An Old Argument

“I trust no one,” repeated the nurse. “But let us waste no more time squabbling about trust when the truth is plain. Laveth, if all comes out well after tonight, you must concede it is time to act. The other child is ready. We must not delay.”

“Words, words. The truth is, he is my son and I cannot send him away,” the Queen spoke, pain clearly written across her face.

“How can you not?” countered Nan Mara. “He’s already been marked successor to Elymas. This child, this earth Skyll, must live. Elymas leaves a long trail of dead babes.”

“Nan Mara, I’ve been thinking. The situation can’t be what it seems. Axel Augustus is destined to be High King of Casoria. He can’t be the Earth Skyll as well.” Nan Mara slowly shook her head. This was old ground between them, ground covered many times before but now that Laveth had started, she couldn’t be stopped. “Consider, his foot didn’t thicken until after he was born. That means my son is only a cripple and will only be King.”

“It makes no difference when the foot turned. He is as he is, and his star has been born.”

“Even so,” continued Laveth, “he can’t hold two positions at once. Such a thing has never been. The Earth Skyll must tend the garden; the King must rule from the throne. I’ll tell William, and he will declare his son King. Only King. Then Elymas will be secure in his position, and we will have no threat — or be one.”

“He will walk the kingly path dragging a heavy foot.” Nan Mara’s face was flushed with color. “The position of the Earth Skyll is not so lightly refused. His deformity is a gift from the Elyon.”

“Then I give back the gift.” Laveth spat. “When I carried him in my womb, I asked for nothing from the Elyon. I asked for nothing now, except to be left alone. This gift is too much to bear.”

“And which of us, having been touched by the El’s hand, can bear it? Which of us doesn’t cry out for relief?” Nan Mara’s voice was a lash. “I desired a child of my own, but it was denied me. My husband died young, and I became a Seeress instead. A Seeress does not bear fruit. Then the path branched and I was led to the unwashed, tow headed niece of Lord Stenton, left motherless and running between the hounds and the stables. Your childhood was the happiest time of my life. I heard no voices, felt no stirrings, saw no visions in the night. Then the Warrior King spied you in the forrest and brought you here as his wife. Since coming to Castle Ursaulis, I have seen the death of every earth child for the past three hundred years in my dreams. Some were smothered, others strangled, a few dropped down wells. Elymas was behind it. And he will do the same to your son if you back down. It makes no difference if Axel is the King’s get.” Nan Mara went back to her corner, and reached down into the pillow of the chair, threw her sewing on the floor. She sank down. Wearily, she put a hand to each temple and began to rub in circles. “There. I have said enough. I have said it again and again, but I will say no more. I will go to Glynnis Fen alone if need be. I’m tired of seeing the hate in your eyes.”

The Queen opened the single shutter and stood staring into the night. The sky was the color of dark smoke streaked with violet. A few stars peeped out. Soon the moon would begin to shine, a cold crescent extending luminescence to the turrets and spires, the cobbled streets and hovels of the town. Everything would be silvered.

Laveth checked the sobs that threatened to break her, forced her chin up and straightened her spine. Nan Mara was right. Her enemy was merciless, and she would do well to hide her heart. For the next two days. She cast a prayer into the cold night: Just enough strength for the next two days. Strength and time enough to send the child away. Afterwards, grief would take her; she knew the rhythms of its inescapable tide, but for now her prayer slipped past sorrow. She could do this; she would do this. Yet, when she spoke, her voice was not entirely her own.

“Forgive me, Nan,” she said. “I know what needs to be done.”