Home > The Core (Demon Cycle #5)(7)

The Core (Demon Cycle #5)(7)
Author: Peter V. Brett

“Course,” Darsy agreed.

“You tell Jizell, you’re tellin’ Mum,” Wonda warned. Jizell was Royal Gatherer to Duke Pether now, reporting directly to Duchess Araine.

Leesha met Tarisa’s eyes. “I expect she’ll find out, regardless. Better it come from me.”

“That go for her, too?” Darsy jerked a finger at Amanvah.

“It does.” Amanvah’s aura stayed cool and even. It was a fair question. “I will not lie or withhold information from my mother, but our interests align. The Damajah will have a vested concern for the safety of the child, and will be essential in keeping my brother from trying to claim or kill her.”

Elona opened her mouth, but Leesha cut off the debate. “I trust her.” She looked back at Amanvah. “Will you and Sikvah stay here with us?”

Amanvah shook her head. “Thank you, mistress, but enough rooms have been finished in my honored husband’s manse for us to move in. After so long in captivity, I wish to be under my own roof, with my own people…”

“Of course.” Leesha put a hand on Amanvah’s belly. Shocked, the woman fell silent. “But please understand that we are your people now, too. Thrice bound by blood.”

“Thrice bound,” Amanvah agreed, putting her own hand over Leesha’s in an act so intimate it would have been unthinkable just a few months ago. It was strange, how sharing pain could sometimes do what good times could not.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Darsy asked when Amanvah left the room.

“It means Amanvah and Sikvah are carrying Rojer’s children,” Leesha said. “Anyone doesn’t hop when one of them wants something had better have a good corespawned reason.”

Darsy’s eyebrows shot up into her hair, but she nodded. “Ay, mistress.”

“Now if everyone will excuse me,” Leesha said, “I’d like to put my daughter in her crib and have that bath.”

Darsy and Wonda made for the door, but Elona lingered, her aura showing her unwillingness to let go of the baby.

“Night, Mother,” Leesha said, “you’ve imprinted more on that child in an hour than you did in my entire life.”

“This one ent got your mouth, yet.” Elona looked down at the sleeping baby. “Lucky little bastard. Could’ve run this town, I’d been born with a pecker.”

“You’d have made a wonderful man,” Leesha agreed.

“Not a man,” Elona said. “Never wanted that. Just wanted a pecker, too. Steave made me a wooden one, once. Polished it to a shine and said it was to do when there was no wood at home.”

“Creator,” Leesha said, but Elona ignored her.

“Meant it for me, but it was your father that liked when I…”

“Corespawn it, Mother!” Leesha snapped. “You’re doing this on purpose.”

Elona cackled. “Course I am, girl. Keeping the stick from your arse requires constant maintenance.”

Leesha put her face in her hand.

Elona finally relented and handed Leesha the child. “I’m just sayin’, Paper women are fierce even without peckers.”

Leesha smiled at that. “Honest word.”

“What are you going to call her?” Elona asked.

“Olive,” Leesha said.

“Always wondered why that was a girl’s name,” Elona said. “Olives got stones.”

CHAPTER 3

COUNTESS PAPER

334 AR

Tarisa was waiting when Leesha finally managed to pull her gaze away from Olive, fast asleep in her crib. The older woman’s aura still looked like a rabbit backed into a corner, but she did not show it. “My lady must be exhausted. Come sit and I’ll brush out your hair.”

Leesha reached up, realizing her hair was still pinned from her homecoming, half the pins loose or missing. She wore only a sweaty and bloodstained shift with a silk dressing gown pulled over it. Dried tears crusted her cheeks. “I must look a horror.”

“Anything but.” Tarisa led her to the bedroom vanity, unpinning and brushing Leesha’s hair. It was a ritual they had performed so many times, it gave Leesha a pang of nostalgia. These were Thamos’ chambers, his servants, his keep. She had meant to share it all with him, a storybook tale, but her prince’s part in the story was ended.

Everywhere, there were signs of him, active pieces of a life cut short in its prime. Hunting trophies and spears adorned the walls, along with ostentatious portraits of the royal family. Three suits of lacquered armor on stands like silent sentries around the room.

Leesha dropped her eyes to the floor, but her nose betrayed her, catching the scented oils the count had used, fragrances that triggered thoughts of love, lust, and loss.

Tarisa caught the move. “Arther wanted to sweep it all away so you wouldn’t have to look at it. Spare you the pain.”

Leesha’s throat was tight. “I’m glad he didn’t.”

Tarisa nodded. “Told him I’d have his seedpods if he moved a single chair.” Leesha closed her eyes. There were few pleasures in life as soothing as Tarisa brushing her hair. Suddenly she remembered how tired she was. Amanvah’s healing magic had given her a burst of strength, but that had faded, and magic was no true replacement for sleep.

But there were matters to settle first.

Leesha cracked an eye, watching Tarisa’s aura. “How long have you been a spy for the Duchess Mother?”

“Longer than you’ve been alive, my lady.” Tarisa’s aura spiked, but her voice was calm. Soothing. “Though I never thought of it as spying. Thamos was still in swaddling when I was brought in to nurse him. It was my duty to report on him to his mother. Her Grace loved the boy, but she had a duchy to run, and her husband was seldom about. Every night as the young prince slept, I filled her in on his day’s activities.”

“Even when the boy became a man grown?” Leesha asked.

Tarisa snorted. “Especially then. You’ll see as Olive grows, my lady. A mother never truly lets go.”

“What sorts of things did you tell her?” Leesha asked.

Tarisa shrugged. “His love life, mostly. Her Grace despaired of ever settling the prince down, and wanted an account of every skirt to catch his eye.” Tarisa met Leesha’s eyes. “But there was only one woman who ever held Thamos’ attention.”

“And she had a shady past,” Leesha guessed. “Childhood scandal, and talk of bedding the demon of the desert…”

Tarisa dropped her eyes again, never slowing the steady, soothing stroke of her brush. “Folk talk, my lady. In the Corelings’ Graveyard and the Holy House pews. In the Cutter ranks and, Creator knows, the servants’ quarters. Many spoke of how you and the Warded Man looked at each other, and how you went to Krasia to court Ahmann Jardir. None could prove they’d taken you to bed, but folk don’t need proof to whisper.”

“They never have,” Leesha said.

“Didn’t tell Her Grace anything she wasn’t hearing from others,” Tarisa said. “But I told her not to believe a word of it. You and His Highness were hardly discreet. When your laces began to strain, I assumed the child was the prince’s. We all did. The servants all loved you. I wrote my suspicions to Her Grace with joy, and waited on my toes for you to tell His Highness.”

“But then we broke,” Leesha said, “and you realized your love for me was misplaced.”

Tarisa shook her head. “How could we stop, when our lord did not?”

“Thamos cast me out,” Leesha said.

“Ay,” Tarisa agreed. “And haunted these halls like a ghost, spending hours staring at his portrait of you.”

A lump formed in Leesha’s throat, and she tried unsuccessfully to choke it down.

“Some may be holding out hope you’ll announce Thamos has an heir tomorrow,” Tarisa said, “dreaming there might still be a piece of the prince to love and cherish in this house. But none of them will turn from you when they meet Olive.”

“I wish I could believe that,” Leesha said.

“I never knew my own son,” Tarisa said. “I was kitchen maid to a minor lord and lady, and when she failed to give him children, they paid me to lie with him and give up the child.”

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