Chapter 6 Part 6 | Son in Sorrow | IHGK Book 2

Ansella paused, remembering their early marriage. She had loved him, though she thought she'd schooled herself out of it by now. She wondered if he'd loved her then or simply wanted her. He couldn't possibly love her now, not after so many years apart. "I'm surprised you're nostalgic for that time. I know I'm not."

"You never think back on our early days?"

"Not in the way you seem to." She moved away from him onto her back to stare up at the canopy again.

Harsin twisted onto his side and propped his head on his hand. "What do you think of?"

She shifted her gaze to his face. "You really wish to know?" He nodded, and she sharpened her tongue on her resentments. "Very well. I think about having no choice but to marry you. No choice but to leave the Estate. No choice in sharing your bed." No choice in sharing you with other women. "No choice in--"

"Stop," he almost shouted. He sat up. "Ansella, you've been allowed to do whatever you want!"

"Really? How very odd," she snapped back. "How did I end up here?"

"I do not recall dragging you into this bed last night."

"I--one mistake doesn't mean I've had things my way, quite the contrary."

"'Quite the contrary?'" Harsin repeated, his mouth twisting in disbelief. "You've had everything your way! I've let you have your own establishment a thousand miles away, where you've done whatever you pleased!"

"That was part of my bride price," she said, sitting up herself; in her agitation she let the sheet drop into her lap, leaving her breasts bare. "When I conceived an heir I could go home, and the children would come with me. You agreed!"

"Because Teacher said I should!"

"Don't blame me because you listened to that black crow!"

"Ansella, he was on your side!"

She stopped in confusion. Teacher had supported her, vigorously. "Well--why do you care where I was?"

"Because I missed my children. I missed my wife."

"You knew where we were."

"Oh, for the love of Pagg." Harsin rolled out of bed and pulled on a robe. "I had a kingdom to run."

"Oh yes, affairs of state, I see." She cast about for something to throw on, and finally found her chemise atop a heap of her hastily shed clothes on the floor. "Mustn't let your wife and children get in the way of affairs of any kind."

He whirled around. "Is that it? Jealousy? Your part of the arrangement was not to care what I did outside our bed, if I recall correctly!"

"I haven't!" she spat.

"Then why bring it up!"

"I don't know!" Tears stung her eyes, as if she faced into a cold wind. "I don't know! Why are you commanding my presence in your bed when you have a half-dozen hussies under this roof alone?"

"I don't have a single bedwarmer in the Keep, and my mistresses have never had any bearing on my regard for you--you are still my wife and the mother of my children. I didn't 'command' you, you came to my bed of your own free will!" He cocked his head. "A little morning-after remorse and now you're trying to convince yourself you had no choice but to make love with me?"

Ansella drew herself up as regally as she could in a wrinkled chemise and wild hair. "This conversation is ended, Your Majesty."

Harsin crossed the room so quickly she squeaked when he seized her. "For now. We will continue it another time. You will return to my bed. You won't be able to stay away, not after last night. The doors between our rooms are to remain unbarred, and I swear to you that you will be the one to cross the threshold first." He let her go.

She stumbled onto her feet and smoothed out the crumpled chemise as best she could. "Your over-confidence has always been distasteful to me."

"And your prudery even in the face of your own desire is distasteful to me. Leave me now." Harsin turned his back on her.

Ansella swooped down on her clothes, scrabbling them into a huge pile. Why did clothing for state occasions have to be so bulky! She threw the heavy skirts in her arms back onto the heap and decided to have it all returned to her later. She stalked through the concealed door into the narrow private hallway between their bedchambers and slammed into her room, frightening Miss Hanston. "Is the Marchioness awake? Please send her to me." The ladies maid assessed the Queen with a hard squint, gave a landslide of a curtsey and disappeared. As soon as she left, Ansella burst into tears and sank onto her bed, where Donnis found her not long after.

"Ansella? Hanston said you needed me--oh, dear cousin!" said Donnis, wrapping her arms around the queen and pulling out the two large, practical handkerchiefs she carried in her wrapper's pocket. "What happened?"

"I don't know!" she sobbed. "Something--came over me at the Spectacle, and--and--and now--"

"Sssh," said Donnis, rocking her gently. "Oh, cos. Whatever it is, it'll be all right."

"You don't understand!" She told Donnis all, describing it as a religiously-inspired, temporary insanity. "This is how I am repaid for my devotions! I must make Hanston swear she did not see me come through that door!"

"You will do no such thing--you'd break her heart! As if she'd ever tell anyone a jot of your business! Annie, it's perfectly natural for a loving wife to visit her husband."

Ansella's sobs redoubled. "I--have--NEVER--loved him!"

"So you've said, many times." Donnis offered her a third handkerchief from the nightstand.

"What am I going to do?"

"About what?"

"About Harsin!"

"Is it so horrible to be called to your husband's bed--and on Neya's Day? Can't you just take the blessing and leave it at that?"

Ansella wiped her eyes on the last dry corner of her handkerchief. "I'm sorry to fall apart. I've been so emotional since…" She left Ibbit's arrest unspoken. "This is a passing fancy. He'll be back to ignoring me within the day. I thought he was still seeing that Shelstone girl--I saw her at the Spectacle, bold as brass and completely unchaperoned, the hussy. He must be between women. Not that he's ever chosen me over his women before." She sighed and patted Donnis's arm. "Please have Hanston draw me a bath, my dear. I promise I will stop this ridiculous mewling and not mention it again."

Ansella watched Donnis out the door, took a deep breath, and sat down at her vanity to brush the morning tangles from her hair. Can't you just take the blessing and leave it at that? she asked herself. Not when she could still feel Harsin's hands on her, not when she could see the marks he left on her fair skin, not when even now all she wanted was to run through the door and beg for him to kiss her. A blessing? More like a curse.

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