“I will be seen – tell her I am out here before I make more of a racket!”
Mirelle blinked sleepily and sat up. In the shadows of her bedchamber, she saw Kimbur advancing toward the door as she pulled her robe about her.
Who would be banging on her door at this time of night?
She heard Kimbur in the corridor, oblivious to the apologies of the Guards, say, “Lord Stanyard, you will lower your voice! Her Highness is asleep! Whatever business you have with her can wait until the morning hours!”
Ah. Lord Stanyard had arrived, and in excellent time. He would not stand for Kimbur’s excuses much longer. Mirelle slid from her bed and pulled a mantle about her.
“Lord Stanyard, ’tis an odd time to be visiting, don’t you think?” She yawned as she stood in the open door of her chambers. All her guards saluted.
“Don’t you play coy with me, Your Highness. You –”
“Perhaps we can speak down the corridor, yes? That is, if you can contain yourself?” Mirelle raised her eyebrow suggestively.
Lord Stanyard, incensed, nevertheless followed her down the corridor a bit, along with Kimbur. Kimbur stopped the guards at a respectful pace.
“You, young woman, had best have an incredible reason for insisting I return in all urgency. I rode three horses to get here, one near foundered. If I find that you read that paperwork and are simply confounded as to what to do, you shall bear my wrath,” he hissed.
“My lord, need I remind you to whom you speak?” snapped Kimbur.
Lord Stanyard continued on relentlessly. “Explain yourself, Your Highness. For once I returned, I found the Capital City still standing and Her Majesty, the Queen very much alive and in good health and now we stand whispering in corridors like thieves. What required such urgency on your part?”
Mirelle was irate now herself. She bowed her head that she might whisper to the stubborn man. “The walls hear all, do they not?” She cleared her throat. “Merridon was found murdered. His throat was cut in the night. Is that urgent enough for you, my lord?”
Incredulity replaced the wrath in Lord Stanyard’s face. He stared from Kimbur to Mirelle, his mouth agape. “But how – why?”
“Only one of those questions I have an answer for. When he was so close to death, it seemed a waste of effort, a terrible risk to take.”
“Is that why I was denied entrance, then,” he wondered aloud. “You have locked the library purposely.”
“Of course. Regardless of how, Lord Stanyard, a member of the Royal Family lies dead in that room. No one should be allowed in to see him without permission of his next of kin, and that is me. Until we move him for burial purposes, there is where he will remain.”
Lord Stanyard did not look happy but agreed. “I need to see him,” he said, “for official purposes.”
Mirelle nodded and pulled her mantle tighter about her. “Let us away to the library, then.”
Kimbur handed Lord Stanyard a wall torch and the three of them walked somberly to Merridon’s library.
She produced the golden key that Mother had given her a chain to keep about her neck on. Lord Stanyard held his hand out for it, but she refused him. His eyes narrowed in the torchlight, but he stepped aside.
Mirelle clicked the door lock open, and torches held high, the three of them entered the darkened library together.
The Healers had provided blocks of ice near Merridon’s bedside to keep his body cool. He was wrapped in silk and linen, awaiting burial in the tombs beneath the castle.
Kimbur stepped back, for she did not want to see the body again. Nor did Mirelle, but she had a duty to perform. She hoped this was the last time she would need to. She watched as Lord Stanyard delicately unwound the silk wrappings, but looked away as he studied Merridon’s face and throat.
Must he take so long, she wondered irritably. Then she realized that perhaps he was saying good-bye, for he remembered Merridon as a child.
Finally, Lord Stanyard sighed. “Merridon, my boy, you didn’t deserve this, not any of it. May you be at peace now.” And at the corner of Mirelle’s eye, she saw him rewrapping Merridon with great care.
She stood aside, waiting for Lord Stanyard to ready himself.
“Your mother, does she know?”
“I thought it best not to tell her. She is very – fragile, just now,” answered Mirelle. “Besides, the fewer people who know, the better.”
“Just as well, just as well. She would not take lightly to this.”
“The Healers are waiting for you to speak with them. Some of them are concerned that the killer may come after them for knowing too much. I have told them that they are free to leave the Palace as soon as you have interviewed them. That is why they have extra guards outside the Healer’s Quarters.”
“Why would an assassin kill a Healer? Nonsense,” said Lord Stanyard in a dismissive tone.
Irritated, Mirelle responded, “Why would an assassin kill Merridon?”
“Hmm, yes. It is my guess that whoever killed him did not know that he had abdicated the throne in favor of Kendrick. Perhaps whoever it was thought to strike out at your Royal Father. In fact,” and then he paused and wandered around, stroking his chin.
“Lord Stanyard?” Mirelle prompted.
“With Merridon gone, Kendrick at war in the East, Keldrick at war in the West….” Lord Stanyard glanced up sternly at Mirelle. “We shall need to keep a very close guard on you, for all know just how much effort Rhutgard went into protecting you. Daughters bear the bloodline truest. And now, with your father and all three sons out of the way, where something as simple as a chance arrow might kill them, that leaves you out in the open, unprotected. I think that assassin may only have been delivering a message. And I think that he may still be in Fairview, either on the grounds or in the city.
“Your Highness, we shall need to keep a very close guard on you.”
Mirelle stared at him in the torchlight. An assassin! To kill her!
Merridon, now entombed with his forbears beneath the Palace, his bedroom now no longer a bedroom but a second library of sorts. And he had been right; few people recalled he had still been alive, so certainly there had been no need for a ceremony and funeral. Mirelle missed him already. Though these black gowns did not help. When others asked why she and the Queen dressed in mourning, they simply replied that a beloved family member had passed away.
Lord Stanyard directed her specifically, and later the Queen as a matter of caution rather than what it truly was, to watch for ice and water on stairwells, strange people and guards, odd people about the Palace, and anyone with weapons. The Queen had been dismissive but promised to be more careful now with no male family members in residence, while Mirelle promised to exceptionally more careful, to the point of not eating new dishes or even anything that smelled odd. If Lord Stanyard was concerned, than Mirelle believed she, too, should be concerned. No more long rides, no visiting destinations outside the Palace. A long list had been given her privately that he had insisted she promise to obey, as the King’s daughter and the truest of the bloodline. Kimbur promised to watch for her as well, so Mirelle felt something of a prisoner and a little paranoid as well.
Lord Stanyard had been dispatched back to Father’s side, where what he told Father, Mirelle could only imagine. As to a would-be assassin, she was sure such a person was gone, but Lord Stanyard thought he might be waiting for time to pass before striking again….