I was born.

I don't know what I expected, in Delaunay's coach; whatever I expected, it did not happen. His coach awaited in the forecourt, an elegant trap drawn by a matched foursome of blood-bays. An apprentice brought the small bundle that contained such things as I might call my own, which was little more than nothing, and which the coachman stowed in the back.

Delaunay preceded me, patting the velvet cushions to indicate I should sit. He waved out the window to the coachman and we set out at a good clip, whereupon he settled back into his seat and drew the curtain partially closed.

I sat on tenterhooks, waiting and wondering.

Nothing happened. Delaunay, for his part, ignored me, humming to himself and gazing out the half-curtained window. After a while, I tired of waiting for something to occur and scooted to the window on my side, twitching the curtain back.

When I was scarce more than a babe-in-arms, I had seen the world; but since I had been four years old, I'd not ventured past Night's Doorstep. Now I looked out the window, and saw the City of Elua roll past my view and rejoiced. The streets seemed clean and new, the parks ready to burst into spring, and the houses and temples all aspired upward in joyous defiance of the earth. We crossed the river, and the bright sails of trade-ships made my heart sing.

The coach took us to an elegant quarter of the City, near to the Palace, though on the outskirts. Through a narrow gate we went, and into a modest courtyard. The coachman drew up and came around to open the door; Delaunay descended, and I hesitated, uncertain, gazing past his shoulder at a simple, elegant townhouse.

The door opened, and a figure not much larger than myself emerged at a run, caught himself, and proceeded at a more decorous pace.

I stared from the coach at the most beautiful boy I had ever seen.

His hair was white; and for those who never knew Alcuin, I say this in earnest: it was white, whiter than a snow fox's pelt. It fell like silk over his shoulders, in a river of moonlight. An albino, one might suppose— and indeed, his skin was surpassingly fair, but his eyes were dark, as dark as pansies at midnight. I, raised amid pearls of beauty, gaped. On the far side of Delaunay, he fretted with impatience, a smile at once kind and eager lighting his dark eyes.

I had forgotten that Delaunay already had a pupil.

"Alcuin." I could hear the affection in Delaunay's voice. It churned my gut. He put his hand on the boy's shoulder and turned to me. "This is Phèdre. Make her welcome."

I exited the coach, stumbling; he took my hands in his, cool and smooth, and kissed me in greeting.

I could feel Delaunay's wry smile at a distance.

A liveried servant emerged from the house to pay the coachman and take my small bundle, and Delaunay steered us gently inward. The boy Alcuin kept hold of my hand, tugging lightly.

Inside, Delaunay's house was gracious and pleasant. Another servant in livery bowed, which I scarce noticed, and Alcuin dropped my hand to scamper ahead, glancing back with a quick, eager smile. Already I hated him for what he knew of our mutual master. We passed through several rooms into an inner sanctum, a gardened courtyard where a terrace of early-greening vines threw verdant shadows on the flagstones and a fountain played. There was a niche with a statue of Elua, and a table laid with iced melons and pale grapes.

Alcuin spun in a circle, flinging out his arms. "For you, Phèdre!" he cried, laughing. "Welcome!" He dropped onto one of the reclining couches set about in a conversational circle, wrapped his arms around himself and grinned.

An unobtrusive servant glided into the courtyard, pouring chilled wine for Delaunay, and cool water for Alcuin and myself.

"Welcome." Delaunay seconded the toast, smiling, gauging my reaction. "Eat. Drink. Sit."

I took a slice of melon and perched on the edge of a couch, watching them both, patently uncomfortable with the undefined nature of my role here. Delaunay reclined at leisure, looking amused, and Alcuin followed his lead, looking merry with anticipation. I could not help but glance around, looking for a kneeling cushion. There was none.

"We do not stand—nor kneel—on ceremony in my household, Phèdre," Delaunay said kindly, reading my mind. "It is one thing to observe the courtesies of rank, and quite another to treat humans as chattel."

I looked up to meet his eyes. "You own my marque," I said bluntly.

"Yes." He gave me that gauging look. "But I do not own you. And when one day your marque is made, I would have you remember me as one who lifted you up, and not cast you down. Do you understand?"

I plucked at a button on the velvet cushioning of the couch. "You like people to owe you favors."

There was a pause, and then he gave the startling bark of laughter I'd heard before, Alcuin's higher laugh echoing above it. "Yes," Delaunay said thoughtfully. "You might say that. Although I like to think I am a humanist, too, in the tradition of Blessed Elua." He shrugged, dismissing the matter in his amused fashion. "I am told you have learned somewhat of the Caerdicci tongue."

"I have read all of Tellicus the Elder, and half the Younger!" I retorted, nettled by his attitude. I did not mention the poetry of Felice Dolophilus.

"Good." He was unperturbed. "You're none too far behind Alcuin, then; you can take your lessons together. Have you other languages? No? No matter. When you've settled in, I'll arrange for you to start lessons in Skaldic and Cruithne."

My head swam; I picked up my plate of melon, and set it back down. "My lord Delaunay," I said, choosing my words carefully. "Is it not your will that I shall be apprenticed unto the service of Naamah?"

"Oh, that." With a wave of his hand, he discarded the tenets of the Night Court. "You can sing, I'm told, and play a passable harp; the Dowayne says you've an ear for poetry. I'll hire a tutor to continue your teaching in such arts, until you come of age and may decide for yourself if you wish to serve Naamah. But there are other matters of more import."

I sat up straight on the couch. "The arts of the salon are of the utmost import, my lord!"

"No." His grey eyes glinted. "They have value, Phèdre, and that is all. But what I will teach you, you will like, I think. You will learn to look, to see, and to think, and there is merit in such lessons as will last a lifetime."

"You will teach me what already I know," I said, sullen.

"Will I indeed?" Delaunay leaned back on the couch and popped a grape into his mouth. "Tell me, then, about the coach in which we rode here, Phèdre. Describe it to me."

"It was a black coach." I glared at him. "A coach-and-four, with matched bays. With red velvet on the seats, gold braid on the curtains, and sateen stripes on the walls."

"Well done." He glanced at Alcuin. "And you...?"

The boy sat up, cross-legged on the couch. "It was a coach-for-hire," he said promptly, "because there was no insignia on the door, and the driver wore plain clothes and not livery. A wealthy hostelry, most like, because the horses were well-bred and matched; nor were they lathered, so most like you leased them here in the City. The driver was between eighteen and twenty-two, and country-bred to judge from his hat, but he has been in the City long enough to need no direction nor bite good coin when paid him by a gentleman. He carried no other passengers, and left straightaway, so I would gauge you were his only fare today, my lord. If I were to seek your identity and your business, my lord, I think it would not be so hard to find the driver of this coach-and-four and make inquiries."

His dark eyes danced with the pleasure of having answered well; there was no malice in it. Delaunay smiled at him. "And better done," he said, then glanced at me. "Do you see?"

I muttered something; I don't know what.

"This is the training I will ask of you, Phèdre," he said, his voice sterner. "You will learn to look, to see, and to think on what you see. You asked me at Midwinter if I knew you by your eyes, and I said no. I did not need to see the mote in your eye to know you were one who had been stricken by Kushiel's Dart. It was in every line of your body, as you gazed after the dominatrices of Mandrake House. It is to the glory of Elua and his Companions, in whose veins your blood flows; even as a child, you bear the mark of it. In time, you may become it, do you choose. But understand, my sweet, that this is only a beginning. Now, do you see?"

His face acquired a particular beauty when he put on that expression, stern and serious, like the portraits of old provincial nobles who could trace their lineage straight back to one of Elua's Companions in an unbroken line. "Yes, my lord," I said, adoring him for it. If Anafiel Delaunay wanted me to lay down in the stews, like Naamah, I would do it, I was sure...and if he willed me to be more than an instrument for Mandragian fiddle-players, I would learn to be it. I thought on his words to me that Longest Night, and a connection formed in my mind, as easily as a nursing babe finds the nipple. "My lord," I asked him, "did you place a wager in Night's Doorstep that Baudoin de Trevalion would play the Sun Prince?"

Once more I was rewarded with his unexpected shout of laughter, longer this time, unchecked. Alcuin grinned and hugged his knees with glee. At last, Delaunay wrestled his mirth under control, removing a kerchief from his pocket and dabbing his eyes. "Ah, Phèdre," he sighed. "Miriam was right. She should have asked for more."


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