Home > Courting Darkness (Courting Darkness Duology #1)(10)

Courting Darkness (Courting Darkness Duology #1)(10)
Robin LaFevers

I want to hug her for her understanding. Instead I pick up my skirts and tear out of the garden, hurrying down the path that leads to the courtyard. They cannot have gotten far—all three were wounded, and one was surely dying. When I turn the corner into the courtyard, however, I am assailed by a wall of heartbeats, and my steps falter.

The palace yard is filled with at least fifty of Viscount Rohan’s men, with more pouring in through the gate. Some are mounted, others are on foot, but all are wearing the exact same tabard and cloak as Pierre and his men. I pause, trying to pick out the three familiar figures, but they have been swallowed by the crowd.

For a moment, I am pinned by indecision. I can call for the palace guard, but what to tell them? That my brother was here and demanded custody of our sisters? Something he has every right to do? That it was done at knifepoint will matter little, I fear.

No. What is between Pierre and me is best handled privately, at least for now. And without knowing why Rohan is here, it cannot be wise to alert him to this breach in our security.

And then, as if the gods have answered a prayer I have not yet had time to utter, I see Beast, striding on the other side of the crowd, half a head taller than most. He has not changed for the council meeting and still bears his weapons from the training yard. “Beast!”

His head snaps up, his gaze finding mine at once, knowing immediately that something is wrong.

“Pierre!” I call out over the heads of the milling crowd. I hold up three fingers and point them toward the gate.

Beast’s face shifts at once, becoming hard and lethal. With an abrupt explanation, he grabs the nearest horse, leaps onto it, and puts his heels to its flanks. Hapless soldiers scramble out of his path as he gallops toward the gate in pursuit.

A horse entering the courtyard just then prances out of his way, the woman rider swerving as she tries to calm her mount. A second prayer answered. “Ismae!” I call out.

She takes one look at my face, then quickly steers her horse to a mounting block. I reach her in time to hold the reins while she dismounts. She is scowling by the time her feet touch the ground. “What’s wrong?”

“Pierre was here.”

Her face blanches, and her hands reach for the knives at her wrists. “Where?” Her voice is steady, deadly.

“Gone. Beast has just ridden after him.” I quickly fill her in.

“Where are your sisters now?”

“In the garden with Tephanie. I must get back to them.”

Ismae nods. “Go. I will find reinforcements and meet you in your room.”

I turn and race back to the garden. If I were planning such an abduction, I would have a second team of men ready to snag the girls if my first attempt failed. Fortunately, Pierre is not that clever.

Chapter 11

Genevieve

y plan to let Margot know that the offering was safely made is thwarted when Louise is struck by a fierce bout of morning sickness that lasts three entire days. Finally, the sickness passes and Louise does not need all of us to attend her every minute. As I make my way to Margot’s chamber, a messenger arrives for Count Angoulême.

Margot will have to wait.

I give the messenger some time to deliver his message, then contrive to be strolling by Angoulême’s office door within minutes of his departure. Angoulême looks up from his desk as I pass and calls out to me.

“Genevieve!”

“Yes, my lord?”

“You saw the messenger arrive.” It is not a question.

“Yes, my lord.” The curtains are drawn against the chill, and a fire crackles in the hearth. There is a brace of candles on his desk as well as blank sheets of parchment, a pot of ink, and a stack of fresh quills. Out of habit, I glance down to see if I can recognize any of the wax seals.

“He brought news of the duchess and the situation in Brittany.” He reaches out and straightens one of the letters on his desk.

“And?” Will the man make me pluck each word from his tongue?

“The king and the duchess of Brittany are to be married.”

The words are so unexpected, so unwelcome, that I draw back as if he has struck me. “You cannot be serious.”

He shifts in his chair, scowling in irritation. “Of course I am serious. Why would I lie about such a thing?”

“But it makes no sense!” I insist. “Last we heard, the king was marching on Rennes to besiege it.”

The count reaches for the decanter on his desk. “It seems that the principals involved decided it would be better for everyone if they married instead.”

I shake my head. “That cannot be. The late duke was opposed to such a union. The countries have been enemies for as long as I can remember.”

“I am aware.” The count’s voice is dry as dust, for he fought alongside the duke in many of those skirmishes.

“Why would the duchess betray all that he fought for? All that she has fought for?”

“Oh, come now.” He fills a crystal goblet with wine. He does not offer me any. “Marriages are naught but contracts between powerful families. France has been occupying Brittany for months and threatening her borders for years.”

“But agreeing to marry is the ultimate surrender. Why would she trade away all her bargaining power like that?”

He slowly leans back in his chair, studying me. “Is that what you think of marriage?” My hands itch to punch the condescending look off his face. “What else was the duchess to do? She had run out of options.”

“Resist. Wait for her husband, Maximilian, to arrive with help.”

“It was only a proxy marriage,” he points out. “And she waited for months and months. No meaningful help came. He was too consumed by his own wars. She pawned every crown jewel she possessed to procure mercenary troops. Begged and appealed to every ally, each of whom sent just enough help to ease their conscience, but not enough to do her any good. She was truly out of options.” He takes a sip of wine. “It was the best choice she could make under the circumstances.”

The explanation makes sense, yet every bone in my body resists what he is telling me, and I feel sick inside. “What of Princess Marguerite? Will they just set her aside? She will not be happy with that. Nor will her father.”

Angoulême snorts derisively. “No one imagines either of them is happy. Maximilian may take some action against France or Brittany, but that action will be tempered by the fact that France now holds his daughter hostage.”

I feel sick for Marguerite as well. She was much beloved by the king, as well as Madame. Since she was three years old, she has been pampered and indulged and raised with all the royal magnificence due a future queen of France. Now that has been taken from her.

It changes not only the dauphine’s position, but mine as well. If Brittany and France are now allies, if they are one country unified under one ruler, where does that leave me? Or the convent? Do they still answer to the duchess and serve her interests above all else? “Will Brittany remain independent, or shall it become part of France?”

Angoulême looks down into his goblet. “I am certain it is part of France now.” He swirls the contents. “Why else would the king go to all the trouble to marry such a thorn in his side as your duchess has been to him?”

His words set my teeth further on edge. That is when I finally understand my own distress. The marriage makes Brittany’s independence simply a point to be negotiated on a contract. I thought what the convent was fighting for was more important than that. And now it seems that I was wrong. “I still am not sure I believe it. Is it possible she was forced into it?” If that is true, then surely there is still some role for me to play.

“Now you are just being absurd.”

“Even so, shouldn’t you at least send a message to confirm the truth?”

“Foolish girl! Do you not think the regent has me watched for just such a misstep?”

I stare at him in bemusement.

He laughs outright. “Do you think I can write to the duchess’s Privy Council or your precious convent whenever I please? Do you think my comings and goings and, yes, even my correspondence, are not scrutinized by the regent? Come now, Genevieve. Surely the convent trained you better than that.”

“Of course they did, my lord,” I snap back. “But I also assume that you have means of working around those obstacles, else what use would you be to the convent?”

His nostrils flare in agitation. “You forget yourself. Perhaps time will bring some clarity. Now leave. I have work I must do.”

“With pleasure.” I lift my skirts and storm from his chambers.

My head is a swirl of questions both heady and sobering. Was the duchess coerced? If so, and if she is on her way to the French court, why have I not been called to take action? Surely I am the most well placed initiate of the convent. Indeed, my connections with the French court could prove most helpful, even if she has not been forced into this marriage.

Hope, bright and shining, surges through me. In my darkest moments, I have come close to believing what both Angoulême and Margot claim—that the convent had forgotten about us. But now there is a chance their need for me could not be greater.

Chapter 12

Sybella

ephanie and the girls stand in the doorway that leads back into the palace, closer to people than the abandoned garden, yet not so far that I will not know where they have gone. Tephanie has managed to calm Louise, while Charlotte is carefully smoothing her gown over and over.

At my approach, Louise looks up. The hesitation on her face cuts me to the quick. “Come,” I say, as if their entire world had not just been turned upside down. “Let’s return to our chambers.” I take each of their hands in my own. Charlotte tries to tug away, but I refuse to let go.

If I had a choice, I would keep some truths from both of them all their lives. Even though they have lived in the d’Albret household and have seen much, they do not fully understand all that they saw. But today they have witnessed more violence, cruelty, and hate than most girls are exposed to in a lifetime. I cannot simply ignore it. Between Pierre’s accusations and my own actions, I must tell them something.

When we finally reach our chamber, I pull the girls inside while Tephanie closes the door behind us. I kneel in front of them, not letting go of their hands. Louise’s enormous brown eyes look like crushed autumn leaves. Was I ever that young? That innocent? I must have been, but I can no longer remember it.

And Charlotte. The look on Charlotte’s face guts me even more, for it is filled with both familiarity and knowing. She has seen some version of this before, and she believes that whatever I am about to tell her will likely be a lie, or at the very least, an attempt to put too fine a polish on what is naught but a lump of lead.

“First, you need to know that I did not mean any of what I said to Pierre. I do care about you—about Tephanie—but wanted Pierre to believe otherwise.”

“Why?” Louise’s voice is whisper quiet.

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