She pointed to the baby’s thickened sole.
“For pity’s sake, the draft will wake him,” Laveth replaced the covers, trying to force Nan Maura aside. 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 he’s found. And now there is the matter of the Shivelite girl!”
“Are you forgetting I told Mirella myself? I didn’t make a mistake by 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. She’s been dressed to attend the feast hours ago.
Laveth thought of the young girl whose continuing absence filled her with dread. Mirella, the slender girl-child from the Shivelite clan, sent by her father Tallis Taylor, to occupy a place in the Queen’s court. Or so they’d assumed when she presented the sealed missive.
Mirella had stood before the throne in a dress washed free of color, looking out of place yet strangely self possessed. I have felt that way, thought Laveth, and reaching over, had taken the petition from the King’s shaking hand.
She knew he despised dealing with women’s affairs: broken betrothals, insufficient dowries, children who needed to be claimed. Such matters were never settled, he’d once told her, and so William hadn’t minded when she’d taken the letter from him.
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 is a proud streak, thought Laveth — and nodded yes.
“What’s your name?”
“Mirella, daughter of Tallis Taylor and the late Norelle. My mother caught the plague, but my father is First Man at the Shivelite Camp.”
Laveth crumpled the note between the folds of her gown and regarded her. Mirella was barely into womanhood, the breasts showing beneath the threadbare gown hard and new, her manner guileless. She was trying not to gawk at the rich tapestries along the wall or the sunlight shimmering through leaded glass, even as her future was being weighed.
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 knelt 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. Laveth had grown up in the wilds of Glynnis Fen, and could spot a witch a mile away. Where she came from, every grandmother had the ability to cure warts and sour milk. No, there was no meddlesome spirit about her, just strength and an untapped intelligence. Perhaps she was only fey.
The Queen pushed the note deeper into the folds of her gown.
“There is a vacant bed in the upper chamber alongside Lady Bresca. This one can earn her keep by helping Nan Maura with the babe.”
“Thank you, Mi’Lady.” Mirella’s nose had touched the ground.
Laveth hadn’t had doubts until now.