“Now that I think about it,” she said, “I never felt like I was ever protected by His Holiness. Whenever I struggled, he never offered realistic help. He just told me to believe in God and be patient. What was the point of having all the privileges Anikas have if my heart was imprisoned?”
Eugene knew about Katie’s childhood and her abusive parents. She understood.
“I was in despair when I had that child,” Katie said. “He didn’t look like a king’s child. No one believed me. I understood Tea’s desperation all too late.” She glanced at the door. “I resented that child. I couldn’t care for him. But then he grew up to be so kind. I was a terrible mother to both him and the Fourth King.”
Eugene reached out to hold her hand. “You didn’t run,” she said, “You did your best. There aren’t a lot of people who would have made the same choices you did.” She tried her best to hold in the tears she could feel building up. She didn’t want Katie to think she pitied her. Who was she to pity someone?
“Don’t ever let Sang-je know,” Eugene said sternly. “Even though I can’t tell you everything, you must know that we have to be careful around him.”
Katie nodded solemnly.
“And I want to tell Kasser about this.”
“No,” Katie said, shaking her head. “What’s the point? I was never his mother. I only ran to save myself. I still have shame.”
“Mother,” Eugene said suddenly, tightening her grip on Katie’s hands. The older woman looked at her in surprise. “Please let me tell him. Not for you but for him. He’s still very hurt by you. Even though he understands your situation, he resents you for it. If he knew the whole truth, it would help him move on.”
After a moment, Katie nodded once more. They sat there with their hands intertwined for a long time.
“I have something to confess,” Eugene said nervously. “I did something behind your back.”
“What is it?” Kasser asked, although it was clear he didn’t care. He would let anything she did pass.
But Eugene was still worried. She had never seen him truly angry and she was afraid that she might have crossed a line. She hoped that he wouldn’t be as upset as she believed he would. He didn’t get angry easily, but he was terrifying when he was.
“I went to see Anika Katie,” she said.
He nodded. “At the cottage?”
Kasser had remembered her saying something about going to the cottage before heading to the Arse mansion.
“No.” Eugene swallowed the lump in her throat. “I went to where she lives.”
He stared at her for a moment. Then, still calm, he asked, “Why?”
At that, Eugene burst into apologies. “Kasser, I’m so sorry I didn’t talk to you about it,” she said. “I had wanted to meet with her before, but I didn’t want to do it without discussing it with you. Really, please believe me. But I just had something I needed to ask her.”
Kasser let out a sigh. He had wanted to let go of everything he felt about his birth mother. He had been doing well so far. Even though he had been staying in the Holy City for quite a while, he had almost forgotten about her. Still, it hurt him a little whenever she was brought up.
But, as he looked into Eugene’s desperate eyes, he knew it wasn’t worth it. She was the only person who could make him forget all the negative thoughts that came with thinking about his mother.
“If that’s what you needed to do, then it’s fine,” he said. It was clear he no longer wanted to talk about this.
It was the first time he had ever wanted to stop talking about something with Eugene. It made her heart sink. But she knew she needed to tell him the truth.
“Kasser, just give me a moment,” she said. “I need to tell you something. Please.”
He stared at her silently. He did not want to have this conversation, but he wasn’t going to leave without hearing her out. As much as it pained Eugene to face him when he was like this, she was more adamant on telling him the truth.
“Do you remember when we stopped by Slan on our way to the Holy City?” she asked. “Do you remember when the Do King talked about the Anika who was queen? The one who was pregnant with her second child.”
“I do.” Kasser furrowed his brows. He didn’t understand why they were talking about this.
“Well, do you think she was the only one who experienced that?” Eugene pressed. “What if another Anika had a second child? We know that kings are only able to pass on their characteristics to their first child, so there aren’t any second children. So what if an Anika’s second pregnancy is seen as a shameful secret? One she would have to hide from the world?”
Kasser’s face was still. Eugene watched as he remained silent, but his eyes seemed to be overcome by a realization. She didn’t want to force the truth on him because she could tell that he already knew. It was his choice to either accept it or reject it.