The seer was true to her word. My baby is a girl.
I carried her nearly two weeks past term, but when she was ready to enter this world, she came quickly and easily—as far as deliveries go, anyway.
Donya crawls into my bed and takes a curious look at the newborn in my arms.
“Darling, I want you to meet your new sister, Volya.”
“That baby looks nothing like me,” Markius says.
“She looks like me,” I answer defensively. “She has my mother’s eyes.”
Markius shows little interest in Volya, but at this point, I am not surprised. He barely has anything to do with Donya either, and he knows that she is his. I have wondered if I’ve given him any indication of my infidelity. He never seemed to notice whether I was home or not. Maybe he cheated on me as well when he was away and naturally assumed it of me. If that is true, I have no room to be angry.
I wonder what my mother would think if she could see me now. Trapped in a loveless marriage with a man who is a slave to his addictions. Living exactly the kind of life she feared most for me. I suppose I could take my daughters and run away like she did. And go where? Back to the witches? Never.
I often think about the seer’s words regarding my life—how the life I was meant for was not the life I had chosen. But if I had chosen not to marry Markius, I would not have Donya. And if I had chosen not to go back to Lothar, I would not have Volya. I have no idea how my life would have turned out, for better or worse, but a life without my daughters is not one I care to think of.
Volya is a very good baby. She is much milder than Donya was at her age and she rarely ever cries.
The first time she slept through the night, she was only three days old. It frightened me because I had expected to wake to her cries as I had with her sister. Half a year had passed before Donya allowed me a full night’s sleep. But when I went to her cradle, I found her sleeping peacefully.
She eats ravenously, though. It seems I never have time to do much else but hold her. Not that I mind too much.
Markius has stopped going out. He has also stopped inviting his rowdy friends over to gamble at our table. I thought I would be happy about these things, but now all Markius does is laze about the house and drink all day. His mood has become increasingly sour. At least when he lived a pleasure-seeking lifestyle, he’d been more pleasant to be around.
“Where is my dinner?” he barks at me one evening. “I’m starving!”
“The baby has to eat first,” I tell him. “When she’s finished, I’ll feed you.” How did he manage to survive long enough to get married without a wife around to cook for him? Did he never feed himself?
“Am I not your husband?” he snarls. “Do I not matter? You’re so wrapped up in those children, but when are you going to start making me a priority, Corynne?”
He has crossed a line. “Maybe when you start making me and these children a priority! Am I not your wife? Do I not matter? Do we not matter?!” I shout louder than I had intended. Volya stirs in my arms and begins to whimper.
I soothe her as Markius slumps down in his seat at the table. “What do you want from me, Corynne?”
What do I want? That list is far too long. But I’ll do my best.
“I want a man who loves me,” I say. “I want a man who honors me, who is proud to be my husband and children’s father. A man who wants to spend time with us and provide for us. But really, what I mostly want from you, Markius, is for you to sober up and start giving a damn!”
He looks back at me, and for just a moment, I see a profound sadness in his eyes.
But it quickly turns to anger. “You want all that, do you? Because what I thought you wanted was an escape from the witch camp. A rebound after your prince dumped you for that other witch. Didn’t I give you those things? Isn’t that why you married me?”
My throat begins to tighten and my eyes burn with furious tears. “I married you because you promised to love me.”
“You never loved me,” he says flatly.
“But I wanted to! I tried to! I really thought that I could, in time…”
“I’m sure my money helped. The big house and the fancy dresses. I’m sure those things swayed your decision, whether you wanted to love me or not. Because more than love, what I think you really wanted was a provider, and I might not have been a prince but I was good enough. I was there.”
I shake my head. “That’s not—”
“But the money’s gone now,” he says.
I blink in confusion. “What do mean it’s gone?”
“Didn’t you hear me? I mean it’s gone. All of it. It has been for a long time. When my father offed himself, all he left for my mother and me was his name, his estate, and a mountain of debt. I’ve made my way by taking out more loans than I could possibly count, but now the coin has run out and it’s time to collect. And once my dwindling supply of booze has run dry, I’ll be out of that too.”
“And you knew about this,” I seethe. “You knew all this time and yet you still pissed away money like you had it. How much of that borrowed money did you throw away on gambling, at the tavern, on me?! Why did you never once think to tell me about this?”
He does not dignify my questions with an answer.
I believe Lothar would help us if I told him about our financial woes, but I do not want to keep running to him. “We could sell the house,” I suggest. “We could move somewhere far away and you could find work while I sell my potions.”
“This house is the only thing I have to name,” he says. “That and everything in it. I won’t leave.”
“Then what are we going to do?” I demand. “Don’t you care?”
He stares hard at me and then looks away. “When are you going to start dinner?”
I work harder than ever to draft and sell my potions, even if it means I have to take Volya with me.
At least I can leave Donya at the witch camp, although I don’t like being away from her too long.
Galaea still insists on teaching Donya, but her attentions are now divided. There has been a great buzz of talk among the witches, one that I have not been able to avoid hearing.
Ivaine is with child once again.
Lothar must have had no problems moving on without me. But no, that is not fair. How can I blame him? She is his wife, after all.
The witches have such high hopes for her unborn baby. Keiry tells me they have prayed for the baby to be a girl every day since Ivaine learned of her conception. They already have their future Witch Queen in Donya, and Dracarus is already the heir to Lothar’s throne. Still, Galaea has prophesied that this baby is the Child of Promise—whatever that means.
At my potions stand, the customers tell me their problems and I suggest the best elixirs for them. One man in much finer apparel than my usual clientele pushes his way through the crowd and approaches me.
“What can I do for you, sir?” I ask.
“Are you the potion maker called Corynne?” he inquires.
“I’ve come to deliver an urgent message from the king.”
He hands me a letter that has been closed with the royal seal. I thank him and open it, wondering what it could possibly say. The parchment inside has only three words written on it.
I miss you.
So he has not moved on after all. And the truth is, I miss him too. I miss him madly. I ache to go to him… but I won’t.
Why did he have to send me that message? Why couldn’t he have just let me be? I might have gotten over him eventually. And it would have been easier to be with a man who does not want me without knowing there is one who does.
And it is so hard to share a bed with this man who will not touch me while I am dreaming and longing to touch another.
And there are the memories.
Memories that I have longed learn to live with, but they have now been flooding back to me ever since I read those words. Why can’t Lothar let me live without him?
Why can’t I let myself?
I must be losing my damn mind.
I search my bedroom drawer for the thing I need to go to him, knowing full well how foolish this is.
But it isn’t there.
“Where is it?” I gasp.
“Where’s what?” Markius slurs from behind me.
“I can’t find my gatekey.”
“Oh, that thing,” he says. “I sold it.”
“You did what?!”
“I needed the money.”
“You had NO RIGHT to do that!” I scream at him. “It was MINE!”
“What’s the matter?” he sneers. “You can’t go see your lover now? That’s right, I know. I have known.”
“You bastard!” I shriek.
My hand flies up on its own. I slap his face as hard as I can.
In a rage, I run out the door.
This is insanity. I know that. But I’ve tried. I’ve tried so hard to stay away from him. I can’t do it anymore. He is what I need.
At the castle gate, I show the parchment with the royal seal to the guard. “King Lothar has ordered me to see him.” He reaches for the paper, but I pull it away. “It is confidential.”
“Very well,” the guard says. “I will send for him.”
I wait for several minutes with my heart beating in my throat. What if Ivaine sees me? What if I am found out? WHAT AM I DOING HERE?
“Corynne.” His voice calms me at once. “I hoped you would come.”
The gate opens for me and he takes my hands. “Ivaine is away.”
“She’s pregnant,” I say.
“I know. One night, things got… hazy. It happens sometimes. But I always think about you. You’re the only one I want.”
We take a walk through the courtyard, and when we are alone, I lose all my restraint.
I throw my arms around him and he holds me tightly. “Oh, Lothar. I don’t want to be without you anymore. There has to be some way we can be together!”
“We’ll find a way,” he says gently.