Chapter 15 Part 3 | Son in Sorrow | IHGK Book 2
"What will you do, Lady?" said one of Gwynna's attendants as they looked out over the Tremontine armies gathered before the city. It seemed to Gwynna they went on past the horizon. Daevys must be dead, or else his forces so broken up that he could not regroup. If Daevys lived, Tennoc would hunt him down. She was or would soon be a widow, free to make her own choices.
She could not see the march into the city, but she knew Tennoc would come to claim her father's throne, and possibly herself. Nothing stopped them from marrying now--in fact, everything was in favor of it. But would it still be his wish? It had been a little over a spoke since she'd birthed another man's child, after all. Had he heard? Perhaps he'd already married Cariodas, if she'd lived to reach Tremont City. She'd always been his intended, after all. Cariodas, riding out of Gwyrfal dragging her father behind her: perhaps a girl as brave as that would make him a better wife. "I will prepare to meet our conqueror, is what I shall do," Gwynna said in the end.
"Should you not continue in mourning, ma'am?" said the attendant as she helped spread out the violet gown that set off the young Queen's eyes so.
Gwynna hesitated. She would never wear mourning for Daevys. Official mourning for her father hadn't ended, but she had a purpose beyond propriety. "No. I shall meet Tennoc in colors."
When Tennoc strode into the Great Hall, Gwynna stood on the dais, her dozen ladies deliberately arrayed around her, all but her dressed in black. They mourned not for Dunnoc or Ulvyn but for their husbands; these ladies were the wives of the lords who'd fought against Tennoc at Forchyll, and now they wept for their lives and those of their children.
Tennoc approached in light armor and no helm; lords both Tremontine and Kellish followed at his back. On his head rested the battle crown of Kellen. He'd changed in the two years they'd been apart; his blue eyes beneath their straight brows were still bright, but now held a feverish, frightening look that almost made Gwynna quail. His boyish face had gone hard, he'd added muscle to his once-slender frame, and his movements, while still graceful, were no longer those of a man who loved dancing as much as battle. Her gentle lover was gone. Only the soldier was left, and she was afraid of him.
"Princess--Queen Gwynna," said Tennoc. He stopped before the dais but did not bow.
Gwynna held up a hand as if to ward him off. "Your Majesty, before we proceed I must beg a favor from you, a very great favor."
Tennoc stopped mid-approach. "Ask it, you know you may have anything from me," he said in a softer voice than his face would have led her to expect.
Her heart warmed again and her fear retreated. "These ladies around me are the widows of the men who fought against you. I beg you to grant clemency to them and to their children. This war was none of theirs."
Tennoc frowned. "You ask a great deal. Perhaps I shall spare the women, but any boys--"
"If they are now alive, it is clear they did not fight against you," insisted Gwynna.
"I cannot let them live to fight against me later," he said.
Gwynna descended from the dais, holding out both hands. "What if they swear on their swords that you are their king? What if they kneel to you in Pagg's Temple and swear, if they're too young to have their swords yet? You said you would not deny me, Tennoc. As we both loved my brother, do not deny me this. Spare my ladies and all their children. Let those who swear allegiance to you live unmolested. Take the males into Tremont as captives if you must, but spare them from indenture and foster them among your lords instead--raise them as you were raised here at Gwyrfal."
"As I was raised?" Tennoc's mouth twisted. "Are so many Kells bastards, then?"
Now Gwynna's anger rose. "Until my father became ill you were treated the same as Kenver and I were, Tennoc, and you cannot say otherwise." She paused, thinking of the many slights he'd endured. "Those who ill-treated you are dead, yes?"
Tennoc nodded. "You are a widow, ma'am."
"I am glad of it," she spit as a grim joy filled her. "I am heartily glad of it. Your enemies are dead, and so you must show mercy and forgive these ladies their husbands' folly. Swear to me you will spare them, and…" She blushed. "And nothing of King Dunnoc's will be denied to you."
He took her hands. "Nothing will be denied to me in any event," he said in a low voice. "Nevertheless," he added for all to hear, "I will grant your boon. These ladies and their children shall remain unmolested, but their sons young and old must come to Pagg's Temple and swear allegiance to me. Any above age seven will be taken back to Tremont as you suggest but will not be indentured. If they themselves fought against me there will be no mercy, and if they fight against me in future I will wipe their houses from this earth, down to the last girl child. I am sworn." At this, the ladies in black wept anew in grief and gratitude; one fainted, but her fellows caught her before she slumped to the ground.
Most of her ladies meant little to Gwynna; some had been real friends, but most acted as Daevys's spies. Even so, the guilt belonged to their husbands and she did not wish them dead. Besides, granting her request proved Tennoc had changed without but remained the same within: an honorable man, merciful, kind-hearted and good, the man she and her brother had always loved. She knew what happened to the houses that stood against him; sparing the greatest of them proved he would do anything for her. She had no fear now that when she asked for mercy for her son it would be granted.
Gwynna removed the crown from her head. "Then I swear allegiance to you as King of Kellen and Tremont." She gave the circlet into his hands and made a low curtsey. He took her hand and raised her up; though her hand was steady, his trembled.
Air came back into the room. The servants began setting out the tables for the banquet to come. Formalities concluded, the assembly mingled and chattered among themselves; Gwynna's ladies retired to their grief.
Tennoc held Gwynna's hand in a strong, almost painful grip. "You will wear this crown again, you know, Gwynna," he said, his voice low and shaking. "You are all I have left. I will come to you tonight."
She blushed, terrified and exhilarated at the same time. "I wait on your pleasure, Your Majesty. I--I must attend to things now." He released her hand reluctantly.
The deposed Queen shocked the company when she next sought out Yellow Hanni among the attendants in the back of the room. He was much more weatherbeaten, though it had been just two years since she'd seen him last, and looked as troubled as she felt. Gray was just beginning to creep into his bright yellow hair. She embraced her old minder and kissed his cheek, whispering into his ear, "Has he changed so much?"
"Child of mine heart, he is broken," Hanni murmured in return. "To you it will fall to mend him."