Chapter 5 Part 3 | Son in Sorrow | IHGK Book 2

"So, bread, where's butter?"

Seven-year-old Tennoc squinted up into the sudden shadow over the rose bed where he was digging; the King towered over him, blocking the sun. "Ken? He's lookin' for good rocks--um, h'lo, Your Majesty." Tennoc always tried to remember the formalities, but here in the nursery and its attendant gardens he could not imagine the King as anyone other than the father of Kenver and Gwynna.

Dunnoc squatted down next to him. "Rocks, is it?" The King smelled of fresh sweat, leather and horses, so different from the usual nursery smells of oatmeal mush, wet woolens and chamomile tea. Was that what all fathers smelled like? Tennoc liked it, and the way the King's gray eyes crinkled at the corner when he was interested or amused.

Kenver had gray eyes like his father, and not for the first time Tennoc wondered what color his own father's eyes were. Where they blue like his? He resumed his excavations, suddenly self-conscious. "He should have come back by now. I wish he would. This bird won't bury itself."

"Bird?"

"Aye, Gwynna found a dead bird and cried so much over it that Ken promised her we'd build it a Hill. She's off picking flowers for it or something stupid." Tennoc lifted a worm from his trowel and gently patted it back into the dirt. "D'you suppose Harla takes the souls of birds, sir?"

"Hm. That's a good question, Tennoc, and one better asked of a Friend than myself. But I've always believed animals have souls as good as ours--most of my horses more so. So if you want an old soldier's opinion, yes, I believe She does."

"I hope so, otherwise Ken and I are going through all this for nothing," grumbled Tennoc, though to be truthful he and Kenver were enjoying this morose little pantomime. Kenver had even saved three of the bird's brilliant red wing feathers for their respective treasure boxes--even Gwynna's, though she lost things. Then again, she was five.

The King grinned. "No good deed is for naught, young Tennoc." He stood up, setting the brass rings on his leather tunic to jingling. He pushed his blue cloak back over his shoulder. "Where is the Queen?"

"She's with Mama," said Tennoc, not looking up.

"That would be where, little man?" An edge of exasperation tinged the King's voice.

Tennoc dropped his trowel and sprang up, wiping his hands on his tunic. "I'm sorry, sir, they're drinking wine beneath the willow trees yonder. Mama says Her Majesty isn't feeling well in this warm weather."

"This far along women with child don't feel well in cold weather. They're miserable until the child comes, so they make everyone else miserable. But you'll find all that out in due time. Hallia will be right as rain again any day now."

Tennoc stood at near-attention until the King patted him on the shoulder and walked off to find the Queen. When he was sure the King had forgotten him, Tennoc cast about for Kenver--there he was, solemnly approaching the rose bed with his sister, tow-headed Kenver with an armful of rocks, strawberry blonde Gwynna with a little bundle wrapped in a scrap of red cloth and a basket of flowers over her arm.

"We have to do thith right or Harla won't take her," said Gwynna. "I'll thay the words and you thay the other parts."

"Do you even know the words? You've never even been inside a Hill. I have," said Kenver.

"What about the bird's final bath?" added Tennoc.

"I cried on her," sniffed Gwynna, adding, "you dug the hole too deep, Tennoc." She lay the little body in the grave, added a few strands of her pale red-gold hair, and got most of the burial ceremony right; the boys gave the proper responses with a seriousness that surprised Tennoc even as he spoke them.

Kenver stacked the rocks atop the red bundle and mounded them up into a satisfying, out-of-proportion monument to the deceased bird; Gwynna arranged her homely little bundle of dandelions, daisies and pinks atop it. "That's that," said Kenver, dusting off his hands.

All three children turned at a cry from the willow trees. Kenver and Gwynna ran to the willow's shade, Tennoc close behind. "What'th wrong, Mama?" said Gwynna.

"It's time for the babe, that's all, sweetheart," said her father.

Queen Hallia leaned against him puffing, a strange look between a grimace and a smile on her face. "Don't worry, my darling," she said when she'd caught her breath. "After the two of you, this baby will come quickly. Then you'll have a little sister or brother."

But the baby did not come quickly, and in the end both the tiny baby boy and Queen Hallia died.

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