Hathor and the Prince
My name is Hathor Du Bell.
Not Heather, but Ha-ther. However, not a soul exists outside of my family and our servants who pronounces my name properly, so my papa instructed that I correct people each and every time, for he was quite proud of my name—Hathor, the Egyptian goddess of the sky, women, and love. As a child, I treasured nothing more than to listen to his tales of my ancient namesake. As an adult—well, as much of an adult as I was permitted to be—I felt quite goaded by the name, for my dear papa had left out one critical fact, which I realized on my own. The goddess Hathor was, and forever will be, in the shadow of the goddess Isis, and the Greek counterpart for Isis is Aphrodite—the name my papa bestowed upon my elder sister. Thus, I always found myself overflowing with a childish desire to outshine her.
It was a war I declared of my own volition.
A war my sister did not even acknowledge, yet she defeated me in every battle. My sister was supremely victorious whether it was in music, dancing, reading, languages . . . beauty. Just like her ancient namesake, Aphrodite, was the ideal, the very measure of accomplishment. It had been two years, one month, two weeks, one day, and five hours since she had become known as Her Grace, the Duchess of Everely. Her greatest triumph. And though I was truly happy for her, there existed in me a deep hurt, an unattended wound somewhere within that left me in anguish. I knew not where this wound was, but I was sure of my attacker.
It was Aphrodite.
Even now, despite the distance between us, I felt her sword striking once more.
“Pregnant!” my mama, Lady Deanna Du Bell, the Marchioness of Monthermer, all but proclaimed to us as she rushed into the study. “Aphrodite is pregnant!”
“Truly? How wonderful!” My father grinned, tossing his book onto the table in haste to see the letter my mother waved like a royal decree before us. If anyone knew anything about my father, Lord Charles Du Bell, the Marquess of Monthermer, it was that he did not toss books lightly.
“Yes, she is rather far along. She wished not to say anything until she was very well sure. Now that she is, she apologizes for not being able to make it this summer but assures us that despite persistent exhaustion and an insatiable appetite for bread-and-butter pudding, she is in good health.” My mother handed the letter to him, even though she had told him all its contents.
The grin on my father’s white face was so wide I could count every wrinkle. “If I remember correctly, you were similarly afflicted while pregnant with Damon. The whole estate smelled like a bakery for weeks.”
“Did someone say my name?” Damon questioned as he entered the study, carrying in his arms a small girl, not yet two, with light brown skin and the curliest brown hair. Immediately upon seeing her, my mother rushed to take her into her arms.
“Mini, you are going to be a big cousin soon.” My mother kissed her cheek. The girl’s name was actually Minerva, Minerva Du Bell, as Damon had sought to keep Father’s tradition of styling all daughters after goddesses. However, everyone had taken to calling her Mini, a nickname bestowed by none other than our youngest sister, Abena, who was most glad to have someone younger to order around now. Mini, though, had no clue what Mother rambled to her.
“Truly?” Damon smiled the same as our father as he stood next to him to see the letter. Over the years, I had noticed that while Damon looked completely like our mother, he had inherited all of our father’s personality traits—except book reading. Mother’s skin was a warm brown, just like Damon’s, and their eyes were the same shade of dark brown. “What grand news. I will write to Evander to congratulate him. If the boy is born before Christmas, maybe we will spend the new year with them at Everely since they cannot make it this summer.”
“The boy?” My father chuckled. “How are you so certain the child will be a boy?”
“Did you not say Mother was similar when pregnant with me? Odite always does everything in Mother’s image. Besides, Evander has a daughter already, so I’m sure a boy will supply some comfort,” Damon explained.
“Strange that you provided no such comfort with your birth, only greater concern.” My father chuckled, causing Damon to roll his eyes, which then fell upon me as I sat in the corner of the room behind my easel.
“Hathor? I did not even realize you were in here,” Damon said.
“Yes, I noticed. Mama did not either,” I replied as I sketched the book stacks behind them to the best of my ability.
“I very well did notice you, my dear. I was merely waiting for you to offer your excitement at this joyous news. Why are you just sitting there?” my mother said as she bounced Mini in her arms. And they all looked at me, waiting.
I did not wish to come across as cruel or petty, but for some reason, I could not muster the emotions they sought from me.
“I am quite happy for Odite, Mama,” I said, setting my pencil down and rising to my feet. It was the truth, though not entirely. “I was only pondering why it has taken so long for her to become pregnant. I thought all one needed was a husband to have a child. Though I am not exactly sure what the process is—”
“I should go tell Silva the news. Come, Mini, let’s find your mama,” Damon quickly cut in, lifting his daughter out of our mother’s arms, kissing both of Minerva’s cheeks, and making the little girl giggle.
“And I am expected by the men to make inspections of the grounds. Hopefully, we will have more than enough to hunt and keep our guests occupied,” my father said, kissing Mother’s cheek first before coming to give me a slight hug. “You must show me your work later, my dear girl. Hopefully, your depiction of me is benevolent since your mother still refuses to tell me where to find the fountain of youth she drinks from.”
“Clearly, your books have given way to gross imagination,” my mother replied, and he offered a wink before quickly going on his way, seeking to escape this conversation, as all men desired to do. I never understood why until last spring, when Verity—Evander’s younger sister and my second mortal enemy—had offered the truth about the relations between men and women, now that she was married herself.
It was so . . . vulgar that I believed her to be playing some sort of trick on me, but I could not ask or speak of it to anyone else. And the way everyone acted when I even slightly mentioned the topic seemed to prove her words true, for if it was not as uncouth as it seemed, why shy away from speaking on the matter?
“They have fled,” I said, looking at my mother.
“As you intended them to.”
“I merely wished—”
“Hathor, do not think me the fool simply because I do not say what I know,” she stated and stepped up, cupping my cheeks. “Whatever you think you’ve learned from Verity will be further explained by a husband of your very own.”
“Should one ever manifest,” I muttered, stepping out of her grasp, and returning to my easel. “London provided no such person . . . again. I dare say I met the very worst men, and now we must try my luck here before the end of the season.”
“By whose fault is that?” She followed after me. “You had three perfectly suitable gentlemen call upon you, all of whom you staunchly rejected. I believed you would grow up and rid yourself of this fanciful idea of becoming a duchess—”
“I have!” Mainly because there were no more dukes to be found in the land; I had checked—twice. And because it had come to my attention, by an unsightly character, that my reputation had taken a slight blow of late. Just thinking of what that horrid person said enraged me once more. To think such awful men lurked about our ton was dreadful.
“Then what was wrong with Lord Galbert?” My mother’s voice pulled me from my thoughts.
“He is a known entomologist, and I can barely stand the sight of a ladybug.”
“That was no reason to deny him outright. Opposites often find attraction to each other.”
“I have no desire to attract anything or one that attracts insects, Mama. I could not even feign the slightest interest and would find myself running from him in terror if one of those creatures was still upon his person.”
“What of Lord Morrison? He was a nice man—”
“He laughed when Father called me a rather proficient artist during dinner.”
“It was nothing more than a nervous chuckle, Hathor.”
“It felt like condescension.” I did not have very many talents as it was, and he seemed completely unimpressed by me.