Chapter 13 Part 6 | Lovers and Beloveds | IHGK Book 1
At the camp, bedrolls circled the banked fire. Once inside his own, Warin seethed with rage. His prophecy had been wrong. His father died alone, in bed, and not at Warin's hand. For that, he rejoiced, but as for the rest...
All his anger at the Gods came roaring back. For years, he'd wondered what he'd done to deserve his prophecy. Now the punishment was compounded; he'd given up his throne and his beloved father for nothing. In his grief and anger, he yearned for Emmae, and feared for her more. He stared up into the dark sky, thinking of his brother in the marriage bed that belonged to him, and willed Emmae to be safe.
"King Warin," murmured Connin from a few feet away, "master yourself. You've relit the fire."
Warin glanced to his left; flames licked up from the coals, burning angry and bright. "Bank," he sighed; the fire subsided. "Apologies. I have yet to reconcile myself to my father's power." He pulled his magic inward and focused on his breath, forcing himself to sleep.
The next day dawned clear and fresh. The air in the field where the company camped smelled of trampled grass, wood smoke, and horses. In soft half-sleep, Warin dreamed he was a child again, waking up in his father's pavilion during maneuvers. He waited, dreaming and dozing in the dawn light, for his father's booming voice to call him to breakfast with the Cavalry.
He woke fully. The dolorous toll of the bells had ended. His father was dead. Today he would kill his brother, and take his father's place.
He pulled on his clothes and sword, found the little mirror box at the bottom of his pouch, and flicked it open. "If she still lives, show me Emmae," he said. The reflection flickered, and Emmae appeared. She wore an overdress of stiff brocade, its deep Tremontine red contrasting sharply with her pale skin. Her hair hung loose and limp to her waist; she smoothed a strand through her fingers over and over, a gesture he knew well. He jumped to his feet to throw himself into the mirror, but the reflection resolved again to his own pinched, hollow face; she must have moved away.
At the Keep, Emmae glanced back at the cheval glass in the corner, willing Warin not to look for her. "Cover the mirror," she said to a serving woman; confused and dutiful, the woman threw a sheet over the glass.
A flood of flowers, food, gifts from dignitaries, silk dresses embroidered in gold thread, furs, satin slippers flowed into Emmae's apartments, borne in by countless maidservants; a dozen more had dressed her and now hovered about, twitching the folds of her ermine-lined mantle into place, offering perfumes, and otherwise annoying her.
To her surprise, Old Meg was not among them. Of all the servants, she expected Meg to be the one to ready her for the coronation; Hildin relied on her as spy and watchdog. Even so, Meg was familiar, the closest thing she had to a friend. She would never cross her Hildin, but she had been kind in her way, and gentle. Emmae asked several of the women, but none of them knew her whereabouts.
Against the tide of riches and women came Gian. He wore the yellow and blue of Valleysmouth, the yellow giving his skin an unnatural pallor, and he carried a jewel casket in his hands. "Leave us," he said to the servants. One last reluctant twitch to the mantle, and the primary dresser left, shooing the rest of the maids before her.
Gian pulled strand after strand of pearls from the casket, so many that Emmae wondered if there were oysters inside the box. "These belonged to the King's mother. He wished to see them on you," he murmured tonelessly.
"You don't seem to take much joy in your master's coronation," she said.
Gian looked up from the casket, a pair of long pearl earrings in one hand. "We have waited for this day since we were children." He fastened the pearls in her ears and stepped back. "You make a magnificent Queen, Emmae. Your dressers did well."
"The dressers--Gian, where is Old Meg? Is she unwell?"
The young man went paler still. "She is dead."
"Dead? What happened? Was she ill?"
"I killed her."
"Why would you do that?" she said after a long, astonished pause. "Stupid boy, why would you do such a thing?"
"He required it of me. I've never killed for him before. I am sick at heart." Gian took her face in his hands. "Emmae, listen. I care what happens to you, more than you will ever believe. Tread carefully. Do as you're told. Tell no one about Warin, nor that you were brought here long before you were officially found--your confidante would be dead in a day. Give my lord no excuse to do you harm. Do you understand me?" Gian choked, then continued, "She was as his mother, and yet he had me kill her for fear she'd give us away. He'd waste no tears on you." He dropped his hands and took up the casket again. "I won't see you again until the ceremony at Pagg's Temple," he said.
Emmae's breath returned, uncontrollable. "Why are you warning me?"
Gian stopped halfway out of the room, his face twisting with emotion and his green eyes bright and full, but he said only, "I will see you at your crowning." He let the door stand open, leaving the Guards outside watching for Warin.
Emmae mastered her breathing and focused her mind. She pulled the cover off the cheval glass in hopes Warin would see her, but she saw nothing, no indication he was watching. She sighed, and took the habitual lock of hair between her fingers.
Hildin meant to kill her; if he'd kill Meg, her own life meant nothing. As soon as he possessed Leute, she was expendable. She might tell her father, but what good would that do? He didn't listen, even when he was sober, and he was unlikely to believe her--if he did, he'd probably kill her himself. Then again, if Hildin wanted Leute badly enough, why let Fredrik live? She had no love for him; they said he was her father, but she didn't remember him at all, and she could only think that a real father wouldn't throw her away on such as Hildin. As an unmarried woman, she lived under her father's thumb, now as a married woman, under her husband's. But what if she were neither a daughter nor a wife?
As a widow, she might live on her own terms. Perhaps she might then set a search for Warin, if only to discover why he hadn't come to her. She could separate herself from men, attended only by women--safe from the spell. Though occasionally she'd caught eddies of interest from certain women, it would be easy enough to weed them out.
Though she had thought often of suicide in her captivity, now the will to live filled her, fierce and eager. She searched her room, rifling through the gifts of jewels in hopes of a ceremonial dagger, but not even a stickpin came to hand.
She refused to sink back into despair. Whether today or a spoke from now, she would find a way to kill Hildin before he killed her, and live.