Once upon a time, as the stories say, I would have been thrilled to know that Lothar’s child was growing inside me. But I am no longer that girl. Only a few years have passed since that first mating ceremony, but they have completely changed me. They have changed everything.
Briefly, a golden fantasy danced through my mind of us parenting our secret love child together. Maybe we would have the daughter I had once dreamed of, or perhaps it would be a son. Either would be fine as long as we had each other. But then reality sank in.
Lothar already has a son—a legitimate one with the woman he married. An heir to his kingdom. A child he can publicly lavish as much love upon as he desires.
A son who will always have his father near him, who will never wonder why his parents live apart.
A boy who will have every luxury freely given to him, so that he may live a life of wealth and comfort befitting a prince, until the day that his father’s crown becomes his own.
My child will be King Lothar’s bastard. I have no doubt that he would love our baby, but we would have to keep it a secret. He could not devote himself to his child the way he can with Dracarus. Otherwise, people would suspect. Markius would throw us out on the street. And if Ivaine or Galaea found out, my fate would be so much worse.
Unless there is another way.
Markius still has no interest in touching me, but that is what magic is for.
Potions and spells of this nature are illegal, and for good reason. The victims lose control of their bodies and minds as carnality takes over. My mother brewed a weaker batch of the same potion for the mating ceremonies. When I was still the hopeful, naïve girl who waited for her prince to come on the eve of summer, I would have been repulsed at the thought of giving it to someone who didn’t want me. Now I am just a desperate woman.
I slip a double dose into Markius’s mead.
As I suspected, he drinks it down in one go.
Soon, he cannot keep his hands off me. I never knew that intercourse with one’s own husband could feel so wrong. As his booze-flavored mouth devours mine, I try to convince myself that I am doing the right thing. Or, at least, for the right reasons.
And now, there is one last thing I must do.
So I go to him.
The gatekey takes me to the one room in the castle Ivaine will not set foot in...
“Hello, my beautiful one,” Lothar greets me. My sudden appearances no longer startle him. “To what do I owe the pleasure of your company? I didn’t think we had plans to meet today.”
“We didn’t,” I say. “But… there is something I need to tell you.”
“What is it, love?”
“Lothar, I’m with child.”
“Oh.” At first that is all he can say. He smiles, but it does not disguise the look of shock on his face. His mouth opens and shuts a few times. Then she speaks quickly. “Corynne… I promise I will take care of you—both of you. You will never go without. Don’t worry.”
They are lovely words. But we both know the truth he is avoiding. No matter how much he provided financially, I would still have to go without and so would our child. And we’d miss out on the most important thing of all—him.
My voice hardens. “You misunderstand. Markius is the father.”
“He… is?” Lothar looks shocked, and more disappointed than I thought he’d be. “But how can you be sure?”
I turn away so I won’t have to look into Lothar’s eyes as I keep lying to him. “I am a witch. We have our ways of knowing these things.”
I swallow and force myself to hold back the tears stinging my eyes. “I can’t be with you anymore. I need to be with my family.”
“I see.” Lothar’s voice is low and gravelly. “Is that really what you want?”
Even though on the inside I am screaming, I relax my face into an expressionless mask. “It is.”
“In that case,” Lothar says, “you should go home to your husband.”
I could return from the castle in the blink of an eye if I used my gatekey, but I am not ready to go home so quickly. I would rather walk to clear my head.
How is it that once again I have lost my life’s happiness?
Only this time, it is because of my own doing.
But as with all my unpleasant decisions as of late, I am convinced that I’m doing what is best for my child. For both of my children.
The sun sets as I walk through the market place. I find myself outside of the blind seer’s shop.
It may do me good to hear my fortune. What could be the harm?
After drying my eyes, I step through the seer’s door. I hope that I have not come too late and she is willing to tell me my future. I am suddenly anxious to know what kind of future awaits me now.
The seer sits in her parlor behind a crystal ball. In spite of myself, I wonder how she can possibly see into it.
“Hello, Corynne,” she says. “I have been expecting you.”
“How do you know my name?” I ask, startled.
“Doubting me already?” she replies in her whimsical, rasping voice. “I know everything about you, my dear.”
As I sit down across from her, I realize there is something familiar to me about this seer. I feel I may have known her once. Or maybe it’s just the feeling of how well she knows me.
“I would like a fortune, please,” I tell her.
“We all have a fortune,” she said. “But perhaps you wish for me to tell you yours.”
“Yes. That’s what I meant.”
“It would be my honor,” she says. “But first you must pay.”
I hand her the sack of coins I have been saving for Galaea.
“Yes,” she says happily. “This will do quite nicely.”
The seer gazes into the crystal ball from behind her blindfold. Her voice changes from her whispery rasp to a ringing, powerful tone.
“The child in your womb is another daughter. She will be obedient and kind. Though her life may be wrought with adversity, she will overcome with a quiet spirit. She is destined to become a mother to many, but she will need her mother as well. You must be her rescuer when the time comes. If you do not forsake your daughters, they will not forsake you.”
Forsake my daughters? How could I dream of such a thing? Wasn’t I already giving up everything for them?
“What about my fortune?” I ask. “What is to become of me?”
“I have already given you a fortune telling,” she says. “You must pay again if you want another.”
“What?” I cry in outrage. “I have already paid you! I expected a full fortune, not a partial one!”
“Those are my terms,” she says. “I have to make a living too, you know.”
“Oh, very well,” I mutter.
After I have given her more money than I had intended to spend today, the seer proceeds to tell me my fortune.
“The life you have chosen is not the life you were meant for. No man can establish your true worth, for they see only what is on the outside. You have yet to discover your inner potential because you have not looked within. But one way or another—and soon—you will be forced to.
“Things will happen that you never thought you could bear, but you will survive them because you are a brave girl. You are much stronger than you think you are and you have a heart with an immense capacity to love when you choose to.
“You will become a master of your craft, even greater than your mother. You will travel vast distances and love deeply.”
“But will I ever be happy?” I ask.
“Happiness,” she says, “is a choice. It’s yours to make every day, regardless of your circumstances.”
“And is that all you can see?”
“No,” she answers. “But it is all I will tell you. It wouldn’t be nice to spoil the ending.”
I begin to rise from my chair. “Thank you for your time.”
“Wait,” she says.
“There is one piece of advice I have for you, and I give it completely free of charge.”
“And what is that?” I ask, suddenly feeling very tired.
“Do not go back to the castle.”