In chaos or in unity
Arnae and his own nagging sense of ill-being had told Lord Kavour to hurry back to the pavilion. Arnae, Branic, and Nireem were in the secret room, awaiting escape and Gareth; they would be safe, for a time. The midday clouds crept across the sky like brackish water across a shoreline. The time was half past two, but the halls were already dark. Lone sisflies, forlorn with the heat's sudden departure, hammered their frail bodies against the windowpanes. Eventually, dazed, black legs waving in protest, they spun on their backs, unwilling or unable to turn over.
It was their hum at first that drew his attention as Kavour graced the threshold to the third floor of the East Wing. Beyond the scalloped archway overlooking the library, small wings buzzed against the windows that looked out over the sweeping grounds. Kavour spared a glance for the sky – still gray-green and heavy – before his eyes swept across the suit of armor and past it. Something was very wrong. A sound had alerted him; a rasp or a whimper beneath the hum of the flies. And then, beyond the suit of armor, he saw them, curved and pale: fingers clutching air.
Blood caught the light from the window as he ran forward: blood like liquid mercury, ebbing across the flagstones. Kavour reached a hand beneath her hair and braced her with numb hands. Breath rasped shallowly in her chest, and he thanked nameless higher powers that she could still draw it. Blood seeped from between her ribs, an inch beneath her heart. Blood was staining the thin silk which covered her bodice. Her lips moved, and there was blood on them, too: blood enough to send a thin trickle winding towards her chin. A pulse fluttered weakly in her neck.
Her lips moved again, and, like a man in a dream, Kavour moved closer, so that his ear was practically touching her lips.
"Stay with me," he said.
Her eyes were confused. No, no, no; she had to look at him, if she did not look at him then she was surely lost. Without warning, she screamed. He shrank back a little, stroking her face with the side of his hand, whispering words that meant nothing but that had meaning: the purpose to soothe.
Help, he thought.
Something rose up in his chest, something he had come to recognize as magic. He felt it flow across his hands, into Adrianne's skin. Her eyes fluttered. Her hand moved. He felt her press something small and cold into his palm. Without looking down, his hand closed over it.
"You can't die," said Lord Kavour.
She opened her eyes a crack.
"Do you mean…" she whispered, "that I'm not physically capable of dying? ... Or that I can't die because … your conscience can't stand the thought of dear Adrianne dead?"
Her face screwed up in pain.
Her hand in his sleeve, and her lips moving again: he leaned forward.
"You have to… get over… yourself…"
And then her eyes slid past Kavour's shoulder, and she released her grip on his sleeve, almost forcibly, with hands that trembled.
"'M not afraid of you now," she coughed.
"No," said Lord Jasperian of Cadaras. "Courage has never been lacking in the members of House Sahaye."
He had been wandering the lesser-known parts of the castle only minutes ago. Unpatrolled in the princess' hour of glory, they had sheltered him as he contemplated his next move. That a craftier man would have fled the palace after his encounter in the antechamber with Lord Kavour was not lost on him. He would have played his trump card and fled, but for curiosity and the keen suspicion that other lords had yet to play their hand.
And he had been correct, for he had not long been standing on the floor just below when a face he remembered strode past, gait hurried, sword that dripped blood. Jasperian of Cadaras had kept to the shadows. He was skilled in that art. His nemesis had continued without pausing, and the Earl of Cadaras had made his way upstairs.
"By all means, rise," he told Lord Kavour, as the younger lord made to stand. "Fight me, while the Queen of House Sahaye dies."
"You did this –" said Kavour, not quite rising, but not settling low again either. His voice shook. "You've murdered her –"
"For once, your wild accusations are completely incorrect," said Jasperian calmly. "I had nothing to do with this matter."
He could gauge the life left in Queen Adrianne. He regarded the dying girl with cool disinterest; it was like watching a cracked wineglass drip dry. She whimpered, and Kavour, eyes burning with hatred, knelt low again and said something soothing.
Jasperian saw Kavour wrap his hands around Adrianne's. Disdain made him stride to the window. Kavour was too absorbed to attack, and Jasperian of Cadaras could wait; it was patience – cunning, yes, but patience – that made plans bear their fruit. Even with his back turned, he could feel the power Kavour was feeding Adrianne of Arylla. He trapped a buzzing sis-fly and tore its wings off with a cold, precise gesture.
"It is useless," said Lord Jasperian of Cadaras coolly, watching distant lightning sever the sky like a knife-thrust. "She will not survive such a wound, and you will die trying to save her."
The air was thick with power: coarse and untrained and almost palpable, as though the air was suddenly too humid to breathe. Jasperian's eyes narrowed, and he abandoned the sight of the green sky. With the effort of keeping Adrianne of Arylla alive Kavour's face was assuming a pallor that almost equaled the cloud-color outside. Jasperian had seen such a pallor once before, while looking in a mirror. It had been a foolish incident in his youth, an effort to test of the limits of his own magic across too great a distance. Jasperian had been careful to guard himself since. Of course, Jasperian thought coldly, Kavour's common blood no doubt contributed to his lack of endurance.
Kavour opened his eyes with a gasp and looked at the one who had just spoken: Adrianne.
"He's right," she whimpered.
The Earl of Cadaras bowed, a half-mocking smile playing across his lips. "My deepest apologies, Your Highness."
"Kavour, you have to… go," Adrianne said, ignoring Jasperian. "Lord Duncan has taken… over the palace."
"Was it his men who shot you?" said the Earl of Cadaras swiftly: here was another piece to the puzzle of the strange men he had noticed, earlier, among the crowd.
"No," Adrianne said, and her eyes were distant again. "That was …"
A scream cut her off, a scream so violent that Adrianne drew in a breath and then half-shrieked herself with the agony of movement. Kavour cursed softly and looked to the entranceway. Firvati stood there, withered hands clutched to her mouth, eyes fixed on Adrianne. It was she who had screamed. Her forearm bled sluggishly, and her old robes looked as though they had been ripped in a skirmish. She staggered, as though an invisible opponent had struck an unyielding blow, but as Jasperian of Cadaras started forward sharply with the intent of silencing her, she caught herself on her cane.
"Murderer!" she shrieked.
For a moment Kavour thought she meant Jasperian. "Don't take another step," he said. Jasperian's ignored him and reached forward, intending to quiet Firivati, but the old woman, babbling, rushed past his arm.
"He's done it again, killed another of my babies, left lying in a pool of blood, so many dead."
Adrianne writhed back and forth in Kavour's arms.
"She's not dead, Firivati."
But Kavour's voice had a desperate note to it. He knew, but he did not like to face the truth.
That, Adrianne thought, upon a tide of pain, was what separated him from his brother. She wondered if this was what separated the scrupulous people from the unscrupulous ones. Scrupulous people liked to prolong the illusion that honor and fair play would pay you back fair. The unscrupulous ones were more sensible. They knew you couldn't waste time on silly dreams, but had to profit from whatever bloody spectacle was in front of your face.
"How long do you think she will live in her condition?" Jasperian drawled, leaning against the wall. "Hours, minutes? You can't even hold off the pain for much longer, can you?"
Adrianne's eyes opened slowly, deliberately, and the green of them was vibrant in the dim light of the hall.
"Kill me," said Adrianne, staring straight at the Earl of Cadaras.
She did not jest: she meant every word, and there was a firmness in her voice that reminded him of Arnae. Unspoken in her request he read the silent explanation.
Kavour would not do it. Kavour loves me too much.
Adrianne groaned and closed her eyes.
"No!" Firivati said. Her clawed hands clutched Jasperian's arm in a surprisingly strong grip as she stopped Jasperian's fingers from reaching Adrianne's forehead.
"You can save her," Kavour told Jasperian, as Adrianne's eyes fluttered. "If you save Adrianne now, you will receive a pardon for your crimes – be allowed to go free, as the Earl of Cadaras –"
"And if I should fail, half-brother?"
The entire scene amused him. Adrianne of Arylla was going to die, no matter if he aided her or did nothing. The saber had passed too deep, too near to her heart. If, through some slim chance, his and Kavour's combined magic succeeded in saving Adrianne from her wounds, Lord Duncan of Derringham would be waiting to cleave Adrianne's head from her crippled body with a polished guillotine. King Hait would clap from the scaffold.
No, there was no point to saving Queen Adrianne of Arylla. Among the new heads of Arylla – in the eyes of Lord Duncan, or King Hait of Arylla – Jasperian of Cadaras would be more of a hero for letting her die.
He felt withered skin touch his wrist. He had enough training not to recoil, even as Firivati's whisky-fouled breath met his nostrils.
"My old life's worth nothing," the Dowager mumbled. "You like to play games, rascal you. Have you heard of duse vymena?
"You have heard it," said the Dowager. She giggled, a sound that was more like a shriek. Adrianne whimpered and clenched Kavour's arm.
He had thought Firivati's mind beyond reason, but she had surprised him. He regarded her with a mixture of disgust and cool humour.
"Move," he told Kavour.
Kavour regarded him coldly and continued to hold Adrianne's wrist.
"I do not intend her death… although that would likely be the most merciful."
Adrianne moaned. "No…" she said, barely moving her lips. "You won't make me more of a cripple!"
"You won't –" Kavour began, but the Earl of Cadaras said nothing, and his silence terrified her. Adrianne wanted Timar. With loathing, she flinched from the sound of her grandmother's voice; it reminded her, once more, of that horrible moment in the Chamber of Portraits. Everyone was being so difficult. She was a dying woman, and no one would be honorable and obey her dying wishes like they were supposed to. She tried again, moistening her lips with her dry, dry tongue. "I want you to kill me," she told Kavour, "and I want you to… tell Timar…"
But words failed her; she had lost so much blood that she really found herself too weak to talk.
"Sleep, Queen Sahaye," said Lord Jasperian of Cadaras, and there was a merciful darkness across her eyes.
"Well?" said Kavour coldly.
"I suggest you use your remaining strength – meager though it is –" (Kavour could tell Jasperian was enjoying this) "– on my command."
Jasperian let the last words roll lazily across his tongue. Oh, he was enjoying this moment.
Kavour took a breath through clenched teeth and released it. Out of the corner of his eye, he watched Jasperian for signs of deceit. Jasperian carried himself with an icy self-assurance that revealed nothing, and Kavour was reminded why only fools made the mistake of trusting Cadaras' heir. But the feel of cold at knees was a sharp reminder that Adrianne's life was slowly draining upon the marble flagstones he kneeled on.
Magic built in the air around him again. The time between Firivati's arrival and Adrianne's last request had given him time to catch his breath. Some of the unhealthy pallor had left his cheeks. Energy hummed around them like static.
"You lack formal training," Jasperian observed lazily.
"I wonder," said Kavour, lip curling, "if I would have received it, if not for your mother's refusal to let us stay beneath the roof of House Cadaras past my eighth birthday."
The Earl of Cadaras did not speak. His hands were above Adrianne's heart. At any other time, Kavour would have cried out at the indecency of such a gesture. Strange the kind of toleration fear of death brought forth in people – even if it was not fear of one's own death.
"Now would be apt."
Kavour remembered Jasperian's earlier command and closed his eyes. He pictured Adrianne, a well, and his own power – what was left of it – flowing cleanly through his veins. Then he felt something strong take hold of the power he was pouring into Adrianne and he bit his tongue. Jasperian was drawing on Kavour's strength and at the same time blocking him from seeing his true intent. Cadaras' Earl wielded power with single-minded ruthlessness. Kavour's hand tightened around Adrianne's wrist. His eyes tried to struggle open: and then it overwhelmed him, the surge of dizziness that came with overextending himself. He heard a chuckle – cruel with satisfaction –
Something Fayanne had said, two weeks ago, surfaced in his mind:
If you don't release her, you will die.
The Earl of Cadaras held no love for Kavour in his heart; it was a terrible lapse in judgment, to join magicks with someone who wished you dead.
Nauseous, dizzy, he felt for the stream of power that continued to feed into Jasperian's shell. It was thick as a rope, and like a rope tumbling over the edge of a cliff, it seemed to be slipping faster and faster as he watched. His hand felt clenched around Adrianne of Arylla's in an iron grip; that was where the stream was flowing –
As his eyes closed, he wrenched his hand open and away. He wished that the feel of Adrianne's coldness, the sound of her limp hand striking the floor, did not follow him into darkness as his eyes drifted shut.
Kavour was never sure what jolted him back into wakefulness. Perhaps it was the march of soldiers into the hall. When he thought of the incident later, he would remember a sting, as though lightning had brushed his forehead.
He was conscious of the wetness still seeping into the sleeves of his doublet, the cold dampness of blood on his shirtfront (not his own). He could not have passed out for more than a few minutes, yet his body felt like he would gladly sleep hours. And there were voices, distant and unwelcome. One of them mentioned a name that he knew.
Her body was cold, and her eyes – the eyes which had once captured his fancy – were dull. They had never been dull in life; they had snapped with anger, pleasure, or pride. Even as an invalid, laid low under the effects of the poison, her eyes had not been bleak.
Rage burned behind his eyes, fury at himself for being fool enough to trust Jasperian's promises. This was fast swamped by a deep, abiding hatred for his half-brother.
He became aware of Jasperian's presence behind him. "You've killed her," he murmured.
"Trying to cast the blame for your own crimes upon me, Lord Kavour?" Jasperian drawled. "I'm not the one with bloodstains down my shirt."
For the first time, Kavour noticed their audience. It was many of the noble lords and ladies who had been present earlier at the wedding. They had the bewildered, pallid look of sheep put too long through their paces. A quarter of them, including the Duke of Meverick, were missing. Lord Duncan of Derringham was in front. It was he who Kavour had heard conversing with Jasperian earlier.
Kavour glanced at Firivati, crouched motionless behind Adrianne's corpse – no, he would not think of her as a corpse, merely dead – and then looked back at Lord Jasperian.
"Perhaps I was mistaken," said Lord Jasperian. "When earlier, I stood here, on the threshold to this corridor. And, crouched over the Queen, I saw Lord Kavour, removing his blade from Adrianne Sahaye's heart –"
Jasperian paused, and the crowd's attention shifted toward Kavour, like spectators at a jousting match. Kavour, feeling as though he were moving in a dream, rose to his feet.
"I came in here to find her dying. I tried to stop the bleeding. Lord Jasperian murdered Adrianne. He's the one you should arrest."
Surely the Dowager would speak in his defense – she could gain nothing from remaining silent. And yet, silent she remained, hollowed eyes fixed on Adrianne's still body.
"Really," said Jasperian. A thin smile danced around his lips. "What an interesting accusation you make this evening."
"Who's going to believe you?"Kavour snarled. "Your earlier actions today are proof of your treachery."
"Do you really think so?" said Jasperian, feigning a mild interest. "After all, that ruse I conducted earlier, at the Queen's request, was only for the purposes of avoiding a match which might ruin Arylla."
"Do you mean to shay…" said Lord Byrnes.
"The lie," said Jasperian, "the false marriage to Queen Adrianne's double – it was done at her request, done to avoid a disastrous match. I do not hesitate to say it, now that the Emir has left the country. Lord Vincent's precipitous attack – of course, this was all a part of the greater plan –"
Of course, Lord Vincent was not among the nobles to refute Lord Jasperian's outrageous statements!
Kavour shook with fury as he regarded the watching crowd, which seemed to be drinking in Jasperian's words like honey. Alliance with the Emir had been so unpopular, and their faith in the Queen so strong (now she was dead, strong faith was easy), that the surrounding nobles were flies in Jasperian's trap. Their frightened, bewildered eyes clung to Jasperian with childish adoration. Had Kavour known of the bloodshed the nobles had witnessed earlier in the Chamber of Portraits, he might have pitied them. He felt only disgust, and a tight sense of betrayal. Lord Duncan said nothing, beady eyes fixed on Adrianne, a look of righteous pleasure suffusing his face.
"Think who is speaking to you!" Kavour shouted. "Think! Can you not remember –"
"Silence, slave-sympathizer," said Lord Duncan.
Kavour eyed the crowd. They stared back at him with mistrustful, hateful faces. He was violently aware of the blood that smeared his clothes and hands.
"No, by all means allow my dear half-brother to speak his mind," Jasperian said, lip curling. "But what do you want them to remember?" – When had he reached in and taken Kavour by the shoulder? – Kavour could not remember! "The dark words you shouted at the princess after she discovered your secret? How they drove her to flee down that street not fit for proper ladies?"
At another time, on another day, Kavour would have known better than to rise to Jasperian's bait. Adrianne's recent death, and his own blossoming headache, destroyed what remained of his judgment more thoroughly than wine had ever done.
His attack was quick but lacked the element of surprise; Jasperian, of course, had been expecting it. Kavour recovered quickly as Jasperian sidestepped and attacked again. Jasperian drew his blade to gasps from the spectators. He was a skilled swordsman, and he was not suffering from the same fatigue as Kavour was now. Kavour had blind rage to give him strength, which was something Cadaras' heir lacked, as well as many hours of practice against a determined opponent.
All the same, Jasperian met his first attack almost lazily, blocking it with a twist of his saber. Kavour feinted and swung to the right, drawing a thin line of blood across Jasperian's forearm. Jasperian staggered, and Kavour had the sudden impression that the Earl of Cadaras, for all his cool words, was as exhausted as he.
But perhaps the stagger was a ruse, for the next instant Kavour was throwing his sword up in defense against a strike that almost forced him to overbalance. Kavour brought his blade up to parry and made a strike for Jasperian's side. A clever maneuver on the Earl of Cadaras' part brought Kavour to his knees, and his sword went skittering across the tiles.
Jasperian stepped forward, the tip of his blade beneath Kavour's chin. Kavour caught the amusement on his brother's face and understood: this was repayment for their skirmish of earlier. Jasperian had always desired Kavour's humiliation.
"Take him away," Lord Jasperian told the surrounding guards with lazy humour, as though he was savoring this moment. "With your permission, Lord Duncan."
Lord Duncan looked sour and uncomfortable, as though he and not Kavour had been the one unknowingly bested in the last quarter hour.
"What of the queen?" said a woman in the crowd. "What will become of Queen Adrianne's body?"
Kavour wondered how they could speak of the dead queen so coldly. She was still there, for all she was dead; at any moment now, she could open her eyes; the blood would disappear from the front of her corset; and she would glare at the onlookers with a fury unmatched by the other ladies of the Aryllan court.
The realization that Adrianne was gone would sink in only later, in private, when Kavour was alone in a jail cell, with time pressing in from all quarters.
But Queen Adrianne was a murmur among the watchers now – a swell, a rising wave of confusion, a request, perhaps, for reassurance. It was a tide of whispers that permeated the ever-growing crowd who watched them. They stood at the head of this onslaught of whispers: three lords and ten soldiers who belonged to Lord Duncan. Kavour, still restrained; Jasperian, regarding Duncan with watchful condescension; and Lord Duncan, in charge of Lord Garibaldi's crimson execution a mere hour before.
"Bury her," said Lord Duncan, with untempered scorn. "She is not Queen any longer."
The whispering grew, crescendoed, and hushed again, for the Earl of Cadaras had moved to speak.
"Lord Duncan," said Lord Jasperian, "would it not be better to take her to the Great Hall, her body placed on the altar so that others might pay their respects to her?"
Lord Duncan's eyes darkened, and there was a collective holding of breath, a silence of muted waiting. It was a bold move Lord Jasperian was taking, establishing Lord Duncan as the brute and himself as the sympathetic hero of the dead Queen Adrianne. It was a move that was doomed to be successful. The watchers were confused, made vulnerable by machinations beyond their comprehension, and Jasperian, for all he had only that day attempted to seize the throne, was charismatic.
Lord Duncan saw this. His eyes narrowed and his jaw hardened.
"Jasperian!" Kavour shouted.
Words rushed through his mind like a rapids, the insults he wanted to say, but in the end what came out was: "See that – she is cared for."
"Fine words from the traitor who killed her," said Jasperian, a slight curl to his lip now. Fury reignited in Kavour's breast, but the guards restrained him, and he lost sight of Adrianne's body as they dragged him around the corner.
Thus he did not see his request carried out, did not see the crowd surge after Lord Jasperian's entourage, following him toward the Great Hall.
They followed the Earl of Cadaras past the door to the Chamber of Portraits, which was once again closed, and up, onto the dais. There, they paid homage to the late Adrianne of Arylla, Trent, and the Silver Isles, as best they knew how. They came, in ones and twos, in chaos or in unity, clusters of people that gradually spread out to form a line that snaked back and forth through the Great Hall. They were ladies of the high court or lower-birth provinces; they were knights of far-reaching territories with only helmet and sword of allegiance; they were lords who felt sympathy for the dead queen who had met such a hideous fate. They did not love Adrianne; most had not met her; but they paid their respects as was her right.
When at last they had left, every one of the lords, and the ladies, and knights, and nobles, there was one woman still standing. Her face was old, and her clothes were the Dowager's, but her eyes were not rheumy but frightened, snapping and dazed. Silently, hungrily, her eyes drank in Adrianne's dead beauty. Her hands did not touch the Queen's face.
A/N: A short chapter compared to my usual, but I've been gone so long I thought I should post anyway. Unfortunately, I doubt I'm going to have much time to work on it in the coming months - between starting senior thesis and maintaining 2 jobs it's doubtful I'll have much time. But I'll do my best to post on holidays. Who knows, this story might even be finished someday!
Adrianne's dead? Is she really dead?
Depends how you define 'dead'.
I'm wondering, did you get Kavour from Cavour, the Italian minister who helped unify Italy?
Yes! I'd just been doing that section in World History.
Why does Adrianne turn? And I was under the impression that Hait kills her, that is until you said 'Who killed Adrianne?'
Hait does kill her. I think the 'she turned' is a mistake. The way I envisioned the scene, she looks at him, turns away, turns back, gets stabbed. But it was toward the end of the chapter and my fingers were probably tired by that point ^_^
So Snowsdale, is a different country? I had always thought it was a town or city in Arylla.
Nope, it's a province in Arylla.
Who's Duke Garibaldi again? Is he good? Who was Lady Vivianne? What happened to the lady who was having an affair with Lord Duncan or something or another? Why is Lord Vincent an ally?
Garibaldi is Duke Regent. Lady Vivianne is Lord Vincent's sister. Lady Dacia was having an affair with Lord Duncan, and she was also a spy for the enemy country who was forced to flee. Lord Vincent is an ally because Arnae sort of impressed him while she was pretending to be queen, and he also does have some kind of honor. Plus he really doesn't like Jasperian.
Can we have a plot summary of the story up till this far?
With the new version and my lack of sleep, even I don't remember all of what's going on at the moment. So, at this particular moment in time, I am going to refuse (sorry!)
I've totally forgotten what was up with Hait. What reason did he have to kill Adrianne and attack Garibaldi? Does he just want the throne...?
what is up with the green sky?
and now you'll leave us waiting forever for an update, le sigh