Home > Kushiel's Scion (Imriel's Trilogy #1)

Kushiel's Scion (Imriel's Trilogy #1)
Jacqueline Carey

Prologue

What does it mean to be good?

When I was a child, I thought I knew. It was easy then. I knew nothing of my birth or my heritage. My childhood was spent in the Sanctuary of Elua, where I was a ward. My days were spent in worklike play: scrambling the mountainsides and tending goats with the other children of the Sanctuary, climbing trees and swimming in the swift stream while our charges grazed.

I was steeped in the precept of Blessed Elua: Love as thou wilt. And I did. I loved without reserve, freely and easily—my playmates, the priests and priestesses of the Sanctuary, the goats I tended, the earth beneath my feet and the sky above my head. I am a D'Angeline; I loved Terre d'Ange, the country of my birth. With all my heart, I loved our gods, Elua and his Companions, and I knew myself loved in return. I was happy. I never thought to be anything else.

When I was ten years old, everything changed.

I was stolen by Carthaginian slave-traders and sent on a journey into hell. And I thought I'd die there, but I didn't. I was rescued. I was brought out of damnation into safety.

And everything changed again.

In a distant fortress on the far verges of Khebbel-im-Akkad, the D'Angeline Queen's delegate bowed his head and greeted me as Imriel de la Courcel, Prince of the Blood.

All that I knew of myself was a lie.

I learned my father was Benedicte de la Courcel, the great-uncle of Queen Ysandre. For many years, he was her closest living relative in House Courcel. But by the time I heard the news, he was long dead. He was a traitor to the throne, and if he'd lived to be tried, he would have been convicted of it. He didn't, though.

My mother was another matter.

When I was eight years old, before I knew who she was, Brother Selbert took me to La Serenissima to see my mother. He had told me that my parents had been D'Angeline nobles who had died of an ague during a ship crossing, bequeathing me with their dying breaths to the priest as a ward of the Sanctuary. He told me that this woman had been a friend of my parents and would stand as my patron when I came of age. And he told me that she had dangerous enemies and that I must never speak of her, for it would put her in grave danger.

That last bit, at least, was true. I believed him. Why shouldn't I? I'd spent my life trusting him. But everything else was a lie. And he didn't tell me that she had earned each and every enemy she made. My father's treachery pales in comparison to her deeds. In all its history, Terre d'Ange has never known a deadlier traitor than Melisande Shahrizai de la Courcel.

My mother, whom I learned to despise.

In hindsight, it seems strange that I didn't recognize her at the time. And yet how was I to know? There were no mirrors in the Sanctuary of Elua. Betimes we children used to lean over the goat-bridge and peer at our wavering reflections in the stream's surface, but that was all. I was as ignorant of my features as I was of my identity.

Of course, that was before the slave-traders took me. Then I had ample opportunity to hear myself described. In the country of Drujan, they were looking for perfect, unblemished sacrifices. I was sold to one of the bone-priests who served the Mahrkagir, the ruler of all Drujan. The Mahrkagir was cruel, ruthless and utterly mad. And I was bought for his foul harem, the zenana in the palace of Daršanga. Beauty is scant comfort on a descent into hell.

I resemble my mother.

I know it now. I see it in mirrors—there are always mirrors, in my foster-mother Phèdre's household—and I hate it. I wear my mother's face. My eyes are her eyes, a deep twilight blue. My skin is her skin, a shadowed alabaster, the color of old ivory. I see the generous curve of her mouth reflected in my lips. My hair, like hers, grows in gleaming, blue-black waves.

The resemblance cannot be denied.

There are those—even now, after all she has done—who marvel that I don't welcome it. Although she was the greatest traitor our nation has known, Melisande Shahrizai was one of its greatest beauties, too. A deadly beauty, bright as the sun, keen as a blade. In certain circles, she is still admired for it. If there is a nation on the face of the earth with a people more vain than Terre d'Ange, I've yet to find it. And in my twelve years, I've seen more of the world than most D'Angelines will ever glimpse.

But I have seen beauty, and it does not wear my mother's face.

When I gaze in the mirror and see her features reflected in mine, I am filled with uncertainty. What does it mean to be good? When I look inside myself, I see only darkness and confusion. I do not know why what happened to me, happened. I do not know what I did to deserve it, or if I am bearing the price of my mother's sins. I fear the resemblance between us. I fear that one day I may prove to be like her. But when I look outside myself, it is easy to point to goodness. I was stolen out of paradise and sent into the depths of a depravity the likes of which decent folk couldn't begin to comprehend, but I was rescued. The ones who rescued me… when I think about what it means to be good, I think about them.

Phèdre.

Joscelin.

Phèdre.

I don't know—I will never know—where they found the courage to do what was needed to save me. Phèdre says that although it is my mother who charged her with the task, it was the will of Blessed Elua himself that sent her forth across that terrible threshold. I cannot reckon the cost. I know what the Mahrkagir did to her. All of us who were slaves in the Mahrkagir's zenana knew what he did to his favorites. I don't know how she endured it. And I don't know how Joscelin, Phedre's consort and protector, survived knowing the abuse she suffered at the Mahrkagir's hands without succumbing to madness.

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