**edited to include part 9**
Lela Harmony sat at her father's desk, sorting through the letters and invitations that were delivered daily. Her father could no longer do it, as he was half blind and got bad headaches when he tried to read.
Carrion Harmony had been the Queen's Master of Spies for many years. Before him, his mother had been the Mistress of Spies. Carrion could tell if someone was lying to him, or not telling him the whole story just by listening to them speak. That was one of the few reasons he was still the Master of Spies. A curse from an angry mage had hit him, damaging only his sight. Healers had gotten to him quick enough that they were able to prevent total blindness, and they had been able to reverse the curse some. Now he had someone read his correspondence, and record spy reports.
Lela spent a lot of time with her father. She loved to go over his correspondence, and Carrion trusted her. Of all the children, Lela looked like she would be the least likely to follow her father and become Mistress of Spies. She had never been sent out to do spy work, or run errands for the spy network, or had done anything other than read, record, and repeat reports to her father. Her older sister, Rina, and her younger brothers, Marco and Jerome, had all been sent out on errands and spy runs, but they hardly ever saw the reports and correspondence. They also seemed to be busy when Carrion received an oral report or accounting. But then again, Rina had her own family to take care of, and her brothers were out in the fields, taking care of the crops most of the time.
Thinking of family made Lela think of her mother. Devoted as Jemiver Harmony was to being Captain of the Queen's Private Guard, she still managed to have a family, and one that kept on growing, at that. Jemiver was baffled when it came to Lela. She couldn't understand that Lela was uninterested in young men, or marrying and starting her own family. Rina had been married before she was sixteen, and had her first child not long after she turned sixteen. Now that Rina was eighteen, she had two children and a third on the way. Jemiver thought that all her daughters would be eager to start their own families as soon as they could, and if they were offered a paid position, they could take it to bring in some extra money.
Lela shook her head. Her mother just couldn't figure her out. It didn't matter how many times Lela said she wasn't interested in young men and that she just wanted to help her father out. Jemiver kept trying to set her daughter up with young men she thought Lela would like. The men liked her, for sure, but then again Lela was a beauty in her own right. All of the men her mother brought to her acted as if beauty was the only thing that mattered, and it made Lela uncomfortable. She wanted a man who would love her for who she was, and not just beauty.
"Lela, are you at the desk again?" Rina called from the front room.
"Yes, Rina. I'll be there in a moment. Let me finish this report." Lela didn't mind spending time with her older sister, but Rina came at the most inopportune moments, when Lela was usually in the middle of a spy report. She finished the report, and went to the front room. Rina sat in the rocking chair, one hand resting on her oversized belly. "Rina, you know Allen doesn't like you to leave home without him right now."
"I know, but he and the children are asleep. I had to slip away, because I have a message for Father. It is very important that he gets it."
"Father's not home right now. He's off on business. I can take the message, though. You know how he trusts me with such matters."
"Well, I would prefer to tell Father direct. But all right. The Captain of the Queen's Guard has ordered her men to be more alert and keep a closer eye on her. Something is going to happen very soon."
Lela had the message in the knot code she and Carrion had used for many years. "I have it. Rina, you really should go home and rest. You know what Allen would say if he saw you right now."
"Yes, I know. But there shall be very little rest if the children have their way." Rina got to her feet and left for her home. Lela went back to the desk and wrote out her sister's message in correct format. She knew her father would know Rina had been there, and he would ask for the report.
Indeed, as soon as Carrion got home, he went straight to the study. "Rina was here. I need her report," he told Lela. "It must be important for her to disobey her husband."
"Very important, Father. But Rina wasn't disobeying Allen. He just doesn't like her to go anywhere without him anymore." Lela handed her father a bundle of knots. "Here's the report."
"Rina was disobeying her husband this time, Lea," Carrion said, using one of his pet names for his daughter. "Rina nearly lost this child just a month ago, and Allen has forbidden her to leave bed most of the time." His fingers flew over the knots. "This was important. Is it properly recorded? I'll need to talk to Captain about this." Carrion left before Lela could reply, off in search of his wife. These days, Jemiver felt the need to stay as close to home as she could, because she was awaiting the birth of yet another child. Lela wished her mother would stop her work for a few days, especially now. Jemiver seemed wearier with each pregnancy, and it was very worrying right now, in these last few days before the baby was to be born.
Time passed very slowly for Lela. There were very few reports for three days, after which Jemiver gave birth to a boy. One month passed after the baby was born, and spy reports were few and far between.
Lela was at her father's desk, recording the newest report. Hearing her father's footsteps, she looked up. "Yes, Father? You've heard the report I'm recording."
"I need you to get a message to Agent."
"I'll give it to Rina. She's been itching for something to do." Lela took the message from her father, and stood up. "What's wrong, Father? All I said was that I'd give it to Rina, so she can do something."
"You are not to give it to Rina. This message must go right now to Agent. Rina is unable to deliver it, due to the baby. You are to take it. I trust you know where Agent is?" Carrion watched Lela as she hung her head. "Don't be ashamed, Le. I forgot you have never gone on a spy errand before. Listen carefully while I tell you how to find Agent."
With her instructions firmly in her mind, Lela set off to deliver the encrypted message to the person known to her as Agent. There were many instructions for her to follow, but at last she managed to find the place where Agent was staying. It was a run down old cottage on the edge of town, and it looked as if there was nobody home.
Lela proceeded to knock on the door. "Enter." was the reply. Lela eased the door open, and looked inside. There were shadows everywhere, and it looked as if no one had swept the floor or dusted in several years. "I am to give a message to Agent," she said, unsure of where to look for the person who had spoken.
"Leave it on the floor by the door and be on your way," she was told.
"But this is very important. How can I be sure Agent will get this as soon as I leave?"
"You will have to trust me. But tell me first who the message is from."
"The Master, good sir," Lela replied, as her father had told her, should anyone ask who the message was from.
"Then you must be Daughter. You look different, if I may say so."
"Sweet Daughter is the correct address. Daughter is unable to work for the time being. Will Agent receive this immediately?"
"Rest assured. You are speaking to the person the message is meant for. Now, I must ask you to leave. I must find the Night Palace. Let Master know this. He'll know how to get a hold of me if he needs to."
"Yes sir. Thank you for your time." Lela left the dark cottage, message firmly in mind. But the voice of Agent had jolted her. There was something about it that was very pleasing to her, almost too pleasing.
Lela walked home, in no hurry, but wanting to get home and tell her father the message that Agent had given her. It was a puzzle to her, what he had said. What is the Night Palace? Is it some place that Carrion was trying to find, and now had several clues as to where it was? She could ask all this when she found him.
Lela made a stop at Rina's house. There were no children around, almost no noise at all. She did hear someone gasping for breath, though, and stepped inside the house. "Rina?" she called. "Are you here?"
"Lela!" Rina called out. "Thank God! I'm in the bedroom."
"I'll wait out here for you."
"No, Lela! I need you in here!" Rina's voice was tight. Lela walked into her sister's bedroom. Rina was sitting up in bed, shoulders hunched, arms wrapped around her belly. "Allen took the children to market. I need you to run for the midwife. Please, hurry!" Rina was overcome with pain, and she could say no more. Lela ran out of the house, and ran to the marketplace. The midwife lived just around the corner from the meat stall, and that was where Lela found the old woman. She stated the need, and as soon as the midwife was on her way, Lela ran to the main area of the marketplace. She had to find Allen.
Lela found Allen at the baker's stall, just finishing his purchase of a sweet cake for his family. "Allen!" Lela gasped out, trying to catch her breath.
"What's wrong, Lela? Why are you out of breath?"
"It's Rina. She's having the child right now."
"Can you bring the children back, and the cake? I have to go now, and the children aren't as fast as I need to be."
Lela nodded, and watched her brother in law run off. Then she took the youngest one on her hip, and picked up the cake. The older one stuck close to her, and they made their way toward the house. Lela loved her niece and nephew, and they adored her. She wished she had a bit of coin on her, because she wanted to buy them a small treat. So they made a detour, and Lela was able to grab some coins. She put the message from Agent in one knot bundle, and the news about Rina in another, and set them on her father's desk so that he would see them when he came in. Then Lela, her nephew, and her niece made their way back to the marketplace. There she bought them a small stick of hard candy, and walked slowly toward the young children's home.
When the three got to the house, the midwife had already left. Rina and the baby were asleep together, mother soaked with sweat, and one arm around her baby. Allen was wiping Rina's face with a cool cloth. He looked up when he heard his sister in law's footsteps. "Thank you. I know the children adore their Aunt Lela." He saw her look at the baby. "A boy."
"A boy? Why, that's wonderful! Is there anything you need before I leave?"
"I don't think so. Thank you for helping out this afternoon. It really made a difference." Allen kissed Lela's cheek, and watched her leave. Then he turned back to his task of cooling off his wife.
Carrion was waiting for Lela when she got home. "I got your messages. How is Rina?"
"Fine and well. She and Allen have a new baby boy." Lela watched as her father nodded his head. "Father, what's the Night Palace? Why did Agent say he was going find it?"
"So many questions from one who never asks any. Let us go into my study, so as to not be overheard by your mother." Carrion sat down behind his desk, and Lela sat in front of it. "The Night Palace is where anyone who is being hunted down by the Queen's Private Guard goes to hide. Agent got a hold of some information meant for the Queen's ears only, and the Queen found out. It was very risky to send a message to him today, but if I had tried to use Rina to send it, they would have most certainly found Agent, and Rina would have been charged with treason in the least, if not killed in the struggle to capture Agent. You have never been out on spy duty, and so you were the perfect person to give the message to Agent."
Lela shook her head. "So where is this Night Palace, anyway?" She wanted to know, so if it came in reports, she would know what it meant.
"That, I can not tell you right now. Just keep your ears open, is all I can say." Carrion winked at his daughter, and left the study. Lela took his chair, and went back to reading and recording reports. But the mystery of the Night Palace kept bugging her. Even through dinner, she could not concentrate on much. Carrion knew what was bothering his daughter, but Jemiver did not know. Jemiver did ask Lela what was bothering her, but got no straight answer.
Three days went by. Lela found new reports that made her forget all about the Night Palace. She became so wrapped up in organizing a sudden flood of reports, that she didn't even notice that most of them dealt with the Night Palace, but they never actually contained the name "Night Palace".
Sixteen days after Carrion had told Lela what the Night Palace was, she actually felt overwhelmed with reports. Someone had tried to to kill the Queen, and someone had leaked information about the Night Palace. Agent had almost been caught by the Captain of the Queen's Private Guard. She had so many reports to record, that she spent whole days in the study, eating in there, and sometimes sleeping there, just so she could have a chance at getting on top of all of them.
Lela was woken up by a knock on the door of the study. "Enter,” she said. A young, handsome man walked in, a smile on his face. Lela's breath caught in her throat. She couldn't believe that she was seeing a real person. "Yes?" she asked as she walked around to the front of the desk.
"I have a message for Sweet Daughter. Is she available?"
"Umm, yes. You are addressing her." The words were hard for Lela to get out. She recognized the voice, but couldn't place where she had heard it before.
"I must say, you are more beautiful than I thought when you first met. I don't know how someone as good to her parents as you could be so beautiful." The young man gave her a big grin.
"Umm, yeah." The stranger's smile caught her off guard for a moment. "And you would be...?"
"I think you would know me as Agent. But my name is Thabian Dromar."
Lela gasped. "Agent? But-but-but-” She was silenced by a kiss from Thabian. It surprised her how much she liked it.
Thabian chuckled. "So. The smart, beautiful young lady who does not care for young men has been caught by one. I'm not any different from the rest, am I?" he asked, amused that Lela's strong-willed attitude had been shaken.
"I, uh, I..." Another kiss from Thabian made her knees weak, and she would have fallen, had Thabian not have his arms around her. "What...what is your message, Agent?" she managed to ask after a few moments.
"This is the message, Lela. And call me Thabian. I have a feeling we'll be seeing more of each other quite soon, if you follow your heart." Thabian brushed Lela's cheek with a soft kiss, and let go of her. There was a knock at the door, and Carrion entered his study. "Good evening, Carrion. Good to see you safe and sound."
"I was told you were here with a message, Thabian. Is it good or bad?" He watched as Thabian nodded to Lela, who was still dazed from the kisses. "I see you've met my man Agent, Lela. What do you think of him?" He watched his daughter, who did not seem to hear him. "Lela? Are you all right?"
"I, I think so, Father. Did you ask me something?" Carrion repeated his question. A smile crept across her face, and her cheeks turned pink. "He's a good one, Father. I don't know where you found him, but I hope you never let him go." And I hope I never let him go, she thought to herself. Mother will be pleased with me now. "His message was for me only right now. But I'm sure you can all ready guess what it was."
"Indeed I can, daughter of mine. Thabian, why don't you join us for supper? I know Jemiver will be glad to have you here." Without waiting for Thabian to accept, Carrion left the room. Lela sat down in one of the chairs, hands visibly shaking. Thabian came over to her and put his arms around her.
"What's wrong, Lela? I've never heard of you shaken or speechless before. Nor have I heard of you being in love, you know. 'I scorn all young men who want me just for beauty' you are rumored to say. 'I want a man who loves the person beneath the beauty' we all hear. Well, you young pretty thing, I am the young man who loves you for your beauty and for the rest of you. I have loved you since the day you brought me that urgent message from your father. What do you make of that?"
"I am shaken. I'm speechless. I think I do love. I never thought I would." Lela looked up at Thabian. "What do you make of that?" she asked.
"This," he said, and leaned over to kiss her once again. This time, Lela leaned into him, enjoying the sensations she was just feeling. It felt like a fire was seeping through her body, consuming her. It made her feel weak all over, and for once in her life, she didn't care. Time seemed to slow to almost a stop, and she had no care in the world because she was with a wonderful man.
Jemiver knocked on the study door before opening it. She saw Lela and Thabian sitting side by side, Lela leaning her head on Thabian's shoulder, and knew instantly that her daughter had found someone to love at long last. "Supper's ready. And Carrion is hungry as a bear, so you'd better hurry and get out to the table." Jemiver shut the door, smiling to herself. She hoped that things would progress with speed, so that Lela could experience the growth of her own family.
Lela and Thabian were the last at the table. The family had arranged themselves around it so that they could sit beside each other. The food was good, and the talk hinted of a union between daughter and spy. The younger children didn't catch any of the meanings, but Lela knew her mother was anxious for Lela to have her own family. After supper, they all sat around a low fire, talk of other kingdom spies and monarchs the center of attention this time. Carrion, Jemiver, and Thabian didn't notice Lela starting to nod off, but they got the idea that she was tired after they heard her snoring from Thabian's shoulder. Thabian carried her to bed, and lay down on the floor beside her.
Three months went by. Thabian and Lela were very much in love. They were getting ready for their wedding which was in just less than a week away. Lela had taken to feeling ill most days, but nothing was going to stop the wedding. She suspected she knew what was happening to her, but she wasn't ready to say anything to anyone about her idea. The first person she would tell would be Thabian. Thabian had his own suspicions about his wife to be, but he was trying to finish their house in time for their wedding night, and hadn't spent that much time with her in the recent week. The house was near complete, and the bed was in the bedroom, so the house was functional for their first official night together, but he wanted it to be completely done so that they could go there and stay there for the rest of their lives.
The day of the wedding came about, and Thabian was pushed from Lela's house before he even caught a glimpse of her still asleep in bed. He was picked over by the men of the wedding party, and Lela was fussed over by the women of the wedding party. Lela's dress felt a little tight to her, but not so tight she couldn't stand it for a while if she had little to eat. She was so excited that she would be able to spend the rest of her life with Thabian, because she never thought she would find someone who loved her the way she wanted to be loved, or even for her to find someone to love. Jemiver and Rina had tears in their eyes most of the day, because they had all but given up hope of Lela ever marrying.
The wedding and the party afterwards was one of the happiest days in the family. Thabian's family was also in despair because he wouldn't choose someone to marry, and so this made everyone celebrate just that much more. Finally, Thabian and Lela went into their new home together. Thabian carried Lela into the house, and set her on the bed. She was tired, yes, and also still hungry. Thabian helped her out of her dress, and she went to the main room to find something to eat. She found bread and cheese, and stood outside, enjoying the light wind on her face.
Thabian came to the door to gaze at his wife for a long time. The wind molded her nightgown to her body, revealing the slight, but round, swell of her belly. He watched as Lela kept glancing down at her belly. Eventually, she put her hand to her belly, and sighed a happy sigh. "Lela, dear," he said, "Have you gained weight?"
She turned to her husband with a shy smile on her face. "Does it look that way?" When he nodded, her smile became big. "Then it is so. And it is good." She began to sway, as if she might fall. Thabian rushed out to her and caught her.
"Lela, what's wrong?"
"I've not had much to eat today. I wanted to eat more, but my dress would have become too tight." She allowed Thabian to pick her up and carry her to bed. "I love you."
"I love you too. Now, you get some rest, my dear. I am going to keep a close eye on you while you are pregnant." He kissed her, and held her as she fell asleep.
Lela continued to go to her parent's house to keep up with the correspondence. Carrion hated to loose Thabian to the leather workers, but he understood that Lela needed him more at home than away. He found other people to play the role of Agent, but they were never as good.
Six months after the wedding, Thabian had cause to worry about his wife. She was becoming tired more often than she used to, but she still insisted upon helping her father out with his correspondence. He would often came home to find her in the rocking chair asleep, supper half finished. Carrion and Jemiver noticed this, too. So, after some discussion, it was decided that Thabian would be hired as the Master of Spy's Correspondence Master.
"Le," Thabian said to his wife, "why do you insist upon helping your father, when you should be looking after yourself and resting?"
"He can not read his correspondence. He doesn't have anyone else to help him. I can do naught else." Lela yawned. "It would be nice to stop, and work on other things, but there isn't a way for me to do that."
"If there was a way, would you stay home and rest?"
"Of course! I would stop in an instant to rest, and you know that." Lela rubbed her bulging belly. "What's the use of getting my hopes up, though. It's not going to happen."
Thabian put his hand on top of the one Lela had on her belly. "Love, your father has hired me as his Correspondence Master. He and your mother want you to stay home and rest, and they thought that hiring me was the best way to let you rest and still let your father know what was going on with his correspondence."
"Then I shall stay home." She bowed her head, and placed her other hand on top of her husband's. "It means a lot to me to know that my father will be well taken care of. I dread the day Mother dies, if she goes before him."
Thabian raised his wife's head after a few moments, and kissed her. "I know how much it means to you. I want you to be happy as much as possible." He thought for a second. "Tell you what. I'll bring you the most important pieces, and let you record them. That way you aren't uninformed, and won't get mad at me."
After supper, Lela sat in her rocking chair, looking out at the area of ground that would be her garden come next spring. This year, though, she and Thabian were living off of their parents' hospitality. She closed her eyes to think about next spring. They would have their first child with them, and maybe a second on the way. They would have a thriving garden, and Thabian would be an excellent Correspondence Master for her father. She noticed herself falling asleep, and shifted in her chair, preparing to stand up.
Thabian saw that Lela was extra tired. He wanted to tell her that she should go to bed, but he let her be. He knew she would get upset if he told her what to do right now. But, as he looked at her, he saw that she was asleep, and was not going to leave the rocking chair. He got up from where he sat, and carried her to bed. She did not wake once.
One week passed. Lela seemed to be less tired, because Thabian never came home to her asleep with lunch or supper half finished. She had better color to her face, and she was more playful.
Thabian woke up to hear Lela gasping. He saw her sitting up in bed, arms wrapped around her belly. "Lela! Are you all right?"
"No! It's the baby!" She gasped as more pain hit her like a wave. "Get the midwife! Hurry!"
Thabian jumped out of bed, threw on a pair of pants, and dashed out into the night. It didn't take him long to find the midwife and return.
As the sun rose, Lela held her baby, a girl named Saryel.
Exactly six years and ten months had passed since the birth of Saryel. Lela and Thabian had six children, and had discovered four months ago that they were expecting their seventh. Lela hoped it would be a boy, because four of their children were girls. Thabian didn't care. The two of them were happy together. They took care of the correspondence that the Master of Spies received, Thabian as Correspondence Master, and Lela as Correspondence assistant. The titles were there just so they could be official, because Lela acted more as Master and Thabian more as Assistant.
One morning, Thabian noticed that Lela had just some fruit juice for breakfast. "What's wrong?" he asked her.
"Morning sickness. I haven't usually had to deal with it after the first couple of months. But this time..." she let her sentence trail off and shrugged her shoulders. "I should go. Father has some things to do today, and he hates to be kept waiting."
Carrion had all ready gone when Lela arrived. She was surprised to see a large, no, a monstrous pile of the knots she and her father used to communicate. Thabian had learned the code as well, so not all of it could be from Carrion. She sat down and picked up the first end she could find. By the end of the first could, she knew her father was in grave danger, and that the rest of the coils were his instructions should he not survive his mission. Lela felt thirsty all of a sudden, and stood up to get a drink. She staggered, feeling light headed, and tried to sit down. The chair hit the wall as she fell to the ground.
Jemiver came into the study. She say Lela on the ground, unconscious. She yelled for one of her children to run for Thabian, and for another one to bring some cool water and a cloth. Jemiver took the cloth, dipped it in the water, and wiped her daughter's face.
Thabian came in just as Lela was coming around. "Lela? What happened?" He helped her to sit up. She leaned her head on his shoulder, still trying to think.
"I don't really know. I remember thinking that Father's in grave danger, enough that he might not survive this day, then I felt thirsty. When I stood up to get a drink, my head felt odd, and I went to sit down." Lela paused in thought. "Do we know where Father is? I fear for his life."
Thabian shook his head. "He's had this mission set up since you became pregnant with Saryel. There are ways to find out if he's still living, though."
"Do so. I must know." Lela rubbed her belly, worried that she might have to name this baby after her father. Thabian left the house, to find the one person who could tell them if Carrion was still living or not. He brought the mage back, and told her the dilemma. She asked for a bucket of water, which was given to her right away, and stared into the depths of the bucket. Everyone waited with baited breath. She looked up with a somber face after a few moments.
"Carrion most likely will not survive. He's hidden between two houses not far from the market square. A mage from a rival kingdom hit him in the face with a nasty spell. His eyes are gone, and he is still bleeding very badly. It will be a miracle if he lives. There's not a thing I would be able to do for him if you get to him and bring him back here before he dies. The spell was meant to be permanent."
Lela, who had stood up while waiting for the mage, lost her footing as she tried to take a step back. Thabian caught her, and sat her down. He knelt beside her, and looked up at the mage. "Send our Man Agent and three of his people to retrieve him." The mage nodded, and left the house. Lela buried her face in her hands, and then in Thabians shoulder. Great sobs wracked her body. All Thabian could do was hold her close, and hope that Carrion lived.
The mage and four other people came back to the house with a bundle. They had wrapped Carrion in cloth so as not to cause a scene coming back from the market square. The desk in the study was cleared off, and the bundle was laid on it. The mage unwrapped Carrion, leaving only his face covered. Thabian helped Lela to stand up, and they walked over to the desk. Lela reached out to uncover her father's face, but the mage caught her hand. "I would not do that, Mistress."
"I want to see my father's expression." Lela stated in a hushed voice. The mage let go of her hand, and Lela slowly pulled back the cloth. There were empty sockets where his eyes had been, and his face was covered in blood. His mouth was set in a determined expression, and she could almost picture the way he had stood and faced his attacker. Lela reached down to take her father's lifeless hand, and felt a paper. She took it out and tried to read it, but her eyes would not focus on the letters. She handed it to her husband, who read it to himself. "What does it say?" she asked in a cracked voice.
"Dearest Lela," Thabian read. "I wish I would have told you this before, but you were happy as could be. If I do not live, it is because I was trying to ensure your future. The message I have for you is that the Queen is your sister."
Lela shook her head. She started to speak, and then swayed on her feet before slumping against her husband in the second dead faint of the morning. Thabian picked her up, and walked out of the room. There was a good chance that she would be out for a while, so he went home with her. He set her on the bed, and took their children over to Rina and Allen’s.
"Good morning, Thabian," Rina called out when she saw him. "What brings you here on this fine morning?"
"You might see it as fine, Rina, but I do not. I come bearing news of sorrows. But first, is there somewhere we can talk without certain ears overhearing?" Thabian nodded his head at the children in the yard.
"Why, yes. Lana," she said to her oldest daughter, "I want you to keep an eye on your cousins and brothers and sisters. Do not let them leave the yard, and do not let them come in the house." She watched as Lana nodded. "Allen's inside. We shall talk in there." They went inside, and joined Allen at their meal table. "What do you mean you have news of sorrow, Thabian?"
"Would you like the better or the worse of the sorrows?" Thabian watched as Rina indicated the better of the sorrows. "Lela has been experiencing morning sickness again, and she has fainted twice this morning." Thabian shook his head. "I also come bearing the news that your father is dead, Rina. A mage from another kingdom put a death spell on him. His eyes are gone. One of our mages found him, bleeding to death. By the time our men could get to him, it was too late. The mage said there would have been nothing she could have done for him had he lived long enough to get home." Thabian bowed his head in respect. "Carrion had a scrap of parchment in his hand, and Lela found it. It says that she is the Queen's sister. But not you, or any of the other brothers and sisters."
Rina nodded. "The Queen's mother, who was Queen at the time, gave birth to Lela the same day Mother gave birth to a dead child. The two women were friends, and the Queen was on her deathbed during the birth. She told her servant to take the child to Jemiver. Mother never knew her child was dead, or that the dead child was really a son. You see, the Queen had a feeling that she might not live to see her child born, and she had mages watching Mother. They told her one month before the child was born, that the baby was almost dead, and would not survive the trauma of birth. That was when the Queen gave a secret declaration that her child would go to Jemiver. Only Father and I knew, and now you and Allen know Lela's secret of beauty." Tears filled Rina's eyes, tears for her dead father, the loss her mother was going to face when she found out the truth of Lela, and for Lela. "I hate to see Mother when she learns of Lela's heritage."
Thabian nodded, for he knew how much Jemiver cherished Lela. And thinking of Lela reminded him that he should get home. "Lela's still unconscious from her second faint. I really should get back to her. Do you mind if I leave my children here?" Rina shook her head. Thabian thanked Rina and Allen, and went back home to his wife. She was still out cold, so he got a damp rag and wiped her face with it. She came around slowly.
"Thabian?" she murmured. "What happened? Where am I? Please tell me Father's still alive. That I haven't even gone over there yet."
"Oh, love, that I could tell you those things." When Lela started to sit up, he gently pushed her down. "Stay still, dear. You've only just awoken from you latest fainting spell. You're at home, in bed, and safe. You have made me very worried today, and you are to stay here, resting for the rest of the day. If I have to, I'll sit here all day just to keep you where you are."
"Father's really dead? I didn't imagine the sight of his eyeless face?" Thabian nodded, against his better judgment. Tears filled Lela's eyes, and great sobs made her body shake. Thabian helped her to sit up, and then held her close as she cried over the loss of her father. She cried long enough that she fell asleep. Thabian continued to hold her for a long time afterwards, tears falling from his eyes..
Meanwhile, Rina told Allen that she was going to her parents' house to comfort her mother. There, she found Jemiver and the mage who had found Carrion. She asked the mage to see if her sister and her baby were all right, because she was worried about the fainting and morning sickness Thabian had told her about. The mage did some complicated magic over a bucket of water. It seemed like an eternity before she looked up. The appearance of her face was somber.
Lela woke up early that evening, feeling a little hungry. She realized that Thabian had not moved once since she started crying, and he had fallen asleep himself. His face was streaked with the salt from his tears. Lela put a hand to his cheek and kissed him. He woke with a start, thinking something was wrong. "Are you all right?" he asked.
"I'm just a little hungry." Thabian left her sitting up while he fetched them a snack. Lela ate some of hers, not as hungry as she usually was. When Thabian asked her what was wrong, she said "I'm not very hungry right now. I'm more tired than anything." Thabian took the remains of her cheese and put it away, and then got into bed with her. With Thabian holding her close, right behind her, and the baby growing inside of her, but the bulge in front of her, Lela felt comforted. If the baby was a boy, she would name it Carrion without a moment's doubt.
Lela woke up in the middle of the night. Something was not right. She was panting, but she wasn't hot. Then a wave of pain hit her, and she squeezed Thabian's hand hard. Hard enough to wake him. "Thabian, run for the midwife," she told him in a tight whisper. "Something's not right." Thabian jumped out of bed, jumped into his pants, and hit the door running. He knew it was too soon for Lela to go into labor.
The midwife came to the house, followed by Thabian. Lela had started to bleed, and the midwife could do nothing. "You will lose the child" was all she could say. Tears of sorrow and pain filled Lela's eyes. It felt as if her baby was being ripped from her. She wanted to keep the baby so bad, but the loss was inevitable. Almost as if she had gotten a curse put upon her.
Thabian held his wife close, as the midwife cleaned up the mess from the miscarriage. It was all he could do to keep crying himself, because he hated to see his wife in so much pain, and he wished he had never seen the day that his wife lost a child. The two lovers fell asleep sitting up, the loss fresh in their minds.
Jemiver went to her daughter's house at midday. She was worried about her daughter, especially after the news the mage had given her and Rina. To her surprise, nobody answered her calls. She looked in the bedroom, and saw that Thabian and Lela were still asleep, pain written across their faces. She decided to let them sleep, and ask after the baby later. But she didn't even get to the door before Lela called out.
"Mother? Is that you?" Her voice was weak.
"Yes, Lela. What do you need?" she asked, coming back into the bedroom. She saw that both Lela and Thabian were awake. "What happened last night? There's pain on your face, pain that couldn't have come from the death of your father."
Lela looked down at her belly, where there used to be a comforting bulge, and tears filled her eyes again. Thabian kissed her, tears starting to fill his eyes. He knew his wife wouldn't be able to tell what happened, so he did. "Jemiver, Lela lost the baby last night." Tears landed on his wife's head, as he was unable to stop them. Jemiver bowed her head. The mage had been right. "I'll let the family know."
The next two days passed in a haze for Lela. She had lost two people on the same day, and she had a very hard time dealing with the loss of her baby. Thabian had all correspondence to the spymaster routed to his home so that he might spend every moment with his wife. He hated to see her standing at a window doing something, go to put her hand on her belly, and start silently crying. It hurt him to see her feel empty and lost. He stood by her, holding her close as they buried Carrion. The Queen and her husband had come to pay their respects to the man who helped keep her from harm. She also told Lela that she would visit in two day's time to discuss the running of the spy network.
Two days passed, and Lela was still in a fog. It wasn't right for her to not have a life growing inside of her anymore, no more was it right that her father had died. Thabian was kind to her, letting her do her own thing, just so long as he could see her or knew exactly where she was. Jemiver did her best to comfort her daughter, hoping that a visit from the Queen would cheer her up. Nothing else seemed to be helping.
Thabian was in the garden early on the morning the Queen arrived. Lela was not yet awake, and he made the monarch comfortable. Before he went to wake Lela and make sure she looked halfway decent for her audience, he asked the Queen, "Your Majesty, may I make a request of you?"
"Yes, you may, husband of my sister."
"Please try not to mention anything about babies, or pregnancy. Lela's still having a hard time dealing with the loss of our child."
"I will keep it in mind." Thabian nodded his thanks, and went to wake his wife. She was still very sad, but she did her best to look like she was getting over her loss. When the Queen saw Lela was ready, she nodded in approval. Her sister was indeed a beauty, and she had chosen a fine man to be her husband. Not many men would be able to be so kind to Lela in her present state.
"What brings you here, my Queen?" Lela asked.
"Don't you remember? I told you at your father's funeral that I would come to discuss the running of my spy network. My Master of Spies is dead, and I need someone to follow in his place. I was rather hoping that you might be able to do the job."
"I suppose I can, Your Majesty." Lela replied, head bowed in respect for her dead father. She raised her head before speaking again. "I was his most trusted child. None of my brothers or sisters knew how to record the reports properly, nor did they listen to any accountings. I suppose I am the best suited for the job. I will do it with great honor, in memory of my father."
"I am glad. But Lela, you must call me Karrie. We are sisters after all." She watched confusion cloud Lela's face. "Has no one ever told you this?"
"Father had a scrap of paper in his hand the day he died. I believe it said something about us being sisters, but I don't see how it could be."
"It is true, my dear. My mother, rather our mother, and Jemiver gave birth at the same time. The mages predicted it would be so, and it was. Mother knew that Jemiver's child would not survive the trauma of birth, because she had mages watching her. That was when Mother felt like she would not live to see her child born, and in fact she was on her deathbed during the birth, and knew she had mad the right decision to give you to her good friend. Jemiver gave birth to a dead child, a son, and they took it away before she could see it, supposedly to clean it up. They took the son and burned it, and gave you to Jemiver. You see, Jemiver and Mother were good friends. Mother would have trusted Jemiver with her life. So it was only right that she give her friend the child she would never see." At the mention of never seeing a child, tears filled Lela's eyes, and she tried not to let her face betray her sadness. But it was to no avail; the tears fell and her face turned sad. "Forgive me, Lela. I should not have spoken of such events today. Your husband did tell me what happened, and here I go and forget things."
"No, no, I shouldn't be so upset over this. I really don't know what's gotten into me," Lela said. "I'm never sad over anything for very long. I just can't understand what I'm feeling right now." She wiped away her tears. "If I'm going to be the Mistress of Spies, I really should learn to control my emotions. Thank you for coming to visit me today."
"Oh, I enjoyed it very much. I look forward to seeing more of you, Lela. Come see me in two days, about midmorning."
"Yes, Your Maje..Karrie" Lela caught herself. She and Thabian stood as the Queen left their house. Lela turned to Thabian, eyes still wet. "I'll have to stop this nonsense if I'm going to work for the Queen. I just wonder why I lost the baby."
"Lela, it's perfectly fine if you are still upset over the loss. And I can't really answer that question. Dear, your mother doesn't really know what's going on with you being the sister of the Queen. Maybe you should go talk to her. If you have to, get your sister to explain it."
Lela nodded. "I have to do this without you, Thabian. It may make things easier on Mother if she thinks not many people know." She left the house, and stopped by Rina's on her way to her parent's home. Rina had agreed to tell Jemiver about Lela, in the event that Lela was still dazed from the news, and this was so. "Mother?" Lela asked when she reached her destination. "There's something you should know. I really, truly, am the sister of the Queen."
Jemiver sat down at the table. "How can this be? I gave birth to you. Don't be absurd."
"No, Mother. It is true," Rina said. She proceeded to tell everything she knew, including the fact that there were several people who had suspicions that the dead Queen had hidden her child away. There were people who even suspected that Lela was the missing Royal Child. She proceeded to point out the fact that Lela was the only red haired child in the family, and also the only one with pale skin.
"So it is true. My baby did die all those years ago, like I had felt before it was born. And my dear friend had the sense to keep me from feeling misery by giving you to me. I thought you were just a strange child to have come from me when you were born. Well, Lela, I suppose you'll be spending most of your time at the Palace now."
"I do not think so, Mother. I am to be Mistress of Spies, which means it will be easier for me to stay home and work. Things will be mostly normal." I'll just be visiting my sister every few days at the Palace, Lela thought to herself.
The thought of going to the Palace made Lela seem happier than she had been in a few days. Thabian took her out to get some fancy clothes for her visit to the Palace. He was happy that a change had come about in his wife. There were still moments when she was sad or forlorn, but those moments were becoming fewer.
The morning Lela was to visit her sister came. She dressed in her fancy clothes, and went into the main room of the house. Thabian took one look at her, and his heartbeat doubled. Lela was beautiful beyond words, and she looked as if she were of royalty. The children, sitting at the table, gasped. They were not used to seeing their mother look this pretty.
"Mommy, you look pretty today," young Saryel said. She was in awe of her mother.
"Thank you, Saryel. Mommy has to go to the palace today." She went to sit down. Thabian pulled the chair out for her, and pushed her up to the table. He then served her first, to allow her more time to eat while keeping her clothes clean.
A group of royal guardsmen rode up to the house, a beautiful horse for Lela with them. Her husband hugged her tight, they kissed, and she left. She was feeling very comfortable in her dress, as if she had worn one like it all her life. People turned out in the streets to see her ride by. Some of them felt that she was a missing daughter of the Queen's mother, or that she was the missing Royal Child. The men of the guard tightened their circle around her a little bit, to discourage anyone from coming near her.
Lela was shown into one of the sitting rooms. The Queen was already there. "Lela, dear. I'm glad you came. You look like you're in much better shape than the last time I saw you. Do sit down."
Lela took the offered chair, next to her sister. "Thank you, Karrie. I do have one question for you. How are you planning to introduce me as your sister?"
"I had planned to do that about a month after I announce that you are my Mistress of Spies. And I would like to do that here in a day or two. Would you mind?"
"Not at all. You are the Queen, after all. There's not much I could do to prevent you from doing what you want."
Queen Karrie sighed. "That's what everybody says. Truth is, I like having people's honest opinions, not ones they think I want to hear. Now, what is your honest opinion about my plan?
"I think it is fine. Why are you waiting in between the announcements, and why Mistress of Spies first?
"I want people to think that you are just the dead Master's daughter, taking over for him as duty calls. I want to wait, because then everyone will think that I've discovered that you are the missing Royal Child. I don't want the people to think that I'm hiring my sister to keep the kingdom under our family's complete control." Karrie coughed hard. She leaned back in her chair, and took a deep breath. "But all this may change. I've not been feeling well lately." After a few moments of silence, which Lela recognized as a pause, the Queen continued. "I never married. I could not find a man to love me like your husband does you. As such, I have no heir. You are to become the next Queen, should you outlive me. If not, then young Saryel will become Queen. I have had it all written out since your father died. I hope you don't mind." Karrie coughed again, this time into a handkerchief, hiding the fact that she was now coughing up blood.
"I don't mind, but I do know one thing. You need rest, Karrie, and lots of it. Don't say you can't rest because you are Queen. You may have to send out a declaration that you need some rest in order to continue to serve the people in the way you want them to. I'm sure many would understand." She noticed the smile on her sister's face. "What?"
"You act just like Mother did. The tone of your voice is similar to hers. You even look a lot like her. And you seem very comfortable, almost at home here. Would I be correct in that?"
"Strangely, yes. I do feel rather at home here. I don't know why."
"You are royal-born. Why shouldn't you feel at home here?"
"I don't know." Lela shook her head and sighed. "Karrie, you must rest. I will come check on you, to make sure of it. You may be the older of us, but you have never had to care for a sick child, and thus will not think to rest so you can get well. If I find you not resting, I'll set some of my mages upon you. Do I make myself clear?"
Karrie nodded as she chuckled. "Just like Mother." She watched her younger sister walk away, and then went up to her rooms. She would do as Lela said, for fear of her motherly wrath.
"How was your visit, Lela?" Thabian asked when he saw her walk in the door. "I thought you might stay longer than you did."
"It was fine. I would have stayed longer, but Karrie wasn't feeling well. I made her promise to rest." Lela changed out of her clothes, and picked up her youngest child, Ishmal. He was a jolly boy, for one so young. "Karrie wants to announce that I am her Mistress of Spies in the next day or so. I will make it so that I get in an announcement of my own, concerning correspondence." All of the children had gathered around Lela by now, happy to see her awake, looking better than she had in a few days. She brought them close to her, each in turn, and hugged them tight. I have six wonderful children who were born of me. I have no need to mourn for a baby that never saw light or drew breath. How foolish I must have looked, unable to do anything for being so sad. Lela saw Thabian smiling out of the corner of her eye. He was happy that she was happy, and that she was getting over her loss.
Jemiver came over that afternoon, having given instructions to her guards for the afternoon. "Lela?"
"Yes, Mother?" Lela was playing with her children.
"I thought you were with the Queen."
"She's not feeling well." Lela kissed Ishmal. "She's going to announce my appointment to Mistress of Spies in the next couple of days. Then it'll be a little while until she announces I'm her sister." Lela was still mad at herself for crying over a dead child. She loved her children.
The day of the announcement came, and Lela was dressed in her finest clothes. Thabian had clothes just as fine. He didn't know what was going to happen, but he knew it was important that he be presentable. Lela went ahead early to be with Karrie, because there were several things still to be done. Karrie gave her sister instructions on etiquette for the ceremony, and Lela told Karrie her idea for part of the ceremony.
Everyone had assembled, and the ceremony was waiting to begin. Karrie and Lela walked down the center aisle of the audience. Everyone stood and bowed as they walked by. Karrie ascended to her throne on the dais, and Lela stood beside her. When everyone had quieted down, a footman spoke, giving the words of introduction. When he was done, Karrie stood up and moved forward to speak.
"My people, it was a sad day when Master of Spies Carrion died. He was like a father to me." She beckoned to Lela, who came to stand beside her. "I wish to present to you Carrion's daughter, Lela, as the new Mistress of Spies." There was thunderous applause. Karrie stepped back and sat on her throne.
Lela nodded her thanks and looked out at the crowd. “As Queen Karrie said, I am the daughter of Carrion. I was involved in his correspond very heavily, and ran the very occasional errand for the Spy Network. I gladly accept the post of Mistress of Spies.” She paused for a moment. “Many of you may know that my husband, Thabian, was the Correspondence Master. I wish to announce that I will be keeping him as my Correspondence Master.”
Thabian was shocked. He stayed sitting down. Lela came down and pulled him to his feet. He followed her back up on the dais, and kissed her in front of everyone. He turned to the people gathered. “It was a pleasure to work under Carrion. I gladly accept the position of Correspondence Master.”
There was thunderous applause. Karrie stood, gave a closing speech, and left. Lela and Thabian followed. As soon as they got inside the palace, Karrie started to cough. Lela looked at her in concern. Karrie tried to wave her off, but Lela placed her hand on Karrie’s arm.
“Karrie…what is wrong? You don’t look well at all.”
“It’s nothing. Not yet anyway..” She coughed again, and had no handkerchief. Her lovely white sleeve became dotted with red.
Lela looked a bit alarmed. “Karrie, you aren’t well at all. You shouldn’t have even held this ceremony today.” She started to lead Karrie to her bedchambers. Thabian followed the two women, watching to see if Karrie would protest. But no protest was heard or seen. Lela had Karrie’s maids get her ready for sleep. She sat beside Karrie, very worried. The loss of Carrion was still somewhat fresh, and Lela didn’t want to lose the sister she had just found. Worry was written on her face.
Lela stayed with Karrie for the next eight weeks, caring for her. Thabian was worried about his wife, because she seemed to be getting less and less sleep. He made her times at home as pleasurable as possible. He also noticed that she was also becoming heavier, which was probably due to the rich palace food and worrying about Karrie. Thabian made things as easy as possible for Lela to run her Spy Network, by simplifying messages and making the minor decisions.
Karrie was feeling better by the ninth week. She told Lela that it was time to announce that they were sisters. Lela agreed, as she was not sure Karrie’s wellness period would last for very long. Thabian was to keep a watch over Karrie, and step in if she started to feel poorly.
Everyone in the Kingdom was shocked with the news, but happy that they could live under the same family should Karrie die. Many of them knew their queen was feeling poorly, and had been for some time. Everything seemed to go fine with the ceremony. Karrie seemed to be doing much better. But that all ended a week later when Karri woke up with a massive headache, feeling hot and sore all over. Lela, who was at home resting, and had been for the past week, was sent for. She was at Karrie’s side in a matter of minutes.
Lela couldn’t believe that Karrie was this sick. She never left Karrie’s side for a moment, even though she was very tired herself, and feeling unwell herself. Thabian moved his family to the palace, so that he might be able to help with Karrie when Lela was too tired to do it, and also so that he might be able to take care of his wife as he thought she needed it. The Spy Network was moved to the palace as well.
Karrie continued to get worse. She had days where she didn’t know who Lela was, and would try to order her away from the palace. On those days, Lela usually just stayed away from her the rest of the day, letting the maids and Thabian take over the care of her sister. Lela knew the end was coming, and there was no way to prevent it.
Five weeks after Karrie’s relapse, Lela was summoned to her bedside. Lela had been away from her sister for the past week because Karrie kept ordering her away.
Karrie was lying in bed, very pale and extremely weak. The room had a sickly sweet smell to it. Lela sat at the head of the bed, and stroked Karrie’s damp forehead. Kari didn’t move or open her eyes. Lela took Karrie’s hand and held it, fearing the worst.
Five minutes later, Karrie slowly opened her eyes. It took her five more minutes to move her hand to Lela’s belly. Lela’s face broke into a slight frown, but no more. “Karrie?” she asked in a very hushed voice.
Karrie’s eyes closed again. “Queen--------Lela----------- ---------be-------------good.” She took forever to speak. “Child--------------------lov e---------------take--------------- care.”
Lela put her hand over Karrie’s acknowledging her words, even though she doubted she was with child, and waited for Karrie to go on.
“Love-------------------you-------- -----------much.” Karrie’s hand went limp, and Lela started to cry. She sat there for a good hour, crying over her sister. Thabian was walking by when he heard his wife’s sobs, and he looked in. Lela had not moved one inch since her sister had died. Karrie’s hand was still up against Lela’s belly, and Lela’s hand over it.
Thabian went over and put his arms around Lela. “Love, I’m so sorry. I wish I had been here so you could have cried on my shoulder.” Lela leaned against him, the tears not stopping.
Karrie was buried on the first bright, sunny day. That day happened to be three days after Karrie’s death. Lela was still feeling ill, but she knew she had to be at the funeral, because she was now the Queen. Karrie had set conditions that Lela was to give the orders the moment Karrie died.
The ceremony was beautiful. Everyone cried at the loss of their wonderful Queen. Thabian held Lela close to him whenever he could. She gave a speech and sang Karrie’s favorite song. She knew her life had changed yet again. As soon as Lela arrived in the Queen’s Suite, she changed to a simpler gown and stood on the balcony, leaning on the railing.
Thabian came up behind her, and held her close. “What’s wrong, love?” he asked. “You look like you need cheering up.”
“I miss Karrie, Thabian. But there is one consolation to this.” She looked up and kissed him.
“Me? Is that the consolation?” he asked. “Or is there more?” He kissed her back.
“There’s more, dear. I’m in the process of replacing the child we lost.” She slipped out of his arms and went to lie down on the bed. Thabian followed with a look of surprise, and started to rub her belly. She smiled at him, truly happy for the first time in days. Things were starting to look up for her
“You know I love you, right Lela?” Thabian asked as he changed out of his clothing, helped Lela out of hers, and tucked her into bed.
“Mm hmm,” she replied as Thabian got into bed beside her. “I love you very much too.” They kissed, and Lela snuggled close to her beloved. He wrapped his arms around her, and held her close as she fell asleep.
As soon as Lela woke up, she was pounced upon by maids, who dressed her in some of her best clothes, and was whisked away to breakfast with some of the Barons and Lords of the land before she even had a chance to say good morning to her husband. Fortunately, Thabian had been pounced upon as well, and was seated at her right hand. The talk was all polite over the meal, as if the Barons and Lords were trying to figure their new Queen out. They watched a friendly yet competitive game of polo, and then it was time for the midday meal.
Lela had a light and sweet, yet potent, wine passed around. Thabian knew she loved to drink of this wine, and so it was his task to make sure she didn’t go spilling secrets. Lela’s hope was to loosen the tongues of the men and see what they thought of her, and Karrie. She sipped out of her cup frequently, to make the lords think she was drinking just as much as they. Thabian saw her trick, and hoped it would work. The conversation this meal was much more robust, each man boasting of his lands, and asking Lela for an opinion.
“Well, good sirs,” she said after several minutes of thinking, “I would have to venture to say no man has better lands than another. Each man may have different amounts of land and the like, but no man has better land than another.”
The guests all looked at her. “Very well said, Your Highness. You are going to become a great Queen with your wisdom.”
Lela blushed a bit and put a hand to her chest. “Thank you, good sir,” she said with a slight tilt of her head. She turned to Thabian. “What is next, Milord?”
“I think a bit of an afternoon siesta is in order, Milady, as you look a mite weary.” Thabian stood, followed by Lela, and then the guests. Servants showed them to a separate wing of the castle so that they might be able to participate in the time of rest. Thabian escorted his wife to their bed.
“You do look wilted, dear,” he said when the door was shut. “Do you feel all right?”
“I’m just tired, love. I am pregnant after all.” She lay down on the bed. “You always know just when I need something, and I love you to death for it.” Thabian smiled, and started to rub her back, focusing on the areas that were tight and stiff. Lela sighed with relief, and fell asleep quickly.
Lela woke up in the middle of the afternoon to Thabian stroking her belly and holding her close. She sensed that he hadn’t slept at all. The way his hand played across her belly made her feel safe and secure, and quite comforted. She snuggled a bit closer to him, and he kissed her neck.
“Awake, are we?” he asked, not stopping his stroking. “Do you suppose we should entertain our guests the rest of the day?”
She sighed. “I suppose so. But I love laying here with you, letting your hands caress me.”
“We can lay here tomorrow, love. But really, we shouldn’t keep them waiting. You slept far longer than I had anticipated.” He summoned a servant, who promptly went to wake or inform the guests. Thabian kissed her and got up from the bed, then sat his wife up on the edge of the bed. They shared a kiss and he rubbed her back, and then they descended to the main floor of the castle. The guests were waiting for them politely, but impatiently. Their impatience stopped when they saw how much brighter their Queen’s eyes were. Several asked her if she had had a good rest, and she told them she had.
They walked around the grounds of the castle before the evening meal was set. The men all jockeyed for a spot at her free side, to possibly gain her favor. Thabian stayed on one side constantly. There was one Lord that kept getting to the front. Finally, she stopped walking. “Milord Dunwalden! I do declare you have had your share of me!” He finally conceded to stop coming to her side.
The evening meal was an elegant feast. There were more tasty morsels than there were at lunch, and lunch had been extravagant for Lela and Thabian. She partook of everything, including the sweet wine that was served with the meal. Tongues were indeed loose as at least half the men got drunk and the music in the background made them feel safe. Lela and Thabian learned that Karrie had indeed been a great Queen, and that the older of the guests thought that Karrie had been better than her mother. They thought Lela was a lot like Karrie, and hoped that she would be just as instrumental in keeping the kingdom in peace or fighting to keep them free from slavery. Thabian made the decision that he and Lela would retire early, because she started to fade fast.
It became custom for Lela to take a siesta after the mid-day meal. Thabian would lay down with her. Sometimes he slept, but most of the time he held his wife close, adoring her as she slept, fascinated by her and the unborn child she was carrying. Thabian loved his wife and children very much, and he hoped that Lela wouldn’t lose this child. She had, in many ways, less stress than last time. She was kept informed of spy activity, and made decisions that affected the kingdom.
Lela was very content. In a way, she missed her old life, working in a garden getting dirt on her hands. She continued to take care of her children as much as she could, instead of letting them lose touch with her. She made sure to get rest when she needed it. She loved being queen, as it gave her a new take on life. She often would have a hand upon her belly, loving the feel of its smooth, comfortable tautness beneath her hand. It was comforting to her; it meant she still had her baby.
Lela and Thabian were resting during their usual time. Lela’s belly was noticeable now, and she insisted upon wearing fewer layers because of it. Lela appeared to be asleep, and Thabian was lightly rubbing her belly, as he always did, because it seemed to sooth her and helped her sleep better in the afternoons. This afternoon, she was feeling very lazy, and didn’t want to get up. Thabian had no objections to her resting longer, he just kept her close. Lela appreciated it.
“Thabian?” Lela asked quietly.
“Yes, darling?” he replied.
“What will we name the baby?” she had a name in mind if it was a boy, but she thought Thabian might have a different name in mind.
“Whatever you want, sweetheart. Any name is fine with me.”
Lela turned over on her back. “You’re sure? You really don’t care what we name the baby?”
He smiled and kissed her. “Of course not, Lela. I want you to be happy as you can be.”
She smiled back at him, and snuggled closer. Today she had done hardly anything, and that’s the way the rest of the day would be, if she had any say in it. Which of course, she did. Nobody minded that she was resting, because they all wanted her to have a healthy baby when the time came, and that included Lela’s mother, Jemiver.
Jemiver often worried about her daughter, because she knew Lela and Thabian were hoping very much for a live, healthy baby. It was easier to keep tabs upon her daughter, though, because she was kept informed of everything Lela did. She was proud of Lela. No matter who’s biological daughter the queen was, Lela was always Jemiver’s daughter.
As time progressed, Lela’s belly grew more. In fact, once she had started to show, it grew faster than she thought it would. Thabian watched over her, making sure that she didn’t exert herself too much, or feel too tired. Thabian was concerned about Lela, as were Jemiver and her oldest children.
Despite her growing belly, Lela still held court at least twice a day, and tried to hold it three times a day as was custom. But she found it hard to hold the mid-day court, for she would grow hungry and order the mid-day meal to be set at the time of court. And forget holding court after eating, for it was Lela’s siesta and relaxation time, and nothing was to interrupt or delay it by more than a few moments.
Thabian left Lela’s side as she slept, that fateful afternoon. He was pulled away by a matter concerning his sickened horse. Believing her to be fine, he left. Lela would rise and prepare for court in good time. Lela kept sleeping. The servants knew not to go into the queen’s sleeping chamber during her resting period unless called for.
Thabian returned to prepare for court, thinking Lela had been whisked away to finish court preparations. To his surprise, she was still laying on the bed.
There was no response from her. Thabian went closer. He saw that she was unnaturally still. As he got even closer to her, he saw crimson staining the bedclothes.