Chapter 7 Part 4 | Son in Sorrow | IHGK Book 2
The flat grasslands of the Northern Wastes turned into forests of pine and newly-greened larches and birch, patches of snow purple in their shadows. They traveled miles through these trees until the road burst into in the open, traveling along the shoreline of a lake so large it could fairly be called an inland sea. Islands greater and smaller rose up from its surface, the small crowned with gray stone buildings, the larger with villages. Boats plied the water and clustered on the many docks; how cold it must be on their decks. At any other time, Mattie might have found the scenery charming and exotic. Now she looked only for opportunities to escape--and saw none.
They drove onto what at first she took to be a causeway, though she soon realized it could not have been manmade. A natural ridge rose up from the water, a broad road planed from the top of its steep, forested slopes. It slithered this way and that through the lake, ending at a bridge to a large island. An ancient castle took up all of the island's cloverleaf of a rock, its rough, gray stone walls rising from rocky shores sheering into the water. Towers ringed at the top in ruddy stone rose from each of its several corners; their many round windows stared out at the surrounding waters like lidless eyes. Conical roofs of green copper topped each tower.
Adrik pressed against her back and kissed her temple. "Welcome to Gremassem, Princess Mattisanis, and the court in exile of King Ruvin of Tremont."
Great iron gates driven into the rocky ridge blocked the bridge. At the coachman's call, the gates ground up on their winches; the obstinate doors balked on their enormous hinges but eventually obeyed and opened. Over the bridge and into Gremassem went the carriage, and Mattie with it.
Inside the great main courtyard, Adrik handed her down into a bustling world: women carrying laundry to the tubs; chickens scrabbling underfoot; boys running to take the leads of the carriage horses; a man with a whole pig carcass over his brawny shoulder; handcarts with loads of potatoes, turnips, steaming dung.
Mattie could see her breath. She clutched her bandbox, all she'd taken with her. Adrik marched her across the cobbles to a stern-looking native woman dressed in a gray woolen gown and a long quilted vest; she stood in a stone archway leading from the courtyard. A gray knitted lace shawl covered her head, and her strong blue eyes tilted downward at the outside corners. Behind her stood three serving girls, each more stoic than the last, and two men. A beam of sunshine hit one of the men just so, lighting up the yellow of his beard and the array of knives at his belt.
"Ma Kupar," said Adrik with a broad smile, "may I make known to you Princess Mattisanis of Tremont."
Mattie twisted the bandbox cord around her hands. "Please stop, please, Adrik, stop making fun of me. I'm not a princess!"
Adrik ignored her. "Ma Kupar, please show Her Highness a room where she may freshen up."
The woman sized Mattie up; for a moment, Mattie expected her to open her mouth and inspect her teeth. The woman nodded her head and gestured for Mattie to follow. The miserable girl fell in behind her. What else could she do? She was at least two hundred miles from Arren, probably more. After more than two days straight in a carriage with stops just long enough to change horses, she was tired, disoriented, hungry and filthy. When she had recovered some strength, some sense of where she was, she could plan an escape, perhaps. They walked down endless corridors, up stairs, through echoing halls and on and on into the fortress's heart. Somewhere in this enormous place there must be someone who'd take pity on her. She just needed a little help, a foothold--
"Here, Your Highness," said Ma Kupar, opening a thick dark wood door set in an arch. She stepped aside, and Mattie crept into a surprisingly bright room. The three servants pushed their way past her. One snatched the bandbox from her hands; another took a great iron kettle from a hulking brick stove, whitewashed like the rest of the room, and poured its steaming contents into a large basin on a stand; the third twitched Mattie's felt bonnet from her head and her cloak from her shivering shoulders.
"Please to undress here before the stove," said the woman. "You will be so cold but a moment." Mattie had heard this barbaric accent in Arren occasionally; it reminded her of the ridge road, steep R's and T's at variance with a sibilance curving the woman's speech in long arcs. Ma Kupar gestured to the basin, now cooled with water from a silver pitcher standing beside it. Mattie timidly washed her hands.
The woman made an abrupt gesture; the serving girls stripped Mattie to her stockings before she could squeak an objection and started in on her with steaming wet flannels and soap. "T'would be best were you to take the stockings and shoes off as well and be clean all over. We have new for you."
Already half-soaped, Mattie let them have their way. They scrubbed her from the toes up as she turned one side and then the other towards the stove in an attempt to warm herself; the cold raised goosebumps on her skin and puckered her nipples.
The girl who'd taken her hat and cloak returned with clothing. Mattie slipped on thick but finely knitted cream wool stockings, a linen chemise and thin woolen petticoats. The women burned Mattie's old things in front of her.
The new clothing was made of much finer stuff than even Ma Kupar's. The soft, lilac wool shift used the same embroidered high band collar as did Corrish traditional clothing, belted just under the breasts with a wide silk band woven in dark blues and reds. Over it came the long quilted vest Mattie had seen on both men and women, this one of fine slate blue silk brocade with silver thread shot through its borders. For her feet they gave her fur-lined half-boots of the same brocade. They slipped fingerless mitts knitted in a fine slate silk thread onto her hands. Over her hair they spread a filmy lace veil that matched the mitts; though it weighed nothing, it settled a cozy warmth about her head and shoulders.
Looking at herself in the cheval glass was like looking at a picture from a Corrish fairy tale book, as if she'd gone back in time some 700 years. She had to admit she was warm as toast for the first time since they'd left Arren: practical clothes for a cold climate.
"Come now, ma'am. Your King waits," said Ma Kupar.
"He is not my king," said Mattie. "He's no one's king!"
"This is not the concern of the Gremas," the woman answered, taking her by the elbow. "Our Headman has allied with him as kinsman. You are among the Gremas, you are Tremontine, and so here he is your King. Be quiet now, you will stand before the Headman and your King."