Chapter 11 Part 2 | Son in Sorrow | IHGK Book 2
The chief midwife came into the Queen's sitting room, where Ansella's daughters and husband waited. Her face formed a professional mask, but the moment the woman entered Ellika knew. From the Queen's bedchamber came a newborn's wail and the sobs of women. The midwife cleared her throat. "The Queen…the baby is fine, healthy and whole, but I'm sorry. The Queen is gone."
A shocked silence fell. Ellika's insides dropped to the floor. "Gone? The Traveler Queen said she'd be all right!"
"No, she said it was up to Mama," said Sedra. "It was her choice. I didn't know this is what she meant! Mama chose the baby. How could she--how could she leave me!" Sedra fled from the room, crying.
Ellika stood stock still, her hands over her leaden stomach. "May we see her?" The midwife hesitantly led Ellika and Harsin into the room.
Ansella had been shifted from the birthing chair to the bed. Her golden hair lay over one shoulder, still in a long plait; the strands around her face were drying. Her eyes were closed, and a smile just touched her mouth. Donnis knelt at the bedside, holding her cousin's hand; her forehead rested against the bed and her body shook in grief. In one corner crouched the sobbing Miss Hanston. In another, three midwives were muttering over a large porcelain basin beside a heap of bloodied linen, and a Sister walked up and down, carrying a small wailing bundle.
Ellika stopped the woman's pacing to look at the baby wrapped in swaddling. Her indignant face already favored her father, crowned in a soft cap of black hair. Ellika's heart hadn't stopped pounding since the chief midwife had brought them the news; her grief was so great it kept her tears from flowing. But as she stared at her new sister a purpose gripped her.
"Wouldn't you like to see your daughter, Your Majesty?" asked the Sister. "She's a little early, but she's healthy."
Harsin waved the woman off, his face pale; Ellika saw in an instant what he would look like as an old man. "I don't care if I ever see her in this life," he said. "Take her away."
"Give her to me," demanded Ellika. "And send for my brother."
Temmin sat beside the bed with his father, trying to listen to Eldest Sister Imvalda. Something about the afterbirth--it was blasted, shriveled and black as if scorched. "None of us have ever seen anything like this before, not even the oldest and most experienced among us. My poisons expert tells me in one quite obscure textbook in the Hearth's library there is a description of such a toxin, but it was written five hundred years ago and to anyone's knowledge it had never been used--until now, apparently. The poison should have killed the Queen, but whatever the Blessed Maeve did left her with enough life for one of them. Her Majesty chose the baby." Imvalda cleared her throat. "Ibbit's knowledge and inclinations run more toward death than life, to a degree that shocks me."
"I will take great satisfaction in bringing her face to face with death," said Harsin in a voice so hollow the Eldest Sister gave an involuntary shudder.
Silent tears ran down Temmin's face. Mama was gone. What would he do, how would he go on? Mama had been everything--mother, sometimes father before Jenks came, teacher, solace. Who would he turn to now? Who would love him now? His father? He hardly knew the man, and what he did know disturbed and angered him. His sisters, yes, and he loved them but it wasn't the same. Alvo and Jenks were far away. Allis? Oh, how he loved her, but what did that matter?
Every happy memory of his mother rushed at him--her laughter as they rode over the plains of home, her kiss as she tucked him in at night when he was small, the two of them in the stables as she taught him to take a horse's measure, her sympathetic listening to his troubles boy and man. Worse by far were the memories of every time he failed her. He could love no one like that ever again, and no one would love him like that ever again.
Temmin put his head down on his mother's cold breast and let out a deep, sobbing roar.