“She will come,” muttered the Queen. “Mirella will be here, you’ll see.”
Nan Maura snorted. “Aye, but trailing behind her will be Elymas and his Sacred Servants. We will, along with the babe, be hauled before the King.”
“Stop talking nonsense. William is my husband, and the boy is his son. We’re not about to be thrown in the dungeons.” Absently, she twisted the pearls into a knot. “Something is wrong, but not betrayal. I trust Mirella.”
“I trust no one.” Nan Maura’s response was quick. “But let us waste no more time squabbling about trust when the truth is plain. Laveth, if all comes out well after tonight, you must follow the plan. The other boy is here, and we must not delay.”
“I can’t bear to send him away,” the Queen spoke, pain written across her face.
“How can you not?” countered Nan Maura. “Arek Augustus has already been marked as successor to Elymas. This child, this Earth Skyll, must live.”
“Nan, I’ve been thinking,” If Laveth tugged any harder, the strand of pearls would break. “the situation can’t be what it seems. Arek is destined to the High King. He can’t be the Earth Skyll as well!”
The nurse slowly shook her head. This was old ground, ground covered many times before. But now that Laveth had started, she couldn’t be stopped. “Consider. His foot didn’t thicken until after he was born. That means my son is only a cripple and will only be King.”
“It makes no difference when the foot turned. He is as he is, and his star has been seen.”
“Elymas called it swamp fire.”
“But it’s true that he can’t hold both positions! The Earth Skyll must tend the garden; the King must rule. I’ll confess to William and he’ll declare his son as King, only as King. Then Elymas will be secure in his position, and we have no threat — nor will we be one.”
“He’ll walk the kingly path dragging a heavy foot.” Maura’s face was flushed, her cheeks the color of plums. “The position of the Earth Skyll is not lightly refused. His deformity is a gift from the Elyon.”
“Than I give back it back,” Laveth spat. “When I carried him in my womb, I asked for nothing from the Elyon. I asked for nothing now, save to be left alone. This gift is too much to bear.”
“Which of us, having been touched by the God-hand, can bear it? Which of us doesn’t cry out for relief?” Nan Maura’s voice was a lash. “I desired a child of my own but it was denied me. My husband died young and I became a seeress instead. A seeress does not bear fruit. Then, the path branched and I was led to the unwashed, tow-headed niece of Lord Stenton, left motherless and running between the hounds and the stables. Your childhood was the happiest time of my life. I heard no voices, felt no stirrings, saw no visions in the night. Then, the Warrior King spied you in the forest and brought you here as his wife. Since coming to Castle Ursaulis, I’ve seen the death of every Earth Child for the past three hundred years in my dreams. Some were smothered, others strangled, a few dropped down wells. Elymas was behind it, and he will do the same to your son. It makes no difference if Arek is the King’s get.” Nan Maura went back to her sewing and sat down in the chair. “There. I’ve said enough and I’ll say no more. I think it’s time I returned to Glynnis Fen. I don’t like city life nor do I like the hate in your eyes.”
The Queen flung out the shutters and stared into the night. The sky was the color of dark smoke streaked with violet. Soon the moon would begin to shine, illuminating the town. Everything would be beautiful, as if covered with snow. Laveth checked the sobs that threatened to break her, and straightened her spine. Nan Maura was right. Her enemy was merciless, and she must be merciless as well. She must banish her son. Afterwards, grief would take her, but she could slip past sorrow until the deed was done.