Chapter 10 Part 8 | Son in Sorrow | IHGK Book 2
Inside the pavilion sat a table and a low lounge before it. Glasses, plates and various delicacies covered the tablecloth; Ansella wondered where the servants who'd carted everything up here were hiding, but the falling water would mask any conversation beyond the pavilion itself. Harsin walked to the pool's edge and pulled out a bottle of foamwine, chilled in the icy water. He wiped the bottle with a white towel, opened it and filled their glasses.
The wine was cold and crisp, so young it was almost as clear as the water. Ansella took a long sip. "Beautiful."
"The '90 is a good vintage, even better than the '88."
"No," she smiled, "I meant all of this. The ride here, this place--it's been many years since I was last here."
"The last time we were here, if what you told me at the time was correct, it resulted in Sedra."
Ansella blushed and laughed. "We haven't been back here since." A fish flickered in the shallows of the pool and the smile left her face. "I wonder how many times you've been here in the interim."
"After that day, I could never bring another here. It reminds me of you. When I missed you and thought I shouldn't come to you, I would come here."
"You do not long for your mistress's arms?"
Harsin snorted. "I would be lying if I told you I wasn't fond of Twenna Shelstone, but how could I long for her? Sweet, giving and very pretty, but ultimately boring. She is an uncomplicated girl, no depth of character. That's what drew me to her in the first place. I wanted solace and simplicity, and you are not a simple woman, Annie."
She studied the man she'd been married to for the better part of twenty-five years. His hair was graying at a faster clip. The brown eyes that were in youth cheerful, arrogant and mischievous were sober now, but softer than she'd grown to expect.
"Come here." Harsin put his arm around her; for the first time when he talked of his mistresses, a safe calm enveloped her. He kissed her.
How easy it had been to love Ibbit, and how easy now to hate her--easier by far than it had been to either love or hate Harsin. With him, just when Ansella would begin to love him, he would do something to make her hate him, and just when she got the knack of that, he would make her love him again. It was hard to say whether their newfound closeness balanced out another illegitimate child. Why was he always so difficult? She looked away into the bowl of the pool, its sides terraced by running water over thousands of years. "If the Honorable Miss Shelstone is so tedious, why are you making her a countess?"
"It's for the baby's sake. Were I able to find her, I'd do the same for Mattie Dunley. Her mother's dead, you know."
Tellis Dunley, dead? Such a pretty girl she'd been, and so kind-hearted. Even after she'd discovered the maidservant had borne Harsin a daughter, Ansella couldn't bring herself to hate Tellis, though she'd made sure the woman took her daughter far away from Temmin. "Merciful Amma. What happened?"
"Teacher found her body in a Hill, but we can't tell where. Winmer has his agents searching the kingdom for Mattie. I want her found."
"Why doesn't Teacher just watch for the girl? She has to look in a mirror at some point."
"Teacher's been looking since I found out about…about the other child-to-be. I don't want to repeat my father's mistakes--no remonstrances on my dalliances, woman. I mean the way he dealt with my brothers. I will keep my children under closer observation than he did. Even if she's left the country, I'll find her." Harsin shifted on the silken cushions padding the pavilion bench. "As to the Shelstone girl, I could not in good conscience abandon her now, though I have no interest in resuming my attentions. She's quite an innocent thing, really, in a different context you would like her, Annie."
"Oh, I'm sure we would have been the best of friends."
Harsin laughed. "She hasn't much in the way of learning or of intellect, I'm afraid--more at home with Ellika than you, I suspect." And closer to her age, Ansella added to herself. "She is on the whole a good and gentle girl. Her fault at present is that she's not you--say, you're taking this conversation quite placidly. You surprise me."
She sighed and closed her eyes. "After recent events I find myself tired of arguing. Tired of pride. Just tired."
"You seem sprightly enough."
"It is an exhaustion of the spirit, I suppose. My recent…illness…I just don't want to fight you any more. Do as you please."
"What would please me is to spend my time with you."
"A morsel for the expecting wife?"
Harsin drew back as if stung. "Not a morsel. The whole man. I find myself wanting your company and no other. I think perhaps I wanted it all along." She kept a doubtful silence; Harsin began again. "Lord and Lady Litta are at Eaglehome for a short visit before they return to Turus. Will you accompany me to a musical evening there tonight? You've always liked Anvalt, despite the unpleasantness surrounding Temmin's investiture."
"That was your 'unpleasantness,' Harsin, not Anvalt's."
"He approved of the goal if not the method."
"Well, he's your faithful friend--a true friend. I wish you'd spend more time with him and less with Bornet Sandopint."
"Mm," said Harsin around a mouthful of wine. "I depend on Corland among the conservatives."
"Litta's a conservative, too. So is Lord Barle."
"And Barle, yes, but Corland is in a different faction altogether, these True Conservatives, whatever that means. I can rely on Litta completely, and Barle usually, but not always on Corland. Borney needs a certain amount of cultivating, but that's none too hard. Eats too much, drinks too much and wenches too much. No raised eyebrows, please, he makes me look like an amateur."
"Corland isn't making his mistress a countess."
"Corland isn't an independent kingdom any more, and Borney discards his women."
Harsin threw a strawberry top into the pool. The shadow she'd seen earlier splashed to the surface and snapped at the strawberry top. "I release them."
Harsin burst out laughing. "I have missed your humor."
"I have missed you." She traced her fingers along the laugh lines around his eyes and kissed him, difficult man that he was.