Home > Kushiel's Chosen (Phedre's Trilogy, #2)

Kushiel's Chosen (Phedre's Trilogy, #2)
Jacqueline Carey

One

No one would deny that I have known hardship in my time, brief though it has been for all that I have done in it. This, I think, I may say without boastfulness. If I answer now to the title of Comtesse de Montrève and my name is listed in the peerage of Terre d'Ange, still I have known what it is to have all that I possess torn from me; once, when I was but four years of age and my birth-mother sold me into servitude to the Court of Night-Blooming Flowers, and twice, when my lord and mentor Anafiel Delaunay was slain, and Melisande Shahrizai betrayed me into the hands of the Skaldi.

I have crossed the wilds of Skaldia in the dead of winter, and faced the wrath of the Master of the Straits on the teeming waters. I have been the plaything of a barbarian warlord, and Ihave lost my dearest friend to an eternity of lonely isolation. I have seen the horrors of war and the deaths of my companions. I have walked, alone and by night, into the vast darkness of an enemy encampment, knowing that I gave myself up to torture and nigh-certain death.

None of it was as difficult as telling Joscelin I was returning to the Service of Naamah.

It was the sangoire cloak that decided me; Melisande's challenge and the badge of my calling that marked me as an anguissette, Kushiel's Chosen, as clearly as the mote of scarlet emblazoned since birth in the iris of my left eye. A rose petal floating upon dark waters, some admirer once called it. Sangoire is a deeper color, a red so dark it borders upon black. I have seen spilled blood by starlight; it is a fitting color for one such as I, destined to find pleasure in pain. Indeed, the wearing of it is proscribed for any who is not an anguissette. D'Angelines appreciate such poetic niceties.

I am Phèdre nó Delaunay de Montrève, and I am the only one. Kushiel's Dart strikes seldom, if to good effect.

When Maestro Gonzago de Escabares brought the cloak from La Serenissima, and the tale by which he had gained it, I made my choice. I knew that night. By night, my course seemed clear and obvious. There is a traitor in the heart of Terre d'Ange, one who stands close enough to the throne to touch it; that much, I knew. Melisande's sending the cloak made it plain: I had the means of discovering the traitor's identity, should I choose to engage in the game. That it was true, I had no doubt. By the Night Court and by Delaunay, I have been exquisitely trained as courtesan and spy alike. Melisande knew this-and Melisande required an audience, or at least a worthy opponent. It was clear, or so I thought.

In the light of day, before Joscelin's earnest blue gaze, I knew the extent of the misery it would cause. And for that, I delayed, temporizing, sure in my reasoning but aching at heart. Maestro Gonzago stayed some days, enjoying the hospitality I was at such pains to provide. He suspected somewhat of my torment, I do not doubt. I saw it reflected in his kind, homely face. At length he left without pressing me, his apprentice Camilo in tow, bound for Aragonia.

I was left alone with Joscelin and my decision.

We had been happy in Montrève, he and I; especially he, raised in the mountains of Siovale. I know what it cost Joscelin to bind his life to mine, in defiance of his Cassiline vow of obedience. Let the courtiers laugh, if they will, but he took his vows seriously, and celibacy not the least of them. D'Angelines follow the precept of Blessed Elua, who was born of the commingled blood of Yeshua ben Yosef and the tears of the Magdelene in the womb of Earth: Love as thou wilt. Alone among the Companions, only Cassiel abjured Elua's command; Cassiel, who accepted damnation to remain celibate and steadfast at Elua's side, the Perfect Companion, reminding the One God of the sacred duty even He had forgotten.

These, then, were the vows Joscelin had broken for me. Montrève had done much to heal the wounds that breaking had dealt him. My return to the Service of Naamah, who had gone freely to Elua's side, who had lain down with kings and peasants alike for his sake, would open those wounds anew.

I told him.

And I watched the white lines of tension, so long absent, engrave themselves on the sides of his beautiful face. I laid out my reasoning, point by point, much as Delaunay would have done. Joscelin knew the history of it nearly as well as I did myself. He had been assigned as my companion when Delaunay still owned my marque; he knew the role I had played in my lord's service. He had been with me when Delaunay was slain, and Melisande betrayed us both-and he had been there that fateful night at Troyes-le-Mont, when Melisande Shahrizai had escaped the Queen's justice.

"You are sure?" That was all he said, when I had finished.

"Yes." I whispered the word, my hands clenching on the rich sangoire folds of my cloak, which I held bundled in my arms. "Joscelin ..."

"I need to think." He turned away, his face shuttered like a stranger's. In anguish, I watched him go, knowing there was nothing more I could say. Joscelin had known, from the beginning, what I was. But he had never reckoned on loving me, nor I him.

There was a small altar to Elua in the garden, which Richeline Friote, my seneschal's wife, tended with great care. Flowers and herbs grew in abundance behind the manor house, where a statue of Eíua, no more than a meter tall, smiled benignly upon our bounty, petals strewn at his marble feet. I knew the garden well, for I had spent many hours seated upon a bench therein, considering my decision. It was there, too, that Joscelin chose to think, kneeling before Elua in the Cassiline style, head bowed and arms crossed.

He stayed there a long time.

By early evening, a light rain had begun to fall and still Joscelin knelt, a silent figure in the grey twilight. The autumn flowers grew heavy with water and hung their bright heads, basil and rosemary released pungent fragrance on the moist air, and still he knelt. His wheat-gold braid hung motionless down his back, runnels of rain coursing its length. Light dwindled, and still he knelt.

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