Season 3, Episode 10
Written by Tof Eklund
Read by Tawn Krakowski
By the time I reached the courtyard, a concerned crowd had gathered around Geoff, and a stretcher was being brought out for him. The old priest was saying something in a high, reedy voice, but no one seemed to be listening. It struck me as odd, if also a bit of a relief, that the palace staff seemed to have lost their reverence for the clergy.
I wanted to head straight for Geoff, but the priest’s words caught my ear.
“Please, listen!” his voice quavered in what was probably as close to a shout as he could manage. “The gates! You must close the gates!”
“Close the gates!” I bellowed, noting with approval how quickly the guard swept into action.
I made my way to Geoff’s litter as swiftly as possible. He looked terrible, exhausted and semi-conscious, with what I could see of his skin covered in welts and open wounds. His expression was tense with self-control, sharp and hard like a flint that defies the stream to tumble it smooth.
Someone coughed to get my attention. They could wait. I leaned in, checked Geoff’s eyes: no concussion. His pulse was steady. Was his blood pressure low? Maybe, but he wasn’t going into shock.
“The Queen,” he whispered.
I finished my examination. He had a couple of cracked ribs, and I thought his shoulder had recently been dislocated and re-set, but nothing immediately life threatening.
“Take him in and make him comfortable,” I said. “Boil the water before cleaning his wounds, and tell Queen Theobel he wishes to speak to her.”
The tension in Geoff’s face eased a little, and his pain showed through. He needed rest and fluids, but I knew better than to delay his audience with Theobel.
“You must be the Maiden,” an aged voice said from behind me.
I turned to confront the priest. “And who are you?”
For the first time, I took a good look at the man. I’d assumed him frail, from his weak voice and skinny frame, but now I saw a certain sinewy strength, and he held himself like an athlete.
“I am no great person,” he said. “My name is Eolus, family chaplain to House Pantelos.”
Pantelos. That name was familiar.
“Theobel’s house,” I said.
His eyes widened a little at my omission of the royal title. “You owe the Queen respect, Maiden,” he said tersely. “Do not address her as you would someone of your own rank.”
“Do not call me Maiden,” I replied, my voice cool but calm. “You speak to the Regent of Thrycae, priest.”
Eolus’ eyes widened further, but then his thin-lipped mouth quirked into a slight smile. “You are everything he said you were,” he half-muttered, speaking under his breath.
Our verbal sparring was interrupted when a horn blared in alarm and a cry went up: “Riders!”
I stared right at Eolus, noticing for the first time that his eyes were dull hazel.
“Uombardies’ army?” I spat. It was barely a question. I hoped our preparations to withstand a siege were sufficient.
“How do you…” he paused. “You truly are a witch.”
“Don’t test me,” I growled as I ushered him inside.
Eolus and I stood waiting outside Geoff’s door. Theobel was still in there with him, and had requested privacy. An uncomfortable silence lay between us and was only broken when Kaye arrived. He stopped, braced himself on his crutches, and stared at the priest.
“Eolus?” he asked.
The old man had been staring at his feet. He looked up at Kaye blankly, then an open-mouthed grin spread across his face. “You must be Prince Karamon!” he exclaimed. “Why, I haven’t seen you since you were…seven?”
“Six,” Kaye corrected. “Mother speaks of you often.”
“I have had letters from her, but she should have sent you to see me.” The priest paused. “Though I suppose that would have been difficult after your little mishap.”
The priest’s choice of words bothered me, but Kaye just shrugged it off. “What about the other priests?” he asked.
“My child, there are no others.”
“Then there will be no investiture,” Kaye said, dismay creeping into his voice.
“Hold on,” I cut in. “Why not?”
They both looked at me.
“Yelen,” Kaye said. “Seven priests are required to perform the ceremony.
“There is more I must tell you,” said Eolus, “and some of it may be urgent, but I would appreciate a seat and refreshment first.”
“Very well,” I said, and flagged down a servant, a young man carrying fresh linens, to pass along the request.
As I turned to go, I saw Kaye looking at the door.
“Geoff is safe and comfortable, Kaye. Let him rest for now, and I will check in on him later.”
Eolus frowned and glared at me for this breach of etiquette. I let him have his righteous indignation. I had larger worries than protocol, and I needed the information this man possessed.
We adjourned to one of the parlors in the royal wing of the palace. When food was placed in front of him, the old priest prayed in silence for several minutes, then ate at a steady, measured pace, and would brook no conversation until he had finished his meal. He then meticulously wiped his face with a napkin, clearing away invisible specks of bread, cheese, sausage, and summer squash.
My appetite had returned with a vengeance since the end of my belly-sickness, and I ate as I usually did these days, wolfishly. I was halfway done by the time Eolus finished his prayers, and could only sit and wait for him to finish.
At last, he spoke.
“I have much to tell, and my old bones are tired, so I shall tell it only once. Please do not interrupt me until I finish.”
Kaye smiled indulgently, and I sighed slightly before nodding my assent.
“Geoff returned home to find me,” Eolus began. “He knew I would support the Queen…and you, Prince,” he nodded to Kaye.
“Unfortunately, young Lord Hasimus reached us first, with a contingent of his men at arms. If we had expected hostilities, we might have been able to keep him out, but Pantelos is not a great house, so he and his soldiers were accepted in as guests. Hasimus’ men quickly subdued the guard and took Lady Pantelos, your grandmother,” again he gestured at Kaye, “into their custody.
“So it was that, when Geoff arrived, he too was swiftly apprehended and placed in chains. Young Lord Hasimus believes that his father was wrongfully executed by King Lycius, and greatly desires proof that Hasimus the Elder was neither traitor nor assassin.”
Crap, I thought, and grimaced. Lord Hasimus had been innocent—framed by Lycius as part of a plot to poison Kaye and blame his rival for it. Now, because of Lycius’ misdeeds, we had an enemy in the new Lord Hasimus.
“Our archives were ransacked and everyone questioned,” Eolus continued. “When he found no evidence there to exonerate his father, Lord Hasimus left, taking Lady Pantelos and the rest of their prisoners with him. I arranged to travel with them, to minister to her Ladyship’s spiritual needs.
“Things grew worse back at Lord Hasimus’ keep. Questionings turned into threats of trial and execution, and then into beatings. To spare her Ladyship, I deliberately turned suspicion upon Geoff.”
The old priest paused, and drew a deep breath.
“I am not proud of that deed, and am only beginning to atone for it. I was ‘rewarded’ for my assistance by being placed in charge of Geoff’s interrogation. That unpleasant duty allowed me to safeguard his life, and also gave me a chance to talk to him.
“If I had returned no information to Lord Hasimus, suspicions would have fallen upon me, so I gave him bits of the truth—like your miraculous reappearance,” he nodded to me, “mixed with whatever I thought would appease him.
“I only learned that Lord Hasimus planned to march with Lord Uombardies when the muster went out. The full might of House Hasimus was assembling around me when the order for Geoff’s execution was handed down.
“We were able to escape that night, and have been running and hiding since. I am glad, Prince Karamon,” he concluded, “to have had the opportunity to have seen you again before we meet our ends.”
Kaye picked up on the aged priest’s meaning first. “Is our situation that dire?” he asked. “What of the other noble houses?”
“We shall have to wait and see whose pennants show up outside these walls, but I have little hope.” Eolus was starting to wheeze, the iron of his spine bending at last. “The only reason I am here,” he said, meeting my gaze, “is that I have known Queen Theobel all her life, and Geoff for most of his. I know them, and do not think either one could be corrupted by some foreign witch.”
Tears slid down Eolus’ face, but his expression was not one of sorrow, but of throttled rage. After that, there was nothing to say.
By dusk, the palace was surrounded, ringed round with distant watch-fires. Kaye and I stood on a parapet, looking out at them. Banners snapped in the breeze. It was hard to discern the heraldry at this distance, but the coalition gathered against me was truly impressive in scope.
“Why do you think they’re so far away?” I asked. “They’re far beyond arrowshot. They’re not even within trebuchet range, and they must know we don’t have siege weaponry.”
“I think,” said Kaye carefully, “it’s because of you.”
I felt impossibly heavy, dragged down by the weight of my pregnant body and the far greater burden of my responsibilities.
“What have I done?” I whispered. “What did I do to rouse the fear and hatred of an entire kingdom?”
Kaye reached out and touched my shoulder. I flinched, then relaxed. “Not everyone hates you,” he said. “Those who know you, love you.”
I sighed long and deep, trying to let go of my own fear, as Kaye began scratching my back.
“Let’s go to bed,” he said. “We can save this world tomorrow.”
A new watch-fire blazed to life at the edge of my field of vision, and one more pennant unfurled in its glow. I stared at it, hoping to be mistaken.
“Kaye,” I asked, “isn’t that the banner of House Lycius?”
© 2013 Copyright Tof Eklund
Presented by BigWorldNetwork.com[/is_paid]
Please Log in
or Subscribe to view this content.
Your Subscription has expired.
- Please renew in order to view this content.