Chapter Fifty Nine
Rose was scared but also eager. A new name. She could only hope that a new name meant she’d never be beaten or go hungry again. Never worked in the fields or raped at will.
Seconds ticked by and no one spoke. Fear pulsed in the room, and she picked up its rhythm without joining in. If the Outer Guards had been nervous, the Inner Guards were terrified, yet they remained in place, hard muscled men, two flanking each side of the throne. They wore no circlets but had armbands. Their heads were shaved and shiny with perspiration.
Finally, she’d curtsied as well as the babe would allow.
“Is the child male?”
“Is he deformed in any way?”
“Is he in health?”
She wanted to scream that of course he was healthy because he rooted like a pig, but only said, “Yes.”
Even so, just thinking of the babe at her breast gave her voice an edge, and in the large hall, the slight edge magnified. He smiled. Just a bit. Ah, the anger.
Rose knew he knew the answers, but now she knew it pleased him to ask.
“Are you in health?”
It was an odd question and had it come from anyone else, it would have implied concern. Rose knew better. Her instincts had always been good, but after the child’s birth, they’d sharpened. Suddenly, she knew why he was asking: there was something he wanted her to do, and she must be fit to do it.
“I am in health.” Again her damnable temper rose and for the first time, she felt a pleasant sensation flood her body. It was emanating from him. Her anger pleased him. Her cheeks reddened and she looked down.
“I will give you a new name.” The statement he’d made at the Hungry Rocks. Now she knew what he meant. It had never been about her body. Only what she carried within.
“I give you this child.”
He rose from the throne and as he did, all four guards fell prostrate. She didn’t bow, but backed up as he walked down the steps of the throne, motioning for her to follow. That she hadn’t given obeisance seemed to be of no concern. The Tu’el was in a hurry.
She followed him down a hall, then turned down another, only to enter a small room before a steel door that took up most of the wall. She’d lost all sense of direction and knew she’d die if she tried to run. The stones were hot under her feet and she didn’t know why.
A wolf’s head knocker was on the door, and with his gauntlet, enforced by metal bands over each finger, the Tuel lifted the knocker, striking steel against steel. The door swung open, and Rose was met with a blast of heat so great that she staggered back, gasping for air. The baby was crying, but the cries were drowned by flame.
The roaring of fire came from the belly of a giant statue.
The statue was unlike anything she’d ever seen and the heat emanating from it was such that she wondered if all of them would die. Through narrowed, watering eyes, she stared at the belly. How did it burn? There was no fuel inside; no stacks of wood or bins of coals. Nor was there any odor of flesh. She’d seen men and women burned alive and remembered the smell, but none was present.
She also sensed a ravenous hunger.
As well as temptation. The fire called to her, promising to burn her clean.
The Tu’el seemed to know what she was thinking and barked out what must have been a warning because the overwhelming temptation eased.
The fire song wasn’t hers.