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A Stroke of Midnight (Merry Gentry #4)(9)

By:Laurell K. Hamilton

“But I will go with you,” Frost said.
“And me,” Galen said.
“Do you need to ask?” Doyle said.
It was Adair who finally spoke for most of them. “I think this is foolishness, though honorable foolishness, but it does not matter. You are our ameraudur, and that is a title that I have not let pass my lips for many years.”
Ameraudur meant a war leader who was chosen for love, not bloodline. Ameraudur meant that the man who called you this would give his own life before he saw yours fail. It was the word that the Welsh had used for Arthur, yes, that Arthur. It was the term that some of my father’s men had used for him.
I didn’t know what to say because I hadn’t done enough to deserve the title. Not yet. “I haven’t earned such a title from you, Adair, or from anyone. Do not call me so.”
“You offered yourself in our place last night, Princess. You took the might of the queen herself upon your mortal body. Seeing you draw magic against her was one of the bravest things ever I saw, my oath on that.”
I didn’t know whether to be embarrassed, or try to explain that it wasn’t brave. That I’d been afraid the whole time.
“You are our ameraudur, and we will follow you wherever you may lead. To whatever end. I will die before I let another harm you.”
“You can’t mean that,” Amatheon said.
I agreed with Amatheon. “Do not give your oath to keep me from harm, Adair, please. If you must, give your oath to save my life, but not all harm.”
But it was as if I wasn’t there for him, or for Amatheon in that moment. I was the object of the conversation but that was all.
“She saved us last night,” Adair said. “She saved us all. She risked her life to save ours. How can you stand there and not give her your oath?”
“A man without honor has no oath to give,” Amatheon said.
Adair put his mailed hand on the other’s shoulder. “Then come with us to the queen, regain your honor, rediscover your oath.”
“She took my courage with the rest. I am too afraid to go before her with such news.” A single tear glittered down his cheek.
I looked at the despair in his eyes, and said the only thing I could think of. “I will try for guilt to allow this. Her guilt over never solving her own brother’s murder. But if guilt won’t work, then I will remind her that she owes me the life of her consort and her pet human.”
“It is not always wise to remind the queen she owes you a debt,” Doyle said.
“No, but I want her to say yes, Doyle. If she says no, then it’s no, and I need it to be yes.”
He touched my face. “I see in your eyes a haunting. I see in your eyes your father’s death like a weight of injustice on your heart.”I closed my eyes and let my cheek rest against the warmth of his hand. His hand was worn from centuries of sword and knife practice. It made his hand seem more real, more solid, more able to protect. Some sidhe, those pure enough that they couldn’t get calluses, thought it a sign of impurity. Racist bastards.
With Doyle touching me, I could let myself remember that awful day. It’s funny how your mind protects you. I saw the bloody sheet and the stretcher. I held my father’s hand, cold but not stiff, not yet. I had his blood on my hands from touching him, but it wasn’t him. It was just cool flesh. That feeling of terrible emptiness when I touched him was like going into a house that you thought would be full of people you loved, only to find it empty, and even the furniture taken. You walk from room to room, hearing your footsteps echo on the naked floors. Your voice bounces back from the empty walls, where the lines of beloved photos still show like the line around a body at a crime scene. He was gone. My tall, handsome, amazing father. He was supposed to have been immortal, but there are spells to steal even the life of a god, a once-upon-a-time god.
If I poke at the memory of that day too hard, try to make myself remember too much, it isn’t my father’s body or blood that I remember. It is his sword. One of his guards laid it in my hands, the way you lay a flag at a military funeral. The hilt was gold inlaid, carved with a tree on either side. Cranes danced around the tree. And sometimes there were tiny carved bodies hanging from the branches of that tree, bleeding across the gold. Literally the little sacrificed people could bleed onto the sword hilt. The sword hilt was bare that day, cool to my hands. The branches of the trees empty of little sacrifices because the biggest of all had already been made.
The hilt was leather set with gold, and I spent much of that day with my face pressed to it. I breathed in the scent of good leather, the oil that he’d used to clean the sword, and over all that was the scent of him. He had carried that sheath next to his body for centuries, and the leather had absorbed the smell of his skin. I could touch the hilt and feel where even this magical metal had shaped to the constant use of his hand.
I had slept with that sword for days, huddled around it as if I could still feel his hand on it, his body near it. I swore on the hilt of my father’s sword that I would avenge his death. I’d been seventeen.
You cannot die of grief, though it feels as if you can. A heart does not actually break, though sometimes your chest aches as if it is breaking. Grief dims with time. It is the way of things. There comes a day when you smile again, and you feel like a traitor. How dare I feel happy. How dare I be glad in a world where my father is no more. And then you cry fresh tears, because you do not miss him as much as you once did, and giving up your grief is another kind of death. 
I was thirty-three now. Sixteen years had passed since I slept beside my dead father’s sword. The sword had simply vanished about a month after his death. It had gone the way of so many of our great relics, as if without Essus his sword could find no hand fit to wield it. So the sword chose to fade and vanish into the mists. Perhaps the great relics do not choose to go. Perhaps Goddess calls them home when they have done their work. Or perhaps she calls them home until someone comes again that is fit, or suited, for them. I felt that small swell of warmth and comfort that was the voice of the Goddess. That tiny quiet voice that lets you know you’ve thought a smart thing, or asked the right question.
I would try to use guilt to get Andais to agree to allow me to call in the police. I did not have much faith in her ability to be emotionally blackmailed, but she still did not know that one of the greatest relics of the faerie courts had returned. The chalice, the one that mankind’s wishes had changed from a cauldron of plenty into a golden cup, had returned from wherever it had been. It had come to me in a dream, and when I woke it was real. The chalice had been one of the great treasures of the Seelie Court, and one reason to keep its reappearance a secret was that the Seelie might try to reclaim it. The chalice went where it would, and definitely had a mind of its own. I was almost certain that it would not stay at the Seelie Court even if we allowed them to take it back. And if it kept disappearing there and reappearing here, the Seelie would think we’d stolen it. Or at least accuse us of it, because if the chalice simply found them unworthy, that was not something that King Taranis would ever admit. No, my uncle would blame us, but never himself and his shining throng.
If guilt and family connections could not sway the queen, then perhaps the knowledge that the chalice had come to my hand would.
I still hoped, someday, to know who had killed my father, but the case was cold. Sixteen years cold. For Beatrice and the reporter, though, the case was literally still warm. The crime scene was fresh. The suspect list wasn’t endless. Rhys said a few hundred as if that was a lot. I’d helped the police in a few cases where almost the entire population of Los Angeles had been suspects. What was a few hundred to that?
We could do this. If we brought in modern police work, we could get them. They wouldn’t be expecting it, and they wouldn’t know how to protect themselves against it. It would work. All right, I was 99.9 percent certain it would work. Only a fool is 100 percent certain, when it comes to murder. Either about committing one, or solving one. Both can be equally dangerous and hazardous to your health.

THE QUEEN STOOD IN THE MIDDLE OF HER ROOM, WRAPPED ONLY in a fur and her own long black hair. One bare slender shoulder and the curve of her neck showed white and perfect above the ruffled grey of the fur. I would have said the fur was wolf, but no wolf that walked the earth today was ever so huge. She made certain that we all had a good view before she turned her head and looked full at us. Charcoal, storm grey, and the pale whitish grey of a winter’s sky were the colors of her eyes, in three perfect circles of color around her pupil. Those same colors spread through the fur, framed her face, and made her eyes look bigger than I knew they were, richer in color. It took me a moment of staring into those eyes to realize she had some eyeliner helping to emphasize all that grey and black and white elegance.
It occurred to me for the first time that I could do with glamour what she had to do with makeup. I had never seen the queen do small personal glamour. I wondered if she could. Or had she lost that power along with so many others? I kept my face very still, empty of my speculation. I was about to be in enough trouble without questioning her magical abilities. Oh, yes, that would have guaranteed some very special aunt and niece bonding time. Or should I say some very painful bondage time. I liked pain, but not nearly as much as Aunt Andais did.“Well, Meredith, I see that you have brought more trouble upon us.”