Chapter 7 Part 5 | Son in Sorrow | IHGK Book 2

Ma Kupar led Mattie past guards set three and three beside a great arched door banded in iron, and left her in a high-vaulted hall; tapestries covered the stone walls, thick carpets the wooden floors. Mattie was the only woman in the room. Men in native costume filled the benches--the Gremas? She had never heard them called anything other than "northern barbarians," but Ma Kupar had used the name "Gremas." Red heads and brown heads sprinkled the crowd, but most were blond. Almost every eye turned toward her was blue.

At the hall's far end, a roaring blaze filled an enormous fireplace hooded in the same verdigris copper covering the turrets. On a dais before it sat two men in ancient, ornately carved chairs. Both wore richer versions of the common clothing--woolen trousers tucked into modern riding boots, and high-necked shirts. Their long quilted vests were silk embroidered in gold. The one on Mattie's left had hair so shot through with white that the blond strands remaining looked like sunlight streaked on snow. The other's hair was as dark as her own, though heavily threaded with silver; his beard, trimmed more neatly than those of the men around him, was almost completely gray. Something about his lean, angular face resembled the King's profile on a five-silver piece.

Adrik appeared at her side, for all his falsity still handsome in a dark blue high-necked shirt and quilted vest. He placed her numb hand on his arm. "Gremas clothing suits you, darling Mattie. Don't be afraid. No one intends you any harm. Quite the opposite. Now, come." He led her to the dais. He said something to the blond man on the left in the native language; it had the same steep slopes and sibilance of Ma Kupar's accent. She recognized her own name among the unfamiliar words. Adrik turned to her and said in Tremontine, "Mattisanis of Tremont, this is Uole, Headman of the Gremas." To the dark man on the right he said, "Father, may I make known to you Mattisanis of Tremont, your niece. Princess Mattisanis, your uncle, King Ruvin of Tremont." Mattie knew she was expected to curtsey, but she couldn't move. She wanted to go to sleep, she wanted to go home, she wanted away from the man who'd broken her heart and the men who now studied her from atop the dais.

The Headman said something she didn't understand to Ruvin; Adrik's arm stiffened beneath her hand. Ruvin chuckled in response and stood. "Ah, my niece, and aren't you a pretty thing. Welcome home, Adrik."

"Thank you, sir," he replied, putting his hand over Mattie's. "When shall we tie the marriage cord?"

"The day after tomorrow, I think. The bride looks as though she might profit from a day's rest." Ruvin descended the dais and took Mattie's hand from Adrik's arm. He turned her round, inspecting her from every side as if they were dancing. "Never did I think I would marry again, and certainly not to such a lady as my son has brought me," he smiled.

Adrik stifled a gasp. "Excuse me, Father, but I don't understand you. Who are you marrying?"

"Why, the Lady Mattisanis, of course."

Adrik paused, clearly shocked. "She was to be mine. You said so."

"Did I? I said to woo her and win her, something like that. Don't worry. You are my Heir, Adrik, and that won't change even if she bears me sons." He raised his voice and said something in the native tongue, then added in Tremontine, "I have sworn before everyone here."

Mattie snatched her hand away as the conversation sank into her weary mind. "Are you saying you intend to marry me?"

Ruvin recaptured her hand and kissed it. "It helps cement my claim to the throne, my dear, to marry a girl of your lineage."

"My lineage? My mother was a housemaid, and my father owned a tavern, that's my lineage. All right, very well, yes, my mother told me I'm a royal bastard--" Mattie spat the words "--a royal bastard like you. I have as much right to the title 'princess' as you do to 'king'--none!"

Ruvin crushed her hand in his grip until she cried out, her legs buckling. "You will speak to me with the respect due your King, woman, and you will never call me 'bastard' again." Adrik stepped forward as if to stop him, but checked himself. "You'd best think twice, son," said his father. "Did you come to believe your own lies, Adrik? I'd swear you actually love this girl."

Adrik's down-tilted eyes took on that hard look. "You said she was for me, that my marriage to her would shore up my own claim since my mother was not of the blood."

"I will not accept this!" said Mattie through teeth clenched against pain. "You will never find a Father who will bind a woman in marriage against her will!"

Headman Uole spoke. "You are not in Tremont, Lady. You are among the Gremas, and Gremas women do as they are told. We have no Fathers, or Mothers, Sisters, Friends, Scholars, Lovers or Beloveds--none of them. Only Brothers, only Farr the Warrior, and He does not listen to women's prayers."

"No Fathers? How else is one to marry?"

"We tie the cord ourselves, at knife point if necessary," said Uole. "That is the way of the Gremas. Once it was the way of the Tremontines, to take the woman whether she would or no and tie her to the bedpost as we still do. We have kept the faith they have forgotten, the faith your King Ruvin swears to bring back to your people."

Ruvin shrugged her away. "You're valuable, Princess, but only if I marry you. You're of no value at all otherwise, not even wed to my son. In fact, you're a danger to me. Adrik's tender feelings notwithstanding, I'd slit your throat myself." Mattie's smarting hand crept to her neck. Uole spoke a word to a servant, who left the room and reappeared with the silent Ma Kupar. "Take Her Highness to her room," said Ruvin. "Bring her food and let her rest after her long journey. The day after tomorrow is either a wedding or a funeral."

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