I had never been to Primiad and most of my clothes would certainly not be fit for a King's court. I ordered a servant to retrieve a trunk from the attics. Most of the gowns were moth eaten but a few were salvageable. My husband's second wife had possessed a similar build as me, her clothes would have to do.
Predictably, Teàrlag was vehemently against the idea. I had expected her red faced reaction when she found me packing in my chambers.
“I have not worked this hard to keep you and that babe safe to have you traipsing across the country and going into premature labor on the open road!” She roared, pounding a fist against the bed post.
I sighed and folded a rich cloak in my arms. “I am well past those first months. I already felt the child the other day and he is strong. Dylene is covering us both, can you trust her if you won't trust me?”
Teàrlag shook her head with a heavy sigh then snapped her attention back on me. “You felt him?”
Shaking out a shift, I squinted into the shower of dust then threw the ragged gown onto the fire. “Yes.”
“That is good news.” Teàrlag sat in a chair nearby. “You will not be riding horseback, I trust?”
“Of course not. I will be in a covered litter with plenty of furs, I promise.”
Teàrlag rolled her eyes when I smirked at her. “Very well. I cannot stop you. And as long as it will only be for a couple weeks. But when you get home, you will not be moving until that child is wrapped warm in my arms, do you understand?”
Tulin Odovacar had been at Highfire for a week and I had liked what he had to say. He was well connected at court, just as the rumors hinted, and his wealth was extensive. Theodric was well connected too, which surprised me. He rarely left Gegar Red but his mother was from a well known family that was still respected in Primiad. He came from two great houses and was treated as such.
“Your name is known and since your father stepped down from his claim to the throne with his honor intact, both sides of your family and your husband's name are held in esteem-” Theodric explained again while we walked along the icy lake edge at noon day.
“I am well aware, you have told me many times,” I cut him off. “I am willing to see what kind of allies we have at Primiad, you needn't worry about me shirking away.”
He smirked handsomely and picked up a rock from a spot of bare gravel. He flung it far out towards the delicate edge of blue ice reflecting the sky. It plunked and sent ripples out across the water. “In truth, I don't believe shirking is in your nature, Lady Hania.”
I managed a chilly half smile and walked ahead of him. I sensed him follow me though his footsteps were silent like a hunter's. When I had left the keep for my daily walk, I had met him coming up from the stable. He had insisted that he accompany me as the wolves were prowling our area. The early winter were starving them out into the daylight to stalk prey.
“Do you remember your mother?”
I halted with a scoff as he stopped next to me. “What?”
“Your mother? What do you remember of her? As you left her when you were a girl, I'm assuming you have some memory of her.”
“Of course.” I snapped and continued walking.
Theodric reached out and grasped the edge of my cloak. It was one I had found in a trunk, dark gray and lined with rabbit fur. He rubbed the hem between his thumb and forefinger, staring intently at the fabric. I fought the impulse to tear away from him. But the wondering look in his eye stopped me. “I remember her wearing this.”
“This was from the trunk that contained the clothes of Sidimund's second wife.”
Theodric loosed me and locked me in a wilted gaze, fatigue etching lines around his mouth. “It was handed down to her from my mother. And now it is yours, I see.”
Feeling like a thief in the night, I whipped it from around my shoulders and shoved it in his direction. “Do you want it, is that it? I have many more, I don't need this-”
“Don't be stupid, Hania.” He snatched it from me. Shaking it out, he latched it at my neck, his rough knuckles grazing the hollow of my throat. “It's much too cold. And it's only a cloak, you're not wearing my mother's skin.” He chuckled mirthlessly then continued on ahead of me.
I shivered and pulled the hood around my ears, trying to forget the feel of his fingers. Keeping a few feet behind, I stopped when he did. Again, he reached for another rock and sent it sailing across the ice. 607Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡZa7W8Fov7X
“I remember my mother crying on the kitchen steps,” I blurted.
He turned towards me and pursed his mouth. “Why was she crying?”
“A servant girl died while giving birth. The baby died too. It didn't happen often at the births she attended, she was a very good midwife. It was too much of a shock, I guess.”
The image of my mother gasping out sobs with her hands still slick with blood raced through my brain. A rage of tears rose up from my gut at the thought, pricking at my eyes. I turned my gaze into the wind and waited for the moment to pass. I would not cry tears for that woman. Not after all she had done to me.
“I remember my mother crying as well. Though I believe it was because of my father and his many mistresses. Sidimund was never the kind of man made for one woman.”
“And what are you? The kind of man made for no person at all?”
Theodric shrugged and dragged his fingers through his hair. “I suppose you could say that.”
As he met my eyes, I glanced away as though I had been burned. The conversation had been too familiar. Beyond our schemes for my possible son, I would not connect with this hopeful Kingmaker. With the ghost of Brisam hanging over his shoulder and the hint of a curse on his head, I forced myself to be repulsed by him.
“I will see you at dawn when we leave. I am tired.” I pivoted away from him and strode at a steady pace towards Highfire.
The next morning, Estra and Emalia waited with Teàrlag in the snowy courtyard. A heavy storm had passed over us the night before. The horses were restless and I noticed Teàrlag watching them with concern. She ground her hands together as she shot a glare towards me. Though she had given into my will, clearly she was still unsure about this journey of mine.
“I don't like this,” she huffed, shifting her weight on her feet, “my sons say this will be the worst winter in decades, all the signs in the earth and stars point to it. What if you cannot return to Highfire?”
“I will at whatever cost, I promise.”
Teàrlag scoffed and shot a look towards my middle, a gentle slope taking shape underneath my dress. “What if the cost is too much for you to pay?”
“Dylene has her ha-”
“Her hand is on you, yes. Yes, yes. I have heard enough of it.” She cut me off with a wave of her hand.
I glowered. “You will blaspheme in front of me?”
She sighed, plumes of breath drifting between us. Shaking her head, she took my hands in hers. “No, I will not. I cannot go against your goddess even though she is not mine. Clearly she cares for you. I will trust in her protection. Honestly, I have no other choice.”
With a nod, I turned away towards my daughter and Estra. Though she really wasn't Emalia's nursemaid anymore, Estra still looked after her. As though she were her own daughter. Perhaps she was more hers than mine by this point. Emalia curtsied, her eyes on my feet, as I came to stand before her.
“Farewell, daughter. I expect you to keep up your prayers and devotions while I am away.” I chirped.
“Yes, Lady Mother.” She didn't look at me still.
Impulsively, I reached out and grabbed her shoulder. I pulled her to me in a quick embrace, something mothers and daughters were supposed to fall into naturally. Not so with us. We were both stiff and parted awkwardly, avoided eye contact as though we were participants in a fist fight.
Estra broke the uneasy quiet. “We will pray for your safe return, Mistress.”
“Thank you. Make sure you take Teàrlag's advice while I am away and take care of yourself.”
“I should say the same to you,” Estra smirked, “but I know you won't listen.”
I fought a grin at her cheek and turned towards the litter. Argath helped me into it then mounted his own steed. With Theodric leading the way, we rode out of the courtyard and towards the mountain road.
I looked back once. Teàrlag grumbled and waved her hands as she and Cook meandered towards the kitchens. Estra still stood watching us leave. Her long, graceful fingers rested over her belly, her other hand on Emalia's shoulder. They looked like a shard of a family. Loneliness pierced me till I was breathless with it. Slumping back in the seat, I drew the sheep skin curtain and fought back a surge of tears.
The baby kicked in my womb, jerking me out of my gloom. I had no time for self pity, not with only a three day journey to Primiad. There I would meet those who still wanted to see a man from my father's line on the throne, even if that man wasn't yet born. Tulin promised me many meetings. I closed my eyes and tried to sleep. I would need to be at my sharpest if I was going to win this game.ns 126.96.36.199da2