AS AVESTINE HAD feared, another Essanti presented herself at the palace gates as soon as Rook had left for Whisper Creek. She had the woman brought to her bed chamber in the late hours of sunfall.
Elle was nineteen and well-mannered. She told Avestine she came from a wealthy family who bred horses near Trader Bay. After a brief discussion, Avestine didn’t find anything particularly interesting about her. She had Elle taken to a room to await Rook’s return.
Later, Avestine sat alone, drinking.
She wondered what Kami would have been like when she was older, whether she would have had children. After a while, her thoughts strayed to darker images, and she wondered about Kami’s last moments alive, how she died, what she may have been thinking.
Death had never been a subject Avestine avoided thinking about. Her father had made her reckon with it from an early age, first by having her destroy her own pets, then her disobedient slaves, and finally her own mother.
Imagining Kami’s relentless body stilled, her keen mind silenced, her passion—Avestine remembered mostly her passion. Passion for justice, passion for freedom, passion for sensation. Passion for her. No one had loved her like Kami had. Kami loved her against her own will, against her own best interest.
Avestine left the table and pulled one of her boots out from underneath the bed. Using her small dagger, she pried at the boot heel until the dagger tip tripped a latch that unlocked the heel. She rotated it and drew out a carefully folded handkerchief made of fine fabric.
She spread the small cloth on the bed in front of her. It was dingy from its storage, but none of it had unraveled and the seal sewn into its center was as clear as the day Avestine picked it up from the floor of Fat Rosi’s tavern.
She had been drinking with some of her men in the days before the revolt at Featherwood. She was watching Domna with increasing interest when she noticed the madam’s daughter dart like a mouse along the walls. Kami followed her everywhere, keeping to the shadows, assuming no one noticed her.
No one paid attention to her, not even her mother. Avestine couldn’t say what it was exactly that caught her eye. Maybe it was Kami’s ability to find her no matter where she went in town. Or maybe Avestine marveled at the brave little girl. Whatever it was, Avestine hid her awareness from Kami and everyone else, but she watched Kami as intently as Kami watched her.
One day, she realized Kami was Essanti. Later, she discovered Kami was even more than that. She discovered her destiny the day Kami dropped the folded handkerchief from her vest pocket when she scrambled away.
As Avestine touched the embroidered seal on the cloth, she wondered again at finding the delicate handkerchief, one that her own grandmother had sewn. Her mother had treasured that small cloth until it became a means of revenge.
Avestine had long believed her mother’s game had failed. She doubted it even when she had found the handkerchief, and even when she had again met Kami as a young woman at Queenscourt. The gods had their games, after all. Avestine willed herself to believe that Kami’s father was some pirate who had stolen this keepsake. But Kami had tracked Avestine across the world like darkness following upon the light, like the fulfillment of a prophecy, like the Darklord. Who would have suspected so much destiny resided in a whore’s daughter?
Only Kami wasn’t a whore’s daughter. She was merely raised by a whore. Avestine had thought she could save Kami, and in so doing, save the world. But once again, she learned she wasn’t strong enough. Kami had died.
When Avestine found herself heartsick, she returned the handkerchief to its hiding place and drank more whiskey.
Listlessness was a form of despair she rarely felt, and she didn’t know how to shake it off. Her thoughts cast about for something to soothe her heart, and she thought of the new girl. Maybe she harbored the same hidden depths and complexities as Kami.
Avestine shouted for a servant to bring Elle to her.
A short time later a knock drew her attention, but only for a moment before she forgot about it. A second knock reminded her of the first one, and she rose in time to see a guard letting Elle into the room. He closed the door behind her, leaving the two women alone.
Avestine was pleased, but surprised to see her. “Did I send for you?”
Elle smiled shyly. “Yes, Excellency.”
“You don’t serve me. You said you’re Essanti. That means you belong to me. Call me ‘Your Grace’.”
“Forgive me, Your Grace.”
Avestine smiled and looked her over. Elle was tall, well proportioned, but lean. Avestine walked over to her and didn’t have to look down nearly so much as she had with Kami. “You smell good,” she said, as she brushed her hand through the shiny black hair. She drew a handful to her nose and let it spill from her fingers.
“You’re drunk, Your Grace,” said Elle.
Avestine blinked at the abrupt accusation. Then she smiled, pleased at the show of spirit. “Yes, but you could be, too.” She lifted her empty cup from the table. “Drink might make this easier.”
Elle looked from the cup to Avestine, her doe eyes widening. “Make what easier? What are you going to do?”
A thrill raced through Avestine because she knew who she was when she had prey on the run. “Whatever I want.” She anticipated Elle would try to bargain. Instead, the young body straightened, and Avestine’s whiskey-fogged mind couldn’t make sense of what happened next.
She tried to shake off her intoxication as the dagger slashed at her from the side. She managed to catch Elle’s arm and kick her legs out from under her. Questions raced through her mind, and then she found herself flat on the floor.
Gerard was shouting something at Elle as a guard got the dagger. When Gerard wrapped a blanket around her arm, Avestine saw that she was bleeding.
Gerard had Elle taken to the dungeon. Before evensun, torturers had gained a confession that Elle was related to the late royal family of Ureth Mourning. Although that’s all Elle admitted, Avestine found it unbelievable a woman avenging the royal family would have known enough about the Essanti to present herself as one. More likely, her brother had sent her. Avestine planned to have Rook interrogate Elle when he returned, but the woman managed to hang herself the following day.
She gave up any expectation that she would find another Kami. She began the difficult process of letting go, something she had done many times in her life already.
She ordered Gerard to select a Master of the Harem and cursed Rook for not having carried out her orders before he left. Such a failure of duty was unlike him, as was his continual questioning of her decisions. He wasn’t himself. He wasn’t obedient. Perhaps Kami’s death had changed him, too.
Published in Darklaw |
Copyright © 2017 Teresa Wymore. All Rights Reserved. |