“Is ambition evil?” Queen Mallory mused. “Have I condemned Corsindor with my own actions?”
The queen looked out the window at Corsindor, the same window she was so interested in two decades ago. She was as slim as she was then. It would have been easier if she had been with child when the bastard prince had disappeared. She had wanted to destroy his blood, but now the world was a little different.
If she had been wiser and guarded the bastard prince carefully, she would have had her figurehead—her road to power. Yes, she had put herself in this position. She had no one to blame but herself and maybe her accomplice. Who would have guessed that the king would crack at the loss of the child? And, he had not touched her. She may as well have been virgin.
The queen gazed unseeingly at the window. Her needlework clutched in her hands.
Maria. How she hated that name. The King had loved his little commoner mistress. He had acknowledged her child. But, but, now as queen she did not even have the power of a broodmare.
Rhali, a courtier, had gained her ear. His words had made sense. If the prince disappeared, he had said, and if the queen, your highness, was with child, you, my queen, would have the influence and power. He had bowed to her, leaning toward his lovely legs when he whispered this plan. It would have been something. She sighed.
But now, if her husband would only notice her, it would be enough. He spent his days and nights tucked into a laboratory that he had built from the ballroom. His magician brewed potions. All of this magic was powered by the king’s hope to find the prince. The bastard prince, she thought spitefully.
“Your Highness,” said the under-servant, who had just entered the room. He walked toward her rapidly and stopped. The queen turned, her face still. He bowed.
“His highness is calling for you,” he said. “I think something is wrong.”
The Queen picked up her skirts and walked rapidly to the king’s chambers. The king rarely called her. Her heart beat rapidly. As she reached his rooms, there was a faint smell of brimstone.
She opened the door. The under-servant was behind her.
In the center of the room was a pentacle, painstakingly drawn with white chalk. The king’s pet wizard kept this pentacle freshly drawn. She had seen him fuss when her skirts had broken the circle. That was before she had been sent from the room when she tried to reason with the king.
Ever since the loss of his son, the king and lost all interest in ruling the kingdom. Yes, all the reins of the kingdom had been in her hands. And the intrigues and whispers began immediately. No one wanted to be ruled by a foreign queen even if she was the selected bride of the king. No one.
The king stood in the center of the pentacle. Drool dribbled from the corners of his mouth. His eyes had that lost dim look of a mentally deficient child. “I have found him. I have found him. I have found him,” he repeated over and over.
“Where?” asked the queen.
“I have found him. I have found him…”
His lips stopped moving. His face lot all sign of intelligence.
“Guards. Guards.” She yelled. The queen and the under-servant grabbed the king under his arms and dragged him into the hallway. No worry about his royal person, they needed to save his royal ass.
The guards ran up and encircled the king. The Queen Mallory walked back into the room. She found the small room next to the main room where the wizard had kept his poisons. The room was cold. She shivered.
The wizard’s body was lying on the floor. She checked his pulse. There was none. A wind swept through the room, rattling the papers. One of the potions shattered. The under-servant had followed her back into the room. He helped her to drag the wizard’s body into the hallway.
The wind whistled through the main room and began to follow them out to the hallway. The queen grabbed the door and slammed it. She pulled out the key and locked the door. But, she knew it was not enough. Whatever was behind the door was supernatural and could easily slip through the crack under the door.
“Get him out of here.” She yelled at the guards. The guards and the under-servant took both the king and the wizard’s body down the hallway. She hoped they had sense enough to put the king in a safe place and take the wizard to a safer place until she could have her doctor examine the body.
Her attention went to the door. Red light began to glow around the door and a heavy smell of brimstone filled the air. She must do something, but what?
When she was a little girl, her mother would show her runes for binding and protection. She traced the rune from the cloth that her mother had made her embroider so long ago. It had to be perfect, her mother said.
She traced the rune in the air before the door. To her surprise, the runes glowed blue around the door. The glow around the door turned green. A scream or not-scream assailed her ears.
She walked backwards with her hand raised. One of the guards came running back. He picked her up and ran with her down the hallway to the stairs. He set her on her feet. “Take me to the head guard,” she said.
The guard took her to her rooms and called her servants. “I will bring him to you.” He said, and then left.
Her hair had fallen from its headdress. Her ladies pulled out the pins and began to braid her hair.
Sir Robert Astru walked in without knocking. He glanced around the room, noting the tapestries. He smiled at the young blossoms gathered around the queen. He was a handsome man and was noted for his taste in young maidens.
“What are you doing here?” Queen Mallory asked. One of her ladies put a hand over her mouth and giggled. Sir Robert bowed to her… the young girl, but not to his queen.
“You asked for the head guard.” He answered after he finished his bow. “I am he.”
She could not ask how he had reorganized her guard without consulting her. It was all too familiar topic lately. Many times lately she had to ignore how her orders changed. And how some of the members of the court tittered when she walked by. It was of no matter now. It was time that she pulled the court and herself together since the king could not.
“Guards must be posted at the king’s old rooms,” she said. “The King needs new rooms and a doctor. I need my doctor to look at the wizard’s body.”
“As my queen wishes,” said Sir Robert. There were times that he was too beautiful for words, but now was not the time to be distracted.
“Where is the king now?” she asked.
“In the rooms next to yours,” he said. “If I am too presumptuous, tell me.”
“Fine,” she said. “Is there anything that I may have missed?”
Sir Robert looked thoughtful. He was the cousin of the king, but like all Corsindorians, he liked intrigue. But, now… the intrigue seemed more treasonous than fun. He rubbed his hand, feeling the scar along the left index finger. He loved to bate the queen, but maybe now was not the best time.
“How dangerous is the room?” he asked.
“There is something there so powerful that the protection runes barely kept it in.”
She shook her head impatiently. “I need to know if it can break the ward on the door. Even so, we still have something evil in the castle.”
“And, it was whispering in the king’s ear. He thinks he has found the prince.” The queen knew that it was not a good idea to talk of this in front of her ladies, but the rest of the castle would soon know anyway. It was better that they knew her version, or at least gossiped her version.
“I agree,” said Sir Robert. “We have something to worry about.”
Queen Mallory wondered if he worried about the evil or about finding the prince. It was hard to know what Sir Robert wanted. He kept his motivations hidden. This court had become more and more unruly as the king had slipped into his madness.
But she knew that if Sir Robert agreed with her that it would be done.
“And the guards?”
“I will have guards there in the next fifteen minutes,” he replied. “If it is stronger than your wards, you know that it could very easily overpower the guards.”
The queen nodded. “I have thought of that. My doctor can give them an amulet that will give them time to run before the door bursts. Also, when the door goes red, the ward is breached.”
Sir Robert looked at her. For the first time in her memory, he frowned. “Your arrangements are noted.” He turned and marched out the door.
The queen sighed. At least this one thing was going right. One of her ladies was missing. Rose was the snake in her garden. Well, at least this snake was spreading news that might save someone.