The new baby is a girl. That is what the physician said. And the midwives. And the bard. And Grandpapa and Grandmama. The prettiest baby girl in all of Loryth.

She didn’t want to know what it was. She didn’t want it to be at all. When Papa took her to her mother’s bedside and showed her the small, wrinkly fingers, the thin wisps of dark hair, the fat and ugly cheeks, the beady and greedy eyes, the suckling and noisy mouth, the moist, reddened, and fragile skin… she had fled the chamber as quickly as she could, right after her mother had given it to her so that she might hold her new sister and feel the warm breath against her face.

She watched it demand from them all. It took, and took, and took until they could give naught but their lives. The wetnurses, once her friends, now devoted themselves entirely to taking care of it. They did not protest, did not hit it when it deserved to be hit, did not allow her to pinch its mouth shut, did not ignore it whenever it cried and kicked and screamed.

When her mother noticed her at last, she grew even more sullen. How dare she only now care about how her firstborn felt. How dare she pretend as though she hadn’t ignored her only daughter. Her only child. When the old hag finally asked why she acted so rotten, she turned her back. When the old hag told her that her sister was a blessing, and that she should love it, she said,

“I hate her. I wish she was dead.”

Her mother slapped her and walked away, crying. She had no right to cry. She was the one who had wronged. She was the one who had caused the hurt. How dare she cry?

The baby is dead. It dangled from the swaddle. The physician called it unfortunate and unexpected. It had been healthy. It had wailed. It had eaten. It had slept. But it still dangled.

She wasn’t sad, although she knew that she ought to be. When it was laid to rest, she stood longest by the stone and squeezed her mother’s hand. Her mother squeezed back, but her eyes were dull. She deserved it. It was only fair that she feel what her daughter had felt.

Her mother grew weaker and withdrawn – solitary to the point of confining herself to her canvas room. She painted the same portrait over and over again; what it would have looked like had it lived. It looked like its mother. More than she would ever look like her mother. She became sad.

She tried all she could to make her mother happy again. She sang, and performed the new dance sets that Master op Harring had taught her perfectly. Her mother had loved to watch her dancing; but she stared blankly now, as though seeing only phantoms.

She took her mother on a walk through the park. Such frivolities had been commonplace before the baby was born. Her mother would show her all of the flowers that grew within the gardens; the pretty petunias, the russet roses, the dainty daisies. Today, there were no flowers. Only vines. They twirled around the lamp-posts, slithered over the marble paths, packed themselves into towering, ominous hedges.

Her mother guided her out of the maze. The city was in panic. The bells had been rung. The Knights from the Tower would arrive soon. They would be safe again.

Her mother could not move. The vines wrapped around her ankles. Her wrists. Her waist. They pulled her away. She tried to grab hold of the limp hands, screamed when the fingers would not grab back. She saw her mother’s eyes; saw the surrender and shame; saw the sadness and agony. The vines consumed her slowly. She may have died before disappearing completely; suffocated.

The Knights took her away. The Inquisitor questioned her about things she could not remember. She wanted to go home. She wanted to feel her mother hug and kiss her to sleep, like she used to before the baby was born. She wanted to feel the sting of her mother’s slap again. She wanted to feel the pride and fear swell in her chest as she listened to her mother when time came for her en passant.

But there would be no more hugs and kisses. There would be no more slaps. There would be no en passant.

Not with her mother.