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“I…I said I’m pregnant,” Adewyn repeated.
“Huh,” I said, “How about that.”
“Is that all you have to say?” Adewyn said dangerously.
“Oh gods Adewyn, relax,” Raisa said. It sounded to me like she was having trouble containing her laughter. The brat.
“Don’t you tell me to relax, I’m pregnant with his fucking child and he says ‘Huh, how about that,’” Adewyn said. Her impression of me was not flattering. Raisa guffawed.
“Sir, uh…oh. Oh my,” Kyrza had, naturally, walked right in my tent before she started speaking to me. I guess she didn’t expect me to be there in the nude with both of my sisters.
“Yes?” I said, grateful for her distraction, unsure how to react to Adewyn’s news.
“Uh, well, um. Someone is here to, uh, see you. Sir.” Kyrza was letting her eyes wander over me most impudently.
“Why are you making me wait? I can hear him perfectly well from out here,” an imperious voice said from outside. I recognized it immediately, of course. “I’m coming in,” she said, “it isn’t like I’ve never seen him naked before…oh. Oh my,”
For once, she had nothing more to say, also impudently staring at all three of us. I sighed.
* * *
After mother and Kyrza left, we all three got dressed, mostly in silence. Adewyn was trying to glare at me but mostly she just looked afraid. Raisa was just looking very unsure, like a nervous little girl.
“Good,” I said, “I want this.”
“What?” Adewyn said.
“I want our child. I desperately want it. I want to be a father with you. I love you.”
“Better late than never, I suppose,” Adewyn said, but she was smiling. I kissed her, quickly but tenderly.
“Of course this means no more front-line command for you,”
“What?” she said, but I ignored her on purpose this time. I didn’t have time for that argument.
“Raisa, what’s wrong?” I asked. Her eyes darted to me, nervously.
“She saw us. You and me. She knows.”
“Well, yes.” I said, confused.
“She doesn’t like me. She never wanted me to marry you,” Raisa whispered.
“Really?” I said, surprised. I’d never seen or heard anything like that, and mother was never shy about telling me her opinions of others. “Why do you say that?”
“Um, its hard to explain. She’s just always been really critical of everything I did. Always correcting and comparing me to Merwyd or Adewyn,” Raisa said, ruefully. Adewyn looked surprised to be a positive role model.
“That does sound like her,” I said, sighing, “but it doesn’t mean she dislikes you. It means that she accepted that you would be my wife, and was trying to help you ‘improve yourself’. I love her but she can be trying and overly critical, even of herself. And besides, it doesn’t matter what she thinks, you’ll be First Wife, just as she is. She’ll be powerless to stop you from enacting your will and you’ll belong only to me, forever. I wouldn’t be able to leave you if I wanted to. Which I won’t.”
Raisa looked thoughtful. I was lacing up my shirt as I said that last bit. I paused, frozen. I had a sudden inspiration. Could I have been making this whole thing more complicated than it was? I had just assumed that I wasn’t smart enough or didn’t understand the complex politics of my betrayal.
But then, if I was right, why kill me first? Wouldn’t it have made sense to use me as his tool, instead? Or…oh gods. That made sense too, from a certain perspective.
“Finn?” Adewyn said, concern in her voice, “Are you coming?”
She probably thought I needed rest. I probably did.
“Hm? Oh yes. Sorry, just had a thought. I need to speak about something with my mother.”
* * *
We met in the new headquarters tent. Someone had thought to bring in four comfortable chairs, which I appreciated. Mother looked as though she needed a great deal of rest.
She was dressed in a plain white gown, modest and all-concealing, up to and including her neck. Naturally, it was also quite tight and showed off her full figure, which was thinner than I remember. Also troubling me greatly was the hint of a bruise that I could see peaking out of her high collar. Although she had tried to conceal it with cosmetics, I could see the circles under her eyes, which looked haunted.
It was clear to me, who probably knew her as well as even father did, that she had gone through something awful. I seethed but tried to stay calm. I did not have the luxury of rage at the moment. That would come later.
“Aunt Syrlin, it’s…it’s good to see you,” Raisa said, clearly still anxious.
“Oh Raisa,” my mother said, with a degree of unusual warmth, “You have no idea how happy I am to find you and Adewyn in my son’s protection. I feared you both were dead. Your mothers will be so relieved. And, might I add, you both look radiant.”
“Raisa saved me, mother. In fact, if it weren’t for her, I canlı bahis şirketleri would have died. Several times, now.” I said. I was not only in love with her, but quite proud of her as well. Raisa blushed, and my mother’s eyebrows rose. She made no other changes to her expression but I could tell she was impressed.
“I’m going to want to hear everything about that later, dear,” mother said, “but for now we must discuss more important news. Tyr’s army approaches. He leads it himself.”
I nodded, grimly. This is what we expected. He’d clearly marched through while the monstrous replacement for the Duke of the Irons was still undetected. Now that all had been revealed his son was the new Duke and he would, hopefully, side with us and close the passes. But that did nothing to help with the army that now marched on us.
“How far behind you are they?” I asked.
“Um. I’m embarrassed to say I’m not sure how long it will take them to arrive,” mother answered. She was always ashamed to lack knowledge, even if it there was no way for her to have it, “I left them right on this side of the pass at Sarnvik three days ago. I got here as quickly as I could, but I’m not the best rider…”
I looked at Adewyn.
“If they force march, they’ll be tired when they show but could be here in two days,” Adewyn said, “If not, probably more like five. Either way, there really isn’t any more time to do serious preparation. All we can do is try and choose our spot and get there.”
“I agree,” I said, “Kyrza, order the men to break camp and be ready to march. Adewyn, go over the maps and pick the spot. I’m guessing that we will be outnumbered so go defensive. Raisa, choose some scouts, enough to cause trouble but not so many that they won’t be able to move stealthily. I have an urgent task for you so come back for it when you’ve got them assembled.”
No one looked surprised as I took charge. It felt strange to be giving orders like this, even knowing the situation. Raisa and Kyrza left to carry out their instructions. Adewyn went to the back of the large tent and started reviewing maps. This left me with a degree of privacy with my mother.
“I have much to ask of you. Truthfully some of my demands will probably seem unkind,” I said, keeping my voice low and gentle with some effort, “I have no urge to hurt you but I am not the man you knew. The luxuries of blind love are lost to me. I suppose all of that will have to wait. What I need to know about more than anything right now, is your brother Bayrd.”
My mother’s face clouded as I spoke. I saw that she was worried about what I might say or do. That I might send her away or even imprison her. I did not want to, but even I wasn’t sure of what I was capable of at that time.
“Very well,” she responded, looking suddenly very tired, “I will answer to the best of my ability. Please…please don’t judge me too harshly, son. I love you and your father very much, more than anything.”
“Does Bayrd love you still, as a man loves a woman?”
She flinched as if I’d hit her.
“Yes. As much as he could be said to love anyone, he loves me.”
“After father marched north, how long did he wait to take you into his bed?”
I regret the way I approached this, with no tact or kindness. My mother looked down, unable to meet my eyes.
“Oh, gods, son. I didn’t have a choice. You must believe me! I never would have chosen this. It is why I am here, now! To warn you! I just want to have you back. And…and your father. He must surely see now that you never tried to kill Tyr…”
I reached out and took her hand.
“I’m not blaming you mother. Please answer the question.”
“It was…about a week after. He called me to a meeting in his chambers, which I found odd. It wasn’t the first time that he’d tried to seduce me after my marriage to your father. This was…different. When I arrived, he made no pretense of his intentions. He simply told me that I belonged to him. When I refused…he…just took what he wanted. Afterwards he pretended as though I had been agreeable, despite my blood and tears.The guards heard everything but didn’t intervene. I told Tyr about it later, but he just laughed and told me to ‘enjoy Bayrd’s attentions.’”
I sat back. I was lost in disgust and hatred of my uncle, and deep compassion for my mother. I said something to myself, without thinking first. Idiot that I am.
“So…father is truly dead then.”
“What?” mother said, almost in a panic, “I never said that! He came here, to the North! I initially wanted to find him but then I heard that you were alive and came to you immediately. Why would you say such an awful thing?”
She wrung her hands unconsciously as she spoke.
“Mother,” I said, with much more gentleness, “There is no way that Bayrd would have done that if father was alive. No one has seen him up here. I believe that he was murdered in Marche Grodayn and the story of his travel made up to protect the conspirators. Bayrd and Tyr.”
“Why do canlı kaçak iddaa you say such hurtful things?” she asked, then finally broke down into tears and great sobs. I stood and went to her, pulling her to me in a reassuring embrace. As soon as I did so she buried her face in my stomach, and held me fiercely.
“It brings me no pleasure, mother, to hurt you. I think you must have suspected it as well,” I said, stroking her hair gently, “We must face the truth if we are to survive and avenge him.”
Although I had little love in my heart for my father, I found myself angry nonetheless. If he had been wise or cunning enough to deduce that I was not a traitor, then perhaps he would still be alive. He had paid already for any crimes that he may or may not have committed against me, and I believed him to be as much a victim as myself.
Mother controlled her tears after a short while. She was capable of such discipline that few people saw. After a moment she sighed and then looked up at me, resigned.
“What do you want of me? If you wish to send me away then I won’t cause you any difficulties. I know that you…you must think of more than just your family right now. I only ask that you please don’t send me back. He’ll ask you for me and offer you…something, I don’t know what, for me. Please don’t agree. I beg you.”
“I’m not heartless or foolish enough to send you away, mother. Not even as I am now. I want you close to me. For many reasons.”
She looked at me and nodded, before rising and kissing me. First, softly, on the cheek, and then slowly and intensely on the lips. When she stopped I caught Adewyn watching us and she looked away, blushing. I pulled mother close, crushing her to my chest, feeling her full breasts press into me. Even being worn out from illness and excellent lovemaking, my cock responded to her immediately. She made a little whimper. I couldn’t tell if it was one of welcome or fear. I’d have to be gentle with her until she was ready.
That would all have to wait, in any case. War was here. I hoped that we were ready.
I knew that I was dreaming, but it was also a real memory. It happened when I was fifteen, one day after Adewyn’s day of majority and I was out hunting with my father for his favorite prey, boar. I was, however, distracted. Adewyn had for the first time worn a gown rather than breeches, and I would be thinking of the way her hips swayed and her bodice dipped for months after. She was three years older and bold and naturally featured in many of my fantasies. I enjoyed playing with Merwyd and Raisa, but they were just my little sisters and nothing more.
My father’s firm hand on my shoulder distracted me from my reverie. In the real memory, he pointed to a Redtusk male. They tended to be both smart and aggressive so hunting them was ‘easy’. By which I mean you needed one person, preferably brave or disposable, to hit it with an arrow and anger it. Then, another person would be waiting to spear it as it charged the first one. I was the archer and father had the spear. I also had a spear beside me, but I’d need to get it set up swiftly or simply finish it if father landed the first blow. The spears were sturdy and had cross guards directly under the blade. Without them the boar might just impale itself further to murder you. For obvious reasons, father saw this as the ideal bonding activity.
I lined up my shot. Truthfully, this was not difficult. He was upwind from us and we were well-concealed. He was well within fifty paces, larger than a man, so I knew I could hit him. I waited until he was rummaging around in the earth for something, and then loosed my arrow. As father had insisted, I tried to kill it, as that would be the ideal and least cruel way to complete the hunt. I went for the center kill shot, which meant aiming so the arrow slid behind the shoulder-blade into the heart.
I hit the target, but not with enough power. It did anger the beast, and he turned straight for me. I dropped the bow and picked up the spear. I fumbled it and by the time I had picked it up in my nerveless hands it had impaled itself on father’s spear as he stepped out in front of me. I charged to his side and drove mine into the boar’s throat, and as I pulled it out a gush of blood signaled that the creature would die in less than a minute.
It was a successful hunt. Or, at least, that’s what any other hunter would have said.
“You failed. You should have died,” father said simply.
“But stopping the boar was your job,” I insisted, angrily. I was splattered with blood and just wanted to be home, warm, and maybe flirting with a servant girl or reading bawdy plays. I was tired of father’s brutal lessons. He just laughed.
“Do you really think that you’ll always be able to trust me?” he asked casually as he began to skin the beast.
I stopped, dead, for a moment. You see, for all the lessons that canlı kaçak bahis he had taught me about life, politics, riding, hunting, and even how to bed women, he’d never indicated anything other than familial loyalty to me. He beat me, to be sure, once so badly that I had broken ribs and I pissed blood for a few days, but I had always believed that there was love there. For the first time, on that day, I doubted that.
My memory of the event ends here. The rest of the day was probably fairly routine. In my vision, therefore, this is where things diverged.
“It seems as though you were right. I shouldn’t have trusted you,” I said. My voice was still that of a teenager but I spoke with my own full experience.
Father looked back and me and stood up. He had his knife, but I had my spear. And, as it turns out, I had become quite good with spears. I held it almost casually, but I knew many ways to kill him. I wanted to kill him, even if it was just a dream.
“You think you can kill me as easily as you did the boar that day?” father asked. Somehow I knew that he was real, even if he was dead.
“Yes,” I said simply, “I should have killed you and Tyr both. After Bayrd, of course.”
Father laughed bitterly.
“Of course. Maybe you should have. I let myself be fooled, not once, but twice,” he said, cleaning his knife on his pants and sheathing it. He sat upon a convenient stump.
“And by your own brother. What the hell happened to you? I understand that you sacrificed me, maybe intentionally after you heard Tyr’s story. I’m the expendable spare son. But mother? Tyr? Adewyn? Merwyd? They all suffered because of your utter and complete failure.”
“True, but I didn’t sacrifice you.”
“The hell you didn’t. I went out a goddamn window and you married the presumed killer to my lover. Not only that, but you sent men out to kill me. You sent Raisa out to kill me. You should burn in the pit for that alone!”
“That was your uncle’s doing as well. He acted on his own initiative, and by the time I learned of it, it was too late. For a long time I truly thought that you were dead. I didn’t know if Tyr was telling the truth but I only had one heir left. Bayrd advised me to make the best of it, although he seemed disgusted with the idea of making you out to be the villain.”
“Bayrd is just one of those rare traitors who feels guilt for the lives he takes,” I said with cynicism, “he needed to kill me, or to have Tyr kill me, and you endorse it, so mother would start to doubt you. It didn’t work of course, her goddamn love for you outweighed any love she may have held for her own fucking son.”
Father looked at me, seriously.
“That’s not true, boy.”
“Your mother loves you and mourned you constantly. She will be overjoyed to learn that you were alive. She is a survivor, however, and her appearing to have been too angry or grief-stricken over your death would have made her suspect in my eyes, and then later Tyr’s. Remember that he while he was only the heir, he would be king sooner or later and she would no longer be First Wife. She would be vulnerable to him. I agree with you about Bayrd’s motivations. It all came down to love and jealousy. I thought he had left the torch he carried for Syrlin behind him long ago. He hid his love with endless affairs with commoners and lesser nobility. Your mother never told me about all the times he tried to ply her with drink, to win her back to his bed. She never told me because she knew that I would have killed him, and hated myself for it. I know because I am a fool, and before I died I suspected her of betraying me so I stole and read her journals. By then it was too late. I had missed the signs for years, and his rage grew, and he came up with a plan. He convinced Tyr that he needed to kill you. Do you know how he did that?”
I shook my head.
“No, father, I don’t. I’m not sure it matters. He was the eldest and my better at everything and it still wasn’t enough. I was willing to serve him, to shovel his shit, to execute his whims. All I wanted was Merwyd. Just one woman, and to be left alone. Instead he took everything.”
“This is why you couldn’t see it coming. You estimate your worth poorly. Tyr was led to believe that you were trying to kill him, for Merwyd. For the crown. And at my instigation.”
“Why would you ever conspire with me to kill Tyr?”
“Because you would have been a better king. And he knew it.”
I didn’t reply. I didn’t laugh. I’m sure my jaw dropped. Was father serious?
“Think,” he said, with the peculiar intensity that he was known for, not-quite rage but feverish interest, “Use your brain for something other than moping and magic. Why did the northern nobles end up siding with you, despite being a bunch of arguing washerwomen and you having a reputation for being a womanizing fop? Why did Adewyn think of you first to save the kingdom even when she loved Tyr? Why did Raisa look up to you as her ideal husband? Why did Merwyd seduce you instead of Tyr? Because you lead! You lead and men follow. And you give a damn about your family, about your friends, about the people. You could have led that mercenary company. Parla would have been your willing parter, bed and business.”