The warm bundle, swaddled in blue, wriggled comfortably against her chest as she rocked it back and forth in her bare olive arms. Slender fingers reached up to softly caress the infant's forehead. The woman's eyes, dry now, bore thick smudges of kohl that had run down her cheeks along with her salty tears. She had tried so hard to keep him safe. Her loss was twofold – she grieved not only for her own bereavement, but for her baby son who must now grow up with no paternal figure in his life.
Prunaprismia had never wanted anyone to die. She had never imagined, as she lay in her marital bed and allowed him to stroke the growing bulge of her stomach, that he could turn to such savage measures. And yet even as she mourned for Miraz, and rued her nephew's near-assassination, her conscience tugged at her relentlessly. If she had been given a choice, she knew who she would have chosen.
Soft footsteps alerted her to the presence of another, and she kept her back turned even though she knew he was hoping that she would notice him first. She set her jaw, a wave of spite rising in her gut. How dare he seek her out after all that had passed?
She heard him inhale deeply behind her, could feel his expression of mingled apprehension and irritation.
"Forgive this intrusion, my aunt. I observed your absence at dinner today. I was concerned that you may be unwell."
So that was the tone he saw fit to take with her. The boy was diplomatic, she had to grant him that much.
"I am well, thank you, Caspian. I was merely lacking in appetite."
Caspian stepped closer, laying his hand firmly on her arm to force her to look at him. She did so with as much dignified contempt as she could muster in her tear-stained state, staring up into his meticulously expressionless face resentfully.
"Why do you still refuse to take your place in court?" he asked, gently releasing her. She arched a thin eyebrow sharply.
"I would rather be a reclusive commoner than a lady in a court of animals and savages," she said coldly. "Perhaps you may be beyond such consideration, but I will not bring dishonour upon our family."
Caspian's composure faltered. "What more could either of us do to disgrace our name? There are none of us left to bear the dishonour in any case." He looked away, uttering a sound somewhere between a sigh and a snort.
Prunaprismia scowled. "Indeed there are not. I hope you are proud of yourself."
Caspian fell silent for a moment, his posture rigid and tense. When he spoke, it was in a tone of forced calm. "You would blame me for Miraz' treachery."
It was too much for Prunaprismia. "You as good as murdered him!" she cried. The sound woke the baby, who began to wail. Caspian clenched his fists, closing his eyes as if in prayer. Prunaprismia hushed her child urgently, rocking him soothingly until he fell silent and curled back up against her chest. Caspian stared at the baby blankly.
"What is his name?" He asked at length.
Prunaprismia laughed humourlessly. "If all had gone to plan, we would have called him Caspian," she said. The would-be namesake grimaced, and she shook her head. "His name is Regalian. It is from our ancestral tongue, meaning-"
"Gift. I know." Caspian held out his arms, and his aunt stared at him suspiciously for a moment before reluctantly handing the child over. Regalian's tiny fingers wrapped instinctively around Caspian's thumb, and he gurgled quietly.
"I hope," said Caspian quietly, "that you will not let your pride get in the way of this lad's wellbeing. He can live safely in my court. He can be brought up properly, as befitting one of his heritage."
Prunaprismia scowled. "Why are you doing this? Why not just have us sent away and be done with it? I do not need your charity."
A pregnant pause hung in the air. Caspian handed the infant back to its mother, his expression guarded. "You may never have cared much for me, but you are still my family. I will not shirk my obligations."
The two Telmarines stared at one another for a moment, eyes wide and uncertain. A sort of unspoken understanding passed between them, a grudging intimacy that both had vehemently avoided all their lives until this point. Prunaprismia turned away, feeling shaken.
"I am sorry." Her voice was almost inaudible. "Sorry I never cared for you as an aunt should."
Caspian swallowed, his throat constricting painfully. "Do not apologise. I never cared much for you either."
Regalian whimpered shrilly in his mother's arms. Prunaprismia shushed him tenderly, holding him close to her pounding heart and enveloping him in her warm arms. Family disputes or no, she had to think of her son. She could not allow Caspian's legacy to become his. She could not allow her son to become an outcast among his own people.
"We will stay in the castle."
Caspian nodded, looking rather sadly at his baby cousin. The child was innocent, he reminded himself sternly. Regalian was not guilty of his father's crimes, nor was he culpable for possessing the gift of a loving parent that Caspian had spent his own childhood vainly longing for. He was glad the boy would remain in the castle, to be brought up and educated as a young noble should be. He forced himself to smile at his aunt.
"You have my word that I will do what I can to secure his future prospects." Looking into his eyes once more, Prunaprismia wondered briefly if she had been mistaken about Caspian after all. They might never love one another as family, but they did not need to live in regret and mistrust. The feeling passed almost as soon as it came. Caspian bowed respectfully, bestowing one last glance upon the oblivious Regalian as he moved towards the door. "I take my leave. I will have some dinner brought to you directly." He hurried away, footsteps echoing hollowly in the stone corridor.
"Thank you," murmured Prunaprismia to the silent room. She heaved a great sigh, kissing her son's forehead. She knew she had made the right decision. It would not be easy, but she would survive. For Regalian's sake.