Fallen Grace (The Death Dealer Book 1) (9 page)

BOOK: Fallen Grace (The Death Dealer Book 1)
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The tune was one favored by fishermen in Arganis. The song told the tale of a beautiful maiden who became lost among the waves of the sea, waiting for her love to return. She cast herself down to the waves when she believed he’d never come home. Eventually he did, and upon hearing of her demise, he took to wandering the forests and letting his spirit inhabit the trees.


The Lady Vivaine and her man, Joshua, despaired,” Donald said upon finishing his tune. “That’s why they both died as they did.”

The light surrounding them was weak, but Grace thought she could make out tear stains on Donald’s cheek, though it may have been a trick from the nearby torchlight. She knew her own face was soaked with salty tears. They mingled with the dirt, causing her to look sticky and dirty. Luckily no one would see her as she was now.

“Oh, Donald, what have I done to us?” Her voice broke at the end as a new wave of tears overtook her. “Even if we live, we will never be allowed to return to decent places.” Grace halted in her despair, too overcome to continue vocalizing her grief.


No doubt word is moving fast to all areas of Cesernan about this. But Sir Leon will never see his only niece cast out in the world, and Lord George never need know you returned to Arganis. We’ll survive the trial and go straight back to your uncles.” Donald’s voice cracked just as Grace’s had. His tears destroyed any hope Grace had of being comforted by his idea.

King Frederick had already marked them as guilty, and no one could hope to survive that. “We’ll return to Arganis, you’ll see,” Donald said again, softer this time.

Silence grew again between them, and other sounds of the night could be heard. The guards that stood within earshot were playing some sort of card game, a baby was crying in one of the houses that overlooked the city center, cats meowed, and rodents rustled through the trash heaps.


I wish to see the witch,” a familiar voice commanded.


But, we’ve orders...” one of the guards said. Grace heard him quickly get to his feet. There was an uneasiness in his voice and movements.


I am your prince and I command you let me see her and her manservant,
now
.”

There was no further argument as Prince Drake was allowed to get closer to Grace and Donald. The guards were posted so that no one harassed or helped the two in the night. Now they flanked the Prince; each looking nervously at one another. Their orders were from Frederick, but Drake was his son. So now they wondered if they were doing right by allowing this.

“Unlock them. I wish to be able to look at them as decent people, not criminals.”


Now, Your Royal Highness, we can’t be—”


Sir! I have spoken. Do not refute me again.” Drake’s jaw was set and his eyes flashed an anger Grace didn’t know he was capable of. This stern young man was not the same one she danced with earlier.

Shuffling awkwardly, one of the guards produced the keys and unlocked the stocks that held Grace. Then he moved on to Donald’s. Grace stumbled. The heavy wood left her hands and ankles sore, while her back ached from being bent in the same position for so long. She knew she could not stand to perform the proper curtsey for Drake, so she threw herself on her hands and knees before his feet. Once freed, Donald did the same.

“You two...” Talking to the guards, the Prince produced a small leather pouch. “Go into the nearest tavern for a bit. I have private words to speak with these two.”


What if she should try to bewitch you?” the one who protested so much spoke.


It is a chance I must take.” He pushed the money into the man’s hands. “Be gone with you.” Without another word of argument, they were gone.


Your Royal Highness,” Grace pleaded. “Take pity on Donald. It was my scheming and not his. I will throw myself upon your father’s mercy, but spare this man his life!”

At first there was no movement from the Prince. Daring to see what face he made, Grace looked up to see an odd expression plastered on his face. It wasn’t hate, anger or even confusion. No, those were faces that were easily read. The Prince looked at her with something that was entirely new to her. He said nothing, and again she bowed her head. Drake’s next move was more surprising than his visit.

He laughed and then took hold of Grace under the armpits before hoisting her onto her feet. Still too weak to move himself, Donald sat back on his ankles to see what was happening. The Prince held Grace awkwardly; his hands firmly on her upper arms, holding them to her sides. He kept her at arm’s length and Grace felt him give her biceps a good, hard squeeze.


Who taught you how to handle a sword? Some farmers teach their daughters in case they fear attack, but I have not yet heard of a noblewoman in this country taking up arms as a hobby. Perhaps in times of war, but...”


Then you don’t think Grace is a witch?” Donald said. He struggled to his feet. He now stood next to his friend, who was too stunned even to speak.


I have heard old wives’ tales about witches spelling whole courts, but I have never heard one where the witch allowed herself to get caught so easily. Nay – this girl is no witch in my eyes. But I can tell she has some training; enough that she knows how to take advantage of a tired knight and embarrass him before his country. So I ask you again, who taught you?”


My—” she whispered before clearing her throat, “my Uncle Leon is the arms master in Arganis. Please forgive how I embarrassed you before everyone. Again I throw myself on your mercy.”


Enough people agree you are a witch, so my reputation is only slightly tarnished by this. Though rumors of your uncle’s prowess with weapons have proved true if you could best me.”


You have competed for days and had matches that morning. Skill had no bearing in our match. I was simply lucky.”


If luck it was, it seems to have deserted you now. My father is set to see you both in the hangman’s noose, and that’s if he is merciful. Impersonating a knight, stealing his armor, embarrassing the heir…these are offenses not to be tolerated. But as I see it, you have merely been foolish and have done no real harm to anyone. As I said, enough think you are dabbling in the black arts, so I am no less a man to them.”

Grace hung her head, knowing now for sure her death was hours away. Drake shook her gently until she looked into his eyes again.

“I will not see you two die. Your stupidity in the matter is not a crime. I cannot restore you to your old life, but I can offer freedom. I have some clothes that should disguise you. Leave tomorrow when the gates of Ursana open, and you can sneak out as the hordes of people try to enter.”


We cannot repay this kindness,” Donald said.


There is no need.” Drake waved his hand dismissively. “However, you should realize that revealing your name and your home will put you in danger. I must ask you to promise not to speak of this to anyone. Bury your ancestry. That shall be your punishment. You are homeless and nameless now.”


Why help us, Drake?” Grace no longer feared him as the heir of the King. She was more afraid that he was not being sincere when he said they owed him nothing in exchange for his aid in their darkest hour.


I want to be a merciful king, though not a weak one. Killing innocent folk such as you is not something I wish to live with. Exile is enough of a price to pay. It may well be harder on you than any of us now realize. But go now with my blessing for a safe journey, and do not embarrass young men further with your sword play, Grace.”

As promised, Drake provided Grace and Donald with beggar disguises to get them out of the city. He found them a room to stay in and then left them to make their way.

~*~*~

While Drake freed Grace, the King was making his way through the guest wing. Frederick hated the idea that there were treacherous snakes in his midst. The witch of the Hilren line was gone, but her chief defender still remained. The King actively sought Henry of Egona after that night’s feast. He knew the old knight would be pouring over his precious books.

Frederick entered Henry’s chambers without so much as a knock, yet Henry was on his feet and bowing in seconds. “Majesty, I apologize for the condition of my chambers. I was not expecting company.”

Frederick waved a hand, indicating Henry should sit again. He sat in an extra armchair Henry had. “Your defense of the witch was...” he paused, “...interesting. I recall a similar scandal some years back when you defended another who should have had his head on the chopping block.”

Henry could tell Frederick was probing him for ill intentions; testing Henry’s loyalties. He had done so on a regular basis for a number of years. “Meaning no disrespect, Majesty, but even your own son spoke up on that occasion when young Jonathon Mullery was on trial. And now he has spoken for the Hilren girl.”


Are you suggesting my son is filled with treachery?”


Never. I am suggesting that perhaps your son and I share a different form of compassion than you do. It does not mean we undermine you.” Henry watched the King’s face carefully. Frederick was not convinced of Henry’s loyalty, but by putting Drake – the only heir – into question, it caused Frederick to back down for the moment.


You speak boldly, Henry.”


I am too old to do anything else boldly.” This, luckily for Henry, caused Frederick to smile.


Do not be too bold, though,” Frederick said, and rose.


Are you familiar with King William of Sera?” Henry asked, and Frederick paused to stare at him. “He ruled with an iron fist and showed mercy only when there was a direct benefit for himself. His ruthless rule caused heartbreak for many families, especially among the already dissatisfied peasants and their lords. Frustrated and angry, they saw fit to remove their king’s head from his shoulders. It was twenty-five years before his grandson took the throne, after a very long and bloody civil war I might add, and only after he agreed to sign a contract saying the royal houses of Sera would understand and show mercy. This was to ensure times such as had been endured would not plague them again. That is why Sera has since adopted their attitude of peace and neutrality.”


What is it you are hinting at, Henry?”


I have been reading up on Sera’s history of late. You know I have made it a study of mine to understand our neighbors as best I can. I was just reading about William when you came in, and I only wished to share, Highness. Though I cannot help but worry about you.”


Speak plainly, Henry.”


Your ‘compassion’ to young Grace may cause more problems than you intend. Promising a fair trial may only incite trouble. You should send her to become a priestess for Kamaria. If she is allowed to go free, there is no telling where she will head or what lies she will spread about you and this court. In the temple to the moon goddess, at least you can keep an eye on her. If she dies, there are those who will question your mercy.”


You speak as though she’ll have power wherever she goes, in death
or
life.”


Even the poorest peasants have voices. Commoners have been known to stir up the rabble,” Henry said. He wanted to see to it that Grace was safe and remained so. If she was forced into the service of the goddess, she would be out of harm’s way. With any luck, the story of King William and reminders of peasant revolts would sway Frederick.


She has no voice. A disgraced noblewoman? Come now, who will heed her words? The only commoner capable of that is The Death Dealer, and I doubt he’d cross me. Go back to your books, Henry. Justice has been served this day.”

Frederick knew what Henry was about. He saw that the book he was reading was not a history of Sera, but a book of folklore out of Eurur. The King nodded politely and left; mulling over Henry’s behavior. Although he wasn’t afraid to stand and defend those who met with Frederick’s wrath, he was too old to cause any real trouble. Frederick would leave the aging knight alone.

~*~*~

The next morning, before anyone else rose, Drake confessed his “sin” to Frederick. The King was enraged at his son and his disdain for the young man would eventually become legendary, but for the moment he knew he would have to save face. The guards the Prince bribed were sent away from Ursana to work in the Nareroc Islands as punishment.

To the public, Frederick insisted another witch from Grace’s coven managed to free her. For now she was able to walk free, but he issued a warning that should Grace be hidden in the city, if she dared to come near or corrupt the court again, she’d be killed. At Drake’s behest, he did not send men out to seek her and bring her to justice. When all was said and done, Frederick determined to keep a close watch on his son and Henry of Egona, whom he believed was a willing accomplice in the mess.

~*~*~

The sun was setting as Grace and Donald trudged along the path. They had nothing – no food, no money, no extra clothing; just the beggar disguises from Drake. Grace at least still wore some of the extra clothing she’d had on under the armor, and Donald wore a grungy old tunic and tattered pants full of holes. He, with great reluctance, gave up the tunic he wore that proudly bore the crest and colors of Arganis. They were both hungry and tired, but the two vagabonds were trying to put as much distance between the castle and themselves as possible.

BOOK: Fallen Grace (The Death Dealer Book 1)
5.36Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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