Chapter 15 Part 8 | Son in Sorrow | IHGK Book 2
Temmin shook his head to clear it of Gwynna's terror and rage. "I don't like to hear my name used by someone like Tennoc."
"How so?" said Teacher.
"To kill a child--an infant?"
Teacher leaned back against the mantel. "Politics is an ugly business. There is a very real fear in any regime change that someone with perhaps a better claim--someone like Ardunn--would become a rallying point against a ruler and must be eliminated early. Your uncles have no clear claim to the throne, but they have become such rallying points. Is it so strange that Tennoc would wish to secure his position? Especially as a bastard?"
"But you told him not to do it, and he ignored you."
"There were voices against me, Cror ar Crymavon's most notably. Crymavon was not a bad man, but he considered himself practical. Tennoc wanted Ulvyn's every trace erased. He wanted revenge."
Temmin sat up straighter. "And you told him revenge was a bad idea."
"Not at all. I have been known to mete out vengeance myself now and again," said Teacher with a smile that sent a draft down Temmin's neck. "But I revenge myself on the offenders, not their families. Sadly, the kings of Tremont usually have different ideas. Remember the archer who killed King Fredrik the Last of Leute in the story of King Warin and Queen Emmae," added Teacher, reaching down to tap on the book. "Warin slaughtered his family down to the last innocent child."
"I don't want the murder of children on my conscience," muttered Temmin, thinking of his future as king.
"It is easy to avoid, sir," said Teacher. "Do not murder children."
Middlemont, the Home County
The fourth day of Winter's Ending, 992 KY
A Sister midwife and her two lay assistants had taken up residence at Middlemont just in time for Twenna Shelstone's confinement. "Best send word to the King," said the Sister to Hallik the butler.
"How long will it take?" he asked.
"As long as it takes." The Sister closed the door to Twenna's bedchamber not a moment too soon for Hallik, who had no children of his own and had never heard a woman in labor. He hurried to his dayroom to write the message and call for a groom to ride to the Keep.
"Will you go?" said Winmer on presenting the message.
Harsin waved his hand. "After the baby is born. There is nothing I can do, after all. It's woman's work. And I've had my fill of Sisters and tears."
By the end, Twenna had had her fill, too. Water bathing her sweat-soaked body, hands freeing and brushing her hair, and then cool, clean sheets beneath her had never been as sweet as when she'd passed the afterbirth and was helped into her bed from the birthing chair where she'd pushed out a son.
He lay belly-down against her bare breast beneath the blanket. He'd already had his first nursing, latching onto her nipple "like a good 'un" as a midwife said approvingly, and now Twenna indulged in the sleepy new mother's favorite pastime: examining her baby. All fingers and toes accounted for; soft, golden fuzz stroked; his features searched for echoes of her mother, her father, his father. She saw few, but the midwives said babies changed from minute to minute well into their second year.
"Now you should sleep, dear, you've been up all night working very hard," soothed the Sister midwife. "We'll take the babe so you can sleep."
"So I can sleep?" exclaimed Twenna. "I won't be able to sleep without him!" She yawned and snuggled down further into the pillows; the baby didn't stir, but stayed splayed on her chest like a little pink frog. "Won't Harsin be surprised? He thought it would be a girl! I think he'll be happy it's a boy. Men like boys. I must think of a name." Twenna drifted off into a deep, pleased sleep.
Later she sat up in bed dressed in a pretty new nightdress, a blue ribbon matching her eyes pulling her hair from her happy face. As she had long hoped, the King arrived, his voice abrupt and clipped outside her door, and Mistress Hallik's voice agitated in response. He opened the bedchamber door with more force than was required. "Who is he?"
Joy burst over her. She hadn't seen Harsin in spokes. Now she'd given him a son, he would return to her, and the three of them could be happy. "We must pick a new name! I was thinking perhaps--"
"Name him what you please. He's none of mine."
Twenna opened her eyes wide in confusion. "What do you mean? I thought you were going to acknowledge him."
"I was going to acknowledge it when I thought it was mine."
"He is yours, Harsin, who else could be his father?"
"I asked you that when I came into the room, woman!"
What had happened to change him so? His red eyes glared; his dark, graying hair had come loose from its queue and now fell about his temples, covering the shorn spot where he'd cut the Queen's mourning lock. He was in mourning, of course, though she'd always believed his relationship with the Queen was more for show than anything else. Her Majesty was the mother of his children, though; her death had to have been a shock. The Prince and Princesses were probably upset and turning to their father more than usual. It wrung her tender heart. "Oh, Harsin, come see your little son, I hope he may ease some of your pain!"
"You are my current pain!" he roared, "and that child is no son of mine!"
She shrank against the pillows. "I don't understand. What are you saying?"
"All this time I've been waiting for the birth of a child who isn't mine, planning honors for you, elevating your greasy toad of a father, and for what? Betrayal! Who fathered that baby? Who is he!"
Twenna began to cry. "Harsin, there's never been anyone but you! Why do you not think he's your son? Yes, I know you thought it was a girl, but surely a son--"
"Teacher!" Harsin called into the next room. A black sliver with iron-colored hair and odd silvery eyes entered, and Twenna shivered as if the Black Man were drawing his fingers down her spine. "You're certain? You're certain this is not my son?"
"But how would he know?" quavered Twenna.
"Be quiet!" said Harsin. "Teacher?"
The frightening figure frowned at the lay midwife holding the baby. "I am certain."
"What?" cried Twenna. "No, no, Harsin, no, he's lying, I've never known another man, ever, this is our son! This is your son!"
"We're done here." Harsin turned on his heel, calling for Hallik as he strode out of the bedchamber. Teacher trailed behind.
The baby began to cry. "He's hungry, miss," said the lay midwife.
"In a moment, a moment!" Twenna stumbled from the bed.
"No, miss, no," said the Sister midwife, "you lost quite a bit of blood in the birth, you must stay in bed another few days until you've regained your strength!"
"I must follow him! He's wrong, that man is lying, it's Harsin's son! It's Harsin's!" She sagged into the Sister's arms and wailed.