Home > Kushiel's Mercy (Imriel's Trilogy #3)

Kushiel's Mercy (Imriel's Trilogy #3)
Jacqueline Carey

One

There are people in my country who have never travelled beyond the boundaries of Terre d’Ange. Indeed, there are many who have never left the province in which they were born; contented crofters tilling the land, tending orchards, or raising sheep, never venturing farther than the nearest market.

Betimes, I envy them.

Already, as a young man, I have gone farther than I could have imagined as a boy daydreaming in the Sanctuary of Elua where I was raised. It did not begin by choice—as all the world knows, I was abducted by Carthaginian slave-traders, sold into slavery in Menekhet, and from thence taken to the land of Drujan, ruled by a madman who consorted with a dark and ancient god.

It was a short time ago as historians reckon such things, but a long time ago in my life. I will never bear those memories lightly, but I have learned to bear them. Since that time, since I was rescued and restored, I have ventured as far south as Jebe-Barkal and lost Saba; and as far north as Vralia, an unlikely kingdom arising in the harsh glory of the cold north.

I have been wed and widowed.

I have become a father, almost.

And I have fallen in love, which is somewhat altogether different. It was not with my wife, Dorelei, although she was worthy of such devotion and in the end I did come to love her. Love of my wife is what drove me to Vralia, seeking justice on her behalf. I found it, too, although it was not entirely what I expected. Still, the man who killed her is dead, and his skull lies buried beneath her feet in Alba.

But there is a difference between loving and being in love—that maddening passion that expands the heart and exalts the soul, that shakes the heavens and roils the depths of hell. That, I have known but once. Betimes I wish it was with Dorelei and her thoughtful, gentle ways. Betimes I wish it was with anyone, anyone else. A crofter’s daughter, a merchant’s son. Anyone whose station in life would raise no alarms. Who would allow me to stay in one place, to live and love and be happy. Whose bedchamber would not become a political battleground, raising the unwelcome spectre of my treasonous mother and her eternal scheming.

Anyone but Sidonie.

It wasn’t, though.

And I knew it.

I knew it in Alba, when I was still bound by strange magics, struggling to shed my youthful self-absorption and fulfill my duties as a man. We hadn’t been sure, Sidonie and I. Too young, too uncertain. What had begun between us was always more than casual dalliance, although I daresay she knew the stakes better than I did. My royal cousin, Sidonie de la Courcel, Dauphine of Terre d’Ange, eldest daughter and acknowledged heir of Queen Ysandre.

The one person in the world I could not love without raising suspicion.

I knew it was love, real and enduring; we both knew it. When it began, Sidonie asked me, Imriel, tell me truly, she said. How much of what lies between us is just the lure of the forbidden?

I couldn’t answer it, not then. I didn’t know. I knew I wanted her, fiercely. I knew there was a dark fire in her depths that fed my own desires. I didn’t know about the aching abyss of tenderness and yearning that would open between us, unassuaged by time or distance. Nor, I daresay, did she.

We discovered it together.

And when Dorelei and my unborn son died, Sidonie and I both bore a measure of guilt for it. If we had been more certain, more courageous, it would never have happened. Love as thou wilt, Blessed Elua’s precept commands us. We hadn’t dared. We took the sensible route and waited. We’d feared to throw the realm into turmoil.

Well and so, it happened anyway.

There was no triumphal reception in the City of Elua when we returned from Alba after overseeing the burial of the skull of the man who killed my wife and son. Still, D’Angelines will do as they will. A great many of them turned out in support the day we rode into the City, cheering wildly. There were Tsingani and Yeshuites among them, too, for which I take no credit. For their part, it is Phèdre they adore; Phèdre nó Delaunay, Comtesse de Montrève, my foster-mother, a heroine of the realm. For as long as I live, deserved or not, I will coast on the goodwill she and her consort, Joscelin, have engendered among folk who long for heroes.

But there were others, too.

Not many, but enough. Knots of folk, here and there, amid the throngs. Men and women of middling age, sporting black armbands, eyes hard and faces grim. Where they congregated, the cheers were dampened. As we passed, they held out their hands, thumbs outthrust, rotating their hands to give the ancient signal of Tiberian imperators.

Thumbs down.

Death.

“Why?” I asked Sidonie as we rode. “Who are they?”

Her face was pale. “Families of her victims.”

I swallowed. “My mother’s?”

“So they reckon, yes. Families with loved ones who died during Skaldia’s invasion.” Sidonie met my eyes. Hers were dark and troubled. Cruithne eyes, the only sign of her mixed heritage. “It’s a reminder that your mother was condemned to execution and escaped it. They have a right to their anger, Imriel. No one said this would be easy. Are you willing to face it?”

“You know I am. Are you?” I asked softly. “The cost you bear is higher.”

Somewhat shifted in the depths of her black eyes, a certitude settling into place. Her slender shoulders were set and squared. “Yes.”

“Then I stand beside you.” I kneed the Bastard. My speckled horse snorted and pranced, jostling alongside Sidonie’s palfrey. I reached out to lay my hand over hers briefly. “Always. For as long as you will have me, and longer, I will stand at your side.”

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