Chapter Thirty-One (part IV)

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Alas, it would not be a good night. I slept little and restlessly, kept awake first by little Harry's squeals and thumps and angry wailing, then by Gerard's snoring, and then by my own loneliness. I missed Edgar dreadfully most every night, but that night -- at home, yet not at home, and never at home without him -- it was too much to bear. Tears filled my eyes, and I could not fight them. I wept and bit the quilts so I would not wake Gerard.

I rose again in the twilight of the new day, pushed out of bed by a grim eagerness to get it all done with. Let my father be dragged from his grave. Let his bones be weighed and measured. Let the Earls decide whether I should live as queen or die a traitor... I wearied of this business of worry and waiting.

I was washed and dressed in the green kirtle before Gerard even stirred; I finished as much as I could stomach of my breakfast while he was still buttering his bread, and I was restless and growing angry by the time he asked, "The business begins. Will you go now?"

The guards marched me to the dining room, where everyone was gathered already. Lord Belrad, Lord Belstan, and Lord Ermenhard watched over Bram's shoulder while he drew an invisible map with his finger for Gemyndful Tancsig. Lady Baelward paced along the opposite wall, kissing little Harry's pink cheeks before she handed him off to the nurse.

"It's an easy walk," Bram said, "Hardly a mile off. We're here, see... And the North Road goes along this way. It meets with an old Wolf road here, runnin' up to the creek. And he's here."

"At the crossroads?" Lord Belstan's lips pursed, pulled together by an emotion I could not name.

"His lordship didn't want him in with the family. But we dug a proper grave, Roberts and I. Put him in the lowland, where it's too wet for plantin'. And I gave him a stone and said the prayers over him." Bram shrugged. "I did my best by him."

Lord Belrad squeezed his shoulder, murmuring, "Good, lad. Good, lad," and then he asked, "And where is the master of this house?"

He was answered by a footman, who was quickly sent away again to fetch my cousin, though he returned with the butler instead. Lord Belrad dismissed the butler, too, and soon was met by the steward -- a man I'd never seen before.

"And who are you?" Belrad asked.

"Smallden, sir. Lord Shepley has instructed me to see to it you had all you needed for your departure."

"All we need is your master."

The steward shook his head. "His lordship is sleeping, sir. But I can-"

"Then wake him up, man! Our lordships are all in readiness, and we wait on him."

Long minutes followed. The Earls grew restless and paced into the great hall, talking of other plans.

"Must we wait?" Lord Belstan asked. "We act for the Throne."

Lord Belrad shook his head. "There's a proper method to this business, Brother, and we have all the ingredients at hand." He paused before the tall clock -- which was more or less eye to eye with him -- and then he turned away, growling, "But I tell ye true, if Ewert isn't down here by the stroke of seven, I shall go up myself and drag him out of bed."

Happily, perhaps, at two minutes to seven, my cousin did finally appear, well-groomed, well-dressed, and well vexed.

He said, "I am more than happy to accommodate you," tugging at his cuffs. "In truth, it is my honor. But this is too much, sirs! Am I to be commanded in my own home? Am I not master in my own demesne?"

"Aye, and that's just why we need ye, lad." Lord Belrad pointed at me. "This child's father is buried on your lands."

Charles scowled, following the line of Lord Belrad's finger to me -- and he did see me, this time, and know it was me. The blood drained from his face, and he wobbled, as if he might faint, and then he said, "Cousin..." offering me a feeble smile. "How delightful to see you again. After so long."

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