[20 Firil, 1004.]
Sir Ongis Fennic scrounged up a drumstick and strolled over to a window. His sharp, commanding black eyes gazed out at the morning shadows and mud of his courtyard. With wolfish ferocity, he tore into the cold leg he held. His black hair and physical strength only added to the lupine resemblance. (It was a pity that his oversized nose spoiled any appearance of feral cunning.)
“She still there?” he asked around his gnawing.
“Yes,” Cahill replied. Cahill partook of the servant’s lot of anonymity. Like the rest of them, he tugged his forelock, knew his place and stayed out of the way. All that distinguished him was a modest calligraphic skill and a scar on the left side of his face acquired while learning to stay out of the way of Sir Ongis’s horse.
“Risser’s teeth, she gets up early.”
Cahill refrained from commenting that the morning was in fact far advanced. He knew too well that such a remark was dangerous to his health.
“Standing there every day … she’s just asking for a whipping. She doing anything?”
“No,” Cahill replied.
“No evil eye, no chanting, no spitting on my gateposts?”
“If she’s a witch, she’s a cowardly one.”
“She never said she was a witch, only the creature’s mother,” Cahill thought. He kept silent, though. There was nothing he could think of to say that wasn’t either lickspittlishly beneath his shreds of dignity or unbecoming to a servant who wanted to survive. He gazed uninformatively at his liege lord.
Sir Ongis nodded over at the covered birdcage. “What about her?” he asked.
Cahill shrugged and nodded.
Sir Ongis threw the drumstick at the fireplace and strode to the cage. He tore the cover off and glared through the wickerwork at the small figure within. The creature looked like a girl but her height was only about three hands.
“Say the words, dammit!” he shouted. “Just say the damned words.”
She raised her head and looked at him. “I will not.” Her voice was scarcely audible over his own breathing. “I want to go home.”
“You’ll go where I send you!” Sir Ongis exclaimed. He replaced the cover approximately and turned again to Cahill. “What about my wife?” he asked.
“Your wife, sir?” Cahill asked, surprised.
“Yes, my wife.” Sir Ongis stalked toward his servant. “Remember her? She’s sick too. Or had that slipped your mind? How. Is. My. Wife?”
“She’s much better,” Cahill said quickly. “Much better! Memfis — you know, the leech? — he says she’s improving. He says she’s much better.”
“He’s been saying that for a week!” Sir Ongis roared. “If she’s so much better, why’s she still in bed?”
Sophie stood outside the gates of Sir Ongis’s hall. Sophie knew Sir Ongis had her daughter, her Mouse. Sophie knew Mouse was her daughter’s name, not Melisande. Sophie knew how her daughter had come to be given her true name …
She was always small, even at her birth. She slipped out of her mother’s womb quickly and with no fuss. For Sophie, the event was routine; the baby was her seventh. She no longer bothered with a midwife — or even summoned her sister, whose house in the village she’d come to visit for the birthing. Sophie knew what to do. She stood up from the birthing stool and put the infant in the old basket — the one that would be burned. Then she dressed and, taking both the old basket (with baby) and the Naming Basket, she went along to the other temple.
Not the temple of Kurin — the only god who ever seemed to answer his worshipers these days — but the older temple, the one dedicated to the Stevene. The one whose only remaining purpose, it seemed, was washing and naming infants. And burying the stubborn remainder who insisted on worshiping the superseded god of everything. The temple persisted only because of the continued patronage of the family Fennic. Otherwise, “something” would surely have happened to it by now, the Kurinish priests and leaders of the congregation were so hostile to it. Even the Fennic’s support wasn’t enthusiastic; it was merely a family tradition. The great-grandfather of the present Stafhold would have died as an infant but for the wisdom of a Stevenic priest. The good will left over from that event wasn’t quite depleted yet.
Since that time, every mother brought her infant to the stevenic temple for naming — though it was beginning to crumble these days. Fanatically devoted worshipers of Kurin were beginning to bring their infants to the new temple (a century or two old, but still “new”) for blessing. The one remaining priest of the Stevene, Bartleheim, was too weak to protest this breach of tradition. He was old, he was tired, he was blind. He was irrelevant.
Sophie, though, wasn’t fanatical about much, certainly not about debates over whether to worship the sun or worship everything. She went to the old temple because that was where she’d taken her six previous babies. And three of those were still alive, so she was doing all right doing it the traditional way. Two were old enough to help their father already and the other would probably train in clerking in a few more years. Sophie had done well by the Stevene. No reason to change.
She rang the bell in front of Bartleheim’s shack, then continued on to the old temple itself. She went in and went to the chapel where the naming font was. Fortunately, she’d birthed by day. Otherwise, she would have had to bring her own candles. The temple used to have candles and lamps burning all the time, then only at night, then just whenever people came. Now people almost never came (except to name their babies) and the temple had no candles. The last lamps had disappeared years ago.
Sophie put the basket down and checked the water. At least the font still worked. (She recalled that keeping the font functioning was mainly what the Fennic patronage accomplished.) She skimmed dead insects and scum off the surface of the water and sang quietly to her new daughter while she waited for Bartleheim.
Her ring gleamed slightly when it swept into the water under the floating muck. Sophie smiled at it. Actually the thing was badly and permanently tarnished and probably a cheap metal (tin? copper?) to begin with. It wasn’t a wedding ring. Gregor hadn’t been able to afford anything like that then. No, he’d found it in a field about a year ago and brought it to her with much joking ceremony. She’d appreciated the joke, accepted the belated token, and liked the ring itself even if it was homely. It fit snugly and almost never called any attention to itself. Gleaming was unusual, but this was supposed to be holy water.
Bartleheim showed up finally, led by the only acolyte the stevenic temple had. He was an idiot named Henri (who could hope to become priest only by default when Bartleheim died). Henri positioned Bartleheim by the font while Sophie unwrapped her baby. Then the acolyte wandered off, touring the rest of the dark, dusty chamber. Bartleheim started blessing the Stevene with comfortable, familiar words. Sophie immersed the tiny girl in the water and cleaned her for the first time. The water was cold, the girl displeased by the experience. She began to cry. Bartleheim recited louder.
He reached the point where the omniscience was supposed to advise him of the baby’s name and paused. Since a god of everything was terribly busy — too busy to reliably choose a name that would please the baby’s family — custom allowed the mother to whisper a suggestion to the priest at this point. Sophie, keeping a firm grip on the unhappy infant, leaned over to recommend the name Merry to the divine principle.
“M — owww!” she exclaimed. There was a flash in the font and a sharp pain in her fingers.
“By the grace of God and in the love of her family, the child’s name shall be Mouse,” the blind Bartleheim said with a mental shrug.
“Praised be the name of Cephas,” chimed in Henri from the shadows elsewhere in the building. He knew his cues, but wasn’t good at perceiving when a ceremony had careened off its track. The acolyte came back (empty-handed) from a survey of the temple’s almsboxes.
“You may now burn the basket,” Bartleheim went on helpfully.
“But that’s not supposed to be her name,” Sophie complained.
“It’s what you said,” Bartleheim replied.
“Yes, but — where’s my ring?” Sophie stared at her hand. (The other hand was busy cradling an infant who’d suddenly decided to be at peace with the entire situation.) Where the pain in her fingers was worst was where her ring used to be. It was gone now. Sophie started fishing around in the font. With only daylight available in the chapel, the bottom of the basin couldn’t be seen. And no ring could be felt anywhere in it.
Sophie felt tired. She’d lost her only piece of jewelry and gained a daughter named for the vermin who helped keep her family hungry too often. “Her name is Mouse?” she asked, continuing to feel around the basin.
“Praise Cephas,” Henri affirmed, taking it upon himself to attempt to burn the old basket. Recognizing the potential for catastrophe in this plan, Sophie abandoned her search and relieved the acolyte of the basket.
“Can we change it?” she asked.
“And offend God?” Bartleheim responded. “I’d rather not.”
Sophie started to ask about her missing ring. Then she considered Bartleheim’s clouded eyes and Henri’s vacuous grin and thought better of it. Perhaps Gregor could find her another. Perhaps she was just never meant to wear jewelry. Silently, she burned the basket while Bartleheim said a little basket-burning prayer and Henri gazed raptly at the flame. Then, she dropped a couple of coins into Henri’s hand. (“Because it’s customary, that’s why!” she thought to herself in annoyance over why she should make an offering for a botched ceremony.) Finally, she gathered up her contented little Mouse in her new basket and went home.
Gregor held Mouse and listened to Sophie’s account. He gazed thoughtfully at his first daughter. She gazed thoughtfully at her first father. “Well,” he said at last, “it makes a better story than if you’d succeeded in naming her Merry.”
“I just hope you won’t regret that opinion,” his wife told him.
[20 Firil, 1004.]
Gregor paused at the end of the row. Morgan, his ox, was content to stop pulling the plow also. Both stared out across the fields thoughtfully.
Gregor was farming. That was what he did. He got up and worked; later, he might rest. Sophie might go and stand outside Sir Ongis’s hall for hours hoping that he might relent and give her back her child. He still had work to do and many mouths to feed. Mouse, though, had never been much of an eater.
The infant Mouse declined to eat. To say that she “refused” to eat would be putting it too strongly. She simply declined it almost all the time when Sophie offered her breast for suckling. She slept and she woke and she greeted the world with great interest, but tears were rare and eating was rarer. Sophie worried (first of all, it was uncomfortable) and Gregor heard about it every evening.
Sophie asked her friends for advice and Gregor heard a report about every suggestion. She got 27 different sure-fire ways to persuade a baby to eat from 11 different friends. Two thirds of these really only applied to solid food; the others didn’t work.
Gregor advised her to take Mouse to Merton, the most accessible of the priests of Kurin. (He also advised her that Bartleheim was useless and she agreed.) So she did, and reported to Gregor every detail: Merton looked at Mouse. Mouse looked at him. Merton smiled at Mouse and Mouse smiled back. Merton drank some milk and ate a biscuit. Mouse stared at the window of his office. Merton put his hand gently on Mouse’s forehead and prayed to the sun for guidance. Mouse put up with it. Merton received no clear guidance from Kurin. Mouse and Sophie went home.
So Gregor had resigned himself. Sophie had given him Cedric and Con (Gregor the Younger) and Follano and Petrin and Dorian and Tobric. (And she would follow the Mouse with Armonk and Quinn and Widric and Barberry.) Cedric and Con were strong, healthy boys who already were helping their father work the land. Dorian was growing up fine. If poor Mouse went the way of Follano, Petrin and Tobric, that would be sad, but life would go on. Sophie would go on.
But Mouse flouted the alternatives — eat or die. She continued to sleep and play with the world. She also continued to avoid eating and crying. She stayed small, but she stayed alive and contented. For Gregor, who started off waiting sadly to see how long the Mouse would take to waste away and die, the vigil shifted gradually to appreciating this strange, small blessing. His daughter continued to be another joy around the house but not another mouth to feed (though Sophie never stopped trying).
Mouse loved sunlight. Left to her own devices inside the cottage, she would eventually maneuver herself into any illuminated patch of the floor. Outside, she lay on her back and laughed at the light. Since she seemed to treat Gregor and Sophie with equal love, Gregor sometimes took her along when he went out to his fields, especially after Sophie became pregnant yet again.
The hawk reminded Gregor that it was dangerous for his daughter to be small.
Gregor was pulling weeds; Mouse was gurgling in a basket. Gregor was in a struggle with an especially deep root when the baby’s scream jolted him out of it. He looked up and saw the bird swerve past Mouse’s basket and lurch upward into the sky again. For want of anything more effective to do, Gregor threw a stone or two at the retreating hawk, but Mouse continued to scream. Gregor went over to her and made sure that she’d come to no harm. The baby clung to her father the rest of the day, crying (very uncharacteristically) if put down. After that, Gregor made sure that his tiny girl was not quite so exposed when sitting outside.
(Gregor grimaced and urged the ox into starting another row. He hadn’t been there when she was taken.)
He remembered that Mouse took up crawling before anyone except her mother thought it appropriate. (Gregor regretted her precocity. Once she started crawling amongst his crops, the pleasure of her company was overbalanced by the trouble of looking after her. He had to leave her at home most of the time.) Everyone else reminded Sophie that now she’d have to make sure that Mouse stayed away from dangerous things like cooking fires, but Gregor knew that there was no worry. Sophie was an experienced mother and a wise one, who knew how to do that automatically. She told him that she was just glad that something about Mouse was normal. She was equally pleased when Mouse began walking and talking; she only worried because her daughter was still so small.
[20 Firil, 1004.]
Gregor stopped. The furrow was going wayward, as was his mind. He brought Morgan back into line and resumed the plowing. Mouse was never wayward, he thought. Almost never.
Sophie stood nursing Barberry and still remembering her other daughter, the one Sir Ongis was holding prisoner. Mouse was always a good little girl. She almost never made trouble for her mother or anyone else in the family. For example, there was the day that Sophie left her knitting out. There were the needles and the orderly knots and all that yarn that any kitten would have known to make a mess of. When Sophie realized that the house had been quiet for too long and went on patrol, she found Mouse sitting next to the needles and yarn, staring at them. Remarking “When you’re older, we’ll make some socks together,” Sophie gathered up the knitting and put it away where it belonged. (Mouse watched her in solemn silence.) It was so much later when Sophie discovered the extra row that she decided she must have knitted it in herself by mistake.
Now, though, Sophie felt a twinge of doubt. Why else would she remember the matter (except that she never erred in her knitting besides that one time)? Was Sir Ongis right in declaring that Mouse was a faerie princess who should be presented to the Duke of Dargon himself? Sophie didn’t think so. For ten years, Mouse had been Mouse, daughter (tiny daughter — smaller than the brand new Barberry) of Sophie and Gregor. How could she be changeling or faerie? Wasn’t that what the naming at the stevenic temple was supposed to prevent?
Mouse knew what her mistake had been. She should never have let Dorian get her to come with him into the woods. Mommy Sophie had told her always to stay close to home. She’d warned her that so many things were bad when you were small. Mouse hadn’t known that that included people. Now she knew.
But Dorian needed her. He’d explained to her that Farnace had loaned him a book. He’d been looking in the woods for a safe place to keep it because Con and Cedric sometimes abused the books he had at home. He’d found a safe-looking spot in a shallow cave but the cave turned out to have a false floor which fell through under the book and the opening was too small to get through unless you were Mouse and would she help?
Of course she’d help.
So she went with Dorian out to the woods with some twine to fetch back a book from the bottom of a mysterious cave. It was an adventure; it sounded like fun. At the cave, Mouse tied the twine around herself and Dorian lowered her through the hole in the floor. Down she went in the darkness until the downing ended with ground. She started feeling around for the book and, just as she felt something that was probably the book, she realized that she was looking in the darkness at two glowing eyes. She jerked on the twine the signal to get her out of there. The eyes didn’t move, but neither did the twine — at least not right away. So she jerked again — and flew upward.
She was just lucky she didn’t crash into anything on her way up. She got back to the surface all right and argued with Dorian about his paying attention to her signals and being more careful bringing her back up. Then, she went back down — only this time with a makeshift lit torch.
(Dorian’s very smart, actually, and almost always had with him the flint and stuff for starting a fire. Mommy Sophie didn’t like Mouse playing with that stuff, but Dorian was just enough older and bigger that it was all right for him.)
Nothing bothered Mouse while she and her light dropped again through the dark. With the torch, she found the book easily. It was broken and some loose pages had scattered. She ignored that at first, though, looking around for the thing with the glowing eyes. Not finding anything, she next set about reassembling the book. Then she untied the twine, wrapped it around the book and re-tied it. She hopped onto the book, signalled Dorian to lift her out and, as the book was beginning to lift off the ground, she saw the glint.
She made another mistake. She jumped off the book and went to see what the sparkle was. It was a small, dirty disk, only as wide across as her hand. There were two of them, lying on the ground, and they glowed slightly. She’d found the eyes! She picked one up — and it burned her hands so she dropped it.
“What happened?” Dorian called down.
“Found something,” Mouse shouted back.
“What? Mouse, are you all right?” Dorian called again.
Mouse sighed. He hadn’t heard her or understood her. People almost never did unless she was sitting on their shoulder. She glanced behind at her landing spot. The twine dropped down to the ground again. Dorian had removed the book and put a pine cone in its place.
“Mouse ? Come on, we’ve got to go.”
Mouse made another mistake. She decided she didn’t want to leave without the disks she’d found. She ignored her brother. She wrapped her hands in the folds of her dress and picked up one of the disks. It wasn’t easy, but she managed to get both disks over to the pine cone, one at a time. After a while longer, she’d wedged the disks in between the pine cone and the twine. She signaled to Dorian to bring her up.
Nothing happened. She signaled several more times and still nothing happened.
Mouse sighed and began to climb the twine. Climbing up and down things around her home was something she was used to. Climbing back up this twine wouldn’t be that hard. She’d have some things to say to Dorian when she got to the top, though.
She pulled herself up through the hole in the cave floor and was immediately picked up by hands the size of her Daddy’s. Surprised, she screamed.
“A faerie princess!” an unfamiliar voice announced. “In Sir Ongis’s forest.” Mouse looked at the strange, bearded face; the face was staring at her in amazement. A hand was still wrapped around her middle.
“Let me go!” she shouted, grabbing and trying to pry loose the top finger. She always did that at home when picked up and it never worked there either.
“That’s my sister!” Mouse heard Dorian shout. “Let her go!” He was running toward them. Other voices joined his: Cedric’s and Con’s. He’d gone for help. But others were also with her captor. Though Cedric and Con and Dorian argued long and loudly (and Mouse joined them and was ignored by all), Sir Ongis’s men — for that was who they were — brought her to Sir Ongis.
Sir Ongis found the faerie princess fascinating and would not let her go. He dubbed her Melisande, the daughter of Queen Braia, the Great Lady of the Forest. She explained that she was Mouse, daughter of Sophie and should be allowed to go home. He told her that that was a most unimpressive pedigree to be presenting to the Lord of these lands. She told him impressiveness didn’t matter if it was the truth. He told her that as Lord of these lands, it was up to him to decide what was true. She stamped her foot and said no. He laughed at her outburst since it took place on his trestle table.
Then he told her that if she was indeed a mouse and not a melisande, then he was her lord and master and therefore could do with her what he pleased, including ordering her to play the part of a faerie princess named Melisande. She disagreed, but was ignored yet again. Sir Ongis went on to say that he didn’t much care if she was really a faerie princess or only a freakish peasant. Faeries and faerie princesses were just stories anyway. What Sir Ongis intended to do was dress Mouse as a faerie princess and present her at Dargon for the amusement of Duke Clifton. Mouse again said she’d rather not; she wanted to go home.
Sir Ongis became annoyed and ordered Mouse to swear allegiance to him and promise to obey his commands. He said that she had to do this because she had been living on his lands. She said no again.
“You are my possession, little mouse,” he warned. “Now say it. Say ‘I am my lord Sir Ongis’s possession’.”
“Very well,” Sir Ongis said. “I can be patient.”
This Mouse doubted.
He put her in this covered cage and here she still was, wasting away. She hated Sir Ongis.
The cover flew off the cage again. “Well?” demanded the bad lord himself.
Mouse had little to say to him. Everything she could think of to say had been said before and denied. She took a deep breath and attempted to bellow “May I … please … sit … outside?”
“Not until you — ” Sir Ongis began yet again, then stopped, apparently changing his mind. “Will you give me your parole?” he asked.
“What’s that?” Mouse belted out.
“It’s a promise that honorable prisoners make to their captors in exchange for certain liberties during their confinement. You’re an honorable faerie princess, aren’t you?”
“Honorable,” Mouse shouted, nodding. It was too much effort to debate the question of whether she was faerie.
“All right — ”
“This,” Mouse continued, gesturing to the cage, “honorable?”
“Yes it is!” Sir Ongis shouted at the tiny creature’s impertinence. “How dare you impugn — ?” He broke off, paced across the room and back and tried again. “I am an honorable vassal of Lord Fionn Connall who owes service to the Duke Clifton himself. I am honorable and I believe you to be an honorable faerie — or whatever you actually are. I think we might arrange a parole. Will you promise not to attempt to escape if I let you sit outside?”
Mouse thought about that. “Yes,” she agreed.
“No crossed fingers or anything like that.”
“Yes,” Mouse repeated her promise, holding up her hands in plain view.
“And if anyone else tries to help you escape or kidnaps you, you’ll do whatever you can to stop them and failing that, return here as soon as you are able?”
Mouse thought longer about that. “Yes,” she finally agreed.
“Good,” Sir Ongis said. He picked up her cage, carried it out onto the terrace and put it on a table. Mouse waited for him to open the cage door. He didn’t. She stared at him from within the cross- hatching of sunlight and shadow. He watched her.
“Outside,” she finally bellowed.
His eyes narrowed. Finally, deciding agreement, he opened the cage door. “Leaving the table would be attempting to escape,” he remarked as she crawled across the cage and out through the opening. If she said anything in response, it wasn’t to him.
Mouse fell out through the cage door and sprawled on the table. She lay still in the sunlight. Except for her size — perhaps three hands long — and pretty face she scarcely looked like a faerie. Her dress was still filthy from her sojourn underground. Her light-brown hair was matted and disheveled — but her mother was none too clean-looking either. Her exposed skin was deathly pale and hanging loosely on her bones.
“You should eat something,” Sir Ongis said, appraising her condition and worrying about making her presentable to the Duke.
She ignored him.
“Why won’t you eat any of the food I offer you?” he asked. “What do you want to eat, choice nectar?”
She shrugged. “All right,” she breathed into the table.
Sir Ongis stared at his sick prize. Then he went to see if anyone besides bees knew how to collect nectar. Thank goodness it was spring, he decided.
Sir Ongis was a busy man, what with his own keep and household to supervise (while his wife was sick) as well as his extensive lands. (His servants, on the other hand, wished that he had a war or something somewhere else to keep him amused instead of spending all day hectoring them.) Nonetheless, he managed to visit his terrace from time to time that day. On each visit, he found Mouse the same: She was lying motionless in the sun, asleep, as far as he could tell, since she ignored everything he said to her.
Late in the afternoon, he stepped out onto the terrace just as a shadow was finally creeping across the table.
“Wake up!” he shouted. This time, she stirred, rolled over on her back, and looked up at him. “Time to go back to your cage,” Sir Ongis announced. “I could let you stay out,” he offered, “if you swear that oath of allegiance.”
Mouse said nothing. She went over to the wicker cage and climbed in. Sir Ongis spat a curse over the balustrade of his terrace and carried the cage back inside.
The next day, Mouse and Sir Ongis repeated themselves almost exactly. Sir Ongis allowed Mouse to sit out on the terrace and Mouse gave the same parole she had the day before. The only differences were that Mouse looked healthier when she scrambled out of the cage in the morning and Ongis chose slightly different words in the evening when he reminded Mouse that she could end her imprisonment in the cage with a few simple words. He said
“Unless, of course, you’ve enjoyed this freedom and are willing to swear that oath.”
Mouse looked at Sir Ongis and shouted (simply so that he could hear her) “Not freedom. Just sunlight.”
Sir Ongis exploded. “Then you can rot in darkness!” he shouted. He shoved Mouse into the cage and then carried the cage inside. He grabbed the cage’s cloth cover and carried both down to the keep’s cellars where his small, but adequate dungeon was. Going in, he slammed the cage down on the ground and settled the cover over it. “There are rats down here,” he remarked, savoring the thought. “Hope you don’t get into a wrestling match with any of them.” He went out, securing the door behind him.
Walking back up the stairs, he muttered to himself “Damn her! I will have her play the toy for that Duke! It would be such a shame to damage her though.”
The next morning, Sophie failed to show up outside Sir Ongis’s gate. Ongis nodded at Cahill’s reporting this, the first time she’d missed an appearance since the princess had been brought in. He imagined all the explanations: Sick brat at home, too much work at home, neighbors needing help, husband needing help, husband talking sense into her, giving up hope. He considered going and breaking the news to the mouse, but then remembered that he’d never told her about Sophie’s vigil to begin with. And right now, he wanted her left alone down there with the imagined rats.
No, better to tell her that she’d even been abandoned by her mother. Sir Ongis smiled, lit a torch, and strolled down to the cellar. Nice touch that: He’d bring the light of companionship and then carry it away again after telling the mouse the news. He unbolted the door of the dungeon, entered, walked to the cage, pulled the cover off –
and stared at the empty cage.
He crouched down, incredulous. He stared at the new hole in the side of the cage, the one made both by pushing the wooden slats aside and by gnawing at them. He jumped to his feet and prowled around the chamber, looking for some evidence of a dead Mouse or how she escaped. He found some. The door wasn’t a perfect fit; there was a small hole in it. Likewise, there were one or two small holes at the base of the walls of the room, suitable only for a mouse — or Mouse, perhaps. It was difficult to guess how small a hole that creature could wriggle through.
Sir Ongis stood up, thinking. The teeth-marks were evidence and there almost certainly were rats down here, but he simply didn’t believe that his faerie princess had been carried off by any vermin. No, the more telling clue was the absence of the girl’s mother. She wasn’t there today because she knew the Mouse would be gone. She knew the Mouse was gone because she helped her escape in the night — or at least was outside to meet her daughter when she emerged.
Sir Ongis ran for his stable, shouting for men to join him. Soon a party was riding out to the remote part of his lands where the farmer Gregor had his house. He returned that evening empty-handed.
[7 Naia, 1004.]
Lady Kathryn Fennic awoke in the darkness. She felt different — she felt better. She could feel! She felt the way that her willowy (and emaciated, right now) body was too long for this sickbed. She felt itching in her scalp from long, straight, dark brown hair that had been confined too long under that cap. She felt weak and fatigued still, but it was a good fatigue, a tiredness as though she’d finished a job right. The lump in her belly wasn’t weighing on her, sucking away her strength, as it had for the past month or more. There was a weight on her chest, though, and that was new too. She opened her eyes and beheld the faerie princess for the second time in her life.
(Sir Ongis had once shown his melisande to his wife immediately upon acquiring her.)
“You ran away,” Kathryn said. “Many days ago.” She’d heard the news but hadn’t cared much about it.
The princess dropped onto her hands and knees; she was close to Kathryn’s ear. “I came back,” she said.
There was a pause before the princess said anything. “Your Ongis came after me,” she began at last.
“I know. He couldn’t find you. He told me.”
“He found my family. Did he tell you that?”
“You have a family? He found other faeries?”
The princess’s tiny face moued disgust. “Faeries! My father’s a farmer. Was. My mother’s name’s Sophie. She came here looking for me. Did you know that?”
“I didn’t either. Not until Dorian told me. He’s my brother. I went home and talked to him after I ran away from here. He told me that my mother came here to try to get me back from your Ongis. She waited and waited and then she went home. I never got to see her –”
“Didn’t you see her when you got home?”
The princess made another face. “Are you stupid?” she asked. “It took me days to get home. I didn’t know the way exactly, I don’t walk very fast, and I was trying to keep away from foxes and people both. By the time I’d gotten home, they’d already buried her. Besides, why would I want to look at her body?”
“Yes, she’s dead!” the princess hissed. “Your Ongis killed her.”
“How — how do you know?” Kathryn asked.
“He did it with my brothers watching, didn’t he? He marched into the house where my mommy and daddy and brothers and Barberry all were. He marched in just after my mommy finally got home after walking all night. He marched in with a bunch of his men and ordered my family to give me back. And when my mother smiled at him and said they didn’t know where I was but anywhere else was better than his keeping, he got mad and killed her. And that made daddy mad and he picked up a kitchen knife and Ongis and his men killed him.”
“Oh, Kurin … ”
“So that left Cedric and Con, because Dorian wasn’t there and Widric and Barberry were both crying. They looked at each other and then at Ongis, but they didn’t move. Ongis glared at them and then at the carnage in that kitchen. Then he left. So he didn’t tell you about that?”
“So when Dorian told me, I had to leave again right away. I didn’t even see any of the others and I didn’t tell them where I’m going or what I’m doing. Do you understand that? It’s no good going there again. They don’t know anything.”
“Yes, I understand that,” Kathryn said. “So what are you going to do?”
“I decided to come back here. It’s your Ongis’s fault and mine my parents got killed, isn’t it?”
Kathryn preferred to avoid any answer to that question. “But now what are you going to do?” she asked.
“Well, the way I see it, I have to do something to your Ongis — ”
“I wish you’d stop calling him *my* Ongis,” Kathryn exclaimed. She tried to sit up, but was reminded how weak she still was. “He’s Sir Ongis, and you should refer to him that way.”
“Well, what do you think you’re going to do to Sir Ongis? Are you going to murder him for killing your parents?”
“You *are* stupid, aren’t you?”
“I prefer not to think so,” Kathryn said. “What’s stupid about it?”
“If I just kill him because he killed them, that would make me no better than him. And I think he’s bad. I don’t want to do anything like him. So I’m going to do something else.”
“What?” Kathryn asked. Then her eyes widened. “Do you think you’re going to kill me?”
The princess sat back and folded her arms. “That’s stupid too. You were dying already and besides, that’s still too much like your Ongis. Nope. I’ve cured you — ”
“You cured me?” Kathryn laughed.
“Well, me and God together.”
“You and — ” Kathryn was about to say “that useless, gutless, rattling old voice”, but one chooses very carefully the occasions to blaspheme. Instead, she said “And how did you do that?”
“I prayed to God and told her that you had a lump in you that was killing you. And that it needed to go away.”
“Yes, and I also had Brother Cwynydd visiting me daily and praying — ”
“To Kurin. I know. And also that leech. Memfis. Sucking out your blood. That’s stupid.”
“How do you know they didn’t cure me?”
“They’ve been visiting you more than a month, haven’t they?” The princess grinned. “You didn’t get better until I started praying for you. Now you’re cured.”
Lady Kathryn Fennic frowned. She had no intention of ever ascribing her healing to Cephas Stevene; the Fennics had made that mistake before and only the early death of Henri the idiot priest had finally repaired that error. “All right,” she said. “I’m cured. What do you expect to gain from that? If you expect me to kill Sir Ongis for you — ”
“No,” the faerie princess waved away the idea. “That’s still too much like him. No. You’re his wife. You’re the mommy for his children — if he has any children.”
“One. A boy. Also named Ongis.”
“Huh. I don’t like that much. Anyway, he murdered my mommy and daddy and now you’re all better because I prayed to God for you to get better. I want you to stay with your Ongis — ”
“and hate him for me.”
“Hate him?” Kathryn asked.
“Uh huh. He’s a bad man. I’ve told you that, haven’t I? It’ll be easy. All I want you to do is stay close beside him, right next to him — ” the faerie bent close to Kathryn’s ear, ” — and hate him for the rest of his life.” Then she crept away from the sickbed, leaving Lady Kathryn staring upward at the invisible ceiling.
She sighed. “I already did,” she murmured.