The Poisoned Chalice

The Poisoned Chalice

A Story by L Olson
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Story of the fall of House Ricard, the ruling family of Tamorra.

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I.                    ONE

                The old man was snoring. The rasping noise filled the room, muffled only slightly by the heavy tapestries that covered the walls and windows. Between the fire blazing in the hearth and the scores of people filling the room, the air seemed to shimmer with heat. In the far corner of the room, two men conversed quietly.

                The first speaker towered over the second, and his lean, aquiline face put one in mind of a bird of prey, a comparison only heightened by his golden eyes. “It will not be long now.” His hawk-like features registered concern. “He must make a decision.” Looking back over his left shoulder, he considered the shrunken figure, ringed by a host of courtiers, doctors, and servants. “The vultures are waiting, and we have no guarantees against what is coming.” He turned back toward the other man. “What are you doing?”

                The last statement was less a question than an accusation, and the second man realized it. Sir Thomas Leslie’s round, good natured face creased with annoyance. Bristling, he said quietly, “Your grace, these things take time. And tact.” Duke Gaven Adair’s features relaxed briefly, and a fleeting smile crossed his face. “Your point is well taken, Tam.” He clapped the other man on the shoulder affectionately. “There’s a reason you are chancellor and I am not. Tact was never my strong suit.”

                “To put it mildly, your grace.”  Their conversation was interrupted by a commotion at the door of the bedchamber. A herald ran into the room and announced loudly: “Her Majesty, Queen Sigrun of Tamorra and the Grey Isles, approaches. On your knees!” The snoring turned to moaning as the man in the bed roused. A weak voice wailed out. “Sigrun! Sigrun!”

                The Queen entered. The room that had been far too warm moments before was seemingly struck by a  chill pall as the white-cloaked woman moved through it. It had been seventy summers since Sigrun, the daughter of the Sjodin chief, had arrived in Tamorra, and the ensuing years had been only vaguely felt. Her face was oddly young, framed by blonde hair that had turned ice-white. She still stood ramrod straight, in full command of her faculties. And despite the passage of time, she still had the ability to remove the warmth and light from a room just by entering it.

                She did not respond to the old man’s cries. Instead, she paused before the kneeling Duke Adair. “Gaven.” She offered her cold, be-ringed hand, to which he pressed his forehead before rising. “What the Duke of Inniskillen to our fair city?” She looked at him with ill-concealed loathing as he bowed his head with mock courtesy. “There is always business to attend to in Fairlight, as your majesty well knows.” She gave him a look as sharp as the slash of a Valesian knife before continuing on her progress.

                “Malcolm.” She stood at the end of the bed, speaking loudly. “Sigrun?” The man was like a plant seeking out the sun. “Sigrun!” His hands reached out, his sightless eyes rolled in his head. “Sigrun!” “I am here, husband.” She did not move toward him, did not take the hands that sought her out. “Have you made a decision?” The hands dropped and the old man sank back against the pillows. “No,” he whined plaintively. “Why do you keep asking me? I am tired and want to be left alone.” “You must decide, Malcolm. You must, you must!”“I am a king! I must do as I please! You cannot say ‘must’ to me!” He turned on his side. “All of you SHOULD GO AWAY!” Like a small child, he gave into the excesses of a tantrum, and the legion of doctors moved toward the bed in a protective phalanx. Without another word, the queen stormed from the room.

                A blond man moved toward Gaven Adair and the chancellor as the room cleared. “Sir Thomas, what are we to do?” The chancellor leaned against the wall, resting his hands on his ample, velvet covered stomach. “What are we to do, Sir Joscelin?” Joscelin Matthias, head of the king’s bodyguard, stood helplessly before the two men. “Tam, I think he’s actually asking you a question.” Joscelin shot Adair a grateful look, and then gazed at the chancellor expectantly.

                “Ah, yes, I see.” Absentmindedly, Thomas toyed with his golden chain of office. “I shall speak with the prince again this evening.” He looked up at Sir Joscelin. “As you for you, the Chancellor orders that no one should be admitted to the King’s chambers for the time being. Not the queen, not the princess, no one. Are we clear?” “Yes, Sir Thomas.” The duke grasped Joscelin by the shoulder. “Have you need for additional men?” The younger man nodded slowly. “It would be helpful to have loyal men to assist, Your Grace.”

                Adair turned to leave the room. “You shall have them, Sir Joscelin. This evening.” He walked out into the darkened passage. Sir Thomas turned to the young guardsman. “You have a difficult job, my boy. Loyalty and trust are in short supply. Be careful with your confidences.”

                “I will, my lord.” The chancellor nodded, and shuffled out of the room, deep in thought.

II.                  TWO

On the other side of Castle Sentinel, Sigrun seethed with anger. He has always been weak, she thought to herself. He has always leaned on me for decisions and assistance. She stomped into her receiving chamber. “Bid my daughter come,” she barked at a page, who ducked as he ran from the room. She flung her cloak off and hurled it at a maid. “I am going into the tower. No one is to disturb me. My daughter can wait.”

She went into the bedroom and barred the door before stopping to calm herself. I am a proud daughter of the Northlands. To think the veins of my children run with weak southern blood. She worked to center herself before entering the tower attached to her chamber. She lit a candle and moved toward the dark staircase. When she had first come to Tamorra as a young girl, there had been better rooms to choose from. But she had loved this room initially for the tower. And as she grew older, she had loved it for the distance it placed between her and Malcolm. Spineless fool, she thought. Product of a line of men who let others do the bloodletting for them.

No Sjodin chieftain would do the same. A man was no man unless the blood of his enemies stained his war axe. But the gentle King of Tamorra had never sought out war. He wrote poems and sang songs. Poems! The thought!

She had reached the top of the stairs. Before entering the room, she took a breath and called out to the gods of her fathers. Mother Sylfa, hear my cry. Father Donan, hear my blood call, she prayed. She had never taken the god of the southern lands into her heart. She might speak the words of Mass and perform penance as prescribed, but the god of her husband meant nothing. The gods of the Sjodin, they listened. They heard her prayers. She walked into her sanctum, laid the candle on the altar, traced out the words of her prayers. She demanded, cajoled, praised her gods. Without them, her plans would fail.

A quarter of an hour later, she returned to her bedchamber. Gazing into the mirror, her preternaturally youthful face gazed back. She smoothed away the tracks of angry tears, brushed her ice-white hair, and walked into the next room.  A knot of courtiers stood on one side of the room, while harried servants scurried around, hoping to avoid notice. Her daughter sat before the fire, face blank, completely apart from the others. “Coira, my dear.” The younger woman turned and looked up. “Mother. How kind of you to have me wait.” She smiled, but there was no warmth in her eyes.

Sigrun walked over and stood behind Coira’s chair, placing her hand on the intricately carved back. Without turning, she spoke. “Leave us.” The activity ceased, the low hum of conversation silenced as servant and courtier alike filed from the room. Satisfied they were alone, the queen leaned close to her daughter. “You know you have always been my favorite child.” Coira gave her a sidelong look. “Mother, I have fifty summers. I am no child. Your sweet words mean nothing to me, and I need nothing from you.”

“Is that so?” Sigrun put her hand on Coira’s face and turned it toward her own. It was almost like looking into a mirror. The eyes were different and the hair was still blonde, but there was no doubt that this was mother and child. “You are my flesh and blood. I carried you for nine months. You can hide nothing from me.” “I have nothing to hide, Mother.” She attempted to turn away, but Sigrun’s grip turned iron. “I know the deepest, darkest recesses of your heart.” Coira’s eyes met hers, and fear was evident. Southern weakness. Sigrun smiled; victory was close. “You wish to be your father’s tanaise, and you would do anything, anything, to be it.”

Coira pulled her face away and stood. She walked to the window that looked out over the Vale of Solas. “I want no such thing. Cormac will be tanaise.” Her voice caught. “I will be nothing.” Sigrun moved silently next to her, placing an arm around her. “You are the best of my children. The Vale should be yours. The Sentinel should be yours. Tamorra should…” she stopped. “No, Tamorra will be yours. My gods have willed it.”

She felt her daughter shiver. “Such blasphemy, Mother. Your gods have no power here.” The room echoed with the sound of a swift slap, and blood welled from Coira’s mouth. “You will say no such thing. I tell you this, daughter. Your words will prevent you from being queen of Tamorra. But blood of your blood will sit on its throne, I tell you this.”

III.                THREE

Huffing and puffing, Sir Thomas Leslie arrived at the west wing of the Sentinel. He leaned against the wall  at the top of the stairs, catching his breath. They certainly do not design the robes of a chancellor for comfort or ease of movement, he thought grimly. Evening had fallen, and halls were lit by the flicker of torches. He made his way along a shadowy hall to the chambers of Prince Cormac, the son of King Niall.

“Evening, Lord Chancellor.” A smooth, unctuous voice roused him from his internal dialogue, and he squinted into the darkness. Into the light stepped a slender, cloaked man. “A good evening to you, Master Auberon.” The man, a recent addition to the court, was a Valesian jeweler and silk merchant. He had quickly become a firm favorite with Princess Coira and her husband, Duke Edmund. Thomas did not trust him.

“Going to see Prince Cormac this evening, my lord?” A smile played across the foreigner’s lips. “Aye,” Sir Thomas replied. “The prince is the finest chess player in the castle, and ‘tis my evening to be beaten soundly.” Auberon’s unctuous smiled widened. “My lord, you and I both know there are far finer chess players in the palace than his most serene highness.” Thomas did not respond. “A good evening to you, Lord Chancellor.” He drifted into the night.

Unsettled, the chancellor continued along the passage, walking into the pool of light that surrounded the door to the prince’s wing of the castle. Here, he lived with his Arlandian wife, Princess Mairead, and their two children, Orlaith and Alexander. Two guards were posted at the door.

“I am here to see the prince.” The enormous wooden door opened, and he shuffled into the receiving hall. The room was filled with people �" servants, knights, and lords and ladies alike. The mood was subdued, and a minstrel sang mournfully from the corner: “Skin and bones, skin and bones, we’re all just skin and bones. . .”

Prince Cormac sat in the center of the room, flanked by his wife and son. His daughter, dressed in leathers, sparred with a knight in the center of the room. “Orlaith, your stance is all wrong,” Cormac said. “You leave yourself completely open every time you attack.” The girl sheathed her twin daggers and pushed the sparring hood back from her face. “I’m just doing what you do, Papa.”

Her father sat back for a moment, and then laughed. “You’re right. That’s why I was never much good with the daggers, either.” He looked over and noticed Sir Thomas. “That’s enough for this evening, my girl. You young whelps need your rest.” Although the prince was nearer sixty summers than fifty, he had started a family late in life, and his children were young still. “Off to bed with you.”

Princess Mairead stood as well. “For the life of me, I’ll never understand why you Tamorrans start the young ones off with knives. I was always more partial to the bow, myself.” She beckoned the children to follow. “Come on then, away to say your prayers. Good evening, Sir Thomas.”

“Good evening, your Highness.” He turned to the prince, who rose. “Come then, Tam. To the study and the chessboard. Evening, all.”

        Thomas followed the prince up a flight of stairs to his study, an aerie that, in the daylight, offered a view of the Vale of Solae and the far distant High Lands. The sun had long since set, and the windows offered only the reflected light of the fire in the grate. “I know you didn’t come to play chess,” Cormac said wearily. “I’m not in the mind for it, anyway. What troubles you, Lord Chancellor?”

“Your Highness. . .” “Sack the ‘highness’ nonsense. It’s you and me, Tam and Cormac. You’ve known me as long as anyone, and I know you well enough that you wouldn’t be here tonight if you weren’t concerned.” He poured himself a glass of wine from a silver ewer and pushed it toward Thomas, who shook his head. “What have you and Gaven been whispering about?”

“The queen is up to something, Cormac.” The prince’s face hardened. “She was in your father’s room this afternoon, pushing him to make a choice. Until you are tanaise, she is still a threat.” Thomas sat back, girding himself for the coming onslaught. Cormac didn’t disappoint. He slammed down the glass of wine, red fluid sloshing across his hand and the table. “Damn it, man, that is my mother of whom you speak. She would not plot against me!”

As hard and cold as Sigrun was, she had the ability to inspire her children to desire to please her. She had no maternal warmth, had never been kind to Cormac and his family. And yet, he clung to the hope that she yet would. “We have had this conversation before. I will not go to my father until he is well again. I will not beg for what is mine. Coira knows that I should be tanaise, and my mother wants blood of her blood on the throne. I will do nothing until the time comes.”

Thomas sighed. He had not intended to ask Cormac to do anything, other than give him his blessing to begin to make some inroads with the major families. The Adairs of Inniskillen were loyal to the core; Gaven was Cormac’s best friend. The Lachlans of Riverdene could be counted on. But the Darraghs of Aithne, with their Sjodin bloodlines were always questionable, and Leod, Lord of the Gray Isles, was a force unto himself. To be successful as tanaise, as heir to the throne, Cormac would need at least three of the four Dukes on his side.

“At least let me send a message to Bran Darragh at Strontian.” “No.” “Leod, then?” “No, Thomas. I am not an intriguer or a politician. I am a warrior, son and grandson of holders of the Sentinel. We do not beg.”

“Yes, Your Highness.”

IV.                FOUR

Coira sat in her presence chamber in the east wing of the Sentinel. Few courtiers made it to this side of the castle, and it added to her bitterness. That evening, she was attended by her husband, Duke Edmund, her children, Marcus and Ilse, and the Valesian, Master Auberon. Ilse played the harp in the background as the others talked.

Auberon cocked his head and gazed at Coira. “It pains me to see you so unhappy, your highness.” Edmund frowned. “Remember your place, merchant.” “Of course, your Grace.” Auberon was not chastened in the slightest. Coira got up and began pacing back and forth. “Cormac’s chambers are full of courtiers and hangers-on. They just EXPECT that he will be tanaise.” She pounded her right hand into her left. “It is not so, it is not so!”

“Calm yourself, my dear. It is most unseemly to behave so.” Edmund lolled in his seat, sipping a glass of wine. “Mother is right, though.” Marcus spoke for the first time. A man of twenty summers, he shared his mother’s ambition rather than his father’s lassitude. “Cormac is foolish and trusting. Tamorra will not prosper under his stewardship.” “Indeed not.” Coira turned to her older child. “You would be a far better king than these foolish peasants deserve.” She patted his shoulder affectionately. “And you will be. It has been promised.”

“Your highness, my lord.” Auberon’s unctuous tones interjected into the conversation. “I am a wealthy and powerful man. Far beyond what you can imagine. Your husband calls me merchant, but I have great power in the lands from which I come. I would be willing to help you, for a price.” Coira looked at him thoughtfully. “Master Auberon, your words are but empty. I wish proof. Any man can say he is wealthy and powerful.”

Auberon nodded. “A wise request, your highness. Already, you rule far more sagely than your foolish brother would.” He moved before the fire and pulled out a small cloth bag. Into his hand he poured a bit of sand, which he blew into the room. For a moment, nothing happened. And then…

The room’s occupants were transported in the blink of an eye. Ilse screamed with surprise as the found themselves in a gilded room, full of costly fabrics, spices, and gems. “This is the presence room in my main residence,” Auberon said quietly. “I have several other residences and wide-ranging lands. Go on, pick up whatever you desire.”

Marcus reached for a sapphire the size of a goose egg, while his sister ran her hands along a bolt of icy blue silk. His mother reached for a gilded diadem, and his father, a sack of gold coin. “Are we satisfied then? Excellent.” Auberon snapped his fingers, and they were once again in the Sentinel, gifts in hand.

“Do you believe me now, Highness?” “Yes, Master Auberon. Pray tell me this, who are you really?” “I am Master Auberon.” “But what lands do you rule? How come you to have such things?” “Do not ask me such things,” the man said. “Only promise me the one thing I will ever ask of you.” “What is it?” “When your son is king, he will marry my daughter.” Coira looked at her tall, handsome son, who nodded his assent. “We accept your offer, Master Auberon.”

“Excellent. And you will be guided by me in all things?”

“Yes.”

“Excellent.”

V.                  FIVE

The old man felt adrift on the Morven Sea. Water seemed to crash around him, and he could not regain his equilibrium. He fought on for a while, and then drifted back into darkness.

He became conscious of himself again when the doctor attempted to pour something down his throat. He refused to open his mouth, spit out what was poured in. I will drink no more of this, he thought. The pain will be worth it if I can get off the sea. He shook his head violently and thrashed away from the servants that attempted to hold him down. “You will stop immediately! I am the king!”

Sir Joscelin ran into the room and took stock of the situation. “Let go of His Majesty!” he thundered. He hoped he was doing the right thing. He ran over to the bed. “Your Majesty, are you all right?” Malcolm sat quietly, considering. “I believe so, Sir Joscelin. I feel less like a mewling kitten than I have in quite some time.”

The old man and the knight sat in silence for a few minutes, broken by the king’s statement. “I am dying, Sir Joscelin.” “I know, Your Majesty.” Malcolm laughed then. “You will never be a courtier, my boy. I believe the appropriate response there would have been to tell me that I am not.” “But you are, Your Majesty.” The old man nodded.

“Joscelin, I need you to do something for me. Is there a quill and paper in here?” “Yes, Your Majesty.” “Get them.” Joscelin crossed to the writing desk and gathered the requested items. “Is the chancellor in the castle?” “He is, Your Majesty.” “Send for him. And Gaven.” “Yes, Majesty.”

Roused from slumber, the men arrived in the bedchamber. “Thomas and Gaven, you are my witnesses.” They knelt. “Come closer to me.” The two men moved to the side of the bed. “Thomas, your staff of office and signet.” The chancellor handed them to him. “You will now write for me.”

The old king began to dictate the words required. “I Malcolm, son of Alastair and the sainted Cecilia, have chosen the night of Midwinter to designate my heir, the tanaise of the great kingdom of Tamorra. Though I have been blessed by the Father with two children, only one may succeed me. I designate my son, Prince Cormac, as the heir to the throne and the Sentinel. May he hold it through God’s grace against all evil.”

Sir Thomas realized he had been holding his breath. “Give me my signet, Lord Chancellor.” The ring was handed to the king. Wax was melted and applied to the paper, and the king pressed his signet into it. Joscelin and Adair followed suit, as witnesses. The king took the staff of office and broke it. “You have been a good servant, Thomas. Serve my son well.”

“I am dying.” He said it again. “I will not last until the morning. You will stay with me until my last breath. Keep Sigrun away. She must not enter this room. And when I die, she must be removed from the Sentinel after my funeral. Promise me this.”

Adair, Thomas and Joscelin exchanged glances. “Your Majesty, we can make no such promise. We will serve your son and his desires after your death.” The old man nodded. “I understand. Keep her away from me until I have breathed my last.” Adair spoke for the others. “You have our word, Your Majesty.” “Good boy,” Malcolm murmured. “I have not been a good king, but I have chosen my men very well.” Adair took the chancellor’s staff and signet and threw them into the fire. The staff was instantly consumed, but the signet took longer, glowing and melting as the king’s breathing became a death rattle, and then silence.

“The king is dead. Long live the king.” They left the room as the sun rose, walking toward the west wing of the Sentinel in the light of the dawn. Hope began anew for the kingdom of Tamorra.

 

VI.                SIX

Cormac’s coronation was to take place at dusk. Coira was in her bedroom, flinging things against the wall when Sigrun entered. “Daughter, such behavior!” Coira turned on her, icy eyes glittering. “I was told, no, I was PROMISED my son would rule.” Spittle dripped from the corner of her mouth. “And so he shall,” Sigrun said softly. “Come now, let us get you dressed. You must look your best.”

Sigrun attempted to maneuver her daughter toward the wardrobe, but the woman threw herself to the floor, seizing and screaming. “I am NOTHING. My children are NOTHING.” She began to howl and pull at her blonde hair. Sigrun stood before her impassively. Her ambitious, highly-strung eldest child had snapped entirely. She called to a servant for wine, and then walked over to a chest in the room. Coira was still flailing about as two men attempted to restrain her.

Seizing some powder, Sigrun poured it into the glass and stirred. The princess was still howling brokenly, but the men had succeeded in getting her on the bed. The two held her down while her mother poured the wine down her throat. “You will sleep now. . . yes. . . just sleep.” Coira struggled half-heartedly before she finally stopped.

Sigrun walked out of the bedroom and did not look back. One of the guards asked her, “Your Majesty, is the princess all right?” Sigrun looked at him, a cold stare that went to his very soul. Instead of answering, she said, “You are not to go back in that room. Do you understand?” The men nodded. She continued out of the room.

In the bedroom, Coira breathed her last as the last tendrils of sunlight leaked from the sky.

VII.              SEVEN

Master Auberon stood at the foot of the Sentinel’s grand staircase. Cold, gray stone was overlaid with a great red carpet, and in the center was a great dome of stained glass. The fading light shone through the different colored portions, leaving a rainbow patina on the stone floor. Servants and courtiers scurried around from room to room, but Auberon took a leisurely walk toward his rooms on the ground floor.

He stopped to admire the scene from the Skybridge, a passage of glass that looked out over the city. The Sentinel was a palace of two parts: the lower, more public part where great occasions took place, and the higher, more domestic portion, where the living quarters were. The two were linked by the Skybridge, which went up the side of the mountain and afforded a sweeping view of the city of Fairlight and the Vale of Solae. Dusk was falling, and the Vale had become a land of lavender and grey. The city was a bustling hub of activity, as fires were lit and music began to play. Although they had only recently buried their king, they were ready to celebrate the accession of the new one.

The man continued his saunter up the bridge. Passerby admired his appearance. Tall and well-built, he had jet black hair and a swarthy complexion. He was dressed beautifully in jewel-toned silks. He owned a suit of armor, but was no fighter. No, that was for other men.

He walked into his chamber, and smiled. A veiled woman sat at the window, examining the view of the city. He spoke to the armed woman who stood behind her. “Is she ready?” The woman nervously fingered the blade at her waist. “Of course, my lord.” He nodded his approval. “Come then.” The silent figure stood and followed him as he made his way toward Lord Marcus’ room.

They moved silently through the darkening palace. Already, people were moving toward the throne room, and the passages were emptying. Auberon knocked at Marcus’s door and he and his companion slipped inside. There, the young lord waited with a priest. “Are you ready, my lord Marcus?” His eyes glowing like coals in the darkness, the younger man nodded wordlessly. The priest began speaking in a strange language, and Auberon began translating and prompting Marcus when necessary. No rings were exchanged, and when he went to lift up the girl’s veil to  see her face, Auberon shook his head.

“Not yet, my lord. Once you are king, you may look on her face.” Marcus’s face wrinkled with confusion. “What do you mean?” “All in time, my lord, all in time.” He addressed himself to the shrouded figure. “Follow.” She inclined her head. The priest was dispensed with, and the three began walking toward the grand staircase.

“Shouldn’t we go to the throne room?” “Didn’t you promise to be guided in all things by me?” Auberon’s response was sharp, excited. Marcus turned to look at him, and noticed that he appeared to be glowing. He wiped his eyes and looked again; the glow was gone. “Of course, Master Auberon. As you will.”

They reached the staircase as Cormac was beginning his decent with Mairead. Both were clothed in snow white, unadorned with gems. Mairead’s long dark hair fell loosely. They were whispering together at the top of the stairs. Marcus suddenly realized they were praying with their two children, who stood nearby. He wondered where his own parents were. The thought was pushed out of his mind as they began to walk down.

Suddenly, the torches went out, replaced with an eerie glow that seemed to emanate from Auberon and his mysterious daughter. He turned to her and spoke in the strange language of the priest. She nodded and moved forward. Raising her hands, she lowered them quickly. The guards on either side of the room, dropped, choking and gagging to the floor and were still. She advanced on the royal family, who were unarmed. Cormac pushed the children behind him as they began to step backward.

Marcus attempted to speak, to make it stop, but his voice caught in his throat. Auberon smiled at him. “You see? This is what you wanted.” He turned back to the unfolding tableau. His daughter glowed brighter as she advanced on Cormac. She stood face to face with him and removed the veil from her face. The room seemed to be lit by the sun, and then Cormac was bleeding profusely. The boy, the younger child, was caught by the light and fell. He could not see Mairead or Orlaith, but he knew Cormac was dead. Satisfied, the veiled woman moved back down the stairs.

When she turned, the veil had dropped back over her face. She came and stood next to Auberon, who lifted the veil. A sickly, pallid face looked back at him, with blood red eyes. It had once been beautiful, but appeared to be rotting from within. Horrified, he stepped back, but the woman reached out and grabbed his arm with a taloned hand. “Come, husband. Don’t be shy.” She smiled, displaying a row of sharpened teeth. 

Auberon’s smile widened. “This is my daughter, Igraine.” “She, she’s a demon.” “Indeed she is. But the best part is that no one but you will ever know.” “W-what do you mean?” “Only you can see her as she is. Others will see her as she was and will be. Because in marrying her, Lord Marcus, you have promised her your life-force.” Auberon turned to Igraine, who smiled up at him. “As she drains your life-force, she will become more vital and beautiful. You, on the other hand, will age. Until the day when there is nothing left for her to take.”

The older man looked at the stricken prince. “But just think, Lord Marcus. All that time, you will be King of Tamorra, ruler of Fairlight, lord of the Sentinel. And my grandchildren will spread across the land like a plague.” “Please, I don’t want to be king. Please, just let me go.”

“But Marcus.” Auberon spread his arms wide. “This �" all this �" this is what you wanted. It is a poisoned chalice, yes. But you must drink.” He and Igraine began to laugh. “Come, children, before we are discovered.” Auberon and Igraine ushered Marcus away to his rooms, where he waited to be king.

VIII.            EIGHT

The demon and his spawn had missed one other living being in the room. Behind a column, Orlaith crouched, bloodspattered and shaking. She had seen Igraine’s face and knew her for what she was. What to do, what to do?

“You can come out now.” A soft voice called from the bottom of the stairs. It was not Igraine or Auberon or Marcus or anyone else she knew. It was a soft, sibilant voice, an accent she had never heard. Unsure what to do, she stayed still. “Come out, little girl. Don’t make me come up there.”

Orlaith peered around the corner, and saw only a slender woman in black leathers. She nervously toyed with the dagger at her waist. Seeing no other threat, the girl walked down the stairs. “What do you want?” “Everyone else in the castle is dead, child. Is that what you want to be?”

The girl looked up at her. “What? Everyone? Duke Gaven and Sir Thomas and Sir Joscelin and Nurse Falda and…everyone?” “Yes, child.” Uncertain what to do, she allowed herself to be led away from the castle. “Who are you?” “No one of any consequence,” the woman replied. “But you can call me Mother Tacita.” They exited the darkened Sentinel into the night.

 

 

 

 

© 2013 L Olson


Author's Note

L Olson
There are going to probably be some typos. This is also the first of a planned set of short stories covering the land of the Realms, so there are probably going to be some loose ends.

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Added on May 6, 2013
Last Updated on May 6, 2013
Tags: fantasy, medieval, royalty, intrigue, magic, demons

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