Chapter 17 Part 1 | Son in Sorrow | IHGK Book 2
Twenna and the baby arrived at her father's townhouse two weeks after the birth to chaos. Burly men were coming and going with everything they could cart off. White shrouds covered the few remaining furniture pieces until the movers could fetch them as well.
Twenna's one consolation was Wendia. The loyal maid's wages had been paid till the end of the spoke, and now she held the baby as Twenna tried to save something from the wreckage. Her wardrobe was already empty, the many beautiful dresses gone, even the ones she'd owned before she'd become the King's mistress. All that remained was the periwinkle silk she had on her back.
Her jewels had long since gone back to the Keep, including the sapphires he'd said were hers forever. Elbig Shelstone's creditors had even tried to take the little gold and coral ring her dead mother had given her to celebrate her first moon blood--she'd never taken it off, ever--but she'd cried so hard and looked so pitiful clutching her hand that the lawyer supervising the household's dismantling had finally relented. "We're taking all the rest, miss, and you can't stop us. We'd take that cloak," he added, gesturing to the blue velvet, ermine-lined cloak covering her shoulders, "but we've already packed up all your other clothes and t'isn't right to let a new mother wander winter streets without a covering of some kind."
"Thanks awfully," snapped Wendia; the man had enough heart to look ashamed for five seconds.
A huge man whose nose had been broken at least twice stuck his head through the drawing room door. "Miss? There's a gentl'man 'ere to see ya."
She looked to the lawyer. "We can give you a few moments of privacy, I suppose," he said. "Nothing small enough in here to smuggle out." Wendia, the lawyer and his workmen retreated, and Percet Lord Fennows sauntered in.
"Dear me, what a ruin," he said, staring about. "You're preoccupied with the, ah, dismantling of your household I should think, poor girl, so I'll get straight to the point, shall I. I am sympathetic to your plight. I have a proposal for you."
"Yes, My Lord?" fidgeted Twenna. In the next room the baby was working up to the thin wail of a newborn; he must be hungry. If this took much longer, Twenna's breasts would leak; they might stain not just her chemise, but soak her corset straight through onto her one dress.
"You're a comely little thing, Twenna, always said it. As it happens, I'm between, ah, little friends at the moment. Come with me. I have a nice apartment in the Park District, out of the way but not horribly far from the Promenade. You'd have your own staff, of course, and I'd clothe your back and shod your foot as the saying goes, ha ha! I'm prepared to be quite generous to a girl as pretty as you, I should think."
Twenna's stomach fluttered. Take the protection of Lord Fennows? She'd been required to play the part of his friend out of loyalty to his father, but she'd never liked him, not even a little; in fact, she rather loathed him. He was always leering at her and must have thought her too stupid to catch his many insulting innuendos. Still, she was desperate. She would hear him out. "What about my son, sir? What about Nerrik?"
He barked a laugh. "Nerrik? That's what happened, eh? Spread your legs on Neya's Day, did you? Put it in the Mother's House. I know a fine one outside the City, I sponsor a child there already--er, not my child, you understand, it's just the decent thing to do, a 'coin for the Lady' as the saying goes, eh? It's clean and out of the way, and they'll raise the little tyke up to be a skilled craftsman or perhaps even a Father or Scholar if he's bright. You'll never have to think of it again."
"No!" said Twenna before he'd even finished speaking. "No! They can have everything else. They can't take Rikki!"
"Damn you, girl, you can't expect a fellow to take you under his protection with a baby in your arms! Girls like you don't get to keep their children, not if they want to make a living."
Twenna's despair boiled into rage. "You, sir, are not a gentleman! I'll go to the Mother's House myself before I accept the protection of a lout--a cad--a spotty-faced prat like you!" She fled from the room.
"And you're no lady! You'll end up on the block in the Father's Temple without your brat anyway, see if you don't, and then I'll visit you in the whorehouse you end up in!" Fennows yelled after her. "Perhaps I'll buy your indenture myself!"
Twenna joined the maid and the baby in the entryway; he was now crying so hard his little blunt tongue vibrated in his open mouth. "Thank you, Wendia, thank you so much, Amma bless you," Twenna sobbed as she took him in her arms. She ran up the stairs to her now-empty room, closed the door and sat down on the uncarpeted floor. She unfastened her bodice and guided the tiny boy onto her nipple; he complained around it until he settled down to eat.
Resting her back against the wall, she could just see out the window; snow fell in fits and starts. The grate was empty and cold, and she pulled the blue velvet cloak closer around the baby at her breast. There she stayed, rocking him on the bare floor until the workmen begged her pardon but she had to leave now, very sorry she had no place to go but that's how it was, miss, very sorry, nothing personal, only business. They chivvied her out the door and onto the front step of the house that had once been her father's; the Shelstones' former belongings, heaped on tarped wagons, were just pulling away.
Rikki slept; Twenna pulled the cloak closed around them, grateful for its fur lining, and gazed about her in bewilderment. In the distance high above the City hovered the Keep like a giant astride the rock. Why had she ever wished to see inside it?
The snow stopped. She stepped out from under the doorway's protection and into the slushy street, toward the last resort of abandoned women and children.