Chapter 16 Part 1 | Son in Sorrow | IHGK Book 2
Harsin sat at breakfast the next day, alone but for his eldest daughter. Ansella's robin's egg blue morning room, cheerful even in the weak winter sun, served as consolation and goad to them both; they sat silent, picking at their eggs and coffee. The butler appeared, arms full of newsprint, but set the stack before the King alone. "Affton, where are my morning papers?" asked Sedra.
"There'll be no more of that," growled her father. "I'm done with you ruining your mind. All this reading will stunt your ability to bear children."
"Papa, you know that isn't true! Many educated women--"
"Not in my house!" roared Harsin. "Not in my house! No more! I will not have the women of this family constantly disobeying me! Is your mother's death not proof enough I know best? You will obey me, Sedra. Better you should learn to bend that stiff neck now, because Brinnid of Sairland is due next year to bargain for his brother. Do you hear me? You will obey my will and then your husband's, girl, and we're both within our rights to beat you bloody otherwise!"
"May I remind you I'm not sold--excuse me, married--yet, sir?"
Harsin reached across the table and slapped her.
Sedra brought her hand to her cheek in shock. No one had ever hit her before, let alone her father. She was his favorite. He disapproved of her studying and encouraged it at the same time; they talked politics at breakfast and over dinner, enthusiastic and friendly arguments that often ended in laughter. She thought they understood one another, in spite of the disagreement over Teacher, in spite of his conventional attitudes toward her learning.
He had hit her.
She pushed her chair back, deposited her napkin beside her untouched breakfast and left the room with measured step; her father stared after her but didn't call her back. When she was certain she was unobserved, she raced up the stairs to her rooms, slamming the door behind her. "Camma! Damn you, Sinsett, where are you?"
Miss Sinsett came hurrying from Sedra's bedchamber. "Miss, what is it? Why is your cheek so red? Let me bring you some lavender water--"
"I don't want to bathe my face. I'm going out. Lay out my new black winter walking suit. I'll have the black mink muff and hat as well."
"Oh, but Miss, you haven't been out in at least a week. It's quite cold out, and the snow is thick on the ground. You won't be able to get through the woods on foot, I'm certain of it."
"Then lay out a riding suit and furs, and send a footman to the stables to bring LeiLei here. I should have gone home with Elly!"
Dressed in warm black wool and warmer fur, Sedra stomped out of the mudroom entrance, mounted LeiLei and galloped into the snowy King's Woods. So, the Sairish were coming, a deal would be made, and she would leave Tremont. She would become a figurehead and be hemmed in on all sides, even more than she already was. No reading, no walks, just endless nodding and smiling and the bed of an unknown man. Her worth would no longer be measured in her abilities but in the number of children she bore.
She'd never had any real illusions as to her future; she was "the smart one" after all, and had always known she and Ellika were destined for diplomatic marriages. She'd expected it far, far sooner than this. Perhaps Papa should have married her off more quickly; at 17 she might have been more flexible, more biddable, than she was now at not-quite 23. When mourning for Mama finished she'd be almost 24--perhaps older before the wedding could be celebrated. She'd be so far away--she'd never see Tremont again. With Mama gone, would that be so very bad?
No, it was still unsupportable, never seeing her sisters and brother again, never wandering in these woods again, never being her own person again. She was not made for marriage. She was made for learning and independence, for books and quiet woods.
Sedra stopped. She'd come to the place Teacher and Connin had called Mirror Clearing. Down the path before her stood the Travelers' caravans; pleasantly tangy smoke came to her nose. She reined LeiLei in. The old crone had invited her to take up where Teacher's instruction had left off. Yes, Maeve had been Sedra's unknown rival for Teacher's affections, but the chance to learn more about her family's unknown history, especially its women, was tempting. Maybe there'd be something in it to hold her up and guide her through the coming years.
And then there was Connin's invitation to consider.
Sedra tapped her heels into LeiLei's sides, and they started down the path toward the camp.
It had snowed overnight at Whithorse Estate as well, smoothing the rolling hills and long flat plains and turning the old Freehold in the distance into a white palace. Temmin rode out into the snow on Jebby. Alvo's greeting had bordered on curt, and he'd answered in kind; if that's what Alvo wanted, that's what Temmin would give him. By the time he came home on his steaming horse he was contrite, but Alvo had disappeared. Sunk in gloom, he left Jebby to the grooms, ate a lonely breakfast in the Morning Room and stomped upstairs to let Jenks fuss over his morning toilet.
"Bathed, trimmed, turned out and for what?" Temmin muttered.
"For your own good, sir. A man's outsides affect a man's insides, and that's all there is to it. Look at the old crow," Jenks continued as Teacher entered the drawing room. "Neat as a pin every time you see him. Orderly dress leads to an orderly mind."
"High and unexpected praise, Colonel," said Teacher, iron-colored brows raised, "but is my mind orderly because I am 'neat as a pin,' or am I neat as a pin because my mind is orderly?"
"One follows the other," sniffed Jenks. "I'm off, sir. Wallek needs more etiquette beaten into him." He shut the door behind him.
"Poor Wallek," murmured Teacher.
"Oh, he's all right, he has a hard head," said Temmin, his expression approaching a smile.
"And how is your head this morning?"
Temmin sank back onto the gold couch. "Troubled. I like the snow--love it--but today it's just cold white stuff. I can't seem to get much enthusiasm going about anything. My best friend won't speak to me, just when I need him the most. I'd say let's take a trip into the book to take my mind off everything, but I'm wary of what I'll find out."
"Shall we assay it anyway?" said Teacher.
"Oh, why not," groaned Temmin. He opened the book and the story continued.