Disclaimer: I own nothing. The Kushiel series belongs to Jacqueline Carey. No money is being made off of this; it's just for fun.


The Times That Try Mens' Souls

Chapter 1

Distressing News

I suppose I should thank my own suspicious nature, for it spared me. There have been times in the past when I have been blinded by my suspicions nearly to the detriment of all, but this was not such a time. It disgusted me, how easily the others were taken in by Carthage's offer. I expected Ysandre at least to show more sense.

The majority's trust in Carthage was not enough to convince me to set aside my suspicions. The treasures they offered were of no interest to me; I can acquire such things from Khebbel-im-Akkad, if I so choose. And somewhat seemed off to me about the "celestial marvel" they promised. I couldn't precisely say what, but the whole thing made me uneasy. As a result, I had no desire to see it.

There was no reason for me to remain in the City. As I grow older I find myself spending less and less time there and more time at home. It may also be true that I have finally grown weary of politics and the game of thrones.

Upon returning home, I did my best to put my fears aside and enjoy it. Seeing Apolline, of course, helped. She doesn't care to get involved in politics or the game, and so she has always been a sort of refuge when I wish to escape from it. She can soothe me, comfort me, take me away from my worries in a way no one else can.

It was shortly after my birthday, in the hottest days of summer. There was no fête; I was not in the mood for such things this year. I've had many birthday fêtes and they become tiresome after a while. Instead I spent the day with Apolline. My birthday is a significant day for us, for we met at my seventeenth birthday fête years ago. The day passed quite pleasantly and I put all thoughts of Carthage out of my mind.

It was a few days later that my fears were all proven true.

I was in my study when I heard the news, working on a translation of the ancient Akkadian hymns to Ishtar. They are some of the finest examples of Akkadian erotic poetry, and they have never been translated into D'Angeline. I've translated several other great works of Akkadian literature in hopes that more D"Angelines will read them, since few D'Angelines speak Akkadian. I do believe that we are too insular a people, too ignorant of the wider world. My peers do not agree, instead they consider me strange, an eccentric. I do not care.

I was thinking about how I ought to send a copy of the finished translation to Jasmine House- they have an appreciation for such things there- when a knock on the study door startled me out of my thoughts. "Enter," I said, without taking my eyes off the translation.

It was one of my informants from the City of Elua. He strode over to me, stopping several feet from my desk, and bowed low. "Guillaume," I said, "welcome. You have news from the City?"

"Yes, your grace. I bear happy tidings."

"Prince Imriel suffered a fatal accident?" I quipped.

"Well not exactly, but Terre D'Ange has made an alliance with Carthage!" he exclaimed.

"An alliance with Carthage?" I said in disbelief. "The Queen would never agree to an alliance with them, not with them openly threatening Aragonia. Are you quite sure about this?"

"Yes, your grace. The Dauphine has married General Astegal and sailed to Carthage with him."

"What?" I stared at him in disbelief. "Sidonie, marry a Carthaginian general? Last I knew, she was still firmly under the spell of that traitors' brat."

"I'm sorry but you must be misremembering, your grace. The Dauphine has never been in love with Prince Imriel. He's gone completely mad, by the way. Kept babbling on about Cythera and shouting horrible things at the Comtesse de Montrève," Guillaume explained.

I left my desk and walked over to him. "Are you drunk, Guillaume? You should know better than to report to me in such a state."

He backed up a bit. "No, no, your grace. I swear everything I've told you is the truth!"

"And yet you expect me to believe that Terre D'Ange has made an alliance with Carthage, the Queen allowed the Dauphine to marry a Carthaginian despite rejecting my proposal, and Prince Imriel has completely lost his mind?" I drawled. I took a step forward as if to strike him, then caught myself. "All right. Tell me everything that's happened in the City, starting with the day I left."

I sat back down at my desk. Setting the translation aside for now, I took out a fresh piece of paper and wrote down notes as Guillaume spoke. He told me in detail about the Carthaginian party. I pressed him for the greatest amount of detail on General Astegal, who I was certain had to have been the leader in whatever scheme Carthage had concocted.

After covering every event at which the Carthaginians were present, we finally arrived at the "Celestial Marvel" they had promised. Something about the event roused my suspicions. I asked Guillaume to repeat himself several times, and made more notes about that event than anything else. Indeed, it was after the marvel when things turned strange.

Once I had all the information I could possibly get out of Guillaume, I dismissed him. "Return to the City," I said, "and continue your duties there. I will be following as soon as I am able."

After he left, I read through all of the notes I had taken. It took me several readings to make sense of it.

Carthage threatens Aragonia, then makes offers of tribute to Terre D'Ange. That I knew to be true, for I had been in Parliament the day we voted on whether or not to trust Carthage's overtures. They stage a "celestial marvel" involving the moon and mirrors, and then suddenly things cease to make sense. My grandniece marries General Astegal and sails off with him, with the whole City rejoicing. That was enough alone to show how wrong all of this was: the peers of the realm would never rejoice if the Dauphine married a foreigner. And Ysandre would never allow it, not after she rejected my offer to marry Sidonie to one of my grandsons, claiming the realm would throw a fit at the idea of part-Akkadian heirs. Then there was Prince Imriel. I certainly did not have a high opinion of him, but I could not believe that he would shout obsenities at Phèdre nó Delaunay, not when she saved him from what was most certainly hell on earth.

No, something was terribly amiss here and I needed to find out what it was.

Apolline was not pleased when I told her I would be returning to the City, later that evening.

"This entire story is completely ridiculous! You believe that Guillaume was telling the truth?" she said, disbelief written on her face.

"I'm certain he was not lying, Apolline. Nor was he drunk, or drugged. He's been in my service long enough for me to know him well. Somewhat's been done to him. Somewhat's been done to all of them."

"I do not like the idea of you leaving so soon. I've grown accustomed to having you around more often." She moved closer to me on the couch we shared. "Can you blame me for not wanting to part with you yet?"

I smiled at her. "No, I can't, because I feel the same way about you." We've been married forty years, but we never grow tired of each other. I won't lie and say we've never quarrelled, but our love for each other has not faded. Our passion which burnt strong and bright when we were young has turned to embers, but it is still there. We are both scions of Naamah, you see. "Believe me, I would rather remain with you."

"And to think I could have found myself a pliant and tractable husband, one who'd do whatever I wanted. Instead I found you." Apolline sighed. "You know I worry terribly when you risk your life like this."

"I know." It was a point that came up between us often. It tore her apart inside, to see me put myself in danger time and again. She understood why, especially when I've gone off to battle, but it didn't stop her from becoming sick with fear.

Apolline looked directly into my eyes before she spoke again. "Please promise me this will not be another situation like the time when Percy de Somerville laid siege to the City of Elua and demanded the City hand you over to him, or he would attack. I have never been more frightened for you then I was then. Losing you…"

I put an arm around her. "It won't be like that. I'm going to find out the truth behind this sudden alliance with Carthage. Hopefully this can be resolved quickly, and when it is I will return."

"I'll hold you to that promise," she said.

I nodded. "There's just no way Sidonie would agree to marry a Carthaginian. Last I knew she's still well besotted with Prince Imriel." I mused, more to myself than to Apolline.

"Well I don't know Ysandre quite as well as you do, but I agree that she'd never let Sidonie marry a Carthaginian. She won't risk angering the majority of the peers of the realm."

"Although a number of them might see Carthage as an improvement over Melisande Shahrizai's spawn," I added.

Apolline looked at me with an expression of great distaste. She'd never formally met Prince Imriel but she shared my feelings on him, being no lover of Melisande Shahrizai. "I think I'd take Carthage, personally. The thought of bedding Melisande's son, no matter how beautiful he may be, is disgusting." She shuddered. "I cannot forget the times she tried to kill Ysandre and take her throne, and certainly not the times she tried to kill you."

"It's good to know that someone in Terre D'Ange remembers what that woman did."

"I thought a good number of peers strongly opposed Sidonie's relationship with Imriel?" she asked.

"Not enough." It was true that it was mostly the younger generation who supported them, those who never had to endure the horrors of the Skaldi invasion, but they still should know better. Imriel could not be trusted.

"We can only hope the rest will come to their senses in time." Apolline sighed. "Despite this strange news, did you happen to make any progress on your translation of the ancient hymns to Ishtar?"

"Not after I heard the news."

"My sister is interested in a copy when you finish."

"Oh really?" I raised an eyebrow. Apolline's older sister, Vienne de Vardot, is the Marquise of Vardot. Their line is one of the oldest and purest Namarese bloodlines, nearly as old as my own although purer. I never knew her to be at all interested in Akkadian literature.

"I've written to her about it. She's interested in Ishtar because of how like she is to Naamah," Apolline explained.

"More D'Angelines ought to feel the same way," I remarked, "but you'll have to tell her that the translation is going to be delayed."

And now we were back to the subject of me returning to the City. "Well," said Apolline, "I still do not like the idea of you leaving so soon, but there is certainly something very strange at work here. You must do what you feel is necessary."

"I promise you Apolline, I will return as soon as I am able. Until then, be wary. I do not know exactly where this will lead, but in case you need to defend our home, be ready."

Her beautiful blue eyes met mine. "I will, my love. I will."


I left the next morning, as soon as everything was ready.


Notes
So this is my first Kushiel fic. I've spent a while fussing over it, so I hope it's turned out ok so far. I don't normally write 1st person.

I really wish we could've seen what was going on in Terre d'Ange while Imriel was away, which inspired me to write this. Things will get more exciting, I promise!

Title- Taken from the opening lines of Thomas Paine's "The Crisis." I thought it was fitting.

Ishtar- Ishtar is an RL ancient Babylonian goddess. The Akkadians are like ancient Babylonians and they worship Shamash, another ancient Babylonian deity, so I thought it made sense for them to worship Ishtar as well. Ishtar has some things in common with Naamah, like priestesses who engage in sacred prostitution. As for Barquiel translating Akkadian lit, well, he's kinda the Richard Francis Burton of Terre d'Ange so I could see him doing it.

Barquiel's Wife- She's only mentioned once in canon & not by name, so I had to give her one. All we have on her is that she's a strong woman & prefers to stay home in Namarre when he goes off to the City.