Chapter 8 Part 6 | Son in Sorrow | IHGK Book 2
Just inside the Hearth's portico waited the newly invested Eldest Sister Imvalda, tall and twiglike in her deep green habit trimmed in the gray bands of her high office, and the Sister's Embodiment, a gentle, plump woman named Sarra. A woman in lighter green trailed behind them; Ansella recognized her from the brief glimpse of Imvalda's apartments in her receiving room mirror. That night seemed so long ago, but it was no more than a spoke.
Ansella and Donnis bowed to the Eldest Sister and the Embodiment, each touching her forehead to the priestesses' hands; the priestesses kissed the two women on the cheek and led them inside.
Imvalda put her arm through Ansella's as they walked together through the Temple's public hall past Venna's great statue, past the Eternal Hearth, and into the private cloister. The clean white halls here smelled of the chlorinated potash the Sisters used to scrub everything in their purview. "How are you, Your Majesty? I'm so glad you came to see us. You look a bit pale. Are you well?"
Ansella smiled. "I'm fine, thank you, Eldest Sister." They spoke in pleasantries: The King's health? Very good. And the children? Never better. Two Postulant Sisters wielding brooms bowed as they passed; Ansella wondered what there was to sweep.
Imvalda ushered them into her receiving room. "Sister Nadi, tea if you please," she said to the woman Ansella took to be her secretary and probable sweetheart. The woman bowed and left the room, closing the door behind her. The Eldest Sister motioned to a utilitarian but comfortable-looking gray couch, and Ansella and her cousin sat down. "It must be a great comfort to you, Your Majesty, having your cousin with you," said Imvalda carefully.
Ansella took her meaning. "If anything of a delicate nature is said today, Lady Donnis is in my complete confidence." Donnis took her cold hand and squeezed it. "In fact, now that we are in private, I must ask after Sister Ibbit." Donnis squeezed again, harder, but Ansella continued on. "I feel somewhat responsible for her plight."
"The only one responsible for Ibbit's 'plight' is Ibbit," said Imvalda, hard lines forming at the corners of her mouth. "Knowing I may speak freely--" a nod to Donnis-- "I must ask if you understand Ibbit's trespass against you--that her behavior was very wrong?"
"Her behavior?" said Ansella, growing colder by the moment.
"We know the nature of your relationship," murmured Sarra. "Ibbit confessed, or should I say bragged. This involvement was very wrong of her--her, ma'am, not you. As your spiritual advisor she should never have done such a thing."
Ansella's breakfast skittered in her stomach. "I'm not quite sure I understand you."
Sarra looked to Imvalda; the Eldest Sister said, "She seduced you."
All the anger and despair inside Ansella wanted out, as did her fitful breakfast. Imvalda must have seen the signs, for she snatched a basin from a shelf just in time for the final escape. "I knew it," the Eldest Sister muttered. Sarra went to the room's basin and brought back a glass of water and two damp towels.
"Oh, what a day, I'm sorry, I'm sorry," Ansella wept.
"Sorry for what, my dear?" said Imvalda. She wiped Ansella's mouth with one cloth while Sarra dabbed at her forehead with the other. Imvalda handed her the glass. "Here, rinse your mouth and spit into the basin. Now lay back. Relax." Ansella did as she was bid and closed her eyes. Imvalda and Sarra discreetly checked her pulses, pressing her slack wrists in several different places, and then her neck and ankles; Donnis appeared worried at first, but a growing understanding started at the tip of her nose and spread over her face. She looked at Sarra, Sarra looked at Imvalda, and they all slid their eyes sideways at Ansella. "When did this nausea start?" said Imvalda.
"Yesterday," she lied. "I'm not running a fever. I just assumed I'd eaten something that didn't agree. May I sit up now? Oh--I think I might be sick again--" She vomited into the basin again. "My nerves--something upset me just before we arrived. I'm so very sorry."
Donnis supported her back down on the couch. "Nerves! Oh, you little liar! You've been sick at least a week. Just when you were getting better, too!"
Imvalda helped Ansella clean up again, depositing the towels in the laundry and passing the befouled basin to a waiting Sister outside; every room in the Hearth seemed to be outfitted like a surgery, even Imvalda's receiving room. "Is it all up now, my dear? Yes? Come lie down again." She settled a shawl over Ansella's legs. "Now, you really don't know what this might be?"
Ansella closed her eyes again. "It was just the once. My moon's a little late, that's all. It's something else, it has to be."
Sarra ran a soft hand over the Queen's forehead. "Your pulses tell the story, ma'am," the Embodiment said, "but it's early yet--very early if you've only missed one moon."
Ansella's empty stomach griped and heaved. "Actually, my second moon is due and hasn't come, either." She subsided into silence.