Shattered Pillars

Shattered Pillars by Elizabeth Bear Read Free Book Online

Book: Shattered Pillars by Elizabeth Bear Read Free Book Online
Authors: Elizabeth Bear
pulled her into an embrace.
    She—steel-spined, spire-straight once-princess and Wizard of Tsarepheth—buried her face against his neck for a moment, a gesture that made his heart swell against his ribs until he would have sworn he could feel each one like a brand. She breathed in deep and out again—just once, stirring his beard at the corner of his jaw—before he felt her body firm in his arms.
    She stepped back.
    He had a moment to look at her in the dim but steady lamplight. She too had dressed in her own clothes, the silk of her best six-petal wizard’s coat only slightly frayed and faded but folded by the belt where she had cinched in a waist that now floated around her. Her hair floated too—clean, and slept on damp and loose after their exertions, and brushed out without oil, it waved and crinkled and drifted to the tops of her thighs. He’d never seen it all clean and unbound and in good light before. Her wizard’s collar might have been lost in it if she hadn’t tossed the mass behind her shoulders. Instead, her hair made a black, silken backdrop for the figured panels of translucent jade that encased her throat, hinged and framed with gold and bordered with the baroque silvery twists of river pearls.
    Someday, Temur thought, he would have to ask her to explain the delicate carvings on those panels—impossibly proportioned women in sweeping robes, dancing skeletons, flames or clouds, a writhing dragon and a twisting qoroos, all intertwined or counterpointed with symbols he knew were words but that he could not read. But not now, when she was looking at him intently, seriously, beneath a conscientious frown.
    “Edene,” she said.
    He might have flinched. He thought he limited it to a quick, tight press of his lips. The careful words he’d thought about the night before deserted him, and rather than stand there stammering he said, “I care for you—”
    She nodded.
    “I care for her too. And I owe her safety, a rescue if I can manage it—”
    “Re Temur,” she said, not needing to raise her voice to silence him as utterly as if she’d drawn a knife across his vocal cords. “I cannot bear your heirs. I cannot be your queen—or even one of your queens. I am the Wizard Samarkar, though, and you would not be the first emperor to keep a Wizard of Tsarepheth as consort and confidant.”
    She paused. His mouth gaped, but whatever he had meant to say was utterly lost. If ever he had thought to look upon a queen, a khatun, an empress—on the image of his own imperial mother, in spirit though not the least in form—this was she, strong and stern and viciously pragmatic.
    Her expression broke into the faintest curve of smile. “Do not think I begrudge you Edene. Or any of the other women you will marry, if we do not die. Re Temur, I am Samarkar, and I will win you back your queen, and I will set you in a golden saddle as Temur Khagan, and I will see your brother avenged and this al-Sepehr of the Nameless put down in your name.”
    The moment stretched, tore, spilt. She looked away, pride still in every line of her shoulders and throat. Her hair drifted across her face and hid it now. With her eyes off him, suddenly he could speak again.
    The saddle is not gold. But this was not the time for petty corrections.
    “Samarkar,” he said. “I know what you are. And I am not the only one with a brother in need of avenging. But I … I cannot marry anyone. ”
    She blinked at him, and he wondered if he had jolted her out of her martyrdom. “I don’t understand.”
    “Anyone,” he said. “You, Edene. Any woman of the clans. My family is dead. I have no mother, no sister, no brother to whisper my true name to a wife and make us family.”
    “You cannot tell her yourself?” Samarkar asked, with that slow care that told him how deep her incomprehension truly was.
    “I do not know it,” Temur said helplessly. “If I knew it, the demons could use it to trick me with.”
    She glanced back, and the

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