Chapter 7 Part 6 | Son in Sorrow | IHGK Book 2

Ma Kupar led her away. Mattie took a last look at Adrik; his eyes remained the same hard, flat brown, but he was glaring at his father and spared her not a look.

They walked her down numerous hallways to her bedchamber, a grand, whitewashed affair of tapestries, carpets, and a stove tiled in brilliant blue; the room's mullioned windows looked out at the great lake and its hundreds of islands and thousands of boats. They fed her a light meal: oatcakes, salted fish and some sort of dried berry compote with custard. Mattie offered no resistance when they undressed her down to her chemise, nor when they tucked her into bed, pulled shut the bed-curtains and darkened the room.

Her mind did resist. Would she rather die than marry Ruvin? Perhaps if she offered them compliance, they might grow complacent in time and she could make good an escape. As things stood she had no knowledge of the country nor of the language, and not a friend to help her. Adrik looked as if he wanted to come to her defense, but was it because he wanted the advantage marriage to a daughter of Harsin would confer? Or did he love her, and if he did, would he go against his father?

Mattie peeked out of the bed-curtains. Ma Kupar guarded the room, rocking slowly in a chair by the stove but quite awake. "Go to sleep, Your Highness," said the woman without turning her head.

Mattie sighed and settled back among the pillows. She was so tired, so heartsore. She missed her mother when she'd gone to the Estate to work, but Tellis was just down the road in Reggiston then, waiting to see her on her half-day off every Paggday. Now her mother was who knew how many miles away in Arren. Across a hostile country at the least. The tears she'd held back since Adrik revealed himself drenched the pillow. "I tell you, go to sleep," said Ma Kupar from the other side of the bed-curtains. "Tears change nothing for any of us, but for you, very much not. Sleep."

"I don't want to sleep. I want to go home," sobbed Mattie.

"I want you to go home. You are one more trouble for me, one more trouble for my Adrik." The woman rocked a few more times. "I am his mother, you know."

Was Adrik illegitimate, too? "Is that why he calls you 'Ma?'"

"It is title for married women here. It will be yours soon. I was Ruvin's third wife. He had two others, both dead. I am set aside long ago, and yet lived. You take my place."

"I don't want to take your place. You can have it!"

"I cried when he set me aside and I tell you again, tears change nothing. Sleep."

Mattie's exhaustion overtook her in time, and she slept straight through till late the next day. She saw none of the wedding preparations when the day came; they kept her to her room, where she wavered between defiance and despair and wore her nerves thin pacing before the stove. At least it was warm there; outside, a fitful late spring snowfall tried the patience of the newly-green trees.

It grew dark. Ma Kupar and the silent serving girls came in bearing candles and another neatly folded stack of clothing. Mattie hesitated, but in the end chose to live in hope. She put on the heavy white silk gown, an overdress of gold brocade replacing the quilted vest. On her head they placed a gold diadem, covered with a white lace cobweb shawl. Around her neck and in her ears hung freshwater pearls and amber, set in intricately worked gold--"very old, among the great riches of the Gremas," Ma Kupar noted. Mattie wondered if Kupar had worn the jewels at her own wedding to Ruvin.

At night's end, once Ruvin had knotted the marriage cord three times round her wrist himself, once Adrik's cold stare devoid of sympathy flickered over her, once she'd been led by the cord to the marriage bed, once Ruvin had tied her wrist to the bedpost and taken her virginity with casual cruelty, once he'd collected the proof of consummation on a length of silk, once she'd been left alone still bound to the bed while Ruvin and his allies feasted in the great hall so loudly she caught echoes of it even through the stone--then, she lost hope. She stared at the bed-curtains, aching in body, dull in mind and bruised in both, and understood the futility of escape attempts. She would never see her mother again. She would die here, alone and friendless. She wanted to die.

Adrik had never loved her--had never existed at all.

Ruvin was standing on a table top, a dressing gown over his long nightshirt. His bare legs stuck out the bottom, and he roared a Gremas wedding song as he waved the bloodied silk over his head and the drunken men around him stomped an accompaniment. Adrik stayed to one side. He kept his face in the cool mask he'd perfected over years of subterfuge, both in his father's service and his own.

He would never have let himself fall in love with Mattie if he'd known she was meant for his father and not for himself--no, of course he would have. One look at her and he'd opened as if she'd been his key, no matter how hard he'd struggled to keep himself closed.

That spring day a year ago in Arren when he'd arranged their little meeting and she'd stumbled into his arms, he'd chalked his awakening up to professionalism; if he had to play the lover, he must allow himself to feel at least a little in love. She was a target, an instrument, a means to an end; marrying her shored up his family's claims. It was just his good luck she was beautiful, passionate, innocent, trusting, kind, loving, funny, cheerful--that she filled his empty, secret heart. He'd had trouble waiting until the appointed time to take her away, but soothed himself that she would be his. In time she would accept her fate as future Queen of Tremont because she loved him. How could she love him now?

Ruvin shouted a greeting to him; Adrik smiled and raised his cup in response.

His father had lied to him--to what end? Adrik had killed for his father, more than once; he'd been the one to deliver the final blows to both his uncles, the other two bastard sons of old King Temmin the Fifth. Adrik had been raised to his father's service and cause above all else, his loyalty absolute. Did Ruvin know Adrik's own ambition so little, or did he think Adrik would do a more thorough job if he believed the prize was his?

Ruvin fluttered the silk, stained with Mattie's blood and his own semen. Adrik imagined snatching the silk from the older man's hands, twirling it into a cord--he'd done it before before with silks much like this one--and squeezing his father's neck until he crushed the windpipe beneath.

His father had been everything in the world. He'd believed in his father's right to the throne, and his own right as Heir. Now his father had betrayed him. On its face, what was his promise to keep Adrik as his Heir, if Mattie gave him sons? They would have more royal blood than Adrik from both sides of their parentage, and thus a better claim.

"Did you come to believe your own lies, Adrik?"
Yes, just as I believed yours.

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