Season 3, Episode 9
Written by Tof Eklund
Read by Tawn Krakowski
Lady Dycius’ words hung in the air between us. How had this ignorant and fearful creature found me out? She couldn’t possibly know. I took a deep breath and composed myself.
“You would be a fool to go spreading fanciful rumors, Dycius,” I said, fixing her with a sharp stare.
The smirk on her face fell flat for a moment, then returned.
“I thought my words had no power to harm you,” she said. Trust her to throw that back in my face now.
“You are crazed,” I replied flatly.
“I am not. I’ve spent long years sniffing out pregnant bitches and making my husband drop them. It is in your face, your posture, your hands…” She pointed at my hands. “My sister got itchy hands every time she was with child. I bet your feet are burning up as well.”
I was too shocked to reply. What was she trying to accomplish?
“What is wrong?” she sneered. “Did you run out of your precious poisons? No…” She paused, and her eyes grew wide. “I see what your plan is.”
My itchy hands clenched into fists. I let her continue.
“It’s the Prince’s whelp, of course,” she said. “So you get him crowned, charm him into marrying you, and then he takes ill like his father, dying just after the child is born…” There was something in her voice disturbingly like admiration.
“Stop,” I said, as I rose from my hard seat with a grunt. I took a step toward her. “Listen to me; you are twisted to the root, and at this point I do not care why. Understand this: I would never harm Prince Karamon.”
“Half the palace thinks him your hostage, the other half assumes he is prisoner in your bed.” Dycius’ smirk twisted into a manic grin. “Are you enjoying your little princeling?”
I stepped closer and raised a finger just under her nose. She cringed, her smile vanishing, and lifted her arms to shield her face.
“What is it you want, Dycius?” I grated. “A room in the dungeon with rats for company? Will that satisfy you? Perhaps you envy the priests?”
She shook, fell to her knees, and began sobbing. I gazed down at Lady Dycius. She was a broken mirror: sharp, distorted, and fragile.
“Uombardies will return with an army,” she whispered.
“I told you, my husband left me behind to spy on the court.”
I’d almost forgotten that detail. I gestured for her to continue.
“He told me that Lord Uombardies had a plan to take the throne from that bitch Queen—”
“You will not speak of Theobel that way,” I snapped.
“His words,” Dycius whined, then fell silent.
“This army?” I prodded.
“His vassals, House Hasimus, maybe a few minor lords.”
“I don’t know for certain. Days? Weeks? Months?” She shrugged.
“Lady Dycius,” I said, smoothing my voice out, “why are you telling me this?”
She looked up at me then, her viridian eyes sharp. “I hate him even more than I hate you.”
“Let us not forget,” Theobel put in, “that our concerns may be unwarranted. Lady Dycius is unreliable, and she bears a grudge against you.”
Theobel, Kaye, and I sat together, discussing this new threat to our already-tenuous position.
“Your focus,” Theobel continued, “should be on preparing for the investiture. I know Lord Uombardies. He won’t move against a duly appointed King.”
“Geoff should have returned by now—” Kaye began, but his mother cut him off.
“He will return,” she said.
“We cannot count on that,” I said. “We have to prepare for a siege.”
Lily entered, bearing a tea-tray.
“A waste of time,” Theobel replied. “This structure may have been designed as a fortification, but it has served as a palace for decades and couldn’t withstand a siege regardless of preparation.”
“Lily,” I asked her, “how long would it take to prepare the palace for duty as a castle?”
Theobel gasped. “You can’t invite her into this! She’s a servant!”
“Quiet, Theobel,” I snapped. “You no longer rule here. I will pick my own advisors.”
“Advisor?” Lily asked. “Well, then.” She set the tea-tray down unserved and pulled up a seat.
Theobel sighed and stared at her hands.
“We’ve all been talking about it,” Lily continued. “The pool is running two-to-one that we’ll have to batten down before the leaves change.”
“No one on the Servant’s Council mentioned that to me,” I said, surprised.
“Well, they weren’t going to report gambling to you, now were they? I figured you’d let us know when you were good and ready.”
“So, how long will it take to survey the palace for vulnerabilities?”
“Not long, if you put everyone to it. Abelard’s been complaining about the market gate’s hinges for years; there’s a few outlying structures that’d have to be abandoned, some lower windows to block up, and the tunnel out from the root cellar should be filled in—it’s not safe anyways.”
“Thank you, Lily,” I said, even as Theobel’s mouth silently shaped the word “tunnel.”
“That’s the easy part,” Lily spoke again. “There’s also food. Right now, we’d be eating porridge before the week is out. The cistern’s cracked too; I don’t rightly know if that can be fixed.”
Theobel coughed and we turned to her. “Rather than gathering firewood, we should renew the search for Nestor. Lord Uombardies would not be above using him as a bargaining chip.”
“Mother,” Kaye said softly, “I don’t think Nestor is coming back.”
“He cannot have gone far,” Theobel countered. “He just needed to express his displeasure.”
“He thought he was going to be King,” Kaye continued.
“He’s not fit to be king!” Theobel snapped.
An uncomfortable silence hung in the air until Lily spoke in a rush. “Or, ah, you folks could leave. I mean, you three are who Lord Uombardies is hot at, right?”
“Abandon everything I’ve worked for?” Theobel glared at Lily banefully.
I remained quiet a moment longer, afraid that there was wisdom in Lily’s words.
“No,” I said. “I have a duty here. We must prepare for the worst, but I do not want to make that choice for others. They should be given a chance to leave. We should release the priests as well, if they can travel.”
Lily, Theobel, and Kaye all raised their voices at once, each with a different objection. It took hours, but eventually we hammered out a plan. I conceded that the priests were too great a liability to set free, and that there would be no public talk of war, but also no attempt to hold those who wished to depart.
That night, as I curled up next to Kaye, I shivered despite the summer’s warmth.
“I don’t know if I’m doing the right thing,” I confessed.
In response, he reached out and pulled me in close.
“I may need to cry a little,” I said, my voice muffled against his chest.
“I’m here for you,” he whispered. “You’re doing everything you can.”
Tears of frustration ran down my face. My everything might not be enough.
“Love you,” Kay whispered.
In reply I nuzzled his chest, wiping my tears onto his nightshirt.
The hottest part of the summer passed in a swelter of daily obligations and exceptional preparations. My belly grew heavier, my back chronically sore, and my loins quickened with desire, but I had little opportunity to slake my lust, as I was occupied with bureaucratic work and audiences from dawn until dusk and beyond, staying up by candlelight to receive reports and make plans.
By the time I made my way to the bed I shared with my lover, all I wanted to do was sleep. The repair of worn hinges and rotted wood went quickly, the filling in of the tunnel much more slowly. Repairing the cistern required emptying it entirely, and as our reserves of water poured out, they formed a pond next to the palace. Children came from the nearby township to play in the pond, even as we continued to prepare for war.
Goddess, children! What would happen to them if we were attacked right now? It was just as well that I was so exhausted every night, or I would have found it hard to sleep. As it was, I had nightmares about children running in fear and being cut down from behind, or else left trapped and screaming in burning buildings.
During my endless meetings and audiences, I had to fight the urge to wrap my arms protectively around my belly. I made no effort to hide the sometimes painful itchiness of my hands and feet, or my occasionally bizarre food cravings. I just didn’t have the concentration to spare.
Lily and Kaye hovered close, Theobel mostly left me alone, and thankfully I did not see Dycius again as days passed into fortnights. The tunnel was filled in, the repaired cistern began to fill again, and we all waited for the hammer to fall.
It was late in the afternoon one day, and I was mediating a trivial dispute between two minor lords when Lily came in at a dead run.
“Geoff’s back!” she gasped “Come quick!”
She turned and ran off. I followed at my best pace, with a gait that had started to feel like a waddle.
Passing a high window, I looked down on the courtyard. There was a single horse there, and its rider was an aged priest. The priest handed the reins to a stablehand, and I saw the other rider, slumped against the priest’s back. It was Geoff.
© 2013 Copyright Tof Eklund
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