Home > The Morning Star (Katerina #3)(14)

The Morning Star (Katerina #3)(14)
Author: Robin Bridges

She followed the servant out, leaving me to sink down on my bed in misery. My only comfort was knowing that she was here in Egypt and not mesmerizing the tsarevitch. I curled up under my covers, hoping at least that Princess Alix and Nicholas were happy now.

Chapter Twenty-four

When I went down to the dining room for breakfast the next morning, I was wearing the blue walking gown that Mala had brought me. Danilo rose from his seat to kiss my hand. "Enchante, Katerina. I trust you slept well?"

"Not a single dream," I said, sitting in the chair he held out for me. I had been worried my night would be full of nightmares of mummies and blood drinkers and evil fae ballerinas. Instead, I'd had a blissful night of dreamless sleep. I wondered if Mala had put something in my tea after all.

And now I was ravenously hungry. A waiter appeared at my elbow, pouring hot coffee into a cup.

"I've already ordered for us," Danilo said, settling back into his own chair. "They make the most wonderful crepes here."

"This isn't your first time in Egypt, then," I said, thankful for the strong Turkish coffee.

"I came with Militza and her husband on their honeymoon."

"How cozy."

He laughed. "Militza only knew that I was searching for Ankh-al-Sekhem. She did not know why."

"Because she did not know of Konstantin's hold on you."

He set his coffee down and looked up at me. This morning, it was truly the combined crown prince and lich tsar, whose oddly colored green eyes stared back at me. "That might have been a mistake, but now it makes no difference," he said. "If she wishes to keep her hold on the St. Petersburg vampires, she must support me as tsar."

Then Danilo did not yet know about my mother. The fact that the new striga was actually more powerful than his sister might make my mother appear to be a threat to him as well. I would keep her secret as long as I could to protect her. "Did you speak to Militza that night after the ballet?"

He nodded as the waiter brought our breakfast dishes. The food smelled heavenly and slightly spicy. There was cinnamon in the crepes filling. "Militza told me I needed to see you, Katerina. That as a necromancer, you could help me exorcise Konstantin. But it was already too late. We've become one entity. And I've found it not displeasing."

"Militza thought I could help you?" I was shocked. The grand duchess was greatly overestimating my abilities.

"She told me you were the only one with powers close to those of our mother's. Or Princess Cantacuzene's. She did not realize I'd already found Ankh-al-Sekhem in the Graylands."

Of course Danilo knew the ancient Egyptian was far more powerful than I. But we had defeated him, hadn't we? Danilo and I together. It made me feel strange to realize we had been on the same side. We were definitely not on the same side now.

Mala and the elder Grigori approached our table, and Danilo invited them to join us. Mala leaned close to whisper something in Danilo's ear. It was not happy news for him. With a scowl he told her, "Take care of it."

The elder Grigori bowed and followed Mala toward the hotel lobby.

"What has happened?" I asked the crown prince.

"It is nothing. Another band of Grigori has arrived in Cairo. Along with a few of the French wizards. Mala is going to see to it that they are distracted."

"Do you trust her?"

"Of course. Why wouldn't I?"

"Her loyalties lie with Konstantin because of Princess Cantacuzene, who was your mother's half sister and mortal enemy. How does Mala feel about your mother?"

"We do not discuss my mother." Danilo frowned. "Mala has sworn on her life to protect me. I will not doubt her."

"Of course," I said. But I remained wary of her. And it was not because I worried about the crown prince. I worried about the stability of Russia.

Danilo sipped his coffee silently while I finished eating. As the waiter cleared our plates away, I asked the crown prince when we would be returning to St. Petersburg.

"Patience, my dear Katerina. We still have business here in Cairo."

"What sort of business?"

His hand came down on the table suddenly and violently. "We still have not found the sword!"

I jumped, once again startled by the sudden change in his personality. "Is there anyone else who can tell us where it is?" I asked calmly. We would receive no more help from Ankh-al-Sekhem. And the sphinx's advice had been too cryptic.

A commotion in the hallway drew our attention. Danilo stood up and reached for my arm. "We must go quickly."

I stared at him, hesitating. As cruel as Papus had been in the carriage, I could not believe he was working with George and the Koldun. Still, I couldn't help praying for a rescue.

"Quickly!" Danilo repeated as he herded me out of the dining room and into the courtyard. There was a spiral staircase leading to the second-floor balcony. He dragged me up the stairs and into the music room. It was not even midmorning yet, but a trio of Egyptian musicians already sat playing haunting folk songs. The air was smoky from pipes and incense, making it hard to see.

Mala was here as well, dressed in a shockingly low-cut bloodred gown, her long black hair hanging in wild curls. Silver hoops dangled from her ears, and a belt of delicate silver bells hugged her hips. She wore silver on both wrists and one ankle as well. I gasped as I noticed her bare feet turning prettily in time with the music. Her arms were graceful and thin as she wove them upward in circles. She was swaying her h*ps to the exotic music, moving in a hypnotic rhythm like a cobra.

She had a captive audience. A group of travelers stood just inside the doorway, staring in silent admiration. Several other men sat at tables around the room, all eyes on Mala, the wicked faerie dancer.

Danilo pulled me back behind a large potted palm tree before the travelers could spot us. He stood very close behind me, his lips inches from my ear as he whispered, "Do not make a sound, Duchess."

I began to feel the old hypnotic pull of the Vladiki prince as his lips barely touched my skin. I could not give in to him. I reminded myself that what I felt for him was not real. I tried to pull away, but he merely laughed.

Finally he let me go. "I think it is safe for us to go back downstairs and find a carriage. We have business in the city this morning."

"What is Mala doing?" I asked as he dragged me away. I'd seen no signs of the Grigori, and no mages that I recognized. "Won't she be cold in such a scandalous dress?"

Danilo laughed softly. "Do not worry about her, my dear. But I live for the day I see you dressed like that for me."

"That will never happen," I said, blushing fiercely. I hated to admit it to myself, but her dancing did look far more fun than any polonaise.

Danilo laughed again. I blushed even more as I realized he was listening to my thoughts.

He found us a carriage and seemed to relax as we left the hotel. I stared out the window, taking an interest in the loud and colorful streets of Cairo. "Where are we going?" I asked.

"To the museum. They have several artifacts on display that have been recovered from the pyramids over the years."

"Would the sword be in a museum?" I asked, hoping it would not be that simple.

"No. But the emerald scroll attributed to Ankh-al-Sekhem is in a display case there."

"And you read hieroglyphics?"

Danilo nodded. "It is one of the many languages I have learned over the years."

"How extraordinary. Will you be needing my services in the museum?" I asked sarcastically. I was wearing the Talisman of Isis beneath my gown, just in case.

He shook his head. "No, Katerina. Please do not resurrect any mummies while we are at the museum. However, I do not intend to let you out of my sight as long as there is danger in Cairo. And we will not leave before I find the sword."

The Egyptian Museum was located on a street near the river, past the marketplace and several European hotels and bars. Past places that admitted only men and where girls danced wearing almost nothing at all. Mala had not looked ashamed to have all those men staring at her. She seemed to thrive on the attention. Perhaps it fed her fae powers somehow.

Danilo held out his hand for me as we pulled up in front of the museum. "Stay close, Duchess."

The museum was flanked by two small sphinx statues. I shuddered as we walked between them, but neither one seemed to notice us. Perhaps not all sphinxes spoke; I'd never heard the ones in St. Petersburg utter a word. They'd been brought to the Academy of Arts years ago, bought by Tsar Nicholas from the French to decorate the Neva riverfront.

Danilo took my arm in his as we strolled through the front doors of the museum. "I think the exhibit we want is on the second floor," he said. We walked up the enormous white staircase, and at the first landing, I glanced back down at the marble lobby, onto a very large column covered in hieroglyphics. Large statues of cats and ibises stood guard around the stone column.

When we reached the top landing, Danilo swore under his breath. I spotted two of his Grigori rushing over to us. "They've already been here, Your Majesty," the elder one said.

"Did they find the tablet?"

"They looked at it, but they did not take it."

"Hurry!" Danilo said, his grip on my arm tightening. We rushed toward the Writings Room. The tablet that Danilo sought was in a glass case in the center of the room. He let go of me and put both of his hands on the case, peering down at the tablet.

"Perhaps they didn't know how to read the hieroglyphics," I said. I truly wished that Danilo were not so talented in languages either. A sword as dangerous as the Morning Star needed to stay lost. It did not belong in anyone's hands.

"It does not matter," Danilo said. "The tablet mentions nothing. Only the same seven gates of heaven spoken of by the sphinx. More meaningless text about the star that rises in the morning sky."

"What if it's not meaningless?" I couldn't help asking. "What if they're not talking about Venus?"

" 'Past the seven gates of heaven, the Morning Star lies,' " Danilo said, repeating the sphinx's words. "What else could the sphinx have meant? Unless... " He turned around and glared at the Grigori. "The gates are part of a mage's highest initiation, are they not?"

"The seventh gate can be opened only by those who have completed the most extensive training in ceremonial magic," the elder Grigori said. "Mages who have successfully mastered all the secret rituals of the Emerald Tablet."

"The mages of the highest degree," Danilo said, frowning. "No one in the Order of the Black Lily is that talented, save Papus himself."

"But you were a member of the Black Lily," I said. "How far in your training did you progress?" And how far had George progressed when he studied with them? I did not dare ask Danilo.

"Not far enough. It takes decades of studying to be able to complete such a ritual." The crown prince pounded both fists on the wall. The shelves nearest him rattled but thankfully did not fall. He swore under his breath in six different languages.

I felt a slight wave of relief flood through me. If Danilo had not been a member of the Order long enough to be initiated, he would not be able to retrieve the sword.

Papus had been the one to rescue me the first time I found myself in the Graylands. He'd told me he called on the powers of higher beings to help him travel back and forth between the worlds of the living and the dead. I realized now it had been the Grigori who helped him.

Still, even though he'd rescued me once, he was a dangerous magician. He had betrayed George when George was studying magic in Paris. Papus had lured George into the Order of the Black Lily in order to gain access to the Koldun. With Danilo's help, the French magicians tried to raise Konstantin Pavlovich from the dead. And Papus had just tried to kill me here in Cairo.

"Why did Papus ally himself with you to begin with?" I asked the crown prince. "What would he have had to gain by Konstantin's return?"

"Money, of course," Danilo said. "I promised him the riches of the Romanovs when I became tsar. But after my arrest, the traitor ran to the Koldun and his brother and begged for forgiveness." The crown prince scowled. "He will regret this one day."

"We will find the French mage and his associates for you," the elder Grigori said. With a bow, he turned and departed.

A sliver of hope rose in my chest. Could Papus be working with George and the Koldun now? What if George was here in Egypt?

"Katerina, there is something else of interest on this tablet," Danilo said to me, beckoning me to look closer.

He pointed to the stone lying beneath the glass. "This is the history of the sword up until the time Ankh-al-Sekhem wrote this. The first human to wield the sword was a pharaoh princess: Meresankh, a daughter of Menes. She united Upper and Lower Egypt with the Grigori's help."

"A daughter?"

"A Queen of Swords." Danilo shook his head. "How ridiculous! Still, she must have been a powerful necromancer for the sword to succumb to her. And for the Grigori to follow her."

A Queen of Swords. I shuddered as I remembered the superstitious Pushkin tale. And Maman's tarot deck.

"If the sword can only be carried by a necromancer," I asked, "then why would it be hidden where only a magician can find it?"

"It is bitterly ironic, yes?" He had not anticipated this, I realized. "To force the magician to work with the necromancer. We must make Papus see reason."

I worried then for George and the French mage. They could not let the lich tsar find Papus. Konstantin would force the mage to escort him past the seven gates and retrieve the sword. "Shall we go, Duchess?" Danilo asked. "I believe there is some beautiful jewelry downstairs that belonged to the wife of Ramses the Second." But he really wasn't asking me. He led me off to the floor below and showed me the elegant necklaces and earrings made of faience and gold that were thousands of years old. The museum was lucky to have these priceless artifacts in their possession. Most of the tombs found had long been robbed of their riches by adventurers wishing to sell the artifacts on the black market. Egyptian antiquities were a lucrative trade. I'd seen many suspicious but beautiful pieces not only in the Vladimir Palace, but also in the Winter Palace itself.

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