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.He wished—again—that Dedrick had confided more during his final visit to Gerek’s family.It had taken place directly before Dedrick went for the last time to Duenne and court.Gerek was certain his cousin had gone at Kosenmark’s request to spy on the king.And what shall you do if you can prove it? his brother had asked.I don’t know.But it’s not right, what happened to Dedrick.And no one else cares.His brother had argued, but in the end he had agreed, however reluctantly, to help Gerek with his plans.Gerek poured himself a cup of water and drank.Kosenmark had given him a small task: Make a list of the supplies you need.Give the list to Mistress Denk, and she will see to everything.Tomorrow we shall start in earnest.He searched the desk first, to see what it contained.Not much.One drawer held miscellaneous social correspondence from a year before.The others were empty, or nearly so.He found a pen in need of mending, a bottle of ink (almost empty), and several sheets of cheap paper, yellowed along the edges.The list would be a terribly long one.What had happened to the supplies for the previous secretary?Ilse Zhalina.Secretary, then lover.She left.This was her desk; Hax’s before that.Curious, he rummaged through a few more drawers.Nothing.Then, wedged between the bottom drawer and the desk’s side, he discovered a half-finished letter.He smoothed out the paper and examined it.The letter was addressed to a Mistress Adela Andeliess in Osterling Keep.It was written in a distinctly feminine hand—however neat and contained—and inquired about a possible post at Mistress Andeliess’s pleasure house.It ended in mid-sentence.Gerek Hessler carefully replaced the letter where he’d found it.He sat back and exhaled, pulse leaping in unaccountable distress.Tricks and traps of memory all over this house.How could he never mention her name when he continued to find traces of this woman wherever he looked? From Mistress Denk’s warnings, to Kosenmark’s oblique references, to the signs she herself had left everywhere.Once more he wondered what was the true story behind her departure.CHAPTER THREEILSE ZHALINA STOOD by the window of her study in Osterling Keep.Outside, drifting clouds obscured the stars and darkness lay thick upon the city.Between the inn and bell tower opposite, she could see the lower rim of the crescent moon, dipping toward the watery horizon.Early spring, almost winter still, and yet the season had turned astonishingly warm.If she closed her eyes, she could almost imagine herself back in Melnek, on a mid-summer’s night in the northeast province of Morauvín.There was the same salt tang, the same thread of pine when the breezes curled around from the north.No.Not Melnek.Not my father’s house.It’s not the same at all.She blew out a long breath, wishing she could expel memories as easily as she could the air from her lungs.Any recollection of Melnek always called up more bitter memories—why she had run away from her father’s house, how she had sold her body to every man in the caravan rather than return, and how that terrible journey had led her to Lord Raul Kosenmark’s household, in Tiralien.Five months since I left my love.I miss him.An understatement.She missed Raul Kosenmark as she would miss air to breathe, or salt for meat.As the goddess Lir missed her brother Toc when he died, even knowing he would live once more come spring.Her heart contracted into a painful knot.Ilse cursed silently as she swiped useless tears from her eyes.She hated herself for being so weak.A strong woman would soldier onward, through loneliness and terror and the ache of separation, to that shining selfless goal of peace between all the kingdoms.She would not mind a part of her self ripped away.Lir had survived until spring, waiting for Toc and their reunion.Except, except …Except that Ilse knew she was no goddess, just an ordinary woman, and spring would come without any end to her separation from Raul Kosenmark.It never will, unless we each do our part.She drew a long breath and willed herself to calm.Stubbornness.That was the key.Raul often told her she was unnaturally stubborn.She could never tell if he meant it as compliment or complaint.No matter.It was a trait inherited from her father, and though she hated any reminder of that man, hated any thought of Melnek and the life that came before, she knew she must use stubbornness to her own advantage.Because we are bound by blood and flesh, by past lives and memories.Tanja Duhr knew us all, she thought, when she wrote those words.Ilse heard a soft creaking noise—of ropes drawn tight—the sound magnified by night.A moment’s anticipation followed, like the infinitesimal pause between a breath drawn and its exhalation, then a muted peal rang out.One, two, three chimes whispered along the breeze, like a song recalling older days and half-forgotten lives.Another bell tower took up the count, then another, farther away.Ilse listened until the last bellsong faded, and silence washed over the city once more.In Osterling’s fort and along the perimeter walls, soldiers kept watch, but here in Mistress Andeliess’s pleasure house, these were the quiet hours.The courtyard below was empty of any passersby.The courtesans and their clients slept, and the servants had not yet begun their day.It was the hour for magic.Ilse closed the shutters and set the bar.She locked her outer door and bolted it with sturdy iron.That, however, was not enough.She laid her fingers over the lock’s metal plate and murmured an invocation to the magic current.Ei rûf ane gôtter.Komen mir de strôm …The language was old Erythandran, the language of magic.The words she had learned in Raul Kosenmark’s household, a place where magical guards were ordinary things.This one augmented the lock itself, so that no one could tweak the pins and levers within.An experienced mage could break these protections, but then, what she did here was simply the first line of her defense.Once she locked the door and windows, she retreated into her bedchamber.Two lamps burned in their brackets, their scented oil giving off the aroma of lemons and oranges.The walls here were the same pale peach as her study, but with a darker border around the ceiling.Ilse locked and bolted the second door.She paused at the window for one last breath of the warm ocean breeze, then pulled the two shutter panels shut and barred them.The scent of her sweat and the sweeter scent of the lamp oil intensified.Just nerves, she told herself.Nothing more.She extinguished the lamps and sat cross-legged on her bed, her back against the wall.She breathed in, felt the air catch in her throat, then slowly released it.Ei rûf ane gôtter.Komen mir de strôm.With every exhalation, her thoughts spiraled down to that moment between breaths, to the point where the magic current welled up, like water from a crack in stone.En nam Lir unde Toc, versigelen mir.Niht ougen.Niht hœren.Versigeln älliu inre.A heavy silence enveloped her, as though someone had dropped a curtain between her and the physical world.Her rooms were still visible, but the objects outside her immediate circle appeared blurred.That was deliberate.No one must know what she did here.Now for the next step.Ei rûf ane gôtter.Ei rûf ane Lir unde Toc.Komen mir de strôm.Blood pulsed in her ears.She could sense every minute ripple in the magical current against her skin, within her body.Another moment, and her soul would relinquish its purchase on her body, shrug away her flesh, and soar into the magical void between worlds.For over three months, she had practiced just that until the act came easily to her [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]