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28

F I V E D A N C E S W I T H D E A T H

29

Since Joy was born, Rainbow had stopped expressing her feelings to me. Of course I made love to her, on the days of my choosing, and I enjoyed our contact, for who wouldn’t delight in possessing such a classic Toltec princess? The measured way she spoke and moved showed years of education in the strict temple schools; her sharply raised cheekbones and plump lips attested to her pure Toltec blood. Holding her in my arms made me feel one of nobility, on par with Stern Lord himself, the enemy genius whose despotic ways I hated, but whose martial talent I admired immensely. Rainbow used to take me quietly, with a look of tolerant understanding, while I twitched and panted on top of her. Her only movement was to pull away from under me at my climax. As I finished into the emptiness above her, I was both relieved of the pressure inside me and ashamed by the cold in her eyes.

It was different with my concubines and with Plume. . . . My nights with Plume were at the very edge of sanity, and, at times, they were pure madness. She could care less for my touch, she was only interested in the fire in my eyes, my energy, my adoration of her. With Plume, I forgot the body parts, I didn’t need to delight in the soft shape of her knee, or the comfortable curve between her neck and her shoulder. All that ceased to matter. I could give someone a fair description of Rainbow, but I was never able to describe Plume physically. I craved to possess her whole, to have her close her eyes and hand herself over to me in full faith, faith in how much she mattered. Shaking off the thoughts of intimacy, I gestured for Rainbow to sit on a reed mat near my tent. Another burst of noise reached us from down below, louder and more persistent this time, with an undertone of panic. I clapped for a servant and ordered him to investigate. He disappeared without a word.

“Indeed,” I said, studying the gentle lines of Joy’s face. “She’s beautiful.” Joy’s slightly misshapen nose was just like a commoner’s, I thought. It was easy to think of her as another baby girl. I hadn’t known her long enough, and she hadn’t yet invaded my heart as Dew had once.

“Not just because we’re silly parents?” Rainbow said. Her

and the guards usually stopped them before they had a chance to turn into full riots. The yelling I had heard may have been one of those fights at the outskirts.

From the corner of my eye I noticed my second wife, Obsidian Rainbow, come up with our baby daughter and settle down to play with the girl far from my tent so as not to annoy me. A servant dashed over to them with a warm cloak, and another brought a small brazier with smoldering coals. I didn’t turn to welcome them.

Only when the sun had almost vanished behind Serpent Hill did I see what I had come there to see. A boy in faded blue hunting garb came running through the streets below, kicking up dust with the tips of his sandals. He zigzagged to avoid stooped women sweeping the road’s beaten earth. The roads were clean, but the sweepers worked anyway before nightfall to please the spirit of the night wind. In one hand, the boy clutched a long reed pipe. Reaching the wide stone platform on which my house was built, he stopped at the steps f lanked by two pines.

“Papa,” he called, unable to see me in my observation post, but knowing I’d be there. “Papa, I hunted.”

“Come to the roof,” I responded. I didn’t use his name. I knew that calling my son by his name was a good thing to do, but I couldn’t make myself say it.

With a shriek of excitement, the boy scaled the platform and disappeared from my view. I turned to Rainbow, who kneeled with her back straight, holding our baby daughter Joy in her lap. The red bundle of the baby’s clothes all but disappeared in the faded yellow and blue folds of Rainbow’s skirt.

Rainbow looked at me with a dutiful smile that had no depth whatsoever. An obsidian pin, as black as her eyes, twinkled in her hair amid the sun’s last rays. “I think our daughter is beautiful,” she said, arching her impeccable eyebrows.

It was a rare moment for her to be out of her quarters. She spent most of her time in her private home separated from the rest of the palace by a narrow rivulet. She was forbidden to exit the palace without a full escort. Her precious blood had to be guarded.

C H A P T E R T H R E E

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