Chapter 9 Part 5 | Son in Sorrow | IHGK Book 2
Teacher paused. "Before we go, I must caution you against Maeve's son."
Sedra said nothing about her encounter with Connin. "Will he try to prevent me from taking the Traveler Queen to Mama?"
"No, no, but I cannot stay to bring you back. He must do it--he possesses much of the same power I do, and he is not bound to the King as I am. He will help you, but be aware he is a sly one." Teacher reached to touch her cheek; Sedra reflexively flinched. Teacher's hand dropped hastily away to take her own, and they swirled through the mirror.
Her stomach twisted; just before she became grossly sick, they arrived in a clearing in the King's Woods in an area Sedra avoided on her walks. It was among the Travelers' haunts, and while she knew longstanding if confusing connections existed between the Travelers and the Antremonts, the vagabonds still made her uncomfortable. She looked around for the reflection they'd used; nothing but trees surrounded them. "Thank you," she said, releasing Teacher's slender fingers. "Which way?"
"Straight down that path you will come to their camp. Now, goodbye, Sedra. I hope Maeve can help your mother, but do not expect her to." Teacher paused. "Give her a message from me. Tell her I love her, and that the time may be coming soon."
Sedra let out a small, astonished breath. "Yes. Yes, of course."
Teacher faced an old, gnarled tree. "Show me my Library." The slight black figure became liquid and swirled into a large knothole in the tree; Sedra's nape pricked.
She stared at the knothole. The Traveler Queen had been her rival? She liked to think she had long since patched her heart after its girlish disappointment--but Teacher preferred an old woman? She glared down the path. Colorful glimpses shone through the young leaves: red, gold and blue painted caravans, the bright wagons that served as both home and conveyance to Travelers throughout the Kingdom. She picked up her skirts and ran, ran faster, until she bowled into the clearing headlong into a rusty-haired young man.
"Hold, hold!" he laughed, seizing her arms. "Look, everyone! I've caught a pretty girl!"
"Release me this instant!" she huffed.
Connin grinned. "Some day you may change your mind, but for now…" He let her go and swept a low bow. "Your Highness, how may this humble band of Travelers help your family, since you always need us to get your sorry asses out of every scrape you find yourselves in?"
The camp erupted in roars; men, women and children who had been attending to cooking, dandling babies, mending tack, tuning instruments, all laughed at her. She flushed. "I have come for the Traveler Queen's help. My mother was poisoned. The Sisters say she might die."
"Who's here?" came a creaky voice from across the clearing.
"The Princess Royal," answered Connin, keeping his eyes on Sedra. "Her family craves a boon, as usual."
"I have never asked anyone for a boon," snapped Sedra.
Connin turned his head over his shoulder. "Mother? Will you speak with her, or shall I send her packing?"
"Don't be so cruel, Connin, the girl's worried about her mama," said the old woman, toddling across the clearing. Connin grabbed a nearby folding stool and helped her onto the seat.
Sedra had never seen a crone so old. Her pate shone white and mottled beneath grizzled hair. Her clawlike hands worked to tie a bandana over her head, until Connin took the kerchief from her and gently fastened it behind. She cocked her chin at Sedra, and her wrinkled face broke into a grin reminiscent of her son's but for the missing teeth. "Well, now! It's the eldest daughter. I haven't seen you since you were a baby, not this close up at any rate. You've turned out well. What's amiss, child?"
"My mother is ill…" Should she call the old woman Your Majesty? Lady? "…ma'am. She's with child, and she's been poisoned."
The Traveler Queen listened as Sedra told the story once again, the old crone's face grave and sympathetic. "It depends upon the poison, child. I might not be able to help her."
Sedra's helplessness concentrated into a flare of anger. "Might not, or will not?"
"Have a care, Princess," growled Connin.
"Every moment we stand here my mother is suffering, every moment we stand here could mean the difference between living and dying!"
The crone spoke so softly Sedra bent down to hear her. "Do you know how many people are dying, right now, just in this Kingdom? Child, Harla gathers up Her harvest every minute." She tapped her withered chest. "I can feel every dying breath, but I feel the first breath of every baby born, as well. So many births, and so many deaths, every moment, day and night. You do not understand what you ask."
"She is my mother! She is my mother and she is your Queen. Come and save her!"
A rumble from the surrounding Travelers. A sharp-eyed man who held his guitar more like a club than an instrument started toward her. "We don't recognize your family's sovereignty, girl. We have our own Queen."
"Jesper, stand down," ordered Connin.
"Will you help me or not!" cried Sedra.
"Connin, help me up," said the Traveler Queen. "Girl, your temper matches your wit--both too great to be controlled at times, I fear."
Sedra pressed her lips together and closed her eyes long enough to pray: Amma give me strength. "So I have been told, ma'am. I can hide my wit when necessary, but sometimes my temper escapes me. Forgive me. Please, just tell me whether you will come. If you will not, I must go home and hope the Sisters have better news. I'm on foot now and it's something of a walk." She remembered her promise. "I have a message for you, from Teacher. I don't know if it's for your ears alone, or…" She trailed off, embarrassed at feeling put-upon when she was the one asking for help.
"He says he loves you, and that the time may be soon."
The old woman took in the color burning on Sedra's cheeks. "A difficult message to deliver. Thank you."
Sedra swallowed a humiliated retort that would ruin any chance of the Queen's cooperation. "I ask you--beg you--one last time, ma'am: will you come?"
"I will come, though it may not do any good," nodded the old crone. "Connin, take us there."
He frowned as he took his mother's elbow. "But the pain--"
"I'm sure there's no risk. Teacher expects me and so is far away by now--Inchar at best, Oldtown at the worst," she chuckled.