Chapter 8 Part 7 | Son in Sorrow | IHGK Book 2
So this was her Neya's Day blessing. She'd loved being pregnant. She loved her children. She would love this one unreservedly--loved her already. It had to be a girl; if she carried a son, Teacher would have known immediately and announced it to Harsin.
What would he think? He'd preen and strut, the smug bastard. Pregnancy would give her an excuse to stay away from him. Except pregnancy usually made her...what was an acceptable word? More...receptive to him? Demanding, more like, said a traitorous inner voice. She might go home to Whithorse and put some distance between them, but she could not leave her three oldest, just before the girls might leave forever. They were all grown and didn't need her any more, but she still needed them. And it would look as if she were running from that Shelstone bitch. She burst into exhausted, frustrated tears. "I don't know what to do. Please don't tell him yet."
No one asked who she meant. "Hush, now," said Sarra. "We are sworn, and there may be nothing to tell in a moon."
Ansella shuddered. "That would be worse, much, much worse." She put her hand on her still-flat stomach.
"Rest, Your Majesty. We'll send you home with a tincture for the morning sickness," said Imvalda. "If this moon doesn't come, we will send a midwife to you. How old are you?"
Imvalda nodded. "It's rather late in life, but if your other pregnancies were uneventful, this one should be, too."
"My pregnancies were all easy. A little morning sickness, and then--just easy. Oh, gods. I'm so tired."
Donnis murmured reassuring nonsense until Ansella stopped crying and closed her eyes; her breathing steadied into a deep, monotonous rhythm. She lay in half-sleep, still hearing everything going on around her but unable to open her eyes or respond without an effort she could not muster. "What about Ibbit?" said Donnis in a low voice.
"Her trial is next week," answered Imvalda. "Its outcome is a foregone conclusion. We have found a good two dozen sympathizers among the Sisterhood here, and I have sent trusted investigators to the greater Hearths starting at Reggiston. Even though she had ten years there to infect it, Reggiston may not be as bad off as I fear. Several Sisters followed her here to the City--we may have already captured most of her people."
After a silence, Donnis said, "The Queen needn't be part of this trial?"
"She needn't. We've turned enough of Ibbit's confederates, and then there are the heretical books. We even uncovered a plot to poison me--not to kill me, but to make me look weak and stupid. That, and the Queen's sponsorship, would make Ibbit appear the best candidate to lead the Sisterhood. They'd already slipped me the first dose. Easily reversed, but still…" Imvalda sighed. "I'm glad Wirdun didn't live to see this. Anniki's insurrection was so hard on her. Sister against Sister, so much death, and for what? A madwoman's ravings."
"Do you think Ibbit is mad?" said Donnis.
"Ambition is a kind of madness," said Sarra, "and Ibbit is very ambitious."
"And her attentions to my cousin?"
Silence again. "I think," Sarra finally said, "in her way Ibbit does love her, but whether it's for the Queen herself or for her influence I cannot say."
Lead thumbs pressed down on Ansella's heart.
"You mustn't tell anyone, Donnie," said Ansella as they drove home an hour later. In her lap she carried a small bottle of tincture wrapped in brown paper and string, the amber, flat-sided bottle within it guaranteed to help her through her morning sickness.
"Why didn't you tell me sooner?"
"I wasn't sure. It was just the one time Harsin and I..."
"Well, you'll feel better soon either way, cos. Your pregnancies have always been easy ones, once you get past that first spoke."
"Oh, yes. I'll be fine in less than a spoke. I always am." She patted her stomach again, watching the sun peek through snow white clouds as the curricle rolled toward the Kingsbridge crossing over the Feather River. "I'm due in early Winter's Ending. A snow baby." Ansella laughed and shivered. "Maybe that's why I'm so very chilled this time."
An ornate carriage carrying Lord Corland's crest jostled through the nearby traffic, heading toward the Foothill Lodge road. His Grace must be off to one of Harsin's little dinner parties. Elevating Elbig Shelstone! How could he do that to her? Perhaps her pregnancy might be a way to eclipse the newly Honorable Miss Shelstone; perhaps she would tell him sooner than later. Yes, she would tell him the next time they were alone. It might at least spoil his fun a little.
She found him in the family entrance preparing to leave, presumably for the Lodge. "A word in private, my lord," she said, formal before the servants. Donnis hovered near the Residence Wing stairs, uncertain whether to stay or go.
Harsin raised his eyebrow in irritation. "Now, lady wife? I have a dinner engagement."
"Oh, I'm aware." She met his eyes without a flinch.
A slight flush crept over his cheeks; he waved his gloves toward the butler's nearby office. "Very well."
Ansella rarely visited this room; Affton and Mistress Mannell the housekeeper came to Ansella, not the other way round. Affton kept his office ruthlessly tidy; the one place to sit was a single hard chair behind the man's desk. She drew herself up as tall as she could. "I have news for you, Harsin."
"Do you, now? So do I."
"Shall I brace myself?" she said, her lips thinning into a pinched curve.
"Oh, I think you'd better. I'd rather you hear it from me than another."
"If you're talking of Sir Elbig Shelstone, I had to hear it from Lord Fennows in the middle of the Promenade!"
"That?" snorted Harsin. "I meant to tell you sooner. I have my reasons for elevating the little toad."
"I know your reasons, sir!"
"No, madam, you do not."
Harsin waited, watching her, and her temper rose in spite of her resolution to remain calm. "Well?" she snapped.
"Miss Shelstone is expecting a child. Mine."
The air left Ansella's body; she heaved and would have vomited again were there anything left to bring up. When her breath returned, she said, "Is there any threat to my son? Has Teacher--"
"Apparently it is to be a daughter. Teacher has detected nothing."
"You're certain of it. That it's a daughter and that it's yours."
"What do you intend to do about it?"
"She is to be settled at Middlemont if she carries past her first two spokes, and if the baby survives Twenna will be created Countess Middlemont, a courtesy title that will devolve upon her daughter but will die when she does."
Ansella turned away from him. She braced her hands on Affton's empty desk. She wished the man weren't so spare; she would have loved to sweep a deskful of papers, inkwells and lanterns to the floor in a great messy crash. "You love this Shelstone woman so very much?"
"I am done with other people interfering with my offspring. You've had a free hand for too long in those affairs, Ansella, keeping the children from me and sending the Dunley girl away where I can't find her! This daughter is mine and shall be raised my way. When she's of age, she'll be useful to me. Sedra is for Sairland, by the way. Thought I should tell you that, too."
"Nothing finalized. King Bannig is sending his brother to examine her, and if you know what's good for the girl you'll encourage her to work on her social graces, not her studies. Now if you'll excuse me, I am late for my own dinner party." Harsin opened the office door and strolled out, pulling on his gloves. He left the door open. He thinks so little of me he won't even let me compose myself in private.
She couldn't tell him about her own baby now. She would keep it a secret as long as she could--perhaps entirely--no, impossible, but damn him! Telling her about Sedra's marriage as casually as she'd tell him about selling a horse! Though she could not stop Harsin from marrying off her other two, Ansella would not let her new daughter be "useful" to her father. This one was hers.