A Royal Sacrifice Ch. 18

byslyc_willie©

"Enjoy your laugh," Evelyn said, heading back down the aisle toward her throne. Tears formed in her eyes, knowing that the next words she shouted would seal Cedric's fate. "Guard! There is an enemy of Vix in your midst!"

"DO NOT DISMISS ME!" roared the wizard, his words nearly buffering the men around him. "I have been alive for as long as this paltry homestead you call a kingdom has existed! I know every secret hidden within every knot and twist of wood."

Evelyn whirled around, feeling her wits failing. "And that will not save you!"

The wizard's eyes darkened, boring into the Queen's. "What if I told you I will spare your kingdom? I will spare Cedric, and Muriel, and everyone within this castle."

Evelyn sputtered. "I do not make bargains with the Devil," she said.

"Not even if it means maintaining your bloodline?"

Bagdemagus' dark and mysterious words made Evelyn pause. "What trickery do you play now? You need a virgin monarch for your sacrifice, and I am! The bloodline will die with me!"

The ominous chuckle escaped once again the Spectre's lips. "Are you certain of that?" he asked. His eyes darted for a moment, past Evelyn. The Queen felt compelled to follow where they fell, and turned to face John, her knight.

"What madness is this?" asked Benedict loudly. "Guardsmen! You heard your Queen! Slay the devil!"

"NO!" shouted Evelyn, flashing her hands to the air. The Guard, ready to act on Benedict's words, stilled themselves. Evelyn stared at John, who seemed just as perturbed as she by the wizard's words. But there was something in his eyes, and something in Bagdemagus' words, that made her wonder. She thought back, those weeks before, to the night of her birthday celebration, when Rebecca had been nearly killed, and John had confessed that he could see Bagdemagus, even through his magic.

We both have the Sight, Evelyn thought. I, the Queen, and John, bastard grandson of a whore . . . .

A strange sense of calm, of understanding, fell upon her mind. Already, a plan was forming. Slowly, she turned to the wizard, holding her head high as she addressed him.

"Midsummer's Day is in three days' time," she said. "Where shall I meet you?"

Bagdemagus grinned. "I will send word, milady," he said with sarcasm, stepping back. He turned to the door, finding it blocked by crossed spears. He gave bemused looks to the pair of guardsmen who barred his way.

"Let him go," commanded the Queen. "Allow him to leave."

Begrudgingly, the guardsmen raised their spears and pushed open the doors. Bagdemagus did not look back as he stepped through into the pale moonlight and headed down the steps of the keep to his waiting horse.

"Why did you—" began Benedict.

"Chancellor, Chamberlain, meet me in my audience chamber," snapped Evelyn. She shot John a look. "And you, as well," she added in a softer tone.

Sir John nodded, slowly sheathing his sword. "Of course, my Queen."

***

As the darkness of night turned to dawn, there were few awake to hear the scraping of metal upon stone within the loft of the stables. For most, even with the dramatic events of the previous late evening, sleep had come.

But not for Eric.

"I am no coward."

"Then prove it."

The exchange between he and his trusted friend burned through Eric's mind as he cradled the whetstone between his knees. He held the shaft of the stout quarrel firmly while sharpening the broad edges upon the stone.

He lifted the crossbow bolt, inspecting it. In the dim light of his lantern, it glittered as if made of silver. He blew a puff of air upon it, tested the tip and edges with his fingertips. Satisfied that it had been sufficiently sharpened, he dropped the bolt onto the stack of scores of others beside him.

"One cannot guess the workings of the Lord," he remembered a priest telling him, when he was a young boy in the monastery. "One can only hope to recognize the signs of His doing, and act accordingly."

"But how will I know, Father?"

"By following your faith. Never forget that; without faith, we have nothing. We are nothing. Ask yourself this: when God calls upon you at the Time of Reckoning, will you be able to say that you have been a true servant?"

"I will, father."

"Good lad."

Eric let out a deep breath as he recalled the memory. So long ago, it seemed to him. Such an impressionable time, a time to be told anything and made to believe it was the truth. And then two decades of meaningless work, translating obscure texts and tending mass.

He reached behind him, lifted up the heavy axe he had dug up from the storage box he had left in the ground. The blade was rusted, dull, but the weight of the thing made it formidable on its own. With his strength, Eric knew, he could easily cleave a man in half.

He took up the whetstone from between his knees and began dragging across the broad, curved blade. An edge certainly would not hurt, he thought.

"I will, father," he said to himself as he began sharpening the axe.

To be continued . . . .

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