A Kiss of Shadows

Chapter 17

I ARRIVED BACK AT MY APARTMENT WITH MY HAIR STILL DAMP FROM THE hotel shower. Doyle insisted on unlocking the door for me, in case it had been magically booby-trapped. He was taking his job of bodyguard seriously, but from Doyle I wouldn't have expected less. When he pronounced it safe I walked onto the grey carpet barefoot. I was wearing a Hawaiian shirt and a pair of loose men's shorts, clothes Sholto had borrowed from Gethin. The only thing I couldn't borrow from the man was shoes. My clothes were still in the hotel room, so blood-soaked that even the underwear had been unusable. Some of the blood had been Nerys's, some of it mine.

I turned on the light switch by the door. The overhead light blazed to life. I'd paid extra to be able to paint the apartment a color other than white. The walls of the front room were pale pink. The couch was mauve, purple, and pink. The overstuffed chair in the corner was pink. The drapes were pink with ties of purple. Jeremy had said it was like being inside an expensively decorated Easter egg. The bookcase was white. The entertainment center was white. I turned on the standing lamp by the overstuffed chair. The light over the small white kitchen table and chairs was next. Lacy white curtains framed the big window in front of the table. The window glass was very black and somehow threatening. I closed the drapes, shutting the night out behind the white blind. I stood for a moment in front of the only painting in the front room. It was a print of The Butterflies' Haunt by W. Scott Miles. The picture was mostly green, and the butterflies were painted to nature, so there was precious little pink or purple in the picture. But you never choose a painting just because it matches a room-you choose a painting because it speaks to you. Because it says something that you want to be reminded of daily. The picture had always seemed peaceful, idyllic, but tonight it was just paint on a canvas. Tonight nothing was going to please me. I turned on the kitchen lights and went for the bedroom.

Doyle had stood quietly to one side as I moved around the room turning on all the lights like a child waking from a nightmare. Light to chase away the bad things. The trouble was that the bad things were in my head now. There was no light bright enough for that.

He followed me as I went into the bedroom. I hit the overhead light as I moved through the door.

"I like what you've done with the bedroom," he said.

The comment made me turn and look at him. "What do you mean?"

His face stayed impassive, unreadable. "The living room was so very... pink. I feared the bedroom would be, as well."

I looked around the room at the soft grey walls, the burgundy wallpaper border with its mauve, pink, and white flowers. The bed was a king-sized four-poster, leaving almost no room between the foot of the bed and the closet doors. The bedspread was a deep, rich burgundy with a mound of pillows: burgundy, purple, mauve, pink, and a few black, just a few. The mirrored dresser was cherry wood, varnished so dark it was almost black. The dresser near the window matched it. Jeremy said that my bedroom looked like a man's room with a few touches added by his girlfriend. There was a black lacquer cabinet in the corner farthest away from the bathroom door. The cabinet was Oriental, with cranes and stylized mountains. The crane had been part of my father's livery. When I bought it, I remembered thinking he would have liked it. There was a philodendron plant on top of it, grown so long that the vines fell like green hair around the beautiful wood.

I looked around the room, and suddenly it felt like it wasn't mine and I didn't belong here. I turned back to Doyle. "As if it makes a difference to you what color my bedroom is."

He didn't flinch, but his face became even more unreadable, more passive, a trace of arrogance creeping in, and it reminded me of Sholto's courtly mask.

The comment had been mean, and meant to be. I was angry with him. Angry with him for not killing Nerys for me. Angry with him for forcing me to do what had to be done. Angry with him for everything, even the things that weren't his fault.

He watched me with cool eyes. "You're quite right, Princess Meredith, your bedroom is no concern of mine. I am a court gelding."

I shook my head. "No, that's the problem. You're not a gelding; none of you are. She just won't share."

He shrugged, making it look graceful. The movement caused him to wince.

"How is your wound?" I asked.

"You were angry with me seconds ago, now you are not. Why?"

I tried to put it into words. "It's not your fault."

"What is not my fault?"

"You did not endanger me. You saved my life. You didn't send the sluagh after me. You didn't cause the hand of flesh to manifest tonight. It's not your fault. I'm angry, and I want someone to blame, but you shouldn't pay the price for other people's shit."

He raised black-on-black eyebrows at that. "A most enlightened attitude for a princess."

I shook my head. "Drop the title, Doyle. I'm Meredith, just Meredith."

The eyebrows went up even farther, until his eyes looked impossibly wide, and his expression actually made me laugh. The laughter sounded normal, felt good. I sat down on the edge of the bed and shook my head. "I didn't think I'd be laughing tonight."

He knelt in front of me. "You have killed before-why is this different?"

I looked at him, surprised that he'd understood exactly what was bothering me. "Why was it so important that I kill Nerys?"

"A sidhe comes into their power through ritual, but that doesn't mean that the power will manifest itself. After the first time the power is used, then the sidhe must bloody themselves in combat." He put a hand on the bed on either side of me, but not touching. "It is a kind of blood sacrifice; it will ensure that the powers do not go back to sleep, but continue to grow."

"Blood makes the crops grow," I said.

He nodded. "Death magic is the oldest of all magics, Princess." He gave that small smile. "Meredith." He said my name softly.

"So you had me chop Nerys up so that my powers wouldn't go dormant again?"

He nodded again.

I looked into that serious face. "You said a sidhe comes into their power after a ritual. I had no ritual."

"The night you spent with the roane was your ritual."

I shook my head. "No, Doyle, we did nothing ritualistic that night."

"There are many rituals for awakening the power, Meredith. Combat, sacrifice, sex, and many more. It is not surprising that your power chose sex. You are descended from three different fertility deities."

"Five actually. But I still don't understand."

"Your roane was covered in Branwyn's Tears; for that one night he acted the part of a sidhe lover for you. He brought on your secondary powers."

"I knew it was magical, but I didn't know..." My voice trailed off. I frowned at him. "It seems like there should be more to it than just good sex."

"Why? It is sex that makes the miracle of life-what could be greater than that?"

"The magic healed Roane, gave him back his sealskin. I didn't try to heal him, because I didn't know I could."

Doyle sat down beside the bed, his long legs curled up against the dresser. "Healing one skinless roane is nothing. I have seen sidhe raise mountains from the sea, or flood entire cities, when they came into their power. You were lucky."

I was suddenly scared. "You mean my coming into my powers could have caused some great natural disaster?"


"You'd think someone would have warned me," I said.

"No one knew you were leaving us, so we could give you no parting advice. And no one knew that you had secondary powers, Meredith. The queen was convinced that if seven years with Griffin in your bed and years of duels had not awakened your powers then they were not there to waken."

"Why now?" I asked. "Why after all these years?"

"I do not know. All I know is that you are Princess of Flesh, and you have one more hand of

power that has not manifested yet."

"It's rare for a sidhe to have more than one hand of power. Why would I have two?"

"Your hands had melted two of the metal bars on the bed . Two bars melted, one for each hand."

I stood and stepped away from him. "How did you know that?"

"I watched you sleep from the balcony. I saw the headboard."

"Why didn't you make yourself known to me?"

"At that point you were in what amounted to a drugged sleep. I doubt I could have wakened you."

"Why not the night you used the spiders? The night at Alistair Norton's?"

"You mean the human who was worshiping the sidhe."

That stopped me. I stared at him. "What are you talking about, Doyle? When did Norton worship the sidhe?"

"When he stole the power from the women using Branwyn's Tears," Doyle said.

"No, I was there. I was nearly a victim. There was no ceremony invoking the sidhe."

"Every schoolchild in this country is taught the one thing that the sidhe were prohibited from doing when we were welcomed into this country."

"We could not set ourselves up as gods. We could not be worshiped. I got the lecture at home from Father, and at school in history class, government class."

"You are the only one of us ever educated with the common humans. I forget that sometimes. The queen was livid when she discovered Prince Essus had enrolled you in a public school."

"She tried to drown me when I was six, Doyle. She tried to drown me like a purebred puppy that came out with the wrong markings. I wouldn't think she'd have given a damn what school I went to."

"I don't think I've ever seen the queen so surprised as when Prince Essus took you, and his entourage, and set up housekeeping among the humans." He smiled, a brief flash of white in that dark face. "Once she realized that the prince would not stand for your mistreatment, then she began to try and lure him back to court. She offered him much, but he refused for ten years. Long enough for you to grow from child to woman out among the humans."

"If she was so upset, why did she allow so many of the Unseelie Court to visit us?"

"The queen, and the prince, feared that you would grow too human if you did not see your people. Though the queen did not approve of your father's choices for his entourage."

"You mean Keelin," I said.

He nodded. "The queen never understood why he insisted on choosing a fey who had no sidhe blood in her veins as your constant companion."

"Keelin is half brownie like my grandmother."

"And half goblin," Doyle said, "which you do not have in your background."

"The goblins are the foot soldiers of the Unseelie army. The sidhe declare war, but the goblins begin it."

"You're quoting your father now," Doyle said.

"Yes, I am." I was suddenly tired again. The short burst of humor, the amazing new possibilities of power, a return to the court-nothing could keep me from a bone-numbing weariness. But one thing I had to know. "You said Alistair Norton was worshiping the sidhe. What did you mean by that?"

"I meant that he used ritual to invoke the sidhe when he set up the circle of power around his

bed. I recognized the symbols. You saw no ritual because even the most uneducated human would know that he was not allowed to call on sidhe power for magic."

"He did the preparation ritual before the women came," I said.

"Exactly," Doyle said.

" I saw a sidhe in the mirrors, but I did not see a face. Could you sense who it was?"

"No, but they were powerful enough that I could not break through. All I could send you was my animal, and my voice. It takes a great deal to bar me from a room."

"So one of the sidhe is allowing himself-"

"Or herself," Doyle said.

I nodded. "Or herself to be worshiped, and they gave Branwyn's Tears to a mortal to be used against other fey."

"Normally, humans of fey descent would not qualify for full fey status, but in this case, yes."

"To allow worship is a death sentence," I said.

"To allow the Tears to be used against another fey is to be condemned to torture for an indefinite period. Some would choose death over that."

"Have you told the queen?"

Doyle pushed himself to his feet. "I have told her of the sidhe who is allowing him or herself to be worshiped, and the Tears. I need to tell her that you have the hand of flesh, and you are blooded. She must also know that it is not Sholto who is the traitor, but one who spoke using the queen's own name."

I widened eyes at him. "Are you saying that she sent just you, alone, against Sholto and the entire sluagh, when she thought he had gone rogue?"

Doyle just looked at me.

"Nothing personal, but you needed backup."

"No, she sent me to fetch you home before Sholto left Saint Louis. I arrived the night that I sent the spiders to help you. It was the next day that Sholto began traveling this way."

"So someone found out the queen wanted me home, and within twenty-four hours they'd made a plan to have me killed."

"It would seem so," Doyle said.

"You haven't left the queen's side in-what? six hundred, eight hundred years, except for assassinations?"

"One thousand and twenty-three years to be exact."

"So if she doesn't mean you to kill me, then why send you? There are other of her Ravens that I trust more."

"Trust more, or like more?" Doyle asked.

I thought about that, then nodded. "All right, like more. This is the longest conversation we've ever had, Doyle. Why did she send you, her Darkness?"

"The queen wants you home, Meredith. But she feared you would not believe her. I am her token to you. Her Darkness sent with her personal weapon in hand, with her magic in my body, to prove that she is sincere."

"Why does she want me home, Doyle? She sent you before I came into my power-which was a surprise to all of us. So what changed her mind? Why am I suddenly worth keeping alive?"

"She never ordered your death."

"She never stopped anyone from trying either."

He gave a small bow. "That I cannot argue."

"Then what has changed?"

"I do not know why, Meredith, only that she wishes it."

"You never did ask enough questions," I said.

"And you, Princess, always asked too many."

"Maybe, but I want an answer to this question before I go back to court."

"Which question is that?"

I frowned at him. "Why the change of heart, Doyle? I need to know before I trust my life to the court again."

"If she will not share this information?"

I tried to think about giving up faerie forever because of one unanswered question. It was too big a topic for me to wrap my mind around. "I don't know, Doyle, I don't know. All I do know is that I'm tired."

"With your permission I will use the bathroom mirror to contact the queen and make my report."

I nodded. "Help yourself."

He gave as much of a bow as the crowded bedroom would allow and moved toward the bathroom door, which was around the corner, out of sight from where we stood.

"How did you know where the bathroom was?" I asked.

He glanced back at me, face pleasant, unreadable. "I've seen the rest of the apartment. Where else could it be?"

I looked at him and didn't believe him. Either it didn't show on my face, or he chose to ignore

it, because he walked around the corner. I heard the bathroom door open and close.

I sat on the edge of the bed and tried to remember where I'd put the sleeping bags. Doyle had saved my life tonight-the least I could do was make him comfortable. For my life, I guess I could have offered him the bed, but I was achingly tired, and I wanted the bed. Besides, until I knew exactly why he'd saved me tonight I was holding off on the big gratitude. There are things worse than death at the Unseelie Court. Nerys was a perfect example. The queen's mark would not be violated by such a spell. So until I was certain down to the very fiber of my being that I was not being saved for some awful fate, I'd hold on to my gratitude. I found the sleeping bags in the small closet in the living room. I had them unrolled on the foot of the bed, airing, when I heard the shouting from the bathroom. Doyle's voice was raised in anger. The queen's Darkness and the queen were having a fight, or so it seemed. I wondered if he'd tell me what the fight was about, or if it would be just one more secret to keep.

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