Home > Kushiel's Avatar (Phedre's Trilogy #3)

Kushiel's Avatar (Phedre's Trilogy #3)
Jacqueline Carey

ONE

IT ENDED with a dream.Ten years of peace, the ancient Oracle of Asherat-of-the-Sea prom ised me; ten years I had, and in that time, my fortune prospered along with that of Terre d'Ange, my beloved nation. So often, a time of great happiness is recognized only in hindsight. I reckoned it a blessing that the Oracle's promise served also as warning, and let no day pass without acknowledging its grace. Youth and beauty I had yet on my side, the latter deepening as the years tempered the former. Thus had my old mentor, Cecilie Laveau-Perrin, foretold, and if I had counted her words lightly in the rasher youth of my twenties, I knew it for truth as I left them behind.

'Tis a shallow concern, many might claim, but I am D'Angeline and make no apology for our ways. Comtesse de Montrève I may be, and indeed, a heroine of the realm—had not my deeds been set to verse by the Queen's Poet's own successor?—but I had come first into my own as Phèdre nó Delaunay, Naamah's Servant and Kushiel's Chosen, an anguissette and the most uniquely trained courtesan the realm had ever known. I have never claimed to lack vanity.

For the rest, I had those things which I prized above all else, not the least of which was the regard of my Queen, Ysandre de la Courcel, who gifted me with the Companion's Star for my role in securing her throne ten years past. I had seen then the makings of a great ruler in her; I daresay all the realm has seen it since. For ten years, Terre d'Ange has known peace and abiding prosperity; Terre d'Ange and Alba, ruled side by side by Ysandre de la Courcel and Drustan mab Necthana, the Cruarch of Alba, whom I am privileged to call my friend. Surely the hand of Blessed Elua was upon that union, when love took root where the seeds of political alliance were sown! Truly, love has proved the stronger force, conquering even the deadly Straits that divided them.

Although it took Hyacinthe's sacrifice to achieve it.

Thus, the nature of my dream.

I did not know, when I awoke from it, trembling and short of b reath, tears leaking from beneath my closed lids, that it was the be ginning of the end. Even in happiness, I never forgot Hyacinthe. I had not dreamed of him before, it is true, but he was ever on my mind. How could he not be? He was my oldest and dearest friend, the com panion of my childhood. Not even my lord Anafiel Delaunay, who took me into his household at the age of ten, who trained me in the arts of covertcy and whose name I bear to this day, had known me so long. What I am, what I became, I owe to my lord Delaunay, who changed with a few words my fatal flaw to a sacred mark, the sign of Kushiel's Dart. But it was Hyacinthe who knew me first, who was my friend when I was naught but a whore's unwanted get, an orphan of the Night Court with a scarlet mote in my left eye that made me unfit for Naamah's Service, that made superstitious countryfolk point and stare and call me names.

And it was Hyacinthe of whom I dreamed. Not the young man I had left to a fate worse than death—a fate that should have been mine— but the boy I had known, the Tsingano boy with the black curls and the merry grin, who, in an overturned market stall, reached out his hand to me in conspiratorial friendship.

I drew a deep, shuddering breath, feeling the dream recede, tears still damp on my cheeks. So simple, to arouse such horror! In my dream, I stood in the prow of a ship, one of the swift, agile Illyrian ships I knew so well from my adventures, and wept to watch a gulf of water widen between my vessel and the rocky shore of a lonely island, where the boy Hyacinthe stood alone and pleaded, stretching out his arms and calling my name. He had solved a riddle there, naming the source of the Master of the Straits' power. I had answered it too, but Hyacinthe had used the dromonde, the Tsingano gift of sight, and his answer went deeper than I could follow. He won us passage across the Straits when we needed it most and the cost of it was all he had, binding him to those stony shores for eternity, unless the geis could be broken. This I had sought for many years to do, and in my dream, as in life, I had failed. I could hear the crew behind me, cursing in despair against the headwinds that drove us further away, the vast expanse of grey water widening between us, Hyacinthe's cries following, his boyish voice calling out to the woman I had become, Phèdre, Phèdre!

It shivered my flesh all over to remember it and I turned unthinking toward comfort, curling my body against Joscelin's sleeping warmth and pillowing my tear-stained cheek on his shoulder—for that was the last and greatest of my gifts, and the one I treasured most: Love. For ten years, Joscelin Verreuil has been my consort, and if we have bick ered and quarreled and wounded each other to the quick a thousand times over, there is not a day of it I would relinquish. Let the realm laugh—and they do—to think of the union betwixt a courtesan and a Cassiline; we know what we are to one another.

Joscelin did not wake, but merely stirred in his sleep, accommo dating his body to mine. Moonlight spilled through the window of our bedchamber overlooking the garden; moonlight and the faint scent of herbs and roses, rendering his fair hair silver as it spread across the pillows and making the air sweet. It is a pleasant place to sleep and make love. I pressed my lips silently to Joscelin's shoulder, resting quiet beside him. It might have been Hyacinthe, if matters had fallen out otherwise. We had dreamed of it, he and I.

No one is given to know what might have been.

So I mused, and in time I slept and dreamed that I mused still until I awoke to find sunlight lying in a bright swathe across the bed-linens and Joscelin already awake in the garden. His daggers flashed steel as he moved through the seamless series of exercises he had performed every day of his life since he was ten years old, the training-forms of a Cassiline Brother. But it was not until I had risen and bathed and was breaking my fast that he came in to greet me, and when he did, his blue eyes were somber.

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