Chapter 10 Part 7 | Son in Sorrow | IHGK Book 2
Summer ripened, and so did the Queen; her health returned, better than ever. Harsin had planned to stay in town for the summer, but instead accompanied his wife and daughters to High Haven, the royal family's retreat in the mountains above the Capital. To their surprise, Ansella's brush with death rekindled their passion for one another. They spent their nights rediscovering each other's bodies, though long-exposed nerves still ached. Ibbit never left Ansella's mind, but her emotions changed from heartbreak and bewildered anger to implacable hatred--not just for her own sake, but for the unborn baby she carried. Ansella could almost understand it if Ibbit had tried to kill her from jealousy, but trying to kill the baby? For that, Ansella would see the woman dead.
Harsin suggested she return to Whithorse Estate if she wished--"It's your heart's home, after all"--but after everything that had passed she wanted to stay close to her children. Sedra's betrothal was imminent. When she married, Ansella might never see her again. "In truth," Harsin told her as they rode one day in the cool mountain woods, "I'm glad you didn't go back to the Estate, Annie."
She stayed silent and kept a loose hand on her reins, letting her white mare Flor set the pace down a path lined with evergreens, maple and ash trees. The shade was welcome even in the mountains, though the sun was not oppressive; crushed pine needles and sun-warmed wood filled the air. "Are you? I should have thought you'd prefer me to go. I'm surprised you didn't stay in town. You have business to attend to--affairs of state."
"I will not let you goad me," Harsin answered affably. "There is no affair of state or otherwise as important to me as you are now."
"You're sure of that?"
She arched her delicate brow. "It's only a daughter, Harsin."
He pulled his gray gelding short. "Do you believe I love sons more than daughters?"
"I believe you consider Temmin more valuable."
Harsin nudged the gray in the ribs, the animal's gait muddling his shrug. "It can't be helped. He's the Heir. I love all three of my children, and the new one to be."
"They're grown--Sedra, Elly and Tem," Ansella mused. "They hardly need me now, but I don't think I'm quite done mothering. I'll rather enjoy this new little one."
Harsin turned in the saddle toward her. "Annie, do you believe now that I love you? Have I proven it to you? I never did stop loving you, however poorly I may have shown it."
"Is this an apology?"
"An apology?" he considered. "Of a sort. Perhaps not the one you might expect. Or want. I cannot help what I am. Whichever bed I spent time in never had any relation to my love and regard for you. What I am sorry for is letting you go, and I'm not speaking of Whithorse. You were never far away from me--you were a step through the mirror--but you seemed so far away in spirit. I convinced myself it didn't matter. You would always be there and besides, you didn't care."
"That was untrue," she murmured.
"So you did care."
Ansella looked down the path. Tiny insects were swarming in a patch of sun, mating she supposed. If she remembered correctly, the poor things had just the one day for it. "I wanted not to care."
"I let that woman walk right into my house--"
"The Estate is my house, Harsin--"
"It's Temmin's house, he's the Duke of Whithorse not you, and stop interrupting me. I'm trying to say I should never have let anyone take my place in your life."
Ansella thought back to the days when she and Harsin separated, and Ibbit filled the void. She'd been so lonely, so angry, and Ibbit offered her solace. She could talk to Ibbit in a way she never had with anyone before, not even Donnis; frankness between friends is not the same as intimacy between lovers, and Harsin had more than once walked away from her when she'd tried to show him her secret heart. Ibbit knew things about her body, too, that Harsin--for all his pride in his prowess--had merely guessed at.
Ibbit had known both her secret heart and her body, and chose betrayal.
"Oh, Annie. Have we both been very stupid?" said Harsin.
"I think perhaps, yes."
The path ended in a swath of meadow, warm in the sun. The spring flowers were long spent even this high up, and their summer seedheads were forming; the stalks quaked under their weight in the slight breeze. The horses wanted to stop and eat, but Harsin tapped the gray in the sides. "None for you. It's too warm here for my lady--for me too, truth be told. Come." He turned away and set them along a path leading beside a stream.
Up and up they rode, following the sound of water. The trees closed in. Moss and ferns grew heavy on the ground; tall grasses grew in the few shafts of sunlight. A never-ending roll of sound in the distance reminded her this path led to a series of waterfalls; after a first great drop, the stream cascaded over rocks from pool to pool until its course ran smooth again. Harsin led them to a little pavilion built by a long-dead ancestor, overlooking the clear green ribbon of the smallest fall and its rippling pool. They dismounted, looping the reins over a rustic fence near the water; the horses wouldn't wander far.