“So you’ve worked for the Rideres all your life?” Rei asked the woman seated with her.
“The same as my husband and children,” the woman said with a nod. “Except my younger daughter, she helps out in the kitchens at court.”
“I expect I’ve seen her once or twice then,” Rei replied sweetly “Thank you for coming today, Glyn.”
The woman gave a firm nod, and took her leave. Maiolaine was seated beside the fire, waiting patiently. Rei was interviewing possible maidservants to work for her now that she was a married woman, and that meant that Maiolaine would be returning to the castle and Reina. She had dearly missed the woman who had saved her life all those years ago, and the news of the queen’s declining health had left her unsettled and restless. In a way she was happy to be returning to her mistress, but there was a lingering doubt that hung heavy over her like a cloud.
“Shall I send for the next one, Rei?” Maiolaine asked, indulging in using the princess’s first name.
“No, I liked Glyn.”
Maiolaine had found herself more attached to Rei than she’d expected. Although she had seen Rei grow from a child to a woman, she had never thought much of her beyond that she was someone to serve. But since the discovery of the poor child Idelisa, Rei and Maiolaine had developed an unspoken agreement of friendship.
Rei was on her feet and moving toward the fire, her face was glum despite her apparent satisfaction at selecting a new maidservant. Maiolaine stood, knowing that the princess was feeling quite lonely since her husband had gone away.
“A Ridere servant,” Maiolaine said.
“Sir Ancel sent her over himself, he wrote saying it was a token of respect – after everything that’s happened.”
“Hm,” Maiolaine did not speak a word, but nodded solemnly.
Rei looked to her with uncertain eyes, “Do you think there’s something sinister about the gesture?”
“No, it’s just unusual for the Rideres to share their belongings.”
The princess did not say anything, but stared into the yellow flames with a sombre sigh. After awhile, she turned to Maiolaine. “Be honest with me?” She asked, “Maiolaine is there another reason you’re hesitating to go home?”
Her words struck a chord in Maiolaine, the memory of her daughter’s eyes staring up at her – full of hope, pleading to be hugged and loved like any child deserved – then she watched her daughter morph into the image of the king, and she shivered in revulsion. She noticed with a start that Rei was watched her, a sympathetic look on her face.
“Forgive me,” Maiolaine said, defeated.
“She wasn’t your first baby was she?”
Rei’s words left the air suddenly dry and cold, the truth in them cut like a knife in her heart.
She nodded, “I’ve had quite a few babies in my time.”
“How many?” Rei asked, “Where are they now?”
Images flashed through her mind – and Maiolaine stepped away from the princess. She saw green eyes – a red haired man holding a tiny little babe with strange ears poking out either side of her head. She watched him pull the baby from her, blood coating his forearms, his disgusted snigger as he left her there to die like an animal. She shook her head until the images faded, and opened her eyes to see Rei standing there, concerned.
She went to speak, but the fluttering in her womb made her stop. The feeling was very familiar to her, and she became very still as the feeling grew and dispersed – was she, could she be? No. Surely not, she was too old to be having babies, and she had looked forward to the day she could say that. She glanced up at Rei again; guilt exploding in her gut at the sight of the girl’s kind, caring eyes. If she was pregnant – which she doubted, she wouldn’t allow Rei to learn the father’s identity – or anyone else, for that matter.