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When I realized it, it came as something I had known for a long, long, time.
    Somewhere, somehow, life without him had become unthinkable.
    It didn’t alter my desires.
    To his infinite credit, Joscelin spoke no word of reproach but gave to me what solace he could that night where we took our lodgings. On the rough-spun blankets of our rented bed, he laid aside his self-discipline and made love to me with all the savagery of his heart.
    It helped, some. I clutched at his back, feeling his muscles work violently beneath his skin as he drove himself into me, burying my face in the crook of his neck as his hair fell in shining ribbons about us both and salt tears dampened my cheeks. It wasn’t enough. Peerless warrior though he was, there was no cruelty in Joscelin. I ought to know; I loved him for it. Yet even as he stiffened above me on rigid arms, spending himself, and my ardent body responded, it wasn’t enough. My skin craved the kiss of the lash, the bite of a keen blade. I longed to kneel in abject surrender, whispering obscene pleas.
    I could not have been more miserable if I had.
    Somewhere beyond us, Kushiel smiled pitilessly.
    It would have been different, if anyone but Melisande had been the cause. This was a yearning that came upon me from time to time; when it did, we both of us knew it was time for me to take a patron. I can pick and choose, now, as I do thrice a year. Delaunay’s anguissette no longer, I take assignations with only such patrons as I deem worthy. It galled my heart and filled me with self-hatred to know that now, even now, the mere sight of Melisande was enough to stir my darkest desires.
    If I had not been what I am, if I had not known her as I do, I could never have thwarted Melisande’s designs on the throne of Terre d’Ange. I know this. But why now? It served no need, no purpose I could discern.
    Well, and who can discern the purposes of the gods? With an effort, I bent my mind from contemplating my inner woes and thought about our present dilemma instead. Imriel de la Courcel, a Prince’s son raised a goat-herd, like something out of an old legend. The audacity of it dazzled me still. I was reluctant to confront the Duc L’Envers, though I could not help but hold him my chiefest suspect. He had saved my life, once, on the battlefield of Troyes-le-Mont-and he had saved Ysandre’s throne. Still, Melisande was right. If Barquiel L’Envers learned of the boy’s whereabouts, I do not think he would use the knowledge to enable Ysandre to fulfill her dream of ending the blood-feud that haunted House Courcel’s lineage, bringing the boy into thefold. Barquiel L’Envers thought it was a weak and foolish dream. If he found the child, he might not kill him out of hand-Elua grant it were so-but he might well make him disappear.
    And in my heart of hearts, I was not entirely certain he was wrong in his beliefs. Ysandre’s sentiments were noble, but I was there when Melisande threatened the Queen with enmity should she take her son. I do not think Ysandre, who had long regarded Melisande Shahrizai her enemy, appreciated the difference.
    I did. If Melisande threw away the stakes of her long game for vengeance, everyone would lose. Mayhap Ysandre believed her safely contained. I had thought so too, once, when Melisande was brought to justice at Troyes-le-Mont. She had escaped from there, and a good many people were dead because of it, some of them dear to me. I knew better.
    So did Barquiel L’Envers.
    Thus passed our return journey, pensive and unhappy. And I spent long hours too in contemplation of the Jebean scroll and the revelations contained therein, wondering if what Melisande speculated might be true. After so long, it almost frightened me to hope … and I am not ashamed to admit that the enormity of the tasks confronting me frightened me, too. I was not a child any more, rash and careless with youth’s immortality. I was thirty-two years old, and I had attained a stature to which I

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