Season 3, Episode 6
Written by Tof Eklund
Read by Tawn Krakowski
Silence filled the room in the wake of Queen Theobel’s pronouncement. Everyone was staring at me, the guards’ expressions a shifting maze of fear, suppressed anger, confusion, and expectation.
“Orbellus, you are now captain of the guard,” Theobel said. “See that the traitors are confined, and set your men about their duties. Dismissed.”
The guards roughly seized their former captain and ex-brothers in arms, then hesitated, looking at the fallen Priests, two of whom were unconscious. That may have been a mercy, as the rest were still heaving, choking up drops of spittle as nothing remained in their twisted stomachs.
Theobel gave a small, curt nod in their direction, and the guards collected the Priests more cautiously.
“See to it that they have water, and if they require icons or prayerbooks, bring those to them,” she continued, “but do not allow them to see their acolytes or pass any message out, regardless of the excuse given.”
The guards filed out. When they were gone, Theobel spoke again.
“That was poorly done, Maiden. You should have taken charge, rather than forcing me to give instructions. That would have cemented your authority.
“Wha…” I spun to face her, then regretted my haste as my stomach churned.
“You…” I swallowed, tasting sour acid. “Your highness, we must talk.”
Instead of answering my question, Theobel made a gesture that took in Kaye, Lily, and young Nestor.
“Leave us,” she said.
Lily curtsied and left, but Kaye stiffened and Nestor whined at his mother. I looked my lover in the eye, and saw his concern for me. I gave a tiny nod, and he grimaced, then managed a pale smile for me before turning to go.
I was looking at his broad shoulders working those crutches and almost feeling like myself again when Nestor shouted, “No! I won’t leave you with that dirty witch!”
“Nestor, you will go to your rooms right now,” Theobel snapped back.
“I want to ride my horse!”
“Then you may go to the stable instead. Do not go far and be back before supper.” At that, the boy huffed out.
I moved for the door myself, needing to get away from the stench. To my relief, Theobel followed me. As soon as we were alone, I turned to face her.
“I assume you have a plan,” I heard the exhaustion in my own voice—was I really that tired?
“You will not have to serve long,” Theobel replied. “Just until Geoff returns with clerics who will perform the investiture.”
“Then why make me Regent?”
“Because people will think you have seized power.”
“What?” I felt a hot spike of anger break through my numbness.
“You caused a lot of trouble, coming here today,” Theobel continued.
“You blind fool,” I grated. “I saved your life.”
“Perhaps. You also broke my authority. What you did here isn’t just criminal, it is the most monstrous blasphemy in all of our history.”
“You’ve only made things worse.”
“If I remained in power, Maiden, everyone would have assumed that I was your puppet. Now, they will assume that I am your hostage.”
“Do I have to repeat myself? This doesn’t help.”
“Listen. What people would no longer do out of loyalty to me, they will do out of their fear of you. When Geoff returns with the cooperative priests, you will flee and it will seem that they drove you out. This will prove their righteousness, and when they perform the investiture, it will be accepted.”
“I won’t leave without Kaye.” Thrycae could go hang. My reputation, even the reputation of the Order, I could shrug off, but I would not let this cruel biddy keep Kaye from me.
“Are you a Sister of the Order, or a child?” Theobel snapped. “We must put our own happiness aside—”
“I am neither.” I cut her off. “I have been discharged from the Order, relieved of my obligations.” Saying that hurt, but I pressed on. “Beyond that, I know things you do not. I know enough to know that there is no victory to be had playing by the rules of an unjust game. I also know that misery breeds only more misery and that those who neglect their own needs become callous to the needs of others.”
Theobel’s face twitched into what might have been a wince, but then she continued with new iron in her voice. “If you are no Maiden of the Order, you are also no ambassador from Maragoya. Who are you, then, to deny me?”
“I am the mother-to-be of your grandchild, Theobel,” I said.
“You lie!” Theobel gasped, and slapped me, her gloved hand striking my face hard enough that I tasted blood. My stomach churned and I wanted to curse her, see if she was milder after puking her guts out. I restrained myself.
“Do not do that again,” I growled.
Theobel’s expression was still one of outrage, but there were tears in her eyes. She tried to blink them back, then roughly scrubbed her face with one hand.
“I am trying,” she whispered, “to save our lives. You, I, Kaye, even Nestor will soon face the headsman’s axe or the point of a sword if I can’t find a way to win back the trust of the great houses. I poisoned my husband to save my son, and I will not let him die of his love for you.”
“Then bear in mind,” I replied, lowering my voice, “that I love Kaye, and will see no harm come to him or our child, not even from you.”
Theobel blanched. I remembered how invulnerable she’d seemed in the past, calm and confident, with a spine like an iron rod, and I softened my words.
“I know you care for Kaye, but he is an adult, and more capable than you have ever given him credit for.”
“I have underestimated you,” she admitted. “I saw you at first as an aide, and then as a threat.”
“And I you,” I replied. “I thought you naive for a long time, and then I thought you a manipulative spider.”
Theobel chuckled. “Sister Nala always said that persuasion was a Mother’s art.”
“As healing is a Maiden’s craft, and cursing best left to Crones,” I said, almost automatically. “It’s a truism in Maragoya.”
“It seems you are a good Crone then, Yelena.”
That stopped me for a moment, but then I laughed. Theobel joined me, and even if we laughed more out of shaken nerves than true amusement, it was still a relief. Theobel hugged me, and I returned the embrace.
“A grandmother,” she said, in a tone of disbelief. “I hope I shall live to see it.” She paused, sniffed, and wrinkled her nose before continuing, “You reek of vomit.”
We burst into laughter again. It took some time for us to recompose ourselves, at which point I stepped back and made a slight bow.
“Enough,” I said. “I need a bath and fresh clothing.”
“Wait!” Theobel cried after me. “You cannot return to Kaye’s rooms.”
I gave her a sidelong glance.
“You must take the royal chambers. As Regent, they are yours.”
“Very well,” I replied, then raised my voice. “Lily!” I called.
It took her only a few seconds to come bustling through the door.
“Your Highness,” she curtsied to Theobel, then turned to me. “Yelena, are you well? Is there anything I can do?”
“I need your help, Lily,” I said. “Can you fetch my things out of Kaye’s bedchamber without being seen?”
“Good, after that, if you can call for someone to move Kaye into the royal chambers as well, and to transfer whatever the Queen needs to an adjacent suite.”
Lily just gave me a quick nod and took off, but Theobel gaped.
I smiled at her as I spoke. “You said it must seem that I am seizing power. What better way to do that than by taking Prince Karamon hostage?”
Amidst the tumult of that day, it was nearly dark before we realized that Nestor had not returned from his ride. Search parties were sent out, but they returned empty-handed. The stablehand said he’d taken off to the south, but then the trail went cold.
© 2013 Copyright Tof Eklund
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