Chapter 4

We All Come From Somewhere part 3

Sweat poured off of her brow with concentration. Days had been strewn into weeks, as Elizabeth Romanov had immersed herself deeper in her magical studies. The simple spells had come fairly quickly, and largely without incident. She could manipulate small fires, create total darkness around her and even turn small things invisible, or levitate them.

The more complex spells, the offensive ones, had made her struggle somewhat. Her instructor, Kortivar scoffed at her efforts. "You came to me, hoping to learn good and strong magic. I am an enchanter, and I have taught you the basics of being an enchanter. As you know, I use my power to make things better for me or for the people that pay me. But what you are working on now, with the lightning and fire... that is simply for destruction. It seems terribly wasteful to me."

"And yet, Mistress," Elizabeth replied, somewhat annoyed by her interruption "you still keep spell books that contain the spells that destroy."

"Of course, I do," Kortivar answered. "When I find or otherwise acquire a spell book, it only seems logical to keep it. Even if the spells it contains are spells that I refuse to use."

"Acquire?" Elizabeth asked, incredulous. "It sounds more to me like you hoard them, especially if you are not intending to use them."

"Well, in my way of thinking, Lady Elizabeth," Kortivar responded with a haughty air, "one can never have too many spell books. And, if one should acquire one with destructive spells within, it keeps others from going about and destroying things." She watched Elizabeth for a while longer.

After several moments there was finally a pair of fiery streaks that shot from Elizabeth's outstretched fingers. They flew a short distance, before hitting a large rock that had been moved into the practice arena specifically for that purpose. Elizabeth raised her fist to the air in triumph at her success. Kortivar frowned at the display as small chips of stone rained all around the larger one that had been struck by Elizabeth's spell.

"That will do, for today, Lady Elizabeth," Kortivar said stiffly.

"Yes, Mistress," she responded, frowning as she noticed a movement near the entryway to her home. The person that came from the door was headed toward her.

It was Elizabeth's personal maid, Loria. "My lady," she called, her voice carrying an accent obviously not from the region. "The Duchess requires you attend afternoon tea today. She also said that she would not accept any excuses for this occasion."

"I wonder what that hateful bitch wants now," Elizabeth muttered.

Afternoon tea at the Romanov Ducal Manor was an occasion started specifically for the Duchess, Shennisse Romanov. For the last three months now, it had been a tradition by the Ladies and their maids to meet between lunch and dinner to discuss the events of the day and the events to come. Today, the Duchess had a much bigger announcement than usual, which was why she had to be certain that all three of her step-daughters were present.

Elizabeth arrived slightly late for the beginning, as there were already feminine voices coming from the sitting room. She could just make out that of her stepmother followed by a collective gasp of shock from the other women assembled. She made her entry just in time to hear her sister ask, "Are you positive Your Grace? Has it, for certain, been long enough to tell?"

Shen smiled excitedly back at Delilah. "It cannot be denied now. Three months have passed, and I have not had my flux. I must be breeding. The other signs had been there, with the morning sickness and such, but this makes it absolute." She grimaced as she thought back to the first time she had been seriously morning sick. She had been awakened from a dead sleep in order to run from the huge bed to the basin on the side of her bedroom.

Shen's personal maids nodded their agreement with her assessment. The two older women had been around this manor for many years, both having been present during the pregnancies and subsequent births of the three teenagers in the room that were Shen's step-daughters. "And you are certain of its sire?" one of her maids asked.

Shen blushed furiously at this. "No, not entirely, but I was with him first before..." she trailed off, making a disgusted face. She found she still had difficulty recounting much of anything of her wedding night after she had gone to bed. The others at the table were well aware of what had taken place, even not knowing every little detail. It had taken nearly a month just for her to be able to sleep in that bed again, in spite of her lack of comfort everywhere else she had tried to sleep.

Elizabeth finally took a seat and stared at her teacup. The tea within had grown cold while she had stood by the door, but she would drink it anyway. As she contemplated the sugar she had her own startling revalation. She sat stone still as she heard the other women chattering on about names, announcements to the gentry and the peasants, formal gatherings to plan and so many other things that she quickly lost track until the entire room had gone silent. She realized at that point that everyone was staring at her.

"Well?" her stepmother asked, fully aware that she had not been paying attention.

"I... um..." she stammered.

"I think it is a most noble thing, to name the child for the father he would never know. Dominicus he will be," the Duchess declared.

Elizabeth smiled weakly. "I am certain that he will be everything that my father always wanted."

Melody, the youngest of the step-daughters had sat quietly next to her half-sister, mostly in wonder, when a nagging question caused her to speak up. "What if you have a girl, Duchess? I mean, he had three children that we know of, and we are all girls. Is it not possible that you are going to have a girl?"

Shen pondered this question for a moment before speaking. She patted her stomach as she said "if this is, in fact, a girl, then I will call her Catherine, after my grandmother. But I will not need to worry. I will most certainly have a boy," she stated with a confidence that she felt. What made her stomach knot up though, was the guarantee she received from the elf that she was carrying his son. She shook off the image of his face that crept up in her memory and looked around her table at the assembled women. They all seemed genuinely happy for her, save one.

"Well, Elizabeth? Do you not think that this is cause for celebration?"

Elizabeth was still sitting, just staring at the teacup in her hand, when she heard a crash. She realized it was the cup falling from her hand and dashed out of the room. Shen, surprised at the sudden turn, ordered everyone else in the room to remain and followed her.

Elizabeth ran through the empty hallways, until she found a quiet dark place to sit on the floor, while tears stung her eyes. When Shen finally found her, she was still in the same position, staring blankly at the wall. "That teacup you broke was part of a set that has been in my family for seven generations. Just what in the hell is your problem?" Shen asked angrily.

Elizabeth's face jerked from her focal point to her step-mother's face, contemplating a good remark to bite back with, but when nothing came, merely mouthed an apology.

Shen stared down at the younger woman, confused. It was not at all like the overly composed yet occasionally nasty girl to act the way she was. "Is this because I am going to have a son where your own mother had failed?"

Fire burned behind Elizabeth's eyes as she contemplated hitting the smaller woman, and then further pondered the use of her newly practiced magic. Instead, she just shook her head, feeling a tear slide down her cheek, and her expression fell again.

The look on her face was hollow, defeated, and Shen had seen it somewhere before. She gasped as her own realization hit. "They got you, too..." she whispered, "and you are carrying as well, are you not?"

"Yes," she answered, in the same whisper.

Shen felt all of the arguments, issues, and even the circumstances of her first meeting with the eldest Romanov daughter flash through her mind in an instant... then dismissed them outright. The rivalry would be no more, as Shen finally had someone to call a kindred spirit. She sat next to Elizabeth, pulled her into her arms and held her, shedding a few tears of her own.

Several minutes passed, and finally, the two women stood, each wiping tears and noses, looking to quickly regain composure. "We should get back to tea," Shen said softly.

Elizabeth nodded and the two walked together.

They had made it about halfway back when Elizabeth stuttered out, "I... I want... I will keep this baby."

Shen shook her head, having none of it. "No, we will inform the gathering at tea of the situation, and then I will send for the healers. They have herbs that..."

"Shen, please," Elizabeth interrupted, deliberately not using her title. "This thing, this creature, this child that grows here," she patted her stomach, "that was created out of so much hate, fear and rage, will be born into love, and live with love for all of its days, or at least as long as I live. I want to be able to look at it, and be inspired to be great because if it. I will not be able to see the face of my attackers in his... I will see only something to make me become better. To love, in spite of the turmoil that surrounded his... Arrival."

Shen shook her head. "What about society? What will the Duchy think of a child that is so obviously the product of an attack? What chance would you have of finding a husband? The situation of your virginity aside, what man would want an obviously soiled woman?"

Elizabeth felt rage stir somewhere inside of her, and recalled for a moment the spell she had been working on earlier, but held it in. "Duchess," she said through clenched teeth, "not that I would want to marry, nor have I ever, but should any man present himself as a worthy suitor, he would be entitled to the entire duchy, seeing as how I am the blood heir, and not you. Knowing that, he would surely look past any of my... faults." She took a breath before concluding, "and I do not give a damn about society."

Shen felt her cheeks grow hot at this. "I..." she stammered, "I... did not mean to offend. And I most certainly do not wish to push you into marriage if it is not what you want. You are certain, though... about marriage?"

"Not to worry, Duchess, you can keep that title for quite some time to come, as far as I am concerned. I have no use for court, or for its politics. About the baby, though..."

"If you wish to keep it, then it will be so. Have you told your sisters yet?"

"No," she replied. "I have no desire to be fawned over by the women about the manor. I realize that I can no longer keep the events of that night a complete secret, and I imagine it will be a relief to Loria not to be the only one that knows."

Shen chuckled. "If Loria knows, then I am certain she is not alone in her burden. The maids around this manor..."

"Know everything," Elizabeth finished. "And there are no secrets." She sighed heavily. "At least nothing is breathed about the goings on within the manor outside of its grounds."

Nodding her agreement, Shen let out a heavy breath of her own. "So, shall we go and bring everyone up to date with the latest decisions, Elizabeth?" she asked, offering her arm.

She grinned at her stepmother. "We shall, Duchess," she replied linking her arm around the shorter woman's.