Mathanus vomited on his own feet; Justinna huddled on the floor in incoherent shrieks. Temmin would have begged for Allis's life, but the stickiness filled his mouth; all he could do was cry. Nerr was going to kill her, to whip her to death, and it was his fault--beat me, kill me, Lord! he begged silently. "She bears responsibility too, never doubt it," said Nerr, raising the strap and bringing it down again. "She must bear the pain alone if she's to be of any use to My Sister."
Harsin sat at breakfast the next day, alone but for his eldest daughter. Ansella's robin's egg blue morning room, cheerful even in the weak winter sun, served as consolation and goad to them both; they sat silent, picking at their eggs and coffee. The butler appeared, arms full of newsprint, but set the stack before the King alone. "Affton, where are my morning papers?" asked Sedra.
"There'll be no more of that," growled her father. "I'm done with you ruining your mind. All this reading will stunt your ability to bear children."
"Papa, you know that isn't true! Many educated women--"
"Shut those doors!" said Harsin from the hallway outside Twenna's apartments. "I never want to hear her voice again! Hallik! Where is Shelstone?"
"Sir Elbig is on his way, sir," answered the butler.
"I don't know any 'Sir Elbig,'" said the King.
A whiff of Elbig Shelstone's jasmine-tinged cologne hurried into the hall before he did. "Your Majesty! Felicitations on the birth of your new son, my grandson!" he beamed. "Why are you standing in the hallway? Hallik, take him in to see the little thing! He's perfect in every way, sir, resembles his father--"
Temmin shook his head to clear it of Gwynna's terror and rage. "I don't like to hear my name used by someone like Tennoc."
"How so?" said Teacher.
"To kill a child--an infant?"
Teacher leaned back against the mantel. "Politics is an ugly business. There is a very real fear in any regime change that someone with perhaps a better claim--someone like Ardunn--would become a rallying point against a ruler and must be eliminated early. Your uncles have no clear claim to the throne, but they have become such rallying points. Is it so strange that Tennoc would wish to secure his position? Especially as a bastard?"
Ellika rarely let the baby go, relinquishing her little sister long enough for the hastily-called wet nurse to feed her before snatching her away again. She declared to the family that Anneya was her responsibility: "No one else seems to care, so I'm taking her back to Whithorse with Temmin. Nurse and I will see to her." She even learned to change the tiny girl's diaper, refusing assistance with a savagery once reserved for incompetent milliners and dancing partners who trod one too many times on her toes.
Harsin folded Ansella's arms over her chest. The Friends brought the shroud around her body; Harsin and the children took turns sewing it closed. Emsa gave Ansella's velvet-wrapped hair to Sedra, who accepted it with shaking hands. The Friends took up the body in its coffin again and returned to the main hall for the walk to the royal section of the catacombs.
A ramrod-straight, barrel-chested man in the dark Tremontine red uniform of a colonel of the Royal Cavalry waited in the hall; the uniform's markings were of the First Cavalry Battalion of the Whithorse Guard, and medals covered its front. Tradition banned weapons from the Hill, and his sword sheath hung empty at his side. The man held his black fur winter uniform hat under his arm. Gray threaded the black hair fringed round his head as well as his neatly trimmed beard, and his weather-lined face flashed a heavy grief before he snapped to attention.
Emsa approached Harsin. In her hand was a knife, exquisitely sharp, knapped from slick black obsidian. Harsin took it from her and began cutting away the simple white dress on Ansella's body. "All this is fleeting, all this is lost, all this is unnecessary," said the King.
"All this is ending, all this is beginning, all this is needed," answered the rest, Friends and family in gentle chorus. Temmin did his best to follow along. He knew the words but they kept sticking in his throat.
"Life is fleeting, life is lost, life continues," said his father.
"Her life has ended, her life is beginning, all this is needed," came the response.
Tremontine flags trimmed in black flew at half mast throughout the City, the dark red field and its three golden mountains limp on this cold, still day. Every bell, from the great War Bell in the Keep to the time-keeping carillons at the University tolled, echoing desolate against the City walls as the funeral procession passed through the streets. Harsin walked before it, dressed in severest black but for the Tremontine red sash beneath his coat; his head wore neither hat nor crown. Emsa, the high priestess of the Friends of Harla, and Harla's Embodiment Trudannis walked beside him, their black hoods lowered to show their stubbled heads.
Inside the pavilion sat a table and a low lounge before it. Glasses, plates and various delicacies covered the tablecloth; Ansella wondered where the servants who'd carted everything up here were hiding, but the falling water would mask any conversation beyond the pavilion itself. Harsin walked to the pool's edge and pulled out a bottle of foamwine, chilled in the icy water. He wiped the bottle with a white towel, opened it and filled their glasses.
The wine was cold and crisp, so young it was almost as clear as the water. Ansella took a long sip. "Beautiful."
Summer ripened, and so did the Queen; her health returned, better than ever. Harsin had planned to stay in town for the summer, but instead accompanied his wife and daughters to High Haven, the royal family's retreat in the mountains above the Capital. To their surprise, Ansella's brush with death rekindled their passion for one another. They spent their nights rediscovering each other's bodies, though long-exposed nerves still ached. Ibbit never left Ansella's mind, but her emotions changed from heartbreak and bewildered anger to implacable hatred--not just for her own sake, but for the unborn baby she carried. Ansella could almost understand it if Ibbit had tried to kill her from jealousy, but trying to kill the baby? For that, Ansella would see the woman dead.