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Untitled, Chapter 1

Why must these things always happen in the middle of the night? If force of will could hurry the gods about their business, it would have been done hours before. We might all have slept, instead of hanging about in dark rooms, wondering what in the D'jahite hells is happening. Garald berated himself for his uncharitable thoughts, but kept thinking them, winced as another groan penetrated the walls. Was it his imagination, or were they coming more quickly than before, at last? He heard soft voices, indistinctly encouraging. Poor tiny thing. And early to boot. Where in the hells is Ylvar? The message should have reached him hours ago.
    The duke continued to fret as time crawled along with no word, one hand constantly smoothing his blond mustache. For lack of any better object, his gaze rested upon the figure of the priest across the room. Patrin Kiess watched the fire as if reading some message from his god there, as if the room was not horribly warm and stuffy, as if he had not occupied that same chair for nearly a full day. Garald, lacking the old priest's ophidian patience, shifted restlessly; the chair creaked softly beneath his heavy frame.
    The king ought to have been there hours ago. It would be an ill omen if he missed the birth. Garald tried to convince himself that the roads were perfectly safe, that there had been no accident, no ill-timed ambush, that there was some reasonable delay, but minutes wore slowly into another hour and still, no news. Silk hissed as Kiess moved slightly.
    "Thoughts, Your Eminence?" Anything to break the silence, he decided at last. Silence? He listened for a moment, heard nothing but the crackle of the low fire. Had it ended, then, or was this merely another unfathomable pause?
    "An ill night, Your Grace," the Patrin replied, his voice like rich velvet, never moving his gaze from the flames which turned his white hair to a hellish halo. "Nothing good will come of this reliance upon witchery."
    As the Sisters no doubt resent your presence. The Church could thunder all it like about demons. To deny the healing priestesses access to the queen would have been the height of folly. He heard voices from the inner room, but none of the heart-rending moans of the evening, and felt his heart quicken.
    Garald was on his feet before the sound of footsteps had even properly registered in his hearing, and then the outer door was flung open with such haste that it crashed back upon its hinges noisily.
    "Well?" Ylvar demanded, a ring-laden hand raking damp black hair from his eyes, road-dust still sifting from his clothes.
    "You are in time," Garald reassured him, a relieved grin lighting his broad features. "Although not by much."
    No sooner had he finished speaking than the inner door opened, revealing a tall woman in the simple dark green dress the law required of her order, her long dark hair held back in a smooth tail, her eyes depthless pools in the dim light.
    "Your Majesty. My lords." She inclined her head slightly, a regal gesture. "Child and mother live, by Moira's grace. Your house has been gifted with a son. You may see them if you wish, but for a few moments only. Her Majesty is very much in need of rest. She should have quiet until tomorrow nightfall at the least."
    "She will attend dawn ka'im," Kiess said in quiet contradiction.
    "She will do nothing of the sort," the woman responded sharply. "She will rest."
    "After a birth, the soul of woman must needs be cleansed."
    The priestess turned to him with a faint, cold smile. "She rests in the arms of her mother today. She will recover there without the assistance of your stone god."
    "Blasphemy." The word was almost a hiss. "This is what comes of allowing serpents to slither openly through the Palace, in whatever harmless guise."
    "You would know the ways of serpents better—"
    "That is enough," Ylvar interrupted, mildly enough for a man of his temper, but frowning. "You have our thanks, Sister, for your services. Which are no longer required. Nestrim is outside, he will see to your... needs. You may leave us now." Discomfort was plain in the way he avoided her gaze; her chin lifted sharply at the command, but she gave no argument, only returned to the inner room. A few moments later she reappeared with a younger woman—a girl, in fact—in tow, the implements of their work carefully packed away. The king brushed past them, eager to see his wife and their new child. Kiess stared into the flames once more, his expression smug and furious.

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