Yuah shuddered. No matter how close she had come to Iolanthe as a compeer, she had never forgotten that her sister-in-law and former employer could be merciless. It still seemed like being given a cold slap, to be forced to come face-to-face with that realization.
“Why did you give him the rope,” asked Saba.
“I thought about giving him a pistol. It would have been a much more appropriate way to do it. Unfortunately, I couldn’t count on Mercy not to shoot me instead of himself.”
“He means, why did you help him kill himself,” said Yuah.
“She knows what I meant.”
“I don’t really need to explain it to you, do I Saba? You have lived with us since you were born. This family has been knocked down again and again, and I have done everything to build it back up. After three generations of incompetence and stupidity, I have made the Dechantagnes a great family name again. I will not let it be linked forever with treason. Can you imagine a public trial and then an execution? No, I will never allow something like that to happen.”
“He was your husband, though.”
“Yes. He was. And at least he had the decency to take the honorable way out.”
Yuah couldn’t take any more. She stood up and walked out of the parlor, down the hallway, and into the library. She stopped inside the door and took a deep breath. Terrence was sitting in one of the overstuffed chairs with a book in his lap. A pair of reading glasses was perched on the end of his nose, but he wasn’t really reading. She stepped over to him and placed her hand lightly on his shoulder.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” he said.
Jerking her hand away from his shoulder as though it had been burned, Yuah turned and rushed back out of the room. She leaned against the wall and placed both hands over her stomach. She could feel the cane strips in her corset but couldn’t feel the life growing inside of her. Continuing down the hallway, she stepped into the kitchen. One of the lizardmen was sweeping the floor and a black-haired teenaged boy sat eating a sandwich in the corner.
“Can you drive me now, Marzell?” Yuah asked the boy.
It might have been difficult to find humans in Birmisia who were willing to work as servants, but it was surprisingly simple to find young men willing to serve as drivers for one of only two steam carriages on the continent. Terrence had given out that the position was open and had faced an avalanche of applicants. He had narrowed the selection down to three boys, and had let Yuah choose her favorite. She had chosen one of the Zaeri boys from Freedonia. Marzell Lance was a serious young man of sixteen, with a shock of perpetually mussed black hair and brown eyes. He always seemed to be hungry. Though he had proven he could not only drive, but maintain the steam carriage, that was not why he had been chosen. He, like so many coming from Freedonia, had arrived alone. His sister, the only member of his family with him, had died on the ship.
Marzell jumped up and held open the outside door. Yuah walked through and he followed. The steam carriage was parked near one of the sheds. It looked as pristine as it had when it had arrived on the ship from Greater Brechalon. The minor damage caused by Yuah’s accidental diversion into a snow bank had been repaired, and from the rich black leather of the seats to the shining copper bonnet, it was clean and polished.
“I’ll have to fire up the boiler, Ma’am,” said Marzell.
“I know. That’s fine.”
Marzell held out a helping hand for Yuah, as she stepped up into the passenger seat. As she sat with folded hands in her lap, he stepped around to the back to light the boiler. He shoveled in several more scoops of coal for good measure as well. Then, popping back around to the driver’s side, he climbed in.
“If I had known you were planning to go out, Ma’am, I would have fired it up earlier.”
“I know. It’s all right.”
“Where did you want to go, Ma’am?”
“Please stop saying ‘Ma’am’. I feel old enough as it is.”
“Yes, Ma’am. Where did you want to go, Ma… Mrs. Dechantagne.”
“Take me to Miss Hertling’s home, please.”
Shifting the vehicle into gear, Marzell stepped on the forward accelerator, but with a still relatively cool engine, the steam carriage rolled forward very slowly. It seemed as though it took at least five minutes to reach the gate, which was no more than fifty feet away. Once the young man had gotten out and opened the gate though, steam had built up enough that they were able to start down the road at a respectable speed. It was less than ten minutes later that Yuah was knocking on Honor’s door.
The front door of the small cottage opened and Honor stepped outside. She immediately pulled Yuah to her and enfolded her in her arms. Tears welled up in Yuah’s eyes, but she bit her lip and fought them back. By the time her friend let go of her, she had screwed her face back into order.
“Just a minute. I didn’t know if you were here. I have to tell Marzell that I’ll be staying a few minutes.”
“Tell him you’ll be a couple of hours and that he should come back,” said Honor. “Don’t argue. Just do it.”
Yuah did as she was told, and as Marzell took off with a whoosh in the steam carriage, she stepped inside the Hertling house and closed the door behind her. Honor was stirring the contents of a large crockery bowl with a big wooden spoon. Her typical brown and black dress was covered by a white apron, now stained with a brown smear.
“I made Hertzel a cake last week, so now I’m making one for Hero.”