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"AND HERE," Delaunay said, pointing, "is the stronghold of Comte Michel de Ferraut, who commands six hundred men, and holds the border at Longview Pass."

History, politics, geography...the lessons were unending.

In accordance with the Diaspora of the Companions, the land of Terre d'Ange is divided into seven provinces and the King—or betimes the Queen—rules from the City in reverent memory of Blessed Elua.

Gentle Eisheth went to the southern coastal lands, which hold dreamers and sailors, healers and traders, as well as the thousand birds and wild cavaliers of the salt marshes. Her province is called Eisande, and it is the smallest of the seven. There are Tsingani who dwell there, and live unmolested.

Also to the south went Shemhazai, westerly to the mountainous borders of Aragonia, with whom our long peace still stands. Siovale is the name of this province, and it is a prosperous one with a great tradition for learning, for Shemhazai ever treasured knowledge.

Inland to the north of Siovale is L'Agnace, the grape-rich province of Anael, who is betimes called the Star of Love. Alongside it on the rocky coast is the province of Kusheth, where Kushiel made his home, all the way up to the Pointe d'Oeste. It is a harsh land, like its namesake.

Further northward is Azzalle, which clings along the coast, close enough at one point to see the white cliffs of Alba. Were it not for the fact that the Master of the Straits controls the waters that lie between us, indeed, there might be danger of a powerful alliance between Azzalle and Alba. Of this I took note, for Trevalion is the ruling duchy of Azzalle, and my heart still beat faster to remember Baudoin de Trevalion's kiss.

Beneath the province of Azzalle is Namarre, where Naamah dwelt, and it is a place of many rivers, very beautiful and fruitful. There is a shrine where the River Naamah arises from beneath the earth, and all her servants make a pilgrimage there within their lifetimes.

To the east, bordering the Skaldic territories, lies the long, narrow province of Camlach, where martial Camael made his home and founded the first armies of those bright, fierce D'Angeline troops who have for so long defended the nation from invasion.

This, I learned from Delaunay, is the nature of my homeland and the division of power within it. Slowly I came to an understanding of these divisions, and the implications of power that each province held its own; each reflecting to some degree the nature of their angelic founders. Cassiel alone among Elua's Companions took no province for his own, but remained faithful at his wandering lord's side. He had but one namesake in the land; the Cassiline Brotherhood, an order of priests who swear allegiance to the Precepts of Cassiel. It is a service as rigorous as that of Naamahs, and far sterner, which is perhaps why it is no longer popular. Only the oldest of provincial nobles maintain the tradition, passed within the family from generation to generation, of pledging a younger son to the Cassiline Brotherhood. Like us, they become fosterlings at the age of ten, but it is a harsh and ascetic life of training at arms, celibacy and denial.

"You see, Phèdre, why Camlach has always held the greatest strategic importance." Delaunay's finger traced its borderline on a map. I glanced up into his questioning eyes and sighed.

"Yes, my lord."

"Good." His finger moved back up, hovering. He had beautiful hands, with long, tapering fingers. "Here, see, is where the fighting has been." He indicated a dense patch of mountainous terrain. "You marked what the iron-trader was saying last night? The Skaldi have been threatening the passes again, as they've not done since the Battle of Three Princes."

There was an undertone of sorrow in his voice. "When Prince Rolande was killed," I said, remembering. "The Dauphin was one of the Three Princes."

"Yes." Delaunay pushed the map away brusquely. "And the other two?"

"The King's brother, Benedicte, and..." I struggled to recall.

"Percy of L'Agnace, Comte de Somerville, cousin-germane to Prince Rolande," Alcuin's soft voice supplied. He pushed his white hair from his eyes and smiled. "Kinsman on his mother's side to Queen Genevieve, which made him a Prince of the Blood in accordance with matrimonial law, though he seldom claims the title."

I glowered at him. "I knew that."

He shrugged and gave his inarguable smile.

"Bide your peace." There was no jest in Delaunay's tone and his gaze was somber. "We paid dear for that victory, when it cost Rolande de la Courcel's life. He was born to rule, and would have held the throne with strength and grace upon his father's passing, and none would have dared take up arms against him. We have paid for the security of our borders with instability in the City itself, and now our gains stand threatened in the bargain."

Pushing himself away from the table, he rose to pace the library, standing at last to gaze silently out a window onto the streets below. Alcuin and I exchanged wordless glances. Delaunay was in many ways the gentlest of masters, reprimanding us with nothing harsher than an unkind word, and that only when we were truly deserving. But there was a darkness in him that surfaced only sometimes, and we who attended his moods closer than a farmer watches the weather knew well enough not to rouse it.

"Were you there, my lord?" I ventured at length.

He answered without turning around, and his voice was flat. "If I could have saved his life, I would have. We shouldn't have been mounted, that was the problem. The ground was too uncertain. But Rolande was always rash. It was his only flaw, as a leader. When he led the third charge, he got too far ahead; his standard-bearer's horse stumbled and went down, and we were held back in getting around him. Not long... but long enough for the Skaldi to cut him off." He turned back to us with that same somber look. "On such small things, empires may hang. For want of a sure-footed mount, half the scions of Elua have their gaze set on becoming Prince Consort and claiming the throne through marriage; and Princes of the Blood like Baudoin de Trevalion scheme to take it by force of acclaim. Remember it, my dears, and when you plan, plan well and thoroughly."

"You think Prince Baudoin wants the throne?" I asked, startled; after more than three years, I still found myself struggling to grasp the shape of these patterns Delaunay studied. Alcuin looked unsurprised.

"No. Not exactly." Delaunay smiled wryly. "But he is the King's nephew, and I think his mother, who is called for good reason the Lioness of Azzalle, would like to see her son seated upon it."

"Ahhh." I blinked, and at last this pattern—Baudoin's actions, Delaunay's presence at the Midwinter Masque—came clear to me. "My lord, what has that to do with Skaldic raiders on the eastern border?"

"Who knows?" He shrugged. "Nothing, perhaps. But there is no saying how events in one place may affect what happens elsewhere, for the tapestry of history is woven of many threads. We needs must study the whole warp and weft of it to predict the pattern on the loom."

"Will the Skaldi invade?" Alcuin asked softly, a distant glimmer of fear in his dark eyes. Delaunay smiled kindly and stroked his hair.

"No," he said with certainty. "They are as unorganized as the tribes of Alba before Cinhil Ru, and lords such as the Comte de Ferraut and Duc Maslin d'Aiglemort hold the passes well-defended. They have built their strength since the Battle of Three Princes, that such may never occur again. But it is something to note, my dears, and you know what we say about that."

"All knowledge is worth having." I knew it by rote; if Delaunay had a motto, that was surely it.

"Indeed." He turned his smile on me, and my heart leapt at his approval. "Go on and entertain yourselves, you've earned a respite," he added, dismissing us.

We went, obedient to his words, though reluctant, always, to be denied his presence. For those who never knew him, I can say only that there was a charm about Delaunay that compelled the affections of all who surrounded him; for good or for ill, I might add, for I knew later some who despised him. But those who hated him were the sort who envied excellence in others. No matter what he did, Anafiel Delaunay did it with a grace that eludes most people in this world. A panderer, his detractors called him, and later, the Whoremaster of Spies, but I knew him better than most, and never did he conduct himself with less than perfect nobility.

Which is part of what made him such a mystery.

"It's not his real name," Hyacinthe informed me.

"How do you know?"

He flashed me his white grin, vivid in the dim light. "I've been asking." He thumped his slender chest. "I wanted to know about the man who took you away from me!"

"I came back," I said mildly.

Delaunay, to my great annoyance, had been amused. My first escape had been planned with much forethought, executed while he was away at court by climbing out a second-story window disguised in boy's clothes purloined from Alcuin's wardrobe. I had studied a map of the City and made my way on foot, alone and unaided, all the way to Night's Doorstep.

It had been a tremendous reunion. We stole tarts from the pastry-vendor in the marketplace for old time's sake, running all the way to Tertius' Crossing to crouch under the bridge and eat them, still warm, juices dripping down our chins. Afterward, Hyacinthe had taken me to an inn where he was known to the travelling players who lodged there, strutting about and making himself important by knowing bits of gossip this one or that would pay to hear. Players are notorious for their intrigues, worse even than adepts of the Night Court.

Filled with the thrill of my adventure and the edge of anticipatory dread of its repercussions, I scarce noticed when a boy of some eight or nine years wormed his way through the throng to whisper in Hyacinthe's ear. For the first time, I saw my friend frown.

"He says a man in livery sent him," Hyacinthe said to me. "Brown and gold, with a sheaf of corn on the crest?"

"Delaunay!" I gasped. My chest contracted with fear. "Those are his colors."

Hyacinthe looked irritated. "Well, his man is outside, with a coach. He said to send Ardile when you're ready to go."

The boy nodded vigorously; and thus did I learn that Hyacinthe had begun to create his own small net of messengers and errand-runners in Night's Doorstep, and that Anafiel Delaunay not only knew that I had gone and where I had gone, but who Hyacinthe was and what he was doing.

Delaunay never ceased to amaze.

When I returned, he was waiting.

"I am not going to punish you," he said without preamble. I don't know what expression I bore, but it seemed to entertain him. He pointed to a chair across from him. "Come in, Phèdre. Sit." Once I had, he rose, pacing about the room. Lamplight gleamed on his russet hair, bound in the sleek braid that showed off the noble lines of his face. "Did you think I didn't know about your penchant for escape?" he asked, stopping in front of me. I shook my head. "It is my business to know things, and that most certainly includes things about members of my household. What the Dowayne preferred to conceal, my sweet, the members of her Guard did not."

"I'm sorry, my lord!" I cried, guilt-stricken. He glanced at me with amusement and sat back down.

"Only insofar as you enjoy being sorry, my dear, which, while it is a considerable amount, occurs only after the fact, thus making it a singularly ineffective deterrent, yes?"

Confused, I nodded.

Delaunay sighed and crossed his legs, his expression turning serious. "Phèdre, I don't object to your ambitious young friend. Indeed, you may well learn things in that quarter you'd not hear elsewhere. And," a flicker of amusement returned, "to a certain degree, I don't object to your pen-chant for escape and," leaning forward to pluck at the sleeve of Alcuin's tunic which I wore, "disguise. But there are dangers for a child alone in the City to which I cannot have you exposed. Henceforth if you wish, in your free time, to visit your friend, you will inform Guy."

I waited for more. "That's all?"

"That's all."

I thought it through. A man who spoke softly and seldom, Guy served Delaunay with intense loyalty and efficiency in a variety of unnamed capacities. "He'll follow me," I said finally. "Or have me followed."

Delaunay smiled. "Very good. You're welcome to try to detect and evade him, with my blessing; if you can do that, Phèdre, I've no need to worry about you on your own. But you will inform him if you leave these grounds, for any reason."

His complacency was maddening. "And if I don't?" I asked, challenging him with a toss of my head.

The change that came over his face frightened me; truly frightened me, without a single tremor of excitement. His eyes turned cold, and the lines of his face set. "I am not of Kushiel's line, Phèdre. I do not play games of defiance and punishment, and as I care for you, I will not allow you to endanger yourself for a childish whim. I don't demand unquestioning obedience, but I demand obedience nonetheless. If you cannot give it, I will sell your marque."

With that ringing in my ears, you may be sure I paid heed. I saw his eyes; I had no doubt that he meant his words. Which meant, of course, that as I sat with Hyacinthe in his mother's kitchen, somewhere nearby, quiet and efficient, Guy kept watch.

"What is it, then?" I asked Hyacinthe now. "Who is he really?"

He shook his head, black ringlets swinging. "That, I don't know. But there is something I do know." He grinned, baiting me. "I know why his poetry was banned."

"Why?" I was impatient to know. In the corner where she muttered over the stove, Hyacinthe's mother turned and glanced uneasily at us.

"Do you know how Prince Rolande's first betrothed died?" he asked.

It had happened before we were born, but thanks to Delaunay's ceaseless teachings, I was well-versed in the history of the royal family. "She broke her neck in a fall," I said. "A hunting accident."

"So they say," he said. "But after Rolande wed Isabel L'Envers, a song came to be heard in the stews and wineshops about a noble lady who seduced a stableboy and bid him to cut the girth on her rival's saddle the day she went a-hunting with her love."

"Delaunay wrote it? Why?"

Hyacinthe shrugged. "Who knows? This is what I heard. The men-at-arms of the Princess Consort caught the troubador who was spreading the song. When she had him interrogated, he named Delaunay as the author of the lyrics. The troubador was banished to Eisande, and it is said that he died mysteriously en route. She brought Delaunay in for questioning, but he refused to confess to authorship. So he was not banished, but to appease his daughter-in-law, the King banned his poetry and had every extant copy of his work destroyed."

"Then he is an enemy of the Crown," I marvelled.

"No." Hyacinthe shook his head with certainty. "If he were, he would surely have been banished, confession or no. The Princess Consort willed it, but he is still welcome at court. Someone protected him in this matter."

"How did you learn this?"

"Oh, that." His grin flashed again. "There is a certain court poet who conceives a hopeless passion for the wife of a certain innkeeper, whom he addresses in his rhymes as the Angel of Night's Door. She pays me in coin to tell him to go away and bother her no more, and he pays me in tales to tell him how she looked when she said it. I will learn for you what I can, Phèdre."

"You will learn it to your despair."

The words were spoken darkly and, I thought, to Hyacinthe; but when I looked, I saw his mother's arm extended, pointing at me. A dire portent gleamed in her hollow-shadowed eyes, the dusky, weathered beauty of her face framed in dangling gold.

"I do not understand," I said, confused.

"You seek to unravel the mystery of your master." She jabbed her pointing finger at me. "You think it is for curiosity's sake, but I tell you this: You will rue the day all is made clear. Do not seek to hasten its coming."

With that, she turned back to her stove, ignoring us. I looked at Hyacinthe. The mischief had left his expression; he respected very little, but his mother's gift of dromonde was among those few things. When she told fortunes for the denizens of Night's Doorstep, she made shift to use an ancient, tattered pack of cards, but I knew from what he had told me that this was only for show. Dromonde came when bidden and sometimes when not, the second sight that parted the veils of time.

We considered her warning in silence. Delaunay's words came, unbidden, to mind.

"All knowledge is worth having," I said.


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