All within the castle lay sleeping when they returned to Bargamore. The queen and Lady Blackthorn did not speak to one another, their pain was indescribable and not for sharing. The queen dismissed the wise women as she placed the baby on a mattress that still retained the small shape of her own child. She did not notice the shadowy figure in the corner of the room until he spoke.
“You have exchanged our child, my love?”
“I am the queen, I had no other choice,” she bit down on her lip to still the angry word she wanted to scream at her husband.
“I cannot tell the difference,” he looked down at the sleeping baby.
“You are not her mother,” it was difficult to keep the anger from her voice.
“No, but I feel your pain,” he sat down on the bed beside her.
“You know nothing of suffering,” she started to cry. “You cannot tell the difference, but I can and will do for the rest of my life, and so will Iris.”
“I am sorry, my love,” he reached for her hand, but she pulled it away.
“Go, leave me alone with my thoughts,” she begged.
The baby, sensing the quarrel, started to cry.
“Go,” the queen said. “I will see to her myself.”
The sound of the baby’s wails of anguish followed the king all the way down to the throne room. It would soon be dawn and for the first time he feared the coming of day. In the streets below the lamplighters snuffed the flames on the lanterns. Everything seemed normal, but it wasn’t and would never be again.
“Hush, little one,” the queen picked up the baby. “I am not angry with you. Do not be afraid. I will take care of you,” she kissed her soft cheek. “I promised your mother, and I intend to keep that promise. I will surround you with all the love I have to give, and I pray you will never sense the yearning secret of my heart.”
“That’s a pretty box,” the nurse said, as Alice sat up in the bed.
How strange, Alice thought, as she undid the bow. Had someone come to visit her while she slept? The beauty of the pendant made her catch her breath. It looked expensive, and was obviously given by someone close to the baby? There was no more time to think as the baby carried in. Alice picked up her handbag and tucked the box inside. She would keep the pendant safe until Juliet was old enough to appreciate such a work of art.
“She looks different,” Alice frowned, when the nurse handed her the baby.
“New-borns change from minute to minute,” the nurse said, as she twirled the Id tag on the baby’s wrist. “There you are,” she drew Alice’s attention to it.
“You’re right,” she sighed with relief. “I am just being silly.”
“No, it’s understandable,” the nurse smiled. “But, how could you mistake that hair? We were talking about it this morning. It’s so dark red, it’s hard to describe.”
“I don’t know where her colouring comes from, “Alice said as she kissed her baby. “You’re a bit of a mystery.”
Was it just her imagination or did the baby’s eyes have a slight tilt at the corners that she had not noticed before? Later that night, Alice’s mother confirmed she had an aunt with the same colouring, so mystery solved.
Mary and Bob Dawson had no such qualms when it came to their son. He was perfect in their eyes and neither of them saw anything different about him. The pendant was accepted as a gift from a passing friend, who would, no doubt, reveal themselves in the coming days. Like Juliet, Corey’s hair was the talk of all the nursing staff as it was the whitest, they had ever seen.
“I must have overdone it on the calcium or the milk,” Mary laughed.
So, the months passed, and all four children thrived on the love they received from those around them. In Bargamore the queen and Lady Blackthorn clapped as their children took their first tentative steps around the furniture in the throne room.
“They have grown so fast,” Lady Blackthorn beamed.
“Yes,” the queen sighed.
“You must accept her, my queen,” Lady Blackthorn said.
“I love her, you know that,” the queen said. “But sometimes, when I look in her eyes, I see a stranger staring back at me. There is nothing of the king or me in there.”
The queen looked across at her daughter. Amber sensing her mother gaze turned and said her first word. Its sound was like thorns piercing the queen’s heart, “mamma.”