Chapter 4 Part 8 | Son in Sorrow | IHGK Book 2
Almost a spoke after Lassa's awkward exchange with Inglatine, An appeared in the bower doorway; behind him came a page carrying a pretty lacquer box. "Gifts for my wife and her ladies to celebrate the blessed event to come." The boy opened the box to reveal several small cases. An opened one; it contained a mirror. The ladies-in-waiting each received one, silver chased with patterns in the Sairish style; the Princess's mirror was the same, though decorated with costly mother-of pearl and rich enamel.
Lassa's mirror outshone the Princess's. It had no case; its back formed a stand. Gems inlaid its gold rim. Inglatine didn't seem to care. She thanked her husband and placidly adjusted her veil. Lassa accepted her mirror, knowing she should not but afraid to refuse. An's attentions and gifts must soon be paid for, a thought both frightening and thrilling.
She stayed in her room that night, claiming the headache. The mirror stood on her dressing stand; she kept catching unsettling flashes in the corner of her eye--reflections of flickering candlelight or her own uneasy movement around the room--until she developed a real headache, called for her maid and undressed for bed. When the woman was gone, Lassa reached to snuff out her candle.
The mirror's surface began to ripple; she stared at it, one hand at her mouth, the other at her stomach as the gift's intent became clear. An swirled from the mirror and solidified. "Don't put out the candle just yet, Lassa," he smiled.
Lassa's own father held some small magic, and she'd seen King Temmin and Prince Andrin work magics at court, but never had she seen a royal pass through a reflection. She curtsied, shaking as she did so and holding her chemise against her throat with one hand. He raised her up by the other. "Don't be afraid. Does this displease you? I thought my attentions quite welcome."
She stepped away from him, still shaking. "I hadn't intended, Your Highness…that is, I am rather surprised…your consideration of my family has been most kind…"
"You sound like your father," An laughed. "Your family has nothing to do with this. If I want you, you're mine. You're eager for me, aren't you?"
Lassa flushed so hard she thought she must glow like the fire's coals. "I have not allowed myself to think of it, Your Highness."
"Then think of it," he said, brushing his fingers against her cheek. He stepped closer; his fingers trailed down her neck, tracing her collarbone to the ribbon of her chemise. "Think of it, Lassa." He undid the ribbon.
She grabbed at the cloth as it slipped from her shoulders. Think of it. No? Yes? Yes. She dropped her hand and her hesitation. I will be the mother of a king, he will marry me and I will be the mother of a king.
Lassanna continued to wait on Inglatine, whose self-confidence grew with her belly. "The Prince has left my bed entirely! Such a relief!" said the Princess in her much-improved Tremontine one night. "You are keeping him amused for me, Lassa dear."
"Your hair is truly beautiful now, Your Highness," murmured Lassa. "Pregnancy suits you."
"Pregnancy suits no woman. Though you are right, my hair grows quickly now. Such a long time it takes you to make the braids, and I must take care not to sit on them when you are through. You had better hurry, my girl. He waits for you and he is an impatient lover. He was with me, anyway. In, out, done." Inglatine stroked her rounding belly. "I wish Teacher might know if it is a son. But he only knows the King's sons, not the Heir's. Ah, you must be a boy, little one! Then it will be you and me, you and me and your father gone from my bed forever. No, I expect he will insist on a second boy. But then--then we will be free of one another, the Prince and I! Who will be the happier? I cannot say!"
This was a conversation Lassa did not wish to have ever again.
"You must stay in the Princess's service," said An as they lay in bed that night. "There must be some excuse for keeping you here. It's either service or marriage, and I cannot bear the thought of you married to some minor lordling."
"You're the Heir," pouted Lassa. "Can you not do as you please?"
"Proprieties, darling, proprieties!" He kissed her, and she forgot her frets.
The Princess gave birth to a girl. "Well, now I have some little soul to love me," said Inglatine. "The Prince will pester me again, but just when the Sisters deem me most likely to conceive. You will have to do without your lover for seven days a moon, my dear."
"Oh, ma'am, I wish you wouldn't talk to me like this!" said Lassa.
Inglatine patted her hand. "You do not love me. I know this. But you are the closest thing I have to a friend here--yes, I consider you my friend, for you have taken a burden from me and I will be grateful to you whether you would have it or not. You never lie to me, you are as kind as you can manage, and you are not jealous. When you need a friend, you may always turn to me."
How could Lassa be jealous of Inglatine? Here was a woman far from home, unloved, awkward and disregarded at court. An never told Lassa he loved her, but his actions proved he did. Her favorites became An's favorites, in music, in food, in dancing, in people. The ambitious curried her favor, and some even gave her messages to pass to him. Some she repeated. Many she did not, as she pleased. Politics were all one to her.
On Farr's Day Eve, the gardens of the Keep filled with merrymakers, though fall's first knife tip was in the air. Clowns play-acted the tourneys that would fill Farr's Ground the next day, tumbling and beating one another with beribboned sticks, and wherever one walked, music and beauty awaited. An and Lassa wore matching cloth of gold, their huge, scalloped sleeves so long they trailed far behind them. Inglatine was nowhere in sight. The couple walked away from the noise and the torchlight, Lassa pouting at some pretended slight. "No, you do not care for me," she said, suppressing laughter.
"How may I prove it, Lady? Name it, and you may have it. Say it, and I will do it."
She paused, putting a considering finger to one cheek. "Something magnificent. Something very vulgar and very public."
An smiled and faced the gathering behind them. He raised his hands. Balls of flame rose from every torch, shocking the crowd into silence. Bows stilled and pipes fell from lips as even the musicians stopped to stare. The flames climbed into the sky, tails streaming behind them like comets as they rose higher and higher until they all burst into tiny sparks that spelled out "Lassa the Beautiful" before floating back down to earth and rejoining the torches. The revelers burst into applause. Lassa caught a white face, ghostly in the shadows of the arches leading back into the Keep's courtyards; the King's advisor Teacher was frowning up at the sky. Lassa shivered and looked up herself. A few dwindling sparks still lit the night, and she forgot the figure in the shadows in her delight.