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Mistral's Kiss mg-5, Page 2

Laurell K. Hamilton

  His eyes were strangely solemn. He'd been the drunk and joke of the court for more years than I could remember. But now there was a different person looking out from his face, a glimpse of what he might once have been. Someone who thought before he spoke, someone who had other preoccupations than getting drunk as quickly and as often as he could.

  Abe swallowed hard and asked again, "What did he say?"

  I answered him this time. "Drink and be merry."

  Abe smiled, wistful, sorrow-filled. "That sounds like him."

  "Like who?" I asked.

  "The cup used to be mine. My symbol."

  I crawled to the edge of the bed and knelt on it. I held the cup up with both hands toward him. "Drink and be merry, Abeloec."

  He shook his head. "I do not deserve the God's favor, Princess. I do not deserve anyone's favor."

  I suddenly knew—not by way of a vision—I just suddenly possessed the knowledge. "You weren't thrown out of the Seelie Court for seducing the wrong woman, as everyone believes. You were thrown out because you lost your powers, and once you could no longer make the courtiers merry with drink and revelry, Taranis kicked you out of the golden court."

  A tear trembled on the edge of one eye. Abeloec stood there, straight and proud in a way that I had never seen him. I'd never seen him sober, as he appeared to be now. Clearly he'd drunk to forget, but he was still immortal and sidhe, which meant that no drug, no drink, could ever truly help him find oblivion. He could be clouded, but never truly know the rush of any drug.

  He finally nodded, and that was enough to spill the tear onto his cheek. I caught the tear on the edge of the horn cup. That tiny drop seemed to race down the inside of the cup faster than gravity should pull it. I don't know if the others could see what was happening, but Abe and I watched the tear race for the bottom of that cup. The tear slid inside the dark curve of the bottom, and suddenly there was liquid spilling up, bubbling up like a spring from the dark inner curve of the horn.

  Deep gold liquid filled the cup to its brim, and the smell of honey and berries and the pungent smell of alcohol filled the room.

  Abe's hands cupped over mine in the same way I had held the cup in the vision with the God. I raised it up, and as Abeloec's lips touched the rim, I said, "Drink and be merry. Drink and be mine."

  He hesitated before he drank, and I observed an intelligence in those grey eyes that I'd never glimpsed before. He spoke with his lips brushing the edge of the cup. He wanted to drink. I could feel it in the eager tremble in his hands as they covered mine.

  "I belonged to a king once. When I was no longer his court fool, he cast me out." The trembling in his hands slowed, as if each word steadied him. "I belonged to a queen once. She hated me, always, and made certain by her words and her deeds that I knew just how much she hated me." His hands were warm and firm against mine. His eyes were deep, dark grey, charcoal grey, with a hint of black somewhere in the center. "I have never belonged to a princess, but I fear you. I fear what you will do to me. What you will make me do to others. I fear taking this drink and binding myself to your fate."

  I shook my head but never lost the concentration of his eyes. "I do not bind you to my fate, Abeloec, nor me to yours. I merely say, drink of the power that was once yours to wield. Be what you once were. This is not my gift to give to you. This cup belongs to the God, the Consort. He gave it to me and bid me share it with you."

  "He spoke of me?"

  "No, not you specifically, but he bid me to share it with others. The Goddess told me to give you all something else to eat." I frowned, unsure how to explain everything I'd seen, or done. Vision is always more sensible inside your head than on your tongue.

  I tried to put into words what I felt in my heart. "The first drink is yours, but not the last. Drink, and we will see what happens."

  "I am afraid," he whispered.

  "Be afraid, but take your drink, Abeloec."

  "You do not think less of me for being afraid."

  "Only those who have never known fear are allowed to think less of others for being afraid. Frankly, I think anyone who has never been afraid of anything in their entire life is either a liar or lacks imagination."

  It made him smile, then laugh, and in that laughter I heard the echo of the God. Some piece of Abeloec's old godhead had kept this cup safe for centuries. Some shadow of his old power had waited and kept watch. Watched for someone who could find their way through vision to a hill on the edge of winter and spring; on the edge of darkness and dawn; a place between, where mortal and immortal could touch.

  His laughter made me smile, and there were answering chuckles from around the room. It was the kind of laughter that would be infectious. He would laugh and you would have to laugh with him.

  "Just by holding the cup in your hand," Rhys said, "your laughter makes me smile. You haven't been that amusing in centuries." He turned his boyishly handsome face to us, with its scars where his other tricolored blue eye would have been. "Drink, and see what is left of who you thought you were, or don't drink, and go back to being shadow and a joke."

  "A bad joke," Abeloec said.

  Rhys nodded and came to stand close to us. His white curls fell to his waist, framing a body that was the most seriously muscled of any of the guards. He was also the shortest of them, a full-blooded sidhe who was only five foot six—unheard of. "What do you have to lose?"

  "I would have to try again. I would have to care again," said Abe. He stared at Rhys as completely as he had at me, as if what we were saying meant everything.

  "If all you want is to crawl back into another bottle or another bag of powder, then do it. Step away from the cup and let someone else drink," Rhys said.

  A look of pain crossed Abeloec's face. "It's mine. It's part of who I was."

  "The God didn't mention you by name, Abe," Rhys said. "He told her to share, not who with."

  "But it's mine."

  "Only if you take it," Rhys said, and his voice was low and clear, and somehow gentle, as if he understood more than I did why Abe was afraid.

  "It's mine," Abe said again.

  "Then drink," Rhys said, "drink and be merry."

  "Drink and be damned," Abeloec said.

  Rhys touched his arm. "No, Abe, say it, and do your best to believe it. Drink and be merry. I've seen more of us come back into our power than you have. The attitude affects it, or can."

  Abeloec started to let go of the cup, but I moved off the bed and came to stand in front of him. "You will bring everything you learned in this long sad time with you, but you will still be you. You will be who you were, just older and wiser. Wisdom bought at great cost is nothing to regret."

  He stared down at me with his eyes a dark and perfect grey. "You bid me drink."

  I shook my head. "No. It must be your choice."

  "You will not command me?"

  I shook my head again.

  "The princess has some very American views on freewill," Rhys said.

  "I take that as a compliment," I said.

  "But…," Abe said, softly.

  "Yes," Rhys said, "it means it's all on you. Your choice. Your fate. All in your hands. Enough rope to hang yourself, as they say."

  "Or save yourself," Doyle said, and he came to stand on the other side, like a taller darkness to Rhys's white. Abeloec and I stood with white on one side, black on the other. Rhys had once been Cromm Cruach, a god of death and life. Doyle was the queen's chief assassin, but once he had been Nodons, a god of healing. We stood between them, and when I looked up at Abeloec something moved in his eyes, some shadow of that person I had glimpsed on the hill inside the hood of a cloak.

  Abeloec raised the cup, taking my hands with it. We raised the cup together and he lowered his head. His lips hesitated for a breath on the edge of that smooth horn, then he drank.

  He kept tipping the cup back, until he had to drop to his knees so that my hands stayed on the cup while he upended it. He drank it down in one long swallow.

p; On his knees, releasing the cup, he threw his head back, eyes closed. His body bent backward, until he lay in a pool of his own striped hair, his knees still bent underneath him. He lay for a moment so still, so very still, that I feared for him. I waited for his chest to rise and fall. I willed him to breathe, but he didn't.

  He lay like one asleep, except for the odd angle of his legs—no one slept like that. His face had smoothed out, and I realized that Abe was one of the few sidhe who had permanent worry lines, tiny wrinkles at eye and mouth. They smoothed in his sleep, if it was sleep.

  I dropped to my knees beside him, the cup still in my hands. I leaned over him, touched the side of his face. He never moved. I placed my hand on the side of his face and whispered his name: "Abeloec."

  His eyes flew open wide. It startled me. Drew a soft gasp from my lips. He grabbed my wrist at his face, and his other arm wrapped around my waist. He sat up, or knelt up, in one powerful movement, with me in his arms. He laughed, and it wasn't a mere echo of what I'd heard in my vision. The laughter filled the room, and the other men laughed with him. The room rang with joyous masculine laughter.

  I laughed with him, them. It was impossible not to laugh with the pure joy in his face so close to mine. He leaned in, closing the last inches between our mouths. I knew he was going to kiss me, and I wanted him to. I wanted to feel that laughter inside me.

  His mouth pressed against mine. A great cry went up among the men, joyous and rough. His tongue licked light along my bottom lip, and I opened my mouth to him. He thrust himself inside my mouth, and suddenly all I could taste was honey and fruit, and mead. It wasn't just his symbol. He was the cup, or what it contained. His tongue shoved inside me until I had to open my mouth wide or choke. And it was like swallowing the thick, golden honeyed mead. He was the intoxicating cup.

  I was on the floor with him on top of me, but he was too tall to kiss me deeply and press much of anything else against my naked body at the same time. Beneath us was a fur throw that lay on the stone floor. It tickled along my skin, helped every movement he made be something more, as if the fur were helping caress me.

  Our skin began to glow as if we'd swallowed the moon at her ripe bursting fullness, and her light was shining out from our skin. The white streaks in his hair showed a pale luminous blue. His charcoal-grey eyes stayed strangely dark. I knew that my eyes glowed, each circle of color, green of grass, pale green jade, and that molten gold. I knew that every circle of my iris glowed. My hair cast a reddish light around my vision: It shone like spun garnets with fire inside them when I glowed.

  His eyes were like some deep, dark cave where the light could not go.

  Abruptly, I realized that for a long while, we hadn't been kissing. We'd simply been staring into each other's faces. I leaned up toward him, wrapped my hands around him. I'd forgotten I still held the cup in one hand, and it touched his bare back. His spine bowed, and liquid poured across his skin; though the cup had been emptied before, it was full again. Heavy, cool liquid rushed down his body and over mine, drenching us in that thick golden flow.

  Pale blue lines danced across his skin. I couldn't tell if they were under his skin, inside his body, or on the surface of his glowing torso. He kissed me. He kissed me deep and long, and this time he didn't taste like mead. He tasted of flesh, of lips and mouth and tongue, and the graze of teeth along my lower lip. And still the mead ran down our bodies, spreading out, out into a golden pool. The fur underneath us flattened in the tide of it.

  He spilled his mouth and hands down my body, over my breasts. He held them in his hands, gently, caressed my nipples with his lips and tongue until I cried out, and I felt my body grow wet, but not from the spreading golden pool of mead.

  I watched the pale blue lines on his arm flow into shapes, flowers and vines, and move down his hand and across my skin. It felt as if someone traced a feather across my skin.

  A voice cried out, and it wasn't me, and it wasn't Abeloec. Brii had fallen to his hands and knees, his long yellow hair spilling down into the growing pool of mead.

  Abeloec sucked harder on my breast, forcing my attention back to him. His eyes still didn't glow, but there was that intensity in them that is a kind of magic, a kind of power. The power that all men have when they spill themselves down your body with skilled hands and mouth.

  He moved his mouth over me, drinking where the mead had pooled in the hollow of my stomach. He licked the tender skin just above the hair that curled between my legs. His tongue pressed in long sure strokes over such innocent skin. It made me wonder what it would be like when he dropped lower to things that weren't so innocent.

  A man's strangled cry made me look away from Abeloec's dark eyes. I knew that voice. Galen had fallen to his knees. His skin was a green so pale it was white, but now green lines traced his skin, glowing, writhing under his skin. Forming vines and flowers, pictures. Other cries drew my attention to the rest of the room. Of the fifteen guards, most were on their knees, or worse. Some had fallen flat to the floor to writhe on their stomachs, as if they were trapped in the flowing golden liquid, as if it were liquid amber and they were insects about to be caught forever. And they fought against their fate.

  Lines of blue, or green, or red, traced their bodies. I caught glimpses of animals, vines, images drawn over their skin, like tattoos that were alive and growing.

  Doyle and Rhys stood in the growing tide and seemed unmoved. But Doyle stared at his hands and arms, at lines tracing those strong arms, crimson against that blackness. Rhys's body was painted with palest blue, but he didn't watch the lines; he watched me and Abeloec. Frost, also, stood in the writhing spill of liquid, but he, like Doyle, stared at the tracing of lines that glowed over his skin. Nicca stood tall and straight with his brown hair and the brilliant spill of his wings, like the sails of some faerie ship, but no lines covered his skin: He remained untouched.

  It was Barinthus, tallest of all the sidhe, who had moved to the door. He stood pressed to it, avoiding the spill of mead that seemed to creep like a thing alive across the floor. He held on to the door handle as if it would not open. As if we were trapped here until the magic had its way with us.

  A small sound drew me back to gaze at the bed, and Kitto still perched there, safe above the flowing mead. His eyes were wide, as if he was afraid, regardless. He was afraid of so much.

  Abeloec rubbed his cheek across my thigh. It brought me back to him. Back to gazing into those dark, almost human eyes. The glow of his skin and mine had dimmed. I realized that he'd paused to let me look around the room.

  Now his hands slid under my thighs, and he lowered his face, hesitating, as if he were coming in for a chaste kiss. But what he did with his mouth wasn't chaste. He plunged his tongue thick and sure across me. The sensation threw my head back, bowed my spine.

  Upside down, I saw the door open, saw the surprised look on the face of Barinthus as Mistral, the queen's new captain of the guard, strode in. His hair the grey of rain clouds. Once he had been the master of storms, a sky god. Now he strode into the room and slipped on the mead, started to fall. Then it was as if the world blinked. One moment he was falling near the door; the next he was above me, falling toward me. He put his hands out to try to catch himself, and I put my arms up to keep him from falling on top of me.

  His hand caught the floor, but my hand touched his chest. He shuddered above me on his knees and one hand, as if I had made his heart stutter. I touched him through the tough softness of leather armor. He was safe behind it, but the look on his face was that of a stricken man, eyes wide.

  He was close enough now that I could see his eyes were the swimming green of the sky before a great storm breaks, destroying all in its path. Only great anxiety could bring his eyes to that color, or great anger. Long ago, the sky itself had changed with the color of Mistral's eyes.

  My skin sang to life, glowing like a white-hot star. Abeloec glowed with me. For the first time, I saw the lines on my own skin, and the writhing lines of color marched
over us, neon blue in the glow. I watched a thorny vine crawl blue and alive down my hand to unfurl across Mistral's pale skin.

  Mistral's body convulsed above me, and it was as if the lines of color drew him down toward me; as if they were ropes pulling him down, down. His eyes stayed unwilling, his body fighting with muscle and might. Only when he was nearly on top of me and Abeloec, and only the force of his shoulders held his face above mine, did his eyes change. I watched that frightening storm green fade from his eyes, replaced with a blue as swimming and pure as a summer sky. I'd never known his eyes could be that blue.

  The blue lines in his skin painted a lightning bolt across his cheek; then his face was too close to mine for me to see details. His mouth was upon mine, and I kissed Mistral for the second time ever.

  He kissed me, as if he would breathe the air he needed to live from my mouth, as if, if his mouth did not touch mine, it would be death. His hands slid down my body, and when he touched my breasts he made a sound deep in his throat that was eager—almost a sound of pain.

  Abeloec chose that moment to remind me that there was more than one mouth against my body. He fed between my legs with tongue and lips and, lightly, teeth, so that I made my own eager sounds into Mistral's mouth. It drew another of those sounds from him that was both eager and pain-filled, as if he wanted this so badly that it hurt. His hand convulsed on my breast. Hard enough that it did hurt, but in that way that pain can feed into pleasure. I writhed under both their mouths, plunging lips to Mistral, hips to Abeloec. It was at that moment that the world swam.

  I THOUGHT AT FIRST IT WAS SIMPLY THE INSIDE OF MY OWN head, caught in pleasure. But then I realized there was no longer a fur rug, heavy with mead, under my body. I lay instead on dry twigs that poked and prodded my bare skin.

  The shift of surroundings was enough to draw the attention of us all away from mouths and hands. We were in a dark place, for the only light was the glow of our bodies. But it was a brighter glow than just the three of us held. It made me look beyond the men touching me. Frost, Rhys, and Galen were like pale ghosts of themselves. Doyle was almost invisible except for the lines of power. There were others glowing in the dark, almost all the vegetative deities and Nicca, standing with his wings glowing around him. They'd gone back to being a tattoo on his back until tonight. I didn't remember Nicca touching the mead. I looked for Barinthus and Kitto, but they weren't here. It was as if the magic had picked and chosen among my men. By the glow of our bodies I saw dead plants. Withered things.