Home > Igniting Darkness (Courting Darkness Duology #2)

Igniting Darkness (Courting Darkness Duology #2)
Author: Robin LaFevers





France 1490

Maraud awoke to the sound of retching—a retching so violent his own stomach clenched into a fist and tried to punch its way out of his throat.

That’s when he realized the retching noises were his.

“That’s right, big guy. Let it all out.”

A woman’s voice. “Lucinda?” he croaked.

“What kind of fool asks for the woman who just tried to poison him?”

He knew that voice.

“A straw-headed fool, that’s who.”

That one, too. Should be able to place them both. Saints! Why was he so disoriented? He cracked open an eye, only to find the world bobbing up and down, furthering his stomach’s revolt. He shut his eye again.

“She didn’t poison him,” a third voice grunted.

Tassin. The name came to him so easily he almost wept.

“She most certainly did.” Andry.

“Tassin’s right.” The woman again—Valine. “She wouldn’t save him, then poison him.”

“I disagree.”

Maraud considered it a major victory that he recognized Jaspar’s voice right away.

“Maybe she wanted the pleasure of killing him herself. She would not be the first to do so.”

As he tried to sit up, Valine said something, but her words were lost as he struggled to keep from puking up his liver.

Hell. He was sitting up—more or less. On his horse. He shifted, which caused a tug around his middle. Not sitting on his horse. Tied.

“Whoa, there!” Valine drew her mount close to his. “Not so sure that’s a good idea.”

“I’m fine,” Maraud gritted out between clenched teeth, afraid if he opened his mouth too far, he’d spew all over her.

“If you think you can stay in your saddle, I can untie you.”

“In a minute.” He willed the world to stop swooping around like a drunken stable boy. “On second thought, leave it. This way I can doze off again if I need to.”

Valine arched one dark brow in amusement, and a strange, strangled sound came from his right, like a goose stuck in a trumpet. He turned—slowly!—to find Tassin . . . laughing? Maraud hadn’t seen him laugh in—Christ. Had he ever seen him laugh?

“So.” Andry got back to the business at hand. “Do we follow her?”

Follow her. The woman who tried to poison him three times. And outright lied to his face ten times that. Not to mention she’d planned to trade him as if he were a pig at a fair.

“No.” Lucinda made her bed, now she could lie in it. He put his heels to his horse’s flanks. A good bracing gallop should clear his head.

Or cause him to dump the contents of his stomach. Only time would tell.



 Chapter 1





France 1490

Whether one is raised at a convent that serves Death or in a tavern room filled with whores, there is one lesson that always applies: There is no room for mistakes. The wrong amount of poison, the incorrect angle of the knife, poor aim, or a false gesture when pretending to be someone else can result in disaster, if not death.

It was the same at the tavern where I spent my earliest years. How many of my aunts would have had other lives, but for one mistake? Some, like my mother, chose their path. But for others, it was too many years of poor harvests, or crossing the tanner’s guild, which was always looking for excuses to remove its female members. Being alone at the wrong moment, catching the eye of the wrong man might send one’s life skidding down the slope of destiny into a midden heap.

Which is precisely where I have landed.

The shadows in my darkened room loom large as I run my fingers along the silky edges of the crow feather. The good news is the convent did not abandon me. The bad news: They might, once they learn what I have done.

And what will the king do with this knowledge of the convent I so foolishly handed him? He knew nothing about it until I spoke of its existence. Will his anger pass like a sudden summer shower, or will it fester and grow?

Far off in the distance, a cock crows. Morning comes, but no answers with it. I have spent the night trying to convince myself that, after five years of their silence, I owe them nothing. But the sick shaking that has kept me awake all night tells me my heart believes something else.

Which do I listen to?

Once before, I did not listen to my heart. Come with us, Maraud said. We can help.

Maraud. Even though he did not know what I was facing, he offered his help. His friendship. And so much more.

I have stood at only five crossroads in my life, and of all of them, that is the one I regret the most. Not trusting Maraud and accepting that help. Indeed, I have ensured he will loathe me as much as the king does. My name will be a curse upon the convent’s lips and reviled for generations. Truly, the wreckage I have left in my wake is breathtaking.

Thinking of Maraud is like rubbing my heart against broken glass, so I shove all thoughts of him aside. I must find a way to fix this—to unsay those words to the king. Or at the very least, convince him they are far less important than he thinks they are. But he may not ever call for me again or may decide to have me thrown into the dungeon.

Something deep inside warns me that it is possible this cannot be fixed. Have I broken a piece of crockery that can be glued back together, or shattered a crystal goblet that is irreplaceable? As if in answer, the fine hairs at the nape of my neck lift in warning, and I realize I am not alone.

I shift my hand toward the knife I keep under my pillow.

“Good morning.” It is a woman’s voice, low and melodious. Surely someone sent by the convent to punish me would not use such a cheerful greeting.

I peer into the shadows for the source of the voice.

It laughs, a note of earthiness among the lilting sounds. “You do not need your knife for me, little sister. Did you not see the feather I left you?”

Keeping the knife hidden in the folds of my gown, I sit up. “I saw a crow feather.” My words are as carefully measured as pennies from a beggar’s purse. “But crows are a most common bird.” The young woman—mayhap a year or two older than myself—sits in the room’s lone chair. Even though she is cast in shadow, it is clear that she is impossibly beautiful—the contours of her face so elegantly constructed that it borders on being a weapon in its own right. While I cannot see if she is smiling, I sense her amusement, all the same.

“Who else would leave you such a thing?”

I shrug one shoulder. “The French court is a complex and devious place, my lady. Messages can be intercepted and twisted to suit any number of intentions.”

“You are wise to be cautious. But have no fear, I am well and truly convent sent—and your sister, besides.”

My sister. The words throw me off balance as surely as a well-placed kick. This woman. Margot. All of us at the convent are sisters. And I have betrayed them.

They betrayed me first.

I shove my hair out of my face. “If that is the case, if you are well and truly my sister . . .” Weeks—nay, months—of anger swell up, as unstoppable as the tide. “Then I have to ask, what in the rutting hell took you so long?”

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