PART FIVE: QUESTIONS OF LIFE
If Reg had not supported Eya, she would have fallen. In her state, with the world spinning in accelerating circles and black spots forming a chaotic picture, the young Apath was unaware that her legs had buckled and that her brother's arm around her waist was holding her upright. In fact, she was oblivious to all physical sensation.
"Are you all right?" repeated Reg. It was the fifth time he had asked.
Eya, hearing a sound, turned toward her brother. She tried unsuccessfully to focus her vision. "Wha?" she managed to murmur.
Gently laying his sister on the ground, Reg bent over her and, cupping his mouth to her ear, enunciated the question.
This time, Eya heard it. Her response was to turn onto her side and vomit all over Reg's boots.
Ten minutes later, her dizzy spell dissipating, coherence returned. The first thing Eya did upon noticing her brother scrubbing the floor was to apologize.
"Don't worry about it," said Reg. "At least you're all right. For a moment, I thought I was going to lose you."
"I was never in any danger," said Eya. As she started to rise, another wave of vertigo assaulted her and she collapsed back into a sitting position.
"Don't get up yet," said Reg. "I'll take care of this."
"My body's not used to what I tried, that's all. I didn't think I'd get that dizzy. There was nothing dangerous."
"That's not the way it looked. You started gasping for air, then nearly fell."
"The reaction was violent, but I can learn to control it." A hint of excitement entered her voice. "I did it, Reg! Do you realize what this means?"
"You've proven your theory. Now you can stop."
"Stop? This is just the beginning. Think of the applications."
"Think of the risks," he said. "Is it worth dying for something like this?"
"I told you, it's not that..."
"Eya, if I hadn't been here, you would have split your skull open on the stone floor. Dead is dead, no matter how it happens. Just because the magic doesn't kill you doesn't mean that you can't die trying these things."
"Then you'll have to stay by my side in the future."
"I want you to tell Mat," said Reg.
Eya shook her head vehemently. "Not yet."
"He might be able to help you with this."
"Or hurt. Look, Reg, this is my discovery. Mine. No one else's. I'm grateful for your help, but if you're going to work with me, it's got to be done my way. If you can't handle that, you'd better stop now."
Reg had a momentary desire to turn his back on his sister and walk out of the room. He didn't, of course. It would take more than an outburst like that to cause him to lose his temper. Whether she was willing to admit it or not, he knew Eya needed him. He would not abandon her.
"Whatever you want," he forced himself to say.
Reg offered Eya a hand. Steadying herself against him, she got to her feet. "I think that's it for today, though. I've got a terrible headache and the room is still spinning."
"Maybe you should lie down a little before joining the festivities."
"That sounds like a good idea. You know, I have no idea what it's like outside on a day like this."
"Much the same as on any other day, I should think," said Reg. "Except that everyone's a little more drunk than usual. Today's when the tavern owners get rich."
"Reg...what happens if something goes wrong? If the baby is stillborn or the queen doesn't survive the birth?"
"Don't even think about it."
"We have to. You're the one who's always saying how we should plan for the alternatives."
"This isn't something you can plan for. If something bad happens to the queen or the baby, Vorti will become the worst place in Devforth to be."
Moments later, after helping his sister to bed, Reg was strolling through the halls of Mat's mansion on the way to his quarters when he nearly bumped into Bre as she emerged from the dormitory she shared with the other household maids.
"Sorry," muttered Reg. "I didn't see you."
"That's become a habit for you, hasn't it?" Bre repliedy. The gaze she leveled at him was a mixture of anger and...something else - something less easily defined.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"You've gone out of your way to ignore me for the past few months. Have I done something in particular to offend you or have you decided to no longer associate with the maids?"
"Look, I said I was sorry."
"It couldn't be all the maids, though, could it? After all, you don't have any trouble talking to Ola. In fact, it doesn't stop with talking, does it? There are times when you can't keep your hands off her."
The conversation was moving a little too rapidly for Reg. "What does Ola have to do with my saying I'm sorry?" he asked.
Bre gave him a withering look. "'Sorry.' It's just a word to you, isn't it?"
"It's not as if I knocked you down. No harm done."
"So where's Ola? I thought you two would be together today."
Reg shrugged, determined to act as nonchalant as he could. He was not going to permit Bre to ruin what was left of this day. Eya had already dimmed too much of it. "I don't know. Probably out in the city enjoying herself."
"Out whoring, I suspect." There was venom in Bre's voice.
Reg hesitated, previously unaware of Bre's dislike of the other maid. "It's possible."
"You would know."
"That's unfair. I hardly know Ola. Certainly not enough to sleep with her."
"Since when has that ever stopped anyone?"
"When you come from a small community like Falnora, you don't sleep with someone unless you're prepared to marry them. I may live in Vorti now, but there are certain values you'll never be able to take out of me. That's one of them, and Ola isn't my idea of a wife."
"Who is?" challenged Bre.
"Who is what?"
"Your idea of a wife?"
Reg was not stupid, and his earlier conversation with his sister was fresh in his mind. He answered cautiously, wary of a verbal trap. "Someone who will stand by my side. Someone I can talk to. Someone who has her own opinions and isn't afraid to voice them. Someone I can feel comfortable with. A friend."
"Of course. Just because I'm celibate doesn't mean I'm not interested in sex."
"Have you found any candidates in Vorti?"
"I'm not here to look for a wife. I'm here to support my sister. My personal desires are subordinate to her needs. Marriage isn't a concern."
"So what is important to you?"
"Right now, joining in the revelry," said Reg, seizing an opportunity to steer the conversation away from an unpleasant subject. "I'm surprised you're still in here."
"You think I'd fit in better with a bunch of drunkards?"
"That's not what I meant. I thought you'd want to be part of the celebration."
"Until the baby is born, there's no reason to celebrate."
"Eya said much the same thing."
"She's a woman," said Bre. "She understands that giving birth isn't something taken for granted. If you took time to notice, you'd realize that almost all of the people celebrating are men. For the most part, the women are staying inside, holding their breaths, and hoping."
"So you're going to wait until word comes that the baby has been born and both mother and child are well?"
"I'm not going out at all. I have things to do."
"On a day off?"
"Weren't you outside this morning tilling the fields?"
Reg couldn't deny that, but he was surprised she had been watching him carefully enough to notice.
"If I get a few of my duties for the week completed today, I won't have to work as hard tomorrow."
"You can't be hard-pressed. Mat doesn't expect that much from us."
"Go out and enjoy yourself," said Bre.
Perhaps now was a good time for Reg to consider his feelings for Bre. Eya's words this morning had made him uncertain. How much of the antipathy between them was real, and how much was a game?
"Why don't you come with me," he suggested. His words surprised him, but not nearly as much as they did her.
He wasn't about to retreat now. He repeated the offer, then added, "We don't have to go out drinking. I'm sure there are plenty of other things to do. And you're wrong about there not being women. They're there, from housewives to harlots."
"You want me to come with you?"
"This isn't a jest, is it?"
"Why ask me? You hate me."
"Do I?" challenged Reg.
"I don't know the answer. But my sister offered an interesting alternative."
"I can't say - at least not right now."
Bre eyed Reg speculatively for a moment. He found himself awaiting her answer, although deep down he was certain she was going to refuse. This had been folly on his part. Before now, their relationship had been nicely defined. Now, he had clouded it.
"Give me a half-hour. I have to change into something more suitable for outdoor wear," said Bre.
"That's a yes?"
"Of course it is, you clod."
Back To Main Contents
Back to Chapter Twenty-Six
On to Chapter Twenty-Eight