Chapter 3 Part 5 | Son in Sorrow | IHGK Book 2
Ansella stumbled against her son, and Temmin grabbed her by the elbows. "Come, Mama, back to your fire." He supported her into the gloomy drawing room and onto the blue tufted couch beside the fire; he propped her feet up on the couch and covered her in a thick shawl draped across the couch's arm. "It's dark as Harla's Hill in here." He made to turn up the nearest lantern and discovered the wick had burned all the way down. He trimmed and relit it, turned up the second lantern on the table opposite, and stoked the fire into a fine blaze again. "You used to sit in the dark and brood at home when you were upset. You haven't eaten, have you?" He didn't wait for her answer but went straight to the bell pull and called for Miss Hanston.
The ladies maid appeared as if she'd been waiting outside the door, already bearing a laden tray and an expression that said she'd spoon it into the Queen's mouth herself if she had to. Her stony facade crumbled into pebbles at the sight of Temmin. "Your Highness! When did you arrive?"
"I snuck in the back door, Hanston, how are you?" he grinned. He took the tray from her, set it on a small table before the fire and shook the maid's hand. "She won't tell me anything, and so I must resort to you. Has she been poorly for long?"
Miss Hanston shook her heavy rock of a head. "She hasn't been eating proper for some spokes, sir--hasn't--" and here her face petrified again-- "hasn't since you left us, in fact, but especially this last week." She twisted her hands, spoiling her foreboding walls and crenellated battlements.
"It's all right, Hanston, you may go," said Temmin. "I'll make sure she eats."
Miss Hanston left with a dubious glance and closed the door behind her. Temmin raised the cover on the plate; a fine aroma of roast chicken struck his nose, and his stomach gurgled for its lost dinner. "I'm not hungry, sweetheart, why don't you eat it?" said Ansella.
"No, none of that. You eat this, or it's Nurse's beef tea and custard. I'll bring her here from the Estate nursery if I have to, and then you're in for it." He settled on a footstool and gazed up at her. She frightened him--as pale and transparent as onionskin, so unlike the happy, strong mother he could always depend upon.
She took up her fork and began picking at her food. "Really, Temmy, I can't eat, I can't..." The fork clattered to the tray, and she pressed her hands to her face. "I am not ill, sweetheart," she said, her voice muffled. She dropped her hands. "At least I am not...not bodily ill. I suppose one could say I suffer from an oppression of the spirit."
"But what is oppressing your spirit, Mama--or is it a who? I hope it's not me--please tell me it's not me," he said, putting his hands on her knee.
"No, no, though I've missed you and worried for you dreadfully." She cupped his cheek, brushing his golden beard with her thumb. "I am so, so very proud of you, sweetheart."
Her hand was cold. He took it from his cheek and chafed it, willing warmth into her. "You haven't answered me, Mama."
She burst into tears, her free hand shielding her eyes from him. "I hate it here! I want to go home, but I can't!"
"It's Father, isn't it? Is he hurting you?" cried Temmin. Ansella gave a small shrug that said perhaps, but far from all. "Then who? Mama, tell me who it is and I will...I will do something, I will make him stop."
"I've stopped her myself!" she sobbed.
Temmin had never seen her like this. She resembled Ellika as a child, shaking in unfeigned, complete grief over some trouble; they were so much alike. An idea crept over him, obvious and uncomfortable enough for him to wish it hadn't. "Stopped who, Mama?" Her? He ran through every woman close to his mother. Not the girls, obviously. Hanston? Dear Amma, no. The only woman that might matter this much to his mother was...
Ansella shook her head, still shielding her eyes. "Please--don't ask any more!"
He didn't need to. Every sign he'd been trained to see had been there all along. Anyone seeing her now would know, with no training at all. He swayed inside like a tree with its roots cut. Ibbit--that horrid woman had insinuated herself into their lives at the Estate more than he knew.
When his equilibrium steadied, he moved his mother's legs to sit beside her. He gathered her into his arms as he would any petitioner seeking the most basic human solace and held her close. Ansella calmed and settled against Temmin's side, their roles reversed; her sobs slowed to a few gasps as she swallowed her grief.
When Miss Hanston arrived after a discreet period, he relinquished his limp mother to her maid. He expected a grim remonstrance, but instead, Miss Hanston's rutted face stayed soft: gentle in her dealings with the Queen, near-despairing when she looked up at him. "Get her to bed, Hanston, she's worn to a nub." At this, Miss Hanston hardened into a gray brick wall with I know my job, thank you written across it. Temmin gave his mother a last kiss and hug. "Good night, Mama, I will see you at breakfast."