Outer Flower, 19

Change of Plans

“But such a child is a gift from the Elyon!” Mirella gasped. “Even Elymas would not dare to interfere.”

“Elymas has been killing his replacements for nearly three hundred years.” Nan Mara’s voice was hollow. “I’ve seen them in dreams from which I could not wake. Sweet faces of angels frozen in death.” She paused to look at the Queen. “Laveth, if I’m not to take the child to High North, then who–” Nan Mara stopped in mid sentence, looking as though she wished to bite her tongue.

Laveth began to rock the boy in her arms, gripping him tightly. The baby woke and cried out at the close embrace, but Laveth did not relax her hold. “Perhaps this is for the best,” said Laveth. “All that we’ve worked so hard to keep hidden will be revealed. Now that he’s going to the Shautu, that won’t be a problem.”

“Laveth . . .” began Nan Mara.

The Queen ignored her. Holding her baby just inches from her face, she began to talk softly.

“You must go to the Shautu,” she said. “You must go to the Shautu so you can live. Your mother is sending you away because she loves you,” Her voice broke, but she pressed on. “Yes, you will go, but not with Oren.”

“Laveth,” the old nurse rose. “I’m talking to you.”

“Oren may have the strongest right arm in the world, but it’s not strong enough to hold my son. Only the heavens can. The heavens and the one I send.”

“Laveth, if you mean to–“

“Do not interrupt me now, Mara.” Laveth gave the nurse a look that was startling. Then she turned to Mirella, still sitting on the bed. All maternal softness was gone from the Queen’s face; in its place was determination, compelling and hard. “Mirella, I’m asking you to carry the prince to the Shautu in High North.”

“No!” shouted Nan Mara. “Laveth, you cannot give the child to–“

“You know the way, Mirella, you said so yourself. And you are young. I can arrange this, if you will say yes.”

Mirella kept her back to Nan Mara. She could feel the old nurse behind her, furious as a mountain cat, waiting to pounce. “My Queen, I am yours to command.” There, she’d said it. Behind her back, Nan Mara gave a hiss.

“It is not an impossible thing?” asked Laveth.

“Impossible, no. Difficult, yes,” Mirella answered truthfully. “The child is young for such a journey and used to tender care. But I know the way, and the snows have not yet come.”

“Then it is settled. You will take my son.” She handed the baby to Mirella and then went to Nan Mara, who slumped in the shadows. The old nurse was openly sobbing now, her mettle vanished. Mirella knew her anger would return, doubtless ten fold, but for the moment she was just an old woman filled with sorrow. Laveth wrapped her arms about Nan Mara protectively. “It is a night for tears,” the Queen repeated, “All around.”

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