Lady Gwella is considered a rare beauty. She has skin that ranges from blue through purple to red, hair of sky blue, and golden eyes. She’s also short, something I appreciate. But I can’t say I’m all that attracted to her, certainly not the way I was when she bespelled me.
We’re sitting on opposite sides of the Royal Audience Chamber. I can see her steal a look at me every so often. She looks puzzled when she does so. I’m hoping that’s to my advantage.
The queen is looking very pregnant. I’m told her lady in waiting who was impregnated by the king looks similar, but she’s been banished from court. Rumor has it, correctly, that she’s staying at one of the king’s private residences.
There’s a quiet but anxious betting contest among the nobles here over who will give birth first, the queen or the lady. Put another way, will the queen’s child be the elder, or the king’s? And will they be boys or girls? Ultimately, the issue is the succession. It appears the eldest child of the Their Most Glorious Excellencies is going to be a bastard in fact, if not in law, either way. The civil war this marriage was supposed to prevent, it may end up causing.
I can see how Lady Gwella might use the child of mine she’s carrying in such an intrigue. People will presume it’s the earl’s, her husband’s. Lady Gwella could present it as next in line to the throne if the queen’s bastard becomes the next ruler, and its paternity were acknowledged.
The problem with that scenario is there is no reason for Lady Gwella to have me impregnate her, or to suppress my memory of the fact. There’s a dimension of this political intrigue I’m not seeing.
Sarton is called, and I get up with him to present ourselves to Their Fantabulous Splendors. As we approach, the herald announces, “The Marvelous Master Magician of Court and Kingdom, Sarton of Serez, and his associate, Lord of Tyznar Heights, Bollon.” I wince at the mistake as I drop to one knee and bow gracefully.
“Rise,” says the king, and we rise. The king says to Sarton, “You promote your apprentice quickly.”
“Your Excellency,” replies Sarton, “I sent him out to kill a dragon. He killed two. How could I not reward him?”
Sarton gestures, and I step forward with a small copper box which I offer to the king. “Your Excellency, out of respect for you and your fellow sovereign, I would like to give you some of the teeth from those dragons. The teeth of the mightiest of creatures belong in the custody of the greatest of our realm.” Always flatter royalty in ceremonies.
The king takes the box from me, looks at it, looks to me with a questioning look, and when I nod, opens the box. He removes a tooth, holds it up so everyone can see it, and places it back in the box, which he closes. “A worthy gift, Master Tollon.” (Somebody told him my correct name, I guess.) He turns to the queen. “Wouldn’t you say so, my dear?”
The queen has said little throughout the audience, pleading fatigue. She looks as if she’ll just nod in assent. But a change comes over her. She becomes more alert, sits up, looks intensely at me, and then offers me a sly smile. “You’re cute,” she says. “You want to plant the next one in me?”
A gasp goes around the room. The king looks to me, sees I’m horrified, and turns back to the queen. “My dear, you are overtired and confused.”
He may have meant to say more, but the queen interrupts him. “I am confused? I am confused?” She laughs hysterically. “You probably think this child,” and she pats her bulging abdomen, “is yours. But you’re not man enough to do it!” And she laughs hysterically again, and keeps laughing, on and on, until she falls off her throne, and lets out a scream as she does.
The king and the ladies in waiting gather about her. I hear moaning. It doesn’t take magic to know that the queen has gone into labor.
The audience is ended. Everyone is dismissed. Everyone, that is, except Sarton and me. We’re put under guard and taken to the Palace Prison.