Home > Courting Darkness (Courting Darkness Duology #1)(12)

Courting Darkness (Courting Darkness Duology #1)(12)
Robin LaFevers

Châlons scowls and continues speaking. “He has not only lost his bride and her dowry, but his own daughter was to be queen of France. He has had two ripe plums snatched from his hand.”

His words cause something already brittle and fragile inside me to snap. “Does your cousin know you think of her as some plum to be plucked, my lord?” My voice is cold as the winter sea.

He turns to me, as if unable to believe a woman has just challenged him. But then he sees who is speaking, and if there is one thing a predator like the prince recognizes, it is another predator. His annoyance turns to circumspection, and he spreads his hands wide in a gesture of surrender. “I mean no disrespect to my cousin.”

I hold his gaze a moment longer, wishing to draw out his discomfort. It is a petty victory, but it also soothes the hot, bitter place deep inside me. Before I can release his gaze, however, the loud scrape of the door latch draws our attention.

Beast is back is my first thought, and I am filled with dismay that he will have to explain his absence before all assembled. Especially if he has dragged Pierre back with him.

But it is not Beast. It is the duchess herself who stands in the doorway. Flustered, the council leaps to their feet. The duchess is young and short of stature, but her innate nobility and regal air make her seem both taller and older than she is. That and her barely contained anger. I feel Father Effram watching me, but pretend I have eyes only for the duchess and her surprising arrival.

Her frigid gaze surveys the room, looking at every man as she goes around the table. “Why has this meeting been called without my knowledge?”

Chancellor Montauban steps forward and holds a chair out for her. “Your Grace, we are but seeing to the planning of your upcoming trip to Langeais and didn’t think you needed to be bothered with such details. Especially as you have so many other pressing matters you’re involved in.”

The duchess seats herself before turning to her brother. “Is this true?”

He gives an imperceptible shrug. “For the most part, Your Grace. We have also just received reports from our various allies, and until we knew whether they contained good news or bad, we saw no reason to burden you with them.”

“Do our allies’ reactions no longer affect me?”

Duval winces. “Of course they do.” He takes a half step toward her, and much of his formality falls away. “Please, we thought only to leave you to the pleasantries of planning a wedding rather than scheming and tactics and politics. You have been so happy this last week. We thought only to allow you to enjoy it a bit longer.”

The duchess’s face softens. In an uncharacteristically public show of sisterly affection, she places her small hand on his cheek. “I know, Gavriel, and I am thankful for all you have done and continue to do to protect me. But there is a good chance I will not be privy to council meetings in France, and I would welcome any information and knowledge we possess before embarking on my journey. Now, please be seated, all of you.”

As the others seat themselves, Duval steps into the uncomfortable silence caused by her arrival and turns back to the prince. “We understand Maximilian’s disappointment with the turn of events,” he says. “What will his countermove be, do you think?”

“None that I have heard; however, the news went out only a handful of days ago. I am sure he will weigh all his options.”

“Given how reluctant he has been to fight France outright, we will have to hope that his views on that will continue.” Before the prince can respond, Duval turns to Captain Dunois. “What have you heard from our other allies?”

The older man shrugs. “Spain is not happy, and is making noise about a possible abduction.”

Duval’s interest turns razor sharp. “They are planning an abduction? When do they think to move?”

“No, not planning one. They speculate that the duchess has been coerced. Britain is even less happy with us, demanding immediate payment for their loan of troops, as well as implying the king has exerted some undue influence over the duchess and she is being forced into this marriage against her will.”

A sigh of annoyance escapes the duchess.

“Not so much against her will,” Duval murmurs, “but because she was out of options. However, this appears to be a recurring theme among our allies. We will have to watch carefully and quash those rumors if necessary.”

As they discuss the ways to counteract such rumors and ensure the duchess’s safety on her upcoming journey to France, it is all I can do to keep myself firmly in my chair. Where is Beast? Why is he not back yet? And then I remember it has not even been an hour. And that Pierre likely had horses waiting outside the city. I fight back an urge to pound my fist on the table and warn them that our enemy has breached our walls.

Except he is not their enemy, but mine.

And there is no guarantee any of these men will protect my sisters from him.

The realization chases my anger from me faster than water douses flames.

What would it be like to have so many willing to fight for your safety? To simply assume your world would be safe and you were worthy of such efforts?

What would it take for these men to feel that way about my sisters?

I nearly laugh. They likely do not even remember that I have two sisters.

Something dark and ugly rises up in my throat. While I am perfectly able to take care of myself, my sisters are not. They have only myself and Beast to see to their well-being. How would these wise and noble men react to the news of Pierre’s abduction attempt?

Duval would give us his full support. Dunois as well, perhaps. The chancellor would want to support my family, as long as it did not jeopardize his main responsibility, the duchess. Former marshal Rieux and the Prince of Orange? No. They are not the sorts to lift a finger to help someone else—especially if there is not something to be gained from it. They are like all the men throughout the years that could never be bothered to concern themselves as d’Albret went through wives faster than most men go through horses. They did not even question the rumors or gossip, merely dismissed them as such.

The chancellor might fuss and cluck, but would not endanger his other charges. Clearly there is only so much protection to go around. Especially when the law is on Pierre’s side.

There will be no help from this quarter. The duchess has more courage and integrity than two-thirds of her council. She is the one who has offered my sisters protection, although I wonder how many in this room even know that?

Anger, hot and acrid, fills my belly. Surely my sisters are owed such protection.

But Pierre has shown just how ruthless he is. How much of that will spill onto the duchess? Is this roomful of protectors enough to deter my brother? By accepting her protection for my sisters, am I putting her in harm’s way?

My path ahead seemed so clear—in exchange for my continued service, the duchess offered to foster my sisters. But that very oath of loyalty I swore to her now puts her at risk. How in the name of the Nine do I thread that needle?

The king, I remind myself. He is the missing piece in all of this. Pierre would not dare move against the king. In truth, the king’s protection could likely be the only thing that will deter my brother. And it is the duchess who has access to that.

The war is over. France and Brittany are now allies. Even better, the regent is widely known to keep a veritable stable of young noblewomen, girls sent to her at a tender age so she could train and shape them into womanhood. Surely two more young girls can easily hide among their numbers.

Indeed, I know that two girls can.

Remembering the news I bring for the council eases some of the coiled tension from my body. That same news also reminds me that I do not embark on this adventure empty-handed. I have additional protection to offer the duchess. And my sisters.

I shift my attention back to the conversation. The duchess is speaking. “Is there any word on what Rohan wants?” the duchess asks.

“Not yet,” Duval admits, “but he claims he is here on the king’s business, and I cannot imagine it will be to our advantage.”

Chancellor Montauban shakes his head. “Could the French simply have sent him to offer his support and congratulations?”

Duval, Dunois, and Châlons all exchange knowing glances, but say nothing.

The chancellor looks at them in exasperation. “You are a suspicious lot.”

“We have been enemies for a long time now, and are more accustomed to suspicion than trust,” the duchess says. “Old history will not be forgotten so quickly.”

I lean forward. “Speaking of matters of suspicion and trust, Your Grace, we may have some additional assistance in that area.”

The chancellor frowns at me, clearly not wishing to encourage that line of thought. “The convent of Saint Mortain has hidden two of their initiates deep within the French court. Their orders were to burrow like little moles until they were under the nose of the regent and the king himself. They have been in position for years, waiting to be called into service. They could prove excellent guides as we try to navigate this complex, unfamiliar terrain of being allies with the French.”

Duval visibly brightens. “This is most welcome news, Lady Sybella.”

They will also be two more able-bodied and skilled assassins I may call upon to protect my sisters against any future moves Pierre might make.

Chapter 13

Genevieve

ne of Margot’s waiting women opens the door, motions me inside, then quickly shuts it behind me so a draft does not follow me in.

My eyes take a moment to adjust to the darkness. The curtains block out any hint of daylight for fear it will harm the mother’s or babe’s eyes. Cloth has been draped from the ceiling in great poufs and swathes, softening the room and making it feel far smaller than it is. The only light comes from the roaring fire and two candles. As is intended, the room is as warm and close as a womb.

When I was five, my aunt Bertine found herself with child. She was already round and ripe of figure, so it was easy enough for her to hide it from her clients. But there were other men, more than a few, who enjoyed lying with a woman heavy with child, her lush fullness causing their own virility to stir. She worked up until the eighth month. Noblewomen, however, are confined to their rooms several weeks before the babe is due. It is nearly suffocating, and I do not know how Margot can stand it.

“Gen? Is that you?” Margot’s voice comes from behind the bed’s rich curtains.

“It is.” As I approach, the waiting woman draws back.

“Leave us,” Margot commands.

“But, my lady! You should not be alone—”

“I am not alone. Genevieve is here. Now go.”

Tsking in disapproval, the woman leaves the room and closes the door quietly behind her.

“Well? Did you do it?” she asks.

“I said I would, and I did. Here.” I reach out and give her a piece of the silver birch bark from the ground beneath the tree, knowing she will not rest until she has proof.

Hot Novels
  • Grey: Fifty Shades of Grey as Told by Chris
  • Fifty Shades Freed (Fifty Shades #3)
  • Never Too Far (Too Far Trilogy #2)
  • Fifty Shades Darker (Fifty Shades #2)
  • Library of Souls (Miss Peregrine‚Äôs Peculi
  • Fifty Shades of Grey (Fifty Shades #1)
  • Fallen Too Far (Too Far Trilogy #1)
  • Forever Too Far (Too Far Trilogy #3)
  • Ugly Love
  • Allegiant (Divergent #3)
  • Hold on Tight (Sea Breeze #8)
  • Bared to You (Crossfire #1)
  • The Destiny of Violet & Luke (The Coinc
  • Captivated by You (Crossfire #4)
  • Uprooted