King, Chapter 14

Chapters 1-13 are here:

 http://jm-harrison.com/8-king-chronicle-8-sample-chapter/

~Chapter 14~

Juleta Gurrell sat in yet another parlor that was attached to an unused suite of rooms tucked in along the far side of the Lord Chancellor’s quarters. She held her hands folded together, stiffly composed, but Marc knew she was terrified. With good reason, he thought. The charge of treason very often carried with it the penalty of death. Her face was so pale he thought she might faint.

“You’ve been busy,” he said, feeling little sympathy for her, angry at himself for not acting on the forewarnings he’d had about her. “I don’t have time for hysterics, Juleta. You need to tell me what you know, what you’ve done, and who you’ve done it with.”

It took her a moment to answer and he felt his patience cut thin. “I didn’t know…”

“I’m not interested in what you didn’t know, my Lady.”

She nodded and her paleness increased. “When I came here, it was at Queen Alexia’s insistence. My mother is a friend of Lady Elise Taldic. When I expressed an interest in coming here, all my mother had to do was write her and I received her recommendation.”

“Alexia expected you to spy for her.”

“I didn’t have a choice.”

“I’m sure you think you didn’t. We’ll get to what you’ve told her in a moment. First, I want to know what your involvement with Lady Liselle is, and what you know of the drug that was given to Prince Dynan last night.”

She closed her eyes, swaying slightly in her chair. Marc took a step closer, thinking he’d have to catch her, but his proximity frightened her into recovering. “I…Alvuen…”

“Juleta,” he said in a milder tone and poured her a glass of water. “I’m not going to do anything to you, but I need this information and I need it now. What about Alvuen?”

“She gave me a box to give Liselle. She said it was a gift. She instructed me to invite Liselle to my parents’ home, but to keep quiet about it.”

“She gave this box to you? Directly?”

“Yes, last night at the Ball.”

“Did you know what was in it?”

She started to shake her head, then stared down into her hands. “I saw what was in it, but I didn’t know what the vial held.”

“You knew that Liselle was going to give it to Dynan.”

Her admission was longer in coming, but she nodded. “I didn’t think Alvuen meant to poison him. I would never—”

“She didn’t mean to, but the drug was sufficiently toxic to cause death if misused. Dynan is lucky to be alive this morning. Or maybe not so lucky. Were you ever told the point behind the use of this drug?”

“I guessed it when I found out what it was, and then Liselle told me when she arrived this morning. They mean to drive Prince Dynan and Lady Loren apart so that he has no choice but to marry Princess Danetha.”

“Liselle indicated this to you?”

“Yes. Alvuen too, but I didn’t understand what she meant at the time.”

“What did she say?”

“That she had a plan that would ensure her Queen’s wishes would be followed. But she didn’t say it, she wrote it. We used a messenger when we needed to communicate. His name is Reve Brezden. I passed him notes on what I saw and he delivered them to Alvuen. He would deliver her return messages to me.”

“What did you do with the notes?” Marc asked, thinking it would be too easy if she still had that particular message.

Juleta shook her head. “I always put them in the fire. That’s what she told me to do.”

“Alvuen?”

“Yes.”

A knock on the door interrupted his next question, and Ralion came in. “I’m sorry. I thought you should know. We’ve found a Palace Messenger murdered. His name was Reve Brezden.”

“Where?”

“In a storage bin in the pantry.” Ralion hesitated, glancing at Juleta. “His heart was cut out.”

“Maralt.”

Juleta gasped, her breath stuttering through her teeth. She covered her mouth as she dissolved into instant tears. Marc frowned and nodded Ralion into the next room, but left the door open to keep an eye on her. He kept his voice down, so she wouldn’t hear. “How was he discovered?”

“By another servant, who thankfully didn’t start a huge commotion about it. He alerted the guard, who then called me. Everyone who saw the man has been instructed to keep quiet. It’ll get around anyway, but the story I put out was a case of robbery gone wrong. I have his purse, which has a good bit more coin than a servant of his rank should have. The man bragged it seemed, about how well off he was. His finance account says the same thing.”

“All right. She’s next you know. Liselle too.” He started pacing, wishing now that he hadn’t sent that messenger to Shalis. Maralt’s involvement changed all the rules. “We have to get them out of here. We won’t be able to move Liselle unnoticed until tomorrow, if then. We need to move Juleta now.”

“Maralt doesn’t leave his witnesses alive.”

“He didn’t know that we were aware of her activities, otherwise, she’d be dead by now.”

Ralion glanced at him at that, conveying with a look that he hadn’t been aware of Juleta’s activities either.

Marc only shook his head. “Who do we have who we can trust and won’t be missed?”

Ralion took a moment to think about it, forcing Marc to rein in a wave of irritation over the delay. “Lyle Dowd has a place near Beren. Last I heard, he was completely recovered from what happened the night we landed. He and Ames Lithford can take her.”

“Will they?”

“Yes, and unless Maralt goes himself, they should be able to handle anyone else. They were both trained here by Boral. They both went through conscription. They aren’t stupid.”

“All right. I’ll get her out of the Palace. We’re going to say that she was sent back home to her parents. I’ll think of why later. I want a message sent to the Gurrells—I’ll want to write that—delivered to Lord Gurrell only. They’ll need to move, too. I want a false trail laid out to cover their real destination. Their servants are to be told that they’re at the Beach Manor. Set it up. Let me know when you’re ready.”

“There’s one more thing. The dead man was a Palace Messenger. His seal has been stolen, which means that Maralt has it and he’ll use it to get access. I’ve already recalled the rest of the messenger staff, but it will take time to check them all and keep it quiet.”

“Right.” Marc shook his head, fearing that events were going to spiral out of control, if they hadn’t already. “I don’t want Dynan to know about this either. I need to think it through some more. He’s liable to come unhinged if he hears about Maralt. He doesn’t need it right now.”

“No, he doesn’t. All right. I’ll tell Kyle the same thing.”

“Get a guard in here who we know. Juleta will be staying in my rooms until we’re ready. No one comes in. No one talks to her.”

“Understood.”

“I’m going to see Liselle, and tell her what I want her to do. I’ll be back.”

“Marc, what do you want Liselle to do?”

“She’s coming to dinner tonight, Ralion. She and Dynan are going to talk to each other and act like nothing ever happened. We have a population to convince of that.”

Ralion didn’t look like he thought it possible, but he nodded, and Marc left him. Liselle’s reaction to his presence mirrored Juleta’s, but she covered it better. Still she took a step away from him, covering her middle as though trying to protect something. Marc didn’t waste time talking, but went to her and touched her forehead. When she thought to move away, he commanded her to be still, while he searched her mind for any trace of Maralt’s presence. He ignored everything else, concentrating only on that, but didn’t find what he thought would be there.

“Tonight, when Dynan returns for dinner you’re going to attend. You’re going to act and look as though you’ve done nothing wrong. You’ll smile and eat and converse as though nothing at all has happened. If you’re asked about last night, your response will be that you were talking with him. Adel was with you at all times. You lost track of time. That’s all you’ll say. All you will indicate in any manner.”

“Dynan will never—”

“He will. He understands what’s at risk here. Regardless, you have no choice in this. You’ll do exactly as I’ve said. I will see to it.”

She understood what he meant and her eyes widened. “Perhaps you aren’t so different from Maralt after all.”

“Different enough. You’re still alive.” He touched her forehead again, inspecting the shield he’d made on her first return and found it still strong. He put another in place that would prevent her from joining with Maralt voluntarily. “And I intend to keep you that way, so that when the time comes, you’ll be able to testify to Alexia’s duplicity in this and face whatever punishment the King decides. You better hope that King turns out to be Dynan. Ambrose isn’t likely to be so forgiving this time. Now, you’re going to tell me everything you’ve done from start to finish.”

He pointed her into a chair and sat across from her. “It isn’t what you think,” Liselle said, and as Marc listened, he began to understand what she meant.

~*~

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Filed under Epic Fantasy, Guardians of the Word

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