The story so far: The queen has been stricken with madness, and she has given birth to a bastard, in fact if not in law. Tollon is summoned to a conference with the person most likely responsible for these disasters. Now read on . . .
Lady Gwella’s past before she married the Earl of Haulloran is a mystery. Rumor has it she was an actress or a tavern wench, or possibly descended from a long line of the notorious Azovoran witches. It’s the way rumor accounts for her sexual appeal and her ability with magic. It’s possible all three rumors are true.
After my own little encounter with her after slaying the dragons, I am ready for any sort of trick she can pull. Except the one she does. After some preliminaries, she gets straight to the point. “I didn’t do it,” she tells me.
She sees my dubious look, and goes on, “I know you and Sarton must believe I was trying to ruin you, but it’s not so. The last thing I need is to have the king turn against my husband.”
I try to be diplomatic, but let’s just say I’m not convinced. “It is common knowledge that the earl would hardly seek the queen’s bed without your encouragement.”
We are sitting across a table with glasses of wine. I had thought Lady Gwella might try to seduce me, but her attire is more than modest: apart from her face, not a bit of her flesh shows. Nor is she wearing anything showy. Her dress is of dull gray. She is trying to show me she means business.
In reaction to my comment, she throws up her hands in dismay. “What can I tell you? I admit I wanted to see the heir to the throne be a part of my family. But what just happened is going to jeopardize that, now, isn’t it? You can’t accuse me of wanting the throne for the earl, and then accuse me of a stunt which makes that unlikely.”
Lady Gwella sees she’s made a point. She reaches for her drink and takes a sip while I think. I take a sip to prolong the moment, as well. I wait for her to put her glass down before replying, “You make a convincing argument, Lady Gwella.”
She smiles at me. “Thank you, Tollon. You are being generous. I know I don’t deserve that, not after how I’ve wronged you. So, just to show my good faith, I will give Paviara permission to see you again.” Her smile broadens. “Do treat my niece well. She’s family. I wouldn’t want my husband to take a disliking to you.”
Having accomplished her goals, Lady Gwella tries to pump me for information about the queen’s condition. I let her, pretending that it was Sarton who attended the queen, not me. I do this so I can feign ignorance of any critical points. We exchange a few more pleasantries. Lady Gwella tells me Paviara should be calling on me soon. And then I leave.
Instead of heading back to my rooms or the workshop, I head up to the roof of the palace. There’s a perimeter walk up there, which rarely has anyone but soldiers on it. I want to clear my head and think. And I don’t want Paviara intercepting me, not yet.
Item: Lady Gwella didn’t tell me she had bespelled Paviara, nor that she is carrying my child. I cannot trust her.
Item: Her defense hinges on the idea that she had a fixed plan and goals. But Lady Gwella is a known intriguer. Improvising a new plan is easily within her capabilities. She is still the person most likely to have bespelled the queen.
Conclusion: Explain my reasoning to Sarton. Have him urge the king to arrest and torture Lady Gwella, under the supervisions of Sarton and the Royal Torturer. It won’t take much to convince Sarton. Or the king, for that matter. If he’s going to face an uprising led by the Earl of Haulloran, he’ll feel safer having removed the Earl’s wife from the board.
And I must do this now. Besides the threat Lady Gwella poses to the kingdom, as well as to Sarton and me, there is Paviara to consider. I may still be learning as a magician, but I do know how spells that affect emotions work. After a while, they change one’s emotions so much that removing them doesn’t cause the emotions to go back to what they were before. When Lady Gwella removes her spell from Paviara, Paviara isn’t going to love me again, at least not immediately. And I don’t know quite what Lady Gwella will do when she realizes that. But I doubt she will put Paviara’s happiness first.
Saying goodbye to the pigeons sharing the perimeter walk with me, I head back into the palace to the workshop. I’m about halfway there when a familiar female voice calls out my name. And I realize I’m already too late.
(To be continued . . .)