“No, I’m not,” he replied, and pulled the robe over his head. He stood smoothing it nervously, and ran one freckled hand through his tousled hair.
Merena recognised the look in his eyes. She felt her heart constrict. Oh gods, no. She walked over to a chair, and sat down.
“It’s been a long six weeks, “ she said as airily as she could. “Time just got away from you?”
He did not reply.
She leaned back in the chair, waiting. The silence lengthened like a drawn sword.
Kelsey cleared his throat. He appeared to be looking at her boots.
“I kept putting it off. I – didn’t want to hurt you. It – was easier this way. I – what could I do, write to you?”
The pain was exactly the same as the slice of a knife.
“Well, yes, you could have. Since coming home and talking to me seems to have been too hard.”
He shrugged, flushing.
Merena felt the dull roar of pain and rage throbbing in her ears; a muted echo now of what she once would have felt.
“But since I have saved you the trouble of the journey, I think you should tell me now.” Her heart pounded against her ribs.
He couldn’t look at her. “It’s over. I’m sorry. I – I’m not ready for domestic bliss. I – I was stagnating. I’ve felt so free, travelling again, going where I want-“
“-Sleeping with whomever you want-“ she enjoined, and he blinked, but continued after another pause.
“I’m sorry to hurt you. But settling down was not the right thing for me to do, and I won’t pretend anymore.”
Merena dragged herself to her feet, and stood close to him. Tears were welling in her eyes.
“You begged me to wed you, to carry our child. You were pretending?
Pretending?” Her throat choked closed.
He reached out one hand and rested it on her shoulder.
“I – I thought it was true. I –did love you. But I just can’t live that way.
She stepped away from his touch. When she spoke her words were a strangled whisper.
“It was a sales pitch. I was – a challenge. And when you had – sealed the deal, there was nothing else for you.”
Kelsey’s eyes flickered, whether in denial or acceptance she could not tell. He reached for her again, and then dropped his hand.
“You can keep the house and land at Berdusk. We’ll work out the rest later. I’ll make sure that you and Kylia want for nothing.”
Merena stared at him. She thought she was going to be sick.
“How generous of you. You speak as if you had a choice about that. As if I wouldn’t hunt you down and split you up the middle if you do any thing else to hurt my daughter. Or me.”
“We’ll work it out later,” he repeated.
There was no point in further words. Merena turned and walked to the door. So, this is what’s it’s like to be mortal.
She opened it to find Imoen standing there aghast, not even trying to skulk.
“That’s all you’re going to say to that bastard? And you’re going to leave him with all his organs intact? No!”
Merena grabbed Imoen’s arm as she lunged forward.
“Don’t make it worse than it is,” she said in a low voice. “Let’s just go home.”
She got up every day, ate, drank, worked, fed and played with Kylia, all the time encased in a fog of sickness. I was stooged. So badly. I loved him so much. Memories tormented her constantly. Kelsey’s hands caressing her swollen belly; his laugh, the creases in his face echoing the lines of his face in the old age she had expected to share with him; his eyes bright as he spoke to her of their future together. And it was all lies. He only wanted to make a sale.
She took to gardening – digging, re-planting, pruning – and any other heavy work she could turn her hand to, much to the scandal of her servants.
She was turning soil for a row of fruit trees – apricots, Kylia loves apricots-when her daughter came running, face alight with wonder.
“Mommy! Mommy! Your friend is here! And his horse is wearing a dress! And it’s so pretty! Purple and pink!”
From inside the house, she heard a deep voice respond, “No! No! My horse does not wear a dress! It’s – a coat. So – he does not get cold. Knights have to look after their horses.”
It had been a long time.