Now that Donya and I are both strong enough, we have returned home from the witches' camp. Markius greets us inside, and happily, he is sober.
His first words upon seeing our daughter are, "Why is she so white?"
"Because she's special," I answer.
"You know what they say about strange colored children. You remember what that blind seer said."
"Don't be ridiculous." I regret ever telling him that story. "Strangeling children are just a superstition. She's perfect."
Markius seems awkward with Donya. He holds her at arms length, as though she is going to make a mess on him.
And in some cases, he is right.
Life is so much different with a new baby in the house. The poor thing has colic, and I would give up everything I hold dear if I could only make her feel better. There are potions for it, but they have not worked for her. Nothing works.
Sleep has become precious... and impossible. I am almost certain that Markius fakes it when Donya cries at night.
I go to her cradle, as I will do every time she needs me. As I hold her in my arms and sing a lullaby my mother once sang for me when I was sick, she looks at me with sleepy eyes.
I nurse her and rub the persistent bubble in her tummy. Only hours later, she cries for me again. All that I can do is hold her close to me and bounce her gently. I kiss her cheek and whisper how much I love her.
I take her into my bedroom so that I may lie down as I comfort her. Markius can no longer pretend he is sleeping.
"I don't know how much more of this I can take," he groans. "Who ever heard of a baby who cried this much?"
"She can't help that she's hurting. Didn't you think of this when you once thought about having children?"
"I actually never thought about having children," he admits.
"Aye. I know how much you wanted a baby, but I never saw myself as a father."
He sighs. "Because I never had one. Not one that I remember, anyway. It was just me and my mother, and beating the ever-loving shit out of me was her only source of stress-release. That's why I started drinking at ten. She died when I was seventeen and I didn't even cry. Not once."
"Oh." I knew his relationship with his mother had been bad, but I never would have guessed it was that bad. "I... I'm so sorry."
"Don't be sorry," he says. "It's just that without any kind of decent parent in my life, what reason did I have to think I'd be worth a damn as one?"
"It doesn't have to be like that," I try to assure him. "You could be a wonderful father." Then, as an afterthought, "And husband."
I had hoped that having a child would change Markius into a better man, and in the beginning, it did. He'd begged my forgiveness for being so inattentive when I was in labor.
He bought be a ruby necklace to say it best, and I didn't want to imagine how much he paid for it. A new cauldron or potion book would have been just as good, but it was a lovely gesture.
"I thought I was dreaming," he explained. "I'd had a pretty rough night that night and... well, I feel awful."
"Never mind," I told him. "We're both fine, so no harm done."
"That's my girl."
Yes, I'd hoped so much . But now he's gone again. Now, instead of having his boys over, he goes out with them, and stays away for nights on end. The bedroom is so empty and drafty without him and the sheets are too cold. All I ever wanted was some greater love than being someone's forgotten housewife.
And I have found it. My beautiful daughter--my life's greatest purpose. In spite of my loneliness, she is mine, and at least we have each other.
I watch her sleep, breathing so peacefully, those nights of colic now forgotten.
I pick her up and sway with her, humming softly. She yawns and lays her head on my shoulder, then I carry to her my bed.
She nuzzles her head to me and drifts away to the rise and fall of my chest. I fall asleep with her in my arms.
She is all that I need.
There is an indescribable magic in watching your child grow before your eyes. Everyday, I see her learn and change.
I hold her tiny hands in mine as I guide her feet across the rug. Her legs are still wobbly, but that is more than fine with me. "Please don't grow up too quickly."
She grins at my request, as if she had control over such things.
I share with her everything I know about potions. I show her my books and tools and ingredients, explaining it all to her as if she understands. Perhaps she does. My mother always told me I was a natural--maybe she will be as well.
"No, baby! You can't eat the ingredients!"
The witches adore Donya. They always make a big fuss over her when I come by to visit Keiry or pay my dues. She is their future queen, after all.
Her Auntie Keiry shows her off around the camp and she squeals at all the attention.
Galaea insists on seeing her regularly. She holds her and speaks to her in a grandmotherly manner and refers to her as her sweet little protege. I was surprised that Galaea would be so kindly to her after her initial reaction to Donya, but I know why she does it.
Endear the child to her at a young age, indoctrinate her early. I knew who Donya would be the moment I suspected she would be a girl, but seeing Galaea so close to her bothers me. How can I object when this is her destiny? But I will teach her my own lessons, to ensure that she becomes a far better leader than her predecessor.
"You will become my apprentice," I tell her when I take her to the marketplace, "just like I was to my mama."
The customers gather to see her and I show her how to interact with them.
As I am closing up shop at the end of the day, my breath catches at a sight that I was not prepared for.
From the looks of him, he is a man like any other, in clothes that are quite common.
Just a father walking with his son at the marketplace. But I would know him anywhere.
I know that face better than my own.
Before I can stop myself, I scoop up my daughter and approach him. "A rather undignified state for a king to be in, wouldn't you agree?" I can feel the heat rising in my face as I spit out the words.
He answers with the same easy smile he gave me when we first met. "I suppose so." He laughs. "I wanted to show Dracarus the town square. Incognito, of course. No need to create a scene."
"Baby!" Donya cries. Lothar's son sniffs at her in reply.
"And who is this little darling?" Lothar asks.
"This is my daughter, Donya."
"Oh. I see." His eyes dim out of focus, as though he is somewhere far away in his mind.
"Forgive me," I say. "I fell in love with the name, back when..." the obstruction in my throat will not let me continue.
"Nothing to forgive," he answers. "Consider the name my gift to you."
We sit down on a bench by the fountain and watch our children play together. They seem to like each other immediately. I suppose sometimes people just connect.
"I think they're falling in love," Lothar says with a smirk.
"No, don't do that!" I scold them. "You're far too young." And it will kill you.
We laugh and it's absurd how easy this is, to just sit and joke with him like old friends.
"It's strange," Lothar says.
I nod in agreement.
"Just being here with you, it feels... This is going to sound odd, I'm sure, but I feel free."
Years worth of pent up anger and frustration rise in me. "You just don't get it, do you? What--" My next four words were going to be she's done to you, but he interrupts them with four words of his own.
"I have missed you."
I sigh, my outrage quieted and my resolve defeated. "I miss you too."
And then I just... lose myself.