Chapter 11 Part 8 | Son in Sorrow | IHGK Book 2
Ellika rarely let the baby go, relinquishing her little sister long enough for the hastily-called wet nurse to feed her before snatching her away again. She declared to the family that Anneya was her responsibility: "No one else seems to care, so I'm taking her back to Whithorse with Temmin. Nurse and I will see to her." She even learned to change the tiny girl's diaper, refusing assistance with a savagery once reserved for incompetent milliners and dancing partners who trod one too many times on her toes. Her famous gusts of tears never appeared; her eyes were red but dry. Her soft, shorn curls framed a face displaying few emotions except the smiles she showered down on her baby sister. She took no interest in the mourning clothes Miss Clommert arranged for Mistress Naister to make for her.
Ellika spent her days and evenings in Anneya's nursery, making the customary mementos from Mama's hair with alarming speed and intensity as the baby slept. Sedra's jet brooch now framed a spray of golden plumes. Their father's mourning watch cover carried an intricate knot, Temmin's a simple coiled lock at his request. For Miss Hanston, Ellika planned a framed display of the bright hair fashioned into a bouquet of flowers. Their old Nurse at the Estate, who'd helped raise Ansella as well as the royal children, would get one, too, if Mama's death didn't kill the poor old lady at last. Ellika wrapped her mother's remaining braid in tissue. She would save the delicate work for the Estate.
She and the baby wore bracelets plaited of Mama's hair. A simple four-strand round braid circled the baby's tiny wrist; Ellika wore a flat, many-stranded herringbone pattern as wide as two fingers, its round clasp made of pearls set in gold. She would make an identical one for her little sister to wear when she was grown. She won't remember Mama, but at least she'll have that.
To Sedra it seemed as if her childish, giddy sister had aged overnight into a woman--or perhaps gone a little mad. Sedra's own grieving surprised even her. She spent hours in her room, crying until she ran out of tears and stared at nothing. Her books held no interest, nor did her walks. She ate little, talked less, and her chocolate brown eyes took on the darker hue of the jet mourning jewelry she wore every day.
Ansella and Sedra had sometimes argued. They had the same temper, and there were times when they were too much alike. Every petty argument between them stuck in Sedra's heart. Now her mother would not be there to see the marriage cord tied, to give Sedra advice on dealing with a husband just as likely to stray as her father had. Though Mama hadn't dealt with that at all well, had she? Anger towards her father surged inside her, and she pounded a sofa cushion so hard it burst open, scattering feathers all over her sitting room.
Harsin's untouched dinner lay on the partners' desk he shared with his secretary Embis Winmer. He rubbed his tired eyes. Temmin, Ellika, the baby and the rest of the Whithorse-bound contingent had left quite early that morning in the crown's private train, and in spite of his apathy toward his new daughter he'd seen them off at the station after a long, sleepless night.
"What of Miss Shelstone, Your Majesty?" said Winmer. "Her child is due soon, isn't it? I have the paperwork here. Do you still wish to elevate her to Countess Middlemont on the child's birth?"
"Yes," said Harsin. "In time I'll find her a lord's second son or some such and marry her off, but the child will be recognized as mine. If the little one comes of age I will accept her at court. Middlemont will fall to the girl and her husband if she survives and marries, but the title will die with Twenna. Make it so, Winmer."
"Very good, sir. May I ask if you've you chosen a name for the new child?"
"Twenna wishes to name the baby after her mother. Deannis. A bit High Street, if you ask me, but…" He shook his head. "In truth, Embis, I don't care. She can name the baby whatever she wishes. I don't care. I am done with babies." At his secretary's respectful, lowered eyes and gentle throat-clearing, he snapped, "Oh, Pagg's Balls, out with it."
"I merely question whether you should have let the youngest Princesses go back to Whithorse, sir. Your preference to keep your children close by, expressed so recently by the ongoing search for Miss Dunley and your solicitude for Miss Shelstone's child, seems at variance with their departure."
"I suppose so." Harsin scratched his jaw through his thick, graying beard, perhaps harder than the itch demanded. "I just can't…it's too…" Tears formed in his eyes, almost soothing. His eyes hurt so much these days. "I never knew I would miss her so. She was at Whithorse all those years, yes, but she was as close as the next room any time I chose. Teacher could have taken me there in an instant."
"If we are speaking freely, sir, the situation was not all of your choosing. She was a difficult woman at times."
"How much of that was my doing? If I had been more attentive, if I hadn't let Ibbit insinuate herself into the house--" His voice raised in a roar. "I swear, I swear on Ansella's bones, I swear on the Father's Rock, I will kill that woman myself. I let her take Annie away from me and then just as I was getting her back--" The roar broke, and he let his tears fall. "Do you remember when we first were married, Embis? I had her then and could have kept her, but I let her go. She pushed me away…or I walked away…and I let her go. I didn't think twice about it. Women surrounded me, and yes, she was more than just a woman to me, but… and just as I saw her, just as we'd begun to really understand one another… I was getting her back, and then…"
Winmer placed a gentle hand on his master's shoulder. "Harsin, I don't believe in the afterlife. You do. Take comfort in that if it helps. If it helps, think of her waiting for you in the Hill. Here and now you have the children she gave you, including the new little Princess. That will have to suffice."
Harsin covered his friend's hand with his own and wept.