Chapter 9 Part 3 | Son in Sorrow | IHGK Book 2

Temmin had a time tracking down his father. He wasn't in his rooms, he wasn't in his office. The council room contained a few Ministers, alarmed and irritated at his headlong intrusion. He finally thought to ask Affton and tracked him down to the servants' hall. "Riding, I believe, Your Highness," said the butler. "May I say I took the liberty of sending a groom to find His Majesty as soon as the call for the Sisters went out, sir."

Temmin slumped against the kitchen archway and let out a shuddering sigh. His eyes burned, and he wiped at his brow with his handkerchief. "Thank you, Affton, I should have known you'd think to find him."

"May I also suggest, sir, that since there's nothing you can do for the moment you might have a cup of tea?" Affton murmured. "I can send a tray up to your room, if you'd like, or the Small Sitting Room."

"If I go upstairs I'll have a hard time staying away...and Lady Donnis made it clear..." he trailed off. Affton glided him back through the kitchens to the Small Sitting Room. Temmin sat in his shirtsleeves drinking tea and eating plain buttered toast, huddled in a corner of the big room.

His mother, her hands covered in blood: the vision he'd had more than a year ago at Neya's Day in the Gods' bed. The image had receded in his mind--who wants to think on such things? Dread radiated through him, pricking from his scalp down his back to his fingers and toes as he remembered them all: Jenks leading a cavalry charge. Harsin on a battlefield. Sedra shielding a child from some unknown danger. Ellika, of all people, facing down a squad of Tremontine soldiers. Finally Teacher and the Traveler Queen, flames all around them. He had hoped perhaps they'd been metaphors of some kind, but now it all seemed possible, almost inevitable. Could he stop any of it from happening?

Neya said he'd be called either Liberator or Magnificent. She hadn't said which path he should take, or even how he could tell them apart. Could he even choose it? Or was it all pre-ordained, like the blood on his mother's hands? Temmin finished his tea and returned to his rooms, where he threw himself on the bed. This was not how he'd intended to spend his day at the Keep.

In time, Miss Hanston's voice in his study called Temmin from his bedchamber. Temmin hurried into the room. "Hanston, is my father back yet?"

"No, sir. He. Is. Not. But the Eldest Sister is in Her Majesty's receiving room waiting for you, Your Highness."

Temmin shrugged into his coat and followed Miss Hanston down the hall into the Queen's incongruously bright receiving room, where Sedra sat listening intently, Ellika huddled against her in misery. "She may be out of danger now," Eldest Sister Imvalda was saying. Dark patches stained her deep green robes; Temmin looked away, unsure if they were water or something worse. "We should have been called much, much sooner."

Ellika raised her head from Sedra's arm. "Did you know, Tem? Did you know she was expecting?"

Temmin shook his head. "I don't think anyone but Cousin Donnis and Hanston knew."

All eyes swiveled to the crumbling Miss Hanston, who said, "Beg pardon, Your Highnesses, Eldest Sister, but if my lady says 'don't tell anyone,' I don't tell anyone! Nor would you if you were me!"

"It's all right, Hanston," said Sedra. "Please continue that policy for now and tell no one. Go downstairs and have a cup of tea." Once she was gone, Sedra fetched a kerchief from her pocket, put her face in her hands for a moment, and wiped her eyes. "How far along was she, Eldest Sister?"

"Less than two moons--not quite a spoke, as the Eddinites would say, miss." Imvalda smoothed a fold in her habit. "Sarra and I have known since she visited us last, but of course we could say nothing ourselves. You shouldn't refer to the baby in past tense," she added. "The Queen may keep her yet. It's still too soon to say. She must be still and in bed for at least a spoke." Though Imvalda didn't say the words aloud, Temmin heard them clearly: If she lives.

Ellika burst into fresh tears and Sedra gave her a fresh handkerchief. "It's a girl? How do you know?"

"Teacher would have known if it was a boy, and he didn't say a word to me," said Temmin. "I think he would have."

Ellika opened her mouth to ask another question, but the Eldest Sister interrupted. "There is more." She held up a large, flat-sided amber bottle. "This came to the Keep from the Sisters' Temple not long after Her Majesty visited us, but it came neither from me nor from Sarra Embodiment."

"What is it?" said Sedra.

"The Sister who delivered it claimed it was a morning sickness draught, stronger than the Early Mother's tincture I gave Her Majesty myself. It is not. It's an abortifacient--a slow-acting poison meant to cause your mother a miscarriage, and probably worse."

"Who would do such a thing!" said Temmin.

"Ibbit," said Sedra.

The Eldest Sister slowly shook her head. "We never suspected she would do this to a woman she…forgive me…she swore she loved. All but one of her confederates escaped with her, but rest assured we will be investigating further. We thought we had rooted out the immediate blasphemy. Apparently we still have work to do." Imvalda studied her hands, her face careworn and guilt-ridden. "As for tonight," she resumed, "My best midwife will remain here. I will send others so she might rest when necessary, and I've sent for my poisons expert. We've given your mother the first dose of the antidote we think is needed, but we have more study to do. I won't lie to you. She is in considerable danger, perhaps mortal danger. She's more comfortable now but she will have no visitors other than the Dowager Marchioness and Miss Hanston to wait on her."

"Not even Papa?" sniffed Ellika.

Imvalda considered, her eyes to one side and a dismayed frown hovering around her mouth. "His Majesty may make a brief--brief!--visit, but I recommend he not visit frequently. The Queen must not be agitated. Now," she said in a different tone, "in no case are you to accept any medicine for her, or for anyone in this family, from any hand but mine or Sarra's in future--directly from one of us and no one else, however well known to you or trusted." Imvalda called for the Sisters not staying behind and took her leave.

The three siblings sat silent; Sedra stroked Ellika's back. Temmin rose to his feet. "I'm going to find Father myself, since no one else has managed to."

He strode out into the hall, just in time to see Winmer disappear into the King's apartments next door. "I am not going into a sickroom in all my dirt!" his father said as the door closed.

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