Chapter Fifty Eight
When the babe had come, a healthy boy with black eyes and jet hair like her own, she’d gone to the Tu’el after the prescribed eight days and stood before the double doors, imploring the guards for admittance. Finally, she’d hissed a threat and the one on the right had gone without giving answer and Rose had stood, staring straight ahead, heart pounding, wondering if this was a fool’s errand and she was to be killed.
While she waited the baby began to nuzzle at her breast, and she’d clamped her hand about his throat. Not enough to kill, but enough to stop sound. To say she hated her son was an understatement. Every time she looked at him, she saw traces of three men. The ruddy-faced encourager whose obscenity- laced voice had urged them on, the swarthy man who’d held a knife to her throat, enjoying her fear as much as his thrusting, and the one with blood crusted hands who touched her everywhere. She saw their faces and hers mixed together in the tiny face and wanted to throw the babe against the wall.
Margie, the head cook who’d served as mid-wife, was the one who’d usually stopped her. Once the char woman. Once she’d stopped herself.
Margie said she’d had an easy delivery and not to complain, and not to balk at the nursing, either. The Tu’el required a live babe and alive he’d be. Rose tried to allow him to root and suckle, but it had been too much and finally they’d roped her to the bed. She’d been given a vicious slap — That’s a language she can understand — and so had stopped her screaming.
The child had been put to her breast, and she’d been put through a tirade from Margie. There was work to be done in the kitchen, and not a one among them hadn’t been raped as well. That was a given for a woman in the Nevers, but torture wasn’t, and if the babe died, they’d be slaughtered in ways she’d never understand.
“Even if you don’t want to live, we do,” The kitchen maid, a timid girl made bold by thought of being eviserated and hung unside down had shoved the babe against her breast and held him there. Rose endured seven days of motherhood. It seemed he was always hungry and she always turned her face to the wall, but on the evening of the seventh day, they’d untied her.
“You’re right in the head, just angry, and you know what to do. Feed him now, in the morning, and then go.”
That evening, she’d held him while he guzzled and pulled, reminding her of a hungry rat. Somehow she’d managed to feed him this morning, the longest he’d been allowed at her breast because she didn’t want him to cry when she presented him to the Tuel.
After that, her nerves were dead, and she’d walked to the Great Doors only to be ignored until she’d hissed, “Tell the Tu’el that the woman with the child is here. At his request.”
The guard on the right had moved quickly after that, one hand trembling. As for Rose, all that was holding her together was the the promise, I’ll give you a new name.
Would he remember?
The babe had snuggled against her as the Great Doors opened and, even then, it had taken every ounce of her self-control not to dash his head against the stone floor. What did the brat want now? He must smell her milk. Her breasts were bound now, but she could feel the wetness against the cloth. When she walked, she felt drops roll down her stomach.
She must get free of this.
A new name.
The Tu’el, who’d been a huge presence seated atop his Destry, was equally intimidating on his throne. He wasn’t wearing a visor but a circlet of silver that had been worked in a series of wolf heads. Later, try as she might, she could never remember his exact features. Only the feel of his eyes.
Wolf eyes, staring down.
A smile that could devour.
In reflex only, she clutched the boy against her breast.
He noted her movement, but misread it. “You’ve come this far,” he said, not without sympathy. “The rest will be quick.”