Sunday, January 06, 2013

A Journal Entry, Part Two

At the beginning would be the logical choice.  I can hear my old commander's voice on the wind, there.  Any time someone made their report and started in the middle of things, he would wait for the initial burst of steam to run out, then dryly suggest that beginning at the beginning would be the logical point.  I hated those words, hated them until I heard them coming out of my mouth one day when my sleeve had the stripes. 

So.  The beginning, when the Lady ended her confinement at last, and the heir to Schadelthron was finally brought into the world.  I was honored to be standing guard outside her chambers while the Master was inside viewing the new life.  I remember when the door cracked open and he gestured me inside.  Placed the tiny bundle in my hands.  I was so shocked I nearly dropped it; he did me far too much honor. 

"I wanted your face to be one she knows as well as her mother's or mine." She yawned, face splitting wide, and then her eyes opened again, that perfect newborn's grey, that no color from nine months of looking at the red darkness.  Her skin was perfect, her head was round. The midwife had done an excellent job bringing her into the world gently.  The only sign of the animal source of birth was a smear of blood on one cheek, and Mistress came and wiped it off with a cloth. 

"Should you be up?"  The words were curt, but his voice was tender as he looked at his wife, forgetting me for a moment, standing there with all his hopes, his future in my hands.

"Nonsense," she said firmly.  "Everything went just as it should.  I'm fine.  Our little girl is fine.  There's no reason I should lie there as if I'd foaled like one of the bears -- and even you wouldn't question one getting to her feet and starting to lick her cub immediately afterwards."  She kissed him on the cheek, I remember. 

Then the penny dropped.  Her.  Little girl.  For a moment, I thought I understood my duty; that he was asking me to do the necessary work, to take this little mite out into the snows and lay her to rest on a hillside so they could grieve, then try again for a more fitting heir.  I thought for a moment of my sons, grown men, possibly grandfathers --possibly great- or great-great-grandfathers by then, and I held the little one closer for a second. It wasn't my place to refuse an order, nor my place to speak and volunteer.  So I waited, and each flutter of her heart made doing what I would have to do just that much harder.

He saw my thoughts in my eyes, I think, and nodded once.  "That.  That's why I need you."

"Yes sir."  For that moment I hated him, hated him for giving in to the wishes of his peers. No better than the masses, for all their power.  I wanted to hide her someplace safe, to take her away with me, away from service.  If I walked far enough, I might find a place where the deformed giant and his tiny charge could live in peace. I'd raise goats or cows, feed her on their milk.  I'd done that before, in another life, when I had a family of my own, between campaigns.  A soldier-farmer, then a soldier, finally back to a farmer, to live out my long days.

A useless fantasy, simply getting through the country my master controlled without being hunted down and destroyed would be futile with an infant.  A stolen infant, if one went so far as to be clear about it; even though her father's intent was to expose her on a hillside did not mean that she could then be claimed by the next person to come by.  That was no different, in the eyes of the law, than stealing the infant from its crib, or the loving arms of its mother.

I waited for him to dismiss me, to tell me to go and do my duty, hold his wife back as I left the rooms and the castle.  But instead, he stroked her head, and laid his hand on my arm. 

"I need you to help keep her safe," he said.  "You and I both know there will be those who take . . . exception  . . . to a girl child as the heir to the throne. She will need to lean on your strength until she develops her own."

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