Bone Palace, The - Amanda Downum

The man was good; Savedra would have to be better. She knew his path—down the arcade and up the stairs, to the glass-paned double doors that led to the prince’s suite. Or the other set that led to the princess’s. And if it were the latter, the little voice that sounded like her mother asked, why did she not merely stand aside and let the deed be done? She would be there to comfort Nikos in the morning, after all.

She moved before she had to answer the question, anger and excitement loosening stiff limbs. On the other side of the arcade, a soldier moved slower and louder. The assassin spun, blade gleaming, and gave Savedra his back.

Too easy.

The impact jolted her arm. The blade slowed on leather, quickened through flesh, then struck bone with a scrape that set her teeth on edge. She braced as the assassin’s weight leaned back against her. She might regret being born a man every time she had a gown fitted, but it meant she was stronger than she looked.

The killer cursed softly, quiet even in death, and tried to pull free. One gloved hand groped backward. Savedra twisted the knife.

Lanterns bloomed in the shadows to blind her and swords rattled. Then Captain Denaris was there, knocking the man’s weapon away, pulling him off Savedra, a soft stream of profanity fit to rust steel hissing from her lips.

“Alive! Alive, damn it! Why is that so bloody difficult? ”

To Sarah, Sonya, and Liz,

my muses for all things classical,

and to Steven, for not getting a

third-book divorce.

I am weary of days and hours,

Blown buds of barren flowers,

Desires and dreams and powers

And everything but sleep.

Algernon Charles Swinburne

—“The Garden of Proserpine”

Love is a many splintered thing

The Sisters of Mercy





496 Ab Urbe Condita (1228 Sal Emperaturi) Three years ago

Death was no stranger in Erisín. The city named for the saint of death and built on the bones of its founders had known its share of suffering, but the pestilence that struck that summer was enough to horrify even the priests of Erishal. The plague had come from the south, borne on a merchant ship that slipped through a lax quarantine. It spread now through the bites of fleas and midges, so that any drone of wings or sudden itch meant terror. Hundreds dead throughout the city, temples and hospitals become mass tombs, and in the slums they dispensed with the proper rites altogether and stacked the infected dead like cordwood.

Not even the palace was safe.

The queen no longer trembled. She lay still now in the wide curtained bed, only the shallow rise and fall of her breast and her fluttering lashes to show that she lived. Sweat soaked her linen shift, matted her long black hair. Brown skin flushed gold with jaundice and the whites of her half-open eyes were yellow and bloodshot.

The room stank of sick sweat and vomit, the cloying sourness of old blood. Shutters and curtains blocked the windows despite the summer heat, and lamps trickled dark malodorous smoke. Meant to keep insects at bay, but it served with men as well. Sane ones, at least.

Kirilos Orfion, spymaster of Selafai and the king’s own mage, sank into a chair and wiped his brow with a sodden cloth. A cup of tea sat on the table beside him—long cold, but it eased the ache in his throat, if not the ache in his bones. His hands shook, sloshing brown fluid over the rim. Sunken, shaken, sweating—he must look as though the fever burned in him too.

Boots rang heavy in the hall outside. Mathiros keeping vigil. The king hadn’t slept since his wife took ill, save in fitful snatches beside her bed. Kiril had finally sent their son to rest with a whispered spell, but it was all he could do to keep Mathiros from the room. It was all he could do to keep death from the room. He rarely wasted energy on regret and might-have-beens, but now he wished for the healing skill he’d abandoned so many years ago. In his decades of service to the Crown he had known worry and fear and even the sharp edge of panic, but never this sick helplessness.

Kiril felt Isyllt waiting beyond the door as well, tasted her own fatigue and worry. Ten years as master and apprentice and two as lovers had left their magic inextricably twined—even now she reached for him, a soft otherwise touch, but he drew away, tightening his mind against her. She would only exhaust herself