Chapter 5 Part 8 | Son in Sorrow | IHGK Book 2
Lady Donnis Provisa, Dowager Marchioness of Petras, looked nothing like her younger cousin. Her eyes were nut brown, her hair the same color though lightly threaded with somewhat wiry white; her skin less like a dainty porcelain creamer and more like the pottery the cream arrived in from the farmyard; her face broad, ruddy, and good-natured. Miss Hanston muttered that the Marchioness might dress more fashionably now she was in the City, but the lady's own maid retorted that her mistress wasn't stupid enough to follow every ridiculous trend the Capital's dressmakers might invent to gin up custom.
When she arrived, Donnis went straight to Ansella's drawing room still in her traveling clothes after the long journey from the southern Bellesian coast. The moment Ansella laid eyes on her she burst into tears. "What's this?" said Donnis. "Dear cousin, whatever it is, it'll be all right. Come and tell me."
Donnis led her to the soft blue sofa, where she collapsed against the Marchioness's comfortable side; she told all and left nothing out, for Donnis was one of the few people in the world who held Ansella's entire confidence. Donnis encircled her with plump arms. "Oh, Annie, your passions always gallop away with you, don't they? Goodness, you're nothing but bones! We shall amend that." She stood up and rang for tea.
"I'm not hungry, cousin, really," sniffed Ansella, dabbing at her nose with a handkerchief.
"Who said it was for you? I just came from the road and I'm famished!" Donnis ordered tea and a small meal she secretly planned to cajole down her cousin, and said, "I'm going to change, I'll be just a moment." She paused at the door. "Annie, Berto has quite grown into his father's shoes and doesn't need me to help manage things now--and I dare say my daughter-in-law enjoys my absence though we get on well enough. Two women in the same house is never easy, is it? I am here for as long as you need me." She closed the door behind her.
On one side, Donnis exhaled in shock at her cousin's condition; on the other, Ansella breathed easier knowing her oldest and dearest friend had arrived. Each thought things could only get better now.
Temmin returned to the Temple and Ansella gradually rejoined life, faster than anyone expected. In her heart Ansella still grieved, but daily rides with Donnis led to eating with the family and then to making public appearances on the Promenade and in the Temples. Ansella had always been quite observant, but during Sister Ibbit's tenure she'd neglected regular services at the Temples of Eddin, Pagg, Farr and especially the Lovers. Temmin's investiture had been the sole exception to her neglect, though she'd stayed just long enough to let him know she'd been there. The open, shameful disrespect had nagged at her, but Ibbit insisted this was the proper path, and so she'd walked it blind and deaf to her own beliefs.
The equally reverent Donnis now hustled her to all the Temples on each God's name day--to the Lovers' Temple on both Nerrday and Neyaday. "Sometimes we even get to see Temmin there," said Donnis, jollying up her cousin before the trip into town. "Going to Temple every day isn't forever, just until you feel more like your old self. Making strict Temple rounds has anchored you in hard times before. Always turn to the Gods in times of trouble, my dear."
One Paggday in the new regimen's second week, two City gentlemen on the Promenade paused to goggle at a smartly-driven curricle, a light complement of Guardsmen before and behind it. "The Queen's a rare whip hand," said the ginger-haired gentleman. "Drives that pair of grays as well as anyone. Better. Fine-looking woman, too, ain't she?"
"Especially compared to the rawbones next to her," remarked the dark-haired gentleman.
"That's her cousin the Dowager Marchioness of Petras. Shame on you for calling her a rawbones, she's old enough to be your mother. What are you doing looking her over in the first place? Like 'em on the ripe side, do we?"
The dark-haired gentleman ignored the dig. "You don't suppose Her Majesty's decided to compete for the King's affections after all this time, all his women?"
"What d'you mean?" said the ginger-haired gentleman.
"Well, she's been in town for a year but she's hardly seen except at state occasions. Then that Shelstone chit rises to prominence like no royal mistress since the King's father's time, and here comes the Queen, every day on the Promenade."
"She's making her devotions."
The dark-haired gentleman snorted and dug his elbow into his fellow's ribs. "I'll believe it if she shows up at Neya's Day. No, old boy, something's afoot. This is a public challenge."