“Forgive me, Nan Maura,” the Queen turned from the window. “I know what must be done.”
Nan Maura shrugged. “Who knows? I only see one way but perhaps there are others. Perhaps it could be as you said. Take the child to the King, and expose him before the Skylls and Ondred. See what they think.”
“The King is weakened by the Earth Skyll’s poison. I can’t be sure what William will say or do.”
“Then you have have no choice,” said Nan Maura softly. “Or only one.”
“My life will never be the same.”
“No,” agreed the nurse.
“Someday my son will come back to reclaim his throne, and I won’t recognize him. Nor will he know me.”
“He’ll have the limp,” said Nan Maura softly. “You’ll know him by that.”
“Ah, yes, the limp,” Laveth spat the word, closing the shutter with a bang. “There’s always that; even so, no use railing about what I can’t change. I’ll speak to the King of your leaving tonight, before he takes Elymas’ drink. William will give his consent, I’m sure, and in two days hence you begin for Glynnis Fen.”
The Queen sank to the floor and laid her head on the knee of her old nurse.
“Arek is not the only one I’ll miss.”
Nan Maura began to trace the braids woven about the gold circlet, the blue veined temples, the brows. Laveth was a pretty woman, but this ordeal had aged her. Nan Maura rubbed at a new line on her forehead, wishing with all her heart that her anguished expression was a mask she could pull off.
“You’re my child the same as the boy is yours”
“Tell me again what to say to the King.”
Nan Maura began in a soft voice that once told stories and sang songs to the Queen resting at her feet. “Tell him Nan Maura is old and wishes to die by her own fire. He’ll understand death. I’ll require only a few belonging and the deaf mute from the stable, Trent, who came with me and knows the way.”
“And the basket?”
“The basket will be secure, safe for a slumbering prince.”
“The sleeping tonic . . “Laveth raised her head. “Don’t give him too much.”
“Have no fear.”
“If we are caught?”
“I will be caught,” said the nurse, firmly.
Laveth nodded. “And the new prince?”
“He’ll be sleeping in the royal crib, consoled by the same tonic. He’s a fair, bonny boy, a match for your own. Laveth, the two boys could be twins.”
“I won’t be able to touch him.”
“These things can’t be helped. I’ll see to another nurse.”
The knock at the door was sharp, followed by a hammer-like series of blows. Laveth jumped to her feet, smoothing her skirt, untangling the rope of pearls.
“Calm yourself,” said Nan Maura. “We’ve done nothing yet.”
“Enter,” called Laveth, but the door opened even as she gave permission.
Mirella stood in the door. Not only was her appearance disheveled, but she wore the haunted expression of someone who’s seen something they wish to forget.
“Shut the door,” hissed the Queen.