Emmae

Chapter 15 Part 6 | Lovers and Beloveds | IHGK Book 1

Two days before Farr's Day. Hendas of Holset was making pointed remarks to the Dowager now, and several Leutan lords gave up their wooing and were preparing to return to Leute: time to raise their armies. The day was warm and pleasant, and Warin took Edmerka out into the gardens for what he feared might be the last time. He'd made it clear that he waited only for word from her, but she had done nothing more than walk with him. Though they usually spoke in general pleasantries, today they spoke of past times, even the time in the cottage. There was a wistfulness in Edmerka's voice that struck both dread and hope into the King's heart; on the one hand, she might finally be reconciling past love with present, but on the other, she might be taking her leave, though with a certain sadness.

As for Edmerka, she had made up her mind.

Chapter 15 Part 5 | Lovers and Beloveds | IHGK Book 1

"A bird?" said Edmerka to her maidservant the next morning. "He sent me a bird?" She peered into the cage in the maid's hands.

"A nightingale, Your Majesty," beamed the maid. She hung the cage near a window. "They sing, oh, it's so beautiful! It'll break your heart, it will. They say they sing for their lost loves."

"We have nightingales in Leute," Edmerka snapped. She stomped out of her bower, down the stairs to the upper hall where the King met with his counselors, and demanded entrance.

Inside, Warin and several Tremontine lords bent low over a map. "Should civil war come to Leute," the King was saying, "we must be on guard against attempts to take these castles along our borders--" He straightened as Edmerka burst through the door, a protesting servant at her heels. Her eyes were bright with anger; he might have expected this.

"Explain yourself, sir!" she said, stuttering on the words.

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Chapter 15 Part 4 | Lovers and Beloveds | IHGK Book 1

From that day, Edmerka rejoined the daily life of the Keep. She walked more often in the garden, ate in the Great Hall, and dressed in colors, if drab ones, but she rebuffed every attempt Warin made to engage her in conversation. "I am not inclined to speak privately with you, Your Majesty," was all she would say, until finally Hendas of Holset came to her in frustration.

"Lady, I am here to tell you that you will either marry King Warin, or you will marry the Leutan lord of your choosing," he said, settling his thick frame into an equally thick chair in her bower.

"And if I choose none?" she said.

"Then you bring civil war to your kingdom, or worse. The lords ruling in your name will only do it for so long before their ambition overtakes them. And if you reject him, the King may decide to take Leute by force in his anger. Either way, you will destroy your people. Thousands will die, either by the sword or from the starvation and sickness that always follow war."

Chapter 15 Part 3 | Lovers and Beloveds | IHGK Book 1

The next day, Warin waited at a hidden intersection in the garden among the late season flowers; Edmerka had taken to walking there alone, and when she passed, he fell in step beside her. She stiffened, but did not run. "How long do you intend to stay in mourning, sister queen?" he said.

"Until I am done, brother king," she answered. "It is tradition."

"Did you love your husband so very much?"

Her startling blue eyes pinned him through the veil. "I despised him even as I loved my father."

"Your father was a lighthearted man. I am sure he would have you put aside mourning. I myself look forward to seeing you in colors again."

"Do you," she said. She pulled a little curved knife from the tasseled belt at her hips, and began to cut the asters, white and violet, that spilled onto the graveled pathway.

Warin struggled for words. He couldn't see her face through the veil, though he recognized the way she stood, the slight tremble of frustration and temper that used to run through her at the cottage. "Emmae--"

"Don't call me that!"

Chapter 15 Part 2 | Lovers and Beloveds | IHGK Book 1

In the aftermath of his ascension, Warin weeded out the faithful from the traitorous. To everyone's shock, he spared the Duke of Valleysmouth and his family, who had raised Hildin and Gian, and gave Old Meg an honorable entry to the Hill, but he tracked down the family of the archer who'd killed Fredrik of Leute and slew all its men. Even so, the hooks above Marketgate went largely empty; few had stood with the Usurper.

The rest of the Travelers caught up with their Queen, making camp at the edge of the King's Woods; their caravans flickered bright among the cool green leaves of late spring. "Will you not let me entertain you at the Keep?" said Warin.

"No Traveler may spend the night beneath a solid roof, Your Majesty," said the Traveler Queen, "but thank you."

"Well then, take the freedom of these Woods as a reward for your service, now and always."

"Thank you, cousin," said Connin with a bow, his leg extended just into mockery.

Chapter 13 Part 12 | Lovers and Beloveds | IHGK Book 1

Teacher was at Hildin's side then, ineffectually trying to stanch the bleeding, pale white fingers dyed red and shaking. "I cannot stop it. I was not fast enough to stop her. Your Majesty, I cannot stop it!"

"Let him finish dying, Teacher," said Warin, running up the altar stairs. "You can't save him, and I don't want you to."

Chapter 13 Part 11 | Lovers and Beloveds | IHGK Book 1

Suddenly, Brothers swarmed past Warin, their armor shining in the sunlight now streaming in; beside him, an absence of light but for pale skin, appeared a figure in black. The Guardsmen hesitated, taken aback at the Brothers' strange allegiance, the presence of the Black Man, and the sheer number of their opponents, until Hildin gave a flicker of a signal to the high gallery of the Temple. A hidden archer sent an arrow into King Fredrik's throat; he crumpled at Emmae's feet, his blood spattering Hildin's mantle. "They've killed King Fredrik!" yelled Hildin.

Emmae's eyes flew to the gallery. An archer in the red and gold uniform of the Guard stood hidden in the shadows; he looked not at her face but at her heart, and she knew the next arrow was meant for her. She closed her eyes.

Chapter 13 Part 10 | Lovers and Beloveds | IHGK Book 1

A gasp went up from the crowd. The Father's Rock predated the Temple itself--in fact, it could be said it was the original Temple. Sacrifices to the Father had bled down the sides of the Rock until Temmin the Great built the white marble Temple sanctuary nearly two hundred years ago. Warin strode up to it and placed his good hand on the dull white stone, surprisingly warm against his skin. How much magic could he muster, with his broken bone, and still have enough left to see the day through? He closed his eyes and focused his newly-inherited, still-unfamiliar power around the rock. He gathered it up, and pushed with his mind.

The Rock shifted under his hand. He opened his eyes and stood back as it rose from the stones around it. Up, and up, until it hovered in the air at the height of a man. His control wavered, new power and his injury combined against him. "Enough," he said brusquely, and let the Rock drop as if he'd meant to do that all along. The Rock struck the stones beneath it with such force that it split in two. Stillness, then murmurings of astonishment, until a roar broke out from every Guard, Brother and townsman.

Chapter 13 Part 6 | Lovers and Beloveds | IHGK Book 1

At the camp, bedrolls circled the banked fire. Once inside his own, Warin seethed with rage. His prophecy had been wrong. His father died alone, in bed, and not at Warin's hand. For that, he rejoiced, but as for the rest...

All his anger at the Gods came roaring back. For years, he'd wondered what he'd done to deserve his prophecy. Now the punishment was compounded; he'd given up his throne and his beloved father for nothing. In his grief and anger, he yearned for Emmae, and feared for her more. He stared up into the dark sky, thinking of his brother in the marriage bed that belonged to him, and willed Emmae to be safe.

Chapter 12 Part 9 | Lovers and Beloveds | IHGK Book 1

Gian circled her in his arms; she spread her legs, shamefully eager. But then, the sooner she satisfied Gian and Hildin, the sooner her anguish would end, at least for the night. He pushed hard against her belly, but to her surprise, he flipped them over. He pulled her down and kissed her, running his tongue across the roof of her mouth until she straddled him, ready.

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