Chapter 7 Part 2 | Son in Sorrow | IHGK Book 2
The two priests of Harla unrolled the canvas: a stretcher, a red silk tassel tied in black thread dangling from the ends of its black poles. They spread it on the hearth rug as the priestess manipulated the corpse's arm back and forth at the elbow. "Still somewhat bendable, but not for long," she said.
The priests positioned Pawl's Mistress on the canvas as best they could, and the priestess spread the white sheet over her; all four Friends raised their hoods and the two junior priests picked up the stretcher poles. Somehow the tassels' sway and the lump under the sheet broke free the whimper Pawl had been holding back for two hours. Mistress was dead, and he was responsible. If he hadn't helped Mr Adrikov and Miss--but how was he to know this would happen?
"Please," he said, catching at Friend Hames's sleeve. "Please, when it's time to...may I do the final rites for her in the Hill? Miss won't be back in time, and there's no one else."
"There's me, Rodder Pawl!" said the maid in the corner, her wet, somewhat snotty face emerging from her apron. "I was the one combed her hair of a morning, wasn't I? Not you. I should comb it at the last." Ianna resumed bawling and threw the apron back over her head. Cook said something lost in Ianna's renewed sorrow that Pawl assumed was a demand to be among the mourners as well.
"Hush now, good Ianna," said the priest. "Save your tears for Mistress Ambleson's final bath. We'll send a messenger for all three of you later today." The Friends carried the body from the room, the priestess before and Friend Hames behind; the Sister followed into the hallway with Cook, leaving him alone with the weeping Peg.
Pawl stared at the empty chair, now fouled with the corpse's final mess. He supposed the Accountsman's auditors would have it destroyed. He crept up to Mistress's work stand, where the letter lay forgotten. Beside it stood a miniature portrait of Miss Mattie, and the fatal glass of barisha.
He'd done this. He'd driven Mistress to suicide. He'd have to make it right somehow.
Pawl picked up the letter and the miniature, glancing at the corner; Ianna still had her apron over her head. He slipped the letter and miniature into his waistcoat. He shouldn't take them, but who'd know? He'd watch for Miss's return, make sure Mr Adrikov had done right by her, help her if not. For now, he and Cook and Ianna the maid would help bathe Mistress's body and sew her into her shroud. There was a start, at least, and may the Gods forgive him.
Inside a well-appointed carriage, Mattie woke up, cuddled against Adrik under a huge pile of furs and carriage blankets. The weather had turned bitter cold; the heavy brown velvet curtains were shut tight against the chill. Even so, her breath formed in the air, and the bricks at their feet had long ago lost their heat. How long had she been asleep? They must be approaching Maryakuspa by now, where a friendly, discreet Father Adrik knew would tie their marriage cord. Adrik stirred and tightened his arms around her; the thought left her head, to be replaced by the one that had plagued her all night.
Why hadn't Mama relented? Mattie hated to leave with nothing but a note on her mother's workstand. On the other hand, eloping on Neya's Day could not be more romantic. No one could blame them, not even Mama.
Adrik kissed her. "Second thoughts, darling?"
"Oh, no, not at all! I was just wishing Mama could be at the wedding. I know she won't be angry when we return home, but she's going to worry until we do."
"I left things in a way to soothe your mother's mind."
Mattie settled into his arms again. "You're so good to us."
The final trouble that had dogged her far longer than their plans to elope now took precedence: her parentage.
Mattie should have told him before they left. She'd even tried to tell him; he distracted her, and she lost her nerve. She must do it now, before he tied the marriage cord round her wrist. Nothing could change his mind, she was certain, but what if he did? She was compromised now.
She would tell him she was a child of Farr--that her real father was an unknown rapist. Close enough to the truth, for how could Mama have refused the King? Papa had married her mother and taken Mattie as his own. She'd had his name, at least until a year ago. Oh, she should have told him before they left.
"Adrik," she faltered, "I need to tell you something. Something about...about my family."
Adrik opened his melancholy eyes. "Oh? I know everything about your family I need to know, I'd wager, but if there's something you wish to tell me I shall gladly listen."
"I meant to tell you sooner..."
"Darling, it cannot be as bad as you think it is."
Mattie told him the amended story and watched his face anxiously. He brought his free hand to his mouth to smooth his mustache; had she not known better, she would have sworn he hid a smile. "Oh, my Mattie, how happy I am that you trust me. Shall you confide the last part as well?"
"What last part? There is nothing more to tell."
"Let's start with your name. It isn't Ambleson. It's Dunley."