Chapter 16 Part 3 | Son in Sorrow | IHGK Book 2
Several days passed with no sign from the King, until a messenger arrived. The Temple was to expect a visitor the next day. Would it be some emisssary, or King Temmin himself? That morning, a nervous young Mother came to fetch Gwynna down to the emptied Worship Hall: the visitor stood just outside the doors.
A sharp pang stabbed at Gwynna; life had beaten most of whatever vanity she'd possessed out of her, but she had been beautiful eighteen years ago. Work had roughened her hands, for no one could afford to be idle in the Mother's House. She wore the simple undyed wool habit of a lay Mother, a blue linen veil over her head; it had been long since she'd dressed in fine clothes. She didn't have a mirror to see how she'd aged, and wondered how she would appear in her visitor's eyes. There was nothing to be done for it. She walked to the Worship Hall and stood as she had when Ardunn was a baby, at the feet of the Mother's great statue.
The doors to the antechamber opened, and a woman stepped through. She wore rich clothing trimmed in fur, and the train of her dark blue brocade dress extended a good foot behind her. A thin gold circlet set with ruby cabochons pinned a silk veil to her head; long, thick dark braids hung over her shoulders. Years and childbirth had thickened her figure somewhat, but she was still lovely, her brown eyes still bright. "Lady Gwynna, my old friend, I am happy to see you, though I wish it were not in this place."
"Cariodas!" exclaimed Gwynna, taking a step forward. "Truly…truly you are the last person I expected to see."
Cariodas smiled, a full, genuine smile tinged with sadness. "He thought perhaps I should speak to you first, that you might be less averse to me than to him."
Gwynna halted in her tracks. This was not just her old friend; this was the Queen of Tremont--Tennoc's wife. It should have been me, it should have been me… "What is there to speak of?"
"Oh, Gwynna, don't tell me we are to be enemies! I know how hard these years have been for you--"
"You know nothing of the kind. Is your son under threat as mine is?"
Cariodas's face stilled into sobriety. "All of my children are under threat. Any king's child is."
"Yours have more protection than the skirts of the Mother. That's all Ardunn and I have."
"Oh, Gwynna," sighed Cariodas. "Know that I want so much more for the both of you."
"Speak to your husband, then."
"I have! I have and Teacher has--oh, but perhaps you don't know him."
"The Black Man? I have seen him."
"As the King's advisor he always counsels against the murder of innocents, but Temmin--our Tennoc does not always listen. Did not always listen. I believe he is listening now." Cariodas stepped forward, hands outstretched and eyes brighter than ever. "The last glimpse I had of you was as we rode away that--that horrible day! You were crying in the open window of your bower. I could just see your face. Gwynna, we were girls together. You remember my father and I remember Kenver and Lassanna! Please say we are still friends, please!"
Gwynna willed herself not to cry. Cariodas driven out from the castle, her half-dead father sharing a rude sled with the awful chest at his feet, came to her more clearly than in any nightmare. With that hideous memory also came the years of their girlhood, the happy times at Gwyrfal full of dancing--and rivalry, for they'd both loved the same man, but they'd also loved one another.
So much time had passed--what was Cariodas to her now? Wife of the man who would kill her son and probably her in the end. You forget yourself, Your Majesty formed in her throat, but instead she blurted out, "Oh, Cariodas!" The Queen in all her finery rushed into the lay Mother's rough wool arms, and they held one another close. "Cariodas, save my son, please save my son!" said Gwynna when they broke apart, all restraint and pride gone.
Cariodas brushed away a tear with a bejeweled finger. "I have done what I can, please believe me. You must speak for yourself now. Please say you'll see him."
"Is he sworn?"
"He's never considered himself unsworn."
She surrendered to the inevitable. "Then I'll see him." Cariodas nodded, squeezed Gwynna's hands a last time and turned to leave. A final question rose in Gwynna's mind, and she called out, "Cariodas, has he been good to you?"
The Queen paused and looked back at her old friend, her expression so sad Gwynna wished she hadn't asked. "He's been kind. He loves our children--we have three sons and two daughters now. He visits me regularly and treats me kindly and with respect, but he's taken many other women." Her voice dropped to a whisper. "They all look like you, Gwynna. He never stopped loving you. Goodbye, my dear." Cariodas passed out of the door, the bright sunlight turning her departing form into a soft blur of blue.