“They are callin’ ye Cain the Mad.
“Elin o’ the City has been reinstated on your throne, and she helped oversee the appointment o’ new counts for the Wastes and Lowlands. Knowin’ she is sittin’ where ye should be makes me sick, but I have no say; most o’ the Nation doesn’t even know I exist. Ye were mad, apparently; ye only wanted power.
“Ye were given a king’s burial. Elin and her confidantes wanted to throw ye into the river, but the man who killed ye insisted that ye be taken care of in the way that was fit. It was small, and Mother wasn’t there, but I held Gideon while that man spoke. I came that mornin’; I missed seein’ ye before ye were taken from me, but I was there for your funeral. The man—Sage—was the only one there who wasn’t loyal to ye, but he was the only one who spoke. It was lovely, what he said. I don’t remember all o’ it, but I know it made me weep for ye.
“I did as ye told me; I’ve secured a place in a wealthy family from Hailstone. I will be cared for. But he will never be my father. I love ye.”
The summer day was unusually cold; the sun was blotted out the sun and shrouded the world in grey. The grass beneath her rustled and whispered as cool mountain winds danced through the cemetery; it hopped over headstones and crypts, and gently lifted her hair from her shoulders as if the spirit of her father was listening, and he walked up behind her with the wind and began playing with her hair.
She smiled and touched her shoulder, wishing she could feel the warm, strong hand of her father resting there. Her heart had broken when she heard her father had been killed; but standing in the cemetery as his killer said soft, heartfelt words, and watching the beautiful casket lower into the ground, had filled her with a sense of purpose.
Something squawked behind her, and she knew she was no longer alone.
Smiling, she reached out and gently rested her palm on the cool stone marker above the grave. Later, the man had promised, he would get a statue, as all the men buried in the hall of kings did. “I’ll stay strong for ye, Father. I’ll do everythin’ ye wanted.”
“Are ye about done?”
Wiping her dry eyes, she climbed to her feet and shook the loose grass from her long skirts. Behind her stood her mother, cloaked and hooded, with her sharp green eyes glaring at her daughter. A small body was cradled in her arms, fast asleep. The contempt her mother showed her meant nothing; she had the love of her brother and one final request from her father.
“I am.” She tilted her head up, chin high, and strode across the cemetery. Once she joined her mother on the gravel path, they began walking back toward the castle. “Where is Maude?”
Her mother stiffened and her lip curled. “She is in the City. She believes ye went for a walk.”
“Good.” They continued in silence until they reached the courtyard of the castle. Her mother would be stealing away with the help of old loyalists, and she would be joining her adoptive mother and father—the man she claimed, in Hailstone, was her true father, and she was his natural child from an affair.
They paused, uncomfortable in the cold and silence. “I’m sorry, Mother. I’ll write to ye.”
She scoffed and adjusted the weight of the child in her arms. With a grumble and sigh, he woke. “Don’t bother.”
The derision stung, but she didn’t let it show on her face. Instead, she reached out and lightly touched her brother’s small nose. “I shall miss ye greatly, Gideon.”
His eyes fixed on her, and his mouth curled into a sleepy smile. “Jain,” he said softly.
She smiled and kissed his forehead. Without another word, the girl turned and strode toward the City of Kings, where northern general Shal and his wife Maude waited; and with a pang in her heart, she left behind her mother and brother, and her father’s grave—her crumbled royal family—and walked into a life of deceit.
And thus begins Of the Kingdoms, my third novel of the Nation.