Sitting in the small garden, a pregnant Kaldorei woman moved slowly from one plant to the next. Some she pulled weeds from, others got a careful pruning of leaves or blossoms. Lilybeth started to trim back an arrowbloom plant, stopped and simply pulled the entire thing from the planter. She tossed it aside and pushed a strand of hair from her face with the side of her hand, smudging soil onto her cheek.
Her ears pricked slightly at the sound of movement to her side. She ignored it, assuming it to be one of the guards, keeping their usual watch over her. She began sorting her trimmings into different baskets when a familiar voice broke her quiet. Ever so softly, Forosuul called to her, “Sel’de…”
Lilybeth turned slowly, looking at him. She smiled gently. “Papa! You’re back!” Her voice was mostly cheerful, with just a tinge of something else. She started toward him.
Forosuul tried to smile but failed, his lips twisting into a grimace. His voice was hoarse, strained. “Lily…” he began, but seemed to lack the words.
“Did you…did Eliân…..” The words come stuttering out, hopeful. Forosuul took a step forward, stumbled, and fell to his knees, unable to speak. Lilybeth ran to him and knelt, scared. “Papa! Papa…what is it?…please!” Her pitch rose with each word, reaching a frantic tone.
Forosuul responded, barely audible. “I have failed you, Lily…”
Lilybeth shook her head quickly, her eyes growing wide. “No….no…. please!” she pleaded. “Papa….please…”
He slumped further, falling on his hands, his fingers clenched and dug into the soil. He croaked out, “I’m sorry…I’m sorry….”
She stood and stepped backward slowly, disbelieving. “No….No…it’s someone else…you….it’s not her…she’s not….No…. nonononononononono.” Her hands were buried in her hair, eyes darting from one thing to the next as the world begins to spiral in her vision.
Forosuul looked up, the anguish clear on his face. “I’m sorry, Lily…but it is her….she’s gone.”
Falling to her knees, a shrieking wail issued from her lips. Forosuul coughed roughly, as if the words have choked him. He looked at the ground, too ashamed to move. Lilybeth fell onto her side, curling into herself, screaming and crying in turn. “Min’da no! No! I can’t….please….”
Forosuul watched silently for a few moments, then stood, some of his usual mettle returning. He moved to Lilybeth and took her into his arms, carrying her like a child. Lilybeth’s tears streamed down her face, her breath coming in gasps. She clung to him, crying into his chest. Forosuul held onto her tightly, ignoring the confused stares of the garrison staff. He carefully crossed through the center of the yard and up the stairs to the inn. He brought her to her room and laid her gently on the bed. He reached out a hand to her, tentatively, unsure. Lilybeth grabbed it desperately.
Whispering gently, “I’m sorry, Lily. I was too slow.”
Between choking breaths, “I….I can’t….Papa…I can’t breath….I can’t….” Forosuul crouched down, wrapping his arms around her. Lilybeth grabbed onto him, like letting go would actually kill her. She began to shake. Forosuul let her cry, unsure what else to do. “What….how….I….” she kept trying to form a thought, but it was scattered and incoherent.
Carefully he whispered, “How much do you want to know, Sel’de?”
Lilybeth tried to take a few breaths. They were ragged and heavy, coming in fits. “I… I need to know, Papa. I need to know all of it.”
Forosuul grimaced. “Eli found her in a back room of the Moonwhisper estate.”
Quietly, “Alsa’s old family…”
He nodded. “It seems Kasuura is behind this.”
Lilybeth face twisted and she fought back sobs. “Why?…Why would she do this? My mother is….she isn’t….” Fresh tears began to flow down her face, running onto her lips.
He sighed. “We believe that Kasuura sought to regain favor with Mire, by getting information from your mother.”
Lilybeth whispered, her voice dull. “Because I kept going back…”
Forosuul took her face in his hands, cutting her off gently. “This is not your fault…it is theirs. They could have simply spied on your mother, but they grew over-eager and impatient. We think she told them a few minor things, trying to satisfy them so they would let her go. But she refused to give them more….” he grimaced, his voice growing hoarse. “They…hurt her, Lily.”
She quietly wept as he tried to explain. “I don’t understand. She was not some enemy to be tortured…I…I don’t…” Forosuul looked pained. Lilybeth buried her face in his chest, her tears running down onto his bare skin.
“This was not the act of someone rational….Alsa told me that her birth mother was always on the edge of madness, so desperate was she for upper class favor.”
“Alsa told me you asked her,” she whispered. Forosuul nodded dully. “Why did they kill her, Papa? Why?”
“Eli believes that they were trying to do something. Something that would hurt…and her…” He hesitated, then coughed. “What happened to her was the result of them not knowing how to do it right.” He continued quietly, anger coloring his words. “They were like children playing at being spies, everything they did was sloppy and stupid.”
“Kasuura hired amateurs?” she asked bitterly.
“Kasuura did not know better, think of what she did with Alsabe and our House. She is unsophisticated,” he answered flatly.
Lilybeth nodded. “When? Did we even stand a chance of finding her? Or did we figure it out too late?”
Forosuul face twisted, embarrassed. “Three days. Eli believes she had been gone three days.” His voice was hoarse. “I…spent too much time thinking about Mire….I allowed this to happen.”
“So we….you….she was gone before Eliân found her room?”
He nodded stiffly. “I am so sorry….” Lilybeth pushed herself back from him and tried to sit up. Forosuul stepped back, shame-faced. She managed, with effort, to get herself upright and faced him. Tears streaked the soil that was on her face.
Very quietly, Lily tried to assure him, “Papa….this was not your fault.” Forosuul found that he could not meet her eyes. “Please look at me….please.” He grimaced, keeping his eyes downcast. “Papa?”
His voice was tight, hoarse. “I don’t deserve for you to call me that.”
“Yes. You do.”
“I have failed you utterly.”
Lilybeth whispered gently, her voice pinched and raw. “Can I lay her to rest? Or did they take that from me as well?”
Forosuul sighed heavily, closing his eyes. “Eli retrieved her. She is bringing her to the farm so she can be prepared. We will give her a proper burial.”
She tried to sound reassuring as she placed her hand on his shoulder. “Then you did not fail me. You promised me you would find her. That you would bring her back.”
“I meant alive, Lily, and you knew that, and trusted me to do it.”
Lilybeth replied, looking straight at him. “I know you did. But Papa…..part of me knew.” Forosuul grimaced. “No part of me that wanted to admit it, but it was there. I wanted so much to be wrong.” Lilybeth laid her hand on the stack of books on the table. Forosuul sighed heavily. “I know all too well that sometimes….sometimes…” Despite her every attempt, she broke down again. Forosuul watched helplessly as Lily reached out for him. He let her draw him in, wrapping his arms around her. Between her sobs, she choked out, “I….forgive…you. I don’t…blame you. Thank you….for…trying….so hard.” Forosuul held her tightly and began to shudder. Lilybeth gripped him tightly and wept in earnest.
Forosuul’s body was shaken by huge wracking sobs. Her words had cut to the heart of him. He had needed to hear her say it. Lilybeth took slow, ragged breaths, trying to calm herself. She held onto him and let him cry with her. Forosuul whispered between sobs, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry…”
“Papa….No….It’s not your fault. I just….she should be here….they took her from me….the babies….she’s never going to…” Lilybeth cried out suddenly, pulling in a sharp breath. Her eyes went wide for a moment before squeezing shut tightly.
Forosuul pulled back, concerned. “Lily?”
She wrapped her hands about her round belly. “Oh gods…that hurts…”
“Should I send for Kajeda? Tindomiel?” he asked, alarmed.
“I…don’t know…” Lilybeth tried to breath slowly. Each breath came in ragged bursts.
“Then I will, just to be safe.” With a supreme effort, he straightened. Closing his eyes, he took several long, deep breaths. Lilybeth reached for the glass on the table, but knocked it over. Forosuul moved like snake, his arm whipped out, catching the glass before it fell, and handed it to her.
She took it, her hand shaking as she sipped. “Thank you, Papa,” she said, her voice pained and tight.
“Perhaps you should lay down.”
“It’s…it’s easing a little…” she tried to argue, but she lay down anyway. “I’m sorry…I didn’t mean to…”
He cut her off. “You never apologize to me for anything, Lily.”
Lilybeth closed her eyes, cradling her belly. “It’s ok babies….it’s ok….Min’da is all right…” she whispered as gently as she was able. Forosuul smiled slightly in spite of himself. “Or I will be. Someday.” She looked up at him, “Papa?”
“Yes, child?” he whispered.
Forosuul jawline tightened and he almost lost his composure again. “I haven’t really done anything, Lily.”
“Thank you for telling me. Thank you for trying so hard…” her eyes fill with fresh tears.
Forosuul clenched his fists, the muscles in his neck standing out like chords. His voice came out hoarse. “Do you want to hear the rest?”
Lilybeth nodded. “Please. I need to know…I can’t…I can’t just leave it open.”
Forosuul continued quietly. “Thus far, Eli identified eight people who knew something about what was happening, including the three mercenaries who took her from her home. All of them have been….removed.” There was a finality to the word.
Forosuul held up a hand in a gentle gesture. “As soon as she delivers your mother to us, Eli will return and find out who in the remaining household was involved. She will eliminate them one by one, leaving their lifeless, but unmarked bodies in the house. As a warning.” Lilybeth’s face went blank, almost cold. “Anyone in the household who is innocent, will be driven away, until Kasuura remains alone.”
Lilybeth’s voice comes out like ice. “I don’t think she knows who she has done this to.” There was a look behind her eyes that was unlike anything one would have expected.
“When she is alone in a house full of corpses….I will go to her.”
“As will I.”
Forosuul shook his head. “No, Lily, just me.”
“Papa…you promised me,” she countered, hurt. She sat up slowly, her eyes pleading with him.
“Lily, it will not be safe for anyone else to be there.”
Lilybeth stared at the wall, all emotion missing from her face. “So I will not even see the end of the one who did this.”
He sighed, shoulders drooping. “Very well, I will give you a choice. You can be there. and Kasuura’s end will be much more swift. Or you can allow me to go alone, and you trust me to make her end…..last.” Lilybeth looked at him, her eyes flashing brightly. “If I am to punish her properly, it must be alone, anything else would endanger you.”
“Will you make her suffer? One corner of Forosuul’s mouth twitched slightly. “Will you make it full of such pain as she will beg for death to end it?”
“I intend to let the one within me out to play. What he will do to her, you cannot conceive.”
Lilybeth eyes went wide and she grinned cruelly. “Then go alone.”
He nodded. “The final act will be the removal of her intact head, which will be left in Mire’s private quarters.”
Lilybeth seemed to think quietly for a moment. “Bring me back a lock of her hair.” Forosuul nodded. “Cut it before you begin.”
“As you wish, Sel’de. I will do that, but I have a warning.”
She winced again and took another slow sip of water. “All right.”
“If you use that to divine a vision of what happened… you will never look at me the same way again.”
“I will not,” she replied. “I intend to make the head shriek at Mire when she sees it.”
Forosuul eyes went wide and he laughed in spite of himself. “I wish I’d thought of that.” He shook his head, impressed at the wickedness his adoptive daughter was displaying.
“If I cannot be their for Kasuura’s death, then I will take my anger out on Mire’s mind,” she said matter-of-factly.
Forosuul warned, “I have to tell you, we have nothing to suggest Mire knew this was happening.”
“Kasuura would not have looked at my mother twice if Mire hadn’t pointed her in that direction.” Forosuul nodded. “She may not have ordered this, but she dealt the hand. Let us see if she likes the outcome.” Lilybeth lay back down on the bed, still in obvious pain, but focused on their conversation.
“We have concluded that Mire suggested to Kasuura that your mother might have useful information.” He shrugged. “No doubt she wanted Kasuura to spy on her. But Kasuura is clumsy and simple-minded and did something stupid.”
She nodded. “Anyone who would do what she did to Alsabe…” She winced again. “I would not trust with a glass of wine, let alone a life.”
“She will pay. For all of it,” he said. “And Mire will understand what it means to harm any of our House.”
Lilybeth nodded her body curling up. “Papa….I think maybe….You should get Kajeda to come.” For the first time since the pain had begun, she started to sound scared. Forosuul looked to her, worry overtaking his features. “I just want to…make certain…”
“I will send word right away, she and Tindomiel will come as swiftly as they are able. Alsabe is still here, yes?”
Lilybeth nodded stiffly. “If I didn’t wake her, she is in the next room.”
“I will send her in to attend you while I gather the others.”
Lilybeth responded quietly, “Thank you.” Forosuul placed a hand on her shoulder. She placed her hand over his.
“If you can believe what I say any more…all will be well, Sel’de.”
She looked up at him, confused. “Why would I not believe you?”
“My track record right now is not good.”
“Papa…no…please don’t…Please…I,” tears started rolling down her cheeks. “You did everything you…you could.”
Forosuul grimaced. “All right, Sel’de, I’m sorry. Let me get Alsa.” Lilybeth nodded, wiping her face. He turned and moved to the door, but stopped halfway there, looking back over his shoulder. She watches him, wishing he could stay. Forosuul said very gently, “I love you as if you were my own child, Lilybeth. I hope you understand that.”
“I do. I love you too, Papa. Truly,” she whispered.
Forosuul nodded. “Sleep now, I will return with the others.”