Chapter 12 Part 1 | Son in Sorrow | IHGK Book 2
Whithorse Estate, Whithorse
The final week of Winter's Beginning, 992 KY
With the family in mourning all royal celebrations and parties were canceled for the next year, and the City's leading lights of course followed suit; the social season thus ended two spokes early, to the despair of more than a few mothers looking to marry off daughters who were aging by the minute. Ellika, who would normally never hide herself at the Estate at this time of year, didn't care a bit. She spent her time in the Great House's cozy nursery fussing over Anneya with Lady Donnis.
The wet nurse brought from Tremont City lost her milk, to general alarm. "How does one find a wet nurse, Cousin Donnie?" fretted Ellika.
"One looks among your Estatesmen for a mother who's still nursing a babe, or better, one who's just lost one, as sad as that is. Are there any such?"
There were several nursing mothers, none mourning a dead child. Ellika could not stand forcing a babe off its mother's breast, and luck was with her. An especially devoted mother had enough milk for two: Arta Wallek. "Anythin, miss, anythin your family asks! Fen an I owe you the world!" Her own freckled cherub Jaddun joined the nursery by day, and keeping both babies fed often kept the poor girl tied to the rocker.
Ellika read to her to help pass the time. It embarrassed the former housemaid to have a Princess "amusin me, it ain'--beggin pardon, it isn't necessary, miss, or proper," until Ellika burst out, "Do please let me read to you, Mistress Wallek! My mother read these stories to me--see, this book is hers." She showed Arta the frontispiece of the book of Kellish folktales she held; inscribed on the bookplate in a childish hand was, Given to Ansella of Whithorse by her Grandmother, Eddin's Day, 958.
"Doesn't it make you sad, miss?" whispered Arta, squinting sympathically.
Ellika put the book down and took her sleeping sister from Arta's arms. "Nothing of my mother's makes me sad."
A new baby to raise greatly revived the grieving Nurse, who did not welcome an intruder into her affairs. "We don't need this Wallek woman. I raised your mam, I raised you three, and there's still enough in me to raise one more!" the old woman grumbled.
"There's no question: you are the authority to which we will bow on all matters," soothed Ellika, "but you can't actually feed her, dear." Even Nurse had to acknowledge the truth in this. She kept a dyspeptic eye on the curly-haired young mother in the rocker all the same, though the baby boy who accompanied her in time was allowed to be "quite the charmer in spite of those dots a-comin' out." Soon Jaddun was elevated to "a dear sweet little thing," and in the end, the old lady lost her heart to his toothless grin and wispy red curls. No more was said about either Wallek's temporary presence in her nursery. Ellika and Lady Donnis breathed a sigh of relief and began looking for a nanny to "assist" Nurse.
Temmin had no such distraction. While Fen Wallek welcomed him with all the enthusiasm of a big red puppy, his childhood friend Alvo Nollson did not. The young groom had grown in the time Temmin had been away; he was taller, and his already-stocky frame had lost the last of its boyish roundness and turned to solid muscle. The thatch of dark brown hair had been tamed, and his ratty old tweed cap exchanged for a new one that already showed signs of following in the last one's disreputable footsteps. He kept himself aloof, always managing to find ways to avoid being alone with the Prince--indeed, finding ways to avoid being near him at all.
Temmin finally came upon Alvo alone as he mended a saddle pad in the tack room. Alvo looked up as he came in; just before he took on feigned indifference, a flash of pure pain radiated from him that cut Temmin to the heart. Nothing had changed, though they'd been separated for two years; Alvo still loved him. "Hullo, Alvy."
Alvo pressed a knuckle to his broad forehead, one end of the double-needled thread still in his hand and a leather thimble on his middle finger. "Afternoon, Your Highness. Forgive me for not standing." He returned to his stitching, pushing first one needle and then the other through the stubborn, thick wool felt before pulling the stitch tight.
Never had silence hung this thick between them. "Have you no good word for me, then, Alvy, none at all?" Temmin finally said.
Alvo paused. "I'm sorry about the Queen, sir, awfully, awfully sorry. You know we all loved her. She was always good to me." He dared a sober, sympathetic glance of real grief at Temmin.
"She loved you too," said Temmin.
Alvo blinked hard and returned to his work. "Jebby has done very well these spokes, sir. I've exercised him regularly. Even given him a sugar cube now and again as you used to. He's--" Alvo cleared his throat. "He's missed you pretty badly, sir. He will be happy to see you."
Temmin sank down on the bench beside him. "And you? Have you missed me?"
"I've kept myself busy, sir," mumbled Alvo.
"Don't I know it. You never wrote."
"That's not true, Tem," protested Alvo, stung into raising his head from his task. He met Temmin's eyes and bent down again. "That's not true."
"You wrote me twice in two years and each time you called me 'Your Highness' and acted like you were writing to my father, not me."
Alvo back-tacked over his stitching and clipped the ends short. "Some of us haven't forgotten our station in life." He gathered his tools into his workbox and stood to put the saddle pad away.
"With respect, sir, I'm working." He walked away, his broad back stiff and angry.
"Pagg's balls," said Temmin to the empty tack room.