Chapter 1 Part 6 | Son in Sorrow | IHGK Book 2
Early spring in Corland could hardly be called spring at all, especially in the little city of Arren. It sat far to the north, just on Tremont's side of the border with the Northern Wastes, and winter loved it far too much to leave on time. Downy snow still fell from the sky, determined to smother the streets like an overstuffed featherbed. Mattisanis Ambleson--the former Mattie Dunley of Meadow House, Whithorse Estate--thought it beautiful. The cold rimed everything in brilliant, magical whiteness, hushed, as a breath held. Or perhaps lost. Ever since meeting Adrik Adrikov just after Neya's Day the year before, she had been breathless.
Tonight at the Heir's Birthday celebration in Arren's most modern public ballroom, Mattie's mama sat frowning with the other chaperones, but Mattie sparkled as brightly as the snow outside as she swept down the floor in Adrik's arms. The gaslight gilded her dark hair and shone in her hazel eyes. "How wonderful of you to buy us tickets, Mr Adrikov!"
"How could anyone deny you such a pleasure--anyone knowing how you love to dance," he smiled, his Corrish accent silky and rich as good chocolate. Mattie loved it when he smiled; his large, deep brown eyes turning down at the outside corners gave his face a melancholy cast otherwise. When he smiled, his eyes took on a sly kindness, as if he contained happy surprises within surprises like a Corrish nesting doll.
Among the chaperones, Mistress Ambleson's fidgets increased, and Mattie's pleasure wilted round the edges. "Mama could."
Mama could, indeed. There had been quite the argument when Mr Adrikov's invitation arrived. Tellis Ambleson insisted they could not attend such a public event, that "we must keep a low profile, Mattie, I have told you this and told you this!"
"But never why, Mama, and until you tell me why we changed our name and moved away from Reggiston, I see no reason why I mightn't go out--oh please, Mama, I don't wish to be beastly! See? Mr Adrikov has provided you with a ticket as well, there is nothing unseemly about it, you will be with us." Mattie's wheedling, and Mama's reluctance to part with the secret, had finally procured her permission, but clearly she was thinking twice.
"Mistress Ambleson is a loving mother," said Adrik. "She worries about letting her beautiful lamb of a daughter out of the fold, where all the wolves might pick up her scent."
Mattie laughed, pleased at flattery she knew was still true: she was beautiful. Her mother had been beautiful, and was handsome even at the decrepit age of thirty-eight. Mattie had inherited her heart-shaped face, neat figure and hazel eyes, but Mattie's almost-too-pronounced nose and near-black hair must have come from some unknown ancestor. Her Papa'd had kind if watery pale blue eyes, a button nose and sandy, receding hair that almost blended into his forehead. For a moment, his memory squeezed at her heart; he'd found great joy in music and dancing, and would have loved being here tonight to dance with her mother. Mattie would have loved for him to meet Adrik Adrikov, the love of her life, but Papa was five years gone.
Adrik encircled her waist to guide her up the form; the warmth of his body so close to hers brought her to the present. Warmth bloomed every time he touched her, no matter how slight or decorous the contact. He had not made an offer yet and of course had thus not won the right to kiss her, but in bed at night she thought of little else but Adrik, how it would feel when he finally did kiss her. Would his mustache tickle? Would she like that? She thought she might.
"Miss Ambleson?" his voice interrupted her musings. "I do wonder what you're thinking, your eyes sparkle so."
She returned her attention to the room and laughed. "Some day you'll know!"
Pawl the footman opened the Amblesons' front door, dull-witted and stifling more yawns than usual. "Why did we have to come home, Mama?" said Mattie.
"What d'you mean, why? It's two in the morning!" answered her mother.
Mattie trailed upstairs after her. "But everyone was still there! They weren't scheduled to stop dancing until four at the earliest! Mama, why have you taken such a dislike to Ad--Mr Adrikov?"
Tellis paused at the drawing room door long enough to call for tea and aimed herself at her favorite chair by the drawing room fire. Once the two were settled with their tea before them and the door firmly closed, Tellis let out a great sigh. "Oh, Mattie. It's too soon."
"Too soon? Mama, we've known one another since Spring's End last year, and here it's Spring's Beginning--almost an entire year!"
"No, no, not that. It's too soon since we left...Reggiston!" she whispered loudly.
Mattie bounced in her chair. "Until you tell me why, that will never be explanation enough!"
Tellis tapped her fingers together in her lap, a nervous habit that sometimes sent Mattie into exasperated fits; now, it signaled that perhaps she might finally learn the secret. "Mattie...you must believe me when I tell you this is a very great secret, a burden I'd always hoped to carry for you. I never wanted you to know this. You must tell no one, do you understand?" Huge tears pooled in Tellis's eyes; Mattie bit at her lip in alarm. "We are in danger if you tell anyone, Mattie, do you understand? Promise me!"