Supper over, I retired to my own chambers and summoned the Lord of Fer and his sons. I had changed my mind about how to rid the palace of them.
The lord and his sons entered hesitantly, but I waved them closer and said some trivial nice words to them.
“Your Highness, may I say again, that is, I have never, er, it is such a pleasure . . .” the Lord of Fer stuttered.
I flicked my hand at him to silence him, and he snapped his mouth shut most satisfactorily. “Perhaps you have wondered why you have been summoned,” I said. “I wish to question you concerning your motives in coming to the royal palace.”
“Why, we, we only meant to pay our respects to the king,” said the lord with a nervous look at his sons.
“I might as well tell you now that your wife and daughter are lying in a drug-induced sleep in their guest chamber. I myself have bestowed the drug that caused the sleep, although I seek no quarrel with you.” I leaned back in my fine chair and enjoyed the uneasy and nervous expressions that sped across their faces.
“I repeat, I seek no quarrel with you. I am merely trying to protect my brother, King Calius. He is young, and your daughter was a bit distracting to him. I want you to leave the court tomorrow morning, as the drug will not be fully worn away until then. Also, I will bestow upon you, my Lord of Fer, fifty golden flens if you will keep your daughter out of my brother’s way until he is wed.”
The Lord of Fer looked as if he would fall over in surprise. At that moment I realized that his motive in coming to the palace was perfectly innocent. I knew that I still had to rid myself of the whole family. Calius was still at the palace, and I could not get him far enough away from Ezelan to please me.
I had Calla measure out fifty gold flens to the lord, who gave them into the hand of Alfieri, the older son. Alfieri gave me such a look of hatred that I was hard put to keep from having him beheaded on the spot. That I should cast such a slur on his sister was unthinkable to him, I suspect. Well, he was not accustomed to the rather tiring business of protecting a younger brother from annoying females, so I tried to ignore the look.
Although he was not the king, Uncle Mieras had the best chambers in the castle. The finest set of doors, which Father had ordered expressly for the castle, were at the entrance to the rooms. I loved those doors, for they were carved all over with fine hunting scenes featuring members of our family as the hunters. Even Calius and I were represented as small children on that door.
Bruno opened them with a flourish and I took a deep breath and strode through them. Uncle Mieras was seated at his breakfast, and he beckoned me to the table as I entered. “Little Impertinence,” he laughed. “I want you to apologize to Rachelle today. Oho,” he added, thinking that I was going to deny having done anything to Rachelle, which I was not. “I know exactly what you did. Always the clever one, are you not?”
“More clever than some,” I said with a shrug, annoyed that he had called me there merely to make sport.
“Rachelle is a nasty little beast,” he said gracelessly. “She is my granddaughter, though, and I wish you would not but her to sleep. It cannot possibly be good for her health.”
“No, Uncle, but it is good for mine. My peace of mind is somewhat limited when I am around her, as she is such a . . . an incorrigible child.”
“Yes, that she is,” said Uncle Mieras, with a raspy, throaty chuckle that made me want to flee the room. “Well, well, but if you do try any more of your tricks, I will make you pay, and that is a promise. I always keep my word. Now, be off with you.”
“Quickly,” I gasped to the guard that grabbed my mount’s bridle. “Carry Calla inside.”
They scurried about helplessly, helping the ladies of our party off the horses, leading us around, and tripping over several ladies who had not accompanied us but came out to see what the ruckus meant. Lady Katarina, a sharp-faced woman of forty or so softened when she saw Calla and Elgaro, for she was their aunt. She helped Elgaro as he struggled to carry the raving Calla all by himself.
Such pain and suffering flourished all around us. I finally snapped beneath the weight of what I was seeing and began sobbing heartily. Bruno wriggled under my arms and clasped his own arms around my waist.
“Don’t cry, your Highness,” he whispered up to me. “Lady Calla is going to heal, I know it!”
“Bruno! Bruno!” I wailed. “If Calla dies what shall I do?” No one should have been surprised to hear my lament. Everyone knew that Calla was my best friend.
Nevertheless, a snort of annoyance reached my ear, and the words, “No decorum,” stabbed my very heart. Siladra stood behind Bruno, her face wrinkled in disgust at my outburst. I wanted to have her strung up by her fingers at that moment until she wailed for mercy. No decorum! Our knights had been slain, our ladies taken, my friend was raving with fever, and I was criticized for not displaying enough decorum.
Thanks for reading, and God bless,