The Fairest of Them All

The Fairest of Them All by Carolyn Turgeon Read Free Book Online

Book: The Fairest of Them All by Carolyn Turgeon Read Free Book Online
Authors: Carolyn Turgeon
fourth-hand. I was always eager to hear of it. Of him, his wife, the palace.
    One day a young woman came to our door, an already small girl thinning from disease. I was stirring a stew over the stove. Mathena was spreading salve on the girl’s back when the girl told us the news.
    “The new princess is pregnant,” she said. “People say it’sa good sign, that things will be better for us now.”
    I dropped the spoon I was holding. “The wife of Prince Josef is with child?”
    “What wonderful news,” Mathena said quickly. “That we will have an heir.”
    “Yes,” the girl said, her feverish face shining with hope. “They say the princess has already taken to her bed. She doesn’t want to take any chances.”
    “It is a good sign indeed,” Mathena said,placing her hand on the girl’s shoulder. When the girl bent over in pain a moment later, Mathena looked over at me worriedly. Worried more for me than the girl, I realized.
    I stood there in stunned silence. I don’t know why I was so surprised by the news, but I was. Teresa was his wife, her main purpose was to bear him heirs. Yet somehow it had felt like what had happened in that tower was special,mine alone. Maybe she could have him, but only I could have his child.
    Mathena focused back on the girl. “Breathe this in,” she said, holding a packet of lemon balm and lavender to the girl’s face, “until it passes.”
    The girl breathed in. She sat back up, clearly exhausted.
    With shaking hands, I wrapped various treatments for the girl to take with her—salves and teas, special incense and potion—asMathena helped the girl back into her dress. My shock shifted to anger, sorrow. Teresa’s child would be born in the palace, become a prince or princess, have everything in the world laid out for it, while my own son would have nothing at all.
    Mathena wove protection spells for the girl as she left, to protect her from bandits if not from the disease.
    “Do you really believe what you said?” Iasked, after the girl disappeared from sight. “That it is a good sign?” My voice was hurt, accusing.
    “No,” she said, giving me a surprised look. “Of course not.”
    I nodded, blinking back tears.
    “Rapunzel,” Mathena said, sitting next to me. “You must forget him. For now.”
    The way she was watching me scared me. I could feel myself weaken, feel her magic at work. She was trying to make me tiredand relaxed enough that I might not care what she did, or might find it easier to listen to her than to my own heart. I blinked, to stop it.
    “I have forgotten,” I lied.
    She sighed, not even bothering to acknowledge my statement. “It is the duty of his wife, to bear him children.” She hesitated, put her hand on my arm soothingly. “Not yours. It’s still not too late to be rid of it.”
    “Of what?”

    She gestured to my belly. “It’s more difficult now, but possible.”
    “No,” I said, gaping at her. How could she suggest such a thing?
    “You are destined for great things, Rapunzel,” she said. “You’ve become a powerful practitioner, and your beauty is a gift. A great gift that gives you strength and increases your magic. You’ll have many more gifts in this world. A child will only hinder you.”
    “Mathena! You’re speaking about my son.”
    “In the world, he’ll be a bastard. The queen’s child will haveeverything your own son will be denied. Don’t you want those things?”
    She continued to watch me in that same intent way.
    Her words confused me. “Yes, but . . . what can I do? I cannot have those things. It’s too late.”
    “Be patient,” she said. “Haven’t I taught you that the world can changein an instant?”

O ver the rest of that winter, darkness seemed to envelop us, so thick it was like a physical thing.The rush of women who came to us slowed down to a faint trickle of the truly desperate. The daylight, when it came, was ghostly, pale. All that mattered was keeping the fire lit, keeping food in

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