And once I realized I loved it, the fear came soon after. Because if I could love it this much now, when it was nothing more than the stroke of a butterfly’s wing against my womb, how much more would I love it when I held it, a fully formed child, small and helpless in my arms?
Only then did I begin to realize the price I had paid for a building full of stupid spun gold. Gold which was used not to enrich the kingdom, as I had naively imagined, but rather to amuse the king, impress his minions, and humiliate his enemies. I was dressed in an endless array of golden gowns, and I grew to loathe the color almost as much as the pale green of the king’s eyes.
If I’d thought I hated the king before that time, it was nothing compared to the hatred that swept through me during those too-short months of pregnancy. I found I could not bring myself to hate the creature with whom I’d bargained- it had been very honest with me that the greater the magic the greater the pain required. And it was a great deal of magic, indeed, it had worked that final night. I was the fool who had dreamed I might get away without paying. But it was the king- the selfish, mad king- who had put me in a position to make such an evil bargain in the first place.
The king, of course, was delighted by my delicate state- delighted enough to leave me alone, which was a great relief. True, I was still visited daily by the court sycophants, but at least none could ignore my dismissal- and dismiss them I did, claiming any number of ailments. There were many spies amongst the servants, but also a few whose love of me might just outweigh their fear of the king- but I did my best never to put them in the position to find out. It wasn’t fair to ask so much of them, and I knew better than anyone the shame of being utterly powerless to protect one’s self, or the ones you loved.
The day I felt my child kick beneath the hand I’d pressed to my gently swelling belly, I realized I would burn the kingdom to the ground before I let the creature touch it.
It was time to visit my mother.
At first I was not going to ask the king. I was the queen, after all- theoretically I could do as I wished, especially now that I was carrying his heir. But… the fact that I was carrying his heir might make him all the more unreasonable. He might decide to murder my entire village for kidnapping the royal heir. I decided not to take the chance, and instead began to very conspicuously pine. I pined, and turned away my meals (one of my maids brought me food in the middle of the night) until at last the king sent his physician to examine me.
I was not particularly fond of the physician, a man much in love with the perks of court life and skeptical of the rural healing traditions, but I knew how to manipulate him, and in the end he made his report to the king: I was suffering from a peculiar female hysterical ailment that only a visit with female kin would remedy. He recommended I be sent to the countryside at once, for the curative powers of fresh air, and the calming effects of maternal love.
The king would not be satisfied unless I went with a retinue of dozens, nevermind that they would slow my progress, or the strain that would put on my village’s resources. During the year we had been married, however, I had learned a thing or two about manipulating the his ego, and his paranoia, and it did not take long for me to convince him that it was his idea to send me alone but for a single, trusted guard.
“We’ll tell the court you’re ill,” he said decisively, “And cannot see or be seen by anyone, lest it endanger the baby. You will travel disguised as a miller’s daughter and her brother, on their way to visit their ailing parents. My enemies will never suspect the ruse!” He chuckled at his own genius, then stroked my belly possessively. “They’ll have neither of you, my precious treasures” he said softly, and I smiled serenely, as inwardly I imagined castrating him with a paring knife.