She stood frozen at the foot of the canopied bed. It was as if a beam of moonlight had pinpointed her location and Ka’tya felt very small and out of place all of a sudden. She willed herself to give the Queen a small nervous smile and a curtsy. It was not the curtsy of a Healer, come to offer her services; it was the curtsy of a frightened child or a new servant, reporting for duty.
“Come closer, child,” Sia’ha’na said in her breathy hypnotic voice. “I don’t bite.”
Ka’tya forced herself to take a few steps closer to the Queen. She realized that she had gooseflesh on her upper arms, a sign of being stricken with a terrible, nervous cold, even though it was more than adequately warm in the room. She found her voice, almost forgetting she was addressing a Royal.
“I can help alieve some of your suffering, Your Highness.” Ka’tya was all Healer now. A’nal would have been proud.
“I’m sure you can, child,” Sia’ha’na gave a small laugh. “And that is why we have asked you here.”
Ka’tya looked confusedly at Etienne.
“What my wife is trying to say,” King Sebastian’s voice literally made Ka’tya jump. She had not expected him to speak. His voice softened, “Is that we are in need of a Healer’s aid.”
“I can do an energy transfer. A’nal says it is very much like a…a vacation from your pain.” Ka’tya seemed to forget her shyness now; she even dared to reach over and touch the Queen’s arm. Her empath abilities were hard to disguise at times like this; they could be both a blessing and a curse. She felt a wave of nausea wash over her, but she did not let it show.
“It is a cancer that has consumed almost every major organ, child,” Sia’ha’na almost whispered. “I’m dying—I am sure A’nal has told you about my family’s Curse.”
“It is well known among the Healers,” Ka’tya confirmed. “We preform rituals and incantations for both you and the land, since both are so closely linked.” She unconsciously rubbed Sia’ha’na’s arm soothingly. “We—I—pray to the Goddess often for relief for both.”
“You are so…” Sia’ha’na paused. She almost said “naïve,” but that was not the right word. “…innocent. Pure, even.” Those seemed to better convey what she was trying to convey. “A’nal has groomed you well.” Sia’ha’na grimaced in discomfort and Ka’tya instinctively readjusted a pillow behind the Queen’s left shoulder to make her more comfortable.
“Can I make you some tea, Your Highness?” she offered. “Something to warm your bones?”
The Queen shook her head, but rang a small brass bell on her bedside table. “Let my servants attend to that, child,” she wheezed. “It’s what they do.”
Ka’tya waited a moment, and remained silent while two young servant girls appeared at Sia’ha’na’s side, seemingly arriving from a hidden panel in the far wall opposite the main entrance. The Queen whispered a command, and both white-clad servants nodded, leaving the room the same way they had appeared.
“Please let me do an energy transfer for you, Your Highness,” Ka’tya said quietly. “I can temporarily take your pain, and you will feel much better afterwards, though it is only temporary.”
“And what becomes of you during this time, child?” Sia’ha’na asked softly.
“I would take on the symptoms of your cancer,” Ka’tya admitted. “Mostly, I will want to sleep for a few days.” Sensing the Queen’s reluctance, she went on. “I have done this a few times before, for some of the village women suffering from cancers and other non-curable illnesses.”
“Ah,” the Queen sighed heavily, “but you have never done such a thing for a Queen with a generational Curse.”
“No, but—“ Ka’tya was silenced by the arrival of the two servant girls again. They laid out teapots and teacups for the Royals and their guests. When they had departed, it was Etienne who spoke.
“Perhaps it can be decided at another time,” he suggested. “I am sure Ka’tya is at least curious as to why she was invited to come here.” He handed Ka’tya a cup of steaming herbal tea and set another cup on the Queen’s bedside table. Sia’ha’na delicately brought her cup to her mouth and took a sip, her eyes deferring to her husband.
“What is said here cannot leave this room,” he said quietly. “For not only our sakes, but for the sake of the Kingdom, for the sake of the people of Alonia.”
Ka’tya nodded, and then took a sip of the fragrant tea, taking a chair next to her uncle.
“The cancer has rendered Sai’ha’na infertile. We cannot produce an heir to the throne, and yet,” Sabastian gestured around the room meaningfully. “And yet, we need an heir to the throne. We were hoping that you might consider—“
“You want me to be a surrogate?” Ka’tya interrupted. “That’s why you asked me here; you want a Healer as a surrogate.”
“And now you see why we must have the utmost discretion, child.” The Queen’s voice seemed fainter now.
“Of course, Your Highness,” Ka’tya assured them, her head still spinning a bit.
“We would also ask that you become the resulting child’s nursemaid, governess and nanny,” Sebastian explained. “You would also have a position as the Palace Healer, if you so desired.”
Ka’tya was quiet for a long moment. “What if I was unable to conceive the heir that you are wanting?”
“We chose a Healer because that gives us the best chance of conceiving,” the King explained. “However, if you were not with child after a year, you would be released from your agreement and could either stay as Palace Healer or return to A’nal.”
“And what of A’nal?” Ka’tya asked. “She will not release me so easily from my duties to the Healer community, especially with the diplomatic aid with the Goddess Priestesses to lure the Dragons into hibernation in less than a fortnight.”
“A’nal has told us how important you are to the conflict with the Priestesses and the Healers concerning the Dragons. She will be told that you are being offered a position as a Healer to aid the Queen, but not for another month from now. When you are with child, A’nal will be told you are working as Sia’ha’na’s midwife. Once the child is born, she will be invited to see that child and witness for herself that you are the child’s nursemaid, while continuing to act as the Palace Healer.”
Ka’tya was clearly thinking about it. Etienne whispered in her ear, “Please consider this for the sake of the kingdom.”
“I will allow the energy transfer a month from now,” the Queen said at last. “You are much too valuable to A’nal and her cause now, especially when there is no way to know how you will react to both the cancer and the Curse combined. One month from today, I will allow the ritual, if you will consider aiding us in our quest to produce an heir.”
“Alright, Your Highness,” Ka’tya said after another long thoughtful moment. “I’ll do it. I’ll try to help you.”
“Thank you, child,” the Queen beamed. “I want us to be friends. You must call me Sia’ha’na.”
“If we are to be friends,” Ka’tya took her hand, “then you must call me by my name as well.”
“Thank you, ch—Ka’tya.” Sia’ha’na sighed and her eyes grew heavy.
“The Queen needs her rest,” Sebastian said softly. “It grows late. Please stay the night as our guest.”
“Come, Ka’tya,” Etienne touched his niece’s shoulder. “You can stay in my quarters tonight and I will escort you back to A’nal at daybreak.”
“I’ll walk with you,” Sebastian offered as Etienne opened the door. The three of them walked down the long corridor in silence, until the King broke it.
“Please forgive our desperateness. The Queen is dying, but she is dying by inches. The very thing that is destroying her—that damn curse—is also what is keeping her alive. She is not immortal,” he smiled ruefully. “Although it seems that way at times. I just wanted to say ‘thank you.’ I must get back to her, if you’ll both excuse me.”
“Of course, Your Highness,” she said quietly.
“Please call me Sebastian.” His face was grim. “After all, you will be my consort and we should be on a first-name basis.” Ka’tya only nodded. He bade Etienne good-bye and retreated back up the hallway.
They did not speak again until they reached her uncle’s quarters.