Vanissa drew the sleeping fur draped over her shoulders closer around her and edged nearer the fire. Behind her a snowy drift of fine linen sheet gleamed in the shadows of the big carved bed, silent witness to her precipitate departure. Did the Princess Rothana sit up tonight in her grand royal apartment at the castle? Was she too haunted by hideous dreams of making love to the mutilated, headless corpse of her lord, like Vanissa?

She had been careful not to lose her heart to Prince Conall, knowing perfectly well from the very beginning that their relationship had no future. But he'd been handsome and kind and so generous! 'I'll provide for you,' he'd promised and he had, oh he had! The jewels in the little sandalwood chest on the clothes press and the fine gowns inside it had just been the beginning. Then there was this grand stone house, all her own, and everything it contained from the elegant furniture, fine enough for a palace, to the Kheldish hangings and carpets and the silver plate on the buffet. She also owned the land the house stood on, including a garden and a dozen acres of good pasture as well, not to mention the annuity that brought her a fat purse of silver – more than she could ever manage to spend – each quarter. She would live in luxury for the rest of her life and all thanks to the prince!

Tears spilled over. She had minded when he told her they were finished. She'd known she would miss him and the excitement he brought into her life. But she hadn't made a fuss. She'd had no right to, and he'd been pleased, pleased and proud that she spared him tears and a scene. He hadn't minded that she didn't love him, she told herself as she had again and again since his death. He hadn't expected or wanted her love, just bodily pleasure. She had given him everything he desired of her and she had nothing to reproach herself with on that account.

He'd loved Princess Rothana though. She'd seen as much when he came to tell her he was to be married and it was over. And then he'd told her what he meant to do for their child. "I hope it's a girl," he'd said with a smile. "Lovely and sweet like her mother." Then more seriously; "Illegitimacy is much less of a problem for a girl. But son or daughter he or she will be able to live as befits royal blood." Five manors he'd settled on the child, all near Rhemuth, to be held in trust until he or she turned fourteen. Worth three hundred gold sovereigns a year, a lord's portion!

The child stirred in her womb and she placed a hand on the curve of her belly. 'You'll be a great noble, darling, your father saw to that. He cared that much about you – and me.' And she sobbed out loud. Why had Conall had to die? She simply could not see what he had done that was so terrible. The King had been dead – or at least everybody had thought he was. Some said it was because he had presumed to marry the woman the King had wanted. Others that Conall had challenged King Kelson to a magic duel which was ridiculous. Conall wasn't Deryni, how could he be? Everybody knew King Kelson's Deryni blood came from his mother Queen Jehana. Conall's mother was full human, just like his father. Just like Vanissa herself and their child.

Vanissa snuffled, wiping her eyes. She would never have seen Conall again even if he'd lived. He'd made that perfectly clear on his last visit. But every night afterwards she'd prayed for his happiness and long life out of sheer gratitude for everything he'd done for her. And God had answered her prayer with Conall's death. Was He that angry with them? Fornication was a sin, but surely not deserving of such a punishment. And if it was…what would happen to Vanissa and her child?

'Please, God, don't let his father's sins or mine fall on our baby. He is innocent. If I must suffer for lying with a man outside of marriage I will, but spare my child!'

She took a deep breath trying to slow the sudden, panicky, surge of her blood. The baby kicked angrily. It had been weeks since Conall's death and nothing worse had befallen them. In fact the steward he'd appointed to manage the child's lands had come to reassure her that the arrangements Conall had made for the two of them still stood. However angry King Kelson had been at his cousin he had not extended his ire to the prince's women and their unborn children. Princess Rothana too had been left her dower lands and her son would carry the title of a prince of Haldane. They said she meant to take religious vows as soon as her baby was born, and to dedicate him to the Church as well. Vanissa wondered if God expected her to do the same.

But they said the princess had a true vocation, had indeed actually been under vows when she first met Prince Conall. Vanissa was quite sure she did not have a vocation… perhaps a virtuous secular life would be enough to assuage any anger God felt towards her? Maybe the child would have a vocation if so they might enter religion together in due time. But definitely not whatever Order the princess chose to favor! As far as Vanissa knew Princess Rothana had no idea she existed and she preferred to keep it that way. It was what her lord would have wanted.