Bitterblue, p.46
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       Bitterblue, p.46

         Part #3 of Graceling Realm series by Kristin Cashore
 

  Raffin was staying behind in Monsea as liaison, which was a balm to Bitterblue's heart, even though he was inclined to long silences and staring moodily into potted plants. She'd found him in the back garden that morning, on his knees in the snow, taking clippings from some dead perennials.

  "Did you know," he said, peering up at her, "that in Nander, they've decided they don't want a king?"

  "What?" she said. "No king at all?"

  "Yes," he said. "The committee of nobles will continue to rule by vote, alongside another committee of equal power that will be comprised of representatives elected by the people."

  "You mean like a sort of . . . aristocratic and democratic republic?" said Bitterblue, plucking terms from the book about monarchy and tyranny.

  "Something like that, yes."

  "Fascinating. Did you know that in the Dells, a man can take a husband and a woman can take a wife? Fire told me so."

  "Mnph," he said, then focused his eyes on her quietly. "Is that true?"

  "It is. And the king himself is married to a woman who hasn't a drop of noble blood in her veins."

  Raffin was quiet for a moment, poking around in the snow with a stick. Bitterblue spent that moment in front of Bellamew's sculpture, looking into the living eyes of her mother. Touching the scarf she was wearing and gathering strength. Finally, Raffin said, "That's not the way of things in the Middluns."

  "No," said Bitterblue. "But it is the way in the Middluns for the king to do as he likes."

  Raffin stood, knees cracking, and came to her. "My father is a healthy man," he said.

  "Oh, Raffin," she said. "May I give you a hug?"

  IT WAS HARD to say good-bye.

  "Do you think I could ever write you letters in embroidery that you could feel with your fingers, Po," Bitterblue asked him, "when you're away?"

  He cracked a grin. "Katsa scratches me notes now and then

  in wood, when she's desperate. But wouldn't you have to learn to embroider?"

  "There is that," said Bitterblue, smiling with him, hugging him.

  "I'll come back," Po said to her. "I promised, remember?"

  "I'll come back too," said Katsa. "It's time I gave lessons here again, Bitterblue."

  Katsa hugged her for a long time, and Bitterblue understood that this was always how it would be. Katsa would come and then Katsa would go. But the hug was real, and lasting, even though it would end. The coming was as real as the going, and the coming would always be a promise. It would have to be good enough.

  She went to the art gallery the night they all left, because she was lonely.

  And then Hava led Bitterblue downstairs, to a place in the castle Bitterblue hadn't yet been. They sat together at the top of the prison steps, listening to Goldie sing a lullaby to her prisoners.

  45

  AN UNCLE AND king was waiting for Bitterblue in Monport, with a navy on display for her pleasure. Bitterblue would go to meet him.

  The day before she left, she sat in her office, reflecting. Thirty of Leck's thirty-five journals had been destroyed in the fire Thiel had lit. Terrified now of fire, Death was trying to read, decipher, and memorize the five surviving journals in one mad rush. Bitterblue understood the scope of such a catastrophic loss of information. But she couldn't make herself grieve. Her relief was too great. She thought she might like to read her father's five remaining journals, eventually, someday. Five journals did not feel undoably awful. Maybe she would be able to read them, years from now, before a fireplace, wrapped in blankets, while someone held her tight. But not now.

  She'd asked Helda to take her mother's sheets away. They were also for some other day, some other time when they weren't so painful. Maybe someday, they would feel more like a memory of pain than like pain itself. And she didn't need them around to remember. She had her mother's chest and all the things in it, she had Ashen's scarves and the Bellamew sculpture, and she had her grief.

  Her new sheets were smooth and even. When they touched her skin softly, without the rough bumps of embroidery at the edges, she was startled; and a kind of relief eased its way through her, as if the sores in her mind and on her heart might begin to heal.

  My kingdom's challenge, she thought, is to balance knowing with healing.

  Her clerks and guards had taken to coming to her for confessionals. Holt had started it, appearing in her office one day and saying, "Lady Queen, if you're to forgive me, I'd like you to know what you're forgiving me for."

  It had not been an easy thing for Holt to do. He had killed inmates in the prisons for Thiel and Runnemood, and he couldn't even begin to force into words the things Leck had made him do. He became confused and tongue-tied, kneeling before Bitterblue with his hands clutched together and his head bowed.

  "I do want to tell you, Lady Queen," he finally choked out. "But I can't."

  Bitterblue didn't know what to do for her people who needed to tell things but couldn't. She thought it might be something to ask Po—who had a special insight into what would do people good— or Fire. "I'll help you with this, Holt," she said. "I promise, I won't leave you alone with this. Will you be patient with me, and I'll be patient with you?"

  She had one more ministry to build. Of all of her ministries, it would be the one with which she would take the most care. She wouldn't force it on anyone, but she would make its existence widely known. It would be a ministry for all the people whose pain could be acknowledged, maybe even eased, by the telling and recording of what their own experiences had been. It would have a space of its own in the castle, a library where stories were kept, and a minister and staff that her friends would help her choose. Some of the staff would travel, to reach people who couldn't come to the city. It would be a safe place for the sharing of burdens and the capturing of memories before they disappeared. It would be called the Ministry of Stories and Truth, and it would help her kingdom heal.

  "LADY QUEEN?"

  The sun was setting and a light snowfall had begun. Bitterblue looked up from her desk into the familiar, sharp, and weary face of Death.

  "Death," Bitterblue said. "How are you?"

  "Lady Queen," said Death, "a boy named Immiker was born on a riverside estate in northern Monsea fifty-nine years ago, to a game warden named Larch and a woman named Mikra who died in childbirth."

  "Fifty-nine," Bitterblue said. "That's the correct age. Is it him?"

  "I don't know, Lady Queen," Death said. "Possibly. There are other records of similarly named people that I must consider."

  "Could this mean I'm Monsean?"

  "It matches some of the particulars, Lady Queen, and we can go on looking for clues. But I can't imagine us ever being certain that this is him. Regardless," Death said crisply, "I don't see that there's any question of whether or not you are Monsean. You are our queen, are you not?"

  Death dropped a small sheaf of papers onto her desk, turned sharply on his heel, and left.

  Bitterblue rubbed her neck, sighing. Then she pulled Death's papers closer.

  I have completed the translation of the first journal, Lady Queen, she read. It is, as I'd already surmised, the last journal he ever wrote. It ends with your mother's death and with your father's subsequent search of the forest for you. It also ends with the details of his punishment of Thiel, Lady Queen, for on the day you escaped with your mother, it seems that one of Leck's knives went missing. Leck decided that Thiel had stolen it and passed it to your mother. I will spare you the details.

  At her desk, Bitterblue hugged herself, feeling very high in the sky, and very alone. A memory, like a door opening onto light, unlocked itself. Thiel bursting into her mother's rooms, where Ashen had been engaged in the insane enterprise of tying sheets together and lowering them out the window. Bitterblue had been shaking with fright, for what she knew they were about to do.

  Thiel's face had been running with tears and blood. "Go," he'd said, rushing to Ashen and handing her a knife that was longer than Bitterblue's forearm. "You must go now." He'd embra
ced Ashen, said, "Now!" in a forceful voice, then dropped on his knees before Bitterblue. He had pulled her into his arms and stopped her shaking with his tight grip. "Don't you worry," he'd said to her. "Your mother will keep you from harm, Bitterblue. Believe what she says, you understand? Believe every word she says. Go now, and be safe." Then he'd kissed her forehead and run out of the room.

  Bitterblue found a fresh sheet of paper and wrote the memory down, to capture it, because it was part of her story.

  A WHO'S WHO OF THE WORLD

  AS WE KNOW IT

  SPECIOUS, ARBITRARY, AND ALTOGETHER

  OF DOUBTFUL PURPOSE

  Recorded by Death, the Royal Librarian of Monsea, who would

  merely like to note that he does not have time for this.

  BEWARE: THE FOLLOWING RECORD IS AN INCOMPLETE DRAFT.

  THE ANNALIST IS OBLIGED TO FOLLOW ORDERS AND CAN

  ONLY WORK WITH WHAT HE IS GIVEN.

  ANNA (MONSEA): Head baker in the castle kitchens. Of questionable relevance to this record.

  ASHEN (LIENID, MONSEA): First a Lienid princess, then Queen of Monsea, now deceased. Sister of King Ror of Lienid. Mother of Queen Bitterblue of Monsea. Murdered by King Leck of Monsea, her husband. This annalist remembers her as kind, highly educated, and trapped in an impossible situation. It is to be noted that she saved Queen Bitterblue's life.

  BANN (MIDDLUNS): Medicine maker and reputed Council leader. Frequent traveling companion of Prince Raffin of the Middluns.

  BELLAMEW (MONSEA): Sculptor, King Leck's especial favorite, murdered by him. Completed perhaps fifty or fifty-five sculptures of human transformations. Sister of Holt and mother of Hava.

  BIRN (WESTER): King of Wester. Contemptible scoundrel.

  BITTERBLUE (MONSEA): The Queen of Monsea and this annalist's most excellent employer. Daughter of King Leck and Queen Ashen. Niece of King Ror and Queen Zinnober of Lienid. Indubitably the finest monarch ruling in the known world today, though it is to be noted that even the finest monarchs waste their librarians' time with surprising frequency.

  BREN (MONSEA): Teacher and printer in the east city; sister of Sapphire Birch. Family instrumental in the resistance. Assisting in the restoration of the castle library collection. Efficient, accurate, and highly responsible, unlike the brother she closely resembles.

  DANZHOL (MONSEA): A dastardly lord from central Monsea, of questionable sanity. Grace: performing an outrage upon his own face which this annalist prefers neither to consider nor describe.

  DARBY (MONSEA): Adviser to Queen Bitterblue in the years following King Leck's death. Grace: never sleeping.

  DEATH (MONSEA) (PRONOUNCED TO RHYME WITH "TEETH"): This annalist, and the Royal Librarian of Monsea. Grace: speed of reading and perfect memory of all that is read.

  DROWDEN (NANDER): King of Nander, now deposed. Insufferable blackguard.

  DYAN (MONSEA): Head gardener to Queen Bitterblue. Of questionable relevance to this record.

  EEMKERR (UNKNOWN): The childhood name of the person who would later become King Leck of Monsea. Born somewhere in the seven kingdoms. See entries for "Immiker" and "Leck."

  FIRE (DELLS) (DELLIAN NAME: BIR, MORE OR LESS): A Dellian lady and what is called, in the Dells, a "monster." Most alarming woman.

  FOX (MONSEA, LIENID, MONSEA): Castle servant in the years following King Leck's death. Grace: fearlessness.

  FROGGATT (MONSEA): A clerk of the queen.

  GADD (MONSEA): King Leck's favored creator of decorative wallhangings. Murdered by King Leck.

  GIDDON (MIDDLUNS): Once a Middluns lord, now disennobled. Reputed Council leader and frequent traveling companion of Prince Po of Lienid. It is to be noted that he saved this annalist's life.

  GOLDIE (MONSEA, LIENID, MONSEA): Queen Bitterblue's new Master of Prisons. Once the master of the navy prison in Ror City, Lienid. Grace: singing.

  GREENING GRANDEMALION (LIENID): Lienid prince known as Po. Reputed Council leader. Seventh son of King Ror and Queen Zinnober of Lienid and cousin of Queen Bitterblue. Famous swain of Lady Katsa of the Middluns. Grace: hand-fighting (he says). Good with cats.

  GRELLA (MONSEA): A legendary Monsean mountain explorer who kept bombastic and overblown journals of his adventures and died in the pass that bears his name.

  HAVA (MONSEA): Daughter of Bellamew, niece of Holt. Grace: hiding/disguise.

  HELDA (MIDDLUNS, MONSEA): Queen Bitterblue's housekeeper, ladyservant, and spymaster. Formerly ladyservant to Lady Katsa of the Middluns. A person of unsurpassed dignity, though opinionated.

  HOLT (MONSEA): A member of the Queen's Guard. Brother of Bellamew and uncle of Hava. Grace: strength.

  IMMIKER (MONSEA): A child born in Monsea in the year we believe King Leck to have been born. Possibly the Eemkerr who grew up to be King Leck, though this annalist can not confirm.

  IVAN (MONSEA): King Leck's favored engineer. Built the three city bridges.

  JASS (MONSEA): A kitchen hand of questionable relevance to this record. Grace: determining, by sight and smell, what meal would be most satisfying for a given person to eat.

  KATSA (MIDDLUNS): A lady of the Middluns, banished and declared fortuneless by her uncle, King Randa of the Middluns, though this does not seem to stop her from entering the kingdom when she pleases. Reputed Council leader and that organization's founder. Cousin of Prince Raffin of the Middluns. Famous paramour of Prince Po of Lienid. Assassinated King Leck. Grace: survival, with an extreme capacity for any kind of fighting.

  LARCH (MONSEA): Father of Immiker; therefore, possible father of King Leck.

  LECK (UNKNOWN, DELLS, MONSEA): King of Monsea for thirtyfive years; soulless psychopathic sadist. Husband of Queen Ashen and father of Queen Bitterblue. Assassinated by Lady Katsa of the Middluns. Grace: telling lies that are believed.

  LOVEJOY (MONSEA): A cat of fine temperament.

  MADLEN (DELLS, MONSEA): A Dellian spy who posed as a Graced healer in order to infiltrate Monsea.

  MIDYA (DELLS): Famous Dellian naval explorer. Dellian mother, Pikkian father. Curiously, born in a Dellian prison.

  MIKRA (MONSEA): Mother of Immiker; therefore, possible mother of King Leck.

  MURGON (SUNDER): King of Sunder. Vile miscreant.

  NASHDELL (DELLS): King of the Dells. Brother-in-law of Lady Fire. As far as this annalist knows, a good man.

  OLL (MIDDLUNS): Reputed Council leader. Stripped of his captaincy by King Randa of the Middluns.

  ORNIK (MONSEA): A metalsmith of the royal smithy. Of questionable relevance to this record.

  PIPER (MONSEA): A Monsean lord who serves as a judge on the High Court.

  PO: See entry for "Greening Grandemalion."

  QUALL (MONSEA): A Monsean lord and a judge on the High Court in the years following King Leck's death.

  RAFFIN (MIDDLUNS): A prince of the Middluns, King Randa's sole son and heir. Medicine maker and reputed Council leader. Cousin of Lady Katsa.

  RANDA (MIDDLUNS): King of the Middluns. Not much to be said for him.

  ROOD (MONSEA): Adviser to Queen Bitterblue in the years following King Leck's death; brother of Runnemood.

  ROR (LIENID): King of Lienid. Father of Prince Po and Prince Skye, uncle of Queen Bitterblue. Presumably not the ass the other kings are.

  RUNNEMOOD (MONSEA): Adviser to Queen Bitterblue in the years following King Leck's death; brother of Rood.

  SAPPHIRE BIRCH (MONSEA, LIENID, MONSEA): A Monsean commoner who grew up on a Lienid ship, now identifying as Lienid; brother of Bren. Family instrumental in the resistance. A troublemaker and a squanderer of Her Majesty's energies. Of questionable relevance to this record. Grace: Her Majesty knows, but has not told this annalist.

  SKYE (LIENID): A Lienid prince and the sixth son of King Ror and Queen Zinnober. Brother to Prince Po and cousin to Queen Bitterblue.

  SMIT (MONSEA): Captain of the Monsean Guard in the years following King Leck's death.

  SPOOK (MONSEA): A notorious black-market underlord.

  TEDDREN (MONSEA): Kn
own as Teddy. Printer and teacher in the east city; brother to Tilda. Family instrumental in the resistance. An adviser to the Ministry of Education. Currently assisting in the restoration of the castle library collection. Top-rate fellow, if a bit starry-eyed.

  THIEL (MONSEA): Adviser to Queen Bitterblue in the years following King Leck's death.

  THIGPEN (ESTILL): The King of Estill, for the moment. A vicious hoodlum.

  TILDA (MONSEA): Printer and teacher in the east city; sister to Teddren. Family instrumental in the resistance. Currently assisting in the restoration of the castle library collection and the castle's defunct printing shop, with alacrity and a refreshing dedication.

  Some entries are at the moment grievously incomplete,

  pending the final, official reports of Her Majesty. The annalist

  cannot be held accountable for errors or omissions caused or

  required by others, of which there are doubtless many.

  ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

  THANKS TO MY editor, Kathy Dawson, for more practical help than I can quantify and especially for helping me get from the swamp of Draft One to a Draft Two I could work with. Thanks also for her love of the book, unwavering support, and hands-off patience. I know how lucky I am.

  Thanks to Faye Bender, my agent and fierce supporter, for having my back at every moment. I would not have gotten through this book with my equanimity intact without her.

 

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KRISTIN CASHORE SERIES:

Graceling Realm

 


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