"Do not be concerned if you hear shouting, querida," he warned her. "I promise not to do anything rash," he said, mostly for her aunt's sake.
"I know you will not," Tilde assured him with a gentle smile, giving his hand one last squeeze before releasing him.
Honoria curtsied once again, stepping aside to allow Miguel to leave the room. "She is in the queen's apartments," she told him. "At the end of the hall."
"Si, gracias," Miguel replied, returning his wife's smile, though the smile was a bit tense. He didn't bother to ask her to wish him luck, as luck was not exactly what he needed right now. "I will not be long," he told her, leaning in to brush a soft kiss against her lips, though he really had no idea how long this would take.
Tilde simply smiled, knowing any further words would just be a delay at this point. She, too, stepped back, watching him go, hoping in her heart that he would get some resolution from the conversation he was about to have.
He gave a nod to Tilde's aunt and turned on a heel to exit the room and go in search of his mother. There had been a time, long ago, when he'd thought his mother had loved him; now he wasn't so sure. Their relationship had been strained since his father and brother had been killed, and he was not so sure he believed her story about his father's behavior. The truth was, he was not sure what to believe anymore.
The guard on the dowager's door was one he recognized, one of the loyal men who had joined the growing army of kings' men and had been handpicked to join the royal guard. He saluted his king smartly, stepping to one side to allow Miguel access to the door and the apartment within.
Miguel gave a nod of his head to acknowledge the guard, pausing a moment at the door, before lifting a hand to knock. As king, it was unnecessary, and yet, he though he owed the woman who had birthed him, at least that much.
A voice he had not heard in almost a year answered near instantly. "Come."
He drew a deep breath to gather his courage and pushed open the door. Though she had not said so, he was not sure if Tilde's mother had warned her of his presence. The last thing he needed was for her to faint on him. He said nothing as he stepped inside, unsure what he would find behind the door.
In typical royal manner, she did not even glance at the door as it opened, apparently engrossed in a letter she was reading as she sipped her steaming tea. Luisa seemed drawn, certainly thinner than she had been when last he saw her, but still a queen in dignity and bearing.
He did not think there was a way to greet her without shocking her too much. It was not his intention to upset her, and yet, there might be no avoiding it. "Mother," he said, by way of greeting, in a tone of voice he hoped was gentle, but not overly affectionate.
The dowager's head snapped about, the letter falling from her hand as she stared at him, her dark eyes wide with shock and disbelief. "Miguel?" she whispered, shakily rising to her feet. "Is it really you?"
"Si, it's me," he confirmed. It had not been so long since she'd seen him that he looked that much different. He did not bother to remind her that he was king now, and no longer a boy.
"Oh ... oh, sweet Goddess!" She pushed away from the table, advancing across the room in long strides, skirts rustling, to throw her arms about him and weep. "I was so afraid for you. I thought ... I thought you were dead."
He backed up as she advanced, holding both hands up to keep her at arms' length, at least, for the moment. He was not without sympathy for her, seeing her tears, but he was not yet sure they were entirely authentic. "I am not dead."
Hurt flared in her wet eyes as he warded her off, her arms falling to her sides as she gazed on her boy. Then she dropped to her knees, bowing her head to him. "I swear, by the Goddess and right of kings, that you are my lord and I will serve you all the days of my life." It was an old oath, and one not taken by women; the oath of a vassal lord or knight, not a queen.
He frowned down at her, wondering if this was a play for sympathy or if she was being genuine. He exhaled a sigh, reaching to help her up from the floor, as gently as he could. "That is not necessary, Madre," he assured her. No matter the situation, she was still the dowager queen, after all.
"I do not deserve your kindness, Miguel," she said sadly, allowing him to help her rise to her feet. "I failed you so terribly. There is nothing I can do or say that will ever make it right."
"How did you fail me?" he asked, compassionate enough to take her arm and lead her to a chair. It was not because he forgave her - not yet - but he needed to hear what she had to say.
She sat slowly, afraid to look him in the eye. "I threw my lot in with a man who promised to protect me," she said, "only for him to hold the life of my only remaining child over my head as a means to keep his hold on power. I trusted in the wrong person."
"Protect you against who?" Miguel asked, though he suspected she would repeat Honoria's claim that his father had not been a kind and loving husband.
"From the consequences of the war," she said quietly, folding her hands into her lap. "After your brother was killed, I knew that, should your father lose, both you and I would be exiled or worse. Alphonso offered me his protection, for both of us. I should have taken exile."
"Alphonso is the one who instigated the war so that he could take control of the crown," Miguel said, though perhaps his mother had finally realized this. "Our kingdom used to be a peaceful one, before he made trouble."
"Your father was not a good man, but he was a good king," Luisa said quietly. "He trusted unwisely, like so many of us did when the chaos erupted."
"Why do you say that?" Miguel asked, taking a seat nearby but maintaining a polite distance. "Why do you say he was not a good man?" he clarified.
"Perhaps I spoke poorly," she said. "He was not a kind man. We were never friends, your father and I. I was sold into marriage for an alliance; he did not want me, but my connection to Cicilia. It is the way of royal marriage, Miguel. Duty, above all else."