Jack had been on his way to see Mirielle, who had successfully given birth to a son, when a fellow guardsman had instructed him to report to Sir Ancel. He was standing halfway into the room when the bearded man appeared from another room, looking tired and dishevelled. Immediately, Jack thought of Bonnie – and the delivery he had made, which caused the departure of Raiden Mieko.
“Sir?” Jack said hesitantly.
Ancel straightened and turned, “Ah, yes.” Dark circles had formed beneath his eyes, and he moved with a peculiar slowness as he beckoned Jack toward him.
“I was told to report to you,” Jack said. “Is there anything you need?”
The older man shook his head, and sighed loudly. “I want you to take some time off,” he told Jack. “Not too long as we need you here, but long enough to attend to things.”
Confused, Jack raised his eyebrows. “Sir?”
Maybe the pressure of his new position had gotten to him, Jack mused as the two men stood there staring at one another.
Ancel sighed again, and rested his head in his hands. “Don’t tell me no one’s told you,” he said.
“Told me what, sir?”
“Your wife,” Ancel blinked. “She’s dying.”
For a moment, Jack thought maybe he had misheard. Thoughts of his wife had long since dissipated, and the image of her face was now a blur. He tried to process the new information, but all he could think was how to explain this to his daughter. Neither of them had seen Betha in years, despite many promises to go and visit.
Finally, Jack spoke again. “Is – is she sick?” He asked through squinted eyes.
“She is,” Ancel nodded. “A new illness, presumed to be moving across the kingdom. The survival count is low.”
“I understand,” Jack replied.
He did not feel sad – simply shocked. He was worried for his daughter, guilty that he did not make more of an effort to keep her connected with her mother, and now it was too late. He felt unsteady on his feet, and took a quick step backward.
Ancel had noticed is loss of balance and frowned. “I suggest you get some rest, I’ve organised a guide for tomorrow –”
“No” Jack stated quickly. “I don’t need a guide.”
“The roads are not safe right now –”
He watched as the older man opened his mouth to protest again, before excusing him with a nod. When Jack turned away, he noticed a flush in his cheeks and a twisted feeling in his gut. It was guilt, heavy in the pit of his stomach. He was guilty of keeping Payge from Betha – he was guilty of abandoning his wife and living so far away – but of all the things, he was most guilty of not caring that she was going to die.