A Royal Sacrifice Ch. 20bydeathlynx©
A Royal Sacrifice: Chapter 20
This is a chapter of a chain...while it can be read on its own, it would probably make a lot more sense if read in sequence with the other chapters...As this is my final chapter for this chain I would like to compliment and thank my fellow authors for a wonderful time in creating this setting...And mostly I would like to thank RedHairedandFriendly for coming up with the inspiration and guiding us along the way...It's been a blast!
John hurried from the room in a mixture or frustration and panic. They had been meeting for the better part of the night, after Benedict had apologized. Not only did they need to worry about the wizard, but her own council still spoke in secret of finding the other heir that Bagdemagus spoke of. If what the Queen and John had begun to suspect was true, then the nobles would be in for a rude awakening if they ever sought out their 'heir'.
He still wasn't sure he trusted Sir Guy, but the rumors of other dissatisfied nobles was certainly true. Of course, that wasn't really news. In truth, Guy hadn't mentioned anything that everyone else didn't know if they'd spent half a moment listening around corners.
And that was something John suspected Guy did an awful lot of. He knew more than the couple of names that he had given. Likely he was even in the middle of it all, stirring up the pot. John wasn't sure if he had his own motivations or if he did it for fun, but either way he would lay better than even money Guy was causing as much trouble as Benedict's stubborn pride, or Bagdemagus' evil plots.
At least Benedict seemed to be sincerely contrite about his verbal assault on the queen. John had been assigned to stand guard when Benedict's plea had come from the dungeons. Ever since The Spectre's appearance in court, and Cedric's kidnapping, he had spent most of his time protecting her.
John didn't mind that he was acting the part of a guard rather than a 'Knight of the Realm'. Few others knew the castle like he did. He was a sneak and he knew it. Heck, he reveled in it. He had spent the evening inside an alcove, watching the queen, unbeknownst to all but she and Drest. Had something untoward happened, he could have sprung into action at a moment's notice and had the offender at knifepoint before his presence was even disclosed.
When John had been needed for the meeting, Drest had left and simply waited in the hall for him to appear from hiding. Even the queen and Drest, who knew of some of the secret guard stations, did not know where most of them came out. What they did not know could not be used against them. John intended to show Evelyn a few of the best, and most secret, escape passages, but there simply hadn't been time.
Now there was less than twelve hours left to Badgemagus' deadline.
John stopped in the middle of the hallway and took a deep breath. He needed to relax a little. He needed to calm down and clear his head. And he knew just the place. He had been going there ever since he first started at the castle. Granted, as a stable hand he rarely had to 'clear his head', but he often needed to calm down much worse than he did now.
A quick trip down the stairs was all it would take. With all of the excitement and worry recently, John hadn't spent a single moment in his quite, secluded, spot. In all honesty, it had probably been months, if not half a year or more. If it hadn't been for Benedict's surprise trip to the dungeons, he wouldn't have thought of it even now, most likely.
It was at the ground floor that John realized he was being followed. He wasn't too worried, however, as he instantly recognized the man. Unfortunately the intrusion annoyed him. Of all of the people in the castle, the only he less wanted to encounter at that moment was Guy; and he had been brought into the planning session with the queen. In fact, that was the reason he'd excused himself. More than likely, it would break up soon anyway. There was only so much they could do to plan when they had no idea of Bagdemagus' plans.
John hurried down the stairs and was pleased to note that his pursuit lagged behind. If he could just get to the secret door before the other reached the dungeons, he would effectively vanish. He suspected that some of The Specter's abilities at obfuscation had as much to do with his knowledge of the castle as with magic. After all, he usually managed to slip in and out even when Evie and John were watching, and his magic had negligible effects on them at best.
John hurried past the cell where Benedict had spent his limited time and turned left into the open second cell from the end.
"John!" He flinched and cursed his luck. Because of the way sounds echoed in the stone prison, he couldn't tell if Eric had reached the bottom of the stairs before he entered the cell or not. Eric was craftily silent as John weighed his options and risks. There was a risk that the well concealed door would be heard in the strange acoustics. There was the risk he'd been seen going into the cell. And there was the risk that he would not get the peace and quiet he had sought down here.
In the end John wheeled back around the door. He leaned against the doorframe, crossed his arms and simply glared at the giant that used to be his best friend. It was vaguely childish, and unbecoming of a knight of the realm, to force the other man to come to him and explain the intrusion, without so much as a word of acknowledgement. John needed the time, however, to figure out his explanation for the trek.
"John? John, I've...I don't know what to say..." John wasn't going to help him one bit. Eric had shunned him and practically turned on him, and why? Because of a woman who had obviously done something to their minds? He obviously knew something about Guy and kept that to himself when not only John mistrusted the man, but the fate of the kingdom was at stake.
Before he could get out the accusations, however, Eric swung his head around at the empty cells. "What are you doing down here anyway?"
"I come down here for my sanity!" John sputtered, but finally came up with a plausible excuse. "What do you think I'm doing down here? Making sure that his lord-high-chamber-pot didn't leave anything precious down here." Eric just nodded, seemingly content with the answer. "You were saying?"
Eric opened his mouth to reply, but the words that stretched down the hall weren't his. "Sir John? Sir John!" John grumbled inarticulately as he brusquely pushed his way past Eric. His peace was well and truly broken as he looked at the guard standing at the foot of the stairs. "Sir John, there is someone at the gate that wishes to speak with you."
"Well, for heaven's sake, why did you not just bring them with you!?"
The guard looked rather embarrassed. "Well, sir, she refused to go farther than the front hall. Said something about protocol and a lady needing a proper escort about the keep."
John rolled his eyes but simple nodded for the guard to lead him back up the stairs. He hadn't forgotten about Eric. In fact, he was rather relieved that something had come up to forestall the discussion. For all he cared, it could be stalled until time ended. That wasn't entirely true. He still mourned the loss of their friendship. And he was fairly certain that Eric had been trying to apologize for it, but the words never seemed to come out. Hopefully there would be time after the mess with the wizard was handled.
Unnoticed by the two headed for the front hall, Eric slipped into the cell John had vacated and glanced around. He hadn't entirely bought the story about Benedict's internment. After all, the hinges on this door were not suitably used. Even if the man had only had one visitor, that meant it had been opened four times. This had only been opened once in a good long time.
He slipped inside the cell, his hands ran negligently across the walls, and quickly found his friend's real purpose. There was a secret passage. Eric knew of some of them, but also that John knew of far more than he. It wasn't a surprise to discover another. Methodically, he traced the doorway and went about working to discover the release.
John stopped at the entrance to the front hall and stared, open mouthed. Of all of the people to appear at the castle, she was probably the last he had expected. "Grams!? What are you doing here?"
His grandmother uncoiled from the chair she had been in and glided gracefully over to enfold him in a giant hug. John might have been embarrassed, being one of the two of the new order of Knights of Vix ~If not the only one left he thought bitterly~ but he was still too shocked to respond. "A woman cannot come to see her favorite grandson? Is that not enough reason?"
John resisted the urge to point out that he was her only grandson. It was a running joke between them. "Of course you can, Grams. But this is a bad time. There's..." He wasn't sure how far news of Bagdemagus' plans had spread, and he did not want to be responsible for the ill news to spread. "There's so much planning for Midsummer that it is very hectic."
Grams' smile lit up her face. John hid a shudder as he realized exactly how useful that smile, and her aura of charisma, would have been in her line of work. It was too disturbing to think of his Grams as a lady of the night. "All the better reason. What better time to show your Grams around? It will be a break from all of the stress of planning."
There was something in her voice that almost led John to believe that she already knew about the wizard. But that should have been impossible. Of course, he had long since learned that nothing was impossible for Grams.
John shrugged off the surprise, finally, and presented his arm in a show of formality. Despite the shock, she was probably right that it would be almost as relaxing as spending time in his hidden alcove would have been. "Of course Grams. A promise is a promise, and I was just thinking I needed to clear my head. You're certainly right about that!"
Her hand slipped into his in practiced fashion and she patted his hand lovingly. "Of course I am dear. I'm your Grams. We're always right. Some day you'll come to except the truth." She added the last part with a good natured wink and John laughed. "How about you start by showing me where you stay when you're here?"
A flash of uncertainty struck John. In part it was the recent security that he and Drest had imposed on the queen. With Bagdemagus' deadline so near, they decided that she would never be without one of them, and everyone who came within that wing was heavily scrutinized. John's room was within that wing, though not all that close to the queen's.
Of course, that was where the other part of the uncertainty came in. All of his life, Grams had lived with him, his mother and father. While they were not destitute, they were used to a simple life. John's rooms at the castle were fairly opulent. It was one of the reasons he tended to spend so little time there. He tended to hang out with the soldiers and guards, when he wasn't on duty himself.
John couldn't help but betray the uncertainty in his smile. Even still, he led her towards the section into the castle. He knew she would pick up the confusion and hastened to explain it before she came to the wrong conclusions. "The rooms came with the appointment as a knight. They're so big I feel uncomfortable in them. Heck, I have enough room in them to put our entire house. And I'm expected to live in them alone."
Grams' smile was enigmatic. She had a way of seeing right into someone and asking questions that mattered the most, even if they were also the most uncomfortable. "And what about a wife? A family?"
John squirmed. As usual, she had found the most poignant topic. "Well...I haven't really found anyone. I really haven't had the time to search though. Ever since I've been made a knight, I have had one thing after another to cope with. Although," John quickly came up with a way to turn the subject around and move back to the original topic, "if I had a family they would give me quarters even larger than the ones I have. I don't know how I'd be able to manage that. I'd feel like I was sleeping in a field or something."
Grams smiled and patted his hand once more. John was unprepared when she held him short in their path. A single look at her and his confusion only grew. Her generally warm smile had brightened to solar proportions. She was staring straight ahead. He looked back where they had been headed, but it still took him a moment to see anything that would have so brightened her mood.
There, a little ways down the corridor, were Muriel and Benedict. From the distance, John couldn't hear their hushed conversation, but Muriel's expression was dark. But it was Benedict's expression that astounded John. Instead of the usual gruff frown, the powerful man looked like a puppy who was in the process of being beaten.
It couldn't possibly be what it looked like. He wasn't afraid of anyone. Though John had believed the apology sincere, he had assumed it was still only because he had been sent to the dungeon. But it almost looked like he had been trying to apologize to Muriel.
Muriel spotted them first. Benedict's eyes quickly darted around in response to her new focus. Muriel brightened instantly, almost to the level of Grams. Benedict began with confusion, which was quickly followed by suspicion and then the blank mask of indifference. John knew he simply could no longer read the older man's thoughts, however, as his keen eyes continued to study Grams.
Grams' arm untangled from John's and she flowed forward to surround Muriel in a hug. "Could this possibly be little Muriel? My! You've become quite the woman." Grams released Muriel but left an arm around her back in a companionable embrace. "And Benedict, it is even wonderful to see your scowling face."
John was floored. Not only did Grams know the both of them, but her quip had resulted in Benedict smiling. All right, so it was only one corner of his pressed lips, and only the tiniest bit, but to John's trained eye, it was a chasm in the man's inscrutability rather than just a crack. The Chancellor was honestly very glad to see Grams!?
"Dear, Lynzie!" Muriel had continued to beam, even as she called Grams by a name John had never heard before. But, of course she had a given name. He simply had never heard it. To him, and much of the town, she had always been Grams. It was a common practice, that when the town recognized a good person who would otherwise be associated with some ill past, they would reference them only by some title rather than their name. It was a sign that they loved Grams, despite her past.
But Muriel obviously meant no offense either. "Where have you been hiding? You look as fit and trim as the day I last saw you. And here decades have passed!"
A firm claw wrapped around John's arm and took him by surprise. He looked up to see an amused smile on the old man's face. "Come boy. Let us let the women catch up." His voice lowered to a whisper. "Besides, you need not listen to them cluck like chickens with their gossip."
"Bennedict!" For a moment the old man's eyes once more took on the wounded puppy aspect, at the sound of Muriel's accusation, but it vanished the moment the men saw her amused smile. John hadn't thought the lady in waiting could possibly have heard him, since John could barely hear the other man, but likely she knew just what he'd said nevertheless.
Eric stared in wonder at the room. He knew exactly what it was. There could be no doubt, with all of the accoutrements scattered carelessly about. It was equally clear that John did not realize that any of this was here. Knowing his friend, Eric suspected that John had not been here in many months or more. But someone had move in, in his absence.
And Eric knew exactly who that someone was.
He looked around in terror, expecting lightning to arc from an unseen hand and strike him dead. After all, he had been one of the only people ever to harm Bagdemagus. And everyone knew how that man held a grudge.
But if this was The Specter's new lair, then most assuredly either Cedric was here or there would be some sign of his untimely passing. Eric had liked the man, even if he resented the friendship that had formed between him and John. What's more, finding the knight, especially alive, would likely prove his intentions to John once and for all.
Eric began to carefully search the room with great attention.
John's head reeled over everything he had learned. Benedict had seen fit to discuss the matter of Grams freely. In the time the old man had led him aimlessly about the castle, he had learned more about the woman he thought he knew, than he thought possible. Benedict had known her from around the castle, decades ago; in the time of the queen's grandfather's reign.
Everyone had known her profession. She had made no secret of it then, as she refused to even today. What was strange, to Benedict, was that none had ever been able to admit to having partaken of her services. Apparently, the chancellor, as a young man of the court, had offered and was spurned. Unperturbed, but curious, he systematically attempted to find out who her mysterious benefactor was.
Everywhere he had turned he received outrageous boasts. However, when the investigation pushed deeper, Benedict had discovered the tales to be specious. Each and every man of the court finally admitted to no intimate knowledge of the woman. Yet each was equally sure that she had a benefactor. How else could she have lived so well?
Benedict had left it at that, but John's mind continued to worry at it like a dog with a bone. As his mind slipped closer and closer to the truth, so many mixed and terrifying emotions twisted within his chest.
Bagdemagus knew the truth. He had spoken it openly, and none had believed it possible. Not even John, if he was honest with himself.
A hand rested lightly on John's shoulder. Dazed eyes looked up to see Muriel. "Sir John. The queen requests your presence in her sitting room." John nodded dumbly. He didn't even notice when Muriel turned and hurried another direction, rather than follow him to attend their queen.
Although not far, the journey to the sitting room seemed to take forever to the confused man.
He opened the door slowly. Unsure of what he would find. The queen had been in many queer moods of late, and anything was possible. What met his eyes was the sight of the prince, the queen and Grams, all in comfortable chairs, and all facing the door. As if choreographed, Grams and Drest rose as one, followed a moment later by the young queen.
Evelyn waved her hand smoothly to indicate the room with a smile. "Come in. We've much to discuss, cousin."
Copyright December 2007 by Deathlynx