When she could, Cygna evaded her governess and her guards to wander alone, first within the castle halls and then into the grounds. She wanted to catch a glimpse of her father in his own world, of the stepmother and half-sister she never met face-to-face. Whenever she glimpsed Aila, however, she was being ushered along by her own guards, hurried from place to place much the same way Cygna was. Queen Gyda, however, trailed her guards and the ladies-in-waiting behind her as though they were under sufferance. The first time Cygna tried to introduce herself, she earned only a sneer and an irritated wave of a hand as the queen brushed past.
After that, however, Queen Gyda made an unexpected appearance in Cygna’s rooms. She dismissed the governess, who had been in the middle of yet another dry lecture on import and export, and sat in the chair nearest the fire. Cygna sat at her writing desk, eager but also too afraid to speak.
“I did not say you could be seated,” Gyda said, and Cygna got promptly to her feet. “So, here you are. The last time I laid eyes on you from this close was the day you arrived here. I had hoped not to do so again. Turn around; let me see you.” The Swan Maiden pivoted slowly in place. “I’m glad to see they’ve done something to hide that wing of yours. You’re coming into womanhood very well, I suppose. Your face is a bit too sharp, but I hope you will grow out of that; I suppose there’s nothing we can do to make your complexion fairer. You might even be passing pretty one day, were you not so deformed. Not as pretty as my Aila, understand. You’re not to impose yourself on her. Do you hear me?”
“Yes, Your Majesty,” Cygna managed through a throat constricted with terror and disappointment.
“I suppose now that you’re allowed out you expect to be a part of the family. This will not be the case. You have nothing to do with me, or with Aila.”
“I know that, Your Majesty.”
“Do not interrupt. As your father has seen fit to give you notions of freedom, it is only natural that you would give in to curiosity. Be sure it does not lead you to draw unnecessary attention to yourself or your association with us.” She stood and smoothed her gown. “I do not know what future your father has in mind for you, but it can have nothing to do with us. I do not say this to hurt you. You cannot risk anyone finding out what you are. It would be a danger to us, to this country, and not least of all to yourself. It would have been kinder to send you back where you came from, wherever that is, but your father wanted to keep you. And I do not doubt you’ve suffered for it. I am genuinely sorry for it. I am no stranger to being locked away, made to wear painful gowns for the pleasure of others, not knowing what thread fate spins.” She paused, and Cygna could see that she was calculating her words. “I am sure you long for a mother figure. Do not expect to find it in me. But as there is no one else, I suppose you may, on occasion, speak to me. Do not seek me out in public again. If you must call on me, and I hope that will be rare, send word. I will come to you when I have a spare moment.”
She left, and Cygna felt lonelier for it than she had before she’d known that a mother was something she was missing. The queen’s cold pity angered and unsettled her, and before her governess could come back, she slipped out of her rooms to escape the confinement of those walls and Gyda’s words.
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