Virginia still wasn't sure about this, but Matilde was adamant.
When they entered the room, a freckle faced young nursemaid already had Anthony in his bath. He was happily splashing around and slapping a blue wash cloth against the top of the water. His laughing and giggling had the nursemaid laughing as well.
"Your Majesty," the nursemaid said, acknowledging Matilde first. "Princess Virginia. Prince Anthony is just the happiest baby."
"Yes he is," Matilde agreed. "You can go now and see to your other duties. We'll take care of Prince Anthony."
"Yes your Majesty," the young nursemaid said.
Matilde slipped her hands around Anthony's back and the young nursemaid curtsied before leaving.
"I can't," Virginia said when they were finally alone.
"You can," Matilde said sternly. "Why don't you get his toy boat."
Virginia slowly did as she was told. There was a small red boat sitting next to a pile of fluffy white towels. She brought it over to Matilde.
"Well…put it in the water. I know you're no longer a child, but surely you know how to play."
Virginia set the boat on the water and immediately it caught her son's attention. He giggled with delight and his mother couldn't help but smile back. He reached for it and turned it over in his hands. Then he put it back into the water and clapped as it floated first away from him and then back as he kicked his feet playfully under the shallow water. Virginia's blue eyes widened with love for her son and she started to smile.
"Now, stand where I am and take the blue wash cloth and wash him," Matilde said.
"I've never bathed him before."
"Yes, I know."
"I might hurt him."
"Just put one hand here to support him." Matilde placed Virginia's left hand behind Anthony's back. "That's right. Now take the blue wash cloth."
Virginia hesitated for a moment. She knew Matilde was trying to help her face her biggest fear, but this was hard. Her stepmother had even made sure to use a blue wash cloth, not unlike the one that had been in her bath all those years ago when her mother had tried to drown her. Either her father had remembered that little fact or Raphaela had told her. "I'm not my mother," Virginia repeated to herself. "I'm not my mother." Slowly she picked up the blue wash cloth and started to gently rub her son's shoulder with it.
"That's right," Matilde said.
Anthony slapped the red boat down on the water and sent a warm spray over his mother's face and arm. Then he looked up at her and laughed at what he thought was a great joke. Virginia laughed back.
Anthony picked up the red boat to show his mother.
"Yes, red boat," Virginia said. "Do you like red?"
Anthony babbled something in baby talk.
"Lord Rupert will be very happy to hear that. Your Daddy looks good in red."
Anthony smiled and went back to sailing his boat. Then he realized that if he kicked his feet he could make lots of waves and the boat would rise and fall dramatically. In the process much of the water left the bath, but Anthony thought it only added to the fun.
Virginia slipped both her arms around her son. "Do you want to be a sailor when you grow up?"
Anthony didn't answer. He had decided his mother's left hand was the next thing he wanted to play with. Immediately the singing ring stood at attention.
"There once was a little red boat," it sang.
"Who in Anthony's bath would float.
Through wave and splash, it would sail all the while.
And never would fail to make Anthony smile."
Anthony looked at the ring in shock. If he'd ever heard it sing before, he'd never heard it consciously. He paused for a moment and then his mouth turned up in a delighted smile. With a pleased baby gurgle, he reached for the ring and fingered its little pearl head. The ring giggled as if it were being tickled.
"Do you like the ring, Honey?" Virginia asked. She smoothed his damp dark hair back with her cheek and kissed the top of his ear. "Maybe if we ask him he'll sing it again."
"There once was a little red boat," the ring began.
"Who in Anthony's bath would float."
Anthony clapped his hands and splashed the ring and Virginia further. The ring shook a drop of water from his face and continued.
"Through wave and splash, it would sail all the while…"
At this point, Matilde thought she should leave. Quietly, she let herself out of the room and closed the door behind her. She was so intent on the loving scene between mother and son, she didn't notice the slight outline of Virginia's mother standing in the shadows of the room.
Christine smiled at the sight of her daughter and grandson. Then she disappeared forever, her work completed.
- - - - - - - - - -
In the barren desert somewhere between the Fifth Kingdom and the magic barrier placed there so long ago by Xian, her former servants the satyrs and hsigo gathered. It was the perfect place to hide. No one bothered to search for them there.
Gavrilo told the people of the Fifth Kingdom that since they were only dumb animals, the hsigo and satyrs would simply perish over time. "They know they'd be destroyed if they ever dare cross back into the Fifth Kingdom. We won't tolerate them here as they did in the Fourth."
Of course, no one knew he sent them food on a regular basis and helped them find a water source in the northern stretches of the desert. Since they didn't need to gather food or worry about water, they were free to concentrate on other things.
Day after day, the group repeated the incantation that Gavrilo had taught them. He said it was an ancient language and an ancient spell which was supposed to dissolve even the strongest of magic barriers as long as there was enough power behind it.
It wasn't clear to them that a group of satyrs and hsigo would ever be able to build up enough power to bring down the barrier that stood between the Nine Kingdoms and Irem. But they hoped Queen Xian would learn of their attempts through a crystal or magic mirror and see their loyalty. Then perhaps she would bring down the wall for them. Until then, thirteen of her faithful followers walked ceaselessly in a circle within a circle of stones. When those inside the circle became tired, the leader of the hsigos would cut a doorway into the circle with the ritual knife that Gavrilo had given him and a new group of rested satyrs and hsigo would take up the spell.
"Inso eli todop ry," they chanted.
"Inso talla edep ry
Inpa tola hida so,
Etop efra kado ro."