A Silent Game of Spies

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Preoccupied, Selby’s steps brought her to the end of the drab passage way, where the dazzling colors of a stained-glass window lit the stone cobbles in a brilliant display. At least some light shone into her day today, she thought as she heard her black skirts rustle about her to a stop.

Of late, everything preoccupied her. Selby despised this lack of focus. While she knew she was allowed this preoccupation, she could not afford it.

Just then, a manservant walked past her, struggling to balance the awkwardness of what she knew was a wall-length, rolled-up tapestry.

“Stop!” she commanded the servant.

Selby watched as the man recovered from his fright – she had startled him and now, though he was no longer frightened of her approach, he was still frightened of her. Quite, she thought as his eyes grew larger and larger.

The manservant started to drop the ungainly tapestry so that he might honor her, but Selby shook her head and lifted a hand. “Don’t. Your hands are quite full with this… tapestry.”

The manservant was petrified, she saw. “What is your name?”

“Dannel, Your Majesty.”

“Dannel. Dannel, do you know what this tapestry shows?” Tapestries most always showed great feats of courage or ceremonies. This one, Selby saw, was dusty, and yet it was being carried in the direction of her quarters….

Dannel shook his head, too afraid to speak.

“Very well. Dannel, do you read?”

“Y-yes, if it please you, Your Majesty.”

“Good, then. At the very top of that tapestry, Dannel, nailed to the wood, is a gilded plate, which tells us the date and the title of this tapestry. Read for me the tapestry’s title.”

Dannel found the gilded plate and craned his neck about to read it upside down. He had to sound it out, but soon the entire title was “King Gwalter Malstroud Torran Rournebourke, Spearing the Boar, RainsCourt Falcon Hunt”. Selby arched an eyebrow. While history had been a favorite subject, she could not recall if King Gwalter had reigned two hundred or three hundred years ago… But she caught the undertones of this tapestry nonetheless, for where else could a servant possibly be taking such a tapestry?

“Thank you, Dannel. And where are you to deliver this tapestry?”

Dannel paled. “To the hallway outside your new quarters, if it please you, Your Majesty.”

Selby nodded imperceptibly. “And who directed you to do so?”

“My – my master, Lord Graystone.” Dannel swallowed.

Selby saw how scared the man was. “Relax, Dannel,” she told him kindly. “From this day forth, you will work in my household. You will report downstairs to the Castellan.

“But first. Lay that –” Selby waved her hand with disgust at the tapestry – “ancient dust trap down and find Lord Graystone. Tell him to attend me. Here. And now,” she added.

After she was alone in the passageway again, Selby stepped up to the rolled-up tapestry. Dust particles floated in the sunbeams that shone in on it. With a slippered foot, she rolled it open, taking care to keep dust from settling on her gown.

The more Selby saw of it, the more the rage in the pit of her stomach grew. Her eyes narrowed, she kicked it so that it rolled back up completely. A puff of dust floated into the air – disgusted, Selby sneezed twice. Another thing she hated – being locked indoors all the time.

Having viewed just half of the tapestry, Selby saw that it showed two things – mainly an enormous display of male hunting pride and, of course, chauvinism, she added sourly to herself. But in the arrangement of the figures and their weapons, there was also the underlying sexualism, as in so many works of art. And Lord Graystone would have that hang outside her quarters.

“Lord Graystone,” Selby said evenly when the man arrived. Obviously, he had taken his time, for the man did not look concerned at all, nor out of breath.

“Your Highness, I beg your pardon, I did not know –”

“Not ‘Your Highness,’ Lord Graystone. Your Majesty. And you would do well to remember that.”

Selby could not help but enjoy the emotions at war upon Lord Graystone’s face. She had enraged him, a respected Cabinet member, well-regarded by society, and a fierce political advocate, she knew. This last was unfortunate, but he was her pawn, not she his. And he would do well to remember that as well, she thought nastily, wishing she could tell him so.

Lord Graystone dropped all pretense then. In a stiff tone, he returned, “Not until your Coronation, Your Highness. There are cousins in the bloodline who also have a claim to the throne.”

Selby heard his deliberate insult. And yet, this – man, this simple, ordinary man. Did he think he was going to harm her with his little words, and his little plots? She just had no emotions left. Save perhaps disgust. Selby dearly wished she could tell him what a ridiculous ass he was, but… that would serve such a small purpose ultimately, and if she didn’t need him, she needed the good will of his peers.

“And yet I have sat the throne these six months, Lord Graystone. As a Cabinet member, I’m sure you are familiar with our Clemongardian law, which states that the next surviving child of a reigning monarch assumes the throne once that child becomes of age. It does not say ‘son’ but ‘child’. As I am both the next surviving child and certainly of age, I therefore, have the first claim to the throne of Clemongard. However, should that law not be one that you comprehend, Lord Graystone, perhaps my father’s will, which was signed by him and stamped with his own seal, will instead persuade you. For it states the line of succession as being the royal Stevanrhut children of my family – all of whom now are dead… but me.”

Selby let her last few lines linger before him, knowing that they echoed in the hallway.

Lord Graystone remained silent, though his eyes glittered. Selby would need to bring this bastard to heal, and quickly. Should he get too out of hand, her battle amongst her squabbling little Cabinet members and so-called advisors would become a war.

She decided to throw the bastard a bone, though for her, it had been one of contention among herself and her personal advisors.

“Now, Lord Graystone. You mentioned a good point.” Selby paused for drama’s sake, just so she watch his curiosity pique, even if it was with reluctance. Then she decided it was more just to piss him off. She let the pause lengthen and knew Lord Graystone was seething inwardly.

“My Coronation. I will set a date, and soon. As you can imagine, other things of far more importance have been taking up my time other than the planning of a Coronation.

“And this.” She toed the tapestry, then arched an eyebrow at Lord Graystone.

“Your Highness –”

Selby immediately held up a hand to stop him. She would bring this bastard to heal, for her father’s sake, if no one else’s.

Lord Graystone’s nostrils flared and his eyes turned cold. His lips curled with distaste as he said, “Your… Majesty.”

He didn’t say a word, but his cold, brown eyes conveyed every bit of hatred he felt for Selby at that moment. She smiled at him as if she were pleased with a subject who had just knelt to kiss her ring. I hate you too, Lord Graystone.

“Carry on,” Selby waved him with her hand.

Glaring at her, Lord Graystone said, “With all due respect, Your Majesty – you are moving to the Lords’ Quarters.”

Selby had announced this move, and instead all of the Lords’ Quarters, and more specifically, the King’s Quarters, be switched to the other side of the Palace, and the Ladies’ Quarters to be switched to the Lords’. What an uprising that had stirred, like horses running from a stable on fire. They thought it was just the silliness of a young girl at first.

First, she found them moving her own bed from her room toward her new wing.

“What is that?” she had demanded.

“Your – your bed, Your Majesty,” the menservants had said.

“I can see as much. That – is the bed I slept in for all the years I was a princess. Did you not just call me ‘Your Majesty’?”

They looked at each other guiltily and immediately returned in the direction of her old room to reassemble her bed.

Selby couldn’t bear to sleep in her father’s bed, and her mother’s quarters were not suitable for a reigning monarch.

Finally, she had taken up quarters in the guest wing. She could not believe that she was sleeping in the guest wing of her own Palace. That was when she got the idea to switch the quarters around.

Her advisors were, not surprisingly, horrified at the idea, and full of opposition. Selby told the servants that the King’s Quarters were now the Queen’s Quarters, and there hadn’t been a reigning Queen in nearly three hundred years, and so any recent guidelines for reigning Queens in their own Palaces were far out-of-date. Selby then gave all of them her most baleful stare, which she’d seen both her mother and her father give, and suddenly servants immediately began moving furniture.

But tapestries….

“Not at all, Lord Graystone. The Lords’ Quarters have become my quarters, the previous King’s old chambers will now be the current Queen’s chambers. And, therefore, all of the women will be joining me. The Lords will just sleep on the other side of the castle. It’s just a room to sleep in, after all, Lord Graystone. If you find your new quarters not to your liking, then I will, of course, allow you to retire your post and return to your estate.”

If Selby had been a man, she was sure Lord Graystone would have exploded. However, there he stood before her, his eyes not moving from hers. Finally, he said, “I’m sure that my new – room will be quite satisfactory, Your – Majesty.”

Selby relished in just how difficult it was for the man to spit that out. Aloud she returned graciously, “Of course. The Palace is taking every measure to ensure that all of its residents are comfortable.

“But –” and she let her eyes boar into his. “The matter of this tapestry.”

The slightest of smiles slipped across his face, visible only fleetingly.

“It’s an excellent choice, Your Majesty –”

Selby held her hand up to cut him off. “I’m aware of your choice, as well as its detail. Do be sure, however, not to send any more of your choices to my wing. I will choose my own art. Also – so you are aware. Menservants will be in low demand in that section of the Palace for, well, rather obvious reasons. My own staff will be in place.

“This –” and she toed the dusty tapestry on the stone cobbles, “you may return from where you took it. And that will be all for today.”

If he could have bared his teeth and growled, Lord Graystone would certainly have done so. Instead he said, “Easily done, just let me have my man come to pick it up.”

Queen Selby looked down at Lord Graystone. “If you’re referring to Dannel, he’s been reassigned. He now works for me, here in the Palace. Since this tapestry was your idea… you pick it up, and you return it yourself.”

Her father would be furious at this move of hers, but, Selby thought as she watched Lord Graystone purple with rage, she was not her father….

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