On an impulse, Garald followed the women into the hall, caught at the elder priestess' sleeve. She moved quickly in removing herself from his grip, but the hostility in her stance faded as she identified him.
"I only wished to add my thanks to His Majesty's, and to apologize on his behalf. You have done the realm a great service today, and deserve better than I fear you will receive for payment." The hall was chill, deserted, dark but for a taper burning in its sconce several yards away. He could barely make out her face, but knew that she could see him clearly. The girl waited silently, self-effacing; there was no sign of the servant the king had mentioned, and it looked as if the courtiers who had hovered in flocks earlier had at last gone off to their beds.
"We request no payment, as you know," she replied, mistaking his meaningintentionally, he suspected, hearing what he thought might be a note of warning in her voice. "Nevertheless, thank you for your kindness. I hear nothing but good from our sisters in Khirinas."
"Will she truly be all right?" Memory of the queen's thin white face haunted him. She had been so frail these past few months, the entire Palace on tiptoes to avoid giving her worry.
"If she is allowed to recover her strength slowly, yes. Your concern does you credit," she added, a bit more warmly. "And the Lady Brenna was most helpful to us."
"She's a capable woman," he replied, smiling, suddenly feeling his weariness. "Thank you, again. Wait," as she turned to go. "You name?"
"Talir. My assistant is Sara." The girl bowed deeply. "Vasael haei," she said then, the blessing of his own god. They moved off into the darkness and vanished.
Garald returned to Kiess' glare, no doubt having sacrificed something in the eyes of that miserable fanatic. He ignored the old man and crossed to the inner door. His wife met him there, with a quick motion for quiet; her own body was just beginning to show the child she carried, and her glance was conspiratorial as she led him to the queen's bedside.
"Look," Ylvar said softly, his gaze unaccustomedly tender upon the infant in his arms, cradled by his muscular bulk. "He's so small."
"Shh," Brenna warned. "She sleeps." Dwarfed by the bed, the queen looked like a child herself, faded and pale amid the dark blue hangings.
"Two sons my fine flower has given me. His eyes are blue like hers."
"Most babies have blue eyes," Brenna told him, a smile appearing on her round face nonetheless at his evident happiness. Garald mumbled something vague and appropriate. His own father had died years before on a raid to the north; if it lived, his child and Brenna's would be heir to great power. Such great hopes rested upon such tiny, fragile lives, so much was left to chance. This infant would, gods willing, never bear the weight his elder brother did.
"Mikal will be pleased to have a brother, I think. The naming must be arranged, I had forgotten, so early...." He half-turned to call for his priest, then recalled the slumbering woman and gently handed the babe over to Brenna before exiting.
"You have the strength of the very mountains," Garald told his duchess sincerely as she cooed down at the infant, which had the confused, unhappy look of those newly in the world, not quite ready to cry.
"I was about to say that of you," she murmured, glancing up at him, still smiling with a hint of mischief in it. "How long has the old vulture been out there?"
"Since this morning. Hasn't stirred an inch since then, not even to relieve himself. Damned old lizard."
Brenna stifled a laugh, glanced down once more as the queen stirred slightly and cornflower eyes fluttered open.
"How are you feeling, love?" Brenna asked her, smiling gently. Sarren returned it, although wrinkles of discomfort crossed her usually smooth forehead.
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Except where otherwise noted, all material on this site is © 1999 Rebecca J. Stevenson