Chapter 9 Part 6 | Son in Sorrow | IHGK Book 2
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Sedra prepared herself to creep down the path, but to her surprise the Traveler Queen walked as briskly as she herself did. In the corner of Sedra's eye, a much younger, dark-haired woman flickered, superimposed on the withered Queen's figure; when Sedra looked at her directly, the flicker disappeared.
They stopped before a large knothole in a gnarled tree. "You've asked my mother prettily," said Connin, "but you haven't spoken so to me."
Sedra bit back sarcasm and squared her shoulders. "Do you wish me to beg?"
"I wish for you to kiss me."
"Amma give me patience, boy, stop it!" said his mother.
"You must kiss me," he repeated. "Are you too proud to kiss a Traveler? You'd be the first princess among the many I've asked if so."
Passing time scratched at her throat; she might be too late already. "All right, very well." She made to kiss his bearded cheek, but Connin caught her up and kissed her full on the mouth.
Ellika wore her enthusiasm for the opposite sex like a bright, fluttering pennant, but Sedra kept her own passion tightly furled and stowed away. She'd never been kissed though she'd often longed to be, especially after hearing Emmae's story. While she'd experienced her ancestress's memories as if they were her own, she now discovered actual kissing was greatly to be preferred. Perhaps it was as well that Papa married her off soon.
She closed her eyes and enjoyed Connin's beard against her cheek before breaking away in hasty guilt. "Are you satisfied?"
"Oh, not nearly as much as I should like to be," he smiled.
She just had to tolerate him long enough to get through the mirror, Sedra chanted to herself. She took one of his hands, the Traveler Queen the other. "Show me Queen Ansella's…" Connin turned to Sedra. "Where shall I put you?"
"Mama's receiving room."
"Very well, show me Queen Ansella's receiving room."
Sedra couldn't see the mirror that must be in the knothole, but she could feel the nauseating, dissolving displacement as they swirled into it.
They came out the other end into the round celadon room. Sedra led them into her mother's private drawing room. She made to open the door to the bedchamber, but the Traveler Queen stopped her. "I must go in alone. I shall send your mother's attendants out to you." She gave her son a sharp look. "I think it might be best for all concerned."
"Damn," muttered Connin. He threw himself into the nearest chair.
The old woman yanked open the door, to the startled exclamations of the Queen's attendants. In short order Lady Donnis, Miss Hanston and the Sister midwife found themselves marched out of the room and the door closed behind them. The distraught Miss Hanston spotted Connin and almost distracted herself making sure he didn't steal anything. The Sister kept staring in astonishment at the closed door; she excused herself to kneel in a corner and tell the prayer beads she pulled from beneath her habit.
Sedra pulled Donnis aside. "Is it truly the Traveler Queen?" whispered Donnis. "How did you get here so quickly?"
"Teacher helped me find her. I can't explain, it's too complicated, but she promised to help if she could." Sedra took Donnis's hands. "It's bad, isn't it?"
Donnis nodded, her face lined and distraught. "It is, my dear, very bad indeed. Harla take that Ibbit!" Sedra flinched; her cousin had never sworn in her presence before. "Well," sighed Donnis, "there's nothing to do but wait. I need a cup of tea, desperately."
Two hours later a neat stack of little plates that once held cakes and sandwiches sat before Connin on the tea table. No one else seemed to have an appetite, and "I should hate to see such a lovely spread sent back to the kitchen untouched."
Sedra began to wonder whether the Traveler Queen would ever come out. Was it a good sign she stayed so long, or a bad one? The midwife didn't know and mumbled something about the Traveler Queen's sanctity; she seemed both terrified and elated to be near the old woman and had paused her prayers just long enough for a single cup of tea.
Just when Sedra had made up her mind to knock on the bedchamber door, it opened. The Traveler Queen emerged, her face grave. "She's alive," said the old woman, "and for now she will strengthen--she is already stronger, but the poison has done its work."
"She is stronger? Will she live?" cried Sedra. "Will she keep the baby?"
"It's up to her," said the crone. "It's completely up to her. She will be able to eat now. No restrictions--give her anything she asks for. Spoil her. Give her all her favorite delicacies. She will be able to take exercise in a few days, and I recommend she do so. Let her ride as long as she can get into the saddle, and let her drive as long as she can reach the reins. I've told her to go home to Whithorse, but she's refused." The Traveler Queen looked older than ever, her face collapsed into itself. "Connin, take me home. I'm exhausted."
Donnis stepped forward and took the old woman's hands; the midwife gasped, in horror or perhaps envy. "Thank you for saving her, thank you so much! She is my dearest friend and to lose her…oh, thank you so very much!" After a final squeeze of the crone's hands and an acknowledging nod to Connin, Lady Donnis led Miss Hanston and the still-awestruck midwife back into the Queen's bedchamber.
The Traveler Queen peered through her wrinkles up at Sedra. "Wit and temper. Temper and wit. You need to conquer both. Teacher is not allowed to share all the years of knowledge with you, I'd bet." Sedra said nothing but colored again, lifting her head a little higher on her neck. The Traveler Queen chuckled. "Don't be proud. Don't be resentful. When you want to know more, come to me."
Connin snatched Sedra's hand and kissed her knuckles before she could pull away. "Your Highness, perhaps we'll run across each other in the Woods. You know where our camp is. You're welcome any time." He took his mother's hand and faced one of the two mirrors flanking the fireplace. "Show me Mirror Clearing." The greenery framed in the knothole appeared; Connin and his mother disappeared in a swirling mass, and the mirror once again reflected the celadon receiving room. Sedra rubbed the back of her hand where Connin had kissed it.
Laughter seeped out of her mother's bedchamber. Roused from her contemplation, Sedra hurried into the room without knocking. She found her mother sitting up in bed; color had returned to her cheeks. Miss Hanston rumbled past, a grin like a fissure splitting her face. "She's calling for tea and biscuits, miss, tea and biscuits and a slice of cheese!" The happy ladies maid disappeared through the door.
"Seddy!" called her mother, holding out her hands. Sedra ran to the bed and sat down on the edge just long enough to kiss Ansella's hands before she flung herself onto the bed and sobbed into her mother's breast. "Oh, there now, sweetheart, never worry, I'm all right," said her mother, smoothing Sedra's glossy dark hair. "Tsk. What has Sinsett been up to? Your hair's a mess."
Sedra cried and laughed as she burrowed against her mother's side.
Son in Sorrow will end its serialization July 15, 2013.
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