Outer Flower, 14

And More Fears

Quickly, Laveth replaced the cover, then forced Nan Mara aside as she pulled the linens about the bed. “For pity’s sake, Nan, leave him be. The draft will wake him.”

The old nurse, however, was not to be put off.

“Laveth, his star has already appeared in the heavens. It’s only a matter of time before we are found out. Not only that, but there is the matter of the Shivelite girl.”

“Are you forgetting I told Mirella myself? I didn’t make a mistake in trusting her. I know I didn’t.” But even as she spoke, Laveth’s hands plucked nervously at the rope of pearls about her neck.

For the dozenth time that hour, Laveth thought of the auburn haired girl whose continuing absence filled her with such apprehension. Mirella, the slender child from the Shivelite community, sent by her father, Tallis Taylor, to occupy a place in the Queen’s court.

Or so they’d assumed.

Mirella had stood before the throne in a dress washed free of color and offered up a sealed missive with both hands, looked out of place yet strangely self possessed. I have felt like that, though Laveth, sustained by my last dignified thread. She’d reached over and taken the petition from her husband’s trembling hands.

William hadn’t minded. By now, she knew he despised dealing with women’s affairs: broken betrothals, unreturned dowries, unacknowledged children who needed to be claimed. Such matters are never settled, he’d once told her when his face was marked only with laugh lines, the same scenario would always play out between women and men.

Laveth broke open the seal and found a message both brief and startling. She is a witch, sprawled a bold masculine hand. Burn her.

“Your father wrote this?” Laveth asked.

The girl met her eyes — there was a proud streak in her– and nodded yes.

“What is your name?”

“Mirella, daughter of Tallis Taylor . . . and Norelle. My mother is dead, but my father is First Man at the Shivelite Camp.”

“I see.”

Laveth crumpled the note between the folds of her gown and regarded her. Mirella was hardly more than a child, the breasts showing beneath the threadbare fabric hard and new, her manner guileless. She was trying hard not to gawk at the tapestries along the wall or the sunlight diffusing against the leaded glass, even as her future was being decided.

There, simplicity ended. As William began to address her, Laveth watched, rather than heard her response. Something was different about the girl, the Queen decided, some elusive quality that couldn’t be named. It stood her in good stead as she petitioned before the throne, refusing to be swallowed up by the Great Throne Room or embarrassed by her threadbare attire.

Whatever the quality, it wasn’t evil. Having grown up in Glynnis Fen, a region widely known for divers magicks, Laveth could spot a witch a mile away. Where she came from, every third grandmother had the ability to cure warts, inspire love, or sour milk. She sensed no meddlesome spirts about the girl, just strength, personality or intelligence yet untapped.

Perhaps she was only fey.

William had finished questioning her; he was familiar with the Shivelite region, having named the area Far Oaks in his youth, and at the reference, the girl had deferentially bowed her head. As Laveth had taken the note, they all seemed to be waiting for a reaction from her, so Laveth leaned over and whispered to her husband of a vacant bed in the upper bedchamber alongside Lady Bresca. This one could earn her keep by helloing Nan Mara with the newly born babe.

Laveth had never regretted her decision — until now.

“She will come,” muttered the Queen. “Mirella will be here, you’ll see.”

Nan Mara snorted. “Aye, but trailing behind her will be Elymas and his murderous Sacred Servants. We will, along with the babe, be hauled before the King as traitors.”

“For the love of the tree, Nan, stop talking nonsense. William is my husband and the child is his son. We are not about to be arrested.” Absently, she twisted the pearls into a knot. “Something may be wrong. No, something is wrong, but not betrayal. I trust Mirella.”

“I trust no one,” snorted Nan.

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