allaigna’s song: aria
Allaigna’s Song: Aria is the second novel in the Allaigna’s Song trilogy by equestrian swordswoman, artist, and editor JM Landels. The first book, Overture, was printed serially in issues 1 through 11 of Pulp Literature, and is now available in a single volume from Pulp Literature Press.
Previously in Allaigna’s Song
Fleeing an unwanted betrothal and enraged by her family’s lies concerning her parenthood, fourteen-year-old Allaigna has set off to find her true father. However, her quest is interrupted a mere three days in, when a chance encounter lands her in the illegal poaching encampment of her betrothed-to-be, Tiern Doniver. She is nearly recognized but escapes, thanks to new-found allies: the stable boy, Raddick, and the kennel master, Dog.
Fourteen years ago: Lauresa and her mother Irdaign have been reunited with the birth of Allaigna, but years of separation, anger, and memory loss leave unhealed wounds. Irdaign makes herself a part of the household under the assumed name of Angeley, while Lauresa struggles to forgive her and reconcile herself to her new role as mother. For reasons of her own, Irdaign clandestinely reunites Lauresa with her lover and Allaigna’s father, Einavar.
He is already at the prescribed rendezvous point, where Clothmarket meets with the New Road. The tavern beside the well is always crowded, though never with castle-folk. Seamstresses, tailors, merchants, cordwainers, glovers, and haberdashers gather here for small ale, fresh water from the fountain, and gossip.
I set my bag, heavy with goods from the apothecary and spice merchant, down between my feet and begin to work the pump handle. It is our prearranged signal and he crosses quickly to the fountain, gallantly taking over the chore of pumping up a bowl of water to wet my mouth. “Your Highness,” he says, proffering the bowl. “Not anymore,” I say sharply, then smile to soften the sting. I drink deeply—it is the best well in town, better even than those within the castle. “Here and now, I am merely Angeley, and you are Einavar.”
“It is a better name than my own.” His voice is cool and liquid, like the water. Not emotionless, just smooth as the surface of a deep pool hiding jagged rocks beneath. “It’s … an honour to meet you.”
“Oh, we’ve met before, young man.” I flash a merrier, more wicked smile
at him, making him start. “One day I may tell you about it. But let’s sit, shall we? The beer here is excellent, thanks no doubt to the water.”
Once we are equipped with tankards there is an awkward pause through which I wait, allowing him to break it.
“I must thank you, madam, for …” He clears his throat and a pale purple tinges his cheeks. I feel a surge of fondness for this almost son.
“No,” I interrupt. “You must not thank me. Your gratitude would make a procuress of me.” I smile again to show I am at least partially teasing.
His return smile flickers, nervous and brief, then disappears again. Oh, how serious and worried he is!
“Einavar,” I take his long-fingered hand within my own two. It is strangely smooth for one who has spent so much time ranging. “I love my daughter above all else — ” It is his turn to interrupt me, his free hand covering our other three. “As do I. But …” He swallows, breathes, continues. “Because of that I would not bring dishonour or pain upon her. I … we … did not — ”
“Please!” I exclaim, pulling my hands out from his. “Do not tell me what you did or did not last night.” The mauve tinge on his cheeks spreads and reddens. “Dishonour is within my skill to prevent. Pain …” It is my turn to sigh. “She has suffered much already. I would have her gain what joy she can.”
His own brow is creased in that same pain. “Wouldn’t it be better for her to … to simply forget me?” The suggestion is agonizing to him, but he offers it nonetheless.
I shake my head. “If she gives her heart to her husband, it will be worse.” As I say it, I realize the Sight has returned and settled on my brow. I blink, forcing away the things I hope won’t come true.
“Love is a rare and precious commodity, Einavar. Cherish it when it finds you, and never relinquish it.” Another shake of the head brings me back to the present. “I would not accept your gratitude, but I will accept your troth. Ceilaf
bound his to me when I was Princess still. He recommended you to me, and you saved Lauresa’s life on the Clearwater Way. More than that.” I smile once more. “You’ve given me a granddaughter any prince would be proud of.”
I watch the emotions flicker through his pale, pale eyes: grief, equal to my own, at the mention of Ceilaf; pride nowhere equal to mine at the mention of Allaigna. But that can and will be nurtured.
“I need eyes and ears within Brandishear. For this I can pay you.” I’ve already noticed the thinness of his cloak, the fraying on his sleeves. “I may even still have enough connections to secure you a commission. Rangers, I think? Through indirect channels, of course.”
He is about to protest, but I stop him. My plans have no room for false modesty and polite demurrals.
“Meeting here is not safe, though. I will show you a place in the Eastern Forest, and give you a token that will allow you to contact me through a scrying pool there.” I can see he is about to protest his ignorance of magic. “It is a simple enough trick. I can teach you.
“And I will, when it can be arranged, show you glimpses of your daughter … and mine.”
The gratitude hidden beneath those frost grey eyes nearly staggers me, and makes me hope I am not making an error.
He is gone again, and Lauresa is left raw and aching once more, the wounds she thought healed bleeding freely.
They have agreed it is best for him not to come near too often. But it is impossible for him to never return. He has held the child in his arms and fallen in love with her sweet breath. However cruel it is to Lauresa to have him reappear at sparse intervals in her life, it would be infinitely crueller to deny him precious glimpses of his daughter, who is growing and changing so fast. Whatever her burdens and sorrows, his will be harder to bear.
She doesn’t know whether to curse or thank her mother who arranged this meeting. The childish, still-adolescent part of herself is indignant, outraged that her mother has even the knowledge of Einavar, and worse, that she can procure him as if she were a common panderer. And yet, now that it has happened, and the pain of saying goodbye is even worse than the first time, she wouldn’t have it any other way.
With her heart reawakened to him, she is more conscious than ever of the cuckoo she has brought to her husband’s nest. As Allaigna grows, she looks more and more like her natural father. The child wears a linen cap to cover the straight black hair that is neither Allenis’s dark brown curls nor Lauresa’s golden ones, and to disguise the Ilvani cast to her ears and forehead. As the years go by and the baby fat falls away from her high-planed cheekbones and delicate limbs, the differences become harder to hide.
So Lauresa takes to hiding the child herself, keeping her away from Allenis’s scrutiny when he’s at home, which thankfully isn’t often. And in trying to protect Allaigna, she makes her a stranger to her supposed father.
Verse 4 New Friends, New Enemies As unkempt and ragged as Dog looked, he was fit enough: fitter than Raddick and I, who struggled to keep up as the older man trotted through the ill-lit woods, a hound at each heel. The fall from Nag, the bump I’d given myself on the chin, and Doniver’s blow to the face compounded to make me both light-headed and lead-footed. My condition was made worse by the utter lack of sleep and the bone-draining exhaustion of having used so much magic. Finally, after half a bell or so of rough jogging up the
ridge and east along the tree line, I fell to my knees, retching but desperate not to vomit.
Raddick stumbled to a stop beside me and called to Dog to halt his steady pace. As I kneeled there, shaking and heaving, I felt a tentative, friendly hand on my back. “You hurt?” he asked, his voice no more than a pair of gasps. I shook my head, even though it made the nausea worse, and sat back on my haunches, brushing leaf mould from my hands and knees. “My horse,” I breathed. “I need to get my horse back.” It wasn’t just that I was fond of the beast, or that I needed him to carry me over the leagues I planned to travel in search of my true father. It was that he carried too much of me with him. My sword, the one I’d trained for then lost and won again in Rheran; and my bow, the one Rhiadne had given me, that had been fashioned by her father: both these weapons hung from Nag’s saddle, along with all my provisions, that cursed pig carcass, and my spare clothing. More important than all these were the little things I’d taken from home, such as one of Mother’s thimbles, a pair of herb scissors from Angeley’s workshop, a scroll of Ilvani text from the archives that I had only begun to translate, and letters. The letters Mother and Angeley had written to me during my stay in Rheran two years ago; they were the worst. I had been foolish to bring them with me, for they told far too much about who I was. If I retrieved my horse and my belongings, I resolved to burn those missives.
Dog shook his head and made a series of hurried hand gestures accompanied by whistles and clicks. He was mute, I realized at long last, not deaf as the Barrel had claimed, nor the mooncalf I’d taken him to be. Raddick seemed to understand him, though.
Raddick nodded and said to me, “It’s too dangerous. Lord Doniver’ll be in a killin’ mood.” That much I understood without translation as Dog slid a finger across his throat.
I shrugged. “You don’t have to come.” I stood, turned, and began trudging off to the south, toward the forest edge where I hoped I could pick up Nag’s tracks by morning. They couldn’t be that far off.
After a hundred yards or so, the brush crackled behind me and the hounds caught up, followed by their master and Raddick.
I turned back. “No, really, you don’t have to.” I was beginning to wonder if this was some subtle play to recapture me. Then I remembered the blow to Doniver’s head. That was no ruse.
Dog whistled the hounds to heel and then stood beside me, pointing at my calves. I froze while the pair of them sniffed my feet and lower legs, and flinched as Dog grasped my wrist and held it out, knuckles forward, to the questing canine noses. Of course, my hands were covered in Nag’s scent, as were my legs.
Dog made a sound almost like a bark itself and pointed ahead. The hounds surged forwards, muzzles to the ground, tails high, weaving through the woods for a trace of scent.
When we emerged from the woods at last, they sounded. Dog silenced them with another yelp then pointed again, this time in the direction indicated by the turf torn up by Nag’s shoes. The questing pair loped away, the rest of us struggling to keep up. The tracks, unfortunately, curled back toward the camp. The beast could not resist the company of the other horses there.
The half-light of dawn was upon us now, and I could see the palisade clearly. The gates were open and a single dog sniffed around outside. My heart dropped into my aching feet. Nag was back in that compound, which to Raddick, Dog, and me was
as safe as a bear trap. Across the tussocky field, a third point of the triangle, was the place we’d left Doniver. There was no way to tell from here whether he still lay in the dirt, had risen on his own, or had been carried away.
“I’ve got to get my horse back,” I hissed at Raddick, hoping somehow this stable-lad no older than I would have some clever plan for doing so. “And my saddlebags.”
“Yer lucky to have yer skin right now,” he hissed right back at me. “There’s no way you can walk in and back out of there with that, never mind the horse.”
Dog made some gestures and clicks, which Raddick seemed to understand.
“We’ll get the horse.” He nodded agreement at Dog. “Doniver doesn’t know who beaned him. Maybe he never will. If anyone has a chance of getting past the other hounds, it’s Dog. Maybe they’ll be too busy still to notice us or stop us.” It sounded as if he was talking himself into it.
If I were an adult, I would never have allowed it. But for all my fierce independence I was still a child of fourteen, used to bowing to the authority of age, at least when uncertain of myself. I was a daughter of nobility, accustomed to having people at my disposal and unused to asking why. It didn’t occur to me that that same deference shouldn’t extend to the ragged and bloodstained travelling singer I appeared to be. It wasn’t till many years later that I fully comprehended why this odd pair decided to align themselves with me, and risk their own necks in doing so. At the time, I accepted their allegiance without question, and without the sense of responsibility that should have gone with it.
Stretched belly-down behind a low hedge of rock and gorse, I was hard pressed not to fall asleep as the morning sun crept up behind me and warmed my back. Despite the worry that gnawed at my gut, my exhaustion from the sleepless, terror-filled night was overriding. I didn’t drift off entirely, just far enough for my mind to make up strange daydreams. When the sound of hoof beats broke my reverie, they were the stampede sounds of a full cavalry charge. In those in-between seconds Teillai—or was it Rheran?—was stormed by a vanguard of ancient Imperial troops aboard grey chargers.
My eyes snapped open to reveal only Nag, and not two, but a dozen hounds coursing beside him. Raddick and Dog clung to his back. I scrambled to my feet as they skidded to stop. Dog flung himself out of the saddle and offered me a leg up behind Raddick. I wasn’t too proud to take it. Dog practically flung me over, and I had barely grasped my arms around Raddick’s waist before he kicked Nag forward.
There was a hue and cry from the encampment, the second that day, and two men emerged, hurtling after us on foot.
“The others’ll be out soon on horses,” Raddick panted, as if in answer to my unvoiced question.
Dog was waving us on, and Raddick turned Nag toward the trees.
It was then I noticed that I was sitting right on the saddle’s skirts, behind the cantle. The pig carcass was gone—good riddance — but so were my saddlebags. “Back!” I screamed at Raddick. “We have to go back!” Whether he heard me or not I never knew, and Nag continued to thunder on.
Allenis never makes any accusation that Lauresa came to him already pregnant. She almost wishes he would, so she could build a lie and use the stories she’s created to defend herself and her cuckoo child. His absolute silence on the matter is unnerving.
Allenis doesn’t share the bedchamber she, Allaigna, and Angeley sleep in. He did, during the first months of their marriage, but after the baby’s birth he returned to his bachelor rooms and study on the eastern side of the keep. When he is at home, that is.
Tonight, though, he steps into Lauresa’s room, softly pulls back the bed curtains and watches as Lauresa finishes nursing the child to sleep.
Lauresa tucks her breast back under her disarranged chemise and pulls the coverlet up to Allaigna’s gently rising chest. She starts slightly as she sees Allenis, and puts an admonitory finger to her lips, warning him not to wake her.
He shakes his head. He’s had this warning many times. He offers her a hand as she rolls off of the bed and oddly does not let go once she’s standing. Puzzled, she follows him as he leads her out of the chamber, wondering what household crisis now needs her attention.
They walk widdershins around the gallery, conversation made impossible by the tumult of evening noise coming from the great hall below.
She has been in his study four, maybe five times in the three years since coming here. Most of their conversations about the castle happen in her study.
There is wine on the sideboard, and a pair of goblets. He pours and hands her one.
“She’s beautiful, our daughter,” he says, as if he’s appraising a mare or a hound. Though perhaps then his voice would be more animated.
He clears his throat, as if to say more, but stops. Lauresa can see colour creep up his throat. With a bolt of realization she discovers his voice is flat, not because he is dispassionate, but because he is nervous, and it melts her heart. She nods, suddenly shy in front of this stranger of a husband. “Nearly as beautiful as her mother.” It’s not what he was going to say originally, she is sure. Now it is her turn to blush.
He holds forth his chair for her and takes the smaller stool himself.
“I have been …” The throat clears again. “Less attentive to you than a husband ought.” She’s glad she’s sitting down as he continues. “I … I confess I didn’t want this marriage. And I suspect you felt the same. And with cause, perhaps still do. Nonetheless, you have fulfilled your duties as chatelaine and mother beyond my expectations. And if your duties as wife have been small … that is my fault, not yours.”
She is both flattered and wrong-footed by this speech, and dreads what will come next. Although the marriage is, in all practical senses, non-existent, she is happy with that. She manages the juggling balls that keep her secrets and her duties in careful balance, and she is afraid he is about to toss her another one. Can she juggle them all without dropping some?
She feels she should speak, say something to prevent that happening. But even that may send them all flying.
He must see the fear in her eyes, and he takes her hand,
“My dear, I’ll not ask for my marriage rights tonight. That would be sudden and … unchivalrous.
“But perhaps, since we had no courtship, nor have I been home long enough to be a proper husband, I thought we should simply start by making closer acquaintance.” He raises his goblet, the question lingering in his hazel eyes. Tentative, terrified, she accepts the invitation and raises her own.
It is the strangest sort of courtship. Allenis is all solicitude and chivalry, which makes Lauresa nervous. Where has his change in disposition toward her come from? She feels as if she is being led into a trap, and thus guards her tongue and feelings more closely than ever. It only seems to make him try that much harder.
He takes meals with her and Allaigna in the small hall, or even in the octagonal room off the guest chamber. He dandles Allaigna on his knee, which fills Lauresa’s heart with terror. The girl, though wary of most other adults at that capricious age of two and a half, takes the attention in stride.
Under the loving eyes of two parents and a grandmothercum-nurse, Allaigna flourishes. It is this, more than the kind attentions, gifts, and sweet words, that opens Lauresa’s heart to Allenis. For the first time they feel like a real family, and it brings back the gentle memories of her own childhood in Rheran. Were it not for the sharp sweet bursts of pain she feels when Allaigna’s small face turns solemn and inscrutable like her true father’s, or when the pupils in her grey eyes shrink to unreadable pinpricks in the pale field of her face, she feels as if she would be entirely happy.
It is a warm, late summer morning when the marriage is reconsummated. Lauresa and Allenis have been taking their breakfasts more and more in the octagonal room, far from the heat and noise of the kitchens. Allaigna, who eats little and unenthusiastically, has already left them for the company of Angeley and her garden of enticing smells, tastes, and textures.
Lauresa is warm already, but still she languors in the heat of the morning sun, never as hot here as it is on Brandishear’s arid shores. Allenis has seated himself on the shaded side of the table as usual. Today they linger longer than normal, and the travelling sun now kisses the tops of his dark brown curls. There are more grey hairs than there were at their wedding, she notes, but in the sunshine they glint like silver.
She finds, to her surprise, a fondness in her heart when she looks at the man she accepted only out of duty three years before. And it is with fondness and gratitude that she stands and reaches a hand toward him, aware of the sun glinting off her own hair and the shoulder exposed by the loose fall of her morning dress. He takes the hand, kisses it.
It is not the whisper dry kiss he bestowed the day they met, or the equally absent ones of their betrothal and wedding ceremonies. Nor is it the rough perfunctory embraces of their marriage bed. It is warm, hesitant, and lingering. He doesn’t let go, but allows her to lead him out of the small bright room into the cooler depth of the guest chamber. The bed there is made in preparation of a visit from the Duke of Therein tomorrow. Lauresa parts the curtains and slips her body backward between them, leading him like a tame bullock. But the hand that reaches through her hair to clasp the back of her head is anything but tame, and the kiss that lands full on her mouth, parting her
lips, is as passionate as any she’s felt. With a shock that sends a shiver through her belly, she realizes she is aroused.
She arches her back to curve into him, appalled by her unreined appetite but unable to resist it. What began as an act of fond kindness on her part has become the satiation of desperate need. He is not Einavar. They are as different as midnight and noon. But the need is satisfied, nonetheless.
After that morning, when they hastily straighten the bedclothes of the guest chamber and put their own clothes in order before going their separate ways for the day, Lauresa finds herself tormented by contradictory feelings. One minute she is languorous and content, relishing the still-warming tingle of intimate touch after so long; the next she is aching with bitter guilt and longing for Einavar. It is absurd: she didn’t feel any guilt when she and Allenis first shared a bed. But she hadn’t enjoyed those early encounters. This time … This time she can hardly wait till the next opportunity to avail herself of her husband’s body. She may long for the cool yet burning touch of Einavar’s fingers, the intoxicating scent of his pale smooth skin, and the enigma hidden behind his silver grey eyes. And yet Allenis is, in his coarse but gentle passion, in the weighty strength and maturity of his body, if not equal to her distant lover, enticingly different, and more importantly, closer.
But Allenis is oddly distant after the fact. He sends his page with regrets to the small dining room at dinner that night, and Lauresa doesn’t see him at breakfast either. When they are both in attendance at the arrival of the Duke of Therein and his retinue, Allenis barely glances at her. It is as if these last weeks of their relationship have evaporated like the morning mist.
By evening it has aroused her ire. No one treats a princess of Brandishear, even a former one, like a cast-off plaything.
When Allaigna is in bed, and the guests have retired, she strides to Allenis’s study and enters without knocking.
He looks up from the pile of parchments scattered on the desk, startled then … what? Guilty? Annoyed?
“Husband,” she says, without waiting for him to speak. “Have I offended you?”
He blinks, a mix of emotions rippling through his reddening face as he stands.
His stammer as he replies annoys her further. You are the Duke of Teillai, she thinks with scorn, not some bumbling country oaf, some unwashed boy. Speak with authority whatever truth or lie you have for me. But as that thought flashes by she sees some genuine pain cross his face. It doesn’t matter the cause, it is enough to soften her mother’s heart, if not her newly reborn lover’s one.
“My … my dear wife. What—what possible offense can you have caused me?”
She is struck by how dangerous their questions are. Her daughter, the thing most precious in the world to her, is, by her mere existence, cause for offense.
Lauresa’s own tongue trips in the country manner she’s just scorned her spouse for.
“I … I.” She grits her teeth, irritated beyond belief at her inability to voice her complaint, realizing she cannot do it without seeming a lovelorn supplicant or a whining cupboard wife. She can’t even turn on her heel and flee the awkward and dangerous question without appearing a petulant child. There is no choice but to bare some part of herself. She takes a deep breath.
“Your affections, husband,” she says softly, demurely even— anything but strident, she hopes — “seem to ebb and flow like the tide. What heavenly body exerts such pull on them, I wonder?”
He blinks, blushes. Blushes, even! “My lady.” He steps from behind the desk, takes both her hands in warm square-fingered ones, but cannot seem to look her in the eyes. “Please … forgive my inattention. Other affairs … matters of state … weigh heavily on me. I meant you no insult.”
She extricates one hand and with it gently lifts his chin as if he were a shame-faced child.
“My name is Lauresa, husband. I would that you called me by it.”
She leans forward — they are nearly of a height — and plants a delicate kiss upon his lips before pulling away.
“My chamber door is open, for whenever you need to set such weight aside for a time.”
She turns to leave, hears him release his breath in half sigh, half groan. She smiles to herself, knowing it will not be long.
Thus the happiest era of her marriage begins, and when her next child is conceived she can truly say he was born, if not of desperate passion, at least of comfortable accord between his parents.
It is a far easier pregnancy than her first. Her mother’s body knows this road now, and perhaps, she admits to herself, the absence of Ilvani blood within the child’s veins makes it easier as well. Her mother claims half-blood pregnancies are often more difficult, and now she is willing to attest to it personally.
Spring burgeons around her: calves in the meadows, the lower yard littered with downy morsels of infant fowl, spring grass
and flowers dressing the dull grey stone and winter-tired fields of Teillai. She is burgeoning herself. Her hair, always thick and golden, is too dense and curly to draw a brush through. She gives up trying to tame it and wears it loose down her back like a maiden’s. Her skin is pink and fresh, her belly and breasts round like melons. Allenis finds her so attractive he can barely keep his touch from her; even at state occasions his hand will steal to her belly or to the soft nape of her neck beneath its curtain of pink-gold hair.
Her gravid beauty does not go unnoticed by others, either. The local lords, young and old, pay her court as they never have before. She accepts their gifts and compliments with demure smiles, her hand resting comfortably in her husband’s warm grip. She is secure, loved, admired — she could ask for no more.
The spring air is glorious, full of the scents of moist earth, new grass, and blossoms. The sun warms her back; the breeze off the fish pond cools her front. The temperature is ideal, the air clean and fresh, and yet she can hardly breathe. She is gasping; stifled, frozen to the core; burning with indignation, humility, and pain she must not let show.
Allaigna is trotting towards her, something cupped in her tiny hands. At three and a half she has lost so much of the pudginess of babyhood, Lauresa realizes. It is an ache within her, beneath the other, sharper pain she’s feeling. Her
baby is a baby no longer, and will soon be usurped by another. Lauresa rubs a hand across her belly, pushing back at the insistent kicks, trying hard not to resent the life within her. I cannot, will not, love it as much as I love her, she insists to herself. Allaigna has reached her knee, the worried crease between her dark brows breaking Lauresa’s heart once more. A pale blue egg lies cupped in her daughter’s tiny hands. “Look what I found, Mama.” Lauresa nestles her own hands around Allaigna’s. “Where was it, love?” “Under the plum tree.” Allaigna looks back over her shoulder at the blossoming plum. She turns back to face her mother, her grey eyes clouded with worry.
“Angeley says eggs that fall out of their nests don’t hatch. That … that the mama birds push them out …” Lauresa interrupts the worried tumble of words. “Let me see.” She takes the fragile blue orb into her own hands. It is warm, perhaps from the heat of Allaigna’s hands, perhaps from the sun. Or maybe it hasn’t been on the ground that long. “Show me where you found it.” Standing on the spot Allaigna points out, she can just see a nest between the pink and white flowers. “If I put you on my shoulders, do you think you can reach it?” They try, but Allaigna’s arms are not quite long enough. The little girl is in tears. Well, thinks Lauresa, feeling the weight of her seven-month belly, I hope the branches will hold me. “What is this?” The voice booms up at her just as she is reaching toward the nest. She gives a jerk, nearly dropping the egg.
The mother bird, who has been screeching at her from the neighbouring tree, falls silent.
Lauresa holds her breath, stretching her arm out as far as it will go, feeling the branch creak and groan beneath, then lets the egg fall the few inches into the nest. There is no sound. She has no way to tell if it’s the right nest, if the egg is still alive, or if the mother bird will push it out again, but she’s done the best she can.
She inches back down the branch as, from below, Allaigna babbles at her father.
“Mama saved the baby bird, ’cuz it felled from the nest, and its mama couldn’t get it back, ’n’ I couldn’t reach it so Mama climbed the tree, so the baby will be born now.”
Strong arms reach up and lift Lauresa down from the lower branches, as if she weighed no more than an egg herself, and was just as fragile.
Allenis is frowning. “My dear, is this wise, in your state? What of the child?”
Lauresa’s glance falls on the excited, radiant face of her child—the only child she’ll ever love—and the tears she has held back all morning burst free. She breaks out of her husband’s arms and crouches, wrapping Allaigna to herself, as if to bring her back within her body once more.
Perplexed, Allaigna wipes at the tears with inefficient starfish fingers. “Don’t cry, Mama. The baby’s home now. Its mama will look after it now.”
The serious solace coming from this three-year-old throat is almost enough to make Lauresa laugh. Or it would be if the hurt wasn’t blocking the way.
Hiccoughing, she wipes her nose on her shoulder and sends
Allaigna off to play with the new litter of puppies in the kennel, though letting her out of her arms seems the hardest thing she’s ever done.
Her husband’s hand is on her shoulder, his voice soft and apologetic. “My dear, I didn’t mean to chastise you.” She shakes her head, wipes her nose again, and forces a smile. “You’re quite right, husband. I’m in no shape to be climbing so high.”
In that moment she is resolved. She will make no accusation, nor admit to her discovery.
Her knowledge of the letters, hidden so carefully beneath the floorboard of Andreg’s study, will remain her secret.
They date from long before their marriage, it is true, and she would have no quarrel with them if the correspondence had stopped then. From the rough, untutored hand it is clear the author is of lower birth—no doubt an unsuitable match for the Duke of Teillai. And it is clear the relationship is old and well established. There are references to a son as well, though it is unclear from the context whether that child is Andreg’s or another’s. Lauresa supposes she could piece that together with a careful study of the missives, but that is too painful a task, at least for now.
It is also clear that her husband’s absences over the past four years have not entirely been spent on the campaign borders or at the capitol. The more she thinks on it, the more resentment grows in her heart. It is true she brought another man’s child to the birthing bed, but she has been faithful since the wedding vows were spoken. Her husband, it seems, has not been so restrained.
Anger bubbles up, and she is tempted once more to throw this in his face, along with whatever other objects may come to her raging hand. But she won’t. Her pride will not allow her to admit out loud she has been made into a fool. And more, beneath that pride, is caution.
For if accusations of infidelity start flying through the air, that dreaded accusation, the one that could endanger her daughter, may also spread its ugly wings.
So for now, perhaps forever, she will contain her pride, her outrage, her hurt. Even if it means never admitting that she had come to love her husband.