She had learned so much these last few weeks. Only to realize she had so much more to learn. And if it hadn’t been for the help of Cormber, Theldry would have been lost. She had promoted him to her personal business assistant, for he had been Cathall’s steward and thus he had been present for much of Cathall’s business transactions.
She had given Cathall a beautiful funeral, one representative of his station as Duke of Mendellion. The village people were greatly saddened at his loss, so she allowed them, fitting or not, to attend a small wake. Cormber said nothing, only raised an eyebrow. He did, however, surprise her, by joining them and placing a wreathe of flowers at the foot of Cathall’s coffin.
The men and women who attended Cathall’s funeral praised Theldry for the beauty of the funeral and offered her condolences for the terrible circumstances, for Varley’s soldiers had rampaged all along the western coast. Women noticed the still-healing bruises of Jeanie and Kallia, whom Theldry insisted attend, and nodded to themselves knowingly. Not even powder could cover up the crimes dealt to them by Varley and his men.
Theldry and Jeanie both took care of Kallia, for Kallia had been treated terribly. She floated in and out of awareness now and startled easily. She did repetitive chores, such as chopping or skinning vegetables, but Theldry had already hired a new replacement for her so that Jeanie need not shoulder Kallia’s work and her own as well.
Now that there was no one to chide her, Theldry often took trips to the ocean. She bathed there, as if the salty water could wash away what had been done to her. Somehow, it was healing in some small way – as if it washed him out of her, washed his thrusting and tearing out of her mind. The coolness of the salty water as it ran up against her, the grit of the sand between her toes, the wind tossing her hair about her face, made her feel so clean….
And when she stepped out, there was Jeanie with a towel to hug her dry.
They thought perhaps Kallia might enjoy the water as Theldry did. The day they tried, they walked Kallia to the shoreline, but the closer they got, the more agitated Kallia became, and so they stopped.
Varley and his men had devoured much of the estate’s stores. Theldry finally gathered herself for a trip into the village, donning her mourning finery. Her first trip into the village since before Cathall had died. She and Jeanie readied themselves for a trip into town, leaving Kallia in the new servant’s capable hands.
Theldry had not conversed with any of the villagers, nor seen them, since Cathall’s funeral. As she wandered about the market, filling her basket with vegetables and fruits, she became aware of just how hungry she was. Perhaps they would –
And then Theldry dropped her basket and ran to the street corner, where she vomited every morsel in her stomach. Just as she thought she was done vomiting, her stomach rebelled again.
Finally, Theldry stood, panting, and looked into the concerned eyes of Jeanie. Jeanie held the basket of… vegetables and… fruits….
Theldry vomited once more. Ugh. She panted, bent over, staring at the puddle of vomit. All she could smell was overripe fruit and vomit and ….
Theldry’s eyes grew wide and she laid a hand upon her stomach.
Standing straight, she looked at Jeanie, who stared at her in return, her mouth falling open.
Theldry was with child.
Jeanie begged her to get rid of the child, for she knew the babe was Varley’s. And so would Kallia, once she knew. But how was Theldry to do that? It was dangerous, and no one in this little village was reliable enough for Theldry’s preference. She wanted one day to bear children, and the terrible methods she knew of would harm her chances. She was a month along, and she didn’t want to hurt her womb.
She was frankly astonished that she had conceived at all, given what Varley had put her through. She was sure he had damaged her beyond repair. While she did not want his child, nor did she want to lose this one possible chance at ever having a child.
Jeanie then begged her to claim it was Cathall’s. But Theldry was horrified at the idea of claiming that that monster’s child was actually Cathall’s. And what if the rest of the staff figured it out, or the villagers? What if the child looked nothing like Cathall?
And Theldry – as a mother – the thought of herself as a parent to a babe was still giving her gooseprickles – lying from the start to her child… she just could not do it. Yet, what parent would want to tell their child that they were a product of…. And whenever she thought of that, that night, all Theldry could envision was Cathall swinging from hemp rope above her while Varley rammed himself into her.
But something good, indeed, she thought as she placed her hands upon her still flat belly, something wonderful had come of that horrible night, that horrible act. This child.
Jeanie said once, and only once, that Theldry should pray for a miscarriage.
Theldry’s hand had itched, almost to slap Jeanie. She’d clenched it closed. Instead, she’d grated, “Never say that again.”
Nor did she. But Theldry knew that’s what Jeanie thought. It had occurred to Theldry as well, after all… having to explain one day to her child that it was the child of rape…. But also a child of summer. She sighed. If only it were Cathall’s child.
“This child,” she’d continued, “is a child of royalty. Through me, this child can inherit the throne of Storden, and the throne of Tortoreen.” Jeanie’s eyes grew round. “This child is the child of the Coastal Countries Alliance, of Corstarorden, and of the Northern – Coastal Agreement. Through me, this child will have ties to Clemongard by way of Storden’s alliance, and, therefore, through me, this child will have ties to the East. This child, Jeanie, will be the most powerful child alive. The Eastern Shield is only King over five countries. My child, Jeanie, will have claim to all of the West.”
Duty before love, Father. Duty before love….